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DVD Releases for July 17, 2007

July 16th, 2007

Another week without a first run release that stands out and the limited releases, classics, and TV on DVD aren't able to fill in the gap. There were a couple of releases that piqued my interest, including Ace in the Hole - Criterion Collection and Yo-Yo Girl Cop, but neither really climb to the level of DVD Pick of the Week.

2006-2007 NBA Champions - San Antonio Spurs - Buy from Amazon
The finals earned the lowest ratings in a while, which partially explains why the DVD isn't selling well. Also, it's just not that exciting of a DVD. Just give us full games are don't even bother with a commemorative DVD.

Ace in the Hole - Criterion Collection - Buy from Amazon
A dark and cynical movie from Billy Wilder starring Kirk Douglas as a unscrupulous journalist trying to take advantage of an accident in order to boost his career. He's able to enlist the help of a corrupt sheriff, an opportunistic photographer, and even the accident victim's wife to help him in his goal. The film is looked upon fondly, at least today. At the time, its dark, dark nature made it unpopular and was one of Billy Wilder's few financial missteps. The Criterion Collection release has an audio commentary track, several interviews, an afterword by Spike Lee, and more. Easily worth picking up.

Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog - Buy from Amazon
There are some cartoons based on video games that are high quality. I can't think of any off the top of my head, but I'm sure there are some out there. As for this DVD, nostalgia is the keyword.

Avenue Montaigne - Buy from Amazon
The film had an excellent run through the art house circuit, earning just over $2 million despite never playing in significantly more than 50 theaters. With good reviews and average extras compared to most limited releases, I expect it will do even better on the home market. Speaking of extras, the DVD has a substantial making-of featurette that clocks in at nearly 30 minutes, and adds enough to the experience to rate it above just a rental.

Beer Drinkers In Space - Buy from Amazon
Now there's a name that makes you stop and take notice. This film was made nearly 25 years ago by a bunch of guys who were working at Disney at the time. They wrote a script, made their own sci-fi sets in their garage, and drank some beers. A lot of beers. For most people, this movie is just a rumor, if they've ever heard it at all, so it is great to finally see it on DVD. It's even better that the DVD is as loaded as it is, with two versions of the movie, audio commentary track, making of documentary, and more. It is worth checking out, but the cult nature will mean many people will be completely uninterested while a select few will want to watch it again and again. I would rate it a purchase, but rent it first.

Birdman and the Galaxy Trio - The Complete Series - Buy from Amazon
Before he was an incompetent lawyer, he was a lame super hero. Harvey Birdman, the original series from 1967. Not one of Hanna-Barbera's best films and the DVD is weak on special features. I could see Harvey fans wanting to check it out for fun, and Hanna-Barbera collectors wanting to add it to their collection, but for most people they can safely give it a pass.

Blu-Ray Releases - Buy from Amazon: The Fifth Element, Waiting..., Wild Things
Another week without a single release worth the upgrade to high-definition. Granted, I liked Waiting..., but there's no way you need it in Blu-Ray to enjoy it.

Dynamite Warrior - Buy from Amazon
I've seen a lot of martial arts movies over the past few months, sadly, this is not one of the better ones.

I appreciate the attempts to make the movie stand out in a rather crowded field, but I'm not as generous as the average critic was. For instance, I found the plot superfluous; the story of misdirected revenge didn't add enough to the movie while it detracted from the martial arts. Not to sound like a complete plebe here, but martial arts are supposed to be about the fights and the plot should either enhance the fights, or get out of the way. However, I found the buffalo thieves, dark wizards, dual revenges, tractor sale cons just too much.

Speaking of tractor sale conmen, and just too much, I found the acting to be distracting as well. This is especially true of the main bad guy, Lord Waeng, who took overacting to a whole new level. (It was even worse with the English dubbing.)

This would have been forgivable if the martial arts scenes were top notch, but the weren't. The filmmakers relied too much on slow motion, while the wire work and special effects was too distracting at times. Granted, the use of rockets as weapons was original and entertaining for the most part, but it wasn't enough for me.

Moving onto the extras, there were quite a few in numbers, but not much in terms of quality. The Making of Dynamite Warrior runs 14 minutes long and is your typical mix of talking heads, clips from the movie, and behind-the-scenes. Behind-the-Scenes Stunts is shorter at just 2 minutes and most scenes it shows are under 20 seconds long. On-Set Footage is more of the same while Special Effects Makeup shows the makeup being applied to Panna Rittikrai, who played the Black Wizard. Again, it runs just 2 minutes but is more interesting than the previous two extras.

The movie isn't terrible, but there are too many alternatives in the crowded martial arts genre that are simply better than this film. Fans might want to give it a rental, but that's all I can recommend.

Eureka Seven - Volume 8 - Buy from Amazon
Anime about the son of a war hero who joins with a gang of bounty hunters who are on the run from the military. ... and there's giant robots. At least that's what my nephew says it's about, and he's a big fan.

Factory Girl - Buy from Amazon
A biopic about Edie Sedgwick. ... Who?

Okay, I know who Edie Sedgwick is and I knew that before I watched the movie. However, my point is that even after watching the movie, I can't figure out why she needed to be the subject of a biography. She was born to rich parents, dabbled in modeling, acting, etc. and became famous for... for being famous really. My god, she's Paris Hilton.

There are some positive aspects to the movie, including the acting of several of the main cast members. However, overall I wasn't drawn into the world of these people and that really hurt my enjoyment of the movie.

As for the extras, they are led by the audio commentary track with the director, George Hickenlooper, who spends a lot of his time talking about the difficulties making the movie and how tight a schedule they had. He also mentions the numerous scenes that were added back into the film for the DVD release. However, there were a number of dry spots and several parts of dead air. Next up is a single deleted scene, which can be watched with an audio commentary track. It runs just over a minute, but doesn't add much to the movie. The Real Edie is several interview clips, many of which are with people who knew Edie Sedgwick, inter-spliced with clips from the movie. It runs 28 minutes and goes over most of the same story we hear in the movie. I guess if you really enjoyed the film, this little bit extra will be an added bonus. Guy Pearce's Video Diary is exactly was it sounds like, a behind-the-scenes featurette shot by Guy Pearce. The running time is close to 20 minutes, but there's not that much there worth checking out. Sienna Miller's Cast Audition runs 7 minutes and is of limited replay value. Making Factory Girl is your typical mix of talking heads, behind-the-scenes clips, and scenes from the movie. It has a running time of just under 10 minutes and like the rest of the DVD, has limited replay value.

Overall the Uncut version isn't as bad as the theatrical version, but the improvements are not great enough for an enthusiastic recommendation. Perhaps fans of Andy Warhol's scene in the 60s, or of the particular actors involved here will find something worthwhile. However, I can't even recommend a rental, even with the above average extras.

Gunsmoke - The First Season - Buy from Amazon
Featuring James Arness as Marshal Matt Dillon, this TV Western was one of the longest running shows of all time, starting in 1955 and not ending for 20 years. However, counter-intuitively, this longevity could work against its DVD release; there may be a lot of fans of the show, but many of them could balk at the prospect of buying 20 DVD releases. On the one hand, the low price of $27 for 39 episodes could help there. On the other hand, this low cost comes at the expense of extras, as there are none. I'm not sure whether adding some interviews, a retrospective, or an audio commentary with a TV historian (while adding $5 to $10 to the DVD set), would have helped or hurt sales, but regardless I still think plenty of people will pick up this series.

The Happy Hooker Trilogy - Buy from Amazon
The three films from the franchise, The Happy Hooker, The Happy Hooker Goes To Washington, and The Happy Hooker Goes Hollywood. Surprisingly, The Happy Hooker Goes To Washington has nothing to do with David Vitter. Okay, that might be a low blow. ... Speaking of which, did you read about Bob Allen? I better stop 'cause this is a family site and the details are definitely R-rated.

The Hills Have Eyes 2 - Buy from Amazon: Theatrical Version or Unrated Edition
One of the worst reviewed movies of the year. Even fans of the original thought this one was mostly crap as it earned just half as much at the box office. Extras are below average and there's little reason to even rent the DVD. Skip it.

The Incredible Hulk - The Complete Second Season - Buy from Amazon
The second of five seasons for this super hero series, well, four seasons really as the first and final ones were abbreviated. This is arguably the best season as the quality started to weaken in season three and you can tell why they canceled it after season four. On the other hand, the extras are light with just an interview with the producer. (I don't consider the episode from season three a bonus. I assume if you are buying this DVD, you will buy the next one meaning you get nothing extra out of the deal.)

The Life and Times of Allen Ginsberg - Deluxe Two-Disc Set - Buy from Amazon
A documentary about the poet, Allen Ginsberg, first made in 1993, updated in 1998, and again for this DVD release. The extras here are impressive, totaling more than 6 hours and including interviews, a making-of documentary, and much more. Anyone interested in Ginsberg's life or work should pick up this DVD.

Masters of Horror - The Black Cat - Buy from Amazon
Skip it. ... I know, I usually give high praise to the DVD releases from this show, but they are coming out with a Season 1 box set that is less than half the cost of buying the DVD releases individually so there's no way I'm spending a single penny more on the single-episode releases. It's a great episode and the extras really add to the value, but wait for the full season sets.

Premonition - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-Ray
One of the worst reviewed films of the year. (I've found myself writing that a lot recently.) In this movie, Sandra Bullock stars as a wife who finds herself lost in time as she bounces back and forth between times before and after her husband died. It's an interesting premise, but the movie doesn't do enough with it and the audience will stop caring long before the pay-off. And even those who manage to get all the way through it will be disappointed with the end. Extras on the DVD are above average, starting with an audio commentary track with the director, Mennan Yapo, and the star, Sandra Bullock. There's not much insight here, but at least Bullock is fun to listen to on audio commentary tracks. Other extras include deleted scenes, outtakes, making of featurette, etc. There are two worth mentioning individually, Bringing Order to Chaos, which shows what the film would be like in chronological order and not following Sandra Bullock's experience. The other tries to convince the viewer that ESP is real by using the government program as part of the evidence. Here's the problem. The government shut down that program after it ran for years when an audit discovered they didn't have a single confirmed success. Despite the strong extras, the DVD is worth a rental, at the very most. For most people, they can safely skip the movie and not miss anything.

Race You to the Bottom - Buy from Amazon
Amber Benson and Cole Williams star as two people who just left their boyfriends before leaving for a road trip to the Napa Valley wine country. The film earned average reviews, better than most wide releases but certainly not strong enough to escape the art house circuit. It should do better on the home market, but without substantial extras a rental will suffice for most people.

Red Dawn - Buy from Amazon
This is such a bad movie , entertaining only for its cheese factor. (I'm not just talking about the ridiculous plot in which a bunch of high school students defeat the Russian army, the acting, dialogue, even the action scenes are all cheesy.) This would be just fine except there are a small group of people out there who treat the film as if it was a documentary. The 2-disc set feels padded (I'm sure they could have made it fit on 1 DVD), and with very limited replay value and can't rate it past a rental.

Rising Damp - Series 4 - Buy from Amazon
The fourth and final series for this British show. Leonard Rossiter stars as Rupert Rigsby, a thoroughly unpleasant man who is the landlord of a dump and whose attitudes ranged from outdated to completely offensive. Perfect for comedy. This is the last season the show ran, but it maintained its quality through its entire run and even without extras, it is still worth picking up for fans of the show.

The Rookies - The Complete First Season - Buy from Amazon
An Aaron Spelling cop drama focusing on three rookie cops (and the wife of one of them). It was a good show for its time, but hasn't aged well and doesn't have the realism that today's audiences demand. Add in no extras and this is a 5-disc set with limited appeal.

Showgirls - Fully Exposed Edition - Buy from Amazon
Oh my god! This movie was terrible and barely deserved a DVD release, but this is the second special edition DVD release and the third overall. Why? Why is this happening?

Space Ghost and Dino Boy - The Complete Series - Buy from Amazon
The second Hanna - Barbera cartoon coming out tomorrow, and the second one that was turned into a Adult Swim cartoon. There's a lot of nostalgia here, but not too much in the way of quality or extras.

Surf School - Buy from Amazon
I think the sex comedy genre has run its course... at least for a little while. These films keep coming back and everyone once in a while they do it right, but for the most part they are interchangeable and uninspired.

TCM Spotlight - Esther Williams - Volume 1 - Buy from Amazon
This actress was best known for her powerful, if untrained singing voice. "You'll be swell, you'll be great. Gonna have the whole world on a plate." Sorry, that's Ethel Merman. Esther Williams is an actress best known for looking good in a bathing suit. She starred in a number of underwater musicals; in fact, she is practically synonymous with the genre. This 5-disc set has five of her films, which are a good representative sample of her career. Extras include shorts (both animated, live-action, and musical), as well as bonus musical numbers and more. Fans of musicals from the era will want to check it out, and most who do will add the DVD to their collection.

Voyagers! - The Complete Series - Buy from Amazon
A series that ran 25 years ago featuring a group of time travelers who travel to the past and fix mistakes in history. The show never found an audience and lasted just the one season, but there are enough fans that will see the name and immediately want to pick it up. However, it hasn't aged particularly well and the lack of extras hurt, so I would recommend renting first.

Wanted: Dead or Alive - Season 2 - Buy from Amazon
The show that helped make Steve McQueen famous. It only lasted three seasons but that's because he jumped into movies during the run. Extras are non-existent, but the 4-disc set is still worth checking out.

Yo-Yo Girl Cop - Buy from Amazon
Aya Matsuura stars as a teenager who is captured by the cops in New York City and forced to join organization K to help out her mom who is being held by the American government under suspicions that she is a spy. Organization K wants her to travel back to Japan to go undercover in a high school and investigate a website called Enola Gay, which tells kids how to build bombs, commit suicide and apparently has something big planned in just a few days. When she agrees to join, she earns a new code name: Saki Asamiya.

Reading it, it actually makes a lot more sense than watching the movie the first time.

Based on a TV series from Japan, the film is very nihilistic, much more so than the original series. (At least as far as I could tell through my research.) The film hits all the usual stereotypes for a high school movie including shy picked on girl (Konno Tae played by Yui Okada), the local "Heather" (Reika Akiyama played by Rika Ishikawa), etc. It also has enough action, including a number of big fight scenes and explosions that don't quite seem real. It's not that the special effects are bad, just stylized. In fact, the whole movie is overflowing with style, which adds to its cult appeal.

(On a side note, Saki Asamiya is sometimes shown as being a nearly unstoppable fighting machine taking out a number of cops with ease. Other times she's a complete novice like when she accidentally knocks herself unconscious with her signature Yo-yo.)

Extras on the DVD are light with just a making-of featurette. However, its running time is just over 40 minutes and has high replay value. It might have been nice to have an audio commentary track by a scholar on these films, and outtakes or deleted scenes would have been appreciated as well. But this featurette is strong enough for the DVD to avoid feeling sparse.

Overall I found this movie to be quite enjoyable in a cult film kind of way. I doubt mainstream audiences will flock to this DVD, but for fans of the genre there is more than enough here to be worth checking out. In fact, the climatic yo-yo battle between the leather-clad Aya Matsuura and Rika Ishikawa could be worth the price of the DVD alone. Are you one of these people? Here's a quick test. Did you groan or giggle when you read yo-yo battle? If so, you should probably give the movie a pass. Otherwise, give it a rental and you might want to add it to your DVD collection.


Filed under: Video Releases, Premonition, The Hills Have Eyes II, Waiting..., Avenue Montaigne, Factory Girl, Race You to the Bottom, Surf School