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December 20, 2004

"It's going to be easy - like peeling a turtle."

Ah, Christmas week and it's REALLY cold here in the near-frozen North. With the holiday rapidly approaching, we thought it was time to engage in one of my family's old traditions: the yearly viewing of Holiday Inn (1942), that fun, corny holiday classic I never get tired of. Yes, there's plenty to mock, but that's always been part of the fun. How can you not be totally amused by Bing Crosby "playing" the bells on the tree with his pipe during "White Christmas" ; this is where the song came from, not the inferior White Christmas (1954).

Here, in this last new release day before Christmas, are the last batch of DVDs before things slow down:

* Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
* Anacondas: The Hunt for The Blood Orchid
* Anything But Love
* Batman Animated Series 2
* Carmen Electra's Aerobic Striptease
* Carmen Electra's Fit to Strip
* Danny Deckchair
* De Lovely
* Frank Sinatra: Man and the Myth
* Giants of Thessaly
* Hester Street
* Inspiracion
* King Arthur
* Los Debutantes
* Manchurian Candidate
* Master of Flying Guillotine
* Mikey & Nicky
* Napoleon Dynamite
* Shaun of the Dead
* The Simpsons - The Complete Fifth Season
* Stander
* Star Trek Voyager: The Complete Seventh Season
* Surviving Christmas
* Texhnolyze 5: Lies & Despair
* Thunderbirds
* Two Brothers
* Where the Red Fern Grows
* Young Black Stallion

The weekend box office numbers:

1. Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events $30.2M
2. Ocean's Twelve $18.3M
3. Spanglish $9M
4. The Polar Express $8.55M
5. Blade: Trinity $6.6M
6. National Treasure $6.11M
7. Christmas with the Kranks $5.7M
8. Flight of the Phoenix $5.15M
9. Closer $3.5M
10. The Incredibles $3.26M

And finally, DVD Savant has posted his Most Impressive DVDs of 2004; worth a read and not the releases you might expect.

December 17, 2004

"This isn't just an ordinary Trumpet! It's a Bong!"

Just a quick update before the weekend...

Universal has a street date for Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason: 3/22/05. Three different DVDs of Bridget Jones will be available, including PG and R-rated versions in full frame and the R-rated version in anamorphic widescreen (SRP $29.98 each - so no widescreen PG edition). Each will be a single disc - no word yet on extras.

Warner has the 4-disc Friends: The Complete Ninth Season for release on 3/8 ($44.98).

And New Line has announced the DVD release of Robert Altman's Kansas City for 2/15 (SRP $19.97). The disc will include the film in anamorphic widescreen video with Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 audio. Extras will include audio commentary (this guy likes to do commentaries, no?) and the film's theatrical trailer.

Finally, a couple of review links:

The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection: Volume 6 and Gunga Din (1939)

December 15, 2004

"Feed the birds and what have you got? Fat birds."

Nothing terribly exciting going on this week in DVDland other than the normal holiday buying frenzy. Everyone's pretty pumped about the new Return of the King 4 DVD set that came out yesterday. I'm planning to pick it up very soon and would suggest that if you're planning to get it, do it before the week's out as the price will be higher. I haven't seen the first two extended versions drop much below the $30 mark since they were released. You could wait for the inevitable next versions to come out, but it will probably be a while as Peter Jackson has a number of other things on his plate. And, the current versions are all I really need as the supplements are huge and the picture/sound is as good as we're going to get on the current DVD format. All I need, that is until the HD versions are relased; then I'll buy them again, but until then these are the way to go and, IMO a tremendous bargain.

As I mentioned the other day, I'd been curious to compare the new Mary Poppins DVD (DVD Savant has a good review of this disc here) with the "Archive Edition" laserdisc. I don't have the new DVD yet, but Shades and I watched it the other night so I thought I'd share a few thoughts.

First the picture: This LD looked quite good, even on a large screen with the usual lack of sharpness compared to a good DVD image with very low amounts of analog video noise. The color was perhaps a bit muted, but I can't say I know how this film is supposed to look. Needless to say it looks better than any previous version I've seen. The DVD is supposed to be an improvement, but some have said it is a bit too much "enhanced". The LD is a good approximation of what a theatrical print would look like (a good one). What I mean by this is that it doesn't look clinically clean, but it does have some dirt from the source element, which bothers some (not me, I accept it as part of the film experience). All in all, quite watchable even if the DVD probably betters it.

The sound: Good old uncompressed PCM! Even though I don't have the new DVD to compare, I have a hard time believing that it will beat the LD for sound. This track isn't flashy, doesn't have earth-shattering bass, or whizzy directional effects, but it does sound *right*. Right means the dialogue is clear, but not edgy or unbalanced. The music sounds really nice on this track with a fairly organic quality to it. There's plenty of detail in the mix but it doesn't call undue attention to itself and the high frequencies aren't screechy or fatiguing at all. There's some tape hiss present (pretty normal for 1964), but nothing big and perhaps there could have been more bass, but it sounds like this is what the film's track contains.

One of the interesting things I noticed while watching was how the sound of the actors' voice tracks changed between the spoken dialogue and the musical numbers. It does indeed sound like the voices were recorded on the set (this isn't done a lot these days--it's usually re-dubbed) and the songs done in a studio as you can hear a distinct difference when the track goes back and forth. It didn't bother me, but it does make me wonder if Disney took this LD soundtrack from multiple sources such as the session recordings for the music as opposed to a straight-off transfer from a film print.

So, I'll have to post again when I see the new disc, but I am quite glad to have this version to listen to. And one other thing I never noticed about the film: The bird woman in the "Feed the Birds" song was played by Jane Darwell (her last film) who won an Oscar in 1941 for her performance in The Grapes of Wrath.

December 13, 2004

"Never confuse efficiency with a liver complaint."

We start another week with the box office numbers:

1. Ocean's Twelve $40.9M
2. Blade: Trinity $16.1M
3. National Treasure $9.98M
4. The Polar Express $9.77M
5. Christmas with the Kranks $7.6M
6. The Incredibles $5.04M
7. The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie $4.36M
8. Closer $3.75M
9. Finding Neverland $1.69M
10. Alexander $1.41M

This is a big week for new DVDs as Return of the King Extended Edition hits the shelves. I know I'll be getting it and am really looking forward to seeing the 50 minutes of new stuff. Best Buy seems to have the lowest price for it: $22.99 (these sets are a steal for what you get IMO).

* 3 - The Dale Earnhardt Story
* Anything But Love
* Ben Stiller Collection
* Beverly Hillbillies
* Breaker Morant
* Collateral
* Curse of the Komodo
* Deadly Fight in Hiroshima Vol 2
* Different From the Others
* The Door in the Floor
* Dragon Storm
* Epoch: Evolution
* Everybody Loves Raymond: Complete Second Season
* Family Guy - The Freakin' Sweet Collection
* Fat Albert & Cosby Kids
* Fat Albert's Greatest Hits: Ultimate Collection
* Fighting Spirit 3: Test of Endurance
* Godzilla: Tokyo Sos
* I Robot
* Kitchen Stories
* Lord of the Rings: Return of the King Extended Edition
* Man Trouble
* Mary Poppins 40th Anniversary Edition
* Meet the Parents: SE
* Michael
* Mtv: Pilates Mix
* Newlyweds: Nick & Jessica - Complete First Season
* Pact With the Devil
* Paris
* Paris Texas
(I've been waiting a long time for this one to come out)
* Partners in Action
* The Princess Diaries 2 - Royal Engagement
* Quantum Leap: Complete Second Season
* Reba Season 1
* Relative Evil
* Requiem From Darkness 2: Human Atrocity
* Rocky Anthology
* Sex in Chains
* Silver Streak
* Son of Godzilla
* Star Trek - The Complete Third Season
* Star Trek Original Series
(all three seasons in one box)
* This So Called Disaster
* Time of the Wolf
* Top Gun
* Undermind
* Westender
* Wolf's Rain: Recollection Vol 4
* The Yakuza Papers - Battles Without Honor & Humanity

The word on the new Mary Poppins DVD is that the picture quality is great, far superior to any video version released so far, but that the sound is lacking in some ways. The new DVD has several soundtrack options including a 5.1 channel re-mix which has been "enhanced for home theater". Now obviously I haven't seen/heard the new DVD, but according to some opinions I tend to trust, the new 5.1 mix has bloated, boosted bass and noise-reduced highs that have sucked the life out of the music. This is a common problem with older recordings re-mastered today; the engineers think people won't tolerate any tape hiss or surface noise. They use computer-based tools to strip out the noise and often take with it much of the ambience, timbre, and "sparkle" of the music. The other thing I hear about this new mix is that they have re-recorded some of the effects tracks to make them sound modern, like the fireworks or sound effects when they enter the chalk drawings. Disney just doesn't think the film sufficiently engages the imagination without new gimmicky effects I guess. The good part here is that they've included the original mix as a DD 2.0 track that you can select from the menu or on the remote (Disney allows soundtrack switching on the fly which isn't always enabled).

The only downside to the 2.0 mix is that the film was originally done with a three channel left/center/right track that could have been done with a 3.0 DD track (DD/DTS can be done anywhere from 1 to 7 channels) to simulate the film as it was originally mixed. Oh well. Apparently the best way to *hear* Marry Poppins is on the old Archive Edition laserdisc that I am lucky enough to own. It has the unimproved original stereo mix in uncompressed PCM. I'll have to do a little comparison and a follow-up post. And as long as we're being anal, they've replaced the original studio logo:


with the current blue/white castle logo they use on new films...not a big deal to me, but some are miffed about it. In any case, the picture is better and the bonus materials are supposedly very good, so it's worth picking up; just be sure to listen to the original mix.

I ran across another review of Return of the King which can be found here.

DVD Savant reviews Criterion's re-do DVD of M (1931)

December 9, 2004

"Around here, we've got something more powerful than Drano."

Ah where to begin...?

How about the first review of the upcoming (12/14) Return of the King Extended Edition DVD? So far it looks fantastic, just like the last two.

Another update from the forthcoming HD on DVD format war: Disney has announced they will be releasing titles in Sony's Blu-Ray format. To read more about this, check this story out. And for a good overview of the HD-DVD vs. Blu-Ray thing, take a look at this Slate article (the author sides with Blu, but it's worth a look for a good read on the subject). So far, the studios have gone thusly:

HD-DVD Supporting Studios - Warner Bros., New Line, Paramount, Universal, HBO

Likely HD-DVD Supporters - DreamWorks (because of its ties to Universal)

Blu-ray Disc Supporting Studios - Columbia TriStar/Sony Pictures, Buena Vista (Walt Disney, Hollywood, Touchstone, Miramax and Dimension)

Likely Blu-ray Disc Supporters - MGM (soon to be owned by Sony)

Officially Undecided - 20th Century Fox, Lions Gate, Image, Anchor Bay, Criterion and many smaller distributors

On 2/15, Universal will release The Motorcycle Diaries. The film will be available in separate anamorphic widescreen and full frame versions (SRP $29.98 each). Audio will be available in French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, with burned-in English subtitles and optional French subtitles. No word yet on extras if any. Also coming is a 2-disc Apollo 13: Anniversary Edition (Anniversary of the flight that is) on 3/29 (SRP $22.98). This will also be available in two separate versions. Both editions will contain the original version of the DVD, with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio and all the extras that were on the original collector's edition release. One edition will contain the anamorphic widescreen version (2.35:1), while the other will contain the full frame release. Disc Two will then contain the more recent IMAX version of the film in anamorphic widescreen (1.66:1), with audio in Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1.

Columbia TriStar has announced the DVD release of Control, Into the Sun, Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War - Special Edition, and Good Times: The Complete Fourth Season, all for 2/15.

December 6, 2004

"I'm a society burglar. I don't expect people to rush about shooting me!"

Nothing big opened this past weekend, so the list remains somewhat the same...

1. National Treasure $17.1M
2. Christmas with the Kranks $11.7M
3. The Polar Express $11M
4. The Incredibles $9.16M
5. The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie $7.8M
6. Closer $7.7M
7. Alexander $4.72M
8. Finding Neverland $2.85M
9. Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason $2.8M
10. Ray $1.9M

And this week's DVDs:

* 24: Season 3
* Alvarez Kelly
* Anything But Love
* Battles Without Honor and Humanity V1
* Beautiful Joe
* Bourne Supremacy
* Buster Keaton Collection
(the MGM period films: The Cameraman, Spite Marriage, Free and Easy, and So Funny It Hurts)
* Carnivale: Complete First Season
* Cinema of Vengeance
* Complete Pluto: Vol 1
* Crusade: Complete Series
* Daddy's Dyin Who's Got the Will
* Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story
* Dracula 3000
* Final Episode Vol 5
* Garfield & Friends 2
* Gargoyles - The Complete First Season
* George Stevens - A Filmmaker's Journey
* Gilmore Girls - The Complete Second Season
* Hell's Angels
* Hi Mom
* Hound of the Baskervilles
* How to Steal a Million
* Jinxed
* Key West: City of Colors
* King of Kings
* Last Horror Movie
* Lion King Trilogy Gift Set
* M
(new Criterion DVD version)
* Maria Full of Grace
* MASH Season 7
* Mickey Mouse Club
* Mickey Mouse in Black & White: Vol 2
* Mistress Club
* Naked Fish
* North & South: The Complete Collection
* Out Cold
* Phantom of the Opera
* Police Tactics Vol 4
* Proxy War Vol 3
* A Show of Force
* Smooth Talk
* Species III
* Star Trek Voyager: The Complete Sixth Season
* Testament
* Top Fighter
* Ultimate Matrix Collection
* Under The Black Pool Lights
* Warriors of Heaven & Earth
* White Thunder
* Wild at Heart
* Young Doctors in Love

DVDFile.com has an early review of the upcoming Mary Poppins 40th Anniversary Edition DVD (out on 12/14).

DVD Savant reviews the new Marx Brothers Silver Screen Collection (out now) and something musicals fans should take a look at: the 1957 Rogers/Hammerstein version of Cinderella starring Julie Andrews.

December 3, 2004

"When a man is wrestling a leopard in the middle of a pond, he's in no position to run."

I just read an article saying that more network shows are going to be starting/ending at odd times; not on the hour or half hour. This is probably to thwart those of us who use Tivos and other PVRs. The Tivo software is pretty good at catching the changes, but things get fouled up when two shows overlap on the schedule at all; you have to choose which one to record. You could of course just schedule a block of time on a channel, but that's a pain. Check out the piece here.

Warner has more DVDs on the march...

Coming on 3/1, a Bringing Up Baby: Special Edition (1938 2-discs), Dinner at Eight (1933), Libeled Lady (1936), The Philadelphia Story: Special Edition (1940, 2-discs), Stage Door (1937), To Be or Not to Be (Lubitsch, 1942) and Wonder Woman: The Complete Second Season. OK, I was reading through this list thinking "hmm, classic, classic, classic, classic, classic, classic, and....*Wonder Woman*?!" All righty then...

There is a new 2-disc Ghost in the Shell: Special Edition for 1/11 (SRP $34.98). The digitally re-mastered film will be presented in anamorphic widescreen video, with audio in DTS 6.1 ES and Dolby Digital 5.1 EX in BOTH English and Japanese. Spanish, French, Italian and German audio will also be available in Dolby Digital 2.0 (with optional English subtitles). Extras will include character dossiers, creator and director biographies, a Digital Works Production Report, Ghost in the Shell trailers, previews and web links.

Fox has Chisholm 72, Incident at Loch Ness, and Lost in Space: Season 3, Volume 1 (for 3/1), Woman Thou Art Loosed (for 3/8), What the Bleep Do We Know, The Pretender: Season 1, Call Northside 777 (1948), House of Bamboo (1955) and Panic in the Streets (Kazan, 1950 for 3/15), Volcano High (3/22) and The Lone Gunmen (for 3/29). The Lone Gunmen will include all 13 episodes of the Chris Carter X-Files spin-off series on 3 discs (SRP $39.98), in anamorphic widescreen video with Dolby Digital 2.0 surround audio. This WILL include the pilot episode. The set is also expected to include the X-Files episode Jump the Shark, which served as a sort of defacto 14th and final episode of The Lone Gunmen. Extras will include audio commentary with cast and crew members, and possibly additional materials TBA.

Paramount has announced their 2-disc Star Trek: First Contact - Special Collector's Edition for 3/15, with Hogan's Heroes: The Complete First Season (5 discs) set to street the same day. On 3/1, look for South Park: The Complete Fifth Season on 3 discs.

December 1, 2004

"We're not in infinity; we're in the suburbs."

I don't know about y'all, but I'm counting the days now until The Return of the King Extended Edition DVD hits (on the 14th). It's been off the radar, so to speak, for a while now, but it's coming right up. If you're interested in seeing a peek at the new material (the theatrical edition DVD didn't have a trailer for it, unlike the first two), check out this site here.

Criterion will release Jules Dassin's noir Night and the City (1950), Dassin's Thieves' Highway (1949), Bernardo Bertolucci's La Commare secca (1962), Jean-Luc Godard and collaborator Jean-Pierre Gorin's Tout va bien (1972) and Gus Van Sant's My Own Private Idaho (1991), all in February.

Fox has I Heart Huckabees for release on 2/22. You'll be able to get the film in a single disc version (SRP $27.98) containing both full frame and anamorphic widescreen video, as well as a 2-disc set (SRP $39.98). The 2-disc set will also include the film in both anamorphic widescreen and full frame video with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Extras (on the 2-disc edition) will include audio commentary by director David O. Russell, a cast commentary by Jason Schwartzman, Mark Wahlberg and Naomi Watts, the Inside Look: In Her Shoes featurette, an I Heart Huckabees production featurette, a Charlie Rose Show segment, 22 extended and deleted scenes, 5 outtakes, 6 Open-Spaces Coalition PSAs, a photo montage, 3 infomercials, a Jon Brion music video, TV spots and the film's teaser and trailer trailers.

Sony has The Grudge coming on 2/1. The film will appear in anamorphic widescreen video with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Extras will include the 5-part A Powerful Rage: Behind the Grudge documentary, a cast and crew audio commentary (featuring Sam Raimi, Ted Raimi, Sarah Michelle Gellar and more), the Under the Skin featurette and previews.

And finally, rumor has it that The Incredibles will be released on 3/15 and Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason on 3/8.

I'll finish things up with a review link: The Ultimate Matrix Collection (out on 12/7, includes all three films plus a ridiculous number of extras)