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June 27, 2005

"Rebuilding is for losers. Time to party."

Hello again everyone (that's all two of you!) and welcome to another action-packed week of DVD new releases!

OK, so this week looks pretty, well weak! Oh well, so what; we'll do it anyway (Scott Baio did it).


Acacia

The Browning Version (1951) Criterion releases this British classic which, by some accounts is the antithesis of Goodbye, Mr. Chips. DVD Savant tales a good look at it here.

Crazed Fruit (1956) The award-winning sequel to Attack of the Killer Tomatoes!, released by Criterion...OK fine, just kidding.

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart: Indecision 2004 In this time of one-party government (sorry about the political slip), The Daily Show goes a long way in helping me to stay sane. Their election coverage was really fun (the show continues to be very good, IMO) so if you didn't see it last fall, it might be worth checking out via rental. I can't imagine watching this over the long haul though.

Diary of a Mad Black Woman It's pretty sad when this is one of the two "big releases" of the week.

Dirty Mary Crazy Larry (1974) One of the first extended high-speed chase films, predating Smokey and the Bandit (1977) and The Dukes of Hazzard by a few years. Gee, it even has NASCAR in it. Way ahead of its time and now you know who to blame for everything that's followed it. Unavailable on DVD until now.

The Doris Day Show: Season 1 I guess I didn't know she did a sitcom...and that Denver Pyle (aka Uncle Jesse) was on it!

Gunner Palace (2004) Iraq war documentary.

Homicide: Life on the Street -- The Complete Season 7

Jimi Hendrix (1973) This is, apparently THE docu on Hendrix.

The Pacifier The other "hit" of the week.

Race with the Devil (1975) Perhaps a good double feature with Dirty Mary!

The Ren and Stimpy Show: Seasons Three and a Half-ish I've really got to go back and watch this one again sometime...

Stone Cold (2005) Ain't it nice to know that Tom Selleck is getting some work?

The Twilight Zone (1980s): Seasons 2 and 3

June 21, 2005

"The French Love This Film Because They Can't Understand It"

Another post in the "what I've been watching" category.

Last night it was Incubus (1965). A few of you have already seen this almost forgotten cult film, but if not, go check out the DVD Savant review of it here.

Hmm, I could say that you haven't lived until you've seen a film in Esperanto starring William Shatner but I don't know...I couldn't even convince Shades that it was worth 75 minutes of her time. No argument there since, let's just say that listening to Shatner talk Esparanto for an hour is an acquired taste!

Shatner, if you can stand him, is actually somewhat subdued (for him) and is obviously making an effort to extract a performance in this bizarre film. The cinematography is the real standout in this film, shot by Conrad Hall. Hall got his start with Leslie Stevens working on The Outer Limits. He went on to work in feature films, even winning an Oscar for American Beauty. The guy got some interesting and creepy looks from the low-budget shoot. Much of the dialogue seems disjointed and delivered with an odd tone. The thing works as a curiosity and if you can get your mind around an "allegorical" story shot somewhat like a Bergman film. The review summed it up best, but if you're curious, it's worth a look for I've never seen anything quite like it.

The DVD, sourced from the only print of the film known to exist, is a bit rough, but watchable. The bonuses include an interesting interview with some of the people (those not done in by the so-called Incubus Curse a Salon.com article), an audio commentary with the same guys, and a commentary with Shatner.

Shatner has some interesting things to say about the film, such as the fact that Gene Roddenberry considered doing Star Trek in Esparanto...my, that would have been interesting! Shatner also has things to say about the other actors and admits that no one really knew what they were saying when they spoke the lines. The commentary has some real gaps, so it would have been nice to have had it edited in with someone else or shortened. One amusing thing he says, after talking about the difficulty of languages and some Bushman tribe in Borneo that speaks in a "clicking" language, is this: "A bushman version of Incubus would be a very interesting picture to see...only if I could direct it!" He then laughs out loud. Indeed!

June 20, 2005

"We're the only species who put our own kind in cages."

Another week...hey wait, I made a few changes to the look of the blog. Better? Worse? Feel free to chime in and let me know what you think. I'm going to tweak the font/color some more, but this seems like a good change. You've probably noticed the Netflix lists. The reason there's two is that Shades and I have our own queues as well as a joint one for stuff we're both interested in (I don't list hers). The top queue is mine. So now you can marvel at all the goofy stuff I'm watching...

Here's this week's DVDs...pretty weak.

American Psycho: Killer Collector's Edition (2000) Another chance to re-buy this one...what, you weren't going to buy it???

Bewitched: The Complete First Season The first couple of seasons were in black & white, then color from then on. The b/w seasons were colorized at some point so you have your choice of b/w or color DVDs.

Coach Carter Did anyone see this? It sounded OK, but not enough to see it the first time around...

Cursed (2005) Wes Craven does the werewolf thing...not that well, apparently.

Farscape 4: Starburst Edition 2.1 Another installment for this show. They've been reissuing this series in less expensive packages; this one begins season 2.

Hostage (2005)

Hustle (1975)

The Jacket (2005)

Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous The IMDB lead comment says it best: "Boring and Dreadful."

The Outer Limits: The New Series (1995)

Oz: The Complete Fifth Season

Princesse Tam Tam (1935) One of three films starring Joshephine Baker that are being released this week.

Siren of the Tropics (1927)

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971) Same DVD, new packaging...just in time for the new version.

Zouzou (1934)

June 15, 2005

"Just... follow the money."

Hmm, coincidence? Warner is now working on All the President's Men: 30th Anniversary Edition for release in 2006. The current DVD is lacking and could use a re-do. Too bad Deep Throat couldn't have waited till the DVD was ready.

The jolly Tom Hanks playing everything CG-fest, The Polar Express will come out on 11/22.

Some of you might have seen the web article stating that Wal-Mart will stop selling VHS tapes in their stores. Well don't look now, but they're denying it. Well, it's bound to happen sooner or later...save for the older, more obscure titles not yet released on DVD, I say good riddance.

Paramount is set to release the last Star Trek film as a 2 DVD SE: Star Trek: Nemesis, 10/4.

Universal is set to re-do some old DVDs; two of the three really needed to be redone. on 9/6 The Deer Hunter: Special Edition, a 2-disc set featuring anamorphic widescreen video (the current disc is an old laser transfer), Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, audio commentary with cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, video of the acceptance of the Best Picture Award, the Anatomy of a Scene featurette, deleted and extended scenes, production notes and the film's original theatrical trailer.

Also on 9/6, we get The Sting: Special Edition, a 2-disc set featuring anamorphic widescreen video (the current disc is pan/scan only), Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 audio, The Art of The Sting retrospective documentary, the film's theatrical trailer and production notes. Very good news here.

Again on 9/6, Universal will street its To Kill a Mockingbird: Special Edition, also a 2-disc set featuring 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen video, Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 mono audio, DTS 5.1 audio (no kidding), audio commentary with director Robert Mulligan and producer Alan Pakula, the Fearful Symmetry "making of" documentary, the A Conversation with Gregory Peck featurette, video of Peck's Academy Award Best Actor acceptance speech, video of Peck receiving the American Film Institute's Life Achievement Award, a video excerpt from an Academy tribute to Gregory Peck, the Scout Remembers featurette and the film's theatrical trailer. The current disc is non-anamorphic. Otherwise the bonuses look similar to what's already available.

Finally, Slate.com has an interesting article about Rupert Murdoch, always one my favorite guys, and his plan to take over the video rental universe with satellite-delivered on-demand movies by giving every satellite customer a set-top box with a Tivo-esque built-in hard drive recorder. Give the piece a read here.

My short take on it is this: this kind of thing is inevitable. The cable companies are pushing video on-demand as well as traditional pay-per-view already. This is a way for DirecTV (and Dish) to get into the action. This is related to the problem of an "open" digital cable TV system. Here's a brief explanation of what this means. In the analog cable world, the companies pretty much use the same system so all you have to do is plug the cable into your TV/VCR (or even Tivo) and you're ready to go. As long as you had a somewhat modern (made in the last 20 years or so) TV, you could do this without renting a box from your cable operator. The cable companies went along with this since the loss of box revenue wasn't too big a deal.

Now we have digital cable. Sure, analog is still out there, but if you want to get all the "basic" channels, you have to go digital. The problem is that there are few if any TVs that can handle the signals without...you guessed it, a box you rent from the cable company. Of course the TV/Video manufacturers want to make their products work with digital cable, but as long as there wasn't a standard, it was a no go. Years after digital cable hit the marketplace, we're getting close to a standard, prodded along by the FCC, that in theory allows you to buy a digital TV, insert this card from the cable company, and get digital cable without the box. Sounds pretty groovy, no? It was too easy to work. Before say, Sony could make digital TVs that could take the digital cable, they had to have their equipment certified by an outfit called CableLabs. These guys set the standards and certify that stuff will work. The only problem is that this group is funded by...you guessed it, the cable companies. So they've been stonewalling letting anyone other than the outfits that make proprietary cable boxes get certified. Verrrry convenient.

Why are they doing this? Easy; to keep collecting rental fees on those boxes and more importantly, to be sure that their customers have access to features like pay-per-view (PPV) and so forth. This is a huge potential revenue source and many fewer people will be buying it if they have those "open commie" TVs. This is the deal Murdoch is trying to get into. The satellite providers already make you use a box and you can do PPV this way, but to do any on-demand or rentals, a more sophisticated box has to be rolled out. DirecTV is preparing to go to a new compression (the way the video data is squeezed through the limited satellite data pipe) system so they can add more channels (HDTV in particular). When they do this, new boxes will be needed, so they'll probably roll this out at the same time. I can't really blame them for wanting to get in on what the cable companies are doing.

My main concern about this is quality. Sure, it would be nice to call up anything in the Netflix system without using discs and the postal service, but what's the quality going to be like? Will we get these in HD? Bonuses? A lot to think about, but things are going to go this way, at least for certain parts of the market. OK, so this wasn't so short...I'll have to think on this some more and watch the skies...

June 13, 2005

"Let them puppies loose!"

All right, let's just dive right into this week's DVD releases.

Au hasard Balthazar Robert Bresson's 1966 classic, which I might add I haven't seen, is released by Criterion. Roger Ebert wrote about it in his "Great Movies" series here.

The Bette Davis Collection Includes: Now Voyager, Dark Victory, The Star, The Letter, and Mr. Skeffington. Warner cranks out another box set.

Casino: 10th Anniversary Edition The Scorsese film gets a reissue...this time with bonuses and a better film transfer.

Diabolik (1968)

A Dirty Shame The John Waters film from last year gets released as an NC-17 version and an R-rated "Neuter" version!

Heaven Can Wait (1943)

Hitch

Jaws: 30th Anniversary Edition Another chance to buy this movie...this DVD has the same film transfer as the one that came out in 2000, but has more bonuses and both Dolby and DTS mixes plus the original mono. The old disc came in either Dolby or DTS and neither offered the original mix. Probably not worth re-buying if you already have it.

The John Waters Collection More Waters than you can imagine! A Dirty Shame (NC17, natch), Desperate Living, Female Trouble, Hairspray, Pecker, Pink Flamingoes, and Polyester.

The Joan Crawford Collection Includes: Mildred Pierce, The Women, The Damned Don't Cry, Humoresque, and The Possessed. Warner does two leading lady boxes in one week...like the other set, a few in this one are new to DVD and some have been out for a while.

Queer Eye For the Straight Guy - Everyman's Guide With Kyan and Jai This looks like the sign that the show is past its prime and is beginning to stink up the joint. Don't get me wrong, it was fun for a while, but enough's enough.

Queer Eye For the Straight Guy - Style With Carson See above...stick a fork in it.

June 9, 2005

"At last, your family can be protected from the heartbreak of gorilla invasion."

First, a couple of items for you Henson fans.

At long last, The Muppet Show - Season One is on the way: 8/9. No doubt it will be nice to have them all in season sets instead of the "best of" DVDs that have been available so far. The Muppets material has changed hands not too far back and now the show's video rights seem to lie with Disney, who's releasing this set. The only features known so far include, Henson's original pitch reel, the show's original pilot, as well as some other goodies - including a gag reel. No word on if the Brian Henson intros on the old discs will be present. Also coming soon is The Muppets' Wizard of Oz; it sounds like it wasn't so great, but it'll be on DVD on 8/9 as well.

Warner has Gilmore Girls: The Complete Fourth Season coming on 9/27.

Roger Ebert adds Howards End to his "Great Movies" collection.


And remember yesterday's post where I talked about movies being released on the UMD (Playstation 3) format? Well, you just know if was a matter of time, but there are now two porn publishers who are going to be start releasing their stuff next month on the format. Gee, maybe this format will really take off!

Finally, there's some word about more Star Wars DVDs on the way. If you're just dying to see Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith on DVD, you'll get the chance on 11/1. AND, they'll have a new 3-title box set of the prequel trilogy and a 6-title box set of the complete saga at the same time.

Speaking of the latest film, I never did mention what I thought of the latest installment...so here goes; consider yourself warned (there may be a spoiler or two as well).

I suppose I should begin by saying that my relatively low opinion of the last two films has colored my view of this one. I went in with pretty low expectations, certainly lower than I did for Episode I. I figured that if I counted on bad writing and direction, I could better enjoy the things this film does well: the effects and action sequences. So let's just get this out of the way; the dialogue is as bad as ever and the acting is usually wooden. I attribute this not to the actors themselves, but to Lucas' direction (or lack thereof) and the fact that the bulk of the scenes are done in front a blue screen. I'd guess it would take some skillful direction (some good writing would help too) to extract good performances from people standing around in front of screens with the sets "to be added later." Obviously by now Lucas knows what he likes from movies; there's no one around to tell him otherwise. If the love scenes are giggle-inducing, he's OK with it.

Believe it or not, this isn't what really bothers me the most about this movie. The thing that really doesn't work for me is the character development. Cheesy dialogue is somewhat easy to overlook in an action film, but character development, when it is pivotal to the story has to be there. Truth be told, I never cared why Anakin chose the Dark Side since he came off as an annoying jackass in the last film; Lucas never built up enough complexity in the character for me to give a damn why he "changed." And speaking of that, thinking back to Ep. 2, Anakin was blathering on about democracy being too "messy" and "imposing order" so you tell me: why should the Padme character, who was much more interesting and less clueless in the last film, be at all surprised that he went off and joined the scenery-chewing side of the Force? Speaking of chewing, Ian McD, who plays Palpatine/The Emperor gets one of the two funnest roles in the film. He gets to be all snarky as the scheming politician AND fight with a light sabre, complete with lightning shooting out of his hands. Sure, he's a bit over-the-top, but it doesn't seem out of place here. By the way, was I the only one who thought, after he has the big showdown with Samuel L Jackson, that he looked like some vampire lord from Buffy? The other fun role has got to be Yoda. He gets to deliberate with the clueless Jedi Council (how could they not see this coming???) as well as do some kick-ass fights. My only complaint about Yoda is that every line he has is done in the pseudo-backward speak, which gets old fast. It was much more effective in Empire when it was just every few sentences or so.

So that leaves us with the effects and action. For the most part, the show looked amazing, better than the last one. Sure, the final fight looks a bit like "Showdown at Mt. Doom," but they've outdone themselves this time. I found the film worth seeing on the big screen worth it just to get a good look at the CG set pieces. The things that bothered me about the effects were minor: clutter. It seems as though every interior scene had to have either a huge balcony or windows where you could just stare at the thousands of ships and junk flying in the background. Admittedly, it was nice to have distractions during certain dramatic moments, but it smacked of doing it because they could. And how many times do we have to watch another ship setting down on a landing pad with the struts making those oh-so-minute adjustments? I'm sure the guys who coded that worked hard, but by the end of the film it was silly (maybe I'll keep track next time I see it...drinking game???).

The thing I go back to again and again is the plain fact that Lucas has the power and talents (certainly the people who work on his films) to make great space-action-operas. I'm not looking for high art here; it just seems that it wouldn't take that much to make the last few SW films into decent examples of the genre. Would it kill George to put a small amount of humor in there somewhere? Quoting the old movies, "I've got a bad feeling about this," just seems kinda sad.

And the best part of all? Jar Jar has no lines!

June 7, 2005

"Joey, do you like movies about gladiators?"

Today I'm going to hit some bits and pieces that I haven't had time to cover so expect some random stuff...

First some upcoming DVDs:

Warner has officially announced the release of the Ben Hur: 4-Disc Collector's Edition (1959) for 9/13. The film has been carefully remastered from the original 65mm film elements. You'll find that on Disc One and Two of the set, in anamorphic widescreen video (2.76:1 aspect ratio) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. These first two discs will also include audio commentary by film historian T. Gene Hatcher (with scene specific comments from actor Charlton Heston), a music-only track showcasing Miklos Rozsa's score, screen test footage, a vintage newsreels gallery, film highlights from the 1960 Academy Awards ceremony and a theatrical trailer gallery. Disc Three will include the 1925 Silent Version of Ben-Hur, presented in the Thames Television Restoration, complete with stereophonic orchestral score by composer Carl Davis. Finally, Disc Four will include a new documentary Ben-Hur: The Epic That Changed Cinema (featuring interviews with current filmmakers like Ridley Scott and George Lucas reflecting on the importance and influence of the film), the 1994 documentary Ben-Hur: The Making of an Epic hosted by Christopher Plummer, the 1986 Directed by William Wyler documentary (featuring the last interview with Wyler before his death) and Ben-Hur: A Journey Through Pictures ( a new audiovisual recreation of the film via stills, storyboards, sketches, music and dialogue). All told, the 4-disc set includes more than 10 hours of bonus material. Of course this film has been out on DVD for a few years, but this new one should be an improvement as the current one is a double-sided disc (dual side/dual layer), is supposedly framed incorrectly, and has a so-so audio mix. The Ben-Hur: The Making of an Epic docu that's on the new set is on the current DVD (and is a good docu actually). So, if the 4 disc Gone With the Wind DVD is any indication, this should be really good (and having the 1925 version is a nice extra).

Universal has announced The Office: Season One for 8/16.

Kung Fu Hustle will be out on 8/9

Paramount has the Airplane: Don't Call Me Shirley Special Collector's Edition coming on 11/15.

The much-overrated Gladiator will be reissued on 8/23 as an "Extended Edition." Apparently Russell Crowe has recorded a commentary track...where he throws a phone at the microphone!

Disney is going to reissue Chicago as a 3 disc SE. It will include the film in anamorphic widescreen video with both Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 audio, audio commentary with the director and screenwriter, extended musical performances, song rehearsal footage, a behind-the-scenes featurette, the deleted musical number Class performed by Catherine Zeta-Jones and Queen Latifah, a VH1: Behind the Movie episode, 5 new featurettes (including Chita Rivera's Encore, From Stage to Screen: The History of Chicago, An Intimate Look at Director Rob Marshall, Academy Award-winning Production Designer John Myre and Academy Award-winning Costume Designer Colleen Atwood)

I just read an interesting article from the NY Times about how theatrical movie ticket sales are in decline. The reasons stated are the usual: crappy movies, the Internet, video games, Tivo, and of course, DVD. While the theatrical moviegoing experience isn't always great, (annoying people, rather than techincal problems are my peeves) I would miss it if it went away. I have an OK home theater system, but it really isn't the same as seeing a film on a huge screen. Sure, a lot of stuff is served just fine by a good DVD but there are still movies that really benefit from the theatrical showing. I'm sure this will even out at some point; probably involving fewer theaters. Let's hope that the ones that survive are decent.

Robert Harris has a short new column where he gripes, with reason I think, about the quality of extras on many DVDs. Worth a read, find it here.

sonyspspwithmovie.jpg

The Digital Bits site has a short piece on the movie discs available for the new Sony Playstation Portable (PSP). The piece can be found here. These movies, on what's called a Universal Media Disc (UMD), allow you to watch full length movies on their PSPs. Apparently the movies look OK, if not quite DVD quality and have stereo sound. Now I don't doubt that the PSP is a cool little device and is probably very fun for games, but I just have to wonder: is there much value in watching movies on a 4.3 inch screen? I have a PDA with a color screen and I don't really like web surfing on it, never mind watching a movie. Maybe if you had some cool video goggles that simulated a giant video screen, this would be more attractive, but for now it doesn't seem like more than a novelty (the movie part that is). And Bill Gates thinks we're all going to be watching movies/TV on our cell phones? Uh, yeah...

June 6, 2005

"Foiled by a cheap cinematic trick."

Good afternoon, my fellow Droogs...er, Dregs. Another week of DVD releases; mostly reissues and TV shows. Not a time for big recent theatrical hits I guess. As always, the complete list with pricing can be found here.

Be Cool The not-so-well-received sequel to Get Shorty, which was just OK. See, there was something new this week...

Beyond the Sea OK, so shoot me; another first-run...this time with Kevin Spacey singing.

Coyote Ugly: Unrated Extended Version Yeah, I'm sure a longer cut of this turd will make all the difference.

Dead Ringers This will be the third DVD release for this film (one's out of print and Criterion has one out already)...an interesting film but think twice before viewing as a dark, kinky, psychological film about twin gynecologist brothers isn't exactly everyone's cup of...something.

The Dead Zone: The Complete Third Season It's been suggested that I check out this show...anyone besides Eric watched it?

Doctor Who: Leisure Hive, Doctor Who: Ghost Light I'll let the Whovians comment on these...

Dragnet '67: Season 1 The second incarnation of the show (not counting radio). Friday and Gannon bust hippies and drug dealers!

The Driver (1978)

Father of the Bride: 15 Anniversary Special Edition Wow, mediocre Steve Martin and and sentimental slop all in the same movie! (mostly kidding for those of you who actually like this one)...this is a reissue of what was a basic DVD.

Father of the Pride: The Complete Series This one didn't last long...

Frasier: The Complete Fifth Season

Gone in 60 Seconds: Director's Cut See my Coyote Ugly comments...

Home Improvement: The Complete Second Season

House of Bamboo (1955) DVD Savant viddys this Sam Fuller title here.

The Karate Kid: Special Edition Yes, you too have another chance to purchase the entire epic (parts 2, 3, and even The Next Karate Kid are available!); more Maccio than you can eat.

Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman - The Complete First Season

The Man Who Never Was (1956) A good DVD Savant review of this apparently good film can be found here.

Quincy, M.E.: Seasons 1 and 2 I remember watching this as a kid...I wonder how it holds up?

Sling Blade: Director's Cut Jeez, what is this, "Extended/Director's Cut Month?"

The Sopranos: The Complete Fifth Season Someday I'll get around to watching past the first season of this...

Star Trek: Insurrection - Special Collector's Edition Same film transfer, DTS sound mix, and some bonuses...this will be a skipper for me since the old DVD looks/sounds good and let's just say that this isn't one I revisit too often.

Stripes Special Edition I'm looking forward to checking this one out again.

Tears of the Sun: Extended Director's Cut Wow, an Extended and Director's cut!

ThornBirds 2: Missing Years (1996) I'm sticking this one on just in case my Mom is reading as she is a huge fan of the whole Thorn Birds saga.

Unfaithfully Yours (1984) The better 1948 version comes out next month.

What's New, Pussycat (1965)