Category: DVD Reviews

THE DARK KNIGHT — DVD review

Published December 13, 2008

Batman
Since I already reviewed The Dark Knight back in July when it was released to theaters, and I essentially stand by that post, I will focus here on its home video incarnation.

Or maybe I don’t stand by that review anymore. While at the time I was slightly off-put by the dark and dour crime-drama take on this comic book staple (I still gave it a solid B+), upon watching it again, I must say the film improves with repeat viewings. On multiple levels, this is an incredible accomplishment — quite possibly the greatest superhero movie ever made. The Godfather Part II of comic book films. Even without Heath Ledger’s terrifyingly creepy portrayal of The Joker — with it, the achievement is monumental.
The Joker
So then why did Warner Bros. stick it to us with such a bogus DVD? (By the by, I am reviewing the 2-Disc Special Edition — I don’t have Blu-Ray yet). While the picture and sound of the feature on Disc 1 are all top-notch, it is Disc 2 that fails so horribly. As an aficionado of cinematic documentaries (not to mention a big Batman fan), I was particularly looking forward to the same kind of in-depth behind-the-scenes featurettes that were included on the Batman Begins 2-Disc SE. Alas, this is not to be.

All that is included here is:

Gotham Uncovered: Creation of a Scene — I’m not even sure why this is called such. All it includes are brief featurettes about the Bat-Suit, the Bat-Pod and Hans Zimmer’s Joker music. Each of these are fascinating, but it is all too obvious that they have been carved from a much bigger pie.

The Dark Knight IMAX scenes — Six scenes in all, which simply change the format ratio. They’re all cool (much more so when they are on an actual IMAX screen), but why the choice to include these separately on Disc 2 instead of incorporating them into the feature itself?

Gotham Tonight: Six episodes of Gotham’s Premiere News Program — You know those newscasts spread throughout The Dark Knight, with Anthony Michael Hall as a reporter? Here is nearly an hour of those newscasts. Yawn. (While I like Hall in other roles, his casting here was distracting to me — took me out of the story every time I saw him).

Other than trailers and production stills (oh, and the faddish, completely useless Digital Copy), that’s it for Bonus Content. I understand the Blu-Ray version does indeed have much more, but even that one leaves much to be desired. No commentary, no Making-Of docs (except a few trimmings), not even a mention of Heath Ledger. Never mind that there could (should) have been a career retrospective, or a brief featurette, or a “Dedicated To:”, his name is not even mentioned. Pardon my French, but WTF?
The Batman
Obviously there are double- and triple-dips for this film in our future. While I have surely dipped into that well when upgrading some of my favorite films, such chintzy marketing (hell, greed!) is beginning to leave a sour taste in my mouth. At least studios used to pretend that they weren’t milking their properties for every penny they can get. Perhaps they know they’ve got us suckered, so why even put up the pretense?

It’s enough to even piss off The Batman.

FILM GRADE: A-
BONUS CONTENT: D-

RISKY BUSINESS – 25th ANNIVERSARY DVD

Published September 17, 2008

Time does fly. It’s been a quarter century since a 19-year-old Tom Cruise slid across the floor in his stocking feet and danced in his underwear to the strains of Bob Seger’s Old Time Rock and Roll. The year was 1983. The movie was Risky Business. A movie star was born.

The past couple years have been a little rough on the erstwhile box-office king. Say what you will about Tom Cruise, for over 20 years nearly every movie he starred in grossed over 100 million dollars — it’s a record no other actor can even come close to. While he received a completely disproportionate amount of flak for jumping on Oprah’s couch, he has gone a little off the deep end in his Scientological rants. (About that couch incident — I saw the episode when it aired and thought, If I had that kind of money, Katie Holmes was in love with me and Steven Spielberg wanted me to star in his movies, I’d be jumping up and down on Oprah’s couch, too. Oh, and one more odd note: Tom Cruise also jumps on the couch in Risky Business. Come to think of it, he jumps on the bed in The Color of Money. Maybe it’s a fetish or something.)

Anyway, to commemorate the Silver Anniversary of the film that launched Tom into the stratosphere (well, that would be Top Gun, but Business lit the fuse), Warner Brothers has released Risky Business – the 25th Anniversary DVD.
Risky Business - 25th Anniversary DVD
For those unlearned souls, Risky Business tells the story of Joel Goodson (and yes, the name is meant to imply something), an ambitious high school senior who is overly obsessed with getting into an ivy-league college and otherwise not screwing up his future. When his parents leave on a trip, straight-arrow Joel is led astray by one of his buddies and quickly finds himself entangled with a prostitute, a pimp, and the necessity of turning his parents home into a one-night-only brothel to pay for repairs on his father’s Porsche after dumping it in Lake Michigan. You know, standard stuff.

While the early 80s saw a deluge of cheap, insipid, peepshow teen comedies (Porky’s, Zapped, Last American Virgin), Risky Business stood out proudly among its lesser competitors as a film which not only did not pander to its young audience, but respected them enough to tell an emotionally-complex tale worthy of comparison to 1967’s The Graduate.

Tom Cruise was not the only actor to be propelled to stardom because of this film, Bronson Pinchot, Curtis Armstrong, Richard Masur and Joe Pantoliano as Guido, the Killer Pimp all got their starts in this movie. But perhaps the one who deserves to be singled out among even these is Rebecca DeMornay as Lana, the prostitute who leads Joel (if not astray) on the ride of his life. She was only three years older than Cruise when she was offered this part and brings a quality of deep sadness to the role. Yes, she is incredibly sexy, but her aloofness and hard-shell exterior make her a much more complex character than other actresses might have done. She is every bit Tom Cruise’s equal in this film and I’m surprised her star did not shine quite as bright in the following years. Later highlights would include The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, The Three Musketeers and Stephen King’s The Shining.

Perhaps most unusual is the fact that first-time writer/director Paul Brickman only went on to direct one more film after Risky Business, 1990’s Men Don’t Leave. What’s up with that?

Bonus features on this new DVD (it retails at a bargain $14.99) include:

– Widescreen Presentation, digitally restored and remastered
– 5.1 Dolby Digital Audio
The Dream is Always the Same: The Story of Risky Business (all new 30-minute documentary)
– Director’s cut of the final scene with introduction by Paul Brickman
– Original screen tests with Tom Cruise and Rebecca De Mornay
– Audio commentary by Tom Cruise, Paul Brickman and Jon Avnet
– Theatrical trailer

Does it hold up? Yes, it does. Remarkably well. It remains an American classic.

And, to put a 21st century spin on one of its most famous lines:

Every now and then say, WTF. WTF gives you freedom. Freedom brings opportunity. Opportunity makes your future.

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

RISKY BUSINESS: A-
BONUS FEATURES: B+

WHEN JACK MET SALLY – a review of the 2-disc Collector’s Edition of THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS

Published August 27, 2008

Tim Burton’s 1993 masterpiece, The Nightmare Before Christmas, has been released on video a couple times before by Disney. However, for a triple-dip, this new 2-disc Special Edition is indeed pretty special.
The Nightmare Before Christmas 2-Disc Special Edition
I’ll admit it had been a few years since I’d seen this landmark film, and – despite the fact I am a big Tim Burton fan – I was blown away anew by the sheer poetic power of the thing. Since we’ve all seen it (hopefully), here’s the synopsis in a nutshell: Jack Skellington, leader of holiday-themed Halloween Town, grows tired of his lifestyle and stumbles upon the world of Christmas Town.  Fascinated by this new culture, Jack attempts to combine the two holidays, with disastrous results.

While briefly working for Disney on the film The Fox and the Hound (“a miserable experience”), young Burton wrote a poem called The Nightmare Before Christmas and eventually turned it into a treatment with sketches. Since his dark sensibilities rarely meshed well with Magic Kingdom pixie dust, nothing became of it there. Years later, with the clout bestowed by box-office smashes like Batman and Edward Scissorhands, Burton contacted Disney about his Nightmare and this time … Disney was all-too happy to oblige him.

Created completely with stop-motion animation on multiple stages over three years, the final result plays like a cross between Rankin-Bass holiday productions, German-expressionist cinema, and a macabre musical. Danny Elfman’s score (and singing voice for Jack) only adds to the charm. An instant classic.

It is not too surprising that the Goth culture has embraced this film with Biblical fervor – clothing, figurines, and other specialties still garner huge revenues (visit a Hot Topic store and you’ll see what I mean). I get the appeal. Especially with the haunting character of Sally – a rag-doll, Jack’s intended, who when she is literally falling apart, is often wont to retreat to lonely places to stitch herself back up. God, what a metaphor!. Simply wonderful.
JACK AND SALLY
Over the last few years, this film has become a holiday staple, with new 3-D theatrical releases garnering new fans.

This new DVD upgrade gives this film the treatment it deserves. The wealth of Bonus Features include:

– Anamorphic widescreen
– What’s This? Jack’s Haunted Mansion Holiday Tour
– Tim Burton’s original poem narrated by Christopher Lee
– Film Commentary by Tim Burton, Henry Selick, and Danny Elfman
Vincent (1983) Burton’s first animated short
Frankenweenie (1984) Burton’s first live-action short with new intro
– The Making of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas
– The Worlds of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas
– Deleted Scenes
– Storyboard to Film Comparison
– Original Theatrical Trailers and Posters

While the Making Of feature is utterly fascinating, the two standouts here are the inclusion of Vincent and Frankenweenie.

Vincent, a short animated film that Burton made in 1982, tells the story of a young boy who longs to be Vincent Price. Narrated by none other than Price himself (who would later go on to co-star in Edward Scissorhands), this 6-minute short is astounding. Even at this early stage in his career (Burton’s directorial debut, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, was still three years away), the mad genius’ touch is all over this thing.

Frankenweenie, also made during Burton’s Disney period, is a black-and-white live-action short which involves a young boy’s attempt at reviving his dog after he was killed by a car. It plays like a cross between Frankenstein and Leave it to Beaver. Having just watched it, this is one of the freshest and funniest films I’ve seen in a long time – a truly auspicious debut. Disney didn’t know what to do with this dark, sweet, sad, funny short, so it sat on a shelf for a long time – despite the fact that Burton’s brilliance is in every frame. A full-length animated version of this is now in the works.

To wrap up, this DVD upgrade of The Nightmare Before Christmas is pretty darn wonderful. Especially with the short films I just discussed. If you don’t want to wait to watch them, I am (surprise!) posting them below. Have at ’em.

MOVIE GRADE: A-
BONUS FEATURES: A-

 



THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS ~ THE FINALE!
Forgive my indulgence here … I just had to cap off this post with this.

THE DUDE ABIDES … IN A 10th ANNIVERSARY DVD

Published August 25, 2008

I am a big Coen Brothers fan. Ever since seeing their ode-to-noir debut film, Blood Simple (1984) and its follow-up, Raising Arizona (1986), I have come to appreciate and anticipate their wonderfully whacked oeuvre. There are some I still don’t get (Miller’s Crossing), some I just don’t like (The Man Who Wasn’t There), and some — despite being utter box-office failures — that I love (Barton Fink, The Hudsucker Proxy).

After winning a Best Screenplay Oscar for 1996’s Fargo, Joel and Ethan dusted off one of their older scripts and set about making what would be their biggest flop to date … The Big Lebowski.
The Big Lebowski - original poster
The story involved aging stoner Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski (Jeff Bridges), who is mistaken for another Lebowski (the Big one, a millionaire) by some thugs trying to collect a debt owed by the rich Lebowski’s wife. (Got that?) Realizing their mistake, the bad guys leave, but not before pissing on The Dude’s rug. Severely bummed out by this (“that rug really tied the room together”), The Dude visits the Big Lebowski in an effort to procure a new rug. His request is refused so The Dude takes one anyway. Later, when the millionaire Lebowski’s wife is kidnapped, The Dude is contacted and asked to be a courier for the ransom. With his bowling buddies, the unstable Vietnam-vet Walter (John Goodman), and the ever-inquisitive Donny (Steve Buscemi), The Dude finds himself in a Raymond Chandler-esque mystery involving avant-garde artists, a teenage car thief, a thick-drawled cowboy (gotta love Sam Elliott), a sleazy, Bob-Guccione-wannabe pornographer, New Wave nihilists, hallucinatory Busby Berkely musical numbers, a severed toe and bowling. Lots and lots of bowling.

Critical reception was good but mixed — some thought it was just all over the place. It is, but in a good way. Commercially it was a bomb — budget 15 million, domestic gross 17 million.

In the ten years since, this misunderstood gem has gained not just a cult following but a rabid fan base that can quote reams of dialogue and who regularly attend Lebowskifests. To read much more about this film’s journey from bomb-to-phenom, check out this article from Rolling Stone which features a brand new interview with Jeff Bridges. Turns out slacker-hero The Dude was more of an autobiographical role for Bridges than we ever imagined.

After a few sub-standard (and verrrry un-Dude) home video releases, get ready for the 10th Anniversary DVD.
The Big Lebowski - 10th Anniversary DVD
Loaded with Dude-worthy bonus features, including:

2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
The Dude’s Life: Strikes and Gutters, Up’s and Downs, The Dude Abides
Production Notes
Theatrical Trailer
The Making of The Big Lebowski
The Lebowski Fest: An Achiever’s Story
Flying Carpets and Bowling Pin Dreams: The Dream Sequences of the Dude
Interactive Map
Jeff Bridges Photo Book


This 10th Anniversary edition also comes in a deluxe model:
The Big Lebowski ... with balls
This is not being released until September 9th, but I thought I’d give you a heads up on it anyway. The two-disc version (without bowling ball) will retail for around 14 dollars. The deluxe for about 24. Either way … bargain! There is an official site for this DVD upgrade that is packed with interactive features and is pretty darn cool … check it out here.

This movie gets better with age. I don’t mean my perception of it … I mean it actually improves. I think there’s a lot more going on in this film than one can grasp in one, three or seven viewings. The Dude doesn’t have a job, a 401K, a cell phone, or even a useable car by the end of the film and yet … he is content.

The Dude abides. Oh yes, The Dude abides.


MOVIE GRADE: A-
BONUS FEATURES: I’ll let you know on Sept. 9th


Before viewing the quite entertaining Making Of feature below (which comes from the old DVD), you may want to go make yourself a White Russian … or spark up whatever’s handy.


THE MAKING OF THE BIG LEBOWSKI – PART 1




THE MAKING OF THE BIG LEBOWSKI – PART 2




THE MAKING OF THE BIG LEBOWSKI – PART 3




Still interested in more Coen Brothers stuff — like scripts, reviews, bios and other minutia? Check out this exhaustive site: You Know … for Kids. (If you don’t get that reference, you don’t know your Coens very well.)

SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES – season one DVD

Published August 22, 2008

If you’ve been keeping up with posts on this site, you already know I am a big fan of Fox Television’s Terminator – The Sarah Connor Chronicles. I reviewed this show after the first two episodes. After the first season wrapped up (only nine shows due to the writer’s strike), I not only stand by that review, I can tell you it very much lived up to its promise.

Season Two begins on September 8th — if you need to get caught up, Season One has been released on DVD and Blu-Ray.
Terminator - The Sarah Connor Chronicles season 1 DVD
Extras include:

* Creating the Chronicles a three-part Making Of featurette
* Commentaries by producers and cast
* Terminated Scenes
* Gag Reel
* Cast Audition Tapes – Lena Headey, Thomas Dekker and Richard T. Jones
* Storyboard Animatic
* Summer Glau Dance Rehearsal
* Extended Director’s Cut of Episode The Demon Hand

These bonus features are a nice edition to this handsome package — although some of it is obviously filler. The Creating The Chronicles featurettes are pretty interesting … if only to hear the show’s producers sing the praises of James Cameron. T3 didn’t even have the man’s name in the credits. That extended cut of The Demon Hand episode offers some insightful scenes, but many of the special effects and music and sound mixing are still in a raw stage. It bothered me that the producers didn’t want to spend any money fixing these things and instead offer us a work print. Oh well, I guess it’s still interesting to see a different stage of the production process. (… Bullshit, it felt cheap.) Oh, one more thing: if you buy this and wonder why Thomas Dekker has a bald head and shaved eyebrows in his interviews, it’s because during the series hiatus he was filming a movie where he played a cancer patient (I had to Google it).

With Terminator: Salvation set for release next spring (with no Ahnuld and Christian Bale as John Connor), this series runs the risk of being milked dry. Unless director McG can make this film (the first of a proposed new trilogy) more Cameron-esque than T3 – Rise of the Machines, I don’t have much hope for it. It also plays along a different timeline than the TV incarnation — Sarah died according to the last movie (no wonder I didn’t like it). A teaser trailer for this can be viewed on You Tube — I won’t waste your time with it here.

This television series is a far better homage to James Cameron’s first two classic movies. The difference being, of course, the character of Sarah Connor, who was the heartbeat of those films. British actress Lena Headey (300) is growing nicely into the title role, as is Thomas Dekker as John. The real surprise though is Summer Glau as Cameron (gotta love that name), the “female” terminator who protects John — beautiful, deadly and often quite funny. My favorite line from season one is when Sarah is picking up John and Cameron from school and as they get in the car …

John: I call shotgun.

Cameron: I call nine millimeter.

In fine, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles Season One DVD is a must for fans. Especially around twenty bucks. Highly recommended.

SEASON ONE: A-
BONUS CONTENT: B


TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES SEASON 1 DVD
trailer




Here are some pretty cool promotional images from Season Two — much more info can be found at Terminatorsite.com.

PROMO SHOT – SEASON TWO
nice
Sarah, John and Cameron - don't @#%$ with us
LENA HEADEY AS SARAH CONNOR – PROMO SHOT
Linda Hamilton meets Shania Twain – she can kick my ass any time
Lena Headey as Sarah Connor
PROMO SHOT – SEASON TWO
Is this image really cool or is it just me?
Sarah, John and Cameron - locked and loaded

So — I’ve peaked your interest in this series, but you’ve never seen it? Check out the pilot episode below.

Oh … your welcome.


TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES pilot episode
Hope you don’t mind a few commercials — it’s Hulu

STARMAN – WHERE’S THE WIDESCREEN?

Published August 17, 2008

As a big fan of John Carpenter, I have always had a special place in my heart for the one movie he made that wasn’t a horror, action or suspense film. It could be argued that it’s science-fiction, but … no. Starman is a love story.

Released in 1984, Starman was Columbia pictures answer to E.T. It involved an alien come to earth in response to an invitation on one of the Voyager space probes. Attacked by military aircraft, the ship crash lands in Wisconsin near the cabin of a young widow named Jenny Hayden (Karen Allen). Only a bodyless sphere of energy at this point, the alien finds a lock of Jenny’s husband’s hair in a photo album and proceeds to clone the man on the spot. Jenny awakens during this procedure and is understandably freaked out when the grown body of her husband, Scott (Jeff Bridges), appears in her living room. “Scott” asks her to take him across the country to the meteor crater in Arizona so he can meet up with his rescue ship.
Karen Allen and Jeff Bridges
Sound corny? It’s not. It is, in fact, surprisingly funny and moving. Think E.T. meets It Happened One Night. Karen Allen has never been more appealing and Jeff Bridges (one of the most underrated of American actors) is simply brilliant with his childlike take on this unusual character. Emotionally and physically complex, Bridges performance is a fascinating look at a being completely out of his element, learning to walk, talk, eat, curse and love. He was deservedly nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for this role. Carpenter — also out of his element here — does a fine job of keeping the pacing brisk, the jokes funny and the romance fresh.

In the late nineties, this film was released on DVD in a cleanly-transferred, widescreen edition. It is no longer available. In 2005, Columbia re-released it on DVD in fullscreen only. WTF? I get very aggravated over things like this. A) Why would anyone want to pay full price for half a film? B) Who’s the moron in the marketing departments of these big studios that make such stupid decisions? C) Making films available only in pan-and-scan panders to the lowest common denominator and breeds ignorance. D) Do I really need to go on ranting?

STARMAN – 2005 pan-and-scan DVD release
Starman - 2005 DVD release
Teach Columbia a lesson — do not buy this DVD! Hold out for a special edition. Especially since a recent region 2 DVD release of Starman available only in the UK, is letterboxed, with 5.1 Surround Sound, a Making Of documentary, a music video and a commentary track by John Carpenter and Jeff Bridges (on this commentary Bridges is said to express interest in a sequel). The Brits get this and we bloody don’t?

Come on, Columbia! Fix this! If you can only think in terms of dollars: you’ve got a cult favorite here, by a classic director, and stars from two of the three highest-grossing movies of 2008. Jeff Bridges (hot off Iron Man), and Karen Allen (hot off Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) are suddenly marketable again. The 25th anniversary if this film is fast approaching — a perfect opportunity to remedy what I hope is only an oversight (I’d hate to think you did this on purpose).

Anyway (calming down, breathing easy), Starman is a wonderful film, as charming today as it was a quarter century ago. Especially if you can see the whole thing.


STARMAN – theatrical trailer




ALL I HAVE TO DO IS DREAM – SUNG BY JEFF BRIDGES AND KAREN ALLEN
Well done fan edit taken from the earlier widescreen DVD – what a difference!
Then again, this could be the music video off the UK disc — you decide.

LONESOME DOVE 2-DISC COLLECTOR’S EDITION

Published August 15, 2008

There are many beloved cinematic westerns — High Noon, Shane, Stagecoach, The Searchers, to name but a few; fans can quote reams of dusty dialogue — but few have the fanatically devoted following of the 1989 CBS miniseries, Lonesome Dove.
Lonesome Dove Collector's Edition DVD
Based on Larry McMurtry’s Pulitzer-winning novel and directed by Australian filmmaker Simon Wincer, the story tells of two retired Texas Rangers, Augustus McCrae (Robert Duvall) and Woodrow Call (Tommy Lee Jones) and their last adventure: a 3000-mile cattle drive from Texas to Montana.

Joining them is ruthless gambler (and ex-partner) Jake Spoon (Robert Urich), saloon girl Lorena Wood (Diane Lane), and Capt. Call’s unknowing bastard son, Newt (Rick Schroder). Danny Glover, Chris Cooper, D.B. Sweeney and Angelica Huston also star.

It must be added here that Robert Duvall’s performance as Gus McCrae (besides being the actor’s favorite role) is the stuff of legend. This is one of the most fully realized characters I’ve ever seen put to film. Gus is a lazy man — usually to be found kicked back on the porch with a jug of whiskey or down at the saloon trying to get ‘Lori Darlin’ to sell him a poke (only Duvall could pull this off without seeming creepy). And yet, this is a man of grit, good humor and integrity. Absolutely classic — one of my favorite characters of all time.

Tommy Lee Jones is equally good as Capt. Call, Gus’s no-nonsense opposite. He is ambitious, industrious and quiet — he is a visionary.

One of the best duos in screen history … big or small.

Lonesome Dove has had a number of home video releases, including a 2002 DVD that was sorely lacking in both picture quality and bonus content. Well, fans need wait no longer for an upgrade. Lonesome Dove: 2-Disc Collector’s Edition, DVD and Blu-Ray, is an outstanding release sure to please devotees and those who will be.

Digitally remastered, widescreen (what a difference!) and 5.1 Surround Sound make this small screen classic look and feel like the cinematic feast it always has been. Can’t say enough about the decision to show this in the originally shot ratio of 1.78:1 — I always thought the broadcast version looked cropped and cramped. This version breathes!

Bonus features include:

The Making of an Epic — 50-minute Behind The Scenes featurette
Original Interviews on the Set — Robert Duvall, Tommy Lee Jones and cast
A New Interview with Director Simon Wincer
Blueprints of a Masterpiece — Original Sketches and Concept Drawings
Interview with author Larry McCurtry


Wonderful upgrade for a wonderful movie. Highly recommended.

MOVIE GRADE: A
BONUS FEATURES: B


LONESOME DOVE – original trailer




GUS ORDERS A DRINK … AND SOME RESPECT
I love this scene