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THE MONEY PIT - 07/01/2005

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (July 1, 2005 at 12:51 am)

Well, I’m back from my arduous, deadly duties as stunt Best Man up in hot, humid Montreal, Quebec – all of which went well, despite the abysmal maroons at Air Canada losing my luggage (including my tux), which was not found until, literally, 2 hours before the ceremony. Oh, BTW – Air Canada, you might want to find a better Indian call center to handle your luggage customer service… One that’s competent and polite. Just a thought. But anyway, I’m back, and here’s our pre-holiday guide-o-rama…

Clearance issues have long stymied attempts to release Comedy Central’s brilliant Daily Show with Jon Stewart (it has to do with all those news clips, natch), but the network finally found a way to release *something* - that something being a 3-disc retrospective of the show’s “Indecision 2004” coverage of last year’s presidential campaign (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$39.99 SRP). That means we get the coverage of both the Democratic & Republican National Convention, the debates, the hour-long election night special, and bonus features including the best bits from the correspondents (Stephen Colbert, Samantha Bee, Steve Carell, Bob Wiltfong, Rob Corddry, & Ed Helms), “Daily Show Rock!”, audio commentary, and much more. Okay, so where’s the next release?

Take one of those nifty little survival handbooks that were all the rage a few years back and turn it into a TV show hosted by Spaced and Shuan of the Dead’s Nick Frost, and there you’ve got DANGER! 50,000 volts! (Rykodisc, Not Rated, DVD-$29.95 SRP), which places our intrepid host into situations ranging from lightning strikes and minefields to fires and being impaled, all while teaching the audience how to get out of said sticky wickets. The 2-disc set features the entire first season with audio commentary from Nick and the crew, plus a bonus Zombie Survival Guide. Brilliant.

Seeing as how Bruce Campbell’s first novel, Make Love!* *the bruce campbell way (Thomas Dunne Books, $23.95 SRP), is the story of a B-actor’s attempt to star in a major, super-duper Hollywood blockbuster – even if it kills him – it’s not hard to make the leap into thinking there must be a grain of truth in the often bizarre, thoroughly enjoyable proceedings laid before the reader. Well, there’s also the clue that Campbell calls it an autobiographical novel, but frankly, I’m more keen on my brilliant literary analysis taken directly from the text… because it makes me look better. Just get the book already.

If you’ve only seen (or have fond memories of) the heavily edited American importation known as Battle of the Planets, you owe it to yourself to experience the first collection of the fully restored original Japanese version of Gatchaman (ADV, Not Rated, DVD-$ SRP). The 3-disc set features 12 uncut episodes, plus commentaries, clean closing animation, and a bonus disc with a character profile of Ken, unused footage, sketches, interviews, and more. Heck, the set even features cover and box art from Alex Ross. How cool is that?

After Robert Urich’s still-popular Spenser: For Hire was cancelled, the network eventually decided there was still enough interest in the wise-cracking Boston Detective to commission 4 feature-length TV movies, all of which are collected in the (appropriately) 4-disc Spenser: The Movie Collection set (Rykodisc, Not Rated, DVD-$59.95 SRP). Come for Urich, stay for the burning intensity of DS9’s Avery Brooks as Spenser’s tough-as-nails partner Hawk.

Produced by Robert Altman, Gun (Tango, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) was a short-lived, incredibly well-executed anthology series that examined – in it’s 6 episodes – the effects a single gun has in the lives of various sets of characters who encounter it. The cast was a truly impressive affair – including Martin Sheen, Kirsten Dunst, Edward James Olmos, Fred ward, James Gandolfini, Randy Quaid, Carrie Fisher, Jennifer Tilly, Kathy Baker, and more.

If you have not heard of Sid Caesar – for shame. Yes… I’m shaming you. But in my shaming, I’m only trying to point you towards discovering one of the last century’s truly great comedians – a rare combination of both a brilliant physical and mental comic. During the course of his two major television programs in the 1950’s – Your Show of Shows and Caesar’s Hour – his writing staff was a who’s who of comedy… Mel Brooks, Woody Allen, Neil Simon, Larry Gelbart, and Carl Reiner, to name a few. If you’re ready to take the plunge, I can’t recommend The Sid Caesar Collection (A&E, Not Rated, DVD-$49.95 SRP) enough. Over the course of these 3 DVDs are collected many of Sid’s best sketches, as well and recollections from the show’s writers and costars. Each DVD also contains bonus sketches and interviews. Did I mention that I can’t recommend this collection enough? Well, how about one more time… You won’t regret it.

If Ray Bradbury and Stephen King were to get together and craft their own sketch comedy show, it would probably look a lot like the surreally macabre world Britain’s League of Gentlemen. Look no further than the clutch of darkly disturbing – yet unsettlingly funny – characters to be found in the troupe’s 3 seasons (and Christmas special) contained in the 4-disc League of Gentlemen Collection (BBC, Not Rated, DVD-$99.98 SRP). The residents of the small village of Royston Vasey will make it very hard for you to sleep at night in between fits of laughter punctuated by hiding under the covers. Bonus features include audio commentaries, deleted scenes, outtakes, interviews, a documentary, featurettes, and more.

Have you picked up the new issues of Uncle Scrooge (Gemstone, $6.95), Donald Duck, & Mickey Mouse ($2.95 each)? Why not? Come on, people! I wouldn’t lead you astray… These are some of the best comics being produced today, featuring both new material and classic stories from legends like Carl Barks, Romano Scarpa, Don Rosa, and many others. Get past the funny animal stigma and realize what gems these comics are – you won’t regret it.

Go take a peek at what Sideshow Collectibles are unveiling at Comicon this year here and here. Can anyone say “Use the Force”?

First off, let me thank A&E for bringing to DVD one of the finest TV shows ever to grace the airwaves – the late, lamented Homicide: Life on the Street. A Big Thank You. With the release of the 7th & final season (A&E, Not Rated, DVD-$99.95 SRP), we close the book on the only cop show to give me the same kind of enjoyment I once got out of Hill Street Blues (which is criminally unavailable on DVD). Featuring all 22 episodes, the 6-disc set also contains audio commentary on the finale, a live panel discussion with the producers, and Barry Levinson’s VSDA Career Achievement acceptance speech.

If you still haven’t decided to take the (worthwhile) plunge and pick up the Live Aid box set (and you find yourself getting all amped up about the upcoming Live 8), you can get a limited edition hour-long highlight disc of the seminal event featuring choice cuts from the day’s proceedings – Live Aid: 20 Years Ago Today (Rhino, Not Rated, DVD-$9.99 SRP).

Remember a simpler, happier, less druggedly-emaciated time in the life and career of the once-lovely Lindsey Lohan with the special edition release of the remake of Disney’s The Parent Trap (Walt Disney, Rated PG, DVD-$19.99 SRP), starring Lohan as the matchmaking twins. Bonus features include audio commentary with the director and screenwriter, a deleted scene, a retrospective featurette, and a behind-the-scenes look.

Ever since I was mesmerized by his tunes in The Muppet Movie as a kid, I’ve been a fan of the elfin singer/songwriter Paul Williams. In fact, I’m a bigger fan of his original versions of tunes like “Rainy Day and Mondays” and “Just An Old-Fashioned Love Song” than I am of the covers by The Carpenters and Three Dog Night, and I still think “The Rainbow Connection” is one of the greatest songs ever written. Williams has just released a retrospective/celebration of his career in the form of a CD/DVD set - Paul Williams: I’m Going To Go Back There Someday (AIX, $49.98 SRP), which contains newly-recorded versions of his classic tunes with guest including Willie Nelson, Melissa Manchester, and even Gonzo. The DVD also features a live performance video, interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, a tribute to Jim Henson, a trip to the old A&M studios on the Henson lot, photos, and more.

And while we’re on the subject of “The Rainbow Connection,” why don’t you head over to Palisades Toys and pick up your own “Rainbow Connection” Kermit figure ($25), with all profits going to The Cooper Perry Fund, A special Project of The Miami Children’s Hospital Foundation?

This week’s soundtrack round-up kicks off with the latest John Williams/Steven Spielberg collaboration, the anemic cliché that is War of the Worlds (Decca, $18.98 SRP). Thankfully, the score is actually one of Williams better later-career efforts, even marshaling a nicely martial aspect as the titular conflict comes to the fore. Shame the film’s a dud, but oh well… At least we have the Tom Cruise show. Anyway, next up is Alexandre Desplat’s score to Bruce Willis’s Hostage (Superb, $16.98 SRP), which is – as a good friend of mine enthused recently – “one of the best damn scores I’ve ever heard.” How’s that for a recommendation? Last up is a pair of soundtracks representing the film Crash – Mark Isham’s score (Superb, $16.98 SRP) and an album featuring songs from and inspired by the film (Superb, $16.98 SRP). Way to cover all bases, eh?

If nothing else, the sheer energy and chutzpah exhibited by Bette Midler at the top of her game is entrancing, and her life is pretty darn fascinating. See for yourself with the documentary The Divine Bette Midler (Shout! Factory, Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP). Bonus features include extended interviews, deleted scenes, and a trio of full performances.

The Ren & Stimpy Show: Seasons Three and a Half-ish (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$38.99 SRP) pretty much wraps up the run of series creator John Kricfalusi, before his massive ego and inability to meet deadlines led to his removal from the show. Which is a shame, because at his peak – before the insanity kicked in – he really was doing some genius work. Unfortunately, much like JMS, the genius is gone, and we’re left with the shell of a man who gave us the wretched return of R&S on Spike. Ah well, at least we can re-watch the classics contained in this set, featuring audio commentaries with a still-delusional John K. and his talented animation team.

If you’re still baffled by Dan Brown’s semi-historical novel The Da Vinci Code, let the History Channel reveal the fact from the fiction in Beyond the Da Vinci Code (History Channel, Not Rated, DVD-$19.95 SRP). What may surprise you is just how much history is to be found in the novel… And just how pervasive the Templars were.

While nowhere near as disconcertingly out-and-out weird as the original adventures of Art Clokey’s bendy plasticene hero Gumby (and sidekick Pokey), the stories contained in the two volumes of The Very Best of the New Adventures of Gumby (Rhino, Not Rated, DVD-$9.95 SRP each) are still pretty off-kilter. Oh, wouldn’t it be great if Gumby were to team up with Mr. Bill to fight the evil Mr. Sluggo?

I wouldn’t say I’m an architecture geek (I don’t go giddy over a Frank Lloyd Wright design, for instance), but it’s the stories behind the homes featured in A&E’s America’s Castles (A&E, Not Rated, DVD-$39.95 SRP) that fascinate me – those built by names like Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, Morgan, and Guggenheim. Really, when you’ve got more rooms than relatives, you’ve gone too far.

Although it never quite lived up to its potential, Game Over (Anchor Bay, Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP) was a great idea for an animated comedy, throwing together stereotypical video game archetypes as a suburban family – from racer dad (Patrick Warburton) to secret agent mom (Lucy Liu), with an uber-angsty teen daughter (Rachel Dratch), a teen son (E.G. Daily) in love with an anime exchange student, and their pet of unknown species (Artie Lange). The 2-disc set features the complete series, plus behind-the-scenes featurettes, artwork, and a never-aired episode.

Taking a page from the Book of Ah-nold, Vin Diesel tried to infuse a spark in his fading career by going the suburban comedy route in The Pacifier (Walt Disney, Rated PG, DVD-$29.99 SRP), playing a Navy S.E.A.L. assigned to protect five unruly brats. Hilarity should ensue, but if you can believe it, Diesel is even more wooden then Arnie in his heyday. Bonus features include an audio commentary with director Adam Shankman, deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes featurettes, Special Ops TV ads, and bloopers.

Hopefully, NBC’s pathetic “end o’ the world” miniseries Revelations (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$27.98 SRP) will signal the end of all the religious-leaning pabulum studios have been shoveling out since last year’s surprise success of Mel Gibson’s unbearable The Passion. What Bill Pullman did to deserve a starring role in the 6-hour mess, I’ll never know – but I know it wasn’t because 0of Spaceballs. Maybe Independence Day. Bonus features include interviews with the cast and writer/producer David Seltzer.


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