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THE MONEY PIT - 08/19/2005

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (August 19, 2005 at 9:44 pm)

Ach, this has been a hellish week. Trust me, folks – eventually, the body revolts against only 3 hours sleep a night. Friggin’ Benedict Arnold, it is… Typical, really. Either way, let’s jump head first (the only smart way, natch) into this weeks pot o’ potential.

Although the self-aware cracks were beginning to show, the 6th season of The Simpsons (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$49.98 SRP) was one of the last wholly great runs of a once great show. The “Treehouse of Horror” episode contained not only the brilliant time toaster, but also “The Shinning” and the “Nightmare Cafeteria.” Regular episodes included Homer’s induction into the Stonecutters and Krusty impersonation, Lisa’s rival, Maggie’s birth, Marge’s stints as teacher and cop, and Grandpa’s miracle love elixir. This was also the season that ended with the mystery of “Who Shot Mr. Burns?” Bonus features remain nicely consistent, with audio commentaries on every episode, deleted scenes, easter eggs, and more. And now, just to balance things out, a bit of a rant. Who was the moron who thought it would be a good idea to change to the new plastic clamshell packaging in the shape of the family’s heads, abandoning the packaging style of the first 5 seasons. My big problem? The package size is taller than standard DVD packaging, so you can’t even put the thing on your shelf. To add insult to injury, you can’t even stand the thing upright, since the bottom isn’t flat. Can we go back to intelligent packaging, please?

Let me say this right out of the gate – I respect what Robert Rodriguez was trying to accomplish with his big screen take on Frank Miller’s violent noir series Sin City (Dimension, Rated R, DVD-$29.99 SRP) – a true filmic representation of the look and feel of Miller’s comic pages. The reality of the movie, though, is that Rodriguez’s slavish faithfulness (along with co-director Miller and guest director Quentin Tarantino) is more of a curio than an engaging flick, which feels incredibly disjointed and features visuals that are more of an exercise in geek than a storytelling tool. The real shame of it all is that great film is to be had from these characters, and the actors certainly brought their A-game (Mickey Rourke, welcome back) – if only Rodriguez would get over the “Look at me!!!” factor of the visuals and just tell the damn stories, because they really are very classic noir pieces Miller crafted. The DVD is entirely featureless save for a token behind-the-scenes featurette, the better to milk us when the deluxe special edition comes out in a few months time.

Robots! Toys! Japanese Robot Toys! Oy, what a geekfest Super #1 Robot: Japanese Robot Toys 1972-1982 (Chronicle Books, $18.95 SRP) is for anyone whose ever loved, well, Japanese Robot Toys. Packed with over 200 gorgeous photos, it’s the ultimate visual feast for fans.

When it comes to celebrity interviews on TV, I hold only two interviewers in the highest esteem – Bob Costas and Dick Cavett. No one has been smart enough to start collecting Costas’s Later episodes for DVD release yet, but at least someone understood that a Cavett set was a long time coming. The Dick Cavett Show: Rock Icons (Shout! Factory, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) features classic Cavett interviews with and performances by David Bowie, George Harrison, Stevie Wonder, Janis Joplin, David Crosby, Joni Mitchell, Ravi Shankar, Paul Simon, Gary Wright, Stephen Stills, Sly and the Family Stone, The Rolling Stones, and Jefferson Airplane. Shown uncut and in their entirety, each episode also features a new introduction from Cavett, and there’s also an exclusive interview with him. Rock on… And for criminy’s sake, somebody snag Costas!

It seems you can’t avoid Judd Apatow nowadays… But maybe that’s because there’s a plane skywriting an ad for 40 Year-Old Virgin over my house right now. Either way, hot on the heels of their success with Freaks & Geeks, Shout! Factory decided to release another Apatow producorial effort that was cancelled far too soon, the almost painfully real college comedy Undeclared (Shout! Factory, Not Rated, DVD-$49.98 SRP). You’ve got all 18 episodes with commentaries, deleted scenes, bloopers, auditions, rehearsals, behind-the-scenes footage, a table reading, Loudon Wainwright concert footage, and the Museum of Television & Radio Q&A. Oh, and a bit of a nitpick for other journalists out there – Apatow DID NOT create Freaks & Geeks. F&G was created by Paul Feig, and was produced by Apatow. Get it right, people…

Who makes an epic feature film using nothing but marionettes? Well, besides Matt Stone & Trey Parker – I mean a completely serious feature. For the answer to my question, check out Strings (Wellspring, Not Rated, DVD-$26.98 SRP) – a visually stunning fantasy about a slain Emperor, political intrigue, and a young man’s journey to avenge his father’s death against the wrong enemy, and finds love in the process. Intrigues yet? The DVD features a behind-the-scenes featurette and the theatrical trailer.

If you were to take The League of Gentlemen and attempt to iron out its eccentric, gothic oddities and mainstream it up for a more general audience, you’d get Little Britain (BBC, Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP). Starring and written by Matt Lucas & David Walliams, it’s your standard Britcom sketch show, full of surreal character work as we look in on such oddballs as white trash teen Vicky Pollard, the lustful aide to Britain’s Prime Minister (a PM played by none other than Buffy’s Tony Head), the completely unconvincing “Lady” Emily Howard, and the hilarious duo of “handicapped” Andy and his caregiver, Lou. The 2-disc set features the complete first series, with bonus features including audio commentaries, the pilot episode & deleted scenes (with optional commentary), a behind-the-scenes documentary, live sketches, and interview with Matt & David, and clips from their show Rock Profiles.

It’s hard to imagine a Scorsese movie sans its soundtrack, and that goes for the unbelievable music selection presented (finally!) on the soundtrack album for Raging Bull (Capitol, $24.98 SRP). With a line-up that includes Marilyn Monroe, Louis Prima, Robbie Robertson, Gene Krupa, The Ink Spots, Benny Goodman, Bing Crosby, and over a dozen more, it’s an eclectic mix that instantly brings memories of boxer Jake La Motta’s story to the fore.

Honestly, I really don’t want to know what happened with Dave Chappelle’s “episode” and abandonment of Chappelle’s Show. I only regret that such a brilliant comedic outlet has been silenced, and Chappelle has gone… I don’t know where. Anyway, why don’t you drown your tears while watching his pretty damn funny stand-up special For What It’s Worth: Dave Chappelle Live at the Fillmore (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$19.94 SRP). It’ll make you feel better.

For anyone needing an additional nudge towards picking up the third season of The Andy Griffith Show (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$38.99 SRP), keep in mind that this is the season that gave us Jim Nabors as the immortal Gomer Pyle. With a calling-card like that, how can you not pick up the third outing of one of the finest shows ever to be broadcast into the ether? Sadly, the only bonus features continue to be the original sponsor ads. Where are the commentaries? The interviews? Get me Don and Andy, stat!

No, it’s not as brilliant as the original British version (which is virtually impossible, if only because you’ll never duplicate Ricky Gervais’s iconic David Brent), but the American version of The Office (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP) manages to shake of its awkwardness by the 3 episode of the Brit-like 6 episode first season, and become its own animal. Steve Carell assumes the Brent-role of clueless office manager Michael Scott, who oversees the staff of the Dunder Mifflin paper supply company. The DVD features audio commentaries and deleted scenes, but no mea culpas. Hey – at least it’s not Coupling.

Long out-of-print on DVD, you can now get the fully remastered (and bonus-laden) special edition of My Left Foot (Miramax, Rated R, DVD-$19.99 SRP). I usually have very little tolerance for button-pushing “overcoming adversity” flicks, but Daniel Day-Lewis won me over with his portrayal of real life Irishman Christy Brown, who overcame a debilitating case of cerebral palsy to become an artist and writer – utilizing the only appendage he had any control over, his left foot. The DVD features a making-of featurette, a look at the real Christy Brown, and a still gallery.

By no means perfect, I still dug the history of the Cuban experience in the 50’s as presented in The Mambo Kings (Warner Bros., Rated R, DVD-$19.97 SRP), which stars Antonio Banderas and Amrand Assante as two Cuban musician brothers who attempt to conquer America. The scenes showing their big break on I Love Lucy – with Desi Jr. standing in for his father – are the stuff of movie magic. The DVD features an extended cut of the film, an audio commentary with director Arne Glimcher, a behind-the-scenes featurette, and the original theatrical trailer.

My family has been trying fervently to talk my father out of getting a Harley motorcycle, so I probably won’t be letting him listen to Harley Davidson: Ride (EMI, $18.98 SRP), a collection of rebel classics to crank up on the iPod while cruising the byways, including tracks from Hendrix, Nickelback, Steve Miller Band, George Thorogood, and Billy Idol. Nope… Not gonna let me father near it.

After wrapping up the first season, we’re now into the first season 2 volume of the expanded Starburst Editions of Farscape with volume 2.2 (ADV, Not Rated, DVD-$24.98 SRP), which collects the middle third of season 2 with 7 episodes spread across 2 dual-sided discs, with all the original bonus materials plus a few surprises.

“Hooker’s a good cop!” Well, duh – he is William Shatner. Now you can own the first two seasons of Shatner’s post-Trek but pre-911 outing as a police detective T.J. Hooker (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$49.98 SRP), who decides to go back to street patrol and train new recruits… and partner with Heather Locklear. Does she ever age? She’s like the female Dick Clark. The DVD features the original pilot and the original network promos. Heck, there’s even an episode guest-starring Leonard Nimoy!

It certainly was a far more genteel ear when a pair of dancers – Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers – could have film upon film built upon them. As the 5 films contained in the Astaire & Rogers Collection: Volume 1 (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$59.92 SRP) attest, however, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t surprisingly enjoyable. Those 5 flicks are Top Hat, Swing Time, Follow the Fleet, Shall We Dance, & The Barkleys of Broadway, and each are presented in the quality I’ve come to expect from Warners’ DVD restoration team. Bonus features are also extensive, including featurettes, vintage cartoons and shorts, audio commentaries, and trailers. When it comes to releasing their immense catalog, Warner Bros., is still the studio that’s setting the bar.

Can you believe we’re just about finished with the full run of I Love Lucy? If you haven’t been keeping up, now’s the time to hurry up and snag the first 4 seasons in addition to the just released Season 5 (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$54.99 SRP each). The fifth season was chock full of traveling, including Hollywood, Manhattan, Paris, London, and Rome, as well as some truly classic Lucy moments that have gone down in TV history. What kind of moments, you ask? How about Lucy & Ethel’s foot-stomping encounter with vineyard grapes? That classic enough for ya? The 4-disc set features all 26 episodes, plus bloopers, lost scenes, featurettes, promo spots, and 5 episodes of Lucy’s radio show My Favorite Husband.

You’ve got to love it when Hollywood decides to fully embrace and exploit a rising cultural movement. Remember the explosion of grunge/GenX films that littered the 90’s? Or the rap films of the new millennium? Well, the trend goes all the way back to the dawn of tinseltown, and was in full force when rock n’ roll hit the scene in the 50’s. A beautiful artifact of that era can be found in Jamboree (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$19.97 SRP), a concert film featuring performances by Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Frankie Avalon, Connie Francis, Buddy Knox, The Four Coins, and even Count Basie & His Orchestra, if you can believe it. Bonus features are limited to the original theatrical trailer, but with a time capsule like this, having the films is good enough for me.


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