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THE MONEY PIT - 12/09/2005

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (December 9, 2005 at 10:35 pm)

Please tell me you’ve been partaking of the second annual IGN FilmForce Holiday Havoc gifts. There’s some cool stuff that has already hit, and plenty more surprises on the way.

It isn’t often that I’m not only impressed with, but also duly enraptured by, a DVD release. It just doesn’t happen… Admittedly, I’m just too jaded. So what managed to crack that thick, grizzled façade? The deluxe limited edition presentation of Peter Jackson’s King Kong Production Diaries (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$ SRP). Unless you’ve been living in a netless hole, you’ll know that the uber-fan-friendly Jackson has been extensively chronicling the making of his epic Kong via online web diaries that literally went into every nook and cranny of the process, often with a chummy, insider-y flair (as opposed to the much more sterile approach taken by other productions). On the eve of his Kong’s release, those diaries (54 segments totaling over 3 ½ hours) have been collected in this 2-disc set, presented in a oversize box meant to emulate a piece of luggage belonging to adventurer/filmmaker Carl Denham (played in the film by Jack Black). Inside, you’ll find the 2-discs, plus a 52-page production memoir (filled with behind-the-scenes photos, drawings, and info). Sweetening the deal, there’s also a quartet of art prints featuring some stunning production paintings (along with a numbered certificate of authenticity). If I wasn’t already interested in seeing the flick, this set would certainly seal the deal. Kudos to Jackson for making the filmmaking process fun again. See, I’m not all that jaded.

When I first listened to former-Monkee, country-rock pioneer, and all-around experimentalist Michael Nesmith’s new album, Rays (Nezcreative, $-TBD), I really didn’t know what to think. At first, admittedly, I was baffled – mostly instrumental with only two tracks one could legitimately identify as pop songs (the title cut and the closer, “Follow the Heart”), I really didn’t know what to make of it. My first reaction, post-bafflement, was that it was like I was listening to the soundtrack to a movie that didn’t exist, except as this aural document. There’s a definite mood to each piece, be it jubilant or contemplative. Like Nez albums before it, you can sense an exploration of various forms – including a countrified techno that crops up… Call it Ranch House music. Still, underlying it all, Nez’s stamp is clear and consistent – there’s no mistaking what you hear as coming from any other artist. If I have one complaint - minor, granted – it’s that I’d like to hear some of these tracks as rendered by a live band. Produced almost single-handedly by Nez, there’s extensive use of synths (something I’ve never been fond of). Given to a crackerjack backing band, I think these tunes would soar. As it stands, though, it’s a refreshingly idiosyncratic experiment worth a spin. Limited edition pre-release versions of the album (along with collector exclusives) have been selling out left & right at the official site,, and while the commercial CD won’t be available until April 1, it will be hitting iTunes on January 3rd. In the meantime, you can listen to an exclusive cut from the album (and greeting from Nez) as part of our Holiday Havoc celebration by clicking here

Kenny Vs. Spenny (VSC, Not Rated, DVD-$29.95 SRP) is a truly guilty pleasure, in that it unfortunately reveals – in stark reality – the sad, pathetic competitive nature that makes idiots of even the brightest men. In this series, best friends Kenny Hotz and Spencer Rice engage in the most inane of head-to-head competitions – from best sperm count and best peeing to best female impersonation. It’s madness, but so very accurate. The 3-disc set features all 24 first season episodes, plus audio commentary on a pair of episodes, clips from the international versions of the show, and their brilliant exploration of one of Hollywood’s worst catch-22’s, Pitch.

By no means an unflattering portrait, when Imagine (Warner Bros., Rated R, $19.97 SRP) was made in 1988, John Lennon had yet to make the transformation into St. John, unassailable purveyor of peace and artistic genius. What this film presents, then, is John Lennon the artist and man – flawed, brilliant, and utterly human. For that reason alone, it’s worthy viewing. The most poignant moment, though, is when a young man, obviously on a bit of a head trip spiritual journey, show up at Lennon’s Tittenhurst mansion in the early 70’s, under the delusion that Lennon’s songs were a deeply personal story about him… That somehow Lennon was writing for and about this stranger’s particular journey through life. To see Lennon on his porch, trying to tell this man that the songs were not grand statements about anything more important than Lennon’s life, right down to the mundane – including pointing out that a perceived profundity was merely a nonsense song – is a revelation. You literally see this young man’s delusions breaking down as Lennon speaks – quite kindly to him, as Yoko looks on. And then John asks him if he’s hungry. The man, obviously shaken, says yes… And Lennon invites him in for tea. To think that this is the same grounded, open, and inviting Lennon who was gunned down by another crazed fan while signing an autograph right outside his apartment building in NY… Well, I think you should draw your own profun-ditty. Bonus materials include a brief making-of featurette, Island House footage from the Tittenhurst Estate, a BBC Radio interview with Lennon, an interview with his elementary school headmaster, and a never-before-released acoustic guitar version of “Imagine.”

I admit, though it’s far from a good movie, I have a very special place in my heart for the Salkind’s over-the-top holiday epic Santa Claus: The Movie (Anchor Bay, Rated PG, DVD-$14.98 SRP). Only in the 80’s could a film about the origin of Santa Claus, his eventual betrayal by a tech-savvy elf (Dudley Moore), and his holiday struggle against a greedy businessman intent on owning Christmas (John Lithgow, in full slimy villain mode) be made. It’s gloriously full of itself, and a perfect companion to timeless “classics” like Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. The 20th Anniversary Edition features remastered sound & picture, an audio commentary with director Jeannot Szwarc & Special Projects Consultant Scott Michael Bosco, a making-of featurette, and the US and foreign theatrical trailers.

You know, when I see a garbage adaptation like the big screen take on Marvel’s flagship title, Fantastic Four (Fox, Rated PG-13, DVD-$29.98 SRP), it makes me want to slap Marvel “guru” Avi Arad (as it so tackily – and falsely – claims on the disc’s cover) upside the head with a sense stick. Even then, I’m sure he’d repeat his belief that this was actually a good film, instead of a garish, poorly written, badly directed piece of trash that would surely make Joel Schumacher happy that his school of superhero filmmaking still has devotees. As far as bonus features (sadly, a better film – heck, even the Corman one – are not included), you get a cast commentary, a video diary, deleted scenes, a making-of featurette, Fox Movie Channel behind-the-scenes featurettes, music videos, trailers, and a featurette with Arad showcasing Marvel’s upcoming trainwreck, the Brett Ratner directed X3.

In the fourth season of 24 (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$69.98 SRP), Jack Bauer has another one of those days as terrorist cells begin attacking America, leaving all the “save the day” heavy-lifting to the hardest working agent in America. Can’t the guy ever – ever – catch a break? Maybe a day off? How about that for Season 6? Bonus features include audio commentaries, an exclusive mini-episode bridging the seasons, behind-the-scenes featurettes, and “24 Conspiracy” promos.

And with Peter Jackson’s - retelling? reimagining? remake? – of King Kong fast-approaching its arrival in cinemas, now’s the right time to bone up on your knowledge of the great ape via King Kong: The History of a Movie Icon – From Fay Wray to Peter Jackson (Applause Books, $19.95 SRP).

It was during the second season of Roseanne (Anchor Bay, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) that the show really began firing and found the voice that would carry it through nine mostly-classic seasons. Even better, Carsey-Werner finally got their heads out of their collective places where heads need not venture and made sure the episodes are completely uncut this go-round (the season one set featured edited syndication cuts – the schmucks). Also included is a new interview with John Goodman, his audition tape, footage from the first season’s launch party, and more.

You know what the holiday season needs? It needs a complete set of MTV’s now-legendary Jackass (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$54.99 SRP), complete with tons of unreleased skits, audio commentaries from the gang of idiots, a 40-minute “Where Are They Now?” documentary, Jackass episode of Cribs, the entire Gumball Rally special, and much more. You know you want it. Don’t worry… We won’t tell anyone.

Maverick was all well and good, but James Garner became a TV legend with the ex-con-turned-private-investigator Jim Rockford in The Rockford Files (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP). Aces at cracking cases thought long-dead, Rockford was an off-kilter PI quick with a joke and more keen on R&R than actually working. The 3-disc set features all 23 first season episodes, plus an exclusive interview with Garner reminiscing about the genesis of Rockford. My one complaint – why can’t Universal wake up and realize no one likes the d*** flipper discs?

Director Ron Howard spins an old-fashioned tale of the “sweet science” in Cinderella Man (Universal, Rated PG-13, DVD-$44.95 SRP), re-teaming with star Russell Crowe to present the Depression-era comeback of underdog boxer Jim Braddock in a guts and glory feel-good biopic that aims to get you cheering for Braddock’s odds-defying climb, eventually duking it out with heavyweight champ Max Baer (Craig Bierko) in a match that made boxing history. Unfortunately, we’re into Ron Howard maudlin, soft-focus biopic territory, and the Oscar-desperation literally drips from the flick… Which is a shame, because Crowe is in top form here. The 3-disc deluxe collector’s edition features an audio commentary, behind-the-scenes featurettes, deleted scenes, Crowe’s video diary, and more.

No matter what anyone said over the years, once the remake of “Do They Know It’s Christmas” happened last year, it was only a matter of time before (Sir) Bob Geldof decided the time was right to do another mega-concert in the vein of the legendary Live Aid. The goal this time around, however, was not to stump for donations – Live 8 (Capital, Not Rated, DVD-$50.98 SRP) was intended to raise awareness about the terrible burden of African debt while the G8 economic conference was meeting in Scotland. Like any good socially provocative outing, it attracted a large number of iconic (and up-and-coming) acts, from U2 and Coldplay to Paul McCartney and Robbie Williams (plus a “where did that come from and when did hell freeze over” one-off Pink Floyd reunion). A very nice representation of the extensive worldwide performances are included n the 4-disc Live 8 set – enough, at least, that no one will feel cheated. Also available is Live 8 at Eden: Africa Calling (Rhino, Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP), a 2-disc set which focuses on the African portion of the worldwide event, including a behind-the-scenes documentary.

Gas up the General Lee and head back to Hazzard County as the Duke boys (Johnny Knoxville & Seann William Scott) run moonshine for their Uncle Jesse (Willie Nelson) and must thwart the evil Boss Hogg (Burt Reynolds) in his diabolical plan to turn Hazzard into a strip mine in the you-know-it-had-to-happen-eventually big screen Dukes of Hazzard (Warner Bros., Not Rated, $29.98 SRP). Oh, and let us not forget Daisy Duke (Jessica Simpson)… As if you could. It’s southern fried pap, but it’s not like you have anything better to do. Bonus features include additional footage, gag reels, behind-the-scenes featurettes, and the obligatory Jessica Simpson music video.

The fat cat is back, with a pair of releases sure to please any aficionado of lasagna-loving striped tabbies. The first is a collection of all 9 primetime specials (minus the holiday outings) under the title Garfield: Cat Tales (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP). The 3-disc set contains Here Comes Garfield, Garfield on the Town, Garfield Gets a Life, Garfield in the Rough, Garfield in Paradise, Garfield Goes Hollywood, Garfield: His Nine Lives, Garfield’s Babes and Bullets, and Garfield’s Feline Fantasies. The other release is the 5th and final volume of the still-funny Garfield & Friends (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP), produced by our good buddy Mark Evanier.

As soon as I heard Dolly Parton do bluegrass versions of “Shine” and “Stairway to Heaven,” I knew I had to hear her do more covers… Those two tracks were simply too amazing for it not to happen eventually. Well, my wish has been answered with Those Were the Days (Sugar Hill, $18.98 SRP), which sports a dozen covers of classic hits, all “Dolly-ized.” Ah, but that’s not all – she’s also brought a score of duet-ers with her, including Norah Jones, Mary Hopkin, Tommy James, Keith Urban, Roger McGuinn, Kris Kristofferson, and even Yusaf Islam (Cat Stevens) on his hit “Where Do the Children Play?” I want more.

Unfortunately, it was during the episodes features in the 4th volume of Aqua Teen Hunger Force (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP) that the cracks began to show and the stories began to become tired caricatures of the show’s creative height. Even with these deficiencies, they still outshine anything to be found in Sealab’s final death throes, or the entirety of Tom Goes to the Mayor. In addition to the 13 episodes, bonus features include commentaries, featurettes on the voice artists & Comic-Con 2004, the Spacecataz pilot, and more.

It seems like M*A*S*H has been coming out on DVD for years (it has), but with the release of season 9 (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP), we’re finally in the home stretch to the 11th and final season for the doctors and nurses of the 4077th. In fact, if all goes to schedule, we should have the final set (and the ultra-maudlin series finale) by the end of next year.

Watching Gennedy Tartakovsky’s Star Wars: Clone Wars – Volume Two (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP), I couldn’t stop thinking to myself “My god, these are lightyears better than any of the garbage Lucas slapped up on screen in Episode III. In particular, the animated version General Grievous actually had some, you know, menace – not like the (ironically) cartoonish villain found in the big screen version. Oh bitter, bitter irony. Bonus features include a behind-the-scenes featurette, audio commentaries, concept art, and trailers.

Being the non-powered kid of the world’s greatest superheroes, Commander & Jetstream (Kurt Russell & Kelly Preston), is hard, sure, but then try attending the only high school intended to mold the superheroes of tomorrow. The school in question is Sky High (Walt Disney, Rated PG, $29.99 SRP) and the film in question is an amiable family comedy that – while certainly no Incredibles – is entirely guilt-free viewing. Bonus features include behind-the-scenes featurettes, an alternate opening, a music video, and bloopers.

Like an even dirtier cross of Sex & the City and Desperate Housewives, the significant others of Brit-soap Footballers Wives (Capital Entertainment, Not Rated, DVD-$34.98 SRP) return for a second season full of lies, scandal, sex, sports, and more sex. Did I mention sex? The 2-disc set features all 8 season 2 eps, plus a slang dictionary and photo gallery.

This week’s soundtrack corner starts with James Newton Howard’s score to Peter Jackson’s epic King Kong (Decca, $18.98 SRP), which features an equally epic sound (it makes me wonder what Howard Shore was doing so wrong that he had to walk away from the project). Also on the “check it” list this week are the soundtracks for Jarhead (Decca, $18.98) – featuring Thomas Newman’s score & a couple of tunes – and John Williams’ Memoirs of a Geisha (Sony Classical, $18.98 SRP).

Even all these years later, I couldn’t help watching the second season of Full House (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP) without feeling like I should be profoundly embarrassed to be within even 10 feet of one of the most cloying, saccharine shows ever made. Yet it’s so compelling… like a TV train wreck. With Olsens.

Video records of Lenny Bruce’s stand-up act are quite rare – audio documents are far more common. The Lenny Bruce Performance Film (Koch, Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP) captures one of those rare visual records on film via his second-to-last performance at San Francisco’s Basin Street West in 1965. It’s a gem that any comedy aficionado should snatch up immediately.

While we’re on the subject of stand-up, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the release of Margaret Cho’s latest no-holds-barred concert film, Assassin (Koch, Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP). If you know (and love) Cho, than you pretty much know what to expect from this latest go round. Bonus features include a making-of featurette, a belly dancing segment, a pair of short films, a video, a gallery, and her opening act (Bruce Daniels).

Though the first season of A Different World (UrbanWorks, Not Rated, DVD-$39.99 SRP) is very much the Lisa Bonet Cosby Show spin-off it originally was, it would take until the second, post-Bonet season for it to become the groundbreaking show it’s remembered as, focusing on the trails and travails of college life. Sadly, the first season is very much a show in search of a voice, but already it was cultivating its memorable cast in the forms of Jasmine Guy’s southern belle Whitley Gilbert and Kadeem Hardison’s Dwayne Wayne. Bonus features include the “lost episode” featuring Tupac Shakur & Jada Pinkett-Smith, a retrospective documentary, and bloopers.

Say what you will, but all of the jokes about being to watch any episode of Law & Order with no prior knowledge of any concepts or characters on the show is absolutely true. You’d think the overall effect would be deadening, but it’s not – as I found myself compelled ever forward while watching the episodes contained in the complete Fourth Year – 1993-1994 (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$49.98 SRP) of the original iteration. Bonus features this go round are confined to 43 deleted and extended scenes, but that’s good enough for me.

The one comforting aspect of Everybody Loves Raymond is that you could drop into any season and not feel like you missed anything. That very basic accessibility remains intact in the complete fifth season (HBO, Not Rated, DVD-$44.98 SRP) in which, well… Everything is basically still the same. Bonus features include a trio of audio commentaries, deleted scenes, and bloopers.

Just in time for the Saturday Morning TV fan on your list comes the complete Land of the Lost collection (Rhino, Not Rated, DVD-$99.95 SRP) which collects all 3 previously releases seasons into one easy 8-disc box set.

Before he devolved into a horrid pit of self-parody, Tom Green was a unique comic hosting a very, very weird local access show in Canada. There’s still a freshness to be found in the low-rent insanity of those 26 pre-MTV stardom episodes found on Tom Green Inside & Outside The Box: The Tom Green Show – The Complete Series (VSC, Not Rated, DVD-$29.95 SRP). The 3-disc set features commentary on 2 episodes plus over an hour of unseen footage.

You know the holidays have finally descended when the Christmas specials come fast & furious, and the amount coming out have only increased since the advent of relatively cheap & fast CGI animation. Add to the list The Happy Elf (Anchor Bay, Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP), which stars Harry Connick, Jr. (it’s based on his song) as the titular helper eager to bring holiday cheer to the dreary town of Bluesville. All in all, it’s entirely watchable… Quite an accomplishment, considering the usual quality of these efforts.

Both Penny (Teri Hatcher) and Murdoc (Michael Des Barres) return to muck up our hero’s life in the fourth season of MacGyver (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP), though I’m still not sure how to build a jet plane from bubblegum and paperclips. Maybe that’s in season five.

Anyone who didn’t see the writing on the wall during the final season of Newlyweds: Nick & Jessica (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$26.99 SRP) must be blind as a bat. Not only are the two completely incompatible, but they’re hilariously so. I’m just waiting for the eventual announcement. The 2-disc set features a behind-the-scenes featurette, outtakes, and a retrospective.


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