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THE MONEY PIT - 01/20/2006

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (January 20, 2006 at 11:29 pm)

Did you ever have one of those weeks where your entire schedule was thrown into whack, and you find you’re greeting the dawn and getting only a few hours of sleep… You know, an overproductive whirlwind.

While many fans of the original Batman: The Animated Series were still mourning its cancellation in the mid-90’s after a groundbreaking (and definitive) run (count me amongst the mourners), Warner Bros. decided to give the producers a new order. They took full advantage of the second run by completely renovating the show’s look and cast, and it as re-christened The New Batman Adventures – the complete run of which is featured in the fourth and final volume collecting Batman: TAS (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$44.98 SRP). In addition to all 24 episodes, there are also a trio of audio commentaries (the one on the universally reviled “Critters” is a hoot).

So what were Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, and co. doing in that period post the original Batman: TAS run? They were reinvigorating the Man of Steel with the equally memorable Superman: The Animated Series, the second volume of which is finally getting its release (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$26.98 SRP). The 2-disc set features another 18 episodes (the run will be completed in just one more volume), and contains the introduction of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World characters (which would pay huge dividends in the series’ finale). Bonus features include a pair of audio commentaries, a video commentary, and a spotlight on Superman’s rogues gallery.

With the two available volumes of Walt’s People (Xlibris, $19.54 each), editor and animation historian Didier Ghez has compiled a pair of essential tomes for any fan of animation, and Disney animation in particular. Each collection contains in-depth interviews with legendary Disney artists including Ward Kimball, Eric Larson, Ollie Johnson, Marc Davis, Frank Thomas, and Woolie Reitherman, as well as contemporaries and new guard like Friz Freleng, John Hench, and Glen Keane. Combining decades of the best pieces by Disney experts like Michael Barrier, Jim Korkis, and Ghez himself, these really are priceless insights into a fascinating artform. Here’s hoping Volume 3 is already in the pipeline…

Hurray for the release of the penultimate season of The Kids in the Hall (A&E, Not Rated, DVD-$59.99 SRP), which has made its direct-order debut at prior to its commercial roll-out a few months from now (you know, for you impatient ones). It was during the 4th season that the show moved off HBO and on to CBS, but fear not – the 4-disc set features the Kids’ preferred CBC cuts of the episodes, so you won’t miss out on any risqué or edited content. Bonus features include another commentary track from the guys, the 2 Season 4 best-of compilations, and archival footage.

There was a time, after a multi-year gap, that I feared we’d never see another season of the ground-breaking Mary Tyler Moore Show hit DVD (poor sales on set 1 didn’t help matters). But then, last year, the logjam broke and we were graced with the second season, and now we’ve got Season 3 (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP). All 24 episodes are featured across 3-discs, but not a single bonus feature is in sight… Granted, it’s just great that this is available. Bring on Season 4!

It wasn’t until viewing Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (Magnolia, Rated R, DVD-$26.98 SRP) that I fully understood just what a massively corrupt, infuriating, and devastating fiasco the rise and brutal fall of Enron truly was. The massive greed of the 80’s was nothing compared to the naked criminality enacted by this once-mighty behemoth, whose actions were aided and abetted by the very checks and balances that are meant to keep monsters like this from ever getting as bad as Enron did – a rogues gallery that includes executives, banks, and politicians. If you’ve ever wondered exactly what all of the fuss was about – and why people continue to point fingers at the Bush administration – then this documentary is required viewing. Bonus features include an audio commentary, deleted scenes, Enron skits, a behind-the-scenes featurettes, an update on all the players involved, and more.

Ever since I first saw its skyline from a distance while traveling to Long Island on a family trip, I’ve fallen in love with the wholly unique character that is the city of Manhattan. Others have fallen in love with the “City that Never Sleeps,” and it’s their artistic vision of the Big Apple that makes up Impressions of New York: Prints from the New York Historical Society (Princeton Architectural Press/Chronicle Books, $50.00 SRP). If that’s whetted your appetite for more fascinating views of the city, you might want to snag yourself a copy of New York Changing (Princeton Architectural Press/Chronicle Books, $40.00 SRP), which recreates the shots of famed photographer Berenice Abbott, making for a fascinating contrast in just how much the city has changed – buildings gone, statues weathered – yet still feels the same.

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I’m a fan of the trainwreck quality of MTV’s Viva La Bam, and lament the fact that the 3-disc release of the complete 4th and 5th seasons (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) marks the end of Bam Margera’s parent, friend, and especially uncle-endangering misadventures. In addition to all 16 episodes, the set also features audio commentaries, deleted scenes, the MTV Cribs episode on Bam, and more.

While music lover’s looking for the next hip act in the 70’s might turn to shows like SNL and The Midnight Special in the US, Brit viewers made their discoveries via the BBC’s Old Grey Whistle Test, which showcased bands and singers on the cusp of superstardom along with long-established acts. The second volume collecting performances from those groundbreaking shows (BBC, Not Rated, DVD-$24.98 SRP) includes artist as diverse as Roxy Music, Meat Loaf, The Who, Thomas Dolby, Jim Croce, Hall & Oates, The Pogues, and over a dozen more. Bonus features include an audio commentary from presenters Mark Ellen and David Hepworth, reminiscences from the artists, and a gallery.

As someone raised on Queen’s greatest hits albums (you know – the red and the blue – it’s wonderful to go back and discover all of the fantastic album tracks they had, particularly from their breakthrough album, A Night At The Opera (Hollywood Records, $24.98 SRP). It was serendipity that I viewed an in-depth documentary on the making of this landmark album just as it was getting a completely remastered special edition release, featuring not only a crystal clear version of the original album, but a bonus DVD with remastered 5.1 surround and music videos (including the classic “Bohemian Rhapsody” video).

If you’re looking for the high stakes tension and drama of 24 with a decidedly British feel, then you’re going to want to check out the UK spy thriller MI-5, whose third season (BBC, Not Rated, DVD-$79.98 SRP) is now available for adrenaline junkies the world over. The 5-disc set features all 10 episodes, plus commentaries, cast & crew interviews, deleted scenes, and behind-the-scenes featurettes. Hey, at least it’s something to catch up on when you’re filling time between Bauer-a-thons.

In recent years, I’ve been more annoyed with Nic Cage flicks than enamored, but I did enjoy Lord of War (Lion’s Gate, Rated R, DVD-$30.98 SRP), which stars Cage as an arms agent who reaches a brick wall that even he, with all of his skills, may be unable to scale. As far as bonus features go, the 2-disc special edition contains an audio commentary with director Andrew Niccol, deleted scenes, a pair of making-of documentaries, a featurette on weapons, and trailers.

The BBC’s CG science and speculation Walking With… series continues with an exploration of the creatures that populated the earth prior to the rise of the dinosaurs, Before the Dinosaurs: Walking With Monsters (BBC, Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP). The 26-foot sea scorpions are still freaking me out. The disc also contains a 30-minute making-of documentary focusing on the making of all 3 Walking With… specials.

I’m sure, somewhere, there was an exec that thought The Man (New Line, Rated PG-13, DVD-$27.98 SRP) was a can’t miss concept – A comedy starring the unlikely partnering of Samuel L. Jackson and Eugene Levy when a case of mistaken identity leads a group of arms dealers to believe that dental salesman Levy is an arms buyer, forcing Jackson’s tough-as-nails federal agent with little choice but to keep the misunderstanding going if he wants to make the bust. Oh, the comedy that… should have ensued. Unfortunately, it’s a listless enterprise that invokes all of the worst black/white cliches you can imagine. Ah well… Not everything’s a sure thing. Bonus features include behind-the-scenes featurettes, deleted scenes, and a blooper reel.

Do yourself a favor and put and lingering memories of the wretched American version out of your head when digging into the hilarious 3rd & 4th seasons of the original UK version of Men Behaving Badly (BBC, Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP each). Martin Clunes & Neil Morrissey are brilliant as the slovenly, testosterone-laden flatmates Gary and Tony, to whom the touchy-feely 90’s were merely an annoyance. You’ll love it. Bonus features are limited to quizzes that, thankfully, at least reward you with outtakes from the show.

Saddle-up! They’re not the season sets most were hoping for, but at least we’re finally getting some classic Gunsmoke on DVD via a pair of 3-disc sets (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$36.99 SRP each) celebrating the show’s 50th(!) anniversary. Volume 1 contains 17 episodes from the first 9 seasons, while Volume 2 features a dozen from seasons 10-19. Both sets feature special episode intros from James Arness, gag reels, audio commentaries, interviews, Emmy footage, documentaries, promos, and more. While you’re at it, make sure you grab the complete third season of Have Gun Will Travel (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$50.99 SRP).

Titus (Anchor Bay, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) was one of those shows whose longevity baffled me – here was a show that was just too dark, too subversive, and too funny to avoid the network axe (much like Arrested Development’s avoidance of the be-suited reaper). I mean com on – a sitcom with an abusive father and schizophrenic mother, and even Phyllis Diller? The 21-episodes comprising the third and final season are collected in a 4-disc set, with cast interviews and commentary from Christopher Titus and creators Brian Hargrove and Jack Kenny.

Though far from a great film, one of the best, quirkiest things to come out of Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic were the Portuguese versions of classic David Bowie hits performed by Seu Jorge. All of those tracks and more are featured on The Life Aquatic Studio Sessions (Hollywood Records, $18.98 SRP), and is definitely worth picking up.

By the second season of Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$59.98 SRP), the soap opera element – always intended to be the main thrust of the show, anyway – really began to take hold, and left very little for viewers who wanted a little bit of superhero action with the bubbly. Still, the show enjoyed its greatest success this season, becoming a hit with audiences who, sadly, loved the bubbly. The 6-disc set features an audio commentary with Dean Cain, a season 2 retrospective featurette, and a featurette focusing on the show’s fans.

It’s a shame when a great film with an amazing performance falls through the cracks, but I think that’s just what’s happened with Hustle & Flow (Paramount, Rated R, DVD-$29.95 SRP). Terence Howard delivers a powerful performance as DJay, a pimp caught between impending fatherhood and the street life who, after a chance encounter with an old school friend, realizes there may be more to his dead end life than he’d dare to hope for. Just check it out. Bonus features include an audio commentary with writer/director Craig Brewer, behind-the-scenes featurettes, footage from the Memphis premiere, and promotional spots.

By the third season of Doogie Howser, M.D. (Anchor Bay, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP), star Neil Patrick Harris had begun to age out of the cute concept of a baby-faced doctor prodigy and the show was forced to deal with Doogie’s virginity, moving out on his own, girlfriend issues – you know, all that growing up stuff. You go, Doogie. Bonus features include new interviews with Harris and James Sikking.

Well, it took awhile, but eventually a zombie flick had to be merged with hard-partying teens on a spring break jaunt in Mexico, and that’s just what All Souls Day (Anchor Bay, Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP) delivers in gory spades. Horror fans will dig it. Bonus features include an audio commentary with director Jeremy Kasten and producer Mark Altman, behind-the-scenes featurettes, deleted/extended scenes, and a trailer.

So what are the three albums featured in this week’s soundtrack round-up? Well, if there’s a new Spielberg film, then there must – the law states – be a John Williams release, and in this case it’s the score for Munich (Decca, $18.98 SRP). Spielberg-related (tangentially) is the original cast album for the Broadway version of The Color Purple (Angel Records, $18.98 SRP). Finally, there’s the soundtrack album for Capote (RCA/Legacy, $18.49 SRP), which features both Mychael Danna’s score as well as 1964 recordings of the real Truman Capote reading excerpts from In Cold Blood.


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