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THE MONEY PIT - 02/3/2006

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (February 3, 2006 at 2:19 am)

We’re one week from my long drive up to Toy Fair, and that means all kinds of prep work for covering the mother of all trade shows (well, at least for a toys and collectibles nut like myself). The “to do” list is a long one, but there’s plenty of cool coverage on the way. By the way, don’t forget to check out this week’s Scrubs blog for a special trivia contest.

When I first saw longtime pals Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman’s travel documentary Long Way Round (Goldhil, Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP), I wished I had the nerves and gumption to go on a road trip like that. The two decided to circumnavigate the globe on motorcycles, disembarking to other modes of travel only where absolutely necessary, with only a minimal camera crew as support (engaged as a means to cover the costs of the trip – their original hope was to go off and do the trip just for themselves, but who could turn down the underwriting of such a costly venture?). There’s no star trips here – both McGregor and Boorman get hurt, push their bikes to the limit, nearly destroy their friendship, but eventually come through with a stronger bond and an amazing journey under their belts. I can’t recommend this chronicle enough… And only wish I could one day do something similar.

While Tim Burton’s The Corpse Bride (Warner Bros., Rated PG-13, DVD-$28.98 SRP) certainly looks like it should be just as enjoyable and appealing as the now-classic Nightmare Before Christmas, there’s just a certain something missing that prevents the package from jelling. Maybe it’s that the story – about a socially advantageous marriage between two parentally-oppressed young lovers that goes horribly wrong when, naturally, the groom-to-be (Johnny Depp) becomes inadvertently wed to the titular corpse (Helena Bonham Carter) instead of his true love (Emily Watson), and is then whisked away to the colorful land of the dead (a far departure from his drab Victorian world) – just lacks the zing of Nightmare. The stop-motion animation is still a beautiful way to execute a film, but there’s no real spark there, which is a shame. It’s a flick worth checking out, though, but just don’t expect NBX-level greatness. Bonus features include 7 behind-the-scenes featurettes, a pre-production art gallery, a music-only track, and the theatrical trailer.

There are a few shows that truly deserve their groundbreaking, legendary status, and one that absolutely deserves that recognition is Hill Street Blues, which you’ll quickly determine for yourself as you view the 17 episodes comprising the show’s first season (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP). The cops of the Hill Street Station are not Friday’s – they’re multi-layered, fallible, stressed human beings fighting the good fight on the street and at home as best they can. Without nuanced, shads of gray Hill Street there would have been no NYPD Blue or The Shield. Bonus materials across the 3-disc set include audio commentaries on 2 episodes and a retrospective featurette. One big request, though – stop giving up the crappy double-sided discs, like Universal’s TV releases. It just comes off as cheap, and it’s a pain the a** to deal with.

I may sound like a broken record on this topic, but Warners remains the studio to beat when it comes to proper mining of an extensive back-catalogue of classic films – many of which haven’t seen the light of day in decades, let alone in the beautiful presentation they’re getting on DVD. The latest batch of classics to hit the pike include Spencer Tracy & Lionel Barrymore in Rudyard Kipling’s Captains Courageous, Paul Muni in The Good Earth, Jane Wyman & Lew Ayers in Johnny Belinda, Ginger Rogers in Kitty Foyle, Edna Ferber’s Cimarron, and Kirk Douglas’s memorable portrayal of Vincent Van Gogh in Lust For Life (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP each). The discs feature classic cartoons, vintage shorts and newsreels, and Lust For Life sports an audio commentary from film historian Dr. Drew Casper.

Crikey, how I love Twomorrows. Striking a balance between historians, scholars, and fans like no other company, they manage to produce the most consistently enjoyable – and must-have – comics reference and appreciation books on the market yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Their latest is a look back at the grim, gritty, graphic, and ultimately destructive period that permeated the 1990’s – The Dark Age (Twomorrows, $19.95). Featuring interviews with the perpetrators themselves – names like McFarlane, Lee, Gibbons, Ross, Smith, and more – it’s an essential overview of the point when comic books abandoned their traditional child audience and began fashioning an ever-tightening noose around the neck of a once-mighty industry.

Suck all of the pigment from Steven Wright, give him a manatee fixation, and make him look like a mad cross between Elton John and Philip Seymour Hoffman, you’d get Jim Gaffigan. Easily one of the most offbeat and surreal comics of the current generation, his odd delivery and often subtle, left-field wit remind me of the glory days of Emo Phillips. All of this is to say you should check out his new CD, Beyond the Pale (Comedy Central Records, $12.98 SRP) and its companion DVD (Image Entertainment, Not Rated, DVD-$ SRP), which also contains his first stand-up appearance from 1991, a cartoon, and more.

If I were to go for the cheap and easy way to mention that the 2nd season of Diff’rent Strokes (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$29.95 SRP) has made its way to DVD, I’d probably mention Arnold’s pop culture lynchpin, “What’s you talkin’ ‘bout?” But I’m not going to say that. Nope. Not going to succumb to the pressure to go for the cheap pop reference. Instead, I’ll take the high ground and mention that the 3-disc set features all 24 episodes, with guest stars like Muhammad Ali and Reggie Jackson. Sadly, this was also the season that Mrs. Garrett (Charlotte Rae) left to go work at some girls school and was replaced by Adelaide Brubaker. Oh, and there are absolutely no bonus materials. What’s you talkin’ ‘bout, Sony?

I know you’ve been absolutely dying to know for the past 20 years who shot J.R., and it’s during the 4th season of Dallas (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) that you get your answer. Not only do you get that little mystery out of the way, but the 4-disc set also features much more Ewing intrigue, plus the 2004 reunion documentary The Return to Southfork, featuring cast interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, and bloopers. Oh, and for the record, it was Waylon Smithers.

All Brian Herzlinger wanted was a date with Drew Barrymore. Of course, in today’s media age, that meant Brian had to take up a camera and build a film around his nigh-impossible quest, which – strangely enough – has become My Date With Drew (First Look, Not Rated, DVD-$14.98 SRP). Armed with only a pair of friends, $1,100, and a camera that has to be returned to Circuit City within 30 days, he goes out in search of his quarry – a move that would be creepily stalkerish if it weren’t so funny and endearing. I promise I won’t ruin the ending for you. The DVD features a behind-the-scenes featurette and a trailer.

Margaret Cho has gotten years of comedy out of the network notes admonishing her on her weight and “suggesting” ways of broadening the appeal of her short-lived sitcom All-American Girl (Shout! Factory, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP), but I was one of those people who actually liked its non-traditional Asian-centric cast and thought it was pretty dang funny, and I always thought Cho was hilarious (her stand-up bears this out), and thought Amy Hill’s performance as grandma was priceless. You can check out the entire 19-episode run via this 4-disc set, featuring commentary by Cho and Hill on select episodes, plus interviews.

Like the Spruce Goose, few (myself included) ever thought we would see the long-rumored extended edition of Dune (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$27.98 SRP) fly, but like the Goose before it, fly it has… finally. This edition contains both the 2 hour 17 minute cut, plus the extended 2 hour 57 minute epic, all with great-looking video that makes all of those old VHS boots obsolete. Bonus materials include featurettes (on FX, wardrobe, design, and models), deleted scenes, and a photo gallery.

It’s the guiltiest of pleasures, but I still get a kick out of every episode contained in the fourth collection of Benny Hill episodes (A&E, Not Rated, DVD-$49.95 SRP), presented completely uncut. Covering the period from 1978-1981, the 10 episodes comprising this 3-disc set featured the introduction of the legendarily buxom Hill’s Angels, a visit from Michael Caine, and Benny’s receipt of the “Funniest Man on Television” award. The set also sports the interview featurette “I was a Hill’s Angel.”

With the departure of Gloria and Mike, it became a little harder to find new stories as All in the Family ended its 10th season. In an effort to keep the ball rolling a little bit longer, the show morphed into Archie Bunker’s Place (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$29.925 SRP), which shifted the focus out of the Bunker’s home and into Archie’s Queens bar, partnered in the business with Murray Klein (Martin Balsam). To keep a little of Archie & Edith’s home life going, they were saddled with a niece (Danielle Brisebois). Though the show lasted 4 seasons, the writing was clearly on the wall – despite Carroll O’Connor and Jean Stapleton’s still reliable performances – that the end was near. The 3-disc set features all 24 episodes from the show’s debut seasons, but nary a bonus feature to speak of.

Putting aside the sensationalistic title meant to grab your attention, Da Vinci and the Code He Lived By (History Channel, Not Rated, DVD-$24.95 SRP) is a nicely in-depth analysis of the famed genius. From his masterpieces on canvas to the mind that was able to give form to inventions that still astound the thinkers of today, Da Vinci’s life is worth the exploration, especially via this excellent documentary. The disc also include a behind-the-scenes featurette.

With Black History Month upon us, the History Channel brings to DVD their 2-disc Voices of Civil Rights (History Channel, Not Rated, DVD-$29.95 SRP), which contains a trio of documentaries on the movement itself, and a pair of A&E Biographies of Civil Rights legends. The documentaries included are Voices of Civil Rights, Mississippi State Secrets, and Crossing the Bridge, with Biographies of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Thurgood Marshall.

The rich & famous – and eccentric – clientele of Las Vegas’s Hart & Huntington Tattoo Company and it’s equally eccentric staff – led by Motorcross champion Carey Hart – is the focus of A&E’s latest reality series Inked, which hits DVD with a best-of covering the show’s first season (A&E, Not Rated, DVD-$19.95 SRP). Honestly, I can’t stand tattoos, but every reality series has a nice train wreck realism to it, and this one is no exception.

As a kid, there were two subjects in history that held my tender little psyche enthralled – the Titanic, and Ancient Egypt. Therefore, it goes without saying that I’m a sucker for documentaries on either subject, which includes the newly released King Tutankhamun: The Mystery Unsealed (History Channel, Not Rated, DVD-$24.95 SRP), which examines not only the death and archeological afterlife of the boy king, but also his short life. Hosted by Frank Langella, it tells its tale via a bevy of scholars, plus some pretty nifty computer animation.

No matter how many times I hear Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd (Nonesuch, $21.98 SRP), there’s always some new color that I take away from the experience. That goes doubly for the cast album to the newly relaunched and retooled revival starring Patti LuPone and Michael Cerveris, which manages to breathe new life into the old barber’s tale. The package also features a deluxe booklet packed with photos and the lyrics.

I do think that you can reach a saturation point with the explosion of TV-to-DVD releases, particularly when it’s the cheese-fest of the 80’s. Case in point – and a warning, certified I’m sure by some doctor or another – you should never, ever, watch the complete third seasons of Knight Rider, Magnum PI, and The A-Team (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$49.98 SRP each) back-to-back. You’re risking permanent brain damage and potential blindness… So it’s heavily advised against that you even attempt to do so. A little bit here and there, sure, but not consecutively. You have been warned.

Raised as an evangelical prodigy from the age of four, Marjoe was a fire and brimstone preacher until the 60’s counterculture lured him away in the swinging 60’s before he returned to preaching with a vengeance and full of rock n’ roll salesmanship. The documentary Marjoe (Docurama, Not Rated, DVD-$26.95 SRP) picks up with the titular preacher as he embarks as his “farewell to faith” tour, revealing the hucksterism used to take advantage of the easily led of religious persuasion. The DVD also features the documentary Thoth. Of course, I can’t get away from this week’s documentary mentions without bringing up another fervor-raising subject, discussed in Kim Cattrall’s Sexual Intelligence (Docurama, Not Rated, DVD-$26.95 SRP). Through art, history, cultural, and social discussion, the topic of sex is covered from many a fascinating angle.


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