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THE MONEY PIT - 05/19/2006

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (May 19, 2006 at 9:18 pm)

The weekend’s here. You’ve just been paid, and it’s burning a hole in your pocket. What’s a pop culture geek to do? In hopes of steering you in the right direction to blow some of that hard-earned cash, it’s time for The Money Pit – your spotlight on the things you didn’t even know you wanted…

Is it too much to hope that eventually we’ll get the entire 10-season run of Mystery Science Theater 3000 on DVD? At least we get another step closer with the release of the 9th MST Collection (Rhino, Not Rated, DVD-$59.95 SRP), featuring 4 episodes that reach all the way back to the show’s very first season. The flicks features this go-round are Women of the Prehistoric Planet (Show #104), Wild Rebels (#207), The Sinister Urge (#613), and The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies (#812). Whew! Is it too much to ask that we eventually get Laserblast (#701), so I can finally throw out my VHS tapes? Or, for that matter, more bonus material, such as the full MST Scrapbook, or some of these workprints that have been floating around? Or, heck, even – perish forbid – new episodes released directly to DVD? Come on, Rhino, step up!

If you’re going to present a colorized version of the film, kudos to Legend Films for doing it the right way, by also presenting a fully cleaned and restored version of the original black & white film. So far, they’ve given the treatment to many B-classics, including Plan 9 From Outer Space and Reefer Madness. Best of all, though, they’ve enlisted MST3K vet Mike Nelson to provide commentaries for the pics. The latest flick getting the treatment is Roger Corman’s original killer plant opus, Little Shop of Horrors (Legend Films ,Not Rated, DVD-$19.99 SRP), starring Jack Nicholson in one of his first film roles. If you order now directly from Legend, you even get the disc signed by Nelson… So what are you waiting for?

With a young nephew and my own inherent, powerful, and sometimes embarrassing sense of nostalgia, I was jazzed to hear that Little Golden Books (Random House, $2.99 SRP each) were making a triumphant return to aid in the burgeoning reading skills of young minds keen to learn from their favorite characters. Not only are they re-releasing classic titles that I grew up with (including a personal fave, Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree), plus Little Golden Book versions of modern classics like Pixar’s Toy Story 2 and Finding Nemo, featuring beautiful stylized artwork that harkens back to the original production design. I can’t wait for my nephew to dive into them, and to get his first does of being read a story at bedtime.

I don’t know how I feel about the recent trend towards reinserting deleted footage in films and re-releasing them on DVD as “Unrated Extended Editions,” but I guess it really all comes down to the film and the footage. Leave it to Disney to jump on the bandwagon, though, with a trio of new extended editions – Con Air, Crimson Tide, and Enemy of the State (Touchstone/Hollywood, Not Rated, DVD-$19.99 SRP each). Con Air is bare bones, but both Enemy and Crimson contain behind-the-scenes featurettes.

As powerful as his music continues to be, there’s nothing like seeing a performer as incendiary as Marvin Gaye perform live – which is just what you get in the career-encompassing Marvin Gaye: The Real Thing In Performance 1964-1981 (Hip-O/Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$14.98 SRP). From his 1964 appearance on American Bandstand to his final concert film in Belgium shortly before his untimely death, this is a great compilation of a too-short life.

While comparisons to Mary Poppins may be giving it a little too much credit next to that classic, Nanny McPhee (Universal, Rated PG, DVD-$29.98 SRP) is an affable, enjoyable family flick about a recently widowed single father (Colin Firth) whose very naughty children are whipped back into shape by the mysterious appearance of one Nanny McPhee (Emma Thompson). Bonus materials include deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes featurettes, and a gag reel.

If American Graffiti was the first flick to make wall-to-wall oldies a viable soundtrack to a film, and it was in that spirit that Lawrence Kasdan’s The Big Chill made the music just as much a character in his film about a group of thirty-somethings reuniting after the death of their 60’s-era college friend. As such, the soundtrack was packed with Motown hits, and it spawned music collections of the same vein, playing off the cache of the film – which have now been re-released as the 3-disc Music Inspired By The Big Chill (Motown, $29.98 SRP), containing 33 Motown hits not featured in the film.

It was during the second season of Grounded for Life (Anchor Bay, Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP) that the series started to top-load the comedy and the guest stars, feeling slightly more secure after dodging cancellation in its first season. Those guest stars include Stephen Root, Vincent Pastore, Valerie Perrine, Danny Masterson, Natasha Lyonne, and Ashton Kutcher. In fact, Kutcher also provides a new interview for this set, which includes additional cast interviews, a featurette on Kevin Corrigon, and bloopers.

What’s unique about the newest incarnation of The Producers (Universal, Rated PG-13, DVD-$29.98 SRP) is that it’s a musical film about the mounting of a Broadway disaster which is adapted from a Broadway musical that was adapted from the a film. To go into the flick expecting to see a literal translation of the Mel Brooks-penned movie-cum-Broadway hit is to be a bit disconcerted, as the musical film is really its own beast, reinventing the source material yet again – but with the comforting, enjoyable presence of both Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick in the leads of Broadway vet Max Bialystock and pie-eyed producer-wannabe Leo Bloom. The DVD features deleted musical numbers (including the “Why’d they cut that?” tour-de-force “King of Broadway”), outtakes, an audio commentary from director Susan Stroman, and analysis of the “I Wanna Be A Producer” scene.

Feeling in a literary mood this weekend but too lazy to pick up a book? Fret not, as you can dive into a collection of six George Bernard Shaw classics from the BBC via The Shaw Collection (BBC, Not Rated, DVD-$59.98 SRP). The 6-disc set features Arms and the Man, The Devil’s Disciple, Mrs. Warren’s Profession, Pygmalion, Heartbreak House, and The Millionairess. In addition, the set also contains four Shaw plays (The Man of Destiny, You Can Never Tell, Androcles and the Lion, and The Apple Cart), plus a pair of documentaries and a collection of audio excerpts from Shaw’s talks.

And speaking of non labor-intensive ways to partake of classic literature, how about unabridged Ernest Hemingway novels on CD? Donald Sutherland is the reader on The Old Man and the Sea (Simon and Schuster Audio, $20.00 SRP), Campbell Scott reveals For Whom The Bell Tolls (Simon and Schuster Audio, $49.95 SRP), and John Slattery is all over A Farewell To Arms (Simon and Schuster Audio, $39.95 SRP).

The cops of Hill Street station return in the complete second season of Hill Street Blues (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP). Building on the innovation of its first season, this year brings increased tensions to the station house, with many a surprise in store. Watching this set makes me want the equally-memorable St. Elsewhere on DVD post-haste. The 3-disc set features all 18 episodes, a pair of commentaries, four featurettes, and a much-appreciated gag reel.

I’ve tried and tried, but for the life of me I can’t understand why Napoleon Dynamite (Fox, Rated PG, DVD-$26.98 SRP) is as popular as it has become since its release. Admittedly, it’s a quirky, picaresque slice of high school life as surreal alienation, but it gets buried in its own oddball affectations. Still, it has its fans, and if you count yourself amongst them you’ll be happy with the new 2-disc special edition, featuring commentaries, deleted/extended scenes, behind-the-scenes featurettes, audition clips, promos, and more.

It was only a matter of time before someone finally used Art Asylum’s MiniMates to make a short film a la the LEGO epics, and first trip down that path is the 9-minute short X-Men: Darktide (Diamond Select, $18.00 SRP), featuring our merry Mutants, Magneto, and the menace of the Sentinels. If that weren’t enough, each set contains not only the DVD, but also 4 MiniMates – Wolverine, Cyclops, Magneto, and Juggernaut.

As the box copy mentions, That Girl (Shout! Factory, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) really was a groundbreaker that set the stage for shows like Mary Tyler Moore and Murphy Brown. Debuting in 1966, Marlo Thomas started as a young, independent working girl pursuing her dream of being an actor in the Big Apple, and the show itself is a funny time capsule of the changing times. The 5-disc complete first season features all 30 episodes, plus the original pilot, a featurette with Marlo Thomas, promos, commentaries, and more.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – in the age of iTunes and shrinking shelf space as more and more brick and mortar stores fold and move into the digital ages, many record companies are finding new and better ways to present their catalogue artists, and that includes revamping the traditional “Greatest Hits” CD. Gone are the 10-20 track overview of only the well-known tunes, replaced by more in-depth releases featuring hits, album cuts, and rarities. Universal Music has gone the right direction with their single disc “Definitive” and 2-disc “Gold” collections, highlighting classic artists with remastered sound and concise presentation. The latest “Definitive” collection titles include Jerry Lee Lewis, Brenda Lee, Judy Garland, Bing Crosby, Rick James, and Buddy Holly (Universal Music, $13.98 SRP each), while Joe Cocker, Conway Twitty, Statler Brothers, Martha Reeves & The Vandellas, and an “80s” get the 2-disc “Gold” treatment (Universal Music, $19.98 SRP each).

Its politics are unforgivable, but there’s no denying the incredible filmmaking skill evident in Leni Riefenstahl’s legendary Nazi propaganda film Triumph of the Will (Synapse, Not Rated, DVD-$34.95 SRP), which chronicles the rise of the Nazi Party via its propagandist centerpiece – the 1934 Nazi Party Rally in Nuremberg. The new DVD edition features a remastered print, plus the Riefenstahl short film Day of Freedom and audio commentary by historian Dr. Anthony Santoro.

Even while facing stiff competition from cable nets like Discovery, The Learning Channel, The History Channel and their ilk, PBS continues to crank out a whole slew of fascinating documentaries, all of which are available on DVD (PBS, Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP each). The latest to come down the pike include cracking the enigmatic feline in Understanding Cats, the search for the elusive Arctic Passage, determining if we’re alone in Exploring Space: The Quest For Life, journey from the Rockies to the Grand Canyon and eventually into Mexico’s California gulf in Wild River: The Colorado, a profile of a pioneer marine explorer in Teddy Tucker: Adventure Is My Life, and an in-depth look at a killer via Malaria: Fever Wars.

Essential Hollywood (Sony Classical, $24.98 SRP) certainly lives up to its title, featuring 2-discs worth of classic Hollywood themes, completely remastered. The 27 tracks contain everything from King Kong and Gone With The Wind to Star Wars and The Pink Panther – with stops at Casablanca, Citizen Kane, High Noon, Psycho, and more.

There’s not much you can say when faced by a world that would actually produce ABBA: The Movie (Universal Music, Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP). Considering it was the 70’s, though, it’s at least marginally understandable, seeing as how this was also the decade that birthed the Pet Rock, Disco, and HR Pufnstuf. Oh, and it was directed by Lasse Hallstrom. If that’s not enough ABBA overload, tip the scales with the 3-disc ABBA: Chronicles collection (Polar/Universal Music, $29.98 SRP), which collects their debut album ABBA, Arrival, and the soundtrack to ABBA: The Movie.

Comments: 1 Comment

THE MONEY PIT - 05/12/2006

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (May 12, 2006 at 9:14 pm)

You ever have one of those weeks where you can feel a clock ticking and changes afoot? Well, it’s certainly been a week like that here, as the winds of change are not exactly blowing fair – but the show must go on, right?

While rights issues are still holding up a full season-by-season release of the legendary Phil Silvers Show (aka Sgt. Bilko), Paramount has gone above and beyond the call of duty in assembling a stopgap 3-disc set that is an absolute must-have purchase for any comedy fan. Sgt. Bilko: The Phil Silvers Show 50th Anniversary Edition (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$39.95 SRP) contains 18 remastered episodes, plus a truckload of rare bonus materials that will delight Bilko aficionados, including the lost pilot, the original opening titles, audio commentaries (from Larry Storch, Dick Van Dyke, George Kennedy, Allan Melvin, and Mickey Freeman), Emmy highlights, guest appearances (on The Ed Sullivan Show, Dick Cavett, and more), Nick @ Nite promos with Dan Aykroyd & Phil Hartman (who also provides episode intros), audio of the Friars Club Stag Roast of Humphrey Bogart, and more. Here’s hoping we eventually get those season sets – but until then, Christmas has come early.

If you want to find out more about Bilko, check out Mickey Freeman’s memoir about his time on the show playing one of Bilko’s right-hand soldiers, Private Zimmerman, in Bilko: Behind the Lines With Phil Silvers (Virgin, $17.95 SRP). It’s a wonderful glimpse at a slice of TV history, and a loving portrait of one of the greatest comedians who ever delivered a line.

It’s no shock that I’m a Scrubs fan (I’ve waxed poetic about it before, and the fact that I’ve done the Scrubs blog with the crew must have been a hint to that effect), and I’m quite happy that we’ve gotten a speedy release of the show’s 3rd season (Buena Vista, Not Rated, DVD-$39.99 SRP). While not as groundbreaking or fresh as the first 2 seasons (just by virtue of familiarity), the characters really come to the fore in this season, as Turk & Carla march towards their trip down the aisle, Dr. Cox deals with fatherhood, and J.D. marks the passing of his father (originally played by John Ritter). Also of note is the pitch-perfect guest run of Michael J. Fox as an OCD-suffering doctor who makes a huge impression on the young interns, particularly Elliott. The 3-disc set is packed with bonus materials, including commentaries, deleted scenes, a gaggle of behind-the-scenes featurettes, a gag reel, and more.

Oh, Irwin Allen… You truly were a genius. If there’s one thing I can thank the completely unnecessary remake The Poseidon for, it’s that we’ve finally got a 2-disc remastered special edition of the original classic, The Poseidon Adventure (Fox, Rated PG, DVD-$19.98 SRP). Imagine a giant tsunami overturning the Love Boat, and you’ve got the premise of this addictive disaster flick. Even better, we get an audio commentary with director Ronald Neame, an audio commentary with some of the cast (Pamela Sue Martin, Stella Stevens, & Carol Lynley), the AMC Backstory spotlight on the film, 9 brand-new behind-the-scenes and retrospective featurettes, trailers, and more. And because you can’t have enough disaster, Irwin Allen’s follow-up, The Towering Inferno (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP) is also getting the 2-disc treatment, featuring commentaries, behind-the-scenes featurettes, extended/deleted scenes, the AMC Backstory, original making-of featurettes, the NATO presentation reel, a 1977 interview with Allen, trailers, and more.

If you’re in the mood for high adventure after that Irwin Allen disaster-a-thon, pick up a copy of one of the greatest Duck tales ever written by comics legend Carl Barks – it’s called “In Ancient Persia,” and it finds Donald Duck and nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie smack dab in the middle of a plot to resurrect the long-dead inhabitants of that desert kingdom. You can find the story in this month’s Donald Duck and Friends #339 (Gemstone, $2.95 SRP). Give it a read.

From the first moment I popped in my original Comedy Central screener tape 10 years ago, I absolutely dug Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$19.99 SRP). I had never seen the money-saving squigglevision animation technique before, and once I realized it wouldn’t give me seizures, I was able to concentrate on just want a comedic gem the largely improvised interplay between Katz, his son Ben (Jon Benjamin) and the gaggle of desperately-in-need-of-help comedians (up-and-comers like Ray Romano, Joy Behar, David Cross, and Louis CK) proved to be. This first collection features the 6 episodes comprising the first season, plus audio commentaries, Short Attention Span Theater shorts, “The Biography of Dr. Katz,” and the squigglevision short “Shrinkwrapped.”

If you’re still one of the poor, unfortunate souls intimidated by the season sets of Rocky & Bullwinkle, then you can get a very nice sampling of Jay Ward’s legendary cartoon via the single-disc The Best of Rocky & Bullwinkle: Volume 1 & The Best of Boris & Natasha: Volume 1 (Classic Media, Not Rated, DVD-$12.98 SRP each).

I haven’t decided yet whether I think Steven Spielberg’s latest grasp for legitimacy as an “important filmmaker” is a well-crafted drama or an overwrought cry for respect. I admire [Munich] (Universal, Rated R, DVD-$29.98 SRP) for its attempt to look at a very difficult subject matter – the alleged actions taken by the Israelis to avenge the murder of their Olympic athletes by terrorists during the 1972 Munich games. I honestly wish that Spielberg would realize that he can still make enjoyable films in-between his “important” ones. The feature-laden 2-disc collector’s edition is impossible to find, while the single-disc edition only contains a brief intro from Spielberg.

Eight Days a Week (Warner Bros., Rated R, DVD-$19.98 SRP) is one of those tiny little comedies that can’t help but endear themselves, and the fact that it’s got a gorgeous young Keri Russell as the object of its lead character’s desire is no small part of that appeal, I admit. That lead character is nerdy Peter (Josh Schaefer), who longs to be more than “just friends” with his next-door neighbor (Russell), and hatches a plot to camp out on the sidewalk in front of her house until she comes around, giving him the chance to observe his eccentric neighborhood and neighbors as the summer days pass by.

How many of you out there are old enough to remember just what a colossal hit Dinosaurs (Walt Disney, Not Rated, DVD-$39.99 SRP) was when it began airing on ABC in the early 90’s? When the Jurassic Sinclair clan was must-see TV, and Baby Sinclair’s cry of “Not the mama!” was a national catchphrase, a latter day “Where’s the beef?” Well, it was, and if you watch the episodes contained on the 4-disc set collecting the first and second seasons, you’ll see why – the show is still funny, and the Jim Henson Creature Shop’s costume work is simply amazing. Bonus features include a look into the making of the show, bonus clips, and designer/writer/director Kirk Thatcher’s original designs for the dinosaurs.

As the show winds to a close, as far as new episodes are concerned, on DVD we’re getting the sixth season of West Wing (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$59.98 SRP), which finds the Bartlett administration entering its last year and the race to replace hit heating up between Alan Alda’s Republican Vinick and Jimmy Smits’ Democratic Santos. Which is not to say that Martin Sheen’s Bartlett administration has run out of any of the usual dramatic steam – far from it, in fact, as the campaign reenergized what had been a flagging, once-great show. The 6-disc set features audio commentary on a trio of episodes and a spotlight on C.J. Cregg’s rise from press secretary to Chief of Staff.

Nobody does mix collections like Time Life, and you’ll see I’m right with the single-disc collections Disco Fever: Boogie Wonderland, We Got The Funk, Irie Boogie Hits: Dancehall, and Barry Williams Presents One-Hit Wonders of the 70’s (Time Life, $18.98 SRP each). They’re retro-rific.

It may be coming to an end (much like Happy Days before it), but you can relive the glory days of That 70’s Show with the complete fourth season (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$49.98 SRP). Eric and Donna break up (and she hooks up with Kelso’s brother), Kelso & Jackie continue their dating dance, Hyde’s father blows town, and Kitty decides it’s time to redecorate the basement. The 4-disc set features all 27 episodes, plus select-episode commentary, a pair of behind-the-scenes featurettes, and a 4-minute retrospective of the season.

There’s something inherently compelling in the teaming of Robert De Niro and Jean Reno, and Ronin (MGM/UA, Rated R, DVD-$24.96 SRP) captures it to a “t” in a high-octane story involving top flight mercenaries who must learn to trust each other when a seemingly routine Mafia job becomes too hot to handle. The new 2-disc special edition features an audio commentary with John Frankenheimer, an alternate ending, vintage interviews with the cast, a making-of documentary, and five behind-the-scenes featurettes.

It had to come eventually – with the 6th season of The Andy Griffith Show (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$38.99 SRP), a legendary comedy finally met its match, and its name was Color. With the introduction of the spectrum to Mayberry, it seems like all of the charm and skillful writing was sucked out of that quirky corner of North Carolina. Even though he had departed as a regular at the end of season 5, Don Knotts did make a handful of much-appreciated guest spots over the course of the year, ensuring that Barney Fife would live on… Even if Knotts’ film career would eventually fizzle.

You take the good, you take the bad, you take ‘em both and then you have the first & second seasons of The Facts of Life (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$39.95 SRP). The truncated first season (it spun out of Diff’rent Strokes halfway through the year) was a mess – too many characters (the dorm was filled with a gaggle of extraneous girls, including the soon-to-be-jettisoned Molly Ringwald) and too little focus on any of them, with the only saving grace being the great Charlotte Rae as housemother Edna Garrett. It was during the second season – after a cast cull left just Tootie, Blair, Natalie and newcomer badgirl Jo – that the show began to hit its marks. The 4-disc set features the 29 episodes from both seasons, plus a pair of retrospective featurettes.

It’s simplistic to be dismissive of Life Goes On (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) as just “the show with that Down syndrome actor”… in fact, it’s also insulting. The show itself was about so much more than the challenges that faced Corky (Chris Burke) as a Down syndrome kid – they were the challenges that face any kid growing up. Simple as that. The 6-disc set features all 22 first season episodes, plus audio commentary on the pilot, screen tests, and a gag reel.

Okay, so – admittedly – Barry Manilow isn’t exactly the epitome of cool. In fact, he’s never been cool. Unfortunately, he has managed to craft songs which lodge themselves in the brain of anyone who listens to them, slowly driving them mad. Those tunes include “Copacabana,” “Mandy,” and “I Write the Songs,” and they’re all features on a trio of Manilow remasters, complete with bonus tracks – Barry Manilow II, Even Now, & Tryin’ To Get the Feeling (Arista/Legacy, $11.98 SRP each). Just try and get them out of your head.

When Sarah Ruttinger (Jennifer Aniston) returns home with her new fiancé (Mark Ruffalo), she begins to unravel a tangled web of rumors and innuendo that point to a far different past for her seemingly sedate, upscale family (including matriarch Shirley MacLaine) than she suspects. Rumor Has It (Warner Bros., Rated PG-13, DVD-$28.98 SRP) is the rare light comedy that I can actually enjoy, buoyed by a snappy script and even snappier performances (particularly the still-wonderful Aniston). Who knew director Rob Reiner still had it in him? Sadly, bonus materials are limited to the theatrical trailer.

Five seasons in and they’re still thanking us for being a friend with the still-funny 5th season of The Golden Girls (Buena Vista, Not Rated, DVD-$39.99 SRP), which features audio commentaries with stars Bea Arthur, Rue McClanahan, and Betty White.

Another pair of Showtime’s unfortunately lackluster high-concept mini-series Masters of Horror (Anchor Bay, Not Rated, DVD-$16.98 SRP each) hits DVD, this time featuring the efforts of Mick Garris (“Chocolate”) and Don Coscarelli (“Incident On and Off a Mountain Road”). Of the two, I’d have to give the edge to Mick Garris, a sentimental favorite ever since his adaptation of Stephen King’s The Stand. Both discs are loaded with bonus features, including commentaries, behind-the-scenes featurettes, interviews, and more.

Comments: None

THE MONEY PIT - 05/05/2006

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (May 5, 2006 at 12:41 am)

The weeks go flying by, and it’s with great alarm that I note we’re already to May. Where has this year gone? Why does it seem like it should still be January? Why is the sky blue? Why ask why?

When Red Dwarf began coming out on DVD, I bemoaned the fact that they were being released at the rate of only two series per year – which meant it would take four years for the entire eight series run to finally make it out. Well, here we are, four years later, and I’m holding Red Dwarf: Series 8 (BBC, Not Rated, DVD-$44.98 SRP) in my hands… well, metaphorically. Right now, obviously, I’m typing. Stop being so literal. Either way, the final series is out, and with the film still in limbo, this may be the last adventures of Lister, Rimmer, Cat, Kryten, and Kochanski that we’ll ever see. In addition to the 8 regular episodes, the 3-part premiere, “Back in the Red,” is also presented as a feature length film. As far as bonus features go, you’ve got the usual cast commentaries on every ep, a massive documentary encompassing the entire 8th series, the RD episode of Comedy Connections, deleted scenes, music cues, smeg-ups, trailers, the children in need sketch, easter eggs, and more. So, Doug… Where’s the film?

I think the fourth season of 3rd Rock From the Sun (Anchor Bay, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) is my favorite of all, and it can be summed up in 2 words – William Shatner. The great one steps in to personify the heretofore unseen alien leader, The Big Giant Head, and can you think of a better choice? This is also the season whose premiere resolves Phil Hartman’s guest role in the preceding season, after he kidnapped Harry. The 4-disc set features all 24 episodes, plus a featurette spotlight on Jane Curtain and bloopers.

I was happy to hear of Fox’s recent coming to the senses on the future of King of the Hill, renewing it for another season instead of letting a great series die due to their nonsensical apathy towards it. While you’re waiting for the new season to begin in the Fall, dig into the complete 6th season (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP). From Ren-Faire’s to naked grilling, it’s all here courtesy of the Hill clan’s Texan misadventures. One thing, tho – where are the bonus features, Fox? These sets should be as feature-laden as the Simpsons sets

There’s an electricity to the art of comics legend Jack Kirby, which is why I get such a kick out of every volume of The Collected Jack Kirby Collector (Twomorrows, $24.95 SRP) from Twomorrows Publishing, the fifth volume of which is now available. Packed with rare art and copious articles, it’s a must-have for and fan of “The King.”

It’s hard to believe that such a ground-breaking, beloved series as I Love Lucy only lasted an all-too-brief 6 seasons (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$38.99 SRP). I suppose it’s a testament to just how well-crafted the series was that, 50 years later, it’s still just as beloved – if not more so. The final DVD set features all 27 fully remastered episodes across 4 discs, plus the 1956 Christmas special, lost scenes, audio commentaries, bloopers, original commercials and promo spots, and much more.

Just in time for the release of I Love Lucy’s final season, Warners has pulled the only three films starring Lucille Ball & Desi Arnaz from their vaults and packaged them together in the Lucy & Desi Collection (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP). Newly remastered and sparkling, those flicks are The Long, Long Trailer, Forever Darling, and Too Many Girls. It’s still odd to see the pair in their prime in glorious color, and the films themselves are fun romantic comedies of the period, if not the laugh-fests of the couple’s sitcom. The set includes vintage cartoons, shorts, and the original theatrical trailers, plus a vintage behind-the-scenes segment for Forever Darling.

If you’re looking to stage a unique mini-marathon this weekend with a decidedly southern flair, how about a run of big screen Tennessee Williams classics, fully restored by the fine folks at Warners and loaded with bonus features? Leading the pack is the much-desired 2-disc special edition of A Streetcar Named Desire (Warner Bros., Rated PG, DVD-$26.98 SRP), featuring an audio commentary (with Karl Malden and film historians Rudy Behlmer & Jeff Young), outtakes, Marlon Brando’s Screen-test, a feature-length profile of director Elia Kazan, 5 new documentaries (“A Streetcar on Broadway,” “A Streetcar in Hollywood,” “Censorship & Desire,” “North and the Music of the South,” and “An Actor named Brando”), and a trailer gallery. Rounding out your simmering marathon are Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, The Night of the Iguana, Sweet Bird of Youth, and The Roman Spring Of Mrs. Stone (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP each). The discs feature commentary (on Cat), new documentaries, vintage featurettes, and trailers. Get a cool glass of lemonade, a piece of cake, and depend on the kindness of cinema.

With Memorial Day fast approaching, now’s the time to stock up on all of the war films currently hitting stores, including the extended cut of Brian DePalma’s Sean Penn-Michael J. Fox Vietnam flick Casualties of War (MGM/UA, Rated R, DVD-$19.94 SRP), which includes an interview with Fox and a new making-of documentary, and the director’s cut of John Woo’s Windtalkers (MGM/UA, Rated R, DVD-$19.94 SRP) – featuring audio commentary from Woo & producer Terence Chang, audio commentary from Nicholas Cage & Christian Slater, and audio commentary from Roger Willie and Navajo Code talker advisor Albert Smith.

Crikey, I thought Saw was hard to stomach, but it looks like The Wizard of Oz next to Eli Roth’s Hostel (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$28.95 SRP), a sadistic little romp about a pair of American backpackers who find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time, with the wrong people doing very, very wrong things… So very, very wrong. This is not a flick for the faint of heart… or the faint of anything, really. The DVD features a quartet of audio commentaries, a multi-art behind-the-scenes featurette, and a multi-angle feature on one of the scenes.

Sir David Attenborough’s incredible series of nature programs continues with a look at the immense world of the invertebrates in Life In the Undergrowth (BBC, Not Rated, DVD-$34.98 SRP). Bugs, beetles, worms, spiders, centipedes, and more all get the spotlight, as the cameras capture breathtaking footage that left my mouth agape through most of the 4 hour program.

At the time Kate & Allie (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP) premiered, it was still groundbreaking to do a show featuring a pair of divorced women sharing a house in New York City with their three kids… Even if there was no shenanigans going on. It helped that it was Jane Curtain and Susan Saint James, and that the writing was mostly snappy. A mid-season replacement, the single-disc first season contains all 6 episodes, plus a conversation with Susan Saint James and Bill Persky, a gag reel, and a bonus episode from the second season.

If your anticipation is building for the big screen adaptation of Dan Brown’s controversial best-seller The Da Vinci Code, you can pass the time listening to Hans Zimmer’s score album (Decca, $18.98 SRP) and contemplating if there’s anything hidden within the notes.

If the seasonal Friends box sets are a little too intimidating, you can now get snack-sized themed single-discs, each one focusing on a cornerstone of the Friends mythos and containing 5-6 episodes. The first three training wheels releases are The One With All The Birthdays, The One With All The Weddings, and The One With All The Babies (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$14.98 SRP each). Surprisingly, they’ve even put a single audio commentary on both Weddings and Babies, pulled from the box sets.

Remember – when in doubt, always, always, ALWAYS just Leave It To Beaver (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$49.98 SRP). Never, ever trust Eddie Haskell… that’s just not smart. The complete second season features 39 classic Cleaver kerfuffles. Even though there’s no bonus materials, it’s nice just to have these episodes uncut.

The whine and cheese returns with the complete second season of Fran Drescher as The Nanny (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$39.95 SRP). The 3-disc set features all 26 episodes, but nary a bonus feature.

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THE MONEY PIT - 04/28/2006

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (April 28, 2006 at 1:57 am)

The weeks just seem to get longer and longer here at the ol’ FilmForce homestead, as we’re besieged on all sides by savages with only a shotgun and our principles to hold off the inevitable. As a wise songstress once said on a doomed ocean liner, there’s got to be a morning after, and I think I can get behind that hippie vibe. So what’s this week’s golden roll of items worth blowing your green on?

I’ve recently gone on a Big Figure kick – and if you’re unaware of what a “Big Figure” is, they’re basically huge collectible resin statues, usually in limited editions, of classic characters. There’s some really beautiful pieces out there that get this animation geek’s heart a’racin’, and I’d definitely recommend them to anyone with the means to snag your own, particularly some of the ones found over at the US importer for the line of European-produced Big Figs, King’s General Store (I did a Toybox feature on them a few months back). Go take a look.

It’s an almost bittersweet affair for this child of the 80’s to watch the classic episodes gathered in the new 4-disc Inspector Gadget set (Shout! Factory, Not Rated, DVD-$34.98 SRP). The late Don Adams is still pitch-perfect as the absent-minded animated take-off on his performance as Maxwell Smart, and these almost Clouseau-esque adventures fighting the machinations of the evil Dr. Claw. Kick back and dig in.

Compared to their old specials, there’s something regrettably pre-packaged and slight about Penn & Teller: Off The Deep End (A&E, Not Rated, DVD-$24.95 SRP). In this outing, the dynamic duo of magic have gone to the Bahamas, intent on performing their act on the beach and under the water – including a disappearing submarine finale. While there are flashes of greatness and the magic is still above par, the presentation feels like a cheap network package job, which is a shame – P & T deserve better. Bonus materials include deleted bits and behind-the-scenes footage.

At the rate their going, the Warner catalogue will be out on DVD in a matter of months. It may be a facetious statement, but it’s got the ring of truth due to the incredible speed at which their DVD department is releasing incredible (and large) box sets containing those aforementioned titles, with the latest featuring 5 titles billed as Classic Musicals From The Dream Factory (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$59.98 SRP). Those titles are Ziegfeld Follies, Till The Clouds Roll By, Three Little Words, Summer Stock, and It’s Always Fair Weather. As usual, they’re packed to the gills with bonus materials, including featurettes, vintage shorts, Warner cartoons, radio programs, outtake musical numbers, trailers, and more.

Even though it was only a fair adaptation of an evergreen Broadway classic (that has served as many a high school musical ), the big screen version of Guy and Dolls (MGM/UA, Not Rated, DVD-$24.96 SRP) is still a must-see spectacle, energized by iconic performances from Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando. The new special edition sports a brilliant transfer, plus a pair of in-depth documentaries and a deluxe scrapbook. Make luck your lady tonight and give it a spin.

With the exception of M*A*S*H (which, in this set, is the single-disc edition), the four films contained in the new Robert Altman Collection (Fox, Rated PG/R, DVD-$39.98 SRP) can’t be considered some of the director’s best work, but for completists longing to fill out their Altman library on DVD, this remains an essential purchase. Those other three lesser lights are A Perfect Couple, A Wedding, and Quintet, and they all contain a featurette on their respective film.

For some reason, even after the confirmation of Woodward & Bernstein, there those that still doubt that Mark Felt, the former associate director of the FBI, was the legendary Watergate informant Deep Throat. As befitting the media age we live in, Felt’s 1978 memoir has been amended (with John O’Connor, the family lawyer that announced Felt’s identity as Deep Throat) – A G-Man’s Life: The FBI, Being “Deep Throat,” and the Struggle for Honor in Washington (Public Affairs, $26.95 SRP). Regardless of what you feel motivated his actions during the scandal, it’s a largely innocuous tale of his time in the FBI from a pivotal figure in American history whose memory, sadly, is largely lost to age and infirmity.

How often can you yell “HOOOOOOOOO” at the top of your lungs and not have it be in the least bit dirty? Embarrassing, yes, but that’s jut because you’ve sounded one of the geek clarion calls, and will probably be eager to pick up the first volume of the second season of Thundercats (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$64.98 SRP). The 6-disc set features the first 36 episodes of the 65-episode second season, plus a featurette on the music, a music video for The Rembrandts’ Thundercats theme song, and the theme song performed by composer Bernie Hoffer.

The Avengers: ‘62 (A&E, Not Rated, DVD-$59.95 SRP) takes us back to the seminal British adventure series’ second season, when Patrick Macnee’s John Steed was teamed with Mrs. Cathy Gale (Honor Blackman) and established the male/female dynamic that would carry the show into legend. The 4-disc set features all 14 second season episodes, plus a photo gallery.

Originally mounted as a benefit for AIDS research and relief, Red Hot + Blue (Shout! Factory, Not Rated, DVD-$24.98 SRP) is a brilliantly conceived tribute to the works of the legendary Cole Porter, featuring artists like U2, Tom Waits, Sinead O’Connor, Debbie Harry & Iggy Pop, Annie Lennox, and more, teamed up with directors from Jonathan Demme to Neil Jordan. The new 2-disc set also contains the soundtrack CD. Get this.

After watching the Victorian-era set episode of Doctor Who’s new series, it was fun to look at the real history (sans werewolves) found in the latest spotlight of PBS’s Empires series – Queen Victoria’s Empire (PBS, Not Rated, DVD-$24.98 SRP). Chronicling the height of Britain’s world reach and influence as a colonial power and a global force to be reckoned with.

Another PBS series, American Experience, takes a look back at The Boy in the Bubble (PBS, Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP), the true story of David Vetter’s all-too-brief life in the iconic germ-free enclosure (he passed away at age 12), and the ambitious doctors and the scientific and ethical hurdles the case presented.

Unlike the still-wonderful L.A. Story and Roxanne, the adaptation of Steve Martin’s Shopgirl (Touchstone, Rated R, DVD-$29.99 SRP) – a little romantic comedy about a counter clerk (Claire Danes) who is wooed by both Martin and Jason Schwartzmann – just never seems to find a sure footing, vacillating between cliché and cute. The disc features a making-of featurette, an audio commentary from director Anand Tucker, and deleted scenes.

As much as I love Family Guy, I could never find any of that love for Seth MacFarlane’s American Dad (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP). Watching the 13 episodes featured in the 3-disc first volume, I kept getting the same sense of déjà vu I got when I first saw the pilot years ago – this is Family Guy, for all intents and purposes, with the thin veneer of another concept tacked on. Bonus materials include commentaries on 12 episodes, behind-the-scenes featurettes, a table read and animatic, deleted scenes, and more.

I’m usually not one for arthouse flicks, but I did enjoy Dandelion (Hart Sharp, Rated R, DVD-$26.99 SRP), a poignant little character piece starring Vincent Kartheiser about a young man who discovers love – a concept hereto unknown to him.

Much like Tomb Raider before it, the big screen take on Aeon Flux (Paramount, Rated PG-13, DVD-$29.95 SRP) fails to capture any of the straightforward edge and charm found in the original source material, in this case the animated shorts that started so long ago as part of MTV’s Liquid Television. Instead, we get Charlize Theron trying her damndest to act like a cool-as-ice action star in a bloated visual mess with a wafer thin script. Sad, really. The disc features an audio commentary with Theron and producer Gale Anne Hurd, a commentary from screenwriters Phil Hay & Matt Manfredi, 5 behind-the-scenes featurettes, and the theatrical trailer.

Short-lived and unfortunately tedious, I could never bring myself to fully invest any interest in Showtime’s Odyssey 5 (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$49.95 SRP). As a concept, it should have been great – a space shuttle crew orbiting Earth witness the Earth’s destruction, before being offered the ability to travel back in time 5 years by a mysterious stranger and, perhaps, prevent the disaster. What the series did have going for it, though, was Peter Weller as our hero, Commander Chuck Taggart – but even Buckaroo Banzai couldn’t save this ship. The 5-disc complete series set features all 19 episodes, plus audio commentary from Weller and creator Manny Coto on the pilot.

Get the entire run of A&E’s crimefighting heir to Sherlock Holmes via Nero Wolfe: The Complete Classic Whodunit Series (A&E, Not Rated, DVD-$99.95 SRP). The 8-disc set features all 20 full-length episodes, plus the pilot film. Bonus features include a making-of featurette and the double-feature episode “The Silent Speaker” in anamorphic widescreen.

Law & Order: Trial By Jury (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$59.98 SRP) was the point at which NBC decided that it had finally reached the saturation point on Dick Wolf’s lucrative franchise. Designed as a spin-off vehicle exploring the judicial system in the L&O universe and starring L&O vets Jerry Orbach and Fred Thompson alongside newbie Bebe Neuwirth, it suffered immensely by the untimely death of Orbach due to cancer. Given time, though, I’m sure it would have been a solid show, as these 13 episodes attest. The 3-disc set also features deleted scenes, a behind-the-scenes featurette, and the cross-over episode of L&O: SVU, “Night.”

Names like Gorgeous George, Killer Kowalski, and Jerry Lawler can be found in the 2-disc Glory Days of Wrestling (Timeless, Not Rated, DVD-$9.98 SRP), which features archive footage of these legendary lords of the canvas… Though, sadly, Andy Kaufman is nowhere to be found.

Stacey Keach stars as Mickey Spillane’s hard-boiled Mike Hammer in a TV movie double feature of Murder Me, Murder You & More Than Murder (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$19.94 SRP). The 2-disc set is featureless, but come on – it’s Mike Hammer. You don’t need no stinkin’ features.

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THE MONEY PIT - 04/21/2006

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (April 21, 2006 at 1:54 am)

Another long week here, and another shopping guide packed to the brim with knickknacks both audio and visual to blow your hard-earned ducats on…

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been anticipating the release of the next Pixar flick since the lights came up after Finding Nemo Still, I’ve found it hard to fully engage my enthusiasm with any of the previews I’ve seen of John Lasseter’s Cars… Perhaps because I’m not a huge car buff, and Disney cuts rotten trailers for the Pixar flicks (I wasn’t jazzed when I saw the previews for Monsters Inc. or Finding Nemo, either). Still, my heart did begin to race as I flipped through the concept artwork found in The Art of Cars (Chronicle Books, $40.00 SRP). As with the previous Pixar Art Of books from Chronicle, there’s plenty of gorgeous pieces to be found in this (literal) road movie, and I think I may finally be feeling enthusiasm to accompany the anticipation.

Conducted prior to his most-recent Himalayan jaunt, Michael Palin: Sahara (BBC, Not Rated, DVD-$34.98 SRP) finds the ex-Python deep in the arid heart of Africa, crossing deadly terrain (and sometimes even more dangerous political territory) in another of his always enjoyable travelogues. Unlike the health issues that threatened to derail his journey into the Asian mountains, it really was the various countries within the Sahara that were the moist pressing risk to life and limb, but Palin manages to navigate them while encountering the fascinating peoples, cultures, and customs within. Bonus materials include an interview with Palin, deleted scenes, and a behind-the-scenes featurette.

Sporting a brand new face and a whole lot of energy, the third season of Roseanne (Anchor Bay, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) is a well-oiled comedy machine, spotlighting not only its namesake dynamo, but every other character in the domestic goddess’s orbit. PMS, the facts of life, weird D.J., Nana Mary (Shelley Winters), and more mark a truly wonderful season. The 4-disc set features all 25 episodes, plus interviews with Laurie Metcalf & Lecy Goranson.

When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s Moonstruck (MGM/UA, Rated PG, DVD-$19.94 SRP) – one of the best romantic comedies to come out of the 80’s, and the flick that more than earned Cher her Oscar as a superstitious Brooklyn widow searching for true love. The new special edition features remastered sound and picture, an audio commentary (with Cher, director Norman Jewison, and writer John Patrick Shanley), a retrospective documentary, a featurette on the music (including the iconic use of Dean Martin’s “That’s Amore”), and an interactive food map of Little Italy.

Six Pack (Anchor Bay, Rated PG, DVD-$14.98 SRP) is by no stretch of the imagination a good flick. In fact, it plays like a southern fried Bad News Bears, starring Kenny Rogers as a stock car driver who becomes ward to a family of thieving orphans he catches boosting his engine, who just so happen to be on the run from the crooked Texas sheriff cliché. Having said all that, I love this little redneck Nascar gambler gem, mainly because it was one of the video discs (Selectavision, yo) my family owned when I was a kid, and would get endless play. We are the adults our childhoods make us, and I am so very ashamed… and so very happy to have this movie on DVD.

Van Morrison was one of those artists who I knew about for years – and who hasn’t heard “Brown Eyed Girl”? – but I never dove into his output like I should have. When I finally did absorb his catalogue, I learned what everyone else already knew, which is what a phenomenal artist he is. His latest, Pay the Devil (Lost Highway, $13.98 SRP), is a country-flavored delight that proves Van keeps rolling along.

While not among their finest work, any Laurel & Hardy on DVD is much appreciated, and that includes the TCM Archives: Laurel & Hardy Collection (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP), which contains The Devil’s Brother and Bonnie Scotland. The 2-disc set also sports the feature-length documentary The Hollywood Shorts Story, commentaries from L&H fans Richard W. Bann & Leonard Maltin, excerpts from other L&H classics, and intros from TCM host Robert Osborne.

Reading modern science fiction is like wading through molasses – really, it’s hardly worth the effort. So much of it is bogged down in either too much science or too much lousy writing. Science fiction comedy is in an even worse state, still feeling the loss of Douglas Adams. Thankfully, John Swartzwelder knows how to pull it off, and his latest – How I Conquered Your Planet (Kennydale Books, $15.95) – is a gem. If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t have blown an entire night reading it cover to cover. Just go and buy the damn thing already… And snap up his first two tomes while you’re at it…

In the Brit Gangster Flick Hall of Fame, a place most assuredly is reserved for Bob Hoskins’ brutal performance as underworld boss Harold Shand in The Long Good Friday (Anchor Bay, Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP) who finds himself under-the-gun on the eve of the ultimate deal as all hell breaks loose within his organization. Bonus features include an audio commentary with director John Mackenzie, a making-of featurette, and trailers.

Before Bond, Pierce Brosnan was Steele… Remington Steele, the suave PI who, with partner Laura Holt, solve globe-spanning mysteries and tried not to be too much like Moonlighting. Remington Steele: The Complete Third Season (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) features 22 episodes across 4 discs, plus audio commentary on select episodes, behind-the-scenes featurettes, and character profiles.

More guilty pleasure TV-on-DVD coming down the pike courtesy of the complete fourth season of Neil Patrick Harris’s medical tour-de-force, Doogie Howser, M.D. (Anchor Bay, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) and the 5th and final season of the “they stopped being believable high-schoolers in the first season” Fox hit 21 Jump Street (Anchor Bay, Not Rated, DVD-$34.98 SRP). Doogie features brand new interviews with stars Lawrence Pressman & Kathryn Layng, while 21 Jump Street contains an audio commentary with Peter Deluise.

And speaking of guilty pleasure, don’t forget to knock on the door of the complete sixth season of Three’s Company (Anchor Bay, Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP), as it’s been waiting for you, replete with the eternally funny Don Knotts and his priceless bug-eyed takes. The 4-disc set features the Lucille Ball presented best-of special, an episode in Polish, and an audio commentary with director Dave Powers.

There are only a handful of comedians who can summon palpable levels of pointed outrage within their acts without dropping off into caricature before making the audience both laugh and see the truth in their observation – a particularly dangerous minefield if your comedy is often political, as well. Lewis Black is one of those select few who can pull it off, and the CD of his Carnegie Hall Performance (Comedy Central Records, $13.98 SRP) is the perfect document of a topical comedian firing on all cylinders.

I hate to admit it, but as soon as I stumbled across my first episode in PBS’s series placing a modern family into a period home – and forcing them to live as a family lived in that period, sans modern conveniences – I was hooked. A trio of those addictive slices of history meets The Real World have made their way to DVD – Colonial House, The 1900 House, and 1940’s House (PBS, Not Rated, DVD-$34.98-$49.98 SRP each). My favorite would have to be 1940s house, which compresses 6 years of war on the British homefront into two months, through the Blitz and on to Victory Day. Of the three releases, only Colonial House contains bonus features, including auditions, additional diaries, and a making-of featurette.

Speaking of documentaries, another one that caught my eye was an epic four-hour one focusing on the French and Indian War (1754-1763), one which I’d always heard about, knew was important, but had never understood fully. Well, The War That Made America (PBS, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) cleared everything up, and certainly makes the case for its title.

After seeing his mind-bending art my entire life, it was nice to finally get a sense of the man behind it via The Fantastic World of M.C. Escher (Acorn, Not Rated, DVD-$19.99 SRP), a succinct little documentary featuring interviews with people who knew him and mathematicians, plus digital recreations of his work.

The BBC continues with their recently resuscitated adaptations of classic literature with Edith Wharton’s The Buccaneers (BBC, Not Rated, DVD-$14.98 SRP) and Thomas Hardy’s Under The Greenwood Tree (BBC, Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP). Even better, they’ve hit upon a formula for these new adaptations that remains faithful to the source material while seeming fresh and vibrant to modern audiences (who, sadly, loathe books). Both discs feature behind-the-scenes material.

After a recent jaunt to Disneyland and a spin on the park’s Indiana Jones ride (and the obligatory purchase of my very own fedora), I was jazzed to take a look at the recent release of a pair of the 1930’s serials that provided inspiration for Lucas & Spielberg – The Master Key and Tim Tyler’s Luck (VCI, Not Rated, DVD-$29.99 SRP each). All of the high adventure is there, along with exotic locales and even Nazis. Both releases are must-haves.

While you’re at it, why not dip into a trio of Western serials, with Lloyd Bridges as The Tall Texan, and Johnny Mack Brown in The Oregon Trail & Flaming Frontiers (VCI, Not Rated, DVD-$14.99-$29.99 SRP each). Giddyap!

There’s something train wreck engrossing about the modern artform of courtroom sketches, featured so brilliantly in Captured!: Inside the World of Celebrity Trials (Santa Monica Press, $24.95 SRP). From O.J. and Jacko to Charlie Sheen and Courtney Love, the art of Mona Shafer Edwards brings back many a CourtTV memory.

Event Horizon is not a good movie. In fact, it’s awful. However, it’s awful in that kitsch, overblown, train wreck fashion that makes viewing it embarrassingly compelling. So compelling, in fact, that it’s become enough of a cult flick that a 2-disc special edition has been released (Paramount, Rated R, DVD-$19.99 SRP) featuring an audio commentary with director Paul W.S. Anderson & producer Jeremy Bolt, a 5-part making-of documentary, a featurette on the filming, a look at an unfilmed rescue scene, conceptual art, and trailers.

I’m still not a fan – and boy have I tried – but there are plenty of you other there who have been anticipating the release of the second season of the Sci-Fi Channel’s animated comedy Tripping the Rift (Anchor Bay, Not Rated, DVD-$19.96 SRP). Well, here it is, in a 2-disc set featuring all 13 episodes, plus a promo, outtakes, and a behind-the-scenes featurette.

Get your schlock on this weekend with It Waits (Anchor Bay, Rated R, DVD-$19.98 SRP), a of low-budget horror flick from producer Stephen J. Cannell. Ain’t is just a pain when you’re hunted by a beast of Native American legend whilst deep in the woods?

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THE MONEY PIT - 04/14/2006

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (April 14, 2006 at 10:50 pm)

First of all – I don’t do things like this often, but please click here and give what you can to a very, very good cause.

And now back to regular programming…

Welcome to another coffer-draining edition of The Money Pit – your one stop spotlight on every a/v knickknack sure to whet your appetite for time-passing purchases. It’s been another wild and wooly week here at casa de Ken P., but hopefully you all have enjoyed the latest Ken P.-D. Snydecast (back after a long hiatus which was *completely* Dana’s fault) and will get a kick out of some surprises in store next week. Until then, let’s get this mother going…

The period covered within the 5th volume of The Complete Peanuts (Fantagraphics, $28.95 SRP), 1959-1960, was the year that all of the familiar elements that would sustain the strip for the rest of its 40 year span would finally come together. Snoopy’s flights of fantasy increase, Charlie Brown’s little sister Sally is born, Lucy begins to dispense nickel psychiatric help, Linus hopes for the arrival of the Great Pumpkin, and it is remarked that “Happiness is a warm puppy.” Charles Schulz’s art has begun to settle in as characters take on familiar forms (the only characters still in flux are Charlie, Snoopy, and little Sally, who will grow from baby to Linus-loving toddler in no time flat), while his writing has crystallized to perfection. In fact, the humor is razor sharp, and carries a sting to it – this is clearly the strip of a man full of self-doubt and stricken by frequent bouts of depression, as Charlie Brown’s world is a surprising constant of scorn and failure with brief flashes of simple pleasures breaking through the gloom (see the aforementioned “warm puppy” comment). I can’t tell you just how much I enjoy reading the strip chronologically and watching it evolve over the years, and all due kudos to Fantagraphics for keeping these coming at a fast enough clip that I don’t jones for too long.

Shockingly, Rising Damp is a British comedy classic that never took hold in the US like Fawlty Towers, Are You Being Served?, or Keeping Up Appearances – which is unfortunate, because it’s truly legendary Britcom that is equally as funny as any of Basil Fawlty’s adventures. Starring Leonard Rossiter as lovably loathsome landlord Rigsby, who treats his tenants similar to how Fawlty treats his guests and Archie Bunker treats his family. Luckily, the first two series are available on DVD (Acorn, Not Rated, DVD-$24.99 SRP each). Go forth and find them.

Polish off the shot glasses and prep yourself for another spirited round of “Hi Bob!” with the release of the complete third season of The Bob Newhart Show (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP). How much liquor will you consume this season? The 3-disc set features all 24 episodes, plus audio commentary on select episodes and a brand-new behind-the-scenes featurette.

Spring is here, and there’s no better way to ring in the arrival of April showers than with the latest issues of Uncle Scrooge & Walt Disney’s Comics ($6.95 SRP) – #’s 352 & 667, respectively. Scrooge features one of Carl Barks’s later classics, “Isle of the Golden Geese.”

Now that I’ve got a small nephew, I’ve endeavored to shape his cultural education by sitting him down in front of classic kiddie fare that trumps much of the pap being shoveled at kids today. Helping things along is Disney’s bargain-priced series of Classic Cartoon Favorites (Walt Disney, Not Rated, DVD-$14.99 SRP), each featuring a clutch of old school Disney fare starring their top toon talent. The latest collections (Volumes 10, 11, & 12) are themed as “Best Pals,” and feature the pairings of Donald & Daisy, Mickey & Minnie, and Mickey & Pluto.

I still miss Dave Attell’s Insomniac – one of the greatest travelogues ever – but at least we get a taste of it in the Insomniac Tour: Uncensored (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$19.99 SRP), which features stand-up from Attell, Greg Giraldo, Dane Cook, and Sean Rouse live in Vegas. The disc contains an additional 15 minutes of footage excised from the original broadcast, plus additional backstage, Vegas, and after party footage.

With over a hundred issues worth of series and mini-series, plus trades, under its collective belt, the Star Wars universe in comics has accumulated quite a bit of history outside of the films. If it all seems a bit confusing, then you might want to pick up a copy of Star Wars: The Comics Companion (Dark Horse Books, $19.95 SRP), which features chronological summaries of the every comic book story based in that galaxy far, far away, plus trivia and notes on both chronology and contradictions. If the art of those books appeals to you, then you might also want to snag a copy of Star Wars: Panel To Panel (Dark Horse Books, $19.95 SRP), which does for the visual legacy of Star Wars in comics what The Comics Companion does for the stories themselves, featuring an overview of the various artists and styles that have graced those numerous tales.

Tom Cruise is a freaking loon, yes, but at least as recently as the first Mission: Impossible, he could pull off an action flick without me constantly thinking, “Crikey, he really is a freaking loon.” Just in time for M-i: III, we get a brand new collector’s edition of the original (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$19.95 SRP). Cruise along with a retrospective on the franchise, featurettes, trailers, and incredibly creepy Cruise-centric montage featurettes.

By the time we got to the 5th season of In Living Color (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP), it was clear that the show was over. The Wayans family was gone, new addition Chris Rock wasn’t funny yet, and Jim Carrey was just marking time until he could get the heck out of there.

While I found his book on the art of the storyboard to be interesting, my heart really belongs to Don Bluth’s latest book, The Art of Animation Drawing (DH Press, $14.95 SRP). Maybe it’s because I’m a sucker for the artistry behind hand-drawn animation, or just that The Secret of Nimh still holds a place in my heart. Either way, Bluth’s book is informative, easy-to-understand, and engaging enough to be a useful tool for anyone wishing to dive in and try their hand.

Roald Dahl’s severely underappreciated Brit anthology series Tales of the Unexpected (Acorn, Not Rated, DVD-$39.99 SRP) gets another 20 episodes via a 4th collection filled with macabre twists that would make Hitchcock proud, sans the heavy-handedness of your average Twilight Zone outing. If you’ve yet to give this series a spin, by all means do so.

Like both Chocolat and The Cider House Rules, director Lasse Hallstrom brings a languid, almost somnambulic dignity to An Unfinished Life (Miramax, Rated PG-13, DVD-$29.99 SRP), a romantic drama about a rugged man (Robert Redford) in a rugged land (Wyoming) who lives with his best friend (Morgan Freeman), and whose life is turned upside down when the woman he blames for his son’s death (Jennifer Lopez) arrives broken and broke on his doorstep with the granddaughter he’s never known. The DVD features an audio commentary, a making-of featurette, a look at how they trained Bart the Bear, and the theatrical trailer.

It’s by no means the best he was capable of, but Jack Kirby’s Silver Star (Twomorrows, $19.95 SRP) is a visual delight, and even more impressive by its presentation in pencil form via this “Graphite Edition” of the 6-issue limited series originally published by Pacific Comics in the early 80’s. As originally conceived, Silver Star was a film pitch, and Kirby’s original treatment is also within the TPB. By golly, that art is stunning.

Just when you think you’ve got everything from a given screen legend, you find a new batch of flicks creep up out of the earth and command your attention. A trio of golden age film stars are the subject of the Classic Double Features (VCI, Not Rated, DVD-$4.99 SRP each) – Edward G. Robinson, Betty Hutton, and Edmond O’ Brien. Each disc contains a pair of remastered features any cineaste will want in their collections. The films in question are The Red House & Scarlet Street for Robinson, D.O.A. & The Hitchhiker for O’Brien, and The Stork Club & Perils of Pauline for Hutton.

I get a kick out of biographies on filmmakers, and I’ve been waiting a good long while for a really great one focusing on the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock. My wait is over with the publication of Charlotte Chandler’s It’s Only A Movie: Alfred Hitchcock – A Personal Biography (Applause Books, $16.95 SRP). Check it out and see what I mean.

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THE MONEY PIT - 04/07/2006

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (April 7, 2006 at 1:45 am)

Another year, and the time lords have stolen another hour from my life, bartering it for more daylight and the promise of its return come the fall. I think the time lords are liars and cheats, and I want that hour of sleep back… granted, I was awake anyway, but that doesn’t matter. Damn time lords. Damn them.

For years, fans of Mel Brooks have been taunted with rumors that the missing titles from his library were finally coming to DVD. Every few months, we were told we’d be getting Silent Movie, or High Anxiety, or Robin Hood: Men In Tights, or To Be Or Not To Bet (the remake of the Ernst Lubitsch near-classic, co-starring Brooks and his late wife, Anne Bancroft)… But then nothing would materialize. I’d given up hope, frankly, when the coming of the Mel Brooks Collection (Fox, Rated PG/G/R, DVD-$99.98 SRP) was announced. After realizing that it wasn’t a hoax, I was ecstatic – IT WAS ABOUT D*** TIME! Containing brand new transfers of High Anxiety, Robin Hood, Silent Movie, The Twelve Chairs, To Be Or Not To Be, and the previously available Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles (the lone Warners title), and History of the World: Part I (which is looking much nicer in anamorphic), it’s a set to be reckoned with. Noticeably lacking are Brooks’s MGM titles – The Producers, Life Stinks, Spaceballs – and Warners’ Dracula: Dead and Loving It. I would have loved more bonus features than the pre-existing materials from Frankenstein & Blazing Saddles, as the only other items of note are the HBO behind-the-scenes special for Robin Hood and some vintage interviews on To Be Or Not To Be. Ah well – at least we finally got the flicks…

While you’re at it, though, make sure you pick up a pair of comedies written, directed, and starring Gene Wilder, both from the same fertile 70’s period, The World’s Greatest Lover & The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother (Fox, Rated PG, DVD-$14.98 SRP each). Transporting much of the Brooks supporting cast – including Dom DeLuise, Madeline Kahn, and Marty Feldman – they’re overlooked comedy gems well worth re-discovering. Both flicks feature audio commentaries from Wilder, plus the original theatrical trailers.

Just so you know, I’m writing this week’s column with Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs’ album Under the Covers: Vol. 1 (Shout! Factory, $15.98 SRP) on endless repeat on the CD player. Featuring covers (as the title implies) of 15 classic 60’s tunes (both well-known and less well-trod), it’s simply one of the best clutches of re-interpretations I think I’ve ever heard. You can tell when artists are really digging what they’re doing, and that joyous spirit permeates the whole album. The wait for Volume 2 is going to be a hard one.

I don’t know if it’s simply nostalgia or just the period in which they were created, but both A Boy Named Charlie Brown & Snoopy, Come Home (Paramount, Rated G, DVD-$14.99 SRP each) both hold up tremendously well. A Boy Named Charlie Brown was the first big screen foray for the Peanuts gang, followed a few years later by Snoopy. I can’t wait to show both of these to my little nephew, and can only hope Race For Your Life, Charlie Brown is on its way.

The late 70’s/eatly 80’s truly were a golden age of film comedy, spawning flicks that endure with brilliant combinations of script, cast, and direction. One such flick that still holds a special place in the pantheon is 9 to 5 (Fox, Rated PG, DVD-$19.98 SRP), which finally gets the special edition is deserves. In addition to a new anamorphic transfer, a retrospective featurette, a gag reel, deleted scenes, and an audio commentary (with Tomlin, Fonda, Parton, and producer Bruce Gilbert).

Hopefully, the shockingly well-executed relaunch of Doctor Who has gotten audiences interested in the Doctor’s classic adventures, and there’s no better starting place than, literally, Doctor Who: The Beginning (BBC, Not Rated, DVD-$49.98 SRP), which features the time traveler’s first three adventures (“An Unearthly Child,” “The Daleks,” and “The Edge of Destruction”) and stars William Hartnell in the title role. The 3-disc set is packed with commentaries, the unedited studio recording (with outtakes) of the pilot, behind-the-scenes and retrospective featurettes, a 30-minute condensed version of the lost story “Marco Polo,” galleries, and more.

Watching Patton Oswalt’s stand-up is like experiencing a comedic Trojan Horse. Beneath that affable, roly-poly, pal o’mine exterior is a sharp, sometimes brutal wit that can move quickly from pop culture esoterica to polarizing (and thankfully unapologetic) political views. If you want to see exactly what I mean, check out Patton Oswalt: No Reason to Complain – Uncensored (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$19.99 SRP) and you’ll see what I mean. The disc also features his original Comedy Central Presents spotlight, and deleted scenes.

If the wait for another volume of the chronological Peanuts collection is getting you down, you can fill the time with the second volume of the chronological Dennis the Menace (Fantagraphics, $24.95 SRP), featuring the year spanning 1953-1954 of Hank Ketcham’s legendary troublemaker. Running over 600 pages in a compact little hardcover (remember – Dennis was a single-panel strip), this volume features an introduction from R.C. Harvey.

It’s ironic that the Chronicles of Narnia-centric SNL sketch “Lazy Sunday” (starring Chris Parnell & Andy Samberg) pretty much sums up the best time to watch the not-as-good-as-it-should-be big screen adaptation of the first book in C.S. Lewis’s Narnia saga, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (Walt Disney, Rated PG, DVD-$34.99 SRP). In bringing the novel to life, Disney and director Andrew Adamson try so very hard to make an amalgam of Harry Potter and The Lord of The Rings – and create a cash cow franchise of their own – and the crass can’t help but show through the seams of the flick. It’s a shame, really, because a really fun, emotionally resonant movie is in there somewhere, even if I still detest the blatant Jesus lion of it all. As always, get the 2-disc collector’s edition, which features audio commentaries, bloopers, numerous behind-the-scenes featurettes, and more.

Brokeback Mountain (Universal, Rated R, DVD-$29.98 SRP) is one of those flicks that get swept up in and define a given year’s zeitgeist. I don’t know about you, but I must have seen more than a dozen parodies of Ang Lee’s tender forbidden love story about a pair of cowboys (Heath Ledger & Jake Gyllenhaal) forced to hide their secret passion over a decades-long relationship that encompasses loveless marriages (to Anne Hathaway & Michelle Williams) and the inability to quit each other. Is it a film for the ages? No, not really. It’s more a cultural landmark than a stunning piece of cinema, so there’s no doubt that it will have an afterlife far beyond that initial fervor, but as a film, I found it as measured as Lee’s previous pastoral flicks… And yes, even the annoyingly sedate cerebral bore that was the Hulk. Bonus features are limited to a trio of self-congratulatory behind-the-scenes featurettes.

It’s been years of waiting, but fans can finally end their long mope-affair with Dawson, Pacey, Joey, Shaggy, Zeppo, and Shemp via the 6th (and final) season of Dawson’s Creek (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$49.95 SRP). The 4-disc set features an audio commentary on the finale from Kevin Williamson and Paul Stupin, plus a photo-filled scrapbook. Unfortunately, fans will have to keep their original DVD release of the finale if they want the extended version, since the air version is what’s found on the set.

Continuing their themed sets, the latest Star Trek: Fan Collective (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) features 12 episodes focusing on the trials and tribulations of time travel within the Trek universe. From the original series, there’s “Tomorrow Is Yesterday” & “The City On The Edge of Forever. The Next Generation messes with the timestream in “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” “Cause and Effect,” “Time’s Arrow” part 1 & 2, and “All Good Things.” From DS9 we get “Little Green Men” and “Trials and Tribble-ations.” We wrap things up with Voyager’s “Year of Hell” parts 1 & 2, and the finale, “Endgame.” The 4-disc set also features a trio of Okuda text commentaries on “Tomorrow Is Yesterday,” “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” and “Little Green Men.”

Hopefully, “Trials and Tribble-ations” and “Little Green Men” will whet your appetite for even more Deep Space Nine – second only to the original series in the quality of storytelling within the Trek universe. It’s understandable, then, that such a well-done series also have the most comprehensive – and fun – behind-the-scenes episode guides of the whole, featuring complete participation from the cast and crew. Trust me – pick up your own copy of the Star Trek Deep Space Nine Companion (Pocket Books, $27.95 SRP) and find out for yourself.

There’s something profoundly fascinating about Bob Dylan’s inexplicable years as a Born Again, a period which is chronicled in Rolling Thunder: The Gospel Years (Highway 61 Entertainment, Not Rated, DVD-$14.95 SRP). Featuring rare interviews and concert footage, it’s well worth a look for Dylan fans.

I appreciate Universal’s attempt to jump on the personality-centric release of catalogue titles that has proven such a success with Warner Bros. in recent years. Unfortunately, Uni has insisted that their presentation be done with atrocious, flaw-prone double-sided DVD-18 discs. Why won’t they learn? Besides that, it’s great to have the titles include in the Glamour Collection – spotlighting screen sirens Carole Lombard, Mae West, and Marlene Dietrich (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$26.98 SRP each). The Lombard collection features Hands Across the Table, Love Before Breakfast, Man of the World, The Princess Comes Across, True Confession, and We’re Not Dressing. Dietrich contains Morocco, Blonde Venus, The Devil Is a Woman, Flame of New Orleans, and Golden Earrings. Finally, with West you get Go West Young Man, Goin’ To Town, I’m No Angel, My Little Chickadee, and Night After Night.

Anyone who even attempts to formulate an opinion on the decision-making that led us into Iraq – and the choices that were made in planning and executing the occupation – needs to read Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq (Pantheon, $27.95 SRP), by Michael R. Gordon & General Bernard E. Trainor. Meticulously researched – including access to classified documents and the players involved – it’s a sobering lesson in hubris, ignorance, confusion, and self-delusion.

Try to put all thoughts of just how filthy a mind is housed within the once-harmless Bob Saget as you peer through the years at the far more innocent time encapsulated in the third season of Full House (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP). Heck, it was even before the Olsen twins were billionaires with self-esteem issues, or Dave Coulier had an Alanis Morrissette song written about him.

Hop into the wayback machine and revisit the complete fourth seasons of a trio of 80’s “classics” – Magnum PI, The A-Team, and Knight Rider (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$49.98 SRP each). Both Magnum and A-Team feature bonus episodes from their respective 5th seasons, while Knight Rider features K.I.T.T. blueprints.

Rodgers & Hammerstein aficionados will probably want to check out South Pacific: In Concert from Carnegie Hall (Decca, $18.98 SRP), featuring Alec Baldwin, Reba McEntire, and Brian Stokes Mitchell performing the songs from the show.

Keen to fill every conceivable niche with a themed box set of catalogue titles, Warners drops the Films of Faith Collection (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP) just in time for the Easter season. Contained within the set are Audrey Hepburn’s turn as a wartime sister in The Nun’s Story, Anthony Quinn as a newly-minted pope in a world on the brink of nuclear war in The Shoes of the Fisherman, and The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima. All three sets feature the original theatrical trailers, while Fisherman also contains a vintage behind-the-scenes featurette.

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THE MONEY PIT - 03/31/2006

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (March 31, 2006 at 1:42 am)

You ever have one of those weeks where you swear that you’ve encountered the most ignorant person you’ve yet to encounter in your entire life, and any attempts to get that person to understand simple logic is a frustrating, infuriating, and ultimately futile gesture? That, my friends, is the week I’ve had. Sometimes, people work really hard at being idiots, and the most you can do is try and limit the damage they insist on perpetrating. That being said, I’m really looking forward to kicking back this weekend with a book in hand, a movie on the TV, a CD on the stereo, and a huge drink by my side.

The 5 films comprising the Planet of the Apes series (Planet of the Apes, Beneath, Escape, Conquest, and Battle) have long been available on DVD, but only as sub-par non-anamorphic transfers – excluding the original film, which recently got a remastered treatment via a new special edition. That new edition of Apes is included alongside full remasters of the other four films in the Planet of the Apes: Legacy Collection box set (Fox, Rated G/Not Rated, DVD-$49.98 SRP). The 6-disc set also features the extensive bonus disc Behind the Planet of the Apes. For the uber-fan, though, there’s the 14-disc Ultimate Collection (Fox, $179.98 SRP), which contains all 5 films, the Tim Burton remake, the TV series (which was released previously), Behind the Planet of the Apes, and the complete run of the cartoon series (which is exclusive to the set and has never been released). If that wasn’t enough, the set comes in special packaging that hits the border between cool and creepy – a scale replica of Roddy McDowell’s Caesar.

Of course, if human-sized apes in masks aren’t ape enough for you, marvel to the best ape that money and computers can provide via Peter Jackson’s ultimate geek-out, King Kong (Universal, Rated PG-13, DVD-$29.98 SRP). While not as abysmal as the 70’s remake, it still pales in comparison to the ’33 original. Regardless, it’s a fun – if overly long – romp from Skull Island to the towers of Manhattan. As usual, ignore the single-disc “Why bother?” edition and go for the 2-disc set ($30.98 SRP), featuring an intro from Jackson, Post-Production Diaries (a necessary accompaniment if you purchased the box-set of diaries at the end of last year), and in-depth look at the “history” and evolution of Skull Island, and a look at 1933 New York.

Long available in the UK, I’ve been waiting years for The Best of Not The 9 O’Clock News (A&E, Not Rated, DVD-$24.95 SRP) to hit the US. Via skits, news clips, and more, NTNOCN is like a brilliant blend of SNL and The Daily Show, taking on politics, religion, society – well, everything. Starring an up-and-coming bunch of actors with names like Griff Rhys Jones, Mel Smith, Pamela Stephenson, and Rowan Atkinson, it’s late 70’s run is still considered one of the high water marks in British comedy, and I urge you to check out this 2-disc set… Particularly for Rowan Atkinson as Gerald the Gorilla.

Ever had a yen to learn exactly where some of the icons of our pop culture have come to rest? If those niggling thoughts have ever crossed your mind, then The Ruby Slippers, Madonna’s Bra, and Einstein’s Brain: The Locations of America’s Pop Culture Artifacts (Santa Monica Press, $16.95 SRP) is exactly the rainy day tome you need. Packed with the whereabouts of everything from Lizzie Borden’s axe to the motorcycle from Easy Rider, it’s all in here, packed with photos, annotation, and the perfect recipe from one wonderfully weird road trip.

With bullseyes painted on quirky shows like Arrested Development, it’s still a wonder to me how an oddball delight like Northern Exposure lasted as long as it did. Watch any of the episodes found in the fourth season (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$59.98 SRP) and you’ll be wondering the same thing… I mean, come on, the celebration of the annual Mosquito Festival? We need more shows like this, dammit! The 3-disc set features all 25 episodes plus deleted scenes and gag reels.

MTV2 has quietly built a reputation as the daring red-headed step-sibling to the now mainstream mediocrity of MTV proper with a pair of shows that no other network (save for public access) would even think of putting on TV – and here they are, both getting a release of their complete first seasons on DVD. The first is the still-baffling Andy Milonakis Show (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$26.98 SRP), which is what happens when you let a needy kid have valuable airtime (thankfully, it manages to be funny 50% of the time). On the other hand, you have to admire the sheer surreality of the kiddie-show-gone-to-seed that is the puppet-heavy Wonder Showzen (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$26.98 SRP). In fact, to even try to describe it will cause my head to explode, so better you just check it out for yourself. The 2-disc Milonakis set features commentary, unaired skits, interviews, extended scenes, and outtakes. Wonder Showzen brings guest commentaries (Dick Gregory!), auditions, outtakes, “Storytime with Flava Flav,” and more.

When it comes to definitive art based on iconic movie monsters, there’s no denying that the pieces features within Famous Monster Movie Art of Basil Gogos (Watson-Guptill, $24.95 SRP) more than lives up to the term “definitive.” Kick back, crack it open, and relive your own personal monster chiller horror theater.

Thrill to the continuing adventures of everyone’s favorite Bond substitute (and a lot better than that new guy) via the complete 5th & 6th seasons of Danger Mouse (A&E, Not Rated, DVD-$29.95 SRP). The 2-disc set features all 37 pulse-pounding episodes, plus a bonus episode of the one and only Count Duckula… It’s like my 80’s childhood, come back to haunt me.

Adult Swim’s stop-motion toy sketch comedy Robot Chicken (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP) is pure hit-and-miss. Sometimes it reaches levels of sublime brilliance, and sometimes is falls flat on its plastic face. Thankfully, the segments comes so fast and furious that the dead spots are usually swept away rather quickly. The show always struck me as a brainstorming session put on film, with many ideas unformed beyond the “wouldn’t it be cool?” moment of inspiration. Regardless, though, I have high hopes for season two. In the meantime, check out the 20 episodes comprising the complete first season, which features behind-the-scenes footage, deleted scenes, commentaries, and more.

For a quick catch-all snapshot of a given artist’s career, check out the latest 2-disc releases from Sony Legacy’s Essential collection, the first of which celebrates the 70th birthday of the late Roy Orbison (Monument/Sony Legacy, $24.98 SRP) and features 40 must-have classics. The other release this go-round spotlights George Jones (Epic/Sony Legacy, $24.98 SRP), likewise sporting 40 cuts. Unfortunately, it doesn’t contain one of my faves – the country anthem “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes?”… What’s up with that?

An otherwise by-the-numbers horror flick about a tormented college student (Ryan Gosling) who informs his psychologist (Ewan McGregor) that he’s going to end his life in three days in order to escape the hellish voices and visions he’s experiencing – phenomena that his doctor soon gets swept in – Stay (Fox, Rated R, DVD-$27.98 SRP) manages to be watchable solely on the merits of its cast. Both Gosling and McGregor elevate the material, and the presence of Naomi Watts doesn’t hurt either. Bonus materials include an audio commentary, behind-the-scenes featurettes, and the theatrical trailer.

Sometimes I get the sense that Warners is – I hesitate to use the phrase scraping the bottom of the barrel, but that they’re reaching the outer limits of what can be legitimately termed as classic Hanna-Barbera cartoons. The complete 5th season of The Flintstones (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$44.98 SRP) is definitely a highlight, and was still going strong even as it began to approach the end of its run. On the other hand, the complete run of The Scooby Doo/Dynomutt Hour (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$44.98 SRP) does begin to stretch the aforementioned “classic” label, even if I still have fond memories of that loveable robo-mutt. The Flintstones set features rarities, a featurette on prehistoric parenting, and an in-depth look at the Gruesomes episode. Scooby-Doo/Dynomutt contains a featurette with the original voice actors, a history of Scooby and Dynomutt, and a gallery of rare art.

If you’re like me (meaning you have a love of history and a deep-seated desire to be surprised with facets of historical figures and events you’d never encountered), then you’ll love the new History Channel documentary on our 16th President, Lincoln (History Channel, Not Rated, DVD-$24.95 SRP). If you thought you knew the Great Emancipator, you owe it to yourself to check out this illuminating look at the man whose life was marked by tragedy and triumph.

Live Schreiber’s directorial debut, Everything Is Illuminated (Warner Bros., Rated PG-13, DVD-$27.98 SRP) is one of those flicks that you desperately want to embrace for its quirkiness, and you admire it for going there, but it just fails to make a true connection. To put it simply, it’s a bit antiseptic in its attempts to evoke an emotional response to a very emotional subject matter – namely, the Holocaust. Well, in a roundabout way, since the film focuses on the personal journey of young Jonathan Safran Foer (Elijah Wood), a collector of memories, who travels to the Ukraine in order to find the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazis in 1942. The disc is pretty bare bones, featuring only a clutch of deleted scenes and the theatrical trailer.

As a subscriber to Nintendo Power in the late 80’s, I was required (by law) to watch the Saturday morning animated plumber-fest, The Super Mario Brothers Super Show (Shout! Factory, Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP). I still have fond memories of the live-action wraparounds starring Captain Lou Albano as our main paisan, Mario, along with his pasta-loving bro Luigi. This 4-disc set features 24 episodes of pure Bowser-bashing fun.

Six Feet Under (HBO, Not Rated, DVD-$99.98 SRP) ends its 5-year run in just as lyrically maudlin a way as you’d expect from the sometimes too ironically poignant series. If you think I’m being too harsh, re-watch the final 12 episodes for yourself. The 5-disc set contains 6 audio commentaries, a pair of retrospectives, and a farewell featurette.

And while we’re talking Sony Legacy, they’re one of the few companies out there doing spectacular remasters and re-releases of their catalogue titles, the latest of which feature the first two albums from Jeff Lynne’s ELO – No Answer and ELO II (Epic/Legacy, $11.98 SRP each). In addition to the remastered sound, both discs also feature a quartet of bonus tracks.

Michael Landon’s big-haired angel on a mission returns in the third season of Highway to Heaven (A&E, Not Rated, DVD-$69.95 SRP), with the late Victor French in tow as his loveable human sidekick. It’s got more sass than the treacly Touched By An Angel thanks largely to French, who’s the spoonful of tart to make the sweet go down. The 7-disc set features all 25 episodes, plus interviews.

No animation library would be complete without Plymptoons: The Complete Early Works of Bill Plympton (New Video, Not Rated, DVD-$26.95 SRP), featuring 20 of his most memorable pieces (If you’ve never seen “25 Ways to Quit Smoking,” you *must* purchase this set). The set also includes a pair of documentaries and a sketch gallery.

By the fourth season of Quantum Leap (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$49.98 SRP), it didn’t take a time-traveling scientist to figure out that the writers were running thin on ideas. As soon as the monkey episode happened, I knew the show was hitting fumes. Still, there were some highlights – particularly the episode in which Sam & Al switched roles. Bonus features this go round are limited to an episode from season 5 (“Liberation”).

I’ve been geeking out quite a bit as of late with a pair of Star Trek-related tomes that have managed to hit all the right nerd-buttons. First up is The Art of Star Trek (Pocket Books, $25.00 SRP), which delves into the design and concept archives of the Trek franchise, going all the way back to the original series and ending just before the crap that was Enterprise. For the uber-geeky, though, there’s Star Trek Star Charts: The Complete Atlas of Star Trek (Pocket Books, $17.95 SRP). As the name implies, it’s a collection of navigational maps for the Star Trek universe… Although, frankly, a lot of it was gobbeldygook to me. Pretty pictures, though.

Produced in conjunction with Major League Baseball, fans of both the 2005 Chicago White Sox (A&E, Not Rated, DVD-$69.95 SRP) and the 1986 New York Mets (A&E, Not Rated, DVD-$89.95 SRP) will want to snap up the definitive chronicles of their championship runs via a pair of World Series Collector’s Edition box sets. Featuring the complete championship games, plus additional interviews, victory celebrations, and much more, they really are a fan’s dream come true. Considering how large they are – Chicago clocks in at 7 discs with the Mets at 9 – they also make great doorstops.

Also for baseball fans, the interviews contained within Legend to Legend: Conversations with Bob Wolff (Hart Sharp, Not Rated, DVD-$19.99 SRP) more than lives up to its title, as the legendary broadcaster interviews the legends of baseball in their prime in pieces filmed between 1956-1959.

Spinning off from Dallas, Knots Landing (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) was like the Beverly Hillbillies of soaps, as the middle Ewing son moves out to the titular upscale California cul-de-sac. Eventually running 14 seasons (I know – I’m shocked, too), the first 13 are features in this 5-disc set, as well as a pair of commentaries with Joan Van Ark & Ted Shackelford, plus a retrospective featurette.

As a concept, Showtime’s Masters of Horror seemed like must-watch TV – take a bunch of classic horror film directors and give them free reign to create a one-hour horror piece. Unfortunately, the formerly A-List directors are well past their prime, and the scripts are mediocre at best. The first two DVD releases from the series feature John Carpenter’s practically unwatchable Cigarette Burns and Stuart Gordon’s Dreams in the Witch House (Anchor Bay, Not Rated, DVD-$16.98 SRP each). Both discs feature audio commentaries, behind-the-scenes featurettes, interviews, and more.

Comments: None

THE MONEY PIT - 03/24/2006

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (March 24, 2006 at 10:40 pm)

I’m still recovering from a nasty little post-trip cold following my extended jaunt to surprisingly cold and rainy LA, so let’s get this little dog & pony show off the ground…

First up, I want to point you all in the direction of a cool little musical act I stumbled upon out in LA, The Emotion Project. If you dug the soundtrack to Garden State, you’ll be kicking yourself if you don’t snap up the debut CD. Seriously – go. I’ll be waiting here for you to come back.

While the show had most definitely been headed in that direction, it wasn’t until the 7th season of South Park (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$49.99 SRP) that the show fully morphed into one of the most astute, pointed social satires ever to grace the boob tube. From pop culture and politics to celebrity and religion, no topic was off-bounds, and no treatment of said topic was done with kid gloves. Metrosexuality, Christian Rock, Jennifer Lopez, Indian casinos, smoking, Mormons – it’s all there, and it’s al brutally funny. The 3-disc set features all 15 episodes, plus Matt & Trey’s patented mini-commentaries.

In the vacuum left by the loss of Chappelle’s Show, I was pleasantly surprised by Comedy Central’s newest comic-centric sketch comedy, Mind of Mencia (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$26.99 SRP). Carlos Mencia is the type of comedian I love – unafraid to have strong opinions on race, gender, politics, and society, and able to deliver those opinions with a pointed humor that forces us to laugh at ourselves. If you think I’m exaggerating, check out the first season, and I guarantee you’ll be identifying with everything he has to say – some of it hitting a little too close to home. The 2-disc set features deleted scenes, additional segments, behind-the-scenes footage, bloopers, and more.

Compared to what the show would evolve into when it became Justice League Unlimited, the first season of Justice League (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$44.98 SRP) was an uneven affair. Desperate not to make it the Superman & Batman show, Bruce Timm & Co. (minus the much-missed Paul Dini) erred too far in the other direction, to the particular detriment of Superman. Even at its worst, though, the 26 episodes features are still light years better than crap like The Batman. Bonus features include a trio of audio commentaries, featurettes on character design and storyboards, a panel discussion with the creators, and a rare promo film for the series.

Speaking of Timm & Co., something that did work – much to my surprise, considering the concept originally left me cold – was Batman Beyond (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$26.98 SRP). By mostly ignoring the Warner suits and making sure that the mythos that led young Terry McGinnis to assume the mantle of the Bat was firmly rooted in their animated Batman, it gave the series a depth and character it otherwise wouldn’t have had. The 2-disc set features all 13 first season episodes, plus a pair of audio commentaries, a featurette on the creators, and select score-only seasons.

One of Bruce Timm’s major artistic influences was the legendary Jack “King” Kirby, and I gotta admit – I love the large format version of the Jack Kirby Collector (Twomorrows, $9.95). The latest issue, #45, features a special 3-D back cover, and is jam-packed with enough rare, beautiful Kirby art to give any aspiring artist an inferiority complex.

It’s not often that an actress stars in two television series that – despite being relatively short-lived – made said star a national sweetheart… long before she became an Oscar-winning film star. Who is the actress and what were the series? The actress was Sally Field, and the series were Gidget and the still-unbelievable The Flying Nun (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$39.95 SRP each). Beach bunny Gidget gets a complete series release featuring all 32 episodes (plus the original pilot and a retrospective featurette with Fields), while The Flying Nun penguin wings her way onto DVD with all 30 first season episodes (again, with an exclusive Field interview). The 60’s truly were an innocent time… Long before Smokey & the Bandit.

While the release of some shows like The Jeffersons, Newsradio, Larry Sanders, and Just Shoot Me moves at a glacial pace, Sony has really been good about getting Bewitched out on DVD in a relatively quick manner. In fact, we’re already up to the 3rd season (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$39.95 SRP) – a momentous affair featuring the show’s first color episodes and the emergence of baby Tabitha’s witchy powers. Hey – as long as Endora and Uncle Arthur are back, I’m happy as a clam.

In my senior year of high school, I carried a bet with a friend a bit too far and found myself with one of the lead roles in the musical 42nd Street – which is as good a cautionary tale against betting as I can imagine. Still, the experience holds a warm place in the cockles of my heart, which is why I got a kick out of Warner’s new Busby Berkley Collection (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$59.98 SRP). Elements and songs from the 4 films contained in the set – 42nd Street, Gold Diggers of 1933, Footlight Parade, Dames, and Gold Diggers of 1935 – were combined to make the musical. As per the usual Warner standard, all of the flicks look and sound exceptionally well considering their age, plus the discs are loaded with vintage featurettes, cartoons, documentaries, trailers, and more. In addition, the 6th disc in the set is The Busby Berkley Disc, which features 21 complete musical numbers from Berkley’s films.

The interminable wait between releases of the original Speed Racer is barely satiated by the arrival of the penultimate fourth volume (Lionsgate, Not Rated, DVD-$22.98 SRP), which features a measly 8 additional episodes. As an added bonus, though, the disc does come with a 1:64-scale diecast of the Mach-5. Now where’s that last set, people?

It should come as no surprise that Paul Mooney was one of the best writers that ever wrote for Richard Pryor – in Paul Mooney’s Analyzing White America (Shout! Factory, Not Rated, DVD-$14.98 SRP) he takes precision aim at racism in America, the “N” word, the skinny black fetish of big white women, and more hilarious, painfully true observations of our modern culture. If you’ve been jonesing for the same with that brought us “Negrodamus” and the ultimate insult at Wayne Brady (before Dave Chappelle took Chappelle’s Show away from us), then look no further. The disc also features an interview with Mooney.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not angry that Dave Chappelle decided not to pursue another season of his show. Frankly, it was his decision and he had his reasons, and I respect that. Thankfully, he has given us the incredible concert film Dave Chappelle’s Block Party, and its equally incredible soundtrack album (Geffen, $13.98 SRP).

First things first – I can’t hate Hank Azaria. It’s impossible for me to bring myself to be disappointed with him. Same thing goes for Oliver Platt. When you combine them both in Showtime’s breakout hit Huff (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$39.95 SRP). Azaria stars as family man and psychiatrist Dr. Craig “Huff” Huffstodt, whose life is turned completely upside down when a 15 year-old patient commits suicide during a session, sending Huff into a spiral of self-doubt and evaluation. It’s a fine little dramedy that deserves to be discovered by anyone unfamiliar with it (much like Showtime’s “why did they cancel it?” Dead Like Me). The 4-disc set features all 13 first season episodes, plus deleted scenes, a trio of behind-the-scenes featurettes, and audio commentaries on select episodes.

The third season of Tales From the Crypt (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) features a pair of the macabre series’ most beloved episodes (by me, anyway) - “Yellow” and “Top Billing.” The Bob Zemeckis-directed “Yellow” starred Eric Douglas as the cowardly son of Kirk Douglas’s tough-as-nails general who decides that courage and honor are more important than blood, while “Top Billing” finds Jon Lovitz willing to do anything to get a part in a production of Hamlet. The 3-disc set contains an additional 12 episodes, plus a pair of panel discussions on the show, and a music video.

Filmed during the Fillmore Auditorium appearance of their 2005 reunion tour, The Black Crowes: Freak ‘n’ Roll… Into the Fog (Eagle Vision, $14.98 SRP) is a rarity amongst reunion concerts – they’re still in top form. Shocking, I know.

Already given a deluxe special edition treatment a few years back, the new 3-disc 50th anniversary edition of The Ten Commandments (Paramount, Rated G, DVD-$24.99 SRP). Not only does this new outing feature a completely restored and remastered presentation of Cecil B. DeMille’s legendary 1956 version (starring Charlton Heston as the bearded guy with the tablets), but also DeMille’s 1923 silent original. The 1956 version features an audio commentary with author Katherine Orrison (writer of the making-of book Written in Stone), an extensive 6-part behind-the-scenes documentary, a newsreel of the film’s NY premiere, and a trailer gallery. The 1923 version features another commentary from Orrison, and hand-tinted footage of the “Exodus and Parting of the Red Sea” sequence.

After his bizarre lapse in hermitude during this year’s Grammy Awards, you may be interested in hearing more from Sly and the Family Stone. Well, that’s not going to happen… remember the whole recluse thing? The next best thing, though, is Different Strokes By Different Folks (Epic/Legacy, $18.98 SRP), a collection of 14 covers of classic Sly by the likes of Isaac Hayes, Moby, John Mayer, Janet Jackson, Chuck D, Maroon 5, and more.

I really wanted Over There (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) to succeed. Created Steven Bochco and Chris Gerolmo, it dared to try and tell a dramatic series about the U.S. military in the current Gulf War, focusing on both the soldiers in the Middle East and their families back home. In the end, it just never quite seemed to pull off the initial promise of the concept, but it still manages to feature some shockingly gritty storytelling and will go down as a landmark series regardless. The 4-disc set features all 13 episodes, plus audio commentaries on select episodes, a documentary on the process of filming the show, and a behind-the-scenes featurette.

I am a huge, huge fan of the Classic Albums series of documentaries focusing on the creation of some of the most iconic records ever recorded. The latest focuses on The Making of A Night at the Opera (Eagle Vision, Not Rated, DVD-$14.98 SRP), the album that launched Queen into the stratosphere as a truly legendary rock band. The DVD features an additional 50 minutes of footage not in the original TV broadcast.

Nothing beats the classic World War II flicks of yesteryear, and Stalag 17 (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$19.99 SRP) certainly ranks among the best. Directed by Billy Wilder and starring William Holden as the scheming Sergeant J.J. Sefton, a prisoner at Germany’s notorious POW camp, who runs rackets and trades favor for special privileges. Sefton comes under suspicion from his fellow prisoners as a spy for the Germans when a pair of escape attempts end in death. The newly remastered special edition features an audio commentary, a making-of documentary, a featurette on the real POWs of Stalag XVIIB, and a photo gallery.

Even all these months later, I still have a bad taste in my mouth about Disney’s crass foray into the CG game, Chicken Little (Walt Disney, Rated G, DVD-$29.99 SRP). Featuring a half-hearted attempt at melding Shrek-like postmodernism with Pixar-esque charm, they instead created a Frankenstein’s monster of a flick, clearly uncomfortable in both worlds and crying out for a soul. Sadly, that soul is nowhere to be found in this reworking of the classic tale of CL, with our young hero instead identifying the arrival of extraterrestrials and being inevitably forced to rise to the challenge. The DVD features a making-of featurettes, deleted scenes (plus 3 alternate openings), and a bunch of crap music videos.

There’s definitely something discomforting about the latest trio of Shirley Temple flicks released under the “Shirley Temple Collection” banner (Fox, Rated PG, DVD-$14.98 SRP). No, it’s not the tiny tyke as the littlest pickpocket in Dimples… it’s the Temple flick version of the old south portrayed in The Littlest Rebel and The Little Colonel. Even with co-stars like Hattie McDaniel and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, these most definitely are flicks made in a far less enlightened time. Still, as cultural artifacts, I’m glad they’re available, and can only hope Disney will eventually get around to releasing Song of the South.

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THE MONEY PIT - 03/17/2006

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (March 17, 2006 at 12:51 am)

You know, as much as I love going places, I loathe travel – for the time wasted in transit, and for the disruption in routine (and deadlines). While you’re reading this, I’m currently in LA lining up some fun (I hope) coverage for the future… And dreading the time wasted on the return trip.

In his Oscar speech, George Clooney made a point that Hollywood, while being a barometer of the times, can also be a social and political motivator. In his portrait of Edward R. Murrow’s journalistic battle against Sen. Joseph McCarthy and his Communist witchhunt in the 50’s, Clooney uses Good Night, and Good Luck (Warner Bros., Rated PG, DVD-$28.98 SRP) to show a time – and a struggle for free speech in the face of political fear-mongering – that is sadly not dissimilar from the climate we currently find ourselves in. The war on terror is being waged in much the same way as the war on communism espoused by McCarthy, with a chilling of open discussion and much political chess being played. David Strathairn is wonderful as the stoic-yet-electrifying Murrow, who used the medium as a means of fighting for the public good… Remember when journalists used to do that? Bonus materials include an audio commentary from Clooney and producer/co-writer Grant Heslov, a behind-the-scenes featurette, and the theatrical trailer.

I’ve come to anticipate the release of each new volume in the Conversations series of books, which collect together interviews from various sources and time periods into an engrossing, and always informative, portrait of their given subject. The latest volume, Walt Disney: Conversations (University of Mississippi, $20.00 SRP), features over a dozen interviews with the man behind the mouse.

With the impending Superman flick on the horizon, superhero-centric DVD releases are going to be coming fast & furious – and that includes both the good and the bad. On the good side, there’s Cartoon Network’s hyperkinetic take on The Teen Titans, finally getting a complete first season release (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP). While I was not overly enamored of the series at first, it’s grown on me considerably, due in most part to the fact that they have a solid grasp on the essential core of the characters. On the other hand, the first season of The Batman (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP) is just a disaster. Who thought we needed a new animated Batman, when the Bruce Timm version still remains as valid today as when it premiered. Way to crass it out, Warners. The 2-disc Teen Titans set features all 13 episodes, plus featurettes on the voice actors and the translation of comic to screen. The 2-disc Batman set features all 13 episodes, as well as featurettes examining the poor thinking that went into this useless abomination.

There’s something refreshing and new in watching the first season of I Dream of Jeannie (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$39.95 SRP) in its original black & white. One of the cornerstones of the 60’s TV fantasy movement (alongside Bewitched), it’s a show that I only remember ever seeing in color. Without it, the comedy comes to the forefront, and it still holds up to this day as pure escapist entertainment. The 4-disc set features all 30 episodes, plus an audio commentary on the pilot and a retrospective featurette.

Warners continue to mine its incredible catalogue by bringing to market titles that cinephiles have been desperate for. In order to facilitate the release of these vault classics, they’ve taken to crafting themed boxes to insure that the economic model supports the admittedly niche sets. The latest on the docket is a quartet of classic Agatha Christie flicks featuring the sleuthing Miss Marple, played by Margaret Rutherford. The 4-disc Miss Marple Collection (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$49.98 SRP) contains Murder She Said, Murder at the Gallop, Murder Ahoy, and Murder Most Foul. While not as feature-packed as most of Warners’ releases, the discs do at least feature the original theatrical trailers.

While not a Marple mystery, another Agatha Christie classic, Ten Little Indians (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP) is also hitting DVD. Revolving around a mysterious dinner party (with 10 guests, natch) and the progressive deaths of said guests, it’s a fun little whodunit beautifully restored. The DVD features the original “Whodunit Break” segment from the theatrical release, plus the film’s trailer.

In a field dominated by Pixar and Shrek, Fox’s CG animation studio Blue Sky managed to pull together a surprisingly funny foray with Ice Age, a prehistoric tale of mismatched migrating animals led by the dulcet tones of Ray Romano as a wooly mammoth. With the sequel on its way, it should be no surprise that we’ve now got a 2-disc “Super Cool” special edition (Fox, Rated PG, DVD-$19.98 SRP), featuring the bonus materials found on the original release (audio commentaries, deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes featurettes) with a new “Extreme Cool View” version of the film packed with fun facts, a scene-specific audio commentary with John Leguizamo’s Sid, additional featurettes, and much more.

For all its criticism as yet another Oscar attempt via de-beautifying, Charlize Theron makes the Norma Rae-esque factory worker heroine of North Country (Warner Bros., Rated R, DVD- $28.98 SRP) a believable character in a gender-equality story that we’ve seen far too many times before. If you’re unfamiliar with the premise, Theron plays a worker in the highly hazardous Minnesota iron mines who rallied her fellow workers and instigated the country’s first class action sexual harassment suit… And do I even have to tell you it’s based on a true story? The disc contains a making-of documentary, additional scenes, and the theatrical trailer.

I’m very selective about the country music I allow through my musical filters – gimme Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Willie Nelson, and keep your modern country to yourself. One of the few country bands that have made it onto the short list is Alabama, who are celebrating their 25th anniversary with a deluxe 3-disc box set – Livin’ Lovin’ Rockin’ Rollin’ (RCA/Sony Legacy, $39.98 SRP). With over 50 tracks worth of hits, demos, live cuts, and rarities, it’s certainly an enjoyable box o’ mountain music.

Like Mr. Holland’s Opus, Remember the Titans is one of those unashamedly button-pushing flicks that I know, in my heart of hearts, I should detest with the fire of a thousand suns but, for some reason, embrace to my embarrassed chest. Even more buttons are pushed in the newly-released extended director’s cut (Walt Disney, Not Rated, DVD-$19.99 SRP), featuring a featurette on Denzel Washington, a behind-the-scenes documentary, “Beating the Odds” featurette, and additional deleted scenes. I feel so dirty.

In the 5th season of MacGyver (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$38.99 SRP), I halfway expected to see the cliché the series had become – you know, our hero crafting a hoverboat out of toothpicks and twine. But would you believe a time travel adventure? Huh? Caught you by surprise, didn’t I?

If anyone doubts that Pamela Anderson is the absolute reining queen of guilty pleasure TV, look no further than her action adventure series VIP (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$49.95 SRP), which stars the surgically-endowed high mistress of schlock as the owner of a Tinsletown bodyguard agency. If you doubt its irresistible appeal to the basest of pleasure centers, partake of the 5-disc complete first season, featuring cast intros on select episodes, an audio commentary on the finale, a behind-the-scenes featurette, and a trivia track on the premiere.

Why is it the that fiction’s greatest sleuths all border on the geriatric? Is it the grizzled life experience, or just the level of thespian they attract when brought to life on the big or small screen? Two such super-sleuths get additional seasons of their respective series, with Columbo (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) reaching its fourth while Jessica Fletcher and Murder, She Wrote (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$49.98 SRP) hits its third season of crime-solving. Columbo feature another episode from the spin-off Mrs. Columbo (“A Riddle for Puppets”) and Murder, She Wrote contains the crossover episode of Magnum, PI.

It seems like only yesterday that the last deluxe edition of Sharon Stone’s ice pick wielding stab at cinematic immortality was released (complete with an ice pick), but it seems the time has come for another special edition of Basic Instinct (Lionsgate, Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP). Obviously intended as a tie-in to the film’s upcoming sequel, this “Ultimate Edition” features the unrated director’s cut, an audio commentary with director Paul Verhoeven and DP Jan De Bont, an intro and interview with Ms. Stone, a making-of featurette, screen tests, storyboard comparisons, and more. Sadly, no ice pick.

For the learned amongst you interested in such things (you know who you are, Mark), Poetry on Record (Shout! Factory, $45.49 SRP) is a 4-disc set collecting dozens of classic poems, read by the authors themselves – everyone from Walt Whitman & Robert Frost to Allen Ginsburg & Derek Walcott. Some of the recordings in question date back to the early part of the last century, and as with any creative writing, it’s always a unique experience to hear authors deliver their work in their own voice.

On the reality front, a new pair of documentaries explore sexuality in modern America – one through the prism of an infamous porn classic, and the other through the very notion of sexual identity. Debbie Does Dallas: Uncovered (Docurama, Not Rated, DVD-$19.95 SRP) is pretty self-explanatory, going behind the scenes of the porn that launched a thousand parodies in the same fashion as last year’s Inside Deep Throat. Transgeneration (Docurama, Not Rated, DVD-$29.95 SRP), on the other hand, follows a quartet of college students as they juggle classes and the weighty decision of gender reassignment – heady stuff, to be sure, but handled surprisingly well in this 8-part series. Dallas features an additional film, while the 2-disc Transgeneration contains deleted/extended scenes.

There’s nothing like going out on a sour note, and that’s exactly what J. Michael Straczynski did with his final (not by his design, mind you) outing within the once-great Babylon 5 universe. Having already stumbled with the mediocre Crusade, The Legend of the Rangers (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP) was like a blow to the gut – none of the storytelling panache of JMS’s original B5 run was to be found, and this driven home by the welcome but wasted presence of the late, great Andreas Katsulas as G’kar, one of the finest characters to ever hit the realms of fiction. What can I say? At least we have the original series…

Even though their friendship is kaput, you can still get one last look at the sheer, unbridled idiocy found in those paragons of the idle class, Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie, in the 3rd and final season of The Simple Life (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP). This season, our two loveable boobs wreck many a business as cluelessly destructive interns. Now please, let it end.

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