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THE MONEY PIT - 12/23/2005

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (December 23, 2005 at 10:43 pm)

The second annual IGN FilmForce Holiday Havoc has come to a close, and we’re all packing up for the annual decompression of a week sans work, eager to recharge our batteries and just get the hell out of Dodge – you know… the true meaning of the season.

Every once in awhile, you run across something that just knocks your socks off – almost literally. The kind of uber-cool item that makes you wonder what the world would be like without something so wonderful in it, and happy that that’s not the case. That was my instant reaction when I held the very first full-size collection of Winsor McCay’s groundbreaking comic strip Little Nemo in Slumberland (Sunday Press Books, $120). Printed in the massive tabloid size in which the original Sundays ran (16”x21”), McCay’s artwork is a wonder to behold, particularly with the restoration undertaken here. Editor Peter Maresca has set a new standard for the presentation of classic comic strips that surpasses even the groundbreaking work done recently by Fantagraphics on Peanuts and Dennis the Menace. I simply can not find the words to gush about this beautiful collection more. I can think of no better gift for the comics fan in your life (or for yourself) than this edition, and I fervently hope they’ve got more up heir sleeve. Also available is a tabloid size 15-month calendar ($22.95) with choice images sure to make the passing of each month a delight to behold.

If all this talk of Nemo has gotten you interested to learn more about the artist behind the strip – and the first animated cartoon character, Gertie the Dinosaur – you should definitely pick up animation historian John Canemaker’s Winsor McCay: His Life and Art (Abrams, $45.00 SRP). As comprehensive as his other (must-have) art tomes, and the perfect companion to the Nemo book.

Animation fans will kick themselves if they pass up the latest wave of Disney Treasures (Walt Disney, Not Rated, DVD-$32.95 SRP each), full of gems culled from the Disney vaults and presented by film historian Leonard Maltin. The latest wave (of what one hopes is many more to come) contains the complete Adventures of Spin & Marty from The Mickey Mouse Club, The Swamp Fox, Disney Rarities (which more than lives up to its title, collecting odds and ends that don’t readily fit into other sets, such as the Alice comedies of the 20’s and various one shot shorts and featurettes, like Ben & Me), and the second volume of The Chronological Donald Duck (which encapsulates his wartime period up until the latter part of the 40’s – all amazing). Bonus features include introductions from Maltin, audio commentaries, featurettes (including a long-overdue spotlight of Carl Barks on the Donald set), and still galleries.

No matter how many TV shows there have been released to DVD in the last few years, there are still hundreds more – some short-lived gems, some forgotten classics – that remain unreleased. Filling that niche with a little of both of those categories is the recently launched S’More Entertainment, which inaugurates their offerings with the first 26 episodes of Wally Cox’s memorable 50’s sitcom Mr. Peepers (S’More, Not Rated, DVD-$39.99 SRP), plus the entire run of Dom Deluise’s foray into television comedy (from Carl Reiner, Bill Pesky, and Sam Denoff, no less), Lotsa Luck (S’More, Not Rated, DVD-$39.99 SRP). Both sets feature the original pilots, interviews, and more. I can’t wait to see what else S’More has up their sleeves…

I know there are plenty of fervent, over-the-top fans out there (I was going to make a “Brown-nose” joke here, but I won’t), but I never liked Firefly. At all. I tried to – particularly since I was a big fan of both Buffy (before it crapped out something fierce in its final, pathetic season) and Angel (which managed to get even better as it went along) – but I just felt that Firefly was an overwrought, too-affected attempt at doing “different” sci-fi. While nothing to write home about, I will say that I enjoyed the big screen outing, Serenity (Universal, Rated PG-13, DVD-$29.98 SRP), more than its TV roots. Regardless of what I say, though, the Brownies will want to snap up this edition, full of deleted scenes, outtakes, featurettes, and a commentary and intro from Joss Whedon.

If you want a shortcut to remind you what the big “event” was in ER’s fourth season (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$49.98 SRP), that was the year of the “live” premiere episode, “Ambush.” The clock was also ticking on George Clooney’s exit, and you could feel the strings being pulled to facilitate his exit. Oh – and the pain in the… you know… Dr. Elizabeth Corday (Alex Kingston) made her debut. So there you go. Bonus features include a pair of featurettes on the live show, deleted scenes, and the always-welcome gag reel.

Plan 9 from Outer Space (Legend Films, Not Rated, $19.95) is every bit as bad as every cliché has made it out to be – but it’s also of the “laughably bad” vein of campy bad, that’s sure to make you laugh at the wretched abomination unspooling before you. This new edition features both a restored version of the black & white original, plus a colorized print utilizing Legend’s quite good colorization technique. Long avoided by the folks at MST3K because it was just “too easy,” this edition gives you the next best thing, courtesy of an audio commentary from Mike Nelson. The disc also features rare Ed Wood home movies, commercials, deleted scenes, the trailer, and the “Lost Plans 1-8.” If you order directly from Legend’s site, you can get an edition signed by Mike Nelson himself.

It literally does seem like forever, but the next installment of the deluxe Simpsons episode guide – The Simpsons One Step Beyond Forever : A Complete Guide to Our Favorite Family…Continued Yet Again (Harper Collins, $14.95 SRP), covering seasons 13 & 14 – has finally been released. Of course, as Simpsons fans, you’re also obligated to buy Comic Book Guy’s Book of Pop Culture and The Ralph Wiggum Book (Harper Collins, $9.95 SRP each), both from the recently launched Simpsons Library of Wisdom. The power of Ralph compels you.

Okay, well, I gave it another shot, but I still can’t muster any interest in the reimagined Battlestar Galactica, particularly in the water-treading second season (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$49.98 SRP). I know there are fans that are absolutely gaga over it, feeling it’s some kind of brilliant piece of sci-fi television… And all I can say is, okay, good for you. I’m glad you like it. The second season set features all 10 episodes, plus the podcast commentaries originally available on the website, and deleted scenes.

The perennially downtrodden Salinger clan is back for the complete second season of Party of Five (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$49.95 SRP), in a season in which just about everyone’s hopes and dreams are shattered, and they even lose the family restaurant. Things would only go from bad to worse in coming years when Charlie finds himself stranded on a Pacific island. Bonus features include cast & crew commentaries and an interview with Jennifer Love Hewitt.

You know, it’s getting that I’m leery to buy any new DVD nowadays, for fear that my purchase will soon be obsolete (and my money wasted) when a new uber-edition of said flick is released. Such is the case with the new 2-disc “Razzle-Dazzle Edition” of Chicago (Miramax, Rated PG-13, DVD-$29.99 SRP), which boasts an audio commentary with Rob Marshall & Bill Condon, a deleted musical number, a history of the musical, extended musical performances, production featurettes, and more. Sheesh.

Like a one-woman show with heavy make-up, Tracey Takes On found Tracey Ullman “taking on” a different topic in each episode, exploring it with a clutch of characters that ranged from a young girl to a swarthy male cab driver. The topics ran the full gamut from death & fame to family & royalty, featured a bevy of guest stars (Michael Palin, Jon Favreau, Hugh Laurie, Tobey Maguire, Cheech Marin, Michael McKean) and were usually quite facile in their satire. The 3-disc first season set (HBO, Not Rated, DVD-$34.98 SRP) features all 10 episodes, plus Tracey Takes On New York, shorts, and a character slide show.

Featuring essentially the same bonus materials as the original Ultimate Toy Box release, the main selling point of the new Toy Story 2 special edition (Walt Disney, Rated G, DVD-$29.99 SRP) – if you don’t already own the flick) is the remastered sound and picture, which manages to improve on the already stellar old release. There’s also a sneak peek at the next Pixar opus, Cars.

Fans of light opera and Monty Python will probably snap up the release of the 1987 televised performance of Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Mikado (A&E, Not Rated, DVD-$24.95 SRP), featuring Eric Idle as the “Lord High Executioner” Ko-Ko. Bonus materials include a making-of featurette and cast bios.

While not offensive (read: Ephron-esque), there’s nothing terribly noteworthy as the by-the-numbers romantic comedy Must Love Dogs (Warner Bros., Rated PG-13, DVD-$28.95 SRP), about a divorced pre-school teacher (Diane Lane) who uses an online service to try and find a man. Unbelievably, she passes up Mr. Right (John Cusack)… or does she? Aren’t you… intrigued? Watch the movie! Bonus features include a gag reel, deleted scenes with optional commentary, and the theatrical trailer.

From its earliest domestic role to its global power position, the wonderfully comprehensive 5-part Battle History of the United States Military (History Channel, Not Rated, DVD-$59.95 SRP) more than lives up to its title, going in-depth on the history and development of each branch of the U.S. Military. Via combat footage and commentary from historians and veterans, it’s a historical document par excellence.

I’ve been in a documentary mood lately, and was particularly interested in a pair that looked at the dark underside of US history. Unfinished Business (Docurama, Not Rated, DVD-$26.95 SRP) looks at the Japanese-American internment camps set up during WWII hysteria to house American citizens guilty of nothing but their ethnic heritage, and a trio of resistors who refused to submit to the relocation order – and were subsequently convicted and imprisoned. The other film, A Time for Burning (Docurama, Not Rated, DVD-$26.95 SRP), focuses on all-white Omaha, Nebraska Lutheran church in whose progressive pastor tried to convince his parishioners to reach out to their fellow black Lutherans sin the mod-60’s. Powerful stuff.

When faced with life as a quadriplegic – be it from an accident, a gunshot, or an infection – there are those whose lives collapse, there are those who soldier on, and there are those who, literally, grab life by the ball via an intense form of rugby dubbed Murderball (ThinkFilms, Rated R, DVD-$29.99 SRP). This documentary tells the story of the world-class athletes who refuse to lie down, but instead engage in gladiatorial combat with every bit as much passion and intensity as their bipedal equals. The DVD features commentary, behind-the-scenes featurettes, the Jackass Murderball special, and more.

The seemingly-random murder of their adoptive mother in a convenience store sends Four Brothers (Paramount, Rated R, DVD-$29.95 SRP) - Mark Wahlberg, Garrett Hedlund, Tyrese Gibson & Andre Benjamin - on the path of vengeance, but they soon uncover a tangled criminal web involving a local kingpin. A great ensemble and a tight little script make for a nice flick worth spinning. Bonus features include an audio commentary, behind-the-scenes featurettes, deleted scenes, and the theatrical trailer.

There’s no understanding many of the tensions still in pay in the modern middle east without a full understanding of the conflicts that shaped the middle ages – and the 2-disc The Crusades: Crescent & The Cross (History Channel, Not Rated, DVD-$29.95 SRP) does a great job of summing up the political, cultural, and religious tapestry that comprised the First, Second, and Third Crusades. The set also features a behind-the-scenes featurette and a bonus documentary on the Knights Templar.

In a casting move that is still a welcome surprise, the fourth season of The Shield (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$59.98 SRP), Glenn Close joined the cast as Monica Rawling, the new, take-no-guff captain. Vic & Shane are stuck on regular detective duty after the dissolution of the Strike Team, and run smack into Rawling’s agenda. The 4-disc set features all 13 episodes, plus audio commentaries, deleted scenes, and a documentary.

Like a goth cross between David Blaine and David Copperfield, Criss Angel’s death-defying stunts in the first season set of Mindfreak (A&E, Not Rated, DVD-$24.95 SRP) are enough of an oooo-ahhh spectacle to give enough bang for your buck. With celebrity guests including Mandy Moore and Penn & Teller, it’s got the street-cred necessary to erase those pesky Blaine comparisons… Because we all know what an A-class magician Mandy Moore is. The 2-disc set features all 15 episodes, plus audio commentaries, an interview, interactive illusions, and a guide to creating your own illusions.

It was never the greatest of sci-fi series, but the fact that its cast was headed by Roy Scheider always left a warm spot in my heart for the adventures of SeaQuest DSV (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$59.98 SRP). It was also a unique show, in that instead of exploring the outermost reaches of space, the crew of the SeaQuest explored the uncharted depths of the Earth’s oceans while defending the 21st century’s nascent undersea colonies from unknown dangers. The complete first season set features all 23 episodes, plus over 30 minutes of deleted scenes.

If there’s one major lesson to be taken from the story of grizzly expert and wildlife preservationist Timothy Treadwell – as documented in Werner Herzog’s mesmerizing Grizzly Man (Lions Gate, Rated R, DVD-$27.98 SRP) – it’s a respect for nature. Maybe that’s because Treadwell – who lived unarmed amongst his beloved Grizzlies for 13 summers – was eventually mauled and eaten by one, in an event which was actually documented. You (thankfully) don’t hear that audio, but you do see Herzog listening to it… And his facial reactions are more than enough. As far as bonus features go, all you get is a lengthy doc on the flick’s music.

Like kryptonite, despite my higher-than-thou, deep-seated obligatory distaste for the lowbrow entertainment that is America’s Funniest Home Videos, if it comes on, I can’t take my eyes off of it. My will is even weaker when confronted by the subject matter of the 3-disc collection AFV: The Best of Kids & Animals (Shout! Factory, Not Rated, DVD-$29.95 SRP). You just try and resist something as sublime as the bat (or anything else) to the groin.

Comments: None

THE MONEY PIT - 12/16/2005

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (December 16, 2005 at 10:39 pm)

The second annual IGN FilmForce Holiday Havoc just keeps rolling along. You have been checking them out, right? Right? Do it!

The mystery of “Who Shot Mr. Burns” is resolved as the seventh season of The Simpsons (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$49.98 SRP) hits DVD, which also features the shooting of the Radioactive Man film, Lisa’s vegetarian conversion, Troy McClure’s courtship of Selma (“I love you, Dr. Zaius!”), Homer becoming Smithers, and much more. By now, you pretty much know the bonus features on these sets include audio commentaries on every episode, deleted scenes, an intro from Matt Groening, illustrated commentary, galleries, and a few easter eggs.

When word came down that Family Guy would be returning to the air with new episodes after being cancelled a few years back, my reaction was decidedly mixed. I loved Family Guy, but as with anything great that returns after a substantial break, there’s a fear that the spark will be gone, and the result will be less than pleasant. Well, that it would suck, really. Amazingly – and thankfully – that was not the case, and it’s like they literally picked right back up where they left off. In fact, in the 13 episodes featured in the new Family Guy: Volume 3 (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP), I can’t really name any stinkers. Oh, and even better, they’re all uncensored, with some containing additional footage cut by the network. Bonus features include audio commentaries (one of which, honestly, sports James Woods), a featurette on the show’s popularity, deleted scenes animatics, multi-angle table reads, storyboard/animatic comparisons, and a featurette on the show’s music.

It was a long time coming, but if you’re picking up the 3rd volume of Family Guy (technically the show’s 4th season), you’ll want to snag a copy of Family Guy: The Official Episode Guide (Harper, $18.95 SRP), which is packed with synopses and trivia about the show’s first 3 seasons (done in a similar style to the Simpsons episode guides.

Though I was largely unimpressed with the largely improvised Anchorman, I completely dug the similarly made 40-Year-Old Virgin (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP), starring Steve Carell as the titular man-child. More intimate with his game console than the female form, his friends decide that it’s high time he got to know the opposite sex, so they conspire to get him… acquainted. I could dance around the word “laid” all night. The “Unrated” DVD features 17 additional minutes that, thankfully, never feel like padding, plus additional deleted footage and a dinner between co-star Seth Rogan and adult film star Stormy Daniels. Both the regular and unrated editions feature deleted footage, multiple audio commentaries, a gag reel, featurettes, and more.

The remarkable thing about Degrassi: The Next Generation is that it managed to update a groundbreaking concept - of attempting to portray high school life in a realistic fashion - and push the boundary even further, without seeming salacious or unrealistic (i.e. any WB show or The OC). That it also treated the original Degrassi as canon – bringing many of the actors back as their original characters – was also a delightful plus. Before you dig into the next generation, though, pick up the complete collection of the original Degrassi Junior High (WGBH, Not Rated, $99.95 SRP), featuring all 42 episodes from all 3 seasons, plus new documentaries, behind-the-scenes featurettes, and more. Once you’ve done that, you’ll next want to catch up on the complete first season of The Next Generation (Funimation, Not Rated, DVD-$49.98 SRP) – featuring extended director’s cuts, deleted scenes, bloopers, and more – so you can fully enjoy longtime-Degrassi fanatic Kevin Smith’s dream come true, as he brings Jason Mewes along to star in a 3-episode arc that finds the geek auteur north of the border to film a movie in which their alter-egos must go back to high school. Jay & Silent Bob Do Degrassi: The Next Generation (Funimation, Not Rated, DVD-$24.98 SRP) contains those episodes, plus commentary, additional footage, bloopers, an interview with Smith, and more.

As flawed as it is – and it’s not even comparable to his best – there’s still a macabre fun to Terry Gilliam’s The Brothers Grimm (Miramax, Rated PG-13, DVD-$29.99 SRP), which stars Heath Ledger and Matt Damon as the titular brothers, who travel the German countryside conning towns into paying them to rid their area of spirits and witches. Wouldn’t you know it, they inevitably are forced to confront a legitimate supernatural force deep in a haunted wood. Just check it out… Keep your expectations in check and you’ll probably be pleasantly surprised. Bonus features include an audio commentary with Gilliam, deleted scenes with optional commentary, and behind-the-scenes featurettes.

Mad Max may have brought Mel Gibson to audiences, but it was Peter Weir’s drama about the real-life disaster that was Australia’s WWII battle of Gallipoli (Paramount, Rated PG, DVD-$14.98 SRP) that proved the young Aussie could act. The new special edition features an in-depth 6 part making-of documentary and the original theatrical trailer.

If you only know Elton John from his hits – or from the pabulum that represented nearly all of his 80’s and 90’s work – than you’ll find much of his early catalogue a revelation. If you think I’m wrong, check out the new 2-disc deluxe edition of his and lyricist Bernie Taupin’s autobiographical opus Captain Fantastic & the Brown Dirt Cowboy (Island, $29.98 SRP). Completely remastered, it charts the John’s & Taupin’s ascendancy from obscurity to stardom, from journeymen musicians to rock & roll legends. In addition to the original album and 4 bonus tracks, the second disc contains the 1975 “Midsummer Music” performance of the entire album at London’s Wembley Stadium (a start-to-finish play with energy to spare). Also available is special collector’s edition of his latest album, Peachtree Road (Rocket, $19.98 SRP) (which, like Songs from the West Coast, is a refreshing return his 70’s roots), featuring a trio of bonus tracks from the stage musical version of Billy Elliott, plus a bonus DVD shot live in Atlanta, 2004. Both are highly recommended.

Based on Frank Miller’s noir-heavy comic series, Sin City tells a batch of interwoven tales all linked to the corrupt, decadent pit that is Basin City. Crooked cops, sexy dames, violent sociopaths, tough-as-nails strongmen, and more come together in an unforgettable mix of grit and grim, brought to dark life by an all-star cast that includes Bruce Willis, Elijah Wood, Jessica Alba, and Mickey Rourke. You’re free to feel just a little bit screwed if you picked up the original lackluster release a few months back, because here’s the deluxe special edition – Recut-Extended-Remastered (Miramax, Not Rated, DVD-$39.99 SRP) – wherein co-directors Robert Rodriguez and Miller revisit the film with an expanded cut and 2 discs worth of goodies, including audio commentaries, behind-the-scenes featurettes, bloopers, and trailers. Also included is a pocket-sized edition of the Sin City graphic novel The Hard Goodbye. See… that’ll teach you to be patient.

Billy Bob Thornton continues the crotchety trend started with Bad Santa and Friday Night Lights by assuming the role of caustic little league coach Morris Buttermaker in the quite enjoyable remake of The Bad News Bears (Paramount, Rated PG-13, DVD-$29.95 SRP) - a role made famous by Walter Matthau in the 1976 original - who somehow manages to whip a raucous group of misfit kids into a successful team. Bonus features include an audio commentary, behind-the-scenes featurettes, outtakes, deleted scenes, and the theatrical trailer.

The late 60’s and early 70’s were full of iconic rock & roll concerts – the era closing with The Band’s The Last Waltz. One of those documents was filmed as part of Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour in the US, with guests Leon Russell and Rita Coolidge. Always a livewire, Cocker was amped to the max during a setlist that included classic renditions of “Feelin’ Alright” and “With a Little Help from My Friends.” A remastered 2-disc deluxe edition of the soundtrack is now out (A&M, $29.98 SRP), along with a remastered edition of the film itself (Universal Music, Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP).

Next in an ever-expanding web of diminishing returns, the dim-witted former-henchman-turned-cook from The Emperor’s New Groove (voiced by Patrick Warburton) gets a groove of his own in Kronk’s New Groove (Walt Disney, Rated G, DVD-$29.99 SRP), as he worries about looking good for his father’s impending visit, which is compounded by the return of the sly enchantress Yzma. Despite my distaste for these cheapquels, Patrick Warburton’s performance as Kronk makes this thing worth watching. You lone noteworthy bonus feature is a making-of featurette.

The greatest disappointment of the CG-animated Valiant (Walt Disney, Rated G, DVD-$29.99 SRP) – which focuses on a flock of carrier pigeons during WWII – is that is squanders a simply amazing voice cast with a by-the-numbers script and mediocre design and animation. That voice cast includes Ewan McGregor, Ricky Gervais, John Cleese, Tim Curry, Hugh Laurie, Jim Broadbent… The mind boggles at what a classic would have been wrought were this but a better flick. As far as bonus features, all you’ve got are bloopers.

It was during the 5th season of The Dukes of Hazzard (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) that contract negotiations with stars Tom Wopat and John Schneider broke down, leading to their replacement with the ersatz Duke cousins, Coy and Vance. Suffice to say, people were not happy with the low-rent good ol’ boys, and those pesky contract negotiations were quickly resolved before the end of the season, leading to the return of Bo & Luke, Bonus features this go-round include a reunion of the show’s stunt team and a visit to Ben Jones’ (Cooter) Hazzard shrine.

A true historical document, Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy Book (Abrams, $24.95 SRP) gets a 10 ¾ anniversary edition with a new introduction from Terry Jones and Brian Froud, a brand new section, and even a bonus DVD. The perfect companion piece, naturally, is Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy Letters (Abrams, $19.95 SRP).

In an age of dwindling shelf space in bricks & mortar retailers, record companies are allowing more and more titles from artists’ back catalogues to go out of print. As a way to compensate for the loss of many of those titles – and to fill consumers’ eternal desire for quick & easy greatest hits collections – Universal Music initiated their line of 2-disc Gold releases, which feature not only the standard hits, but also album cuts and rarities. Their like a box-set, lite. The latest artists to get the Gold treatment are Pete Townshend, Cat Stevens, Buddy Holly, the Neville Brothers, and a collection of Southern Rock greats (Universal, $19.98 SRP each). If you want a nice overview at a reasonable price, these can’t be beat.

Of course, there is another option for those of you still keen on full albums, and that’s the 3-disc Chronicles releases (Universal Music, $29.98 SRP each), which contain a trio of an artist’s albums in one complete package. Recently, I’ve checked out their releases for The Moody Blues (featuring Days of Future Passed, In Search of the Lost Chord, & On the Threshold of a Dream) and Elton John (Elton John, Tumbleweed Connection, & Madman Across the Water. And since the holidays are still in full swing, they’ve also got a Merry Christmas Chronicles, with over 40 holiday classics.

Messrs. Crockett & Tubbs return with the second trend-setting season of Miami Vice (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$59.98 SRP), which again shelled out the big-bucks to ensure that every single bit of original music was cleared – no easy feat when the bands include U2 and The Who. Considering the cost, it’s no surprise that all you’re getting is just the 22 episodes and no bonus features.

Mystery writer Jessica Fletcher returns like a grim reaper to the lives of her closest friends in the complete second season of Murder She Wrote (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$49.98 SRP). With the trail of corpses she’s left behind her, I’m still stunned that anyone would give her the time of day. Not even Tom Bosley could see through her genial façade.

Longtime West Wing fans tend to agree that the show hit its nadir during the scattered, unfocused 5th season (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$59.95 SRP). In fact, in a season marked by a whole lot of “huh,” the only thing that really sparked were the guest appearances by John Goodman and Glenn Close. It would take another year before the show started to click again. Bonus features include a pair of documentaries profiling both President Bartlett and Martin Sheen, A breakdown of the episode “Gaza,” a trio of audio commentaries, and unaired scenes.

Just when I was going to give up hope of it ever coming out, we finally get the second Gargoyles release, collecting the first half (26 episodes) of the lengthy second season (Walt Disney, Not Rated, DVD-$39.95 SRP). Bonus features include episode introductions from creator Greg Weisman, audio commentaries, and “The Gathering of the Cast & Crew” featurette.

It seems any American dynasty with an offbeat job can get their family a camera and a series commitment, and such is the case of the Evangelistas, whose lives are the focus of Family Bonds (HBO, Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP). They’re not morticians – as you might have guessed from the title, they’re a family of bail bondsmen. I eagerly await when a series is greenlit focusing on the lives of a family of attention-seekers. The 2-disc complete first season set features all 10 episodes, plus commentary, featurettes, and a photo gallery.

This week’s soundtrack round-up features Patrick Doyle’s score for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Warner, $18.98 SRP) – which also contains the flick’s songs from the ball – and Alexandre Desplat’s score for Syriana (RCA Red Seal, $18.98 SRP).

Am I wrong for liking Gilmore Girls (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$59.95 SRP)? I think it must be a combination of the snappy writing and the actors that make this a show that, while not appointment viewing, is always refreshing when I catch it. The 5th season meant a whole lot of good for Lorelai (the success of the Dragonfly Inn) and a whole lot of hurt for Rory (college, boys, and a career plan in flames). Bonus features include an audio commentary and featurettes on the 100th episode.

Nobody did low-budget like Roger Corman, as you will experience most viscerally with a quartet of re-released Corman “classics” replete with special edition bells & whistles, including commentaries, retrospective featurettes, and trailers. The films in question are Death Race 2000 (with David Carradine), Big Bad Mama (Shatner, people), Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (The Ramones!), and Dinocroc (Buena Vista, Rated R/PG, DVD-$19.99 SRP each).

Comments: None

THE MONEY PIT - 12/09/2005

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments: None

THE MONEY PIT - 12/02/2005

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (December 2, 2005 at 12:53 am)

I hope, by now, that you’ve begun to ring in the new year with us via the second annual IGN FilmForce Holiday Havoc. If you haven’t, what in the heck are you waiting for? There’s a lot more coolness to come…

I’m always a sucker for rare ephemera – like hard-to-find advertising pieces, artwork, membership cards… just relics of a particular subject. Disney got the ball rolling last year with the first of their Disney Treasures releases, which contained reproductions of the items I mentioned above, going all the way back to the 30’s, and bound in book form. I loved it. For NASCAR fans, there’s the NASCAR Vault (Becker & Mayer! Books, $49.95 SRP), a collection of over 150 photographs and 26 plastic-encased collectibles from the sport’s over 50+ year history, all magnificently recreated – including patches and licenses. If you’re a NASCAR fan – or you have one in the family – this is an absolutely essential Xmas gift. Currently, the book is a Books a Million exclusive, available via their online or bricks & Mortar stores.

It’s been years (and years and years) of waiting, but the original laserdisc director’s cut of Peter Jackson’s Frighteners (Universal, Rated PG-13, DVD-$26.98 SRP) has finally made its way to DVD, packed with bonus features and sporting a version of the film that is far stronger (and, ironic for the subject matter, more fleshed-out) than the theatrical cut. Bonus materials include an audio commentary with Jackson (along with a brand new introduction to the film from Peter), a massive making-of documentary, and storyboards with optional commentary. But why, oh why, does it have to be a flipper disc?

Disney has begun to flex their felt muscles as the new home of Jim Henson’s Muppets with the re-release of all of the Muppet film catalogue (save for Muppets Take Manhattan & Muppets from Space, which still reside at Sony). That means newly remastered (but not restored, sadly) editions of The Muppet Movie, The Great Muppet Caper, Muppet Christmas Carol, and Muppet Treasure Island (Walt Disney, Rated G, DVD-$19.99 SRP each). The transfers, in general, are a definite improvement from the Sony editions of a few years back, and the new editions of the original Disney releases – Christmas Carol & Treasure Island – are finally presented in widescreen. So what’s my major disappointment here? The criminal lack of extras, especially when there are some great specials (Muppets Go Hollywood & Muppets Go To The Movies) that could have been included on the first two films, plus commentaries. Heck, we don’t even get the original proof-of-concept test footage that was on the Sony release of The Muppet Movie. Get your act together, Disney, and treat these films like the classics they are.

Fuse together The War of the Roses and True Lies and you’ve got a fair idea of what to expect from Mr. & Mrs. Smith (Fox, Rated PG-13, DVD-$29.99 SRP), which stars Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt as an unhappily married couple who happen to be world class assassins – each tasked with rubbing the other out by their respective agencies. What follows is a high octane romp as they attempt to do just that. Bonus features include an audio commentary, a behind-the-scenes featurette, deleted scenes, and the theatrical trailer.

The legacy of Charlie Chaplin is celebrated in not one, but two releases hitting DVD this month, the first of which is the stellar series of documentaries under the umbrella Unknown Chaplin (A&E, Not Rated, DVD-$24.95 SRP). Featuring rare footage and rarely seen short films, utilizing reels of outtakes and deleted footage (which Chaplin had ordered destroyed) that paint a remarkable portrait of a perfectionist who would refine gags again and again until they matched the vision in his head. The DVD features a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the documentary series, plus two bonus shorts. Also available is Charlie Chaplin: The Forgotten Years (BBC, Not Rated, DVD-$24.99 SRP), which examines his work during the period after he left Hollywood, from 1952 to 1977.

Even though I read it completely enraptured as a kid, I always felt that there was an odd feel to Bob Woodward’s Belushi biography Wired. It just seemed… judgmental and slight. Well, Belushi’s widow, Judith Belushi Pisano, thought so, too, because she’s gone and done it right with Belushi (RuggedLand, $29.95 SRP). Using a style similar to the recent SNL history Live From New York, it’s John’s family and friends who tell his story via interwoven interviews, making for a first-person portrait of the man as comic genius and flawed – yet still beloved – human being. Forget Wired – this is the definitive work.

And while we’re talking bios, I also want to recommend one of the best ones I’ve ever read about (Fred Hembeck’s favorite band, The Beatles (Little, Brown, $29.95 SRP). Bob Spitz has taken the oft-told story of the four Liverpool lads and fleshed out scores of oft-ignored information, going all the way back to their respective childhoods and even the incredibly well-documented later years. It’s a comprehensive tome that reminded me very much of the now out-of-print though fondly-remembered documentary The Compleat Beatles.

Not since the Walt Disney’s classic nature documentaries have I been so enthralled by a camera pointed at wildlife who are basically just going about their business. What March of the Penguins (Warner Bros., Rated G, DVD-$28.98 SRP) has going for it is the title characters themselves – everybody loves a penguin. They just do. Find me a man who hates a penguin, and I’ll show you a mad Bond villain, bent on world domination. Or just a guy who hates penguins. This film pulls no punches – not only does it give us a look into the Antarctic lives of these flightless birds, but they cast a ringer as the narrator – the equally compelling Morgan Freeman. Bonus features include a behind-the-scenes documentary, a National Geographic “crittercam” featurette, the theatrical trailer, and the Looney Tunes classic 8 Ball Bunny. Oh, and if that’s got your penguin fancy up, you’ll probably also want to check out David Attenborough’s doc Life in the Freezer (BBC, Not Rated, DVD-$14.98 SRP), which takes a look at out tuxedoed tundra pals.

Long before Larry Sanders was even a notion in Garry Shandling’s mind, mid-70’s Canada had its own backstage look at the insane world of evening chat shows with The David Steinberg Show (Koch, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP). Hosted by comedian David Steinberg and featuring a different major celeb guest each week (the list includes Jon Voight, Conrad Bain, Tommy Smothers, Ed McMahon, Milton Berle, and even Scatman Crothers), the behind-the-scenes madness was just as important… if not more so, since it featured a who’s who of pre-SCTV legends, including John Candy, Martin Short, Dave Thomas, Joe Flaherty, and Andrea Martin. This 4-disc set features 21 episodes, plus a new 30-minute retrospective interview with Steinberg.

On the eve of Peter Jackson’s Kong, Universal has repackaged Steven Spielberg’s big lizard trilogy into the perfect holiday Jurassic Park Adventure Pack (Universal, Rated PG-13, DVD-$26.98 SRP). The set retains all of the bonus materials from the original releases, so don’t feel like you have to pick this up if you’ve already got ‘em. However, if you still haven’t gotten these flicks – or you know someone on your holiday gift list still lacking – this is a great (and phenomenally cheap) way to get ‘em.

The first Tremors film was a revelation – it was the kind of B-movie schlockfest monster flick that every generation needs, just to reaffirm that there is a place in the world for fun cinematic junk food. The sequels progressively lost the verve of the first, but you can now own all four films via the Tremors Attack Pack (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$26.98 SRP). Like the JP set above, this is a great (and also cheap) way to get these flicks.

There’s something endearing low-rent about British sci-fi series from the 70’s, from Doctor Who to Blake’s 7. Add Timeslip (A&E, Not Rated, DVD-$79.95 SRP) to that list. I don’t know – from Who to Narnia, the Brits really like their time travel and portals into space/time, which is exactly what happens here, as 15 year-olds Simon Randall & Liz Skinner stumble on a time portal while on a beach excursion that drops them back in WWII… which is only a stop on the way to various time periods, including the far-off 1990’s!… all under the guidance of the enigmatic Traynor. The 4-disc set features all 26 episodes, plus a retrospective documentary and intro.

Featuring an all-star cast, Shelly Duvall’s Tall Tales & Legends (Koch, Not Rated, DVD-$79.98 SRP) was a fun, funny presentation of classic stories presented for a contemporary audience of children reared on genre-bending kid shows like Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock, The Electric Company, and The Storyteller. The complete series box set contains all 9 episodes (“Annie Oakley,” “Casey at the Bat,” “”Darlin’ Clementine,” “Davy Crockett,” “John Henry,” “Johnny Appleseed,” “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” “Ponce de Leon,” and “Pecos Bill) starring a stellar list of celebs, including Martin Short, Brian Dennehy, Ed Asner, Danny Glover, Elliott Gould, Howard Cosell, Michael York, Molly Ringwald, Rob Reiner, and more.

The fifth season of CSI (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$88.99 SRP) is remarkable primarily because it’s the season the features Quentin Tarantino’s 2-episode stint directing that year’s finale. Besides that, it’s just another year in forensics… your standard procedural fare. Bonus materials include audio commentaries on 9 of the 25 episodes and behind-the-scenes featurettes (including one on Tarantino’s outing).

The episodes contained in the fourth and final X-Files Mythology collection, Super Soldiers (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) pretty much encapsulate when the show not only jumped the shark, but proceeded to do back flips and cartwheels over said fish, as the ever more unwieldy mythology finally collapsed into a full-bore parody of itself. Sad, really.

Just in time for “The Christmas Invasion” comes a pair of classic Doctor Who releases, both of which are sure to delight anorak-clad fans the world over – The Jon Pertwee-era The Claws of Axos (BBC, Not Rated, DVD-$24.98 SRP) and the 2-disc Tom Baker-era City of Death (BBC, Not Rated, DVD-$34.98 SRP), the latter of which was co-written by Douglas Adams. Both releases are chock full of extras, including audio commentaries, featurettes, and much more.

It’s a shame that fatigue from colossal period bombs like King Arthur and Alexander did in Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven (Fox, Rated R, DVD-$29.98 SRP), because – unlike the other two – there was actually a good movie to be found in his sweeping tale of tale of a young Crusader (Orlando Bloom) who takes up arms in the 12th century Middle East to defend Jerusalem against those, both within its walls and without, who would occupy it out of greed and desire. Both the Muslims and the Christians are given remarkably even-handed treatment, showing that the true history of the period was not so cut-and-dried as the West has often portrayed it. The 2-disc special edition features a text commentary, and “interactive production grid” (a fun feature that puts you in the driver’s seat behind-the-scenes), History Channel “History vs. Hollywood” special, A&E “Movie Real” special, featurettes, and the theatrical trailer.

As a sci-fi junkie, I found the classic (though seldom-seen) 1970’s Brit-sci-fi series The Tomorrow People (A&E, Not Rated, DVD-$59.95 SRP) fascinating viewing. Like a UK version of the X-Men, the basic premise centers around the adventures of the next stage in humanity – the Tomorrow People – who fight evil forces across time and space using the powers of telekinesis, telepathy, and teleportation. All in all, it’s a quirky little footnote that’s worth checking out. The 4-disc Set 2 features all 26 episodes from the show’s third, fourth, and fifth seasons, plus an audio commentary on the episode “Secret Weapon,” the 2nd part of the “Origins of The Tomorrow People” featurette, and cast bios.

All is sugar, spice, and everything nice with the second batch of remastered Shirley Temple releases, grouped under the intentionally saccharine banner – Shirley Temple: America’s Sweetheart Collection (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP). The 3-film box set features Baby take a Bow, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, and Baby Take a Bow. Ignore the colorized versions and stick with the original black & white.

Who knew poetry could be so competitive? That’s just one of the revelations in the documentary Slamnation (Docurama, Not Rated, DVD-$29.95 SRP), which delves into the world of high-energy spoke-word readings known as “Slamnation,” the “Super Bowl” of poetry readings. The 2-disc set features the television pilot Slammin’, plus hours of raw, uncensored footage. On a far darker tack, there’s The Execution of Wanda Jean (Docurama, Not Rated, DVD-$26.95 SRP), which chronicles the death row plight of convicted murder Wanda Jean Allen. It’s a fascinating look into Oklahoma’s execution machinery, from the bureaucracy down to the condemned themselves.

Comments: None

THE MONEY PIT - 11/25/2005

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (November 25, 2005 at 12:49 am)

Happy Turkey Day, people! Here’s hoping you and yours are having obscene amounts of wonderful food, while engaging in not-too-awkward conversation. What more can you ask for? Anyway, let’s get this quickie out of the way so I can beat feet for the holiday…

I think the joy of the original King Kong is summed up in one simple title card – the one in which the giant ape himself gets final billing as star of the film bearing his name, with the title “Eighth Wonder of the World.” That one gesture forever sets it apart from any attempt to tell Kong’s story that has come since – it was a gesture that elevated the beast beyond being a mere special effect. Warner’s long-awaited (and I mean *long*-awaited) 2-disc special edition release of the original King Kong (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$26.99 SRP) is largely a success, featuring a great film, a nice presentation, and plenty of quality bonus materials. The picture and sound restoration are not quite the revelation that Citizen Kane’s DVD debut was, but it’s certainly better than Kong has looked in the past. Those bonus features include an audio commentary (with Ray Harryhausen & Ken Ralston, with interview excerpts from producer Merian C. Cooper & Fay Wray), a 7-part documentary exhaustively deconstructing the entire production process, original Creation test footage with Harryhausen commentary, and a documentary profiling Merian Cooper’s career. While a spiffy edition with in a collectible tin featuring a reproduction of the original theater program is available, true cinephiles will want to pick up the 3-film set (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$39.92 SRP) packaging Kong with its sequel, Son of Kong, and the classic Mighty Joe Young (sporting a Harryhausen & Ralston commentary, plus a pair of featurettes). Kong is king!

It seems like we just started, but with the release of the complete 5th & 6th seasons of Seinfeld (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$49.95 SRP each), we’re already past the halfway mark on the series, and cruising to a likely wrap-up next year (which begs the question, where are Newsradio’s remaining sets?). As these sets clearly illustrate, Seinfeld was a show that only got better with age, proving that a comedy about nothing is universal enough to be enduring. Heck, just referencing certain aspects of a given episode leads to instant recognition, and there are plenty of iconic episodes contained in the 5th & 6th seasons – the puffy shirt, the mango, the lip reader, the opposite, and the fuscilli Jerry. Like the previous sets, they’ve gone all-out on bonus features, including audio commentaries, behind-the-scenes featurettes, deleted scenes, promos, outtakes, and even “Sein-Imation” – classic scenes reimagined in animation.

It’s not as easy to categorize as the Mouse’s Disney Treasures releases, but the Looney Tunes Golden Collections are slowly making up for their haphazard presentation of multiple characters and time periods (with a still disappointing lack of B&W) with some quality restoration and a bevy of bonus materials. In fact, the third volume of the LT: GC (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$64.92 SRP) has – in addition to 60 more classic cartoons like Robin Hood Daffy, Rocket Squad, Wackiki Rabbit, Duck! Rabbit, Duck!, and Birds Anonymous – has choice rarities like the original Philbert pilot, Bugs Bunny Show bridging sequences, early B&W and wartime cartoons (huzzah!), plus audio commentaries and documentaries (including the long-awaited DVD debut of Chuck Amuck). While you’re on an animation kick, you’ll probably also want to snag the second Tom & Jerry Spotlight Collection (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$26.99 SRP), with 38 cat-chase-mouse gems.

While Disney dumps their TV product in unceremoniously bare-bones fashion (DuckTales & Rescue Rangers), Warners continues to provide top-notch treatment of the Hanna-Barbera library, with restored, remastered prints (many containing accurate credit sequences for the first time in decades) and bonus interviews, featurettes, and commentaries. The latest releases to come down the pike are the complete fourth season of The Flintstones, the first volume of The Huckleberry Hound Show, and the complete Yogi Bear Show (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$44.98 SRP each), which also debuted the forever stage-exiting Snagglepuss.

Is it blasphemy to say that, at one time in my life, I got a kick out of the melon-bashing humor of Gallagher? Is that so wrong? If it is, then I don’t want to be right. And if you’re un-right like me, you’ll probably also be picking up the 3-disc Gallagher: Smashing Watermelon Collection (Anchor Bay, Not Rated, DVD- $29.98 SRP), with 11 full specials. Go on… pretend you didn’t like him at one point… Go on…

Even though the numnutz at Fox decided to pull the plug on the still-funny King of the Hill after the current season wraps (again – what utter maroons!), at least the DVD’s will be with us. The 5th season (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) rolls along with Bobby working for Buck Strickland (and picking up some unfortunate habits from the old man), Hank facing the horrible truth that he may be Yankee-born, Dale learning that his exterminator chemicals are killing him, Peggy failing the high school’s quarterback, and much more. But I do have to ask – where in the heck are the bonus features? Come on!

Jackson Browne is often dismissed as a mellow tunesmith of the singer/songwriter 70’s, but when you hear the startlingly raw power of an album like Running On Empty (Rhino, $24.98 SRP) – newly remastered with a bonus DVD featuring a 5.1 version of the album, bonus tracks, and galleries – you’ll realize what an underrated songwriter he really is. In fact, this album comes second only to The Pretender as a real fave, ranking right up there with anything the likes of Paul Simon released during that decade.

It’s unfortunate that director/producer Moustapha Akkad perished (along with his daughter) in the recent Jordan terrorist bombings just as his two groundbreaking films on Islam, The Message and Lion of the Desert (Anchor Bay, Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP each), were released on DVD. Thankfully, the discs were both prepared before he perished, allowing for 2-disc special editions with his full participation and copious bonus materials, including commentaries and documentaries. It was these films, and his financing of a little film called Halloween, that made him a Hollywood legend, and it’s heartbreaking to know that he’s gone. At least we still have his films.

Everything – and I mean *everything* - is making its way to DVD, so it was only a matter of time before we got the Beaver, his brother Wally, and 50’s parents Ward & June. The Cleavers go digital in the complete first season of Leave It To Beaver (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$49.98 SRP), with the plum bonus feature of the original pilot (with alternate Ward & Wally). Unfortunately, this otherwise worthwhile set continues Universal’s lamentable trend of using the bastardized DVD-18’s for their TV sets.

Director Robert Zemeckis employs a lush all-CG canvas to bring the visual splendor of Chris Van Allsburg’s Polar Express (Warner Bros., Rated G, $29.95 SRP) to life, taking Tom Hanks along to play 5 different roles in the film - most important being the conductor of the magical train that carries a doubting child to the North Pole for a face-to-face with Jolly St. Nick. Unfortunately, that lush imagery doesn’t survive the translation to moving pictures, with much of the animation in the character’s faces being more akin to a zombie flick than a holiday perennial. The 2-disc set features behind-the-scenes featurettes, a nice mini-doc on Chris Van Allsburg, a deleted song, and more.

If you’ve heard the original cast album to the smash Broadway adaptation of Mel Brooks’ legendary comedy, you pretty much know what to expect from the soundtrack to the big screen version of The Producers (Sony Classical, $18.98 SRP). The songs are virtually unchanged, with mainly a greater depth to the sound being the only real difference. Oh, and Bialystock’s main tune, “The King of Broadway” – which has (unbelievably) been excised from the film – is included as a bonus track.

Every time I see a film like Ringers: Lord Of The Fans (Sony, Rated PG-13, DVD-$24.96 SRP) – which profiles the sometime stable, sometime terrifying Lord of the Rings - I can’t help but cringe. Like Trekkies before it, I can’t help but feel bad for some of the more delusional ones who can’t separate fantasy from reality. I’m all for being a fan and really, really liking something, but when you dress up and believe you’re a wood elf, well… ‘nuff said. Copious interviews with Peter Jackson and the LOTR cast add some much-needed gravity to what would otherwise be a borderline scary little fan flick, and narrator Dom Monaghan is a welcome presence as well. Bonus features include audio commentary, deleted scenes, and additional featurettes.

The big screen iteration starring Charlize Theron has been triggering my spidey-sense, but you can relive all of the death-defying adventures of the athletically impressive secret agent/saboteur Aeon Flux (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$38.99 SRP). Completely remastered under the supervision of creator Peter Cheung, the 3-disc set features the Liquid Television shorts and the pilot, plus audio commentaries, behind-the-scenes featurettes, artwork, and a look at some of Cheung’s other work.

While the 3rd season of The Andy Griffith Show gave us the gift that was Gomer Pyle, the show’s 4th season (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) both giveth and taketh away – Gomer was gone by the end of the season, spun off into military service in the USMC, but we got Gomer’s cousin Goober to take up the mantle of affecting dimwit. The 5-disc set features all 32 episodes in glorious black & white, but there are still no extras in sight.

Suzanne Sommers’ Chrissy made her exit and Cindy arrived on the scene in the fifth season of Three’s Company (Anchor Bay, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP), but by now the show was on virtual autopilot and there wasn’t much that could happen that would shake things up too badly. Bonus features include a spotlight on the censors with the producers, and an interview with Jenilee Harrison.

Featuring both the large outsize performances that made him such a thrill to see in concert with smaller, more intimate venues, the 2-disc Still Growing Up: Peter Gabriel Live & Unwrapped (Rhino, Not Rated, DVD-$29.99 SRP) presents both sides of Gabriel as a performer. Disc 1 features the bombastic 2003/04 concert, while the second disc contains the lower-key, much more revealing side of Gabriel that’s very rarely seen outside the studio. Bonus materials include rehearsal footage and additional performances.

Congrats to David Caruso for sticking around on CSI: Miami, as the complete third season hits DVD (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$79.99 SRP). I’m not a terribly big fan of the CSI franchise, but there are those who are wedded to its procedural gobbledygook. Good on you – you’ll be loving this set. Bonus features include a half-dozen audio commentaries and behind-the-scenes featurettes.

It’s not genius, but there’s a loveable boob charm to the episodes comprising the complete first season to Sci-Fi’s CG animated comedy Tripping the Rift (Anchor Bay, Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP). The universe-spanning misadventures of bawdy purple blob Chode and the ragtag crew of the starship Jupiter 2 is good for a few laughs – just don’t look for brilliance.

It’s some kind of odd pairing, for the season sets of Home Improvement & Golden Girls to be geared for release on the same day, which has held true for every set from season one to the current 3rd season (Buena Vista, Not Rated, DVD-$39.99 SRP each). I don’t know, it just seems like an odd Mars/Venus thing. Go figure.

If you were disappointed in the PG-13 “eh”-fest that was the theatrical release of Alien Vs. Predator (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$26.98 SRP), you’ll be slightly more enthusiastic about the new unrated edition, which restores some deleted scenes and gore to ramp up the otherwise glaring lack of suspense and shock in what still plays like a poor man’s version of the original Dark Horse Comics’ tete-a-tetes. The 2-disc special edition features audio commentaries, additional deleted footage, behind-the-scenes featurettes (including a look at those Dark Horse match-ups), and more.

Obviously afraid too much soft focus, feel-good sugary schmaltz might send fans into a diabetic coma, the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition folks have decided to collect only the best, most heart-warming moments from the 1st season into a 2-disc love fest of Ty Pennington proportions (Buena Vista, Not Rated, DVD-$29.99 SRP). The set also features a behind-the-scenes look on how the show is put together, plus off-camera hijinks and bloopers… You know, like when they built that house over an Indian burial ground and all hell broke loose just as the family arrived for the unveiling.

I know there are diehard fans of Barbra Streisand out there (for shame!) and they’ll probably be gaga over Barbra Streisand: The Television Specials (Rhino, Not Rated, DVD-$59.98 SRP). This 5-disc set features all of her specials from 1965’s My Name Is Barbra right up until 1973’s – so help me, this is the actual pretentious title – Barbra Streisand… and Other Musical Instruments. Oy.

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THE MONEY PIT - 11/18/2005

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (November 18, 2005 at 12:46 am)

Is next week really Thanksgiving? What kind of cruel temporal joke has been played on us, that this year is disappearing like a metaphor through the hourglass? Are these truly the days of our lives? Am I so overworked at this point, that coherency is nearly lost? You decide…

It was my love of Scrubs that led me to getting the behind-the-scenes video blog over at FilmForce, and it was the show’s second season (Buena Vista, Not Rated, DVD-$39.99 SRP) that cemented that the first season was no fluke, and I was watching a modern TV classic that I could unashamedly place on the shelf next to NewsRadio, Larry Sanders, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Arrested Development, Freaks & Geeks, and Seinfeld. The second season picks up with the repercussions of Jordan’s lid-blowing revelations to all, and keeps the ball rolling through 22 episodes of equal parts drama, turmoil, and “the funny.” In fact, few shows bring “the funny” as consistently as Scrubs, and even fewer do it so well while balancing it with a deep emotional well. Take that, lesser shows. The 3-disc set features audio commentaries on select episodes, a bevy of featurettes (on stunts, casting, music, and jokes), deleted scenes, an interview with John C. McGinley, and outtakes.

If you’ve yet to be won over by the brilliant comedy of Home Movies, then I pity your hard heart and thick head, and sincerely hope someone lend you a sense of humor (and I’m only partially kidding). Seriously, though, Home Movies is one of those shows that give me hope that wit has not died a slow death in today’s corporate culture, and the third season (Shout! Factory, Not Rated, DVD-$34.98 SRP) ranks as the strongest in the show’s much-too-brief run. The 3-disc set features audio commentaries, Loren Bouchard’s tribute to comic-con fans set to music, animatics, a radio interview, and H. Jon Benjamin’s featurette for people who don’t like Home Movies.

Sam begins the process of reclaiming the bar, Rebecca’s corporate career disintegrates, Carla’s marriage to ex-goalie Eddie hits an unexpected iceberg, Frasier & Lilith plan marital bliss, and much more befalls the barflies in the seventh season of Cheers (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$39.95 SRP). Meanwhile, in the seventh season of Frasier (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$39.95 SRP), the good doctor inadvertently lets Daphne know about the 7-year crush Niles has been nursing for her… Hey, it had to happen eventually. Both sets feature zero bonus features, but I’m just happy – when studios like Sony drag their feet – that Paramount has been getting these out at a very nice clip.

Long before it became “hip” to do massive, mega-concerts for charity with a bill to kill for, George Harrison took up the cause of the famine-ravaged people of Bangladesh. Answering his call were the likes of Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Billy Preston, Leon Russell, and Ravi Shankar, and the result was The Concert for Bangladesh. The original 2-disc album (Capitol, $34.98 SRP) has been completely remastered, and includes a bonus track. Even better, the original concert film has been completely remastered, and is now available as a 2-disc collector’s edition (Rhino, Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP) with a retrospective documentary, additional previously unseen performances, and additional featurettes (one detailing the now-replaced original artwork for the album and film, depicting a starving Bangladeshi child).

You’ve got your Chaplin and your Keaton, but the thinking man’s silent comedian was the bespectacled Harold Lloyd, whose classic films that ruled the roaring twenties are now available in sparkling transfers loaded with bonus features via The Harold Lloyd Collection (New Line, Not Rated, DVD-$89.95 SRP) – 7 discs of comedy gold. Twenty-eight films are included, including the legendary Safety Last!, The Freshman, and Speedy. Bonus features include introductions & commentaries from Leonard Maltin, interviews, rare footage (including vintage interviews with Lloyd and home movies), radio shows, video biographies of Keaton’s collaborators, and much more. In fact, you even get a sample of his personal hobby – 3-D photography (viewable with included glasses).

No matter how hard Chicken Little: From Henhouse to Hollywood (Disney Editions, $19.95 SRP) tries to sell it as such, I can look at Disney’s “first” foray into home grown CG animated feature-land as neither groundbreaking nor good. In fact, browsing through the design artwork, I think the concept would have looked a heck of a lot better done as a traditional 2-D feature. But what do I know?

Another making-of book that may strike your fancy, if you have a piratical bent, is Pirates of the Caribbean: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies (Disney Editions, $22.95 SRP). As you might have guessed, it charts the development process that made a theme park ride into a booming franchise.

The hills are not only alive with music, they’re positively bursting with both pristine sound and sight with a remastered trio of Rodgers & Hammerstein classics – The Sound of Music, State Fair, & Oklahoma (Fox, Rated G, DVD-$26.95 SRP each). All three films are presented in 2-disc special editions, loaded with bonus features including audio commentaries (of particular note is the late director Robert Wise on SoM), documentaries, alternate versions of both State Fair & Oklahoma, screen tests, trailers, and much more. Also available is a newly remastered edition of The Sound of Music’s soundtrack (RCA, $24.98 SRP).

Speaking of musicals, one of my all-time favorites – and when I say that, I mean that I’ve seen it, literally, almost 3 dozen times as a kid – is the film adaptation of Lionel Bart’s Oliver! (Sony, Rated G, DVD-$19.94 SRP). There have been plenty of adaptations of Dickens’ classic tale of an orphan’s journey from the underworld to happiness (with money), but it’s this musical version that still strikes a chord with me. The songs are modern classics (“Food, Glorious Food,” “Pick a Pocket or Two,” and the unforgettable “Consider Yourself”), and the presentation in this new DVD set is sparkling. While bonus features include a behind-the-scenes featurette and a photo gallery, the real keeper is on the second disc – a CD featuring the complete 14-song soundtrack. “Please sir, I want some more…”

If it weren’t for DVD, many golden moments from television history would be relegated to cheap-o VHS bins in poor video quality, if they’re even released at all. Well, thanks to Time Life, we’ve got a pair of releases that are still just as funny – the finest juvenile faux pas in The Best of Art Linkletter’s Kids Say The Darndest Things & a selection of comedy legends in The Golden Age of Comedy (Time Life, Not Rated, DVD-$14.95 SRP each). The Golden Age disc is particularly sweet, as it also features rare early stand-up performances from Woody Allen, Bill Cosby, Bob Newhart, and Jonathan Winters.

I’d like to say that the 10th and final season of Friends (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$44.98 SRP) went out with a bang, but the truth is that the show was pretty much going through the motions during the truncated 17-episode race to the finish. We all knew that Ross & Rachel were going to get together in the end, and that slowly but surely the core group would break apart – a fait accompli as soon as Joey was announced as a spin-off. In fact, the only thing missing was Joey flying over the city in a helicopter, with “Goodbye” spelled out in pizza boxes on the apartment building roof by an also-departing Chandler and Monica. The final DVD set features producers’ commentary on 3 episodes (including the hour-long finale), a retrospective featurette with the cast & producers, a Matt LeBlanc Joey music video, the “Friends of Friends” featurette, and best of all – multiple seasons worth of gag reels.

Packaged in a padded approximation of an actual base, The Great American Baseball Box (Shout! Factory, $59.98 SRP) is an audio dream come true for any fan of America’s pastime. Featuring 117 tracks on 4 CDs, it contains landmark moments from original game broadcasts going all the way back to 1939, interviews with legendary players (from Ty Cobb to Babe Ruth), press conferences, radio shows, commercials, comedy routines (yes, “Who’s On First?” is in there – naturally), and even iconic songs about the game (Are you surprised at “Centerfield” being there?). A perfect gift for any sports fan on your list.

Though nowhere near as sharp as his Opposite of Sex, you’ll be surprised to find out that the major attraction of watching Don Roos’ Happy Endings (Lions Gate, Rated R, DVD-$27.98 SRP) is a subtle, affecting performance from… Tom Arnold. I kid you not. Bonus features include an audio commentary, a making-of, deleted scenes, outtakes, and more.

There’s nothing more awkward that to release a “complete” series box set of a TV show only to have it come back for more episodes… But at least you can be safe in believing that Tru Calling: The Complete Second Season (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$26.98 SRP) really is the end for this now-cancelled series starring Eliza Dushku as a young woman with the power to go back and save people from death. Or something. It got real hazy towards the end. Either way, the 2-disc set features all 5 episodes including the unaired finale, plus a making-of featurette.

Even though the 3rd season of That 70’s Show (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$49.98 SRP) doesn’t fundamentally change the Kevin & Winnie of Eric & Donna, there are plenty of shake-ups this season – including Jackie going after Hyde (driving Kelso nuts), Fez landing a (certifiably) crazy girlfriend, Red deciding it’s time to clamp down on the kids, and Kitty feeling out-of-sorts as a mother. Bonus features include audio commentary on 6 episodes, cast introductions on 18 of the 25 episodes, and a season 3 retrospective featurette.

Twenty years of stars, interviews, makeovers, surprises and dreams come true are highlighted in the six discs comprising The Oprah Winfrey Show: 20th Anniversary Collection (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$54.99 SRP), which is filled to the brim with classic moments and bonus features, from interviews with stars like Julia Roberts & Jim Carrey to defining moments including Oprah’s trip to Africa. Bonus features include candid reminiscences and behind-the-scenes featurettes.

Da plane! Da plane! Oy… Honestly, I tried, very, very hard to resist starting off like every other writer is sure to when talking about the release of the complete first season of Fantasy Island (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$49.95 SRP), but what can I say? I’m a weak, weak man. Sit back and watch all 16 original fantasies, brought to you by the enigmatic Mr. Roarke (Ricardo Montalban) and his ornery sidekick Tattoo (Herve Villechaize), with guests including Don Knotts, Leslie Nielsen, Bill Bixby, and Sandra Dee. Bonus features are limited to two retrospective featurettes and original promo trailers, but who cares? We’ve got “Da plane! Da plane!”

Kate Hudson makes an acceptably frazzled victim in the mildly frightening Skeleton Key (Universal, Rated PG-13, DVD-$29.98 SRP), making the mistake of traveling to Louisiana’s obviously creepy bayous and running afoul of a secret that doesn’t exactly make for a Cajun holiday. Bonus materials include an audio commentary, behind-the-scenes featurettes, and even a “true” ghost story from Hudson’s past. Suuuure.

The third season of Charmed (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$49.95 SRP) is probably best known as the season in which Alyssa Milano pushed costar Shannon Doherty out the door with the demise of Prue, 1/3 of the wiccan sister trio. Now that’s girl power.

Indulge in a little pure popcorn entertainment as a state-of-the-art stealth bomber with artificial intelligence goes rogue, forcing a band of seasoned pilots to hunt it down before it unleashes its deadly payload. Stealth (Sony, Rated PG-13, DVD-$28.95 SRP) was rightly lambasted when it crashed-and-burned this summer, but I have to admit – there’s an entirely watchable “oh god, did they really do that” glee to it all. The 2-disc special edition (whose contract was that in?) includes behind-the-scenes featurettes, in-depth scene deconstructions, a making-of documentary, and Incubus’s “Make a Move” video.

Now that I have a nephew, I find myself trying to direct him towards quality children’s entertainment that isn’t insipid or nauseating (stuff I can watch, too). One of the things I’ve been showing him are the collections of the Henson-produced puppet-ized Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$19.95 SRP). Not only is the energy level suitably interesting for my nephew, but it’s got solid Seussical writing and nicely realized versions of the classic Seuss characters. The latest 3-episode release is Fun with the Cat, and you can be sure it’s going to be played to death… But it’s still light years better than Barney.

Comments: None

THE MONEY PIT - 11/11/2005

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (November 11, 2005 at 12:42 am)

I hope you’ve been checking out IGNFF’s weekly blog with the cast & crew of NBC’s Scrubs. There’re some fun entries over there, with more to come (including some holiday greetings in the weeks ahead – but you didn’t hear that from me). I’m still trying to figure out how we got to the holidays so fast… I swear there’s been some kind of time/space warping in effect…

I went in really not wanting to like Tim Burton’s new take on Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Warner Bros., Rated PG, DVD-$30.97 SRP). For one thing, I love Willy Wonka – a modern classic, and easily one of Gene Wilder’s finest performances. And then there’s the fact that Burton gave us the wretched beast that was his take on Planet of the Apes. Never forget. My heart began to soften again after I saw and enjoyed Big Fish, but I was still wary of Burton, particularly since this was him tackling another beloved flick. Imagine my surprise when I actually enjoyed Charlie, and particularly Johnny Depp’s off-kilter fop of a Wonka. The world of Dahl’s dark stories plays to Burton’s strengths, and he manages to make the film a visual storybook without going goofy. Does it trump Willy Wonka and Gene Wilder? No. Does it stand on its own? You betcha. The 2-disc deluxe edition sports behind-the-scenes featurettes, a look at how actor Deep Roy became hundreds of Oompa-Loompas, a spotlight on Dahl, an inside look at squirrel training, and even a tutorial on dancing like an Oompa-Loompa.

Mixing up the Joel & Mike years from Comedy Central up until the Sci-Fi Channel run, 8th volume of The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection (Rhino, Not Rated, DVD-$59.95 SRP) features the unparalleled fromage of Monster A-Go Go, The dead Talk Back, The Phantom Planet, and Hobgoblins. We’re talking some real glorious trash here, folks. Sadly, they don’t continue the precedent set by the past few collections of including some choice bonus material, but here’s hoping that changes for the next release.

I hate being put in the position of panning something while praising it. What has put me in such an awkward position? Disney’s first batch of releases featuring DuckTales & Chip N Dale: Rescue Rangers (Walt Disney, Not Rated, DVD-$34.99 SRP each). First off, I thank them for finally getting around to releasing their back catalog of shows I actually loved as a kid – particularly the adventures of Scrooge & his nephews, based largely on the comic books stories of the legendary Carl Barks. But just when they do something great like this, they make me want – no, *need* - to slap them upside the head by omitting the 5-part pilots from both sets. No “Treasure of the Golden Suns” or “To the Rescue” – no set up for either series in what were some of the finest episodes of their respective shows. Does anyone at Disney have even a rudimentary knowledge of their library? Or access to Google? Those episodes damn well better be on a future release, or I’m gonna have to bust some heads. I’m not even going to mention that they didn’t even bother to clean the prints, which contain dust and scratches aplenty… oops. Come on Disney- treat your library with a little respect… You know, like Warners does with the Hanna-Barbera releases.

For a Disney release that is far from disappointing (and makes a wonderful gift for any fan), set aside a few hours to fully enjoy every wonder contained in The Disney Keepsakes (Disney Editions, $60.00 SRP). A companion piece to The Disney Treasures, it features beautiful reproductions of rare ephemera straight from the Disney archives, including an original 1930’s Mickey Mouse Club membership card, promotional displays, 3-D glasses from the 50’s, Good Housekeeping comic pages, and much more, all with accompanying text that puts everything in context. I hope this isn’t the last of these releases, because they really are a downright cool delight.

Learn about the early television megastars that launched the fledgling medium and really made the idea of “must-see” TV a reality in the PBS documentary Pioneers of Primetime (PBS, Not Rated, DVD-$19.99 SRP). From Hope & Berle to Lucy & Desi, they came from vaudeville, radio, and nightclubs to develop a new way of entertaining that would eventually surpass all others in its influence.

As soon as I saw Kung Fu Hustle (Sony, Rated R, DVD-$28.95 SRP), I knew that Asian cinema had finally matured. You can’t take an artform seriously until someone comes along and knocks its feet out from under it, parodying brilliantly all of its clichés and self-importance – and with this film, co-writer/director Stephen Chow does just that, brilliantly. From Kurosawa to Woo, Ang Lee to Jackie Chan, everyone gets walloped. What’s the point in having an Alfred Hitchcock or James Whale unless you’ve got a Mel Brooks to put it all in perspective? Bonus materials include an audio commentary with Chow and the cast, deleted scenes, an interview with Chow, behind-the-scenes featurette, and bloopers.

Fictional Indian immigrants the Kumars have bulldozed their backyard and created a studio to house the homemade talk show of son Sanjeev (Sanjeev Bhaskar) in the brilliant comedic satire The Kumars at No. 42 (BBC, Not Rated, DVD-$24.98 SRP), another wonderful Britcom import that should be on your must-view list. Sanjeev wrangles his family into the proceedings - doting mom (Indira Joshi), overeager small-businessman dad (Vincent Ebrahim), and tart-tongued Granny Sushila (Meera Syal) – as he welcomes real-world celebrities into the surreal proceedings that is part Larry Sanders and part The Office… Needless to say, it’s funny as hell. In addition to the 6 episodes comprising the first season, bonus materials include unseen footage, a tour of No. 42, and a writer’s commentary.

Kenneth Turan’s Never Coming to a Theater Near You (Public Affairs, $14.00 SRP) is one of those books that has a concept so good, you wonder why no one ever did it before. Turan presents a look at a few dozen wonderful flicks that most likely never made it to your local cinema, but are well worth viewing at your leisure – movies like Election, Fast, Cheap, & Out Of Control, Sexy Beast, and more.

You’ll never look at a board game the same way again after revisiting this amiable family action-adventure flick starring Robin Williams as the now-grown victim of the game Jumanji (Sony, Rated PG, DVD-19.95 SRP), who was sucked into its world as a child. He’s released 26 years later by the children now living in his old house, who made the mistake of rolling the dice and keeping the game going – with all its consequences. Worse yet, they all must finish playing the game – which means also finding the girl friend who witnessed his disappearance all those years ago. The new 2-disc collector’s edition features an audio commentary from the special effects crew, making-of & production design documentaries, a special effects featurette, storyboards, galleries, and the theatrical trailer. The box even folds out into a playable version of the game… at your own risk.

Now that you know what’s in the hatch – for what it’s worth – and are fully answered within its awesome event horizon, you’ll probably want to pick up a copy of the official companion book to everyone’s favorite mind****, Lost. The Lost Chronicles (Hyperion, $18.95 SRP) is fairly informational (considering how much of the show is still built on mystery, and you really only have perspective on a single season), and comes with a bonus DVD featuring some reuse of behind-the-scenes material off the DVD set, although there are 3 deleted scenes not in the set.

In re-imagining the classic 1930’s alarmist screed against the evils of marijuana use, Reefer Madness: The Musical (Showtime, Not Rated, DVD-$26.99 SRP) pulls off a spry, witty, and mostly wonderful moralistic tale of one all-American clean-cut boy’s descent into crime, depravity, and madness at the hands of the demon weed. Not since The Rocky Horror Picture Show has debauchery been so addictively musical, with plenty of catch tunes and great performances from a cast that includes Christian Campbell, Kristen Bell, Steven Weber, Never Campbell, Ana Gasteyer, and Alan Cumming as the lecturer whose over-the-top claims of marijuana’s ills terrify his enthralled audience of parents. Bonus features include a cast commentary, a behind-the-scenes featurette, and the original 1936 film.

The secret of his past still remains, but Laura Holt and her mysterious partner grow even closer as they continue to solve cases in the second season of Remington Steele (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP). The 4-disc set contains all 21 episodes, plus audio commentaries and behind-the-scenes featurettes. Frankly, I still think Pierce Brosnan should be Bond… He was born to play the role.

The irony of Star Trek Voyager: Distant Shores (Pocket Books, $14.00 SRP) is that the short stories presented within – celebrating the show’s 10th anniversary and featuring tales from within the crew’s 7-year journey home – are often better than the mostly poor scripts of the show itself. Even though the cast was mostly stellar, the cracks in the storytelling of the Berman/Braga regime took hold during Voyager’s run, and eventually undermined any chance Enterprise might have had to be a watchable show. While I’d recommend only about a third of Voyager’s episodes, I enjoyed this collection quite a bit.

Further proof that everything will one day hit DVD – Jeopardy: An Inside Look at America’s Favorite Quiz Show (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$19.94 SRP), whose title is pretty self-explanatory. The disc contains the first episode hosted by Alex Trebek in 1984, Ken Jennings losing episode, and the trio of Ultimate Finals episodes. Bonus features include behind-the-scenes featurettes, a multi-camera look at an episode, and some tips on becoming a contestant.

It’s hard to really describe Rob Zombie’s mini-magnum opus of a shock film, The Devil’s Rejects (Lions Gate, Not Rated, DVD-$27.95 SRP). Honestly, it’s like a bizarro, madcap, creepy exploitation hybrid of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Bonnie & Clyde, Natural Born Killers, and Smokey & the Bandit. I kid you not. The 2-disc special edition features the unrated director’s cut of the film, audio commentaries, deleted scenes, featurettes, make-up tests, a 2+ hour making-of documentary, and more.

If you’re itching for a look at the man who will be filling Bond’s shoes in the not-too-distant future (Daniel Craig, in case you’ve been living under a rock), you’re in for a treat with Layer Cake (Sony, Rated R, DVD-$26.96 SRP), a brilliant little crime flick which stars Mr. Bond… er, Craig… as a London drug dealer eager to start a new life who must make the tried and true “one last job” as a favor to a friend, negotiating a sale for a million Ecstasy hits. In true “one last job” fashion, everything goes wrong when it’s discovered that the pills were stolen from a quite agitated Serbian drug lord, which puts our eager-to-retire antihero between a rock and a hard place. God, I love smart films – and this is one of them. Bonus features include an audio commentary with director Matthew Vaughn and writer J.J. Connolly, a Q&A with Vaughn and Craig, deleted scenes, a behind-the-scenes featurette, and a pair of alternate endings.

Quadrophenia is nowhere near the artistic level of The Who’s Tommy, but both reach a whole different level when performed live – as they are in the star-studded 3-disc The Who: Tommy and Quadrophenia Live with Special Guests (Rhino, Not Rated, DVD-$34.99 SRP), featuring a pair of concert performance of both rock operas. Guests included Elton John, Phil Collins, Steve Winwood, Billy Idol, and Patti LaBelle, while the 3rd disc contains a smattering of other concert performances, including the hits-packed second set from the same 1989 Universal Ampitheatre performance as the first disc’s Tommy.

Okay, so you’re putting together a video game featuring an undead protagonist in stereotypical 50’s Cold War America, and you want the soundtrack to be unique. What do you do? You collect 13 alt-bands and unleash them on iconic 50’s tunes, from “Lollipop” to “Earth Angel” – that’s what you do. And that’s just what Aspyr did for Stubbs the Zombie (Shout! Factory, $18.98 SRP). Does it work? You bet it does, buck-o. Just hearing Death Cab for Cutie’s “Earth Angel” makes everything right with the world.

The second season of The Partridge Family (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$29.95 SRP) comes home to roost just when unfortunate comparisons to a punky, fresh-faced Danny Bonaduce can be made to his current monstrous persona on VH-1’s unfortunate reality series… brrrrr. The 3-disc set features all 24 episodes, but sadly no bonus features.

If you’re in need of a quick holiday flick fix with a trio of perennials, be sure to fix a cup of cocoa, grab a blanket, and be sure you’ve picked up the Classic Holiday Collection (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP) featuring Boys Town, Christmas in Connecticut, and the 1988 version of A Christmas Carol. If that wasn’t enough, you also get vintage featurettes, trailers, and even a bonus movie (Spencer Tracy & Mickey Rooney’s 1941 sequel Men of Boys Town). Viva la holidays!

Coinciding with the desert mecca’s 100th anniversary, Las Vegas: An Unconventional History (PBS, Not Rated, DVD-$24.99 SRP) lives up to its name, looking at the sunny, steamy, sordid past of the Nevada town that could – and did – make its own history from nothing but sand, dreams, and money both legitimate and not so much.

Before Diana Ross went crazy – well, crazier – she starred in the still powerful biopic of Billie Holiday, Lady Sings the Blues (Paramount, Rated R, DVD-$14.99 SRP). Even more memorable for geeks (yes, like me) is her costar, Billy Dee Williams, not to mention Richard Pryor (okay, for you Superman III geeks). Bonus features include an audio commentary (with Berry Gordy, director Sidney Furie, and artist manager Shelly Berger), a behind-the-scenes featurette, and deleted scenes.

Admittedly, I never did like the asinine antics of Beavis & Butthead during their original MTV run. I could never shut my brain down long enough to go with the flow (although, surprisingly, I did like Do America, so go figure). Despite my apathy, tho, there are a lot of fans out there who have waiting impatiently for a decent collection on DVD (hey Steven!), and your prayers have finally been answered with Beavis And Butthead: The Mike Judge Collection - Volume 1 (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$38.99 SRP), a 3-disc set featuring 40 cartoons handpicked by creator Mike Judge, 11 music videos with B&B commentary (long a sticking point for any release), the Thanksgiving Special with Kurt Loder, VMA appearances, promos, and the first part of a retrospective documentary.

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THE MONEY PIT - 11/04/2005

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (November 4, 2005 at 12:43 am)

I hope you all had a pleasant Halloween (like holding a 24-hour Night of the Lepus marathon… you know who you are, and you should be so ashamed…). We’re now officially in the holiday season, so let the madness begin…

My faith has wavered a bit over the years, particularly after they were gobbled up by Warner Bros., a few years back, but Rhino always had a knack for treating its releases of classic materials with the utmost care and respect, not only in its remastering, but also in how it presented those recordings. Their massive Pure Genius: The Complete Atlantic Recordings (1952-1959) (Rhino, $149.98 SRP) collects the entirety of Ray Charles’ legendary output from that period, completely remastered and beautifully presented across 7 discs, with a bonus 6th disc comprised of rare performances at the Newport Jazz Festival and more. When I mentioned that Rhino goes the extra mile in presentation, they go a mile-and-a-half here, packaging the set in a portable record player case from the period, with a plastic insert of the play-deck itself, under which are the discs. All in all, it makes a classy set just that much more classier. Also available is a unique blending of recordings made by Brother Ray in ’97 & ’98, which are paired off with a bevy of stars - titled Genius & Friends (Rhino, $ SRP) – that is worth a spin as well, after you’ve plowed through the box set.

To anyone who’s ever felt zombified by their job, there was Office Space (Fox, Rated R, DVD-$19.98 SRP) – a film which perfectly summed up the mind-numbing lunacy of the modern workplace. For all those still toiling under the yoke, Mike Judge’s ode to cubicle life gets a special edition with extra flair to spare (though I still long for a commentary track). Bonus features include a retrospective documentary, deleted scenes, and the theatrical trailer.

Who is Randy Newman? Listen to his music, and he’s the man of 1,000 faces – he’s been a bigoted redneck, a naïve child, a northern liberal, a southern farmer, Sigmund Freud, a senator, God, the devil, and more. More than any popular artist save for Bob Dylan, Newman has written songs from the perspective of narrators other than himself – which has led to much confusion amongst listeners who follow standard singer/songwriter doctrine that if you write and sing it, it must be first person (these people also tend to need help getting their shoes tied and probably shouldn’t run with pointy objects). If you’ve ever wanted to peer beneath Newman’s masks, there’s no better start than Kevin Courrier’s engrossing dissection of the man and his work in Randy Newman’s American Dreams (ECW Press, $18.95 SRP). I don’t always agree with Courrier’s take on the meaning of a given song, but it’s definitely thought-provoking.

With the release of Spielberg’s flashy take on H.G. Wells’s classic sci-fi invasion opus on the way, it’s inevitable that we’d finally get a decent DVD release of producer George Pal’s 1953 classic version of War of the Worlds (Paramount, Rated G, DVD-$14.99 SRP) in a snazzily restored special edition. The bonus features include an audio commentary with actors Ann Robinson and Gene Barry, an appreciation audio commentary (with Joe Dante, Film Historian Rob Burns, and author Bill Warren), a making-of documentary, a spotlight on Wells, the original theatrical trailer, and Orson Welles’s famous Mercury Theater radio adaptation. As if that weren’t enough, the first season of the 1988 War of the Worlds TV series (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$38.99 SRP) is also making it to DVD in a 6-disc set featuring all 23 episodes that pick up where the 1953 film left off, as the aliens are accidentally revived.

Don’t get me wrong – the Rock Icons and Ray Charles collections of Dick Cavett Show episodes were great, but the one I anticipated the most is the John & Yoko Collection (Shout! Factory, Not Rated, DVD-$24.98 SRP) featuring the trio of legendary programs that featured the Lennons, presented complete and uncut. Also included are new introductions and an interview with Cavett, as well as some original promos.

Seven year-old Damian gets a literal gift from above when a suitcase full of cash falls from the sky during the holidays in Millions (Fox, Rated PG, DVD-$27.98 SRP), but while Damian is keen on sharing the wealth with those less fortunate, his brother Anthony would rather have the time of his life. That the cash turns out to be stolen leads to some complications, to say the least. Director Danny Boyle turns in a surprisingly joyful comedy that features quite a few unexpected twists not often seen in family fare. Bonus features include an audio commentary with Boyle and screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce, deleted scenes, and behind-the-scenes featurettes.

Nothing anyone could have done would have saved Enterprise. By the time it limped into its fourth (and final) season (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$129.99 SRP), it was a crippled beast waiting to be put out of its misery, permanently disabled by the inept, destructive guidance of producers Rick Berman and Brannon Braga. Now, having said that, the final season did manage to make itself more watchable than the previous 3 outings due to the presence of showrunner Manny Coto, who at least understood (and seemed to respect) what franchise he was working on. Sadly, Enterprise and its characters were too far gone to save. I’m interested to see what Coto could do with Trek if given a clean slate. The 6-disc set features a pair of audio commentaries on the Mirror Universe episodes, deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes featurettes, outtakes, and a photo gallery.

Massively egomaniacal actor Jack Wyatt (Will Ferrell) casts an unknown actress (Nicole Kidman) as his costar in a in a remake of the television show Bewitched (Sony, Rated PG-13, DVD-$28.95 SRP), in hopes of re-igniting his fading Hollywood star - but it turns out his Samantha is actually a real witch who decides a spell or two might be in order to set him straight. It’s really hard to isolate just went wrong here, but it seems to be a lethal concoction of too much post-modernism and too little humor, with a dash of overexposure (Hello, Will!) thrown in. Where the Brady Bunch Movie played nicely with the idea of throwing the idea of a basic TV-to-Film adaptation for a loop, Bewitched is mired in its own sense of effervescent cleverness. Bonus features include an audio commentary, behind-the-scenes featurettes, and deleted scenes.

Now that November is finally here, I can begin recommending holiday music releases with a clear conscience (far be it from me to pull a Wal-Mart and start before Halloween has even passed). So what should be the first CDs you snag? Well, there’s the 20th Century Masters Christmas Collection (Universal, $11.98 SRP each), which includes individual releases from Loretta Lynn, Great Voices of Christmas (featuring Pavaroti, Domingo, Carreras, and more), Englebert Humperdinck, Donna Summer, Motown Christmas: Volume 2 (with Stevie Wonder’s “What Christmas Means To Me”), The Four Tops, and Santa’s Greatest Hits (which has all of the essentials, from Brenda Lee rockin’ around the Christmas tree to the Chipmunks and Alvin’s hula hoop plea).

Jane Fonda makes a triumphant return to comedy as the titular beast in Monster-in-Law (New Line, Rated PG-13, DVD-$28.98 SRP), the overbearing obstacle in the path of prospective marital bliss for daughter-in-law Charlie (Jennifer Lopez) and son Kevin (Michael Vartan). Intent on short-circuiting the nuptials, she tries every obnoxious trick in the book to get Charlie to beat feet, but Charlie’s not about to just roll over – leading to (you guessed it) a wild & wacky contest of wills. The 2-disc Platinum edition features behind-the-scenes featurettes, deleted scenes, bloopers, and more.

Portions of the print look like it’s been pulled across hot asphalt, but there’s a reason why Whoopi Goldberg’s 1985 HBO special, Direct From Broadway, made such a splash – Goldberg presented a handful or character performances that managed to resonate and provoke fits of laughter at the same time (not an easy task, as comedy with relevance is an art, not a hobby). That special is presented on the second disc of Whoopi Goldberg: Back To Broadway (HBO, Not Rated, DVD-$24.98 SRP), her funny return to form special. Bonus features include bloopers, an interview, and a behind-the-scenes featurette.

A trio of John Hughes 80’s classics (The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, & Weird Science) get collected in a mini-school binder and bundled with an 8-track CD featuring iconic songs from the flicks (from Oingo Boingo’s “Weird Science” to Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me) in the cleverly-titled Brat Pack Movies + Music Collection (Universal, $39.98 SRP). If you don’t already have these, this is a nifty, quick way to get ‘em.

Kevin Costner goes a long way towards reclaiming watchability (I never forget, Kev) in The Upside of Anger (New Line, Rated R, DVD-$27.95 SRP), a poignant dramedy in which he plays a former baseball star-turned-local DJ who becomes the paramour for a lonely mother of four (Joan Allen) whose husband unexpectedly disappeared. Her headstrong daughters (Evan Rachel Wood, Alicia Witt, Keri Russell, & Erika Christensen) are left to pick up the emotional pieces in both their mother’s love life and their own. Keep it up, Kevin, and I may – may! – just forgive The Postman. Bonus features include audio commentary, deleted scenes, and a behind-the-scenes featurette.

It was during the fourth season of The Brady Bunch (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$38.99 SRP) that puberty began to take hold, with great results for Marsha and unfortunate results for Greg, Peter, and Bobby (perms were right around the corner). However, the classic episodes are still in full force, from the Don Ho-infested and Tiki Idol-cursed Hawaiian trip to the infamous football to the nose. But where are the bonus features? Come on!

Motorheads should begin counting the pennies in their change dish in order to snag their copies of the complete third seasons of Discovery Channel’s Monster Garage & American Chopper (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$19.94 SRP each). Of the two, I can’t get enough of the father-son soap opera that is Chopper – it’s almost embarrassing soapy that thing gets, for what ostensibly is a show about building dream bikes. Seriously guys – go see a counselor. Or just duke it out.

It’s not quite the same as the in-theater 3-D experience, but James Cameron’s enthusiasm for his subject matter is infectious in his latest deep sea exploration, Aliens of the Deep (Walt Disney, Rated G, DVD-$29.99 SRP), in which he documents life overcoming the odds in the ocean’s deepest depths. Who’d have thought that Cameron would go on to have this kind of Cousteau-like career? The disc features an extended version of the film, almost doubling its theatrical length.

Lindsey who? Hilary Duff returns to the screen in the not altogether unwatchable The Perfect Man (Universal, Rated PG, DVD-$29.98 SRP) as a daughter hoping to curtail her mother’s habit of picking up and moving after another failed romance by crafting a secret admirer for mom (Heather Locklear) with the aid of a schoolfriend’s uncle (Chris Noth). Bonus features include an audio commentary, behind-the-scenes featurettes, deleted Scenes, and outtakes.

Literary adaptations can be a tricky business - sometimes ingenious, sometimes sterile. The adaptation of Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Bridge of San Luis Rey (New Line, Rated PG, DVD-$24.95 SRP) – about a group of diverse travelers who meet a supposedly untimely end when the bridge they are crossing collapses, but whose “circumstantial” demise is investigated by a Franciscan monk who discovers that there are secrets in each of their pasts – managed to keep my attention, which is not an easy thing to do. The cast certainly helped – including Robert De Niro, Gabriel Byrne, F. Murray Abraham, Geraldine Chaplin, Harvey Keitel, and the always-watchable Kathy Bates – certainly helped matters.

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THE MONEY PIT - 10/28/2005

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (October 28, 2005 at 12:40 am)

First of all, I hope each and every one of you have check out the inaugural batch of videos from our just-launched Scrubs blog. If not, head on over and give ‘em a gander.

Will the evil Count Olaf finally triumph over the resourceful yet perpetually mistreated Baudelaire orphans? Will we finally learn the one true meaning of V.F.D.? Who is Lemony Snicket? Why is the sky blue? All of these questions and much more are left mostly unanswered in the penultimate chapter of the Series of Unfortunate Events titled – rather appropriately – The Penultimate Peril (Harper Collins, $11.99 SRP). In some ways, I enjoy these books more than Potter – which, in large part, is probably because I only have to wait a year between these. But it all comes to an end next year… And frankly, I can’t wait to see how it all wraps up.

It’s been said by quite a few other reviewers, but Paul McCartney’s latest, Chaos and Creation in the Backyard (Capitol, $28.98 SRP), is awfully similar in tone and style to his first solo effort, McCartney. After the retro, hard-rocking outings of the past few years, he’s pared down to the basics again, playing most of the instruments himself on most of the tracks. I’ve never full understood how people can put Lennon on a pedestal and yet tear down McCartney for “trite” lyrics – who ever said that every single song must be a message? Can’t sheer musicality be a message just as powerful if the listener enjoys it? Enough with all the McCartney bashing – sometimes the world does need silly love songs, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The deluxe edition release is the one to grab, as it contains a bonus DVD with a making-of documentary and videos.

I’m of two minds about James Cameron’s massive homage to big budget uber-epics, Titanic (Paramount, Rated PG-13, DVD-$29.99 SRP). Part of me detests its coy, treacly, Spielberg-on-speed love story, which still manages to grate all these years later. The other part, though, is the one that made me see it in theaters a total of 6 times (yes – 6 times… almost 20 hours in a theater). When I was in elementary school, I became enthralled by the story of Titanic’s ill-fated voyage after reading accounts of Dr. Robert Ballard’s discovery of the ship in National Geographic, which led me to check out Arthur Lord’s novel of the disaster, A Night To Remember, from my school’s library… Over 40 times. I would return it and check it back out again, reading and re-reading it, until finally – when my school was being torn down to be rebuilt “bigger and better” and I was moving on to middle school – the librarian gave it to me. It still is one of the kindest, most treasured gifts I’ve ever received. And, frankly, it’s that part of me which marveled at Cameron’s recreation of the ship itself, bringing to cinematic life what I had only read about – including the ship’s awful, yet mesmerizing demise. To see that on the big screen, I sat through the most god-awful of cliched love stories – and I was fine with it, because I got to see what I wanted. Watching the newly remastered 3-disc special edition (presented in anamorphic video for the first time, across two discs), I had the luxury of fast-forwarding through all the treacle and getting to the good stuff. As far as bonus features go, there’s a brand new commentary with Cameron, a “cast & crew” commentary (with Kate Winslet, Gloria Stuart, Lewis Abernathy, Jon Landau, & Rae Sanchini), and a historical commentary (with Titanic experts Don Lynch and Ken Marschall – my favorite of all the commentaries, naturally), plus branching behind-the-scenes vignettes. There’s also an alternate ending, over 45 minutes of deleted scenes with optional commentary (many of which were excised historical snatches), a ship construction time-lapse, a presentation on the dive to Titanic (with optional Cameron narration), videomatics, visual effects breakdowns, a “1912 Newsreel” shot during the filming, a cast & crew gag presentation. Oh – and the insipid Celine Dion video. Either way, for a Titanic buff like me, I’m thankful that Cameron made a movie that had enough visual fidelity that I still enjoy fast-forwarding to all the good stuff.

It’s one of my holiday picks this year, but here’s an early shot across the bow – go get yourself a copy of Rick Moranis’s country album, The Agoraphobic Cowboy (ArtistShare, CD-$14.95, Download-$10.95). Yes, that Rick Moranis. And it’s great.

No holiday season is complete without the classic journey into L. Frank Baum’s land of Oz, and I remember marking many a Thanksgiving watching The Wizard of Oz (Warner Bros., Rated G, DVD-$49.92 SRP) after a day of Macy’s parade and turkey galore. The newly remastered 3-disc collector’s edition is truly a wonder to behold, featuring picture and sound that trumps the already-stellar edition from a few years back. Honest to goodness, the film has never, ever looked this good. The 3-disc set is loaded to the green gills with an audio commentary (with historian John Fricke and featuring archival cast & crew interviews), a restoration featurette, retrospective documentaries, behind-the-scenes featurettes (I love the spotlight on the making of the twister sequence), deleted scenes, rare audio, outtakes, galleries and – even more spectacular – pre-1939 Oz films going all the way back to 1910. Making the package all the more classy are portfolio reproductions of the film’s programs and advertising materials. Oh, what a world!

The still-in-glorious-black-and-white second season of Bewitched (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$39.95 SRP) welcomed the arrival of Darrin & Samantha’s baby Tabitha, the first appearance of Paul Lynde as Uncle Arthur, and the final appearance of Alice Pearce as nosey neighbor Gladys Kravitz (the role was taken over by Sandra Gould after Pearce’s death). One of the great things about DVD is you rediscover why shows like this are so timeless, and it all comes down to strength of concept, great actors, and funny writing. I know – it’s’ a shocking revelation, but it’s also a rare alchemical alignment. I could watch Agnes Moorehead’s Endora all day long and still not solve the cognitive dissonance of her earlier roles in films like Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons. Thankfully, we at least get a nice blooper reel in this set… Even that little bit is a treat.

See Los Angeles through the lens of the greatest noir films ever in L.A. Noir: The City as Character (Santa Monica Press, $19.95 SRP). Featuring stills, behind-the-scenes pix, and photos of how the locations look today, it’s a fun flipper for and film buff.

My childhood will always be indelibly marked by the sights and sounds of the TV shows my young, supple brain was exposed to, and for that reason alone I shall never forget the opening narration of Hart to Hart, spoken by cartoonishly gruff-voiced butler Max (Lionel Sander), the loyal retainer of sleuthing socialites Jonathan and Jennifer Hart (Robert Wagner & Stefanie Powers). Clearly a Thin Man for the 80’s, they would inevitably find themselves neck-deep in a murder mystery, one that would draw them away from their devil-may-care, jet-setting lifestyle for the length of an episode, before they’d return to tennis and poolside caviar. And you know what? I dug it… Which says a lot for just how charismatic Wagner and Powers were, and how hypnotic Stander’s opening narration was. I kid you not – it haunts me to this day. The complete first season set (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$49.95 SRP) features all 23 episodes, plus an audio commentary on the pilot and a retrospective featurette on the first season.

It’s nowhere near the depth and quality of the classic Timm/Dini Batman animated series, but at least the concept behind Batman vs. Dracula (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$24.98 SRP) is something I think has a lot of potential, even if I’m not a fan of this anime-esque incarnation of the caped crusader. Bonus materials include behind-the-scenes featurettes and interviews with the voice talent.

Soak up every moment of In Living Color: Season 4 (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) – it was the last bright, shining moment before Wayans brothers started bailing left and right, leaving a sad, pathetic shell of a show that could only look bad in comparison with its ground-breaking early seasons. Sadly, there are no bonus materials…

The first season of Tales from the Crypt was almost ludicrously brief, but the second season (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) was the first full outing, and it featured all the macabre, often gory, but always sly irony that made the series a keeper. Crypt always featured a wonderful range of guest stars, and this season is no exception, featuring turns from Don Rickles, Demi Moore, Harry Anderson, Jeffrey Tambor, Teri Hatcher, Kelly Preston, Iggy Pop, Patricia Arquette, William Hickey, Bobcat Goldthwait, and even a directing turn from Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Bonus features include a behind-the-scenes “shockumentary” and a look at Crypt on the radio.

There’s nothing more depressing than listening to classic Bill Cosby albums – another, Inside the Mind of Bill Cosby (Geffen, $9.98 SRP), has just hit CD. Why, you ask? It makes me wonder why so gifted a comedian has turned his back on that gift… Bill, where did al the funny go? You had it once. Can you get it back? Or at least try? Please? If anything even close to a routine like “The Invention of Basketball,” it’s worth your time and effort.

Sydney (Jennifer Garner) goes Black-Ops and the world verges on zombie apocalypse in the fourth season of Alias (Buena Vista, Not Rated, DVD-$59.99 SRP), and that’s not even counting the shocking final moments of the season finale. The 6-disc set features audio commentaries, interviews, deleted scenes, a Director’s Diary, behind-the-scenes featurettes, and a blooper reel.

Now available in stores, the complete third season of The Kids in the Hall A&E, Not Rated, DVD-$59.95 SRP) contains such classic skits as the flying pig, Chicken Lady spotting Rooster Boy, Mississippi Gary singing the after-death blues, and a man accusing himself of sexual harassment. The 4-disc, 20 episode set features include audio commentaries with the kids on the two best-of compilations from the season, more classic live footage from the Rivoli Theater, and a slide show.

Produced by Sam Raimi, American Gothic (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$49.98 SRP) was a great, atmospheric show about an evil sheriff (Gary Cole) and his plans for the idyllic town of Trinity, South Carolina – plans the he was determined would not be derailed, not even by local doctor Matt Crower (Jake Weber). So what happens to great genre shows? It was cancelled, of course! But now you can get the entire 22 episode run, which includes 4 episodes that never made it to air, plus 15 deleted/extended scenes.

As soon as I finished looking through the entirety of Manga: Masters of the Art (Collins Design, $24.95 SRP) – a lavishly illustrated behind-the-scenes look at the world of the Japanese comic artform – my first impulse was to go back to the beginning and look again. And again. Beautiful stuff.

If the tepid, uninspired soundtrack to Chicken Little (Walt Disney, $18.98 SRP) is any indication, Disney had better start worrying if the sky is falling on their foray into Pixar territory. It’s almost embarrassing how desperately hard it tries to emulate Shrek, from classic rock to characters breaking into karaoke classics, it’s a derivative melange that feels more manufactured than entertaining. Something tells me this Chicken Little is a Big Turkey.

Woody Allen decides to get all intellectual with Melinda and Melinda (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$27.98 SRP), a mostly-clever film that looks how the single action of a stranger crashing a swank New York dinner party can be spun out to be either a tragedy or a comedy. The usual Allen All-Star Cast is here, including Will Ferrell, Wallace Shawn, Chloe Sevigny, Amanda Peet, Josh Brolin, and Steve Carrell. Like all other Allen DVD releases, there are zero bonus features. Bah!

The status quo was basically unchanged (once Dick defeated evil Dick, of course), but the second season of 3rd Rock from the Sun (Anchor Bay, Not Rated, DVD-$ SRP) is most-remembered as the season which featured the two-part 3-D special, which brought the alien’s dreams to life with pretty decent effects for a TV budget (the set even comes with a pair of glasses). Bonus features include a John Lithgow interview, behind-the-scenes featurettes, an alternate ending to the 3-D episode, and bloopers. Now when do we finally get Shatner as the Big Giant Head?

Mickey’s got nothing on the titular star of Cosgrove Hall’s classic Danger Mouse (A&E, Not Rated, DVD-$29.95 SRP) – who cares if you’re beloved by millions when there’s a superspy rodent in the world, with a faithful hamster by his side? The Complete Seasons 3 & 4 features another 14 episodes – but sadly, no extras. A&E - take a cue from the recent Count Duckula set and get us some DM goodies!

Point Pleasant (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) is one of those shows that have become all too cliché in the past few years – a genre series quickly axed by Fox. The (alarmingly frequent) ultimate clash between good and evil centers around a young girl who washes up on the sand of the small beach town of Point Pleasant, but her presence begins to have increasing effects upon the people around her (remember that whole looming “battle” thing?). As with and cancelled series, there’s no real resolution in the 13 episodes contained in the 3-disc set, but there’s at least enough atmosphere to make it worth a spin.

Buckle your swashes and practice your alphabet before popping in James Horner’s surprisingly enjoyable score for The Legend of Zorro (Sony Classical, $18.98 SRP). Mask optional.

Documentary time again, people! Eternally referred to as a liberal bastion, the elephant in the closet is the subject of Rated R: Republicans in Hollywood (Docurama, Not Rated, DVD-$19.95 SRP), which looks at the growing conservative movement in Tinseltown, from Schwarzenegger’s gubernatorial win to interviews with avowed conservatives Drew Carey, Patricia Heaton, John Milius, and more. Meanwhile, The Brooklyn Connection: How To Build a Guerilla Army (Docurama, Not Rated, DVD-$26.95 SRP) focuses on Florin Krasniqi and the army he was able to build running guns from the US to Kosovo after his cousin is killed in an attack on the Yugoslav army. Fascinating stuff.

The second (and final) season of The Munsters (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$49.98 SRP) makes it to DVD in time for Halloween, but it’s the bonus features that make this a must-have set, with a quartet of in-depth feature documentaries produced by Kevin Burns - “America’s First Family of Fright,” “Fred Gwynne: More Than a Munster,” “Yvonne DeCarlo: Gilded Lily,” and “Al Lewis: Forever Grandpa.” Why oh why isn’t The Addams Family on DVD yet?

I’m sorry, but I can’t watch Herbie: Fully Loaded (Walt Disney, Rated G, DVD-$29.99 SRP) – which places everyone’s favorite Love Bug front-and-center on the NASCAR circuit – without lamenting the train wreck that star Lindsey Lohan has become, which makes the film’s title more than a passing irony. The film itself is cotton candy piffle that leaves no real lasting impression, but it shall mark the last flick featuring the “old,” pre-stall Lindsey. Bonus features include an audio commentary with director Angela Robinson, deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes featurettes, bloopers, and a music video.

The sad irony of Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$24.98 SRP) – which was shelved when studio execs were unhappy with director Paul Schrader’s more psychological-than-schlocky take on the material, firing him and reshooting a version which ultimately bombed at the box office – is that, although it’s much better than the hoary reshot version, is still not a particularly good flick. It is better, though… At least there’s that. Personally, I hope the prequel fad dies a quick death, because with very few exceptions, expanding on an existing flick – usually a classic – only serves to make the original look better in comparison to the derivation. Bonus features include an audio commentary with Schrader, additional scenes, and a stills gallery.

It’s nothing to write home about, but Invasion: Earth (A&E, Not Rated, DVD-$29.95 SRP) is a serviceable enough sci-fi miniseries about two warring alien species that decide Earth is their next battleground and – as usual – it’s up to a small group of Earthlings to try and save the Earth from total destruction. Isn’t it just always the way?

If there’s one thing in favor of the teen-terror remake of House of Wax (Warner Bros., Rated R, DVD-$28.98 SRP), it’s that they were canny enough to cast Paris Hilton as a victim-in-waiting. No matter how good or bad the flick actually is, it’s worth watching just to count the time until her eventual demise. Go figure. As a teen-terror, HOW is a disposable but enjoyable gorefest sure to make many a Halloween marathon list this year.

Narrow in its focus but still powerful, Gus Van Sant’s Last Days (HBO, Rated R, DVD-$27.95 SRP), inspired by the final days of Kurt Cobain, follows a troubled musician isolated by the creative, social, monetary, and emotional demands of friends, family, and the public at large, who seeks solace in and around his wooded home. To say anymore is to ruin the portrait painted by Van Sant – it’s well worth a spin. Bonus materials include behind-the-scenes featurettes, a deleted scene, and a music video.

I have to admit – I do get a kick out of seeing “star” shows from the 50’s – the kind of shows that spotlighted a single performer doing what they do, along with their “friends.” Case in point is a series of variety shows sponsored by Timex in 1957, starring Frank Sinatra. One of these, guest-starring Dean Martin & Bing Crosby, is presented on The Frank Sinatra Show: High Hopes (MVD, Not Rated, DVD-$14.95 SRP), 60 minutes worth of time capsule performances (plus the original ads!).

It’s pure pulp schlock, but there’s an undeniable train wreck appeal to Kevin VanHook’s The Fallen Ones (Anchor Bay, Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP), starring Casper Van Dien as archeologist Matt Fletcher, who must face down a potential apocalypse and a giant 42-foot mummy. Pure, loveable schlock. Bonus features include an audio commentary, behind-the-scenes featurettes, galleries, and a trailer.

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THE MONEY PIT - 10/21/2005

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (October 21, 2005 at 10:10 pm)

As Jackson Browne once sang, I’m running on empty… This past week has been a hectic maelstrom of projects coming together, including some special coverage that’s launching next week revolving around one of the finest comedies ever to grace the boob tube (that’s called a tease – keep an eye out next week to see what al the hubbub’s about). But hey, let’s get this sucker rolling…

It’s not too much of an understatement to say that I was caught completely off-guard by Batman Begins (Warner Bros., Rated PG-13, DVD-$30.97 SRP). After the wretched devolution of the original franchise in the late 90’s, I’m understandably gun-shy about any attempt to venture back into the Batcave. Admittedly, I was not overly enthused by the initial images of Christian Bale’s rubber batsuit and the testostertank Batmobile, but shock of shocks, director Christopher Nolan and writer David Goyer managed to pull off a Batman flick that reinvigorated the franchise without ignoring the character’s roots or mythology, and – unlike the Marvel movies to-date – wasn’t ashamed of those 4-color roots. It goes without saying that you should pick up the 2-disc deluxe edition, which features all of the behind-the-scenes goodies like production featurettes, plus a 72-page comic with a trio of Batman tales that influenced the film.

So, after watching Batman Begins’s surprisingly enjoyable reboot of the Batman franchise, I revisited the quartet of flicks contained in the Batman Movie Collection (Warner Bros., Rated PG-13, DVD-$79.92 SRP) – Batman, Batman Returns, Batman Forever, and Batman & Robin. Looking back, anyone who didn’t see the seeds of the camp tragedy of Schumacher’s outings right from the outset of Burton’s overly-goth take are blind… Sadly, I was one of them. Bad Ken. Bad. Fully remastered, all 4 films get a deluxe 2-disc special edition treatment, with audio commentaries and copious documentaries, all newly produced (with participation running the gamut from Jack Nicholson to Sean Young… And yes, we get insight into her infamous Catwoman outfit lapse in sanity). The best feature of all, though? Joel Schumacher’s mea culpa for Batman & Robin.

Oh, but we’re not done with the bat just yet – not when you can pick up Batman: The Complete 1943 Movie Serial Collection (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$29.95 SRP). Based on the timeframe, it should be little surprise that these serials found the caped crusader caught up in the war effort, with the villain of the piece being a heavily caricatured stereotype (read: racist) Japanese baddie intent on bringing down America.

It took a few years, but by the time we get to the latest volume of The Complete Peanuts (Fantagraphics, $28.95 SRP), covering the period from 1957-1958, the strip as we know it has finally begun to emerge in full force. The main development has to do, surprise, with Snoopy, who begins standing up and developing his inner dialogue. What’s even more wonderful is just how truly funny the strip was during this period… And dark. This volume features an introduction by Jonathan Franzen. But come on - where’s my Pogo, people?

This month’s Donald Duck and Friends (Gemstone, $2.95 SRP) features a real Halloween classic – Carl Barks’s comics adaptation of the Donald cartoon Trick or Treat (you remember – the one with Witch Hazel and Huey, Dewey, & Louie teaming up to give plenty of tricks to a stubborn Unca Donald). As if that weren’t enough ghoulish fun, your local comic shop is giving away free ashcans of the original back-up feature to that story, “Hobblin’ Goblins.” Get ‘em both, people!

Is there anyone – anyone – who can exude as much cool as Quincy Jones? It’s astonishing and, frankly, a bit frightening. If you think I’m kidding, check out the remastered editions of From Q With Love (Qwest, $19.98), Back on the Block, and Q’s Jook Joint (Qwest, $13.98 SRP each). These are some phenomenally soulful yet swinging albums. Heck, even his soundtrack to The Color Purple (Qwest, $19.98 SRP) – newly remastered – is a must-listen. Cool man… cool.

From the triumphs to the tragic, every animated feature released in the US since 1926 is covered in animation historian Jerry Beck’s essential Animated Movie Guide (Chicago Review Press, $26.95 SRP), a tome that should be on the shelf of any self-respecting cartoon fan. Jerry’s a friend of mine (even if he rarely returns calls – hey Jerry!), and I can heartily recommend you pick up just about every book he’s written, as they’re all exactly the kind of well-written reference books that you’ll find yourself returning to again and again.

The 10-episode collector’s sampler set released a few months back was merely a teaser for the deluxe special edition of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe Season One: Volume One (BCI, Not Rated, DVD-$49.98 SRP), which contains the first 33 episodes of the 80’s toy commercial classic. The relaxing of FCC rules was a boon to toy companies, who jumped up and down at the chance to craft cartoons that could be little more than glorified ads for their product lines, and He-Man was a glorious example of that. I don’t know what was in the kool-aid, but we drank deeply, we children of the 80’s, putting shows like He-Man, GI Joe, Transformers, and their ilk on pop culture pedestals, so much so that a special edition release of something this schlocky feels, not only right, but completely justified, dammit. Oh, and I loved Orko as a kid. My favorite character. There… I’ve said it. The 6-disc box set features 2 in-depth documentary features on the creation and production process of the show, an animated storyboard for the episode “The Taking of Grayskull,” detailed profiles, and even a pair of collectible postcards (by Alex Ross and Bill Sienkiewicz, no less). More kool-aid, please…

On first viewing, I didn’t like The Big Lebowski (Universal, Rated R, DVD-$19.98 SRP). Which upset me. I mean, I had enjoyed the other Coen flicks I’d seen up to that point, and was looking forward to their latest effort… But again, I just didn’t like it, at all. Then I watched it again, and – don’t ask me why – but it all just clicked, and I finally “got” the film. Now I love it’s quirky, laid-back tone that’s every bit as eccentric as Jeff Bridges’s The Dude. The next-to-last of their films to get special treatment (come on – where’s that Hudsucker Proxy special edition???), the film gets a brand new introduction from “film preservationist” Mortimer Young, a carry-over of the making-of documentary featuring interviews with the elusive Coen Brothers, and a gallery of Jeff Bridges’s photography.

George Romero’s return to his zombie infested reality hits DVD just in time to make it into your Halloween viewing line-up, right after Night of the Lepus (Yeah, Widge – you know who you are). Land of the Dead (Universal, Unrated, DVD-$29.98 SRP) finds humanity reduced to isolated pockets in fortified cities, faced with a zombie army that is – shock! – evolving! Ach! The unrated version is the way to go, featuring all the extra gore your little hearts desire. Bonus features include behind-the-scenes featurettes on everything from the make-up effects to a zombie casting call.

You pretty much know what you’re getting with the Saw: Uncut Edition (Lions Gate, Not Rated, DVD-$26.98 SRP) – more gore, natch. Bonus features include 2 audio commentaries, a behind-the-scenes featurette, an alternate storyboard sequence, “Full Disclosure Report” on the Jigsaw investigation, director James Wan’s original short film, trailers, and an on-set preview of Saw 2. What’s really mesmerizing, however, is the packaging, which features a blood packet under the case that simulates a pool of dripping blood across the cover. It’s the creepiest packaging I think I’ve ever seen, so kudos!

I’m not a big fan of the CSI franchise, but I had to check out the Big Apple spin-off CSI: New York (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$64.99 SRP) when I learned that its lead was Gary Sinise, making his network series debut as Detective Mac Taylor, the head of New York’s Crime Lab. The first season is a shaky affair, as the series is clearly finding its footing, but the always-enjoyable Sinise (okay… except for Snake Eyes) is worth the effort. The 7-disc set features audio commentaries on 7 episodes, plus 5 behind-the-scenes featurettes.

After seeing Frank Sinatra’s performance as a strung-out heroin addict in the 1955 Otto Preminger classic The Man With The Golden Arm (Hart Sharp, Not Rated, DVD-$24.99 SRP), you’ll probably agree with me that he was robbed of the Oscar that year, despite the “honor” of a nomination for Best Actor (overlooked is the always-welcome presence of Darren McGavin). The 2-disc “50th Anniversary Edition features commentary with film historian Ken Barnes, an audio/visual presentation of the recording session for Sinatra’s unused title song, interviews with Sinatra and composer Elmer Bernstein, and the original theatrical trailer.

Okay, I’ll admit it – even though I’m a guy, I enjoyed The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (Warner Bros., Rated PG, DVD-$28.98 SRP). Author Ann Brashares’ best-selling novel about the first summer apart for a quartet of lifelong friends whose discovery of a single “perfect” pair of pants becomes a means of communication as they separate, each taking a week in the jeans before passing them along in what proves to be an eventful two months for them all, managed to push my buttons. Just like Fried Green Tomatoes. Don’t look at me!!! Bonus features include additional scenes with optional director commentary, select commentary from the stars, featurettes, and a conversation with the author.

Of the network newsanchors of my generation, I always gravitated more towards Tom Brokaw (we all have our favorite), but I always respected ABC’s Peter Jennings as a journalist with integrity (a true rarity these days). The 2-disc Peter Jennings Collection (Anchor Bay, Not Rated, DVD-$24.98 SRP) features 6 of the late newsman’s acclaimed full-length documentaries – “How To Get Fat Without Really Trying,” “Ecstasy Rising,” “LAPD,” “Guantanamo,” “From the Tobacco Fields,” and “No Place To Hide.” While Brokaw focused on his Greatest Generation, Jennings went out and did Murrow’s legacy of investigative journalism proud.

I’m still on the fence regarding whether I like Dualdiscs or not. For those not familiar, Dualdiscs feature regular CD audio on one side, and 5.1 surround and DVD video features on the other. Honestly, I think it depends on which titles get the treatment – but releases like Bill Withers’s classic Just As I Am and The Soul of Nina Simone (Sony Legacy, $19.98 SRP each) are an excellent start. The Withers disc features documentary on the making of the album, while the Simone disc contains rare live performances and her first ever national TV appearance on Ed Sullivan. Gimme more stuff like this, and I’m sold.

Even over a decade later, I still only half-understand what they heck is going on in Oliver Stone’s miniseries Wild Palms (MGM/UA, Not Rated, DVD-$14.94 SRP), which stars James Belushi as a pawn/player in a tale of greed, sex, religion, and virtual reality in a dark future Los Angeles. Funny thing is, I like it. But really – if anyone knows fully what’s going on, write me.

The remastering fairy has finally made her way to Bruce Lee, showering her spiffening pixie dust over a quintet of flicks from the master’s catalogue, all of which are collected in the Bruce Lee: Ultimate Collection (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$49.98 SRP). The flicks in question are The Big Boss, Fist of Fury, Way of the Dragon, Game of Death, and Game of Death II. Bonus features include celebrity & martial artist interviews, outtakes, trailers, photos, and more.

I always feel sorry for a remake that doesn’t manage to run rings around a mediocre original, and I felt sorry for the new take on The Amityville Horror (MGM/UA, Rated R, DVD-$28.95 SRP). Maybe it’s that it brings nothing really new to the hoary cursed house genre played so poorly in the original and given very little life here, either – which is a shame, because producer Michael Bay was able to bring that elusive “something new” to his Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake. Still, no matter, what I say, I know you’ll pick this up and give it a spin on Halloween. I just know it. Bonus features include an audio commentary, deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes featurettes, and a discussion of the real DeFeo murders.

Okay, now I’m scared. Somebody, somewhere, must be holding a small child hostage. How else could one explain the face that not only does the mediocre Daredevil get a bloated-but-still-mediocre DVD Director’s Cut, a pitiful sequel that no one asked for in Elektra, and that Elektra gets its own bloated-but-still-pitiful DVD Director’s Cut (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$26.98 SRP)? With 2-discs, no less! Somebody find that kid, please. Bonus features include an audio commentary (with director Rob Bowman & editor Kevin Stitt), behind-the-scenes documentaries, deleted scenes with optional commentary, galleries, trailers, and more.

Wasn’t Will Smith great, before the big-movie paydays, in the simpler time of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air? Smith rarely uses his remarkably sharp comedic skills nowadays (Hitch being a slight exception), and instead – much like Tom Hanks – has decided to seek “important” roles. Forget that! Watching the second season of Fresh Prince (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP), I couldn’t help but feel disappointed at the loss to comedy. The bonus bloopers are a hoot as well.

Holiday season momentum is building, and gift sets are becoming more and more frequent – including an upcoming spate of classical musical releases from multiple studios. The first down the pike is the 3-film American Movie Musicals Collection (MGM/UA, Not Rated, DVD-$29.96 SRP), which sports a trio of MGM classics – Guys & Dolls, West Side Story, & Fiddler on the Roof. Both Dolls and West Side are bare bones, but Fiddler features an audio commentary with director Norman Jewison & star Topol.

And while we’re talking holiday gifts (and MGM sets), how about the complete Sabata Trilogy (MGM/UA, Rated PG-13, DVD-$35.95 SRP), starring both Lee Van Cleef and Yul Brynner as the avenging gunslinger with the gunsight eyes. The three films in question are Sabata, Adios, Sabata, and Return of Sabata, and they’re a perfect way to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon.

If you were a kid in the late 80’s, you probably owned a Nintendo. Sometimes, I think they were government-issued brainwashing apparatus. Ownership of a Nintendo also meant you probably subscribed to Nintendo Power magazine and also watched at least a couple of installments (even if you won’t admit it) of 1989’s Super Mario Bros. Super Show!, with cartoon versions of your pixel heroes and live action wrap-arounds starring Captain Lou Albano as Mario. The Super Mario segments are coming next year, but right now you can buy the complete Legend of Zelda (Shout! Factory, Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP), which featured the animated adventures of Link as he defends Princess Zelda and the kingdom of Hyrule against the evil wizard Ganon. Ain’t nostalgia a sucker-punch?

Never never never (never) did I ever envision that Fern Gully: The Last Rainforest (Fox, Rated G, DVD-$19.98 SRP) would ever get a 2-disc special edition. It’s a likeable enough animated feature, sure, but it’s far from being a classic – but you wouldn’t know that from the copious bonus features crammed in here, including an audio commentary with the filmmakers (director Bill Kroyer, coordinating art director Susan Kroyer, and art director Ralph Eggleston), behind-the-scenes featurettes, a music video, trailers, and more. The end, truly, is nigh.

It’s almost an insult that Disney is releasing such useless half-a**ed editions of Tarzan and The Emperor’s New Groove (Walt Disney, Rated G, DVD-$29.99 SRP each) instead of re-releasing the stellar collector’s editions from a few years back, which were compiled at a time when Disney still cared about sets that would appeal to animation fans. Both were prime examples of how to do Disney DVD right, with 2 discs full of information and behind-the-scenes materials. These new single-disc editions strip those materials down to a pair of audio commentaries, deleted scenes, cursory featurettes, and insipid music videos.

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