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THE MONEY PIT - 10/14/2005

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (October 14, 2005 at 10:08 pm)

This week’s column is a difficult one for me, because it forces me to confront the issues I have with my hometown, on the eve of my high school reunion (which I will not be attending). No one should attend any high school reunion under their 20th – at a point when people have actually accomplished something in their lives… careers, kids, death. What have you. Which brings me to the fact that…

I hate Ryan Adams. There – I said it. I hate Ryan Adams because I dig his music, and for what it does to me based on that insidious likeability. It makes me feel nostalgic about my hometown – which happens to be Adams’s hometown as well – Jacksonville, NC. You see, Jacksonville is a military town, bordered by country and coast, dotted with pawn shops and car dealerships and motels. It’s not really a place you’re supposed to be nostalgic about, from its interminable stoplights to its ten McDonald’s franchises packed into a 5 square mile area. And yet, particularly with his new country-heavy album – Jacksonville City Lights (Lost Highway, $13.98 SRP) – Adams makes me feel for this Carolina backwater. Why couldn’t he have made a crap album about Onslow County’s crown jewel? Bastard…

I didn’t have it in time to feature last week, but I have to say – the Alfred Hitchcock Masterpiece Collection (Universal, DVD-$119.98 SRP) should be a prominent fixture on the shelves of any self-respecting cinephile, containing as it does the entirety of the suspense master’s prolific Universal oeuvre. What films am I talking about? Let’s see if any of these ring a bell – Saboteur, Shadow of a Doubt, Rope, Rear Window, The Trouble With Harry, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Vertigo, Marnie, Torn Curtain, Topaz, Frenzy, Family Plot, The Birds, and Psycho. How can you not be awestruck at a collection encompassing so many classics, all in one handy package? Each film is fully remastered, supplemented by 14 documentaries and 9 featurettes. Heck, there’s even an additional bonus disc with the AFI tribute to Hitchcock, Masters of Cinema: Alfred Hitchcock, and spotlights on The Birds, and Psycho. How prestigious is this collection? Even the box gets all spiffy with a velvet finish. Posh treatment for a beautiful set.

How many times do people have to be told that Arrested Development is one of the best comedies ever to grace the idiot box before they’ll finally listen? Anyone who watches the complete 18 episode run of the second season (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) and still isn’t swayed must have ice water in their veins and tapioca in their heads. Bonus features include audio commentaries on a trio of episodes (far too few!) a blooper reel, and an easter egg featuring the hilarious ads for George Michael’s high school election.

It’s taken me a few weeks to finally get enough free time to start reading Neil Gaiman’s latest novel, Anansi Boys (Morrow, $26.95 SRP), and I’m loving it so far (high praise indeed from one as picky as I). For an almost ludicrously in-depth analysis from my good buddy (and IGN columnist) Peter Sanderson, click here.

Comparing the first and sixth seasons of South Park (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$49.95 SRP) is like comparing a high school freshman to their post-college selves – sure, there are similarities, but there’s a level of sophistication, intelligence, and worldliness that’s just not present in their younger years. By the sixth season, South Park had morphed from a funny, sometime puerile comedy into one of the foremost satires of our age, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Jon Stewart’s Daily Show (and no, I am in no way being facetious). I would even go so far as to say, despite this season’s wonderful “Simpsons Did It,” that Trey Parker & Matt Stone have replaced The Simpsons as the sharpest, and most incisive, comedy on television. Look at the critique of the Catholic Church in “Red Hot Catholic Love,” sensitivity training in “Death Camp of Intolerance” (which also gave us Lemmiwinks), overreactive parenting in “Child Abduction Is Not Funny” and “My Future Self n’ Me,” or even the wretched tinkering of Lucas and Spielberg in “Free Hat.” That, my friends, is what brilliant satire is – not the lumbering hulk that The Simpsons has become. As with the past few seasons, Trey & Matt prove their brief mini-commentaries for each of the 17 episodes, but despite their claim that it’s more than enough, I certainly wish they had talked a bit longer about the construction of some of the stories. Regardless, this long-awaited set is a keeper, and makes me hope that Paramount will be much quicker in getting future seasons out.

How is it that 11:14 (New Line, Rated R, DVD-$19.97 SRP) went almost unreleased in theaters, and was met with indifference? Five lives hinge on a single moment in a small town, involving a disastrous blend of murder and happenstance that seemingly begins when a young man’s life goes to plaid as the clock turns to 11:14pm. The twists and turns are half the fun, and the cast – which includes Rachel Leigh Cook, Hilary Swank, and Patrick Swayze – are pitch perfect. Films like this so often can be too clever for their own good – his one manages to pull it off. Bonus features include an audio commentary with director Greg Marcks, deleted scenes, a making-of featurette, and a storyboard gallery.

Since Buffy crashed and burned at the end, leaving me disappointed with what had once been a brilliant show, it’s left me without a show featuring a strong female protagonist that I could latch on to and enjoy. Well, Veronica Mars (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$59.98 SRP) managed to fill that spot, and without the help of vampires or a Hellmouth. Nope, all it took was ubercutie Kristen Bell and her season long turn as a small town Nancy Drew in search of the person who murdered her best friend and restore her ex-sheriff father’s tarnished reputation, as he was forced to resign after accusing the girl’s billionaire father of the murder. By golly, I like this show. The 6-disc set features over 20 minutes of unaired scenes and an extended version of the pilot.

If someone were to make a big screen version of The Critic as a cross between an SNL character flick and a Christopher Guest improv-a-thon, you’d probably wind up with the not-as-brilliant-as-should-be Jiminy Glick in LaLaWood (MGM/UA, Rated R, DVD-$24.96 SRP), starring Martin Short as his large alterego who perfectly encapsulates a kind of clueless entertainment journalism that is far too prevalent. The film is funny enough to make it an enjoyable watch, but the real highlight is its deft skewering of David Lynch. Just trust me on this. As far as bonus features go, you get what you’d expect from this type of flick – plenty of deleted scenes.

The fire may have waned as we put more distance from the last installment of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films, but that doesn’t mean you should refrain from picking up a copy of Alan Lee’s beautiful Lord of the Rings Sketchbook (Houghton Mifflin, $30.00 SRP). Containing over 150 illustrations and 20 full-color plates, it’s a tome that you’ll flip through with eyes fully agog.

With the release of Soap’s fourth and final season (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$29.95 SRP), the twisted, hilarious tale of sisters Jessica Tate (Katherine Helmond) and Mary Campbell (Cathryn Damon) – and their dementedly surreal extended families – comes to an end, but oh what an end it is. Jessica awakes from her coma only to get kidnapped by counterrevolutionaries, Mary fears her newborn baby is the spawn of her tryst with an alien Burt (Richard Mulligan), while the real Burt is being blackmailed by a mob boss who staged a series of naughty photos, Jodie (Billy Crystal) wins custody of his daughter but is threatened by the mother… Oh, it’s all too much. If you’ve never seen the show, grab all 4 seasons, buckle down, and enjoy a truly classic sitcom (although the early seasons slightly edge out the latter, if only due to the presence of Robert Guillaume as caustic butler Benson).

Launched in 1974, Los Angeles-based Z Channel was one of the country’s first pay cable stations, serving up an eclectic programming slate that left a memorable mark on those who viewed its offerings – a slate that went into overdrive when Jerry Harvey took over as head of programming in 1980. Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession (Hart Sharp, Not Rated, DVD-$24.99 SRP) chronicles the rise and fall of Z Channel, much of it in tandem with Harvey’s descent into madness and a shocking murder/suicide. The 2-disc set features extra interviews, and AFI panel, commentary, a radio interview with Harvey, and more.

I have always – always – been a bigger fan of The Jeffersons than All in the Family. Family is, inarguably, a landmark show, but The Jeffersons always made me laugh more when I would watch back-to-back episodes in syndication growing up. It’s been a long, long, LOOONG time coming, but the 3-disc third season (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$29.95 SRP) – featuring all 26 episodes – is finally here after a multi-year wait. They better get the next piece of the pie to us a lot quicker.

Will nothing stop Stargate SG-1? Entering into its 8th season (MGM/UA, Not Rated, DVD-$55.95 SRP), it became the longest-running science fiction shows in US TV history (second only to Doctor Who on the world stage). The 8th season also brought Michael Shanks back to the cast after a brief hiatus, and saw the fallout of season 7’s alien invasion, plus some cast goodbyes (one in death form) and a continued reduction in the presence of one Richard Dean Anderson. Bonus features include audio commentaries and featurettes… But not additional Richard Dean Anderson.

Who needs Vin Diesel when you can have the high-octane thrills of the original Gone in 60 Seconds (BCI, Rated PG, DVD-$24.98 SRP), fully remastered and loaded with extras, including behind-the-scenes featurettes and documentaries?

Warner Bros. continues to earn mucho brownie points from me for their offbeat yet most welcome collections of catalogue titles, the latest being a collection of 9 horror classics from producer Val Lewton, contained within the appropriately titled Val Lewton Collection (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$59.92 SRP). The films in question are Cat People, The Curse Of The Cat People, The 7th Victim, Shadows in the Dark, The Leopard Man, The Ghost Ship, I Walked With A Zombie, The Body Snatcher, Isle Of The Dead, and Bedlam. All are genre classics, but the pairing of Cat People and the non-sequel Curse of the Cat People is the real keeper here. Bonus features include commentaries, trailers, and a new documentary, Shadows in the Dark: The Val Lewton Legacy.

Get ready to hardy har har for the holidays with a festively-themed collection of the common man’s funniest bits on America’s Funniest Home Videos: Home for the Holidays (Shout! Factory, Not Rated, DVD-$14.98 SRP), culled from the Tom Bergeron era. Come on, candy cane to the crotch!

A far less guilty pleasure to ring the holidays season in early is Christmas with SCTV (Shout! Factory, Not Rated, DVD-$14.98 SRP), which features the two legendary holiday episodes of the equally legendary comedy classic – “SCTV Staff Party” (in which John Candy’s Johnny LaRue gets his face-to-face time with Santa after a holiday “Street Beef” gone south) and “Christmas with Catherine O’Hara and Andrae Crouch.” Both episodes feature audio commentaries, and there’s even a featurette on the Juul Haalmeyer Dancers.

Unleashed (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP) is one of those small little films that you expect so little from and, therefore, manage to catch you completely by surprise. It’s also Jet Li’s most nuanced performance, as a man raised from childhood by a brutal crime lord (Bob Hoskins) with only one purpose – to be his own personal killing machine. He manages to get free and finds his way to a blind piano tuner (Morgan Freeman) who takes him in, but his past is not far behind. Think of it as a martial arts version of Pete’s Dragon… Just think about it. The DVD features an unrated, extended cut of the film, plus a look at the fight sequences, a behind-the-scenes featurette, an interview with director Louis Leterrier, and music videos.

I love it any time a classic Hollywood icon’s catalogue gets the restored DVD treatment, which Warner Bros. has elevated to an art as of late. It’s ironic, then, that one of the restored John Wayne classics getting that treatment from Paramount was originally a Warners flick – Hondo. Obviously, the rights to both that and McLintock! (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$14.99 SRP each) – the other film getting all snazzed up – have reverted back to Wayne’s Batjac Productions. Both films look and sound wonderful, and bonus features include commentaries (Leonard Maltin, western historian Frank Thompson, and actor Lee Aaker on Hondo – Maltin, Thompson, Maureen O’Hara, Stefanie Powers, Michael Pate, Michael Wayne, & Andrew McLaglen on McLintock!), introductions from Maltin, behind-the-scenes featurettes, interviews, trailers, and more. I can’t wait to see what’s next.

The real highlight of The Beatles: From Liverpool to San Francisco (Eagle Vision, Not Rated, DVD-$9.98 SRP) – an otherwise forgettable and cursory documentary overview of the Fab’s career – is the rare television appearances peppered throughout. For those alone, the disc is worth picking up.

BBC continues to roll out classic TV product, both new and old. On the old side, there’s the latest volume of Only Fools and Horses (Not Rated, DVD-$59.98 SRP), featuring the complete 6th series plus the 1989 Christmas special The Jolly Boys’ Outing. Rightfully considered a classic of British comedy, it focuses on the failed schemes of cockney con man Derek Trotter (David Jason), who’s convinced the big score is always right around the corner. His kid brother (Nicholas Lyndhurst) is continually pulled in and tries to offer some vague sense of reason, but it doesn’t stop Derek from reaching for the brass ring. On the newer side, there’s Rupert Everett as the titular detective in Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking (Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP), as Holmes and Watson (Ian Hart) reunite to track down a serial killer tearing apart the aristocracy in 1902 London. The DVD feature commentary with director Simon Cellan Jones and producer Elinor Day.

It’s not prime Will Ferrell, but there’s a marginally-likeable family flick nature to his turn as a frustrated father-turned-soccer-coach in Kicking & Screaming (Universal, Rated PG, DVD-$29.98 SRP), as the formerly mild-mannered Phil Weston (Ferrell) becomes a raving nutter on the field, eventually going up against the team coached by his hard-as-nails dad (Robert Duvall). The disc features deleted scenes, outtakes, a behind-the-scenes featurette, and more.

Comments: None

THE MONEY PIT - 10/07/2005

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (October 7, 2005 at 10:29 pm)

Right now, I feel like I’ve been hit by a Mac truck, drug a few dozen yards, then backed over by a steamroller. That, my friends, is what exhaustion is all about. But sleep is for more fortunate souls – I, on the other hand, forge ahead like a drowsy madman…

A bit of the magic may have worn off towards the end of the strip (and it was probably the right decision to walk away when he did), but Bill Watterson’s Calvin & Hobbes remains one of the finest comic strips ever to grace the newspaper page. Like a cross between Dennis the Menace, Little Nemo, and Peanuts, the ongoing adventures of Calvin and his stuffed tiger Hobbes were a joy to visit day after day, not only for the humor, but also for Watterson’s beautiful artwork. It was that pursuit of quality that led to years of friction between Watterson and newspaper editors across the country, who continually cut costs over the past half-century by gradually shrinking the comics page from the luxurious grandeur of its early 20th-century origins, when strips would regularly fill entire pages (a far cry from the postage stamps of today). Watterson won eventually won that battle, and the later strips have much more room to breathe and feature unconventional layouts. Much like the massive Complete Far Side, our boy and his pet tiger get their due with the gargantuan The Complete Calvin & Hobbes ($150.00 SRP), containing every strip - dailies and Sunday (in full color) – plus a new introduction from Watterson, presented on premium paper and housed within an impressive slipcase. Oh – and it’s heavy. Very heavy. Good golly, this is almost hernia heavy. But it’s also bliss.

But what did I listen to while partaking of C&H? Well, I devoured the 5-disc The Band: A Musical History (Capitol Records, $89.98 SRP), that’s what I did. From their barnstorming days backing early rocker Ronnie Hawkins across Canada to backing Dylan when he went electric, to producing their landmark debut Music From Big Pink (whose “The Weight” would be made legendary thanks to a little independent flick called Easy Rider) and winding up with their farewell concert documented in Martin Scorsese’s The Last Waltz, every leg of The Band’s history is presented across the set. There’s album tracks, sure, but there’s also dozens of rarities, alternate takes, demos, and live performances to make this a beggar’s banquet, and ultimately a fitting tribute to band that can clearly and without contest lay claim to being pioneers. The set also features a bonus DVD with rare performances, including rehearsal and concert footage, as well as The Band’s (unprecedented) 3 sets from their SNL appearance just prior to filming The Last Waltz.

Ba-dump ba-da-da-da bump ba-dump… Come on – you know that sounds familiar. That’s right – it’s the theme to Alfred Hitchcock Presents (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP), the complete first season of which hits DVD in all its suspenseful glory. The 3-disc set features all 39 episodes, plus interviews with Hitchcock’s daughter Pat and associate producer/actor Norman Lloyd. Classic stuff, people!

Want more Hitch?. Well, the first thing you can do is pick up the special edition of Hitch’s psychological tour-de-force Lifeboat (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP), with an audio commentary from film professor Drew Casper, a making-of featurette, and a still gallery. If you’re still looking for more, than you can find 9 of his public domain flicks (from his early career) in The Essential Alfred Hitchcock Collection (BCI, Not Rated, DVD-$19.97 SRP), which contains Champagne, Murder!, Number Seventeen, 39 Steps, The Skin Game, Jamaica Inn, Easy Virtue, The Manxman, The Farmer’s Wife, and the bonus program Alfred Hitchcock: The Master of Suspense.

First of all – don’t get rid of your original Columbia/Tristar DVD release of Jim Henson’s classic holiday special Emmet Otter’s Jugband Christmas (HIT, Not Rated, DVD-$11.99 SRP). Thanks to the splintering of Jim’s legacy at the hands of his children, Kermit the frog is now owned by Disney, while Emmet Otter is owned by the Jim Henson Company – and, thanks to that, Kermit’s original intro (during which he first rode a bicycle onscreen) and outro to the special have been excised. Okay, now that we’ve got that straight, the new edition has a lot going for it – in fact, it’s wonderful (save that glaring omission). Not only has the picture been remastered, but there are bonus features, including a behind-the-scenes featurette, deleted scenes (many of which were in the original broadcast), a lost song, bloopers, and even a sing-along. All thanks must go to Craig Shemin for really pulling out all the stops and bringing together the best edition of this perennial favorite yet. Now, here’s hope someone will wise up (or the Muppet Holding Company will be sold to someone who cares) and the special can finally by released whole and uncut. Oh, and while you’re grabbing Emmet Otter, why not make the wait for the complete second season of Fraggle Rock a little bit easier by picking up the latest single-disc release, Doin’ Things That Doozers Do (HIT, Not Rated, DVD-$11.98 SRP)?

I really miss the Nickelodeon I grew up with in the early 80’s – the Nick of You Can’t Do That On Television, Nick Rocks music videos, Mr. Wizard, and the cartoons imports from UK animation studio Cosgrove Hall. One of those classic cartoons, Danger Mouse, made its DVD debut last year from A&E, and now we finally get the companion piece with the complete first season of Count Duckula (Capital Entertainment, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP). Once villainous, the evil count is resurrected by means of an ancient ritual – gone terribly wrong, when his faithful butler Igor and maid Nanny accidentally substitute a bottle of ketchup instead of blood. Instead of his bloodsucking former incarnation, he’s now a mild-mannered vegetarian who sets out on far-flung adventures around the world, teleporting from his ancient castle. Where in the heck’s the feature film???? The DVD features an interview with Brian Cosgrove, an interview with producer/artist John Doyle, a “how to draw” segment with Mike Whaite, a restoration featurette, and a photo gallery. I’m already salivating for season two.

Halloween is the only time that the bottom-barrel release of 5 schlocky “classics” from the bowels of Warners’ catalogue would actually get me excited, but what can I say? Halloween was made for schlock, and you can’t get more intense than Demon Seed, Dracula A.D. 1972, Private Parts, A Stranger Is Watching, and – wait for it! – Night of the Lepus (Warner Bros., Rated PG/R, DVD-$19.97 SRP each). Killer rabbits, people! And Bones! Killer freakin’ rabbits! Hey, if it worked for Monty Python…

And while we’re talking Python, if you still haven’t treated yourself to the complete series, now’s the time to pull the trigger and pick up The Complete Monty Python’s Flying Circus 16-Ton Megaset (A&E, Not rated, DVD-$199.95 SRP), containing the entire 45-episode run, plus the 2-disc Monty Python Live!. If you already own the previous releases, don’t worry – there’s nothing new here save for the slimline packaging and bundling of the Live! into the set. If you don’t own the previous releases, what the hell are you waiting for?

Years before the rise of Python and right after the surreality of the Goons, Britain’s satire movement began with Beyond the Fringe (Acorn, Not Rated, DVD-$24.99 SRP). The quartet of brilliant minds behind the show – first performed at Scotland’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival before moving on to London’s West End and then Broadway – were Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Jonathan Miller, and Alan Bennett (all fresh from college and bursting with anti-establishment acerbity). This disc features the only filmed performance of the legendary show in its entirety.

And if that piques your interest in one of the finest comedy minds ever to write a sketch, the late Peter Cook, there’s the Cook bio-flick Not Only But Always (Acorn, Not Rated, DVD-$24.99 SRP), starring Rhys Ifans as the troubled genius. The DVD features an audio commentary with writer/director Terry Johnson, career highlights of Cook and Dudley Moore, and filmographies.

With the release of Cinderella (Walt Disney, Rated G, DVD-$29.99 SRP), every classic Disney animated flick save for the elusive Song of the South has been released on DVD (although a few, including Lady & the Tramp and 101 Dalmatians, are out-of-print). First off, the restoration of the picture and sound are stunning (and thankfully, the morons in marketing have not decided to add any “should have stayed deleted” scene back in – Aladdin, Lion King, and Beauty & the Beast, I’m looking at you). Sadly, we don’t get the much-missed audio commentaries of early Disney special edition DVDs (John Canemaker would have been most welcome… Stop going middle-of-the-road on these classics, Dis… including the godawful ESPN “Cinderella Stories”), and the behind-the-scenes material is constructed for presentation to the mentally deficient, but there are some choice nuggets in the bonus materials, which include deleted scenes, The Art of Mary Blair featurette, unused songs, a 1922 Disney Laugh-o-Gram of Cinderella, a Mickey Mouse Club excerpt, a making-f documentary, a tribute to the Nine Old Men, original trailer & TV spots, and more. So, where is Song of the South?

Another week and another shout-out to IGN Comics columnist (and comics legend, natch) Fred Hembeck, as the complete third season of his beloved Spongebob Squarepants (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$49.99 SRP) hits DVD with 3-discs packed with 37 episodes plus the pilot, a “how-to-draw” segment, and pop-up trivia. Let’s see you google that, Fred…

The Warriors come out to play-ayy in a new Ultimate Director’s Cut edition (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$19.99 SRP), featuring an expanded cut of the 80’s classic (it’s like The Outsiders meets Escape From New York). Bonus features include an introduction from director Walter Hill, 4 featurettes (“The Beginning,” “Battleground,” “The Way Home,” and “The Phenomenon”) and the original theatrical trailer.

I have a theory – let’s call it the “Theory of Documentary Legitimacy.” It states that everything ever produced – no matter how good or bad – will eventually be the subject of a documentary seeking to legitimize its importance. Case in point is the documentary Inside Deep Throat (Universal, Rated NC-17, DVD-$27.98 SRP), which examines the impact of the most notorious – and highest-grossing – porn film ever made. My theory has legs, methinks…

The Interpreter (Universal, Rated PG-13, DVD-$29.98 SRP) is one of those films that has a good cast but just never manages to engage in the energy and interest that the director obviously sees in the material. In this instance, the director is Sydney Pollack, and the film is about a United Nations translator (Nicole Kidman) overhears plans for an assassination, but she becomes emerges as a suspect as a federal agent (Sean Penn) digs deeper into her past. Sounds like a great premise for a thriller, right? I just wish it were on the screen. The DVD features behind-the-scenes featurettes (including a must-see one on widescreen vs. full screen, for all of you cinematic luddites out there), deleted scenes, and an alternate ending.

It can be a sad affair when a classic 60’s rock band reunites after years of being apart for the kind of epic date that one hopes will not only evoke memories of past glory, but also give you just as much of a thrill sans the pity that comes from a performance by performers clearly past their prime. Thankfully, the reunited trio of Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce, and Eric Clapton featured on the 2-disc Cream: Royal Albert Hall – London, May 2-3-5-6 2005 (Rhino, Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP) features none of those awkward moments, but instead spotlights a group that still knows how to jam even after decades of separation (ironic that this release comes on the heels of The Band’s box set, since it was Clapton’s experience listening to their stunning Music From Big Pink that prompted his departure from Cream). Bonus features include additional songs, an alternate take, and interviews.

It was during the fourth season of Smallville (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$59.98 SRP) that the cracks in the Superman prequel’s premise began to show. Viewers had already endured years of X-Files-lite as Kryptonite monsters aplenty imperiled the thickheaded residents of Smallville, only leavened by the ongoing subplots involving the always-watchable Luthors (Jr. & Sr.). By now, everyone and their brother should know that Clark Kent has super-powers, but – like I said – it’s a town of thickheaded dolts. Oh, and Lois Lane shows up. Huh? Would you just make him Superman already? The 6-disc set features a behind-the-scenes look inside the writers room, a featurette on Lois Lanes past and present, audio commentary on a trio of episodes, and deleted scenes. Still, I believe Welling as Superman before Singer’s boy toy Brandon Routh.

It’s time for another intoxicating round of “Hi, Bob!” as the second season of The Bob Newhart Show (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP) hits DVD. Unlike the bare bones S1 release, we get a brand-new making-of featurette and audio commentaries on select episodes. That’s worth a glass right there!

You know, I still can’t make it al the way through David Cronenberg’s The Fly (Fox, Rated R, DVD-$19.95 SRP) without taking at least one “walk away from the gore” break. It’s still as disturbing today is it was on its original release, and it’s getting the 2-disc special edition whizbangery, with an audio commentary from Cronenberg, behind-the-scenes documentaries, deleted scenes, an alternate ending (that must be seen, if only for the trivia), promotional featurettes, test footage, TV spots, trailers, and more. Not nearly on the same level is the sequel, The Fly II (Fox, Rated R, DVD-$19.95 SRP), featuring the “eh” tale of Goldblum’s son – and yet it gets the 2-discery as well, with an audio commentary, an alternate ending, deleted scenes, a documentary on the Fly movie series, a behind-the-scenes documentary, featurettes, trailers, and more. Buzz buzz.

As a concept – iconic cartoon archetypes stuck together in a Big Brother/Surreal World-esque reality show – I can get behind Comedy Central’s Drawn Together (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$26.99 SRP). As executed, however, it’s only intermittently funny – which is a shame, because the concept certainly supports the potential for brilliant pop culture comedy. In far defter – and less puerile – hands, it could have been that… Instead, it’s just flatter than is 2-D cartoon characters. The 2-disc set features all 7 first season episodes, plus audio commentaries, deleted scenes, four never-before-seen segments, and a karaoke sing-along.

I can’t fault David Duchovney for the self-penned story of his directorial debut, House of D (Lions Gate, Rated PG-13, DVD-$27.98 SRP). In principle, it’s a nice coming-of-age story (aren’t all small directorial debuts?) about an artist (Duchovney) revisits the events that changed his life as a 13 year-old, when his best friends were a mentally challenged janitor and a detainee in New York’s Women’s House of Detention (Erykah Badu). It’s a poignant, funny flick… Until the janitor ham-fists his way through his scenes… And that’s what I fault Duchovney for… Since he’s the one who cast Robin Williams. Why, David? Why? Bonus features include a commentary with Duchovney, deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes and interview featurettes, an alternate ending, and trailers.

It’s not the season sets one would hope for, but it’s obvious Warners is testing audience response with their inaugural batch of Television Favorites (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$9.97 SRP each) – single disc editions featuring either 6 (for comedies) or 3 (for hour-longs) episodes from across a show’s run. The first round of samplers highlights F Troop, Maverick, Chico & the Man, and – oddly, since there already are season sets – The Dukes of Hazzard. Of this group, I hope full-on sets for F Troop and Maverick aren’t too far off!

Documetary nuts (like myself, okay?) will want to sample a trio of Docurama’s latest (Not Rated, DVD-$26.95 SRP each) – the Academy Award-winning Who Are The Debolts? And Where Did They Get Nineteen Kids?, a fascinating look at a couple and their extended family; Resident Alien, chronicling the adventures of New York’s flamboyant cult figure Quentin Crisp; and the pretty self-explanatory Guerilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst, which focuses on the freakish kidnapping of the publishing heiress by the Symbionese Liberation Army.

As a series, the ongoing adventures of cynical investigative reporter Carl Kolchak’s run-ins with the supernatural were nowhere near as clever or well-written as the initial pair of telemovies. However, the real reason that Kolchak: The Night Stalker (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) remains a must-see series is for the always wonderful performance of Darren McGavin in the title role. And just in time for Halloween, all 20 episodes are yours to own in one handy-dandy box set. Now if only it would get the taste of that horrid remake out of my mouth…

All roads seem to lead back to The Band this week, as I also took the time out to listen to the man who made them his backing band during the most seismic period in his career, right before they went solo – a man named Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan – No Direction Home: The Soundtrack (Sony Legacy, $24.98 SRP) doubles as both the accompanying audio release to Martin Scorsese’s brilliant documentary, as well as the 7th volume of Sony’s equally brilliant Bootleg Series. Like the film, the 2-disc set spotlights – through rare unreleased tracks, including alternate takes and live cuts of classic tunes – only a small early chunk of Dylan’s early career, ending just when he went electric… A defining moment in rock history that closes disc 2, as the audience attitude prior to Dylan & The Band launching into a rocking “Like a Rolling Stone” is summed up in a brutal shout of “Judas!”

On the soundtrack front (Quiet? No…), there’s Howard Shore’s ersatz Copeland for Cronenberg’s A History of Violence (New Line Records, $16.98 SRP), and Rachel Portman’s evocative Dickensian riff to Roman Polanski’s Oliver Twist (Sony Classical, $18.98 SRP).

Star Trek: Nemesis was a colossal disappointment. Actually, that’s being quite kind to it… It was atrocious. As a swan song for the Next Generation cast, it made me want to reach for a shotgun and put that swan out of its misery. Still, Paramount had to finish its series of Special Collector’s Edition (Paramount, Rated PG-13, DVD-$19.99 SRP) for the Trek film franchise, and Nemesis is the last to get that treatment – even if the previous edition contained a fair amount of bonus features. Returning from the previous edition is director Stuart Baird’s commentary, the deleted scenes (now expanded) and 4 featurettes (“New Frontiers: Stuart Baird on Directing Nemesis,” “A Bold Vision of the Final Frontier,” “A Star Trek Family’s Final Journey,” and “Red Alert! Shooting the Action of Nemesis”). New to this 2-disc edition are an audio commentary with Rick Berman (feh), text commentary from the Okudas, 11 featurettes (“Nemesis Revisited,” “Storyboarding the Action,” “Build and Rebuild,” “Four-Wheeling in the Final Frontier,” “Shinzon Screen Test,” “The Enterprise-E,” “Romulan Lore,” “Shinzon & The Viceroy,” “Romulan Design,” “The Romulan Senate,” and “The Scimitar”), storyboards, props, and trailers. What a sad, sad exit.

Comments: None

THE MONEY PIT - 09/30/2005

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (September 30, 2005 at 10:25 pm)

It’s been a long, long, not terribly good week, and I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait for this weekend to hit and for a little R&R and some distance to set in while watching, reading, and enjoying some much-needed entertainment.

In all honesty, the direct-to-DVD Family Guy movie, Stewie: The Untold Story (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP) is little more than 3 raunchier-than-normal episodes strung together under the umbrella of Stewie going off in search of what he believes to be his real father, with Brian in tow. In other words, it’s basically a road movie, which is what some of the best episodes of the series have been. Special features? There are special features? Of course there are! There’s an uncensored audio track, an audio commentary with the usual behind-the-scenes suspects, and an animatic comparison.

Who amongst you could possible resist a book with the title How to Cheat Your Friends at Poker (St. Martin’s, $19.95 SRP), especially when it happens to be cowritten by one Penn Jillette (with Mickey D. Lynn)? Ostensibly the “Wisdom of Dickie Richard”, an inveterate – and highly successful – card shark (and if you believe that, I’ve got a bridge I’d like to talk to you about), it’s a con’s delight, filled with tips, tricks, and strategy for the burgeoning hustler in all of us… Even though most of the techniques would take a nook like me a lifetime to perfect. I’m not a cardplayer, so I just read the tome as an enjoyable (and often funny in its acerbic tone) look behind the curtain at a world best experienced at a distance.

Pick up the third volume of Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected (Acorn, Not Rated, DVD-$39.99 SRP), featuring stories much more creepily surreal than anything found in its American counterparts The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits.

“HOGAAAANN!!!” Col. Klink’s worst nightmares return in the complete second season of Hogan’s Heroes (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$38.99 SRP), featuring all 30 remastered episodes but, sadly, no bonus features. Why can’t we even get a Richard Dawson interview?

The Evil Dead franchise has been a reliable – and perpetually re-released – cash cow for Anchor Bay. I can’t fault them with their latest dip – the Evil Dead 2: Book of the Dead Edition (Anchor Bay, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) – since it does go back and remaster the video and audio, as well as dropping a few more brand-new bonus materials (in addition to that creepy foam Book o’ the Dead packaging, this time with a screaming audio feature when you poke it in the eye). The bonus materials include an audio commentary (with Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, Scott Speigel, & Greg Nicotero), a behind-the-scenes featurette on the special effects with Tom Sullivan, “The Gore the Merrier” featurette, and the trailer.

While we’re talking Bruce, what else has Sir Campbell been up to lately? Well, you can now own both of his recent Sci-Fi Channel tele-movies – Alien Apocalypse & Man With the Screaming Brain (Anchor Bay, Not Rated, DVD-$14.98 SRP each) – in which you not only get to see him as an astronaut battling an insecty alien invasion with the help of Xena’s Renee O’Connor, but also as a murdered industrialist whose brain is fused with that of a likewise murdered KJB agent, who together team-up (in one head) to find their gypsy murderer. Yes, you heard that right. Both discs feature commentaries and behind-the-scenes featurettes, with the majority of the goodies on Brain.

But we’re not done! Any audio version of a book titled Make Love!* *the bruce campbell way (Rykodisc, $29.98 SRP), written by the be-chinned b-movie wonder Bruce Campbell, and read by performer’s performer Bruce Campbell, is an audiobook worth owning and, I daresay, cherishing. Seeing as how this, his first novel, is the story of a B-actor’s attempt to star in a major, super-duper Hollywood blockbuster – even if it kills him – it’s not hard to make the leap into thinking there must be a grain of truth in the often bizarre, thoroughly enjoyable proceedings laid before us. Well, there’s also the clue that Campbell calls it an autobiographical novel, but frankly, I’m more keen on my brilliant analysis… because it makes me look better. Hearing Campbell read it is just icing on the cake.

As a non-sports fan, sports-related flicks have a rather hard time of it with me. There’s a certain entertainment threshold they have to reach or they face automatic dismissal. Amazingly, The Farrelly Brothers romantic comedy – which I now dub “romedy” – about the burgeoning relationship between an analyst (Drew Barrymore) and a middle-school math teacher (Jimmy Fallon). The only thing getting in the way of bliss? His unfortunate fanatical devotion to the perpetual also-ran Boston Red Sox. Can she deal with his insanity as the season progresses, or will it tear them apart? And could the cursed Sox actually – gasp! – win? It’s about as middle-of-the-road as you can get, but I still found Fever Pitch (Fox, Rated PG-13, DVD-$29.98 SRP) to be a charming little trifle, and it also managed to sport a Fallon performance that didn’t make me want to drive nails through my TV (Hello, Taxi!). Bonus features include deleted scenes, an audio commentary with the Farrellys, featurettes, the Fox Movies “Making a Scene” spotlight, gag reel, and the trailer.

Chris Carter, the spin-off pariah, had his greatest success with Millennium – and it only lasted 3 seasons. That 3rd and final bleak, defeatist season is now available on DVD (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$59.98 SRP). Maybe it was the overwhelmingly depressive tone that made it such a pain in the a** to watch. The only saving grace? Weathered, lived-in Lance Henriksen as ex-FBI profiler Frank Black, who starts the season as a soon-to-be ex- member of the Millennium Group and facing the ramifications of the plague that has swept the country and killed his wife. Oh, it’s all so friggin’ complicated. In true Carter fashion, the show gets its epilogue via an episode of The X-Files, which is included in the set, as are a season 3 making-of doc, “Between the Lines” featurette, and commentaries on select episodes.

And if that has you pining for The X-Files, the 3rd volume of the Mythology crib notes, Colonization (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) is now available, featuring 16 episodes from seasons 5-8, plus another installment of the “Threads of the Mythology” documentary and audio commentary on select episodes.

It’s refreshing to look back on the punkish roots of early Elvis – Costello, that is – in The Right Spectacle: The Very Best of Elvis Costello – The Videos (Rhino, Not Rated, DVD-$19.99 SRP). Not only do the 27 videos remind me of how out there Costello could be, but also what MTV was before the decline into pabulum. Also included are rare TV performances that, alone, is worth the price of admission.

Why is Gilmore Girls so watchable? And good, even?!?! I feel almost guilty enjoying the ongoing dramedy of the mother/daughter team of Lorelai and Rory, as the Dragonfly Inn opens, love blooms, and things get even more soapily complicated in the complete fourth season (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$59.98 SRP), featuring all 22 episodes plus additional scenes, a collection of romantic moments, on on-screen factoids.

Just when you think you have a Britcom run completely in hand, they go off and do specials – which is just what happened with last year’s Vicar of Dibley holiday specials (BBC, Not Rated, DVD-$24.98 SRP). Dawn French is back as everybody’s favorite female vicar, with outtakes and a Comic Relief sketch rounding out the bonus features.

Napoleon, Caesar, Cortes, King David, El Cid, Andrew Jackson – all of these historical figures and more are featured in the History Channel’s The Conquerors (History Channel, Not Rated, DVD-$49.95 SRP), a 12-part spotlight on the men who’s conquests altered the course of history, be they territorial or cultural. And, while we’re on the subject of conquerors – or, as they used to be known, explorers – you should pick up the companion piece Conquest of America (History Channel, Not Rated, DVD-$49.95 SRP), a 4-part series that examines men like Hudson, Bering, and Coronado – men who explored a new continent and, in some cases, brought violence and destruction along with knowledge. Always fascinating.

Peruse some of the finest, funniest advertising parodies ever to hit the printed page, crafted by those madcap maestros of yesteryear at Mad in the collected skewering of Madison Avenue to be found in MADvertising (Watson-Guptill, $24.95 SRP), which even features some of the original ads themselves.

It’s nowhere near as clever and endearing as Ice Age, but Fox’s second CGI outing, Robots (Fox, Rated PG, DVD-$29.98 SRP) is enjoyable enough (and not nearly as cloying as Shrek 2). In a world of robots, a cutthroat business-bot and his Lady MacBeth-bot mother hatch a plot to overthrow the benevolent inventor of the bot city (Mel Brooks) and stop supplies of replacement parts - forcing the existing robots to either fork over big-bucks to upgrade or risk becoming broken down “outmodes” destined for the scrap heap. Their savior? A young inventor named Rodney (Ewan MacGregor), his scrappy sidekick (Robin Williams), and a ragtag band of allies. Bonus features include audio commentaries, deleted scenes, character featurettes, tests, and more.

The Pretender (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) was one of those series that I always intended to watch, based on its premise alone, that I just never got around to watching during its run. That premise found a genius named Jarod on the run from the think-tank facility that raised him after taking him from his parents at a young age, who used his unique abilities for financial gain. When he learned of this, he escaped from the Centre (a suitably creepy name for a thin-tank, no?) and went looking for his real identity, while assuming various fake ones at will and righting any wrongs he runs across. Think of it as Quantum Leap sans sci-fi. The complete second season is now out, featuring all 21 episodes plus audio commentaries on select episodes and behind-the-scenes featurettes.

If I were to choose a clear demarcation point where Enterprise went from mediocre to abysmal, it would be the wretched “Xindi Arc” or season 3 (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$129.99 SRP). A half-a**ed attempt to bring some kind of scope and gravitas to a show suffering from flat characters and sub-par writing, all it managed to do was sharply define how wrong-headed the show was… Which is a shame, because some wonderful things could have been done with the pre-Kirk, pre-Federation concept. But alas, ‘twas not to be. Bonus features of the 7-disc set include deleted scenes, outtakes, and the usual bevy of featurettes and a character spotlight (this time on Connor Trinneer & Trip Tucker).

It may mean little to me, but my dad loves the original Gone in 60 Seconds (BCI, Rated PG, DVD-$24.98 SRP) – mostly due to the cars featured throughout. What can I tell you? He’s a car nut. Well, for fans of the original, BCI has put together a stellar deluxe special edition, including a remastered print of the film, behind-the-scenes featurettes, an audio commentary, interviews, and more.

In the flurry of post-Survivor copycats eager to jump on the high adventure reality show bandwagon, never did I think that the Jerry Bruckheimer produced The Amazing Race would take off. Never. I mean, just the logistical nightmare of a clutch of teams traversing the globe seemed insurmountable – though I did expect it to be a spectacularly entertaining failure. Still, there’s a globe-hopping glee to the first season (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$38.99 SRP), particular since it was filmed pre-9/11 (in fact, the show premiered just 6 days beforehand). In addition to all 13 episodes, there are up to 30 minutes of additional scenes per episode, a quartet of audio commentaries, and a trio of featurettes.

Long before Bruckheimer decided to make a foray into the now-crowded procedural drama landscape, there was Dick Wolf’s Law & Order, which has now spawned it’s own spin-offs. One of those, Special Victims Unit (the one about sex crimes starring Mariska Hargitay, Christopher Meloni, Ice-T, B.D. Wong, and Richard Belzer, in case you need a cheat sheet), is getting it’s 2nd season release (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$59.98 SRP), with special features including profiles of Hargitay and Meloni, and more.

If you’re Fred Hembeck, than you’re probably going to rush out to buy the double feature of the original Hayley Mills Parent Trap and its made-for-TV sequel that, amazingly enough, is titled The Parent Trap II (Walt Disney, Not Rated, DVD-$19.99 SRP). What, they couldn’t go all the way and wrap it up with the final Mills Trap outing in III? What a gyp! The first disc features both films, while the second disc essentially cannibalizes the Parent Trap “Vault” release from a few years back, with behind-the-scenes featurettes and retrospectives on the original film.

I’m telling you – unless something earth-shaking happens on the subject of DVD residuals, every TV series, from the famous to the obscure, will eventually wind their way to DVD. Case in point – the release of episodes from The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp (Rhino, Not Rated, DVD-$34.95 SRP). Was this show on *anyone’s* radar? Seriously… Was it? Well, it doesn’t matter, because it’s here now, and it’s actually a great old-school TV western, starring Hugh O’Brian as Earp and covering everything from Dodge City to the O.K. Corral. The 4-disc set features interviews with O’Brian and Mason Dinehart III (Bat Masterson), an Earp timeline, a featurette on High O’Brian Youth Leadership, and a bio of producer Louis F. Edelman.

If you’re enamored by the plastic surgeons of Nip/Tuck and want to know how accurate it is to the real life cutters, look no further than E!’s reality outing Dr. 90210 (E!/Hart Sharp, Not Rated, DVD-$39.99 SRP), the first season of which looks at the life of one of those aforementioned “self-esteem enhancers,” based in that infamous zip code. The 3-disc set features all 13 episodes, plus bonus stories and outtakes. The final cut? Nip/Tuck is a lot more accurate than you’d like to believe.

Somebody, somewhere, is probably giddy that Tony Orlando & Dawn: The Ultimate Collection (R2, Not Rated, DVD-$49.99 SRP) exists… They’re probably listening to “Tie a Yellow Ribbon” on their iPods right now, giggling like a schoolgirl. Well, this 3-disc collector’s is for them, featuring the best moments spanning their 1974 CBS summer replacement debut through their 1977 Rainbow Hour exit, with special guests (spanning the range from Danny Thomas to Alice Cooper) and bonus materials including a Tonight Show segment, footage from Fridays (now where is *that* DVD set???), and a Carol Burnett Show sketch.

It’s hard to not watch The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D (Dimension, Rated PG, DVD-$29.99 SRP) without seeing it as a huge masturbatory exercise of self-sufficient (and self-indulgent) filmmaker Robert Rodriguez. It’s all well and good to make a children’s adventure flick inspired by one of your kids – I’m down with that – but do you think you could have at least made it, you know, good? Even watchable would have been nice. Add to that the fact that the DVD features the same red/blue crappy 3-D that sunk the home video experience of Spy Kids 3-D (lenticular is the only way to go, people), and you get a flick that only exists as a glorified home movie. Bonus features include a making-of featurette and an audio commentary with Rodriguez.

Comments: None

THE MONEY PIT - 09/23/2005

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (September 23, 2005 at 10:21 pm)

“Again???” Yes, Rocky, it’s time for another season of Rocky & Bullwinkle & Friends (Classic Media, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) on DVD! Featuring 33 complete episodes (including the “Three Moosketeers,” “Topsy Turvy World,” “Lazy Jay Ranch,” and “Missouri Mish Mash” story arcs), the original live Bullwinkle Puppet intro/outro clips, a best of Bullwinkle Follies, and a peak at Season 4 (which better come quick!). Of course, if you’re a fan of the & Friends part of the show and want a more concentrated package, pick up the first volumes of The Best of Fractured Fairy Tales, The Best of Mr. Peabody & Sherman, and The Best of Dudley Do-Right (Classic Media, Not Rated, DVD-$12.98 SRP each), featuring 15 classic installments apiece. Hu-freakin’-zzah!

You can’t throw a rock without hitting independent dramas… Be they coming-of-age, stranger in a strange land, generation gap, female empowerment, male empowerment, alternative lifestyle empowerment – whatever. The world is full of them. Independent comedies, however, are a much, much rarer beast – because, frankly, comedy is much, much harder to do. Just ask any actor and they’ll tell you. It’s easier to jerk a tear out of an audience than it is to get them to laugh intentionally. Maybe that’s why Martin & Orloff (Anchor Bay, Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP) was such a revelation – here was an independent comedy that was actually *funny*. The mind reels and the universe quakes. So what’s it about? It’s about a marketing man (Martin) and his shrink (Orloff). Martin designs mascots and has unsuccessfully tried to commit suicide, so he tries therapy with psychiatrist Dr. Orloff instead – and to say that the therapy is unorthodox would be an understatement. Written (along with Katie Roberts) and starring Upright Citizens Brigade members Matt Walsh and Ian Roberts, it features exactly the kind of brilliantly offbeat humor fans of the UCB have come to expect. It’s also loaded with cameos, including Andy Richter, Tina Fey, Rachel Dratch, H. Jon Benjamin, David Cross, and Amy Poehler. The DVD features audio commentary (with Walsh, Roberts, and director Lawrence Blume), deleted scenes, an alternate ending, makeup tests, astronaut striptease, bloopers, the theatrical trailer, and a fold-out board game.

I’ve been (rightfully) critical of Lucas’s disastrous story for and direction of the Star Wars prequels, but I can’t fault the often beautiful costume design of Trisha Biggar. She managed not only to retain the aesthetic of the original trilogy, but to expand it into the new territory featured in the prequels – if only Lucas could have done the same, the world would be a far better place. Biggar’s work is the focus of the extensively illustrated deluxe hardcover Dressing a Galaxy: The Costumes of Star Wars (Abrams, $50.00 SRP). Even for someone like me, who detests the prequels, this book is worth adding to the collection.

I think Ron Howard’s Apollo 13 is a greatly flawed film bogged down in Howard’s pretentious perpetual clutch for awards glory (which made flicks like A Beautiful Mind & Cinderella Man frustrating affairs for me). As far as flicks that capture the spirit of adventure, courage, danger, and insanity that made up America’s space race in the 60’s, nothing approaches The Right Stuff – except for Tom Hanks’s multi-hour HBO mini-epic From the Earth to the Moon (HBO, Not Rated, DVD-$99.98 SRP). With a stellar cast and fidelity quite rare in these kind of historical dramatizations, it’s a beautiful accomplishment that still holds up. Thankfully, HBO decided to revisit the original DVD release with a fully remastered new edition (the anamorphic picture alone is worth it), featuring expanded bonus materials in addition to the featurettes found on the original release.

Not since The Last Waltz has a film so eloquently captured musicians that defined a generation, so it’s no surprise that the filmmaker behind Waltz is also the one that paints such a vivid portrait of the legendary Bob Dylan in No Direction Home (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$29.99 SRP). Featuring never-before-seen footage, interviews with contemporaries, and rare concert performances, it’s an essential edition to any music-lover’s library. Bonus features include additional rarities, including TV and live appearances.

Everyone who was too impatient to wait for the full special edition release and instead buckled and bought Best Buy’s bare bones release of the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica’s first season are most likely kicking themselves as the 5-disc edition, with bonus features (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$59.98 SRP), hits shelves. Bonus features include audio commentary on the feature (with director Michael Rymer and exec producers David Eick & Ron Moore), deleted scenes, 8 behind-the-scenes featurettes, and artwork.

Introduced to their work via their collaboration with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, I was fascinated by the PBS American Experience spotlight on The Carter Family: Will The Circle Be Unbroken (PBS, Not Rated, DVD-$19.99 SRP). Though they only recorded from 1927-1943, their legacy formed the foundation of American folk, bluegrass, and country (and was prominently featured in the Coen’s O Brother).

The 365 Days series from Abrams Books is the very epitome of a great coffee table book – they’re thick, half-size hardcover tomes that cry out “Pick me up!!” and feature (as the title suggests) 365 entries of photos and accompanying text, that’s easy to just open up to any spot and browse through. The two latest entries are Creating the Worlds of Star Wars and The Beatles (Abrams, $29.95 SRP each). The Fab Four tome features many rarely seen pics of the Moptops , while the Star Wars tome is loaded with behind-the-scenes snaps (2/3 of which are from the prequels) and text from John Knoll, as well as a bonus CD of additional pics and videos.

He’s revisited all but a couple of his other flicks, so why shouldn’t Kevin Smith take another pass at his misunderstood post-Clerks failure Mallrats with a brand-new 10th anniversary cut (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$26.96 SRP)? Incorporating much of the deleted footage featured in the previous DVD release, it’s a much less popcorny flick. The DVD also features the original theatrical version, an audio commentary (with Smith, Jason Mewes, Ben Affleck, Jason Lee, Scott Mosier, and Vincent Pereira), a Smith Q&A, a look back at the film, a making-of featurette, a reunion Q&A, original cast interviews, Smith’s “Build Me Up Buttercup” music video, and outtakes.

Get your hands as soapy as can be with the complete first season (extended and uncensored!) of Desperate Housewives (Buena Vista, Not Rated, DVD-$59.99 SRP), a show that managed to save the Radio Shack career decline of the fine Teri Hatcher, who no longer has to plug cordless phones at the holidays. Bonus features include audio commentaries, deleted scenes, a behind-the-scenes featurette, an interview with creator Marc Cherry, a wardrobe featurette, and much more.

It’s a growing trend, raunchier comedies are double-dipping on DVD with unrated editions, editing back in MPAA-unfriendly scenes. Add Scary Movie 3.5 (Dimension, Not Rated, DVD-$19.99 SRP) to that list, which slightly expands David Zucker’s first film in the SM franchise, and features a new commentary (with Zucker, producer Robert Weiss, and writers Craig Mazin & Pat Proft), deleted scenes (with optional commentary), and additional bonus materials carried over from the original release, including an alternate ending, outtakes, a making-of documentary, and more.

With Disney’s ongoing decimation and outsourcing of their once visionary Imagineering department, projects like The Imagineering Field Guide to the Magic Kingdom of Walt Disney World (Disney Editions, $9,95 SRP) – a handy guide in which the Imagineers take you on a tour of the construction, trivia, and minutiae of the “Happiest Place on Earth” – all the more poignant since it’s an era that’s passing as Disney eviscerates its creative legacy. Oh well… At least you have a great guide.

Can you believe that even Heathcliff and the Catillac Cats (Shout! Factory, Not Rated, DVD-$34.98 SRP) is getting a release on DVD? Though he predated the introduction of fat cat Garfield, Heathcliff has always been viewed as the poor man’s comic strip cat, which I think is a bit unfair. The set features 24 unedited episodes, an interview with current Heathcliff cartoonist (and nephew of creator George Gately) Peter Gallagher, a gallery of the cat through the years, and original promos.

Re-inserting over 20 minutes of footage and new bookend segments that bring it more in line with S.E. Hinton’s novel, the new edition of Francis Coppola’s The Outsiders (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$26.99 SRP) – titled, appropriately enough, The Complete Novel – is expanded, remastered, and packed to the gills with enough bonus features to start a turf war over. Those bonus features include a new introduction & commentary from Coppola, an intro & commentary from the actors (including Rob Lowe, Diane Lane, C. Thomas Howell, Matt Dillon, Patrick Swayze, and Ralph Macchio), 10 more minutes of additional scenes, a making-of doc, a casting featurette, castmembers reading selections from the book, an S.E. Hinton featurette, an NBC Today segment, and the theatrical trailer.

Surprisingly, I’ve come to appreciate Adam Sandler’s acting range. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say he’s better at mixing drama and comedy than Jim Carrey, who always seems like he’s trying too hard to be taken seriously. Unfortunately, Sandler’s remake of The Longest Yard (Paramount, Rated PG-13, DVD-$29.95 SRP) – in the role as the jailed football star forced to pull together a ragtag team of inmates to take on the sadistic warden’s guard team – just never seems to bridge the gap between it’s lighter moments and the darker moments that the original flick (starring Burt Reynolds, who’s cast here as an inmate who coaches the team) pulled off so well. Still, it’s enjoyable enough, but certainly not the classic the original has become. The DVD features an audio commentary with director Peter Segal, deleted scenes with optional commentary, behind-the-scenes featurettes, a gag reel, and a music video.

Those still fascinated by the mystique of James dean will most likely want to pick up a pair of docs winding their way to DVD, James Dean: Forever Young & James Dean: Sense Memories (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$19.97 SRP each). Both feature clips and interviews with friends and colleagues, and together they paint a comprehensive portrait of a young man whose legacy has long outlived his brief career.

If you’re still refraining (for some unknown reason, though I will accept economics) from buying the season sets, you will probably want to at least pick up Spongebob Squarepants: Absorbing Favorites (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$16.99 SRP), featuring 9 classic episodes (“Ripped Pants,” “Mermaidman and Barnacleboy,” “Karate Choppers,” “Gary Takes a Bath,” “Jellyfish Hunter,” “The Fry Cook Games,” “Club Spongebob,” “Plankton’s Army,” and the 2-part lost episode “The Sponge Who Could Fly”).

As far as titles go, The Sixties: The Years That Shaped a Generation (PBS, Not Rated, DVD-$24.99 SRP) pretty much sums up what the documentary is about, exploring the politics & culture that would have ramifications for decades to come, through interviews and archive footage. Much like his confessional Fog of War, I still find former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara’s insights to be the most fascinating.

In retrospect, it seems like a genius idea – take two of the most brilliant (and entertaining) magicians ever to grace the footlights and send them to a trio of the world’s most mysterious locations to root out the ancient precursors of today’s magic acts. The locations were China, India, and Egypt, the magicians were Penn & Teller, and the program was Penn & Teller’s Magic & Mystery Tour (Acorn, Not Rated, DVD-$24.98 SRP). The DVD features all three programs, additional footage, and production notes. Their performance of the cups & balls under the hieroglyphs of an ancient Egyptian tomb (purported to feature glyphs depicting the trick) is positively brilliant.

The list of quality TV shows cancelled before their time is longer than my arm, but DVD continues to provide a second life for these series, the latest being the release of the complete first and second season run of Michael Mann’s Crime Story (Anchor Bay, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP each). In his follow-up to Miami Vice, Mann cast Dennis Farina as a grizzled cop on the trail of the ruthless mobster Ray Luca (Anthony Denison) in the gritty milieu of 60’s Chicago to the decadent bright lights of Vegas. Thank you, DVD… And yes, I still want The Jackie Thomas Show.

While we’re on the subject of shows axed too soon, add Ned & Stacey to that list, which is getting a release of its complete first season (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$39.95 SRP). Starring Thomas Haden Church and Debra Messing as a pair of mismatched people in a marriage of convenience, it was a whip-smart sitcom that made TV a brighter place… And was therefore destroyed. The 3-disc set features audio commentary on the pilot and a 20-muinute retrospective featurette.

I’m not completely in the doom & gloom category that views the final episodes of the original run of Ren & Stimpy – available in the 3-disc The Ren & Stimpy Show: Season Five and Some More of Four (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$38.99 SRP) – as a complete disaster. True, they were not the best of the run, but they also aren’t the apocalypse acolytes of John K. make them out to be. The set features 13 audio commentaries and an interview with R&S.

History buffs will devour the contents of The LBJ Tapes: The Johnson White House Tapes (Kultur, Not Rated, DVD-$39.99 SRP). The title is pretty self-explanatory, as the 4-disc set features audio & video – almost all of it previously unreleased – that provides a candid portrait of the goings-on behind closed doors of the administration that presided over one of the most tumultuous periods in US history.

I’ve said it before, but only the 80’s could give us the touchy-feely platitudes of Highway to Heaven (A&E, Not Rated, DVD-$59.95 SRP)… Until the 90’s sent us into sugar shock with the saccharine platitudes of Touched By An Angel. Highway, however, was leavened by the serene, big-haired presence of Michael Landon as helpful angel Jonathan Smith, who travels the country setting people’s lives straight, accompanied by gruff ex-cop Mark Gordon (the much-missed Victor French, whose sarcasm went a long way towards deflating the preachiness). The 7-disc complete second season features all 24 episodes and commentary with Cindy Landon & producer Kent McCray on “The Torch.”

Comments: None

THE MONEY PIT - 09/16/2005

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (September 16, 2005 at 10:17 pm)

I’m writing this week’s column in-between frequent power losses, as the wind howls and the rain pounds down, and Hurricane Ophelia teaches a few lessons about how hard it is to get work done during a “weather event.” While nowhere near the disaster of Katrina, this will still end up being a significant flooding event for us here in Eastern Carolina (Ophelia is a sloooooow moving storm), so here’s hoping everyone out there made it safely to higher ground.

During the power outages, I’ve been using a truly nifty device to get some reading in – the Lumos Book Light from LightWedge ($34.95 SRP), which also happens to be themed especially for Harry Potter fans (hence the name). Gone are the days of flashlights, penlights, and awkward head lamps (I’ve used them all), as the Lightwedge technology employs white LED light shown through an optical grade piece of flat acrylic that lays across the page you’re reading, providing a bright, evenly-lit reading experience. It runs off of 4 AAA batteries, which provide up to 40 hours of illumination (and you never need to change the bulbs). Where was this thing when I was a kid? The Lumos light features interchangeable Potter themed buttons with iconography including Harry’s glasses, a wand, the snitch, an owl, a broom, and the Gryffindor crest. Brilliant.

As the new TV season gets rolling, I find myself almost completely disinterested in all of the new fare (and much of the returning offal) being offered up, instead finding solace in a trio of classic series whose DVD rollout rumbles along at a nice clip. Still entirely featureless (And what’s up with that? The early seasons at least got *something*…), there’s the complete sixth seasons of Frasier & Cheers (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$38.99 SRP each) – the latter introducing Kirstie Alley’s Rebecca Howe – and the third season of Taxi (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$ SRP). I sincerely hope they put the cast’s farewell Tonight Show soiree, live from the Boston bar that inspired the series, on Cheers’s 11th season set.

The fourth volume of SCTV: Network 90 (Shout! Factory, Not Rated, DVD-$89.98 SRP) collects the final batch of episodes from the show’s NBC run, featuring the rise of Martin Short and a few classics (“Sweeps Week,” “Towering Inferno,” Ed Grimley, and the Happy Wanderers Salute to John Williams). Gone were Dave Thomas, Rick Moranis, and Catherine O’Hara (save for a guest appearance during the Christmas episode), but there are still plenty of gems to be found. The 6-disc set features an interview with Short, home movies of the cast & crew, Sammy Maudlin at Second City, Canadian TV references revealed, and a featurette with the producers. Does this mean we can finally get sets of the original seasons of the show?

If you’re a fan of The Office – or just offbeat British comedy in general (you know, the smart people) – you’ll probably dig Peep Show (BBC, Not Rated, DVD-$24.98 SRP). Gosh, how do I describe such a unique premise… In the show, you see the lives of roommates Jeremy & Mark through their eyes – and inner monologues. Jeremy is a wannabe pop star, Mark is an obsessive loser, and their thoughts and actions are truly hilarious. Think of it as a small-screen take on Being John Malkovich, without all the arty pretension. Bonus features include audio commentary on a pair of episodes and six specially filmed bonus scenes.

Teasing their upcoming restorations of both King Kong and The Wizard of Oz, Warners has released a stunningly clean and dynamic special edition of everyone’s favorite chariot race, Ben-Hur (Warner Bros., rated G, DVD-$39.92 SRP). The four disc set features a luxurious 2-disc presentation of the film with commentary from Charlton Heston and film historian T. Gene Hatcher. Disc 3 features the Thames Television restoration of the 1925 silent version with full orchestral score, while the fourth disc contains a brand-new documentary (“Ben-Hur: The Epic That Changed History”), the 1994 documentary “Ben-Hur: The Making of an Epic,” screen tests, vintage newsreels, trailers, highlights from the 1960 Academy Awards ceremony, and an audiovisual recreation of the film via stills, storyboards, sketches, music, and dialogue.

It’s fitting that the 4-disc box set collecting Donovan’s hits and rarities, Try for the Sun (Sony Legacy, $4.98 SRP), is covered in purple faux-suede, as – along with the Beatles and Cat Stevens – no other artist truly represents the whimsical, folky flower power pop of the late 60’s. With hits like “Mellow Yellow,” “Season of the Witch,” “Hurdy Gurdy Man,” “Sunshine Superman,” and the storyful “Atlantis” (which was later turned into the tale of the submerged “Atlanta” in an episode of Futurama). Full of rarities and live tracks – plus a DVD featuring an unreleased 1970 documentary – it’s just the set you need to mellow out this weekend (and after this hurricane-filled week, that’s exactly what I’ll be doing).

So you’re trying to impress your wife and prove your manhood – but you’re pretty much the stereotypical picture of a weakling data entry specialist who may have trouble doing both. So what do you do? You set out on a quest to take part in some truly far-out competitions the world over, including bullfighting, sumo wrestling, arm wrestling, and even running backward, and then you write an engagingly funny and poignant book about your journey. That book is The Underdog (Villard, $21.95 SRP), by Joshua Davis, and I suggest you check it out.

The BBC are not giving an inch when it comes to releasing the recent relaunch of Doctor Who on DVD here in the states (yeah, like no one downloaded it either, Beeb – wake up), but they are giving fans a pair of classic Who releases – the Patrick Troughton-era The Mind Robber and the Tom Baker-era Horror of Fang Rock (BBC, Not Rated, DVD-$24.98 SRP each). As per usual, both discs are loaded with extras, including audio commentaries, featurettes, galleries, and more thank you can shake a Dalek at (NOTE: shake a Dalek at your own risk).

You can take your Crawfords and your Hepburns – for me, the ultimate in screen allure – and mystery – was Greta Garbo. On the eve of her 100th birthday (on the 18th), why not pick up a copy of the comprehensive Greta Garbo: The Signature Edition box set (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$99.92 SRP). Featuring 10 classics starring the starlet whose large, luminous eyes enthralled a generation of moviegoers, this is yet another entry in Warners excellent presentation of their library. The films include Queen Christina, Grand Hotel, Ninotchka, Anna Karenina, Camille, Mata Hari, Anna Christie, TCM Archives (with three silent films - The Temptress, Flesh and the Devil, & The Mysterious Lady), and the TCM documentary Garbo. Each disc gets at least the original theatrical trailer, with Grand Hotel, Camille, and the silent classics disc getting the lion’s share of goodies, including commentaries, documentaries, and featurettes.

All is right (or at least better) in a world that has Ali G. Much like Jon Stewart’s Daily Show, Da Ali G Show manages to deflate not only the personalities of the day – through the brilliantly clueless interview style of Ali G (Sacha Baron Choen) – but also the American culture, through Baron’s other creation, Borat. The complete second season (HBO, Not Rated, DVD-$29.95 SRP) features unseen and uncensored bonus material, including Ali G’s commencement speech at Harvard, an interview with Noam Chomsky, visits to a historic naval vessel, Borat learning about American football in Texas (plus getting a hunting lesson and lunching with the Arizona Republican Party), Bruno gossiping with a Hollywood stylist and visiting a psychic, and more.

Even though I’ve already read the book, I find listening to Jim Dale’s performances in the Potter audiobooks to be equally as enjoyable, and that still holds true for The Half-Blood Prince (Random House Audio, $75.00 SRP). He’s (almost literally) portrayed a cast of 1,000’s by this point, and it’s worth it just to see what vocal acrobatics he’ll unleash in each new installment.

It’s hard to sum up just how disappointed I was in the big screen version of Douglas Adams’s genius Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Touchstone, Rated PG-13, DVD-$29.99 SRP). Maybe the most difficult hurdle to leap was that it’s simply not very funny – and that, as an adaptation of an Adams work, is a true crime. Very, very sad… Especially with the cast, who could have accomplished so much more given the right script and direction (particularly Martin Freeman’s Arthur Dent). Bonus features include deleted scenes (both real and fake), an additional guide entry, a “So Long” sing-along, a pair of audio commentaries, and a making-of featurette.

I’m frightened by how enjoyable I find the shows contained in the second volume of Jamie Oliver’s cooking show Oliver’s Twist 2 (Capital, Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP). Maybe that’s because he’s just so darn cheeky, in that disarmingly yet irritatingly British way. It’s like a cooking show with Hugh Grant’s little brother.

Am I the only one perpetually freaked out by the works of Sid & Marty Krofft? I’m sorry, but if they weren’t on something, than they’ve got some serious issues going on upstairs. Case in point – the characters featured in the complete first season of Sigmund and the Sea Monsters (Rhino, Not Rated, DVD-$34.95 SRP). What in the hell are they? Why do they haunt my dreams? Bonus features include audio commentaries with actors Johnny Whitaker & Scott Kolden, commentary from Sid Krofft, and interviews.

I’m a history buff – longtime readers know that – and there’s nothing I find more fascinating than viewing historic events from a different perspective. That’s exactly what you get with a pair of titles that present color footage from the WWII archives of Germany and Japan. The first is Hitler in Color, which spotlights the rise and fall of Hitler and his German Reich, and the other is Japan’s War, focusing on the Empire’s rise and fall )Rhino, Not Rated, DVD-$9.95 SRP each). Both titles are narrated by Brian Cox, and feature rare footage, most of which has never been seen.

Golly, golly, golly – DVD never ceases to stun me. Or, more accurately, what gets released on DVD, as the format becomes a cheap and easy way for studios – desperate for more content – search every nook and cranny of their archives for flicks to unleash upon the public. What that means is that alongside such classics as Donald Sutherland & Jane Fonda in Klute (Warner Bros., Rated R, DVD-$19.97 SRP), you get cupboard classics like the 70’s, Gary Busey-heavy Cannonball Run precursor The Gumball Rally (Warner Bros., Rated PG, DVD-$14.97 SRP), John Ritter as an unlikely superhero in Hero At Large (Warner Bros., Rated PG, DVD-$14.97 SRP), and even that most perennial of Mark Hamill jokes, Corvette Summer (Warner Bros., Rated PG, DVD-$14.97 SRP). Ain’t that just an embarrassment of… somethin’?

If you want the most iconic of the Brady Bunch’s early seasons, then look no further than season 3 (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$38.99 SRP). Not only does it have Peter’s cracking voice, but you’ve got Marcia stalking Davy Jones, “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!”, Greg’s uncool car, and a trip to the Grand Canyon. We still haven’t got any more bonus features since the first season’s tease, but the episodes themselves have never looked better.

Okay, so a themed 4-episode collection of the classic Ray Walston/Bill Bixby sitcom, My Favorite Martian: Time Travelers (Rhino, Not Rated, DVD-$14.95 SRP), is all well and good, but where’s the complete season 3 release that was originally supposed to happen? Save the themed releases for later – give us the sets now!

Maybe it was just me, but the second season of Las Vegas (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$59.98 SRP) just didn’t seem to have the same schlocky, postmodern Love Boat joi de vivre of the first season – which is not to say that the sophomore season was a dud. Anything with James Caan can’t be a complete write-off… Okay, unless it’s Mickey Blue Eyes. But it’s got Jon Lovitz, too! Everybody loves Lovitz! Bonus features include a gag reel and a VIP tour of the Palms casino.

Any soundtrack that has the glorious chutzpah to put the full version of Joe Scarbury’s “Theme from Greatest American Hero” on it is a soundtrack I want on my shelf. The soundtrack in question? The 40 Year-Old Virgin (Shout! Factory, $18.98 SRP), which also has tracks from James Brown (“I Got Ants In My Pants”), Asia (“Heat of the Moment”), Lionel Richie (“Hello”), and the criminally overlooked Dr. Hook (“Sharing the Night Together”). Oh, and it has Steve Carrell’s deleted karaoke version of “The First Time” as well… Priceless.

I’m a sucker for stories that interweave into a tapestry, and Crash (Lions Gate, Rated R, DVD-$28.98 SRP) is one of those flicks, as a group of Los Angelinos are brought together in various vehicular ways – from racist cops making abusive traffic stops to character-revealing accidents – that never devolve into cute plot devices… Which is the danger these sometimes too-clever films often face. The DVD features an introduction by director Paul Haggis, a behind-the-scenes featurette, audio commentary (with Haggis, Don Cheadle, & Bobby Moresco), and trailers.

Did you know that Cracker Jack was introduced at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair? I didn’t, until I watched Expo: Magic of the White City (Inecom, Not Rated, DVD-$24.95 SRP), a documentary which takes viewers on an in-depth tour of one of the wonders of the 19th century, a precursor for the many innovations – and societal, political, and economic upheavals – to come. The DVD features a commentary with World’s Fair historian David Cope, behind-the-scenes featurettes, a production commentary, and deleted scenes. Highly recommended for history buffs, like myself.

No that there’s an easy cash bandwagon, or anything, but a trio of Universal titles are also getting all gussied up with new editions sporting brand-new transfers and bonus features. While the bonus features are the same as the original special edition release, the Loretta Lynn biopic Coal Miner’s Daughter (Universal, Rated PG, DVD-$19.98 SRP) gets a sparkling new transfer and improved sound. The second of Francis Coppola’s S.E. Hinton adaptations, Rumble Fish (Universal, Rated R, DVD-$19.98 SRP) is also all spiffy, with new features including an audio commentary with Coppola, deleted scenes, a making-of featurette, a spotlight on the score, a music video, and the trailer. Finally, there’s “Ultimate Edition” (Does anyone really believe that PR move anymore?) of Al Pacino’s over-acting tour-de-force (though nowhere near Scarface levels) as drug kingpin Carlito Brigante in Carlito’s Way (Universal, Rated R, DVD-$22.98 SRP), with deleted scenes, an interview with director Brian De Palma, a making-of featurette, and more.

Malign them all you want, but one of the very first CDs I ever got from my many BMG music club accounts was a Genesis greatest hits collection. Sure, by the time of that collection – the Phil Collins era – they had all the self-important maudlin bombast of every other 80’s pop group. I didn’t care. I don’t know why I didn’t care, except I did enjoy tunes like “Invisible Touch,” “You’re No Son of Mine,” and “Land of Confusion.” All of those and more are remastered and featured on the 3-disc Genesis: Platinum Collection (Rhino, $24.98 SRP). Also available (and boy, what a time capsule it is) is Genesis: The Video Show (Rhino, Not Rated, DVD-$19.99 SRP), featuring all of those videos that got almost endless MTV rotation “back in the day” – including the epic “Land of Confusion” video with the Spitting Image puppets that fostered many a Reagan-era nightmare. And speaking of maudlin bombast, you can also grab the greatest hits collection of Genesis member Mike Rutherford’s group Mike & The Mechanics (Rhino, $11.98 SRP) featuring the single biggest maudlin tune of the 80’s, “The Living Years.” Yeah, I like that tune, too. Sue me.

If there’s one thing you can say about Everybody Loves Raymond – and I mean this as a compliment and not a slight – is that if you’ve seen one season, you know exactly what to expect from any other. Over its run, the show remained remarkably consistent in tone and quality, and was like the comfort food of ensemble comedies. That maxim is absolutely true for the fourth season (HBO, Not Rated, DVD-$44.98 SRP). The 5-disc set features all 24 episodes plus audio commentaries on 4 eps (with Phil Rosenthal, Ray Romano, Brad Garrett, Patricia Heaton, and writers Lew Schneider & Aaron Shure), deleted scenes, and bloopers.

Following up on their stellar Rock Icons release comes another collection of Dick Cavett Show episodes – and if I ell you that the title is the Ray Charles Collection (Shout! Factory, Not Rated, DVD-$24.98 SRP), can you guess who the spotlight is on? The set features 3 complete episodes featuring Brother Ray, along with guests like Tony Randall, Margaret Mead, and John Lindsay. Bonus features include episode introductions and an interview featurette with Cavett.

Punk: Attitude (Capital, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) is the most comprehensive and entertaining look at the history and development of the Punk movement of the 1970’s, from its disaffected origins to its mainstream death, featuring interviews with the performers, writers, and people who were front and center in the period, as well as more performances than you can violently shake a stick at. The 2-disc set features additional interviews, segments, featurettes, and more.

Straight from the recently launched Military channel comes a pair of fascinating releases for the military enthusiast near and dear to you. The first is the 3-disc collection of Battlefield Diaries (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$39.95 SRP), which presents the wartime experience via firsthand accounts illustrated with photos, video, and interviews – sort of like a souped-up Ken Burns. The other doc is Ace in the Hole (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$19.94 SRP), which tells the tale of the search for and eventual capture of Saddam Hussein.

If you need just one reason to get Legends: Live at Montreux 1997 (Eagle Vision, $14.98 SRP) – featuring the combined might of Eric Clapton, David Sanborn, Steve Gadd, Marcus Miller, and Joe Sample – it’s for the truly kick-a** version of Layla. Once that’s pulled you in, though, there’s over a dozen other cuts from this concert that will have you wishing a companion CD was available.

Comments: None

THE MONEY PIT - 09/09/2005

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (September 9, 2005 at 10:04 pm)

I’m back. Huzzah. The Needcoffee FilmFest went great, Dragon*Con was surreal as ever, and even the Adult Swim panel I moderated went off with only a minor hitch. Shock all around.

Before I jump into the deep end of a massive guide, let me give a hearty shout-out and recommendation to the amazing caffeinated Foosh Mints from Vroom Foods. With 100mg of caffeine in each winterfresh bite, it was the only thing that got me home safe after an exhausting jaunt down to Atlanta and a 9 hour drive home. Truly, these mints (and their chocolate cousins, Buzz Bites) are a miracle of food science.

It’s been a few years since the fans began lobbying via their “Bring Back the Magic” campaign for Fraggle Rock DVDs, and they’ve finally arrived in complete season form. What’s nice about the episodes contained within the Complete First Season (HIT, Not Rated, DVD-$44.99 SRP) is that the show hit the ground running, with even the shakiest of the early episodes clearly marking the patch the show would eventually take. Pitched as Jim Henson’s show for world peace, it’s still a stunning accomplishment that Fraggle Rock was never preachy, always fun, but with quite powerful lessons about friendship and understanding. And oh, the songs! Next only to Sesame Street, it’s the children’s show with the most stellar songwriting, and is just as listenable to adult ears as they were when I was a kid myself. Where HIT has also excelled with this set is the 50+ minutes of interview featurettes with most of the surviving principal performers, writers, and producers (hey, Jerry!). If that weren’t enough, they’ve also thrown the original Down At Fraggle Rock behind-the-scenes documentary hosted by Jim on there, and included a reproduction of his original concept notebook. All I can say is that Season 2 – and a music box set – better be on its way soon.

If you’re like me, you’re still a bit pissed at the “Oh, come on!” ending of Lost’s first season (Buena Vista, Not Rated, DVD-$59.99 SRP). Still, not since the pre-crap build of the X-Files has a cult show been able to suck audiences in with a dense mythology that teased and taunted more than it really answered anything, yet still attract a loyal (and sizeable) audience. As the second season premiere looms, now’s the time to revisit the first season and scrape around for clues… Or just watch the scene of Hurley hauling-Hurley across that airport terminal trying to make the doomed flight. Crikey, I love me some Hurley. The 7-disc set features 4 commentaries, audition tapes, more featurettes than are humanly imaginable, deleted scenes, bloopers, the MoT&R Paley Festival spotlight, and much more. Sadly, lottery ticket not included.

As if their marvelous handling of the Complete Peanuts weren’t enough to delight comics fans from here to Timbuktu, Fantagraphics has released the first volume of Hank Ketcham’s severely underrated Dennis the Menace (Fantagraphics, $24.95 SRP). The first volume spans the period between the strip’s 1951 launch to 1952, and even this early material is clearly the Dennis that became popular enough to one day spawn a TV show. They’ve also re-released Ketcham’s autobiography, The Merchant of Dennis the Menace (Fantagraphics, $24.95 SRP). Now where in the hell is the complete Pogo, treated with the same care and reverence?

Following on the heels of other studios, Universal launches their Legacy Series of deluxe editions spotlighting classic films from their library with a trio of releases that definitely fit the bill, starting with the long-awaited 2-disc edition of To Kill a Mockingbird (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$26.98 SRP). First and foremost, there’s the remastered picture. The bonus materials - which include an audio commentary with director Robert Mulligan and producer Alan Pakula, an interview with actress Mary Badham, Gregory Peck’s Oscar speech and AFI tribute, a making-of featurette, the theatrical trailer, and a massive documentary on Peck – are merely gravy on a stellar piece of film history. The other pair of flicks to get the gilded treatment are Redford & Newman’s The Sting (Universal, Rated PG, DVD-$26.98 SRP), with behind-the-scenes featurettes, and Robert De Niro in the still powerful Vietnam-era The Deer Hunter (Universal, Rated R, DVD-$26.98 SRP), which includes an audio commentary (with cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond & film journalist Bob Fisher), deleted/extended scenes, and the theatrical trailer.

If you’re as thoroughly clueless about the world of wine as I am – and you happen to be a big Python fan – then there’s no better teacher of the arcane world of the grape’s fermented magic than John Cleese’s Wine for the Confused (Koch, Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP). From the importance of grape varieties, temperature, and soil to the art of developing a palette in determining which wine is the best for you, Cleese is an affable host. The DVD also features additional thoughts and tips from Cleese, as well as extended interviews.

Cleese is also features, along with a bevy of other Brit comic luminaries, in The Funny Blokes of British Comedy (BBC, Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP), a clip show celebrating the finest men ever to engage in verbal surreality or blatant slapstick across the pond.

Not only was Pirates of Silicon Valley (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP) a nice encapsulation of the rise and rocky relationship of Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Apple’s Steve Jobs, but it also marked the return of Anthony Michael Hall (whose performance as Gates is brilliant in its cutthroat nerdiness). The DVD features an introduction from Noah Wyle (whose Jobs manages to be even more cutthroat and evil than Gates) and a TV spot.

If bonus features are what you’re looking for, the 10th Anniversary Edition of Toy Story (Walt Disney, Rated G, DVD-$29.99 SRP) is really not going to excite you much if you already own the Ultimate Toy Box edition that came out a few years back. No, you’ll really want to snag this latest double-dip for the remastered picture and sound, which vastly improves upon that prior release. There are new bonus features to be found, though, including the “Legacy of Toy Story” featurette, deleted scenes, a sneak peek at Cars, and reminiscences from the production team – including the late Joe Ranft.

From Birth of a Nation to The Matrix, the mysterious power of film editing is explored in The Cutting Edge: The Magic of Movie Editing (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$14.98 SRP). Masters of the cut discuss their craft, a process that can mean success or failure by the frame, in a candid and revelatory doc that’s sure to be on must-watch lists for aspiring filmmakers everywhere.

Ah, but the geekery continues with the first volume collecting the first season of that 80’s catty classic, Thundercats (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$64.92 SRP). Featuring 33 of the first season’s 65 episode run, the series looks and sounds better than it ever has before… Which is much-appreciated during those dramatic Mumm-Ra transformation scenes. Poor man’s Skeletor? I think not. Not only that, but the bonus featurette features fans of the show… including Wil Wheaton. Yes. Wil Wheaton.

Please tell me you’ve begun listening to me and are starting to pick up the Disney comics that Gemstone has been putting out… Get off that damn superhero fixation and wake up to the classic stories of Carl Barks, Don Rosa, William Van Horn, and more. This month brings the deluxe Uncle Scrooge #345 & Walt Disney’s Comics #660 (Gemstone, $6.95 each), and the regular edition Mickey Mouse and Friends #280 & Donald Duck and Friends #331 (Gemstone, $2.95 each). Come on, people! Restore my faith in humanity…

Anyone who thinks the Valerie Plame case was the first in which a CIA operative’s identity was revealed for political purposes will want to read My Father the Spy (Harper Collins, $24.95 SRP), John Richardson’s investigative memoir of a father he didn’t really know until much later in his life, who was a founding member of the CIA, a cold warrior, and a pivotal player in the overthrow of the South Vietnamese government – as well as being a father of two children. Just for its portrait of an operative’s double-life as a husband and father, it’s worth picking up the book.

Okay, by the time you got to the 3rd season of 21 Jump Street (Anchor Bay, Not Rated, DVD-$44.98 SRP), you couldn’t but wonder at the IQs of kids who still believed the 40 year-old undercover cop in chem class was just a fellow high school student. But hey, this is the season that gave us Richard Grieco and a guest appearance by Peter Deluise’s dad Dom, so all’s forgiven.

If Shaun of the Dead left you wondering what an American take on the same concept would be – namely a funny zombie flick – look no further than Dead & Breakfast (Anchor Bay, Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP), a cheeky little horror romp that finds a group of six friends taking a wrong turn into a creepy Texas town filled with zombies, murder, and an inn that AAA forgot. Bonus features include a production commentary (with the director, SFX supervisor, and a pair of the actors), a cast commentary, deleted/extended scenes, bloopers, and trailers.

Wicca’s first family returns with the complete second season of Charmed (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$49.99 SRP), as the Haliwell sisters (Prue, Piper, & Phoebe) battle old foes and even manhood (a frightening Shannon Doherty in the most disturbing make-up job you’ll ever see). There are absolutely no bonus features to speak of… Come on, not even any whine sessions from Alyssa Milano?

I have a theory that MacGyver is actually a distant relative of Star Trek’s James Montgomery Scott, aka “Scotty.” Just think about it – they’re both engineering miracle workers, and both their shows are owned by Viacom. I’m just saying. Think about my not-completely-oddball theory as you partake of the complete third season of MacGyver (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$38.99 SRP)

It’s become positively frightening just how many TV-to-DVD releases have begun hitting stores (and your wallet). In fact, let’s burn through the rest of the list lickety-split – starting with the fourth season of Married With Children (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$39.95 SRP), which features all 23 episodes but no special features (although it does have my favorite episode of all, as Sam Kinison guests as a Christmas spirit in “A Bundyful Life”). Both the first & second seasons of the short-lived classic (and Barbershop precursor) That’s My Mama (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$29.95 SRP each) – though I’m miffed that Sony decided to use the edited syndication cuts for the majority of the episodes, Jebus knows why. For animation fans, there’s the penultimate fourth volume of Garfield and Friends (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP). For TV buffs, you’ll be happy to know that the complete third season of Dallas (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) contains the legendary “Who Shot J.R.?” finale – plus a brand new documentary and a pair of commentaries from Patrick Duffy and Linda Gray. The 25-episode second season of Doogie Howser, M.D. (Anchor Bay, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) features brand new interviews with Neil Patrick Harris and Max Casella, photos, and a quiz. You could follow the further adventures of Caine in the third & final season of Kung-Fu (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP), with special features including an introduction and commentaries from David Carradine, as well as a video journal of Carradine’s trip to the Shaolin Temple Monastery. Mourn the loss of Rerun with the complete third season of What’s Happening!! (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$ SRP).

It’s hokey in parts, sure, but the original House on Haunted Hill (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$9.98 SRP) is still a classic, and features one of Vincent Price’s most pricelessly campy performances. This restored version presents the film in both black & white and color options, as well as an audio commentary with MST3K’s own Mike Nelson.

If you want a great “starter pack” for a given artist, I’ve become quite keen on Universal Music’s Chronicles series of releases, which package a trio of a given artist’s classic albums into one set. This week, I’d like to recommend the one featuring B.B. King (MCA Records, $29.98 SRP) which contains the albums Live at the Regal, Blues Is King, & Live In Cook County Jail. Right on.

Psychological thrillers don’t get any better than The Cabinet of Caligari (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$14.98 SRP), as young lady seeks help at the wrong house after her car breaks down. The ominous looking mansion is owned by Dr. Caligari, who begins to take our young protagonist on a trip inside her psyche that bodes ill, but she can’t get out of the house – and none of the other people there seem willing to help. Hey, it was written by Robert Bloch, so what do you expect?

When his New York Apartment faces demolition, Harry Golden (Art Carney) decides to set out for L.A. with his cat Tonto to live with his 3 grown children. After arriving, however, he decides that happiness is not in the offing in that arrangement, so instead decides to explore America with Tonto at his side, living the last big adventure. Carney won an Oscar for Harry & Tonto (Fox, Rated R, DVD-$9.98 SRP), and it’s no wonder why, since he plays Harry with a humor and grace that makes the film instantly endearing. The disc features an audio commentary with director Paul Mazursky, TV spots, and the original theatrical trailer.

Not content to rest on the first volume’s laurels (and a fine volume it was), anime fans will want to snag their own copy of the highly anticipated Anime Companion 2 (Stone Bridge Press, $18.95 SRP). For anyone who’s ever been confused by a Japanese comic or cartoon, this is a necessary addition to your shelf, as its extensive glossary clears up even the most obscure reference.

When it to adapting the classics – be it Shakespeare, Austen, Wilde, or Wodehouse – there’s no place better than the BBC. Sure, they’re productions can veer towards stuffy and lush, but at least they consistently manage to hew close to the text (making them fodder for ever lazy high school teacher and student). Such is the case with the 6 adaptations contained in The Charles Dickens Collection (BBC, Not Rated, DVD-$59.98 SRP) – Oliver Twist, Martin Chuzzlewit, Bleak House, Hard Times, Great Expectations, and Our Mutual Friend. The set also features Simon Callow’s recreation of Dickens reading the scene between Sikes and Nancy in Oliver Twist, Denholm Elliott in The Signalman, a 30-minute documentary on the Victorian society portrayed in Our Mutual Friend, and a behind-the-scenes teaser.

Imagine my surprise when I learned that The Morning After (Warner Bros., Rated R, DVD-$19.97 SRP) I had just popped in was not the post-nuclear bomb cautionary tale that traumatized me as a child, but instead a taut whodunnit? directed by Sidney Lumet and starring Jeff Bridges, Jane Fonda, and Raul Julia. Boy, what a shock. The DVD features an audio commentary with Lumet and the theatrical trailer.

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THE MONEY PIT - 09/02/2005

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (September 2, 2005 at 10:00 pm)

Right now, I’m probably prepping for major shindiggery at this year’s Dragon*Con in Atlanta, sitting in a hotel room and contemplating the next night’s FilmFest with Widget Walls. Or I’m passed out from exhaustion. The latter is the safe bet.

After Python wrapped, its 6 members went to the four winds, finding projects of their own to pursue, with the results being shows like Fawlty Towers & Rutland Weekend Television, and movies like Jabberwocky. Longtime writing partners and friends Terry Jones and Michael Palin, however, stuck together and mined the absurdly pulpy children’s adventure novels of their youth. The resultant show was Ripping Yarns, an unfairly forgotten masterpiece of parody that evokes the worlds of those novels – from prison escapes and bullies to murder and high adventure – while exquisitely skewering them. All 9 episodes are featured in the 2-disc Complete Ripping Yarns (Acorn, Not Rated, DVD-$39.99 SRP), plus audio commentaries with Palin & Jones, a deleted scene, the Comic Roots feature on Palin from 1983, a restoration clip, and the option to watch the episodes sans laugh-track. Smashing good!

I’m okay with the double dip on The Blues Brothers for what is titled the 25th Anniversary Edition (Universal, Rated R, DVD-$22.98 SRP). Why? Well, not only does it contain the extended cut that made its debut on the original DVD, but it also sports the theatrical cut of the film – both of which also have been completely remastered. As far as bonus materials go, the documentary on the initial release is joined by an introduction to the film by Dan Aykroyd, interviews, a featurette on the many BB spin-offs, a remembrance of Belushi, and a behind-the-scenes spotlight on a BB concert. My only regret? Universal’s love of the horrible flipper disc.

The hundreds of full-color images contained in Visions of Mars (Abrams, $29.95 SRP) are a breathtaking view of a once-alien – now almost familiar – world. Still, the more you see of the red planet, the more enticing its allure becomes. Maybe one day we can remember the joy of space exploration and get people excited again about boldly going…

Compared with the more mainstream antics of the show’s black & white first season, by the time we get to the third (and final) season of Gilligan’s Island (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) is a surreal, almost Fellinni-esque affair. You get Gilligan as Dracula & Hamlet, Mary Ann becomes Ginger, Phil Silvers washes up as a Hollywood producer, a Gilligan look-alike spy, and more insanity. Bonus features include a Sherwood Schwartz commentary on the aforementioned Silvers episode “The Producer,” and “Gilligan’s Island: A Pop Culture Phenomenon” documentary.

If you had asked me a year ago if Hugh Laurie would headline not only a great show on American TV, but also one that managed to avoid Fox’s notoriously fast axe, I would said “No chance in hell.” Well, there must be plenty of chances in Hades, because House (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$59.98 SRP) is a wonderful show, spotlighting Laurie as the brilliant Dr. Gregory House, who has an abominable bedside manner with an amazing knack for saving patients. Good thing someone didn’t ask to bet me. The complete first season contains featurettes on the concept, medical cases, Dr. House, a set tour, and Laurie’s casting session.

While we’re talking tact – or lack thereof – I can’t help but mention the release of the most awkward talk show ever committed to tape, Knowing Me, Knowing You (BBC, Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP). Host Alan Partridge (played to perfection by Steve Coogan) is equal parts ego, ignorance, & smarm, all of which are focused on making his talk show – a rolling disaster – a huge success. Nobody does awkwardness like the Brits. The 2-disc set features the complete 6 episode run, the Christmas special “Knowing Me, Knowing Yule,” audio commentaries (sadly with no Coogan at all), Comic Relief segments, the original test footage, promos, and “Ruralan.”

It may be a blatant attempt to cash in on what they thought would be the massive success of the Dukes of Hazzard flick (whatever happened to that?), but fans can get their inner redneck on with the Roscoe-baiting fourth season (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) adventures of Bo & Luke, as well as their bizzaro contractual counterparts. Clocking in at a massive 9 discs (thanks to a 27-episode season), bonus features include an audio commentary on “Double Dukes” (with Wopat, Schneider, & Bach) and “The Dukes Story” cast & crew featurette.

I’ve been waiting years for a reissue of the stereo mixes of the Motown classics to come out, and with the 4-disc Motown Box (Shout!/Motown, $59.98 SRP), my wait is over. Some of these tracks are even superior to the well-worn Mono originals, but that’s all a matter pr personal taste (just as I prefer the Beatles Anthology version of “Ob-la-di” to the original White Album cut.

As brilliant and funny as ever, the fourth season of Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) has become quite poignant after the passing of Anne Bancroft, who guest-starred in the finale with husband Mel Brooks as Larry David opened on Broadway in the Max Bialystock role in The Producers. The cameos were hilarious, and it’s a nice button for a season that fired on all cylinders, as Larry stumbled and kvetched his way towards that Broadway debut, angering co-stars (accidentally spearing Ben Stiller in the eye is a classic comic moment), friends, and strangers alike. But why, oh why, are there no bonus features?

Though the show ended with an ego-meltdown, there’s no denying the legacy – and hilarity – to be found through 90% of the run of Roseanne. The sitcom was a groundbreaking look at a working class family far from New York or LA – Lanford, Illinois, to be exact – and you couldn’t help but feeling, with all their foibles, failures, bickering, and yes, love, that you knew (or possibly even were) the Connors. Thank goodness we’re finally getting the show on DVD, starting with that landmark first season (Anchor Bay, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) – which is packed with bonus features, including an interview with Roseanne, highlights, an interview with John Goodman, and bloopers. It’d be nice to have Roseanne’s original Domestic Goddess stand-up special on a future release, if someone can find a way to make that happen.

Every generation has a guilty pleasure show, be it Dynasty or Melrose Place, and I think, with its second season pushing even beyond the already strained boundaries of the first, Nip/Tuck (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$59.98 SRP) has achieved that lofty perch most often occupied by shows produced by Aaron Spelling. From blind love and porn stars to life coaches with secrets bulging, season 2 was out to push plenty of buttons. The 6-disc set contains all 16 episodes, plus deleted scenes and a featurette on the three loves of Dr. Troy.

My grandmother is a big true crime buff, and the story of North Carolina author Michael Peterson’s murder trial – he stood accused of murdering his wife, who was found in a pool of blood on the stairway of the couple’s upscale Durham home – is one she would be fascinated by. Was it murder? Was it an accident? Documentarian Jean-Xavier de Lestrade is given unprecedented access to Peterson’s lawyers, family, and home for his documentary series The Staircase (Docurama, Not Rated, DVD-$39.95 SRP), and the 2-disc set (featuring all 8 episodes as they originally aired on the Sundance Channel, plus bonus footage) is as gripping as any movie you’ve seen. The DVD also features additional interviews, a making-of documentary, and more.

Yeah yeah yeah – we all know the story of the ho-to-riches classic Pretty Woman (Touchstone, Rated R, DVD-$19.99 SRP), so what new do we get with this “15th Anniversary Edition”? Well, you get a brand new transfer, a new audio commentary with director Garry Marshall, footage from the wrap party, “The Pretty Woman Tour” of LA, the original production featurette, Natalie Cole’s “Wild Women Do” video, a blooper reel, and the original theatrical trailer. So there you go.

In s bid to squeeze one more dollar from the fanbase, the 5 surviving Pythons (and one deceased) have all selected their favorite sketches to be presented in a series of 6 Monty Python: Personal Best collections (A&E, Not Rated, DVD-$19.95 SRP each). So how are they ensuring that they get those nickels & dimes out of you? Well, each Python (save for the dead one) have contributed new linking material for their respective sets. First out of the gate are the collections of Eric Idle (who reprises his reporter character, last seen in the Rutles sequel) and Michael Palin (who revisits, in character, the scene of the legendary fish-slapping dance). Sadly, the new linking material isn’t stellar – age is a harsh mistress – but the material stands up as it always has.

Why did Disney have to go and ruin the warm fuzzies still lingering from their quite enjoyable Lilo & Stitch by cranking out another of their crass cheapie sequels? Why? Can anyone answer me? Why is there a Lilo & Stitch 2: Stitch Has a Glitch (Walt Disney, Rated G, DVD-$ SRP)? Based on the title, can you guess something goes wrong with the experimental killing machine AKA Stitch? Whoda thunk it? The DVD features a background featurette on Experiment 626 and a music video. It’d be nice if we actually got the long-promised deluxe edition of the original flick rather than this pap.

Long before the hot-tempered perfectionist tirades of super-chef Gordon Ramsay, there was Gareth Blackstock – the short-tempered head chef of the prestigious Le Chateau Anglais restaurant. A master chef with a microscopic fuse, both staff and customers are completely at the mercy of Blackstock’s tirades. As Blackstock, Lenny Henry made his mark on the Britcom landscape, creating a character that has made it through three enjoyable series, all of which are contained in Chef!: The Complete Collection (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$59.92 SRP). Bonus features include interviews with Henry and co-star Caroline Lee Johnson and an appearance by Henry on BBC’s Good Food Show.

Who cares about story when you can simply sit back and watch the amazing physical feats accomplished by martial artist Tony Jaa in Ong-Bak (Fox, Rated R, DVD-$27.98 SRP). The only true inheritor of Jackie Chan’s “I can’t believe he did that live!” crown, take a look at this flick and see and be amazed for yourself. The DVD features behind-the-scenes stunt footage, a live Tony Jaa performance, “The 8 Movements of Muay Thai,” and a rap video with Jaa.

For anyone who thought National Treasure wasn’t popcorn movie enough, feast your fried retinas on Sahara (Paramount, Rated PG-13, DVD-$29.95 SRP), when an adventurer (Matthew McConaughey), his wiseacre buddy (Steve Zahn), and a beautiful doctor (Penelope Cruz) set their sights on the ultimate treasure, and you’ll never guess where it is. Like I said, it’s brainless bombast, but after crap like Fantastic Four, it can only look better by comparison. The DVD features a pair of commentaries (from director Beck Eisner and Matthew McConaughey), a trio of featurettes, and deleted scenes with optional commentary.

In what can only be described as a tidal wave, HBO has decided to empty its vaults of 18 catalogue titles, including theatrical, but mostly their TV movies. With casts that include John Lithgow, Tom Berenger, Kevin Spacey, Rick Moranis, Phil Hartman, Eric Idle, Michael Caine, Burt Lancaster, James Garner, Bill Pullman, Martin Mull, Beau Bridges, James Coburn, Ben Kingsley, Gabriel Byrne, and more. The titles released are: Body Language, Traveling Man, Doomsday Gun, Loving Couples, Shot Through the Heart, Head Office, Arthur Ashe: Citizen of the World, Blue Ice, Go Tell The Spartans, Strapped, The Heist, Dead Silence, Mistrial, Dance With Death, Mom and Dad Save the World, The Second Civil War, Weapons of Mass Distraction, and The Late Shift (HBO, Various, $9.99 SRP each). Whew! Of the lot, the best of the bunch are the last four… But that’s just my opinion… And it’s right.

As he mulls another run for the presidency, you can watch the adaptation of Senator John McCain’s memories of his war service Faith of My Fathers (Sony, Rated PG-13, DVD-$24.96 SRP). Surprisingly, it manages to be a nice little biopic with plenty of insight into what made McCain the man he is, including his time as a POW in Vietnam. The DVD also includes an interview with McCain on the set.

It’s taken a while (and the release of most of the series individually), but we’re finally getting a complete box set of all 9 outings of the long-running comedy As Time Goes By (BBC, Not Rated, DVD-$179.98 SRP), starring Judi Dench and Geoffrey Palmer as two lovers reunited after 40 years. The set features interviews and excerpts from Judi Dench’s BAFTA tribute.

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THE MONEY PIT - 08/26/2005

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (August 26, 2005 at 9:48 pm)

Over the last few years, I’ve become more and more fascinated by the wealth of quality entertainment that lies untapped across the Atlantic in the UK. From comedies and dramas to music and books, there’s a wealth of stuff that just never makes it over here, and it’s more than a damn shame – it’s a crime. While channels like BBC America fail miserably as presenters of UK programs, letting only the occasional gem slip through their Discovery-programmed pap (do we really need 15 hours of Changing Rooms and only rare glances of a deliriously wonderful show like Black Books?). So this week, up front, I wanted to highlight a few of those gems that haven’t made it through the filter yet, but are readily available to discerning Americans with Region Free players (and all of you UK readers, you can revel in the great shows you have while we export The Apprentice – although I still blame you bastards for Big Brother). I’ll be going in-depth on some of these programs in the near future in a series here at IGNFF, but for now, here’s a gentle nudge towards you picking them up and giving them a spin.

As I mentioned, there are a few shows that I’m going to go much more in-depth on in the coming months, and two that are at the top of that list are Spaced and Black Books. Spaced is the Britcom co-created and co-written by Shaun of the Dead’s Simon Pegg, with co-star Jessica Stevenson, who play a pair of twenty-something flatmates struggling through their aimless lives (he’s a would-be comic book artist and she’s a writer with perpetual writer’s block) and secure their flat by posing as a married couple. And did I mention that his best mate is played by Nick Frost? Remember him? Honestly, the show is a brilliant combination of My So-Called Life and Thirtysomething (can you imagine that) with the same off-kilter geek sensibility as Shaun, but still manages to hit a whole scale of emotional notes. And guess what? The complete first and second series, plus oodles of bonus materials, are on DVD (VCI, Not Rated, DVD-£24.99). Far more surreal – delightfully so – is Black Books, which stars Shaun co-star Dylan Moran as customer-hating bookshop owner Bernard Black, a man fond of drink, swearing, antipathy, anger, but definitely not customers… Imagine if Basil Fawlty’s antisocial tendencies were given full reign and a bottle of vodka. Paired with Black is new-hire Manny (Bill Bailey), a good-natured man clearly out of his element and clearly the target for Bernard’s goading, which is only mitigated somewhat by the presence of daffy friend Fran (Tamsin Greig). Crikey, how I love this series – which is also, shock!, available in a box set that collects the first three series, with commentaries, outtakes, and more (VCI, Not Rated, DVD-£39.99). And the shame of it all? Neither of these shows have been given their proper due in the US. Do yourself a favor and discover them for yourselves, since you’re getting no help from the gatekeepers here.

Long before any of them became stars, actors with names like Jennifer Saunders, Robbie Coltrane, Rik Mayall, Alexei Sayle, Dawn French, and Adrian Edmondson formed the core group of The Comic Strip, which were the avant-garde envelope pushers of the 1980’s Brit-comedy scene. Desperate for programming, a newly-launched Channel 4 approached the group and basically offered them carte blanche (on a budget, naturally) to create some. What resulted was The Comic Strip Presents, which eventually became what is essentially 39 short films made over a period spanning 1982-2000, and all of them are some of the most surreally funny things you’ll ever see. The 9-disc Comic Strip Presents: The Complete Collection (VCI, Not Rated, DVD-£49.99) has got them all, plus documentaries and a rare live show. And hey, wouldn’t you know it – never aired in the US. Notice a pattern?

After sampling a few of their releases, I’ve fallen in love the Inside series of critical music reviews done by the folks at Music Reviews Ltd.. Focusing on a single artist or group – I watched their 2-disc definitive spotlights of both the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band (Music Reviews Ltd., Not Rated, DVD-$44.85) and David Bowie’s Spiders period (DVD-$26.90) – they offer a candid, balanced analysis of the albums of each artist and the artist themselves, often acting like an intellectual Behind the Music, with interviews and rare footage to boot. The “Definitive” collections also come bound with a book of analyses as well. Honestly, this stuff is a real find for music fans and scholars alike, and I can’t wait to delve into some of their other releases.

While Gilliam’s Grimm is hitting theaters, refresh yourself on the original, shockingly gruesome Grimm originals via Grimm’s Grimmest (Chronicle Books, $22.95 SRP), a collection of the unexpurgated classics filled with some startling versions less Disney and more Poe.

There’s a legitimate argument to be made that repeated drilling of their tunes in my brain by filmmakers is the root cause, but I must admit that I enjoy most of the tunes to be found Smash Mouth: All Star Smash Hits (Interscope, $13.98 SRP)… And yes, isn’t that a clever slip of one of their hits into the title? So clever. Anyway, it may be the joi de vivre, it may be the brainwashing, or it may be something entirely unknown, but I like it.

Unlike the “can take ‘em or leave ‘em” featureless single-disc episode releases of The Simpsons, the Futurama: Monster Robot Maniac Fun Collection (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$14.98 SRP) decides that some exclusive bonus features make a nice enticement to compel double-dipping. In addition to 4 of the series best outings (“Hell Is Other Robots,” “Roswell That Ends Well,” “Anthology of Interest I,” & “The Sting”), you’ve got intros to the disc and each episode from Matt Groening, David X. Cohen, and the Futurama characters & crew, plus an exclusive audio commentary on the full-length (and longer than the final episode) animatic of “Hell Is Other Robots.”

HA! Okay, admittedly, it’s not the most creative opening in the world when writing about the second season release of ALF (Lions Gate, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP), but I couldn’t work in a Gordon Schumway joke. In addition to all 25 episodes (which are hopefully uncut this time, unlike season 1), there are 2 episodes of the ALF cartoons and interactive menus hosted by Gordon himself. So where are the commentary tracks?

Ever wanted to learn how to draw the legendary Warner Bros. characters like the pros do? And by pros, I mean the people in marketing. Okay, yeah, that takes some of the gloss off (and there are Preston Blair books to teach you that), but Draw the Looney Tunes: The Warner Bros., Character Design Manual (Chronicle, $40.00 SRP) is still a pretty darn good resource to have on your shelf, as it’s essentially the in-house guide meant to bring potential freelancers and staff up to speed on the look and mechanics of the Looney Tunes world. The tome is filled with full-color fold outs, overlays, and more.

The third season of Boy Meets World (Buena Vista, Not Rated, DVD-$39.99 SRP) is the one where everyone started to grow up all of a sudden, and Cory began to look at pal Topanga in a whole new way, while Shawn starts down the troubled teen path… And Eric just gets dumber. Think of it as Hogwarts without all that magic baggage. Sadly, the only bonus feature we get is a quiz… What’s up with that?

It’s amazing what DVD can do even for mid-level shows. Who would have thought that Once and Again would see the release of not just its first, but also its second season (Buena Vista, Not Rated, DVD-$59.99 SRP)? Sure, the Sela Ward/Billy Campbell dramedy is far from the dregs, but it also didn’t exactly break any boundaries. Still, here we are, and it even has audio commentary.

Fearing how her three squabbling daughters and banker husband (ex-Doctor Who Peter Davison) will react, Alison Braithwiate decides to hide the fact that she’s won £38 million in the first Euro Lottery. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to handle the pressures at home while maintaining the secret and spending the money responsibly, and wouldn’t you know that there are revelations aplenty in the offing when Alison’s secret gets out. That’s the premise behind At Home with the Braithwaites (Acorn, Not Rated, DVD-$39.99 SRP Season 1, $59.99 SRP Season 2), another one of those Britcoms that should be airing regularly here in the US, if only for the fact that it’s a damn sight funnier and more entertaining than your usual US fare.

While we’re talking about great UK series that actually are available to folks in the US, how about Only Fools & Horses’s Nicholas Lyndhurst as a bumbling MI5 recruit codenamed “Piglet” in The Piglet Files (BFS, Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP each), the first three series of which are currently available? Maybe Phantom of the Opera Michael Crawford doing an amazing bit of physical comedy schtick a la Mr. Bean in Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em! (BFS, Not Rated, DVD-$49.98 SRP). Or the classic wartime comedy Dad’s Army (BFS, Not Rated, DVD-$59.98 SRP)? Believe me, there’s plenty of great stuff out there just waiting for you.

IGNFF’s own Brian Linder is a huge OC fan. I mean HUGE. In fact, I often think that he has the viewing habits of a 13 year-old girl… Seriously. But anyway, even Linder was disappointed in the second season of his beloved OC (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$69.98 SRP). Bogged down in the usual sophomore slump of “what can we do to overly complicate the lives of our characters,” the one unequivocally shining moment was the return of Chrismukkah, a holiday I can get behind. The 7-disc set features audio commentaries on the Chrismukkah episode and “Rainy Day Women” (which also gets an extended cut), a featurette on O.C. fashion, a retrospective special, and gag reels from the first two seasons.

There’s no denying that Will & Grace (Lions Gate, Not Rated, DVD-$44.98 SRP) quickly devolved into a slapsticky show that traded on star cameos far too often for its own good, but there’s also no denying the comic strength of its cast – even if the comic relief of Megan Mullaly’s Karen and Sean Hayes’s Jack was beginning to wear thin by the time the fourth season rolled around. That fourth season did manage to score a few star cameos, though, including Matt Damon as a straight singer pretending to be gay to get into a male chorus and the always welcome Eileen Brennan as Jack’s hellish acting coach. The 4-disc set features am outtake reel and the always pointless “themed” clip featurettes.

With ABC’s abomination a fading memory and HBO’s take fast-approaching, delve into the actual history of Julius Caesar’s Rome (History Channel, Not Rated, DVD-$29.95 SRP) with the History Channel’s collection of 6 programs spotlighting the rise of Rome and its legacy. The programs contained in the set are A&E’s Biography of Julius Caesar, Antony & Cleopatra, The Republic of Rome, The Age of Emperors, Building an Empire, and The Enduring Legacy.

Twomorrows continues to prove themselves to be one of the premiere purveyors of comics history and appreciation with the continuation of their Modern Masters series of artists spotlights, with volume 5 featuring Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez (Twomorrows, $14.95 SRP), an in-depth look at the art and career of legend Gene Colon titled Secrets in the Shadows (Twomorrows, $21.95 SRP), and Michael Eury’s comprehensive look at the Silver Age of DC’s legendary team in his Justice League Companion (Twomorrows, $24.95 SRP). Where’s my Modern Masters volume on John Byrne?

After they killed off father James (John Amos), Good Times was never quite the same, which is clearly evident in the penultimate fifth season (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$29.95 SRP). It’s like the show lost its steam, and like most shows of that era, relied heavily on the by-now cliché antics of J.J. (Jimmy Walker). For trivia buffs, though, this is the season that introduced Janet Jackson as Penny, so there is that.

In Hetty Wainthropp Investigates, Patricia Routledge (of Keeping Up Appearances fame) stars as Hetty Wainthropp, a Lancashire housewife in her 60’s who discovers she has a flair for sleuthing. She decides to open a detective agency, aided and abetted by a teenage sidekick - played by non other than Patrick Monaghan (in his first professional gig). Offbeat and entertaining, The Complete Second Series (Acorn Media, Not Rated, DVD-$59.99 SRP) features all 6 episodes.

It’s about time for some music on DVD action, and we’ll start with the video chronicle of a once-in-a-lifetime concert line-up featuring Jerry Lee Lewis, Ronnie Hawkins, Carl Perkins, and The Band. Let It Rock: The 60th Birthday Concert (Eagle Vision, Not Rated, DVD-$14.98 SRP) also features the award-winning documentary At The Crossroads of Rock ‘n’ Roll, with director commentary. If eclectic is how you want to go this weekend, there’s the compendium of the Austin City Limits Music Festival: Live from Austin, Texas 2004 (Rhino, Not Rated, DVD-$19.99 SRP), featuring performances from Roseanne Cash, Franz Ferdinand, Ben Harper, Drive-By Truckers, The Pixies, The Neville Brothers, and over a dozen other acts. Finally, straight from the archives, there’s the Average White Band: Live at Montreux 1977 (Eagle Vision, Not rated, DVD-$14.98 SRP).

Mario Van Peebles’s mean streets flick New Jack City (Warner Bros., Rated R, DVD-$26.99 SRP) gets stripped and refitted with a deluxe 2-disc edition more befitting it’s still relevant quality. What do you get? A new commentary with Peebles, featurettes (“JJC: A Hip-Hop Classic,” “Harlem World: A Walk Inside,” and “The Road to New Jack City”), music videos, and the theatrical trailer.

I have to admit, I’m burnt out on anything having to do with 9/11. I’ve reached my threshold, thank you. Maybe that’s why my interest in the BBC documentary Clear the Skies (BBC, Not Rated, DVD-$14.97 SRP) took me be surprise. In it, the fascinating story of how the logistical nightmare of literally clearing the skies of all air traffic post-attack was accomplished is told, and you won’t believe what a feat it was. Look at it this way – almost 5,000 aircraft were in the air when the order was given, and the airspace was cleared in less than 3 hours. On a side tangent, another disc worth checking out is The Brotherhood: Life in the FDNY (Hart Sharp, Not Rated, DVD-$19.99 SRP), which looks at the firemen in 3 NYC firehouses post 9/11, as they are still struggling to rebuild their ranks in the face of the disaster and stupefying budget cuts, while still retaining their humor and courage in the face of danger.

If you blinked, you probably missed Life As We Know It (Buena Vista, Not Rated, DVD-$39.99 SRP) during it’s all-too-brief network run, but now you can own the complete 13 episode run of the series that plays like a modern-day Freaks & Geeks (which makes sense, since the producers also worked on that classic portrait of teen awkwardness). The DVD also features audio commentaries, deleted scenes, and outtakes.

Thank Jebus for Sony Legacy’s Essential collections, if only for the fact that they provide a cost-effective way for me to introduce my clueless friends to musicians everyone should have a working knowledge of. Case in point is their two latest releases – The Essential Tito Puente and The Essential Artie Shaw (Legacy, $24.98 SRP each) – both of which are 2-disc affairs pack with tunes that live up to the title.

The souped-up re-release train rolls along with a quartet of uber-ized editions from Paramount that revisit not only the picture & sound of these catalogue titles, but also finally give them a fitting array of bonus features. Harrison Ford’s AmishFest Witness (Paramount, Rated R, DVD-$19.99 SRP) comes away with a 5-part documentary on the making of the film, a deleted scene from the network TV cut, 3 TV spots, and the original theatrical trailer. Jim Carrey’s first Oscar grasp, The Truman Show (Paramount, Rated PG, DVD-$19.99 SRP), gets a 2-part making-of doc, a visual FX featurette, 4 deleted scenes, a photo gallery, 2 TV spots, and pair of theatrical trailers. Moving on to pure comedy, there’s the Clueless: “Whatever!” Edition (Paramount, Rated PG, DVD-$19.99 SRP), which actually is old enough to justify a 10-year retrospective on the cast, an interview with writer/director Amy Heckerling, a fashion featurette, a spotlight on the memorable vocabulary, a “Suck ‘N Blow” tutorial, making-of stories from the cast & crew, and trailers. Finally, there’s the 2-disc(!) Tommy Boy: Holy Schnike Edition (Paramount, Rated PG-13, DVD-$19.99 SRP), with an audio commentary with director Peter Segal, a quartet of behind-the-scenes featurettes (including a Farley tribute), 6 deleted scenes, 6 alternate takes, 15 extended scenes, 7 storyboard comparisons, 19 TV spots, a gag reel, a photo gallery, and the theatrical trailer. Okay, Paramount, can you revisit Airplane! now?

I love history. If you’re ever read this column before, you know I do. Therefore, something like Battlefield Britain (BBC, Not Rated, DVD-$49.98 SRP) – an 8-part documentary that examines the decisive battles that shaped 2,000 years of British history, presented by father & son team Peter and Dan Snow – is right up my alley. From Boudicca’s Revolt in 61 AD to 1940’s Battle of Britain, it’s a fascinating look at the effect warfare has on history.

In the past (around each time a set comes out, in fact), I’ve stated how I never really “got” Six Feet Under. It’s one of those shows that people say I should like – almost forcefully state it, in fact – but I’ve never enjoyed a single episode I’ve seen. But I know there are fans out there – plenty of them… Closet Goths, all. Either way, the complete fourth season set (HBO, Not Rated, DVD-$99.98 SRP) is for you, as the series winds down and the story of the Fisher & Diaz Funeral Home lurches towards its bitter end. Bonus features include 7 audio commentaries, deleted scenes, a Bob Costas interview with the cast, and an editing featurette.

I’ve got a friend who has been clamoring – Clamoring! – for the release of Emergency! and Adam-12 on DVD for the longest time, Now, with one fell swoop, he gets his wish as both classic 70’s series get the complete first season treatment (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP each). There are no bonus features to be found, sadly, but I’m willing to forgive that if they’ll hurry up and get the rest of the seasons out ASAP, if only so I no longer have to listen to my friend whine and plead.

Comments: None

THE MONEY PIT - 08/19/2005

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (August 19, 2005 at 9:44 pm)

Ach, this has been a hellish week. Trust me, folks – eventually, the body revolts against only 3 hours sleep a night. Friggin’ Benedict Arnold, it is… Typical, really. Either way, let’s jump head first (the only smart way, natch) into this weeks pot o’ potential.

Although the self-aware cracks were beginning to show, the 6th season of The Simpsons (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$49.98 SRP) was one of the last wholly great runs of a once great show. The “Treehouse of Horror” episode contained not only the brilliant time toaster, but also “The Shinning” and the “Nightmare Cafeteria.” Regular episodes included Homer’s induction into the Stonecutters and Krusty impersonation, Lisa’s rival, Maggie’s birth, Marge’s stints as teacher and cop, and Grandpa’s miracle love elixir. This was also the season that ended with the mystery of “Who Shot Mr. Burns?” Bonus features remain nicely consistent, with audio commentaries on every episode, deleted scenes, easter eggs, and more. And now, just to balance things out, a bit of a rant. Who was the moron who thought it would be a good idea to change to the new plastic clamshell packaging in the shape of the family’s heads, abandoning the packaging style of the first 5 seasons. My big problem? The package size is taller than standard DVD packaging, so you can’t even put the thing on your shelf. To add insult to injury, you can’t even stand the thing upright, since the bottom isn’t flat. Can we go back to intelligent packaging, please?

Let me say this right out of the gate – I respect what Robert Rodriguez was trying to accomplish with his big screen take on Frank Miller’s violent noir series Sin City (Dimension, Rated R, DVD-$29.99 SRP) – a true filmic representation of the look and feel of Miller’s comic pages. The reality of the movie, though, is that Rodriguez’s slavish faithfulness (along with co-director Miller and guest director Quentin Tarantino) is more of a curio than an engaging flick, which feels incredibly disjointed and features visuals that are more of an exercise in geek than a storytelling tool. The real shame of it all is that great film is to be had from these characters, and the actors certainly brought their A-game (Mickey Rourke, welcome back) – if only Rodriguez would get over the “Look at me!!!” factor of the visuals and just tell the damn stories, because they really are very classic noir pieces Miller crafted. The DVD is entirely featureless save for a token behind-the-scenes featurette, the better to milk us when the deluxe special edition comes out in a few months time.

Robots! Toys! Japanese Robot Toys! Oy, what a geekfest Super #1 Robot: Japanese Robot Toys 1972-1982 (Chronicle Books, $18.95 SRP) is for anyone whose ever loved, well, Japanese Robot Toys. Packed with over 200 gorgeous photos, it’s the ultimate visual feast for fans.

When it comes to celebrity interviews on TV, I hold only two interviewers in the highest esteem – Bob Costas and Dick Cavett. No one has been smart enough to start collecting Costas’s Later episodes for DVD release yet, but at least someone understood that a Cavett set was a long time coming. The Dick Cavett Show: Rock Icons (Shout! Factory, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) features classic Cavett interviews with and performances by David Bowie, George Harrison, Stevie Wonder, Janis Joplin, David Crosby, Joni Mitchell, Ravi Shankar, Paul Simon, Gary Wright, Stephen Stills, Sly and the Family Stone, The Rolling Stones, and Jefferson Airplane. Shown uncut and in their entirety, each episode also features a new introduction from Cavett, and there’s also an exclusive interview with him. Rock on… And for criminy’s sake, somebody snag Costas!

It seems you can’t avoid Judd Apatow nowadays… But maybe that’s because there’s a plane skywriting an ad for 40 Year-Old Virgin over my house right now. Either way, hot on the heels of their success with Freaks & Geeks, Shout! Factory decided to release another Apatow producorial effort that was cancelled far too soon, the almost painfully real college comedy Undeclared (Shout! Factory, Not Rated, DVD-$49.98 SRP). You’ve got all 18 episodes with commentaries, deleted scenes, bloopers, auditions, rehearsals, behind-the-scenes footage, a table reading, Loudon Wainwright concert footage, and the Museum of Television & Radio Q&A. Oh, and a bit of a nitpick for other journalists out there – Apatow DID NOT create Freaks & Geeks. F&G was created by Paul Feig, and was produced by Apatow. Get it right, people…

Who makes an epic feature film using nothing but marionettes? Well, besides Matt Stone & Trey Parker – I mean a completely serious feature. For the answer to my question, check out Strings (Wellspring, Not Rated, DVD-$26.98 SRP) – a visually stunning fantasy about a slain Emperor, political intrigue, and a young man’s journey to avenge his father’s death against the wrong enemy, and finds love in the process. Intrigues yet? The DVD features a behind-the-scenes featurette and the theatrical trailer.

If you were to take The League of Gentlemen and attempt to iron out its eccentric, gothic oddities and mainstream it up for a more general audience, you’d get Little Britain (BBC, Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP). Starring and written by Matt Lucas & David Walliams, it’s your standard Britcom sketch show, full of surreal character work as we look in on such oddballs as white trash teen Vicky Pollard, the lustful aide to Britain’s Prime Minister (a PM played by none other than Buffy’s Tony Head), the completely unconvincing “Lady” Emily Howard, and the hilarious duo of “handicapped” Andy and his caregiver, Lou. The 2-disc set features the complete first series, with bonus features including audio commentaries, the pilot episode & deleted scenes (with optional commentary), a behind-the-scenes documentary, live sketches, and interview with Matt & David, and clips from their show Rock Profiles.

It’s hard to imagine a Scorsese movie sans its soundtrack, and that goes for the unbelievable music selection presented (finally!) on the soundtrack album for Raging Bull (Capitol, $24.98 SRP). With a line-up that includes Marilyn Monroe, Louis Prima, Robbie Robertson, Gene Krupa, The Ink Spots, Benny Goodman, Bing Crosby, and over a dozen more, it’s an eclectic mix that instantly brings memories of boxer Jake La Motta’s story to the fore.

Honestly, I really don’t want to know what happened with Dave Chappelle’s “episode” and abandonment of Chappelle’s Show. I only regret that such a brilliant comedic outlet has been silenced, and Chappelle has gone… I don’t know where. Anyway, why don’t you drown your tears while watching his pretty damn funny stand-up special For What It’s Worth: Dave Chappelle Live at the Fillmore (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$19.94 SRP). It’ll make you feel better.

For anyone needing an additional nudge towards picking up the third season of The Andy Griffith Show (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$38.99 SRP), keep in mind that this is the season that gave us Jim Nabors as the immortal Gomer Pyle. With a calling-card like that, how can you not pick up the third outing of one of the finest shows ever to be broadcast into the ether? Sadly, the only bonus features continue to be the original sponsor ads. Where are the commentaries? The interviews? Get me Don and Andy, stat!

No, it’s not as brilliant as the original British version (which is virtually impossible, if only because you’ll never duplicate Ricky Gervais’s iconic David Brent), but the American version of The Office (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP) manages to shake of its awkwardness by the 3 episode of the Brit-like 6 episode first season, and become its own animal. Steve Carell assumes the Brent-role of clueless office manager Michael Scott, who oversees the staff of the Dunder Mifflin paper supply company. The DVD features audio commentaries and deleted scenes, but no mea culpas. Hey – at least it’s not Coupling.

Long out-of-print on DVD, you can now get the fully remastered (and bonus-laden) special edition of My Left Foot (Miramax, Rated R, DVD-$19.99 SRP). I usually have very little tolerance for button-pushing “overcoming adversity” flicks, but Daniel Day-Lewis won me over with his portrayal of real life Irishman Christy Brown, who overcame a debilitating case of cerebral palsy to become an artist and writer – utilizing the only appendage he had any control over, his left foot. The DVD features a making-of featurette, a look at the real Christy Brown, and a still gallery.

By no means perfect, I still dug the history of the Cuban experience in the 50’s as presented in The Mambo Kings (Warner Bros., Rated R, DVD-$19.97 SRP), which stars Antonio Banderas and Amrand Assante as two Cuban musician brothers who attempt to conquer America. The scenes showing their big break on I Love Lucy – with Desi Jr. standing in for his father – are the stuff of movie magic. The DVD features an extended cut of the film, an audio commentary with director Arne Glimcher, a behind-the-scenes featurette, and the original theatrical trailer.

My family has been trying fervently to talk my father out of getting a Harley motorcycle, so I probably won’t be letting him listen to Harley Davidson: Ride (EMI, $18.98 SRP), a collection of rebel classics to crank up on the iPod while cruising the byways, including tracks from Hendrix, Nickelback, Steve Miller Band, George Thorogood, and Billy Idol. Nope… Not gonna let me father near it.

After wrapping up the first season, we’re now into the first season 2 volume of the expanded Starburst Editions of Farscape with volume 2.2 (ADV, Not Rated, DVD-$24.98 SRP), which collects the middle third of season 2 with 7 episodes spread across 2 dual-sided discs, with all the original bonus materials plus a few surprises.

“Hooker’s a good cop!” Well, duh – he is William Shatner. Now you can own the first two seasons of Shatner’s post-Trek but pre-911 outing as a police detective T.J. Hooker (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$49.98 SRP), who decides to go back to street patrol and train new recruits… and partner with Heather Locklear. Does she ever age? She’s like the female Dick Clark. The DVD features the original pilot and the original network promos. Heck, there’s even an episode guest-starring Leonard Nimoy!

It certainly was a far more genteel ear when a pair of dancers – Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers – could have film upon film built upon them. As the 5 films contained in the Astaire & Rogers Collection: Volume 1 (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$59.92 SRP) attest, however, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t surprisingly enjoyable. Those 5 flicks are Top Hat, Swing Time, Follow the Fleet, Shall We Dance, & The Barkleys of Broadway, and each are presented in the quality I’ve come to expect from Warners’ DVD restoration team. Bonus features are also extensive, including featurettes, vintage cartoons and shorts, audio commentaries, and trailers. When it comes to releasing their immense catalog, Warner Bros., is still the studio that’s setting the bar.

Can you believe we’re just about finished with the full run of I Love Lucy? If you haven’t been keeping up, now’s the time to hurry up and snag the first 4 seasons in addition to the just released Season 5 (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$54.99 SRP each). The fifth season was chock full of traveling, including Hollywood, Manhattan, Paris, London, and Rome, as well as some truly classic Lucy moments that have gone down in TV history. What kind of moments, you ask? How about Lucy & Ethel’s foot-stomping encounter with vineyard grapes? That classic enough for ya? The 4-disc set features all 26 episodes, plus bloopers, lost scenes, featurettes, promo spots, and 5 episodes of Lucy’s radio show My Favorite Husband.

You’ve got to love it when Hollywood decides to fully embrace and exploit a rising cultural movement. Remember the explosion of grunge/GenX films that littered the 90’s? Or the rap films of the new millennium? Well, the trend goes all the way back to the dawn of tinseltown, and was in full force when rock n’ roll hit the scene in the 50’s. A beautiful artifact of that era can be found in Jamboree (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$19.97 SRP), a concert film featuring performances by Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Frankie Avalon, Connie Francis, Buddy Knox, The Four Coins, and even Count Basie & His Orchestra, if you can believe it. Bonus features are limited to the original theatrical trailer, but with a time capsule like this, having the films is good enough for me.

Comments: None

THE MONEY PIT - 08/12/2005

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (August 12, 2005 at 9:39 pm)

“Get up every morning slaving for bread, so that every mouth can be fed…” Yeah, it’s another week, another shopping guide, another way to drop all the hard-earned money that could be going to much better use somewhere else – but won’t, because it’s so much more fun to drop it on toys, books, CD’s, and DVDs. You know it’s true… As a wise man once said, “Rama-lama ding dong.” Admittedly, that wise man was completely nutters.

It’s time to light the lights, as Disney finally manages to do something right by the Muppets and begin releasing long-awaited complete season sets of The Muppet Show (Walt Disney, Not Rated, DVD-$39.99 SRP). All 24 episodes are fully (and nicely) restored and remastered, and while the show didn’t really find its footing until season 2 (when the nascent Piggy, Fozzie, and Gonzo found here finally gel into the characters we know and love), there’s a lot of great material here. Finally learning the lesson the Henson Company never did, the set features some choice nuggets from the vaults, including the original (and truly hilarious) pitch for the show, original “Sex and Violence!” pilot, and original promo spots. Here’s hoping future sets will give us the Muppets Valentine Show special, the Of Muppets & Men documentary, and – if all my wishes come true – the complete 1979 episode of The Tonight Show hosted by the Muppets. Come on, people… Make this happen.

If you want a harrowing look at Disney not doing right by The Muppets, than look no further than the abysmally bad Muppets Wizard of Oz (Walt Disney, Not Rated, DVD-$24.99 SRP), as Kermit and the gang get shoehorned into playing second fiddles to the glassy-eyed Ashanti in an adaptation of the classic children’s story, while desperately trying to bring some of their classic appeal to an ill-conceived morass. Bad Disney. Bad. The DVD features outtakes, a behind-the-scenes featurette with Pepe, and an extended interview with Quentin Tarantino about the uber-bloody “Emerald Duel” excised from the film.

You can’t get a bigger knife in my back that the big screen version of Marvel’s classic hero quartet, The Fantastic Four. Reading the behind-the-scenes Fantastic 4: The Making of the Movie (Titan Books, $19.95/£14.99) is quite illuminating, revealing much of the hubris blended with sheer idiocy that made a trainwreck out of brilliant source material. Much better is Comics Creators on Fantastic Four (Titan Books, $17.95/£14.99), in which 14 of the artists and writers who have left their mark on the FF – including Stan Lee, John Byrne, Roy Thomas, Walter Simonson, Joe Sinnott, and Paul Ryan – discuss the creative forces that shaped their tenures with the “World’s Greatest Comics Magazine.”

So what would happen if you decided to make a TV show that combined the narcissism of American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman with the greed and power-lust of Wall Street’s Gordon Gekko – and that man was your protagonist? That show existed, albeit briefly, on Fox in 1996, and it was called Profit (Anchor Bay, Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP). And it lasted 4 brilliant episodes before being cancelled. Even if audiences were ready for the corporate climb of charismatic sociopath Jim Proft, the network certainly wasn’t. Well, you can judge for yourself now that the complete series is available on DVD – including 4 never-aired episodes – with interviews and audio commentaries.

The internet is chock full of lists and petitions full of people clamoring for this or that to get released on DVD. When it comes to older “classic” titles, there have been consistent and plaintive calls for the release of the classic flicks featuring sleuthing couple Nick & Nora Charles, AKA The Thin Man series. As portrayed by William Powell and Myrna Loy, the memorable series presaged everything from Hart to Hart and Moonlighting to Romancing the Stone and Mr. & Mrs. Smith. The 6 flicks comprising the series – The Thin Man, After the Thin Man, Another Thin Man, Shadow of the Thin Man, The Thin Man Goes Home, and Song of the Thin Man – are all lovably featured within The Complete Thin Man Collection (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$59.92 SRP), which also contains a bonus 7th disc featuring a pair of documentaries on Powell & Loy, and an episode each of the radio and TV series. There’s another one to scratch off the request list.

It seems like every group and artist under the sun is getting a greatest hits collection from the Mighty Mighty Bosstones (Mercury, $9.98 SRP), Rick James & Friends (Motown, $9.98 SRP), and even a 2-disc overview from Cher (Geffen, $19.98 SRP) – which includes both her solo output and hits with Sonny. Also on my playlist is the 2-disc Reggae: Gold (Hip-O, $19.98 SRP), which contains the most infectiously wonderful reggae tune of all time – Desmond Dekker’s “Israelites.”

After the untimely death of Grateful Dead keyboardist Brent Mydland, the Dead’s September, 1990 concert date was cancelled. At the last minute, though, the Jerry Garcia Band stepped in to fulfill the date, and what occurred was a rather poignant pair of sets that are captured in their entirety on Jerry Garcia Band: Live at Shoreline 9/1/90 (Rhino, Not Rated, DVD-$19.99 SRP), in 5.1 surround. The disc also features interviews with Robert Hunter and band members, plus a mini-documentary.

When arrogant businessman Malcolm King (Anthony Anderson) decides the only way to foil his ex-wife’s impending divorce settlement windfall is to stage a kidnapping, his careful plan goes awry when he makes the mistake of depending on his intelligence-deficient mistress (Regina Hall) and her incompetent ex-con brother (Charlie Murphy). King’s Ransom (New Line, Rated PG-13, DVD-$27.95 SRP) is one of hose comedies that, in the 80’s, would be made classic by endless repeats on cable (you know who you are, Brewster’s Millions). If we have only one thing to thank Dave Chappelle and Chappelle’s show for, it’s giving the world the joy of Charlie Murphy. The DVD features an audio commentary (with Anderson, Jay Mohr, and director Jeff Byrd) deleted scenes, a behind-the-scenes featurette, and a gag reel.

Call it soft rock, but I’ve still got a place in my heart for those mellow tunsemith’s of the 70’s – just not the Manilow or Orlando type. No, my threshold is the laid-back So-Cal rock of bands like the Eagles and America, whose hits included “Ventura Highway,” “Tin Man” and the immortal tale of going through the desert on a “Horse With No Name.” All those and more are contained in their 1979 concert film America: Live at Central Park (Capitol, Not Rated, DVD-$14.98 SRP). Even more than the performances themselves, it’s a remarkable visual document of the city itself – always a plus. The DVD features an audio commentary with director Peter Clifton.

About as 180 from America as you can get is Iggy Pop and his concert film, Live at the Avenue B (Virgin/EMI, Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP). Shot in Brussels and with a set that stretched all the way back to The Stooges – and backed by his ace band, The Trolls – it was a hardcore night to remember, brilliantly captured in 5.1 surround. Also available is the 2-disc A Million in Prizes – Iggy Pop: The Anthology (Virgin, $24.98 SRP), the perfect companion to the DVD.

Every time another batch of DVDs hits stores, my theory that eventually every TV show will get a release (at least until SAG works out residuals for disc sales) is reinforced. Want proof? This week we’ve got the release of the complete first & second seasons of Dennis Weaver as the fish-out-of-water cowboy deputy in New York, McCloud (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP), the complete first season of the sleuthing Police Commissioner and his significant sleuthing other, McMillan & Wife (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP), Fred Dryer in the complete second season of Hunter (Anchor Bay, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP), and the complete third season of Columbo (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP)… which even features an episode of the short-lived spin-off attempt, Mrs. Columbo.

The remastered reissues of the Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass continue with a trio of new releases – The Beat of the Brass, Sounds Like, & Herb Alpert’s Ninth (Shout! Factory, $13.98 SRP each). I do love me some brass.

So, how do you use bribes to get your license? Or avoid tipping off other drivers with turn signals? Or get a good sleep while at the wheel? Maybe you want to scare the bejeebus out of pedestrians, or keep driving when you’re blind as a bat? All these secrets and more are revealed in The Bad Driver’s Handbook: Hundreds of Simple Maneuvers to Frustrate, Annoy, and Endanger Those Around You (Santa Monica Press, $12.95 SRP). Finally, a practical book.

It didn’t exactly leave with a bang, but fans will be happy that, with the release of the complete 3rd season of Roswell (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$59.98 SRP), they can finally have the full run of the alien teen drama that made Tabasco geek shorthand. The 5-disc set features all 18 eps, plus select episode commentaries, “Class of 2002” featurette, and “Shiri Appleby’s DVD Tour to Japan” featurette.

Why has it taken for so long for Scarecrow (Warner Bros., Rated R, DVD-$19.97 SRP) to hit DVD? I mean, come on… It stars Gene Hackman and Al Pacino as a pair of hard luck drifters trying to rebuild their lives – one just out jail and one back from 5 years at sea and eager to see the child he’s never seen – and heading cross-country. Both actors are at the height of their powers, and the film is a brilliant piece of Americana, like celluloid Steinbeck. Bonus features include a vintage featurette and the theatrical trailer.

If you want a perfect portrait of the price of freedom, look no further than Jonathan Demme’s documentary portrait of the assassinated Haitian journalist and freedom fighter Jean Dominique, The Agronomist (New Line, Rated PG-13, DVD-$27.95 SRP). Assembled from over 10 years of footage, it’s a fascinating look at the owner and operator of Haiti’s only free radio station, and his struggles against the oppressive regimes it survived through, until his still-unsolved assassination in 2000.

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