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THE MONEY PIT - 08/05/2005

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (August 5, 2005 at 9:45 pm)

In less than a month, I’ll be holed up in muggy Atlanta, siting on panels, waxing Plumosophic, and co-hosting the 3rd annual mega-colossal Needcoffee Seventh Annual Gonzo Moving Pictures Extravaganza at DragonCon. Here’s hoping you’re all booked for a fun-filled weekend of me looking the fool.

First off, another one of those program notes (since I’ve been in a nonfiction mood lately with my limited TV-viewing) – The History Channel’s documentary Ape to Man airs this Sunday, August 7th, at 9pm/8c. Detailing the quest to fully trace the evolution of, well, ape to man, it’s a fascinating look at the convergence of genetics, archeology, and history.

Although I’m loathe to answer the question, if pressed to name a favorite film I would most certainly place the original Ghostbusters towards the top of the list. Every kid has a film that was released at just the right time to resonate with them (and completely ensnare their imagination so fully that they dress up in their father’s flight suit, strap on a proton pack made from an old concentration game and a microphone, and patrol the neighborhood on their bike for specters… but I digress…), and this film fit the bill during my impressionable youth. Although the new 2-disc Ghostbusters Gift Set (Sony, Rated PG, DVD-$19.94 SRP) doesn’t contain anything truly new in terms of special features compared to the original releases of the film and its sequel (save for the inclusion of a pair of episodes from the Real Ghostbusters cartoon and the odd exclusion of the first film’s video commentary feature), it does sport brand new, quite spiffy transfers for both flicks – which, frankly, is a good enough holdover for me, until the uber-edition comes out (featuring the must-have Ray Parker, Jr. music video). There’s also a quickie “scrapbook” included in the package which features some artworks and pics from the film, but it’s really neither here nor there in terms of desirability.

Believe it or not (and yes, I did have to go for the obvious opening line), but the 3rd and final season of The Greatest American Hero (Anchor Bay, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) is already hitting DVD. It seemed like only yesterday that the beloved “classic” TV series was one of those programs being loudly pined for by pop culture geeks the world over… And now it’s all over. There are no bonus features this go round, but who cares? We’ve got the whole series now!

It seems like such a simple concept – swap the first letters of words in your prose, and watch as the verbal delights unfold. It may sound simple, but it took the late Shel Silverstein (he of Where the Sidewalk Ends & A Light in the Attic) to make it the instant classic that is Runny Babbit: A Billy Sook (Harper Collins, $17.99 SRP). While you’re entering that world, why not pick up The Best of Shel Silverstein (Columbia/Legacy, $11.98 SRP), a disc collecting Silverstein’s classic prose and songs, and a must-have for any child you may happen to know… Including yourself.

The last few seasons were painfully awkward (in that “the time has come to call it quits” kind of way), but it takes only the first few minutes of The Cosby Show’s premiere episode to remind me just what a truly funny (and groundbreaking) sitcom it once was. Based largely on Cosby’s stand-up (in fact, some of the bits are recreated nearly verbatim), you instantly get swept up in the family Huxtable, without the sense of treacly sap that eventually swallowed up the family comedy genre during the rise of ABC’s “TGIF” block. Check out the first season (UrbanWorks, Not Rated, DVD-$49.99 SRP and see if you don’t agree. The 5-disc set features all 24 episodes, plus the 90-minute Cosby Show: A Look Back special, deleted scenes, bloopers, audition footage, celebrity guest appearances, and cast retrospectives. A caveat, though – for some ungodly, unknown, and unforgivable reason, the set features the syndication cuts of the episodes – which means there’s tons of material missing. What’s the deal, people? I hope this issue is rectified post-haste – this show deserves better.

When I travel, I often bring plenty of movies with me to fill any downtime. The only problem is that I’ve always hated – HATED – the tinny sound you get out of laptop speakers. Compounding the problem, I recently bought myself an MP3 player, and those speakers just don’t cut it when I want to cue up some music to listen to whilst working (something I’m doing right now, as Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” plays). I’ve explored the option of portable speakers in the past, but always encountered models that were far too clunky to travel with, and didn’t feature terribly great sound, either. Thankfully, I’ve finally found a solution in the Gen3 Portable Speakers from Sonic Impact ($59.99 SRP). Measuring only 4” tall, they feature aluminum-skinned flat panels for maximum high/low frequency response, and a 1 watt per channel (RMS) effective output of a 3 watt per channel system (bottom line – they sound great). Even better, they run on only 4AAA batteries (a USB power cord and AC adapter is available via their website). Heck, you even get a hardcover case for easy transport (which makes it about the size of a small, thick notebook). These are truly beautiful marvels of engineering, and – joy! – it means I can watch movies and listen to music on trips without wanting to drive pencils into my ears… Quite a boon, that.

Various groups were up-in-arms when Oliver Stone announced he would be editing the DVD release of his historical epic Alexander (Warner Bros., Rated R, DVD-$29.95 SRP), claiming it would be excising the content related to the Great one’s flexible sexual preferences. Well, they needn’t have been worried – that material is still here, but the “tightening” Stone did to the film does little to make it an enjoyable experience, as it still is a draggy, ponderous affair that is ill-served by the miscast Colin Farrell, who plays the role as a pissy Russell Crowe-lite. The 2-disc set features an incredibly defensive audio commentary with Stone, a trio of behind-the-scenes documentaries, a features on the Vangelis score, and the theatrical trailers.

Spend this Saturday morning being completely weirded out in a disturbingly enjoyable way watching Saturday Morning with Sid & Marty Krofft (Rhino, Not Rated, DVD-$14.95 SRP), featuring the premiere episodes of Krofft classics H.R. Pufnstuf, The Bugaloos, Lidsville, Sigmund and the Sea Monsters, Land of the Lost, The Lost Saucer, and Far Out Space Nuts. There’s also a interviews and a Lidsville commentary with George Lopez. Proceed to full freak-out mode.

If you have fond memories of when you were actually interested in the mythology that eventually devoured The X-Files, be sure to pick up the second volume collecting those episodes from seasons 3,4, & 5, The X-Files: Black Oil (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP), which contains commentaries on selected episodes and the first part of a brand new mega-documentary, “Threads of Mythology.”

Even though there’s definitely something lost in the translation to a smaller format, I still get a kick out of the films produced for IMAX – if only because they tend to contain some of the most stunning visuals you’ll ever see, regardless of the medium. Such is the case with the IMAX look at the International Space Station (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP), and by golly, the views of our planet are truly spectacular. The DVD includes an audio commentary with director Toni Myers and astronaut Marsha Ivins, audio/visual tours of the station, a featurette, and a gallery.

Clearly the precursor to today’s reality TV craze, the idea of filming everyday people for the entertainment of the TV audience at home started with Allen Funt’s Candid Camera way, way back in 1949(!). You can now experience the choicest of highlights spanning a half-century in the 10-disc Candid Camera: 5 Decades of Smiles set (Rhino, Not Rated, DVD-$99.95 SRP). The earliest material is still the funniest (before the era of America’s Home Videos made watered-down versions of the classic Funt “gotcha” moment de rigeur, abandoning the borderline sadism of some of the original setups), and it’s still shocking to see the material Funt captured in the controversial 1960’s episode in which he snuck cameras into the Soviet Union.

Jeff Lynne was a shameless as Oasis when it came to their slavish love of the Beatles showing up in their songs, but I could really care less when the tunes are as infectious as the ones featured on the newly-remastered All Over the World: The Very Best of Electric Light Orchestra (Epic/Legacy, $18.98 SRP). I hereby dare anyone dismissive of Lynne and ELO to listen to “Mr. Blue Sky” and not get caught up in its unbelievably infectious execution… It’s an unresistable impossibility, I tell you! Of course, I still don’t know why Simon is on the cover…

As flawed as Katsuhiro Otomo’s Victorian-era steampunk epic Steamboy (Sony, Rated PG-13, DVD-$26.96 SRP) is, it’s required viewing for the breathtaking visuals alone. And honestly, after a legendary flick like Akira, it’s hard for anyone to live up to their legacy, but there’s just something about Steamboy – which tells the tale of young inventor Ray Steam, who uses his steam-powered mechanical devices to fight off a mysterious invading force of futuristic war machines decimating London – that just never comes together, and it’s a shame, because this is so very, very close to being the follow-up it should be. The DVD features a featurette on the English dub, an interview with Otomo, a landscape study, the end credits sequence sans text, production drawings, and animation onion skins.

In this age of DVD glut, it’s a bonus when a pair of classic – yet long-unreleased – titles from a major Hollywood legend make it to market, and such is the case with the John Wayne’s The High and the Mighty (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$19.99 SRP) and Island in the Sky (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$14.99 SRP). Both titles have been beautifully restored and remastered, and are filled to the brimming with bonus features, including commentaries, featurettes, trailers, newsreel footage, and much, much more. It’s an added bonus that both films are pretty damn good, too.

While we’re touching on screen legends being well-served by DVD, be sure to check out the recently-released pair of box sets spotlighting two of the most iconic actresses ever to hit Hollywood via the Bette Davis and Joan Crawford collections (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$49.92 SRP each). The Bette Davis set features The Star, Mr. Skeffington, Dark Victory, Now, Voyager, and The Letter. The equally impressive Crawford set features Humoresque, Possessed, The Damned Don’t Cry, The Women, and Mildred Pierce. All the films are beautifully remastered and loaded with extras, including commentaries, featurettes, trailers, shorts, and more.

It’s not a terribly clever take on the classic Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner – in this, a white fiancé (Ashton Kutcher) surprises his wife-to-be’s black family, including her none-too-happy papa (Bernie Mac) – but there’s enough entertainment in Guess Who (Sony, Rated PG-13, DVD-$28.95 SRP) that I can’t completely dismiss it. Don’t you hate when that happens? Bonus features include an audio commentary with director Kevin Rodney Sullivan, deleted scenes with optional commentary, a making-of featurette, and a tepid gag reel.

Years before his show for Thames television took off like a rocket and made him a worldwide star, Benny Hill launched the original Benny Hill Show on BBC in 1955. Still cheeky but not nearly as slapsticky as he would eventually become (but oh, so funny), the best of those early years are collected on Benny Hill: The Early Years (BBC, Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP). Originally available on VHS, the DVD edition has been expanded with 34 minutes worth of additional sketches. The only thing missing is the yackety sax.

Comments: None

THE MONEY PIT - 07/29/2005

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (July 29, 2005 at 9:34 pm)

Oy, the time flies! Where in the hol-lo-lo-ly heck has the summer gone? There’s something criminally wrong with how fast it’s disappeared… I mean, seriously – when I was a kid, the days just seemed to drag on and on… Until the last two weeks before school started, which seemed to rocket by. Stephen Hawking should look into that time dilation… Something in relativity must account for it… The Unified Theory of Summer can’t be far off…

Before we get started, a quick programming note – be sure to check out The History Channel’s supremely cool new series, Weird U.S., which premieres this Monday, August 1st, at 10pm/9c. Any show that investigates the urban legends, peculiar places, and strange stories that aren’t written in history books is a must-see in my book.

Like a latter-day Mork & Mindy meets The Coneheads, 3rd Rock From the Sun featured an alien crew attempting to blend into human society. What set it apart from its predecessors was a brilliant ensemble cast headed by John Lithgow as High Commander Dick Solomon. Showing a complete willingness to go completely wacky in his performance (not seen since the preacher father in Footloose), Lithgow leads by example, and the rest of the troupe (including French Stewart, Kristen Johnson, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Jane Curtain) are up to the task. The 20 episodes comprising the first season (Anchor Bay, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98) prove the series hit the ground running, with none of the growing pains that usually hobble these initial TV-on-DVD sets. Bonus features include interviews with the entire cast, a behind-the-scenes featurette, TV spots, and a blooper reel. I can’t wait to see the “Big Giant Head” episodes with Shatner in future seasons.

After devouring magician/historian/actor Ricky Jay’s delightfully esoteric Extraordinary Exhibitions, I was delighted when’s Widgett Walls picked me up a pair of Jay’s earlier books while on a recent jaunt to New York with his lovely wife Maegan. I would recommend both of those books – Learned Pigs & Fireproof Women (Noonday Press, $22.95 SRP) & Jay’s Journal of Anomalies (Quantuck Lane Press, $25.00 SRP) – for anyone who wants a fascinating look at the heyday of sideshow eccentricities full of colorful entertainers.

Before they assembled into the ground-breaking comedy team whose influence is still felt to this day, the men who would one day form Monty Python worked on a pair of proto-Python sketch comedy series in the mid-60’s - At Last The 1948 Show & Do Not Adjust Your Set (Boulevard Entertainment, Not Rated, DVD-£19.99 SRP each). Long thought wiped (the BBC practice of erasing tapes for reuse, regardless of the eventual historical importance of the programs contained on them), these 2-disc releases contain 14 recovered episodes, complete and uncut. With a cast list that includes John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Terry Jones, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Marty Feldman, David Jason, Tim Brooke-Taylor, animation by Terry Gilliam (on DNAYS, which also includes musical performances by the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band), these are true comedic treasures. Unfortunately, these releases are still only available in the UK, but they’re well worth tracking down and picking up.

The episodes contained on the 3rd volume of Sealab: 2021 (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP) are the last batch that managed the same sprit (and humor) that made me fall in love with the show in the first place. The demarcation point is the tragic death of actor Harry Goz, who provided the voice of the surreally hilarious Captain Murphy. After his passing, it’s like the fight went out of the show… Watch the post-Goz eps on this set and you’ll see what I mean. The 2-disc set features 13 episodes, plus the original pilot, an interview with Stormy Waters (political pundit), a pair of abandoned episodes, and audio commentaries (mostly gag).

Anyone who doesn’t see Remington Steele (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) as a clear primer for Pierce Brosnan’s eventual inheritance of the Bond mantle must not have been watching too closely, as he’s got the suave swagger down right from the start of the first season. As conceits go, RS’s was a doozy – female PI Laura Holt can’t get any clients, so she decides to remake her agency for a chauvinist world, changing the name to the “Remington Steele Agency,” headed by the fictional Mr. Steele. What throws a wrench into her plans is the arrival of a man claiming to be Steele… Now come on, isn’t that a brilliant 80’s turn? The 4-disc set features all 22 first season eps, plus commentaries on a trio of episodes, and making-of featurettes.

You know, I actually enjoyed Not Another Teen Movie (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$19.94 SRP)… which probably says more about the fatigue I was suffering from the late 90’s/early 00’s slew of teen “comedies” pelting our collective pop-conscious than any of the merits of the film. Still, you can double-dip back into that reactionary flick with the new unrated director’s cut, loaded with 10-minutes more off-color funny, nudity, and giggle-inducing social satire. The disc also contains brand-new bonus features including a trio of behind-the-scenes featurettes, the uncensored Marilyn Manson “Tainted Love” video, director Joel Gallen’s short film “Car Ride,” audition footage, promos, and more.

Any film that begins by introducing Steve Martin as having been “born a poor black child” is a comedy classic from the word go, and so it is with Martin’s big screen debut in Carl Reiner’s The Jerk (Universal, Rated R, DVD-$19.98 SRP). The adopted son of a poor black sharecropper family, Navin Johnson (Martin) goes from rags to riches to rags on the back of an ingenious invention, and falls in love with a lady motorcycle racer. Trust me – you just gotta see it, particularly in its newly restored form.

Considering how many years it’s been since the release of the first season, I despaired of ever seeing the second season of The Mary Tyler Moore Show (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP) on DVD. But lo and behold!, it’s finally here, with bonus material to boot. Mostly recorded and compiled during the production process of the first set long ago, those bonus materials include audio commentary on select episodes, the brand-new documentary “8 Characters in Search of a Sitcom,” the original 1973 documentary “Moore on Sunday,” Emmy Award Show clips, another trivia challenge, the Mad Magazine parody of the show, a photo gallery, theme song karaoke track, and more. Finally! Get me season 3 before the decade is out, Fox… And bring Malcolm in the Middle: Season 2 with it…

High concept gimmick movies can go either way – they can be works of sublime genius, or confused, muddled messes. Twenty Bucks (Sony, Rated R, DVD-$24.96 SRP) – which follows a $20 bill from the ATM to the bank shredder, and all the lives it touches in-between - is of the former category. The gimmick works in large part to the cast – which includes Christopher Lloyd, Brendan Fraser, William H. Macy, Elisabeth Shue, Steve Buscemi, and Linda Hunt – with a few genuine surprises, and a lot of comedy, along the way. The DVD features a pair of audio commentaries with the cast & crew, and a pair of behind-the-scenes featurettes.

Xena fans who may have been hesitant to shell out the big bucks necessary to obtain all 6 seasons her mythical adventures will probably want to pick up the Xena: Warrior Princess 10th Anniversary Collection (Anchor Bay, Not Rated, DVD-$59.98 SRP), which features 16 fan-selected episodes from across the show’s run, plus a bountiful bevy of extras, including interviews, audio commentaries, and featurettes – many of which are exclusive to this set (so even if you own all 6 seasons, you’ll probably want to snag this as well).

Take your pop culture bucket to the kitsch well with a second season helping of The Brady Bunch (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$38.99 SRP). From Greg’s science project to Jan’s attempt to remove her “ugly” freckles with lemons (oh, the lessons you’ll learn!) there’s nothing finer than unfettered Brady-isms, looking better than anything you’ve ever seen in syndication.

Long maligned for admitted schmaltz like “Silly Love Songs” (which is intentional, ya philistines – listen to the words), I’ve mostly enjoyed the solo output of Paul McCartney. Not as artsy as Lennon, as spiritual as Harrison, or as happy-go-lucky as Ringo, Paul consistently charted a middle ground, regularly displaying the melodic hooks that drove many a Beatles hit. Those solo-era McCartney hits are celebrated on “Listen to What the Man Said” (Oglio, $11.98 SRP), which finds artists as diverse as They Might Be Giants, Semisonic, and Matthew Sweet taking on the tunes of the mighty Mac.

I’m still quite ticked that what is hands-down the most mediocre of all the Trek series manages to get the best range of extras in DVD form (Including bloopers! The irony!), but I shall refrain from repeating completely my utter hatred for the show if only to spare the feelings of the fans that it has. Suffice to say, those fans should be pleased with the 7-disc complete 2nd season of Star Trek: Enterprise (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$129.00 SRP), featuring audio commentaries on 2 episodes, a profile of Jolene Blalock, a spotlight on LeVar Burton’s Trek directing, a retrospective on the 2nd season, an inside look at “A Night in Sickbay”, deleted scenes, “Enterprise Secrets”, and outtakes.

Frankly, I’m still enchanted by the world created by Kenneth Grahame in his classic tale The Wind in the Willows, and have been ever since I saw Disney’s Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. The characters of Toad, Mole, Rat, & Badger continue their adventures in the second series set of Cosgrove Hall’s wonderful stop-motion Wind in the Willows (A&E, Not Rated, DVD-$29.95 SRP) – which, if you haven’t already, is well worth checking out.

It’s fascinating to watch the History Channel’s in-depth examination of arguably the 20th century’s most influential president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in FDR: A Presidency Revealed (History Channel, Not Rated, DVD-$29.95 SRP). From his pioneering social reforms during the very depths of the Great Depression to his leadership during World War II, the ramifications of his landmark 3 terms in office are still being felt today, and this doc nicely dissects why, and how the challenges he faced compare to this post-9/11 world we find ourselves in. The 2-disc set also features a pair of A&E Biography episodes on FDR, plus a making-of featurette.

Be prepared for plenty more bawdy Brit humor with the third volume of the complete and unadulterated Benny Hill (A&E, Not Rated, DVD-$49.95 SRP), this time covering the years of 1975-1977. Yes, the laughs are often base, but sometimes a belly laugh is just necessary as an intellectual chuckle. The 3-disc set also includes the rare silent movie “Eddie in August.”

While watching the “classic” 80’s comedy (be aware, I use “classic” this way on films like Disorderlies and Summer School as well) Moving Violations (Anchor Bay, Rated PG-13, DVD-$14.98 SRP), you can’t help but thinking that this is a perfect early 80’s Bill Murray vehicle… which is probably why this late 80’s flick stars Murray sibling John as a smartass sentenced to a character-filled traffic school, who runs afoul of a crooked cop and judge (Stacy Keach & Sally Kellerman) who plot to sell-off their impounded cars. The DVD even features an audio commentary with director Neal Israel… See, I told you it was a classic.

And speaking of Stacy Keach, he stars as the five-times-divorced, overbearing, abusive father of Christopher Titus in the criminally overlooked sitcom Titus (Anchor Bay, Not Rated, DVD-$44.98 SRP), which gets its DVD debut in a 6-disc set featuring the first two seasons. The set also contains audio commentaries, an interview with Titus about the real-world source of his comedy, a promo, and rehearsal footage.

Balseros (Docurama, Not Rated, DVD-$26.95 SRP) is a slang term for Cuban rafters, and this documentary is the account of seven Cuban refugees as they risk their lives in shark-infested waters in pursuit of a better life in the summer of 1994. The film follows these refugees as they attempt to make a life in their new home – including some that, after being picked up by the U.S. Coast Guard, were detained at Guantanamo naval base for a year before being allowed onto American soil. On a somewhat lighter note (no pun intended), A Night in Havana: Dizzy Gillespie in Cuba (Docurama, Not Rated, DVD-$26.95 SRP) documents the famed bebop trumpeter’s journey to the Cuban isle as headliner of the Fifth International Jazz Festival in Havana. Great doc, great jazz.

Anyone who claims not to watch even a snippet of America’s Funniest Home Videos should they cross it whilst channel surfing is a complete and utter liar. Like any passing tragedy, it cries out for rubbernecking, and you can rubberneck to your heart’s content with the 4-disc first volume of episodes from the show, featuring host Tom Bergeron (Shout! Factory, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP). Hey – at least it’s not from the Saget years.

How about a trio of releases from The Discovery Channel and Animal Planet? First up is a pair of releases from two of Animal Planet’s more popular hosts – Austin Stevens – Snakemaster: In Search of the Giant Lizard, Monster Rattler, & More and The Jeff Corwin Experience: Out on a Limb – Monkeys, Orangutans & More (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$14.94 SRP each). Also available is the forward-thinking look at the odd forms of extraterrestrial life we may find one day on an Alien Planet (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$14.94 SRP). The DVD also features extended interviews from Stephen Hawking, Jack Horner, and more. Faaaascinating.

It’s taken a few years, but you can now pick up the complete 6th & final season of Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman (A&E, Not Rated, DVD-$89.95 SRP). Containing all 22 episodes, the 6-disc set also features an audio commentary with stars Jane Seymour & James Keach on the episode “Point Blank,” and cast biographies.

It still smacks of a Friends wannabe, but the UK series Cold Feet is ingratiating on its own merits, including an agreeable cast and writing that, while not brilliant, is certainly entertaining. The Complete 3rd Series (Acorn, Not Rated, dVD-$39.98 SRP) features all 8 episodes plus a photo gallery.

Comments: 1 Comment

THE MONEY PIT - 07/22/2005

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (July 22, 2005 at 12:15 am)

Coming back from any long, grueling, but ultimately productive trip means one thing – a heck of a lot of catching up. San Diego’s annual Comic-Con is always a draining experience, and when you add a trip up to LA on top of that (more on the coolness finalized on that trip will be announced in the near future), it’s just absolutely deadening. But, as Queen said, “Show Must Go On”…

Yeah, yeah, yeah – I know I’m a week behind, but I was out of town, for cripes sake. I’m sure most of you have already picked up your copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Scholastic, $29.99 SRP), the penultimate chapter in the Potter saga. Who would have thought that Snape would have turned out to be a muggle? Or that Dumbledore was a spy for Voldemort the whole time? Heck, even I didn’t see the revelation that Harry was really a Dursley coming. Boy, that was out of left field. Admittedly, though, I did expect Hermione and Ron to find out they were brother and sister… That was sooo telegraphed. And it was a pleasant surprise when Sirius walked out from behind that curtain… I knew he couldn’t be killed by a metaphor. Now, where’s Book 7?

If you’ve never had the good fortune to see one of post-Python Michael Palin’s excellent travel documentaries/adventures, there’s no better place to start than with the latest, as Palin navigates the vertical ends of the earth in Himalaya (BBC, Not Rated, DVD-$49.98 SRP). The 3-disc set features all 3 programs, as well as copious amounts of excised footage and revealing audio commentaries with Palin himself. I hope BBC gets off their collective keester and releases the rest of Palin’s travel catalogue in the very near future.

You can cry drama from here to the Ozarks, but it’s my opinion that the finest film ever produced by HBO is The Pentagon Wars (HBO, Rated R, DVD-$9.97 SRP). Starring Cary Elwes and Kelsey Grammer in the unbelievably true story of the Army’s money pit production of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle – whose development was marred by short-sightedness, graft, frugality, and sheer incompetence. It’s a truly sobering look at the development process of the modern war machine – which is why it’s so wonderful that the film is one of the funniest comedies I’ve ever seen. Criminy, how I love this flick. The DVD features an audio commentary with director Richard Benjamin.

To sing the praises of Warner’s remastered special editions at this point would certainly border on belaboring the point, but belabor it I shall, because they continua to do such a top-notch job with catalogue releases that most companies would simply dump and run with lackluster bare bones quickies. Case in point – the second of their “Film Noir” collections (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$49.92 SRP), featuring 5 genre keepers (Dillinger, The Narrow Margin, Born To Kill, Crossfire, and Clash By Night), all of which feature audio commentaries (John Milius talking Dillinger is priceless), with additional featurettes and trailers to boot. Pretty dang snazzy. And while you’re at it, why not pick up the special edition of the classic Lee Marvin flick Point Blank (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$19.97 SRP), which is far better than its inferior Mel Gibson remake, Payback, and features an audio commentary with director John Boorman & Steven Soderbergh and a pair of vintage featurettes.

In this world, there are books, and there are BOOKS. The massive tome that is The Stanley Kubrick Archives (Taschen, $200.00 SRP) is just such a BOOK, and it revels in its exhaustive nature. Clocking in at over 500 pages, it’s the most comprehensive look ever at the films, process, and mind of Stanley Kubrick, using his films – produced and unproduced - as the bones upon which to hang the story of a creative life. I’ve not always enjoyed Kubrick’s films – in fact, there are a fair number I simply don’t like at all – but there’s never been any denying that they were, each and every one of them, exactly what he wanted to see on the screen. Full of photos, interviews, articles, and insights you’ll only get from the Kubrick estate (including an audio CD with an early interview), the first edition has an even more enticing incentive for the true Kubriphile – a film strip taken from a 70mm print of 2001 owned by Kubrick. How can you possibly resist that?

The reason for the cancellation of Showtime’s remarkably enjoyable Dead Like Me is still a mystery – it’s not like they were overflowing with quality series. Still the 15 episodes featured in the second season (MGM/UA, Not Rated, DVD-$49.96 SRP) are the last we’ll get - which is a damn shame, really, because how many other programs gave us the growing pains of a cute grim reaper? Bonus features include a pair of featurettes, deleted scenes, and a photo gallery.

No History Channel documentary has yet to even come close in approximating the incredible depth of the historical content and perspective offered up in 12-disc mega-collection The BBC History of World War II (BBC, Not Rated, DVD-$149.98 SRP). From the post-WWI unrest that led to the rise of the Nazi state, and the European political climate that facilitated it, right through the end of the war, this is about as comprehensive a set as you can possibly imagine. Also included is a 40-page booklet written by Greg Neale, founding editor of BBC History Magazine.

On the subject of war – and, to be more accurate, on the subjective nature of a war when you’re actually on the ground – there’s the documentary Gunner Palace (Palm, Rated PG-13, DVD-$24.99 SRP). Taken from the name of the bombed-out former Hussein pleasure palace which now acts as a base for US soldiers, Gunner Palace provides a first-person view of what it’s like to actually be on the ground fighting in Iraq. Regardless of how you feel about the war, it’s a fascinating document of an ongoing situation, and the people tasked with negotiating it. The DVD features deleted scenes and the theatrical trailer.

There’s something not quite right with the world when Keanu Reeves is the best thing the big screen adaptation of DC/Vertigo’s Hellblazer – renamed Constantine (Warner Bros., Rated PG-13, DVD-$30.99 SRP) – has going for it. It’s unfortunate, really, since the elements are there to make a fine franchise out of the hell-fighting Constantine – but like Hellboy before it, the filmmakers can’t seem to pull it all together. The 2-disc collector’s edition features an audio commentary (with director Francis Lawrence, producer Akiva Goldsman, and screenwriters Kevin Brodbin & Frank Cappello), deleted scenes (including an alternate ending), a quartet of documentaries (“Conjuring Constantine, “The Production from Hell,” “Imagining the Underworld,” and “Foresight: the Power of Previsualization”), a music video, and trailers, plus an exclusive comic book featuring classic Hellblazer tales.

Compared to the relative disappointment that was the posthumous Genius Loves Company (admit it – it really was nothing to write home about, with much of its praise being more sentimental than accurate), the real genius duets are to be found in the re-release of Ray Charles’ 1984 album Friendship (Sony Legacy, $ SRP). Focusing again on country music, the multi-talented Charles teamed up with legends including Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, George Jones, and Merle Haggard, and the result is priceless. The remastered re-release features a pair of bonus tracks – “Baby Grand” with Billy Joel and “Everybody Has the Blues” with Tony Bennett.

Speaking of classic music, I get an endless kick out of anything that draws the curtain from in front of the creative process, revealing the machinations that led to the act of creation. That’s why I enjoy the Classic Albums series, which takes viewers behind the process of landmark rock albums. In the past, I’ve recommended the releases focusing on Fleetwood Mac and Paul Simon, and this time I’m going to suggest you pick up the discs on Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland and The Band’s landmark eponymous album The Band (Eagle Vision, Not Rated, DVD-$14.98 SRP each)

Good golly, this a huge week for TV-on-DVD. How about if we hit all the highlights? First up, we’ve got a teaser “Best Of” collection to whet fan’s schlock appetites for the premiere volume from the first season of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (BCI, Not Rated, $24.98 SRP). Featuring 10 episodes from Filmation & Mattel’s famous Conan knock-off, the 2-disc set also contains 2 brand new documentaries on the origins and creation of the show and its cast of memorable characters (a special shout-out to Orko is overdue, methinks).

If last year’s Disney Treasures release of the very first week of Muickey Mouse Club shows from 1955 got you all keened out on seeing more of the 50’s kiddie staple (my mom was a hat-wearing acolyte), then you’ll probably want to pick up a copy of The Best of the Mickey Mouse Club (Walt Disney, Not Rated, DVD-$14.99 SRP), featuring 5 complete shows (two from ’57, two from ’62, and one from ’64). If Annette and Cubby aren’t your thing, try The Best of Britney, Justin, and Christina (Walt Disney, Not Rated, DVD-$14.99 SRP) which – as you might have guessed – focuses exclusively on the New MMMC era of those pop darlings, before they all went certifiably insane. Though if just a taste of the Mouse in question is all your jonesing for, grab hold of a brief overview of some of his finest early work via Vintage Mickey (Walt Disney, Not Rated, DVD-$19.99 SRP), sporting 9 classics including “Steamboat Willie.”

I don’t care what people say – I like Ringo Starr. I think he’s the “fun” Beatle, providing music that isn’t serious, schmaltzy, or spiritual – just a rockin’ good time. I dug his last album, Ringorama, but I must admit that his latest, Choose Love (Koch, $17.98 SRP), has left me cold. Maybe it’s because it doesn’t seem terribly focused, or that the songs seem like jams more than tunes, but it there you go. I hope he can rebound on the next one ‘cause, like I said, I loves me some Ringo.

Get your sci-fi fix with a trio of releases that run the gamut from schlocky entertainment to entertaining schlock. By the time we got to the third season of Sliders (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$59.98 SRP) the cracks were beginning to show as the script quality slipped, but it still had John Rhys Davies – and dammit, anything with him is worth watching. How many of you remember all the Spielbergian hype that went into the premiere of the Amblin-produced Earth 2 (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$49.98 SRP) back in the day, only to have to show sink without a trace after a single season? But Tim Curry was there, and that makes everything all right. The 4-disc set also features deleted scenes, a blooper reel, and bonus episodes of Sliders and Cleopatra 2525. Speaking of Cleopatra 2525 (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$49.98 SRP), you can also on the complete series that bears the unforgettable tagline “The Fight For Earth Has Never Been Hotter!” How can you possibly resist that? The 3-disc set features deleted scenes, outtakes, and effects and stunts featurettes.

Don’t let that stop you from picking up your very own copy of the astonishingly short first season of Tales from the Crypt (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$26.98 SRP). The 2-disc set features all 6 ghoulish inaugural episodes, featuring a brand-new introduction from the Crypt Keeper, an abbreviated version of Chip Selby’s excellent Tales From the Crypt: From Comic Books to Television documentary, and a retrospective featurette on the first season.

I’ve never really warmed to the stories found in Genndy Tartakovsky’s Samurai Jack, but there’s no denying the beauty of its design and use of limited animation as a storytelling device rather than a hindrance. A rare and difficult accomplishment. The complete second season set (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP) features a creator scrapbook, an episode pitch, and an audio commentary on “Episode XXV”.

Nothing will brighten your weekend more than delving into the blatant, unsubtle life lessons to be found in the classic series of After School Specials (BCI, Not Rated, DVD-$12.98 SRP each), which are now available in a series of 6 “year” sets (1974-76, 1976-77, 1978-79, 1979-80, 1981-82, & 1982-86). Come on – don’t you want to see Rob Lowe as “The Schoolboy Father”?

Screw you, Laguna Beach (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$38.99 SRP) for being yet another TV series to feature whiny rich teenagers complaining about the petty problems of their lives in paradise. These spoiled high-school seniors had cameras following them around, documenting their fabulous frailties for the Running Man audience that is MTV viewers. The first season set features deleted scenes, interviews, casting tapes, featurettes, and music videos.

And in this week’s documentary corner – and in honor of the Kubrick spotlight above - we’ve got a pair of films that look at the creative impulse. The first is In the Realms of the Unreal: The Mystery of Henry Darger (Wellspring, Not Rated, DVD-$26.98 SRP). Darger was a janitor who had spent time in an asylum for feeble-minded children as a youngster and lived a relatively solitary life as an adult, but after he passed away in 1973, his landlady discovered an apartment full of nearly 300 paintings, some massive, and a fully illustrated epic novel. Using animation and voiceover, filmmaker Jessica Yu attempts to unravel the mystery of this self-taught, and undiscovered, genius. The other film is far funnier in a sort of American Movie kind of way. Put the Camera On Me (Wellspring, Not Rated, DVD-$24.98 SRP) is the story of filmmaker Darren Stein – specifically the filmmaker he was from the ages of 7 to 15 in the 80’s. Tackling subject matter as surprising as child abuse to the Holocaust, Stein emerges as a director who managed – intuitively – to manipulate his friends in a way that’s as shocking as it is familiar to anyone who experience the peer group politics of childhood. The disc features bonus short films, film festival Q&A sessions, and a trailer gallery.

Comments: None

THE MONEY PIT - 07/15/2005

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (July 11, 2005 at 12:00 am)

This week’s column is pretty darn close to the definition of a “quickie,” for the very acceptable reason that I’m currently embroiled in the full-motion nightmare that is the San Diego Comic-Con. If there were ever a vote proffered to add another level to Dante’s vision of hell, I’d certainly cast mine for this headache of all cons. But c’est la vie, don’tcha know.

My top recommendation goes to the deluxe trade paperback reprinting of Don Rosa’s Life & Times of Scrooge McDuck (Gemstone, $16.95 SRP). Taking all the threads and nuggets of trivia the legendary Carl Barks wove into the original tales of Duckburg’s adventurous tycoon, Rosa crafts a linear rise of the greatest (and most wealthy) of the McDuck clan. The trade also includes Rosa’s notes and commentary, as well. Now, if we could only get a hardcover collector’s edition featuring this material plus all of the supplemental stories Rosa has added through the years, I’d be a happy Duck fan.

A deluxe collection celebrating the cinematic triumph that were the Bill & Ted flicks has been a long time coming, but the wait is over with the 3-disc Bill & Ted’s Most Excellent Collection (MGM/UA, Rated PG, DVD-$29.98 SRP). From their initial jaunt through history to their encounter with death, it’’ all here -–plus a bonus disc featuring a brand-spanking-new making-of documentary, a conversation with the screenwriters, an interview with guitarist Steve Vai, an air guitar tutorial, a gallery, video dictionary, radio spots, and the premiere episode of the cartoon series. Excellent!

Eager to get rid of the bad taste Marvel’s live action Fantastic Flop… er… Four left? Dig into the complete run of the 1994-95 animated series (Buena Vista, Not Rated, DVD-$49.99 SRP). The first season was largely forgettable, but the second season was full of gems, most of which were adapted from classic Lee/Kirby and John Byrne FF stories.

In the grand tradition of double-dipping “Unrated” editions, add to the list an expanded cut of the 21st century’s attempt at both Caddyshack and MeatballsDodgeball (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$26.98 SRP). In addition to the restored and expanded scenes, there’s a brand-new commentary (with Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, & writer director Rawson Marshall Thurber), 9 deleted/extended scenes with optional commentary, uncensored footage of the Dodgeball Dancers, bloopers, and more.

After their surprisingly ingratiating turn in Amelie a few years back, (unbelievably cute) star Audrey Tautou reunites with director Jean-Pierre Jeunet for A Very Long Engagement (Warner Bros., Rated R, DVD-$29.95 SRP). Faced with notice that the love of her life has died on the Somme front in 1919, 19 year-old Mathilde (Tautou) refuses to accept what she’s been told. Instead, she decides that she will seek him out, defying the facts around her because she believes in her heart that she would know if he’s dead. The 2-disc set features an audio commentary with Jeunet, a making-of featurette, “Paris in the 20’s” featurette, and deleted scenes with optional commentary.

Making its DVD debut after the final set of its spin-off Xena, Hercules: Season 6 (Anchor Bay, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) wraps up Kevin Sorbo’s adventures as the legendary adventurer in fine form, although it’s quite evident the steam was going out of the series (as was Sorbo’s enthusiasm). Bonus features include audio commentaries, interviews with the cast & crew, a K.N.B. EFX group featurette, footage from the wrap party, a behind-the-scenes look at the final episode, alternate/never used main titles, and a photo gallery.

Continuing the series of epiphanies striking the music industry in the age of online downloading, Universal has begun releasing a line of Chronicles releases (UM, $29.98 SRP each) – essentially, they’re collections of three classic albums from a given group. The first trio of releases feature Tears for Fears (The Hurting, Songs from the Big Chair, & The Seeds of Love), Kiss (Kiss, Hotter Than Hell, & Dressed To Kill), and George Strait (Right or Wrong, Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind, &Something Special).

The recent spate of shark attacks in Florida this summer make the release of The Discovery Channel’s Anatomy of a Shark Bite (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$14.94 SRP) sadly ironic. The documentary recreates the terrible ordeal of Dr. Erich Ritter – whose severe bite from a 350-lb bull shark is the only shark attack on a human being ever caught on film. The disc also features the bonus “Shark Week” episode Future Shark.

I will say this about Million Dollar Baby (Warner Bros., Rated R, DVD-$29.95) – it’s not as maudlin or overwrought as Mystic River. Still, all of the heavy hallmarks of a Clint Eastwood film are there in this flick that’s disturbingly similar to the last entry in the Karate Kid series, as Hilary Swank again finds herself being tutored in an arcane martial art by a grizzled old man, with boxing replacing Karate this go ‘round. The 2-disc set features a roundtable with James Lipton (featuring Swank, Eastwood, and Morgan Freeman), a look at the parallels between the film and real life boxer Lucia Rijker, a behind-the-scenes featurette, and the theatrical trailer. A 3-disc edition featuring the soundtrack is also available ($39.98 SRP).

Her whine can shatter glass and deafen dogs, but Fran Drescher’s star turn in The Nanny (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$29.95 SRP) was an inexplicable – and long-running – success. C’est la vie. The 3-disc set features all 22 first season episodes, plus a retrospective featurette and an interview with Drescher.

Does anyone not like Weekend at Bernie’s (MGM/UA, Rated PG-13, DVD-$14.95 SRP)? It’s nearly impossible… and I really don’t know why. It just is. It’s almost frightening.

Comments: 1 Comment

THE MONEY PIT - 07/08/2005

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (July 8, 2005 at 1:20 am)

Another week draws to a close, and prep begins for yet another out-of-town jaunt, this time to sunny San Diego and supremely aggravating Comic-Con. Hey – you try and navigate your way through 60,000 people on a convention floor.

It’s not available in stores yet, but you can pick up the complete third season of The Kids in the Hall directly from (A&E, Not Rated, DVD-$59.99 SRP). This time around, the 4-disc, 20 episode set features such classic skits as the flying pig, Chicken Lady spotting Rooster Boy, Mississippi Gary singing the after-death blues, and a man accusing himself of sexual harassment. Bonus features include audio commentaries with the kids on the two best-of compilations from the season, more classic live footage from the Rivoli Theater, and a slide show.

The third season of Monk (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$59.98 SRP) shall henceforth be known as the season in which a brilliantly quirky series faltered after the firing of one of its key characters. Halfway through the season, actress Bitty Schram (Sharona Fleming) was dismissed and replaced with a carbon copy character that paled in comparison to Sharona’s chemistry with the titular detective – which is a true shame, because this is a show that could have had some real legs if the writers didn’t get lazy and the producers didn’t get cheap. Bonus features include interviews with the cast and behind-the-scenes featurettes.

Admittedly, part of the enjoyment of watching hyper-cheeky chef Jamie Oliver in Jamie’s Kitchen (Capital Entertainment, Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP) is the wait to see if it all goes disastrously wrong. That brink of disaster is brought about by Oliver’s decision to staff his newly-opened, first restaurant with 15 unemployed kids as chefs in order to prove his theory that passion for food is more important than formal qualifications. Truly brilliant TV.

I have some serious issues with the cinematic abomination that is Marvel’s big-screen desecration of the Fantastic Four, but I was able to get the sour taste out of my mouth with the classic Lee/Kirby stories contained within the six available Marvel Masterworks volumes focusing on the fabulous foursome (Marvel, $49.95 SRP each). From their cosmic ray-spawned origin and tussle with the Mole Man in FF#1 all the way through Dr. Doom’s wresting of the power cosmic from the Silver Surfer (concluding in issue #60), it’s all here – including the FF’s epic first battle with the world-devourer Galactus, the marriage of Reed & Sue, the Frightful Four, Namor, the Puppet Master, and much, much more. By golly, this *was* the World’s Greatest Comic Magazine! What in the hell happened to the movie? Forget about it… Pick these up, along with the 4 FF Visionaries: John Byrne volumes, and you’ll be feeling better in not time.

Hogan’s Heroes found levity in the second World War, and M*A*S*H managed to do the same for the Korean conflict, but Vietnam has been a tough nut to crack on TV, be it comedy or drama. Besides China Beach, the only other show that approached the subject was Tour of Duty. Focusing on a group of diverse characters as they brave the Southeast Asian terrain, it played like the TV version of Platoon – and managed to pull it off. Wit the release of the third and final season (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$49.95 SRP), you can now watch the entire run in one go.

There’s something eerie about watching the footage found in World War I In Color (Capital Entertainment, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP). The “Great War” has always – without exception – been a black & white war in most people’s minds. Even WWII has only recently become a color war, but the footage contained in this set is a revelation. Honestly, just pick it up and watch.

After wrapping up the first season, we’re now into the first season 2 volume of the expanded Starburst Editions of Farscape (ADV, Not Rated, DVD-$24.98 SRP), which collects the first 7 episodes of season two on 2 dual-sided discs, with all the original bonus materials plus a few surprises, including the “Re: Union” episode for the first time on DVD.

Sony Legacy’s nicely comprehensive 2-disc Essential collections keep on rolling, this time with a country legend and a big band icon. The Essential Dolly Parton (RCA/Legacy, $24.98 SRP) features 37 career-spanning tracks, from “Coat of Many Colors” right up to her wonderful cover of “Shine.” The other must-have is The Essential Glenn Miller (Bluebird/Legacy, $24.98 SRP), the very epitome of the big band sound (with tunes including “In the Mood” & “Over There,” how would you describe it?).

What do you get when you team Robert De Niro and creepy wunderkind Dakota Fanning as a recently mother-less father- & daughter whose upstate New York retreat is playing the mental heebie-jeebies on them? Hide & Seek (Fox, Rated R, DVD-$29.98 SRP) - a limp thriller that never manages to come alive and realize that the real scare-fest is in Fanning’s preternatural performances. Bonus materials include not one, but FOUR different endings, an audio commentary, deleted/extended scenes, rough conceptual sequences, and a making-of featurette.

For many, the only reason they’d ever think of watching Prozac Nation (Miramax, Rated R, DVD-$29.99 SRP) – the true story of writer Elizabeth Wurtzel’s disaffected formative years – is because it has the now legendary nude scene featuring Christina Ricci (look at the cover – they know what’s going to sell this thing). Other than that novelty, the movie has nothing going for it, sadly. Great scene, though. Bonus features include the Anatomy of a Scene spotlight on the film.

Although everyone brought the best game they could to it, there’s was just no click to the US version of the UK crime drama series Cracker, which starred Robbie Coltrane as the flawed police psychologist Gerry “Fitz” Fitgerald. For the American version, the late Robert Pastorelli took on the role of Fitz, and while he does a great job, it just doesn’t measure up to Coltrane’s original (which is no fault of Pastorelli – the character is just so perfect in Coltrane’s hands that it’s hard to accept anyone else). If they had done a completely original series, I think it would have been a hit, because the burden of translating a successful foreign series is a path fraught with danger. The Cracker set (Tango, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) features all 16 episodes of the short-lived series.

The only thing really missing from the otherwise superb documentary The History of Talk Radio (Kultur, Not Rated, DVD-$19.99 SRP) is a look at the recent rise of “liberal” radio with the introduction last year of Air America. That’s not the documentary’s fault, however, since it was made when the airwaves were still wholly the domain of Limbaugh, North, and Schlessinger – all of which are featured here, along with Larry King, G. Gordon Liddy, Imus, Howard Stern, and more.

By now, any collaboration between Tim Burton and Danny Elfman is going to have its own eccentric, overly familiar quality, and the score to Charlie & The Chocolate Factory (Warner Sunset, $18.98 SRP) is no exception. But there’s something to be said about sonic comfort food in a movie about an eccentric candymaker.

Stephen King hasn’t had the best of luck – when you stack up the totality – when it comes to adaptations of his work. For every Shining you’ve got a Children of the Corn. Quicksilver Highway (Anchor Bay, Not Rated, DVD-$14.98 SRP) is a made-for-TV anthology of a pair of King’s short stories – “Chattery Teeth” and “The Body Politic”. While mostly mediocre, writer/director Mick Garris (who did so very well with The Stand) tries his best, and it does manage to have Christopher Lloyd as the disturbing storyteller, but it never quite amounts to anything more than a distraction. The disc features an interview with Matt Frewer and an audio commentary with Garris and his wife Cynthia.

Comments: None

THE MONEY PIT - 07/01/2005

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (July 1, 2005 at 12:51 am)

Well, I’m back from my arduous, deadly duties as stunt Best Man up in hot, humid Montreal, Quebec – all of which went well, despite the abysmal maroons at Air Canada losing my luggage (including my tux), which was not found until, literally, 2 hours before the ceremony. Oh, BTW – Air Canada, you might want to find a better Indian call center to handle your luggage customer service… One that’s competent and polite. Just a thought. But anyway, I’m back, and here’s our pre-holiday guide-o-rama…

Clearance issues have long stymied attempts to release Comedy Central’s brilliant Daily Show with Jon Stewart (it has to do with all those news clips, natch), but the network finally found a way to release *something* - that something being a 3-disc retrospective of the show’s “Indecision 2004” coverage of last year’s presidential campaign (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$39.99 SRP). That means we get the coverage of both the Democratic & Republican National Convention, the debates, the hour-long election night special, and bonus features including the best bits from the correspondents (Stephen Colbert, Samantha Bee, Steve Carell, Bob Wiltfong, Rob Corddry, & Ed Helms), “Daily Show Rock!”, audio commentary, and much more. Okay, so where’s the next release?

Take one of those nifty little survival handbooks that were all the rage a few years back and turn it into a TV show hosted by Spaced and Shuan of the Dead’s Nick Frost, and there you’ve got DANGER! 50,000 volts! (Rykodisc, Not Rated, DVD-$29.95 SRP), which places our intrepid host into situations ranging from lightning strikes and minefields to fires and being impaled, all while teaching the audience how to get out of said sticky wickets. The 2-disc set features the entire first season with audio commentary from Nick and the crew, plus a bonus Zombie Survival Guide. Brilliant.

Seeing as how Bruce Campbell’s first novel, Make Love!* *the bruce campbell way (Thomas Dunne Books, $23.95 SRP), 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 the reader. Well, there’s also the clue that Campbell calls it an autobiographical novel, but frankly, I’m more keen on my brilliant literary analysis taken directly from the text… because it makes me look better. Just get the book already.

If you’ve only seen (or have fond memories of) the heavily edited American importation known as Battle of the Planets, you owe it to yourself to experience the first collection of the fully restored original Japanese version of Gatchaman (ADV, Not Rated, DVD-$ SRP). The 3-disc set features 12 uncut episodes, plus commentaries, clean closing animation, and a bonus disc with a character profile of Ken, unused footage, sketches, interviews, and more. Heck, the set even features cover and box art from Alex Ross. How cool is that?

After Robert Urich’s still-popular Spenser: For Hire was cancelled, the network eventually decided there was still enough interest in the wise-cracking Boston Detective to commission 4 feature-length TV movies, all of which are collected in the (appropriately) 4-disc Spenser: The Movie Collection set (Rykodisc, Not Rated, DVD-$59.95 SRP). Come for Urich, stay for the burning intensity of DS9’s Avery Brooks as Spenser’s tough-as-nails partner Hawk.

Produced by Robert Altman, Gun (Tango, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) was a short-lived, incredibly well-executed anthology series that examined – in it’s 6 episodes – the effects a single gun has in the lives of various sets of characters who encounter it. The cast was a truly impressive affair – including Martin Sheen, Kirsten Dunst, Edward James Olmos, Fred ward, James Gandolfini, Randy Quaid, Carrie Fisher, Jennifer Tilly, Kathy Baker, and more.

If you have not heard of Sid Caesar – for shame. Yes… I’m shaming you. But in my shaming, I’m only trying to point you towards discovering one of the last century’s truly great comedians – a rare combination of both a brilliant physical and mental comic. During the course of his two major television programs in the 1950’s – Your Show of Shows and Caesar’s Hour – his writing staff was a who’s who of comedy… Mel Brooks, Woody Allen, Neil Simon, Larry Gelbart, and Carl Reiner, to name a few. If you’re ready to take the plunge, I can’t recommend The Sid Caesar Collection (A&E, Not Rated, DVD-$49.95 SRP) enough. Over the course of these 3 DVDs are collected many of Sid’s best sketches, as well and recollections from the show’s writers and costars. Each DVD also contains bonus sketches and interviews. Did I mention that I can’t recommend this collection enough? Well, how about one more time… You won’t regret it.

If Ray Bradbury and Stephen King were to get together and craft their own sketch comedy show, it would probably look a lot like the surreally macabre world Britain’s League of Gentlemen. Look no further than the clutch of darkly disturbing – yet unsettlingly funny – characters to be found in the troupe’s 3 seasons (and Christmas special) contained in the 4-disc League of Gentlemen Collection (BBC, Not Rated, DVD-$99.98 SRP). The residents of the small village of Royston Vasey will make it very hard for you to sleep at night in between fits of laughter punctuated by hiding under the covers. Bonus features include audio commentaries, deleted scenes, outtakes, interviews, a documentary, featurettes, and more.

Have you picked up the new issues of Uncle Scrooge (Gemstone, $6.95), Donald Duck, & Mickey Mouse ($2.95 each)? Why not? Come on, people! I wouldn’t lead you astray… These are some of the best comics being produced today, featuring both new material and classic stories from legends like Carl Barks, Romano Scarpa, Don Rosa, and many others. Get past the funny animal stigma and realize what gems these comics are – you won’t regret it.

Go take a peek at what Sideshow Collectibles are unveiling at Comicon this year here and here. Can anyone say “Use the Force”?

First off, let me thank A&E for bringing to DVD one of the finest TV shows ever to grace the airwaves – the late, lamented Homicide: Life on the Street. A Big Thank You. With the release of the 7th & final season (A&E, Not Rated, DVD-$99.95 SRP), we close the book on the only cop show to give me the same kind of enjoyment I once got out of Hill Street Blues (which is criminally unavailable on DVD). Featuring all 22 episodes, the 6-disc set also contains audio commentary on the finale, a live panel discussion with the producers, and Barry Levinson’s VSDA Career Achievement acceptance speech.

If you still haven’t decided to take the (worthwhile) plunge and pick up the Live Aid box set (and you find yourself getting all amped up about the upcoming Live 8), you can get a limited edition hour-long highlight disc of the seminal event featuring choice cuts from the day’s proceedings – Live Aid: 20 Years Ago Today (Rhino, Not Rated, DVD-$9.99 SRP).

Remember a simpler, happier, less druggedly-emaciated time in the life and career of the once-lovely Lindsey Lohan with the special edition release of the remake of Disney’s The Parent Trap (Walt Disney, Rated PG, DVD-$19.99 SRP), starring Lohan as the matchmaking twins. Bonus features include audio commentary with the director and screenwriter, a deleted scene, a retrospective featurette, and a behind-the-scenes look.

Ever since I was mesmerized by his tunes in The Muppet Movie as a kid, I’ve been a fan of the elfin singer/songwriter Paul Williams. In fact, I’m a bigger fan of his original versions of tunes like “Rainy Day and Mondays” and “Just An Old-Fashioned Love Song” than I am of the covers by The Carpenters and Three Dog Night, and I still think “The Rainbow Connection” is one of the greatest songs ever written. Williams has just released a retrospective/celebration of his career in the form of a CD/DVD set - Paul Williams: I’m Going To Go Back There Someday (AIX, $49.98 SRP), which contains newly-recorded versions of his classic tunes with guest including Willie Nelson, Melissa Manchester, and even Gonzo. The DVD also features a live performance video, interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, a tribute to Jim Henson, a trip to the old A&M studios on the Henson lot, photos, and more.

And while we’re on the subject of “The Rainbow Connection,” why don’t you head over to Palisades Toys and pick up your own “Rainbow Connection” Kermit figure ($25), with all profits going to The Cooper Perry Fund, A special Project of The Miami Children’s Hospital Foundation?

This week’s soundtrack round-up kicks off with the latest John Williams/Steven Spielberg collaboration, the anemic cliché that is War of the Worlds (Decca, $18.98 SRP). Thankfully, the score is actually one of Williams better later-career efforts, even marshaling a nicely martial aspect as the titular conflict comes to the fore. Shame the film’s a dud, but oh well… At least we have the Tom Cruise show. Anyway, next up is Alexandre Desplat’s score to Bruce Willis’s Hostage (Superb, $16.98 SRP), which is – as a good friend of mine enthused recently – “one of the best damn scores I’ve ever heard.” How’s that for a recommendation? Last up is a pair of soundtracks representing the film Crash – Mark Isham’s score (Superb, $16.98 SRP) and an album featuring songs from and inspired by the film (Superb, $16.98 SRP). Way to cover all bases, eh?

If nothing else, the sheer energy and chutzpah exhibited by Bette Midler at the top of her game is entrancing, and her life is pretty darn fascinating. See for yourself with the documentary The Divine Bette Midler (Shout! Factory, Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP). Bonus features include extended interviews, deleted scenes, and a trio of full performances.

The Ren & Stimpy Show: Seasons Three and a Half-ish (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$38.99 SRP) pretty much wraps up the run of series creator John Kricfalusi, before his massive ego and inability to meet deadlines led to his removal from the show. Which is a shame, because at his peak – before the insanity kicked in – he really was doing some genius work. Unfortunately, much like JMS, the genius is gone, and we’re left with the shell of a man who gave us the wretched return of R&S on Spike. Ah well, at least we can re-watch the classics contained in this set, featuring audio commentaries with a still-delusional John K. and his talented animation team.

If you’re still baffled by Dan Brown’s semi-historical novel The Da Vinci Code, let the History Channel reveal the fact from the fiction in Beyond the Da Vinci Code (History Channel, Not Rated, DVD-$19.95 SRP). What may surprise you is just how much history is to be found in the novel… And just how pervasive the Templars were.

While nowhere near as disconcertingly out-and-out weird as the original adventures of Art Clokey’s bendy plasticene hero Gumby (and sidekick Pokey), the stories contained in the two volumes of The Very Best of the New Adventures of Gumby (Rhino, Not Rated, DVD-$9.95 SRP each) are still pretty off-kilter. Oh, wouldn’t it be great if Gumby were to team up with Mr. Bill to fight the evil Mr. Sluggo?

I wouldn’t say I’m an architecture geek (I don’t go giddy over a Frank Lloyd Wright design, for instance), but it’s the stories behind the homes featured in A&E’s America’s Castles (A&E, Not Rated, DVD-$39.95 SRP) that fascinate me – those built by names like Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, Morgan, and Guggenheim. Really, when you’ve got more rooms than relatives, you’ve gone too far.

Although it never quite lived up to its potential, Game Over (Anchor Bay, Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP) was a great idea for an animated comedy, throwing together stereotypical video game archetypes as a suburban family – from racer dad (Patrick Warburton) to secret agent mom (Lucy Liu), with an uber-angsty teen daughter (Rachel Dratch), a teen son (E.G. Daily) in love with an anime exchange student, and their pet of unknown species (Artie Lange). The 2-disc set features the complete series, plus behind-the-scenes featurettes, artwork, and a never-aired episode.

Taking a page from the Book of Ah-nold, Vin Diesel tried to infuse a spark in his fading career by going the suburban comedy route in The Pacifier (Walt Disney, Rated PG, DVD-$29.99 SRP), playing a Navy S.E.A.L. assigned to protect five unruly brats. Hilarity should ensue, but if you can believe it, Diesel is even more wooden then Arnie in his heyday. Bonus features include an audio commentary with director Adam Shankman, deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes featurettes, Special Ops TV ads, and bloopers.

Hopefully, NBC’s pathetic “end o’ the world” miniseries Revelations (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$27.98 SRP) will signal the end of all the religious-leaning pabulum studios have been shoveling out since last year’s surprise success of Mel Gibson’s unbearable The Passion. What Bill Pullman did to deserve a starring role in the 6-hour mess, I’ll never know – but I know it wasn’t because 0of Spaceballs. Maybe Independence Day. Bonus features include interviews with the cast and writer/producer David Seltzer.

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THE MONEY PIT - 06/24/2005

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (June 24, 2005 at 12:21 am)

Right now, I’m in Montreal, Quebec – deep in the French heart of Canada – Best Manning a wedding of a good friend of mine, because he made me. The bastard. I’m not all that keen on traveling, and I’m even less keen on traveling to Canada, but the aforementioned bastard used our friendship against me, so in Canada I am, far from this here shopping guide (which I am, FYI, writing ahead of time, since the duties of a Best Man are incredibly time-consuming and leave little ability to do important things, like this guide). Barring running away with the bride, I should be back next week. Until then, let’s get this sucker rolling…

I still don’t know what the hell they were thinking with that godawful batsuit, but there’s plenty of cool conceptual art and designs to be found in the hardcover The Art of Batman Begins: Shadows of the Dark Knight (Chronicle Books, $40.00 SRP), detailing the evolution of everything from the look of Gotham to the new take on the Batmobile.

Stripes remains a seminal film in the devilment of any young man reared in that bygone age known only as “The 80’s.” It’s up there in the same pantheon as Ghostbusters, Caddyshack, Vacation, and The Blues Brothers, all of which are landmark – and lasting – comedic achievements. I don’t think we necessarily need the extra 18 minutes contained in the Stripes: Extended Cut (Sony, Rated R, DVD-$19.94 SRP), but the good news is that they don’t hurt the film – and more Bill Murray is always welcome. For purists, the original cut is featured as well, in addition to a brand-new retrospective documentary featuring newly-recorded cast interviews (including the elusive Murray). Now snap to attention, and begin belting “There she was, just a-walkin’ down the street, singin’…”

Signs are not pointing to a very good outing for the big screen version of Bewitched, but I don’t much care since it facilitated the DVD release of the original series, starring Elizabeth Montgomery as homemaker/mother/sorceress Samantha Stephens as she tried valiantly to follow her husband Darrin’s wishes and keep her powers a secret. Still funny after all these years, it’s a must have set for those reared on early Nick at Nite. Sony has taken the unusual route of releasing not only the original black & white versions of the show’s first season (it didn’t go color until season 2), but also has released a separate set featuring the colorized versions of those episodes (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$39.95 SRP each). Not really sure about the reasoning, but I don’t much care as long as the B&W is available. Bonus features include a retrospective featurette and bloopers. And for the real completists, they’ve also released the entirety of the short-lived (and not very good) late-70’s spin-off Tabitha (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$29.95 SRP), which followed magical hijinks of Samantha & Darrin’s now-grown daughter and her mortal brother Adam. You hear that, Fox? Now you have to release After M*A*S*H.

As genre programming goes, the modern relaunch of The Outer Limits was to Showtime what Tales from the Crypt was to HBO – though without the accolades and A-List talent. Which is a shame, because there was some good sci-fi being done over at Limits, which you can experience in the 6-disc Outer Limits: The New Series collection (MGM/UA, Not Rated, DVD-$69.96 SRP). Of the 36 episodes featured, the real standouts are Leonard Nimoy in a rather faithful (imagine that!) adaptation of “I, Robot” and Meatloaf as a Confederate colonel who terrorizes two Civil War re-enactors inexplicably thrown back in time. Good stuff. Each disc features documentaries and behind-the-scenes featurettes.

You know, I really hate the type of book that refuses to be put down after you pick it up. You know the type – interesting, engrossing… It holds you by the throat and won’t let go. Well, Carl Gottlieb’s The Jaws Log (Newmarket Press, $15.00 SRP) is just such a book. If you don’t automatically recognize Gottlieb’s name, he’s an actor (in Altman’s M*A*S*H) as well as a screenwriter. One of those writing jobs just happened to have been one of Spielberg’s greatest films – Jaws. This book is essentially Gottlieb’s diary during the year-long production ordeal. Revelatory is too weak a word to describe just how much information and insight is packed into this tome, recently re-released in a 30th anniversary edition. If you’re a fan of Spielberg, Jaws, or just tales of Hollywood behind-the-scenes, then check this book out.

Shockingly, the additional gore found in the unrated version of Kevin Williamson and Wes Craven’s spectacular horror misfire Cursed (Dimension, Not Rated, DVD-$29.99 SRP) in no way makes the film any more watchable, intelligible, or enjoyable. Which is sad, really, because the idea of the massively-foreheaded Christina Ricci going all feral would seem to be such a draw. Bonus features include behind-the-scenes featurettes and selected scene commentaries with SFX Makeup supervisor Greg Nicotero and actor Derek Mears (which, from an informational standpoint, is the most enjoyable part of the entire disc).

The 5th season of HBO’s Oz (HBO, Not Rated, DVD-$64.98 SRP) was not the brutal prison drama’s finest hour, but even sub-par Oz is a far sight better than most of the chum to be found on the boob tube. Season 5 finds the inmates living in the newly redesigned post-fire Emerald City, still full of the piss and vinegar we’ve come to know and love. The 2-disc set features audio commentary on the episode “Impotence” and deleted scenes.

Coach Carter (Paramount, Rated PG-13, DVD-$29.95 SRP) is another entry in the long line of flicks that present tough-as-nails coaches who whip their troubled teams into shape by making them better people through a firm hand (and usually based on a true story). Beyond that, all you have to know is this one stars Samuel L. Jackson as the eponymous coach, and he does a lot of firm-but-loving yelling. Bonus materials include deleted scenes, a music video, and a pair of featurettes.

Setting aside all of the myriad personal baggage attached to George Jones the person, there’s no denying the visceral music of George Jones the performer and country legend. And, as befitting a legend, there are a slew of superstars that have lined up to duet with him over the years, most of which are featured on the expanded 2-disc reissue of his 1979 album My Very Special Guests (Epic/Legacy, $29.98 SRP). Those guests include Elvis Costello, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, B.B. King, Alan Jackson, Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, and over two dozen more.

Obviously attempting to cash in on his raised Bat-profile, we’ve got an Uncut Killer Collector’s Edition of American Psycho (Lions Gate, Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP), featuring Christian Bale as yuppie killer Patrick Bateman. The new bonus features include an audio commentary with director/co-writer Mary Harron and actor/co-writer Guinevere Turner, deleted scenes, “The 80’s Downtown” featurette, a behind-the-scenes documentary detailing the journey from book to screen, and a video essay titled “The Pornography of Killing.”

No one will confuse Hostage (Miramax, Rated R, DVD-$29.99 SRP) with fine cinema, but as an action/thriller, it punches enough buttons in its overwrought glory to make for a mostly satisfying (if numbing) night in front of the TV. Bruce Willis stars as John Mc… ummm… Jeff Talley, a former big city hostage negotiator who thought he’d left the stress behind after accepting a small town police chief job – but then a random crime escalates into a standoff, and yadda yadda yadda… you know the drill. Bonus features include audio commentary with director Florent Siri, deleted & extended scenes with optional commentary, and a behind-the-scenes featurette.

As manufactured but not quite as musically gifted in the songwriting department, there’s an endearing bubblegum pop to The Partridge Family which is inescapable… You will hum this stuff, whether you want to or not. Check out the 17-track Come On Get Happy: The Very Best of The Partridge Family (Arista/Legacy, $11.98 SRP) and experience the addictive emptiness for yourself.

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THE MONEY PIT - 06/17/2005

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (June 17, 2005 at 11:38 pm)

Here we are, meeting like this again. It was inevitable, really… Mainly because it’s Friday, and this is a regular column. Funny how logic explains so much so easily, so quickly. Eerie, really. And we’re not even in Indiana. Anyhoo, let’s get this mother rollin’…

It took me awhile to warm up to Comedy Central’s Reno: 911! – which is odd, because it’s exactly the kind of surreal, subtle, character-driven humor that I adore. Essentially a mostly-improvised take-off on Cops – featuring the severely dysfunctional sheriff’s deputies of Reno, Nevada – it’s as if Christopher Guest decided to do TV. Credit must go to the amazing cast, many of whom are veterans of MTV’s The State and CC’s Viva Variety (where’s that DVD?). If you haven’t already, pick up the first season set, and follow it up with the deluxe 3-disc season 2 set (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$38.99 SRP), which features audio commentary on select episodes, 90 minutes of deleted footage, a hilarious live performance from the Aspen Comedy Festival, and quite a few easter eggs.

With Penn & Teller, Ricky Jay is high in my personal pantheon of really cool people whose respect for the history of their craft never ceases to impress me. Like P&T, the craft in question is that of good ol’ fashioned showmanship (with a focus on magic and sleight-of-hand, naturally), and his latest book – Extraordinary Exhibitions (Quantuck Lane Press, $49.95 SRP) – is a celebration of the showmanship of the past three centuries. Presenting (via his extensive collection) the elaborate promotional posters (broadsides) from that bygone era, he takes the reader into the art and psychology of selling weird and wonderful attractions to the public – attractions that included a mermaid, a chess-playing automaton, an African hermaphrodite, a singing mouse, a bullet catcher, a flea circus, and a cannonball juggler. Brilliant.

Time marches on, I suppose, but it’s still difficult to believe that it’s been 30 years since the release Steven Spielberg’s phobia-inducing sharkfest, Jaws, but it must be, because we’ve got the release of the appropriately titled 30th Anniversary Edition (Universal, Rated PG, DVD-$22.98 SRP). This 2-disc special edition features the same transfer of the original 2000 DVD release, but incorporates the DTS track originally only available separately. As far as bonus features, though, we finally get the uncut, 2-hour version of the making-of documentary originally featured on the laserdisc release (its editing for the 2000 disc was a major source of disappointment) plus an archival interview with Spielberg done on the set, in addition to the deleted scenes and outtakes from the 2000 release. The only thing missing this go round, for some reason, is the brief Shark World featurette on real great whites. Why must these double-dips always leave something off that makes keeping the original release necessary? Other than that omission, it’s worth picking this edition up just for the documentary – though the 60-page photo journal that’s included in the slipcase is a nice bonus.

Many of you out there have either experienced – or are planning to experience – the film that will hopefully wipe the awful stain of Episode III from out collective minds, Batman Begins. If the very thought of a new Batman flick has got you jonesin’ for more superhero fare, why not dip into a trio of releases featuring the animated Dark Knight. First up is the 3rd collection of episodes from Batman: The Animated Series (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$44.98 SRP), featuring the final 28 episodes of the original run, plus a Batgirl featurette and commentary on select episodes (”Read My Lips,” “Harlequinade,” & “House and Garden”). Next is the second season of those wacky SuperFriends (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$26.99 SRP), containing 16 episodes, “The Wonderful World of The Wonder Twins” featurette, and a “Pajama-Rama” SuperFriends retrospective with Kevin Smith and guests. Last up on the Bat-train is the first collection of episodes from Cartoon Network’s less-than-stellar (and unnecessary) new series, The Batman (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$14.97 SRP). And if you’re going on an animation binge anyway, you should pick up the two latest volumes in the Hanna-Barbera Collection featuring the complete series of the Wacky Races spin-offs Dastardly & Muttley in Their Flying Machines and The Perils of Penelope Pitstop (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$34.98 SRP each), both of which sport audio commentaries and featurettes.

Honestly, I really don’t know where to begin in describing the latest film from writer/director/poo-auteur John Waters, A Dirty Shame (New Line, Rated NC-17, DVD-$27.95 SRP). The basic premise finds an accidental concussion unleashing the primal carnal urges of formerly mild-mannered convenience store clerk Sylvia Stickles (Tracey Ullman), and a storm of moral controversy amongst the people of Baltimore. Oh, and Selma Blair has huge boobs in this flick. Huge. Ludicrously so. I really don’t know what else to say. If you like the funny, kinky perversity of Waters’s cinema, than you’ll be right at home. The DVD features an audio commentary with waters and a making-of featurette, in addition to the original theatrical version of the film. If you don’t want to stop there, however, you can pick up the film as part of the Very Crudely Yours, John Waters box set (New Line, Rated PG/R/NC-17, DVD-$102.98 SRP), which also contains Pink Flamingos, Female Trouble, Desperate Living, Polyester, Hairspray, Pecker, and the exclusive John Waters DVD Scrapbook.

Why they’re tricking out, I have no idea, but we finally get a new batch of Saturday Night Live collections, this time featuring the always-enjoyable Jon Lovitz and Tom Hanks (Lions Gate, Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP each). The Hanks disc features a photo gallery and dress rehearsal material, while Lovitz contains his original audition, a photo gallery, dress rehearsal footage, a TV appearance, and audio commentary! In even bigger news, though, Time Life has made available a long-desired trio of discs spotlighting classic castmembers Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, and Gilda Radner (Time Life, Not Rated, DVD-$29.99), which include original audition tapes and TV appearances. Why these aren’t available in stores, I have no idea, but I’m thrilled they’re available anywhere - so why don’t you head on over to Time Life and snag yourself a set?

Casino (Universal, Rated R, DVD-$22.98 SRP) was one of the last holdouts to get the full-on special edition treatment befitting the entire Scorsese oeuvre, but now fans can satiate themselves with a complete remastered print, deleted scenes, documentaries on the true story behind the film and the production itself, interviews, and a spotlight on Nicholas Pileggi.

In May of 2003, nearly 4 decades since the Beatles were banned in Russia, Paul McCartney gave a triumphant – and rocking – concert that wowed a crowd of over 100,000 people in Moscow’s Red Square. You can now own that historic performance with Paul McCartney in Red Square (A&E, Not Rated, DVD-$24.95 SRP), which contains not only the Moscow concert, but the entirety of his concert in St. Petersburg as well. Bonus materials include a behind-the-scenes featurette, plus a History Channel look at the Beatles and Russia.

I never thought it would have legs, but USA’s Dead Zone just keeps on keeping on, managing to continue wringing stories out of Stephen King’s paranormal second sight-er… And good for them, ‘cause I love what Anthony Michael Hall has done with Johnny’s vision quests and the burden of trying to prevent the impending Armageddon caused by one Greg Stillson. It’s during the 3rd season (Lions Gate, Not Rated, DVD-$34.98 SRP) that Stillson (Sean Patrick Flanery) comes to the fore, and the 3-disc set features all 12 episodes plus audio commentary, behind-the-scenes featurettes, deleted scenes, a short film from castmember John L. Adams, and a gag reel.

In celebration of Father’s Day (yes, it’s this weekend, people), Rhino is reminding people that the video for Peter Gabriel’s “Father & Son” is featured as part of the Peter Gabriel: Play (Rhino, Not Rated, DVD-$19.99 SRP) video collection. A pretty spiffy disc, that is, and a nice gift to boot.

The only thing that has me hopeful about the upcoming big screen take on The Dukes of Hazzard is that it’s being helmed by the same guys behind Super Troopers. Other than that, I’m as wary as I always am about these attempted translations, so until then, I’ll just soothe my pop culture riddled nerves with a heapin’ helpin’ of Duke boy antics courtesy of the new collection featuring the Complete 3rd Season (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP). Bonus features include a special introduction (by Tom Wopat, John Schneider, and Catherine Bach), on-camera commentary on episode 4 (”And in This Corner, Luke Duke”), “Just Good Ole Friends” featurette, and a “Dukes Family Tree” with series creator Gy Waldron.

Will Smith cranks the charm up to 11 in Hitch (Sony, Rated PG-13, DVD-$28.95 SRP) as mysterious relationship guru Alex “Hitch” Hitchens, a guy whose tips & tricks always gets his clients the girl - including his latest schlubby client (Kevin James). However, when writer Sara Melas (Eva Mendes) discovers the guy she’s dating is actually “Hitch,” she splashes his secret all over the front page – throwing his won relationship into turmoil, as well as those of his clients. What can I say? It’s a fun, frothy little film that managed to hold my attention… And for that, it deserves a gold star. The DVD features deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes featurettes, a music video, and a blooper reel.

The remastered reissues of the Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass continue with a trio of new releases – Going Places, SRO, & What Now My Love (Shout! Factory, $13.98 SRP each) – and the good news is they’ve finally released the album containing the immortal “Spanish Flea” (Going Places). Crikey, how I love that song… so much so that I practically wore out my father’s 45 of it, listening to that jaunty trumpet on a near-endless loop. Heck, even Homer Simpson loves that gem.

Get your required Peter Sellers fix with the brilliantly dated What’s New Pussycat? (MGM/UA, Not Rated, DVD-$14.95 SRP), starring Sellers alongside Peter O’Toole, Woody Allen, and Ursula Andress in a sex romp that only the mod-era could possibly have spawned.

The release of the third season of Northern Exposure (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$59.98 SRP) brings us halfway through the six season run of the always-quirky lives of the residents of Cicely, Alaska. Bonus features include deleted & extended scenes, unexposed footage, and lost storylines.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – value-added materials is what will save the music industry (for now). By that, I mean the kinds of rare, from-the-vaults goodies that many companies are finally realizing are exactly what will drive fans to repurchase a classic album, in addition to remastering. Sony Legacy have long been ahead of the curve on this, and their latest fan-pleaser is the 2-disc Legacy Edition of Janis Joplin’s landmark Pearl (Columbia/Legacy, $29.98 SRP), featuring the remastered original album, 6 bonus tracks, and over a dozen live tracks from the Festival Express tour of Canada in 1970. Priceless.

Much like the disastrous Ocean’s 12, Be Cool (MGM/UA, Rated PG-13, DVD-$27.98 SRP) – the sequel to the thoroughly enjoyable Get Shorty – tries just too damn hard to be hipper than the room, and winds up being a flat, uninspired mess that’s less than the sum of its impressive parts – including the addition of Vince Vaughn, Uma Thurman, Steven Tyler, Cedric the Entertainer, Andre 3000, and The Rock to returning castmembers Danny DeVito and John Travolta as smooth criminal Chili Palmer, who decides to make inroads into the music industry this go round. Whither the humor? Bonus features include a making-of documentary, deleted scenes, featurettes on the cast and John & Uma’s dance sequence, a music video, and a gag reel.

Call him the king of mellow, but I’ve always dug the easygoing folksy pop of John Denver, and I’m complete unapologetic about it. Right from his debut album, Rhymes & Reasons (RCA/Legacy, $11.98 SRP) – which featured his version of his “Leaving On a Jet Plane” and has been remastered with bonus tracks – you could sense the expert grasp of songcraft already at play. For an overview of the hits that came fast and furious in the early 70’s, check out the remastered John Denver’s Greatest Hits (RCA/Legacy, $11.98 SRP), which also contains a trio of bonus tracks. And if you want to learn more about Denver, check out the documentary A Song’s Best Friend: John Denver Remembered (RCA/Legacy, Not Rated, DVD-$14.98 SRP), containing 4 bonus live performances. Granted, I’m still not thanking anyone for being a country boy… Which I most certainly am not.

Instead of giving fans the season set they know they want, MGM instead opts to release just the pilot for the SG-1 spin-off, Stargate: Atlantis (MGM/UA, Not Rated, DVD-$25.98 SRP). At least they provided an audio commentary with director Martin Wood & actor Joe Flanigan, a behind-the-scenes featurette, and a sneak peek at the upcoming second season.

There were many, many things to dislike about the last few big screen Batman outings, but the one element I enjoyed right from the get-go was Danny Elfman’s iconic main theme. Sadly, anything approaching that kind of sweepingly majestic – and readily identifiable – piece is missing from the score to Batman Begins (Warner Sunset Records, $18.98 SRP), co-composed by Hans Zimmer & James Newton Howard. Even more disappointing, the score is nothing more than sonic wallpaper, more fitting for a Merchant Ivory Bat-pic than that of the Caped Crusader’s long-awaited cinematic comeback. What I wouldn’t give for a solid duh duh duh duuuuhhh, DUH DUH!

No one would describe The Eagles as being an edgy rock group, but their easy-going SoCal rock has its place in the musical pantheon… And I dig it. That’s why I can watch the 2-disc DVD documenting their Farewell Tour: Live From Melbourne (Rhino, Not Rated, DVD-$29.99 SRP) and walk away with a peaceful, easy feeling.

Since it means nice presentations at bargain prices of catalogue titles that would be hard-pressed to justify regular releases, I’m all for MGM’s ongoing series of “Midnight Movies” double feature DVDs (MGM/UA, $14.95 SRP each), featuring two flicks for the price of one. Their latest batch includes a pair of stock car racing films featuring Annette Funicello, Frankie Avalon, and Fabian – Fireball 500 & Thunder Alley; the sci-fi cult “classics” Morons From Outer Space & Alien From LA (still the fodder of one of MST3K’s finest episodes); and the Corman-esque biker-exploitation schlock The Mini-Skirt Mob & Chrome and Hot Leather. Glorious cheese!

In the “It Had To Happen Eventually” department (which is closely associated with the “Don’t Give Up The Ghost” department), the short-lived Highlander: The Raven spin-off (Anchor Bay/Davis-Anderson, Not Rated, DVD-$89.98 SRP) featured a female Immortal, Amanda Derieux, fighting the good fight against evil Immortals and the conflicts within. The 9-disc set features all 22 episodes, plus audio commentaries, cast & crew interviews, a blooper reel, and a photo gallery.

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THE MONEY PIT - 06/10/2005

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (June 10, 2005 at 10:34 pm)

A month from now, I’ll be stressing myself out trying to get ready to fly out to this year’s mega-nerve-wracking San Diego Comicon. Where has this year gone?

One of the people I hope to finally meet in person at this year’s con (I’ve had plenty of near-misses) is Don Rosa. Of the creators that could possibly lay claim to inheriting the mantle of the late Carl Barks (creator of Scrooge McDuck and comicbook storyteller extraordinaire), I feel Rosa has the most impressive claim, based solely on the incredible quality of the Duck tales he’s produced over the last 15+ years. His epic Life & Times of Scrooge McDuck will be hitting shelves soon, but the latest issue of Uncle Scrooge - #342 (Gemstone, $6.95 SRP) – features Scrooge, Donald, and nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie tracking down the fabled treasury of the Knights Templar – a massive treasure secreted out of continental Europe and hidden on the property of the last Templar Treasurer, a member of the Clan McDuck. Keep in mind, this story was crafted before the Da Vinci Code ever hit shelves. It’s a grand adventure, and proves that the same magic Barks was able to conjure with the Disney Ducks (a magic that enthralled and inspired such fans as Steven Spielberg and George Lucas) is still alive and well in the works of Don Rosa. Highly recommended.

It wasn’t the derailment that many made it out to be, but the fourth season of The Sopranos was not up to the level of excellence exemplified by the previous 3 outings of HBO’s landmark show about “family”. Thankfully, things were back on track for the fifth season (HBO, Not Rated, DVD-$99.98 SRP), as Tony dealt with his disintegrating marriage to Carmela, the rising threat of Johnny Sack, and his nephew’s singing fiancée. Speaking of which, I love the fact that the writers were able to deal with the fiancée’s fate without dropping the ball – which is no small feat for most shows. The 4-disc set features five audio commentaries (with directors Peter Bogdanovich, Steve Buscemi, Mike Figgis, and Rodrigo Garcia, plus one from Drea de Matteo).

While you’re waiting to pick up Don Rosa’s Life & Times of Scrooge McDuck, do yourself a favor and grab the latest volume of The Complete Peanuts (Fantagraphics, $28.95 SRP), this time covering 1955-1956. Featuring an introduction by Mat Groening, the series remains the finest reprint of a comic strip I’ve ever laid eyes on. Where’s my Pogo, people?

While the overall quality of Frasier was still head-and-shoulders above the competition during its 11-year run, that should not be interpreted that all was perfect during that lengthy tenure. It was during the show’s fifth season (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$38.99 SRP) that the cracks began to show, and the non-stop farce and Niles-Daphne back-and-forth began to get a bit tired (which would not fully wear out its welcome until season 6). Still, the “Frasier Crane Day” episode is worth the price of admission.

Though roundly maligned by most critics – and believe me, it’s no masterpiece – the love that director/star Kevin Spacey had for his subject matter in his Bobby Darin biopic Beyond the Sea (Lions Gate, Rated PG-13, DVD-$27.98 SRP) is palpable. Also undeniable is Spacey’s amazing ability to recreate Darin’s tunes (I heartily recommend the soundtrack album for the film, featuring Spacey). Where the film really suffers is it’s ability to really peg Darin down as a character – it creates the broad strokes, but never seems to lock in. Bonus features on the disc include a commentary with Spacey, a making-of featurette, and cast & crew interviews.

But by golly, there’s more TV-on-DVD! In fact, based on the tremendous wave of TV-on-DVD releases hitting this week, I’ve decided – in my too-tired-to-be-terribly-creative way – to dub it the “TV-on-DVD Perfect Storm.” Maybe it will catch on… Mostly it won’t. Either way, there’s a ton of titles tempting buyers this week. For comics fans, there’s the very first season of Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$59.98 SRP) - featuring a retrospective documentary, commentary on the pilot, the original pilot presentation, interviews with Dean Cain & Terry Hatcher, and a behind-the-scenes featurette – as well as the third (and final) season of Wonder Woman (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP), with a new documentary and an audio commentary with Lynda Carter on the episode “My Teenage Idol Is Missing.” Comedy fans can pick up the 6th (and final) season of Sanford & Son (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$29.95 SRP) – be sure to pick up the version with the limited edition scrapbook; the complete 2nd season of Home Improvement (Touchstone, Not Rated, DVD-$49.99 SRP), featuring a 2nd season gag reel; the complete 4th season of King of Queens (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$39.95 SRP); and the 2nd season of the Ted Knight comedy Too Close for Comfort (Rhino, Not Rated, DVD-$39.95 SRP), featuring audio commentaries on four episodes and a cast reunion. If drama floats your boat – particularly the classic kind – there’s the complete first season of Dragnet 1967 (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP), featuring an audio CD with an episode of the original radio show; or the first 2 seasons of Jack Klugman’s pre-CSI crusading coroner, Quincy, M.E. (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP); and Richard Dean Anderson’s miracle-working geek in the 2nd season of MacGyver (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$38.99 SRP). For a combination of both comedy and drama, pick up the complete first season of Denis Leary’s brilliant fireman dramedy Rescue Me (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$49.95 SRP), featuring commentary on the first and last eps, 4 behind-the-scenes featurettes, deleted scenes, a peek at season 2, and bloopers. And finally, if you have fond memories of when you were actually interested in the mythology that eventually devoured The X-Files, be sure to pick up the first volume collecting those episodes from the first 3 seasons, The X-Files: Abduction (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP), which contains commentaries on selected episodes and the first part of a brand new mega-documentary, “Threads of Mythology.”

In 1972, Marc Bolan was the king of rock n’ roll. In 5 years, he was dead – but not without leaving behind a clutch of enduring tracks. Bolan was such a big star, in fact, that ex-Beatle Ringo Starr decided to make a documentary/concert film for the newly-minted Apple Films – a film that has been largely lost since it’s original release until the footage was recently found and remastered. That film, Born To Boogie (Sanctuary, Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP), is a rare document of Bolan and his band, T-Rex, at their peak – even if the Fellini-esque film is a bit on the odd side, the music is worth the price of admission. The 2-disc DVD set contains 2 unedited concerts, a feature length documentary, unused footage, new interviews, a look at the restoration, and much more. A companion CD is also available (Sanctuary, $19.98 SRP), and worth picking up as well.

It’s strange when you first hear its premise, but Johnny Cash’s Ridin’ The Rails (Rhino, Not Rated, DVD-$14.99 SRP) – in which the legend waxes poetic in song and story about the old time railroads – is a fun piece of TV history (yes, it was originally a network special). Featuring over a dozen songs (from “Casey
Jones” to “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”) and bonus outtakes, it’s worth taking a gander at.

Time (and quantities) are running out on Sideshow Toy’s the Second Chance offering of their limited edition Sauron’s Mace scaled replica ($75.00 SRP). As always, there’s some choice items that enter into their Second Chance listings – so if there’s anything you might have missed out on, head over there quick and you just might get lucky.

As the impending disaster of his turn as Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther remake approaches, I prefer to remember Steve Martin in better times, which includes the 15th Anniversary special edition of his remake of Father of the Bride (Touchstone, Rated PG, DVD-$19.99 SRP). Martin plays befuddled daddy George Banks, who has trouble letting go of his soon-to-marry daughter when she announces her impending nuptials. Throw a daft wedding planner into the mix (played by the always-insane Martin Short) and you have a recipe something at least amusing, and in this case quite funny. The DVD features a making-of featurette, Steve Martin & Martin Short interviewing each other, and an audio commentary with writer/director Charles Shyer.

In the documentary Gray Matter (Docurama, Not Rated, DVD-$26.95 SRP), filmmaker Joe Berlinger (Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, Brother’s Keeper) chronicles the burial of over 700 preserved brains removed from handicapped children as part of the Nazi’s eugenics program – an tragedy performed under the supervision of Dr. Heinrich Gross, known as the “Austrian Dr. Mengele”). Berlinger tracks down Gross – who rose to prominence in post-war Austrian society despite his past – and tries to piece together the darker side of science. The DVD features commentary with Berlinger and a timeline of events.

I’m not entirely sure what prompted the release of not one, but three director’s cuts from out of the Disney/Miramax vaults, but it seems someone, somewhere, deemed that a demand was there. I guess. Of the three, director Billy Bob Thornton’s 2-disc extended edition of Sling Blade (Miramax, Not Rated, DVD-$19.99 SRP) is the most palatable, mainly because I liked that film in the first place. Bonus features include a Billy Bob commentary, and nearly a dozen interviews and featurettes with Billy Bob and the cast & crew. The other two extended flicks come from the Jerry Bruckheimer catalogue – Gone in 60 Seconds and Coyote Ugly (Touchstone, Not Rated, DVD-$19.99 SRP each) – and really, they’re no better nor worse for their added running times. What you’ll probably be picking these up for, if you’re so inclined, are the bonus features, including additional scenes, featurettes, interviews, and music videos.

Who knew that watching the videos contained on The Pretenders: Greatest Hits and INXS – What You Need: The Video Hits Collection (Rhino, Not Rated, DVD-$19.99 SRP) would be such a disturbing time warp. Music wise, I always preferred Chrissie Hynde’s punk to the hair-pop of INXS, but hey – to each his own. The INXS disc features 20 videos, but the Pretenders disc contains 19 videos plus a 45-minute documentary.

If you take DVD releases as an indicator, then the British Invasion never really ended, as more and more releases from across the pond make their way over. Let’s start with the latest pair of releases featuring the good doctor – Doctor Who, of course. Packed with enough bonus materials to intimidate a Dalek, we get The Leisure Hive from the Tom Baker years, and Ghost Light from Sylvester McCoy’s tenure (BBC, Not Rated, DVD-$24.98 SRP each). Also available are the complete third series of Monarch of the Glen (BBC, Not Rated, DVD-$59.98 SRP) and the complete series 1-3 of Good Neighbors (BBC, Not Rated, DVD-$49.98 SRP). Monarch features an interview with Susan Hampshire, while Neighbors contains the 1977 Christmas special, plus interviews with the cast, crew, and celeb fans.

Yeah, I can’t think of a single person who would claim that Star Trek: Insurrection (Paramount, Rated PG, DVD-$19.99 SRP) was the finest hour for the Next Generation cast. In fact, I‘d be hard-pressed to find anyone who even considered it to be a decent outing. Regardless, the 2-disc collector’s editions of the Trek films continue with the release of the Gilbert & Sullivan-fueled flick, which also has the distinction to be the first of these deluxe editions to lack an audio commentary (I guess no one wanted to take credit for it). The second disc features the usual raft of featurettes on the production & special effects, plus a spotlight on Michael Westmore’s aliens, the beautiful alien women of Trek, the original production featurette (ported over from the old DVD release), trailers, and galleries.

It’s hard to approach any entry in the “Chucky” franchise with any expectation of cinematic brilliance, as you can tell the filmmakers see the continued murderous escapades of the possessed plaything as pure farce, full of one-liners and visual gags. In the latest entry, Seed of Chucky (Universal, Not Rated, $29.98 SRP) Jennifer Tilly (who must be stuck in Chucky purgatory) plays herself in addition to Chucky’s equally murderous girl-toy Tiffany, who’s resurrected along with her boyfriend by their… Oh, whatever. Like the story matters. You know it doesn’t – you go to see a doll drinking, cussing, and killing, which is why you’ll probably want to pick up the extended unrated edition, featuring exclusive bonus materials. Oh, the shame.

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