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Doogan's Views at The Digital Bits!
page added: 4/27/04




4/27/04 Weekly Release Roundup

Greetings all. It's a mighty fine week for DVD fans. Lots of stuff in stores for you big Hollywood film fans, scary monster movie fans and foreign movie fans too. That pretty much covers the lot of you.

Check it out...



Ghosts of the Abyss Ghosts of the Abyss

My pick of the week is James Cameron's Ghosts of the Abyss. This documentary wasn't one I was particularly looking forward to seeing, but now that I have, I regret not checking it out in the theater as a full-blown IMAX experience. Ghosts follows Cameron and Bill Paxton as they go down to the site of the wreck of the Titanic and make repeated dives to explore the remains with robotic cameras designed by Cameron's brother. It's sort of an extension of the opening moments of Titanic, before the love story crept in. At times funny, at time thrilling, Ghosts does everything right - including recreations of events on the ship using both footage of the wreck and state of the art special effects. This DVD presents the film in a home video format lessening the impact of the original 3-D IMAX format. Still it looks good in this anamorphic presentation. Sound is also nice in Dolby Digital 5.1. This two-disc set gives both the original 60-minute version as well as a 90-minute version, a documentary about the exhibition and an edit-yourself sequence where you can watch all the footage from one of the dives with all of the different cameras used for the shoot. All it all, this is a very cool DVD and one that's worth picking up.


Big Fish Big Fish

Next up is the Tim Burton film Big Fish, which is a beautiful and touching film about parental bonding and loss. Ewan McGregor and Albert Finney star as Edward Bloom, a dying man who lived a big life (or did he?) with plenty of stories to tell (or are they lies?). Billy Crudup also stars as the son who's had to endure these stories all his life and has tried to get away from them, but needs to connect with his father before he's gone. Big man or not, you will cry when this film's final seconds unspool. Columbia TriStar's DVD provides the film in fine form. Presented in anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital 5.1, it serves the film nicely. Extras include a distanced commentary track from Burton, and a stack of featurettes that look into the production of the film (which are accessible through the special features menu and a white rabbit feature while watching the film). A very good film from a very good director.


The Cooler The Cooler

You wanna see a great f*#@in' flick? Check out Lion Gate's The Cooler. This one is cool, funny and thrilling all at the same time. William H. Macy hasn't been better as Bernie Lootz, a casino cooler (or a guy with bad luck that rubs off on others). His boss is Alec Baldwin, who rocks. And I don't think Maria Bello has been hotter in any film. See this one for the performances. The DVD presents the film in nice anamorphic widescreen, a powerful DD 5.1 soundtrack (with a nice isolated score extra featuring Mark Isham's jazzy score). Speaking of extras, there're also two commentaries (one is the production track with writer/director Wayne Kramer, co-writer Frank Hannah and director of photography James Whitaker, the other is Kramer and Isham riffing on the score). There's also a Sundance Channel Anatomy of a Scene featurette and storyboard-to-film comparison. If you love film, do yourself a favor and pick this one up.


Oooh, scary! It's Monster Week on DVD thanks to that wacky Van Helsing due in theaters next week. Van Helsing may suck (and it does), but the films that inspired it sure don't. Check 'em out on DVD...


The Universal Monsters Legacy Collection

The Dracula Legacy CollectionThe Frankenstein Legacy CollectionThe Wolf Man Legacy Collection

For those of you not willing to upgrade your previous editions of the recently retired Universal Classic Monster DVDs (reviewed here - Dracula, Dracula's Daughter/Son of Dracula, Frankenstein, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man/House of Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, The Ghost of Frankenstein/Son of Frankenstein, The Wolf Man and Werewolf of London/She-Wolf of London), let me tell you to reconsider that decision. There's big news on two of these sets. The big news for the new Frankenstein set, making it a must-buy, is that it re-transfers the previous Bride of Frankenstein disc which had some major framing issues. That and the transfer looks a lot better now. The Franky set collects the entire run of Franky films from the previous collection including the original film, Bride, Son, Ghost and House. The big news for the Dracula set is that along with the English version, the Spanish version, Dracula's Daughter and Son, Universal decided to throw in the classic monster mash flick House of Dracula starring John Carradine. That's a pretty cool addition. The Wolf Man set remains largely a port over, with the original Wolf Man, Werewolf of London, She-Wolf of London and Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. The transfer on everything other than Bride looks the same as the original discs. Significantly, ALL of the extras from the previous sets are on board, with the addition of Stephen Sommers introducing his new film, Van Helsing, in a six-minute promo piece. You can click the above links to see what we thought about the discs and the extras. These new sets are available individually or together in a sweet collector's edition box housing three character mini-busts. Go for the busts version. It's way cool.

Also coming this week, a collection of equally neat Hammer Horror films.


Hammer Horror Films

Dracula Has Risen from the GraveFrankenstein Must Be DestroyedTaste the Blood of Dracula

Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed! and Taste the Blood of Dracula are available separately or as part of the Hammer Horror Collection which also includes the previously released titles Curse of Frankenstein, Horror of Dracula and The Mummy)

All look and sound good on DVD. Nitpickers may find that source issues pop up here and there, and the sound has always had a few problems even on laserdisc and video, but all in all these are good DVDs. There are no extras to mention aside from trailers, but Taste the Blood and Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed does restore footage that has been missing from previous U.S. releases. If you're a Hammer fan, you'll want to pick these films up.



Fast Company: 2-disc Limited Edition Fast Company: 2-disc Limited Edition

From Blue Underground comes David Cronenberg's drag race epic Fast Company. Available in two versions, the one to get is the two-disc set as it's the same with a supplemental disc. Even though Fast Company is one of Cronenberg's only non-horror based films, the second disc contains two of Cronenberg's most important works - the short films Stereo and Crimes of the Future. These films give a beautiful insight to the mind who would go one and give us Scanners, The Fly and Naked Lunch, and these films show that his creative mind hasn't changed much from the first days of his career. This set also contains a commentary with Cronenberg, an interview with his cinematographer, interviews with the stars, trailers and still galleries. This DVD was a long time coming, and as a Cronenberg fan I'm glad to see it on shelves today.


Love, Actually Love, Actually

Oh, how the people love this film. Well good news folks - you can pick her up on DVD today. The disc is a bit lacking sadly. As much as it was loved in theaters, it's just a bit ho-hum in the home. That's mainly because of the video and audio are only up to the serviceable level, not gorgeous, which they should have been. Extras knock it up a bit by giving us a nice commentary with director/writer Richard Curtis and actors Bill Nighly, Hugh Grant and Thomas Sangster. This is a funny track full of life, humor and plenty of making-of information. There are also a wide selection of deleted scenes, all introduced by Curtis, who offers up that the original cut of the film clocked in at 3 and a half hours. Yikes. You'll also find a music video, trailers and Curtis chatting about the music of the film. It's a cute film, and it's an okay DVD. Nothing to really write home about, but nothing to prevent you from buying it either.


All Things Fair
All Things Fair

From Home Vision comes Bo Widerberg's Academy Award nominated film about a student who falls for his teacher (who reciprocates the affection). Never would this film be made in America, but it's really good and a boon for film fans that love foreign films. Although not a packed edition, the anamorphic transfer and DD 2.0 sound on this DVD are both top notch.


Twist + Shout/Zappa
Twist + Shout/Zappa

This is a two-disc set from Home Vision featuring two films directed by Billie August focusing on Bjorn and Kirsten, a couple of kids growing up in the heartland... of Denmark. Zappa comes first, but is the lesser film. It focuses on Bjorn and his relationship with his two friends, up until he falls for a girl (Kirsten). It's coming of age, sure, but with some literal punches that will throw you for a loop - a good one. Twist + Shout takes place a few years later at the height of worldwide Beatlemania. Bjorn and Kirsten are still together, but a new girl enters the picture and Kirsten shows her true side. But again, August sucker punches us by taking us into an end of high school romp and makes us witness a life drama. Both are great films to add to our libraries. Both feature anamorphic widescreen video and DD mono tracks that serve the films well. There are no extras to speak of on the DVD, aside from liner notes, trailers and an August filmography. But a two-disc set of these films is big enough for me.


Osama
Osama

Don't worry; this one isn't the life story of everyone's least favorite terrorist leader. In Osama, Siddiq Barmak takes us inside Afganistan and shows us the way things are under Taliban rule both for young girls and young boys. After her father is killed, a 12-year old girl is made to look like a boy so she can work and provide for her family. She is eventually sent to military training camp where every day her secret is close to being revealed, and she must find allies in order to protect her secret and her life. MGM's DVD looks and sounds fine. Trailers and a very nice interview with Barmak round out the extras for the disc.



The Householder and Shakespeare Wallah

The HouseholderShakespeare Wallah

Home Vision and Criterion have been in cahoots to deliver us the works of Merchant Ivory, and today the first two feature films they worked together on come to DVD. The Householder deals with a young schoolteacher who gets hitched in an arranged marriage, who learns to love his wife. It's also about the wacky people in his world at the time. Shakespeare Wallah follows the adventures of a traveling troupe of actors who are coming to grips with the end of British rule and the emerging Bollywood film industry. Both films are quite good and contrast with the later "stuffier" Merchant Ivory films. These DVD are presented with new transfers - Householder is full frame and Wallah is anamorphic - and both have mono sound that serves the film fine. They also come with shorts films from both Merchant and Ivory, as well as continued interview sessions from the Merchant Ivory Productions DVD series. Both films are worth checking out if you're looking for something different and good.



Stuck on You
Stuck on You

The Farrelly Brothers deliver another tasteless but hilarious film. This time it's all about conjoined twins; one is out-going and the other is a bit of a loner. How they deal with each other is what makes the film funny as hell. It didn't do big business, but don't let that fool you - this is a funny movie. Fox's DVD presents the film well, looking good in anamorphic widescreen and sounding good too in Dolby Digital 5.1. The extras help knock this one out of the park, with a funny commentary with the Farrelly's, a handful of making-of featurettes, deleted scenes with optional commentary and a blooper reel (which is as funny as the film). You should give this film another chance, you might be surprised.


Also available this week:

Also coming to stores this week, a new batch of TV of DVD including: ER: The Complete Second Season, Kids in the Hall: Season 1 (1989-1990), Profiler: Season Three and Saved by the Bell: Seasons 3 & 4. You'll also find Paul Newman starring in the literal bomb movie Fat Man and Little Boy. In the 80's it was white kids who Can't Buy Me Love, today though, Love Don't Cost a Thing for Nick Cannon and Christina Milan. If you're gearing up for Troy this summer check out Robert Wise's 1956 version Helen of Troy. Sean Penn guesses the The Weight of Water. And if Jennifer Garner has your heart all a flutter in 13 Going on 30, check out these other body switching epics Vice Versa and Like Father, Like Son.

It's amazing, after doing this column for two months I'm beginning to see the pattern in the releases. It's weird, wacky and wonderful. God bless this industry.

And God bless you...

Todd Doogan
todddoogan@thedigitalbits.com


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