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Doogan's Views at The Digital Bits!
page added: 3/16/04

3/16/04 Weekly Release Roundup

Uhg. Apologies in advance, but I've been really, really sick this past week and weekend, therefore I haven't gotten much DVD-ing in. So, this column will be a little light this week. I'm going to give you a listing of everything coming out worth your time, but I'm not going to go as in-depth as I'd (or you'd) like.

But with that, I say... aaaand away we go.

21 Grams 21 Grams

Director Alejandro González Iñárritu's 21 Grams is a brilliant film with brilliant acting, but it's not for everyone. It's dark, gritty and a bit off settling. Iñárritu plays with time and story structure much like Tarantino did with Pulp Fiction and, in a way, his own, equally brilliant Amores perros. Naomi Watts, Sean Penn and Benicio Del Toro star as three people whose lives become entwined because of a very horrible event.

Universal sends us this one as a standard movie-only release. You get anamorphic widescreen video at 1.85:1 and both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 audio with a short behind-the-scenes featurette.

Onibaba Onibaba

Mmm. Criterion brings us this classic Japanese horror film and I couldn't be happier. Onibaba follows a woman and her daughter-in-law, who lure wayward warriors to their death in a pit, selling their armor and weapons for food and provisions. Dog eat dog, you would say. But things get complicated when the daughter-in-law is told of her husband's death and the messenger stays along out of love/lust/self preservation to work the scheme with the women. Worried that her daughter-in-law will run off and she'll be left alone to fend for herself, the "mother" hatches a plan to use a frightening mask to scare her daughter-in-law into obedience. But things don't quite work out they way she hoped, when the mask becomes fused to her face.

Criterion delivers this one to us with a very nice anamorphic widescreen transfer, wonderfully preserving the gorgeous black and white photography. Sound is in the original mono with new English subtitles. Extras include a video interview with writer/director Kaneto Shindo, that has behind-the-scenes footage cut in. More behind-the-scenes footage is included in a separate piece, which includes some fascinating color material. Criterion also includes a stills gallery with production sketches and promotional art, an untranslated theatrical trailer and a booklet featuring an English translation of the original fable that inspired the film, plus liner notes by Chuck Stephens and a statement by Shindo. It's really a nice set and, if you're a fan of Japanese cinema, it's a must have.

The Osterman Weekend The Osterman Weekend

Robert Ludlum's best-selling novel became legendary director Sam Peckinpah's last film, and even though the film was a disappointment, the DVD from Anchor Bay is not. In fact, it's an intriguing use of DVD as film history tool. Not only does it present the film in luscious video and sound quality (anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 EX, 2.0 and mono as well as DTS 6.1 - all of which sound incredible), but the Bay also serves up the original "director's cut" version of the film (pulled from what looks like a VHS tape) in full frame. That's in no way a slight to the film quality, by the way. This is probably the only way we would be able to see this version of the film, so we'll take it anyway we can get it.

You'll also find a very informative and entertaining commentary track with not two, not even three, but four Peckinpah historians, discussing the film, his career and the director's process. And for those wanting to hear what the actors and production team have to say, there's also a fascinating 78-minute documentary included, entitled Alpha to Omega. Also look for a full stills gallery and the film's theatrical trailer.

Although not a great film, this DVD really does its job preserving the film and its history for us. Anchor Bay has done Peckinpah and his fans proud with this one.

The Running Man: Special Edition The Running Man: Special Edition

Arnold Schwarzenegger's grand 1987 film version of the Stephen King (using the pen name Richard Bachman) story The Running Man is once again on DVD people... and this time it's actually a good thing. You remember The Running Man don't you? Arnold in a gold and green jumpsuit, Yaphet Kotto with a bad Jehri curl and TV host Richard "Who do you love?" Dawson's over the top performance as an over the top TV host? All right, fine. I remember it and that's all that matters. Artisan delivers on DVD the film that predicted both reality television's rule over entertainment and supreme government control in a very cool way. It features a remastered anamorphic widescreen presentation that blows the previous edition out of the water. But if you'd rather, the full frame version is on the flip side of the disc. Sound is also quite nice with DTS ES 6.1 for those who prefer it and Dolby Digital 5.1 EX for everyone else. Fans of the film will also find two nice commentary tracks (one with the executive producer and one with the director) and a silly interactive "game" where you can read the stats and facts about the colorful Stalker characters featured in the film.

But the most interesting thing about this disc is a couple of documentaries that draw a very nice parallel between the film and our current state of affairs in these United States. The first, Lockdown on Main Street, looks at the political climate of the U.S. post-9/11, drawing comparisons to the film and how things have panned out and/or look to be headed. Scary stuff. Also paralleling the film nicely is a documentary called Game Theory, which looks at reality television and how we're not too far from seeing a show much like The Running Man. This is a fun set, and one that's not just for you Arny fans. Do check it out.

Speaking of TV, this is a great week for TV from around the world on DVD. Check it out:

Absolutely Fabulous: Series 5 Absolutely Fabulous: Series 5

Eddy and Patsy are back in AbFab: Series 5. It's been a while since the AbFab Special in 2001. This set features all 8 episodes in anamorphic widescreen video (presented in 1.78:1) and standard Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. Extras include commentary for the first episode with series creator/star Jennifer Saunders and producer Jon Plowman, as well as some funny outtakes and a stills gallery.

Brides of Christ
Brides of Christ

This award-winning Australian TV mini-series looked at the lives of six nuns in the Santo Spirito convent. It stars Josephine Byrnes and Brenda Fricker and features very young Naomi Watts and Russell Crowe. It's coming from Wellspring Media.

Colosseum: A Gladiator's Story Colosseum: A Gladiator's Story

If you loved Ridley Scott's Gladiator, you'll enjoy Colosseum: A Gladiator's Story. This hour-long BBC docudrama shows us a recreation of one of the only fully detailed descriptions of a gladiatorial battle: that of Verus and Priscus, as well as details the making of the Colosseum itself. Utterly fascinating. The show is presented in good looking anamorphic widescreen video, and the extras include the hour-long recreation of the last day of Pompeii, interviews with the filmmakers, the featurette A Composer's Story, facts and trivia, and trailers.

Dangerous Liaisons: 270-Minute Extended Edition

Dangerous Liaisons: Extended Edition

This is the 270-minute version of the French mini-series from last year. Catherine Deneuve stars as Madame de Meurteuil and Rupert Everett is Valmont in this faux-modern update of the classic tale of morals and sex. The mini-series also stars Nastassja Kinski and Leelee Sobieski. This three-disc set is in French with English subs in anamorphic widescreen video. The mini-series is also available in two shorter 200-minute versions, one in French and the other in dubbed English. But c'mon, this is DVD, we want this stuff in its original language and as long as possible. Stick with the 270-minute French version.

Flintstones: The Complete First Season Flintstones: The Complete First Season

What can I say? How about Yabba Dabba Doo! Read Bill's thoughts here.

The Hitchhiker The Hitchhiker

HBO's steamy and scary version of The Twilight Zone is making its way to DVD. Sadly, this is not a complete season set (why?), so this disc brings together 10 random episodes, including those directed by Paul Verhoeven, Philip Noyce and Carl Schenkel. The episodes are presented full frame and with standard Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. Extras include five commentary tracks (two from Noyce with producer Lewis Chesler, one with Verhoeven and two with Carl Schenkel).

Hopefully, HBO will find this set well received and will get around to releasing complete season sets. This was a great series and you can see that for yourself with this nice two-disc edition.

Kung Fu: The Complete First Season Kung Fu: The Complete First Season

The show that made David Carradine (Kill Bill) a star and the word "grasshopper" part of pop culture vernacular is finally on DVD. Included in this three-disc set are all 15 episodes of season one (from way back in 1972, yo!) plus the original pilot and a couple of making-of featurettes. The big deal with this set is that it's presented in anamorphic widescreen video, even though the series was originally broadcast in full frame. This will raise the ire of many purists, but the presentation doesn't look too bad. Personally, I think Warner should have presented these in full frame - which I know is an odd statement here on The Bits - but it's the way I feel. The widescreen doesn't hurt it, and ends up making the presentation feel a bit more theatrical, but as supporters of having things the way they were originally meant to be seen, it's a sticking point.

Married with Children: The Complete Second Season Married with Children: The Complete Second Season

If you can stand it, here for your enjoyment are 22 episodes of Married with Children uninterrupted and full of all the toilet humor you could ever want. M*A*S*H this ain't, but it's damn funny stuff. The presentation is standard full frame with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound - it does its job and does it well. The extras are a series of Easter eggs, that you have to hunt for to enjoy. It's basically a group interview edited up into 20 pieces. Good luck finding 'em all.

Scenes from a Marriage Scenes from a Marriage

You're probably wondering why I included Ingmar Bergman's brilliant examination of love and marriage in the TV group, but unbeknownst to many film fans, this actually was originally a five-hour television mini-series for Swedish TV. Criterion presents both the TV version and the abridged U.S. theatrical version. Extras include a video interview with Bergman (from 1986), a new interview with stars Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson as well as an interview with Peter Cowie on the differences and overall impact when you compare the two versions. Criterion presents both versions in their original full frame aspect ratio with Dolby Digital mono sound, and both look great. But you probably knew that when I wrote "Criterion" in the sentence above. Just go by it.

Scooby-Doo Where Are You!: The Complete First and Second Seasons Scooby-Doo Where Are You!: The Complete First and Second Seasons

Before he was a CGI cousin to Jar Jar, he was a Saturday morning cartoon star. Trivia bit for you: "Scooby Dooby Doo, where are you? I'm over here" were my first words. Now you know why I do what I do. Read Bill's thoughts on this set here.

Rounding out the column this week is a last handful of discs worth mentioning. First up...

The Commitments: Collector's Edition The Commitments: Collector's Edition

Get ready to replace your old edition of The Commitments, because a new one is here and it kicks the old version's ass. Sent to us by Fox with a new anamorphic transfer and an updated English Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track (the previous edition sported only a 2.0 track), this is also a loaded two-disc special edition. First, we get a commentary by Alan Parker, which is good but suffers a bit from the standard commentary track boo-boo where the director dictates what's going on on-screen. But it's better than nothing. Next, we get a pair of making-of documentaries, one focusing on the production at the time and the other looking at the production from today's perspective. There is also a pair of featurettes, one on the band that inspired the film and the other a slimmed-down version of the documentary about the production. Filling out the collection is a music video, two audio-only tracks, a trailer, TV and radio spots and a stills gallery.

Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat

I hate this film, so I'm not going to talk about it. If you're a parent with any respect for your own childhood, avoid this film and give your kid a copy of the book. That said, and knowing I have no influence... Cat in the Hat on DVD looks nothing short of gorgeous. And it sounds incredible as well. Hate to say it, but it's true. Extras are pretty vast as well and include a commentary with director Bo Welsh and actor Alec Baldwin, deleted scenes, outtakes and a very nice collection of featurettes concerning hats, Dr. Seuss, the S.L.O.W. (the car featured in the film), the D.I.R.T. cleaning machine, the look of The Cat, the town, the development of the fish, the music, the kid actors in the film, the CGI and even a look at the U.S. Postal stamp. It's a good DVD. A damn good DVD. But, oh... how the film hurts me so.

The Last Unicorn The Last Unicorn

The Last Unicorn is a movie that we've wanted on DVD for a very long time. Sadly, as of press time, I haven't had a chance to see this Lion's Gate release, so I can't vouch for whether it's a good showing on disc or a bad one. But I know a lot of people who will be cheering from the rooftops if it's even close to good.

Veronica Guerin Veronica Guerin

Joel Shumacher's examination of the life and death of Irish journalist Veronica Guerin didn't make any noise in theaters, but it should hit big in homes. The famed Sunday Independent reporter who went up against Dublin's crime world and paid the ultimate price stars Cate Blanchett and features a cameo by Shumacher favorite Colin Farrell. This Touchstone/Buena Vista DVD features anamorphic widescreen video, Dolby Digital 5.1 as well as DTS 5.1 audio, two commentary tracks (one with Schmacher and the other with the writers of the film), a deleted scene, a video interview with producer Jerry Bruckheimer, Bruckheimer's photo diary, a featurette focusing on the real Guerin and a making-of documentary. Not bad at all. Check it out.

Also available today:

Rebecca Demornay in Roger Vadim's remake of his own film And God Created Woman, Anna, Baby, the Rain Must Fall, Beyond the Stars, the original 1950 version of Cheaper by the Dozen, December, Olivier Assayas' Demonlover, Girls Will Be Girls, John Turturro's directorial debut Mac, Mick Jagger's turn as Ned Kelly, direct-to-video fare with Michael Keaton in Quicksand and the classic MGM/UA film Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines.

This it for this week. I'm going back to bed and try to sleep this off. Damn flu.

Seacrest out.

Wait... I'm not Ryan Seacrest. I am so way cooler. I am, and always will be,

Todd Doogan

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