THIS WEEK IN DVD’S – Dec 6, 2007

We had a look at one new picture and two catalog titles on high-def this week, and while it’s always a giddy good time spelunking the annals of HD DVD/Blu-ray nerd-ity, our overall results were mixed.


Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (Buena Vista)


A contender for top-selling Blu-ray title of the year, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (Buena Vista) very well be the big playground bully of the group, but aside from technical finesse (the film looks damned good and sounds spectacular), the movie is empty and full of missed opportunities. Nowhere near as fun as the first installment and unfortunately not as bizarro as the second, At World’s End is just another three hours of Johnny Depp mumbling, Orlando Bloom smirking and Keira Knightley showcasing her bosom while swordfighting bad guys. And how one wastes a Keith Richards cameo is beyond me: When the guitar god shows up at around the film’s mid-point, the film proves its bloated worthlessness by making it ‘just another scene’. A shame.

Old School (Paramount)
Anchorman (Paramount)


Far more fun are two new HD DVD releases: Old School and Anchorman (Paramount). This writer definitely feels these movies aren’t bona-fide classics – has Will Ferrell made his dumb-ass classic yet? Has he made his Caddyshack? His Tommy Boy? – but both are fine ways to pass time. Old School has Ferrell’s now-infamous streaker scene, and Anchorman’s newsroom lunacy is as funny as ever (I dare you to walk into a frat house and drop the “they named it San Diego, which is German for…” dialogue line without the room exploding into laughter).

But as far as technical prowess goes, these titles aren’t exactly slam-dunks. A ton of extras from Anchorman’s double-DVD release aren’t included here, and Old School simply doesn’t look as good as it should with its new 1080p transfer (I compared it to my DVD copy and found differentiation to be minimal).

So basically, if you want a movie with the kind of audio/video bells and whistles that will impress your neighbors, vote Pirates; if you want movies that are actually somewhat worth watching, choose Old School and Anchorman. He maybe hasn’t made his classic yet, but Will Ferrell nonetheless knows how to please.


Three 2007 movies find homes on DVD as the year careens to a close, and only one really stands up (and even then, it’s a crapshoot).


Stardust (Paramount)
Sunshine (Fox)
The Simpsons Movie (Fox)


Let me first ruin the climax of Stardust (Paramount) for you: Claire Danes kills the villain in the film with a hug. I won’t say any more in an attempt to keep fantasy nerds from hunting me down, but while I’ll definitely say that the world needs more fantasy films (our decade needs a Princess Bride in the worst way), Stardust is a meandering slate of good ideas miss-executed at best. Sure, it’s great to see Michelle Pfeiffer do anything, and some of the special-effects-laden action in the film works fantastically, but the film’s script is a mess, and – even more glaringly disquieting – Robert DeNiro’s performance as a manly ship captain who happens to like dressing in ladies’ clothes is so dementedly misshapen that it needs to be seen to be believed. This DVD is also surprisingly lacking in the bonus features department, which makes the whole thing smell like a dangling carrot that precedes a soon-to-come special edition release. Pass.

Far more ambitious yet just as frustrating is Danny Boyle’s Sunshine (Fox), a futuristic actioner that starts strong, then fizzles like week-old soda water. Boyle is nothing short of the patron saint of blazing introductions (the first thirty minutes of 28 Days Later are exceptional) that mestatisize into dull, run-of-the-mill tripe (the last hour of 28 Days Later are atrocious), and Sunshine is no exception. My vote is to watch the first twenty minutes, then find something else to watch.

Then there’s The Simpsons Movie (Fox). No, it’s not a classic – not even close, really – but as an extended episode of the Pulitzer-worthy series that bore it, the film makes for an excellent good time. Its first act is more engaging and reference-heavy than its latter moments, but who cares? Die-hard Simpsons fans (this writer is, in fact, one of them) know that just because an episode of the series isn’t consistently hilarious, that doesn’t mean it can’t have moments of graceful, raucous magic within it. And this DVD has a ton of good stuff on it (as every other Simpsons DVD seems to contain), so it’s well worth picking this one up and having your buddies buy a six-pack on their way over to watch it with you.


Bill Maher: The Decider (HBO)


Bill Maher is a force to be reckoned with, and even though Bill Maher: The Decider (HBO) isn’t a start-to-finish masterwork, one can’t help but marvel at the guy. It’s sad that so many conservative audience member won’t even give the guy a chance, because even as a liberal viewer (this writer went to Berkeley: Case closed), I am frequently wowed by Maher’s ability to mine humor from both sides of the coin. Yes, it doesn’t take The Economist to know that Maher is a progressive at heart, but he teaches a good lesson in The Decider: Make fun of who you can when you can, because as soon as you take a step back, it’s hilariously easy to see just how dumb-ass it all is.



Touched By An Angel: The Fourth Season (Paramount)


On the other side of the TV spectrum is Touched By An Angel, and we had the dubious honor of slogging our way through Touched By An Angel: The Fourth Season (Paramount) this week. Wow. I suppose the one thing I can positively state after getting through this one is that there’s a niche on television for everything, and that’s kind of a great thing. Variety allows many types of viewers a chance to engage themselves as they please – “What should we watch? Jackass? Deal or No Deal? The Sopranos? Paula Deen?) – and while this writer found each episode of this fourth installment of the show to be painfully, woefully heavy-handed (I must admit that if I ran across either Roma Downey or Della Reese on the street, I’d run screaming), I’m glad the show exists. But when it comes to family-friendly entertainment, give me Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman any day. Or Sarah Plain and Tall – now that’s good TV…



Live Earth (Warner Bros. Records)


I suppose it’s more live concert than TV, but Live Earth (Warner Bros. Records) made a massive impression as a multimedia event, part of which occurred on pay-per-view TV. And while this three-disc edition (2 DVDs. 1 CD) doesn’t aim to encapsulate the entire experience, but it offers a more-than-adequate ‘best of’ compilation for those of us who weren’t at any of the concerts. This writer’s a big fan of Madonna’s new material, but her contributions here (while noble) don’t stand among her best moments – far more exciting are Metallic’s blistering offerings and the Beastie Boys’ unflaggingly involving crowd-pleasing antics. As a whole, there are as many pluses as minuses here, but the cause is a good one, and hey – any rock and roll is good rock and roll, even if you have to sift through some filler for it.



Two more obscure titles for you before our DVD installment ends:


Erik the Viking (MGM)


Erik the Viking (MGM) is definitely Python-esque, and Terry Jones’ contributions to the movie’s more outrageous moments is well worth applauding, but man this thing is all over the place. This Director’s Son’s Cut (watch the bonus features – I don’t want to ruin it for you) is a more ‘streamlined’ version of the film – almost thirty minutes was cut out of the original movie – but this is the kind of DVD release that die-hard fans salivate for, and the fact that the original version isn’t also included is a real drag. I didn’t mind – I’m a Holy Grail and Life of Brian fan at best, so my Python sensibilities are minimal – but mega-fans might want to postpone throwing away those VHS editions….



Love’s Unending Legacy (Fox)


Then there’s Love’s Unending Legacy (Fox), a treacly melodrama that has all the signs of a solid Lifetime movie, but without the sassiness or PG-13 material. This Christian-oriented saga of life and love, based on the hit novel by Janette Oke, is endearing enough (as cheesy as it is, I definitely wanted to see how it ended), but it’s not surprisingly for fans of the book and fans of the book alone. Give this writer She’s Too Young or A Strange Affair from Lifetime any day of the week…