DVD REVIEW – Oct 1, 2008

THIS WEEK IN DVD’S – Oct 1, 2008

Camp Rock (Buena Vista)
Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds (Buena Vista)
The Pirates of the Caribbean Trilogy (Buena Vista)
The Nightmare Before Christmas (Buena Vista)


Your buddy Mike listened to his first Jonas Brothers album last week – after seeing their knee-deep-in-puberty mugs on the cover of Rolling Stone, I just had to know whether these tweeny-boppers were a Hannah Montana flavor-of-the-month or a legitimate powerhouse.

And I gotta tell you – Rolling Stone can give their albums as many four-star reviews as they want: These guys kinda suck. Maybe if I had screeching-fan kids (or was a screeching-fan kid myself), I’d have a different opinion, but as it stands, these ain’t got nothing on NSYNC. So it should come as no surprise that I had little love for Camp Rock, which is basically an extended music video with a couple of breaks here and there for crappy dialogue. Sure, the Blu-ray edition of the film makes it look and sound like a million bucks – audio and video quality are truly excellent here – but this dog don’t hunt.

Marginally more fun is Best of Both Worlds, where Miley Cyrus and her “Hey, I put a wig on!” alter ego Hannah Montana perform a live concert. The 3-D aspect of the picture is fun – it’s on this Blu-ray with both 2- and 3-D presentations – and even if she’s nothing but the same cookie-cutter Britney rip-off we’ve seen over and over, Miley is adorable. I’m probably saying this, though, because my BFF Fotutie does such a good rendition of Miley’s “See You Again” that I’ve become a fan. I mean, if you’re either a Jonas Brothers person or a Hannah Montana person, just watch me put on my 3-D glasses and fight for the Hannah cause.

While there’s nothing new on this Pirates of the Caribbean box set – each title is a repackaged version of the previously-available Blu-ray edition of the films – I suppose it’s nice to have them in one big box. This writer was never a fan of the franchise – I love Johnny Depp and any excuse for a Keith Richards cameo is a good excuse – but there are enough bells and whistles on these high-def discs to keep even naysayers occupied for a while (it’s unlikely you’ll find discs that look and sound better than these).

And there’s another title to add to the reference-quality pantheon: Buena Vista’s The Nightmare Before Christmas Blu-ray disc is nothing short of exceptional. I feel the film is still a bit overrated aesthetically – I never fully fell under its spell – but this Blu-ray sports a killer 1080p transfer, a deep and finessed sound mix and more extras than mere mortals know what to do with. If it’s a favorite film of yours, you will be blown away.


Grey’s Anatomy: The Complete Fourth Season (Buena Vista)
Smart People (Buena Vista)
Nixon (Buena Vista)
The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration (Paramount)


I used to base my TV life around Grey’s Anatomy (how good was that second season?), but boy has that show sucked for a while. The cast is still top-notch, but character directions in this fourth season (easily the show’s worst so far) simply don’t make any sense. Someday the show might regain its footing, but this fourth season is definitely lacking in the quality department. The Blu-ray presentation of these episodes are great hough, so you can be disappointed with the misguided notions of show while experiencing top-notch high-definition presentation. Enjoy!

Slightly better is Smart People, a Wes Anderson-lite dramedy from Noam Murro treads similar territory to last year’s The Savages, with Dennis Quaid playing a family figurehead who suffers a seizure and has to watch the rest of his dysfunctional family come to his aid to help him through. There are moments of laughter-through-tears magic here, but at the end of the day, this is little more than a neo-Baumbach family chronicle. The commentary track on this Blu-ray disc, though, was enough to get me to watch the film again. Murro and writer Mark Poirier are so lucid, affable and straightforward in their discussion of their project that I felt the need to give the picture a second chance. It still wasn’t great on that sophomore viewing, but the quality of these supplements remain strong.

Nixon is probably the most underrated movie of the 1990s, and it’s such a glorious treat to see the film presented with such glowing force as it is on this new Blu-ray release. Oliver Stone’s JFK might be the better film, but this is the presidential biopic of his that really digs deep and mines truly unique dramatic territory. And while Stone’s two commentaries here are a bit much (two 4-hour commentaries?), the documentary and Charlie Rose interview on this set’s second disc are really worth checking out.

And folks, we have a real contender for Blu-ray release of the year: The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration is the real deal. The films look astoundingly good here, and in addition to Paramount including each and every bonus from their debut DVD edition, they’ve put even more documentaries and featurettes into the mix. There will always be controversy as to whether the films look like they did when they were first released (Coppola has overseen at least a handful of restorations over the last couple decades), but this writer states firmly that this is one of those must-own Blu-ray editions. It’s good enough to merit you going out and buying a player to watch it on: Yeah, that good.


Gossip Girl: The Complete First Season (Warner)
Ghost Whisperer: The Third Season (Paramount)
Medium: The Fourth Season (Paramount)
Private Practice: The Complete First Season (Buena Vista)
Brothers & Sisters: The Complete Second Season (Buena Vista)


Your buddy Mike simply isn’t in the prime demographic for Gossip Girl. This saga about the smuggest, richest, most elite under-20s in Manhattan is like The Hills only without the documentary crew. Kristen Bell is capable of more than her blogging jackass character here, and everything else seems so paper-thin that it was hard for me to make it through a single episode, let alone a full season. Shows don’t have to be meaningful to be good, but they have to have something. And there ain’t a thing going on with Gossip Girl.

Give me Jennifer Love Hewitt any day. Sure, Ghost Whisperer is not exactly a good show, but it offers the Can’t Hardly Wait star a chance to make very, very serious faces and look fantastic in tight tops. Who can resist? She’s definitely more fun than fellow ether-world investigator Patricia Arquette in Medium. Arquette is a glorious actress (her multi-faceted role in Lost Highway is one of the more under-appreciated I’ve ever come across), but I find Medium – especially these newer episodes – to be hyper-violent and relatively pointless.

Then there are two of Buena Vista’s new shows, Private Practice and Brothers & Sisters. PP is little more than Grey’s Anatomy in a different town, and while Kate Walsh has a wonderful glow to her (she has the kind of presence that can really fill a room), the show is one-note – it reeks of being an incidental, unnecessary spin-off. That isn’t the case with Brothers & Sisters, though. The show definitely has high and low points, but this Sally Field drama is the kind of addictive television that can steal your life away (I did about a disc a night of this second season – I couldn’t get enough).


It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia: The Complete Third Season (Fox)
Will & Grace: The Eighth Season (Lionsgate)
Samantha Who?: The Complete First Season (Buena Vista)


It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is, indeed, the funniest show on television right now, and while this third season doesn’t have the astonishing consistency of its two earlier incarnations, I found myself literally howling at least two or three times an episode. This is way more than I can say for Will & Grace’s final season, though. I am a die-hard fan of the series, but this eighth go-round for Will, Grace, Karen and Jack is dead on arrival. The two episodes that were recorded live have hints of the magic the show used to have, but the vast majority of this 4-DVD set is filler, material that proves just how poor the show got in its final go-rounds.

Samantha Who? is fantastic proof that sometimes all you need to succeed on TV is charisma. The pseudo-amnesia, rebuilding-your-life ethic at the center of this show’s concept is beyond been-there-done-that, but somehow Christina Applegate really plants herself into the title character with plumb and sass. And with co-stars like Melissa McCarthy (SOOKIE!) and Jean Smart, even if the show  isn’t groundbreaking, it provides a perfectly legitimate excuse to plop yourself on the couch, turn your brain off and smile.


NCIS: The Fifth Season (Paramount)
CSI: Miami: The Sixth Season (Paramount)
Criminal Minds: The Third Season (Paramount)


Is there anything quite like enjoying the bloody, nasty brutalities of crime TV on a summer night? I think I echo the sentiments of many aficionados of the TV genre when I say that while I despise violence in my personal life, it sure does make for great television. That being said, though, these three new box sets don’t provide as much fun as, say, Law & Order or the original CSI. David Caruso and his cohorts at CSI: Miami come close – I don’t know why I love Caruso so much, but I do – but even though there are a handful of rock-solid episodes on this sixth-season box set, it gets more than a little repetitive quite often. And while I like the creepy, Hannibal Lecter nuttiness over at Criminal Minds, this fourth season seemed a little limp (except for the excellent Lucky episode, which deals with ape-shit crazy Florida Satanists). And Mark Harmon continues to remain a solid epicenter for NCIS, but this fifth go-round for the show never truly shines. In trying to be more CSI and less JAG, the show has kind of lost its mojo. There’s always next season…


The Untouchables: Season Two, Volume Two (Paramount)
Cheers: The Tenth Season (Paramount)
Star Trek: Alternate Realities (Paramount)
Beauty and the Beast: The Complete Series (Paramount)


Not being fully versed in The Untouchables – I know only as much as the first few DVD releases have taught me – I must say that this second volume of the show’s sophomore season are more of the same. Robert Stack is a fantastic frontman, to be sure, but even though I’m only a fair-weather fan, I must say that there’s a lot of episodes here that look a lot like the others. Even poor Cheers seems a little trapped in the hamster wheel in this tenth season. Far past the show’s glory days, these late-in-the-day Ted Danson/Kirstie Alley episodes have moments of genuine humor (thank you John Ratzenberger, George Wendt and Rhea Perlman), but mostly they’re without the sheen the show broadcast in its nascent stages.

Do we really need more Star Trek re-packagings? This Alternate Realities box set has a nice intellectual bent – to have episodes from different incarnations of the show makes for a nice smorgasbord effect – but for anyone who’s not a Starfleet-tattooed Trekker, this one is an unnecessary purchase (worth a rental for those with heavy curiosity, though). And I’m going to just leave the complete Beauty and the Beast series for its fans. I’ve tried to enjoy the episodes on the season-by-season releases I’ve reviewed, but this Linda Hamilton/Ron Perlman show is so dated and mired in a neo-Gothic Harlequin romance sensibility that it ends up being difficult to penetrate.