Join us each week as Rob Hunter takes a look at new DVD releases and gives his highly unqualified opinion as to which titles are worth BUYing, which are better off as RENTals, and which should be AVOIDed at all costs. And remember, these listings and category placements are meant as informational conversation starters only. But you can still tell Hunter how wrong he is in the comment section below. This week sees the epic series America: The Story Of Us (that should be mandatory viewing for every American) alongside a mix of rent-worthy releases and titles in need of avoiding including Prince Of Persia, the first season of Glee, Roger Corman’s Starcrash, Letters To Juliet, the strangest damn Michael Madsen movie you’ve never seen, and the angry but hot Thai fight-dancing of Raging Phoenix star Jeeja Yanin.
Click on any of the titles below to magically head over to Amazon.com and pick up the DVD. And don’t forget to check out Neil Miller’s hilariously titled This Week In Blu-ray for reviews on the latest high definition Blu-ray releases!
America: The Story Of Us
Pitch: A twelve-part series filled with information most American high-school graduates have never learned…
Why Buy? The History Channel and a bevy of scholars and celebrities take a look at the founding and building of the United States of America. Talking heads are interspersed throughout solid-looking, live-action reenactments and some very cool CGI recreations. The show keeps things moving at a brisk pace while hitting all the salient points you should have been taught in school but probably weren’t. A series like this demands to be seen, so buy it and watch it with your kids. Or by yourself. Or borrow your neighbor’s kids like I did. (Just don’t forget to give them back.) You’ll be entertained and informed, but odds are good that you’ll also be enlightened. A lot of things went right to keep this country of ours on track, and it’s mostly due to a lot of brave, smart, and strong people who cared. It would be nice to see that kind of spirit return.
Extra Features? Additional scenes
The Black Cauldron: 25th Anniversary
Pitch: Smack dab in the middle of Disney’s weakest decade came this tale of swords, sorcery, and some kind of talking sloth…
Why Rent? A great evil roams the land in search of the powers contained within the mystical and magical Black Cauldron, and the only things standing in the way are a pig and the farm boy who loves her. The eighties were almost a lost decade for the Mouse House with a series of mostly forgettable films that are no one’s favorites, and that wouldn’t change until 1989 with the release of The Little Mermaid. Four years prior though came this movie, and while it’s easy to see why it didn’t catch on with audiences and critics alike it still has some charms. The villain is truly menacing, the hero gets bloodied up at one point, and most of the characters stop shy of being annoying. Most. That odd forest creature that talks like a cross between Gollum and Butters? Yeah, he’s annoying as hell.
Extra Features? Games, deleted scene, animated short, gallery
Fringe: The Complete Second Season
Pitch: Everyone knows this show will eventually end without explaining a goddamn thing right? Just look at JJ Abrams’ other hit show, Felicity…
Why Rent? A hot female FBI agent and a troublemaker from Dawson’s Creek (never forget) investigate odd happenings across the country with the help of his loony scientist father. This JJ Abrams-produced show is quite a bit slicker than The X-Files, but the influence is still obvious and appreciated. Bigger budget means bigger effects and scope and the show makes good use of it with some wonderfully creepy and weird scenes. This season sees shape shifters, people turning to ash, alternate realities, Asians with sushi mouth, and more. It’s a good show that entertains equally between episodes dealing with the over-arching storyline of the series and those focused on a monster of the week.
Extra Features? Commentaries, unearthed episode, featurettes, deleted scenes
Glee: The Complete First Season
Pitch: Are Glee Clubs even a real thing? And why didn’t my Catholic high school offer one in between book burnings and molestations…
Why Rent? A comedy/musical/drama show about a group of high school Glee Club members struggling to avoid angst, failure, the cancellation of their club, and a Slushee to the face. It’s easy to hate on this show, I know, because I was once a hater. But I was convinced to watch a few episodes and soon I found myself enjoying its style, humor, and occasionally even the songs. It doesn’t hurt that Santana (the hot Latina cheerleader, not the guitarist made famous by his duet with Rob Thomas) is extremely easy on the eyes. If you’re a doubter I suggest starting with the episode featuring a guest turn by Neil Patrick Harris. Not only is he great in it, but the “Safety Dance” cover from Artie, the kid with the Asian fetish in the wheelchair, is addicting, energetic, and touching. Yeah, I said it. Asian fetish.
Extra Features? Karaoke, featurettes
Mad Ron’s Prevues From Hell
Pitch: Back when folks knew how to cut a damn trailer…
Why Rent? Forty seven trailers for movies you’ve never seen in a theater are collected here for your enjoyment. Gore, nudity, and promises of untold terrors are standard in these entertaining classics. Titles include Torso, Africa Blood & Guts, Blood And Lace, Night Of the Bloody Apes, and more. The trailers alone may make this a Buy for some folks, but watching them all together requires watching the movie proper… and that includes the terribly unfunny scenes between trailers featuring Mad Ron and his menagerie of puppets, zombies, bad one-liners, and gags. It drags down the mayhem and momentum found in the trailers. Still, this is a fantastically fun collection of trailers from a bygone era and well worth a watch for anyone who loves their horror with a side helping of raunch and grue.
Extra Features? Deleted scenes, poster gallery, photo gallery, behind the scenes
Pitch: The problem with loving Asian babes who kick ass is eighty-five minutes later you’re ready for more…
Why Rent? Teenage girls are disappearing from the streets of Thailand, and a group of Breakin 2: Electric Boogaloo fanatics with drinking problems are out for revenge. You only think I’m kidding. Chocolate star Jeeja Yanin is recruited and trained by the gang and soon she’s jumping, kicking, falling, fighting, and dancing her way to the truth. The integration of dance moves into the fighting is a little silly, but it doesn’t hinder the action in the slightest. She’s even faster than she was in Chocolate (and just as cute), and the movie is filled with a several cool fight and stunt scenes.
Extra Features? Making of, behind the scenes
Pitch: If you’re going to rip-off Star Wars why not throw in some PG-rated sex appeal and some David Hasselhoff…
Why Rent? A spaceship helmed by a scantily clad Stella Star and a co-pilot who looks like the love child of Ray Bolger and Slim Goodbody face-off against the evil Count Zartham who’s on a quest to acquire the ultimate super weapon. But they never could have foreseen the arrival of The Hoff. This latest Roger Corman Cult Classics release from Shout Factory! stars Caroline Munro as the shapely ship captain alongside other recognizable faces like Joe Spinell and Christopher Plummer. The effects and dialogue are as deliciously bad as you could hope, with one of the best coming from The Emperor (Plummer, who’s always shot in soft focus like an old-school Hollywood actress) who gives his son a wry smile and says “I wouldn’t be Emperor of the Galaxy if I didn’t have a few powers at my disposal. Imperial Battleship… halt the flow of time!” Classic.
Extra Features? Commentary, featurettes, interviews, photo gallery, behind the scenes, deleted scenes, trailer, booklet with liner notes, original script
Letters To Juliet
Pitch: Romance has never been so inevitable. And so unbelievable…
Why Avoid? A young woman travels to Italy and visits Juliet’s wailing wall where sad sacks leave letters to the (dead and fictional) Shakespearean character with questions and concerns about love. She discovers a group of women who spend their days replying to the letters, and her response to a fifty year old letter sends her on a quest for love. This movie almost squeaks into the Rental category due simply to the side plot involving Vanessa Redgrave’s hopeful reunion with her lover from a half century ago because I’m a sucker for old people in love. But the main character’s love story is so scripted, bland, and unbelievable that it sinks the entire film. Amanda Seyfried is adorable of course, but her “bad” boyfriend is over the top obnoxious, the “good” guy she falls for is a dick for 80% of the movie, and they’re forcibly shoe-horned together (madly in love!) at the end of the movie after having known each other for a couple weeks at best.
Extra Features? Deleted scenes, making of, featurette, commentary
Outrage: Born in Terror
Pitch: Not even Michael Madsen can save this one. Wait, what…
Why Avoid? A woman is terrorized in the woods by a sniper, and it brings back bad childhood memories. That’s the plot synopsis from the DVD cover, and it’s accompanied by pics of Madsen with a rifle and people in danger. What’s missing from this terribly misleading advertising? Madsen’s in about twenty minutes of the movie, a bucktoothed hillbilly dies, twice, but narrates the movie as a ghost, there are magic crystals, a mute banjo player uses a mystical tuning fork to hear the evils and tenderness in the world… I could go on. Congrats for making a movie that doesn’t quite fit the mold of a typical action flick. If only this original creation wasn’t a poorly scripted, poorly acted, poorly edited, poorly directed, nonsensical piece of crap.
Extra Features? Trailer
Prince Of Persia
Pitch: Is spray-on Persian the new black-face? No? Okay…
Why Avoid? A young beggar boy is raised by a king and eventually framed for his murder. Can he clear his name and save the kingdom using only his wits, the Dagger of Time, his hairy chest, and parkour? Disney hoped for the beginning of a new franchise similar to Pirates Of the Caribbean, but the audiences just didn’t respond. The most likely culprit was the lack of fun and charismatic leads, but credit may also go to the film’s overuse of fake-looking sets and sound stages. Half of the movie seems to take place in plastic castles or against CGI backdrops. Movies like this need to either wow viewers with the visuals or entertain with the characters, and it fails miserably on both counts.
Extra Features? Featurette
In the interest of full disclosure, I received review copies of the following DVDs for this week’s column:
America: The Story Of Us
The Black Cauldron: 25th Anniversary
Letters To Juliet
Mad Ron’s Prevue’s From Hell
Outrage: Born in Terror
Price Of Persia
Also out this week, but I haven’t seen it and review material was unavailable:
Casino Jack and the United States Of Money
Looking For Eric
My Son My Son What Have Ye Done
Under Still Waters
Read More: This Week in DVD
What are you buying on DVD this week?