Video View

January 22, 2008
A thought by James Berardinelli

First, my thoughts about the Oscar nominations: yawn. Has there ever been a more predictable roster? With only a couple of mild surprises, everything was as expected. My (unpublished) predictions scored 25 out of 30 in the main six categories, which is extraordinarily high for me. (I missed Cate Blanchett as Lead Actress, Ruby Dee and Saoirse Ronan as Supporting Actress, and Viggo Mortensen as Lead Actor. I got Tommy Lee Jones - but for the wrong film.) So I don't have much to say. Now we can move on...

With releases like this, it's no wonder the DVD industry is in trouble. I have one word for this week's new movie DVD offerings: Blech! There are only three and each is as bad as the next. I didn't even bother seeing two them early enough theatrically to review and I wish I had exercised the same good judgment with the third. The Game Plan - that's the Rock's version of Kindergarten Cop - suffers from an overdose of cuteness. It did surprisingly well at the box office due to its promotion of "family values," but that doesn't mean it's any good. It's available in both standard and Blu-Ray DVD formats. Sydney White is a re-telling of Snow White with Amanda Bynes as the title character. Take my advice and watch the Disney animated version instead. This one's only on standard DVD - no high-def necessary for the tween crowd. Finally, there's Saw IV, which is being presented to us "unrated." All that means is some stuff has been added to the DVD that wasn't in the theatrical cut (no pun intended). Don't ask me to suffer through the movie a second time to figure out what it is. Typically, only those who know the original by heart can recognize the minor tweaks that accompany an "unrated" tag. It's a marketing ploy. Available in standard DVD and Blu-Ray (so you can see all the blood and gore in crystal clear high-def - just what the format was devised for).

This is a huge week for TV on DVD. Where to start...? How about with Torchwood season one. The Doctor Who spin-off has achieved a life of its own. Season two just started last week in the U.K. and will debut next Saturday (Jan. 26) on BBC America, so now's the time for a 13-episode marathon to get caught up. Three season threes arrive this week: Hawaii 5-0, The Odd Couple, and The Girls Next Door (the promotional material does not indicate whether there's material on the DVD that was too explicit for television - one can only hope). Then there are two season twos: Barney Miller and Banacek (now there are a pair of blasts from the past). E.R. provides a more modern offering with season eight. Paris Hilton, who is far beyond overexposed (and I have to see her in a movie tonight), stars in a fifth season of The Simple Life, a show that never should have made it past the first season. Those with a penchant for Danish weirdness may rejoice that Season 2 of Lars von Trier's The Kingdom is out. And Jane Austen fans who missed Northanger Abbey on Masterpiece Theater a couple of nights ago can buy it today. Talk about fast turnaround.

The only special release of note is a Criterion Box Set: 4 By Agnes Varda. This includes: La Pointe Courte, Cleo from 5 to 7, Le Bonheur, and Vagabond. It's a nice set but the price isn't nearly as friendly as it was for last week's Post War Kurosawa collection. That one had five movies and could be found discounted at about $50. This one has one less movie and can be unearthed for $75. It probably has something to do with supply and demand. Criterion assumes there are fewer Varda fans than Kurosawa fans (and I believe they're correct in that assumption). Nevertheless, if the state of current movies is getting you down, this is a good choice.

This upcoming weekend's Video Review will be of the small indie film He Was a Quiet Man. Starring Christian Slater, Elisha Cuthbert, and William H. Macy, the movie played some film festivals in 2007 but never received a proper theatrical release. It arrived on DVD last week and, on a tip, I tracked down a copy and watched it. It's worth at least a rental. For what amounts to a straight-to-DVD feature, this is of surprisingly high quality. The review will be posted on January 26. The week after that, I'll review one of the ten most requested titles. (This should not be meant to encourage more readers to write in with review requests. I read those e-mails but almost never reply to them.)