Video View

February 05, 2008
A thought by James Berardinelli

There's not much on the format war front this week except for an observation. As I prepared this column, I noted the placement of Blu-Ray titles versus HD-DVD titles relative to each other on Amazon's Top 50 list. Blu Ray discs are consistently higher than HD-DVD ones (although standard DVD versions of the same title are much higher than the high def version in either format). It will be interesting to see how the next big HD-DVD exclusive movie, American Gangster, performs. That should provide a good gauge of whether there's any gas left in the tank or whether the format is merely running on fumes.

In terms of new releases, this week has more high-profile films than TV shows, making it the first week in 2008 when that has been true. A bunch of films that premiered at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival are reaching DVD, making it about a five month span from festival debut to home video. I can recall when the differential between the theatrical opening and the VHS "priced for rental" release was 6-8 months. The window has now closed half of that, but I don't see it further contracting in the near future. At any rate, the five TIFF titles are: Across the Universe, the sappy musical excursion through the '60s with a Beatles-free soundtrack of Beatles songs; The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, with a running length as long as the title; Elizabeth: The Golden Age, the disappointing sequel to the art house hit; The Jane Austen Book Club, a chick flick that is less erudite than it pretends to be; and The Brave One, Jodie Foster's searing and disturbing revenge movie. Of those, Across the Universe, The Assassination of Jesse James, The Janes Austen Book Club, and The Brave One are available on both Blu Ray and standard DVD. Elizabeth: The Golden Age is available in standard and HD-DVD formats. Other DVD-only titles are the underrated Fierce People, which received a criminally small theatrical release; Feast of Love, which has a slim plot but lots of fully naked women; and 2 Days in Paris, Julie Delpy's disappointing attempt to do Richard Linklater.

Moving to the TV front... I would describe most of what's coming out this week as obscure, marginal, or "cultish." There's the final season of Beauty and the Beast, the first two seasons of Perfect Strangers (is there a burning desire out there for this show?), season #1 of Third Watch, season #3 of Soul Food, season #1 volume #2 of the oldie Route 66. There's also the fifth season of something called McLeod's Daughters, which I have strangely have never heard of. There's also the complete Canadian import that makes fun of Shakespeare, Slings and Arrows. None of these are available in either high-def format.

There are two double-dips this week. Don't be fooled by the marketing - neither has enough new content to be worth re-buying for someone who already owns a copy. They are The Apartment and Tootsie. Both are good films so if you don't have either title in your library and are interested in obtaining one or both, now is as good a time as any.

Finally, there are couple of box sets worth mentioning. Kino (not Criterion) offers "The Films of Sergei Paradjanov," a collection of four of the Russian filmmaker's most acclaimed titles: Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, The Color of Pomegranates, The Legend of Surma Fortress, and Ashik Kerib. These span about two decades, from the mid-'60s to the mid-'80s and are for fans of artistic cinema. The set is a little pricey at $65 (discounted) but worth it for those who appreciate classic Russian cinema and Paradjanov in particular. For lovers of bad movies with witty commentary, there's Mystery Science Theater 3000 10.2, which features four beloved features: Giant Gila Monster, Swamp Diamonds, Teenage Strangler, Giant Spider Invasion. It's price about $20 less than the Paradjanov collection, but something tells me the audience may not be the same one.

Next week, there's an intriguing direct-to-DVD release called I Could Never Be Your Woman. It stars Michelle Pfeiffer and Paul Rudd and is directed by Amy Heckerling. There's a detailed write-up about its distribution travails in the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly. I haven't been provided with an advance screener (so no early review), but I have decided to get a copy of the disc once it becomes available. That review will be up late next week.