How to Spend $20

Say goodbye to your gift cards and Christmas money

By Les Winan

December 28, 2004

The Simpsons have apparently tweaked Fox News once too often.

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Taking a look ahead at the week's DVD releases is always dicey for your wallet. Nearly every week, there's a disc that would fit nicely into any size collection. When it comes time to decide what to buy, there are really two determining factors: how much you love the content and the quality of the extra features on the disc.

As a result, decisions will be totally subjective (I bought the full run of the unjustly canceled ABC dramedy Sports Night, no matter that the discs are featureless, The Criterion Collection edition of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is a disc I had been dreaming of for years). The massive unreleased studio (film and television) back-catalogue means that every week there's likely something for every film fan.

Ah, the glorious days after Christmas, when everyone’s pockets are still warm with gift cards and the grim reminder that you have to go back to work. There’s nothing like it! The best way, of course, to take the edge off of the return to work is to run out and buy a pile of the terrific DVDs that have been released in the past two weeks.

Also, if you purchased the extended edition of The Return of the King two weeks ago and didn’t look through all the booklets inside yet, it’s probably worth surfing over to New Line has a nice offer for a slipcase to hold all three extended edition DVDs from the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Finally, if you received any holiday gifts from Best Buy, watch yourself when trying to return or exchange them. Apparently, in an effort to alienate as many customers as possible, Best Buy no longer takes any return or exchange without either a gift receipt or original receipt. In fact, even bringing back something with the Best Buy price tag on it and asking for store credit would get you the proverbial middle finger from the chain. Of course, they chose not to inform customers of this prior to the holidays, so it’s a crap shoot as to whether or not you or the person you gave a gift to received a gift receipt. Welcome to Best Buy, go fuck yourself! Happy New Year!

Once again, we’ll take a look at the DVD releases from the past two weeks. After several months of constant must-have releases, we’ll get a slight break after this edition of How to Spend $20 heading into the relative doldrums of January. There are only three discs (or sets) from this week’s edition that I know will end up on my shelves, so unless my wife decides she has to have Without a Paddle (and divorce papers from me) on January 11th, my wallet is probably safe until March or April (after I pick up anything I’ve missed over the past few months).

December 21, 2004

For people who like really, really, really, really, really crappy remakes: The Manchurian Candidate (2004)

Please, do yourself a favor. Ignore the pedigree of this cast (Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep) and director (Jonathan Demme) and simply rent or buy the far superior original. Starring Frank Sinatra, Janet Leigh and Angela Lansbury, the original is directed by John Frankenheimer and is such a classic that I find it mystifying why there was even a need for a remake, particularly one that is such a disappointment. If you insist on trying the remake, the DVD has an audio commentary with Demme and screenwriter Daniel Pyne; deleted scenes; outtakes; screen tests and two featuettes.

For people hoping that “Unrated” means that Keira Knightly will shed those unnecessary leather straps: King Arthur (Unrated Director's Cut) (2004)

An incredible bomb in U.S. theaters, King Arthur stoops to having an “unrated” cut released on DVD in hope of scrounging up a few more viewers. Personally, I will take a chance on renting the disc, not for the unrated features (though if they include Keira Knightly, that might change), but out of curiosity. How could a film with a relatively reliable producer (Jerry Bruckheimer), a good if inconsistent director (Antoine Fuqua) and an impressive though not star-laden cast (Knightly, Clive Owen, Ioan Gruffaud, Stellan Skarsgard, Ray Winstone) go so far afield? For those curious about this “demystified” look at the King Arthur legend, the DVD is worth taking a look at. Included on the disc are an audio commentary by Fuqua; alternate ending; trivia track; photo gallery; King Arthur Xbox demo; and cast and filmmaker round table (pun, I’m certain, intended); and a featurette.

For movie titles that give Jimmie Walker false hope: Napoleon Dynamite (2004)

Having something to do with a misfit trying to deal with his small town life while helping his best friend become their high school’s student body president, Napoleon Dynamite was a certifiable cult hit in 2004. While I can’t speak to the film’s quality, everyone I know who has seen it loved it, which means something (after all, that’s how independent films make real money: word-of-mouth). For the Napoleon fanatics out there, the DVD has an audio commentary with director Jared Hess, producer Jeremy Coon, and star Jon Heder; deleted scenes; photo galleries; an original short film and featurette.

For throwing the Batman soundtrack: Shaun of the Dead (2004)

Quite possibly my favorite movie of 2004, Shaun of the Dead finally hits DVD this week. There is simply nothing like a zombie romantic comedy. Starring nobody you’ve ever heard of (the only actor really recognizable to U.S. audiences is Bill Nighy, who played the washed-up rock star in 2003’s Love Actually), Shaun of the Dead comes from the creative team behind British TV’s Spaced and if Spaced is as creative, funny, and well-done as the film, I may have to gain quick access to British TV. The film revolves around Shaun (Simon Pegg), who is generally comfortable with his life. When his girlfriend breaks up with him at the same time zombies begin taking over the streets, has to fight the zombies and win her back. Most importantly, the film is very, very funny. There’s no need to be a fan of zombies (or even the British), the film is endlessly hilarious, clever and inventive. Almost as importantly, the DVD is terrific. Included on the disc is an audio commentary with the cast and crew; outtakes; deleted scenes; casting tapes; Pegg’s video diary; interviews; photo galleries; zombie trivia and more. It’s a great package and, in a week without The Simpsons, would be the DVD Pick of the Week.

For being possessed by an evil demon called Gamblor: The Simpsons: The Complete Fifth Season (1993)

Now I realize that I probably said that season four of The Simpsons is the best season ever, but I lied. Season five is the best season ever. A simple scan of the episodes involved is enough for any fan to blush with excitement.

Behold the glorious episodes of season five:

"Homer's Barbershop Quartet," "Cape Feare," "Homer Goes to College," "Rosebud," "Tree House of Horror IV," "Marge on the Lam," "Bart's Inner Child," "Boy Scoutz N the Hood," "The Last Temptation of Homer," "$pringfield (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Legalized Gambling)," "Homer the Vigilante," "Bart Gets Famous," "Homer and Apu," "Lisa vs. Malibu Stacy," "Deep Space Homer," "Homer Loves Flanders," "Bart Gets an Elephant," "Burns' Heir," "Sweet Seymour Skinner's Baadasssss Song," "The Boy Who Knew Too Much," "Lady Bouvier's Lover," and "Secrets of a Successful Marriage."

Personally, Cape Feare, Homer Goes to College, $pringfield, Homer the Vigilante and Deep Space Homer are among my favorite episodes ever. But that’s just me. When you go out and buy this set (if you haven’t already), make sure to appreciate the audio commentary tracks by creator Matt Groening and cast and crew members; an animation showcase; commercials; "Tree House of Horror" sketches; deleted scenes; the 100th episode featurette; and a special language feature. There is very little on DVD that is put together better than a complete season of The Simpsons and this is no exception. The DVD Pick of the (last two) Week(s) is obvious.

December 28, 2004

For people looking for a place to take their Pier 1 furniture to play with other Pier 1 furniture: Wicker Park (2004)

Based on a French film that met with significantly more success, Wicker Park stars Josh Hartnett as a wounded man whose girlfriend once mysteriously disappeared, leaving him haunted by thoughts of what might have been, even as he prepares to marry another girl. When he thinks he sees the old girlfriend in a restaurant, he abandons his business trip to run around Chicago (played by Montreal) looking for her. Mercilessly trashed by a number of critics, the film is neither as bad as many said nor as good as it should have been. For the fairest review of the film, Roger Ebert, as always, is worth reading. A good young cast keeps the film moving along. Along with Hartnett, Rose Bryne, Matthew Lillard and Diane Kruger star. On the disc, extras include an audio commentary with director Paul McGuigan and Hartnett; deleted scenes; a gag reel and other features.

For everyone with a serious interest in seeing Kirsten Dunst smack some balls around: Wimbledon (2004)

I really don’t have a whole lot to say about this film, having never seen it. The thing I’m most interested in is whether or not there’s a collection of clips of Paul Bettany, who apparently is a chain smoker, falling over and wheezing after attempting to run down a passing shot. Now that I would watch. Although I wouldn’t enjoy that as much as the shots of Kirsten Dunst in an extremely short skirt. Those are likely even more enjoyable. When my wife forces me to rent Wimbledon, I may take a moment to peruse the audio commentary with Bettany and director Richard Loncraine or one of the featurettes included on the disc.

For people who spent most of Christmas weekend yelling “SANTA! I KNOW HIM!” in their best Will Ferrell voice: Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (Widescreen) (2004)

Infinitely better in theory than in practice, Anchorman is nonetheless an enjoyable and extremely funny movie. As with any character played by Will Ferrell, filmgoers walk away from the Anchorman experience with any number of quotable memories. Unfortunately, that doesn’t necessarily translate into a cohesive film. Anchorman is infinitely better than Starsky & Hutch and somewhat better than Dodgeball. All three films share cast members from the current comedy brat pack that includes Farrell, the Wilson brothers, Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and others. However, only Anchorman features Farrell, and that may be the key to its success. The DVD experience promises to be as entertaining as the film itself, as director Adam McKay indicated that he could have made a film with the material (much of it improvised) recorded on film. The disc includes an audio commentary by McKay, Ferrell, other cast members and, inexplicably, the dynamic duo of Andy Richter and Lou Rawls. In addition, extra features include bloopers, deleted scenes, interviews, featurettes, and most promisingly, the Ron Burgundy A&E Biography.

For Lord of the Rings fans searching for another movie with an elf in it: Garden State (2004)

Aside from Shaun of the Dead, there was no more pleasantly suprising and unexpected film going experience in 2004 than Garden State. Written, directed and starring Zach Braff (who will now suffer the weight of extremely high expectations), best known for NBC’s Scrubs, Garden State is no less than a revelation when you consider the expectations for the directorial debut of most sitcom stars. Zach Braff is clearly no ordinary sitcom star (as Scrubs is clearly no ordinary sitcom). Centering on moderately successful actor Andrew Largeman’s (Braff) return to his hometown following the death of his mother, the film examines the reality of returning home and becoming reacquainted with parents, friends, and your old life. Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard and Ian Holm fill out the cast as the love interest, best friend and father of Braff’s character. Not only is Garden State well written and acted, it’s well directed, exposing Braff for the triple threat he is. While the film is not likely to be in competition on Oscar night, it is destined to be remembered. A simple scan of the Big Board entries of BOP staff will confirm the note Garden State struck with audiences. Fans of the film will be extremely pleased to peruse the large number of extra features on the disc. Included are a commentary track with Braff and Portman; an additional commentary with Braff, director of photography Lawrence Sher, editor Myron Kerstein, and production designer Judy Becker; deleted scenes with optional audio commentary; a featurette; outtakes and bloopers.

Full list of releases:

December 21, 2004

Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid (2004)
Boys Klub (2001)
Danny Deckchair (2003)
De-Lovely (2004)
Haunted House (2004)
Hester Street (1975)
Hype! (1996)
Inspiracion (2001)
King Arthur (Unrated Director's Cut) (2004)
The Last Ride (2004)
Los Debutantes (2003)
The Manchurian Candidate (2004)
Master of the Flying Guillotine (Anniversary Edition) (1974)
Mikey and Nicky (1976)
Napoleon Dynamite (2004)
Pursued (2004)
Shadows of the Dead (2004)
Shaun of the Dead (2004)
The Simpsons: The Complete Fifth Season (1993)
Stander (2003)
Star Trek Voyager: The Complete Seventh Season (7-DVD Set) (2001)
Surviving Christmas (2004)
Thunderbirds (2004)
Two Brothers (2004)
Young Black Stallion (2003)

December 28, 2004

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (Full Frame) (2004)
Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (Widescreen) (2004)
Andromedia (1998)
Blind Fury (1990)
Code 46 (2004)
Coronado (2003)
Cyber Bandits (1995)
Darkman III: Die Darkman Die (1996)
Emotional Backgammon (2003)
Evil Eyes (2004)
Flesh Eating Mothers (1989)
Four Days in July (1984)
Garden State (2004)
Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (2004)
Home Sweet Home (1982)
Inheritance (2004)
The Intended (2004)
Intimate Strangers (2004)
InuYasha: The Caste Beyond the Looking Glass (2004)
King of the Hill: The Complete Third Season (3-DVD Set) (1998)
Kiss of Death (1977)
Omega Doom (1997)
One of Them (2003)
Open Water (2004)
Pinocchio 964 (1992)
Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2-Disc Special Edition) (2004)
Rubber's Lover (1997)
Sex and the City: Season Six Part Two (3-DVD Set) (2004)
Trois: The Escort (2004)
Twilight Samurai (2002)
Venus Rising (1995)
Wake of Death (2004)
Wicker Park (2004)
Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself (2003)
Wimbledon (2004)
Yakuza Demon (2003)



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