July 2008 Archives
Finally! Unless you're one of the initiated, you don't know how long we've been waiting for this. Available on DVD in its native U.K. for years, this 14-episode TV series was directed by Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz helmer Edgar Wright, starred both films' comedy team of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, and was co-penned by Pegg as well. Also, it makes a lot of references to Star Wars, hence the Drew Struzan-esque painting of the cast on the cover of the box. Is it any wonder that American fans have been dying to get their hands on it? I mean, literally, through the black market? What a senseless waste of human life. The first Region 1 set ever would be worth it for the show alone, but the set is so packed with extras, you're really getting a bargain.
The Show: Spaced follows Tim (Simon Pegg), a struggling graphic artist, and Daisy (Jessica Stevenson, now Hynes, who co-created and co-wrote the series), a struggling freelance writer, as they get thrown together as roommates and deal with their lackadaisical twenty-something lives. Their landlady lives upstairs, a withdrawn painter lives downstairs, and their friends (a gun nut and a fashion-obsessed dry-cleaner) stop by to take part in escapades that usually end up feeling a lot like science-fiction movies. Done. Brilliant. Let's move on.
Commentary Tracks: In addition to sporting the original British-edition commentary track, with Wright, Pegg and Hynes, the big Extra on this set is the new set of commentary tracks rotating between six American pop-culture superstars who are also fans of the show. Overall, the commentaries are more philosophical discussions between the two camps -- with many expressions of mutual admiration -- rather than specific discussions of the episodes, but the occasional "I love this scene" or "This is that set I was talking about" creeps in. Here's who contributed:
- The godfather of pop-culture references, Kevin Smith, sits in on three episodes, discussing the origins of the show and how they all got together. Being a director, he also comments on the filmmaking a lot, asking about budgets and pointing out how cinematic it all is.
- Director Quentin Tarantino also turns up, and there is much discussion of pop-culture references and extensive berating of the Star Wars prequels.
- South Park co-creator Matt Stone joins the three creators to comment on a few episodes, as well, pointing out all of the stuff they were able to get away with, and comparing notes on what they can get away with now.
- Juno screenwriter Diablo Cody doesn't talk as much as the others, but when she does she talks about Britishisms, pop culture references, fashion... and Juno, specifically prosthesticles.
- Comedian/ubergeek Patton Oswalt does a few episodes one-on-one with Edgar Wright where they talk about the geeky references and about relationships, including Oswalt's massive crush on Daisy/Jessica.
- Saturday Night Live cast member Bill Hader also does a commentary, on the other end of a phone line from Edgar Wright. The two watch the episode together, and exchange stories, including when Bill Hader told Michael Bay his films were crap. Yay, Bill!
Deleted Scenes: The Bonus Disc has a plethora of deleted scenes. There's at least one from every episode, and some have as many as five. And there's commentary for each by Wright, Pegg, et al., explaining why they were cut (timing, revealing too much about a relationship, etc.). There's even raw footage on the Bonus disc, which is basically long takes of performances that were cut up (like each character's individual performances in the fake gunfights of Season 2) or shots that aren't outtakes but do have a funny aftermath (Tim wiping out on his skateboard).
Outtakes: For those of you who enjoy seeing people flub lines and bang their heads together, Season 1 and Season 2 each get their own set of outtakes, the old DVD standard. (Although most sets aren't as funny as these are -- Simon Pegg nearly electrocutes himself in one!) Additionally, the third "Bonus" disc includes even more outtakes from each season! Man -- these Brits screw up a lot.
Documentary: The Bonus Features disc includes a feature-length documentary, including interviews with the cast, guest stars and experts, like Harry Knowles, founder of AintItCool.com and Nick Lee, the founder of Spaced-Out.org.uk, the show's official fansite. By the time you get to the end of it, you pretty much feel like Spaced is the most important television show that has ever been made... and you're not really that far off.
Miscellaneous: The commercials for Spaced are almost as awesome as the show itself, and there's several for each season on the two episode discs. Biographies for the cast, crew and even the characters are on all three discs; the character bios on the Season 2 disc read like fan fiction. On the Bonus disc is a National Film Theatre Q & A with Pegg and Wright from November 2007, and they're later joined by most of the cast. Jessica Hynes isn't present for the session, but she records a video diary in which she explains that she can't attend because she's being held hostage. A music video called "Spaced Jam" by Osymyso mashes up dialogue from the series with a techno beat, all over a montage of clips on the Bonus disc. And "Daisy Sings Elvis" on the Season 2 disc is just what it says -- an extended version of her rendition of "Teddy Bear" from the Season 2 episode where she and Tim go out to a bar and get hammered.
Despite the fact that this is the "Dance-Off Edition" of Step Up 2 (for whatever that's worth -- there doesn't appear to be a non-Dance-Off Edition available), it should be noted that there is no dance-along footage on this DVD, like I figured there would be. I mean, I presumed that since High School Musical had a DVD where you could learn the choreography, the name "Dance-Off Edition" implied that there would be some sort of tutorial, but no.
My annoyance with the packaging and misleading marketing aside, this was a fine DVD, filled with a nice array of bonus features and some fun Easter egg-hunting to be had. If you haven't seen the flick, it's basically the same as the original Step Up, but everything is reversed. Instead of the boy being the rebellious breaker trying to get into the FAME-like academy in Baltimore, it's the girl. Instead of trying to get into the big school performance-thing and wow the stiff, upper-class audiences with a blend of contemporary and hip-hop, the odd couple are taking it to the streets (like the Doobie Brothers!) and forming a crew where they'll compete against real "street" dancers, who don't like people not from the neighborhood crashing their illegal parties.
There is little connection to the original, aside from the fact that it takes place at the same school in Baltimore and that Step Up star Channing Tatum makes an appearance and is friends with the troubled Andie (played by Briana Evigan) and helps her get into his alma mater. But aside from that, its a whole new cast of new faces. There's a lot of pretty people, a lot of funky moves and a pretty predictable plot that I'm guessing you can figure out from any commercials you may have seen, but if you like to watch people sliding on their heads or writhing around in the rain scantily clad, rent it now.
As for extras, there are a bunch of deleted scenes, which I highly recommend watching with the commentary on, because otherwise there's no context about what's going on, and it's just random dancing and is sort of blah. The enthusiastic first-time director Jon Chu intros each clip and explains why it got axed -- most of which amounts to the fact that there was too much plot and random storylines when really they just wanted to show more people dancing. Chu is kind of adorable, but feels the need to repeat over and over what a deleted scene is, in case you weren't familiar with the concept. But chalking that up to nerves and eagerness, he's mostly fine. Among the scenes are a "battle" between a b-boy named Rapid and hot guy lead Chase (played by Robert Hoffman). There's some cute stuff with scene-stealing Moose (newcomer Adam G. Sevani) who had a fight with Andie about dating Chase or whatever. And then scenes where they had mean girl Sophie (one-hit wonder Cassie) being more of a bitch until they toned her down. Also, another scene where Sophie/Cassie sings while they play a montage of "life sucks and we're never going to make it" clips, which was cut for being "too much like a music video." I kind of think the entire movie looks like one long music video, but at least when they replaced the slow, bittersweet Cassie song with something with a beat, it looked less like they were desperately trying to help Cassie revive her music career.
The best deleted scenes, hands-down, are the ones from the final battles that had to be edited down. Choreographer Dave Scott (who you'll know if you obsess over So You Think You Can Dance like I do) created distinct "crews" just for the occasion. We only get to see the full version of what they dubbed the "West Coast Riders," but it is pretty sick (in a good way). Then we get to see the full version of the Jabbawockeez performance. If you don't know who these masked men are, they're the winners of the first season of America's Best Dance Crew and they are mind-blowing incredible dancers. This footage alone was worth the price of the rental for me. (It wasn't that I was too cheap to buy it, just more worried about explaining to my visitors why I own Step Up 2: The Streets; I've got enough embarrassing stuff on my shelves without adding to it.)
Next up in the Extras world is a slew of music videos for songs that were featured in the movie -- convenient since certain music stations refuse to actually show videos and instead waste my time with the likes of Tila Tequila and Heidi Montag, but I digress. Notably the video for Flo Rida's "Low" is on here, which is the song that was used ad nauseum during the advertising campaign for this film. There are also outtakes of Cassie singing "Is It You?" but I skipped that because seeing her sing it during the deleted scenes was enough punishment for one night.
There's also the annoying Sneak Peeks, which I feel should be officially removed from the boxes of all films as they are not an Extra. They are commercials. Advertisements or trailers shouldn't ever be considered bonus features or a selling factor for a film on DVD. Rant over.
There's a making-of feature, "Through Fresh Eyes," that follows John Chu as he sets off making his very first film -- a big move from his days doing Bar Mitzvahs and wedding videos. His mom and dad cutely tell of how he was obsessed with the video camera at a very young age and they tried to take it away from him because they were afraid he wouldn't go to college. Oh, and the whole family tap dances. Chu chatters on about how he found Robert Hoffman a while back and was dying to work with him. And how the adorkable Adam Sevani sent in a video audition and they immediately cast him as Moose, despite the fact that he was the complete opposite of the original character plan. The making-of does delve a bit into how some of the actual scenes were filmed, like the cool subway scene opening and the final dance in the rain.
There's another feature about the "bad" dance crew, the 410. Choreographer Hi Hat talks about how she came up with their signature style and working with the different dancers, and the dancers talk a bit about being "street."
Also included is a video prank by Robert Hoffman. If you haven't seen the movie, you'll think this is lame. If you have... well, it's slightly less lame. But basically, there's this thing about how dancers do pranks and put them on YouTube in order to get invited to underground competitions. Hoffman's trick involves him confusing a poor convenience store owner by freezing mid-sentence and then breaking out into a group dance with other customers/friends of his. Weird.
Easter eggs that I found (with the help of the internet) show John Chu faking out Brianna before telling her she got the role, a segment about the background dancers (apparently the guys like it, because it means random hot girls are on set), a feature about Adam and Cassie's big kissing scene and another that is a sped-up version of a day on set. The last one is just a bunch of people dancing during post-wrap. Lots of popping and locking going on.
I'm here to talk about extras, of which there aren't many, but those that are there are worthwhile:
Unrated and theatrical versions: The DVD contains both the original theatrical version of the film and the unrated version (four minutes longer, but there's enough hard-core stuff in the original version that you'll have a hard time noticing the differences on the unrated cut; from what I remember of the theatrical version, the extra footage may include a little more exploding heads and severed body parts and other gruesome violence). The Blu-ray version only contains the unrated version of the film, so if you were hooked by the theatrical and don't want a thing to change, you might want to stick to the DVD this time around; the DVD is about as high-definition as you can get without using Blu-ray or HD-DVD, so you won't be disappointed.
Feature commentary: Only available on the unrated version, this commentary is from director Neil Marshall (The Descent) and four male cast members whose names you won't recognize, probably even after having seen the film. It's a little disappointing Rhona Mitri didn't sit down for the commentary, especially since so many people did. Also, it's really frustrating because you usually can't tell who's talking, which makes things hard to follow. In general, it's just too many people all geeking out over this strange little piece of cinema.
Featurettes: There are three featurettes, totaling about 40 minutes combined. They're almost all about the technical aspects of the film. "Anatomy of a Catastrophe: Civilization on the Brink" (I have to ask: Why do featurettes need titles that are seven words longer than the feature?) is about 17 minutes long, and is your run-of-the-mill making-of featurette, including interviews with crew and cast members (more enjoyable and less confusing here than in the feature commentary) mixed in with footage from filming that gives a good idea how the movie was made, and what the process was like. Then there's a very short (three minutes) featurette called "The Visual Effects and Wizardry of Doomsday." It's interesting, as it explains how some of the visual effects (fewer than you might think, as they did a lot of actual stunts) worked. The three-minute time stamp will just leave you wanting more, though. Not that it needs to be padded out, but surely there was more to say about the visual effects in a bloody zombie flick. Then there's "Devices of Death: Guns, Gadgets, and Vehicles of Destruction": This is probably the highlight of the whole DVD, actually -- maybe even including the movie. The reason is simple: You get a real insider's look the technical aspects of the film, and this is when you realize why the "Visual Effects" featurette was so short: Almost everything in this movie -- creatures, dead bodies, car stunts, and more -- was real, i.e. not CGI or post-production trickery. This is where the movie's referencing old films such as Mad Max really shine through: They even filmed it old-school, without much computerized sleight of hand, in an age when they could have made the whole thing that way.
In summary, this is a great DVD release. While it's nice the DVD actually gets more fun goodies than the Blu-ray for a change, it's getting more and more frustrating having to choose between the formats. Studios should be consistent and make both formats the same and let fans decide for themselves, all else being equal.
All nine seasons of The X-Files are available on DVD. There are also four Mythology sets of 14-16 episodes that focus on different aspects of the ongoing conspiracy storylines. But chances are, you don't have time to watch all 202 episodes as a refresher before checking out The X-Files: I Want to Believe. So don't be fooled by the promises of The X-Files: Revelations, a two-disc, eight-episode set that claims to be the "essential guide to the X-Files movie."
It's not. It's eight really good episodes -- but not good enough that this could even plausibly be called a "best of The X-Files" set. I suppose "essential guide to the X-Files movie" is more marketable than "eight pretty sweet episodes" or "eight episodes that might convince a newcomer to buy nine seasons' worth of DVDs."
The eight pretty sweet episodes are, in the main, monster-of-the-week episodes that provide a nice sample of the varied style and tone of the series -- but only of the first six seasons (i.e. no Doggett or Reyes). They also encompass sixteen different haircuts for Mulder and Scully.
The episodes are:
• Pilot -- Dana Scully gets assigned to rein in Fox "Spooky" Mulder, a talented FBI agent with a career-derailing interest in the paranormal.
• Beyond The Sea -- Scully's the believer and Mulder's the skeptic in a case involving a death-row prisoner who claims to channel the victims of an at-large serial killer
• The Host -- Chernobyl radiation transforms a common parasite into the disgusting, vicious, sewer-dwelling Flukeman, which, once captured, is amusingly transported to custody by a single U.S. marshal (spoiler alert: Flukeman escapes!)
• Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose -- Emmy-winning (for writing and for guest star Peter Boyle) episode featuring a reluctant psychic who can see how people will die (but wishes he couldn't).
• Memento Mori -- Scully has cancer, and whines about it in letters to Mulder. Features The Lone Gunmen helping Mulder look for a cure
• Post-Modern Prometheus -- A black-and-white, comic-book style comedic Frankenstein re-telling that was written for Roseanne Barr and Cher (who ended up not being available). Guest-stars John O'Hurley (Peterman from Seinfeld -- he was available)
• Bad Blood -- A comedic he said/she said vampire tale guest-starring Luke Wilson as either a suave small-town sheriff or a buck-toothed rube (depending on whether you ask Scully or Mulder). Gillian Anderson's favorite, and perhaps mine.
• Milagro -- A slightly meta episode about a writer's obsession (which has deadly results!) with Dana Scully.
I can't wait to see the movie, if only to confirm my assertion that there's no way watching "The Host" -- as creepily enjoyable as that episode is -- is in any way crucial to understand the movie, especially given creator Chris Carter saying in interviews that the movie is aimed at X-Files fans and newbies alike. Will there be subtle references in the movie to classic episodes? Undoubtedly. I won't be surprised if, in I Want to Believe, Mulder tests a psychic's authenticity with a scrap of his New York Knicks t-shirt. But "essential"? Fans are going to catch those references anyway, having watched and rewatched those episodes over and over again since the series went off the air six years ago. Newcomers to the show will, I'm betting, be told whatever they need to know in (hopefully not-too-clunky) exposition.
Audio commentary: None. Each episode instead features an introduction (of about ninety seconds) from creator Chris Carter and producer Frank Spotznitz, explaining why these episodes were chosen, none of which refer to the new movie. If this DVD is essential to enjoy the new movie, and not just mislabeled for marketing purposes, I'm relatively certain the introductions would explain why. They don't. They're not.
WonderCon Panel: About half an hour of Carter, Spotznitz, Anderson and David Duchovny answering questions from fans at a comic book convention in between Beatlemania-esque squeals from the crowd. Obviously, there's very little information given about the new movie, and much if not all of the panel can be found on YouTube.
Trailers: One for the movie, one for the series. C'est tout. There's also a brief introduction to this two-disc collection from Spotznitz, who says the episodes are meant to give an idea of the breadth of the series. New movie? Not mentioned.
Coupon: Eight dollars and fifty cents off one admission (good only in the U.S.). So take that money off the cost of the DVD and decide if it's worth the ten bucks or so for a nice collection of good-to-great episodes. It's not a bad deal, especially -- well, let's say "only" -- if you don't have the series on DVD already. But if you'd rather spend that ten bucks on popcorn and Whoppers, you'll be able to follow along just fine.
The movie's a lot of fun, and I must say the costumes and sets are impeccably '70s, without being kitschy. I could have used a little more Statham being Statham, beating down a few more chumps, but he gets his signature fisticuffs in where it really counts, so I can't really complain. Also I have a girl crush on Saffron Burrows. She is fabulous. Now, on to the special features!
Audio commentary: Director Roger Donaldson, actress Saffron Burrows and the composer, whose name was not James Horner, so I didn't remember it, and sadly, no Jason Statham. Well, he's a very busy man! The commentary sticks to explaining location choices, troubleshooting when the vintage cars broke down and just generally how things were done. There isn't a whole lot of philosophical discussion of the film's themes, which is odd, because the movie brings up a whole mess of the racial, sexual, beaurocratic and classist problems of the time, but I guess they didn't want to seem uppity or something. My favorite tidbit came from Ms. Burrows, who revealed that a pair of her fabulous 70s platforms were borrowed from her mother, who wore them when she was pregnant with her. That's right. The woman wore four-inch platforms while pregnant. Now I see where Saffron gets her fierceness!
Deleted/Extended Scenes: This segment is all of six minutes, total. The "scenes" are very short and not terribly interesting and I see why they were cut.
Inside the Bank Job: This is the making-of featurette. It's pretty run-of-the-mill, with the director and producers explaining how the cast all came together and why they wanted to do the story, etc. Statham doesn't talk on it though. Well, he's a very busy man! Someone does call him "the British Steve McQueen" though, which made me laugh pretty hard.
The Baker Street Bank Raid: This little documentary of sorts about the actual crime is the gem of the special features. The movie is based on a true story, and there were elements of the heist in it that were so far-fetched I assumed they were Hollywood embellishments - watching this doc, I was shocked to discover many of them were not. There are close ups of the actual crime scene photos and police reports, as well as clips from the local news coverage and new interviews with some of the people involved in the investigation. Ooh, and a juicy interview with an MI-5 ex-pat who explains just how possible it was for the organization to orchestrate a crime like this one (turns out it's very possible, not to mention likely).