"DECK THE HALLS"


        MOVIE: ** (out of 5 stars)
    DVD EXPERIENCE: ** (out of 5 stars)

    STARRING
    Danny DeVito as BUDDY HALL
    Matthew Broderick as STEVE FINCH
    Kristin Chenoweth as TIA HALL
    Alia Shawkat as MADISON FINCH
    Dylan Blue as CARTER FINCH

    Rated PG
    Studio: 20th Century Fox

    Directed by: John Whitesell

Last Christmas, Fox had a feast and famine year when it came to box office. On one hand, there were films that were huge hits, like “Night at the Museum.” However, at the same time, there were other less successful holiday films like “Deck the Halls.”

“Deck the Halls” is one of those screwball family comedy that mines its comedy from the bickering of neighbors. Matthew Broderick and Danny DeVito play Steve Finch and Buddy Hall, neighbors who meet on the playing field of holiday decorations. Steve is known as the most festive guy on the block, until Buddy comes in to challenge him. It’s ultimately Buddy’s goal for his halls to be decked out so much that it can be seen from space.

This film is never going to be remembered in cinema history as a giant of holiday favorites, but it does fit a specific mood. We’ve seen much of the jokes from “Home Improvement” when Tim Taylor is always trying to trump his neighbors with his holiday lights, so if you like that brand of funny, it’ll work for you.

“Deck the Halls” falls in a long line of bitter-yet-good-natured holiday films. Other recent films in this category include “Christmas with the Kranks,” “Surviving Christmas” and this year’s “Fred Claus.” They’re not meant to be as overly cynical as “Bad Santa,” but they’re not going for the “It’s a Wonderful Life” crowd either.

Ultimately, if you like these kind of films, you’ll enjoy “Deck the Halls.” Still, it’s a bit too faux-humbug for me.

The DVD comes with a feature commentary with director John Whitesell and Danny DeVito. The fullscreen disc includes bloopers, deleted scenes and cast interviews. There’s also featurettes on the construction of the home sets, the lighting design and how the cast dealt with shooting a cold-weather Christmas movie in a July heat wave.

"CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND: 30TH ANNIVERSARY ULTIMATE EDITION"


        MOVIE: ****1/2 (out of 5 stars)
    DVD EXPERIENCE: ***** (out of 5 stars)

    STARRING:
    Richard Dreyfuss as ROY NEARY
    Francois Truffaut as CLAUDE LACOMBE
    Teri Garr as RONNIE NEARY
    Melinda Dillon as GILLIAN GUILER
    Bob Balaban as DAVID LAUGHLIN

    Rated PG
    Studio: Columbia Pictures

    Directed by: Steven Spielberg

While “Star Wars” was a much more influential film in my youth, I have very strong memories of seeing “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” in the theaters. It became part of my personal pop culture and first spawned my serious interest in UFOs.

This film tells the story of a blue-collar electrician from the Midwest who has a close encounter with a flying saucer. He obsesses about the sighting, to the point of driving away his family, and eventually rendezvous with other contactees and the military trying to cover the event up. The film’s climax takes place at Devil’s Tower in Wyoming, reminding the audience that we are not alone in this universe.

Over the years, the movie’s been re-released time and again – in theaters, on television and on home video. The version you’ll most often see is the “Special Edition” that included footage of Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) stepping into the mother ship. Spielberg never wanted that footage in the film, but he had to shoot it in order to get the studio to fun additional scenes he wanted to complete the movie.

While “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” has been available in many formats, the definitive edition is now being released on video. This three-disc set includes three different versions of the film, which only differ in running time by about 5 minutes total, but each offers a slightly different take on the story.

The first disc includes the theatrical version, which hasn’t been seen publicly for years. While somewhat incomplete by Spielberg’s standards, it offers a more imaginative experience with the mother ship’s interior left to the imagination.

The second disc includes the special edition, which has been most widely played on television and home video. But the real gem of the release is the third disc, which is Spielberg’s director’s cut. Here, he restores several scenes from the theatrical release and finishes the film as he originally intended.

To complete the experience, the set also includes a commemorative booklet and a mini poster that has a scene-by-scene comparison of the three versions. For cinemaphiles and “Close Encounter” fans, this is the jackpot of the set.

In addition to the three movies, the extended feature-length documentary of the film is included in three parts over the three discs. There’s also new interview footage with Spielberg discussing the film, the different versions of it and how his views of UFOs, life and the world have changed over the years.

Even if you have one of the versions of this film in your private library, this three disc set is worth getting your hands on to get the full experience of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”

"DOCTOR WHO: THE COMPLETE THIRD SERIES"


        MOVIE: **** (out of 5 stars)
    DVD EXPERIENCE: **** (out of 5 stars)

    STARRING:
    David Tennant as THE DOCTOR
    Freema Agyeman as MARTHA JONES

    not rated
    Studio: BBC

    Own it on DVD November 6

    Check out the Doctor Who official site

    Buy the DVD here.

Last year, I was fortunate enough to have the new BBC America series “Doctor Who” come across my desk. It brought me back to my childhood with the Doctor, his companions and the TARDIS. Now, the third season of the revival has been released on DVD, and the show just keeps getting better.

Reinvisioned in 2005, this new “Doctor Who” retains the same free-spirited fun of the original BBC series. David Tennent (arguably the best Doctor since Tom Baker took the role in the 1970s) shines in his second season as the Time Lord. His latest companion is Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman), a young medical student, along for the ride.

Like previous seasons, the third year opens with the Doctor flying solo for a Christmas special. He teams up with an unfortunate betrothed in “The Runaway Bride,” a story that features a monster hiding under the streets of England. Soon, the Doctor teams up with Martha, who proves to be an excellent replacement to Rose Tyler (Billie Piper), who was left in another dimension at the end of season two.

Over the 13-episode regular season, the Doctor and Martha travel to Shakespearean times, the distant future, Depression-era Manhattan and the far reaches of space to battle everything from bug-eyed monsters and our own forgotten evolution to the Daleks and a renegade Time Lord.

There is no doubt that this new series has successfully revived the old television show, and it is still going strong. Hopefully, we’ll have another twenty-plus years of the last of the Time Lords traveling through time.

While David Tennant is perfect as the Doctor, he is equaled in the show by the lovely Agyeman as Martha Jones. She gives a little more maturity to the companion role than Billie Piper gave as Rose. Agyeman matches wits better with the Doctor and, like Rose in the first season, Martha has a critically crucial role in the season finale.

The season also contains obvious cross-pollination to the “Doctor Who” spin-off “Torchwood” (an anagram for “Doctor Who,” by the way), which is currently playing on BBC America and coming soon to your DVD player.

The six-disc DVD set includes several features scattered over the discs, including David Tennent’s video diaries, audio commentaries on select episodes, a studio tour with Freema Agyeman, outtakes and a feature-length “Doctor Who Confidential” on the sixth disc.

"THE SUPER POWERS TEAM: GALACTIC GUARDIANS"


        MOVIE: **** (out of 5 stars)
    DVD EXPERIENCE: **1/2 (out of 5 stars)

    not rated
    Studio: Warner Bros.

    Own it on DVD November 6

    Check out the Super Powers Team official site

    Buy the DVD here.

As a child of the 70s and 80s, I remember watching “The Super Friends” on Saturday mornings, and in reruns after school. These were the days of the non-superpowered side-kicks as well as the Wonder Twins later. There was a certain cheesy charm to the old series, but as I grew older, I did crave more mature stories.

In the mid-1980s, Hanna-Barbera took a step closer to the more grown-up versions of the Super Friends that we know today in the Justice League incarnations. It still retained some of the classic cheesiness, but they started to skew a little older and a little less cartoonish.

This new incarnation of the Super Friends was known as “The Super Powers Team.” While it featured the stand-by characters of Superman, Batman and Robin, Wonder Woman and Aquaman, it also featured lesser classic DC heroes like Hawkman, Green Lantern and the Flash. Additionally, it mined some more modern, hip characters like Firestorm and Cyborg (an import from the Teen Titans).

“The Super Powers Team” is an excellent snapshot of the animated DC characters in their transition to the modern shows we have today. Without “The Super Powers Team” and its first steps into a bigger (and sometimes darker) world, we wouldn’t have “Batman: The Animated Series” or the recently released PG-13-rated “Superman: Doomsday” animated feature.

Ten episodes of “The Super Powers Team” has been released on DVD from Warner Bros. Dubbed the “Galactic Guardians” series, these tales follow the revamped heroes in battles – often in space – against more sinister bad guys like Darkseid and the new Brainiac.

While many of the themes and stories in these ten episodes had been dealt with for years in the comic books, they are put to celluloid for the first time, including Batman’s origin and one of the classic “Death of Superman” tales.

In addition to the ten episodes featured on two DVDs, there’s a special feature called “Super Friends Redux,” which chronicles Hanna-Barbera’s first steps into the more grown-up and realistic superhero cartoons.

For a long-time fan of DC comics and the Super Friends, “The Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians” isn’t just a chance to relive your childhood. It’s also a chance to watch the deft evolution of the animated characters.

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