New DVD Spin: Life of Brian, El Cid, King of California, and More

From epics to "quirkies" to those immaculate Pythons, here are this week's new DVDs to help you look on the bright side of life.


Monty

Python's Life of Brian: The Immaculate Edition (1979) (Sony)

This fearless farce -- about a man who spends his life (and death)

being confused with the messiah -- is the finest written and

best-produced movie from the (praise be!) Monty Python troupe. And for

those who don't miss the point, it's the sharpest, funniest,

sing-a-longiest and most necessary of satires, with a relevancy that

just continues to prove itself year after year. (See

target="_blank">here for a new TV Guide interview with

John Cleese on why Life of Brian is still his favorite Monty Python

movie.)

Newly remastered (in standard def and Blu-ray) and packed with

"blessed are the cheese-makers" goodies, Sony's two-disc "The

Immaculate Edition" of Monty Python's Life of Brian will help

you look on the bright side of life. The image is cleaner and more

vivid than the 1999 Criterion edition, which is saying something. The

audio comes in excellent DD 5.1 surround-sound.

The bonus extras (some carried over

from the Criterion disc) start with two commentary tracks. The first

features Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones and Eric Idle; the second John

Cleese and Michael Palin. Also here are four illustrated vintage

theatrical radio ads recorded by the mothers of Cleese, Idle and

Gilliam, plus Michael Palin's dentist. Among the five deleted scenes we

get the infamous "Otto" sequence.

New for this edition is an hour-long

documentary, "The Story of Brian," on the film's production and on the

protests, typically from folks who had not seen it, that greeted the

film in some quarters. We see Cleese and Palin on British TV

successfully debating the film with Bishop Mervyn Stockwood and Malcolm

Muggeridge. "The Readthrough" is a newly discovered 110-minute

recording by the Pythons of their early screenplay in progress,

accompanied by Terry Gilliam's scene-by-scene storyboards.



King

of California (Official

site) (First Look Home Entertainment)

alt="" align="left" border="0" hspace="6" vspace="6"/>Every year sees a

handful of under-the-radar, "quirky," indies that are enjoyable and

worth checking out, but for whatever reason -- probably because the

world is run by marketing departments -- they didn't get the exposure

or press or screen-count they (more or less) deserve. Although it's a minor film, King of California is one from 2007's list. Michael Douglas gives yet another oh-hell-yeah performance in writer-director Mike Cahill's feature-length debut.

Douglas stars as Charlie, a troubled jazz musician just released

from a mental hospital. He returns home to live with his 16-year-old

daughter Miranda (Evan Rachel Wood), who isn't exactly thrilled to have

him back. Miranda has been forced to quit school and get a job to

support herself and hold on to her beat-up old car and the family

house, which is right in the middle of a new development -- but she has

refused to sell out. Instead, she works extra shifts at McDonald's and

has no social life. But her father -- still suffering from mental

illness -- insists that she join him on a wild adventure in search of

supposedly long-lost Spanish treasure buried underneath a Costco.

Wood is quite fine as Miranda, walking that fine line between wanting

to believe in her father and feeling he should be hospitalized again,

but she never stops loving him, even against her better judgment.

Bushy-haired and wild-eyed, Douglas shines every second he's on screen,

dreaming the impossible dream. The soundtrack features songs by John

Coltrane, Seals and Crofts, Bud Powell, Fats Waller, Yma Sumac, Billy

Bragg and Wilco.

First Look's DVD (on standard-def, HD DVD and Blu-ray) comes with

audio options in Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1 and DD 2.0 stereo. Extras

give us a fine audio commentary on the production process with

writer/director Mike Cahill, director of photography Jim Whitaker,

production designer Dan Bishop, and first assistant director Richard L.

Fox. The promo piece, "The Making of King of California" (10

minutes) is typical of the form but worth a look all the same. The five

minutes of outtakes and flubs are likewise typical but still good fun.

Finally, we have a collection of ten trailers for other First Look

DVDs, and it's a welcome bunch of indies that you probably didn't get a

chance to see on the big screen, so give 'em a spin on disc and give

First Look some well-deserved love.



El Cid: Two-Disc Deluxe Edition (1961)

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"Filmed largely at historical locations in Spain in Super Technirama, a

70-millimeter widescreen process," says Dave Kehr in today's

target="_blank">New York Times, "El Cid remains, even

on home video, a feast of visual detail. Under Anthony Mann's

direction, the film overflows with deep-focus vistas, towering sets,

densely crowded battle sequences and the imposing presence of two

remarkable physical specimens, Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren." Stop.

You had me at "Sophia Loren."

In this great epic from the days of big-screen

road-show spectacles, Heston is heroic and brawnier than life as the

11th-century patriot-martyr fighting to rid Spain of the Moors. Under

producer Samuel Bronston, Mann's stirring direction bursts the frame

with widescreen images that use every inch of that acreage.

Miklós Rózsa provided the magnificent score, and

blacklisted screenwriter Ben Barzman gave it all good words.

This remastered two-disc set is the first release under the

Weinstein Company's Miriam Collection label. It's available in a Deluxe

Edition and a Limited Collector's Edition. Extras: Written Introduction

by Martin Scorsese; commentary by Bill Bronston (son of producer Sam

Bronston) and historian-author Neal M. Rosendorf; 1961 promotional

radio interviews with Heston and Loren; introduction interview with

Heston; "Samuel Bronston: The Epic Journey of a Dreamer"; "Behind the

Camera: Anthony Mann and El Cid"; "Hollywood Conquers Spain: The Making

of an Epic"; "Maestro of the Movies: Miklos Rozsa and El Cid"; "The

Importance of Film Preservation and Restoration: A Conversation With

Gerry Byrne"; trailer gallery; filmographies; still gallery. Included

in the Collector's Edition only is a reproduction of the original 1961

souvenir program, a reproduction of the original 1961 El Cid

comic book and six color production stills. Over at

target="_blank">DVD Beaver we find tech specs, comparisons

and screenshots. (Weinstein Co./Genius)



Also out this week:

Aqua Teen Hunger Force: Volume 5

Two-disc set with all 10 episodes from the fifth season plus four

previously unreleased episodes. Extras: "Aqua Teen Respond to the

Critics," "I Like Your Booty But I'm Not Gay" music video, "Learn to

Shred Like the Master" featurette, "Tera Patrick Eats a Hot Dog,"

"Granny Takes Her Top Off," "The Worst Game Ever" interactive game,

"Space Ghost Coast to Coast Chambraigne" (full episode), "Aqua Teen

Hunger Force Colon Movie Film For Theaters" premiere with Space Ghost,

deleted scenes, favorite episode promos, "Aqua Teen Hunger Force Zombie

Ninja Pro Am video game trailer.


Bill Gottlieb: Riffs (2005)

A photographic chronicle of the Golden Age of Jazz, 1938 to 1948. Bill

Gottlieb's exquisitely detailed photographs captured the essence of

jazz. His body of work represents the musicians who inspired him, and

provides an intimate look at the music makers. Gottlieb's photographs

have been used in countless books and articles and have graced nearly

250 record album covers; they have appeared in television documentaries

and major motion pictures, and have been distributed on posters,

postcards, calendars, and T-shirts. Featuring interviews with Gottlieb

and other jazz authorities, this documentary explores the stories

behind Bill's artful portraits. He discusses his famous photographs of

jazz greats Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Frank

Sinatra, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and many others. (Kultur

International Films)


Bordertown (2007)

Featuring: Jennifer Lopez, Antonio Banderas, Martin Sheen, and Maya

Zapata

An investigative reporter uncovers a string of murders of young women

near American-owned factories in the border town of Juarez. Extras:

"The Making of Bordertown," "Dual Injustice" Witness.org

documentary short, Amnesty International Juarez film, photo gallery,

information on how to get involved. (ThinkFilm)


Coma (2007)

Documentary look at the mystery of traumatic brain injury. (HBO Video)


The Comebacks (2007)

Speaking of traumatic brain injury... David Koechner, Carl Weathers,

Matthew Lawrence, Brooke Nevin, Jackie Long, and Jesse Garcia appear in

these R-rated and unrated editions. R-rated Extras: Fox Movie Channel

presents "In Character With David Koechner," "Varsity Black N' Blues"

behind-the-scenes featurette, three Fox Atomic viral videos. Unrated

Extras: Commentary by director Tom Brady, "On The Bench" deleted

scenes, seven featurettes. (Fox)


Curb Your Enthusiasm: The Complete Sixth Season

Heh. Two-disc set with 10 episodes. Extras: Extra footage, gag reels, more.

(HBO Video)


Daddy Day Camp (2007)

Hear that sound? That's the bottom of the "stupid" barrel being

scraped. The big

target="_blank">Rotten Tomatoes "00%" as I type this. 'Nuff said.

The cast includes Cuba Gooding Jr., Paul Rae, Lochlyn Munro, Richard

Gant, Brian Doyle-Murray, and Tamala Jones. Extras: "How I spent my

Summer: Making Daddy Day Care" featurette, "What I Learned at Camp"

interactive quiz. Also available on Blu-ray Disc. (Sony)


Desert Bayou (2007)

This feature-length documentary tells the story of 600 African-

Americans who were airlifted out of New Orleans after the Katrina

floods, shipped to Utah without their knowledge, subjected to identity

checks and then housed at an isolated military base. Although the

people flown to Utah were a small percentage of those displaced --

estimates are between 645,000 and 1 million -- their story is

emblematic of some painful truths about race, religion and poverty in

America. (Cinema Libre)


Drumline: Special Edition (2002)

Featuring: Nick Cannon, Zoe Saldana, Orlando Jone, and GQ

Extras: Commentary by director Charles Stone III, "Half-Time Heroes"

featurette, "The Real Battle of the Bands" featurette, "Anatomy of a

Drumline" featurette, deleted scenes. (Fox)


Fast Girl (2007)

Featuring: Mircea Monroe, Justin Guarini, Dwier Brown, and Caroline Rhea

Family film about a young woman who wants to follow in her father's

footsteps and become a professional racecar driver. (Allumination

FilmWorks)


Groundhog Day: 15th Anniversary Special Edition (1993)

Directed by Harold Ramis, this great cast includes Bill Murray, Andie

MacDowell, Chris Elliott, Stephen Tobolowsky, and Brian Doyle-Murray.

Digitally re-mastered under the supervision of Ramis. Extras: "A

Different Day: An Interview with Harold Ramis," "The Study of

Groundhogs: A Real Life Look at Marmots," deleted scenes, "The Weight

of Time" making-of documentary, commentary by Ramis. (Sony)


Hannah Montana: One in a Million

Four episodes from the wildly popular Disney Channel series. (Disney)


The Invasion

Daniel Craig and Nicole Kidman headlining a science fiction thriller?

Why not? Here's why not. Not only do we not need yet another remake of Invasion

of the Body Snatchers, we surely don't need one that's just plain

dull. Extras are four of the usual promo "making of" featurettes.

(Warner Home Video)


Jackie Gleason -- Genius at Work

Collection of some of the Great One's funniest sketches. (MPI Home

Video)


King

of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (Official site)

(New Line)

Probably 2007's most popular -- certainly one of the best reviewed --

documentaries, Seth Gordon's fascinating, funny, moving and quickly

paced study of compulsive Donkey Kong playing arrives on New

Line's DVD with an excellent widescreen transfer and audio options in

Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0. The extras brings us two audio commentaries:

a fun and purposeful filmmakers track with director Seth Gordon,

producer Ed Cunningham and associate producers Clay Tweel and Luis

Lopez; and the second is a skippable track from IGN.com Entertainment

Editorial Director Chris Carle and art exhibition founder Jon M.

Gibson. (Carle and Gibson offer a better commentary during a

side-by-side comparison of Wiebe and Mitchell's Donkey Kong gameplay.)

Also here is a truckload of bonus material in the form of Q&As at

screenings of the film, interviews with the game players, lots of clips

that didn't end up in the final cut, a short animated piece on the

history of Donkey Kong, a text glossary of arcade terms, and more.


Ladrón que roba a ladrón (To Rob a

Thief) (Official

site)

This Miami Herald blurb -- no kidding -- shouts out from the

box cover: "A heist movie on par with Rush Hour 3." Makes you

want to jump right up and get it, doesn't it? In fact, Ladrón

que roba a ladrón isn't nearly as bad as all that (and

someone at Lionsgate may be cleaning out his desk this week). It's a

caper film along the lines of a sun-drenched Ocean's Eleven

redone as a Univision TV movie. A motley crew of day laborers led by

Emilio (Miguel Varoni) plan a ridiculously elaborate scheme to rob the

fortress-mansion of an infamous communications tycoon, Valdez (Saul

Lisazo). Ladrón is nothing special, but it is fun and

lively and brainlessly entertaining, and the likable cast is all mighty

good-looking. The DVD offers an enjoyable commentary by director Joe

Menendez and writer/co-star JoJo Hendrickson. Plus more than 20 minutes

of deleted scenes (including a significant deleted character) and two

"making of" featurettes, one on the production and another on the

film's score. (Lionsgate)


Lake Placid 2 (2007)

Featuring: John Schneider, Cloris Leachman, and Sam McMurray

A Sci Fi

Channel TV "B movie" sequel to the comedy horror film about a giant

crocodile inhabiting Lake Placid. (Fox)


The Mamas & The Papas: Straight Shooter (2008)

Definitive biography of the musical group that had 10 hit singles from

1965-68. Features exclusive interviews with founding members John

Phillips, Michelle Phillips and Denny Doherty, who tell the story of

The Mamas and The Papas, with home movies, personal photographs,

interviews, and rare performances. Extras: "The Mamas & The Papas

Chronicles" features never-before-seen footage and extended archival

interviews with John Phillips, Michelle Phillips, Denny Doherty, Scott

McKenzie, John Stewart (Kingston Trio). (SRO Entertainment)


Moving McAllister (2007)

Featuring: Ben Gourley, Mila Kunis, Jon Heder, Rutger Hauer

Three days before his bar exam, a ladder-climbing law intern desperate

to score points with his boss commits to driving a beat up truck

cross-country carrying his boss' seductive yet untouchable niece and

her out-of-control pet pig. (Magnolia Home Entertainment)


The Nines (2007)

Featuring: Ryan Reynolds, Hope Davis, Melissa McCarthy, Elle Fanning

Three short films (directed by John August), each a thriller featuring

the same actors in different -- and sometimes overlapping -- roles.

Together, the three stories form a single narrative that explores the

relationships between author and character, actor and role, creator and

creation: a journey through the mind of an actor, a writer and a video

game designer who arguably controls them all. Extras: Commentary by

director John August and Reynolds; commentary by August, editor Douglas

Crise and actress McCarthy; alternate ending; deleted scenes; "God

Short Film" by August; "Summing Up the Nines" behind-the-scenes

featurette; "Script to Screen" comparison; photo galleries. (Sony)


Quiet City + Dance, Party USA: 2 Films by Aaron Katz

(2007)

"Quiet City" is a deceptively simple drama about a twentysomething girl

(Erin Fisher) who arrives in New York to visit a friend who never

shows; on an empty subway platform, she crosses paths with a kindly

stranger named Charlie (Cris Lankenau), and an unlikely connection is

formed over the next 24 hours through city parks, abandoned apartments,

and art galleries in the heart of industrial Brooklyn. In "Dance Party,

USA," apathetic teens Jessica (Anna Kavan) and Gus (Cole Pennsinger)

share a fleeting moment at a Fourth of July party in Portland, but

their relationship grows closer and more complex after Gus confronts

her with a troubling secret. Two-disc set. (Benten Films;

www.bentenfilms.com)


Raising Flagg (2006)

Featuring: Alan Arkin, Lauren Holly, Glenne Headley, Barbara Dana,

Austin Pendleton, Richard Kind, and Matthew Arkin

A comedy centered on a handyman (Arkin) and his lifelong competition

with his neighbor (Pendleton). (Cinema Libre Studio)


Right

at Your Door (2006) (Official

site)

In this thriller with some fine ironic twists, multiple dirty bombs

explode in Los Angeles, spreading deadly toxic ash across the land.

Brad (Rory Cochrane) inadvertently quarantines his wife Lexi (Mary

McCormack) outside their new home by safely sealing himself inside.

With the city under siege and martial law in effect, Brad and Lexi

struggle to survive with little supplies, limited time and no

information -- all the while separated by thin doors and thinner sheets

of plastic. When "help" finally arrives, it appears to be anything but.

At Sundance 2006 Right at Your Door won the Cinematography

Award and was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize. The DVD comes with a

commentary by writer/director Chris Gorak; a terrific 14-minute

featurette, "Film School," with Gorak's tips on making an independent

film; and two alternative script endings. (Liongate)


Trade (

target="_blank">Official site)

Miscast Kevin Kline is the best thing in this dismal yet socially

conscious 2007 film based on Peter Landesman's New York Times

Magazine cover story, "The Girls Next Door," about modern sex

trafficking into the United States. The topic is important but the film

delivers it with derivative B-movie parts. In Mexico City, men kidnap

13-year-old Adriana (Paulina Gaitan) to sell her virginity to the

highest bidder. Young Polish beauty Veronica (Alicja Bachleda) is held

captive by the same men, who threaten her young son.

As the criminals mistreat their victims, Veronica is Adriana’s only

solace as she is taken farther and farther away from home. Meanwhile,

Adriana’s 17-year-old brother, Jorge (Cesar Ramos), tries to track his

sister across the Mexican border into Texas and through the United

States. On his mission, he teams up with a Texas cop (Kline) who agrees

to help for reasons of his own. This Lionsgate DVD comes with a

commentary by director Marco Kreuzpaintner, a routine "making of"

featurettes, an 8-minute featurette on the original article on sex

trafficking.


Tragic Ceremony (1972)

Featuring: Camille Keaton

Four hippies take refuge in an abandoned villa only to get involved in

a satanic sacrifice. (Dark Sky/MPI Home Video)


Twitches Too (2007 -- TV)

Disney Channel telefilm starring Tia and Tamera Mowry as a pair of

magical princesses separated at birth to protect them from a mysterious

evil force. Extras: Alternate ending, behind-the-scenes featurette.

(Disney)