Latest Software Reviews
Elf is 10 feet tall. Thoroughly entertaining, Will Ferrell's breakout film is now available on two DVDs that are fun, pure and simple. Ferrell plays Buddy, who accidentally ends up in Santa's North Pole Workshop and is raised by the elves, never being told he's really human. . .even though he's 3 feet taller than everyone else. Yearning to find his real father, Buddy heads to New York to do so.
The former SNL star plays Buddy to the hilt with whimsy and nave joy. In doing so, he becomes a full-fledged comic big-screen star. James Caan (did you ever think you'd hear the words James Caan and Elf in the same sentence?) plays the human dad, Zooey Deschanel and Faizon Love the Gimbel's employees, and Bob Newhart the perfectly cast deadpan elfin pop.
This is one of New Line's Infinifilm releases, a feature that allows you to click on pop-ups during the film that offer facts, behind-the-scenes clips, and movie tidbits; it then takes you back to the exact place in the film where you left off. It's really cool. There are tons of extras for kids and adults alike. From "Elf Karaoke" to cute adventure games to read-alongs, this is a homerun for kids. Adults can enjoy the commentaries, music, both a 1.85:1 anamorphic and a 1.33:1 version, quizzes, Dolby Digital 5.1 sound, and much more. There are also some odes to previous classics like Burl Ives and "Frosty the Snowman."
Good cheer and holiday spirit are all over this DVD, and Elf may just become a Christmas classic for today's schoolers.—Tony DeCarlo
DVD: Dawn of the Dead (2004) Unrated Director's Cut—Universal
A big-budget remake of the middle chapter in George Romero's cult-classic zombie trilogy might seem a head-scratcher, but this melodrama of post-apocalyptic mall life rises again, thanks to an infectious energy and some clever revisions: The undead now run rather than saunter, and we're given a more-human look at some of the bitten before they're hopelessly transformed. This unrated edition reincorporates about 10 minutes of visions too gruesome for Peoria; the tamer theatrical cut is available separately.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track impresses with some unsettling front-to-back effects that help to create a genuine 360-degree environment, replete with groans and screams from the surrounds and the requisite sonic jolts to rattle us further. The 2.35:1 anamorphic picture displays generally excellent color and detail, despite some minor loss in the blacks and a surprising amount of grain for such a new film.
Extras include two lengthy in-the-story vignettes, likely produced specifically for this disc—one a study of a particular character from an alternate point-of-view, the other a block of faux news broadcasts covering the horrific events. Still more deleted scenes come with optional commentary from the director and producer, who reteam to chat up the movie itself. Exclusive to the Director's Cut version are multiple looks at the makeup effects, including an in-depth analysis of the best "kills."—Chris Chiarella
The Animals—Retrospective (Abkco)
In 1964, the British "invasion" band juggernaut took a sharp blues turn when the Animals scored a mega hit with "House of the Rising Sun." Sure, the Rolling Stones' record sales soon eclipsed their rowdy rivals, but for my money the early Animals' R&B edge was unequalled. Eric Burdon's gut-wrenching vocals and the band's rough-hewn arrangements had a singled-minded goal: pin back their audience's ears. "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood," "We Gotta Get Out of This Place, and "It's My Life" confirmed the band's working-class roots. In my book, the Animals were the quintessential '60s garage band.
But the 1960s were a time of radical change; by '67, the band morphed into a peace-'n'-love psychedelic outfit with "San Franciscan Nights" and a terrific ode to the era's first music festival, "Monterey." Retrospective not only serves up all of the band's biggest hits, it also offers a generous selection of lesser-known revelations like "Hey Gyp," where the band's lays down a raucous Bo Diddley beat, while Burdon's hell-bent delivery puts it over the top. On the closing cut, Burdon exited the Animals and joined forces with War, an L.A. funk band, to roll out "Spill the Wine."
The recordings, especially those from the early blues-infected years, have a strident, even aggressive sound. Bob Ludwig's remastering wisely preserved the grit and somehow clarified the sonics. The hybrid SACD avoids hokey surround mixes and sticks with the original stereo and mono versions.—Steve Guttenberg