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New Years Edition!
CONTAGION, MONEYBALL and More Kick Off 2012

There were a number of outstanding movie-related books in 2011, and kicking off 2012 I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one of them: Marcus Hearn’s THE HAMMER VAULT, a full-color, coffee-table sized tome that provides Hammer fans with a treasure trove of production stills, artwork, rare correspondence and other promotional goodies from the British horror outlet’s long and storied (and at times not-so-storied) legacy.

This Titan Books publication is a must for Hammer fans, not so much because it provides an encyclopedic overview of the studio’s filmography – instead, it sets out to unearth rare materials from the ‘50s through Hammer’s heyday, their decline in the ‘70s and eventual, recent resurrection through “Let Me In” and the upcoming “Woman in Black.” Hearn’s text is candid and insightful, though there isn’t a lot of it – most of the pages are instead devoted to gorgeous color and B&W publicity materials. My favorite section is a look at Hammer’s unproduced projects, including “Nessie,” which would’ve been a co-production between Hammer, Toho, and Columbia Pictures – a seeming hybrid of a Godzilla film with a ‘70s disaster spectacle (at least judging from the evocative artwork) that never came to fruition because of (understandable) budgetary concerns.

Priced right at $35 (Amazon has it listed at a quite attractive $24), “The Hammer Vault” sits alongside some of last year’s finest movie books for genre fans – namely the outstanding “Jaws: Memories From Martha’s Vineyard” and John Landis’ wonderful DK hardcover “Monsters in the Movies.” Highly recommended!

New on Blu-Ray

MONEYBALL Blu-Ray (***, 132 mins., 2011, PG-13; Sony): Brad Pitt’s terrific turn as Oakland A’s manager Billy Beane sells this compelling, if somewhat bland, adaptation of Michael Lewis’ non-fiction bestseller.

As adapted by ace screenwriters Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin, “Moneyball” opens with Beane’s A’s having lost in the 2001 Major League Baseball playoffs and stood by idly as their major superstars (Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon and Jason Isringhausen) departed for more lucrative contracts from teams with more means (i.e. higher payrolls) at their disposal. Looking to shake things up, Beane hires away a Cleveland Indians assistant (Jonah Hill) with the intention of implementing a mathematical model that can find diamonds in the rough – solid ballplayers who don’t cost a fortune, yet can put up numbers comparable to the bigger names they’re replacing.

Director Bennett Miller plays things so straight in “Moneyball” that the film almost feels like a documentary, which adds to its authenticity but also mutes its overall dramatic power. Still, Pitt’s charismatic, sympathetic performance carries the picture, and the occasional scene where Beane spends time with his teenage daughter feels authentic and provides the film with an emotional context that it could’ve used more of. Hill, meanwhile, is perfectly acceptable in a role that offers a bit of comic relief, though Philip Seymour Hoffman is merely serviceable as the A’s manager Art Howe, with little payoff to his adversarial relationship to Beane’s new methodology of building a ball club.

Sony’s Blu-Ray of “Moneyball” boasts a colorful, gorgeous 1080p transfer with superb cinematography from Wally Pfister. The DTS MA soundtrack isn’t nearly as satisfying, offering a monotonous underscore by Mychael Danna that adds little to the drama. Extras include some interesting conversations with the real Beane along with Michael Lewis and the filmmakers, plus deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes featurettes, bloopers, a DVD and Ultraviolet digital copy for good measure.

CONTAGION Blu-Ray (***, 106 mins., 2011, PG-13; Warner): Steven Soderbergh’s latest hits Blu-Ray from Warners just in time for cold and flu season – and if there’s anything you’ll learn from “Contagion,” it’s that you’d better wash your hands, disinfect your work space, and hope that person who just shook your hand didn’t come in contact with the bird flu.

Those are the lessons imparted by “Contagion,” an involving, if overly clinical, account of a global epidemic, the ordinary lives touched by the outbreak, and the scientists and politicians who work to contain it. Soderbergh has assembled a large and talented ensemble cast here (Matt Damon and Gwyneth Paltrow; Laurence Fishburne, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard and Jude Law with an affected accent) and viscerally adapts Scott Z. Burns’ script in his typical directorial fashion, though there are – surprisingly – few dramatic fireworks produced by the film despite its apocalyptic, yet plausible, scenario.

Warner has brought “Contagion” to Blu-Ray this month in a fine 1080p transfer with DTS MA audio and mostly lightweight extras (three featurettes), plus an Ultraviolet digital copy and a standard DVD.

THE SCORPION KING 3: BATTLE FOR REDEMPTION Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital Copy (106 mins., 2011, PG-13; Universal): Third sequel (the second direct-to-video) finds Victor Webster stepping into The Rock’s vacated shoes as disgraced king Mathayus, whose kingdom has fallen and now takes jobs as an assassin-for-hire for Egyptian king Ron Perlman. The daughter of Perlman’s ally has been abducted by his scheming brother (Billy Zane), and it’s up to Mathayus to save the girl and regain some of his glory along the way.

This Thailand-shot sequel is, arguably, a bit better than “The Scorpion King 2,” with Webster trading shots with the likes of former wrestling/MMA stars Kevin “Kimbo Slice” Ferguson and Dave Bautista, while Zane, Perlman and Temeura Morrison provide the low-level star wattage you’d anticipate from a small-screen effort like this.

That said, action fans who enjoyed the prior two entries are likely to be satisfied with “Battle for Redemption,” which Universal releases on Blu-Ray this month in a combo pack also containing a DVD and digital copies of both the standard iTunes and Ultraviolet varieties. Extras include deleted/extended scenes, a deleted shots montage, gag reel, Making Of featurettes, and a commentary with director Roel Reine.

KILLER ELITE Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital Copy (**, 117 mins., 2011, R; Universal): Box-office disappointment from last fall offers an appealing combo of Jason Statham, Clive Owen and Robert DeNiro in a forgettable, over-stuffed action vehicle directed in appropriately ADD fashion by Gary McKendry. This Matt Sherring-scripted adaptation of a book by Randulph Fiennes (no relation to the Sam Peckinpah ‘70s film of the same name) does boast a few nifty action scenes as Statham’s hitman-assassin is called back into action to retrieve his kidnapped mentor (DeNiro) while fending off a killer with an agenda (Clive Owen). Yvonne Strahovski (an Aisle Seat favorite) shows up for a few minutes but “Killer Elite” is pretty much a by-the-numbers affair where the human pleasures are fleeting and drowned out in an abundance of explosions and leaden dialogue. Universal’s Blu-Ray of this Open Road Films release offers just deleted scenes for extras, plus a DVD and Ultraviolet digital copy.
SHARK NIGHT Blu-Ray/Digital Copy (**, 90 mins., 2011, PG-13; Fox): Late-summer throwaway was more fun in 3-D but still provides a few thrills – and laughs – in a typical brew from “Snakes on a Plane” director David R. Ellis, wherein a group of “scantily clad college students” (including Sara Paxton and Katherine McPhee) fend off a wave of sharks near Paxton’s Louisiana lake home. “Shark Night” failed to generate the same buzz that “Piranha 3-D” did the prior summer, but it still provides a fun view on a cold winter’s night for undemanding genre fans. Fox’s Blu-Ray/digital copy combo pack offers a strong 1080p transfer, DTS MA soundtrack and four featurettes. 3-D fans should note a 3-D version is available in Korea that’s compatible with U.S. players (there’s a version coming in the UK as well that’s likely going to be locked to Region B).

IN THE NAME OF THE KING 2: TWO WORLDS Blu-Ray (*½, 97 mins., 2011, R; Fox): Uwe Boll somehow scraped up enough funds to produce this unwanted sequel to his earlier “In the Name of the King,” which likely ranks as the infamous director’s most watchable film to date (for what little that’s worth). This time out Dolph Lundgren plays a special forces vet whisked back into the kingdom of the earlier film –  albeit some 50 years after Jason Statham ran rampant – in order to beat back the bad guys and save the day. Pretty lame stuff, and after a few minutes, not even so bad it’s good – just dull. Fox’s Blu-Ray includes a Making Of plus a 1.85 AVC encoded 1080p transfer and DTS MA soundtrack.
HIGHER GROUND Blu-Ray/DVD (***, 112 mins., 2011, R; Sony): Vera Farmiga gives a terrific performance both in front of and behind the camera in this engrossing, true account of a woman raised from an early age to embrace Evangelical Christianity and who struggles in the ‘60s and ‘70s to find her footing after a lifetime living in an insular community. Farmiga’s adaptation of Carolyn Briggs’ memoir is perceptive and consistently interesting, marked by solid performances and individually compelling scenes. “Higher Ground” doesn’t make any grand pronouncements one way or another about Christianity or religion itself – nor does it demonize some of the fringe characters portrayed in the church Farmiga’s heroine belongs to. Instead, it focuses more on its lead character’s personal journey of growth and her own, changing relationship with God, making for a film that feels believable and ultimately satisfying, even if it’s not a “faith-based” – or anti-religious – piece of work. Sony’s Blu-Ray includes a featurette, deleted scenes, commentary with Farmiga and assorted cast/crew members, an AVC encoded 1080p transfer and DTS MA audio.

THE GUARD Blu-Ray (***, 96 mins., 2011, R; Sony): Strong performances from Brendan Gleeson and Don Cheadle are the best part of this truly entertaining, character-driven piece from writer-director John Michael McDonagh, making a memorable feature debut here. This Irish-made independent comedic-thriller (of sorts) finds Gleeson as a tough cop on the west coast of Ireland who teams up with Cheadle’s American FBI agent to investigate an international drug smuggling ring that might be connected with the disappearance of Gleeson’s new partner. McDonagh’s film is laced with humorous moments, an offbeat sensibility that recalls the Coen Brothers but with a charm of its own (as well as a fitfully amusing, eclectic score by Calexico). Gleeson, meanwhile, is terrific in one of his best roles and all of it is superbly shot in scope by McDonagh and DP Larry Smith. Sony’s Blu-Ray includes a 1080p transfer, DTS MA soundtrack, outtakes, deleted scenes, commentary, and McDonagh’s short film “The Second Death.”

SID & NANCY Blu-Ray (**½, 113 mins., 1986, R; MGM/Fox): Alex Cox’s much-discussed 1986 bio-pic of Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious and his
tumultuous relationship with groupie/junkie girlfriend Nancy Spungen (Chloe Webb) lands on Blu-Ray in a quality catalog release from Fox. Previously available only as a Best Buy exclusive since late September, the 50gb platter includes a good-looking, crisp 1080p transfer with DTS MA audio and extras from the prior DVD edition (a pair of featurettes and the trailer). “Sid & Nancy” isn’t for all tastes, but as a document of the punk-rock movement, its excesses, exuberance and tragedy, Cox’s film is exceedingly well-acted by both Oldman and Webb and ranks as some of his finest work.

ARCHER: SEASON 2 Blu-Ray (286 mins., 2011; Fox): F/X animated series is back on Blu-Ray with another season of comedic hyjinks, international spy intrigue and assorted inter-office confrontations. Fox’s Blu-Ray boasts clear AVC encoded transfers, DTS MA soundtracks and a number of featurettes.

ICE QUAKE Blu-Ray (90 mins., 2010, PG; Anchor Bay): Canadian-lensed Syfy Channel movie stars Brendan Fehr as a military geologist whose family trip to chop down a Christmas tree results in avalanches, ice cracks and geysers that nearly consume all of Alaska (I think I’ll join the Griswolds instead). Victor Garber and Jodelle Ferland co-star in this watchable, lightweight “Disaster of the Week” Syfy offering that Anchor Bay brings to Blu in a good-looking 1080p transfer with Dolby TrueHD audio, a Making Of featurette and the trailer.

I DON’T KNOW HOW SHE DOES IT Blu-Ray (*½, 90 mins., 2011, PG-13; Anchor Bay): I don’t know either, but I do know not many takers showed up for this box-office flop starring Sarah Jessica Parker as a Boston finance exec juggling her high-pressure job with a hectic home life involving hubby Greg Kinnear and two young kids. “I Don’t Know How She Does It” has a terrific cast with Christina Hendricks, Peirce Brosnan, and Kelsey Grammer co-starring, but despite a script by in-demand scribe Aline Brosh McKenna (“The Devil Wears Prada”), this feeble comedy isn’t particularly funny or endearing. Anchor Bay’s Blu-Ray includes a 1080p transfer, DTS MA soundtrack, and an interview with author Allison Pearson, who was almost certainly hoping for more buzz than this disastrous adaptation of her book generated.

SINNERS AND SAINTS Blu-Ray (104 mins., 2011, R; Anchor Bay): “Fast and the Furious” supporting actor Johnny Strong tries his hand at being a leading man in this low-budget 2011 production about a New Orleans detective investigating a case involving a military cover-up and rival local street gangs. William Kaufman’s “Sinners and Saints” – which Strong himself composed the music for – is a modest production that looks rough around the edges throughout, and Anchor Bay’s 1080p Blu-Ray transfer exposes the film’s meager appearance even more than a standard-def DVD would. If you can work through the low budget and the formulaic dialogue, “Sinners and Saints” has some fairly well-executed action sequences plus brief appearances from Jurgen Prochnow and Tom Berenger spicing up the otherwise low-rent cast. Anchor Bay’s Blu-Ray also includes deleted scenes and a behind-the-scenes featurette in addition to a Dolby TrueHD soundtrack.

DIVISION III Blu-Ray (98 mins., 2011, R; Image): Andy Dick co-wrote and stars alongside a number of Mad TV alumi (Mo Collins, Will Sasso, Debra Wilson among others) in this intermittently funny sports comedy. Dick plays Rick Vice, a redneck psycho hired to turn around the Pulham Blue Cocks, a struggling Division III football team led by slacker second-string QB Marshall Cook (who also directed). “Division III” is too hit-or-miss to fully recommend, but not unlike the Artie Lange comedy “Beer League,” it has its moments. Image’s Blu-Ray includes deleted scenes, outtakes, a 1080p transfer, DTS MA soundtrack and a commentary with Dick and Cook.

GREECE: SECRETS OF THE PAST Blu-Ray (45 mins., 2006; Image): IMAX travelogue serves as a 45-minute tourism commercial for Greece with beautiful cinematography of the Greek Isles and surrounding locales perfectly captured by Greg MacGillivray. Steve Wood’s music alternates with narration from Nia Vardalos to support the scenic visuals, and Image’s Blu-Ray includes a nifty 1080p transfer with DTS MA sound along with a 22-minute doc and a retrospective on other McGillivray-Freeman productions.

New Catalog Titles

GOOD MORNING VIETNAM Blu-Ray (***, 1987, 121 mins., R, Touchstone/Buena Vista): Blu-Ray high-def edition of the 1987 box-office hit stars Robin Williams as free-wheeling radio D.J. Adrian Cronauer, who spices up the lives of American soldiers in Vietnam by producing an outspoken, often hilarious radio show. Barry Levinson’s film was well-received and a big financial success, though the movie hasn’t weathered the years as well as one might anticipate: Williams’ shtick has grown somewhat tired by now, and though he’s in top form here, one pays more attention now to writer Mitch Markowitz’s somewhat under-developed script. The film works well enough with Williams behind the mic, but loses a few steps once it tries to be meaningful and important. Buena Vista’s Blu-Ray includes a “Production Diary” of featurettes that detail the production, as well as raw outtake footage of Williams’ monologues, which his fans should appreciate. A pair of trailers and a solid, if not spectacular, 1080p transfer make this an affordable, recommended pick-up for fans.

DEAD POETS SOCIETY Blu-Ray (**½, 1989, 129 mins., PG, Touchstone/Buena Vista): I’ve never been a big fan of Peter Weir’s tale of life in a New England boarding school circa 1959, but that still didn’t stop the Robin Williams Express from grossing nearly $100 million in theaters back in the summer of ‘89. Williams’ performance as an English teacher who encourages his students (including Robert Sean Leonard and Ethan Hawke) to think for themselves turns tragic and pretentious in its final third, but John Seales’ cinematography and the supporting performances still manage to keep you watching. Fans of the film may be disappointed that Buena Vista’s Blu-Ray doesn’t include the longer version of the film released long ago on laserdisc (and still occasionally broadcast on TV), or even those extra scenes included in a supplement, but there are still some interesting features to be found: a Making Of interviews Weir, Hawke, Leonard and others; raw takes from the production are shown; additional featurettes profile sound designer Alan Splet and photographer John Seale; and a commentary features Weir, Seale, and writer Tom Schulman, whose efforts copped him an Oscar here. The AVC encoded 1080p transfer looks unadulterated but seems to come from an older master (the skin tones look too pinkish at times as well), while the DTS MA soundtrack is satisfying and sports a fine score by Maurice Jarre.

SERENDIPITY Blu-Ray (**, 90 mins., 2001, PG-13; Miramax/Lionsgate): You know you're in trouble when a Eugene Levy cameo is the only thing that can bring a movie to life. From the minute Peter Chelsom's would-be frothy 2001 fantasy begins, the word contrivance -- and not serendipity -- is the word that comes to mind as John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale meet in the Big Apple during Christmas time. They share loving glances, sarcastic humor, and a nice skate on the ice. They're both dating other people, but he can sense a movie romance at work. She, however, is bound by fate -- going so far as to scribble down her name and number in a book and selling it to a used bookshop. If Cusack can find it, then they're meant to be together. He can't. Flash forward several years, and the two are ready to be hitched -- and guess what happened from here?

“Serendipity” had all the makings of a "nice" date movie (performing well during its first few weekends at the box-office), but the big surprise is how uneven it turned out to be. Cusack seems to be mostly going through the motions (and is beginning to look a little long-in-the-tooth for the kind of carefree single guy he's essaying here), and while Beckinsale is far more likable than her cardboard part in "Pearl Harbor," she isn't given enough to do. Actually, nobody here is given much to do. Director Chelsom – who once directed the great sleeper hit “Hear My Song” – has a penchant for offbeat humor that crops up every now and then in a handful of misfired gags, but aside from solid work by the always game Jeremy Piven as Cusack's best friend, “Serendipity” doesn't work. There's no emotional pull, no dramatic urgency, in effect at any point in the film.

Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray looks fine with its 1080p transfer and DTS MA soundtrack, while on the bonus side offers audio commentary from the director, who didn't initially think the movie was funny enough, and added the oddly-placed gags while shooting progressed. Several deleted scenes are included, along with a promotional featurette, the original trailer, and a "Director's Diary," constituting some interesting anecdotes by Chelsom that he wrote down during filming. Unfortunately, the on-screen text is so small that most viewers will opt to stop reading instead of developing a headache trying to flip through them.

SHE'S ALL THAT Blu-Ray (**, 96 mins., 1999, PG-13; Miramax/Lionsgate): I'm an admitted fan of teenage films. You name it, whether it's one of those John Hughes-Molly Ringwald movies, or even “Can’t Buy Me Love,” the genre has always been a favorite of mine, since there's often some truth to be found inbetween the sometimes raunchy comedic hyjinks of most teen movies. (And if you grew up in the '80s, you know it was a prime time for movies aimed at the 12-17 set).

After seeing the genre lay pretty much dormant for much of the ‘90s, all it took was ”Clueless” and “Scream” to revive the teen film in the '90s at full speed. Unfortunately, for every “Scream” there was an “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” and for each “Clueless” there's...well, “She’s All That.”

Calling this mindless comedy an updating of "Pygmalion" is actually giving the film more credit than it really deserves, for although it has what appears to be a "can't-miss" premise (the class outcast becomes popular by means of the class President, who undertakes the task of overseeing her make-over through a bet with a friend, but naturally falls in love with her), the execution is sadly lacking.

It's too bad, because leads Freddie Prinze, Jr. (as the Class President) and Rachael Leigh Cook (as the art-geek who he "renovates" and becomes infatuated with) are both appealing. Ultimately, and unfortunately, they spend too much time struggling to overcome the script's penchant for relying on low-brow gags and also the erratic pacing by director Robert Iscove, who never settles on a comfortable comic rhythm or romantic pitch to play out the scenario.

The movie has a few good scenes--mainly revolving around Cook's pool-cleaning father (nicely played by Kevin Pollak) and her younger brother (Kieran Culkin, Mac's little bro)--but interspersed between the insight and warmth are unlikeable characters and subplots that just sort of trickle away into nothingness. (Anna Paquin, playing Prinze's sister, has nothing to do here). I would have liked to have seen more sequences between Prinze and Cook, showing their relationship develop, and a whole lot less of Prinze's ex-girlfriend and Matthew Lilliard's "Real World" sleaze bag bad-guy, which eats up a lot of screen time, dates the movie badly and becomes very tired – and really unfunny – pretty quick.

“She’s All That” would like to be a kind of John Hughes comedy for its era, but it lacks the heart and incisiveness that marked the Hughes pictures. This movie is too pat, too formula, and too predictable, and squanders its lead performances in a product that's unfortunately low-rent most of the way through.

Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray is a serviceable enough upgrade over Miramax’s old DVD, offering a 1080p transfer, DTS MA soundtrack and extras from the old DVD release, including commentary from director Iscove, the trailer, and Sixpence None the Richer’s music video “Kiss Me,” which has weathered the years far better than the movie itself.

New From HBO

HBO’s BOARDWALK EMPIRE (732 mins., 2010) arrives on Blu-Ray this week in a typically superb package from the label. The series, while much acclaimed, is a program I’ve found to be a bit of a cold fish: a great looking, well-acted, yet somewhat detached account of Atlantic City circa 1920, the dawn of prohibition, the duplicitous life of politician and bootlegger Steve Buscemi, gangsters, prostitutes, and rumrunners alike. “Boardwalk Empire” is extremely well done and cast (Michael Pitt is excellent as Buscemi’s protégé), but I never found the show as engaging or compelling as it should have been. Certainly others have disagreed, as the show earned numerous accolades en route to a (recently-concluded) second season that, admittedly, wasn’t as well-received.

HBO’s first-season Blu-Ray set of “Boardwalk Empire” offers the label’s top-notch HD 1080p transfers, DTS MA soundtracks and numerous extras, including “enhanced viewing” picture-in-picture options on all 12 episodes; Making Of featurettes; and six audio commentaries with creator Terence Winter among others.

Also new from HBO is MILDRED PIERCE (344 mins., 2011), Todd Haynes’ lengthy adaptation of James M. Cain’s book about a depression-era mother (Kate Winlset) struggling to make ends meet while going to any extremes for her daughter (Evan Rachel Wood).

“Mildred Pierce” met with more mixed reaction from critics and viewers than “Boardwalk Empire,” yet it’s certainly another well-mounted production with Carter Burwell’s scoring and a fine cast bringing the soapy story to life in the form of a moodier, more “edgy” telling than Michael Curtiz’s 1945 Joan Crawford film. HBO’s Blu-Ray box offers two commentaries and Making Of material along with a DVD copy.

HBO is also issuing three affordable, low-cost Blu-Ray titles in time for Black History month:

THE TUSKEGEE AIRMEN (106 mins., 1995) stars Larry Fishburne, Cuba Gooding Jr., Allen Payne, Andre Braugher, Courtney B. Vance, Pekhi Phifer and and John Lithgow in a solid, HBO-produced, fact-based account of the “Fighting 99th” of African-American WWII fighter pilots (a subject George Lucas’ long-gestating “Red Tails” project also tackles later on this month in theaters). HBO’s Digibook-bound Blu-Ray looks good (in 1.78 widescreen) and boasts DTS MA audio.

Lynn Whitfield’s acclaimed turn as the troubled, talented Josephine Baker generated a number of kudos in THE JOSEPHINE BAKER STORY (131 mins.), scored by the great Georges Delerue. This Robert Halmi/David Puttnam co-production offers commentary with Whitfield, writer Ron Hutchinson and producer Alisa Taylor, and offers a serviceable 1080p AVC encoded 1.78 transfer with DTS MA audio.

Lastly, Larry Fishburne’s performance as THURGOOD (105 mins.) fuels this one-man play written by George Stevens, Jr. and captured in a performance taped in 2010 at Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater. The 16:9 (1.78) transfer is excellent and the DTS MA sound perfectly suited for the show’s trappings.


DELOCATED Seasons 1 and 2 DVD (347 mins., Warner): Adult Swim comedy comes to DVD in a double-disc set featuring seasons 1 and 2 of “Detached.” Episodes: Pilot, Bar Mitzvah, Good Buds, Rage Cage, The Soother, Member’s Only, Sick of It, Decoys, Conversion, Dog Mayor, Mixer, Jon He Does It, Mole, Kim’s Krafts, ‘Fidence, Tap, RV B&B, David’s Girlfriend, Coma. Extras include deleted scenes, outtakes, flip books, a demo and selected commentaries.

REMOVAL DVD (91 mins., 2012, R; Lionsgate): “From a Producer of ‘300' and ‘Piranha 3D’” reads the back cover of this direct-to-video outing starring Billy Burke as a man who may or may not have killed his wife and starts to witness a group of hallucinations. Lionsgate’s DVD of Nick Simon’s film, co-starring Emma Caulfield and Elliott Gould, boasts a 16:9 transfer, 5.1 soundtrack, a deleted scene, alternate opening and a trailer gallery.

ANSWER THIS DVD (105 mins., 2012, PG-13; Lionsgate): Watchable and appealing enough indie comedy with Christopher Gorham as a grad school student who joins up with his buddy to win the First Annual Ann Arbor Pub Trivia Tournament. No surprises pop up in Christopher Farah’s film but “Answer This” is likeable and offers some nice performances from Gorham and Arielle Kerbel. Lionsgate’s DVD boasts a 16:9 transfer, commentary, deleted scenes, outtakes and other extras.

TALES OF AN ANCIENT EMPIRE DVD (89 mins., 2011, R; Lionsgate): Belated, sorry sequel to “The Sword and the Sorcerer” from director Albert Pyun even includes a brief cameo for original star Lee Horsley – but it’s threadbare fantasy on a shoestring budget, with Kevin Sorbo and Michael Pare headlining a long-in-development project for its director that, sadly, wasn’t worth the wait. Lionsgate’s DVD includes a behind the scenes segment, 16:9 transfer and 5.1 soundtrack.

BRATZ DESERT JEWELZ - GENIE MAGIC II DVD (74 mins., 2012; Lionsgate): Yasmin, Cloe, Sasha and Jade travel to a magical Arabian kingdom in this latest feature-length “Bratz” feature for young girls. Lionsgate’s DVD includes a 16:9 transfer, 5.1 soundtrack, a bonus TV episode and behind-the-scenes content.

DIRTY GIRL DVD (90 mins., 2011, R; Anchor Bay): Abe Sylvia’s indie comedy follows a high schooler who ends up in a remedial class and takes one of her classmates on a cross-country trip to find her father. Milla Jovovich plays her mom in a film also offering William H. Macy, Mary Steenburgen and Dwight Yoakam. Anchor Bay’s DVD includes a commentary with Sylvia, deleted and extended scenes, plus a 16:9 (2.40) transfer and 5.1 audio.

NEW FROM E ONE: Alma Har’El’s BOMBAY BEACH (76 mins., 2011) received numerous accolades last year and arrives on DVD in a fine Special Edition from E One, including selected-scene commentary, deleted scenes, music videos and more. This eclectic chronicle of California’s Salton Sea and its decline from a ‘50s tourist hot spot to an abandoned relic is intriguingly handled with music from Beirut and Bob Dylan...The true story of England’s elite “30 Commando Assault Unit” is told in AGE OF HEROES (108 mins., 2011, Not Rated), a WWII actioner with Sean Bean and James D’Arcy leading a charge into occupied Norway to obtain vital radar technology. E One’s Blu-Ray includes a 1080p transfer, DTS MA soundtrack, deleted scenes, bloopers, behind-the-scenes footage, a documentary, and cast/director interviews.

NEXT TIME: More of the latest releases! Until then, don't forget to drop in on the official Aisle Seat Message Boards and direct any emails to our email address. Cheers everyone!

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