1/11/11 Edition Twitter: THEAISLESEATCOM
New Years Edition
Plus: MACHETE, SHOGUN and More

2011 is here my fellow Aisle Seat readers and things are off to a good start this week thanks to a number of new Blu-Ray discs. Leading the way is Warner’s superb high-def edition of Sergio Leone’s classic ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA (***½, 229 mins., 1984, R).

A lengthy, sprawling crime saga featuring Robert DeNiro and James Woods as Jewish gangsters in NYC, chronicling their childhood days and rise to power during the Prohibition era, Leone’s final film was infamously cut by the Ladd Company for its initial U.S. release in 1984. The studio trimmed Leone’s original 229-minute version down to a mere 134 minutes, re-assembled its narrative in chronological order, and turned Leone’s original, epic vision into a mess of a movie that bordered frequently on the incoherent.

After being restored to Leone’s intended length, “Once Upon a Time” – which features strong performances (in addition to DeNiro and Woods, Elizabeth McGovern, Joe Pesci, Burt Young, Tuesday Weld, Treat Williams and a young Jennifer Connelly are all effective in support) – received the widespread acclaim it should have all along, with critics praising its depiction of time and place, evocative production design and a memorable Ennio Morricone score.

Warner’s Blu-Ray disc proves to be quite satisfying technically. The AVC encoded 1080p transfer, minted from a fairly recent HD master, shows only a bit of DNR filtering, with most of the film gaining appreciable detail over its prior DVD release. The DTS Master sound is gently effective, while supplements include an informative commentary from critic/writer Richard Schickel, the trailer, and a 20-minute segment from a Leone documentary about the film’s production.

Also new from Warner this week is a Blu-Ray edition of MY DOG SKIP (***, 95 mins., 1999, PG), director Jay Russell’s heartfelt adaptation of Willie Morris’ autobiographical tale about growing up in the south and his friendship with a particularly spunky Jack Russell Terrier.

Earnest performances (Frankie Muniz as the young Willie; Diane Lane, Kevin Bacon and Luke Wilson as the adults), moving sequences and an overwhelmingly emotional ending made this family film a sleeper hit upon its initial release and an enduring favorite on video over the years since.

Warner’s Blu-Ray edition looks very nice indeed, offering a pleasing upgrade over its DVD edition with a fine 1080p transfer, DTS Master Audio soundtrack and several extras, carried over from the prior DVD, including additional scenes, two commentaries and the original trailer.

New Release Round-Up

MACHETE Blu-Ray (***, 105 mins., 2010, R; Fox): Robert Rodriguez had a mixed summer in 2010 at the box-office; his first two films under a new deal at Fox performed only modestly, with the belated franchise entry “Predators” (which Rodriguez produced) scraping up $50 million in domestic revenue and Rodriguez’s own “Machete” scrounging up just $26 million in theaters.

Of course, Rodriguez keeps his budgets low, so “Machete” wasn’t a flop, and perhaps its grindhouse-styled, bombastic action wasn’t going to catch on with most mainstream audiences anyway (after all, the Rodriguez-Tarantino collaboration “Grindhouse” didn’t fare any better commercially upon its initial release, and “Machete” is based on one of the faux trailers Rodriguez produced for that 2007 film).

This over-the-top action-thriller stars Danny Trejo as an illegal immigrant and ex-Mexican federale who’s set up by a businessman (Jeff Fahey) to assassinate a Texas senator (Robert DeNiro) who wants to put up an electrical fence to secure the border. Despite the “hot button” premise, Rodriguez’s politics are clearly secondary to providing a forum for tongue-in-cheek action and gore, whether it’s through the movie’s offbeat casting (Steve Seagal as a drug lord; Lindsay Lohan as Fahey’s daughter; Cheech Marin as a priest; and Jessica Alba and Michelle Rodriguez as the picture’s eye candy) or its mindless action. “Machete” doesn’t aim for being much more than a free-wheeling drive-in type of entertainment, and for genre fans it comes strongly recommended.

Fox’s Blu-Ray disc of “Machete” is superb in terms of its technical presentation (AVC encoded 1080p transfer, DTS Master soundtrack) though it’s fairly light on supplements (deleted scenes, an audience “reaction track,” and BD Live extras including an exclusive deleted scene). A digital copy is also included.

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER Season 8 Motion Comic Blu-Ray/DVD (224 mins., 2010; Fox): Joss Whedon’s beloved series is supposed to be remade (of course!) as a new feature without his involvement, but before that sacrilege takes place, Fox has turned the “Buffy” Dark Horse comic into a series of motion comics compiled in this Blu-Ray/DVD combo set. Similar to what DC and Warners did a year ago with “Watchmen,” the motion comic faithfully adapts the printed follow-up to the “Buffy” TV series, which brings back all the principal characters with more outlandish story lines and Whedon’s patented dialogue. Fox’s Blu-Ray disc houses colorful AVC transfers and DTS Master soundtracks, with a couple of featurettes, a test pilot and cover gallery on-hand for extras. The DVD, also bundled within, offers 1.78 transfers, 5.1 soundtracks, the same extras and a “Create Your Own Buffy Comic” DVD-ROM extra.

THE AMERICAN Blu-Ray (**½, 105 mins., 2010, R; Universal): Slow-moving, deliberately paced character study/thriller features George Clooney in an “internal” performance as a hitman, reeling from a job gone wrong, who heads to the Italian countryside to construct a weapon as part of his latest assignment. Anton Corbijn’s film looks terrific, with gorgeous Martin Ruhe cinematography, but how much tolerance (and patience) you have for mood and atmosphere over story and suspense will dictate one’s appreciation of “The American.” Universal’s Blu-Ray certainly looks great – the AVC encoded 1080p transfer beautifully reproducing the picture’s Italian location shooting, while DTS Master Audio sound is on-tap along with deleted scenes, a commentary from the director, and a Making Of featurette.

CATFISH Blu-Ray (**, 88 mins., 2010, PG-13; Universal): Intriguing but smug, unsatisfying “documentary” thriller about a NYC photographer who, along with his filmmaker buddies, decides to find out if a young art prodigy and the family he’s corresponded with on Facebook and other social media sites is for real. “Catfish” is supposedly an entirely true enterprise on the part of filmmakers Henry Joost and Ariel and Yaniv Schulman, but there certainly seems to be an air of artificiality about it, from the reactions of the main “character” (Nev Schulman) to certain sequences seeming more than a bit rehearsed. That said, “Catfish” keeps you watching, even if its ultimate revelations turn out to be predictable. Universal’s Blu-Ray disc boasts an AVC encoded 1080p transfer, DTS Master soundtrack, and extras including an exclusive interview with the filmmakers, who still claim the events seen in the film were entirely true.

ALPHA AND OMEGA Blu-Ray and DVD (**, 78 mins., 2010, PG; Lionsgate): Mediocre but harmless kids animated movie about a pair of mismatched wolves who come together after they’ve been sent off to an Idaho national park as part of a repopulation project. “Alpha and Omega” offers the requisite colorful animation, crazy characters and slapstick humor you’d anticipate from a ‘toon feature like this, though the production values and storytelling of this modestly-budgeted offering from Crest Animation and Lionsgate aren’t on the level of Dreamworks or Disney films. Young ones, though, may not notice the difference, making Lionsgate’s DVD and Blu-Ray sets a potentially worthwhile investment for its intended audience. The Blu-Ray looks and sounds dynamic with its colorful AVC-encoded 1080p transfer and DTS Master Audio soundtrack, with extras including a host of interactive games, a deleted scene plus a DVD and digital copy disc. The DVD includes the same extras with a fine 1.85 (16:9) transfer and 5.1 soundtrack.

THE LAST EXORCISM Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital Copy (**½, 87 mins., 2010, PG-13; Lionsgate): Another overhyped ersatz “supernatural documentary” in line with “Blair Witch” and “Paranormal Activity,” “The Last Exorcism” is nevertheless a fairly effective tale of a rural possession involving a teen girl and a charlatan of a preacher documenting what he believes will be a fraudulent exorcism that proves to be anything but.

Director Daniel Stamm and writers Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland’s movie works best in its initial half-hour, setting the scene with a few effective scares and atmosphere, before the walls come tumbling down in a particularly unsatisfying ending. Still, horror fans are likely to garner sufficient amusement from “The Last Exorcism,” which has been released on Blu-Ray in a BD/DVD/Digital Copy combo pack with a number of extras. On-hand are two different commentary tracks (along with a third commentary from participants who allegedly witnessed a real exorcism), a number of featurettes, audition footage, the trailer, plus an AVC encoded 1080p transfer and active DTS Master Audio soundtrack.

CASE 39 Blu-Ray (**, 109 mins., 2009, R; Paramount): Misfired supernatural thriller was shot in 2007 and spent some time on the shelf before being released to negligible box-office last fall (though it did manage to outgross the higher-profile teen vamp saga “Let Me In,” which opened on the same day).

Director Christian Alvart and writer Ray Wright’s film stars Renee Zellweger (clearly trying to branch out from a series of recent, failed star vehicles) as a social worker whose interest in a troubled young girl (Jodelle Ferland, by now a specialist in this type of role) leads her to a run-in with forces from beyond; Ian McShane, meanwhile, pops up as a cop and Bradley Cooper is uproariously unconvincing as a child psychologist and Zellweger’s would-be love interest.

“Case 39" isn’t an awful film – it simply borders on being one – but it is a by-the-numbers affair only occasionally livened up by some briefly effective scares courtesy of Alvart’s direction.

Paramount’s Blu-Ray disc looks quite nice with its 1080p transfer and DTS Master Audio, while extras include several deleted scenes and several fluffy, promo-flavored featurettes.

PIRANHA 3-D Blu-Ray (***, 90 mins., 2010, R; Sony): Wild and woolly remake of the John Sayles-Joe Dante-Roger Corman ‘78 “Jaws” cash-in ups the ante in terms of effects and gore, but thankfully never loses its focus as far as humor and overall entertainment value goes. It’s once again another tale of prehistoric mutant piranha wreaking havoc on a tourist town, but with lots of gratuitous nudity and a body count that puts its predecessor to shame.

Credit for this frothy, trashy brew goes to director Alexandre Aja, who spices up this modern drive-in flick with plenty of T&A as well as engaging casting, from Elisabeth Shue as the local police sheriff to Ving Rhames, Christopher Lloyd and even Richard Dreyfuss, who pops up in an amusing cameo that clearly salutes his legendary Matt Hooper role in the picture’s opening frames. Nobody is going to call “Piranha” 2010 a good movie, but it’s a purely entertaining one – one that genre fans ought to find especially entertaining as we enter the cold, dark months of winter.

Sony has released “Piranha” in a couple of different renditions on Blu-Ray. There’s a standard BD version with ample extras, as well as a 3-D Blu-Ray which contains both the 3-D version of the film as well as a 2-D edition for standard HDTVs. I took the disc over to a friend’s house and was a bit let down by the quality of the 3-D here, so those with 3-D set-ups might want to rent before buying at least if the only thing they’re interested in are the quality of the 3-D effects. The AVC encoded transfer and DTS soundtrack are otherwise fine, though extras are sparser than the regular Blu-Ray release (just a commentary and 10 featurettes are included, whereas the 2-D only BD also offers deleted scenes).

BURIED Blu-Ray/DVD (**½, 95 mins., 2010, R; Lionsgate): Ryan Reynolds gives a bravura performance as an American truck driver in Iraq who finds himself buried alive in this Spanish thriller from director Rodrigo Cortes. “Buried” generated a lot of buzz last year for its concept and tried to sell its appeal on the basis of Reynolds’ performance, but once the film attempted to gain traction in more widespread release, a larger audience failed to materialize. Certainly Cortes’ direction, which employs various lighting tricks and diverse camera angles, makes the claustrophobia of Reynolds’ predicament as viscerally interesting as possible, and Reynolds’ performance anchors the film, even if its ending felt a bit rushed. Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray includes a making of featurette and the trailer, along with an AVC encoded transfer, DTS Master soundtrack, and a standard DVD edition for good measure.

PAPER MAN Blu-Ray (**½, 110 mins., 2009, R; MPI): Occasionally affecting, somewhat awkward comedic-drama about a Long Island author saddled with writer’s block who attempts to write his next big novel with the help of a local teenager (Emma Stone) and his childhood super-hero, Captain Excellent (a blonde Ryan Reynolds), who appears to try and break him out of the rut he’s in with his life, work and surgeon wife (Lisa Kudrow).

Michelle and Kieran Mulroney wrote and directed “Paper Man,” which bares something of a resemblance to another recent Daniels offering, “The Answer Man,” where the actor played a know-it-all-author struggling to find out the greater meaning of life. Here, Daniels’ downtrodden author struggles to balance his imagination with reality, and while some of those moments between him and Reynolds are amusing, others come off as mawkish, with some darker, “edgy” passages mixed in that feel at odds with the rest of the material. The good news is that Daniels is excellent, as is Stone, giving a nicely textured performance that rises, ultimately, above the material.

MPI’s Blu-Ray disc includes a Making Of, several extended/deleted scenes, and the trailer, plus a 1080p transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack.

BACKDRAFT: Anniversary Edition Blu-Ray (**½, 138 mins., R, 1991, Universal): Though it’s just a late-night cable TV staple these days, Ron Howard’s big-budget 1991 chronicle of firefighters battling both blazes and family issues performed moderately well at the box-office in its day. Kurt Russell and Billy Baldwin are the brothers racing against the clock to save trapped victims from buildings having been set en fuego by a homicidal arsonist; the all-star cast also includes cameos for Robert DeNiro and Donald Sutherland, not to mention relatively thankless, token female parts essayed by Rebecca DeMornay and a particularly miscast Jennifer Jason Leigh.

The script by “Highlander” scribe Gregory Widen is a often melodramatic and never fully believable, but the superb Mikael Salomon cinematography and rousing Hans Zimmer score (when he used to write music in a major key) can still send a shiver down your spine.

Universal’s Blu-Ray offers an excellent, multi-part examination of the film’s creation with cast and crew interviews, plus extensive deleted scenes which were largely incorporated into Universal’s expanded TV broadcasts. Howard doesn’t contribute a commentary but does appear to introduce his film, which looks excellent here in a 1080p VC-1 encode that looks right in line with the older HD-DVD release of the film. Unlike the latter, the Blu-Ray offers a “lossless” DTS Master Audio soundtrack that’s brilliantly mixed.

Well worth seeking out if you’re a “Backdraft” fan.

New From Anchor Bay

JACK GOES BOATING Blu-Ray (***, 91 mins., 2010, R; Anchor Bay): Low-key, effectively acted independent film offers Philip Seymour Hoffman as an NYC limo driver who finds a kindred spirit in a blind date (Amy Ryan) and begins an awkward yet warm courtship in this adaptation of a play by Bob Glaudini.

Glaudini wrote the script for the film version of “Jack Goes Boating,” which marks Philip Seymour Hoffman’s directorial debut. The film does feel stagy, but often in a good way, enabling the actors to build up their roles and set the stage for the eventual release of emotion in its latter stages; Ryan and Hoffman are each excellent and the film comes recommended on the basis of its performances alone.

Anchor Bay’s Blu-Ray edition, out next week, sports deleted scenes and two featurettes, along with a satisfying 1080p transfer and Dolby TrueHD audio.

STONE Blu-Ray (**, 105 mins., 2010, R; Anchor Bay): Melodramatic character drama finds Edward Norton as a convicted arsonist trying to convince a veteran parole officer (Robert DeNiro) that he’s changed his ways, including offering DeNiro the use of his wife (Milla Jovovich).

It’s good to see Jovovich in a non-horror role and she’s quite effective in “Stone” – as are Norton and DeNiro – an uneven dramatic study of two characters with more in common than each might believe, but Angus Maclachlan’s script is awash in some bombastic passages that offsets the intimate nature of its story line.

Anchor Bay’s Blu-Ray debuts in stores on January 25th and includes a Making Of featurette along with trailers, an AVC encoded 1080p transfer and Dolby TrueHD soundtrack.

FIRE ON THE AMAZON Blu-Ray (*½, 78 mins., 1991, R; Anchor Bay): Atrocious Roger Corman production about an Amazon rainforest activist who joins forces with a photographer to expose the murder of a local union leader would likely have never left the VHS format had it not been for the presence of young lead Sandra Bullock. In fact, this Corman New Horizons production actually finds itself being released on Blu-Ray next week (!) from Anchor Bay in a no-frills, low-cost package boasting a Dolby TrueHD soundtrack and 1080p 1.78 widescreen transfer as solid as this low-budget production allows. Both Bullock and director Luis Llosa (“The Specialist”) ended up going on to bigger and better films more worthy of your support than this obscure B-movie that should’ve remained buried at your local Blockbuster.

GUN Blu-Ray (*½, 82 mins., 2010, R; Image): Disposable direct-to-video action fare about a Detroit arms dealer (Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson) being targeted by cops, whose life is saved by an old buddy (Val Kilmer) even though it’s clear his inner-circle has been infiltrated by a snitch. Jessy Terrero’s thriller runs a scant 80 minutes and fails to make good use of a veteran supporting cast (James Remar, Danny Trejo and John Larroquette among them). Image’s Blu-Ray disc of this 2010 production looks good with a 1080p transfer and DTS Master 5.1 sound, but lacks supplemental features.


The success of "Roots" changed the landscape of television. For starters, networks began searching out properties that could become the next big TV mini-series. Shows like "The Winds of War" and "North and South" would become mammoth hits in the early to mid '80s, and none came as well-received or successful as NBC and Paramount’s 1980 undertaking of James Clavell's SHOGUN (***½, 547 mins., 1980; CBS), which has just been re-issued in a 30th Anniversary DVD edition.

A bestselling novel based loosely on actual events, Clavell's book was an international bestseller, but laid dormant for years as it passed from one producer to another before being made. Directors and writers came and went, as did actors: Sean Connery, Albert Finney, and Roger Moore were all viewed as viable candidates for the production, which at first was intended to be a theatrical film.

After "Roots" hit the big time, though, the property headed for the small screen, where NBC and Paramount teamed up with Toho Studios and other Japanese production houses to film the massive project. Shot entirely in Japan for nearly a half a year, “Shogun” was produced and written by Eric Bercovici from Clavell's novel, and directed capably by Jerry London. While the crew faced countless technical challenges (Toho wasn't as technically proficient as Hollywood), they ended up capturing a remarkable tale that would be embraced by the masses.

Clavell's tale of a stranded British sailor (Richard Chamberlain) in 17th century Japan -- who falls in love with a geisha and becomes involved in the land's internal political and military struggles -- may not be a household name these days, yet when it aired over 20 years ago, “Shogun” was nothing short of a phenomenon. NBC recorded some of its highest ratings to date when the mini-series aired, with the show garnering increasing word-of-mouth and growing ratings as it progressed through its separate episodes. The program became such a blockbuster that its creators firmly believe that its popularity enabled the spread of Japanese culture into the American mainstream, from restaurants to sushi bars which are commonplace in our society today.

The show itself is still highly entertaining, if a bit leisurely told. Extremely faithful to its source, “Shogun” is an epic adventure and a historical travelogue of feudal Japan. Chamberlain serves as our guide, learning about the customs of the land while serving up both action (as his character, John Blackthorne, seeks to become the first foreign Samurai) and ample doses of soap opera (his relationship with one of warlord Toshiro Mifune's geishas) along the way.

It's beautifully shot and acted with a terrific cast, most notably John Rhys-Davies as Rodrigues (a Spanish sailor who works for Mifune's Toranga), who resembles Sallah in more ways than one. Musically, Maurice Jarre was tapped to score the mini-series, though this isn't one of Jarre's more inspired efforts: recorded with what sounds like a small orchestra, it's functional but little more, and definitely a bit disappointing under the circumstances (Jarre would more memorably score the disastrous movie version of Clavell's “Tai-Pan” several years later).

Paramount's superb box-set offers five DVDs filled with the complete, unedited contents of the broadcast mini-series, plus a bonus DVD of extras. The full-frame transfers are exceptionally colorful and pristine -- it's doubtful the show ever looked so good on the air in 1980. The original mono sound has been effectively remixed to 5.1, giving a nice stereophonic presence to the soundtrack, which -- as the filmmakers point out in the DVD documentary -- had to be painstakingly re-assembled once the crew returned to the United States (Toho wasn't equipped to pack both sound and picture together when shipping the movie overseas).

The 30th Anniversary DVD supplements reprieve the prior release’s extras, including a terrific documentary overview of the production, sporting interviews with London, Bercovici, Chamberlain, Rhys-Davies and others. It's a fascinating look into the production of the show, with candid observations and revealing anecdotes about the obstacles the cast and crew faced during production. I would have liked some insight into the feature-movie version that was released in Japan (and on video in the US), yet little is divulged -- and there's no mention of Jarre's music, either. Still, it's a fine program that runs over an hour all told, and the DVD also includes three historical featurettes and brief commentary from director Jerry London on select scenes.

ER: Season 14 DVD (2007-08, 825 mins.; Warner): With series vet John Wells reducing his involvement in NBC’s long-running prime-time medical drama, “ER” faced new creative challenges in its 14th season – including a writer’s strike that shortened the year’s intended 22 episodes down to 19. The penultimate season for the series includes the episodes The War Comes Home, In a Different Light, Officer Down, Gravity, Under he Influence, The Test, Blackout, Coming Home, Skye’s the Limit, 300 Patients, Status Quo, Believe the Unseen, Atonement, Owner of a Broken Hear, As the Day She Was Born, Truth Will Out, Under Pressure, Tandem Repeats and the Chicago Way (guest starring Steve Buscemi). 16:9 transfers and 5.1 soundtracks adorn Warner’s package, which also includes highlights from the series’ 300th episode tribute at the Paley Center, a gag reel and unaired scenes.

RULES OF ENGAGEMENT Season 4 DVD (2010, 276 mins.; Sony): David Spade, Patrick Warburton and Oliver Hudson are back in the fourth season of the successful CBS comedy series, which hits DVD in a double-disc set from Sony offering 16:9 (1.78) transfers, 5.1 soundtracks, and not much in the way of extras. The series’ 13 fourth-season episodes include Flirting, Snoozin' for a Bruisin, Atlantic City, Ghost Story, The Four Pillars, 3rd Wheel, Indian Giver, Free Free Time, The Score, The Surrogate, Reunion, Harassment, and They Do.

New From Warner Archive

SWAT KATS The Complete Series DVD (528 mins., 1993-95; Warner Archive): Short-lived animated series aired in syndication from 1993-95 as part of the “Funtastic World of Hanna-Barbera.”

Although the series didn’t last long, it generated a fair amount of fans during its brief tenure, from a Super Nintendo video game to a series of video releases that have commanded a solid coin on the secondary market – that is, until Warner Archive’s new DVD box-set release of the series.

Offering its complete 26-episode run, “Swat Kats” is an action-packed tale of two feline protagonists who live a double life as auto mechanics and freedom fighters who take on a villainous Commander and his minions overruning the futuristic Megakat City.

The production values on the series are in line with what you’d expect from mid ‘90s animation, the plots favoring action over moralizing, and those who grew up on the program – as well as younger viewers – will particularly appreciate this Archive-exclusive release, which boasts satisfying transfers from the original masters and mono sound.

Also new and exclusively available from the Warner Archive is the 1987 TV movie YOGI’S GREAT ESCAPE, a feature-length Hanna-Barbera effort that finds Yogi and Boboo on the run after Yellowstone Park is supposed to be closed down, and our furry protagonists sent off to a zoo. To escape this predicament, Yogi and Boboo hightail it across the country, running into all kinds of other characters from the H-B stable (Quick Draw McGraw, Snagglepuss, etc.) along the way.

Warner’s Archive transfer is full-screen and looks fine, the digital sound also clear, but the animation is fairly basic (as you’d expect) and the entire enterprise padded out to fill a two-hour (with commercials) TV block. Yogi completists and young viewers who might’ve enjoyed the recent live-action/CGI feature might want to snap it up, but it’s far from vintage Hanna-Barbera.

New From NewVideo

BASEBALL’S GREATEST GAMES: 1960 World Series Game 7 DVD (aprx. 4 hours; A&E/NewVideo): Bill Mazeroski’s immortal home run that ended the seventh game of the 1960 World Series receives a full-fledged, terrific Special Edition release from MLB and A&E.

The entire original TV broadcast of the game between the New York Yankees and Pittsburgh Pirates is presented here with both its original commentary as well as an alternate radio play-by-play track, while a second disc contains the official 1960 World Series film along with highlights of both teams, and numerous retrospective interviews with all the principals on both the winning and losing sides (Mazeroski, Hal Smith, Bob Skinner, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, and Bobby Richardson among others).

THE UNIVERSE Season 5 Blu-Ray and DVD (aprx. 6 hours, 2010; History/NewVideo)
THE UNIVERSE 7 Wonders of the Solar System 3-D Blu-Ray (47 mins.; History/NewVideo)

Eight episodes comprise the fifth season of the popular History Channel series “The Universe,” following actual Mars rovers to NASA probes which document the behavior of comets. Shows in Season 5 include “7 Wonders of the Solar System,” “Mars: The New Evidence,” “Magnetic Storm,” “Time Travel,” “Secrets of the Space Probes,” “Asteroid Attack,” “Total Eclipse” and “Dark Future of the Sun.” 16:9 transfers and 2.0 stereo soundtracks adorn the double-disc DVD set from A&E, while DTS Master Audio tracks and vivid AVC encodes are on tap in the Blu-Ray edition.

Also newly available is the first 3-D “Universe” Blu-Ray release, “7 Wonders of the Solar System,” an episode from Season 5 which features visually compelling footage from the series and repurposes it for 3-D. Those with 3-D set-ups are sure to enjoy the virtual trip through our solar system (and from what I sampled on my friend’s TV, it looks good), though the trip doesn’t last long at just 47 minutes. An excellent AVC encoded transfer and DTS Master soundtrack are on-hand in the single disc BD package.

TOP SHOT Season 1 (aprx. 8 hours, 2009; History/NewVideo): From William Tell to Annie Oakley, professional marksmen are the subject of this History Channel series, which blends history with a reality show/contest wherein 16 participants vie for the honor of “Top Shot” (and a $100,000 prize).

History’s Season 1 set of “Top Shot,” hosted by former “Survivor” contestant Colby Donaldson, includes over an hour of unseen additional footage, contestant bios and elimination interviews, along with 2.0 stereo soundtracks and widescreen transfers.

CRISS ANGEL: MINDFREAK Season 6 DVD (aprx. 4 hours, 2010; A&E/NewVideo): Season 6 of the magical A&E reality series sports six one-hour specials with Criss performing more death-defying feats including a 4200 foot jump across the Grand Canyon on a “new age” motorcycle; a “mass vanish” of 100 people; and a re-staging of a memorable Houdini stunt. Widescreen transfers, 2.0 stereo soundtracks and a behind-the-scenes featurette mark this double-disc set from A&E.

LENNON NYC Blu-Ray (115 mins., 2010; A&E/NewVideo): John Lennon fans will love this well-produced documentary about the Beatle’s arrival in NYC in 1971, his subsequent recordings and life at home with Yoko Ono. Vintage photographs, interviews with family and friends, and glorious HD mastering of both the music and the visuals make this doc (recently broadcast on PBS) highly recommended. NewVideo’s Blu-Ray disc includes a 1080p transfer and 5.1 DTS Master Audio soundtrack, plus an extra 20 minutes of interviews on the supplemental side.

SEX & DRUGS & ROCK & ROLL DVD (115 mins., 2009; Tribeca/NewVideo): Andy Serkis plays British punk rocker Ian Dury in this 2009 effort from “Road to Guantanamo” co-direcor Mat Whitecross. Naomie Harris, Ray Winstone, and Olivia Williams lead the terrific supporting cast in this Tribeca selection which arrives on DVD with deleted scenes, commentary, an Tribeca interview with the director, a 16:9 transfer and 5.1 soundtrack.

BILL WITHERS-STILL BILL DVD (76 mins., 2009; Docudrama/NewVideo): The iconic R&B singer is profiled in this fine documentary offering a glimpse into Withers’ life with performances of his hits “Lean on Me,” “Just The Two of Us,” “Lovely Day” and “Ain’t No Sunshine.” Extra interviews and music performances accompany a 16:9 transfer and 5.1 soundtrack.

ZORRO THE COMPLETE SERIES DVD (aprx. 34 hours, 1990-92; A&E/NewVideo): New World Television-produced Family Channel series, shot in Madrid, reaches DVD in a lavish complete series box-set. A&E’s 15-disc set includes all four seasons from the early ‘90s “Zorro” in full-screen transfers with stereo sound and a bonus disc of extras including rare behind-the-scenes footage; the Douglas Fairbanks classic “The Mark of Zorro”; trailers; more from the “Zorro Archives”; and a never-before-seen 1987 pilot for a busted series that nevertheless served as a framework for this series.

Also on DVD

THERE’S NOTHING OUT THERE! DVD (91 mins., 1990, R; Troma): One of the earliest “self referential” horror flicks, which genre authority Joe Bob Briggs claims was a definite influence on Kevin Williamson’s “Scream,” at last gets a long-overdue DVD Special Edition in a terrific double-disc set from Troma Team.

Director Rolfe Kanefsky’s film offers a new intro from Troma’s Lloyd Kaufman; a featurette with Kanefsky and commentary track; the director’s short film “Mood Boobs”; a behind-the-scenes featurette; cast auditions; pre-production footage and video storyboards; animation test footage, deleted shots; the trailer; a remastered 1.78 widescreen transfer and stereo soundtrack.

THE CHAINSAW SALLY SHOW Season One DVD (275 mins., 2009; Troma): Exploitation vet Herschell Gordon Lewis presents this insane, off-the-wall web series (a continuation of the 2007 horror feature “Chainsaw Sally”) about a small-town librarian who enjoys hacking up local scum in her off-hours. If this is your cup of tea, by all means go for Troma’s gory two-disc DVD set, which sports two behind-the-scenes featurettes, theme song music video, and another intro from Lloyd Kaufman.

NITE TALES THE SERIES DVD (120 mins., 2010, Entertainment One): Urban horror anthology series primarily boasts a group of B-listers (Gary Busey, Tommy “Tiny” Lister, Brigitte Nielsen) in a series of tales introduced by Flavor Flav’s “Time Keeper,” serving as this low-rent “Tales From the Crypt”’s host. Entertainment One’s DVD includes 16:9 transfers and a behind-the-scenes featurette.

LOVE HURTS DVD (95 mins., 2008, PG-13; Entertainment One): Indie romantic comedy stars Richard E. Grant (always good to see him on-screen again) as a married man whose wife (Carrie-Ann Moss) leaves him, forcing his teen son (Johnny Pacar) to help him become popular with the ladies once again. A good supporting cast including Jenna Elfman, Janeane Garofalo and Camryn Manheim appear in Barra Grant’s film, which hits DVD from E One with a 16:9 (1.85) transfer, 5.1 soundtrack, cast/crew interviews and behind-the-scenes content.

LEBANON DVD (94 mins., 2009, R; Sony): Israeli-made, acclaimed tale about a tank battalion in the first Lebanon War arrives on DVD this month from Sony. Samuel Maoz’s film attempts to do for tanks what “Das Boot” did for U-boats, and hits disc in a 16:9 (1.78) transfer with 5.1 audio in Hebrew with English subtitles. A Blu-Ray version is also available.

NEXT TIME: Shout Factory's latest, including the newest Roger Corman Double Features! 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!

Copyright 1997-2011 All Reviews, Site and Design by Andre Dursin