1/18/11 Edition Twitter: THEAISLESEATCOM
January Chill Edition
Plus: Upcoming Blu-Ray Catalog News

While many experts have been forecasting doom and gloom for DVD and physical media sales, 2011 is already shaping up to be a huge year for Blu-Ray owners. Not only has George Lucas finally announced that the “Star Wars” series will be heading to Blu-Ray this September, several independent labels are jumping onboard the HD bandwagon, with obscure cult titles like Al Adamson’s “Carnival Magic” and noir favorites “The Stranger” and “Kansas City Confidential” coming up in the next few weeks, as well as more Paramount titles from Legend Films.

The latter include the following double-feature Blu-Ray packs, due out sometime in March:

-THOSE DARING YOUNG MEN IN THEIR JAUNTY JALOPIES and HOUDINI, being released as a “Tony Curtis Double Feature.”

-HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL and LAST MAN ON EARTH, bundled as a “Vincent Price Double Feature.”

-THE SKULL and THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH, a “Cult Horror” two-pack.

-And early ‘80s horror spoofs STUDENT BODIES and JEKYLL & HYDE TOGETHER AGAIN.

I’m told there may be more to come thereafter, which would be only more good news for cult-movie fans desiring vintage content in high-def.

New on Blu-Ray

RAGING BULL 30th Anniversary Edition Blu-Ray/DVD (****, 129 mins., 1980, R; MGM/Fox): Martin Scorsese’s classic portrait of boxer Jake La Motta (an Oscar-winning performance by Robert DeNiro) hits Blu-Ray for the second time with new extras and what appears to be the same vivid AVC-encoded transfer from its prior BD edition, which beautifully captures the potent images of the director and cinematographer Michael Chapman, without glossing over the movie’s crispness (little noise-reduction is seemingly on-hand here).

The DTS Master Audio sound is likewise impressive when called upon, while new interviews with Scorsese and DeNiro and four new featurettes are on-hand along with footage of Cathy Moriarty from the “Tonight Show” circa 1981. Vintage extras include three commentaries by Martin Scorsese and editor Thelma Schoonmaker (from the original laserdisc edition), plus assorted cast and crew members, and screenwriters Paul Schrader and Mardik Martin, plus La Motta himself; a four-part Making Of, totaling nearly 90 minutes; a vintage La Motta newreel footage, and another, 30-minute “The Bronx Bull” behind-the-scenes featurette. Highly recommended!

DANCES WITH WOLVES 20th Anniversary Blu-Ray (***½, 234 mins., 1990, PG-13; MGM/Fox): Kevin Costner’s multiple Oscar-winner felt just a little bit overrated to me upon its original release, and these days, it’s even harder to grasp how Martin Scorsese’s classic “Goodfellas” wasn’t honored more than Costner’s lovingly-crafted yet sentimental 1990 adaptation of Michael Blake’s novel. Still, there’s plenty in “Dances With Wolves” to admire, from Dean Semler’s gorgeous lensing to John Barry’s glorious score, one of the finest of his career and the sort we truly don’t hear anymore.

MGM’s Blu-Ray of “Dances With Wolves” offers a sturdy AVC-encoded 1080p transfer of the film that looks generally excellent, freed from excessive DNR though in terms of overall detail, it’s not in a league with the best Blu-Ray catalog transfers (“Braveheart”) we’ve seen. The DTS Master sound is satisfying enough, though it’s nothing extraordinary.

Nearly an hour of footage has been added to Costner’s three-hour western, as screened during ABC’s initial network TV showings in the ‘90s. Some of it is interesting, but a lot of it is extraneous, making the absence of the original cut a drawback (fans of the movie would do well to import the region-free UK Blu-Ray release from Warner Home Video, which not only contains the theatrical version but is also quite affordable).

Extras include a couple of Blu-Ray exclusive interactive features along with numerous extras from the prior DVD editions. The latter include multiple commentary tracks, an 80-minute documentary with interviews of all the principal players in front of and behind the camera, including Costner and composer John Barry (not to mention a hilariously bad, Lite FM music video of Barry’s “John Dunbar Theme”), a vintage Making Of, photo montage and other goodies housed in the set’s second platter.   

SECRETARIAT Blu-Ray/DVD (***, 123 mins., 2010, PG; Disney): Entertaining, leisurely paced chronicle of the last horse to win the coveted Triple Crown, Secretariat, and its owner’s (Diane Lane) move from domestic housewife to savvy businesswoman doesn’t offer any surprises – but how could it when the outcome is pre-ordained?

Randall Wallace, screenwriter of “Braveheart,” is nevertheless able to supply a nostalgic trip back to the late ‘60s and early ‘70s as his “Secretariat” documents the rise to fame of one of horse racing’s legendary champions, stopping along the way for scenes involving Lane and her family, along with flamboyant trainer John Malkovich, who helps the horse’s female owner overcome sexual bias outside the track and turn the horse itself into an all-time icon after winning the Triple Crown in 1973.

Superb cinematography from Dean Semler makes “Secretariat” one of Disney’s better sports movie offerings, ranking with the Mark Wahlberg starrer “Invincible” as a sturdy, if formulaic, sports pic, and a film that ended up doing well theatrically ($59 million) after having opened quietly (not helped by Disney releasing it during football season!).

Disney’s Blu-Ray looks outstandingly detailed in a glorious AVC encoded 1080p transfer. DTS Master Audio sound is nicely mixed, while several extras include a handful of deleted scenes, commentary from Wallace, a look at Secretariat’s actual 1973 Preakness win from different angles, behind-the-scenes featurettes, a music video, and a copy of the DVD for good measure.
AFTERDARK HORRORFEST Blu-Ray Double Features (Lionsgate): Lionsgate’s line of indie horror releases finds its way to Blu-Ray in a number of double-feature packs (the individual movies have been covered here before so check the index for those reviews).

THE GRAVES/ZOMBIES OF MASS DESTRUCTION (88/89 mins.), BORDERLAND/CRAZY EIGHTS (105/80 mins.), THE GRAVEDANCERS/WICKED LITTLE THINGS (96/94 mins.), and THE BROKEN/BUTTERFLY EFFECT 3: REVELATIONS (93/90 mins.) all offer AVC encoded 1080p transfers and DTS Master Audio soundtracks and all the extras (commentaries, featurettes) that graced each film’s prior DVD editions.

SAW 3-D: THE FINAL CHAPTER 3-D Blu-Ray (*½, 90 mins., 2010, Unrated; Lionsgate): Jigsaw and friends are back in the seventh and (so they claim) final installment in Lionsgate’s long-running horror series, which made the leap to 3-D for its last hurrah last October. The technical element of the picture aside, there’s little else to remark about in this tired go-round, which brings back several stars from prior installments including Tobin Bell’s lead big bad, Betsy Russell (who looks great though she’s had so much work done she barely resembles her ‘80s “Tomboy” self), Costas Mandylor and even Cary “Mr. Puffy” Elwes, returning as the character he essayed in the original film. While writers Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan, along with director Kevin Greutert, manage to make the plot somewhat more accessible than the prior installments, this is a still a “fans only” type of entertainment, though the 3-D effects as seen in Lionsgate’s BD release are actually very good (kudos again to my friend Kevin Domanican for letting me take a gander at his 3-D set-up). DTS Master Audio sound, an AVC encoded transfer, a DVD copy, a 2-D version of the film and a host of special features (two commentaries, deleted/extended scenes, the trailer, and a nostalgic look back at prior death sequences from the series!) compliment this Unrated package.

WHITE WEDDING Blu-Ray (98 mins., 2008, PG-13; Image): South African import was a big hit in its native land, following the misadventures of a groom and his best man on a road trip across the country to get to his wedding on time. Nice location shooting and a lot of good humor and intentions mark this mostly formulaic affair executive-produced by bestselling author Ken Follett (!). There’s no question that the film struck a chord with its domestic audience, though it’s difficult to envision this critically dubbed “‘Hangover’ without steroids” will attract anywhere near that kind of following here. Image’s Blu-Ray disc does offer a pleasant 1.78 HD transfer along with DTS Master Audio sound.

DEAD SPACE AFTERMATH Blu-Ray (78 mins., 2011; Anchor Bay): Electronic Arts’ video game “Dead Space” offered a pleasingly creepy mix of action and “survival horror,” and since “Dead Space 2" is about to hit video game platforms worldwide, it makes sense that EA and Anchor Bay have teamed up for an animated sequel to their prior “Dead Space” video movie. Mixing traditional animation with CGI, “ Aftermath” picks up right from the end of the first video game and serves as a precursor to “Dead Space 2,” with a rescue ship sent to find out what happened to hero Isaac Clarke on the surface of Aegis VII. Decent animation and a few scares mark this Blu-Ray release from Anchor Bay, which ought to please fans of the game with its vivid 1080p transfer and Dolby TrueHD soundtrack. There’s not much in the way of extras outside of a game trailer for the sequel. 

New From Shout! Factory

ROGER CORMAN’S CULT CLASSICS: After a series of terrific releases in 2010, Shout’s first Roger Corman discs of the new year offer more nostalgia for genre fans along with terrific extras.

The superior new package is clearly the “Triple Feature” SCI-FI CLASSICS set offering a trio of vintage Corman fare: the 1957 drive-in (and later “Creature Feature”) staple ATTACK OF THE CRAB MONSTERS with Russell Johnson (best known as “Gilligan’s Island”’s Professor), Richard Garland and Pamela Duncan fighting crabs mutated via Pacific atomic testing; the original 1958 NOT OF THIS EARTH with Garland, Paul Birch and Morgan Jones, which was later remade as a vehicle for Traci Lords (and released on DVD last year by Shout); and the 1958 WAR OF THE SATELLITES, boasting a top-billed Dick Miller in a sci-fi fantasy produced and directed (as are the prior two pictures) by Corman, who also appears in a cameo.

Shout’s remastered transfers (full-screen on “War of the Satellites,” 1.78 16:9 on “Crab Monsters” and “Not of this Earth”) are excellent given the age of the respective elements, while wonderful new special features include commentaries on “Crab Monsters” and “Not of this Earth” with “Universal Horrors” authors Tom Weaver and John and Mark Brunas; 25 Corman trailers, from these ‘50s sci-fi flicks all the way up to “Frankenstein Unbound”; and a terrific “Salute to Roger Corman” featuring new interviews with Corman, Peter Fonda, Joe Dante and others.

Somewhat less in stature is the Double Feature pairing of “Jaws”-influenced shockers UP FROM THE DEPTHS and DEMON OF PARADISE – a wacky duo of Corman B-efforts (or is it Z-efforts?) co-produced by Cirio Santiago and each offering a tropical setting. That’s the good news.

The bad news (at least for non-shlock fans) are that the movies are terrible, especially the hideous 1979 “Depths” which offers a particularly annoyed prehistoric fish wreaking havoc near a vacation resort. Sam Bottoms gets top billing in this almost unfathomably laughable film (even for Corman standards) which offers garbled dialogue almost entirely looped in post-production, a ridiculous musical soundtrack, and a bizarre attempt to mix comedy in with the gore. Not director Charles Griffith’s finest hour and 25 minutes, that’s for sure.

“Demon of Paradise” thankfully fares somewhat better – a 1987 direct-to-video affair that’s more or less a remake of the above, this time with the killer being a land-dwelling creature as opposed to a tired old crustacean.

Both movies have been treated to remastered 16:9 (1.78) transfers with extras including original trailers and TV spots, which manage to be just as entertaining as the films and only occupy a few minutes of your time.

Shout! also has two terrific TV on DVD releases out this month.

DARK SKIES will certainly be of interest for sci-fi fans – a short-lived NBC series, launched right after “The X-Files” took off for Fox, that tried to capitalize on the success of Chris Carter’s series.

Set during the ‘60s, “Dark Skies” is an alien invasion thriller starring Eric Close and Megan Ward as a couple who try and stop an extraterrestrial threat while living through a number of historical events with real-life figures from Carl Sagan to Jim Morrison appearing as supporting characters, and past UFO mythology from Roswell to cattle mutations raised as story lines along the way.

It was an intriguing premise but “Dark Skies” never caught on during the 1996-97 season, despite decent backing from NBC and the presence of Jeri Ryan, who comes in and essentially supplants Ward during the latter episodes of the series.

Shout’s six-disc DVD box-set contains the complete series of the program in satisfying full-screen transfers and stereo soundtracks, with extras including the international pilot, multiple featurettes, cast/crew commentaries, network promos, a proposal for the unproduced second season, the original sales presentation and a glossary from creators Bryce Zabel and Brent Friedman.

On a much lighter notes comes the first season of ‘80s sitcom staple WEBSTER, the ABC family comedy with then-married real life couple Alex Karras and Susan Clark starring as newlyweds who find out they’re the legal guardians of a young African-American child, played by the precocious Emmanuel Lewis.

Less “edgy” than “Diff’rent Strokes,” “Webster” was alternately saccharine or annoying (I always preferred the adventures of Arnold and the gang myself), but love it or hate it, it was certainly an emotional show that many kids enjoyed back in the ‘80s, with the series running for six years between 1983-89 on ABC.

Shout’s double-disc set houses the series’ complete first season in transfers as solid as its videotaped origins afford, though extras are disappointingly limited to a trivia game.

Last but not least, Shout’s newest “Marvel Knights” animated feature is a stylish new adaptation of BLACK PANTHER (132 mins., 2010) with Djimon Hounsou voicing the fan-favorite Marvel hero produced by Reginald Hudlin and comic book great John Romita, Jr. Shout’s DVD includes a music video, trailers and a Hudlin featurette, looking back on the character’s legacy.

New From Criterion

Criterion’s first new Blu-Ray discs of 2011 include a pair of Samuel Fuller cult offerings.

The pulpy SHOCK CORRIDOR (101 mins.) stars Peter Breck as an overly intrepid reporter who decides to investigate a murder by being committed to a mental institution to get close to, and question, three inmates who witnessed the crime, but ultimately pays a steep price in his pursuit of success.

Fuller’s low-budget 1963 Allied Artists release is a favorite among the director’s devotees, with good performances from Breck and Constance Towers as his girlfriend, who tries to warn her man of the possible ramifications from his quest.

Criterion’s Blu-Ray edition offers a new interview with Constance Towers, along with a 1996 documentary on Fuller’s career, the trailer, an informative booklet and a crisp, really cracking AVC encoded 1080p transfer with uncompressed mono audio.

Produced the following year, THE NAKED KISS (90 mins.) is even better, with Towers taking the lead in what’s understandably regarded as her finest performance: a hooker who tries to go straight in a quaint small town, becoming a nurse for handicapped kids and engaged to a member of the town’s wealthiest family. Of course, things don’t quite go as planned, and Towers’ heroine ultimately has to prove her innocence to a group of single-minded, judgmental townsfolk.

With terrific cinematography by Stanley Cortez and an appropriately smoky score by Paul Dunlap, “The Naked Kiss” is terrific Fuller through and through, raising all kinds of then-taboo subjects with just enough of an exploitation feel, and it’s enhanced even more by Criterion’s meticulous AVC encoded Blu-Ray 1080p transfer.

Another interview with Towers is on-hand in the extras, alongside extracts from 1983 “South Bank Show” dedicated to Fuller, a 1967 French TV interview with the director, a 1987 conversation with Fuller (also from French TV), and the original trailer. Recommended!

New on DVD

JUSTIFIED Season 1 DVD (552 mins., 2010; Sony): Timothy Olyphant is tremendous in this popular F/X series as a U.S. marshal who’s reassigned to his Kentucky mining-town home after a controversial shooting in Miami; trouble, naturally, follows from all kinds of foes, some of them familiar to Olyphant’s unflappable Raylan Givens.

Graham Yost (“Speed”) developed “Justified” from an Elmore Leonard character first introduced in the story “Fire in the Hole,” and it’s a perfect vehicle for Olyphant, who’s suave, confident and believable in a terrific lead part. The series mixes humor with some melodrama and lots of action, with family drama and some heart included for ample measure. It’s no wonder why the show has become one of the more popular shows on cable these days.

Sony’s DVD of “Justified”’s first season includes fine 16:9 transfers, 5.1 soundtracks and a number of extras, including four cast/crew commentaries, a handful of featurettes and a music video.

NEXT TIME: RED on Blu-Ray. 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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