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January Chill Edition
PICNIC, WINGS Headline Catalog Faves in HD

We’re only a few weeks into the new year but already a variety of marvelous catalog titles have made their HD debuts on Blu-Ray, with Twilight Time kicking things off with a spectacular presentation of the 1955 romantic melodrama PICNIC (***½, 115 mins.).

Gorgeously shot in Cinemascope by the great James Wong Howe, “Picnic” is a blast of entertainment that could only have been made during the Golden Age: a tale of a one-time college man who was a hit on the gridiron but who has since hit the skids. Seeking a fresh start, Hal Carter (William Holden) heads to rural Kansas – the very heart of the “heartland” – in order to track down a fellow alumnus and friend (Cliff Robertson). In the process, he walks into a precarious group of women living in this modest yet enticing “all-American” town, including a single mother (Betty Field) raising two daughters –  the beautiful yet supposedly dumb beauty queen Madge (Kim Novak) and her bookwormish younger sister Millie (Susan Strasberg). Also living in their home is aggressive schoolteacher Rosemary (Rosalind Russell), bordering on the spinster-ish but still courted by the beaten-down Howard (Arthur O’Connell). Hal’s arrival causes a number of different reactions from the ladies, who view the handsome yet troubled young man from decidedly contrasting viewpoints.

Joshua Logan directed this Columbia production, an adaptation of William Inge’s Pulitzer-winning play scripted by Daniel Taradash for the screen. Some of the stage conventions remain in the film version of “Picnic,” but Logan – who also helmed the Broadway play – vividly opens up the material for glorious Cinemascope, with a good portion of the film having been shot on location, adding to the film’s atmosphere. Seen today, the movie doesn’t feel like a real evocation of time and place – in some ways the setting comes off like Mayberry or the Gary, Indiana portrayed in “The Music Man” – but the emotional dimension of the film is fascinating, a mixture of old-fashioned Hollywood with a sexual tension that threatens to boil over at any second (that it never really does gives it something of a more satisfying romantic quality than expected). The performances are also wonderful, with Holden deftly conveying the downtrodden (and yet sympathetic) Hal, Novak illuminating the screen and fine supporting turns from a young Strasberg and particularly O’Connell adding even more pleasure to a film that is enhanced all the more by its high-definition presentation.

Twilight Time’s BD package offers a spectacular AVC encoded 1080p transfer from the Sony vaults. This transfer is just outstanding in every facet, marked by strong colors, crisp detail and an equally effective DTS MA 5.1 track that does justice to George Duning’s admired score (an isolated score track is also on-hand). The original trailer and Julie Kirgo’s notes put “Picnic” into the proper perspective as a satisfying example of ‘50s Hollywood filmmaking at its finest (and that last aerial shot is phenomenal!).

Also new from Twilight Time on Blu-Ray (and likewise limited to 3000 copies) is THE ROOTS OF HEAVEN (**½, 126 mins.), John Huston’s 1958 adaptation of Romain Gary’s prescient novel about an idealist (Trevor Howard) trying to wage a campaign to save the elephants in French Equatorial Africa. Howard’s aspirations – much like the ill-fated heroes of “The Man Who Would Be King” among other Huston pictures – don’t quite succeed as intended, despite the efforts of a rag-tag team that assists him, including Orson Welles an American TV commentator and Errol Flynn as an over-the-hill career military man.

“The Roots of Heaven” was, like many of Huston’s films, shot on location – in this instance what is now Chad, where Julie Kirgo notes that daytime temps were into the 120's and seldom fell below 100 at night. This took a toll on the production team and, when compounded with a script that Huston later lamented wasn’t quite up to speed, resulted in a film that’s rough around the edges and doesn’t entirely come together. That said, the Cinemascope-lensed picture does have some strong individual moments and a fine Malcolm Arnold score, making it of sufficient interest to Golden Age film buffs.

The 1080p AVC encoded transfer of “The Roots of Heaven” that Twilight Time had to work with here isn’t on the level of “Picnic” (which Sony had fully restored) or TT’s other Blu-Ray efforts, mainly because the print isn’t in as pristine condition. That said, it is crisp and freed from any use of noise reduction, and the 2.0 DTS MA track conveys Arnold’s score effectively; another isolated score track prepared by Mike Matessino rounds out the release.

Some of the big studios are also jumping into the fray with major catalog releases this month – surprisingly so, in the case of Paramount’s WINGS (**½, 144 mins., 1927), the very first Best Picture Oscar winner with Clara Bow, Charles (Buddy) Rogers, and Richard Arlen (in addition to a brief bit from Gary Cooper) that’s been painstakingly restored.

This silent epic boasts some truly remarkable aerial photography – when you see the film’s rival romantic leads in the air, it’s not a green-screen! – in addition to a clunky story that, at least, was fresh for its time (consider that Michael Bay’s “Pearl Harbor” essentially reworked it decades and decades later). That said, “Wings”’ plot comes off as threadbare for a film that lasts for nearly 2 ½ hours, but I nevertheless commend Paramount for issuing a silent movie – and on Blu-Ray – in the type of quality presentation that they have here (we certainly could use more of them in high-def).

Presented in a color-tinted 1.33 aspect ratio, “Wings” looks great considering its age, and on the audio side, sounds even better. A traditional pipe-organ score by Gaylord Carter is on-hand, but many viewers will likely opt for the 5.1 DTS MA track including a fine J.S. Zamecnik orchestral score, remixed with sound effects by Ben Burtt. While it might seem sacrilegious to add sound FX into a silent movie, Burtt’s enhancements aren’t overwhelming (it’s not as if he turns the film into “Star Wars”) and help break up the film’s length. Three featurettes detailing the film’s groundbreaking aerial cinematography and its restoration complement a release that ought to appeal to hard-core silent movie aficionados.

Universal, meanwhile, kicks off their 100-year celebration of studio classics on Blu-Ray and DVD with TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (****, 129 mins.), Robert Mulligan’s celebrated 1962 cinematic adaptation of Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.

Needless to say, the movie itself needs little introduction. Gregory Peck’s Oscar-winning, marvelous performance as crusading attorney Atticus Finch grounds this memorable, all-time classic film, which manages to capture Lee’s prose (courtesy of Horton Foote’s script) while simultaneously becoming a living, breathing film all its own. Peck’s performance, the remarkable work of young Mary Badham as his feisty daughter Scout (who narrates the film as a remembrance of her childhood), the haunting cinematography of Russell Harlan, and the spellbinding, gorgeous score by Elmer Bernstein all culminate in one of the cinema’s greatest achievements.

Universal’s Blu-Ray edition is an improvement on their earlier 2005 “Legacy” edition DVD, though it is not flawless. The film was last remastered for 16:9 TVs in 2005, and the Blu-Ray’s VC-1 encoded HD transfer looks to have been derived from that master, with the expected gain from high-def evident. Unfortunately, some noise reduction also seems to have been used here – it’s certainly not an abomination on the level of “Patton” or Universal’s prior “Out of Africa” misfire, but there is some kind of filtering going on that prevents the image from appearing completely natural. On the audio side, both the original mono mix and a 5.1 DTS MA soundtrack add a fresh dimension to Bernstein’s original score. The dialogue, though, sometimes seems a bit “airy” on the 5.1 track, so most viewers may prefer to stick to the original mono for that very reason.

Extras have been ported over from the prior Legacy DVD, highlighted by Barbara Kopple’s feature-length documentary “A Conversation With Gregory Peck.” This 1999 look at Peck’s travels across the globe during his one-man tour (engaging in Q&A sessions with audiences) is a revealing portrait of an actor and a family man, as distinguished and classy off-screen as he was on it. Filled with numerous insights into Peck’s life, this is a truly special feature that’s a perfect compliment to Charles Kiselyak’s “Fearful Symmetry,” a compelling, flavorful examination of the impact of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” wisely reprised from the original DVD.

Other special features include a 1999 Today Show interview with Mary Badham; Peck’s Oscar acceptance speech; a segment from Peck’s AFI Lifetime Achievement award; lobby cards with a note from Harper Lee; the original trailer and Mulligan and Pakula’s 1998 commentary track.

Also New on Blu-Ray

THE THING Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital Copy (**½, 103 mins., 2011, R; Universal): Respectful, and nicely mounted, prequel to John Carpenter’s 1982 take on the John W. Campbell, Jr. story “Who Goes There?” offers decent monster thrills on an old-fashioned level.

The lovely Mary Elizabeth Winstead stars as an American scientist whisked away to Antarctica in order to study a Norwegian crew’s find of the century: a massive alien craft entombed in the ice...and a survivor frozen nearby, outside the craft. Unbeknownst to Winstead and her mostly nameless companions, once the extraterrestrial thaws out, it’s able to swallow its prey whole and reanimate itself in the guise of another life form.

Eric Heisserer’s script includes a couple of nice touches that Carpenter and his screenwriter Bill Lancaster missed in the ‘82 version – namely, that the alien can’t replicate inorganic matter like tooth fillings – but for the most part is content to rehash its predecessor’s principal set-pieces, thereby serving as more of a remake than anything else. Consequently, fans of the original “Thing” are likely to be bored with what amounts to a serviceable, yet uninspired, reworking of scenes from the Carpenter film (the blood test, etc.), though at least director Matthjs van Hejningen visually pays tribute to its predecessor with an effective mix of CGI and Alec Gillis/Tom Woodruff make-up replicating Rob Bottin’s legendary work from the 1982 picture. The human element of the film, though, never pays off with threadbare character beats, though I’d be happy watching Winstead in pretty much anything – she manages to be attractive and convincing here, and the only distinguishing element in an otherwise bland acting ensemble.

Universal’s Blu-Ray of the 2011 “Thing” looks tremendous with a high-quality VC-1 encoded transfer. The DTS MA sound is constantly active with Marco Beltrami’s score boasting the occasional flourish of Ennio Morricone’s 1982 theme. Extras include a few deleted scenes, featurettes and commentary from the filmmakers, along with a digital copy and standard DVD edition.

DREAM HOUSE Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital Copy (*½, 92 mins., 2011, PG-13; Universal): Convoluted misfire from director Jim Sheridan stars a mopey (when isn’t he?) Daniel Craig as a workaholic New Yorker who quits his job in order to spend more time with wife Rachel Weisz and their two young daughters. It doesn’t take long for you to figure, though, that things aren’t all right in suburbia, as Craig seems to have blocked out a family tragedy that he may or may not be responsible for. Neither Craig, Weisz or co-star Naomi Watts did promotion for this box-office flop, which reportedly was cut down in the editing room into a wholly uninteresting finished product that makes little sense. Universal brings “Dream House” to Blu-Ray next week in a combo pack that sheds little light on the movie’s troubled production, offering just a couple of fluffy featurettes, a VC-1 encoded 1080p transfer, DTS MA soundtrack (sporting a nice enough John Debney score), standard DVD and a digital copy.

DRIVE Blu-Ray (**½, 100 mins., 2011, R; Sony): Hailed by critics more than embraced by audiences, Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive” is likely to further polarize viewers when it hits Blu-Ray next week.

Ryan Gosling plays a mostly-mute driver in a dreamy, noir-soaked Los Angeles, pulling off various contracts for hire and trying to keep a low profile whenever he’s not working as a stunt-driver on locally shot films. His latest gig includes working for a local mobster (an effective Albert Brooks), but when the recently-paroled husband of his good-looking neighbor (Carey Mulligan) gets out of the big house and ends up owing a debt, both elements fuse together and cause Gosling’s man-of-few-words to suddenly become a man of action.

The first 10 minutes of “Drive” are outstanding – economically told with little dialogue, and yet highly suspenseful as Refn follows Gosling through the streets of L.A., trying to get to safety with a pair of thieves who just pulled off a heist nervously sitting in the back seat. This sequence is so well-done that the rest of the picture doesn’t come close to matching its intensity – for all of its great visuals (courtesy of vet cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel), pulsating soundtrack (kudos to Cliff Martinez) and good performances, “Drive” settles into a predictable story involving Gosling and his relationship with Mulligan, who’s almost too cutey-pie to be believable as a struggling single mom. With few options available to its hero, the movie culminates in an outcome so routine that you can almost hear the groans coming from audiences expecting something more than its “driving down the ambiguous road of life” ending. With a stronger story than what Hossein Amini’s script gives him, Refn could’ve had a legitimate cult classic on his hands here – as it is, the movie comes off as Quentin Tarantino described it in his Best of 2011 list, as a “Nice Try.”

Sony’s Blu-Ray is excellent, at least, including a perfectly-hued 1080p transfer with DTS MA audio, four featurettes and a documentary on the director.

THE DOUBLE Blu-Ray (*½, 98 mins., 2011, PG-13; Image): Richard Gere and Topher Grace in a film about a pair of mismatched government agents trying to track down a Soviet assassin doesn’t necessarily scream “direct to video,” though as you might expect, “The Double” didn’t land a theatrical release for a reason.

Michael Brandt directed and co-wrote (with Derek Haas) this disappointing and convoluted – not to mention unbelievable – thriller with Gere’s retired CIA operative teaming with Grace’s hotheaded (of course) FBI agent in order to find a Russian operative named “Cassius” who seems to have resurfaced after years of inactivity. Martin Sheen co-stars in a good-looking film with a number of pros behind the camera (composer John Debney, cinematographer Jeffrey L. Kimball), but the story is never convincing and the “twist” obvious from miles away.

Image’s Blu-Ray of “The Double” includes a commentary with Brandt and Hass, a featurette and the trailer. The 1080p transfer and DTS MA soundtrack are both just fine.

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital Copy (**, 83/93 mins., 2011, R/Unrated; Paramount): Another massive box-office smash produced on a shoestring budget, the third go-around in the “Paranormal Activity” series is perfectly content to give horror-starved viewers more of the same – which, depending on how much you liked its predecessors, will dictate one’s enjoyment of this 2011 sequel.           

This third follow-up tries to go back to the past involving sisters Katie and Kristie, and why these two little siblings ended up with a lifetime of supernatural shenanigans following them around. Directors Henry Joust and Ariel Schulman recycle the same sorts of shock effects from “Paranormal Activity” parts 1 and 2 here – with the low-key scares being the most effective – yet the script by Christopher Landon strains to provide a backstory for the simple, straightforward horror of its predecessors. This never seemed to be the type of series that felt like it needed a “mythology,” unless (bingo!) the studio needed a motivation to keep turning out a series of follow-ups.

Paramount’s Blu-Ray includes the R-rated theatrical cut of the picture, an Unrated version (running 10 minutes longer), a standard DVD edition, plus a “Lost Tapes” featurette.

TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON 3-D Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital Copy (**½, 154 mins., 2011, PG-13; Paramount): The third entry in Michael Bay’s sprawling cinematic adaptations of Hasbro’s action figures is in many ways the best, offering an interesting set-up, some spectacular special effects and a script that cleans up some – though not all – of its predecessors’ excesses.

Here the Autobots find themselves heading to the moon where, decades earlier, a ship fleeing Cybertron and carrying a mysterious cargo crashed on the moon’s dark side (a fun opening includes a cameo for none other than Buzz Aldrin). Without divulging all the secrets in Ehren Kruger’s script, it turns out that a conspiracy involving the Decepticons is afoot, with the end game being the resurrection of Cybertron itself on Earth. To nobody’s surprise, Sam Witwicky soon finds himself back trying to save the world along with new girlfriend Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and familiar faces from past films in the series (Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, and John Turturro among them).

If you’re a “Transformers” fan, there’s much to like in this installment, which is a definite step-up from “Revenge of the Fallen,” marked by pulse-pounding action set-pieces and some gorgeously rendered special effects courtesy of ILM. The human component remains something of a misfire – I’ve never found Shia LaBeouf that interesting in this series nor his obnoxious parents (Kevin Dunn and Julie White), who also reappear here. At least Huntington-Whiteley is pretty enough to be a serviceable fill-in for Megan Fox and it’s fun to see Coen Brothers alumni like Turturro, Frances McDormand and John Malkovich cashing the check in loud, dumb escapist fare like this.

With a worldwide gross of over $1.1 billion (by far the most impressive financial performance of all three films), “Dark of the Moon” is sure to please its core audience, even if I’ve never understood the thinking behind some of the profanity in the franchise (was Malkvovich’s f-bomb and several references to “a-holes” really necessary in a film essentially made with kids in mind?).

Paramount’s Blu-Ray offered a reference-level 1080p transfer and Dolby TrueHD soundtrack layered with effects – but it’s now been surpassed by a 3-D Blu-Ray presentation that’s simply dynamic. Designed with 3-D in mind, the movie has numerous sequences that make good use of the technology, making it far more satisfying than most 3-D “conversions” in the market. Supplements are also exclusive to this combo pack (which also includes a DVD and digital copy), including multiple featurettes that detail the picture’s production.

STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION The Next Level Blu-Ray (aprx. 3 hours; CBS/Paramount): “Next Generation” fans have been eagerly awaiting Paramount’s much-discussed conversion of the second Star Trek series to high-def, having painstakingly gone back not to the series’ videotape broadcast masters but its original film elements to give the program an appearance it never had before.

This single-disc Blu-Ray release, dubbed “The Next Level,” offers a sampler of the full season sets CBS is expected to release beginning later in 2012, with the pilot “Encounter at Farpoint” (so bad it kept me from getting into the series for several years) plus the episodes “Sins of the Father” and “The Inner Light” on-hand.

Based on the results glimpsed here, fans have much to be excited about. The "taped" look to the show is completely gone and there's a clarity in the image – obviously since it's coming from the film negatives and not the old broadcast tape master – that is immediately noticeable and will be even more obvious the larger your TV is. Suffice to say, it looks dynamic, and enhances the whole impact of the program.

The special effects – which were originally edited on video tape – have been repurposed for HD, giving them more depth yet still appearing as if they’re of the era. There's been no obvious attempt I can discern at "rethinking" them along the lines of the original series’ HD remastering -- these are basically the same concepts, same TNG effects as before, simply "recomposited" for HD.

The DTS MA audio is fine, though it sounds a little flat in terms of the music (there's little surround activity), which makes me think they essentially took the original stereo tracks and just “moved” them into 5.1 without doing any other remastering.

Overall this gives a very satisfying taste of the full season sets that will be coming along, starting later this year with any luck.       

New Image Catalog Blu-Rays

Image has dusted off several Columbia catalog titles for more agreeably low-cost Blu-Rays. Here’s a rundown:

STIR CRAZY Blu-Ray (**½, 111 mins., 1980, R; Image)
THE TOY Blu-Ray (*
½, 102 mins., 1982, PG; Image)
½, 102 mins., 1989, R; Image): Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor first collaborated in an off-screen manner on “Blazing Saddles,” then together in the 1976 ensemble comedic-thriller “Silver Streak.” Only in 1980's “Stir Crazy,” though, did Wilder and Pryor get to make an entire feature together as leading men, and audiences loved it – grossing $100 million in 1980 was a huge feat and the film was #4 at the domestic box-office for the year, selling a massive amount of tickets.

Few people talk about “Stir Crazy” these days, and even fewer regard it as a classic comedy – yet it does provide a good time for fans of the stars, with the boys mistaken for bank robbers while stranded in Arizona and put behind bars. Bruce Jay Friedman (“Splash”) was credited with penning the script for “Stir Crazy,” though you wonder how much of this often-slapdash film was improvised – the movie is a bit of a ramshackle mess, and goes on too long, but it certainly has its moments.

The duo were to collaborate again on what would eventually become 1982's “Hanky Panky” – with Pryor’s role re-written for Wilder’s wife Gilda Radner – but Pryor surfaced instead later that year in Columbia’s “The Toy” – certainly not one of Richard Donner’s more memorable outings, yet a decent enough performer at the box-office (earning nearly $50 million unadjusted for inflation).

This Carol Sobieski-scripted adaptation of a Francis Veber comedy would be the first of many American remakes of French comedies made throughout the ‘80s, climaxing at the box-office in 1987's smash hit “Three Men and a Baby.”

“The Toy” is a bit of a saccharine piece involving spoiled Scott Schwartz (soon to be immortalized forever as the boy whose tongue gets frozen to a flagpole in “A Christmas Story”), the son of millionaire Jackie Gleason, who’s allowed to pick out a toy at one of Gleason’s department stores after hours. After meeting Richard Pryor – playing a former journalist turned janitor at the store – Schwartz opts to pick him out as his latest take-home possession, thereby putting in motion a comedy with its share of "heartfelt" but seldom funny moments. I'm all for '80s nostalgia as much as anyone (and how more '80s can you get than a Jeffrey Osborne title song and the appearance of numerous arcade games in Schwartz's room), but "The Toy" is painful and filled with uneasy adult humor (some racial references feel a bit unnecessary given the otherwise genial, family-comedy trappings). Only the appearance of bouncy Teresa Ganzel kept me watching this HBO cable staple.

Pryor did eventually reteam with Wilder in 1989's “See No Evil, Hear No Evil,” a modest box-office hit with Wilder’s deaf NYC newsstand owner hiring Pryor’s blind protagonist and the duo promptly getting involved in a murder. The workmanlike script (credited to Wilder and five other writers) does offer the boys a few funny lines, and it’s amusing to see them play off Joan Severance and Kevin Spacey as the bad guys. Even though Arthur Hiller's movie coasts along on the talents of its stars and doesn’t support them as well as it should’ve, I found that the film held up better than I remember, with good chemistry between the guys (and at least it’s far superior to Pryor and Wilder’s swan song – 1991's “Another You” – a massive bomb that found original director Peter Bogdanovich fired after having completed nearly six weeks of location shooting that was entirely scrapped).

All three films look quite good on Blu-Ray in Image’s 1080p AVC encoded transfers, though “See No Evil” fares the best of the trio in terms of its overall appearance. The uncompressed PCM audio is decent, fully representative of the basic mixes of each respective film (mono on “Stir Crazy” and “The Toy,” stereo on “See No Evil”).

Lastly, Image has also released a no-frills edition of Norman Jewison’s 1984 adaptation of Charles Fuller’s play A SOLDIER’S STORY (***, 97 mins., PG; Image), starring Howard E. Rollins as an army attorney sent to the deep south in order to find out who murdered a tough sergeant (Adolph Ceasar) during the waning days of WWII.

Boasting a tremendous ensemble cast (Art Evans, David Alan Grier, Robert Townsend and Denzel Washington among them), “A Soldier’s Story” earned numerous critical kudos and an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. Even though its murder-mystery flashback structure is less compelling than the emotionally charged racial elements that Fuller examines here, the film is satisfying and offers a number of excellent performances.

Image’s Blu-Ray again includes a crisp and satisfying 1080p transfer with uncompressed PCM 2-channel Dolby Stereo sound.

Also New on Blu-Ray

POIROT: Series 1 Blu-Ray (519 mins.; Acorn Media)
POIROT: Series 2 Blu-Ray (523 mins.; Acorn Media): Fans of Agatha Christie’s legendary detective – and of David Suchet’s remarkable portrayal of the Belgian sleuth – should rejoice over these two Blu-Ray anthologies offering Suchet’s earliest Poirot mysteries, remastered in HD and presented in their original broadcast order.

On-hand in Series 1 are the initial 10 Poirot mysteries (broadcast January-March 1989): The Adventure of Clapham Cook; Murder in the Mews; The Adventure of Johnnie Waverly; Four and Twenty Blackbirds; The Third Floor Flat; Triangle at Rhodes; Problem at Sea; The Incredible Theft; The King of Clubs and The Dream.

Series 2 includes the next 10 Poirot-Suchet entries (broadcast 1990): Peril at End House, The Veiled Lady, The Lost Mine, The Cornish Mystery, The Disappearance of Mr. Davenheim, Double Sin, The Adventure of the Cheap Flat, The Kidnapped Prime Minister and The Adventure of the Western Star.

The 4:3 HD transfers are quite excellent and 2.0 stereo soundtracks adorn each two-disc BD set.

BUCKY LARSON: BORN TO BE A STAR Blu-Ray (*, 97 mins., 2011, R; Sony): Disastrous Adam Sandler-produced comedy functions purely as a vanity vehicle for star Nick Swardson, who co-wrote the script for this tale of an aspiring adult film star with buddies Sandler and Allen Covert. Despite the presence of Christina Ricci, “Bucky” made many a “Worst of 2011" critic list, and with good reason: the lead character is grating and annoying, and the film devoid of laughs. Sandler previously produced the box-office hit "Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo," which starred Rob Schneider in an improbable success -- "Bucky" was clearly meant to capitalize on that same audience, yet the material simply doesn't work and Swardson makes Schneider look like a comedy genius by comparison.

Sony’s Blu-Ray of this box-office bomb (one of the lowest-grossing wide releases of recent years from a major studio) includes four behind-the-scenes featurettes, an AVC encoded 1080p transfer and DTS MA soundtrack. For Sandler and Swardson die-hards only.

THE SUNSET LIMITED Blu-Ray (90 mins., 2011; HBO): Cormac McCarthy adapted his play for this HBO tele-film with Samuel L. Jackson as a religious ex-con who spars with suicidal professor Tommy Lee Jones (who also directed). HBO’s Blu-Ray includes a Making Of and commentary with Jones, McCarthy and Jackson, plus a 1080p transfer and DTS MA soundtrack, including a low-key Marco Beltrami score.

NIGHT TRAIN MURDERS Blu-Ray (94 mins., 1974; Blue Underground): Two teenage girls travel through Europe and never get to their destinations in a gross-out shlocker resurrected by Blue Underground on Blu-Ray.

Previously released under titles like “Second House on the Left” and “New House on the Left,” Aldo Lado’s gross-out Italian exploitation affair achieved a similar level of infamous notoriety as its American counterpart “The Last House on the Left,” with a similarly narcissistic world view and an unrelentingly grim plot that sometimes feels like an excuse for gore, sex and violence.

For those with an interest in “Night Train Murders” (can’t say it’s my cup of tea), Blue Underground’s restored Blu-Ray includes a brand-new high-def transfer from the original, uncut negative, plus an interview with Lado, trailers, radio spots, a poster and stills gallery, and DTS HD mono soundtrack that includes an Ennio Morricone score.

MEMPHIS Blu-Ray (131 mins., Shout! Factory): Tony-winning Broadway musical is captured in this straightforward filming co-produced by Shout Factory and Broadway Video. The HD transfer and soundtrack in Shout's Blu-Ray edition are both excellent, and the filming is just right, making you feel as if you're in the audience for the upbeat and electric show.

NUDE NUNS WITH BIG GUNS Blu-Ray (92 mins., 2010, Unrated; Image): Cheapjack would-be Tarantino/Rodriguez drive-in fare is amateurishly made and not really so-bad-it’s-good...just pretty lousy. Image’s Blu-Ray of this grindhouse wannabe includes the trailer and the original short that “inspired” the feature, plus a 1080p transfer and DTS MA soundtrack.

ON DVD FROM LIONSGATE: Parents should note that there’s a new “Leap Frog” DVD for the little ones: SCOUT & FRIENDS NUMBER LAND (36 mins., 2011) targets math skills with number recognition, counting and skip counting worked into the colorful animation and likeable characters from the “Leap Frog” series. Sing-alongs, a music video, and a cirriculum commentary for parents are included on the DVD...JAMIE FOXX PRESENTS THUNDER SOUL (88 mins., 2011) is a documentary recounting the story of “Prof” Johnson, a high school band leader who here is reunited with many of his students decades after they took the R&B genre by storm. Lionsgate’s DVD includes a commentary with producer/director Mark Landsman, never-before-seen footage from a 1974 documentary on Johnson, the trailer, a 16:9 transfer and 5.1 soundtrack.

NEW FROM E ONE: THE COMIC STRIP PRESENTS: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION is an anthology of the British TV comedy series that launched the careers of numerous comedians including Jennifer Saunders, Robbie Coltrane, Dawn French and Rik Mayall among others. E One’s DVD box includes all 39 episodes (many of which were never broadcast in the U.S.) plus a substantial amount of extras, including a retrospective on the series, documentaries and more, with most episodes in 4:3, one in 14:9 and two in 16:9 widescreen...RESURRECT DEAD: THE MYSTERY OF THE TOYNBEE TILES (87 mins., 2011) is a documentary following Justin Duerr’s investigation of tiled messages on major city streets in the U.S. and South America. E One’s DVD of this Focus World release includes commentary with director Jon Foy, deleted scenes, additional footage and more.

NEXT TIME: Criterion unleashes GODZILLA! 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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