1/29/08 Edition -- The New AISLE SEAT BLOG Is Also Live

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The Latest DVD & High-Definition Titles Reviewed

Video games today obviously have come a very long way when compared to the arcade games many of us grew up with -- not to mention the battles on Atari and Intellivision systems we once waged as kids at home.

Though graphically games have made huge strides over the decades, the classic arcade games of yesterday have retained their appeal among many gamers, offering a hard-core challenge that truly separates the men from the boys. And certain grown men continue to try and one-up one another’s high scores -- the battle for supremacy in the game of Nintendo’s “Donkey Kong” forming the basis for the entertaining recent documentary THE KING OF KONG: A FISTFUL OF QUARTERS (***, 90 mins., 2007, PG-13; New Line).

Director Seth Gordon here deftly chronicles the world of competitive “classic gaming” by focusing on the efforts of Seattle high school teacher Steve Weibe, an affable family man who lands the world’s high-score on “Donkey Kong” -- only to have that score rejected by the self-proclaimed governing body of video gaming records, Twin Galaxies. Undaunted, Weibe takes to flying cross-country to take on the reigning title-holder, Billy Mitchell, in a game of “Donkey Kong” in front of the Twin Galaxies officials.

“The King of Kong” is a vivid portrait of a guy driven to achieve greatness -- even if it’s just in setting the high score for a nearly three-decades old video game -- as well as a cliquey organization looking to defend its turf and its “own guy” on said machine. It’s hard not to feel sympathy for Weibe, who takes all the hits as they come like a good-natured pro, even if you’d wish he’d stand up for himself a bit more in front of the same folks who employ double-standards in accepting high score submissions. Yet Weibe keeps up the fight, making for an irresistible underdog story and a compelling, fun documentary that’s understandably been optioned for a big-screen dramatization (I see Vince Vaughn and Johnny Depp as Weibe and Mitchell, respectively, myself).

New Line’s DVD, available this week, includes a fine 16:9 transfer and plenty of extras, including commentary from Gordon, another commentary from assorted video game experts, extended interviews, deleted scenes, and an all-important update on the still on-going saga between Weibe and Mitchell...who are still attempting to out-do one another’s latest score!

New on Blu-Ray and DVD

DAMAGES: Season 1 (2007, 581 mins., Sony): Well-performed, entertaining though increasingly absurd F/X series hits Blu-Ray in a superb presentation from Sony this week.

This edge-of-your-seat thriller stars Rose Byrne as Ellen Parsons, a young New York attorney who joins the firm of superstar litigator Patty Hewes (Glenn Close), whose current case is a high-profile class action suit involving millionaire Arthur Frobisher (Ted Danson). Murder, mayhem, double-crossing and an endless succession of twists ensue in every episode of “Damages,” which starts off as a taut, believable series and then spirals out of control in its later episodes, losing all semblance of reality along the way. It’s all still fun and Close and Danson are terrific, but viewers new to the show should be prepared for a drop-off as the season progresses, with the coincidences coming at you so quickly that you can’t help but expect yet another “twist” from one scene to the next.

Sony’s Blu-Ray edition of “Damages” looks and sounds tremendous: the show is presented in 1080p (1.78) HD and looks spotless, the series’ high production values coming across quite well in HD. The Dolby TrueHD soundtracks are likewise excellent, while a good sampling of extras including various commentaries, deleted scenes, and featurettes with cast and crew members. Recommended!

ACROSS THE UNIVERSE: Blu-Ray (**, 133 mins., 2007, PG-13; Sony): Troubled, albeit visually arresting, Julie Taymor musical odyssey follows a group of youthful protagonists (including Evan Rachel Wood and Jim Sturgess) throughout the turbulent ‘60s, all singing along to covers of classic Beatles tunes.

“Across the Universe” was the subject of much off-screen controversy last year, with studio executives sparring with Taymor over what many felt was the excessive length of her original cut. After much back and forth, the studio ended up releasing Taymor’s shorter Director’s Cut instead of their own 105-minute version, which allegedly tested better with preview audiences. Either way the movie is good-looking but fatally flawed with its cliched story and threadbare characters (how many times have we seen the innocent youths of the early ‘60s transformed into hippie radicals or war-scarred veterans on-screen?), the action being livened up by Bruno Delbonnel’s cinematography and Taymor’s sense of visuals, though even these can carry the film only so far with its bloated running time. Like a guest who stays too long at the party, “Across the Universe” eventually wears out its welcome (especially during its endless final 45 minutes), but musical buffs and Beatles fans in particular will still find it to be somewhat of interest, with musical cameos put in by Bono and Joe Cocker among others.

Sony’s Blu-Ray release really shines with its AVC-encoded 1080p transfer and Dolby TrueHD sound. Extras include commentary from Taymor and her husband, composer Elliot Goldenthal, along with a deleted scene, five featurettes and a Blu-Ray exclusive art gallery.

MONTY PYTHON’S LIFE OF BRIAN: Blu-Ray (***, 93 mins., 1979, R; Sony): Arguably the most cohesive Monty Python feature gets a full-fledged, all-new Special Edition courtesy of Sony, on both DVD and Blu-Ray this week. “Life of Brian” is a hilarious assault on basically every organized religion, its tale of a man whose life parallels Christ ripe with parody and big laughs. Sony’s Blu-Ray special edition boasts two different commentary tracks -- one with Michael Palin and John Cleese (recorded separately), another with Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam and Eric Idle -- along with an extensive Making Of documentary, a 110-minute recording of the script “in progress” set to background illustrations, radio ads, and deleted scenes, most in 4:3 widescreen. The remastered 1080p AVC-encoded transfer looks as good as one can expect, while Dolby TrueHD sound rounds out the disc.

THE GAME PLAN: Blu-Ray and DVD (**, 110 mins., 2007, PG; Disney): Cute enough comedy with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as a pro football player who finds out he has a precocious eight-year-old daughter. Predictable shenanigans ensue in this surprise box-office hit from last fall, shot in and around the Boston area though without the official NFL license (hence many scenes were filmed at Foxboro’s Gillette Stadium, but without the New England Patriots logos and such). Kids ought to enjoy this Disney formula piece, which runs a bit long but nevertheless manages to press all the right buttons for a film like this. Available on both DVD and Blu-Ray, Disney’s HD transfer is superlative while uncompressed PCM sound is available on the high-def end (the standard 16:9 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound are both excellent on the regular DVD). Supplements include deleted scenes, bloopers (hosted by Marv Albert), a behind-the-scenes featurette, and assorted ESPN Sportscenter vignettes. The BD version also offers a “chalk talk” commentary with The Rock and director Andy Fickman.

DADDY DAY CAMP: Blu-Ray and DVD (*½, 89 mins., 2007, PG; Sony): Tepid follow-up to the Eddie Murphy vehicle “Daddy Day Care” puts Cuba Gooding, Jr. through the paces as Murphy’s character, who here again teams up with his pal Phil (Paul Rae, substituting for Jeff Garlin) to start up a camp for kids. In the annals of childhood stars “gone wrong” Fred Savage has managed to make the leap to feature film director, but his inauspicious debut with “Daddy Day Camp” does not necessarily instill confidence in his future behind the lens -- it’s a sub-“Meatballs” comedy no better or worse than most of today’s “family friendly” live-action fare. Sony’s Blu Ray disc looks vibrant and offers Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio, along with one Making Of featurette and an interactive game.

RENT: Blu-Ray (***½, 135 mins., 2005, PG-13; Sony): Jonathan Larson’s quintessential ‘90s musical should have hit the screen years before, but even considering its dated aspects, Chris Columbus’ under-rated filming of “Rent” is a vivacious adaptation of the Broadway smash.

Most of the show’s original cast (Taye Diggs, Jesse L. Martin, Idina Menzel, Anthony Rapp, Adam Pascal among them) returned here -- despite being quite a bit older than their characters’ twentysomething ages -- and both director Columbus and writer Stephen Chbosky stay more or less faithful to Larson’s original story: a modern take on “La Boheme” with ample doses of sex, drugs, tragedy, and plenty of rock ‘n roll. Larson’s effervescent score features plenty of highlights and catchy melodies, while Rob Cavallo’s strong musical production opens up the arrangements for a larger backing while maintaining the tone of the original arrangements.

“Rent” is a product of the “grunge” era to some degree, and Menzel’s “performance artist” character comes in and literally stops the movie cold during a sequence that could well have hit the cutting room floor. Elements like that do stamp “Rent” as a product of the mid ‘90s, but the central dramatic elements of the story still come across loud and clear, with Columbus excellently adapting the ensemble piece to a splashy, big-screen aspect ratio, with kudos also going out to cinematographer Stephen Goldblatt for his use of colors and textures.

For musical fans “Rent” is a rare treat and well worth catching on DVD, particularly in Sony’s Blu-Ray disc, which sports a terrific 1080p transfer and 5.1 Dolby TrueHD and uncompressed PCM soundtracks. In addition to a fascinating commentary with Columbus, Rapp, and Pascal (one that divulges a great deal of background detail on the show and its transition to film), there’s an excellent, feature-length documentary -- “No Day But Today” -- that chronicles the history of “Rent” from Larson’s original conception to Columbus’ film, with copious interviews and archival footage. Additional deleted scenes (including an alternate ending that ties in more directly with the start of the film) and PSA’s round out the package.

MR. WOODCOCK: Blu-Ray and DVD (*½, 88 mins., 2007, PG-13; New Line): Botched comedy with Seann William Scott as a guy who returns to his hometown, where he finds the P.E. middle-school teacher who ruined his life (Billy Bob Thornton) is now dating his mother (Susan Sarandon). Craig Gillespie’s film offers a few fleeting laughs but the big surprise is whatever possessed Thornton and Sarandon to sign on for this piffle, which flounders completely in its final third (perhaps re-shoots or re-editing had something to do with the mess). New Line’s Blu-Ray release looks superb with its VC-1 encoded transfer and 7.1 DTS-HD sound, while extras include deleted scenes, a Making Of featurette, a “P.E. Trauma Tales” segment and the original trailer, all also in high-definition on the BD side.

SAW IV: Blu-Ray and DVD (*½, 95 mins., 2007, Unrated; Lionsgate): The extremely profitable series that basically ignited the “torture porn” sub-genre of modern horror films slowed down a little bit with the release of its fourth installment last fall. Since so many of the “Saw” plot lines were concluded in the third film, this fourth entry from director Darren Lynn Bousman (who also helmed the second and third installments) has a difficult time establishing a compelling hook, what with villainous Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) and his “apprentice” Amanda (the ever-underrated Shawnee Smith) dead. Alas, it’s hard to keep a good killer down, but the plot devices by Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan utilized to “revive” the old gang are hard to swallow -- even for a no-brain time-waster like this one. Hard-core “Saw” fans will still find sufficient gore on-hand in Lionsgate’s Unrated DVD and Blu-Ray releases, which also sport a wealth of extras including two commentaries, a bonus deleted scene, 7.1 audio (DTS-HD on the BD side), a music video, featurettes and other goodies...for “Saw” fans only.

WALL STREET: 20th Anniversary Edition: Blu-Ray (***, 126 mins., 1987, R; Fox): Solid Blu-Ray edition of Oliver Stone’s 1987 film offers a new MPEG-2 encoded transfer with DTS-MA sound, plus a new documentary, never-before-seen deleted scenes, and extra featurettes. Visually the picture is a little soft but it’s perfectly serviceable, and kudos to Fox for including all the extras from the prior Special Edition DVD -- something they’ve sadly rarely done with many of their Blu-Ray releases so far.

ME, MYSELF & IRENE: Blu-Ray (**, 2000, 117 mins., R; Fox): The Farrelly Brothers reunion with “Dumb & Dumber” star Jim Carrey and their first directorial outing after "There's Something About Mary" was a disappointing, labored farce that has a been-there-done-that feeling straight from the get-go. Carrey -- as a schizophrenic Rhode Island state trooper hiding a golf course designer (Rene Zellwegger) on the lam from crooks -- has performed most of this picture's physical comedy work already in “Liar, Liar,” while the Farrellys' patented raunchy humor never becomes as inspired or funny as their earlier gross-out outings.

With those elements failing to come together, you're left with a sorry excuse for a comedy, accentuated by the typically inadequate technical elements that mark every Farrelly picture, including a terribly unfunny, stiff supporting cast, interminable non-comic sequences establishing the plot, an annoying hard-rock soundtrack, and a cut-and-paste script that -- guess what? -- once again takes the form of a road trip movie, struggling to hold water from gag to gag and running on well past its welcome at 117 minutes.

Fox’s Blu-Ray edition includes another serviceable MPEG-2 encoded transfer with DTS-MA audio, deleted scenes and commentary from the Farrelly Brothers.

KILLING MACHINE/SHOGUN’S NINJA: Blu-Ray (BCI Eclipse): BCI gets into the high-definition arena with a Blu-Ray double-feature teaming of Sonny Chiba’s 1975 post-WWII epic “Killing Maching” and the 1981 period action flick “Shogun’s Ninja.”

Having grown up on the decidedly American exploits of Sho Kosugi (whose Cannon productions deserve some Special Edition DVD recognition, no question), I thoroughly enjoyed watching one of Kosugi’s predecessors -- Shinichi “Sonny” Chiba -- in both of these kung-fu kicking efforts. “Killing Machine” is a bit more serious and the satisfying of the duo, while the overlong and somewhat slow-moving “Shogun’s Ninja” only kicks into gear during its elaborate set-pieces.

Ninja fans and Chiba aficionados ought to get a kick (no pun intended) out of BCI’s inaugural Blu-Ray release, both movies presented in 1080p widescreen and in their original Japanese dialogue with optional English subtitles (an English dubbed track is also available for both pictures).


ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE HD-DVD (**½, 115 mins., 2007, PG-13; Universal): Disappointing follow-up to Shekhar Kapur’s “Elizabeth,” which earned Cate Blanchett an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth I. Blanchett has garnered yet another Oscar nod for her performance in this sequel, which met with mixed critical reaction last fall and is a definite come down from its predecessor, even with Kapur returning behind the camera, and Blanchett reuniting with co-star Geoffrey Rush and new cast member Clive Owen, here portraying Sir Walter Raleigh. The production values are more than adequate but the drama is stilted, complimented by a heavy-handed score by Craig Armstrong and AR Rahman that’s easily one of the worst of its kind ever composed for a “period” film such as this. Universal’s HD-DVD edition does, at least, boast a satisfying 1080p VC-1 encoded transfer with Dolby TrueHD audio and a number of extra features, all examining the film’s production. Quite watchable in spite of its flaws, mainly due to Blanchett’s reprieve of her star-making performance.

New TV on DVD

THUNDERBIRDS: 40th ANNIVERSARY COLLECTOR’S EDITION (1965, 30 hrs., A&E/New Video): Gerry Anderson’s classic ‘60s sci-fi series in “Supermarionation” receives another DVD release courtesy of A&E Home Video. This slim-packaged, 12-disc set offers all 32 episodes of “Thunderbirds” in fresh, newly restored transfers from the Granada vaults, resulting in an alleged improvement on A&E’s prior DVDs (and similar to the superior UK DVD versions). If that weren’t enough, A&E has also thrown in a new bonus disc including a pop-up episode of the series (“Pit of Peril”), a new 40-minute interview with Anderson on the production of seven of his favorite series, two vintage Making Of segments, and various still galleries on the respective discs.

Overall, this is a must for “Thunderbirds” fans, though those who purchased the prior A&E discs may want to hold off to see how much of an upgrade these new “Videcolor” transfers are from the prior releases.

New From Paramount: The final season of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (1989-90, 9 hrs.) wasn’t pretty, with Ron Perlman’s Vincent attempting to find the baby he fathered with lady-love Catherine (Linda Hamilton) after she’s killed by a drug lord. Fans generally detested this disappointing conclusion to their beloved series, with Hamilton departing rather abruptly and the series having a hard time finding the right note to finish on. Still, completists will want to add this three-disc set to their collections, with Paramount’s DVD set including full-screen transfers and 2.0 stereo sound....it’s up, up and away for the fifth season of Donald Bellisario’s JAG (1999-2000, 18 hrs.), with David James Elliott and Catherine Bell on-hand for another 25 episodes of the “Judge Advocate General” CBS drama. Paramount’s DVD set offers 16:9 transfers, 2.0 sound and a bonus gag reel....the third season of the Showtime drama SOUL FOOD (2002-03, 7 hrs.) also hits DVD in a five-disc set preserving all 20 episodes in full-screen transfers and 2.0 stereo soundtracks...PBS Home Video offers a pair of new documentaries this month; PIONEERS OF TELEVISION (2008, 202 mins.) is a revealing, four-part chronicle of television’s early days, broken up into respective categories including “Late Night,” “Sitcoms,” “Game Shows” and “Variety.” Loads of retrospective clips and interviews make this a straightforward and satisfying chronicle of an era long since past...meanwhile, David Grubin’s THE JEWISH AMERICANS (2008, 6 hours) offers a broad portrait of Jewish American history, from their first arrival in 1654 through the centuries. An interview with Grubin and other extras are on-hand, with both PBS offerings being presented in superb 16:9 transfers and 2.0 stereo soundtracks...THE BEST OF COMEDY PRESENTS UNCENSORED (1999-2005, 176 mins.), meanwhile, is a compilation disc offering unedited stand-up routines from Lewis Black, Dane Cook, Jim Gaffigan, Carlos Mencia, Brian Regan and others, all culled from various Comedy Central specials...Coming out in  early February is the complete Third Season of FAMILY TIES (1984-85, 9 hrs.), offering all 24 episodes of the NBC sitcom’s third season in solid transfers with a gag reel and episode promos on the supplemental side; and the complete Third Season of GIRLFRIENDS (2002-03, 9 hrs.), the urban sitcom that offers two featurettes in addition to its 24 third-season episodes.

THE ALL-NEW SUPER FRIENDS HOUR: Season 1, Vol. 1 (1977, 323 mins., Warner): The “Super Friends” I happened to grew up with, this wackier and more light-hearted ABC Saturday morning cartoon paired up classic Justice League heroes (Batman & Robin, Superman, Wonder Woman and Aquaman) with the amazing “Wonder Twins” Zan and Jayna and their monkey pal Gleek. Though usually derided by hard-core comic book geeks, these “Super Friends” entertained many of us grade-schoolers through the late ‘70s and ‘80s, and Warner’s two-disc Collector’s Edition DVD preserves seven full episodes of the series with two retrospective featurettes and freshly remastered transfers.

ALEX HALEY’S QUEEN (1992, 283 mins., Warner): All-star mini-series adapted from Alex Haley’s novel offered a plum early, career-building role for Halle Berry, as the bastard daughter of a plantation owner (Tim Daly) and a slave (Jasmine Guy). Danny Glover, Ossie Davis, Dennis Haysbert, Paul Winfield, Victor Garber, Ann-Margret, and Patricia Clarkson co-star in this well-mounted television production, scored by Michael Small and offered by Warner in a fine DVD set with superb full-screen transfers and 2.0 Dolby Surround audio.

Also New On DVD

TUROK: SON OF STONE (2008, 73 mins., Unrated; Genius): The old-time comic book and recent video game franchise finally receives its own direct-to-vid feature with this decent production from co-director Curt Geda and The Weinstein Company. Here, Turok is a young Native American who travels to the “Savage Lands” to take on villainous Chichak, who fills the requisite “Thulsa Doom” of this story and slaughters most of Turok’s tribe. Dinosaurs, cavemen, and other prehistoric beasts loom in this somewhat graphic effort (it’s a must-to-avoid for horse fans), but die-hard Turok and comic book fans ought to enjoy the story, even if the animation isn’t particularly elaborate. Genius Products’ DVD offers a strong 16:9 (1.85) transfer with 5.1 audio, a “Total Turok” featurette examining the rich history of the character, and a commentary track with behind-the-scenes information on the film. Not recommended for young kids, but suitable for teenagers on up.

CHARLIE CHAN COLLECTION, Volume 4 (1939, Fox): More Charlie Chan classics are on-tap in the first four outings starring Sidney Toler as the master detective. Toler took over from Warner Oland and these four Chan entries are typically ranked with the finest Chan offerings by fans. Fox’s latest DVD anthology offers “Charlie Chan in Honolulu,” “Charlie Chan in Reno,” “Charlie Chan At Treasure Island” (viewed as one of the very best Chan entries) and “Charlie Chan in City of Darkness.” As with Fox’s prior releases, all the films have been restored from the best available sources and offer a number of special features on each installment, along with original trailers and a commentary by Chan expert Ken Hanke and historian John Cork on “Treasure Island.”

FAMILY GUY: BLUE HARVEST (48 mins., 2007; Fox): Hysterical season premiere of this season’s “Family Guy” was a special hour-long spoof of “Star Wars,” with the animated cast of Seth MacFarlane’s series standing in for Luke, Leia, Han and the gang. While some of the gags misfire, most of them hit the mark -- particularly an uproarious reference to “Dr. Who” and a classic put-down of Danny Elfman as well.

Fox’s Special Edition DVD package is also a keeper: commentary from MacFarlane and assorted cast and crew members adorns the episode, while a Making Of segment examines how the show came together (with a major assist from Lucasfilm as it turns out), an interview with George Lucas, an animatic workprint version of the episode, an uncensored audio track, and a clip montage of other “Star Wars” gags from the “Family Guy” archives. The full-screen transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks are each top notch, while a second disc offers a digital, download-able verison for PCs and Macs (and your respective portable devices), complete with a serial number.

LAKE PLACID 2 (88 mins., 2007, Unrated; Fox): Tepid small-screen sequel to the moderately successful original “Lake Placid” stars John Schneider as the small-town sheriff whose town is besieged by attacks from a killer croc. Outside of Cloris Leachman’s turn as a dotty croc-loving nut (filling the role of Betty White from the original), “Lake Placid 2" is a by-the-numbers Sci-Fi Channel movie with formula characters and not much wit, something its predecessor at least had a very small quotient of. Fox’s DVD includes a 1.85 (16:9) transfer with 5.1 audio and several Making Of featurettes.

DRUMLINE: Extended Edition (***, 122 mins., 2002, PG-13; Fox): One of 2005's sleeper hits, “Drumline” tells the story of an African-American high schooler (Nick Cannon) from New York City who receives a scholarship to join a southern college with a big marching band. Cannon's obnoxious behavior, though, soon contrasts with his musical ability, and the youngster needs to learn a few lessons from bandleader Orlando Jones and his peers before he can strut his stuff out on the football field during halftime.

This vivid, highly entertaining youth picture doesn't condescend to its audience or muck up the drama with unnecessary comedic interludes -- a credit to the Shawn Schepps-Tina Gordon Chism script and director Charles Stone III, who does an excellent job capturing the intensity of the movie's dueling-band finale. The performances are also on the mark, especially Leonard Roberts as Cannon's frustrated line leader. John Powell's score also works well within the confines of the drama, and the 2.35 widescreen framing gives the movie a strong cinematic feel.

Fox's new Extended Edition DVD includes four minutes of extra footage re-incorporated into the film plus four additional deleted scenes, a commentary from the director and three new featurettes. Well worth a look!

Also New & Upcoming From MGM/Fox: MGM is issuing a slew of catalog titles over the next couple of weeks, some of which have been eagerly anticipated by fans for some time.

At the top of the list is ZAPPED! (***, 98 mins., 1982, R), the memorable Scott Baio-Willie Aames teaming from the summer of ‘82 that finds nerdy high schooler Baio gaining the power of ESP after working in his bio lab. Baio and Aames aren’t exactly comic gold together but they’re darn close in this precursor to their later, long-running tandem on the popular sitcom “Charles in Charge,” while Charles Fox provides a nice score and Felice Schachter the female interest in a movie that seems to have been shot for a PG rating and goosed up with later gratuitous, R-rated nude inserts (which lead co-star Heather Thomas to sue, as those naked assets on display aren’t hers!). MGM’s DVD is pretty ordinary with just 16:9 (1.85) and full-screen transfers plus stereo and mono sound, but for fans this long-overdue “Zapped!” DVD will be certainly worth the wait.

Also due out on February 12th is SOME GIRLS (***, 93 mins., 1988, R), the little-seen but quite enjoyable comedy with Patrick Dempsey as a college student who heads to Canada to meet his girlfriend’s family. Shenanigans ensue in this moody, offbeat tale, complete with engaging performances (and Jennifer Connelly looking as gorgeous as ever in her pre-stardom days), a James Newton Howard score, and atmospheric cinematography. The 16:9 transfer is just fine and the 2.0 Dolby Stereo soundtrack is also perfectly acceptable.

A new edition of Billy Wilder’s THE APARTMENT (***½, 125 mins., 1960) is also due out shortly from MGM, offering commentary from film producer and historian Bruce Block, plus two new featurettes, one recounting the production and another paying tribute to star Jack Lemmon...Paul Schrader’s little-seen adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s novel TOUCH (**½, 98 mins., 1997, R) also hits DVD on February 12th. This 1997 feature offers Bridget Fonda, Christopher Walken, Gina Gershon, and Skeet Ulrich as an ordinary guy with the ability to heal...Kenneth Branagh shifted gears from his acclaimed Shakespeare adaptations in the ‘90s with the low-key ensemble comedy-drama PETER’S FRIENDS (***, 101 mins., 1992, R), arriving on DVD in an okay 16:9 (1.85) transfer and 2.0 Dolby Stereo sound...lastly there’s the odd political romantic-comedy BLUE STATE (92 mins., 2007), about a liberal (Breckin Meyer) who decides to move to Canada if John Kerry loses the election to George W. Bush. More than a few acidic diatribes get in the way of the film’s central relationship between Meyer and a mysterious traveling companion (Anna Paquin) en route up north. MGM’s DVD includes commentary from writer/director Marshall Lewy, and both full-screen and widescreen 16:9 (1.85) transfers, plus 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

New Special Interest

ALL-STAR FAMILY FEUD (BCI Eclipse): Richard Dawson’s classic ABC game show hits DVD in a multi-disc set preserving a slew of prime-time specials that showcased various celebrities battling it out with one another. While I still hold out hope that we’ll one day see a “Battle of the Network Stars” release on DVD, this nostalgic package from BCI is a solid substitute, with all kinds of late ‘70s/early ‘80s celebs duking it out for charity, from the casts of shows like “Family” and “Eight is Enough” to “The Love Boat” and “Barney Miller.” The transfers are a little iffy -- looks like some heavy noise reduction was employed at times on top of the original video tape masters -- but fans will still be happy with this set, even if there’s no listing for the individual episodes in the interior booklet. Game show devotees should note BCI has a “Price is Right” set due out soon and another volume of “Match Game” episodes slated for later in 2008.

THE NEW ADVENTURES OF THE LONE RANGER & ZORRO (BCI Eclipse): More Saturday morning goodness as BCI mines the Filmation back catalog for the first volume of episodes from the CBS series “The New Adventures of The Lone Ranger & Zorro.” Typical Filmation animation and storytelling is on-hand in these shows, which sport a good amount of action perfect for young viewers and nostalgic animation fans. BCI’s presentation is right on-par with their prior Filmation DVDs, with booklet notes and interviews with producer Lou Scheimer and writer Robbie London on-hand.

THIRD AND A MILE: The Emergence of the Black Quarterback (46 mins., ESPN/Genius Products): New documentary airing on ESPN and available on DVD from Genius Products chronicles the struggle and emergence of African-American quarterbacks in the NFL. With copious interviews and archival game footage, “Third and a Mile” profiles Marlon Briscoe, Warren Moon and Doug Williams through today’s stars like Donovan McNabb and Vince Young (too bad Michael Vick had to put himself in an unfortunate position or else he’d be a central figure in this chronicle). It’s a straightforward, if somewhat abbreviated, presentation but numerous supplements are on-hand to enrich the DVD package, including extended interviews, condensed game action, and other goodies.

WWE: ROYAL RUMBLE Volume III (1998-2002, WWE Entertainment)
WWE: ROYAL RUMBLE Volume IV (2003-07, WWE Entertainment): I’m admittedly not much of a wrestling fan but aficionados of the WWE (and they’re out there, make no mistake) will love these DVD box-sets preserving the complete contents of their annual, popular pay-per-view “Royal Rumble” matches. Volume III offers the complete rumbles between 1998 and 2002, while Volume IV charts all the sweaty action of Rumbles ‘03-‘07. Dolby Digital sound and standard full-screen transfers make these efforts highly recommended for wrestling enthusiasts.

NEXT TIME: Daniel Craig & Nicole Kidman face THE INVASION! Until then, don't forget to drop in on the official Aisle Seat Message Boards, check out the newly relaunched Aisle Seat Blog, and direct any emails to our email address. Cheers Everyone and GO PATS!

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