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October Assault Edition
PIRATES, GREEN LANTERN Headline New Releases
Plus: THE LION KING, AIRPLANE, Shatner's Captains and More!

Not every sequel and super-hero film burned up the box-office this summer, even though we had a glut of both categories at the movies over the past six months. DC’s classic costumed do-gooder GREEN LANTERN suffered the worst of the lot, managing to gross a hair over fellow flop “Cowboys and Aliens” domestically but well under the rest of its genre brethren. Ultimately it proved once again that when it comes to comic book movies, Marvel’s stake to cinematic success is still unchallenged (unless Christopher Nolan’s name is attached).

Ryan Reynolds does give his all in this overly cluttered super-hero misfire (*½, 114/123 mins., 2011, PG-13; Warner) from director Martin Campbell, which starts off badly – thanks to a laughably predictable prologue set during our hero’s pre-teen years – and fails to take flight thereafter. The script (credited to a quartet of scribes) attempts to introduce viewers to the Guardians of the Universe – a CGI’d race of super-heroes that range from the silly to the unconvincing in appearance – along with a nasty villain named Parallax that initially looks like a computer-generated version of the alien from Star Trek’s “The Corbomite Maneuver.” With his big head and smoke emitting from his nostrils, Parallax seeks to take over the universe, and when one of the Guardians crashes on Earth and perishes, our last hope is cocky test-pilot Hal Jordan (Reynolds), who becomes the latest Green Lantern in spite of his own hang-ups.

Despite Reynolds’ self-deprecating sense of humor, “Green Lantern” is overly serious and never settles into a comfortable rhythm throughout the course of its two hours. Scenes of the Guardians, which by themselves aren’t especially well animated, are often immediately followed by tedious, Earth-bound sequences involving Hal, ex-girlfriend (and fellow test pilot) Carol Ferris (a lifeless Blake Lively), a corrupt senator (Tim Robbins) and the movie’s stock scientist-bad guy (Peter Sarsgaard). It takes forever for the film to kick into gear – Hal fully embraces being the Green Lantern almost 90 minutes into the film – before offering not much of a climax with giant brown alien goo threatening to destroy the planet. The horror!

The leaden touch Campbell brings to the film is surprising given his past penchant for rousing escapist fare (as evidenced by his work on the Zorro and James Bond films), but perhaps most of the blame should fall on the studio executives who almost certainly dictated the overly solemn tone of the film. Like “Superman Returns,” “Green Lantern” is DOA right from the get-go and never generates the sense of fun Marvel’s “Thor” and “Captain America” instilled in audiences this past summer. With a gross just north of $200 million worldwide (the budget was basically equal to its box-office in-take), it’s unlikely we’ll see another “Green Lantern” installment, but that’s no great loss. Even another failed, infamous DC super-hero movie – the Halle Berry flop “Catwoman” – managed to be more fun.

Warner’s Blu-Ray edition of “Green Lantern” includes the 114-minute theatrical version of the picture along with an extended, 123-minute cut. Both versions look expectedly crisp in their 1080p transfers, though not even the best-engineered DTS MA audio track can salvage one of James Newton Howard’s most uninteresting scores. Extras include a picture-in-picture pop-up track on the theatrical version offering all kinds of interviews and behind-the-scenes interviews, plus a Justice League digital comic, several unfinished deleted scenes, and a DVD and digital copy for portable media players.

While “Green Lantern” didn’t catch fire at the box-office, the fourth time around was still a charm for Captain Jack Sparrow and company – especially internationally, where the fourth “Pirates of the Caribbean” film managed to generate nearly $800 million in foreign dollars. Together with its acceptable domestic in-take (well under its predecessors here stateside, partially attributable to the declining interest in 3-D), PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES (**½, 136 mins., 2011, PG-13; Disney) became the first film in the series to hit the $1 billion mark in worldwide revenue, ranking as the 8th highest grossing film ever made in the process.

It’s no surprise then that Disney, producer Jerry Bruckheimer and star Johnny Depp want to keep cranking out the sequels, even though none of the three follow-ups to the original “Pirates” has been able to recapture the magic of the first picture. “On Stranger Tides” does, at least, address some of the problems caused by the bloated, overlong and painful “At World’s End”: this new installment dials back the effects set-pieces and tries to focus more on the characters.

This time out, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio’s script (inspired by Tim Powers’ popular ‘80s novel “On Stranger Tides”) finds our lovably off-kilter Capt. Jack suckered into finding the Fountain of Youth alongside former flame Penelope Cruz and her father – the infamous pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane). In hot pursuit is Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), now working for the British navy, with both groups racing to find the chalices of Ponce de Leon while a young missionary (Sam Claflin) serves as the moral compass for the rag-tag scoundrels, especially after they kidnap a mermaid played by Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey.

With Rob Marshall stepping into the director’s chair vacated by Gore Verbinski, “On Stranger Tides” manages a few laughs here and there even though Depp seems to be a little long in the tooth for his overly sauced pirate. The decision to cut back on the action and accentuate the interplay between the characters was a good idea in concept, yet Elliott and Rossio’s script doesn’t create especially engaging personalities in either Cruz’s anti-heroine or McShane’s Blackbeard, with McShane in particular looking like he’s just going through the motions (more time should’ve been spent on the relationship between the younger leads, who come off as a nice change of pace from the Orlando Bloom-Keira Knightley characters of the prior installments). The film also still tends to drag, though at nearly 40 minutes under its predecessor, it’s at least an improvement in that regard.

Disney’s Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack serves up a rousingly good 1080p transfer, DTS MA soundtrack and very slim extras including commentary with Marshall, a blooper reel and Lego Pirates animated shorts – almost certainly giving off the impression that there’ll be a Special Edition re-release in the near future.

New From Twilight Time

I can’t say I’m a huge fan of 20th Century Fox’s 1966 remake of STAGECOACH, yet this all-star production still offers a fair amount of appeal for western fans – not to mention a strong Jerry Goldsmith score to boot.

Ann-Margret steps into Claire Trevor’s original role in this workmanlike adaptation of the original Dudley Nichols screenplay (and Ernest Haycox story) about a stagecoach bound for Cheyenne and the various calamities that ensue for its passengers along the way. Make no mistake, Alex Cord is no John Wayne as the “Ringo Kid” and director Gordon Douglas’ movie fails to approximate the original – which served as a blueprint for the western genre altogether – but there’s still some nifty Cinemascope cinematography courtesy of veteran William Clothier and an attractive supporting cast (Bing Crosby, Red Buttons, Mike Connors, Van Heflin, Stefanie Powers, Keenan Wynn and Slim Pickins in Andy Devine’s original role) on-hand to make this a pleasant way to kill off a couple of hours for buffs.

Twilight Time’s limited edition DVD looks great, the 16:9 (2.35) transfer nicely approximating the film’s widescreen dimensions. The original trailer and an isolated score track are also on tap along with Julie Kirgo’s liner notes, which put this often unfairly maligned remake into the proper cinematic perspective.

Also New On Blu-Ray

Nature and travel documentaries have proven to be dependable releases in the Blu-Ray format, as evidenced by the massive sales of BBC’s PLANET EARTH (aprx. 550 minutes, 2006), the multi-part production offering some of the most miraculous footage ever glimpsed of the natural world around us.

A winner of four Emmys and numerous other awards, “Planet Earth” helped to launch both high-def optical formats years ago and now returns on Blu-Ray in a brand-new, six-disc Special Edition. The box-set includes the entire original series, as narrated by David Attenborough, in beautiful 1080i transfers and DTS-HD 5.1 soundtracks, while adding some new extras.

Among the additions are four bonus programs (“Great Planet Earth Moments,” “Snow Leopard: Beyond the Myth,” “Secrets of the Maya Underworld” and “Elephant Nomads of the Namib Desert”) plus a producer commentary, video diaries, a sneak peek at Discovery’s “Frozen Planet” and the option to view the respective episodes strictly with George Fenton’s fine scores.

Another beneficiary of high-definition video has been the travel genre. From episodes of Rudy Maxa’s terrific “Smart Travels” series to several compilations from the Discovery Channel’s “Sunrise Earth,” consumers seeking gorgeous landscapes and travelogues for their Blu-Ray players have had an abundance to choose from during the format’s relatively short lifespan.

Two years ago Acorn Media released a pair of documentaries from the popular “Visions” series of aerial flyovers that frequently air on PBS (“Visions of Britain and Ireland” and “Visions of Italy”). These two releases have gotten a great deal of replay in my collection, and now Acorn has produced an even more spectacular release: VISIONS OF EUROPE, which offers “Visions of Italy” along with four programs exclusive to this new Blu-Ray box-set.

Offering over 15 hours of sumptuous, spectacular aerial footage of European locales, presented in glorious 1080i, and packed with sights that you’d be fortunate to watch actually being there on your own private helicopter tour, this is already one of my favorite Blu-Ray discs of the year. Included in this release are:

-“Visions of Austria & The Great Cities of Europe,” which includes Austria in both winter and early spring, with a gorgeous soundtrack comprised of the works of native composers Mozart, Strauss and Schubert. The “Great Cities of Europe,” meanwhile, offers locales as varied as Amsterdam and Italy plus Notre Dame, Budapest and Dublin with other stops in between.

-“Visions of France” takes the viewer from Provence to the Riviera, with over an hour of footage not seen on PBS.

-“Visions of Greece” includes two programs: a traditional view of the country as well as “Off the Beaten Path.”

-“Visions of Germany” gives an expansive view of Bavaria and Along the Rhine.

-The previously released “Visions of Italy” offers a quartet of “Visions” programs: Northern Style (glorious shots of The Alps, Lake Como, Portofino, Pisa, Siena, Florence, and Venice), Southern Style (Naples, Pompeii, Sorrento, the Amalfi Coast, Calabria, and Rome), Sicily (Cefalú, Términi Imerese, Palermo, Marsala, Siracusa, and Catania), and “The Great Cities” (Rome, Saint Peter’s Square, the Coliseum, Florence, Naples, Capri, and others).

Some of these specials have been screened on various PBS stations, and it’d be easy to confuse them with the “Over...” series of older aerial specials that were likewise filmed around the globe. The “Visions” programs boast superior high-def photography, and the mix of background music and infrequent narration (you also have the option of turning the narration off altogether) makes for a wonderful, highly recommended ride perfect for relaxation, background play or demo material for your Blu-Ray player.    
Also new this month from Acorn:

ON THE ROAD WITH CHARLES KURALT: THE AMERICANA COLLECTION includes all three of the previously released “On the Road” sets Acorn first started issuing in 2009.

The late Kuralt provided a series of vignettes for years on the CBS Evening News, traveling outside America’s interstate highways to find people and situations he found interesting. Kuralt’s brand of human-interest storytelling is something we rarely see on the news these days, with the fading network newscasts trying to hold onto their audiences while major cable networks are seemingly preoccupied with endless political content from both sides of the aisle.

Kuralt’s penchant for interviewing, and relating, human interest stories drove “On the Road,” and whether it was on the CBS Evening News or on CBS Sunday Morning –  which Kuralt also hosted for some 15 years – viewers loved seeing his homespun tales that reflected America’s diversity and interests, ranging from a chronicle of the men who built the Golden Gate Bridge, to an older African-American gentleman who rented out bikes to kids of all colors in his neighborhood. Some of the pieces have a historical context, others are just a celebration of the day-to-day good things people do, but all of them are wry, poignant portraits of the human condition, made all the more affecting by Kuralt’s insight.

Several years ago The Travel Channel compiled many of these vintage pieces from the best surviving sources for a series of 30-minute “On the Road” episodes. Acorn’s DVDs each contain six half-hour programs with welcome supplemental text information on what might’ve happened to the people, innovations or products detailed over the years since their respective segment broadcasts. Highly recommended!

BONEKICKERS is an agreeable ITV series that Acorn has released on Blu-Ray in a two-disc set including its six episodes. Julie Graham stars as the lead archaeologist of  a team investing the ancient city of Bath, applying modern science to ancient mysteries. Hugh Bonneville and Adrian Lester co-star in a solid British import which Acorn brings to BD in good-looking 1080i transfers with uncompressed PCM stereo audio and extras including behind-the-scenes segments.

New From Paramount; Best Buy Exclusives

Several Paramount catalog Blu-Ray titles have arrived as Best Buy store exclusives for the time being along with Bill Murray’s “Stripes” from Sony (regrettably only in its “Extended Edition” which adds considerable dead weight to the film’s fine-as-is theatrical version).

One of the funniest movies ever made, David & Jerry Zucker and Jim Abrahams' 1980 classic AIRPLANE (***½, 87 mins., 1980, PG) arrives on Blu-Ray in a reprise of its earlier Special Edition DVD, which ranked as something of a disappointment due to its oddly configured supplemental package.

As far as “Airplane!” itself goes, there's little to write about how hysterical the picture still is, aside from the fact that what constitutes so much of today's "comedy" hits is put to shame by comparison. Robert Hays and Julie Hagerty star as the star-crossed lovers on a doomed flight across the U.S.; Leslie Nielsen plays a doctor onboard the ill-fated plane; Peter Graves is the captain with a penchant for gladiator movies; while guest appearances by everyone from Kareem Abdul Jabbar to Ethel Merman round out the cast.

Paramount’s Blu-Ray sports all the extras from the “Don’t Call Me Shirley Edition” DVD as well as its original 2000 release, which included a commentary from the Zuckers and Jim Abrahams.

That commentary (as well as the trailer) is reprised here along with an optional feature dubbed the “Long Haul Version.” This function will stop the movie every few minutes for a bevy of interviews, including the Zuckers, Abrahams, Robert Hays, Leslie Nielsen, Peter Graves, Lorna Patterson, and others. The Zuckers discuss Elmer Bernstein’s score, while a few snippets of deleted scenes from the TV version are also on-hand. The problem, though, is that these snippets (running anywhere from 1-2 minutes each) are sadly available to view only in conjunction with the film -- thus, you have to actually watch the entire movie from start to end to access them!

It’s regrettable that Paramount didn’t include these mini-featurettes in a separate supplement, since to re-watch any of them, you’re going to have to scan through the movie and remember where exactly the specific footage was placed...not exactly an easy thing to do with so many different fragments on-hand!

Aside from that disappointment, the new 1080p high-def transfer is top-notch, and DTS MA audio includes the remixed stereo track for the picture.

THE NAKED GUN (***, 85 mins., 1988, PG-13), another ZAZ favorite, arrives on Blu-Ray in a similarly good-looking transfer.

At a time when we've been deluged with obscene comedies that seem to think bodily fluid references (not jokes, just references) constitute laughs by themselves, it really shouldn't come as a shock that, like “Airplane!” before it, “The Naked Gun” – spun off from the short-lived but warmly remembered 1982 summer replacement ABC series "Police Squad!" – remains fresh and funny.

Although it was followed by a pair of inferior sequels (not to mention countless terrible Leslie Nielsen spoof-comedies made in the ‘90s), the original “Gun,” released in December of '88, still holds up well today with its rapid-fire gags and knowing send-up of detective thrillers. The 1080p transfer looks well defined, with DTS MA audio, the trailer, and an older commentary track with David Zucker and Robert K. Weiss being the sole supplement.

Another comedy classic, John Hughes’ PLANES, TRAINS & AUTOMOBILES (***½, 93 mins., 1987, R), should draw the attention of high-def enthusiasts in spite of a transfer that isn’t as strong as “Airplane!” or “The Naked Gun.”

One of Hughes’ best films (and arguably his finest feature as a director), this teaming of John Candy and Steve Martin (both tremendous) was just a modest box-office performer back in December '87, when it was out-grossed by the saccharine, cuddly "Three Men and a Baby." Decades later, "Planes, Trains" is the movie audiences keep coming back to -- a spirited holiday travel comedy with a heartwarming ending. It's a shame Hughes subsequently abandoned making movies for audiences outside of the 13-and-under crowd, since this picture (one of his few R-rated efforts – albeit only for one well-remembered, profanity-laced Martin tirade) remains a perennial favorite.

Paramount’s Blu-Ray isn’t as satisfying as “Airplane!” in terms of its transfer, with the AVC encoded presentation boasting some noise reduction and other processing which detracts from its high-def crispness. It’s certainly better than DVD, but looks as “glossy” as “Footloose,” another recent Paramount catalog disc marred by too much filtering. The DTS MA remixed soundtrack is more impressive, featuring an eclectic mix of songs and Ira Newborn score.

For extras, the BD boasts a couple of excellent new supplements devoted to Hughes’ career. Presented in HD, “John Hughes: The Voice of a Generation” and “Heartbreak and Triumph: The Legacy of John Hughes” examine his creative process and lasting legacy in an enlightening pair of half-hour programs (included among the interviewees are Hughes collaborators Lauren Shuler Donner, Howard Deutch and Marilyn Vance, plus film alumni Matthew Broderick, Alan Ruck, Jon Cryer and Lea Thompson). A trio of older featurettes (in SD) are mainly comprised of material from the picture’s EPK, along with a three-minute deleted scene (in HD) that was restored to syndicated TV broadcasts of the film.

Despite the somewhat underwhelming transfer this is still an excellent package for fans of the movie and, for the time being, is available only as a $15 Best Buy title.

Two From Peck

One of Gregory Peck’s finest features – and his last – both come to Blu-Ray this month.

Movie buffs will be thrilled with Sony’s Blu-Ray presentation of THE GUNS OF NAVARONE (****, 156 mins., 1961), the classic 1961 Carl Foreman production that gave Peck, David Niven and Anthony Quinn some of their top roles as members of an elite Allied team sent to take out two Nazi field guns preventing the rescue of 2,000 British soldiers on an Aegean island during WWII.

Foreman adapted Alistair MacLean’s bestseller and received spectacular work from the cast and composer Dimitri Tiomkin in this Columbia classic, one which reaches Blu-Ray in an impressive 1080p AVC encoded high-def transfer. Details are sharp, colors look well balanced and next to no DNR is visible, while the DTS MA track offers a nice stage for Tiomkin’s original score. Extras are bountiful – though mostly carried over from past DVD editions – including three documentaries and eight featurettes (there’s a fine examination of Tiomkin’s score from Jon Burlingame) and a BD exclusive “Resistance Dossier of Navarone” offering comments from Dale Dye and others.

Peck’s final feature appearance came in Martin Scorsese’s CAPE FEAR (**½, 128 mins., 1991, R; Universal), an overblown remake of the 1962 thriller that was a follow-up to “The Guns of Navarone” for both Peck and director J. Lee Thompson.

Scorsese’s take, scripted by Wesley Strick, plays up the violence and sexual undercurrents merely hinted at in the ‘62 version, with psycho-rapist Robert DeNiro seeking revenge on the attorney (Nick Nolte) who failed to keep him out of prison.

“Cape Fear” ‘91 was Scorsese’s follow-up to his “Goodfellas” triumph the year prior and came with high expectations given the cast and source material, along with the participation of Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment, which co-produced the film with Universal. Alas, outside of attractive widescreen cinematography by Freddie Francis and Elmer Bernstein adapting Bernard Herrmann’s original 1961 score (as well as portions of the composer’s rejected score from Hitchcock’s “Torn Curtain”), “Cape Fear” is something of a misfire with overly stylized direction, one of Jessica Lange’s lesser performances and some odd theatrical moments (like Lewis’ on-screen monologues at the beginning and end of the film) that don’t pay off.

Scorsese devotees may still want to check out Universal’s Blu-Ray, which hits stores on October 18th. The VC-1 encoded transfer is quite satisfactory for the most part, looking like it’s been culled from an older master yet hasn’t been doused with too much DNR. The DTS MA sound is fine and extras include all the supplements from its prior DVD edition including Laurent Bouzereau’s lengthy documentary.

New and Recently Released on Blu-Ray

THE LION KING: DIAMOND EDITION Blu-Ray/DVD (***½, 88 mins., 1994, G; Disney): With its lush animation, memorable Elton John-Bernie Taupin songs and an accessible, rousing story, Disney fashioned one of their biggest all-time hits with the original “Lion King,” a box-office smash which has recently generated even more revenue in the form of a 3-D theatrical re-release. The theatrical run was intended to play out just for a couple of weeks leading up toDisney’s much-anticipated Blu-Ray package, but ended up doing so well that the studio extended it beyond the release of the BD on October 4th.       

For those who didn’t go to see the film in theaters, Disney’s new Diamond Edition Blu-Ray package looks and sounds every bit as glorious as one would anticipate with its 1080p (1.78) transfer and DTS MA 7.1 soundtrack, and adds a wealth of extras. Among the new goodies exclusive to this release are four never-before-seen deleted scenes and bloopers, featurettes with the filmmakers including producer Don Hahn (in HD), plus supplements carried over from prior releases (extended and deleted material including “The Morning Report”), mostly through Disney’s online “Virtual Vault.”

Even though I’m not crazy about having extras offered only via online streaming, there’s still ample supplemental content on-hand here – in addition to the brilliant a/v presentation – to give Disney’s latest “Diamond” release an easy, instant recommendation for fans and family audiences.

KEN BURNS’ PROHIBITION Blu-Ray (6 hrs., 2011; PBS/Paramount): Ken Burns’ latest documentary, co-directed with Lynn Novick, is an absorbing account of the prohibition age, beginning well before that infamous part of American history. The first installment in the three-part “Prohibition” examines the role of alcohol in the 19th century and how it changed with the influx of immigrants coming into the country – from temperance movements (often connected, to a degree, with women’s suffrage) to the rally against the “saloon culture” of the time, Burns and Novick set the stage for a fascinating social profile of how America dealt with, and failed to deal with, alcohol consumption in a nation still finding its own roots, and how prejudice was likewise connected, at times, to the political policies that were put into place.

If you’ve seen any of Burns’ prior documentaries you know the drill: historian interviews are interspersed with spoken voice-overs derived from the actual words of people who lived through the time, along with vintage photographs that have been scanned for high-def. “Prohibition” might start off a bit slow – especially for viewers wanting to get into the gangsters and bootleggers of the 20th century – but it’s consistently fascinating and filled with historical tidbits (who knew the age of consent was once 10?!?).

PBS’ Blu-Ray box-set offers a pleasing visual experience – the 1080i transfer enhancing the archival materials being displayed – while 5.1 audio includes narration from Peter Coyote, period tunes and voice-overs provided by Tom Hanks, John Lithgow, Patricia Clarkson and others. The three-disc set also includes interview outtakes, bonus scenes and a featurette.

AFRICAN CATS Blu-Ray/DVD (***, 89 mins., 2011, G; Disney): Disney’s latest “Disneynature” release is an agreeable chronicle of a cheetah and her cubs, a lioness and her Pride, in the wilds of Africa. As you might expect, majestic cinematography – brilliantly captured in HD that’s so vivid you’d almost swear some of the photography is digitally manipulated – alternates with some predictable, cliched narration provided by Samuel L. Jackson when night falls (“the predators come out!”) and a few of the cubs don’t make it (“they’re gone...forever!”). That said, some of the dramatics involved make the G-rated doc more accessible to kids and its intended family audience, and it’s no surprise that the hunting footage cuts away just when the big cats are about to indulge in a tasty meal.

Disney’s Blu-Ray looks and sounds super, the AVC encoded 1080p transfer being brilliantly presented with DTS MA audio offering a pleasant Nicholas Hooper score, far superior to his two efforts in the “Harry Potter” series. Extras are scant (filmmaker annotations, a music video and “Save the Savannah” featurette) with a DVD also included in the combo-pack.

THE CROW Blu-Ray/Digital Copy (***, 101 mins., 1994, R; Lionsgate): Fans of “The Crow” have waited a long while for the 1994 film to hit Blu-Ray in the U.S., but their patience has been rewarded with Lionsgate’s BD edition, sporting an AVC encoded 1080p transfer that does justice to director Alex Proyas’ evocative, dark visuals.

Proyas’ adaptation of James O’Barr’s comic book series was plagued with production issues, not the least of which involved the tragic death of star Brandon Lee shortly before filming concluded. Instead of shutting the picture down, Proyas rewrote some of the film and used stunt doubles (and some CGI) to finish the movie, one which met with unexpected box-office success in the spring of ‘94 due to the amount of interest stemming from Lee’s death.

Looking at the film now, it’s a highly entertaining – even influential – film that seemed to initiate the “gritty comic book” film genre, with the Dariusz Wolski cinematography, Alex McDowell sets and overall visual design of the picture outweighing its so-so script (credited to David J. Schow and John Shirley). Lee’s performance as a murdered musician who comes back from the grave to seek vengeance on the hoodlums who killed him is likewise an asset, with the film likely to have given the actor a major career boost had he not perished during production.

Due to the film having been shot in dim, murky confines (with optical effects, early CGI and a myriad of elements in play as well), “The Crow” is never going to be the type of picture you’d use to show off your high-def set. At first glance, this new 1080p transfer might not deliver the type of upgrade viewers may anticipate from its ancient DVD edition, but the enhancement in detail is, indeed, there, especially when viewed on larger sets. The DTS MA track includes a mix of ‘90s songs and one of Graeme Revell’s most satisfying scores, while extras have been carried over from the original DVD (commentary with Proyas, deleted footage, extended scenes, storyboards, and the trailer). A digital copy disc is also included.

ATTACK THE BLOCK Blu-Ray (**½, 88 mins., 2011, R; Sony): Low-budget British sci-fi fantasy captivated audiences at festivals around the globe earlier this year. Now on Blu-Ray, “Attack the Block” is likely to lose some of the steam that made it a crowd favorite (you can sense audience participation added to its appeal), but it’s still a pleasant timekiller with a group of young hooligans and residents of a London housing project banding together to fight a group of hairy aliens with big, glowing teeth who crash outside their building.

Joe Cornish’s film offers ample laughs and low-tech special effects, along with a predictable set of characters who aren’t especially interesting (there’s also a cameo from Nick Frost, who appears likely because his “Shaun of the Dead” director Edgar Wright was one of the picture’s producers). Still, “Attack of the Block” is certainly amusing while it lasts, even if the movie isn’t as much fun as its unanimously-positive reviews suggest.

Sony’s Blu-Ray includes unfilmed sequences from the movie, a documentary, a couple of behind-the-scenes featurettes and filmmaker and cast commentaries. The 1080p transfer and DTS MA soundtrack are both just fine.

SCROOGE Blu-Ray (61 mins., 1935; Legend Films): I’m not sure who considers this 1935 production of “A Christmas Carol” starring Seymour Hicks a “classic” that’s “the best adaptation” of Dickens’ perennial ever made (as the Blu-Ray back cover attests), but Legend Films’ new Blu-Ray of this minor British production is worth a look for Golden Age fans despite some shortcomings. Chief among the latter is that the disc only includes a shortened print of “Scrooge” running 61 minutes (over 10 minutes shorter than its original version), making this somewhat haphazard movie even more disjointed than it ought to be. On the positive side, the AVC encoded transfer is (like Legend’s prior Blu-Rays) unadulterated and sufficiently crisp, despite the source materials not being in pristine condition (a colorized version is included along with the original B&W release). 

Better than the movie are four bonus classic cartoons (“Santa’s Surprise, “Christmas Comes But Once a Year,” “Christmas Circus” and “Christmas Night”) presented in HD, which are included as extras alongside a bonus DVD of the unusual Jimmy Durante-Terry Moore-George Pal ‘50s film “A Christmas Wish.”

SPACE JAM Blu-Ray (**½, 87 mins., 1996, PG; Warner): Warner’s two “modern” feature attempts at resurrecting their Looney Tunes characters fared better in the 1996 live-action/animated “Space Jam” than in Joe Dante’s ill-fated “Looney Tunes: Back in Action.” Here Bugs Bunny and the gang join up with Michael Jordan as they take on the “Nerdlucks” who’ve stolen the talents of top NBA stars like Patrick Ewing and Charles Barkley (two of many cameos, including an extended one from Bill Murray) in an intergalactic game of roundball. This innocuous Ivan Reitman production did decently at the box-office in ‘96 but has been basically forgotten as the years have passed; Warner’s Blu-Ray includes a decent 1080p AVC encoded transfer plus DTS MA audio and number of extras including music videos, the trailer, a featurette, and a commentary with director Joe Pytka and special guests Bugs and Daffy Duck. 

FALL CLASSIC AT FENWAY PARK: WORLD SERIES 2004 and 2007 FILMS Blu-Ray (aprx. 3 hours; A&E/NewVideo): Blu-Ray edition of MLB’s 2004 and 2007 World Series films is hampered by the fact that neither documentary was actually shot in high-def. The ‘04 film is actually presented window-boxed and upscaled; the ‘07 film is 16:9 but most of the footage likewise seems to be coming from a standard-definition source, making this BD’s overall image quality only somewhat better than regular DVD. The disc at least does include a host of extras, from brief clips of the Red Sox’s ALCS and World Series winning outs and trophy presentation footage among other extras, making it worthwhile for Sox die-hards...just don’t be expecting much of an upgrade from the DVD in terms of visual quality.

BEAUTIFUL BOY Blu-Ray (***, 101 mins., 2010, R; Anchor Bay): Believable, sincere performances from Maria Bello and Michael Sheen make this difficult drama worth seeing. Shawn Ku’s film, written by the director and Michael Armbruster, deals with the aftermath of a married couple on the brink after their teen son commits a school shooting and takes his own life. “Beautiful Boy” naturally had a hard time finding an audience with its “torn from the headlines” premise (indeed, the packaging is deliberately vague as to the picture’s story), but the acting from the stars along with Alan Tudyk and Moon Bloodgood is so moving that the picture kept me hooked. Anchor Bay’s Blu-Ray offers deleted scenes and a filmmakers’ commentary track, plus an AVC encoded 1080p transfer and Dolby TrueHD soundtrack.

Also new from Anchor Bay on Blu-Ray:

SUBMARINE (**½, 98 mins., 2011, R) is an offbeat British character study about a teen’s coming of age in coastal Wales circa the mid ‘80s. Director Richard Ayoade adapted Joe Dunthorne’s novel and receives appropriately quirky performances from Craig Roberts as the oddball lead, Sally Hawkins and Noah Taylor as his parents, Yasmin Paige as his girlfriend and Paddy Considine as their self-help guru neighbor. Funny at times, real and “edgy” at others, “Submarine” – which was co-produced by Ben Stiller – hits Blu-Ray in a fine Anchor Bay 1080p transfer with DTS MA 5.1 audio and light extras including deleted scenes and a Making Of featurette.

FATHER OF INVENTION (*½, 93 mins., 2011, PG-13) is a misfired would-be comedic drama with Kevin Spacey as an infomercial guru who ends up spending time in prison after one of his contraptions misfires. After being released he contends with taking back his company from exec John Stamos and reuniting with estranged daughter Camilla Belle. Trent Cooper’s film, written by the director with producer Jonathan D. Krane, squanders an appealing cast (Virginia Madsen, Heather Graham, Craig Robinson and Michael Rosenbaum among them) in a helter-skelter film that veers from silly slapstick to heartwrenching drama and doesn’t work in either department. Anchor Bay’s Blu-Ray offers a 1080p transfer, 5.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtrack and a Making Of featurette.

MASTER HAROLD...AND THE BOYS Blu-Ray (**½, 83 mins., 2010, PG-13; Image): I remember reading, and writing a paper on, Athol Fugard’s award-winning play in high school, but it’s taken years for “Master Harold” to reach the screen as a feature film. This well-meaning but uneven South African adaptation from director Lonny Price (a member of the play’s original cast) stars Freddie Highmore as the 17-year-old whose lifelong relationship with his black servants (Ving Rhames and Patrick Mofokeng) is challenged by the return of his alcoholic father during the early years of South African Apartheid. Sincere performances help but the screenplay by writer Nicky Rebello somewhat awkwardly tries to open up the claustrophobic confines of its stage source and only intermittently captures the power of Fugard’s story. Image’s Blu-Ray boasts a good-looking 1080p transfer and DTS MA soundtrack.

BETTE MIDLER: THE SHOWGIRL MUST GO ON Blu-Ray (67 mins., 2010; Image): Bette Midler’s latest Las Vegas show is captured in this no-frills 67-minute concert offering the Divine Miss M performing some of her hits (“Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” “The Wind Beneath My Wings”) with a 13-piece band and 16 dancers in tow. Image’s BD includes a superbly-engineered DTS MA audio track and a 1080i HD transfer.

TERRI Blu-Ray (**½, 105 mins., R; Fox): Good-natured, low-key indie about an overweight, hapless teen (Jacob Wysocki) who takes care of his ailing uncle-guardian (Cred Bratton from “The Office”) and strikes up what appears to be an unlikely friendship with his high school principal (John C. Reilly). Azazel Jacobs’ film, written by Patrick Dewitt, boasts strong performances and a hit-or-miss script filled with some emotional moments and minor comedic beats. Fox’s Blu-Ray includes deleted scenes and a featurette, plus a 1080p transfer and DTS MA soundtrack.

Also new from Fox this month is THE HEART SPECIALIST (100 mins., 2006, R), an older indie rom-com/drama with Brian White as a Harvard Medical School grad who learns how to be a responsible doctor with the help of his new tutor Wood Harris and girlfriend Zoe Saldana. This 2006 film belatedly makes its way to Blu-Ray in a 1080p transfer with DTS MA audio and extra scenes for supplements.

PAGE ONE: INSIDE THE NEW YORK TIMES Blu-Ray (92 mins., 2011, R; Magnolia): The current state of American newspapers and the transition of media from print to the internet ought to make for a top-flight documentary, but this account of the problems inside the New York Times newsroom almost comes off as an infomercial for the publication itself. Despite having unprecedented access to the venerable publication’s interior, director Andrew Rossi’s film keeps making the same point – that it’d be an awful world if the Times doesn’t continue to survive – over and over with a mix of on-camera interviews and “fly on the wall” footage from staff meetings and the like. If you’re a daily Times reader, “Page One” might still catch your fancy, but others will wonder what the fuss is all about. Magnolia’s Blu-Ray offers a number of featurettes including a conversation with Carl Bernstein on the “real threat to newspapers” plus a 1080p transfer and DTS MA soundtrack.


LIE TO ME: Season 3 DVD [Final Season] (549 mins., 2010, R; Fox): Tim Roth starred in this moderately successful Fox prime-time drama as Dr. Cal Lightman, a “deception expert” who can read whenever a person is lying – a trait that serves him well when he’s called in for cases as diverse as political scandals to cold-blooded murders. “Lie to Me” settles into a formula pretty quickly from what I’ve sampled of it, but Roth is fun to watch and the show moves at a good clip. “Lie to Me”’s ratings were good but seldom great, and Fox canceled the series after its third season, which has just arrived on DVD. The four-disc set includes its final 13 episodes in 16:9 transfers with deleted scenes and a Fox Movie Channel conversation with Roth.

THE LEAGUE - Season 2 Blu-Ray and DVD (544 mins., 2010; Fox): Well-received FX series about a group of eclectic characters involved in a fantasy football league has just started its third season. Those who might’ve missed Season 2 would do well to check out Fox’s second season DVD and Blu-Ray set from “The League,” offering extended cuts of its six episodes in 1.78 (16:9) transfers and 5.1 soundtracks (DVD) or 1080p AVC transfers and DTS Master Audio sound (Blu-Ray). Ample extras include extended scenes, a gag reel and behind-the-scenes content on both platforms.

THE CAPTAINS DVD (96 mins., 2011; E One): William Shatner wrote, directed, and hosts this engaging, if somewhat frustratingly edited, film with “The Shat” meeting up with all the prior “Star Trek” captains – Patrick Stewart, Avery Brooks, Kate Mulgrew and Chris Pine – in order to discuss their passion for life, the creative process and what drove them to become a part of the Star Trek franchise. There are plenty of revealing moments here (especially when Stewart talks about trying to crack down on the TNG cast’s off-camera joking during season 1), but Shatner the director tends to break up the momentum of the interviews by jumping in and out of each of them; an incessant music score by Andy Milne likewise doesn’t help. Still, “The Captains” provides a good watch for Trek fans, with E One’s DVD including a so-so 16:9 (1.78) transfer and bonus Making Of featurette.

LIONSGATE ROUND-UP...In Season 5 of ACCORDING TO JIM, our leading man tries to assert control over his family unit, only to find resistance from wife Cheryl (Courtney Thorne-Smith). Lionsgate’s DVD includes 16:9 transfers, 5.1 soundtracks and two featurettes...Season 3 of THE PJ’S (270 mins.) follows more of the Hilton-Jacobs housing community and its various residents in a no-frills DVD package from Lionsgate. Full-screen transfers and 2.0 soundtracks are on-tap...Fans of BOY MEETS WORLD (552 mins.) should be pleased with Lionsgate’s package of the series’ seventh and final season, which has sweethearts Cory and Topanga tying the knot and learning that living on their own isn’t all that easy. All 23 episodes are included in full-screen transfers and 2.0 soundtracks...CINEMA PARADISO (***½, 1989, 121 mins., R) includes only the theatrical cut of Giuseppe Tornatore’s acclaimed 1989 smash and none of the various extras included in Special DVD editions that housed the movie’s longer Director’s Cut. That said, if you’re a fan of Tornatore’s shorter (and in many ways superior) version, Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray does include a very good looking 1080p transfer with DTS HD mono sound, in Italian with English subs...If you’re looking for some Japanese thrills, THE SYLVIAN EXPERIMENTS (95 mins., 2010, R) boasts some “Ring”-like scares as a scientist and her husband discover a 16mm film reel in the basement of a trashed hospital where, years before, experiments were conducted to find the “forbidden territory” of the brain. Japanese 5.1 audio, a 16:9 transfer and English subtitles are included in Lionsgate’s DVD...Along similar lines, Lionsgate brings THE CHILD’S EYE (97 mins., R) to DVD this month. This latest effort from the Pang Brothers ought to satisfy Asian horror buffs, with Lionsgate’s DVD offering a decent assortment of extras (interviews, etc.), a 16:9 transfer and 5.1 audio in both English and Cantonese...SUCKER PUNCH (92 mins., 2011) isn’t to be confused with Zack Snyder’s box-office bomb; this indie fighting drama arrives on DVD in a 16:9 (1.78) transfer with 5.1 audio and extras including a behind-the-scenes featurette.

NEW FROM E ONE: Michael Winterbottom’s THE TRIP (112 mins., 2011, R) finds Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon touring restaurants in a free-wheeling documentary that’s a must for fans of either British comic. IFC’s DVD sports a Making Of, behind the scenes featurette and deleted scenes, plus a 16:9 transfer and 5.1 soundtrack...Rhys Ifans gives a terrific performance in MR. NICE (121 mins., 2009, Not Rated), Bernard Rose’s stylish biography of Howard Marks, one of the UK’s top marijuana smugglers in  the ‘70s and ‘80s. A Making Of and the trailer are included in MPI’s region-free Blu-Ray platter, which also includes a 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack and 1080p transfer...Alexander Buravsky’s ATTACK ON LENINGRAD (110 mins.) follows journalist Mira Sorvino as she’s left behind in the battle of Leningrad and joins up with resistance fighters to combat the Nazis in this Russian production that hits Blu-Ray this month from E One. The 1080p transfer is excellent and extras include a featurette and interview with the director.

NEW FROM HISTORY/A&E/NEWVIDEO: TOP SHOT RELOADED (aprx. 10 hours, 2011) once again pits 16 marksmen (two of them women) for a $100,000 prize, engaging in various historical challenges along the way involving guns from yesteryear. Over 85 minutes of bonus footage is on-hand in the four-disc DVD set from A&E with widescreen transfers and stereo soundtracks...Volume Three of History’s PAWN STARS (aprx. 10 hours, 2010) offers 16 fan-favorite episodes from one of the higher-rated reality series currently airing on cable. The two-disc set boasts stereo soundtracks and widescreen transfers...Volume Two of AMERICAN PICKERS (aprx. 6 hours, 2010) again follows Mike Wolfe, owner of Antique Archeology, and business partner Frank Fritz as they track down artifacts of historical and/or collectible value in another high rated History series. This two-disc set includes eight episodes of “American Pickers” in widescreen transfers and stereo soundtracks.

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