10/5/10 Edition Twitter: THEAISLESEATCOM
Cavalcade of Classics Hit BD
KING KONG, Bogie & More in High-Def
Plus: ROBIN HOOD, Paramount & Lionsgate New Titles

I typically complain about the lack of catalog content on Blu-Ray, but the last few weeks have seen a massive uptick in “old movies” in high-definition that’s been a sight for sore eyes here at the Aisle Seat. Anyone with a Blu-Ray player is urged to pick up any or all of these new titles – from studios like Warner Bros. as well as independent labels Legend Films and Hens Tooth Video – because only healthy sales will encourage the release of more pictures like them in HD.

The majority of the titles come from Warner Home Video, with a gorgeous “Digibook” release as well as a pair of Humphrey Bogart classics comprising a trio of great titles for movie buffs.

John Huston’s classics THE MALTESE FALCON (****, 100 mins., 1941) and THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE (***½, 126 mins., 1947) are a pair of Golden Age favorites that have received frequent play on video and TV over the years.

Huston’s adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade detective thriller set the standard for decades of film noir mysteries to follow, establishing both Bogart as one of Hollywood’s legendary stars and Huston as a filmmaking force to be reckoned with. With an ace supporting cast (Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet among them), Huston’s “Maltese Falcon” remains an all-time classic, a landmark of the type that seldom have made their way to Blu-Ray during the first few years of the format’s lifespan.

Warner’s Blu-Ray edition of “The Maltese Falcon” seeks to rectify that problem, and most HD enthusiasts – at least movie buffs who understand what old B&W classics are supposed to look like – ought to be highly impressed by the VC-1 encoded 1080p transfer, which (like “Casablanca” before it), offers added textures, deeper blacks and contrasts than its DVD counterpart. The image hasn’t been smoothed over so that its inherent crispness has been diminished, and DTS Master Audio mono sound sports the original mix of the picture as well as it can be presented.

Extras are copious, from a full “Warner Night at the Movies” simulation (various short subjects, trailers, cartoons and newsreels, albeit all presented in standard-definition), to a vintage Warner blooper reel, commentary from Bogie biographer Eric Lax, makeup tests, a making of retrospective, Bogart trailer gallery, and no less than three radio show adaptations of Hammett’s story all on-hand.

Huston’s THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE is another revered film classic, with Bogart, Walter Huston and Tim Holt starring as a trio of hardened men who discover gold – and the greed and doubt that fills their souls shortly thereafter as they try and figure out what to do with it.

Max Steiner’s memorable score, the performances of Huston and especially Bogart, and vivid Mexican location shooting make this 1947 adaptation of B. Traven’s book (as with “The Maltese Falcon,” again scripted by John Huston) an enduring favorite among Golden Age devotees, and once again, Warner’s Blu-Ray gives B&W movie lovers their HD due with a highly-detailed 1080p VC-1 encoded transfer and DTS Master mono sound.

Supplements are highlighted by another commentary from Eric Lax, a retrospective featurette, documentary profile of John Huston, a radio dramatization featuring the stars, and another “Warner Night at the Movies” with classic shorts, trailers, newsreels, and a Leonard Maltin introduction.

Another classic received the welcome high-def treatment last week when Warner also debuted the 1933 version of KING KONG (****, 104 mins.) on Blu-Ray.

There’s not a lot I can add about this RKO monster mash that hasn’t already been written, except to say this film has long been a childhood favorite of multiple generations of viewers and still holds up with its rip-roaring action, wonderful stop-motion Willis O’Brien effects, Max Steiner’s groundbreaking score and legendary performances from Fay Wray and big o’l King Kong himself, who’s never looked better than he does here.

Warner’s Blu-Ray disc preserves all of the inherent grain of the film while better exploiting the picture’s digital restoration, which was produced to coincide with the debut of Peter Jackson’s bloated 2005 big-screen remake. Fine details emerge in the image at times, making it a definite recommendation for BD enthusiasts, though (as with “Maltese Falcon” and “Sierra Madre”) most of the HD enhancements will be best appreciated by viewers with larger TV sets. The DTS Master mono sound is just fine as well.

Extras are all carried over from the 2005 double-disc DVD, and are highlighted by a wonderful retrospective documentary that was co-produced by Peter Jackson’s Wingnut Films, with Jackson’s own production of the film’s lost “spider pit” sequence being one of the standout features. That “resurrected” sequence is shown here in HD, while a bonus doc on Merian C. Cooper’s accomplishments, a great commentary track with Ray Harryhausen and others, trailers and the “creation test footage” with Harryhausen round out a must-have disc for Kong lovers. The colorful Digibook packaging, meanwhile, includes tantilizing stills and notes from historian Rudy Behlmer.

Independent labels like Legend Films aren’t to be outdone this month as well. Legend, which released a series of terrific catalog titles from Paramount on DVD in 2008, dabbles in the Blu-Ray arena for the first time this month with a release of MANDINGO (**½, 111 mins., 1975, R), the much-ballyhooed, controversial adaptation of the Jack Kirkland novel.

“Mandingo” might sound like an “A-list” production on paper, with producer Dino DeLaurentiis, director Richard Fleischer, composer Maurice Jarre and a solid cast (including James Mason, Perry King, and Susan George) on-board. Yet the big surprise is how “Mandingo” -- the story of a slave named Mede (the un-emotive Ken Norton) who fights by day and romances a frustrated slave owner’s wife by night -- resembles more of an exploitation film of its era, with flat cinematography and a pulpy, cheap plot derived from what would be the first in a long series of novels. Only one sequel -- the even-worse 1976 flop “Drum” -- would be released (by a different studio, United Artists), but the harsh reaction to “Mandingo” would last for years: this raunchy and offensive DeLaurentiis production has been seldom screened in the U.S., with Legend’s 2008 DVD having marked its first release since the days of VHS.

Legend selected “Mandingo” for a Blu-Ray release reportedly because it was the highest-selling of its Paramount-licensed DVDs, and their first HD sojourn proves to be quite satisfying. Yes, the aged print looks like an old movie print at times with speckles and a little damage here and there, but for those of us who like movies to look like movies and not just overly-processed, noise-reduction-filtered gloss, “Mandingo” looks great in HD, not unlike watching a movie at your local drive-in back in the day. The uncompressed PCM audio does justice to Jarre’s score (one of the best things in the film, complete with a great Muddy Waters title tune), which does what it can to enhance the melodramatic happenings (scripted by Norman Wexler). Like its DVD predecessor, buffs should also note this BD contains the full-length, uncut version of “Mandingo,” as most overseas DVD versions reportedly contained a full-screen version with alternate coverage of the picture’s copious nude scenes.

A short press-kit with HD-scanned photos is the disc’s sole extra, putting the cap on a splendid Blu-Ray package for cult movie buffs and exploitation fans. Here’s hoping Legend releases more vault-favorites (“Serial,” anyone?) on Blu-Ray and that “Mandingo” sells enough copies to make that a reality.

Hens Tooth Video has also entered the HD fray this month with their first Blu-Ray release, sporting a 1080p AVC-encoded transfer of the 1980 Tim Conway-Don Knotts comedy hit THE PRIVATE EYES (***, 91 mins., PG).

Following the success of the “Apple Dumpling Gang” comedies, Conway and Knotts left Disney for this independent production which was packaged by then-fledgling TriStar Pictures and released through Roger Corman’s New World Pictures. In this wacky affair, Conway and Knotts play an inspector and doctor, respectively, who are called in to investigate the deaths of two wealthy socialites. The duo then mug with their usual shenanigans through a good-natured period comedy, questioning a variety of suspects in a formula framework that nevertheless enables the old pros to produce a steady stream of laughs. It’s cornball, nostalgic comedy fun that fans of either comedian are urged to check out.

Hens Tooth’s first Blu-Ray release is a virtual home run. The 1080p, AVC-encoded transfer, culled from a superior print than “Mandingo,” looks perfectly acceptable throughout and is complimented by 2.0 Dolby Digital audio. Extras include a new commentary, recorded for this release, with Conway (who also wrote the film with John Myhers) and director-producer Lang Elliott, fondly discussing the production and its South Carolina location shooting; the trailer; and a photo gallery.

The only element the BD is missing are a few deleted scenes which popped up years ago on NBC’s network TV broadcasts. Otherwise, “The Private Eyes” is the very sort of old-fashioned comedy that’s been lacking in the BD format – and as with “Mandingo,” here’s hoping it’s successful enough for Hens Tooth to reach into its catalog for more HD goodies (“The Groove Tube” in particular!).

New From Warner Archive

While it’s great to see a diversity of catalog content being released on Blu-Ray, DVD sales have dropped steadily in recent months, with retail space at chains like Best Buy being curtailed in correlation to the reduction in demand.

That development has lead a number of studios to implement their own manufactured-on-demand (MOD) DVD services, where consumers can order dozens of films from decades past online. Warner Home Video was the first to start up an “Archive” program, and more recently MGM/Fox, Universal and Sony have followed suit.

Through their online archive, Warners not just sells feature films but also dozens of terrific TV movies and full-length season sets from various series.

One of the latter has just hit the Archive: the Second Season of CBS’ long-running prime-time soap FALCON CREST (1320 mins., 1982-83), a release that was issued commercially in some overseas territories last year.

Offering all 22 episodes from the series’ 1982-83 sophomore campaign on six discs, “Falcon Crest” Season 2 again carries on the exploits of the Channing family, still intertwined in all aspects of Northern California’s Wine Country. Jane Wyman, Robert Foxworth, Lorenzo Lamas, Abby Dalton and Susan Sullivan once again star in this series that was, surprisingly, created by “The Waltons”’ Earl Hamner, who was attempting here to launch another family drama for the network. CBS wanted something more sensational, and Hamner laughed all the way to the bank as “Falcon Crest” became something more pulpy than his original intentions yet would air for the duration of the decade.

Satisfying full-screen transfers and 2.0 mono soundtracks adorn Warner’s DVD-R discs, which sports full color packaging and a presentation similar to their Season 1 release of “Falcon Crest” which hit stores earlier this year.

New From Paramount

THE PEACEMAKER Blu-Ray (***½, 124 mins., 1997, R; Dreamworks): Dreamworks’ first theatrical release was this underrated action vehicle for George Clooney and Nicole Kidman (who I’ve always liked better as a brunette, I might add), which only met with lukewarm results at the box-office in fall 1997.

Mimi Leder, who helmed many of E.R's finest hours as well as “Deep Impact,” made her feature directorial debut with this taut, exciting, well-scripted globe-trotting adventure. Clooney and Kidman are both believable as they attempt to track down missing nuclear warheads, in a plot that constantly moves from start to finish--pausing only to establish the various locations our characters find themselves in. If you can keep up with the plot, this is great fun, and certainly better than, say, “Air Force One,” which hit multiplexes around the same time.

Paramount’s Blu-Ray edition of “The Peacemaker” looks good, not flawless, but solid just the same. The AVC encoded 1080p transfer is generally satisfying but does look a bit aged (perhaps an older master that’s been lying around), while there’s enough activity in the DTS Master Audio soundtrack to give your home theater a workout (even Hans Zimmer's relatively subdued score is effective). Extras include supplements carried over from the prior DVD, including deleted scenes and stunt footage, and the original trailer in high-def.

Also newly available from Paramount is another early Dreamworks release, Sam Mendes’ dark portrait of American suburban life, AMERICAN BEAUTY (**½, 122 mins., 1999, R).

Truth be told I’ve never been a huge fan of this pretentious film with a narcissistic Alan Ball script and excellent performances from the likes of Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Chris Cooper, and Mena Suvari (in what might have been deemed a career-making performance if her career actually went anywhere). A winner of five Oscars and numerous critical accolades, “American Beauty” smacks of being a typical chronicle of the “darkness” inherent in American middle-class life from filmmakers who spend their time living in the Hollywood bubble, yet it certainly has its admirers who found it to be a brilliant deconstruction of repression and rebellion against the “confines of society.”

Paramount’s Blu-Ray of “American Beauty” boasts an excellent 1080p AVC encoded transfer. Conrad L. Hall’s cinematography is one of the film’s strongest elements, and both that and Thomas Newman’s superb score are well represented by the transfer and the disc’s DTS Master Audio soundtrack. Extras include commentary from Mendes and Ball, a documentary, storyboard presentation and two trailers in high def.

Also New on Blu-Ray

ROBIN HOOD Blu-Ray (**½, 141 mins./156 mins., PG-13/Unrated, 2010; Universal): This Ridley Scott rendition of the oft-told legend began its life as an offbeat project entitled “Nottingham” from writers Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris, where the Sheriff of Nottingham was supposed to be a noble protagonist taking on Robin Hood, who was portrayed, at least initially, as some sort of bad guy!

After bringing in scribe Brian Helgeland to re-write that concept, “Nottingham” was at one point then rumored to have star Russell Crowe essaying both Robin Hood and the Sheriff, playing opposite Sienna Miller who was cast as Maid Marian (Miller was ultimately replaced by Cate Blanchett).

With a pre-production history that interesting, it’s unfortunate the resulting film that came from that conceptual turbulence is so bland and dull – competent, but uninspired just the same. Stripping the original concept of its more unique elements, Scott and Helgeland instead watered down the initial idea for their film and settled on a “Gladiator”-like retelling that’s heavy on the historical background of 12th century England and almost listless in its build-up, only coming alive in its late second half with crisp action sequences that prove to be too little, too late.

The performances (save Blanchett, who doesn’t exhibit much chemistry with Crowe) are all fine, John Mathieson’s widescreen lensing is predictably heavy on the filters, and the film is undeniably the polished product of a craftsman like Scott, but the movie just never really comes to life, setting viewers up for a sequel unlikely to happen given the picture’s only modest box-office receipts.

Universal’s Blu-Ray of “Robin Hood” does look great. The details and colors in the AVC encoded 1080p transfer are terrific, while DTS Master Audio sound offers enough effects for your home theater system to get a solid workout (the less said, the better about Marc Streitenfeld’s cliched score). Extras are lightweight, comprised of a “Director’s Notebook” pop-up function with interviews and other storyboards; deleted scenes with commentary from editor Pietro Scalia (exclusive to the Blu-Ray edition); a featurette; art portfolio; and DVD with digital copy.

30 DAYS OF NIGHT: DARK DAYS Blu-Ray (*½, 92 mins., 2010, R; Sony): Lovely Kiele Sanchez is pretty much the sole reason to watch this tedious direct-to-video sequel to “30 Days of Night,” with Sanchez taking over Melissa George’s role as Stella, the small-town Alaskan heroine who seeks a way to bring her husband (Josh Hartnett’s character) back from the dead. In order to do so, she tracks down a Vampire Queen (Mia Kirshner) and her minions, but ultimately goes to far in trying to complete her mission.

Fans of the original “30 Days” graphic novel and its sequels will likely appreciate that this small-screen affair roughly follows its source material from a narrative angle, yet it’s pretty bland and seldom exciting. Director Ben Ketai and co-writer Steve Niles fail to replicate its predecessor’s visual attributes, making for a dull-looking, by-the-numbers affair that gets by because of Sanchez’s assets and little more.

Sony’s Blu-Ray release of “Dark Days” is a combo package also including a DVD, with the 1080p AVC encoded transfer and DTS Master Audio soundtrack being as satisfying as one could hope. Extras include a commentary, making of featurette, and BD exclusive comic-to-film comparison.

GET HIM TO THE GREEK Blu-Ray (***, 110 mins., 2010, R; Universal): Occasionally uproarious comedy from writer-director Nicholas Stoller and producer Judd Apatow brings back Russell Brand as obnoxious, hard partying Brit rocker Aldous Snow – a role Brand previously played in Stoller and Jason Segel’s Apatow production “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.”

“Get Him to the Greek,” however, is even funnier than “Sarah Marshall,” with Jonah Hill playing a mild-mannered music executive who, under marching orders from boss (and former P.Diddy) Sean Combs, is sent to retrieve Snow and bring him to L.A. for a big concert that’s intended to revitalize his career and, if nothing else, spark a resurgence in album sales. Naturally, everything Hill tries to coax Snow to go along with him fails spectacularly, whether it’s boozing it up or getting it on with a bevy of beautiful girls.

Even though it’s predictable and Hill has no chemistry with on-screen girlfriend Elizabeth Moss (from “Mad Men,” who might’ve been more effective playing off another leading man), “Get Him to the Greek” is an engaging comedy that also, ultimately, has more of a heart than other Apatow efforts – credit for that goes to Stoller and also Brand, who gives his character more dimension here than he illustrated in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.”

Universal’s Blu-Ray edition of “Get Him to the Greek” is a BD/digital copy combo boasting loads of extras. In addition to an extended (by four minutes) version of the picture, there’s also the theatrical cut plus deleted/extended scenes, an alternate ending and intro, gag reels, music videos, commentary and BD-exclusive music performances and additional sequences. The AVC encoded 1080p transfer is excellent, and the DTS Master Audio sound sufficiently raucous.

COCO CHANEL & IGOR STRAVINSKY Blu-Ray (**½, 119 mins., 2009, R; Sony): Well-mounted but ultimately underwhelming French film from director Jan Kounen follows the love affair between brilliant composer Igor Stravinsky – penniless following the Russian Revolution – and Coco Chanel who, following the death of her lover, encourages Stravinsky to complete his controversial “The Rite of Spring,” which was booed off the stage in Paris several years before.

Mads Mikkelsen (“Casino Royale”) and Anna Mouglalis essay the two lovers in this leisurely-paced affair, which Sony brings to Blu-Ray this month. The AVC encoded 1080p transfer is in line with the studio’s typical top-notch presentations, while DTS Master Audio sound and one Making Of featurette round out the disc.

While not a great film, foreign cinema lovers desperately searching for HD content ought to pick it up and encourage the release of more international works by supporting it just the same.

SUPERMAN/BATMAN APOCALYPSE Blu-Ray (78 mins., 2010; Warner): Another solid direct-to-video effort from Warner Animation is more of a Superman affair than a Batman one; in fact, the Caped Crusader’s virtual-cameo appearance here seems to have been utilized to drum up sales for the disc more than represent a prominent role in the story (as he doesn’t have one).

Instead, “Superman/Batman Apocalypse” primarily exists to reintroduce Supergirl to the world of small-screen animation, with Summer Glau voicing our blonde heroine and Darkseid trying to corrupt her Kryptonian values. At just a hair under 78 minutes, there’s plenty of action, nicely-drawn animation and entertainment here for viewers of all ages, with Tab Murphy adapting the DC Comic storylines.

Warner’s “Apocalypse” Blu-Ray looks terrific, the AVC encoded transfer and DTS Master Audio soundtrack both being top-notch. Extras include a preview of “All-Star Superman,” the highly-anticipated next DC Comics animated movie, plus several featurettes and four bonus cartoons starring Darkseid.

MODERN FAMILY: Season 1 Blu-Ray (513 mins., 2009-10; Fox): One of the few happy surprises from last fall’s new TV season was the debut of this very funny ABC comedy, a multi-cam series following a family led by patriarch Ed O’Neill (himself previously the star of another long-running sitcom, “Married with Children”), his daughter Julie Bowen and gay son Jesse Tyler Ferguson, along with their own respective spouses and children.

Presented in pseudo-“reality” format, “Modern Family” manages to cross multi-cultural boundaries as well as present both gay and straight couples, but in a rare manner that’s funny and fresh without being pretentious or condescending. The writing is consistently strong and the performances equally engaging – and one can easily see why the show became one of last fall’s few bona-fide breakout hits.

Season 1 of “Modern Family” arrives on Blu-Ray this month from Fox with superb AVC-encoded transfers and DTS Master Audio soundtracks comprising the better-than-broadcast HD presentation. Extras include deleted, alternate, extended scenes; the requisite gag reel; plus numerous featurettes and interviews.

THE KARATE KID Blu-Ray (***, 140 mins., 2010, PG-13; Sony): So I admit, one of the last movies I wanted to watch this year was a remake of John Avildsen’s 1984 Ralph Macchio-Pat Morita viewer favorite. The original “Karate Kid” was a sleeper smash hit that took some audiences by surprise – and since a remake never could replicate that, this reworking of Robert Mark Kamen’s original concept seemed like another desperate Hollywood cash-grab.

That being said, I admit that “The Karate Kid” 2010 isn’t all bad. In fact, on its own terms, it’s actually pretty entertaining. Who would’ve imagined that “Pink Panther 2" (I feel a pit in my stomach even typing that title) director Harald Zwart would be able to fashion a nicely-told, flavorful spin on the material, using Jaden Smith (Will’s offspring) as a Detroit teen who moves to China with his mom (Taraji P. Henson), runs into bullies and is promptly tutored in the ways of martial arts by Jackie Chan.

Yes, the movie is too long at 140 minutes, and indeed, the picture offers more in the way of kung-fu than karate, but this stylish and entertaining production still gets the job done, pushing all the right buttons right down to a solid James Horner score.

Out on Blu-Ray, Sony’s 1080p AVC encoded transfer and DTS Master Audio soundtrack are both excellent; the film, authentically shot on location, looks great thanks to veteran cinematographer Roger Pratt’s atmospheric lensing. Extras on the BD include a BD-exclusive alternate ending where Chan shows off a few of his trademark moves, plus a few lightweight supplements (Making Of, Jaden Smith featurettes, music video by someone named Justin Bieber?) that make you imagine Sony’s holding over the more substantial extras until the inevitable “Special Edition” double-dip.

Lionsgate Catalog Titles on Blu-Ray

Coming out nationally this week after being available in Best Buy store locales for the last month or thereabouts, Lionsgate’s wave of Blu-Ray catalog titles boast generally top-notch transfers for an extremely reasonable price tag (under $15 in most outlets). Here’s a rundown:

THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (***, 82 mins., 1999, R), shot on video, doesn’t really a gain a whole lot in high-def, which is to be expected given the humble origins of this 1999 indie box-office smash. Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray reprieves all the extras from the DVD, with director/producer commentary, deleted scenes, trailers and documentaries. My original review of the film can be seen here.

2001 MANIACS Blu-Ray (*½, 2005, 87 mins., R; Lions Gate): Remember back in the ‘80s when you’d routinely see one cheapo, direct-to-video horror effort after another on the rack of your local video store haunt? You’d probably hang out with your high school pals and nab the one with the creepiest or silliest cover, take it home, and then feel let down that the content wasn’t up to the packaging. That’s the sort of nostalgic let down you may experience should you view this “remake” of Herschell Gordon Lewis’ “Two Thousand Maniacs,” re-christened “2001 Maniacs” and offering the gleeful sight of Robert Englund, complete with Confederate eyepatch, on the front cover. Alas, little else in this would-be horror offering is as inspired, with director Tim Sullivan doing an appropriately lifeless job attempting to juggle the requisite gore (and there’s a good amount) and comedic interludes. Lions Gate’s Blu-Ray is packed with extras, including two commentaries, deleted/extended scenes, a Making Of featurette, DTS Master Audio sound and a decent AVC encoded transfer. Speaking of the deleted scenes, what does it tell you that John Landis’ original opening apparently wasn’t good enough for this movie, necessitating that the director’s role be re-filmed with an over-the-top Peter Stomare? Maniacal, to say the least!

OPEN WATER/OPEN WATER 2 Blu-Ray (*½, 81 mins., 2004/*, 94 mins., 2006; Both R; Lionsgate): 2004's most overrated critical darling, “Open Water” posits what would happen to an American yuppie couple who, while on vacation, are left for dead by their diving boat out in the middle of the open ocean. There, the two bicker, argue, and try to place the proper blame on each other, while a school of vicious sharks swims nearby, ready to strike at any moment.

After successful festival screenings and a landslide of positive reviews, I have to confess that I expected a lot more from “Open Water” than your typical indie film. Unfortunately, I should have known better: after a tedious opening 15 minutes (complete with the year’s most gratuitous nude scene), “Open Water” hits the water and quickly drowns under its own pretensions. Though the initial scenario keeps you watching initially, the two lead characters become so grating that you’d wish the sharks would just hurry up and have them for dinner. Unfortunately, the movie takes forever to get to that moment, with interminable scenes of the couple arguing over running late constantly, the importance of each other’s daily grind...I kept on thinking that “Open Water” was going to be stopping any second for commentary by Dr. Phil.

Lions Gate’s Blu-Ray edition of “Open Water” looks decent. The AVC encoded transfer is satisfying given its digital-video origins, backed with DTS Master Audio sound that’s pretty subdued. The use of music in the film is occasionally absurd, such as when an African children’s chorus sings a melancholy ballad while the characters are about to be consumed for lunch. Audio commentary, a Making Of, and trailers round out the disc, which also includes the listless 2006 direct-to-video sequel “Open Water 2:Adrift,” which likewise sports a 1080p AVC encoded transfer and a more active DTS Master Audio soundtrack.

“Open Water” was based very loosely on a 1998 incident that occurred off the coast of Australia, where a pair of Americans were stranded by their tour boat. Though the couple’s bodies were never recovered (and there were no signs of any shark attacks), some locals indicated they had faked their deaths and were seen in various places in the days following the incident. One wonders how much more compelling a film based on the real events might have been than “Open Water” itself.    

BAD LIEUTENANT Blu-Ray (**½, 96 mins., 1992, NC-17; Lionsgate): Abel Ferrara’s raunchy vehicle for star Harvey Keitel gets a BD Special Edition from Lionsgate, offering commentary from the director and cinematographer Ken Kelsch, plus a retrospective documentary with cast and crew interviews, a nicely-textured AVC encoded transfer and DTS Master Audio soundtrack.

HARD CANDY Blu-Ray (**½, 105 mins., 2005, R; Lionsgate): Terrific performances from Ellen Page and Patrick Wilson make this disturbing, play-like vehicle about a sexual predator and the young girl who (memorably) turns the tables on him. Excellent AVC-encoded 1080p transfer, DTS Master Audio soundtrack, and loads of extras (two commentaries, deleted scenes, documentary, featurettes, trailer) comprise a robust package for interested viewers.

SECRETARY Blu-Ray (***, 111 mins., 2002, R; Lionsgate): Maggie Gyllenhaal is great as a troubled secretary who starts up an S&M relationship with lawyer-boss James Spader in Steven Shamberg’s offbeat (to put it mildly) but satisfying 2002 indie affair. Once again boasting a crisp AVC encoded 1080p transfer and DTS Master soundtrack, Lionsgate’s BD includes commentary from Shanberg and writer Erin Cressida Wilson, a photo gallery and promo featurette.

HIGH TENSION Blu-Ray (**½, 111 mins., 2003, Unrated; Lionsgate): Somewhat overpraised but stylish French thriller looks great in HD, with Lionsgate’s 1080p AVC encoded transfer one of the best of this catalog batch. Extensive supplements include both the French language director’s cut as well as the U.S. English-dubbed version, commentary from director Alexandre Aja, several featurettes and a DTS Master Audio soundtrack.

WONDERLAND Blu-Ray (**, 104 mins., 2003, R; Lionsgate): James Cox’s 2003 chronicle of the real-life 1981 “Wonderland Murders” is a seedy affair with Val Kilmer eating up the scenery as porn star John Holmes. Beyond another superior 1080p AVC encoded transfer and DTS Master Audio track, Lionsgate’s BD includes deleted scenes, real crime scene footage, commentary with Cox and co-writer Captain Mauzner, and a Court TV special on the murders.


THE CLEVELAND SHOW - Season 1 (2010, 472 mins.; Fox): Seth MacFarlane’s first spin-off from “Family Guy” follows Cleveland, the show’s sole African-American character, and his son as he marries a single mom and moves to Virginia.

Though an initial success right off the bat on Fox, “The Cleveland Show” saw its ratings substantially diminish in its second season debut last week – possibly the sign of typical network viewing erosion, or perhaps an indicator that viewers are onto “Cleveland” being little more than “Family Guy”’s comedic leftovers (something I used to think was limited to “American Dad”). While I’ve long been a fan of “Family Guy,” even that series has become increasingly hit-or-miss of late, and the writing and jokes on “The Cleveland Show” aren’t as strong – add in that I’ve never felt Cleveland himself was all that funny to begin with and I can’t say that I’m a big fan of the series.

Fox’s DVD of “The Cleveland Show”’s first season boasts widescreen (16:9, 1.78) transfers and 5.1 soundtracks, plus commentary on select episodes, numerous deleted scenes, uncensored sequences, storyboards, featurettes and more.

BLUE MOUNTAIN STATE: Season 1 (286 mins., 2010; Lionsgate): One of Spike TV’s few dramatic series, this semi-raunchy show follows the exploits of the fictional “Blue Mountain State Goats” on and off the field. Deleted scenes, outtakes, 5.1 soundtracks and 1.78 (16:9) transfers are all on-tap in Lionsgate’s DVD edition of the series’ first season.

NEXT TIME: Peanuts Holiday BD Collection and more.
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