11/10/09 Edition
November Mania Edition
DOWNHILL RACER Debuts on Criterion DVD

Two contrasting portraits of sports and the nature of competition kick off this week’s Aisle Seat.

Robert Redford’s 1969 film DOWNHILL RACER (***, 101 mins., Criterion) is a film that its admirers have long desired to see on DVD, and understandably so: director Michael Ritchie, Redford (who produced the film and came up with its concept), and writer James Salter fashioned a taut, economically-told portrait of a skier named David Cappellet, whose single-minded desire to achieve success on the U.S. ski team fuels his ego-centric behavior.

Atmospherically shot in a pseudo-documentary style on location in Europe -- in some of the most renowned Alpine locales in Austria, France and Switzerland -- “Downhill Racer” is both a product of its time and a still-relevant commentary on the nature of the modern athlete. As Redford himself discusses in the disc’s supplements, winning truly is everything in this country -- so much that it can provide an excuse for abhorrent behavior. It’s not that Redford’s character in “Downhill Racer” is intensely dislikeable (at least not when compared to some of the completely off-putting professional athletes we see today), but he is a cipher whose motives are individualistic and internal. Winning, to him, seems to be the only thing guiding him forward, even though his coach (Gene Hackman) attempts to balance his behavior with his Gold-medal potential talent.

It’s an interesting film with fine, early performances from the likes of Redford and Hackman (a young Dabney Coleman also essays one of Redford’s fellow team members), not to mention superb cinematography that captures the essence of Alpine skiing circa the late ‘60s, when live sports coverage was just beginning to affirm its place in the broadcast spectrum and men like David Chappellet were on the cusp of turning into international sports heroes.

Criterion’s DVD of this 1969 Paramount release includes a fine 16:9 (1.85) transfer along with mono sound and a number of extras: new video interviews with Redford, Salter, editor Richard Harris and other members of the production team; audio excerpts from a 1977 AFI seminar with the late Michael Ritchie; a rare promotional featurette entitled “How Fast?”; the trailer; and booklet notes from Variety critic Todd McCarthy.

In stark contrast to Redford’s cynical vision is Sylvester Stallone’s 1976 Oscar winner “Rocky,” which has been issued on video countless times in the past, not to mention on Blu-Ray as well.

Fox and MGM’s new ROCKY: THE UNDISPUTED COLLECTION sports the previous “Rocky” and “Rocky Balboa” Blu-Ray discs, along with the Blu debuts of sequels “Rocky” II, III, IV and V, plus a “bonus disc” mostly housing the special features from the first movie’s 2006 Special Edition DVD release.

Since I’ve previously covered all of these films at one time or another (and most viewers are, by and large, more than familiar with them), here’s a quick synopsis of what you’ll find in this set:

-ROCKY (****, 119 mins., 1976, PG) appears here in its original Blu-Ray release from 2006. The MPEG-2 HD transfer wasn’t regarded as a knockout three years ago and isn’t all that impressive now either, offering only a minor upgrade on its 2006 DVD counterpart. The DTS Master Audio sound is okay but nothing to write home about, and as was the case with too many early-format Blu-Ray releases, no extras were included.

-ROCKY II (***, 119 mins., 1979, PG) continued the story of Stallone’s Italian Stallion in a somewhat long-winded but generally satisfying sequel, making its Blu-Ray debut here in a superior AVC-encoded transfer with DTS Master Audio sound. The elements and overall presentation are a definite step up from the first “Rocky.”

-ROCKY III (***, 99 mins., 1982, PG) was another massive smash for Stallone at the box-office, though its shortened running time emphasized montages and boxing action over character (a problem “Rocky IV” would magnify further). This fan-favorite outing receives another superb AVC-encoded 1080p transfer with DTS Master Audio sound.

-ROCKY IV (**½, 91 mins., 1985, PG) found Rocky battling Dolph Lundgren’s Ivan Drago in a 91-minute movie that looks, sounds, and plays like an extended music video. The montages are pulse-pounding and it helps that the soundtrack is filled with memorable tunes, but dramatically, “Rocky IV” is the most superficial of the entire series, in spite of its box-office success. Once again the AVC encoded 1080p transfer is excellent, as is the DTS Master Audio sound.

-ROCKY V (**½, 104 mins., 1990, PG-13) attempted to bring Philadelphia’s favorite boxer back to his roots with a character-intensive story, penned by Stallone but directed (for the first time since the original picture) by John G. Avildsen. The movie doesn’t entirely work but it has its moments, along with a superb, Alan Menken-penned end credit song, “Measure of a Man,” performed by Elton John and effectively set to a montage of stills from previous series entries. The AVC-encoded, 1080p transfer looks fresh and DTS Master Audio sound rounds out the disc.

-ROCKY BALBOA (***½, 102 mins., 2006, PG) triumphantly brought Stallone’s most beloved character back to the screen in a moving, poignant story written and directed by the star himself. The Blu-Ray disc included is identical to Sony’s 2007 BD release, which I covered in detail here.

MGM’s well-packaged Blu-Ray box-set is capped by a bonus disc offering a Blu-Ray exclusive game “Feeling Strong Now!” plus all the extras (sans the movie’s commentary tracks) from the 2006 “Rocky” Special Edition DVD, plus trailers for all the series films. A full rundown of those supplements can be accessed in my original review.

In all, Fox and MGM have done an excellent job packaging the entire “Rocky” series on Blu-Ray in an affordable package. While it’s disappointing that the original “Rocky” wasn’t remastered to include a healthier transfer and its commentary tracks, it’s still a fine set that ought to belong on any Stallone fan’s shopping list this holiday season. Yo!

New from Disney

Disney’s latest pair of releases from the fine folks at Pixar Entertainment include the company’s most recent box-office triumph, UP (***, 96 mins., 2009, PG).

One of the odder offerings that Pixar has produced thus far, “Up” is nevertheless a poignant and surprisingly moving tale of an old, retired balloon salesman named Carl Fredricksen, who minus his late wife (and lifelong best friend) Ellie, resides in the same house they lived in for decades -- and one that’s now surrounded by urban sprawl. A few unfortunate incidents nearly send Carl off to Shady Acres Nursing Home, until he sets off on the ultimate adventure: with hundreds of balloons literally lifting his home into the air, Carl flies off in search of a mythical South American paradise...with the unexpected company of an eight-year-old cub scout named Russell along for the ride.

Pete Docter directed this newest Pixar hit, which is tinged with sadness, beginning with a montage of sequences showing Carl’s childhood, his marriage to Ellie, their inability to have kids, and her eventual passing. The ensuing story is also offbeat, to say the least, with Carl and Russell running into a long-lost explorer (voiced by Christopher Plummer), who’s still living in his old zeppelin along with dozens of dogs who talk thanks to a special collar.

On paper “Up” undoubtedly didn’t sound like a typical Disney/Pixar offering, and one surmises that only through the company’s stature could a story this eclectic ever go into production to begin with. With its more mature elements making it most worthwhile for older kids and adults, “Up” is an unusual, slightly overlong Pixar production that nevertheless includes some wonderful, magical sequences, along with beautiful animation and a lovely score by Michael Giacchino that’s far and away the most satisfying work I’ve heard from the composer.

Disney’s four-disc Blu-Ray combo pack sports an unsurprisingly dazzling 1080p transfer with DTS Master Audio sound and plenty of extras, including an all-new Dug the Dog short; the theatrical short “Partly Cloudy”; alternate scenes; a Making Of with Docter and his co-writer/director Bob Peterson; Blu-Ray exclusive documentaries on the set’s second disc, along with an interactive game; a copy of the film on standard-definition DVD; and a digital copy disc for portable media players rounding out the release.

Also new from Disney is the first Blu-Ray release of Pixar’s delightful 2001 production MONSTERS, INC. (***, 93 mins., 2001, G).

Not quite as ingenious as the original "Toy Story" but more entertaining than its sequel, “Monsters, Inc.” is one of those rare family films that's almost as much fun for adults as it is for kids. Billy Crystal and John Goodman voice a pair of monsters who terrorize kids when the lights go out at night -- this in a surreal creature world where humans are viewed as the terrifying ones! Naturally, shenanigans ensue once the boys accidentally bring home a human child -- a plot device that the equally successful (and entertaining) animated feature “Ice Age” also exploited to good effect.
Disney’s four-disc Blu-Ray edition is another combo pack sporting a standard-definition DVD along with a digital copy disc. The BD houses yet another outstanding 1080p transfer with DTS Master Audio sound plus all-new, exclusive supplements including a tour of the new “Monsters, Inc.” Tokyo Disneyland ride; commentary; and a filmmakers roundtable discussion. Extras culled from the original DVD include an original short subject ("Mike's New Car"), the Oscar-winning short ("For The Birds") that preceded “Monsters, Inc.” in theaters, and a full tour of the film’s production, from early conceptual meetings through animation tests, story alterations, promotion, deleted ideas, and more.

It's a terrific package for a wonderful movie that, along with “Up,” will undoubtedly prove to be a family favorite this holiday season.

On DVD & Blu-Ray

DAWSON’S CREEK: The Complete Series DVD (1998-2003, Sony): In the late ‘90s Kevin Williamson created a teen angst drama that managed to strike the right balance between the soap opera melodramatics of "90210" and the more "reality" driven edge of "My So-Called Life."

When it initially premiered on the then-fledgling WB network in 1998, “Dawson’s Creek” also had controversy written all over it: one of the characters was supposed to have an affair with one of his teachers, while sex was supposed to have been a freely-discussed topic. Parents wondered if the show would be suitable for youngsters, while the network issued various "warnings" to its targeted demographic about the subject matter.

That controversy, though, soon died out as it became apparent how sweet and innocuous “Dawson’s Creek” actually was. Williamson's often smartly-written show examined the life of a Cape Cod-ish teen named Dawson Leery (James Van Der Beek) who wants to be the next Steven Spielberg, his best-friend/soulmate Joey Potter (Katie Holmes), Jen, the new girl in town with a troubled past (Michelle Williams), and their ever-lovable, underachieving pal Pacey Whitter (Joshua Jackson). "Capeside" is your quintessential little New England coastal town, and while the show was actually filmed on location in North Carolina, the program did an excellent job capturing the authentic  feel of a place far removed from shows like 90210, with more level-headed kids trying to live out their aspirations and move forward with their lives.

The interplay between the characters and the show's writing -- especially in its first season -- are what made “Dawson’s Creek” a big hit for the WB, with the program being constantly aware of its genre and sometimes mocking it. At the same time, the show indulged in all the trappings of a good prime time teen drama: scandals, dating, sex, family relationships, personal responsibility, and all the inherent problems in growing up were deftly exploited by the producers, who brought in filmmakers like Steve Miner to help establish the program's look and feel. And through it all, the core ensemble cast remained an attractive, appealing bunch to watch each week.

What more can I say? I admit it: I watched “Creek” almost from start to finish, and lived through its uneven subsequent seasons when the cast tried to hang together despite some sub-par plots -- problems, though, that any TV show with a five-year run often go through. “Dawson’s Creek” was an unabashed guilty pleasure for a lot of viewers, not just teens but anyone old enough to have watched the John Hughes comedies from the '80s. Its myriad of genre conventions were complimented particularly in its first few seasons by characters you cared about and situations most everyone lived through at one time or another.

Whether or not you enjoyed those times can say a lot about one's tolerance for “Dawson’s Creek,” but Sony has done an excellent job packaging the complete series on DVD in a hardbound box-set, presenting all 127 episodes on 24 discs. The full-screen transfers and 2.0 Dolby Stereo soundtracks are all terrific, with the shows offering a bouncy array of memorable pop tunes throughout. Extras, in addition to its collectible packaging, include an interview with Williamson, a trivia game, a bonus soundtrack CD, and previously-released supplements from its respective, individual season box-set releases.

If you're still reading this review, chances are that you too are a closet fan of “Dawson’s Creek,” in which case this DVD edition will bring back some fond memories. Even when it's bad, it's still good, and the program's solid, five-year run proved that there are plenty of Capeside addicts out there who will enjoy having the complete series on disc, to enjoy again at their leisure.

I LOVE YOU BETH COOPER Blu-Ray (**, 102 mins., 2009, PG-13; Fox). WHAT IT IS: Hugely disappointing teen comedy from director Chris Columbus, who tried, unsuccessfully, to go back to his “Adventures in Babysitting” roots with this adaptation of a Larry Doyle novel. Paul Rust plays a nerdy high school valedictorian who decides to focus his graduation speech on singing the praises of gorgeous, inaccessible popular girl Beth Cooper (Hayden Panettiere from “Heroes”). From there Rust and his best friend get into a bevy of shenanigans with Beth, her snobby best friends and her wacked-out, bad-boy military boyfriend, who crashes Rust’s intimate social gathering and tries to get revenge by chasing the group all over town. A few amusing lines and introspective scenes in Doyle’s own script fail to compensate for a film that simply seems indifferent -- poorly cast and lazily directed. Panettiere is actually quite good as Beth, eventually showing some vulnerability behind her carefree attitude, but Rust (in a role that the likes of Matthew Broderick or Jon Cryer could’ve essayed decades ago) is miscast, coming off as one-note and over-the-top, and has no chemistry with Panettiere whatsoever. TECH SPECS: Fox’s Blu-Ray disc of “I Love You, Beth Cooper” is a winner, sporting a lovely AVC encoded transfer and DTS Master Audio soundtrack, which is fortunate as Christophe Beck’s score is one of the picture’s more positive attributes. Extras include an alternate ending and a number of deleted scenes, plus mostly fluffy featurettes. AISLE SEAT BOTTOM LINE: It’s possible that, on paper, “I Love You, Beth Cooper” had all the ingredients for a teen comedy along the lines of a quintessential John Hughes piece. Unfortunately, something went very wrong en route to its finished product. A major letdown, particularly considering its director.

THE ANSWER MAN Blu-Ray (***, 97 mins., 2008, R; Magnolia). WHAT IT IS: Enjoyable, low-key independent film from first-time writer-director John Hindman offers Jeff Daniels as a reclusive author whose inspirational self-help book, “Me and God,” continues to top the bestselling charts some two decades after its initial publication. Daniels’ Arlen Faber now spends his time trying to get his latest tome finished, and avoiding the public whenever he can. Things change once he meets a lovely chiropractor (Lauren Graham) who straightens out his back problem, along with a young bookshop owner (Lou Taylor Pucci) who just got out of rehab and can use some of Faber’s old inspiration. Though Hindman’s script seems a bit formulaic at times, and becomes particularly contrived in its final third, he receives superb performances from Daniels and Graham, with the film unfolding at a nice, leisurely pace accentuating its character development. TECH SPECS: Magnolia’s Blu-Ray disc offers a fine 1080p transfer with DTS Master Audio sound, the latter highlighted by a pleasant Teddy Castellucci score that effectively enhances the drama. Extras include commentary and several featurettes. AISLE SEAT BOTTOM LINE: A nice little movie that gets by on the charms of its stars, “The Answer Man” does feel like a bit of an R-rated Hallmark TV movie (the only thing separating it are a group of f-bombs). These days, though, there are far worse ways of spending your time, and Graham and Daniels are terrific together. Recommended.

ALIENS IN THE ATTIC Blu-Ray (**½, 86 mins., 2009, PG; Fox). WHAT IT IS: Surprisingly fun, if forgettable, family comedy finds a gaggle of little green aliens crashing a suburban family’s vacation home, looking to invade but running into a group of resourceful kids who try and stop them. It’s mostly by-the-numbers, ‘80s-esque genre shenanigans from director John Schultz, but there are a few laughs and an engaging supporting performance by Robert Hoffman (as co-star Ashley Tisdale’s on-screen boyfriend) to help pass the 86-minute runtime fairly painlessly for adults. Kids ought to enjoy it even more. TECH SPECS: Sporting a superb AVC encoded transfer and DTS Master Audio sound (with John Debney providing a highly satisfying orchestral score), Fox has delivered an excellent BD package. Extras include deleted scenes, an alternate ending, numerous featurettes, a music video, and a digital copy for portable media players. AISLE SEAT BOTTOM LINE: Innocuous, light entertainment for kids, “Aliens in the Attic” at times resembles an episode of “Amazing Stories” padded out to feature length, and the little ones should find it quite entertaining.

THE UGLY TRUTH Blu-Ray (**, 96 mins., 2009, R; Sony). WHAT IT IS: Grating romantic-comedy with some R-rated raunchy humor from star/co-producer Katherine Heigl features the actress as a TV producer who wants the perfect guy, and takes advice from her boorish on-air star (Gerard Butler) in order to find him. The duo eventually fall for each other in a contrived, caustic script credited to Nicole Eastman and the usually dependable Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith, with Heigl sending her character into an almost cartoon-like state that doesn’t resemble reality in any way, shape or form. TECH SPECS: Sony’s Blu-Ray disc showcases another excellent AVC-encoded transfer with DTS Master Audio sound and special features including a gag reel, deleted/extended scenes and a digital copy of the film for portable media players. AISLE SEAT BOTTOM LINE: Heigl needs to embrace the concept of restraint as this is not only the second romantic-comedy she’s appeared in where the actress pushes too hard, but also lacks chemistry with her leading man. “The Ugly Truth” nevertheless drummed up a solid return at the box-office, in spite of the fact that it’s not particularly funny or romantic.

SPREAD DVD and Blu-Ray (**½, 97 mins., 2009, R; Anchor Bay). WHAT IT IS: Ashton Kutcher produced and stars in this uneven but interesting account of a young man with good looks who navigates his way through the L.A. social circuit, leaping from one woman to the next. Anne Heche, Rachel Blanchard and Maria Conchita Alonso co-star, but it’s Margarita Levieva (who was terrific in the little-seen “The Invisible”) as the more “age-appropriate” female who threatens to turn our gigolo’s life around. Jason Dean Hall’s script affords Kutcher the opportunity to extend his acting range, and David Mackenzie keeps the film from becoming either too “edgy” or schmaltzy. TECH SPECS: Anchor Bay’s DVD and Blu-Ray presentations of “Spread” both include commentary with Kutcher, Heche and Levieva, along with several behind-the-scenes featurettes. The DVD’s 16:9 (2.35) transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack are both excellent, while the Blu-Ray’s AVC-encoded 1080p transfer (with Dolby TrueHD audio) is an appreciable upgrade. AISLE SEAT BOTTOM LINE: “Spread” doesn’t entirely work, and its sexual content makes it inappropriate for some of Kutcher’s younger fans, but it has some good performances and incisive dialogue en route to its mostly satisfying finish.

MY BRILLIANT CAREER Blu-Ray (***, 100 mins., 1979, Blue Underground). WHAT IT IS: Gillian Armstrong became an international name thanks to her 1979 adaptation of Miles Franklin’s novel, a vivid account of a headstrong young female writer (Judy Davis) who has to choose between her ambitions and affection for a prospective husband (Sam Neill), as well as whether or not she should confirm to “society.” Excellent performances from Davis, Neill and Wendy Hughes made “My Brilliant Career” a worldwide hit, launching the careers of its stars and director Armstrong, here working from a script by Eleanor Witcombe. TECH SPECS: Blue Underground’s Blu-Ray edition of “My Brilliant Career” includes a satisfying 1080p transfer (1.78 widescreen) with DTS Master Audio and Dolby Digital 5.1 EX audio options. Extras, cobbled together from its prior DVD release, include commentary with Armstrong, an interview with the director, a talk with producer Margaret Fink, Cannes premiere footage, trailers, and a featurette entitled “The Miles Franklin Story.” AISLE SEAT BOTTOM LINE: One of the more memorable Aussie imports of its era, “My Brilliant Career” has been superbly brought to Blu-Ray courtesy of Blue Underground. Recommended!

New From BBC Video

BBC Video has several new titles available this month, including a couple that’ll be terrific for gift giving this holiday season. Here’s a look:

THE STEVE COOGAN COLLECTION DVD (BBC): Outstanding compilation includes the complete run of the British comedian’s sublime “Knowing Me, Knowing You,” “I’m Alan Partridge,” “Knowing Me, Knowing Yule,” “Saxondale,” “Dr. Terrible’s House of Horrible,” “Coogan’s Run,” “Paul and Pauline Calf’s Video Diaries,” “Paul and Pauline Calf’s Cheese and Ham Sandwich,” and “The Tony Ferrino Phenomenon,” all of which have been previously released but never in one conveniently priced box-set. The set also sports over four hours of special features, making it a must for British comedy buffs.

EDGE OF DARKNESS DVD (314 mins., 1986, BBC): Martin Campbell directed this taut, compelling, acclaimed 1986 British mini-series with Bob Peck as a detective who searches for the killer of his daughter (Joanne Whalley), an environmental activist who’s gunned down in cold blood right in front of him. Superb performances from Peck, Joe Don Baker, Ian McNeice and John Woodvine make this one of the most memorable ‘80s British TV imports, backed by a marvelous Michael Kamen-Eric Clapton score. BBC’s Special Edition DVD imports the extras from its superlative Region 2 counterpart, including an alternate ending to the final episode, interviews, and a music-only track of Kamen and Clapton’s score. The 4:3 transfer and mono sound are both satisfying.

THE SARAH JANE ADVENTURES, SEASON 2 DVD (338 mins., 2009, BBC): Season two of the “Dr. Who” spin-off includes 12 episodes comprised of the following storylines: “The Last Sontaran,” “The Day of the Clown,” “Secret of the Stars,” “The Mark of the Berseker,” “The Temptation of Sarah Jane Smith,” and “Enemy of the Bane.” Extras include cast/crew interviews, audio clips, UK TV spots, character profiles, trivia, and other goodies. The 16:9 transfers and 2.0 stereo soundtracks are all top-notch.

CHARLES DARWIN AND THE TREE OF LIFE DVD (60 mins., 2009): David Attenborough profiles Darwin’s origin of the species and his own connection with Darwin’s beliefs in this hour-long documentary. The 16:9 transfer and 2.0 stereo soundtrack are both excellent.

Also Coming From Criterion

In addition to “Downhill Racer” Criterion has two other special editions lined up this month...

THE GOLDEN AGE OF TELEVISION DVD (485 mins., 1953-58; Criterion): Three-disc Criterion release celebrates the early days of television, back when filmed plays featuring some of the most talented actors and directors were commonplace on the broadcast airwaves. Included here are the complete live broadcasts (via Kinescope) of “Marty” (1953), “Patterns” (1955), “No Time for Sergeants” (1955), “A Wind from the South” (1955), “Requiem for a Heavyweight” (1956), “Bang the Drum Slowly” (1956), “The Comedian” (1957), and “Days of Wine and Roses” (1958). Commentaries from directors John Frankenheimer, Delbert Mann, Ralph Nelson and Daniel Petrie are on-hand along with interviews with the men and women who helped bring the shows to life, including Andy Griffith, Julie Harris, Kim Hunter, Richard Kiley, Piper Laurie, Jack Palance and others. The transfers are derived from the early ‘80s PBS airings of these shows, and are topped by insightful booklet notes from curator Ron Simon on each program. (Available Nov. 17)

GOMORRAH DVD (137 mins., 2008; Criterion): Matteo Garrone’s controversial Italian thriller arrives in the U.S. via a superior Criterion release, sporting a digital transfer supervised by the director and cinematographer Marco Onorato, plus the trailer; a 60-minute documentary on the production; video interviews with Garrone and star Toni Servillo; a conversation with writer Roberto Saviano; deleted scenes; and a booklet featuring comments from critic Chuck Stephens. The 16:9 (2.35) transfer is fine and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound rounds out the release. (Available Nov. 24)

Lionsgate New Blu-Ray Releases

Until the recent, acclaimed “Hurt Locker,” Kathryn Bigelow had a track record of making really good looking films -- not necessarily good movies, just good looking films.

In fact, the movie that landed her a place among cult movie fans is really the only film in her past filmography that truly demands repeat viewing: the 1987 vampire-western thriller NEAR DARK (***, 1987, 94 mins., R; Lionsgate).

Bigelow and Eric Red's original script finds innocent guy Adrian Pasdar falling for cute young Jenny Wright -- only to learn she's part of a bloodsucking family of drifters lead by Lance Henriksen, who's one of several “Aliens” alumni on-hand here (Bill Paxton and Jennette Goldstein play fellow vamps). Their trek through a barren countryside makes for a violent, visually charged ride of horrific entertainment that was generally well-received by critics and embraced by legions of fans on video in the years since its original release (through the DeLaurentiis Entertainment Group, which went under right after the film's debut).

Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray release supplants Anchor Bay’s prior, out of print DVD and sports a terrific AVC encoded 1080p transfer with DTS Master Audio sound, giving a solid backing to Tangerine Dream’s moody score.

Extras are culled from Anchor Bay’s DVD, including a Bigelow commentary that’s quite candid and enlightening, while a 47-minute documentary covers the bases from conception to post-production, featuring interviews with Bigelow and all the major cast members (sans Wright). A sole deleted scene is included with Bigelow's commentary (there's no dialogue), along with original trailers.

It's an excellent package that should be on the must list for all die-hard horror aficionados.

Also new from LG is a Blu-Ray edition of the entertaining 1988 Arnold Schwarzenegger-Jim Belushi team-up RED HEAT (***, 106 mins., R), which has been polished off with a new 1080p transfer and DTS Master Audio soundtrack, both of which are nice upgrades on the prior DVD releases of the picture.

The extras are holdovers from the 2004 DVD edition, which aren't comprehensive (a Walter Hill commentary might have been nice), but still add a bit of value to the presentation. The ten-minute "East Meets West" looks at Carolco execs Mario Kassar and Andrew Vajna, how they formed their production house that cranked out countless memorable '80s epics, and their role in producing the Walter Hill film. Additional featurettes look at the movie's stunts and character actor Ed O'Ross, while a full compliment of trailers and television spots -- as well as an extended TV special promoting the theatrical release -- round out the disc.

Also New & Noteworthy

BRUNO DVD (**, 82 mins., 2009, R; Universal). WHAT IT IS: Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest excursion into the world of “real comedy” follows his gay Australian “fashionista” to the USA where he encounters all kinds of stereotypes and flaunts his “junk” for lack of a better term. Baron Cohen’s “Borat” shocked some audiences but had a few laughs that helped to cover its one-joke premise and bloated running time;“Bruno” is far more graphic in comparison and sexually oriented. And nowhere as funny. DVD SPECS: Universal sent along a standard-definition DVD for review with a fine 16:9 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, plus deleted/alternate/extended scenes and a behind-the-scenes segment with Cohen and director Larry Charles detailing their creative collaboration. AISLE SEAT BOTTOM LINE: Whether or not the gags are staged (a charge rightly leveled at portions of “Borat”), “Bruno” is highly uneven and downright foul at times. Die-hard fans of the comedian who aren’t easily offended will want to check it out regardless.

CRIMEWAVE: 18 Months of Mayhem DVD (94 mins., 2008; History/A&E): Expert History Channel documentary profiles the crime wave of 1933-34, when names like John Dilinger, Machine Gun Kelly, Ma Barker, Bonnie and Clyde, and Pretty Boy Floyd appeared on newspaper headlines nationwide. Using archival footage and reenactments this well-produced doc provides a fine, if somewhat superficial, snapshot of the era’s most dastardly villains.

MOONSHOT Blu-Ray (94 mins., 2008; History/A&E): Another History Channel documentary recounts the story of Apollo 11 and the first manned Moon landing. Mixing NASA footage newly transferred to HD “Moonshot” is a well-rounded profile of the Apollo 11 mission, and nicely works in some archival news footage including Walter Cronkite’s memorable coverage on CBS. Extras on the Blu-Ray disc (which sports a fine 1080i transfer and PCM 2.0 stereo audio) include five separate music tracks from the score, galleries of the Apollo, Gemini and Mercury missions, and biographies of the key Apollo personnel.

NEXT TIME: A Thanksgiving feast! Until then, don't forget to drop in on the official Aisle Seat Message Boards and direct any emails to our email address. Cheers everyone!

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