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November Arrival Edition
TOM & JERRY, FARSCAPE Headline Blu-Ray Box Sets
Plus: SUPER 8, TRESPASS, Criterions & More
Some of the year’s more eagerly anticipated discs are hitting store shelves just in time for the holiday season (I’m guessing you’ve all run into the Christmas decorations adorning everything from drug stores to malls to your local supermarket, as if they all became visible after the clock struck midnight on November 1st!). Included among them are some major catalog releases, including Warner’s first of two Blu-Ray animation anthologies.

TOM AND JERRY GOLDEN COLLECTION: VOLUME 1 will hopefully be the first of several releases of classic animation from the Warner vaults. This two-disc Blu-Ray collection includes 37 of the finest Tom & Jerry MGM shorts, remastered in high-def transfers that are often exceptional for their clarity and detail, and are all – thankfully – uncensored! A short disclaimer states that racial stereotyping was offensive then and now, and it’s something I have no qualms with when the shorts themselves are presented as they should be: unedited and with several commentary tracks from experts like Jerry Beck and Michael Mallory, putting them into the proper historical context. As with many of these early cartoons – and much like their Warner Bros. brethren – the archival Tom & Jerry shorts are much wilder, funnier and aimed at a broader audience, comparatively, than their later counterparts, which accentuated slapstick and fell into even more of a formula than these early efforts.

Included here are Puss Gets the Boot (two commentaries, with Tom also named “Jasper”); The Midnight Snack; The Night Before Christmas (two commentaries); Fraidy Cat; Dog Trouble; Puss N’ Toots; Bowling Alley-Cat; Fine Feathered Friend; Sufferin’ Cats; The Lonesome Mouse; Yankee Doodle Mouse (commentary); Baby Puss; Zoot Cat (commentary); The Million Dollar Cat; The Bodyguard; Puttin on the Dog; Mouse Trouble (commentary); The Mouse Comes to Dinner; Mouse in Manhattan; Tee For Two; Flirty Birdy; Quirt Please (commentary); Springtime for Thomas; The Milky Wall; Trap Happy; Solid Serenade; Cat Fishin’; Part Time Pal; Cat Concerto (commentary); Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Mouse; Salt Water Tabby; A Mouse in the House; The Invisible Mouse; Kitty Foiled (commentary); The Truce Hurts; Old Rockin’ Chair Tom; and Professor Tom.

Extras include the Tom & Jerry/Gene Kelly dance sequence from “Anchors Aweigh,” along with three featurettes and a pencil test. Overall this is a smashing release from Warner Home Video, and if you’re interested at all in seeing vintage animation on Blu-Ray, you’d best support it as only healthy sales will encourage the release of more titles like it. (In the meantime, Warner’s first Looney Tunes set is due out in a few weeks).

Fans of classic TV, meanwhile, have several new releases to choose from this month.

Though the Jim Henson Company/RHI sci-fi fantasy series FARSCAPE is a relatively recent program, genre fans quickly became enamored with this colorful adventure tale of an American space pilot named John Chricton who is accidentally thrust into another universe. There, he becomes involved in a “living ship” named the Moya which houses a crew that just sprung a break out of an intergalactic prison – aliens that alternately look human (Aeryn Sun) or muppet-like in their appearance – and are being relentlessly pursued by the so-called “Peacekeepers.” Colorful, fun, imaginative and romantic, “Farscape” was one of the best genre series of the ‘90s (fans would argue it’s one of their favorite programs altogether), mixing excellent special effects with solid storytelling (Rockne S. O’Bannon created the program) and appealing characters.

“Farscape” has been released on DVD in several different incarnations, and now A&E has brought the series to Blu-Ray high-definition for the first time. What fans may want to keep in mind here is that the program, shot in the pre-HD era, was not only formatted for 4:3 in its infancy (its first three seasons in fact), but was also edited in standard-definition throughout its run. While it was shot on film, the effects and overall editing were output only in standard-def, making some fans likely wonder why they should bother with this HD edition of the series.

The good news is that there is indeed a substantial upgrade in both sound and picture in A&E’s Blu-Ray box-set. The Henson Company went to great lengths to utilize the series’ finest elements – 576i PAL masters – which alone increases the resolution of the image from prior DVD editions. While there’s not a lot of HD detail, the colors, contrasts and overall appearance of the program is certainly far better than any DVD you’ll ever watch – and it’s also superior to several movies I’ve seen transferred on Blu-Ray (hello, “Out of Africa”!) this year. The aspect ratio has been retained at 4:3 during its first three seasons with the final year presented in 16:9 (however it, like its preceding seasons, was only edited for, and broadcast in, standard-definition). On the audio end, the DTS MA soundtracks are robust throughout, making for a solid technical presentation.

Over 15 hours of bonus features ought to entice any “Farscape” fan as well. These include a brand-new documentary, “Memories of Moya,” presented in HD with cast and crew interviews; “Farscape Undressed,” a rarely-seen, early special; three archival documentaries; three featurettes; 31 commentaries; deleted scenes; video profiles and interviews with the cast and creative team; original promos and more.

“Farscape” is one of those shows that’s very easy to get into once you’ve sampled a couple of episodes, and its fans ought to be highly satisfied with A&E’s Blu-Ray set. This isn’t a simple “upconvert” from standard-def, but a remastering of its source materials as best as they can be presented with wonderful supplements. Highly recommended!

New from Acorn on Blu-Ray, meanwhile, is BRIDESHEAD REVISITED, the 30th Anniversary Edition of one of the most acclaimed and honored British TV series: a gorgeous rendering of Evelyn Waugh’s novel about characters in the waning days of the British aristocracy between WWI and WWII, their relationships, tragedies and eventual religious redemption. Jeremy Irons is brilliant in the series, as are Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, Diana Quick, Claire Bloom and Anthony Andrews, all of them capably directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg in a beautiful production filled with eloquent moments. I haven’t watched the program since it aired back in the ‘80s on PBS but the show was a massive success on both sides of the Atlantic and, from what I sampled in Acorn’s BD high-def release, it certainly has held up well.

Unlike “Farscape,” “Brideshead Revisited” was shot on film and has been transferred here in 1080i from its original elements. The image doesn’t look quite right at certain points, however, with pinkish fleshtones that had me reaching to adjust my set’s tint control, but there is a gain in detail here that is appreciable over standard-definition. Overall it’s a bit of a mixed bag visually, though other aspects of the release come recommended with no hesitation: the Dolby Digital sound is just fine, while extras include a 2006 documentary with the cast; four episode commentaries; a 40 minute commentary with Lindsay-Hogg; photo galleries; outtakes; a 20 page viewer’s guide and additional extras.

Acorn has also released on DVD a special edition of TINKER TAILOR SOLIDER SPY (324 mins., 1979), another rightly-celebrated British mini-series with Alec Guinness as George Smiley, John LeCarre’s anti-Bond who’s called out of retirement to find a Russian mole who’s infiltrated their way into the British secret service. With strong performances turned in by Guinness, Ian Bannen and Ian Richardson among others, this late ‘70s mini-series is taut and impressively directed – leisurely paced at times but more and more compelling as it rolls along.

Issued undoubtedly to coincide with the new film version of LeCarre’s book, Acorn’s DVD offers a remastered full-screen picture that’s as satisfying as the source material allows, while an interview with LeCarre comprises the disc’s supplemental content. Overall, strongly recommended!

Finally, also new from Acorn on DVD is CASE HISTORIES (347 mins., 2011), starring Jason Isaacs as a private investigator in Edinburgh trying to work through his time in the British army and solve a variety of cases from murder to the mundane. This adaptation of Kate Atkinson's novels aired on Masterpiece Mystery earlier this year; Acorn's DVD sports the six-episode ITV series in a two-disc set with 16:9 transfers, stereo soundtracks and a 15-minute behind-the-scenes featurette.

New From Twilight Time

Twilight Time’s latest DVD release, ahead of their much anticipated Blu-Ray editions of “Mysterious Island” and “Fright Night,” spotlights a pious but also restrained Fox Cinemascope production, THE LEFT HAND OF GOD (***, 85 mins.).

This Buddy Adler-produced, Edward Dmytryk-directed film stars Humphrey Bogart as a man of the cloth in 1947 China who really isn’t – in reality, “Father O’Shea” is an American pilot shot down three years prior and forced to live in servitude to a local warlord (Lee J. Cobb!) until he breaks free and assumes the identity of a slain American priest. His true identity is unknown to the villagers around him, doctor E.G. Marshall and wife Agnes Moorhead, and nurse Gene Tierney – who develops a fondness for Bogart before an inevitable clash with Cobb occurs to finish off this adaptation of William E. Barrett’s novel, scripted by Alfred Hayes.

“The Left Hand of God” is a short but good-looking Fox production that Golden Age fans will certainly find of interest. The movie offers some poignant moments but steers clear of heavy-handed saccharine plot developments the way other films of its time might have. The Tierney-Bogart relationship takes a back seat to the revelation of Bogie’s identity and his relationship with Cobb during the film’s second half, which somewhat curtails the film’s overall dramatic effectiveness, yet the fact that the film doesn’t overstate its emotional range is welcome, and its sincerity serves it well.

Just a few years away from his passing, Bogart is effective here, the wide scope lensing looks great in the DVD’s 16:9 transfer and Victor Young’s superb score backs all of it effortlessly. The disc is rounded out with an isolated score track and commentary from Julie Kirgo. Recommended!

New on Blu-Ray

SUPER 8 Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital Copy (**½, 112 mins., PG-13; Paramount): J.J. Abrams’ economically-made homage to early Steven Spielberg fantasies is certainly a “nice” movie that’s easier to admire for its intent than its execution.

Abrams’ original script – while offering a few obvious references to early Spielberg classics like “Close Encounters” in particular – actually plays out like more of a 1950s monster movie than it does one of his producing mentor’s genre works, with a group of young teens in late ‘70s Ohio becoming involved in a government train accident that houses something not-of-this-world that escapes and begins causing all kinds of mysterious happenings around town.

One of the film’s shortcomings is that, while the movie begins like an overt Spielberg tribute, when it veers into “Cloverfield” in its second half the effect is a jarring one, especially because you go in expecting the emotion of a Spielberg fantasy and end up with something more detached and perfunctory. There's not much of a connection between the film’s young protagonist (Joel Courtney) and his single-parent, police deputy dad (Kyle Chandler), so there's no emotional investment that’s really built up between them. More over, the government guys are so purely “bad” here that I snickered a few times when they'd show up on screen and Michael Giacchino's CE3K copycat motif would accompany them each and every time. There’s no Peter Coyote type to off-set the lack of depth in the movie’s characterizations, and why there needed to be a bit of an "edge" with an older pot-smoking teen and an f-bomb was also kind of odd (if anything, the latter felt like it came out of Judd Apatow’s “Freaks and Geeks” series as opposed to a Spielberg project).

There are, however, some great moments, and a few affecting ones as well. As much as I didn't care for Giacchino's score at times, the movie’s beautifully done final shot is matched with an emotive (if thematically unmemorable) concluding cue from the composer, and Abrams’ overriding style at least makes for a movie that, well, feels like a movie the way they used to be made. “Super 8" may not have delivered what it promised, but it’s not just a two-hour movie trailer with ADD editing either. The early Spielberg salutes are obvious (the kid at the dining room table beating the doll just like in CE3K; the overhead shot of the town from E.T. and CE3K; the juxtaposition of a character in the background with a foreground object on the other end of the widescreen frame, seen in many of his earlier films; overpouring the dog food into the dish from “Jaws,” etc.) but still fun.

If you like that type of film or grew up on them, “Super 8" is a pleasant throwback – of sorts – to those genre pictures, and after a whole summer of super-heroes, sequels and 3-D releases, this one was at least worthy of support.

After a solid performance at the box-office last summer, Paramount brings “Super 8" to Blu-Ray and DVD on November 22nd. The AVC encoded 1080p transfer is exceptionally good in every regard, and the DTS MA soundtrack is also well engineered. Special features offer a commentary from Abrams and associated crew, 14 deleted scenes, eight Making Of featurettes with a mostly promotional flavor, a breakdown of the movie’s train accident sequence, a DVD and a digital copy for portable media players. 

WATER FOR ELEPHANTS Blu-Ray/Digital Copy (**½, 120 mins., 2011, PG-13; Fox): Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson try and tear up the screen – but fail to ignite sparks – in this attractively lensed adaptation of Sara Green’s best-selling book.

Francis Lawrence (“Constantine”) helmed the Richard LaGravenese-scripted adaptation of Green’s tome, following Pattinson as a young veterinary student in the Great Depression who hooks up with a circus presided over by ringleader Christoph Waltz – also the husband of vibrant three-ring performer Witherspoon. Pattinson (who’s actually quite believable here) and Witherspoon (somewhat less so) lock eyes but take their time before consuming their relationship, particularly considering Waltz’s temperament, while the story is told in flashback by Hal Holbrook effectively playing Pattinson’s character.

Good-looking in terms of its cinematography and production design (with kudos to DP Rodrigo Pietro and veteran art designer Jack Fisk), “Water For Elephants” never really catches fire, mainly because there just isn’t a lot of chemistry between the two leads. Witherspoon doesn’t seem to project the natural sensuality of her character but Pattinson at least perks up around Rosie the elephant. It’s all pleasant and fairly engaging, just not the memorable cinematic romance the novel’s fans were likely hoping for.

Fox’s Blu-Ray serves up a nicely textured 1080p transfer with DTS MA audio and extras including commentary from the director and several featurettes.

Another romantic fable has been newly released from Fox: SNOW FLOWER AND THE SECRET FAN (104 mins., 2011, PG-13) is a good-looking Wayne Wang adaptation of Lisa See’s novel (scripted by Angela Workman, Michael Ray and veteran Ron Bass), a tale of lifelong friends bonded together by communication written on the sides of a white silk fan. The main story, set centuries ago, is paralleled by a contemporary tale of their modern descendants, all of it nicely shot by Wang and effectively cast. Fox’s Blu-Ray includes a lovely AVC encoded 1080p transfer, DTS MA soundtrack and an in-depth look behind the scenes.

THE CHANGE-UP Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital Copy (**½, 113/118 mins., 2011, R/Unrated; Universal): Forecasting which R-rated “adult comedies” do well at the box-office has become something of a roulette game. For every “Bad Teacher” (inexplicable $100 million domestic gross) there’s “Friends With Benefits,” and for every Jason Bateman box-office hit like “Horrible Bosses” (also $100 million-plus) there’s “The Change-Up” – a predictable, easy-going comedy that, for whatever reason (being the last one out of the gate? the presence of Ryan Reynolds perhaps?) failed to generate the same type of box-office in-take.

Not that “The Change-Up” doesn’t offer a few laughs as family man Bateman and swinging bachelor Reynolds change places a la Jodie Foster and Barbara Harris in “Freaky Friday.” Of course, this being a comedy from “Wedding Crashers” director David Dobkin and two writers of “The Hangover,” there’s bound to be a bevy of bodily-fluid jokes, which naturally “The Change-Up” is happy to provide, along with a better-than-the-material deserves supporting cast (Leslie Mann as Bateman’s wife; Olivia Wilde as one of Bateman’s co-workers and, after the switch, Reynolds’ would-be object of affection; and Alan Arkin as Reynolds’ father). There are few surprises here but it’s certainly no worse than other outings in this genre we’ve seen of late, and at least proves to be funnier than “Bad Teacher.”

Universal’s Blu-Ray looks great with its 1080p transfer and offers a number of extras including a deleted scene, gag reel, commentary and several featurettes. The BD is bundled with a DVD and digital copy for good measure.

Also new from Universal is BEGINNERS (104 mins., 2011, R), a comedy from writer-director Mike Mills with Ewan McGregor trying to court lovely Melanie Laurent by remembering his father (Christopher Plummer) – who at age 75, and following 40 years of marriage, came out of the closet and concluded his life in a gay relationship once his wife passed away.

Mills’ auto-biographical film offers good-natured performances and a nice message of how positive relationships can influence couples of any sexual persuasion; it also doesn’t take itself overly seriously as well. Universal’s Blu-Ray includes an insightful commentary with Mills, a short film about the film’s production and a promo. The AVC encoded 1080p transfer and DTS MA soundtrack are both satisfying.

LARRY CROWNE Blu-Ray (**, 99 mins., 2011, PG-13; Universal): It’s bad enough that most big-studio films today are aimed at teenagers – and whenever someone, somewhere, does attempt to make a film for adults, we end up with something along the lines of “Larry Crowne.”

Tom Hanks’ latest film, which understandably fizzled at the box-office last summer, is a safe, tedious and somewhat self-patronizing film about a blue collar worker (Hanks), squeezed out of corporate downsizing, who returns to a community college and falls for his teacher (Julia Roberts) who’s unhappily married to Bryan Cranston (of “Breaking Bad”).

Everything in “Larry Crowne,” which Hanks also directed and co-wrote with “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” star Nia Vardalos (Hanks also produced that film), is cliched and pedestrian, from the relationship Hanks’ “working guy” everyman has with his younger, “hip” classmates, to the romantic element between Hanks and Roberts. The performances are sincere enough, but it’s not enough to off-set a film that, even in its initial trailers, seemed to put forward an obvious “Hollywood feels your pain” message to those affected by the economy. No matter how noble Hanks’ intentions, these days viewers prefer an escape from reality, not a reinforcement of the state of modern living by Hollywood millionaires pretending to be “average Americans,” and that’s something the film can’t overcome.

Universal’s Blu-Ray includes deleted scenes and two featurettes, along with a good-looking 1080p AVC encoded transfer (Philippe Sousselot’s cinematography is one of the better things in the movie) and DTS MA soundtrack sporting a serviceable James Newton Howard score.

CARS 2 Blu-Ray/DVD (**, 106 mins., 2011, G; Disney): I suppose it was just a matter of time before Pixar laid an egg, and this sequel to one of their weakest features seemed from the get-go to be a predictable place for it happen.

“Cars 2" once again brings back Lightning McQueen and company, but changes the story up so it’s something of a James Bond-like spy spoof once the gang heads to Europe to compete in a World Grand Prix and Mater (voiced by Larry the Cable Guy) ends up getting involved in a conspiracy to derail the race.

Overly busy from its first frame, “Cars 2" isn’t even as much fun as its predecessor. Too much of the story and humor relies this time around on Mater, who might appeal to young children, yet the redneck-styled laughs will likely fail to materialize for everyone else. Of course the animation in John Lasseter’s film is still colorful and eye-popping, especially on Blu-Ray, but the film is something of a misfire in terms of its concept, and unlike Pixar’s best features, is likely to appeal only to the little ones.

Disney’s Blu-Ray does include a beautiful, expectedly pristine 1080p transfer with DTS MA sound. Extras include the short “Hawaiian Vacation,” commentary from Lasseter and co-director Brad Lewis, a Cars “toon” “Air Mater,” plus a DVD with the same extras.

BELLFLOWER Blu-Ray (107 mins., 2011, R; Oscilloscope): Weird, almost indecipherable indie movie from writer-director Evan Glodell is, at least, undeniably good-looking.

Two young guys (Globell and Tyler Dawson) aimlessly spend their time building post-apocalyptic, “Mad Max”-inspired cars and weapons until one of them meets a girl (Jessie Wiseman) that throws their already-warped existence into a tail spin. Sex, violence, attractive widescreen cinematography and a heavy reliance on ambiguity make for a frustrating film-going experience that seems to have either alienated some viewers or enthralled others. I’m certainly in the former camp, though Glodell might have a future as a director – not a storyteller – given how viscerally appealing this low-budget film looks in Oscilloscope’s Blu-Ray.

The two-disc DVD/BD combo includes a 1080p transfer, DTS MA soundtrack, two featurettes, outtakes and the original trailer – another fine Oscilloscope package on the whole, though the movie is certainly an acquired taste.

IDENTIFICATION OF A WOMAN Blu-Ray (130 mins., 1982; Criterion): Michelango Antonioni’s sexually charged and obscure 1982 film joins the Criterion Collection this month.

Antonioni’s film failed to find an American distributor at the time of its release, which is understandable when you see how odd and languid the picture is. Tomas Milian stars here as a film director seeking both a female star for his new movie – and a new mate to replace his estranged wife – which leads to a lot of downbeat meditations on life and numerous, frank sexual scenes, yet this is no “Last Tango in Paris.” In fact I’d say “Identification of a Woman” is likely to appeal only to die-hard Antonioni aficionados, though Criterion has once again done their part with a quality Blu-Ray edition even if it’s bereft of insightful supplements.

The 1.85 framed 1080p transfer is strong, with uncompressed mono sound on the audio end. Extras are as slim as I’ve seen on a Criterion release, with just the trailer on-hand, though an essay from critic John Powers and a 1982 interview with the director comprise the set’s booklet notes.

New From HBO

Just in time for the holidays, HBO is bundling together their marvelous Blu-Ray releases of “Band of Brothers” and “The Pacific.”

Executive produced by Steven Spielberg and “Tom Hanks,” “Band” remains one of the finest mini-series of the last decade – a brilliant rendering of Stephen Ambrose’s acclaimed novel with top-notch performances and production values. It was followed last year by “The Pacific,” which was generally well-received though seemingly not as beloved by viewers as its predecessor.

Grimmer in overall tone than “Band of Brothers,” “The Pacific” primarily focuses on three American marines (James Badge Dale, Jon Seda and former “Jurassic Park” child star Joe Mazzello) as they travel across the Pacific and enter into battles quite unlike the European combat seen in “Band of Brothers.” The setting and terrain are more foreign; dangers like starvation and malaria are just as deadly as the enemy itself; and the Japanese combatants more renegade in their tactics than anything the marines have encountered before.

From Guadalcanal through Peleliu and Iowa Jima, “The Pacific” is a gut-wrenching tribute to the Pacific theater battles and the men who fought in them. The stories of the three participants don’t intersect, so the sense of comradery among the characters present in “Band of Brothers” is lacking here, making it a bit more difficult for the viewer to connect to its protagonists. If anything, “The Pacific” is also more graphic and unsettling than its predecessor, and conveys the grim reality of war and the nature of combat in a different, yet still memorable, manner than its esteemed counterpart. Though not as satisfying than "Band of Brothers" all told, "The Pacific" still comes strongly recommended.

HBO’s Blu-Ray package of both “Band of Brothers” and “The Pacific” unsurprisingly looks and sounds outstanding. The 1080p transfers and DTS Master soundtracks are marvelous across the board, while a few extras include a 30-minute look behind-the-scenes, historical background documentary, and character profiles. There’s also a brand-new documentary exclusive to the box-set, “He Has Seen War,” offering interviews with surviving veterans from Easy Company and the 1st Marine Division, whose stories are respectively told in both mini-series.   

Also on the Blu-Ray side, HBO has reached into the vaults for a pair of budget-priced catalog titles (“Three Amigos” is due out as well in a couple of weeks):

THE CANNONBALL RUN (95 mins., 1981, PG) can’t possibly be looked at a “good” film, but at the same time – and especially when viewed as a time capsule of its era – the charms of this all-star comedy are hard to deny.

Albert S. Ruddy and Raymond Chow’s production puts Burt Reynolds, Dom DeLuise, Farah Fawcett, Roger Moore (parodying himself, as most of the cast does here), Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Farr, Jackie Chan, Burt Convy, Mel Tillis, Terry Bradshaw and numerous others into the midst of a cross-country road race. The stunts are decent but it’s really the appearance of a handful of major stars, all winging it seemingly, that makes Hal (“Smokey and the Bandit”) Needham’s film watchable, in spite of its lame jokes and stereotypical characters.

HBO’s Blu-Ray is a surprisingly robust effort: the AVC encoded 1080p transfer is freed from DNR and looks pleasingly crisp throughout. DTS MA sound offers a rechanneled stereo mix, while a commentary from Needham and Ruddy was carried over from prior releases.

HBO has also released the Unrated version of GIA (125 mins., 1998), the well-received bio-pic of ill-fated model Gia Carangi, considered by many to be America’s first “super-model,” her rise to fame, personal problems, battles with substance abuse and eventual death from AIDS at age 26. Jolie gives a convincing performance as Gia and is surrounded by an excellent supporting cast including Mercedes Ruehl, Faye Dunaway and Elizabeth Mitchell.

Michael Cristofer’s film copped several Emmys and, these days, primarily serves as a reminder of Jolie’s early talent. HBO’s Blu-Ray looks and sounds just fine, with the 1.78-framed 1080p transfer and DTS MA soundtrack both coming off as quite good.

New From Warner

Finally available on Blu-Ray after being issued on HD-DVD several years ago is the epic 1962 MGM adaptation of MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY (***½, 185 mins.), presented here in a terrific 1080p transfer from restored 65mm elements. The film looks breathtaking in HD, and the remastered DTS-MA 5.1 sound captures the power of Bronislau Kaper’s magnificent score vividly.

Extras here (carried over from the two-disc DVD edition) aren’t extravagant (several featurettes focus in on the Bounty itself), but do include the movie’s original prologue and epilogue, which were included in a 1967 ABC TV broadcast but haven’t been seen since. Both are in surprisingly good condition (16:9 widescreen in fact) and provide a fascinating alternate intro and close to the film, though both were wisely dropped before the picture went into Roadshow exhibition.

Also new this week from Warner is MORTAL KOMBAT: LEGACY (104 mins., 2011), which presents all nine episodes of the web series starring characters from the popular video game fighting franchise. Michael Jai White and Jeri Ryan are the larger names to be found in the program, which is comprised of 10-minute segments, each one devoted to one or two specific heroes from the game.

Warner’s Blu-Ray looks as good as the modest-budgeted HD shoot allows, with DTS MA audio and a number of special features on-hand that further explore the series mythology. For fans only.

Video Premieres

THE RIVER WHY Blu-Ray (**½, 104 mins., 2010, PG-13; Image): Extremely good looking independent film offers some gorgeous Oregon location shooting, a fine cast, a pleasant score by Austin Wintory and Dominic Miller...and, regrettably, an uneven and only intermittently engaging story.

Zach Gilford plays the college-age son of popular fly-fishing expert/novelist William Hurt, and feels forever relegated to second-status around his expert father. Gilford ultimately clashes with both Hurt and mom Kathleen Quinlan, and sets out on his own to find himself following a particularly nasty dinner argument. Gilford’s journey takes him into the gorgeous rivers and streams in sun-drenched Oregon forests, where, among other things, he runs into beautiful Amber Heard (the best thing in the film aside from the surroundings) as a free-spirited young lass – who exactly she is or what she’s doing cavorting around the Oregon woods is never exactly detailed, but then again, that pretty much goes with the flow of “The River Why.”

Directed and edited by Matthew Leutwyler (with veteran editor Robert Dalva serving as an “editorial consultant”), “The River Why” flounders at times with an uncertain script marked by overly verbose, convoluted dialogue that likely read better on the printed page. There’s no emotional connection between Gilford and Hurt, making the ending a total wash in terms of its impact, and the film’s contemporary setting constantly feels at odds with the material’s tone.

Still, all is not lost: the cinematography by “Crash” is truly lovely, and Leutwyler’s direction enables the film to breathe with some poignant moments throughout. Had the script been tightened up “The River Why” might’ve been a true sleeper hit, but as it is, it’s certainly a pleasant, if flawed, scenic journey that works best as an Oregon tourism commercial.

Image’s Blu-Ray includes a splendid 1080p transfer with DTS MA audio and a number of interviews with the cast and crew.

TRESPASS Blu-Ray (*½, 90 mins., 2011, R; Millennium): A collaboration between Nicolas Cage, Nicole Kidman and Joel Schumacher might have been a big, A-list movie 10 or 15 years ago, but these days all that guarantees a movie like “Trespass” is a ticket straight to video.

Not that it’s hard to fathom once you’ve seen the finished result, since this shockingly tedious “thriller” about an uptight businessman (Cage) who, along with wife Kidman and daughter Liana Liberato, is held hostage by a group of thugs wanting to ransack their posh estate offers no surprises at all.

Playing out like an R-rated Lifetime movie, there’s nothing remotely interesting about “Trepass” in terms of Karl Gajdusek’s script or Schumacher’s direction – the 90-minute feature is perfunctory in nearly every facet, making it easy to see why major studios passed on picking the film up for distribution. Cage and Kidman look to be going through the motions and even Schumacher’s direction brings nothing to the table – for a director who once routinely generated numerous box-office hits for a time back in the ‘90s, his decline has come even faster than his leading man’s.

Millennium brings “Trepass” to Blu-Ray this month in a fine 1080p transfer with DTS MA audio and one Making Of featurette.

CARJACKED Blu-Ray (89 mins., 2011, R; Anchor Bay): Maria Bello stars as a single mom struggling to make ends meet with her eight-year-son when they’re abducted in a car jacking by thug Stephen Dorff in this watchable action vehicle from director John Bonito (veteran director Peter Medak was scheduled to direct at one point before dropping out in pre-production). Anchor Bay rolls out “Carjacked” on Blu-Ray November 22nd with a Making Of featurette, Dolby TrueHD soundtrack and 1080p transfer.

Also new from Anchor Bay is 5 DAYS OF WAR (113 mins., 2011, R), a well-executed film about reporters trying to cover the Russia-Georgian “five day war” of 2008, the horrors of that brief conflict and their efforts to get their footage broadcast by TV networks preoccupied with the Beijing Olympics. This latest Renny Harlin film offers competent performances from a bit of an odd cast (Rupert Friend, Emmanuelle Chiriqui, Heather Graham, Dean Cain, Andy Garcia and Val Kilmer) plus strong cinematography from Checco Varese and a solid Trevor Rabin score. Anchor Bay’s Blu-Ray offers deleted scenes, a commentary with Harlin, a 1080p transfer and Dolby TrueHD soundtrack.

ALLEGED Blu-Ray (93 mins., 2011, Not Rated; Image): A young reporter (Nathan West) finds himself trying to impress a Baltimore newspaper editor (Colm Meaney) while balancing journalistic integrity covering the Scopes trial in this independent film from director Tom Hines and producer/co-writer Fred Foote (brother of the late, great Horton Foote). Seeking to take a different, more balanced tact than Stanley Kramer’s “Inherit the Wind,” “Alleged” offers Fred Dalton Thompson as William Jennings Bryan and Brian Dennehy as Clarence Darrow (a role he portrayed in stage productions of “Inherit the Wind”) as well as Ashley Johnson (once the little girl on “Growing Pains”) as West’s fiancee. Image’s Blu-Ray includes a 1080p transfer, DTS MA soundtrack and discussion guide for group studies.

Also on Blu-Ray this month from Image are a handful of Sony catalog titles, priced under $15 in most outlets.

THE FISHER KING (***½, 138 mins., 1991, R) is one of director Terry Gilliam’s finest movies, even if he was essentially a “director-for-hire” adapting Richard LaGravenese’s marvelous script to the screen. No matter, it’s a shame Gilliam refused to channel his talents back into the studio system after helming this well-received comedic-drama with fantastical overtones as ex-shock jock Jeff Bridges attempts to help a homeless history professor (Robin Williams) with delusions of retrieving the Holy Grail from a Manhattan building.

Both Bridges and Williams do some of their best work here, complimented by strong support from Amanda Plummer and Oscar-winner Mercedes Ruehl, who’s just great as Bridges’ long suffering girlfriend. The film is funny, insightful, romantic and thoroughly appealing; LaGravenese’s script keeps Gilliam’s flights of fancy grounded in reality, but when they do occur, they don’t completely derail the film (though some would argue they’re the weakest part of the picture).

Image’s Blu-Ray boasts an excellent AVC encoded 1080p transfer and deftly engineered DTS MA soundtrack, the latter offering some dated early ‘90s songs and a fine George Fenton score (there’s also a pleasant rendition of “How About You” performed by Harry Nilsson over the end credits). Alas the only extra is the original trailer.

TO DIE FOR (***½, 106 mins., 1995, R) is another excellent film that’s one of director Gus Van Sant’s finest outings – a trenchant satire on the nature of media and celebrity that presages the internet revolution in its tale of an ambitious New Hampshire TV weather girl (Nicole Kidman) who wants so badly to become famous that she decides to kill her husband (Matt Dillon) via the help of an easily influenced high schooler (Joaquin Phoenix). Everything about this offbeat tale – which almost comes off like a Coen Brothers variation on the infamous Pamela Smart case – clicks and Kidman delivers one of her best performances, with additional kudos going out to Buck Henry’s screenplay and Danny Elfman’s score.

Once again, Image’s Blu-Ray serves up an excellent 1080p transfer with uncompressed PCM audio (the back of the disc market mistakenly lists DTS MA), trademarked by Sony’s customary high detail and reluctance to apply DNR to their HD presentations.

Finally Sydney Pollack’s ABSENCE OF MALICE (***, 117 mins., 1981, PG) also arrives on Blu-Ray this month. This 1981 drama about journalistic integrity with Paul Newman and Sally Field is one of those strong Pollack pictures with rock-solid performances and a lot of chemistry between the two leads. Sony’s Blu-Ray looks terrific in its 1080p AVC encoded transfer with DTS MA stereo audio; extras include a Making Of featurette and a deleted scene.

SEA REX 3-D: JOURNEY TO A PREHISTORIC WORLD 3-D Blu-Ray (58 mins., 2010; Universal): 3-D IMAX-movie takes viewers back in time and under the sea as several ocean-dwelling dinosaurs – Elasmosaurus, Shonisaurus and Lippleurodon – are profiled in eye-popping digital animation. That’s the good part. What doesn’t work as well is the hour-long production’s framing story with a young girl being lead back through a series of prehistoric eras in live-action footage that’s not nearly as well executed.

That said, 3-D viewers are likely to be enthralled with Universal’s 3-D Blu-Ray release, which includes a very good looking presentation that makes effective use of the third-dimension throughout. A 2-D presentation is also on-hand (along with a featurette and filmmaker interviews), making this a good bet for family audiences and young dinosaur fans along with 3-D Blu-Ray owners. 

WWII IN HD Blu-Ray Special Edition (aprx. 8 hours, 2009; History/A&E): Breathtaking color footage of WWII, found after a two-year search undertaken by the History Channel, is the main draw in this superb 209 documentary. Narrated by Gary Sinise, “WWII in HD” frames the newly-discovered footage through the recollections of 12 Americans (narrated by a variety of actors), but it’s the visuals that will prove to be the most compelling for history buffs -- culled from a variety of sources this is one of the more enthralling WWII docs I’ve seen in some time, particularly on Blu-Ray where the HD imagery really shines. History’s Blu-Ray presentation is also their finest to date: the DTS Master Audio sound (in both 5.1 and 2.0) and transfer are both superb, while extras include a pair of featurettes profiling the restorative process.

This brand-new “Collector’s Edition” offers the previously released “WWII in HD” along with “The Battle for Iowa Jima,” a new look at the battle with restored, full color footage, plus “WWII in HD: The Air War,” a follow-up documentary recounting the American 8th Air Force’s battle with the German Luftwaffe in events leading up to D-Day. Extensive restored footage and reminiscences from survivors like reporter Andy Rooney make this a must-have for WWII aficionados and particularly those who may not have purchased the first release.

Also new from History is AMERICAN RESTORATION: VOLUME 1 (aprx. 6 hours, 2011), a History Channel reality series with Rick Dale leading his crew at “Rick’s Restorations” in Las Vegas where they restore vintage, nostalgic items like gas pumps and bicycles to their former glory. The two-disc DVD set includes widesceen transfers and stereo soundtracks.

A BETTER TOMORROW Blu-Ray/DVD (123 mins., 2010, R; Well Go): One of John Woo’s earliest films gets a make-over in this 2010 Korean remake that Woo himself executive-produced. Well Go brings this re-do to Blu-Ray this month in a BD/DVD combo pack with extras including a lengthy, 30-minute interview with Woo, director and cast interviews, deleted scenes, and trailers. The 1080p transfer is just fine and DTS MA sound rounds out the technical presentation.

New From Lionsgate

COP LAND Blu-Ray (***½, 116 mins., 1997, R; Miramax/Lionsgate): I was already a big fan of James Mangold's superbly-written and wonderfully acted1997 film before its 2004 Director’s Cut release, but Miramax's new "Collector's Series" Blu-Ray improves immeasurably both on the film's original theatrical version and its preceding video releases.

For the Director’s Cut, Mangold re-edited his film, adding some 11 minutes of footage that Miramax had forced him to cut, most of which is comprised of scenes between small-town sheriff Sylvester Stallone and the witness (Michael Rappaport) he's trying to protect. The director's intention was always to make a mythic, modern "urban western," and the footage that Mangold has reinstated goes a long way in justifying his claims. The performances from Stallone to Ray Liotta, Harvey Keitel, Robert DeNiro, and Robert Patrick were always outstanding across the board, but somehow they shine that much brighter now that Mangold's original vision has been released uncompromised.

Miramax's Blu-Ray not only includes the Director's Cut of the film, but also additional deleted scenes, an excellent commentary track with Mangold, producer Cathy Konrad, Stallone, and Patrick, plus storyboards. The AVC encoded 1080p transfer and DTS MA soundtrack are both excellent.

CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND Blu-Ray (**½, 114 mins., 2003, R; Miramax/Lionsgate): Adaptation of "Gong Show" host Chuck Barris' (supposedly-true) autobiographical account of his secret life as a CIA agent is exactly as off-kilter as you might expect. Sam Rockwell puts in a superb performance as Barris, who climbs the ladder of Hollywood fame thanks to his success as a game show producer, while simultaneously living another life after being recruited by a CIA man (George Clooney, who also directed) for the purposes of becoming a covert operative. His double life threatens to consume his relationship with his girlfriend (Drew Barrymore) and his career, which receives a big jolt after "The Gong Show" debuts.

Charlie Kaufman penned the script for this strangely compelling tale, which boasts a strong cast (Julia Roberts and Rutger Hauer appear in supporting roles, along with insiders like Dick Clark and Jaye P. Morgan) and a glossy, somewhat distracting visual scheme concocted by Clooney and cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel (the movie looks as if it's been colorized at times). Ultimately, though, the subject matter will appeal primarily to showbiz followers, who should enjoy the tall tale (?) that Barris spins here. Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray offers a fine AVC encoded 1080p transfer with DTS MA audio plus commentary with Clooney and Sigel, lots of deleted scenes, behind the scenes vignettes, Rockwell's screen test, and a brief documentary on Barris himself, who appears at the end of the finished film.         

Also new from Lionsgate in their line of Miramax Blu-Rays is Robert Rodriguez’s ADVENTURES OF SHARKBOY AND LAVA GIRL (**, 93 mins., 2005, PG), a feeble “Spy Kids”-esque juvenile adventure co-starring a young Tyler Lautner. Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray boasts a fine AVC encoded 1080p transfer, DTS MA soundtrack, commentary with the director and one Making Of featurette.

INFERNAL AFFAIRS Blu-Ray (101 mins., 2002, R; Miramax/Lionsgate): The original Hong Kong thriller that inspired Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed” hits domestic Blu-Ray this month. Lionsgate’s 1080p transfer is solid, the DTS MA soundtracks offering both English dubbed and subtitled (Cantonese) language tracks while extras include an alternate ending, trailers and two featurettes.

LEAP FROG: PHONICS FARM DVD (38 mins., 2011; Lionsgate)
LEAP FROG: 3 DVD LEARNING COLLECTION DVD (39-35-35 mins.; Lionsgate): Parents looking for some quality educational/entertaining videos for little ones would do well to check out the latest “Leap Frog” releases from Lionsgate.

“Phonics Farm” is the latest standalone release in the popular series, with Scout and the gang learning about animals by way of understanding the alphabet. Sing-alongs, a cirriculum commentary for parents, a music video and storybook are included for the kids as well.

Lionsgate has also packaged a 3-DVD set of previously-released Leap Frog titles AMAZING ALPHABET, LEARN TO READ and NUMBERS AHOY, all three of which are bundled together along with “On the Go,” a book that helps kids with consonants and short vowels.

NEW FROM E ONE: Kevin Zegers plays a rocker trying to reunite with pal Jason Ritter so he can get his career back on-track (even though he stole Ritter’s songs!) In THE PERFECT AGE OF ROCK ‘N’ ROLL (91 mins., 2009), Scott Rosenbaum’s indie co-starrring Taryn Manning, Lukas Haas, Peter Fonda, Lauren Holly and Aimee Teegarden. E One’s DVD boasts a behind-the-scenes featurette, music video, outtake performances, deleted scenes and promo spots, plus a 16:9 transfer and 5.1 soundtrack...RICKEY SMILEY: OPEN CASKET SHARP sports the stand-up comedian in a special taped for the BET network. E One’s DVD boasts a couple of bonus sketches to augment the 75-minute special’s running time, along with a 16:9 transfer and 5.1 soundtrack...Errol Morris’ new film, TABLOID (88 mins., 2010, R), hits DVD this month from MPI. Morris’ eclectic offering profiles an ex-pageant queen named Joyce McKinney as she follows her beloved around the globe and through all kinds of misadventures. MPI’s “Sundance Selects” DVD boasts a 16:9 transfer and stereo soundtrack....RIO SEX COMEDY (113 mins., 2010, Not Rated) offers an odd cast of Charlotte Rampling, Bill Pullman, Irene Jacob, Fisher Stevens and more in a wacky, French-made comedy (in English) from writer-director Jonathon Nossiter. MPI’s DVD includes a 16:9 transfer, bonus deleted scenes and a 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack.
..Dermot Mulroney, Hope Davis, Chi McBride, Selma Blair, Christina Hendricks from “Mad Men,” Jane Seymour, Rachael Leigh Cook, and Gabrielle Anwar comprise the ensemble cast of Vivi Friedman’s comedy-drama THE FAMILY TREE (91 mins., 2010, R), which E One brings to Blu-Ray this month. The 1080p transfer is matched by a DTS MA soundtrack; extras include a featurette and on-set footage...Finally E One also releases PABLO FRANCISCO: THEY PUT IT OUT THERE (76 mins., 2011) on DVD this month. The hour-plus long Comedy Central special includes several extras (outtakes and more) featuring one of the more popular comics working today.

NEXT TIME: Our first seasonal round-up of holiday titles and Echo Bridge's 4-movie Blu-Ray collections! 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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