12/1/10 Edition Twitter: THEAISLESEATCOM
December Arrival Edition
TWILIGHT ZONE Season 2 on Blu-Ray
Plus: THE WIZ, Criterion's BBS Box and More!

Are we starting to turn the corner in relation to catalog content on Blu-Ray? A few weeks after their marvelous release of “Night of the Hunter,” Criterion is back with what’s unquestionably one of the top releases of 2010: AMERICA LOST AND FOUND: THE BBS STORY, a six-disc, seven-film release celebrating the new wave of Hollywood filmmaking in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s from producers Bob Rafelson, Bert Schneider and Steve Blauner.

The trio spearheaded the launch of the Monkees, that wacky TV pop group, and used the success of that series as a springboard for a several films that quickly rose to classic status, and several others awaiting rediscovery in this box-set. All of them were aimed at younger viewers tired of the same o’l studio fare, which by the late ‘60s was being turned upside down through counter-culture films like these and “Bonnie and Clyde.”

Certainly Rafelson’s HEAD (85 mins., 1968) qualifies as a bit of "mod" nonsense that could only come out of its era. This gleefully entertaining mess of a movie embraces the Monkees’ success and spins it into an indelible snapshot of its time, with songs, comedy bits, montages and appearances by the likes of Annette Funicello, Victor Mature, Frank Zappa, Sonny Liston and Teri “Terry” Garr included for good measure.
Criterion’s AVC encoded Blu-Ray transfer is excellent, aided by both mono sound and a newly remixed DTS Master Audio soundtrack offering stereophonic songs and score. Extras include a full commentary from the Monkees (Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith, Peter Tork), an interview with Rafelson, Monkees screen tests, trailers/TV spots, behind-the-scenes photos, a vintage 1968 interview with the group and a BBS documentary featuring critic/historians David Thomson and Douglas Brinkley.
“Head” paved the way for counter-culture classics like EASY RIDER (95 mins., 1969), Dennis Hopper’s iconic road-trip film, which was previously issued on Blu-Ray by Sony in a release lacking Criterion’s extensive extras. The crisp AVC encoded transfer and DTS Master Audio soundtrack are both terrific (I haven’t seen Sony’s release to compare), while two commentaries with Hopper, Peter Fonda and production manager Paul Lewis lend enormous insight into the film’s creation; two documentaries (from 1995 and 1999) extensively chronicle the production and its legacy; a new interview with Steve Blauner is included, while trailers and TV footage of Hopper and Fonda at the Cannes Film Festival complete the package.

Rafelson’s FIVE EASY PIECES (98 mins., 1970) and THE KING OF MARVIN GARDENS (104 mins., 1972) both helped to launch Jack Nicholson’s career as a leading man, and also offered excellent roles for Karen Black and Susan Anspach (“Five Easy Pieces”), as well as Bruce Dern and Ellen Burstyn (“King of Marvin Gardens”), in a pair of ‘70s masterworks. Rafelson’s commentary, a 2009 video retrospective on the film, a full-length 2009 documentary about the BBS era with interviews with all the principals (Rafelson, Nicholson, Peter Bogdanovich, Henry Jaglom and others), audio extracts from a 1976 AFI interview with the director, and trailers are on-hand in the “Five Easy Pieces” supplement. “The King of Marvin Gardens,” meanwhile, includes a selected-scene commentary with Rafelson, another video retrospective on the picture with Rafelson and Ellen Burstyn; a 2002 piece on the film with Rafelson, cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs, and Bruce Dern; and the trailer. Both AVC encoded transfers and mono soundtracks are highly effective given the age of the elements.

Peter Bogdanovich’s THE LAST PICTURE SHOW (126 mins., 1971), meanwhile, may be the most significant cinematic achievement to come out of the BBS company. Bogdanovich’s adaptation of Larry McMurtry’s novel (co-scripted with the author) is an unforgettable character study, a portrait of a dusty old Texas town and both the old guard who inhabit it and the young teenagers about to inherit it. From Jeff Bridges to Cybill Shepherd, Ellen Burstyn, Cloris Leachman, Timothy Bottoms and Ben Johnson, “Last Picture Show” is a brilliant film – one of the finest of its era – and a title that Criterion previously released on laserdisc many years ago. It rejoins the Collection here in a fully satisfying new package of its Director’s Cut, offering both the 1991 laserdisc commentary as well as a 2009 discussion with the director; a pair of documentaries on its production; a 2009 Q&A with Bogdanovich; screen tests and location footage; a 1972 interview with Francois Truffaut about the “New Hollywood”; trailers; and a superbly detailed new AVC encoded HD transfer with mono sound.

A pair of more obscure BBS efforts complete the package on one disc: Jack Nicholson’s DRIVE, HE SAID ( 90 mins., 1970) offers the actor behind-the-scenes in an adaptation of Jeremy Larner’s novel with William Tepper and Karen Black starring; and Henry Jaglom’s odd A SAFE PLACE (92 mins., 1971) sports Tuesday Weld as a young woman hanging on by a thread in a New York populated by offbeat types like Orson Welles’ Central Park magician. Once again, newly supervised HD transfers and an abundance of extras are on-hand for “A Safe Place,” including a Jaglom commentary; a 1971 interview between Jaglom and Bogdanovich; outtakes and screen tests; trailers; and 2009 video retrospectives on both pictures.

The package is capped by a 112-page booklet offering a critical analysis of the movies and BBS’ lasting legacy, all part of a marvelous Criterion release every bit as forward-thinking as the films themselves.

Coming next week from Criterion is a new edition of Guillermo Del Toro’s CRONOS (92 mins., 1993), the filmmaker’s debut feature about an elderly antiques dealer who finds a golden scarab that holds the key to immortality. He soon becomes addicted to its presence, and fights to keep it from a shady American (Del Toro’s future “Hellboy” star Ron Perlman) interested in its power.

Del Toro’s imagery is on full display in this modest Mexican production that receives the full Criterion treatment here with extensive supplements, including two different commentaries; a 1987 horror short from the director that he completed for this package; an optional Spanish-language voice-over introduction; a tour of Del Toro’s office; new interviews with Del Toro and Perlman; a conversation with actor Federico Luppi; a stills gallery captioned by Del Toro; the trailer; and excerpts from Del Toro’s notes about the movie in the booklet. The AVC encoded HD transfer is top-notch, and stereo sound is effectively rendered in the DTS Master Audio mix.

New From Image

Following up on their outstanding “Definitive First Season” of Rod Serling’s classic anthology series, Image has packaged another essential release for the second season of THE TWILIGHT ZONE, which has recently landed on Blu-Ray.

Once again offering outstanding AVC encoded 1080p transfers and uncompressed PCM soundtracks, the Blu-Ray edition of the series' second season includes a number of new extras which, when added to the previously-released DVD supplements, makes for yet another marvelous package for Zone fans and high-def enthusiasts.

Episodes from Serling’s sophomore season include a handful of fan favorites and under-rated gems, including: “King Nine Will Not Return”; “The Man in the Bottle”; “Nervous Man in a Four-Dollar Room”; “A Thing About Machines”; “The Howling Man”; “Eye of the Beholder” (one of the series’ most remembered stories); “Nick of Time” (William Shatner’s first foray into the Zone); “The Lateness of the Hour”; “The Trouble with Templeton”; “A Most Unusual Camera”; “The Night of the Meek” (one of several shows videotaped due to budgetary limitations during the second season); “Dust”; “Back There”; “The Whole Truth”; “The Invaders”; “A Penny for Your Thoughts”; “Twenty-Two”; “The Odyssey of Flight 33”; “Mr. Dingle, the Strong”; “Static”; “The Prime Mover”; “Long Distance Call”; “A Hundred Yards Over the Rim”; “The Rip Van Winkle Caper”; “The Silence”; “Shadow Play”; “The Mind and the Matter”; “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?”; and “The Obsolete Man.”

Image has crammed all kinds of bonus materials onto the box set, including dozens of commentary tracks, 25 of them new to this release (from Bill Mumy and Cliff Robertson to Jon Burlingame, Marv Wolfman, Matthew Weiner, Steven C. Smith and many others), TZ expert Marc Scott Zicree’s lengthy audio interviews with series directors like Buzz Kulik and Douglas Heyes, 15 radio-drama adaptations, the “Suspense” series episode “Nightmare at Ground Zero” (written by Serling), vintage interviews with cinematographer George T. Clemens and make-up expert William Tuttle, and once again, isolated scores for 22 of the show’s 29 episodes! Though the quality of the episodes is more varied than the first season, the scores are just as outstanding, from Jerry Goldsmith’s “The Invaders” to Bernard Herrmann’s “Eye of the Beholder.” Showcasing the work of many great Golden Age composers (other isolated tracks of note include Fred Steiner’s “King Nine Will Not Return,” Jeff Alexander’s “The Trouble With Templeton,” and Goldsmith’s “Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room” and “Dust”), the scores are another outstanding element in a release that’s a must-have for any Twilight Zone fan.

Also newly available from Image is the long-awaited Complete Series DVD of Gerry Anderson’s oddball live-action SPACE PRECINCT (1063 mins.), with former “Dallas” star Ted Shackelford as a hardened NYC cop whisked away to another galaxy where he and partner Rob Youngblood investigate crimes with a decidedly alien accent.

“Space Precinct” didn’t last long but it’s an entertaining show for sci-fi buffs and especially Anderson enthusiasts, who ought to appreciate Image’s five-disc DVD set, which boasts decent transfers and stereo soundtracks and nothing in the way of extras. Episodes include Protect and Survive, Enforcer, Body and Soul, Double Duty, The Snake, Time to Kill, Deadline, Seek and Destroy, The Power, Illegal, Divided We Stand, Two against the Rock, Takeover, Predator and Prey, The Witness, Hate Street, Friends, Smelter Skelter, Flash, The Fire Within: Parts 1 and 2, The Forever Beetle, and Deathwatch: Parts 1 and 2.

New From Disney

FANTASIA/FANTASIA 2000 Blu-Ray/DVD (****, Disney): Another candidate for top remastered Blu-Ray presentation of the year, Disney brings a superlative high-def package of “Fantasia” and “Fantasia 2000" to BD owners this week in the form of a four-disc, dual format package.

The HD edition of the studio’s prior “Fantasia Anthology” DVD offers a restored presentation of the original 1940, full-length “Fantasia,” its 1999 sequel, “Fantasia 2000,” plus an abundance of extras -- with one major caveat.

Granted, while a landmark film for its time, “Fantasia” is only intermittently compelling by today’s standards. Too long at 125 minutes and with as many forgettable sequences as classic ones, the 1940 picture was groundbreaking for its melding of classical works with animated images, as well as for its use of multi-channel stereophonic sound. While some scholars and critics derided the film for its sometimes-abridged interpretations by
Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra, the movie became an audience favorite, enough so that the film’s re-releases affirmed its status as one of the most unique productions in the Disney canon.

Roy Disney had the idea over the years to revisit “Fantasia” and add new sequences to the existing work, which was one of Walt’s intentions all along. After numerous false starts, the slimmed-down “Fantasia 2000" was released as an IMAX exclusive in 1999 before slowly rolling out into limited national release.

At 75 minutes, the shorter and sweeter “Fantasia 2000" is a breathtaking effort that makes up for the loss of its novelty value with the effectiveness of its new sequences. Three of them are instant classics: Ottorino Respighi’s Pines of Rome is set to majestic, surreal images of arctic whales; George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue becomes a bittersweet, comic ode to the Big Apple; and, best of all, Igor Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite functions superbly as the new film’s grand finale, with magnificent animation brilliantly matched to the music. With each frame looking like a painting, it ranks as one of Disney’s finest stand-alone works.

Both films are spectacularly presented with AVC encoded 1080p transfers that add immeasurably to the viewing experience. The transfer on “Fantasia 2000" is, naturally by default, the superior of the duo (presented in 1.78 widescreen), though “Fantasia” (framed in its original 1.33 ratio) is no slouch, with a commendable restoration that looks better than its years would indicate. Fans of the film, though, will be disappointed to see that the version presented here is the edited cut of the film, which excises some objectionable frames for P.C. purposes. On the audio end, each film has been remixed for DTS Master Audio 7.1 systems, and each offers appreciable sonic gains on their DVD predecessors.

There are also a wealth of supplements, though many that have been carried over from the prior DVD Special Edition box-set (the original DVD docs, for example) are only available when you sign onto BD Live -- something that may rightly disappoint many consumers.

Among the new additions to this release, offered on the disc itself, are the Disney-Dali collaboration “Destino,” a short that was completed in 2003 after having been left unfinished in 1946, along with a documentary on its production; a look at “Musicana,” a 1979 project that was abandoned and intended as a sequel of sorts to “Fantasia”; a 16:9 framing for “Fantasia” (with “curtain” borders on the side of the frame to preserve its 1.33 aspect ratio); and BD-Live accessibility.

Speaking of that, from the original DVD come storyboards and original art for abandoned Fantasia sequences, including a fully reconstructed Clair de Lune, plus images from Ride of the Valkyries and Swan of Tuonela among others, all set to the original music. Supplements for “Fantasia 2000" -- again, most only available when you connect to the internet via BD Live -- include additional deleted animation (including a fascinating alternate ending for The Firebird Suite), interviews with the filmmakers, abandoned concepts, and more.

Also available from Disney this week, but not nearly as satisfying, is the tepid THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE (**, 109 mins., 2010, PG), a misguided attempt to “remix” the beloved Mickey Mouse segment from “Fantasia” as a (what else?) new “franchise” vehicle for the team behind the studio’s popular “National Treasure” films.

That means star Nicolas Cage, director Jon Turteltaub and producer Jerry Bruckheimer reunited for this summer misfire – Bruckheimer’s second box-office strike-out after his “Prince of Persia” disappointed earlier in the season.

“Sorcerer’s Apprentice” performed even more dismally than “Persia,” and it’s likely no surprise, since this youth-centric picture is a mismash of cliches that never makes its unappealing concept interesting (who ever thought this project was going to work in the first place?). Jay Baruchel, Alfred Molina and Monica Bellucci co-star in this expensive, effects-filled fantasy with Cage as a sorcerer defending the world from evil forces. Not only was Mickey more talented at the cause than Cage, but that “Fantasia” segment lasted a fraction of this film’s running time as well.

Disney’s Blu-Ray/DVD combo does look exceptional with its AVC encoded 1080p transfer and DTS Master Audio soundtrack, while extras include a handful of deleted scenes, outtakes and typically fluffy promo-flavored featurettes; the DVD includes one Making Of and deleted scenes, plus the movie in a 16:9 transfer with 5.1 audio.

Also New on Blu-Ray

PEANUTS HOLIDAY COLLECTION Blu-Ray (Warner): A trio of remastered Blu-Ray specials starring Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang receive an affordable release courtesy of Warner Home Video.

In addition to “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” Warner’s set sports the classic “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and the enjoyable “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving,” all offered in their recent VC-1 encoded 1080p transfers with DTS Master Audio soundtracks, which gently rechannel the original mono mixes of the programs for stereo systems. Each program looks appreciably more detailed than their prior DVD editions, though obviously, the age of the elements and the modest nature of the animation itself doesn’t make for an eye-popping upgrade -- just a satisfying one for Peanuts fans.

Each transfer and soundtrack has been appreciably cleaned up from all prior releases, with bonus programs and new Making Of featurettes also on-hand. These behind-the-scenes segments are about 15 minutes each and offer nice, if casual retrospectives of Charles Schulz’s work on the shows, while the bonus programs here include the additional specials “It’s Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown” (not so great, unfortunately) as well as the marvelous “The Mayflower Voyages,” from the “This is America, Charlie Brown” mini-series (which itself is out of print on DVD and ranks as the most collectible of all the older Peanuts discs on the market).

Highly recommended for all “Peanuts” fanatics and a particularly attractive title as we head right into the holiday season.

DOCTOR WHO - The Complete Fifth Series Blu-Ray (2010; BBC): Matt Smith takes on the role of Doctor Who, the eleventh such incarnation of the fabled BBC sci-fi protagonist, in the “Fifth Series” of the “modern” version of the long-running program, which has recently landed on Blu-Ray from BBC.

His traveling companion this time is Amy Pond (Karen Gillan), a woman about to be married who’s whisked off on a wild series of adventures that include a resurrection of the Daleks, a run-in with the Dream Lord, and a universe with no stars. Episode arcs in the fifth series include “The Eleventh Hour,” “The Beast Below,” “Victory of the Daleks,” “The Time of Angels,” “Flesh and Stone,” “The Vampires of Venice,” “Amy’s Choice,” “The Hungry Earth,” “Cold Blood,” “Vincent and the Doctor,” “The Lodger,” “The Pandorica Opens,” and “The Big Bang.”

Satisfying VC-1 encoded 1080p transfers and DTS HD soundtracks adorn the episodes, while extra features include additional scenes, commentaries, outtakes, behind-the-scenes content, and numerous teasers and trailers.

THE WIZ Blu-Ray (**½, 135 mins., 1978, G; Universal): A box-office disappointment that was savaged by critics, Universal’s 1978 filming of the successful Broadway musical “The Wiz” has aged in a number of different ways – not all of them necessarily bad.

Yes, Diana Ross was far too old to play Dorothy, a role she certainly wasn’t born to play despite her constant lobbying for the part. While Motown’s Berry Gordy wanted stage lead Stephanie Mills to reprise her role on-screen, Ross’ pitch of her playing L. Frank Baum’s heroine and Michael Jackson coming along to essay the Scarecrow was too much of an offer for Universal studio brass to refuse. Meanwhile, after director John Badham dropped out due to Ross’ arrival, Sidney Lumet came on-board, changed the setting from Kansas to NYC, and Joel Schumacher wrote a script Cohen later claimed was filled with “EST”-ian values popular in the ‘70s.

The film production does lose its way through some of these ill-advised decisions, yet enough of the musical’s charm, including Charlie Small’s songs, is retained, while some of the technical aspects of the film are, if not entirely effective, at least interesting. Tony Walton’s production design and costumes have an odd, almost futuristic look to them (no surprise coming a year after “Star Wars”) which are alternately bizarre or effective, and Oswald Morris’ cinematography, Albert Whitlock’s vast matte paintings and the use of real Big Apple locales – especially the World Trade Center at the film’s climax – gives “The Wiz” a unique feel.

The latter aspects of the film hold up better than some of its overstated emotion and Ross’ tepid performance, making it an intriguing curiosity item that’s not entirely the clunker its initial reputation would lead you to believe.

Universal’s Blu-Ray of “The Wiz” is quite satisfying. Though there’s a bit of DNR evident in the 1080p transfer, colors are strong and there’s still ample detail on-hand to satisfy HD-philes. The DTS Master Audio sound is nicely rendered as well, opening up whenever one of the musical numbers occurs. Extras are limited to the original trailer and a vintage making of featurette, which include comments from Lumet and producer Rob Cohen among others.

THE TWILIGHT SAGA: ECLIPSE Blu-Ray (**½, 124 mins., 2010, PG-13; Summit): Will Bella choose Edward or Jacob? Will Taylor Lautner take off his shirt again? Is Bryce Dallas Howard one of the most uncharismatic leading ladies of this generation?

Not being an aficionado of the films or Stephanie Meyer’s books, it’s hard for me to gauge the effectiveness of this latest “Twilight” installment, which brings back its lead cast under the direction of David Slade. Howard Shore was recruited to score this installment, and there does seem to have been an appreciable attempt at upgrading the project’s visuals and overall sense of atmosphere. Yet, I still can’t help but think this is basically all just a TV soaper like you used to see on the WB network back in the ‘90s, blown up to big-screen proportions.

Summit brings “Eclipse” to DVD and Blu-Ray on December 7th in a top-notch combo disc release. The Blu-Ray’s 1080p transfer and DTS Master soundtrack are both exceptional, while extras include commentaries with stars Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart, along with Meyer; a six-part documentary on the production; deleted/extended scenes; music videos; and a photo gallery, with the movie’s DVD edition on its flip side.

New From Lionsgate

A number of Tyler Perry films arrive on Blu-Ray for the first time this month.

Included are a trio of Perry’s popular “Madea” films, MADEA GOES TO JAIL, MADEA’S FAMILY REUNION, and DAIRY OF A MAD BLACK WOMAN, each offering 1080p transfers, DTS Master Audio soundtracks, and all the extras from their prior DVD releases (deleted scenes, commentaries, outtakes, etc.); the 2007 drama WHY DID I GET MARRIED; and the 2008 ensemble piece THE FAMILY THAT PREYS.

AVC encoded 1080p transfers are all superb across the board, while low retail price tags (under $20 in most outlets) make these a good bet for Perry’s audience, who seems to show up whenever one of his new films opens regardless of its tone or subject matter.

Another Perry title, MADEA’S BIG HAPPY FAMILY: THE PLAY (153 mins.), also comes to Blu-Ray and DVD this month from Lionsgate. This stage production boasts Perry’s Madea tutoring a family in getting their lives in sync, and hits both formats with a pair of featurettes, widescreen transfers and 5.1 audio.


FOUR DECADES OF THE TONIGHT SHOW DVD (1800 mins.; Respond 2): Johnny Carson fans eagerly anticipating this 15-disc set, boasting 30 different episodes from the beloved host’s tenure on “The Tonight Show,” ought to be prepared for yet another home video disappointment.

Though Respond 2's set features a nice diversity of episodes, they’re all edited down to 30 minutes, abruptly cutting off portions of interviews, skits, even Carson’s monologues. And it’s a shame, because the release does have some wonderful moments, and again, a terrific selection of shows. Included among the episodes represented here are one show from 1965 (Woody Allen and the Muppets) and a slew of shows from the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s, with guests as diverse as Pavarotti, the Jackson 5, show staples like Albert Brooks, Don Rickles, then-hot stars like Burt Reynolds and Brooke Shields, Chevy Chase, political figures like a pre-Presidential Bill Clinton, Bob Hope, and many other familiar faces.

It’s all nicely packaged in an oversized, hardbound package, yet the fact the shows are all cut is going to be a major turnoff for fans, and rightly so. These episodes were likely produced with TV syndication in mind, yet they jarringly trim down some of Carson’s genius, which to this day has never been replicated on late night television.

A disappointment, in spite of some of the terrific segments it does contain.

DON’T LOOK BACK DVD (**½, 110 mins., 2009, Not Rated; IFC): The presence of gorgeous leading ladies Sophie Marceau and Monica Bellucci only goes so far in this faux-Lynchian French import about an author (Marceau) who notices strange changes in her surroundings, and eventually morphs into another woman (Bellucci) as she uncovers mysteries surrounding her past. Marina De Van’s psychological (or is it supernatural?) thriller offers fleeting answers and a muddled conclusion but at least Marceau and Bellucci are easy on the eyes. IFC’s DVD of this 2009 release boasts a strong 16:9 transfer with 5.1 audio and optional English subtitles.

A NANNY FOR CHRISTMAS DVD (88 mins., 2010; Anchor Bay): Adequate yuletide fare finds Emmanuelle Vaugier as an aspiring career-girl who takes a job for harried
businesswoman Cynthia Gibb and not only ends up helping her kids, but strikes up a romance with Dean Cain in the process. Not-bad TV movie hits DVD from Anchor Bay in a good-looking 16:9 transfer with a cast/crew commentary and a video trailer.

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