Christmas Edition 2010 Twitter: THEAISLESEATCOM
Aisle Seat Holiday Gift Guide
New Releases, Catalog Faves & More Reviewed
Plus: VAMPIRE CIRCUS Thrills on Blu-Ray

Before we get going with our annual Aisle Seat Holiday Gift Guide of newly released titles, I’d like to pass along exciting news regarding Fox’s new limited-edition line of DVDs, which will be released under the “Twilight Time” banner and sold exclusively online at Screen Archives.

Overseen by Nick Redman, the series will offer classic Fox films with isolated scores and other supplemental content whereever possible. All titles will be limited to 3000 copies and retail for $20 a pop, with new releases coming at the end of each month.

In lieu of declining sales, we've seen studios like Warner and Universal move to manufactured-on-demand DVDs for catalog titles so I am not surprised that we're seeing the launch of limited edition releases now from Fox. However, the discs will not just be limited, but also will be pressed discs -- not DVD-Rs – and together with the enhanced extras that other MOD titles typically lack, the concept seems like a home-run for movie buffs.  As Nick points out, the sun is indeed setting on physical media (at least in terms of catalog content), so I hope people will support Twilight Time and I look forward to covering their titles in the new year.
As the press release states, “the January 25th debut of “The Kremlin Letter” will be followed by a new release on the last Tuesday of each month, with a potential ramp-up to a monthly pair after a six-month trial run. Currently on the schedule: director Richard Fleischer’s cult favorite noir melodrama, Violent Saturday (1955); the aviation thriller, Fate Is the Hunter (1964); the surprisingly down-low Pat Boone musical, April Love (1957); and the legendary The Egyptian (1954), directed by Michael Curtiz, and starring Jean Simmons, Victor Mature, and Gene Tierney.” For more details and the complete PR release, check out my message board here.

New on Blu-Ray

One of the year’s best movies, Ben Affleck’s taut, exciting Boston crime thriller THE TOWN (***½, 125 and 153 mins., 2010, R; Warner) hits Blu-Ray this week in a terrific presentation that offers both its theatrical version as well as a superior Director’s Cut that enables the film to “breathe,” thereby correcting some of the reservations I had about the picture when I first saw it theatrically last fall.

Even more impressive than his prior “Gone Baby Gone,” “The Town” is a flavorful examination of a group of thieves led by Affleck’s conflicted soul and his hothead friend (Jeremy Renner), who brazenly abducts a bank teller (the fetching Rebecca Hall) during a heist. The group lets her go, but worries that she’ll talk lead Affleck to strike up a friendship intended to generate information that ultimately turns into a full-fledged relationship between them; meanwhile, the local crime boss (Pete Postelthwaite) forces Affleck and Renner to handle one last score by knocking over Fenway Park, while the FBI (led by “Mad Men”’s Don Draper, Jon Hamm) closes in on them all.

“The Town” isn’t a revelation as far as its genre goes, but it’s nevertheless well-acted, superbly directed and memorably written with Affleck, Peter Craig and Aaron Stockard adapting Chuck Hogan's acclaimed novel “Prince of Thieves.” Hall is terrific, Affleck is believable, Renner is intense, Postelthwaite adds another villainous role to his long line of characters, and Haam brings equal weight to his part of the FBI agent suspicious of Affleck and his gang. “The Town” mixes character development with suspense and a number of crackling good action sequences, including the Fenway climax that’s superbly executed on a visceral level.

Affleck’s longer Director’s Cut lingers on a bit long at 153 minutes but overall it adds more depth to the characters than the more confined 125 minute theatrical version allows. Both versions are on-hand in Warner’s Blu-Ray combo pack, presented on a single BD-50 platter with DTS Master Audio sound. The transfer looks every bit as solid as what I saw theatrically, though tech junkies have noted that both versions, being put on the same disc, suffer because of a low-bit rate encode that could’ve been improved upon. That said, I’m just going by what I see, and overall I doubt most HD viewers are going to detect any shortcomings with the presentation.

Extras include thoughtful commentaries by Affleck on both versions, plus a number of solid behind-the-scenes segments, a digital copy and DVD on-hand for good measure.

LEGEND OF THE GUARDIANS: THE OWLS OF GA’HOOLE Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital Copy Combo Pack (**½, 97 mins., 2010, PG; Warner): Not especially complex or inventive, “300"/”Watchmen” auteur Zack Snyder’s first animated feature is at least a breath of fresh air compared to the typical comedy offerings we’ve been seeing from the majority of CGI kid movies lately.

The frenetically-paced “Legend of the Guardians” is indeed the world’s first owl adventure fantasy, following a collection of feathered warriors in a faraway kingdom ravaged by war. Dialogue is often limp, characters aren’t particularly well established and the movie simply feels rushed throughout, but no matter about the plot – which Snyder, Emil Stern and John Orloff adapted from a series of books by Kathryn Lasky, obviously trying to cram too much story in the course of one 90-minute feature – “Legend of the Guardians” is all about its visuals, and on that level the film provides a dazzling display. Colors and details leap off the screen in an unending, virtuoso succession of images that kids ought to find spellbinding and adults sufficiently compelling in spite of the story’s shortcomings. This isn’t a great movie but it’s a great-looking film, and one that makes for perfect eye-candy on Blu-Ray.

Warner’s BD offers a brilliant 1080p transfer with DTS Master Audio sound that’s on-par with the finest HD offerings of the year to date. “Legend of the Guardians” is one title you might find yourself reaching for as a demo disc, so one can imagine it occupying a spot in many collections for that reason alone. Extras are mostly kid-centric, comprised of a “Maximum Kid Mode” with behind-the-scenes segments introduced by one of the main characters, with a DVD and digital copy disc also included in the package.

VAMPIRE CIRCUS Blu-Ray/DVD (***, 87 mins., 1972, R; Synapse; Aisle Seat Pick of the Week): Classic sci-fi/horror fans had good reason to celebrate this past year thanks to Shout’s line of Roger Corman titles, several of which made it to Blu-Ray but with sales that, regrettably, don’t seem to be encouraging future releases.

Thus, it goes without saying that when an independent label steps up to the plate and issues a Blu-Ray version of, say, “Starcrash” or “Piranha,” fans need to do their part to support them and the potential for similar ventures down the line.

That’s the case with the new Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack of the cult-favorite 1972 Hammer horror “Vampire Circus,” which has been lovingly resurrected in a marvelous package from Don May, Jr. under his Synapse label. Synapse was able to license the rights to the film from Carlton/ITV, and their first Blu-Ray from the Hammer vaults is a tremendous sight to behold for Hammer fans.

The movie itself is one of the last big gasps from the studio: an entertaining yarn about a village that slaughters a vampire count after he claims the life of one of their children. Upon his death, the count announces a hex that will eventually take the lives of all of their kids – a threat that comes to fruition when a seemingly mundane traveling circus pulls into town, intending to resurrect their vampire leader.

Scripted by Judson Kinberg and directed by Robert Young, “Vampire Circus” was produced during Hammer’s decline, yet it has sufficient charm and offbeat sensibilities that make it more satisfying than, say, the studio’s “Scars of Dracula” or the later, contemporary-set Dracula offerings. Some memorable moments are enhanced by an interesting cast including Hammer regulars (Thorley Walters), young up-and-coming actors (Anthony Higgins, here billed under John Huston’s suggested “stage name” Anthony Corlan) and future tabloid stars like Lynne Frederick. Frederick is quite appealing here as the movie’s young wide-eyed heroine, not suggesting at all that she’d eventually become Peter Sellers’ last wife and earn the widespread reputation of a massive golddigger (Sellers’ entire estate controversially went to her upon his death, but she wouldn’t enjoy it for long; she died of substance abuse at the age of 39).

It’s a film that’s long been a favorite of Hammer admirers and Synapse’s Blu-Ray presentation does not disappoint. The 1.66 1080p presentation preserves the movie’s original framing in a splendid high-def transfer, while DTS Master Audio sound nicely renders the picture’s original mono mix. Extras include a music-and-effects track along with several superb supplements, highlighted by a half-hour documentary offering comments from Hammer historians and aficionados including Joe Dante and Video Watchdog’s Tim Lucas. There’s also a “Gallery of the Grotesqueries” featurette, a look at Britain’s legendary magazine “House of Hammer,” a “Vampire Circus” motion comic, the trailer, and a poster and stills gallery.

Here’s hoping “Vampire Circus” gets enough support to warrant the release of more catalog titles like it. Highly recommended!

EASY A Blu-Ray (***, 92 mins., 2010, PG-13; Sony): Breezy, winning teen comedy, sprinkled with references to ‘80s teen movies, offers an irresistible lead performance from Emma Stone. As a savvy high schooler whose reputation goes from non-existent to promiscuous over night, Stone’s character revels in the attention and uses it to become more popular, earning a bit of cash and newfound fame in the process – at least until her ruse, naturally, goes too far.

Stone is almost the whole show here, putting Bert Royal’s often uproarious script over the top with one of those indelible genre performances that ranks with the likes of Molly Ringwald (“Pretty in Pink”) and Alicia Silverstone (“Clueless”), but director Will Gluck gets nearly equal mileage out of a superb supporting cast. From Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson as Stone’s parents, to Thomas Haden Church and Lisa Kudrow as a married pair of Stone’s teachers, “Easy A” is chock full of memorable turns and funny lines (even the credit sequences are interestingly designed); only a heavy-handed portrayal of Christian students, led by the judgmental Amanda Bynes, dampens the film’s light, upbeat tone.

Sony’s Blu-Ray of “Easy A,” in-stores this week, offers several extras exclusive to the BD platform, including a Making Of featurette, pop-up trivia track, look at ‘80s teen comedies, and a couple of other behind-the-scenes featurettes. Other supplements include Emma Stone’s audition footage, commentary with Gluck and Stone, and a gag reel. The AVC encoded 1080p transfer is superb and the DTS Master Audio sound also excellent.

THE A-TEAM Blu-Ray/Digital Copy (**½, 119 mins., 2010, PG-13; Fox): So-so big-screen re-do of the iconic ‘80s Stephen J. Cannell series manages to strike the right tone between action and humor, yet dramatically does little to engage outside of providing an arena for cartoonish action sequences.

Joe Carnahan’s update -- scripted by Carnahan, Brian Bloom and Skip Woods and co-produced by Ridley and Tony Scott – puts Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Sharlto Copley (“District 9") into the roles previously essayed by, respectively, George Peppard, Dirk Benedict, Mr. T and Dwight Schultz. The quartet plays a group of former soldiers who improbably come together, end up fighting in Iraq but are then sentenced to prison for a crime they (of course) didn’t commit, and who, upon breaking out, go after a group of counter-fitting thieves.

Carnahan’s over-the-top action sequences exhibit a bit too much “shaky cam” but get the job done in spite of their inherent mindlessness, while the performances are laid back (even Patrick Wilson, as a CIA agent, and Jessica Biel as Cooper’s ex-girl, fare well) and the tone just right. This is basically one of the more effective adaptations of a TV series we’ve seen of late, and while that may be faint praise given some of its recent brethren, “The A-Team” is thankfully not some dark “reimagining” of its source material -- rather a bigger, louder, but basically similar type of escapist enterprise that, at least, action fans ought to appreciate.

Fox’s Blu-Ray looks great. From its AVC encoded transfer down to its DTS Master Audio soundtrack, the HD presentation is exemplary, while extras include both an extended and unrated version of the film (running several minutes longer), plus a picture-in-picture mode with Joe Carnahan on the theatrical cut, deleted scenes, a gag reel and several featurettes, plus a digital copy disc.

KNIGHT AND DAY Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital Copy (**, 109 mins., 2010, PG-13; Fox): Breezy but rather disposable action-movie fluff failed to catch on at the box-office last summer -- one of many disappointments for Fox this past year.

Seeking to “resurrect his career” again, Tom Cruise goes into full-charm mode here as a dashing spy who gets wide-eyed Boston girl Cameron Diaz wrapped up in his latest adventure; their chemistry is solid, too, yet director James Mangold’s movie is never as romantic or as much fun as it ought to be. Whether it’s because of Mangold not being able to elicit the right tone from Patrick O’Neill’s script or the screenplay itself, “Knight and Day” just coasts along offering cute banter and the pre-requisite, CGI-laden action sequences, but is quickly forgotten once the credits roll.

Fox’s Blu-Ray combo pack of “Knight and Day” looks quite satisfying with its AVC encoded 1080p transfer and DTS Master soundtrack, though HD doesn’t necessarily do wonders for the movie’s rather unimpressive special effects. Extra features include a number of predictably disposable featurettes, along with a DVD copy and digital copy disc for portable media players.

FAMILY GUY: IT’S A TRAP Blu-Ray/DVD (57 mins., 2010; Fox): “Family Guy” skewers Star Wars for the third time following the consistently amusing “Blue Harvest” and the decidedly less effective “Something, Something, Something Dark Side.” Here “Return of the Jedi” is targeted by Seth MacFarlane and the show’s writers, and much like recent seasons of the series, the comedy comes it in fits and starts; a few moments of hilarity are followed by extended sections of tedium. “Family Guy” fans are sure to find a few laughs here and there, as are “Star Wars” buffs, but it’s not nearly as amusing as the prior parodies. Fox’s Blu-Ray release sports a 1.78 HD transfer (the series only this year expanded beyond its original 1.33 aspect ratio), a DTS Master soundtrack, a DVD and digital copy, and extras including commentary and a number of bonus comedic vignettes.

TRUE GRIT Blu-Ray (***½, 127 mins., 1969, G; Paramount): John Wayne earned his one and only Oscar for his memorable, if over-the-top, performance as seasoned U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn in this 1969 adaptation of Charles Portis’ book, now issued on Blu-Ray to coincide with the debut of the Coen Brothers’ remake starring Jeff Bridges as Cogburn.

Directed by veteran Henry Hathaway and scripted by Marguerite Roberts, the ‘69 “True Grit” is largely a vehicle for Wayne, who chews up the scenery in one of his trademark performances, but beyond that, the film itself is a sturdy, well-performed tale of a precocious young woman (Kim Darby, who’s terrific) who enlists Cogburn to track down her father’s killer (Jeff Corey). Glen Campbell is appropriately easy-going as the marshal also trying to track down Corey, while veteran support is provided by Robert Duvall and Strother Martin, not to mention a great Elmer Bernstein score and scenic Lucien Ballard cinematography.

I’m sure the new “True Grit” will have more of an “edge,” but the original -- old-fashioned as it is -- remains a thoroughly entertaining western from the genre’s twilight era, and comes highly recommended on Blu-Ray. Paramount’s BD sports a good-looking VC-1 encoded transfer that has just a bit of DNR applied but generally appears crisp and quite detailed over prior DVD editions. Audio is provided in a somewhat muddled DTS Master Audio track as well as its original mono mix, and a nice array of extras include a historian commentary along with a handful of featurettes and the original trailer in HD.

WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS Blu-Ray (**, 133 mins., 2010, PG-13; Fox): Tepid, belated follow-up to Oliver Stone’s 1987 “Wall Street” brings back Michael Douglas to reprise his Oscar-winning role of Gordon Gekko, but does so in a toothless, convoluted story concocted by writers Allan Loeb and Stephen Schiff. Most of the action here centers around up and coming trader Shia LaBeouf and his relationship with Gekko’s daughter (Carey Mulligan), with Josh Brolin providing sufficient villainy and veterans like Susan Sarandon, Eli Wallach and Frank Langella (who only appears in the initial half-hour) turning up in supporting roles.

Douglas is every bit as suave as he was back in 1987, but without a proper narrative foundation this “Wall Street” never gives you a reason to care about its story line. LaBeouf isn’t awful here but he’s nevertheless a lightweight compared to the likes of Douglas, Mulligan and Brolin, and certainly lacks the gravitas that Charlie Sheen brought to his role in the original (Sheen appears in a pointless cameo) – why Hollywood continues to believe that LaBeouf is the next big thing is a mystery viewers will keep discussing after seeing him in another ill-fated sequel. Meanwhile, Stone goes soft in the movie’s third act, ending on a note that simply seems bizarre given the original movie and its pungent conclusion.

Fox’s Blu-Ray disc offers a commentary from Stone, deleted scenes, interviews and other making of segments. Rodrigo Prieto’s widescreen lensing is solid, and the AVC encoded 1080p transfer does a fine job replicating the visuals, but the soundtrack is an absolute mess of jarringly inappropriate songs and occasional score by Craig Armstrong that further compounds the film’s shortcomings. A digital copy is included as well.

TWELVE Blu-Ray (*½, 93 mins., 2010, R; Fox): Another misfire for director Joel Schumacher, this Gaumont-funded thriller understandably never found a North American distributor. Chace Crawford plays a young Manhattanite who deals drugs to all kinds of customers, leading to inevitable tragedy in this heavy-handed rendering of a Nick McDonell novel; it’s all style and little substance (beyond its obvious portrayal of “hip” youngsters dealing drugs, not knowing the consequence of their actions), and the latest Schumacher film that failed completely to find a theatrical audience. Fox’s Blu-Ray does include an AVC encoded transfer and DTS Master Audio soundtrack (featuring a not-bad Harry Gregson-Williams score) but nothing in the way of extras.

FUTURAMA Volume 5 DVD (281 mins., 2010; Fox): 13 new episodes from Matt Groening’s cult series hit DVD (and Blu-Ray) this month from Fox in a double-disc set. Each episode, presented in 1.78 widescreen, includes commentaries, deleted scenes, a table read, and numerous other extra features, making it perfect for “Futurama” fans.

TV on Blu-Ray
Sci-fi addicts need little introduction to Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s memorable ‘70s series SPACE: 1999 (1975, aprx. 21 hours), which makes its way to Blu-Ray this month in a marvelous HD package with transfers far more impressive than one would anticipate.

Network and ITV performed an extensive restoration on the film elements of this short-lived but fondly remembered Martin Landau-Barbara Bain series, which offers more of a “2001" type of feel in its initial 24 episodes than its more straightforward, action-oriented (more “Trek”-ian) second season. Effects producer Brian Johnson worked with the Andersons in establishing the show’s visual scheme, and the result is a particularly interesting, pre-“Star Wars” series that its fans continue to watch worldwide.

A&E/NewVideo is distributing the Network box-set here, and the 1080p (4:3) transfers are just a joy to behold: the detail is astonishing for a mid ‘70s TV series, with crisp detail and strong colors. The mono audio tracks are on-hand as well as newly remixed DTS Master Audio soundtracks, while extras are jam packed onto the set’s seven discs (mostly housed in the set’s sixth and seventh discs). Among the goodies are music-only tracks on all the episodes save for “Breakaway” and “Dragon’s Domain”; Anderson commentaries on those episodes as well; HD image galleries of rare stills, as well as gum and cigaratte cards; alternate textless titles; several behind-the-scenes featurettes plus an interview with Sylvia Anderson; text commentaries on “The Last Sunset” and “Space Brain”; a vintage 1975 “Clapperboard” two-part special on Anderson’s work; a demo of Barry Gray’s theme; alternative opening/closing credits; the US premiere intro and outro with Landau and Bain; FX plates and deleted FX footage with music track; and the proverbial “more.”

A definite gift possibility for those of us who grew up on the series or watched it back when it originally aired -- and when it never looked as good as this!

24 Season 8 Blu-Ray (2010, Fox): As pedestrian as it sometimes became, as dumb as some of its scripts were and as repetitive as the program grew over the course of its eight seasons, Fox’s serialized “real-time” thriller “24" nevertheless managed to entertain on a consistent basis throughout the duration of its eight-season run.

Keifer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer diffused more bombs, uncovered more conspiracies and moles in not just the U.S. government but his own counter-terrorist unit, and I’ll be damned if there isn’t going to be a big-time hole come the middle of this winter when the series doesn’t return for its ninth season (Fox reportedly is lining up a feature continuation of Jack’s adventures with Tony Scott potentially in talks to direct; here’s hoping it eventually works its way out of pre-production and actually gets made, but recent evidence suggests it’s dead for the time being).

In the meantime, fans will have to live with video releases of the series’ past years, some of which were, naturally, better than others and which climaxed with an eighth and final season that has its rocky moments – from a ridiculous subplot with “BSG” babe Katee Sackhoff and her white-trash ex – as well as a dynamite and dazzling collection of final episodes that’s as good as anything seen on the series (I’m particularly talking about former President Charles Logan’s reappearance and Jack’s all-out quest for vengeance). I wasn’t crazy about how the show disposed of Annie Wersching’s resilient CTU agent Renee Walker – Season 8 does a superb job turning her into a female version of Jack in its early episodes, only to cast her off – but the positive aspects of the program outweigh the missteps, and I think most fans were satisfied with its explosive, action-packed last half-dozen episodes. By that point the producers realized the show was ending for good and seemed to focus in on providing an open yet satisfying final collection of episodes dominated by jaw-dropping moments and set-pieces.

Fox’s Blu-Ray edition of “24"’s final season looks dynamic. The AVC encoded transfers and DTS Master soundtracks are more detailed than the broadcast HD versions, while extras include a few extended episodes, deleted scenes (including an alternate finale where beloved character Chloe O’Brien is arrested) and several featurettes.

Also New On Blu-Ray
AND SOON THE DARKNESS Blu-Ray (***, 91 mins., 2010, R; Anchor Bay): Now here’s a legitimate surprise: a remake of an obscure 1970 Robert Fuest-directed thriller with Pamela Franklin that’s slickly made, superbly shot (by veteran cinematographer Gabriel Beristain) and ultimately quite satisfying for what it is.

Amber Heard and Odette Yustman play American girls in Argentina just looking for some fun in the sun when Yustman goes missing and Heard tries everything to try and find her. The results from there in the script by director Marcos Efron and Jennifer Derwingson might have you believing this is going to be just another re-do of “Hostel” but “And Soon the Darkness” favors low-key thrills and suspense over torture-porn, and the movie is surprisingly restrained and builds up a decent head of steam as it moves along.

Anchor Bay’s Blu-Ray looks vibrant. Beristain’s scope compositions fare quite impressively in the 1080p transfer, while an effective Dolby TrueHD mix includes a moody tomandandy score. Extras include deleted scenes, a commentary track and a director’s “video diary.”

“And Soon the Darkness” didn’t get picked up for a wide theatrical release and is only receiving a token L.A. run this week before being released on Blu-Ray on the 28th. Don’t let the packaging fool you – this is a nice little thriller that’s well-made and acted. Worth a look for genre fans.

MICMACS Blu-Ray (**½, 104 mins., 2010, R; Sony): Jean-Pierre Jeunet is back in his comfort zone with this suitably offbeat, intermittently amusing French comedic-fantasy-drama starring Dany Boon as a one-time video clerk who takes a bullet to the head and comes out alive – but determined to take down the weapons manufacturer that produced it, all with the help of a group of fellow homeless types who live in a junkyard. Among his friends are Jeunet regular Domonique Pinon as a former human cannonball champion and Julie Ferrier as another circus performer, both of whom aid Boon in constructing Rube Goldberg-type devices and exact revenge for Boon’s accident.

Jeunet’s trademarks – fanciful visuals, blending of bizarre fantasy with slapstick humor and off-the-wall characters – are on full display in “Micmacs,” a movie which apparently failed to capture an audience in its native country but ought to appeal regardless to the filmmaker’s devotees, who will have the highest tolerance for Jeunet’s stylistic flourishes. Sony’s Blu-Ray disc looks great (AVC encoded 1080p transfer, DTS Master Audio sound in French with optional English subtitles) and also includes extras including a commentary from Jeunet, a Q&A with Jeunet and Frerrier, a Making Of and other goodies.

THE OTHER GUYS Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital Copy Combo Pack (**½, 115 mins., 2010, PG-13/Unrated; Sony): Adam McKay and Will Ferrell generated a good amount of laughs with their past vehicles “Anchorman” and “Talladega Nights,” but their latest collaboration – an attempted cop-buddy movie parody with Ferrell playing opposite Mark Wahlberg as mismatched NYC cops – ends up half a hysterical comedy, and half a crushing bore.

The first 45 minutes offer the choice material with Ferrell and Wahlberg following the money trail of shady businessman Steve Coogan (completely unfunny) and trying to leap into the limelight vacated by popular veteran cops Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson (whose exit from the film is undeniably hilarious). Some admittedly brilliant moments (even Michael Keaton is funny) include a group of homeless guys who ruin Ferrell’s car (“they call it a soup kitchen”) and Eva Mendes as Ferrell’s wife (it might be one long joke, but at least it’s a good one).

In fact, the opening of “The Other Guys” works so well that it’s a shock when the picture’s second half not just stalls out but hits the wall completely – eschewing comedy for “real” action scenes, and working from a script that seems to have been constructed only to set up the picture’s opening hour. Once the movie has to go somewhere narratively, “The Other Guys” falls to pieces, and even ends with pretentious statistics about ponzi schemes and the bail-out (no, I’m not kidding) that run over the end credits – putting a bizarre and unfunny cap on a movie that runs out of gas long before they roll.

Sony’s Blu-Ray disc looks terrific. The AVC encoded 1080p transfer (2.35) and DTS Master Audio track are both stellar, and extras in the DVD/Digital Copy combo pack include both the Unrated extended version of the film (running nine minutes longer), deleted scenes (some of which are exclusive to the BD), a gag reel, a commentary track featuring the mothers of Ferrell and Adam McKay (!), and other featurettes.    

VAMPIRES SUCK Blu-Ray (*½, 82 mins., 2010, PG-13/Unrated; Fox): Jason Friedberg, Aaron Seltzer and Regency Enterprises continue to churn out cheap, low-budget spoofs of recent movies – and why not, when “Vampires Suck” returned $36 million on a budget nearly half that amount. Of course, that doesn’t mean Friedberg and Seltzer’s new movie is any funnier than their prior offerings, though I confess that Ken Jeong and Crista Flanagan manage to generate a couple of chuckles during the film’s scant 82-minute running time. Overall, it’s pretty feeble, just like the duo’s past offerings, and it’s unfortunate, since the “Twilight” films seem to be perfect for an “Airplane!” styled take-off. Fox’s Blu-Ray of “Vampires Suck” includes both the movie’s PG-13 rated theatrical cut and an extended unrated version, along with deleted scenes, a gag reel, and a digital copy for portable media players.

CYRUS Blu-Ray (***, 91 mins., 2010, R; Fox): Indie filmmakers the Duplass brothers go a bit more mainstream with this offbeat but accessible tale of a divorced guy (John C. Reilly) who meets a gorgeous woman (Marisa Tomei) at a party thrown by his ex-wife (Catherine Keener). Tomei seems perfect, but Reilly quick finds out her baggage: a twentysomething son (Jonah Hill) who’s just a bit too attached to his mom. The cast is terrific and “Cyrus” doesn’t offer any major surprises during its 90 minute run time – it’s simply a low-key but often quite funny comedic family tale with a few strange elements typical of the Duplass’ previous works. Not for every taste but recommended just the same. Fox’s Blu-Ray disc offers deleted scenes, a couple of behind-the-scenes segments, a 1080p AVC encoded transfer (1.85) and DTS Master Audio sound.

STEP UP 3 Blu-Ray (**½, 107 mins., 2010, PG-13; Buena Vista): I can’t say I was a big fan of either of the two prior “Step Up” movies, but this 3-D entry into the series at least provides solid formula entertainment for teen viewers. The plot in Amy Andelson and Emily Meyer’s script is completely secondary to the dance moves (and there are, naturally, a lot of those), and director Jon Chu wisely focuses less on the “drama” and more on the film’s choreography and set-pieces. Apparently these scenes worked well in 3-D theatrically, but even at home in 2-D Blu-Ray, “Step Up 3" is good-looking visually, and its intended young audience ought to be sufficiently entertained. Buena Vista’s Blu-Ray sports a 1080p AVC encoded transfer, DTS Master Audio 7.1 sound, a DVD copy, and not much in the way of extras: deleted scenes, a bonus short move, a couple of featurettes and lots of music videos.

DEVIL Blu-Ray (**½, 81 mins., 2010, PG-13; Universal): It’s been a rough couple of years for M. Night Shyamalan, whose aborted attempt at shifting genres with “The Last Airbender” was met with critical derision and indifferent box-office. Faring somewhat better was M. Night’s inaugural producing effort, “Devil,” which returned a respectable $33 million on a modest budget. The movie itself is a minor genre affair, almost like an extended episode of a TV anthology series like “The Twilight Zone,” profiling a group of disparate characters on an elevator besieged by evil forces and the devil himself. It sounds ridiculous but the picture’s resolution is reasonably satisfying all things considered, and fright fans wouldn’t do badly giving it a rental if nothing else. Universal’s Blu-Ray disc includes a solid AVC encoded 1080p transfer, DTS Master Audio, and extras including deleted scenes, the requisite behind-the-scenes segments and more.

FLIPPED Blu-Ray/DVD (**, 90 mins., 2010, PG; Warner): Rob Reiner (remember him?) spins this nicely-acted but utterly inconsequential “coming of age” drama about a young teen (Callan McAuliffe), growing up in the early ‘60s, who has a typical love/hate relationship with the girl next door (Madeline Carroll). McAuliffe’s well-to-do family looks down on Carroll’s more financially strapped clan living across the street, but despite their differences (not helped by McAuliffe’s stuffy father, played by Anthony Edwards), the duo’s relationship slowly blossoms in a flashback structure that shifts between the perspectives of the two characters.

Carroll and McAuliffe are both terrific in “Flipped,” which Reiner directed and co-wrote (with long-time producing partner Andrew Scheinman) from a book by Wendelin Van Draanen. Perhaps large sections of the movie were left on the cutting room floor, because “Flipped” plays like a group of nice, often self-contained sequences with no dramatic development or tension whatsoever. Edwards’ obnoxious parental unit is as close to an antagonist as there is in the movie, which does almost nothing with its extensive supporting cast (Aidan Quinn, Rebecca De Mornay, John Mahoney, Penelope Ann Miller). Ultimately the film leaves you with no impression at all outside of its nice lead performances, leaving me to reluctantly give “Flipped” a failing grade in spite of its good intentions.

Warner’s Blu-Ray disc offers up a pleasant VC-1 encoded 1080p transfer with DTS Master Audio sound and several behind-the-scenes featurettes. The combo pack also includes a DVD and digital copy for portable media players.

GOING THE DISTANCE Blu-Ray/DVD (**½, 103 mins., 2010, R; New Line/Warner): Predictable but watchable romantic comedy – an underperformer at the box-office last August – finds aspiring journalist Drew Barrymore living in NYC for a summer internship when she meets downtrodden music exec Justin Long. The duo have a quick fling that turns into a relationship that becomes problematic once Barrymore heads back to the west coast, leading to a cross-country courtship and some (predictably) rocky times involved therein.

Long and Barrymore generate decent chemistry together in Nanette Burstein’s by-the-numbers affair, with solid comedic support turned in by Christina Applegate as Drew’s overprotective older sister and Jason Sudekis and Charlie Day as Long’s bosom buddies. The movie is breezy and offers no surprises (and a particularly “meh” ending), yet for what it is, “Going the Distance” isn’t at all bad, and boasts a few laughs along the way.

Warner’s Blu-Ray portion of their BD/DVD combo pack sports a crisp VC-1 encoded 1080p transfer with DTS Master Audio sound and a number of supplements, including commentary from Burstein, behind-the-scenes featurettes and additional scenes. The package is rounded out by a DVD and digital copy.

DEAR MR. GACY Blu-Ray (103 mins., 2010, R; Anchor Bay): William Forsythe gives an appropriately disturbing performance as serial killer John Wayne Gacy in this well-made, unsettling adaptation of the book “The Last Victim,” which follows the near two-decades long relationship between Gacy and a criminology student (Jesse Moss) who seeks to profile his crimes but ends up turning into a psychological victim of the mass murderer. Anchor Bay’s Blu-Ray disc of this 2010 release sports two trailers, a behind-the-scenes featurette, 1080p transfer and Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio.

New On DVD

INCEPTION DVD (**½, 148 mins., 2010, PG-13; Warner): One of the summer’s biggest hits, “Inception” boasts all the hallmarks of a Christopher Nolan film: dense plotting, gorgeous visuals, grating (and incessant) Hans Zimmer music, and a determined, deadly-serious lead performance. What it lacks, as Nolan’s past films have, is a soul – a heart that enables audiences to emotionally connect with its protagonists.

It’s another icy but compelling Nolan film where you consistently feel at arm’s length with its characters, and in this case, it’s regrettable since Nolan’s script engagingly toys with past genre films like “Brainstorm” and “Dreamscape” (at least from a conceptual angle), as “dream thief” Leonardo DiCaprio and his team (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Hardy, Ellen Page) attempt to break up the empire of dying Pete Postelthwaite by entering the dreams of his son Cillian Murphy -- all to the benefit of their corporate competitor (and DiCaprio’s employer), Ken Watanabe.

Nolan layers the film with evocative, spectacular visual effects of cities folding over, of characters bending time and space and defying the laws of physics by entering one level of the dream-world and further, more mind-bending extensions within. It’s a spellbinding visceral experience, even if the movie is never as offbeat and weird as its premise suggests (the final level in Murphy’s ultimate “dream world” looks like a “Call of Duty” level and, indeed, plays like you’re watching a video game), while narratively the picture comes up short, marked by characters who function more like archetypes than real people. There’s not a lot of emotion generated in “Inception,” and Nolan does little to infuse the drama with anything more than DiCaprio’s quest to “get back to his kids,” with the actor doing his best Christian Bale imitation, clenching his jaw and frequently delivering dialogue that sounds like a FAQ for a word processing program. The utterly predictable final shot further leaves one let down by Nolan’s original screenplay.

What we’re left with is a movie that is the very embodiment of popular modern moviemaking: it’s “cool,” intricately made and spectacular on a technical level, yet leaves you wanting more from its core. One wonders whether Nolan will ever get to the level where his movies engage you emotionally instead of leaving you primarily marveling at how awesome they look.

Warner’s DVD of “Inception” is passable but fails to reproduce the film’s spectacular visuals. The 16:9 (2.35) transfer seems a mite too compressed, especially considering the number of featurettes also crammed onto the disc. The 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, at least, fares better.   

New on DVD From Disney

Disney fans who might be lamenting the lack of new “Disney Treasures” tins this year ought to find solace in a trio of new documentaries from the studio, recently issued on DVD, each offering a fascinating glimpse into the company’s rich legacy.

WALT & EL GROUPO (107 mins.) may be the most compelling of the trio, profiling Disney’s work during the second World War as a cultural ambassador to South America. The subsequent creation of “Saludos Amigos” and “The Three Caballeros” is explored in this terrific documentary, offering a commentary from director Theodore Thomas and historian J.B. Kaufman, plus several behind-the-scenes segments and the original 1943 release of “Saludos Amigos” on-hand for good measure. The 16:9 (1.78) transfer and 5.1 audio are both top-notch.

The legacy of the Sherman Brothers, meanwhile, is the subject of THE BOYS: THE SHERMAN BROTHERS’ STORY (102 mins.), while the ‘80s resurrection of the studio’s animation arm gets its due in the terrific WAKING SLEEPING BEAUTY (86 mins.), which offers interviews with Michael Eisner, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Roy Disney and others, reflecting on how “The Little Mermaid” served as the beginning of numerous Disney classics that followed. Widescreen (1.78) transfers, commentary (on “Waking Sleeping Beauty”), featurettes and bonus footage adorn the releases, which also sport collectible lithographs/music sheets, and ought to satisfy all Disney buffs with an active interest in the studio’s history.

New TV on DVD

LIFETIME CHRISTMAS DVDs (NewVideo): Cable channels like Lifetime, Hallmark and ABC Family turn into a 24-hour marathon of made-for-TV original yuletide fare around this time of year. NewVideo’s recent release slate includes five seasonal cable movies, all separately issued in no-frills, quite affordable ($10 and under in most outlets) packages:

HOLIDAY SWITCH (2006) - Nicole Eggert struggles to make ends meet with her blue-collar husband and two kids, then gets a flash to another reality where she’s the wife of her upper-crust ex-boyfriend.

RECIPE FOR A PERFECT CHRISTMAS (2005) - Carly Pope is a young food columnist who falls for a young restauranteur whom she just hooked up with her mom (Christine Baranski) in this comedic offering.

HOME BY CHRISTMAS (2006) - Linda Hamilton essays a middle-class mom whose husband cheats on her in this heavy-handed effort.

THE ROAD TO CHRISTMAS (2006) - Jennifer Grey stars as a woman trying to get to the altar to marry a stuffy millionaire when she meets a happy widower with a 12-year old daughter en route.

COMFORT AND JOY (2003) - Former “Facts of Life” star Nancy McKeon plays another high-powered workaholic who wakes up after a car accident to find herself as a wife and mom in this 2003 effort co-starring Paul Dooley and Dixie Carter, and sporting a score by former Michael Cimino associate David Mansfield.

HOARDERS - Season 2, Part 1 DVD (aprx. 6 hours, 2010): Popular A&E series returns to DVD in a double-disc set sporting the first seven episodes from its second season. Widescreen transfers and stereo soundtracks adorn the double-platter set, though no extras are on-hand.

GENE SIMMONS - FAMILY JEWELS Seasons 4 and 5 DVD (aprx. 8 hours each, A&E): Gene Simmons’ hectic life is profiled both on-stage and off in separate Season 4 and 5 DVD editions of the successful A&E reality series. 17 episodes are on-hand in A&E’s multi-disc set along with additional, unused footage for extras.

THE SECRET LIFE OF THE AMERICAN TEENAGER Volume 5 DVD (602 mins., 2010, Buena Vista): ABC Family’s top-rated dramatic series continues to confound me with its bizarre mix of wholesome family values, scandalous story lines, frank “adult” talk and narrative arcs that play like a suburban version of “Dynasty” by way of the POV of the creator of “7th Heaven.” It might fry your brain cells at times but there’s no disputing this guilty pleasure has found (and retained) its core audience.

Fans of “Secret Life” anticipating its return next month can tide themselves over with this three-disc set sporting the more recent episodes from the program (it tends to run twice a year, making “Season” sets impossible to release), focusing in on Amy and boyfriend Ben trying to reignite their relationship – something that doesn’t happen when Ben gets overstimulated Adrian pregnant and Amy hikes it to NYC to attend a music program.

Widescreen 16:9 (1.78) transfers and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks comprise the technical elements of the package, with extra features including several featurettes and an interview with series director Anson Williams, “Potsie” himself (I can’t help but wonder what the Fonz would think of all the crazy kids these days – or at least the ones on this series!).

ARMY WIVES Season 4 DVD (765 mins., 2010; Buena Vista): Season 4 of the highly popular Lifetime series finds Roxy juggling her pregnancy and impending move; Pamela finding a new job; Claudia Joy pursuing her own new dream; and Roland balancing parenthood with a relationship with Joan, a soldier recovering from the war.

Numerous extras are on-hand in Buena Vista’s four-disc set, including 18 deleted scenes, bloopers and outtakes, and three featurettes. The 16:9 (1.78) transfers and 5.1 soundtracks are all excellent. A definite must-have for “Army Wives” fans!

BIG LOVE Season 4 DVD (516 mins., 2010; HBO): The fourth season of this offbeat and compelling portrait of a polygamist (Bill Paxton), his three wives (Jeanne Tripplehorn, Chloe Sevigny, Ginnifer Goodwin) and his multiple kids turned out to be the program’s penultimate one because of declining ratings. Season 4 of "Big Love" finds Paxton's character now with nine kids and still trying attempting to start up a Mormon-friendly casino with the help of a local Native American tribe. HBO’s Season 4 DVD box-set does a fine job with its 16:9 (1.78) transfers and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks. Extras, though, are again on the slim side, with “Inside the Episode” features on each show, sporting comments from producer-creators Mark Olsen and Will Scheffer.

BOY MEETS WORLD Season 4 DVD (1996-97, 528 mins., Lionsgate): Fans of the long-running ABC sitcom should be sufficiently excited that Lionsgate has licensed “Boy Meets World” from Disney and, for the first time, released the series’ fourth season on DVD. There are no extras here, just a straight ahead release offering all of its 22 fourth-season episodes in full-screen transfers and with stereo sound.

GUNSMOKE Season 4, Volume 2 DVD (Aprx. 9 hours, 1959, CBS): CBS continues to release a steady stream of TV-on-DVD releases monthly, and while it’s been a while since I’ve covered them here, fans should note that series like “Gunsmoke” and “Vega$,” among others, are still seeing action on the dwindling DVD format front. This three-disc compilation of episodes from the second half of “Gunsmoke”’s fourth season offers restored B&W transfer and sponsor spots. Episodes include Jayhawkers, Kitty’s Rebellion, Sky, Doc Quits, The Bear, The Coward, The F.U., Wind, Fawn, Renegade White, Murder Warrant, Change of Heart, Buffalo Hunter, The Choice, There Never Was A Horse, Print Asper, The Constable, Blue Horse and Cheyenne.

VEGA$ Season 2, Volume 1 DVD (aprx. 9 hours, 1979-80, CBS): Robert Urich is back as PI Dan Tanna, along with Greg Morris, Bart Braverman and Phyliss Davis, in the second season of the popular late ‘70s series “Vega$.” CBS’ Volume 1 of episodes from the series’ sophomore (1979-80) season includes the episodes Redhanded, The Usurper, Mixed Blessing, Runaway, Design for Death, Shadow on a Star, Dan Tanna is Dead, The Macho Murders, The Day the Gambling Stopped, Classic Connection, and Night of a Thousand Eyes. The full-screen transfers and mono soundtracks are both just fine, and extras include vintage network episodic promos. 

NEXT TIME: The first discs of 2011! Until then, don't forget to drop in on the official Aisle Seat Message Boards and direct any emails to our email address. Merry Christmas & Happy New Year to one and all!

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