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Peter Hyams has enjoyed a long and diverse career behind the lens, having directed fine genre films like “Capricorn One” and “2010,” as well as the enjoyable monster flick “The Relic.” Unfortunately Hyams’ first new movie in several years, a remake of Fritz Lang’s 1956 RKO thriller BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT (*½, 105 mins., 2009, PG-13), ranks as his worst.

Severely miscast and indifferently directed, “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt” stars Jesse Metcalfe -- best known from TV’s “Desperate Housewives” -- as a young investigative TV reporter who decides to expose a corrupt Shreveport, Louisiana D.A. (a particularly tired Michael Douglas) by falsely implicating himself in a murder. Metcalfe’s plans go all wrong once his back-up disc housing evidence of his innocence go up in smoke, leaving his new girlfriend (Amber Tamblyn), also one of Douglas’ young attorneys, to try and get Metcalfe off the hook before he heads to the electric chair.
Metcalfe comes off like he’s subbing for Mario Lopez on “Access Hollywood” with a glib, empty lead performance, and he has zero chemistry with Tamblyn, who’s been good in other roles but seems stiff and overly mannered here, as if she’s straining to be “serious.” With neither lead working effectively, you become all too aware of the predictability and shallowness of Hyams’ script, which telegraphs plot points so blatantly that the film offers no surprises at all. Add in an embarrassing “chase” sequence with Tamblyn trying to get away from one of Douglas’ thugs, and an ending that’s downright laughable, and you have a movie that simply sits there and dies on-screen through its 105 minutes. Indeed, it’s downright depressing to see both Douglas and Hyams (who collaborated over 25 years ago on “The Star Chamber”) reduced to bad direct-to-video fodder like “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt.”

Anchor Bay’s Blu-Ray edition of the picture sports a terrific 1080p transfer with plain 5.1 Dolby Digital sound. This is one of the few Hyams movies not shot in a 2.35 aspect ratio, with the 1.85 transfer still seeming well composed with deep contrasts, as well as illustrating Hyams’ typical penchant for low-level lighting. David Shire’s score does what it can to add a touch of class to the movie, but the film ultimately is so pedestrian that it’s a losing battle.

Extras include commentary with Hyams and Metcalfe, the trailer, a digital copy of the picture, and a behind-the-scenes featurette. Those extras (sans the digital copy) are also on the DVD edition, which boasts a 16:9 (1.85) transfer also with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

There’s no question this one is just plain bad, beyond any reasonable doubt!   

New From Universal

PUBLIC ENEMIES Blu-Ray and DVD (**½, 140 mins., 2009, R; Universal). WHAT IT IS: Michael Mann’s chronicle of the relationship between John Dilinger (Johnny Depp), his love Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard) and the FBI agent pursuing his criminal path across the U.S. (Christian Bale) is a disappointing thriller that fails to reach the heights of “Heat.” Depp is just fine as Dillinger and Cotillard shines in her sequences, while Mann, as always, indulges in a few exciting set-pieces, backed by potent sound design and a fine (if occasionally anachronistic) Elliot Goldenthal score. Yet the film manages to be a tad cold and almost bland, failing, surprisingly enough, to capture the era with little period detail. “Public Enemies” never really takes off, yet it’s still well-crafted and polished enough to keep you watching despite its shortcomings. DVD BREAKDOWN: Universal’s two-disc Blu-Ray and DVD editions of “Public Enemies” are hurt by Mann’s newfound preference for shooting on digital video, which occasionally exhibits some jarring video artifacts at certain points on both transfers. The movie still has stylish lighting from Mann and cinematographer Dante Spinotti, but the overall look of the movie is a major disappointment coming from the director. Extras include commentary with Mann and numerous Making Of featurettes, along with a digital copy disc in the BD package. AISLE SEAT MERRY BOTTOM LINE: Between the cast and director much was expected from “Public Enemies,” but the final result did not live up to its potential. For whatever reason, the material just never catches fire here.

INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS Blu-Ray (***, 153 mins., 2009, R; Universal). WHAT IT IS: Quentin Tarantino’s latest excursion into the offbeat is one of my favorite films of his to date -- an uneven but cinematically vibrant collage of snappy dialogue, studied tributes to other pictures and most of all the WWII film genre itself, here reinvented as a Jewish revenge fantasy with Brad Pitt leading a squad of Jewish soldiers into Nazi occupied France for revenge. Even if the Basterds themselves are -- disappointingly -- only peripheral characters, the central, interlocking story is stylishly designed and leisurely told, with Tarantino taking advantage of the wide cinematic frame and employing a number of techniques to get his story across. Among the memorable performances are Christoph Waltz as a most vile Nazi commander and Melanie Laurent as the only surviving member of a Jewish family he wipes out in the film’s opening set-piece; in addition to a few voice-overs from Samuel L. Jackson there are also “Guest Star” turns from Mike Myers and Rod Taylor as Winston Churchill along for good measure! Add in a typically eclectic Tarantino soundtrack, offering music as varied as cues from “The Alamo,” Morricone westerns, "Cat People," "Kelly's Heroes" and even Charles Bernstein’s “The Entity,” and you have another Tarantino cinematic stew that’s pure revisionist history, but also quite entertaining...even though the film sags as it moves along, coming off more like a slow burn than a real thriller. There should have been a bit more action and less talk in one of his later "Acts," particularly considering that the Q-man delivers the goods in a memorable, albeit brief, climax. TECH SPECS: Universal’s Blu-Ray disc is one of the year’s most satisfying HD presentations, marked by a perfect 1080p transfer and DTS Master Audio soundtrack. Of course it helps that Tarantino knows the language of cinema, particularly from a visual angle; compare this to the dreary, video-like appearance of Michael Mann’s “Public Enemies” and it’s a night and day difference. Extras include a full array of deleted and extended scenes plus numerous featurettes, roundtable interviews, and a digital copy for portable media players. AISLE SEAT MERRY BOTTOM LINE: Though “inspired” by Enzo Castellari’s ‘70s exploitation favorite, Tarantino offers up another of his stylistic endeavors in “Inglourious Basterds,” but the results fuse together more successfully here than in most of his prior works. It's a shame there wasn't a bit more "pop" to the film's second half, though, since the "Basterds" really never get an opportunity to strut their stuff.

9 Blu-Ray and DVD (**½, 80 mins., 2009, PG-13; Universal). WHAT IT IS: Shane Acker’s award-winning short subject became a generally well-received feature last fall, directed by Acker and produced by Tim Burton and “Wanted”’s Tibur Bekmambetov. In Pamela Pettler’s adaptation of Acker’s original story, a group of sock puppets are charged with carrying on the legacy of humanity after robots and machines launch an apocalypse on earth. Nightmarish visuals, well-executed animation and an oddball sci-fi story separate “9" from typically goofy Dreamworks CGI fare, though the slender plot has a hard time holding up through its 80 minute duration, and the ending isn’t especially satisfying. DVD BREAKDOWN: Universal’s DVD edition of “9" boasts an expectedly crisp 16:9 (1.85) transfer with an involving 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack, offering a fine Danny Elfman-Deborah Lurie score. Acker’s original short is one of the special features, along with commentary from Acker and other behind-the-scenes talent and making of featurettes. The Blu-Ray edition, meanwhile, is even more impressive with its 1080p transfer and DTS Master Audio soundtrack. AISLE SEAT MERRY BOTTOM LINE: “9" will be available after Christmas and comes recommended for fantasy/animation enthusiasts in spite of its flaws.       

A PERFECT GETAWAY Blu-Ray and DVD (**½, 98 mins/108 mins., 2009, R/Unrated; Universal). WHAT IT IS: Twisty and watchable thriller from David Twohy follows couple Steve Zahn and Milla Jovovich on an Hawaiian honeymoon when word gets out that a killer is on the loose. Could the suspects be adventure-seeking duo Timothy Olyphant and Kiele Sanchez, or perhaps Marley Shelton and Chris Hemsworth? It’s fun in the sun with Zahn going increasingly off the rails as he suspects anyone and everyone of being the killer, and Twohy throwing in a few convoluted plot twists and self-aware dialogue (Zahn is supposed to be playing a screenwriter) for good measure. It doesn’t add up to a whole lot, but for those of us in cold weather inclines, “A Perfect Getaway” at least makes for a diverting enough way to kill off 100 minutes. TECH SPECS: Universal’s Blu-Ray edition of “A Perfect Getaway” is a winner. Offering both the theatrical cut and a longer Unrated version (which extends the film by 10 minutes), the Blu-Ray’s 1080p transfer and DTS Master Audio soundtrack are both superb, boasting vivid colors and contrasts. Alas, extras are slim, outside of an alternate ending and BD Live connectivity. That same ending is also on the standard DVD, which boasts a 16:9 (2.35) transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital audio. AISLE SEAT BOTTOM LINE: It’s not exactly a ringing endorsement but “A Perfect Getaway” isn’t a terrible choice for viewing at this time of the year, though I confess its sunny Hawaiian locales go down mighty nice in HD when it’s 25 degrees out!

Also New This Week

Having grown up on the movies of Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder, I’m excited to report that Fox has brought a series of Mel’s finest to Blu-Ray in a lavishly produced high-definition box-set.

The superlative, nine-film anthology THE MEL BROOKS COLLECTION basically reprieves the studio’s prior Brooks DVD compilation in new high-def transfers, housing the comedian’s entire output with Fox (“Young Frankenstein,” “Silent Movie,” “High Anxiety,” “History of the World Part I,” “To Be Or Not To Be” and “Robin Hood: Men In Tights”), with the addition of “The Twelve Chairs” and “Blazing Saddles,” the latter on loan from Warner Bros., plus “Spaceballs” from MGM (sadly “The Producers” is still MIA).

Six of the nine films in Fox’s collection have never been released before on Blu-Ray, making this release absolutely essential for any Brooks fan. Here’s a breakdown:

Brooks’ early THE TWELVE CHAIRS (**½, 93 mins., G, 1970) is a surprisingly restrained adaptation of a 1920s Russian folk tale, with Brooks starring alongside Ron Moody, Dom DeLuise and Frank Langella. The movie has its admirers though I’ve never been a huge fan of the picture, which is presented in a crisp and satisfying AVC encoded presentation with both DTS Master and mono sound, and no extras save a gallery of trailers.           

“The Twelve Chairs” is on-hand along with BLAZING SADDLES (***½, 93 mins., 1974, R) and YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (****, 102 mins., 1974, PG), both in the same Blu-Ray editions Warner and Fox previously released (for a full rundown on “Young Frankenstein,” read my original review here).

These are complimented in the box-set by all of Mel’s later work for Fox -- five films that, like “The Twelve Chairs,” debut on Blu-Ray herein.

Those later efforts are highlighted by the delightful 1976 SILENT MOVIE (***, 87 mins., 1976, PG) as well as the intermittently uproarious Hitchcock spoof HIGH ANXIETY (***, 1977, 94 mins., PG), complete with one of Brooks’ more memorable collaborations with composer John Morris (isn’t it well beyond the proper time for a CD retrospective of Brooks’ and Morris’ film music? Goodness knows with the veritable weekly parade of limited edition soundtracks we’re seeing, there should be ample room for more of Morris’ soundtracks than we’ve gotten so far, LaLaLand’s superb “Blazing Saddles” and “Spaceballs” excepted).

Both movies hit Blu-Ray in matching AVC encoded 1080p transfers with both DTS Master stereo sound on each platter; each print looks a bit aged at times but the heightened detail and clarity of both transfers will be quite satisfying for Brooks buffs, while a decided lack of digital noise reduction means grain is still happily evident. All-new extras on “Silent Movie” include a retrospective look at the picture’s production with comments from Brooks and John Morris among others, plus a Hollywood history trivia track and a full compliment of trailers. “High Anxiety,” meanwhile, offers an isolated score track in full DTS Master Audio 5.1, along with another 25-minute look back upon the production, a silly “Am I Very Very Nervous Test” that pops up on-screen, and more trailers.

Brooks’ HISTORY OF THE WORLD: PART I (**, 92 mins., 1981, R) was one of the director’s few flicks I couldn’t watch as a kid (due to its R rating), but it turns out I wasn’t missing much, as this rambling and often unfunny farce has one inspired, five-minute musical number -- memorably sending up the Spanish Inquisition (presumably a warm-up for Brooks’ later “Producers” musical) -- but precious little else to recommend it. Fox’s Blu-Ray platter once again sports a superb DTS Master Audio soundtrack and crisp AVC encoded transfer, plus another DTS Master isolated score track, two interview segments with Brooks (one on the movie, the other on his “Inquisition” song), a trivia track and trailers.

Thankfully, Brooks returned to form in 1983's TO BE OR NOT TO BE (***, 107 mins., PG), a collaboration with wife Anne Bancroft that fueled an engaging remake of the Ernest Lubitsch early ‘40s classic. Once again offering some new, exclusive extras, Fox’s Blu-Ray includes a look back on the production with comments from Brooks, Tim Matheson, Dick Van Patten, and others, alongside a brief vintage promo featurette, a trivia track, and another robust DTS Master Audio isolated score track. Visually the AVC-encoded transfer looks much healthier than “High Anxiety” and “Silent Movie,” though it’s too bad that Brooks’ memorable “To Be Or Not to Be” music video wasn’t dusted off for this release.

As the ‘80s wore on, Brooks’ directing output dried up, with the mediocre SPACEBALLS (**½, 96 mins., 1987, PG; see my original review of the Blu-Ray here) followed by the even-worse “Life Stinks” -- a major stinker indeed for MGM, the latter grossing a paltry $4 million total in its domestic run.

Thankfully, before hitting almost rock bottom again with the dismal “Dracula: Dead and Loving It,” Brooks reverted to at least respectable form with the genial 1993 parody ROBIN HOOD: MEN IN TIGHTS (**½, 104 mins., PG-13, 1993).

A mix of Brooks veterans (Dick Van Patten, Dom DeLuise) works with a game assortment of younger comedians (Richard Lewis, Tracy Ullmann, and even Dave Chappelle) for this predictable, slightly overlong, but nevertheless amusing assortment of gags primarily aimed at ribbing 1991's Kevin Costner blockbuster. Even Hummie Mann’s score is breezy enough (the love theme being surprisingly sweet), though I still wonder even now why Brooks’ relationship with John Morris terminated as abruptly as it did.

Fox’s Blu-Ray transfer of “Robin Hood: Men In Tights” is pretty much the strongest of the group of BD’s debuting here, with DTS Master Audio sound complimenting the fun. Extras, though, are sparse (just the trailer and a vintage HBO featurette), but admirers of Mann’s score will be happy to hear it presented here, fully isolated in DTS Master Audio sound.

The entire package is presented in an elongated hardbound case (similar in design to the “Planet of the Apes” Blu-Ray anthology), with an impressive hardcover book sporting full-color photos with some background comments and quotes from Brooks. Thankfully, unlike that “Apes” package (which uncomfortably forced each disc onto a flimsily-glued hub on the packaging), the movies are contained in cardboard pouches in a separate foldout, though there’s no information on each disc’s specific special features (for that, you’ll need to refer to this handy review again!).

Overall it’s a perfect gift for all Brooks fans, just in time for the holidays.

New Blu-Ray Releases
THE HANGOVER Blu-Ray and DVD (***, 100/108 mins., 2009, R/Unrated; Warner). WHAT IT IS: One of the year’s box-office smashes, director Todd Phillips struck comedy gold with this irresistibly funny, often uproarious account of four pals (Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis and Justin Bartha) who head to Vegas for a weekend of fun prior to Bartha’s upcoming wedding. Unfortunately, Cooper, Helms and Galifianakis wake up after a wild night out without any knowledge of what just transpired, the only evidence being a small baby and a giant tiger that have taken up residence in their hotel room! Fast-paced and filled with memorable situations and quotable lines (Galifianakis is particularly hysterical), “The Hangover” is undoubtedly one of the funniest comedies Hollywood has turned out in years, and despite its R rating for some infrequent gross-out gags, many of the movie’s most amusing bits come out of honest, pure comedic situations that’d be hilarious even without the picture’s raunchy trimmings. TECH SPECS: Warner’s Blu-Ray edition of “The Hangover” includes both the R-rated theatrical version of the film as well as an extended Unrated cut with eight extra minutes of footage. There are also numerous featurettes, a picture-in-picture commentary with Cooper, Galifianakis, Helms and Phillips, a gag reel, Ken Jeong’s improv and more. There’s also a digital copy for portable media players on-hand. The standard DVD edition, meanwhile, includes the digital copy but not the picture-in-picture commentary. Visually the BD disc includes a fine VC-1 encoded transfer with Dolby TrueHD audio, while the DVD boasts a 16:9 (2.35) transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound. AISLE SEAT MERRY BOTTOM LINE: Any movie that can make Mike Tyson funny has to be something special, and “The Hangover” is indeed a bona-fide comedic gem. Sure to be a viewer favorite for years to come Phillips’ film, scripted by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, delivers the laughs consistently for its 100 minutes, making it one of the year’s most pleasant surprises.

HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE Blu-Ray and DVD (**½, 153 mins., 2009, PG; Warner). WHAT IT IS: The sixth book in J.K. Rowling’s series makes for the least satisfying of the Harry Potter film franchise, serving mainly to set up its concluding installment without telling a particularly compelling story of its own. This time out Harry learns more about the evil sorcerer Voldemort, whose villainy continues to grow and whose back story Dumbeldore (Michael Gambon) wants Harry to understand, in order to better prepare him for the challenges that follow. Flashbacks, a few potions, and romantic relationships between Hermoine (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint), as well as Harry and Ron’s sister, comprise much of the action of “The Half-Blood Prince,” which has some nice moments and an exciting finish, but really takes its time getting there with aspects that are likely to please Harry’s legions of fans but come off as extraneous when taken on their own terms. It also appears that the series is utilizing more and more green-screen, as the cinematography here appears flat and “digital” in nature, particularly in comparison with prior entries in the series. TECH SPECS: Warner’s three-disc Blu-Ray edition of “The Half Blood Prince” boasts a fine VC-1 encoded 1080p transfer with Dolby TrueHD audio. As I just mentioned, there’s very much a CGI-like appearance to the visuals here, with even some of the sequences in Hogwarts looking less like location shooting than green-screen renders. Nicholas Hooper’s score, while again lacking the thematic richness that John Williams brought to the series’ first three installments, is at least an improvement on his “Order of the Phoenix” offering, though the TrueHD soundtrack is heavily accented towards the effects and score, with dialogue mixed too low in comparison. Extras include additional scenes, a “Maximum Movie Mode” interactive function with picture-in-picture goodies, loads of behind-the-scenes featurettes and a digital copy for portable media players. The DVD edition configures these extras somewhat differently, while also offering a digital copy and a perfectly acceptable 16:9 (2.35) transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound. AISLE SEAT MERRY BOTTOM LINE: Potter fanatics ate up “The Half-Blood Prince” at the box-office, the movie surpassing $300 million domestically and double that mark worldwide. Still, no matter how magical the financial receipts, I couldn’t help but think this one felt like a warm-up for the forthcoming “Deathly Hallows,” the first portion of which hits theaters next November.

EXTRACT Blu-Ray (**½, 92 mins., 2009, R; Miramax/Buena Vista). WHAT IT IS: Mike Judge’s latest comedy failed to find an audience in theaters last summer -- a trait it shares with Judge’s prior cinematic output, particularly the cult favorite “Office Space.” “Extract,” his latest film, stars Jason Bateman as the owner of Reynold’s Extract, who’s considering selling the company to General Mills and is bored with his marriage to wife Kristen Wiig. After a night of drug-induced mania, Bateman takes the advice of his bartender pal (Ben Affleck) and opts to have an affair with a new employee (Mila Kunis) who’s really a con artist, leading to all kinds of shenanigans. “Extract” is an odd but modestly entertaining character study that’s a lot less quirky than the subject matter suggests, offering a fair amount of chuckles but nothing in the way of outright hilarity. Part of that is due to Judge wanting the audience to take these characters more seriously than in his prior work, with the writer-director infusing more heart into the drama than you might anticipate. It doesn’t quite come off -- the slender story wraps up before the 90-minute mark and isn’t developed enough to engage you the way Judge intends -- but it’s still an amusing little film that’s worth seeing, especially for its lead performances from Bateman, Affleck, Wiig, and a somewhat under-utilized J.K. Simmons. TECH SPECS: Miramax’s Blu-Ray edition of “Extract” offers a fine AVC encoded 1080p transfer with DTS Master Audio sound and extras including one brief deleted scene, a few minutes of extended scenes, and a featurette on the film’s production. AISLE SEAT BOTTOM LINE: “Extract” is one of those flawed but watchable films that feels right at home on video, where its shortcomings can be more easily overlooked than if you had paid $12 to see it in a theater. Recommended with some reservations.

THE GREEN MILE Blu-Ray (**½, 188 mins., 1999, R; Warner). WHAT IT IS: Writer-director Frank Darabont’s 1999 follow-up to “The Shawshank Redemption” was yet another Stephen King prison story adapted to the screen --  though what was a far more layered and developed literary source than "Shawshank" turns into far less of an involving cinematic experience by comparison. This death row tale with supernatural elements, chronicling the gentle giant John Coffey's tenure on death row in Louisiana during the Great Depression, is depressingly bland and dramatically static, plodding through its bloated running time with an air of self-importance while disregarding the pulpy, serialized nature of King's source material. Part of the problem is that Darabont's obvious faithfulness to the novel's plot is contrasted with his rather bland filmmaking approach. There's no substance to the drama, none of King's biting commentary. While Darabont captures the "Point A to Point B" narrative events, he misses the grit and heart that King's book provided in spades. What results is a film that moves so slowly and on such an even dramatic keel that it never conveys the life and energy that the story held on the page, in effect turning a low-key emotional tale into a bloated "Hollywood movie" that doesn't appear to be worth all the fuss after three-plus hours of celluloid. Tom Hanks (as prison guard Paul Edgecombe), Michael Clarke Duncan (as John Coffey), and David Morse (as another guard on the "Mile") are all terrific, but “The Green Mile” is so downright maudlin at times -- as opposed to the novel's more balanced, bittersweet examination of life and death -- that it never captures the atmosphere and various layers that made King's serial so moving and captivating. TECH SPECS: Warner’s “Digibook” Blu-Ray edition of “The Green Mile” includes a lovely VC-1 encoded transfer with Dolby TrueHD audio. Extras include Darabont’s commentary from the original DVD as well as extra scenes, trailers, make-up and screen tests, a documentary and featurette. AISLE SEAT MERRY BOTTOM LINE: It’s obvious that Frank Darabont loved the source material here, but his overly noble filmmaking approach (obviously thinking “Oscar”) turned an emotional tale into a bloated "Hollywood movie" that overstays its welcome. While the movie may be worth a look for patient viewers, despite its high-profile cast and filmmakers, I'm not too certain that “The Green Mile” wouldn't have been better off being adapted as a made-for-television project, where the multi-night form and lower budget might have been more ideally suited for one of King's finest works.

SECONDHAND LIONS Blu-Ray (***, 109 mins., 2003, PG; New Line). WHAT IT IS: Warm-hearted, appealing family film about a precocious 14-year-old (Haley Joel Osment) who learns a great deal about life and adulthood from the fantastic tales spun by his two uncles (Michael Caine, Robert Duvall). Similar in tone to Tim Burton’s “Big Fish” but more satisfying on the whole, this underrated Tim McCanlies film offers positive messages and insight, along with terrific performances from all three leads. TECH SPECS: New Line’s Blu-Ray edition of “Secondhand Lions” includes commentary from McCanlies, additional/alternate scenes, featurettes, a visual effects comparison piece, the trailer and TV spots. Both the AVC encoded transfer and Dolby TrueHD soundtrack are each terrific. AISLE SEAT MERRY BOTTOM LINE: Ideal for younger viewers and parents alike, “Secondhand Lions” did moderately well at the box-office and deserves another look from viewers. Warner’s new Blu-Ray gives them that opportunity via a top-notch transfer and soundtrack. Recommended!
G-FORCE Blu-Ray (**½, 88 mins., 2009, PG; Disney). WHAT IT IS: Genetically enhanced and government-trained guinea pigs do their part to save the world in this fast-paced box-office hit for kids from producer Jerry Bruckheimer. Hoyt Yeatman’s movie offers as much shenanigans as you would anticipate from a live-action adventure with CGI’d hamsters, particularly with Nicolas Cage, Sam Rockwell, Penelope Cruz, Jon Favreau and Tracy Morgan voicing the movie’s tiny heroes. It’s all silly but stylishly executed for what it is, with Zach Galifianakis, Will Arnett and Bill Nighy providing some amusement on the human level. TECH SPECS: Disney’s three-disc BD set includes a colorful, razor-sharp AVC encoded 1080p transfer with DTS HD audio (sporting a predictably “Bruckheimer-esque” score by Trevor Rabin) and extras including deleted scenes, a music video, bloopers, and light Making Of featurettes aimed with youngsters in mind. The standard DVD is also on-hand, along with a digital copy for portable media players. AISLE SEAT MERRY BOTTOM LINE: “G-Force” is no kind of classic, but it’s not any worse than the premise sounds, making it a safe choice for kid-viewing this holiday season.

THE WIZARDS OF WAVERLY PLACE: THE MOVIE Extended Edition DVD (98 mins., 2009; Disney). WHAT IT IS: Fetaure-length continuation of the popular Disney Channel series reunites its original cast (Selena Gomez, David Henrie, Jake T. Austin among others) as the Russo family goes on vacation to retrieve a “Stone of Dreams.” Colorful action and life lessons abound in this amiable production that ought to please its intended audience. TECH SPECS: Disney’s DVD includes a 16:9 (1.78) transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound and extras including several Making Of featurettes aimed at the feature’s young audience. There’s also a “color-changing wishing stone with clip” bundled in the package. AISLE SEAT MERRY BOTTOM LINE: Tween-age viewers should have fun with this extended edition of “The Wizards of Waverly Place” movie.

TV on DVD: Documentaries, Reality & More

THE SECRET LIFE OF THE AMERICAN TEENAGER Volume 3 DVD (522 mins., 2009; Buena Vista). WHAT IT IS: Brenda Hampton’s popular ABC Family series gets even nuttier in this third volume of episodes, representing the latter portion of its 2009 broadcast output. Included among the mind-bending story lines are Jack and Grace’s decision to go all the way, which is accompanied by the death of Grace’s father (John Schneider, who had the good sense to exit the show) in an airplane accident. Meanwhile, Amy (Shailene Woodley) tries to mix high school with raising her son, leading to more complications with boyfriend Ben (Kenny Baumann) and her child’s father, bad-boy Ricky. Soap opera antics and unbelievable moralizing combine to make this a guilty pleasure through and through, but reality exited this series long, long ago. TECH SPECS: Buena Vista’s DVD edition of “Secret Life”’s “third volume” offers 12 episodes in fine 16:9 (1.78) transfers with 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks. Extras include the pilot episode of another successful ABC Family show, “Make it Or Break It,” plus a Q&A with the cast. AISLE SEAT MERRY BOTTOM LINE: Though “Secret Life” means well, and attempts to discuss adult subjects in a way that its target teenage audience can relate to, it’s helplessly ridiculous and unbelievable at every stage. I can’t say it’s not entertaining though, even if it’s for all the wrong reasons.

KYLE XY: Season 3 DVD (436 mins., 2009; Buena Vista). WHAT IT IS: Third and final season of the ABC Family series finds the mysterious Kyle (Matt Dallas) uncovering his secret past and working with the Trager family who adopted him to thwart a group of baddies who want to clone Kyle for their own nefarious purposes. Most storylines were resolved in this last group of episodes from “Kyle XY,” though some fans did lament a few loose, dangling narrative ends that were left hanging. TECH SPECS: Buena Vista’s three-disc set sports the complete third season of the series in 16:9 (1.78) transfers and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks. Extras include deleted scenes, a never-before-seen series conclusion, commentaries and a fan’s guide to the show’s finish. AISLE SEAT MERRY BOTTOM LINE: Young aficionados of the series ought to be satisfied with this final batch of shows from “Kyle XY,” presented in a satisfying box-set from Buena Vista.

ER: Season 12 DVD (975 mins., 2005-06; Warner). WHAT IT IS: NBC’s long-running series ended last spring, but fans can relive some of the show’s more turbulent, later seasons with Warner’s box-set of the series’ 12th year. Included among the story lines this time out are Kristen Johnson’s arrival as new nurse manager Eve Spellman; John Stamos’ debut as paramedic Tony Gates; and a number of “special” event episodes ranging from Carter’s work in Darfur to a Chicago flood. TECH SPECS: Warner’s box-set of “ER”s 12th season includes fresh 16:9 (1.85) transfers with 2.0 Dolby Stereo soundtracks. Extras include a number of deleted scenes. AISLE SEAT MERRY BOTTOM LINE: Though its ratings declined as the years went on, “ER” still boasted a number of fans who stuck with the series through thick and thin. If you know one of them, Warner’s Season 12 DVD will make a fine belated Christmas present when it’s released on January 12th.

ICE ROAD TRUCKERS: Season 3 DVD (aprx. 11 hours, 2009; History/Newvideo). WHAT IT IS: Season three of the popular History Channel series follows life on the bumpy, freezing Prudhoe Bay (250 miles north of the Arctic Circle), where truckers do a mad dash during a three-month period to move critical supplies over the ice.  Exciting, real-life situations prevail through the series’ third season, which once again follows veteran drivers Hugh Rowland and Alex Debogorski among a new slate of truckers. TECH SPECS: History/Newvideo’s four-disc DVD box set offers the complete third season of “Ice Road Truckers” in fine widescreen transfers and stereo soundtracks. Some additional footage is also on-tap. AISLE SEAT MERRY BOTTOM LINE: One of the higher rated and more satisfying reality series on TV today, “Ice Road Truckers” is exciting and compelling entertainment for what it is. Recommended.

CRISS ANGEL MINDFREAK: Megaset DVD (aprx. 36 hours, 2009 compilation; A&E/Newvideo). WHAT IT IS: A&E’s hit series with master of illusion Criss Angel is back on DVD in a lavishly produced, 15-disc box-set offering collectible pop up packaging. Included among the episodes here are six new-to-DVD shows, plus episode commentaries, interviews, guides to creating your own illusions, additional scenes, two Best Of shows, a text biography, photo gallery and more. Highly recommended for all Criss Angel enthusiasts.

THE SHERLOCK HOLMES COLLECTION DVD (aprx. 5 hours, 1968; A&E/Newvideo): After having essayed Sherlock Holmes in Hammer’s fine rendition of “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” Peter Cushing returned to portray Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s great detective in a ‘60s BBC series that was reportedly plagued with production delays and budgetary overruns. Even worse, the ravages of time have claimed all but five episodes of the ‘60s Holmes, which A&E has brought to Region 1 in a three-disc set sporting “The Sign of Four,” “The Blue Carbuncle,” “A Study in Scarlet,” “The Boscombe Valley Mystery,” and another adaptation of “The Hound of the Baskervilles.” The full-screen transfers are presented from their healthiest surviving elements with clear stereo soundtracks and a bonus documentary, “Sherlock Holmes: The Great Detective.”

THE UNKNOWN CIVIL WAR SERIES: Gettysburg (676 mins.) and Greatest Battles of the Civil War DVD (415 mins., MPI): MPI’s two new volumes of civil war documentaries ought to be a hit with history enthusiasts. “Gettysburg” provides 13 programs focusing on the bloodiest battle fought on American soil with rare photos, reenactments and interviews, while “Greatest Battles” likewise sports eight documentaries on the skirmishes of Antietam, Appomattox, Chancellorsville, Chickamauga, Shiloh, Vicksburg, Petersburg and Gettysburg as well. Full-screen transfers and stereo soundtracks adorn each of the double-disc sets.

HERE’S LUCY Season 2 DVD (12 hours., 1969-70; MPI): Sophomore season of Lucille Ball’s second long-running network comedy includes 24 fully remastered episodes with guest stars including Vivian Vance, Johnny Carson, Carol Burnett, Milton Berle, Ann-Margret, Liberace, Wayne Newton, Lawrence Welk and Wally Cox among others. As with MPI’s season one edition of “Here’s Lucy” there are some splendid special features on-hand, including new video intros from Lucie Arnaz and Desi Arnaz, Jr., a “lost” interview with Carol Burnett, home movies, original network and syndication promos, and more. A must for Lucy fans.

THE FUGITIVE Season 3, Volume 2 DVD (1966, aprx. 13 hours; CBS): CBS’ latest compilation of episodes from the classic David Janssen series sports the back-half of its third-season episodes (15 to be exact). Remastered full-screen transfers and mono soundtracks comprise the goods in this four-disc set, which again, does not seem to suffer from the substantial music edits some of its earlier DVD releases did (though there’s still a packaging disclaimer about music being changed for home video).

PERRY MASON Season 4, Volume 2 DVD (1961, aprx. 10 hours; CBS): Raymund Burr is back as Perry Mason in this three-disc CBS set compiling its final 12 episodes from its fourth (1960-61) season, co-starring Barbara Hale as Della Street and William Hopper as the irrepressible Paul Drake. Fine black-and-white transfers and mono soundtracks make this another recommended purchase for aficionados of Earle Stanley Gardner’s crusading counselor.

Quick Takes

DEADLINE Blu-Ray (*½, 89 mins., 2009, R; First Look): Brittany Murphy and Thora Birch have sadly fallen to the level of direct-to-video fodder with this disappointing supernatural (or is it?) thriller. Murphy plays an aspiring screenwriter (ha!) who heads to a secluded (of course) Victorian home where she witnesses apparitions of a couple (Thora Birch and Marc Blucas) who had lived there before, and whose videotapes remain in the attic. The resolution really sinks this otherwise marginal thriller from director Sean McConville. First Look’s Blu-Ray edition includes behind-the-scenes footage, a 1080p transfer and both DTS and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.    

TOOLBOX MURDERS Blu-Ray (94 mins., 1978, Unrated; Blue Underground): Before “Halloween” and “Friday the 13th” launched the slasher genre, Dennis Donnelly directed this occasionally gross but more often than not tedious affair with a crazy handyman using his bag of tools to take out “immoral” women on the streets of L.A. Former child actress (and later animal rights activist) Pamelyn Ferdin stars alongside “Land of the Lost” veteran Wesley Eure in this 1978 release, which was infamous at the time for its violence but comes across today as a product of its era. Blue Underground’s Blu-Ray edition of “The Toolbox Murders” does look quite nice given its age and independent origins, the BD offering a 1080p transfer on a single-layer BD25 disc with DTS Master Audio sound on-hand. Extras include commentary with producer Tony DiDio, cinematographer Gary Graver and Ferdin, plus the trailer, TV and radio spots, and an intevriew with co-star Marianne Walter.

WORLD’S GREATEST DAD Blu-Ray (**, 99 mins., 2009, R; Magnolia): Richard Kelly of “Donnie Darko” fame co-produced this strange semi-comedy from writer-director Bobcat Goldthwait. Robert Williams here essays a poetry teacher far removed from “Dead Poets Society,” with an obnoxious son (Daryl Sabara) who doesn’t appreciate him and a girlfriend (Alexie Gilmore) almost ashamed of their relationship. Something tragic ultimately happens (which I won’t spoil here) which gives Williams’ character all the possible fame and fortune he wants, but at what price? A few intermittent laughs pop up here and there but “World’s Greatest Dad” is a really offbeat, at times uncomfortable to watch effort from Goldthwait, who found more success behind the lens with the underrated “Shakes the Clown” from years back. Magnolia’s Blu-Ray edition of the picture boasts a pungent 1080p transfer with DTS Master Audio sound and extras including Goldthwait’s commentary, outtakes, deleted scenes and making of featurettes.                            

INTO THE STORM DVD (98 mins., 2009; HBO): A superb performance from Brendan Gleeson as Winston Churchill anchors this second effort from writer Hugh Whitemore and director Thaddeus O’Sullivan, following their prior “The Gathering Storm” telefilm. That earlier program followed Churchill to the outbreak of WWII, and “Into the Storm” does what the title implies, portraying Winston as a great wartime leader as well as his struggles with wife Clementine. HBO’s DVD edition boasts a 16:9 (1.85) transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound and extras including commentary from Whitemore and producer Frank Doelger and a Making Of featurette.

NEW YORK YANKEES 2009: Season of Pride, Tradition and Glory (66 mins.; A&E): For that Bronx Bomber fan on your shopping list this year, look no further than these two new releases from A&E, celebrating (gulp – yes I am a Red Sox fan) the New York Yankees’ latest world championship.

The eight-disc, terrifically produced Yankee World Series box-set presents a definitive chronicle of the Yanks’ run to World Series, offering the complete battle with the Philadelphia Phillies and their clinching ALCS Game 6 win over the Anaheim Angels. The best element of this release is the ability to choose the audio feed for the games, whether it’s Fox’s national broadcast tandem of Joe Buck and Tim McCarver, or the Yankee radio duo of John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman (there are also tracks with the Phillies announcers and the ESPN Deportes Spanish language crew as well!). This gives the set a truly comprehensive feel, with other extras including 2009 regular season highlights, other post-season game segments, player interviews, and of course the trophy celebrations.

If the set is a little steep in price, there’s also the single-disc, YES Network-produced documentary “Season of Pride, Tradition and Glory,” a hour-long plus effort narrated by John Sterling (or in Spanish with Alvaro Martin) with all the requisite highlights and player interviews you can think of. Very well-produced, it’s a fine digest of another world championship season for the Yanks.

FALLING UP DVD (98 mina., 2008, Not Rated; Anchor Bay): Comedy with Joseph Cross as a Manhattan doorman who falls for the gorgeous daughter (Sarah Roemer) of his building’s wealthiest tenant. A good cast (Rachael Leigh Cook, Annette O’Toole, Joe Pantoliano) stars in this breezy, sitcom-like film from director David M. Rosenthal, which Anchor Bay brings to DVD on January 5th with a fine 16:9 (1.78) widescreen transfer, 2.0 stereo sound and a behind-the-scenes featurette.

NEXT TIME: 500 DAYS OF SUMMER and more of the first discs of 2010! Until then, don't forget to drop in on the official Aisle Seat Message Boards and direct any emails to our email address. Cheers, a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to one and all!

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