Special Christmas & New Years Edition

Aisle Seat Holiday Edition
Password, Blu-Rays, GHOSTs & More!

I’m not sure if it’s an indication of our struggling economy, or perhaps a sign of movies that audiences simply aren’t that interested in, but home video sales have been lagging over the last few months of the year. DVD sales basically flatlined during the third quarter, while Blu-Ray sales enjoyed some growth but have yet to experience the massive leaps and bounds some experts predicted (it’ll be quite interesting to see how analysts project the format did over the holiday season, once numbers start coming in during the new year). Compared to a year ago, this has resulted in not nearly as many “Special Edition” DVD re-issues of catalog offerings, and with the exception of “The Dark Knight,” nowhere near the amount of hot-selling “must have” new titles as well.

While we take a look at the final discs of 2008 below, I sincerely hope that things turn around in 2009 for viewers, consumers and merchants alike -- that we get more specially-packaged DVD editions of past classics (like last December’s outstanding “Blade Runner” release from Warner), and Blu-Ray releases that go beyond some of the routine title offerings we’ve seen thus far. Titles like Paramount’s “The Godfather Trilogy” and Fox’s “Omen” and “Planet of the Apes” Blu-Ray sets were outstanding, yet there should’ve been more of them -- and with a format that desperately needs to generate consumer interest and growth, time is of the essence.

And finally, before we close out this past year, I’d also like to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year -- thanks as always for reading, and don’t forget to save us a cup of your best eggnog at the Aisle Seat!

New Universal Blu-Rays

THE MUMMY - TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR (**, 112 mins., 2008, PG-13; Universal): Mediocre third go-around for the Universal fantasy-adventure franchise finds a new director (Rob Cohen) and writers (“Smallville”’s Alfred Gough and Miles Millar) at the helm, yet not a whole lot of energy on-hand.

Brendan Fraser returns as Rick O’Connell, again having to battle mummies -- this time of an Asian persuasion after his son (the terribly uncharismatic Luke Ford) unearths the tomb of China’s legendary, nefarious Dragon Emperor (Jet Li). Maria Bello subs for Rachel Weisz here, but it might’ve been better just to write the character off as she serves little purpose accompanying her husband and brother (John Hannah once again) through the Himalayas where the group enlists the help of some Yetis, an Army of the Undead, and an immortal Michelle Yeoh to take down Li.

Despite a few effective action sequences and a playful, disarming tone, “Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” feels awkward, from Bello’s stilted accent to the complete waste of Li in a role that’s often CGI’d. Why even cast the international martial arts star if he only appears for a few minutes at a time in the first place? Ford, meanwhile, is just awful and Randy Edelman’s score never finds a strong central theme for listeners to grasp onto. It’s still watchable and passable entertainment for younger viewers (who helped the film gross over $100 million domestically in spite of tepid reviews), but for fans of its predecessors it feels like the franchise’s rendition of “Allan Quartermain and the Lost City of Gold.”

Universal’s Blu-Ray edition of “The Mummy 3" is a gem, at least: the AVC encoded transfer and DTS Master Audio soundtrack are both reference quality. Ample extras include picture-in-picture “U-Control” segments, deleted and extended scenes, visual commentary with Rob Cohen, numerous Making Of featurettes, interactive games and BD-Live extras.

MAMMA MIA! (*½, 109 mins., 2008, PG-13; Universal): Surprisingly amateurish adaptation of the popular musical became a worldwide box-office phenomenon this past year, generating nearly $600 million in revenue.

Of course, “Mamma Mia!”’s source material wasn’t anything exceptional to begin with: a musical entirely based on Abba songs has “novelty” written all over it, and the stage version’s flimsy story hasn’t been fleshed out any further, really, in this Tom Hanks co-produced big-screen version. Meryl Streep stars as a former hippie living the good life on a Greek island where her daughter (Amanda Seyfried) is about to be married. Seyfried, though, still wonders about her father’s identity, and invites three of her mother’s former lovers (Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, and Stellan Skarsgard) to the wedding, hoping to find out who papa really is.

From there, it’s an endless parade of Abba tunes shoehorned into the lightweight premise, though what’s surprising about “Mamma Mia!” isn’t just its embarrassing staging and pedestrian choreography -- if you go to the trouble of shooting in the Mediterranean, couldn’t you actually film all of it there, and not partially on phony CGI-enhanced backdrops? While director Phylinda Lloyd and writer Catherine Johnson can only do so much to enhance the movie’s clunky stage origins, “Mamma Mia!” is still a chore to sit through at every turn. Unless you’re an Abba addict who can overlook the relentless mugging from the cast and tepid story, it’s best to avoid this modern equivalent of “Can’t Stop the Music,” which at least had Steve Guttenberg, Bruce Jenner and a particularly buoyant Valerie Perrine going for it!

Universal’s Blu-Ray disc looks crisp enough with its 1080p transfer (though the artificial backdrops still look painfully obvious) and powerful DTS Master Audio soundtrack, while numerous extras include deleted songs, excised scenes, outtakes, Making Of featurettes, commentary with the director, U-Control picture-in-picture extras, and a digital copy for portable media players.

BURN AFTER READING (**½, 96 mins., 2008, R; Universal): Fresh off their Oscar win for “No Country For Old Men,” Joel and Ethan Coen opted to film this flimsy comic-thriller involving misplaced CIA secrets that fall into the hands of two personal fitness trainers (Frances McDormand and Brad Pitt) who do everything wrong while trying to get something for their “hot” possession. John Malkovich, Richard Jenkins, Tilda Swinton and J.K. Simmons are also on-hand in this quirky Coen concoction that never takes itself seriously, but nevertheless has its moments of graphic violence and tension. It’s an unsatisfying brew even for Coen fans, like watching “Fargo” without a strong lead character anchoring the narrative’s surrounding chaos. While moderately entertaining “Burn After Reading” is about as disposable a Coen project as you’ll find -- a cold and detached movie that will be best remembered for the flamboyant performances of Clooney, Malkvoich and especially Pitt, who’s quite funny here. Universal’s Blu-Ray disc includes a satisfying 1080p transfer with DTS Master Audio sound and three fairly slight, if amusing, featurettes.

DEATH RACE (**½, 111 mins. [Unrated], 2008; Universal): Absolutely stupid but highly entertaining reworking of Roger Corman’s “Death Race 2000,” with Jason Statham as a wrongly-imprisoned man coerced into taking part in a series of deadly auto races in order to gain his freedom. As with most Anderson movies “Death Race” doesn’t offer much work for your brain, but the action sequences, humor and performances by Statham, Ian McShane and a slumming Joan Allen make for a rowdy good time for action fans. Universal’s Blu-Ray disc sports both the R-rated theatrical cut of “Death Race” and an expanded Unrated version in dynamic 1080p transfers, with DTS Master Audio soundtracks, commentary with Anderson and producer Jeremy Bolt (on the longer cut), two Making Of featurettes (in HD) and U-Control picture-in-picture extras rounding out the fun.

SERENITY (***, 119 mins., 2005, PG-13; Universal): Joss Whedon’s “Firefly” leapt to the big screen in this entertaining enough adventure that will please fans of the series more than newcomers to the material. Whedon doesn’t spend much time re-establishing the characters onboard the ship Serenity, here caring for the 17-year-old psychic sister of the crew’s doctor, who’s being relentlessly pursued by an evil galactic government regime. Still, “Serenity” offers some terrific effects, a neat mix of humor and action, and amiable performances from the original “Firefly” cast, making it worthwhile for sci-fi buffs (and especially viewers of the series). Universal’s smashing Blu-Ray includes a flawless 1080p transfer, potent DTS Master Audio soundtrack, Whedon commentary, deleted scenes, Making Of material (profiling the material’s journey from series to film) and other goodies including U-Control picture-in-picture content, extra interviews and BD-Live bonuses.

JET LI’S FEARLESS (***, 141 mins., 2006, Unrated; Universal): Terrific Blu-Ray edition of Jet Li’s supposed farewell to the martial arts genre sports three different cuts of Ronny Yu’s 2006 release: the 101-minute U.S. theatrical release, its 104-minute Unrated edition, and best of all, a 141-minute Director’s Cut that adds ample character development and back story to its tale of a disgraced “Wushu” champion who finds redemption spiritually and in the ring. Gorgeous 1080p transfers and DTS Master Audio soundtracks adorn each version, though the added dramatic content makes the Director’s Cut the only way to go.

New From Paramount on Blu-Ray & DVD 

GHOST TOWN (***, 102 mins., 2008, PG-13; Dreamworks/Paramount): Unfortunate box-office misfire from director David Koepp, who turns in a better script here (with co-writer John Kamps) than most of the huge blockbuster movies he’s authored that people have, in fact, seen.

Ricky Gervais stars as a depressed NYC dentist who gains the ability to see dead people all around town, including the recently-deceased husband (Greg Kinnear) of a woman (Tea Leoni) who lives in his apartment building. Though it’s a bit surprising that Koepp opted to utilize the exact same concept here as the Jennifer Love Hewitt TV series “The Ghost Whisperer,” “Ghost Town” is low-key and endearing, playing off Gervais’ timing and offering a great deal of heart at its core. This is one of those movies that deserved to find a larger audience, even if it does play out as predictably as it sounds.

Paramount’s Blu-Ray disc offers a fine 1080p transfer that does justice to Fred Murphy’s classy look for the picture, while Dolby TrueHD audio compliments the sound offerings. The DVD includes a highly satisfying 16:9 (1.85) transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, while both platters include commentary from Koepp and Gervais and three Making Of featurettes.

EAGLE EYE (**, 117 mins., 2008, PG-13; Dreamworks/Paramount): Slick but superficial fall box-office hit from executive producer Steven Spielberg once again finds his young-star-of-choice Shia LaBeouf as a regular guy wrapped up in a bizarre scenario wherein a mysterious woman who calls his cell phone tells both he and another unwitting victim (Michelle Monaghan) that they’re involved in an assassination plot and have to carry out various illegal acts or else suffer the personal consequences. 

Director D.J. Caruso infuses this big-budget action effort with a few nifty set pieces but the story (credited to four different writers) doesn’t hold up as the movie barrels towards a particularly silly conclusion. That said, action fans found enough entertainment here to turn “Eagle Eye” into a box-office hit, and Paramount’s Blu-Ray and DVD editions of the picture both offer plenty of extras: deleted scenes, alternate endings, a gag reel, the trailer, multiple Making Of featurettes and a photo gallery as well.

Technically both versions look superb, though the edge is obviously with the Blu-Ray platter thanks to its razor-sharp 1080p transfer, while the BD’s Dolby TrueHD track bests the standard DVD’s 5.1 Dolby Digital mix.

THE DUCHESS (**½, 109 mins., 2008, PG-13; Paramount): Good-looking but moderately dull costume drama affords Keira Knightley one of her better leading roles as Georgiana Spencer, the Duchess of Devonshire, who navigates her status as Britain’s “Empress of Fashion” despite living through an unhappy marriage to husband Ralph Fiennes.

Saul Dibb’s movie -- an adaptation of an Amanda Foreman book by writers Jeffrey Hatcher, Anders Thomas Jensen and the director – offers all the requisite aesthetic trappings one would expect from a quality British period production, from Rachel Portman’s score to Gyula Pados’ cinematography. The film may not stand out particularly from other films in this genre, yet it’s solid for what it is and the performances of Knightley, Fiennes and Dominic Cooper are all superb.

Paramount’s Blu-Ray disc sports a vivid 1080p transfer with Dolby TrueHD audio, while the standard DVD looks as satisfying as one would anticipate with its 16:9 (2.35) transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound. Slim extras include two Making Of featurettes and a “costume diary.”

Also New on Blu-Ray from Paramount

There are good movies, and there are bad movies. Then there are bad movies which end up as great Blu-Ray discs.

Paramount’s high-def Blu-Ray edition of EVENT HORIZON (**, 1997, 95 mins., R) follows on the heels of its prior 2006 Special Edition package, which ranked as one of the studio’s more accomplished DVD releases. That the movie itself remains a big-budget turkey on a number of levels doesn’t detract from the superb extras and polished presentation Paramount gave to a film that was more or less universally dismissed by critics and most audiences when first released in 1997.

It’s not as if the movie is unwatchable or doesn’t have some positive aspects: Paul Anderson’s film was a major British production, augmented by American studio money, and offers both impressive cinematography by the late Adrian Biddle and evocative production design by Joseph Bennett. The cast is also terrific: Laurence Fishburne, Sam Neill, Kathleen Quinlan, Joely Richardson, Jason Isaacs and Sean Pertwee manage to create one of the more impressive ensembles you’ll see in any sci-fi/horror genre piece.

The problem with “Event Horizon” then and now remains the story: a ship, deep in space, attempts to uncover what happened to the vessel Event Horizon, which was presumed lost until it turned up in the far reaches of the galaxy, minus any signs of actual life. On the case are captain Fishburne, crew Quinlan, Richardson, Isaacs and Pertwee, and mysterious doctor Sam Neill, who may know more than he's saying about the secretive mission.

Philip Eisner’s original story had to do with an alien force inhabiting the deserted ship but Anderson and producer Jeremy Bolt opted to alter the premise to suit a “haunted house in space” plot. The monsters were excised but the visions of hell itself remained -- along with a messy script that rips off “The Shining,” “Dead Calm,” “Hellraiser,” “Alien,” “Aliens,” “2010" and “Lifeforce,” to name just a few. The movie's premise is similar to Michael Crichton's novel “Sphere” (which opened a short time after “Event Horizon” in its own, ill-fated film adaptation), which wouldn’t have been so much of a problem had the movie not developed its own characters and dramatic situations uniquely.

Instead, despite its visuals, the picture becomes increasingly ridiculous as it goes along, ultimately succumbing to unintentional laughs and one of the worst fade-out endings in recent genre history. Thinly-drawn characters make all the usual mistakes of running down dim corridors and succumbing to their own private demons, while horror fans will have to weigh the decent quotient of gore on-hand (and there was even more in Anderson’s original cut) with ample doses of cringe-inducing dialogue (like Neill’s “we don’t need eyes where we’re going!” and the cliched, “ethnic” comic relief supplied by Richard T. Jones, with the immortal “something hot and black inside you” line about drinking coffee!).

I suppose hard-core horror fans can overlook those shortcomings and find sufficient entertainment in “Event Horizon,” but other viewers are likely to marvel at the movie’s look while being puzzled by its basic, under-nourished screenplay. My friend Paul MacLean and I had a memorable experience watching the film on the big-screen back in ‘97, noting at times that the chair Fishburne sat in didn’t seem quite big enough to support the tall actor -- and then laughing hysterically when the same chair blows up and flies into the camera near the end! Add in the ridiculous “Funky S--t” end title techno track (featuring samples from Barry Devorzon’s “SWAT” theme song!) and we pretty much lost it altogether walking out of the theater, while distraught movie-goers in back of us had a more hostile reaction to the picture’s flaws.

Though still viewed today as a missed opportunity, “Event Horizon” makes for a superb Blu-Ray edition, courtesy of a stellar new HD transfer and bass-pounding Dolby TrueHD soundtrack.

Anderson talked for years about restoring his grizzly “hell” footage and offering a longer cut of the movie, which he lamented didn’t happen back in ‘97 due to a lack of post-production time. That being said, Anderson did willingly trim his two-plus hour version down for the eventual 97-minute theatrical release, noting the first cut was too long...but then realizing now that the theatrical cut isn’t long enough.

Unfortunately, Anderson couldn’t locate all the elements needed to restore the movie, so what we have here is a high-def presentation of “Event Horizon”’s released version with commentary from Anderson and Bolt (who admit to not having seen the movie in a long while, which results in infrequent moments of silence), along with a bounty of extras offering what remains of the deleted sequences.

The highlight of the extras is a fascinating, thorough documentary running over 100 minutes, featuring new interviews with Anderson, Bolt, Jason Isaacs and even the two fellows who comprise “Orbital” (who added techno elements to Michael Kamen’s orchestra, resulting in a loud, pulsating score) talking about the movie. It’s a bit dry and could have used some editing -- some of the speakers repeat the same information a few times over the course of its duration -- but it’s nevertheless essential for “Event Horizon” fans. An additional documentary, “The Point of No Return,” includes more technically-oriented featurettes, primarily devoted to the filming and effects.

Even more revealing are the tantalizing deleted sequences, including an alternate climax (albeit without dialogue but rather commentary from Anderson), other unfinished scenes (one of which was written by “Seven” and “Sleepy Hollow” scribe Andrew Kevin Walker), and an unused prologue in storyboard form. Some of the material had to be culled off surviving videotaped footage, though all of it points to an even more graphic and bloody movie than the still-violent final cut that was eventually released.

“Event Horizon” is a movie that looks good, sounds good, and is fairly well acted, but ultimately fails to provide a coherent and suspenseful story to match its creepy tone and atmosphere. Regardless of how you fall on the movie, though, there’s no question Paramount’s Blu-Ray is one of the year’s better catalog releases to date, offering ample extras and an excellent HD transfer for fans to savor.

THE TRUMAN SHOW (****, 102 mins., 1998, PG; Paramount): It’s remarkable how prescient screenwriter Andrew Niccol was in chronicling the breakout rise of “reality TV” with his script for “The Truman Show” a decade ago.

In the years following the release of Peter Weir’s superlative film, “reality TV” has very nearly turned into what Niccol saw: an all-knowing media, and specifically an entertainment industry, that could possibly lower itself to the level of fabricating a “life” for an unknowing participant in its ruse...all for the sake of ratings.

As for the movie itself, director Weir's delicious fantasy is a constant visual treat, and Jim Carrey's manic persona was modulated just enough to make him the perfect embodiment of a naive, literally sheltered man whose entire life has been fabricated for the purposes of producing a television program. Weir's direction and Carrey's performance were justifiably praised (in spite of the fact that some audiences thought the film, at least initially, was just another Carrey comedy), but equally worth mentioning are Niccol's screenplay and several strong supporting performances.

Niccol -- who wrote the terrific “Gattaca” around the same time (a fascinating companion piece to ”Truman” due to its complimentary theme of a technological governing body controlling society) -- penned a witty, thought-provoking script that works best as a quirky fantasy centering on a man escaping from what he perceives as his reality, with satirical overtones touching upon the ever-growing media and its involvement in our own lives. At what point does the medium become the message, and where does the audience take into account the consequences of their own voyeurism? Themes like these, touched upon in Niccol's script, are what make “The Truman Show” such a relevant and interesting piece.

“The Truman Show” remains a superb, inventive picture with more on its mind than virtually all of the films released in 2008 combined...a film that will undoubtedly be viewed years from now as one of the best films of the 1990s.

The Blu-Ray edition of “The Truman Show” sports another superb HD transfer from Paramount along with a fine Dolby TrueHD soundtrack.

Supplements are culled from the 2005 Special Edition DVD of the movie, and are highlighted by an excellent documentary on the picture’s somewhat turbulent production. Featuring new interviews with Weir, producer Edward S. Feldman, co-stars Laura Linney, Ed Harris and Noah Emmerich, this is a candid and fascinating examination of how the film was produced, as well as its growing legacy. Weir and Feldman even discuss Dennis Hopper’s departure from the film (Hopper was the original Christof before being “fired”), though they don’t reference Hopper by name. Nearly 15 minutes of interesting deleted/extended sequences are shown in workprint form, while there’s a look at the visual FX in “Faux Finishing.” A photo gallery and several trailers and TV spots round out the disc. The latter shows the curious hole the studio was in at the time, trying to sell the film to Carrey’s young core audience but remain truthful about the story’s premise simultaneously. As one can see, only the later trailers give an accurate read as to what type of film “The Truman Show” is, even though they also reveal too much of the film’s plot.

GHOST (***, 126 mins., 1990, PG-13; Paramount): A word-of-mouth blockbuster hit during the summer months of 1990 “Ghost” has everything but the kitchen sink: supernatural thrills, romantic drama, manic comedy, and a bit of mystery as well. It also has Demi Moore in one of her better performances (though I was never a fan of the chopped pixie cut she sports in this one), plus Patrick Swayze as her dead lover who returns from the grave to find out what happened to him and why -- and to set things straight with the grieving Moore.

Zucker's film makes the most of Bruce Joel Rubin's sometimes weepy script and never becomes as pretentious as it sometimes threatens to. Only Maurice Jarre's unremarkable score and the constant use of the Righteous Brothers' "Unchained Melody" wear out their welcome here, though the song WAS one of the movie's top draws for some viewers!

Paramount’s Blu-Ray disc offers a strong, though not always eye-popping, new 1080p transfer with Dolby TrueHD audio that’s often fairly restrained. Extras include several retrospective featurettes, plus commentary from Zucker and Rubin and the theatrical trailer in HD.

DAYS OF THUNDER (**½, 107 mins., 1990, PG-13; Paramount): Slick but forgettable 1990 Simpson/Bruckheimer summer-time fare offers Tom Cruise as a brash, arrogant (sound familiar?) NASCAR driver who nearly loses everything in a crash, but is brought back to health by Aussie doc Nicole Kidman (in her first “U.S. role”). Robert Duvall, Randy Quaid and Cary Elwes offer Cruise fine support in this glossy but superficial Tony Scott film, which didn’t quite do for auto racing what “Top Gun” did for our armed forces several years prior. Paramount’s Blu-Ray disc is a no-frills presentation sporting a satisfying new 1080p HD transfer and Dolby TrueHD audio, the latter sporting a Hans Zimmer score that, like everything else in the picture, just feels overly familiar.

OLD SCHOOL (**½, 91 mins., 2003, Unrated; Dreamworks/Paramount): Director Todd Phillips' follow-up to his surprisingly funny "Road Trip" isn't as cohesive or consistently amusing, but “Old School” does sport a few choice moments just the same.

Luke Wilson plays a normal, everyday guy whose old college pals (Vince Vaughn, SNL's Will Ferrell) opt to start a "fraternity" for their friend after his girl is caught cheating with not one but two different accomplices. Yup, it's the ol' collegiate life lived all over again -- crazy initiation ceremonies, huge parties with endless brew, silly pranks and big-time hangovers -- but this time with the added benefit of its characters being older and even more irresponsible than before.

The movie’s central "story" -- of Wilson rediscovering his zest for life and love again -- doesn't work at all, and feels like strict filler for the "funny parts." Thankfully, there are enough of them to warrant a viewing, particularly with the manic Ferrell on-hand to single-handedly provide the majority of the script's guffaws. Playing a Party Animal repressed by his recent marriage, Ferrell believably essays an ex-Bluto who's able to find himself again by guzzling mass quantities of beer -- a quest decidedly more entertaining than anything else in the film. So even if the picture is an uneven romp, Ferrell and some uproarious scenes make “Old School”worth enrolling in.

Dreamworks' belated Blu-Ray disc includes a satisfying 1080p transfer (seemingly the same encode used for the HD-DVD) plus a rollicking Dolby TrueHD soundtrack. Excellent supplements include a 20-minute "Inside the Actors Studio" spoof, offering a perfect replication of James Lipton's pretentious Bravo chatfest, with Ferrell reprising his SNL impersonation for a conversation with the cast and crew (including himself). Deleted scenes, bloopers, and more traditional Making Of featurettes round out the package, which also includes an amusing group commentary.

Also New on Blu-Ray

JINGLE ALL THE WAY: Family Fun Edition [Director's Cut] (**½, 94 mins. [Extended] and 89 mins. [Theatrical], 1996, PG; Fox): I'm not entirely sure if viewers have been clamoring for a Blu-Ray HD version of this passable 1996 holiday comedy, which at one point was supposed to pit Arnold Schwarzenegger (starring in his last comedic leading role) and Joe Pesci, although this Chris Columbus production ended up with comedian Sinbad in Pesci's role instead. It's still an enjoyable enough lark, with Phil Hartman, Jim Belushi and Robert Conrad offering decent support and a spirited soundtrack boasting Brian Setzer Orchestra yuletide favorites (including “So They Say It’s Christmas” with vocalist Lou Rawls) a fine David Newman score. Fox's AVC encoded transfer transfer is superb, as is the DTS Master Audio sound, and additional extras include set-top games and three featurettes. Both the original 89-minute theatrical version and a 94-minute extended cut are available on the BD disc.

DR. SEUSS’ HORTON HEARS A WHO (**½, 86 mins., 2008, G; Fox): Blue Sky Studios, the animators behind the “Ice Age” films, were responsible for this amiable enough CGI adaptation of the Dr. Seuss classic. Jim Carrey voices the lovable elephant who tries to save the microscopic residents of Who-ville including Mayor Steve Carrell. Beautiful animation splendidly captures the world of Seuss and articulates the characters, though the movie’s script, as adapted by Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio, incorporates a few too many “contemporary” jokes that detract from the timeless messages and humor of its source material. Fox’s Blu-Ray disc sports a gorgeous, flawless AVC encded transfer with DTS Master Audio sound and countless special features, including commentary from directors Jimmy Hayward and Steve Martino, an all-new “Ice Age” short starring Sid, deleted footage and animation tests, Making Of featurettes, interviews, and a digital copy for portable media players.

IN THE NAME OF THE KING: Director’s Cut (**½, 162 mins., 2007, Unrated; Fox): Just what the Blu-Ray format needed as an exclusive: a full-on, expanded (by over half an hour!) Director’s Cut of Uwe Boll’s deliriously entertaining “In the Name of the King.” This asolutely bonkers (and thus quite enjoyable for bad movie fans) fantasy-adventure from video-game film auteur Boll mixes "Braveheart," "Lord of the Rings" and nearly every sword-and-sorcery spectacle you can imagine. Jason Statham is the hero called to avenge his son's death and take on a wizard (Ray Liotta!) trying to take over the kingdom; Leelee Sobieski, Claire Forlani, Kristanna Loken, Matthew Lillard, John Rhys-Davies and Ron Perlman are a few of the co-stars who pop up in this entertaining hodge-podge of styles, which will likely go down as Boll's "Citizen Kane." Fox's Blu-Ray disc gives the world its first look at the full, 162-minute Unrated cut with a pitch-perfect AVC encoded transfer and DTS Master Audio soundtrack. Extras include commentary from Boll, a few other deleted scenes and a Making Of featurette.

THE CHEETAH GIRLS: ONE WORLD (88 mins., 2008, G; Disney): Disney Channel “tween” fun finds the Cheetah Girls (Adrienne Bailon, Sabrina Bryan and Kiely Williams) heading off this time to India to star in a legitimate Bollywood musical. Loads of musical numbers, colorful costumes and a few life lessons are imparted in this good-natured and entertaining enough TV movie for teens. Disney’s Blu-Ray disc sports a gorgeous AVC encoded transfer with a potent uncompressed PCM soundtrack and extras including an alternate version of the movie with pop-up trivia tracks, bloopers, music videos and a “rock-along mode” for aspiring singers everywhere.

THE HOUSE BUNNY (**, 97 mins., 2008, PG-13; Sony): Limp comedy follows Playboy bunny Anna Faris as she’s kicked out of Hef’s mansion and ends up at a downtrodden sorority house, where her ridiculous playmate Shelley opts to turn a group of unpopular female geeks (Emma Stone, Kat Dennings, Katherine McPhee and Rumer Willis) into gorgeous campus gals.

“Legally Blonde” writers Kirsten Smith and Karen McCullah Lutz have recycled the same formula from their earlier Reese Witherspoon hit for this seldom-amusing comedy, co-produced by Adam Sandler’s gang. The end result is only intermittently funny and never comes together, while Faris, surprisingly, seems like she can’t get a handle on her character: is she a dumb sex kitten, a sexy and somewhat intelligent klutz, or all of the above? Ultimately her character isn’t endearing enough for you to care about, leaving only Emma Stone (from “Superbad”) a few fleeting opportunities to carry the picture as the smart but gawky leader of her fraternity.

Sony’s Blu-Ray disc of “The House Bunny” includes a sunny AVC-encoded transfer with Dolby TrueHD audio, deleted scenes, Making Of featurettes and a music video on the supplemental side.

RESIDENT EVIL: DEGENERATION (*½, 96 mins., 2008, R; Sony): Fans of the “Resident Evil” video game series are likely to be disappointed by this stilted, Japanese-produced CGI feature, following the adventures of game heroes Leon Kennedy and Claire Redfield as they attempt to contain the “G-Virus” after a plane carrying the plague crashes into an airport terminal. Too much talk and not enough creature action make this a tedious view that only hard-core buffs of the “Biohazard” game series are likely to be entertained by. Sony’s Blu-Ray disc does boast a flawless 1080p transfer with Dolby TrueHD audio and extras including a preview of the upcoming “Resident Evil 5" game, BD Live features, voice bloopers and a Making Of featurette.

HEATHERS: Special Edition (***, 103 mins., 1988, R; Anchor Bay): A movie that appears on the list of nearly every fan of '80s cult cinema, Anchor Bay's Blu-Ray platter of “Heathers” offers a satisfying HD edition of Michael Lehmann and Daniel Waters’ high school black comedy.

Despite the high-def presentation, however, the movie still exhibits the somewhat drab look of a low-budget New World Pictures production (which it is, after all). The Dolby Digital TrueHD remixed sound is somewhat more accomplished, featuring David Newman's eccentric score and several songs from the period.

Supplements include a half-hour Making Of retrospective and the 2001-produced "Swatch Dogs and Diet Coke Heads," which does offer conversations (many of them then-new) with Winona Ryder, Christian Slater, director Michael Lehmann, writer Daniel Waters, and producer Denise DiNovi among others. It's a nice bonus that looks back on the picture from a fondly nostalgic angle, with some fun behind-the-scenes stories shared as well.

The theatrical trailer (with its SO annoying rendition of "Three Blind Mice") is also on-hand, along with a chatty and informative commentary track with Lehmann, DiNovi, and Waters that was incorporated from Lumivision's laserdisc release, meaning it was recorded about a decade ago at this point.

The movie itself has held up pretty well, though its pitch-black, acid tone and sometimes heavy- handed preaching make the movie hard to consider a "classic," even of the black comic kind. Still, Waters' dialogue is often very funny, the performances are appealing, and the movie a nostalgic blast for '80s high school fans.

SURFER, DUDE (85 mins., 2008, R; Anchor Bay): Matthew McConaughey plays a stoned-out surfer who refuses to sell out for video game appearances and a reality TV series, in this horribly overlong and barely-released film -- which McConaughey also co-produced -- which doesn’t sound promising but actually plays out even less entertainingly than its premise indicates. Anchor Bay’s Blu-Ray edition of “Surfer, Dude” includes deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes featurettes, commentary with the star, and a digital copy for portable media players.

TRAITOR (***, 114 mins., 2008, PG-13; Overture/Anchor Bay): An FBI agent (Guy Pearce) tracking down the culprit behind a series of bombings finds an ex-U.S. special agent op (Don Cheadle) at the center of them all. A tangled web of conspiracies, lies and moral dilemmas follow in this taut thriller from director Jeffrey Nachmanoff, who co-wrote the movie with executive producer Steve Martin. Solid performances and a compelling story that keeps you guessing makes “Traitor” one of the better sleepers of this past year. Anchor Bay’s Blu-Ray disc offers commentary with the director and Cheadle, two Making Of featurettes, a fine 1080p transfer and Dolby TrueHD audio, plus a digital copy for portable media players.

THE WOMEN (**, 114 mins., 2008, PG-13; Warner): “Murphy Brown” creator Diane English’s modern updating of the Clare Boothe Luce play and its 1939 all-star movie adaptation offers an episodic tale of Meg Ryan and her cheating husband, the “other woman” (Eva Mendes), and Ryan’s acquaintances (Annette Bening, Debra Messing, Jada Pinkett Smith, Carrie Fisher, Cloris Leachman, Debi Mazar, Bette Midler and Candice Bergen as Ryan’s mother) who attempt to help their galpal out. Additional scenes and Making Of featurettes make for a fine Blu-Ray disc, the VC-1 encoded transfer offering soft-focus photography from Anastas Michos (no surprise given the amount of wrinkle cream and botox involved). Though the Dolby Digital 5.1 sound is fairly flat, “The Women” isn’t a movie that’s crying out for the high-def audio treatment in the first place; in fact, the movie almost feels like a generic Lifetime TV movie, despite its talented female ensemble cast.

LA FEMME NIKITA (***, 117 mins., 1990, R; Sony)
THE MESSENGER [JOAN OF ARC] (**½, 158 mins., 1999, Unrated; Sony): Two Luc Besson films make their way to Blu-Ray this month from Sony.

Besson’s “La Femme Nikita” is one of the French filmmaker’s strongest efforts, profiling the transformation of street-savvy Nikita (Anne Parillaud) from downtrodden gang member to government assassin in a sleek, sexy 1990 French thriller. Jean Reno, Tcheky Karyo, Jean-Hugues Anglade and Jeanne Moreau lend strong support to this stylish Besson effort, which Sony has mastered on Blu-Ray in an excellent AVC encoded transfer with both French and English DolbyTrueHD soundtracks and optional English subtitles.

“The Messenger,” meanwhile, was Besson’s expensive 1999 chronicle of Joan of Arc, starring a miscast Milla Jovovich as Joan and an international array of stars including John Malkovich, Faye Dunaway, Dustin Hoffman, Tchéky Karyo, and Vincent Cassel -- all resulting in a mishmash of accents, loads of melodrama and questionable historical accuracy. That said, Besson’s movie is wacky and usually quite watchable, especially here in its AVC encoded transfer and pounding Dolby TrueHD audio soundtrack. Sony has included the movie’s 158-minute international version for the BD release (with the on-screen title “Joan of Arc”), though in the process, has sadly dropped all extras from its prior DVD package, including Eric Serra’s isolated score and a few Making Of featurettes.

DISASTER MOVIE (*½, 88 mins., 2008, Unrated; Lionsgate): Finally! After scoring improbable box-office hits with “Date Movie,” “Epic Movie,” and even last spring’s “Meet the Spartans,” this seemingly endless series of movie parodies struck out financially with “Disaster Movie” -- a film that really has little to do with disasters other than being one itself. Sure, there are a couple of laughs provided by Mad TV alumnus Crista Flanagan, who’s already off for greener pastures (including “Mad Men”), and her talented cohort Nicole Parker, but this is otherwise another tiresome effort that’s a comedy in name only. Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray edition and DVD will be out in early January, sporting the requisite Making Of content, sing-alongs (!), a fine 1080p transfer and DTS Master Audio sound.

BANGKOK DANGEROUS (**, 100 mins., 2008, R; Lionsgate): His oily hair slicked back, Nicolas Cage looks like he needs at least one or two showers in this mediocre remake of a Thai action movie from those elusive Pang Brothers, Danny and “Oxide.” A couple of potent action scenes provide the few fireworks in this tedious, muddled affair that tanked at the box-office last summer. Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray disc (a standard DVD is also due out on January 6th) sports a cool 1080p transfer, DTS Master Audio sound, an alternate ending, Making Of featurettes, and a digital copy for portable media players.

Upcoming From Criterion

Filmmaker Wes Anderson’s debut feature, the 1996 comedy BOTTLE ROCKET (91 mins., R), joins the Criterion Collection this month.

Along with “Rushmore,” “Bottle Rocket” still ranks as one of the eclectic filmmaker’s finest works, chronicling three pals in a small Southwestern town (Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson and Robert Musgrave) who go on the lam, seeking advice from local thief “Mr. Henry” (James Caan) along the way.

Offbeat and yet endearing in a way some of Anderson’s more recent films haven’t been, “Bottle Rocket” boasts a solid quotient of laughs and strong visuals from the director, making it an ideal title for Criterion, who have already released deluxe versions of the filmmaker’s “Rushmore,” “The Life Aquatic” and “The Royal Tenenbaums.”

Extra fetaures include a commentary with Anderson and Owen Wilson (who co-wrote the film with the director) plus a new 16:9 (1.85) transfer supervised by Anderson; a Making Of documentary from filmmaker Barry Braverman, recounting the film’s history; Anderson’s original black-and-white “Bottle Rocket” short from 1992; nearly a dozen deleted scenes; and copious booklet notes sporting an appreciation from Martin Scorsese and producer James Brooks.

Also New on DVD

PASSWORD: Best of the CBS Years, 1962-67 (BCI Eclipse): Highly satisfying four-disc DVD set from BCI includes over 30 episodes of the classic game show as hosted by Allen Ludden. All the episodes are presented from their best-surviving B&W/color sources and feature a cavalcade of stars, from Johnny Carson to Carol Burnett, Gary Moore, Jimmy Stewart, Laurence Harvey, Betty White (Mrs. Ludden), Dick Van Dyke, Jack Benny, Lauren Bacall, Lucille Ball and others. These episodes provide great, nostalgic fun for game show buffs -- and what’s particularly enjoyable about the show is not only Ludden’s on-the-mark hosting, but also the general enthusiasm and fun most of the celebrities seem to have participating in the game.

BCI’s DVD set is straightforward in its presentation and ranks as a fine addition to their growing roster of game show DVDs (including their prior “Price is Right” and “Match Game” sets). Here’s hoping another set of “Password” shows follows, including the one where a pre-“Late Night” David Letterman guest stars.

THE SECRET LIFE OF THE AMERICAN TEENAGER: Season 1 (473 mins., 2008; Buena Vista): Hugely popular ABC Family series from “Seventh Heaven” creator Brenda Hampton is an unintentionally funny yet compulsively watchable yarn about a group of high schoolers, including a good-girl teen (Shailene Woodley) who finds herself pregnant, a Latino sexpot, a rigid Christian, and how each intersects along with the equally turbulent lives of their parents, including Molly Ringwald as Woodley’s mom.

Hampton tries to be more “cutting edge” and “topical” here than she was with the mostly wholesome “Seventh Heaven,” but “Secret Life” is so weirdly similar that you almost expect Stephen Collins and Catherine Hicks to come walking onto the set any second (it even has the same musical background and visual appearance). The show’s “adult themes” are ridiculously explored on a strictly superficial level, while unintentional yucks come fast and furious, such as when one of the main character’s brothers, who has Down’s Syndrome, orders a hooker over the internet. It’s so bad you can’t help but watch it.

Buena Vista’s DVD box-set precedes the show’s upcoming second season and offers fine 16:9 (1.78) transfers with 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks. One brief set visit comprises the meager supplemental section.

GREEK: Book 2 (517 mins., 2008; Buena Vista): Winning ABC Family series about life on a college campus continues with this assortment of 12 episodes from “Greek”’s...well...I’m not sure if this is Season 2 or 3, since the show has been on the air three times over a span of 18 months yet the story line just concluded its “Freshman Year” (I’ll call it a season-and-a-half). As with its first DVD anthology “Greek” offers likeable characters, incisive dialogue and compelling story lines, and comes highly recommended. Buena Vista’s box-set sports fine 16:9 (1.78) transfers and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks, plus extras including bloopers, commentaries and more.

KYLE XY: Season 2 (994 mins., 2008; Buena Vista): ABC Family sci-fi series is back on DVD in a pleasing box-set courtesy of Buena Vista. An alternate ending, deleted scenes, commentaries and Making Of featurettes are on tap along with 16:9 (1.78) transfers and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks.

THE LITTLE MERMAID II: RETURN TO THE SEA (75 mins., 2000, G; Disney): So-so direct-to-video sequel follows Ariel and human hubby Eric as they welcome daughter Melody to their family. Turns out that Melody has inherited some of mom’s mermaidic traits, thanks to the villainous Morgana, sister of the original “Little Mermaid” big bad, Ursula. Respectable animation and an okay score make this 2000 effort watchable enough for kids, but it’s forgettable pretty much across the board. Disney’s new DVD edition of “Return to the Sea” includes brand-new bonus games plus a deleted song that wasn’t contained on the prior DVD release. The 16:9 (1.66) transfer is excellent and the 5.1 Dolby Digital sound effective enough.

TRANSFORMERS ANIMATED: Season 2 (297 mins., 2008; Paramount): More new animated action involving Hasbro’s giant robots follows the Autobots from the end of Season 1, having to clean up the city of Detroit (easier said than done) and trying to track down the pieces of the shattered Allspark. Adequate fun for the little ones with Paramount’s box-set offering commentary on episodes 19 and 20, two animated shorts, a photo gallery, colorful full-screen transfers and 2.0 Dolby Digital soundtracks.

THE TUDORS: Season 2 (9 hrs., 2008; Paramount): Jonathan Rhys Meyers is back as King Henry VIII, still up to his old shenanigans in this second season of the popular Showtime cable series. Paramount’s DVD box-set of “The Tudors”’ Season 2 includes fine 16:9 (1.78) transfers, 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks, two behind-the-scenes featurettes, biographies, and premiere episodes of other Showtime series, as well as other extras for PC users.

COMEDY CENTRAL ROAST OF BOB SAGET (74 mins., 2008; Paramount): John Stamos serves as the roastmaster for his “Full House” cohort Bob Saget’s Comedy Central Roast, with ample laughs (mostly of the raunchy, not-suitable-for-TGIF variety) on-hand courtesy of comics like Greg Giraldo, Jeffrey Ross and Jeff Garlin. Interviews and featurettes compliment the 74-minute unrated feature, presented here on DVD in full-screen with stereo sound.

NEXT TIME: The first discs of 2009! Until then, don't forget to drop in on the official Aisle Seat Message Boards, check out the Aisle Seat Blog, and direct any emails to our email address.  Cheers everyone and we'll see you on the other side in the New Year!

Get Firefox!

Copyright 1997-2008 All Reviews, Site and Design by Andre Dursin