2/13/07 Edition

February Freeze Edition!
Plus: Criterion February Round-Up; BABEL in HD; FAMILY TIES and More!

Winter continues to roll along up here at our Aisle Seat offices (single digit lows have been commonplace and there’s so much ice on the pond one could hold a hockey game -- or two -- on it!), which means things are at last perking up on the DVD front.

For this edition of the Aisle Seat we’re skipping the in-depth analysis and going straight to the point as we round up dozens of new February releases, including the latest from Criterion, Fox, Genius, Paramount and Disney Blu-Ray discs. ‘Nuff said!

Fox February: Fantastic Flights, Catalog Titles & More!

THE ILLUSIONIST (***½, 109 mins., 2006, PG-13; Fox): In Vienna circa 1900, Edward Norton plays a magician who packs houses and falls for beautiful Jessica Biel, the fiancee of the country’s Crown Prince Leopold (deliciously played by Rufus Sewell). Paul Giamatti essays the police inspector who attempts to unravel the crime stemming from that triangle in this exquisitely shot film from writer-director Neil Burger, here adapting a novel by Steven Millhauser. Dick Pope’s cinematography, an excellent Philip Glass score, and top-notch performances from Norton and Giamatti make this mystery (an independent film which grossed nearly $40 million at the domestic box-office) an unexpected surprise. Fox’s DVD is relatively light on supplements, including a basic Making Of featurette, a brief interview with Biel, and a director commentary from Burger that compliments an excellent 1.78 (16:9) transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

FLYBOYS: 2-Disc Collector’s Edition (***, 139 mins., 2006, PG-13; MGM/Fox): Expensive WWI action epic from producer Dean Devlin and director Tony Bill (helming his first theatrical feature in over 13 years) flopped at the box-office last fall and was likewise greeted with indifferent reviews. Despite all the bad buzz, “Flyboys” makes for terrific DVD viewing -- this tale of young fighter pilots (led by “Spider-Man” alumnus James Franco) is filled with tense aerial dogfights and a pleasingly corny, old-fashioned script. MGM’s double-disc Collector’s Edition DVD is the way to go if you’re interested in giving the film a second chance at home: in addition to a commentary with Devlin and Bill, the second disc includes several featurettes dissecting the production and a batch of deleted scenes to cap things off. The 16:9 (2.35) transfer is highly satisfying while the 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital soundtracks pack a potent punch. Fox’s packaging is likewise solid with five collectible “Flyboys” promo cards housed inside the cardboard slip cover.

THE MR. MOTO COLLECTION, Volume 2 (Four Features, 1937-39, Fox): Fox’s second batch of mysteries starring Peter Lorre as the master Japanese detective offer viewers another quartet of Golden Age genre goodness, with remastered transfers and bonus supplements. Included in this assortment are “Mr. Moto In Danger Island,” “Mr. Moto’s Last Warning,” “Think Fast, Mr. Moto,” and “Mr. Moto’s Gamble,” which began as a Charlie Chan vehicle until star Warner Oland passed away and the feature was re-fashioned as a Moto mystery, with Keye Luke co-starring as Lee Chan. As with the previous box set, excellent featurettes include a look at the intriguing production of “Mr. Moto’s Gamble” and a profile of author John P. Marquand. Highly recommended! (February 13th)

THE ALICE FAYE COLLECTION (Fox): Four vintage Fox musicals starring Alice Faye are spotlighted in a sensational new DVD anthology arriving on February 20th. “Lillian Russell,” “On the Avenue,” “That Night in Rio,” and “The Gang’s All Here” are all presented with extensive bonus features, including commentaries, deleted songs, radio programs, and on “Lillian Russell” a documentary profile of its real-life heroine. Transfers are all in standard full-screen and dual soundtracks include 2.0 stereo and mono sound. (February 20)

VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, Season 2, Vol. 2 (1965-66, 659 mins., Fox): The latter half of “Voyage”’s Season 2 episodes reach DVD in a three-disc set with sparkling full-screen transfers and 2.0 stereo and mono soundtracks. Still galleries and interviews with star David “Al” Hedison are included on the bonus end. A must for Irwin Allen buffs! (February 20)

ANYTHING BUT LOVE, Volume One (1989-90, 661 mins., Fox): Three-disc set couples Seasons 1 and 2 of the ABC romantic sitcom with Jamie Lee Curtis and Richard Lewis. Though the show ran for only two full seasons, it attracted a devoted cult following over the years, and Fox’s superb DVD presentation offers the program’s initial 28 episodes in fine full-screen transfers with 2.0 stereo sound, commentaries from Curtis, Lewis, and director Robert Berlinger, and a pair of featurettes.        

CONVERSATIONS WITH GOD (109 mins., 2006, PG; Fox): Henry Czerny stars in this adaptation of Naele Donald Walsch’s autobiographical best-seller, which is somewhat routinely executed here in a TV-like feature from writer Eric Delabarre and producer-director Stephen Simon. Those seeking a spiritual, life-affirming film may still be interested in this Fox DVD, which includes a 16:9 (1.78) widescreen transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

Criterion For February: Classics and More

Four outstanding new Criterion discs include remastered versions of a pair of Janus catalog favorites, along with two new additions highlighted by a superlative box set.

The latter comes in the form of PAUL ROBESON: PORTRAITS OF THE ARTIST, a massive, four-disc undertaking collecting some eight films starring the groundbreaking African-American performer.

Included in the set (all in newly remastered, digital transfers) are Robeson’s starring turn in 1933's “Emperor Jones”; the silents “Body and Soul” (1925) and “Borderline” (1930); Zoltan Korda’s 1935 production “Sanders of the River”; “Jericho” (1937); “The Proud Valley” (1940) and the documentary “Native Land,” with Robeson narrating. Also included is the 1979 documentary short “Paul Robeson: Tribute To An Artist” by Saul Turrell, narrated by Sidney Poitier.

Robeson is a fascinating, outspoken figure and Criterion’s DVD box set is chock full of remembrances and materials relating to his legacy, including commentaries by historians Jeffrey C. Stewart (“The Emperor Jones”) and Pearl Bowser (“Body and Soul”); new musical scores by Wycliffe Gordon (“Body and Soul”) and Courtney Pine (“Borderline”); a 1958 Pacifica Radio interview with Robeson; and four new featurettes featuring interviews with Ruby Dee, James Earl Jones, filmmaker William Greaves, cinematographer Tom Hurwitz, film historians Ian Christie and Stephen Bourne, and Paul Robeson Jr., plus film clips from other Robeson features including “Song of Freedom” (1936), “King Solomon's Mines” (1937), and “Big Fella” (1938).

Rounding out the box set is a book sporting an excerpt from Robeson's “Here I Stand,” plus essays by Clement Alexander Price, Hilton Als, Charles Burnett, Ian Christie, Deborah Willis, and Charles Musser, a reprinted article by writer Geraldyn Dismond, and a note from Pete Seeger.

Also new to the Collection this month is Mikio Naruse’s 1960 film WHEN A WOMAN ASCENDS THE STAIRS, a stark, unforgettably shot drama of a middle-aged Japanese woman attempting to navigate through -- and being repressed by -- her country’s patriarchal society. Criterion’s DVD includes a new digital transfer and 3.0 soundtrack preserving the movie’s original “Perspecta” simulated stereo effects; a commentary from Japanese film scholar Donald Richie; and an interview with actor Tatsuya Nakadai. The 16:9 transfer preserves the wide 2.35 frame and the DVD comes highly recommended for all Japanese cinema buffs.

Returning to the Collection -- and rounding out Criterion’s February slate -- are two acclaimed British films from the 1940s.

Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s 49TH PARALLEL and Sidney Gilliat’s disarming 1946 mystery GREEN FOR DANGER have long been a part of the Criterion catalog, but arrive on DVD here with some additional extras and, more importantly, newly restored transfers.

The 1941 WWII propaganda film “49th Parallel” makes for strange, oddball fun and is occasionally as inventive as the legendary British duo’s other works, with the pair trying here to persuade the then-neutral United States to join the Allied fight (by the time the film was released in the U.S., we already had). Criterion’s DVD offers the same Bruce Eder commentary from the laserdisc edition, plus the trailer, a BBC documentary on Powell and Pressburger, a 1943 short starring Ralph Richardson (“The Volunteer”), and excerpts from Powell’s autobiography audio dictations.

“Green For Danger,” meanwhile, is a marvelously witty mystery with Alastair Sim, Trevor Howard, and Sally Gray that Criterion has splendidly remastered here on DVD. Supplements are on the light side (for a Criterion disc), boasting Bruce Eder’s laserdisc commentary, a new interview with British film scholar Geoff Brown, and booklet notes from critic Geoffrey O’Brien.

Mysteries, Thrillers & More: New Releases on Disc

THE BLACK DAHLIA (*½, 122 mins., 2006, R, Universal): Brian DePalma’s latest misfire is a crushing disappointment since it squanders compelling source material (namely, a James Ellroy novel), atmospheric cinematography from Vilmos Zsigmond and a spectacularly noir-ish score by Mark Isham that’s easily one of the composer’s finest works. Sadly, Josh Friedman’s script -- following a pair of detectives (Josh Hartnett and Arron Eckhart) as they investigate the death of a young actress (Mia Kirshner in a totally thankless role) in early ‘40s Hollywood -- is an absolute mess that borders on the incoherent, jumping from one plot to another and then climaxing with one of the most convoluted denouements you’ll ever see in a movie of this sort! DePalma’s eye for visual flair is on-hand as usual, but this one is a turkey that ranks with his biggest failures, and Fiona Shaw’s unintentionally hilarious, totally unhinged performance as suspect Hilary Swank’s mother must be seen to be fully believed. Universal’s DVD offers a few unremarkable featurettes, a fine 16:9 (2.40) widescreen transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound. Buy the soundtrack album instead.

HOLLYWOODLAND (**½, 127 mins., 2006, R, Focus/Universal): Private eye Adrien Brody is tapped to investigate the death of TV “Superman” George Reeves in this intriguing though somewhat unsatisfying mystery yarn. Brody is appropriately intense as detective Louis Simo and director Allen Coulter’s film does a good job capturing the shocking aspects of Reeves’ death and how it impacted the culture of the late ‘50s, but Paul Bernbaum’s script is hampered by a framework that switches between the investigation and flashbacks to Reeves’ final days. Ben Affleck is fine in the latter sequences as the one-time Man of Steel, but the movie’s momentum tends to stall out whenever we leave Brody’s point of view. Universal’s DVD includes a fine 16:9 (1.85) transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, plus deleted scenes, commentary, and Making Of featurettes. Ironically, while “Hollywoodland” boasts a superior story to “The Black Dahlia,” the better technical presentation resides within DePalma’s film, and somewhere between the two a terrific film noir could have been produced.

New From Paramount

FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS (**½, 132 mins., 2006, R; Dreamworks/Paramount): Clint Eastwood’s first half of his WWII double-bill is a tedious, somber account of three “heroes of Iowa Jima” who hoisted the flag in the indelible Joe Rosenthal/AP photograph, leading to a public relations parade -- and numerous adjustment issues -- when they returned home from the war. Eastwood’s meditation on the nature of war, heroism and its exploitation offers some strong sequences but it’s a long, somewhat disjointed film broken into various segments (the war, its aftermath, and present-day sequences), capped off by unappealing, desaturated cinematography from Tom Stern and a lethargic score written by Eastwood himself that grows increasingly tiresome as the film progresses. Well-intended but nowhere near as dramatically effective as one hoped it would be, “Flags Of Our Fathers” was a box-office disappointment that’s been recently released on DVD in a plain, bare-bones presentation from Dreamworks. The 16:9 (2.35) transfer is fine and the 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack layered with effects, but no supplements are on-hand of any kind.

BABEL (***, 143 mins., 2006, R; Paramount): Ambitious film from director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and writer Guillermo Arriaga follows the accidental shooting of an American tourist (Cate Blanchett) while on vacation with her new husband (Brad Pitt) in Morocco, but “Babel” nearly defies a standard plot description: Inarritu’s movie intersects three other stories, spanning different cultures and continents, with this main thread in the same time frame. It’s a sprawling picture reminiscent of other films about modern social mores and the communication boundaries that bind, and can break, all of us (think “Crash” or “Traffic”), and certainly makes for an interesting view -- albeit a long, sometimes tedious one with an unrelentingly grim tone. Paramount’s HD-DVD presentation of “Babel” offers a remarkable 1080p (2.35) visual presentation with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound. (February 20)

New TV on DVD

FAMILY TIES, Complete Season 1 (1982-83, 530 mins., Paramount): There are no special features to be found in this four-disc assembly of “Family Ties”’ first season, but it’s still a very welcome sight to see this long-running ‘80s sitcom favorite on DVD at last. Gary David Goldberg’s family comedy wasn’t afraid to tackle more dramatic story lines, and did so with an honesty that doesn’t date the program as just another sitcom with “Very Special” episodes. The ensemble performances of parents Meredith Baxter (Birney) and Michael Gross as the ex-hippies raising a group of markedly different kids (Justine Bateman, Tina Yothers, and conservative-leaning Michael J. Fox) make the show an enduring favorite, and Paramount’s DVD offers viewers a chance to see the series’ original, unedited broadcast-length programs for the first time since their initial NBC broadcasts. Again, no supplements are on-hand -- hopefully Paramount will be saving all of those for the Season 2 release!

THE GOLDEN GIRLS, Complete Season 7 (1991-92, 625 mins., Buena Vista): The end of the line for the Girls arrived at the start of the long-running NBC series’ seventh and final year, but what a run Blanche, Dorothy, Sophia and Rose had: by the time “The Golden Girls” signed off, the show had garnered numerous Emmys and become one of the all-time sitcom classics. Buena Vista’s three-disc set preserves the final 26 episodes from the series in unexpurgated, broadcast-length form with one retrospective featurette. Highly recommended for all “Golden Girls” fans!

Warner Catalog Wrap

LOOKER (**½, 90 mins., 1981, PG; Warner): Michael Chricton’s sorta-sci-fi flop finds L.A. plastic surgeon Albert Finney playing Sherlock Holmes when a group of his former clients begin to turn up dead, their involvement with a tech firm run by James Coburn and associate Leigh Taylor-Young being the only evidence stringing the murders together. With its wide scope cinematography, electronic Barry Devorzon score, and engaging performances from Finney, Coburn, and Susan Dey (as one of Finney’s clients and potential love interest), “Looker” is a glossy slice of early ‘80s entertainment, though the movie’s jumbled plot remains as much of a mystery now as it was then. Chrichton is on-hand here to provide a commentary and an on-camera introduction (deservedly taking kudos for the movie’s prescient observations about computers, special effects, and the media), but Warner missed the opportunity here to fix the movie’s problems by failing to include footage -- added to ABC’s network TV broadcast -- that apparently explained the premise! That said, this is still a fun DVD from Warner, with the 16:9 (2.35) transfer only appearing rocky when the occasionally banged-up print shows its age (and it does here and there throughout). The 2.0 Dolby Surround sound is just fine, and the original trailer is also included.

GYMKATA (**, 90 mins., 1985, R; Warner): Olympic medalist Kurt Thomas karate-chops his way to solving the Cold War’s problems in this hysterical 1985 action vehicle, directed by veteran Robert Clouse of “Enter the Dragon” fame. Thomas’ “performance” is fine when the leading man doesn’t speak, but “Gymkata” is the kind of cult-classic ‘80s action film one would routinely expect to find coming from the Cannon Group (incredibly, this one was a major MGM/UA production!). Warner’s DVD offers the theatrical trailer and a satisfying 16:9 (1.85) transfer, which still ought to please “Gymkata” fans worldwide!

SPARKLE (**½, 98 mins., 1975, PG; Warner): A terrific Curtis Mayfield soundtrack is the primary driving force behind “Sparkle,” a 1975 Warner title just being issued on DVD thanks to the recent release of “Dreamgirls.” This backstage showbiz chronicle is likewise Supreme-like, with writer Joel Schumacher’s story outlining the rise and fall of a trio of young ladies from Harlem who try and make it big in the music industry. Irene Cara, Lonette McKee, and Philip Michael Thomas are a few of the familiar faces on-hand in this sturdy melodrama, which Warner has released in a decent 16:9 (1.85) transfer with 2.0 Dolby Digital mono sound. Sweet bonus: Warner is packaging the DVD with a bonus CD featuring Aretha Franklin performing five of Mayfield’s songs for the picture.

Coming Soon From Sony

A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS: Special Edition (****, 1966, 120 mins., G; Sony): Director Fred Zinnemann and screenwriter Robert Bolt collaborated with a cast that’s second to none (Paul Scofield, Robert Shaw, Orson Welles, Wendy Hiller, Leo McKern, John Hurt) for this marvelous, moving, award-winning 1966 film. Bolt’s script (adapted from his own play) chronicles the battle between King Henry VIII (Shaw) and Sir Thomas More (Scofield), who’s put into a difficult position when the King requests approval from the Catholic More to divorce his wife and marry his mistress. Winner of six Oscars (including Best Picture), this new DVD edition of “A Man For All Seasons” boasts a top-notch 16:9 (1.66) widescreen transfer with a particularly strong 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack, preserving Georges Delerue’s wonderful score. A 20-minute featurette on the real Sir Thomas compliments a DVD that’s perfect for ANY season! (February 20)

HALF NELSON (***, 2006, 107 mins., R; Sony): Ryan Gosling’s excellent (and deservedly Oscar-nominated) performance as a high school teacher who inspires his troubled students at the same time facing his own demons with drug addiction makes for a veritable actor’s showcase. Director Ryan Fleck’s character study doesn’t offer easy resolutions and is graced by excellent supporting “perfs” as well (Shareeka Epps is likewise excellent as one of Gosling’s students). Sony’s DVD offers commentary from Fleck, outtakes and deleted scenes, plus a music video, along with a 16:9 (1.78) widescreen transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound. (February 13)

MARIE ANTOINETTE (**½, 2006, 123 mins., PG-13; Sony): Sofia Coppola’s visually opulent costume drama may have little to do with the reality of Marie Antoinette’s life, her marriage to King Louis XVI and their tragic end, but what do you expect when the film seems to be aimed at American teenagers? With a pulsating rock soundtrack, anachronisms throughout (most intentional, one would assume), and a weird supporting cast (Rip Torn, Molly Shannon, Steve Coogan, Asia Argento, Marianne Faithfull among them), this “Marie” tries to cast its anti-heroine (Kirsten Dunst) in a mostly sympathetic light, portraying her in a manner that young contemporary audiences can relate to. It’s an interesting experiment but the film ultimately comes across as tedious and shallow, in spite of its sumptuous colors and location filming (the French government allowed Coppola to shoot at Versailles). Sony’s DVD offers a solid though occasionally soft-looking 1.85 (16:9) transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound. Extras include two brief deleted scenes, trailers, a Making Of featurette, and an amusing “Cribs With Louis XVI,” sporting Jason Schwartzman in costume, showing the MTV audience around Versailles -- which should tell you something about the picture’s intended audience! (February 13)

THE GRUDGE 2: Unrated Edition (**, 108 mins., 2006; Sony): The best thing that could’ve happened to Sarah Michelle Gellar is that she’s bumped off in the early going of this messy sequel to “The Grudge,” once again helmed by series creator Takashi Shimizu. This follow-up puts former “Joan of Arcadia” star Amber Tamblyn through the horror-movie-heroine paces as Gellar’s sister, who runs afoul of the same “Grudge” and the ghost with the long dark hair, in a story that’s more involved and substantially more confusing than its predecessor. Slow moving with occasionally eerie passages, punctuated by a ridiculously overwrought ending seems to hint that there are more sequels to come. Sony’s Unrated DVD includes deleted scenes, Making Of featurettes, a strong 16:9 (1.85) transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

New Blu Ray Titles from Buena Vista

THE HITCH HIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY (**½, 2005, 109 mins., PG; Buena Vista): You need to be an aficionado of Douglas Adams’ work to fully appreciate this well-intentioned but frantic adaptation of his beloved novel. Touchstone’s new Blu Ray DVD looks smashing in 2.35 widescreen and boasts an uncompressed 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack, supporting a superb score by Joby Talbot (gotta love the opening song, too!). Extras are reprieved from the standard DVD edition and include deleted scenes and two commentary tracks: one from Sean Salle (Adams’ colleague and the film’s executive producer), and another with assorted members of the production team. Note that some extras from the previous DVD (including a DTS track and a Making Of featurette) have been tossed out of the Blu Ray edition.

CHICAGO (***½, 2003, 113 mins., PG-13; Buena Vista): The long wait for the John Kander-Fred Ebb Broadway musical to reach the screen was worth it: 2003's Best Picture Oscar winner is a breezy blast of musical entertainment with a memorable score and zesty song sequences. Buena Vista’s Blu Ray DVD includes a sterling 1080p presentation of the movie with uncompressed 5.1 Dolby Digital sound; extras are culled from both previous standard DVD editions, including several featurettes, commentary, and the deleted song “Class.”

THE GUARDIAN (**½, 2006, 139 mins., PG-13; Buena Vista): This recent Kevin Costner-Ashton Kutcher Coast Guard vehicle offers few surprises but comes across as a sturdy, well-made, old-fashioned slice of Hollywood escapism. Buena Vista’s Blu Ray DVD is a slight upgrade visually on the standard DVD edition, but this is a relatively gloomy looking film to begin with and the benefits of HD aren’t always apparent. On the plus side, the special features from the standard release (deleted scenes, an alternate ending, commentary, featurettes) have all been included.

CASANOVA (***, 2005, 111 mins., R; Buena Vista): While Heath Ledger’s appearance in “Brokeback Mountain” garnered all kinds of publicity, Ledger’s decidedly more straightforward (in more ways than one) starring effort, “Casanova,” went almost entirely overlooked by audiences and the press itself. It’s a shame, because this comedic romp is a marvelously entertaining lark -- somewhat reminiscent of another, recent period film set in Venice (“Dangerous Beauty”), but played more for laughs and with the same, airy tone director Lasse Hallstrom brought to his enchanting “Chocolat.” Buena Vista’s Blu Ray DVD looks great in 1080p and sports another superb, uncompressed 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack. Extras ported over from the previous standard DVD release (which offered more supplements than are featured here) include a commentary track and a pair of featurettes.

Capsule Takes

DEAD MARY (*½, 103 mins., 2006, Genius Entertainment): Dominique Swain continues to be an attractive, talented young actress who simply can’t find the right vehicle. The one-time “Lolita” has dabbled in all sorts of genres but has never found her niche, popping up lately in “Ghost Whisperer” guest-starring gigs and as the lead in “Dead Mary.” Sadly, Swain’s presence is about the only attractive element of this misbegotten horror flick, which follows a group of would-be college friends on a bad weekend in the country. Genius’ DVD does its best to make this run-of-the-kill offering more exciting than it is (the back cover description in particular), but it’s bland, deadly boring direct-to-video filler. Genius’ DVD includes a 16:9 (1.85) transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, a music video and a Making Of featurette.

KEEPING MUM (***, 2005, 104 mins., R; ThinkFilm): Highly amusing, perfectly-pitched British black comedy never received much of a chance to find an audience on this side of the pond, despite starring a terrific cast. Maggie Smith plays a dotty old housekeeper who comes to the aid (if you can call it that) of a pastor (Rowan Atkinson) whose marriage to Kristin Scott Thomas is disintegrating in their rural English village. Atmospheric and very funny, “Keeping Mum” is a bona-fide sleeper well worth tracking down on DVD, and ThinkFilm’s upcoming domestic release ought to make it easier to do just that: their 16:9 (1.85) transfer is splendid and copious supplements include deleted scenes, commentary, an original opening, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound and a Making Of featurette. (February 20)

TEEN TITANS: Trouble In Tokyo (2006, 75 mins., Warner): The ‘lil DC heroes roar back on DVD in a new original movie. Warner’s DVD features a full-screen transfer, “Lost Episode” and Robin interactive game.

ANDROID APOCALYPSE: Extended Version (2006, 95 mins., Magnolia): Joey Lawrence may have morphed into “Joseph Lawrence,” the bald-headed tough guy starring in this Canadian-lensed sci-fi flick, but we know who he REALLY is! Magnolia’s DVD offers a 16:9 transfer and 2.0 Dolby Digital sound for this small-screen effort.

SAMOAN WEDDING (2006, 97 mins., Magnolia): “Sione’s Wedding,” a cute New Zealand comedy, makes its debut stateside, where it’s been retitled “Samoan Wedding,” in the hopes that memories of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” will propel this import to domestic success. Magnolia’s DVD sports a 1.78 transfer and 2.0 Dolby Digital sound.

Genius Round Up

STREET FIGHT (2006, 81 mins.; Genius): Excellent, compelling documentary recounts the 2002 Newark, New Jersey Mayoral race, as a pair of African-Americans vie for the seat: Cory Booker, a young Yale Law graduate, and the incumbent Sharpe James, who unleashes every nasty political trick in the book to keep him out of office. Outstanding work from director Marshall Curry makes “Street Fight” a smart DVD choice for political savvy viewers. Highly recommended!

THIS FILM IS NOT YET RATED (2006, 98 mins., Unrated; Genius): Penetrating documentary from director Kirby Dick exposes the hypocrisy of the MPAA and boasts interviews with Matt Stone, Kevin Smith, John Waters, and others who have waged battles (and lost most of them) with the ratings board. Fascinating stuff, with Genius’ DVD including a 4:3 widescreen transfer, commentary, deleted scenes, and a Q&A session with the director.

SHUT UP AND SING (2006, 93 mins., R; Genius): I can’t say that I’m the biggest Dixie Chicks fan...but those who are will want to check out this very well-handled feature from veteran documentary filmmakers Barbara Kopple and Cecilia Peck. Lots of music and the gals’ political stances are highlighted in this Weinstein Company release, which Genius will issue on DVD on February 20th in a 4:3 full-screen transfer with 2.0 Dolby Stereo sound.

TROUBLED WATERS (2006, 88 mins., Genius): Jennifer Beals is called into an investigate the disappearance of a millionaire’s daughter in this made-for-cable Canadian telefilm. Genius’ DVD includes a 16:9 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

THE PUFFY CHAIR (2006, 84 mins., Genius): The first-ever Netflix co-produced indie film is a surprisingly decent road trip comedy from the Duplass Brothers. Genius’ DVD includes outtakes, deleted scenes, bonus shorts, and commentary from the brothers.

HOPELESS PICTURES (2006, 166 mins., Genius): IFC animated series about the inner-workings of a hapless indie studio. Engaging voices from Michael McKean to Bob Balaban (who created and produced this series) help sell this moderately enjoyable insiders’ comedy, presented on DVD with commentaries by Balaban, deleted scenes, and more.

COWBOY DEL AMOR (2006, 87 mins., Genius): Documentary about cowboy matchmaker Ivan Thompson, who heads south of the border to find Mexican brides for American men ranging from a truck driver to a Vietnam vet. Commentary from director Michele Ohayon and additional featurettes round out a satisfying DVD from Genius, presented in 16:9 widescreen with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

NEXT TIME: Will Ferrell tries a film that's STRANGER THAN FICTION, plus THE PRESTIGE bewitches audiences on DVD! Until then, don't forget to drop in on the official Aisle Seat Message Boards and direct any emails to the link above

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