2/17/09 Edition

February Fracas Edition
BOTTLE SHOCK surprises on disc
Plus: Warner's new PEANUTS dvd & more

Last week I lead off the column with Richard Donner’s “Inside Moves,” a low-key and terrific character study that was finally released on DVD after years of rights issues.

My “Pick of the Week” this time out is another warm audience pleaser: director Randall Miller’s delightful BOTTLE SHOCK (***, 109 mins., 2008, PG-13), which arrives on DVD courtesy of Fox.

Based on a true story, Alan Rickman stars as Steven Spurrier, a British wine connoisseur who sets up a blind taste-testing that pits a group of French stalwarts against a Napa Valley vineyard owned and operated by dad Bill Pullman and hippie son Chris Pine (Captain Kirk in the upcoming “Star Trek” movie). Even though the Californians are struggling to generate sales in a market dominated by Europeans, Rickman’s plan sets the gears in a motion for a particularly fitting patriotic contest during America’s Bicentennial summer of 1976.

Miller, who wrote “Bottle Shock” with Jody Savin and Russ Schwartz, has assembled a terrific cast for this laid-back, entertaining tale: Rickman is splendid as the stuffy Brit trying to make a name for his wine shop, and he’s balanced perfectly by the young Americans, from Pine to Rachael Taylor, Freddy Rodriguez and Eliza Dushku. Veteran support from Pullman, Miguel Sandoval and Dennis Farina adds the icing on the cake, with an especially fine score from Mark Adler and pleasing cinematography from Michael J. Ozier backing the predictable yet undeniably pleasant and charming proceedings.

Fox’s DVD boasts a crisp 16:9 (2.35) widescreen transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound and several fine extras: commentary with the cast and crew, four deleted scenes, and two Making Of featurettes. Highly recommended!


Warner Home Video continues their remastered editions of the classic “Peanuts” TV specials this month with a new double feature highlighted by YOU’RE A GOOD SPORT, CHARLIE BROWN (25 mins., 1979).

Debuting on CBS on October 28th, 1975, “You’re a Good Sport” finds Peppermint Patty talking  Charlie Brown into participating in a motocross race, where good o’l C.B. takes on Snoopy (dressed up as the Masked Marvel) and company in a race that comes down to the wire -- and doesn’t exactly end how “Peanuts” fans might anticipate.

“Peanuts” creator Charles Schulz’s son, Chris, was heavy into motor sports growing up, with his father having built areas on their property for tennis, golf, and even his son’s fondness for racing bikes. “You’re a Good Sport” incorporates these athletic elements into a cohesive and entertaining story, which starts with Snoopy providing some John McEnroe-like antics on the tennis court, and ends with an amusing spin on “The Tortoise and the Hare.” Vince Guaraldi’s score, as always, lends a spirited assist to the fun.

Making its formal debut on DVD in the U.S., “You’re a Good Sport” is one of the better “Peanuts” specials from the mid to late ‘70s. Complimenting the show on DVD is the debut of the 1979 special “You’re the Greatest, Charlie Brown,” which puts Charlie Brown through the Junior Decathlon, and once again against the dastardly Masked Marvel (Snoopy of course).

Both specials have been cleaned up and remastered for this Warner DVD, and each looks crisp and every bit as vibrant as the source material allows. The mono sound is also perfectly acceptable, and extras include one 10-minute featurette offering an interview with Chris Schulz about the background that led to “You’re a Good Sport...”’s creation along with comments from  other Peanuts historians.

Next up for Peanuts fans is a remastered edition of “Snoopy’s Reunion,” due out on April 7th along with one of the less-memorable specials, “It’s Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown” (nearly the low point in the series next to “Happy New Year, Charlie Brown”).

Anthology series were all rage back in the 1980s, from “Amazing Stories” to “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” the new version of “The Twilight Zone,” the ridiculously violent “Freddy’s Nightmares” and one of the shows that started it all -- producer George A. Romero’s TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE (1983-85, aprx. 9 hours; CBS/Paramount).

I was never a fan of “Darkside” growing up, finding the stories obvious and the low-budget production values to be a detriment to the outlandish tales the producers were trying to tell, but fans who enjoyed Romero’s anthology film “Creepshow” (written with Stephen King) found this similarly-themed series to be agreeable enough, with each half-hour episode ending with a pre-ordained plot twist and a fair amount of horror to be had in most episodes.

Paramount’s DVD box-set includes the syndicated series’ initial 24 episodes (produced between 1983 and 1985) in satisfying full-screen transfers and mono soundtracks. Romero offers a commentary on the debut episode “Trick or Treat,” and there are appearances from Christian Slater, Justine Bateman, Danny Aiello, Brent Spiner, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (as a genie in an unfortunate adaptation of a Harlan Ellison story), Tippi Hedren, Eddie Bracken, and Fritz Weaver scattered throughout the show’s first season.

“E/R” star Julianna Marguiles took some time off before returning to TV in the recent Fox network vehicle CANTERBURY’S LAW (2008, aprx. 265 mins., Sony).

Alas, this fairly routine legal drama, starring Marguiles as a defense attorney with an understanding but often frustrated husband (Aidan Quinn), never really caught on with audiences, earning decent critical notices but lukewarm ratings when it premiered a year ago. It’s likely that the strike didn’t help matters, but regardless, it’s safe to say that there’s nothing about “Canterbury’s Law” that anyone is likely to remember other than it being “just another legal drama.”

Sony’s double-disc DVD set preserves the entire series -- all six episodes -- in 16:9 (1.78) widescreen transfers and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks.

Next week Sony also releases another recent small-screen drama on DVD: AMC’s odd BREAKING BAD (2008, aprx. 346 mins.).

While those of us who recall AMC as being an actual home for classic movies still lament, from time to time, its evolution into just another cable network (airing movies that are anything BUT classics), at least the channel has produced several original series of note, including the superb, Emmy-winning “Mad Men.”

“Breaking Bad” is a little bit more “out there,” following Bryan Cranston as a chemistry teacher, diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, who opts to work with one of his former students in selling crystal meth in order to support his family. It sounds a little bit like “Weeds” (the Showtime series with Mary Louise Parker as a suburban single mom who supports her family by selling pot), but from what I’ve seen of the show here and there, “Breaking Bad” is a more compelling and gripping dramatic work, anchored by Cranston’s Emmy-winning lead performance.

Sony’s DVD box-set of “Breaking Bad” includes commentaries from creator-producer Vince Gilligan, screen tests, deleted scenes, numerous interviews and a Making Of segment, plus excellent 16:9 (1.78) widescreen transfers and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks.

DVD Capsules

HOW TO LOSE FRIENDS AND ALIENATE PEOPLE (**½, 110 mins., 2008, R; MGM/Fox): Box-office disappointment for British comic-actor Simon Pegg, who stars in this vehicle as an obnoxious celebrity journalist who comes to the U.S. for work for a Manhattan magazine published by Jeff Bridges. Kristen Dunst plays a fellow writer, while Megan Fox is the actress he’s
pursuing and Gillian Anderson her surprisingly accommodating publicist. A few laughs do pop up along the way but the movie is a little bit too long and unfocused to really click; still, it’s worth a rental for Pegg fans. Fox’s DVD includes commentary with Pegg and director Robert Weide, plus a separate commentary with Weide, a Making Of featurette, a 16:9 (1.85) transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound. Fans of the movie should note that, while no high-definition release is on the docket for the US, a Blu-Ray release is due shortly in the UK.

CHOKE (92 mins., 2008, R; Fox): “Fight Club” author Chuck Palahniuk’s tale about a sex-addicted con man (Sam Rockwell), his ailing mother (Anjelica Huston) and his equally dysfunctional best friend (Brad William Henke) comes to the screen in a weird, fragmented movie written and directed by actor Clark Gregg. Fox’s DVD includes commentary with Gregg and Rockwell plus deleted scenes, a gag reel and numerous Making Of featurettes, plus a fine 16:9 (1.85) transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

SCREAMERS: THE HUNTING (95 mins., 2008, R; Sony): The original “Screamers” was a sturdy, fairly well-made Canadian sci-fi film; this direct-to-video follow-up stars Gina Holden (cute but completely out of her element) leading a team of soldiers as they return to Sirius 6B where the “screamers” first wiped out a human colony some 13 years ago. Miguel Tejada-Flores has certainly been a journeyman screenwriter, having penned “Revenge of the Nerds,” “Fright Night Part II” and now this disposable sci-fi thriller co-starring Lance Henriksen, which offers few thrills and a derivative, Sci-Fi Channel “Original Movie” kind of feel. Sony’s DVD includes a 16:9 (1.78) widescreen transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound and a Making Of featurette.

Family Corner

A few years back, while flipping through my DirecTV channels, I caught the first “High School Musical” on the Disney Channel for a few seconds and quickly moved on. Little did I know that master choreographer/director Kenny Ortega’s original cable-movie would turn into one of the larger, full-blown pop culture phenomenons of the decade, spawning a small-screen sequel and now a big-screen finale in the form of HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL 3 (**½, 117 mins., 2008, G; Disney).

Out this week on both Special Edition DVD and Blu-Ray from Disney, this swan-song (apparently) for Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Tisdale and the gang boasts more elaborate production values than its predecessor, in addition to the same kind of feel-good story, upbeat (and bland) pop tunes and dancing that made it such a smash with its intended teen audience.

Disney’s double-disc DVD includes a digital copy of the movie, presented in an extended version with additional scenes (running five minutes longer than the theatrical version), along with a terrific 16:9 (1.85) widescreen transfer, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound and extras including deleted scenes with Ortega, bloopers, Making Of featurettes, an “emotional farewell” from the gang to East High, sing-along material and other assorted extras for kids.

The Blu-Ray set is even more elaborate: a three-platter affair also sporting the DVD and digital copy. Technically, the AVC encoded transfer is top-notch, as is the DTS Master Audio sound, both offering appreciable upgrades on the DVD edition. Extras on the Blu-Ray platter include a BD-Live exclusive photo feature, cast profiles and a “Senior Awards” segment, along with all the goodies from the double-disc DVD, mostly here in HD as well.

To coincide with the release of HSM3, Disney is also rolling out the original HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL on Blu-Ray for the first time (the second installment has been on Blu since last year). Fans will be happy that the original film is presented in widescreen (1.78) and with lossless 5.1 PCM sound for the first time ever here, with all the extras (music videos, sing-alongs, and interactive dance content) recycled from the “Remix” Special DVD edition as well.

ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS: THE MYSTERY OF THE EASTER CHIPMUNK (1984-88, 66 mins., Paramount): Compilation DVD offers five episodes from “Alvin & The Chipmunks”’ long run on Saturday morning TV, with both an Easter episode (“The Easter Chipmunk”) and St. Patrick’s Day-themed one (“Luck O’ The Chipmunks”) included for good measure. The stereo sound and full-screen transfers are all just fine.

NEXT TIME: EAST OF EDEN debuts on DVD! Until then, don't forget to drop in on the official Aisle Seat Message Boards and direct any emails to our email address.  Cheers everyone!

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