2/22/11 Edition Twitter: THEAISLESEATCOM
Presidents Day Edition
BAMBI, Criterions, DUE DATE & More
Plus: Shout's Latest MST3K Box Set

Word that MGM is likely to pick Sony as the distributor for the next James Bond film has thrown their home video future up in the air. Fox has handled the distribution of MGM’s home video product for many years and has provided viewers with some superb releases including restorations of the James Bond films. Reports claim that if MGM and Sony reach an agreement over 007's immediate future, that Fox will bow out of distributing MGM’s video titles once their contract expires at year’s end – something that might cause concern over the future of MGM’s catalog on Blu-Ray, since Sony’s interest in their back catalog has been almost non-existent of late...to the point where they’ve begun licensing some Blu-Ray titles out to Image Entertainment.

We’ll keep you updated as the weeks go on and more details emerge, but in the meantime, MGM and Fox have begin cranking out a limited-edition line of manufactured-on-demand DVD-R titles, available through Amazon and other specialty outlets.

The MGM MOD titles are somewhat crudely packaged with mediocre graphics (there’s no comparison between them and the Warner Archive releases), and indeed, some titles leave something to be desired (including a non-anamorphic transfer of “The Satan Bug”).                                

Nevertheless, the three titles Fox sent me for review look pleasing enough: THE SPIKES GANG is an odd 1974 western from veteran scribes Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank Jr. with Lee Marvin as an outlaw serving as a mentor of sorts to youths (Ron Howard, Gary Grimes, Charles Martin Smith) with a romantic vision of life in the Old West; FUTUREWORLD offers Peter Fonda and Blythe Danner in an 1976 AIP sequel to Michael Chricton’s ‘Westworld”; and the 1964 Charles K. Feldman epic THE 7TH DAWN stars William Holden, Susannah York and Capucine fighting against the Commies in a struggle for Malayan independence.

All three movies offer nice 16:9 transfers, having been culled from (what MGM claims are) the best available sources, and while extras are predictably non-existent save for trailers, fans of any of the films would do well to check them out.

Newly available in the Warner Archive, meanwhile, is a DVD of Gordon Parks’ deeply moving though somewhat rough-around-the-edges THE LEARNING TREE (***½, 107 mins., 1969), an autobiographical tale of Parks’ youth in 1920s Kansas City – his rites of passage, run-ins with a racist sheriff in an age when discrimination was legal, involvement in a murder and first relationships with the opposite sex.

Well shot in widescreen, “The Learning Tree” was one of the most acclaimed black pictures of its era – making its DVD debut (issued to coincide with Black History Month) something that’s been long overdue, especially considering that studios have had no problem cranking out disc after disc of that era’s “black-exploitation” films over the years. Parks’ sincerely felt film has some powerful moments, along with some uneven performances and a narrative that seems more than a little disjointed at times (along with a heavy-handed soundtrack from Parks himself), yet there’s no denying the picture’s overall effectiveness.

Warner’s Archive DVD-R offers a nice 16:9 (2.40) transfer along with the trailer. Recommended, and now available exclusively through the Warner Archive.

New on Blu-Ray

BAMBI Diamond Edition Blu-Ray/DVD (****, 70 mins., 1942, G; Disney): Disney’s restorative work on its all-time classic “Bambi” is a joy to behold: looking brighter, sharper and more colorful than ever, one of Walt’s greatest achievements has been lovingly brought to Blu-Ray for the first time in a two-disc “Diamond Edition” combo pack also offering a standard DVD of the picture. Presented in both 1.33 and a 16:9 “Disney View” full-frame version that simply adds borders around the original image, “Bambi” looks fantastic in HD, while the remixed 5.1 soundtrack (presented in DTS HD) is likewise superlative, adding immeasurably to the beautifully realized outdoor adventure tale of the orphaned fawn and his trials and tribulations with a cast of colorful characters.
A bevy of extras – from recreations of Disney’s story meetings (hosted by Patrick Stewart) to a pair of never-before-seen deleted scenes, some interactive games and BD interactive galleries – make this wonderful, limited-time-only package a must for animation fans and Disney buffs of all ages.

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 Blu-Ray/DVD (**½, 91/98 mins., R/Unrated, 2010; Paramount): The original “Paranormal Activity” felt in some ways like this decade’s version of “The Blair Witch Project”: a gimmicky type of pseudo-documentary from folks who had watched TV’s “Ghost Hunters” and utilized the show’s brand of “real-time” surveillance footage to sell its tale of a suburban haunting and the young couple affected by a demonic presence. Portions of it were a bit creepy, but when viewed outside the confines of a theater and the experience you get when watching a film with an audience, the picture was more of a one-trick funhouse ride than a rounded dramatic experience.

“Paranormal Activity 2" offers more of the same, yet in some ways this follow-up is a bit more polished, with director Tod Williams and writers Michael R. Perry, Christopher Landon and Tom Parst rehashing its predecessor’s most effective scares while adding a bit more intrigue with a storyline that involves Katie Featherston’s original character, her sister and family, and particularly her sister’s new baby. Predictable types of jolts occur, but they’re admittedly effective when they do, and despite its lack of an ending, “Paranormal Activity 2" still gets the job done. And at least it’s no “Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows”!

Paramount’s Blu-Ray disc offers a 1080p transfer of both the R-rated and Unrated versions of the movie with DTS Master Audio sound that’s extremely well-mixed. Extras include more “exclusive found footage,” and a DVD and digital copy also bundled within.

WAITING FOR SUPERMAN Blu-Ray (***½, 111 mins., 2010, PG; Paramount): Superior documentary from Davis Guggenheim (who previously helmed Al Gore’s global-warming treatise “An Inconvenient Truth”) fascinatingly, and shockingly, looks at the sad state of public education in the United States, profiling a series of young students across the country and how the system continuously lets them down. Guggenheim may not, ultimately, be saying anything that most of us don’t already know – it’s how he puts the message across (by focusing on the kids and how they are being personally affected) that makes “Waiting for Superman” so worthy, and indeed, Guggenheim pulls no punches when looking for people to blame (hello, teachers unions!) -- this coming from an avowed liberal as well.

It’s an effective, honest picture worth seeing no matter of your political ideology, and Paramount’s Blu-Ray disc includes additional content (four additional student/teacher stories; an interview with the director, etc.) plus an AVC encoded 1080p transfer and DTS Master Audio sound.

DUE DATE Blu-Ray (**½, 95 mins., 2010, R; Warner): Disappointing road-trip buddy comedy, a follow-up to “The Hangover” from director Todd Phillips, pairs Robert Downey, Jr. as a harried exec who has to travel cross-country with an aspiring actor/slacker (Zach Galifianakis) after an airplane incident...and has to make it back to the west coast in time to be with his wife (Michelle Monaghan) for the birth of their first child.

Over 20 years ago, we had a similar type of premise in John Hughes’ “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” and it regrettably says something about the state of modern cinema that “Due Date” recycles not only the core premise of that 1987 favorite but also steals liberally from other comedies, including “The Big Lebowski” among others. While perhaps younger viewers who have never seen those other, better films might find some laughs in “Due Date,” there’s no substitute for this film’s lack of heart – it’s all pre-programmed, focus-group approved “manic comedy” with the requisite gross-out gags and a running time that ensures we’re out right after the 90 minute mark...mechanical stuff and a real letdown from Phillips given the stars he had to work with here.

Warner’s Blu-Ray disc does offer a pleasant AVC encoded 1080p transfer with DTS Master Audio sound and extras including additional scenes, two featurettes, the complete “Two and a Half Men” scene glimpsed at the picture’s end, a gag reel, and a digital copy for portable media players.

RED HILL Blu-Ray (**½, 97 mins., 2010, R; Sony): Australian western from writer, producer, director and editor Patrick Hughes offers some fairly well-executed action sequences along with a plot that’s only somewhat compelling.

Ryan Kwanten plays a constable who moves to the small town of Red Hill along with his pregnant wife, only to have a big criminal (Tom E. Lewis) escape on his first day on the job. Lewis wants pay back for his prison time, so he rounds up a posse and comes back to exact revenge on the men who done ‘em wrong.
Equal parts Robert Rodriguez, John Ford and John Carpenter, Hughes’s strengths are clearly with his directorial skills, and “Red Hill” gets the job done in spite of a mostly predictable plot, as well as a weird supernatural-like element involving a panther that really doesn’t work. Still, the film is interesting and effective enough for what it is, and Sony’s Blu-Ray disc boasts a fine 1080p transfer with DTS Master Audio sound.

Criterion New Releases

The pungent script of Clifford Odets and Ernest Lehman (adapted from Lehan’s “novelette”), the searing performances of Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis, the smoky, jazz infused score by Elmer Bernstein, vivid black-and-white cinematography from James Wong Howe and direction by Alexnader Mackendrick that keeps the entire production in check are what makes SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS (***½, 96 mins., 1957) one of the more memorable films of the late ‘50s.

Lehman’s tale of the poisonous relationship between a gossip columnist (Lancaster) and a press agent hustler (Curtis) makes for an atmospheric portrait of New York City, Broadway and “show biz” circa 1957, and its assets are all enhanced by Criterion outstanding Blu-Ray edition, newly available this month.

A new digital restoration from the original 35mm negative preserves the movie’s location shooting and the stylized visuals, all with its natural film grain intact, while excellent extras include a commentary with historian James Naremore; a 1986 documentary on the director; a 1973 doc on James Wong Howe; a video interview with critic-author Neal Gabler, who discusses Walter Winchell and how he served as the model for Lancaster’s character; a video interview with director James Mangold about his relationship with the director; and a booklet featuring Lehman short stories, a critical analysis of the film and material about Odets from Mackendrick’s book.

Luchino Visconti’s 1954 melodrama SENSO (123 mins.) also joins the Criterion Collection this month.

Martin Scorsese and Guiseppe Rotunno consulted this Film Foundation/Cineteca di Bologna digital restoration of Visconti’s colorful 1954 production, which is here presented in a vivid AVC encoded 1080p (1.33) transfer in its original Italian dialogue with English subtitles.

Extensive supplemental features include “The Wanton Countess,” a rare English version of the picture; a Making Of documentary newly produced for this Criterion release; a documentary on the picture, opera and “Senso” entitled “Viva Verdi”; a visual appreciation of the film by critic Peter Cowie; a 1996 BBC retrospective on Visconti; newly translated English subtitles and booklet notes, including extracts from star Farley Granger’s autobiography.

More contemporary fare rounds out the other Criterion Blu-Ray releases this month:

Hirokazu Kore-eda’s STILL WALKING (114 mins., 2008) follows a Japanese family in a “day in the life” drama that’s both simple and profound in its expression of human emotions. Criterion’s Blu-Ray disc includes a director/cinematographer approved AVC encoded 1080p (1.85) transfer with 2.0 stereo DTS Master audio; video interviews with Kore-eda and photographer Yutaka Yamazaki; a documentary on the picture’s production; the trailer; and a booklet offering both an appreciation of the film from critic Dennis Lim and even recipes for food dishes shown in the film.

Finally, Andrea Arnold’s FISH TANK (122 mins., 2009) also graces the Criterion Collection in Feburary. Arnold’s acclaimed British film boasts a striking star turn from young Katie Jarvis as a teenager, living with her sister and mother in Essex’s projects, who deals with adolescence and her blooming sexuality – particularly when her mom brings home her new boyfriend (Michael Fassbender).

Natrurally shot and superbly performed, “Fish Tank” arrives on Blu-Ray in a digital transfer approved by Arnold (1.33, 1080p AVC encode) with DTS 2.0 sound and extras including three of Arnold’s earlier short movies; an interview with actor Kierston Wareing; an audio interview with Fassbender; audition footage; a stills gallery; the trailer; and booklet notes sporting an essay from critic Ian Christie. Recommended!

New from Fox

THELMA AND LOUISE Blu-Ray (**½, 129 minutes, 1991, R; MGM): Maybe it's just me -- and I freely admit I'm not a woman (what a revelation, right?) -- but I've never been able to get into “Thelma and Louise.” I've tried several times: once when the movie came out in 1991, then again on laserdisc a short time later, and a few years ago on DVD.

Now MGM has released a superb Blu-Ray set, filled with terrific supplements courtesy of the fine folks at Scott Free, and once more I tried, and failed, to find what all the fuss was about in this Ridley Scott-directed, Callie Khouri-written female buddy picture.

Of course, that latter aspect had much to do about the fuss: gal pals Thelma (Geena Davis) and Louise (Susan Sarandon) get into trouble shortly after taking to the highway and temporarily leaving their boring lives behind. Thelma is hit on at a club by seedy Timothy Carhart, and his subsequent attempts to rape her and espouse the views of American white trash result in Louise shooting him and the pair becoming a pair of outlaws pursued by cop Harvey Keitel.

The movie looks great, the lead performances are excellent, and Hans Zimmer's score is perfect, so what is it that I've never found captivating about the "feminine empowerment" story of “Thelma and Louise”? For starters, Khouri's script -- while doing an excellent job developing the two protagonists -- runs into a brick wall midway through the movie, and dramatically peters out as it lumbers along to its less than satisfying (though highly memorable) ending. I also found that the film's leisurely pace and vivid locations of the American Southwest, while perfectly stylish, often try to hide how simplistic the central story is. I know there are plenty of T&L fans out there, but this is one of my least favorite Scott films, with the filmmaker's direction sometimes playing at odds with Khouri's character-driven script. The movie looks and feels like an epic, and yet something grittier and more introspective would have suited the story better -- not to mention a quicker pace.

That said, if you are a fan of “Thelma and Louise,” this tremendously produced Blu-Ray set is a must-buy. As with prior Scott films in high-def, the added resolution enhances the visuals of the director and cinematographer Adrian Biddle immeasurably, while the DTS Master Audio sound does a perfect job handling Hans Zimmer’s score. Supplements from earlier DVDs have been ported over (Scott's commentary, the alternate ending), including nearly 30 minutes worth of deleted/extended scenes culled from the workprint, a new documentary, Scott’s commentary, plus an older, informative commentary track with Sarandon, Davis, and Khouri – all three discussing together the film and its legacy over the years.

Also new from MGM and Fox this week are Blu-Ray editions of the Hoffman-Cruise box-office smash (and multiple Oscar winner) RAIN MAN (***, 133 mins., 1988, R) and MOONSTRUCK (****, 102 mins., 1987, PG), director Norman Jewison’s charming romantic comedy that won Cher a deserved Oscar for her role as an Italian Brooklyn widow who falls for the brother (Nicolas Cage) of her new fiancee (Danny Aiello). Vincent Gardenia and Olympia Dukakis are equally superb in this rich, hilarious and winning film that also copped Oscars for Dukakis (Supporting Actress) and John Patrick Shanley (Original Script), with nominations extended to Gardenia, Jewison, and the film itself for Best Picture.

Both films offer solid, if not spectacular, AVC encoded transfers with DTS Master Audio sound and most of the extras from their prior DVD Special Edition releases.

UNSTOPPABLE Blu-Ray (**½, 98 mins., 2010, PG-13; Fox): Last winter’s tepid multiplex releases could be summed up by Tony Scott’s by-the-numbers action-thriller “Unstoppable,” which wanted to do for trains what “Speed” did for public transportation buses. Here, Denzel Washington and Chris Pine try and stop their runaway locomotive – packed with toxic chemicals – from obliterating Scranton Pennsylvania. Think they make it out alive? Slickly made and thankfully not overstuffed with subplots (the film runs a scant 98 minutes – a record for the director), “Unstoppable” is still predictable, formula filler, which unsurprisingly failed to make much of a mark at the box-office. Fox’s Blu-Ray disc does look real sharp and has a rollicking DTS Master Audio soundtrack, along with a few extras including commentary from the director, standard Making Of featuretes, and a digital copy.

WILD TARGET Blu-Ray (**, 98 mins., 2010, PG-13; Fox): Uneasy remake of a French comedy fails to gel under the direction of veteran comedy director Jonathan Lynn. Here, Emily Blunt plays a thief being tracked by a hitman (Bill Nighy) who has a change of heart and is enchanted by her free-spiritedness; their relationship and her subsequent involvement with an innocent bystander (Harry Potter’s Rupert Grint) makes for a somewhat painful exercise in would-be comedic mayhem, as Lucinda Coxon’s script just doesn’t provide the terrific leads with much to work with. Fox’s Blu-Ray disc includes an AVC encoded 1080p transfer, DTS Master Audio soundtrack and one brief featurette with Blunt.

Also New on Blu-Ray

YOU WILL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER Blu-Ray (**, 99 mins., 2010, R; Sony): Two couples (Anthony Hopkins and Gemma Jones; Naomi Watts and Josh Brolin) seek pleasure outside their married confines in this new feature from Woody Allen, which has to rank as one of the veteran comedian-filmmaker’s more minor outings. Shot in London with mostly Spanish financing, Allen’s ensemble casting is a bit of a mixed bag here – Antonio Banderas and Freida Pinto fare better as the catalysts for Watts and Brolin’s respective affairs than Lucy Punch does as a hooker who enchants Hopkins – while Allen’s characters simply aren’t very interesting. “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger” meanders its way through its 99 minutes on a (too) leisurely scale, offering a few twists that come off as too little, too late in its final act. Sony’s Blu-Ray looks terrific, anyway, with Vilmos Zsigmond’s cinematography appearing crisp and detailed in 1080p. 3-channel DTS Master Audio sound comprises a typically minimalist Allen audio presentation.

ALL-STAR SUPERMAN Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital Copy (76 mins., 2011, PG; Warner): Eagerly anticipated animated rendition of the popular “All-Star Superman” comic book from Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely – which effectively “remixed” iconic elements from the Superman mythos with its own take and stylized design – proves to be something of a disappointment.

Here, Superman confronts his own (im)mortality, has a final run-in with Lex Luthor, romances Lois Lane for the last time and meets future Kryptonians in a plot that extracts many narrative strands from its source material, yet fails to place them into a cohesive whole. The underwhelming story is further compounded by disappointing voice work, from James Denton’s tepid reading of the Man of Steel to “Mad Men”’s Christina Hendricks’ surprisingly bland Lois Lane. They’re so weak that they fail to add the proper nuances to material that cried out for a more effective, dramatic performance.

The animation is quite good, and Warner’s Blu-Ray offers an eye-popping 1080p transfer and DTS Master Audio soundtrack, but the final result doesn’t really work – like a bizarre cross between “Superman: The Animated Series” and “Watchmen.”

Warner’s Blu-Ray release also includes a DVD and digital copy, plus commentary from Morrison and producer Bruce Timm, a lengthy interview on the comic’s history, a digital comic, more of Morrison’s original sketches, and a preview of the upcoming “Green Lantern” direct-to-video animated movie.

DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS Blu-Ray (***, 100 mins., 1971, Not Rated; Blue Underground): One of the more sensual vampire films of its decade, Harry Kumel’s enchanting “Daughters of Darkness” arrives on Blu-Ray in a fine presentation from Blue Underground.

Kumel’s film is light on horror and heavy on sexuality, as it probes the relationship between a pair of newlyweds (John Karlen, Danielle Ouimet) who have the misfortune of running into the legendary undead Countess Elizabeth Bathory (Delphine Seyrig) and her “companion” (Andrea Rau) at a Belgium coastal resort.

There’s blood and occasional flashes of violence, but “Daughters” is more erotic than horrifying, which makes it a refreshing change of pace from many offerings in its genre.

Blue Underground’s 1080p transfer is very good, offering nice detail considering the elements involved. The DTS HD mono sound is acceptable, while extras include two commentaries (one with Kumel, another with John Karlen and genre expert David Del Valle), interviews with the director and stars, the trailer, radio spots, and even a standard-def presentation of Vicente Aranda’s 1972 “The Blood Splattered Bride.”

TOP GEAR 14 Blu-Ray (406 mins., BBC)
TOP GEAR 15 Blu-Ray (730 mins., BBC): Seasons 14 and 15 of the long-running, hugely popular BBC series are now out on Blu-Ray in terrific 1080i HD transfers, offering Jeremy, Richard and James zooming around with celebrity guests including Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz, Rupert Grint, Eric Bana, Michael Sheen, Guy Ritchie, and various F1 racers. Extras include selected audio commentaries, outtakes, extended scenes, stereo soundtracks and more goodies for “Top Gear” fans.

FOR COLORED GIRLS Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital Copy (**, 134 mins., 2010, R; Lionsgate)
TYLER PERRY’S HOUSE OF PAYNE Volume 6 DVD (480 mins., 2009; Lionsgate): Tyler Perry is everywhere these days (get ready – he’s about to take over Morgan Freeman’s role of investigator Alex Cross in a new relaunch of the James Patterson books!), and among Lionsgate’s new releases this month are a pair of Perry’s big and small-screen offerings.

“For Colored Girls” is a horribly melodramatic ensemble film, based on the acclaimed 1975 stage play by Ntozake Shange, following the hardships of nine African-American women through assorted relationships and modern social issues. Shange’s words likely were more powerful on stage in their era than they are here, since as well-shot as this Perry written-directed effort is (kudos to cinematographer Alexander Grusynski), there’s no denying that something was simply lost in translation to the big screen. The superb cast tries their best, yet it’s ultimately a losing battle.

Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray edition of “For Colored Girls” also sports a DVD and digital copy of the 2010 film, along with extras including an interactive documentary, numerous featurettes, an AVC encoded 1080p transfer and DTS Master Audio.

“House of Payne,” meanwhile, is Perry’s popular TBS comedy, which Lionsgate has brought to DVD once again in the form of a sixth volume compilation, offering episodes 101-124 from the series. 1.33 full-screen transfers and 5.1 stereo soundtracks are on-hand in the no-frills three-disc set.

MEMENTO Blu-Ray (**½, 113 mins., 2000, R; Lionsgate): Christopher Nolan’s breakthrough feature arrives on Blu-Ray this month in an excellent Lionsgate package that fans ought to appreciate. As for me, I’ve never been a huge fan of the picture – in fact, going back 10 years, here’s my original review:

“Nolan's film has a central hook that's fascinating, if not somewhat prone to problematic plot holes: the entire story is told in reverse, opening with short-term memory sufferer Guy Pearce's murder of Joe Pantoliano, then going back to establish the true identity of the characters and the context in which it took place. Pearce keeps track of his "case" by scribbling down notes on Polaroid photos of people he meets along the way.

It's an undeniably intriguing idea, and even though the structure itself becomes a bit confining (Pearce's repetitious rehash of clues feels like you're playing a PC game), Nolan keeps you hooked simply to find out what the fuss is all about.

The novelty of the film's premise aside, I was ultimately disappointed in the movie because the story itself -- once finally revealed -- isn't anywhere near as interesting as the central idea. You never engage in the characters or the "plot" in ordinary dramatic terms since the movie is a game where you're trying to piece together clues, people, and how they all fit together.

I wouldn't have minded this at all if the pay-off was worth the wait, but I found the resolution to be a muddled let-down -- making what came before it into a routine (and quite unbelievable) crime-thriller that leaves a fair degree of questions unanswered. It isn't entirely a cheat, but it's not worthy of the complex puzzle that lead up to it, either. After all that time, all I could think of at the end was, ‘THAT was it?’

Of course, Nolan's intent was to create a point-of-view unlike other film "noir" thrillers, on that level alone, he succeeded admirably. The movie is technically well-made and eerie, but I think it was a shame Nolan -- adapting his brother Jonathan's short story -- couldn't have found a more intriguing mystery to use as the basis for reverse-time storytelling. Certainly the filmmaker, based on his efforts here, is a talent well worth watching.”

Indeed, Nolan has fulfilled that promise with his blockbuster (if somewhat soulless) hits “Inception” and “The Dark Knight,” and Lionsgate’s 10th Anniversary of “Memento” includes a new commentary with the director, along with a solid retrospective documentary on the film. Other extras (included on Sony’s prior DVD) include an IFC interview with Nolan, Jonathan Nolan’s original “Memento Mori” story, tattoo sketches and other goodies. Lionsgate’s AVC encoded 1080p transfer is just fine and the DTS Master Audio sound solidly engineered.

CHAPLIN Blu-Ray (**½, 135 mins., 1992, PG-13; Lionsgate): Richard Attenborough’s well-meaning but uneven biopic of the legendary comedian and filmmaker -- a box-office flop upon its 1993 release despite its all-star cast (including Robert Downey Jr. in the title role) – hits Blu-Ray for the first time in a reprise of its 2007 DVD (it even retains the “15th Anniversary” moniker). The AVC encoded 1080p transfer is mediocre, unfortunately, offering a bit of DNR filtering and a subdued DTS Master soundtrack housing a melancholy John Barry score. Regrettably, the disc, like its DVD counterpart, doesn’t include any deleted scenes, as Attenborough’s original cut was reportedly three or four hours in length and the director claimed those edits damaged the picture -- yet all we get here is the same 135-minute theatrical version as before, albeit in a HD transfer that’s far from spectacular.

THE LAST UNICORN Blu-Ray/DVD (***, 1982, 93 mins., G; Lionsgate): This 1982 Rankin/Bass adaptation of Peter S. Beagle’s book (scripted by the author for the screen) was a troubled production that received scant distribution before becoming widely available on video in the heyday of VHS. Over the years the movie has developed a strong cult following in spite of its turbulent origins, and Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray disc – an HD upgrade over their DVD from a couple of years ago – rewards its fans with a top-notch AVC encoded transfer that’s a huge upgrade on the tepid VHS releases most of us grew up with – unlike “Chaplin” above, grain is preserved, so appreciable detail abounds throughout. The DTS Master Audio sound does justice to Jimmy Webb’s tuneful, mellow score (with America performing the memorable title song), and extras include new commentary with Beagle and publisher Connor Cochran, a 2010 Art Contest gallery, an eight-minute talk with Beagle, the original trailer (narrated by Ernie Anderson), a DVD copy, and a couple of interactive extras aimed at kids. The film is a poetic, surprisingly mature fantasy with a superb cast providing the vocal articulation for Beagle’s characters (Mia Farrow, Jeff Bridges, Alan Arkin, Christopher Lee, Angela Lansbury and Rene Auberjonis among them), and remains one of the more satisfying non-Disney animated films of the 1980s.

Also on DVD       

MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER XX DVD (Shout! Factory): MST3K fans worldwide should be sufficiently pleased with this latest four-disc anthology of episodes from the much-missed, long-running series.

Volume XX of MST3K’s DVD releases is highlighted by the inclusion of the hilarious “Master Ninja” TV movies – episodes edited together from the short-lived NBC series “The Master” with Lee Van Cleef and Timothy Van Patten – along with “The Magic Voyage of Sinbad” and “Project Moonbase.”

All four episodes are more hit-than-miss (no surprise with Joel Hodgson on-hand for the four shows), each fondly remembered by series fans, while all-new extras include an intro from star Trace Beaulieu, an interview with Bill McKinney (“Guest star” on Master Ninja), a 2010 Dragon-Con panel segment, four mini-posters, and a look at DP Jeff Stonehouse and his visual design for the series. Recommended!

THE LAST LOVECRAFT: RELIC OF CTHULHU DVD (79 mins., 2009, Not Rated; MPI): Amusing low-budget indie horror-comedy from director Henry Saine and writer Devin McGinn (who also co-stars) follows an everyday guy (Kyle Davis) who finds out he’s the descendant of horror novelist H.P. Lovecraft – and that not only were the monsters depicted in Lovecraft’s books real, but he’s been charged with protecting an ancient relic coveted by a Cthulhu-worshipping cult. Laughs and minor special effects mix in this free-wheeling, amusing good time, which has the presence of mind not to linger past its economical 79-minute running time; kudos to Saine and McGinn for crafting a good-natured horror comedy that genre fans ought to enjoy. MPI’s DVD includes a commentary from Saine, McGinn and Davis, plus an extened scene, pencil test, stills gallery and the trailer.

HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL Season 5, Volume 2 DVD (aprx. 8 hours, 1962; CBS): Popular western series, featuring Richard Boone’s memorable turn as Frisco gunslinger Paldadin, hits DVD again in a three-disc set from CBS. This package sports the latter 19 episodes from “Have Gun Will Travel”’s fifth season, presented in crisp B&W transfers with mono sound and no extras on-hand. Nevertheless, for vintage TV fans craving new DVD releases, western buffs ought to be sufficiently satisfied.

NEXT TIME: March video madness! 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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