2/8/11 Edition Twitter: THEAISLESEATCOM
TWILIGHT ZONE Season 3 on Blu-Ray
Image Releases Another Essential HD Package
Plus: 10, ALL ABOUT EVE, Acorn Titles & More

The last year has been a good one for Twilight Zone fans, and Image continues to ramp up the goodness with another superlative Blu-Ray box set for the show’s third season – one more outstanding compilation that's been appreciably enhanced over its prior DVD edition.

Generally regarded as the last hurrah for Rod Serling’s show (the fourth and fifth seasons suffered from an appreciable downward trend), the third foray into the Zone offers a handful of strong episodes: the curious "Two," with an “au natural” Elizabeth Montgomery and Charles Bronson as survivors of a future war; George Clayton Johnson’s memorable “A Game of Pool,” “Kick the Can,” and “Nothing in the Dark” (with a young Robert Redford); Serling’s seminal Zone classics “It’s a Good Life” and “To Serve Man,” plus the potent “Deaths-Head Revisited”; and Richard Matheson’s “Little Girl Lost,” which many view as a precursor to "Poltergeist," sporting an atmospheric score by Bernard Herrmann.

Herrmann’s isolated score is one of the many pleasures to be found in Image’s BD set, which reprises the prior DVD extras with superb, crisp HD detail added to the 37 episodes; blacks are deeper, contrasts more impressive, and the overall image that much more satisfying when viewed on an HDTV. Like their preceding “Definitive” TZ releases, the set is packed with outstanding supplements: numerous isolated score tracks (though many third-season shows contained tracked music from other episodes),19 brand-new commentaries plus the prior DVD commentaries from Leonard Nimoy, Bill Mumy, Jonathan Winters and others; vintage Serling clips from “The Garry Moore Show,” "Tell it to Groucho" and "Liar's Club"; trailers; 19 radio dramas; the original laugh track for "Cavender Is Coming"; an interview with actor Edson Stroll; a clip from the 1989 version of “A Game of Pool” and the third part of Zicree's 1978 audio interview with cinematographer George T. Clemens are just a few of the supplemental standouts.

Here's hoping Image completes the run of 'Zone Blu-Rays before 2011 is out, as few Blu-Ray releases offer the abundance of supplements and quality of content as the label’s Twilight Zone releases.

New From Criterion

A perfectly acted, somewhat pretentious, occasionally affecting character comedy-drama – which isn’t outrageously funny nor powerfully dramatic – James L. Brooks’ BROADCAST NEWS (***, 132 mins., 1987, R) receives the Criterion treatment this month in a deluxe edition offering a number of enlightening special features.

Brooks’ film career has been something of an enigma. After branching out from television (and an early career in newswriting), Brooks had a multiple Oscar winner in 1983's “Terms of Endearment,” then followed it with the well-reviewed and financially successful “Broadcast News” and a hit-or-miss succession of films since (the shot-as-a-musical 1994 flop “I’ll Do Anything,” 1997's hit “As Good As It Gets,” the 2004 Adam Sandler misfire “Spanglish” and this past December’s bomb “How Do You Know”).

The director’s original script profiles a love triangle where nobody, as Brooks mentions, ends up “winning”, set against the world of prime-time network news circa 1987. Brooks’ portrayal of the news business is quite prescient, particularly in its later stages where the network lays off workers due to budget cuts (something that’s been intensified almost 25 years later due to the rise of 24-hour news outlets and the decreased ratings the major networks receive on a daily basis), and the film has an atmospheric and believable backdrop – signaling the beginning of the end for network TV news as it once existed -- that makes it consistently interesting to watch.

The romantic angle of Brooks’ film, though, feels somewhat half-baked. Holly Hunter’s workaholic and not-particularly-likeable TV producer almost feels like a cliche, as she has feelings for a hard-working – though not especially bright  – up-and-coming anchorman (William Hurt) who’s aware of his shortcomings as well as a fellow network reporter (Albert Brooks) who also pines after her. There’s certainly an improvisational nature to some of their scenes together, but while the performances are spot-on and Brooks lets the film breathe in a way so few movies today do, there’s not a lot of dramatic fire built up in his screenplay. The characters get along fairly well, there are some cute moments between them, but it all ends up building to a payoff that we never get. In 1987 that might have been audacious, yet viewed from a distance, the resolution (or lack thereof) suggests that Brooks wasn’t entirely sure what he was going after (something echoed in the extensive alterations to Bill Conti’s original score, which included bringing in Brooks’ “Terms of Endearment” collaborator Michael Gore to add sappier cues to the soundtrack).

Criterion’s terrific Blu-Ray presentation gets to the heart of Brooks’ directorial process and includes an alternate ending to the movie which, if it had been polished and cut properly, might have given the film the emotional payoff we never receive. It’s presented here for the first time along with an insightful and consistently listenable commentary from Brooks himself, who discusses the picture’s production, location shooting in Washington D.C. and working with the cast. A number of deleted scenes are also included, along with vintage promotional interviews and featurettes, and a lengthy look at Brooks’ career in TV and film. There’s also an interview with CBS news producer Susan Zirinsky, who served as a consultant/role model for Hunter’s part as well as an associate producer on the film.

“Broadcast News” is one of those ‘80s critical darlings that comes off as somewhat overpraised, but nevertheless offers excellent performances and some vividly realized scenes that make it well worth revisiting in spite of its unevenness. Criterion’s excellent AVC encoded transfer and DTS Master 2.0 soundtrack further enhance the material, making for a fine addition to their early 2011 releases.

More Catalog Titles in HD

10 Blu-Ray (***, 122 mins., 1979, R; Warner): Fresh off the resurgence of the “Pink Panther” series, writer-director Blake Edwars struck more box-office gold with the 1979 comedy “10,” the film featuring the memorable shot of Bo Derek running slo-mo down the beach in an image that defined late ‘70s cinema.

Dudley Moore also hit the big-time with his starring role in “10,” launching what would be nearly a decades worth of comedy roles as a successful composer going through a midlife crisis, bickering with girlfriend Julie Andrews and seeing in Derek the potential for a memorable fling.

Edwards’ romantic comedy, spiced up with a bit more sex than most of his pictures, certainly makes for an easy-going good time, the performances appropriately laid back and the director’s flair for Panavision cinematography on full display. Moore’s adroit physical comedy skills deftly blend with his musical talents (the sequence where he plays Mancini’s lovely “It’s Easy to Say” on the piano for bartender Brian Dennehy and would-be conquest Dee Wallace is certainly one of the more memorable moments), and the film is carried by one of Mancini’s finest Edwards soundtracks. It’s more successful with its comedic interludes than some of its dramatic passages, but on the whole, “10" ranks as one of Edwards’ most entertaining non-Panther features.

“10" hits Blu-Ray in a nice looking 1080p transfer that shows its age at times. The DTS Master sound is derived from the film’s original mono mix and comes across as well as the source material allows. Extras include a brief, but fun, vintage five-minute featurette selling the picture, along with the theatrical trailer.

Just the right antidote to the miserable winter most of us are having across the country.

Also new this week from Warner are two bona-fide ‘70s classics, also hitting Blu-Ray for the first time in satisfying new HD presentations.

ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN (****, 138 mins., 1976, PG; Warner), Alan J. Pakula’s hugely acclaimed chronicle of Bob Woodward & Carl Bernstein’s Watergate reportage with Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman memorably essaying the intrepid Washington Post reporters, hits Blu-Ray in a Digibook release sporting a number of terrific special features: commentary from Redford, a half-hour Making Of retrospective offering interviews with the stars and Woodward and Bernstein, an additional interview with the authors, a featurette on “Deep Throat” (aka former CIA associate director Mark Felt), a vintage promo featurette, the trailer, and a seven-minute excerpt from “Dinah!” with the host interviewing Jason Robards. The 1080p transfer looks a bit soft in places but offers appreciable detail, at least, over the old DVD, while DTS Master sound offers the original monophonic soundtrack.

Housed in a standard Blu-Ray case, Paddy Chayefsky’s blistering, still-relevant satire NETWORK (***½, 121 mins., 1976, R; Warner) stars Peter Finch as an aging network newscaster about to be forced into retirement until he announces his intentions to commit suicide on his final broadcast – thereby causing a spike in ratings for its fourth-placed network. Chayefsky’s biting script may be pretentious at times with its speechifying but there’s no denying the terrific performances of Finch (Oscar winner for Best Actor), Faye Dunaway (Best Actress), William Holden, Robert Duvall, Beatrice Straight (Best Supporting Actress) and early turns from Tim Robbins and Lance Henriksen, all under the watchful eye of director Sidney Lumet.

Warner’s Blu-Ray disc looks very good indeed with its 1080p transfer and DTS Master mono soundtrack, while extras include a six-part Making Of documentary; a Dinah Shore interview with Chayefsky; commentary from Lumet; a “Private Screenings” TCM conversation between Lumet and host Robert Osborne; and the original trailer. Recommended!

ALL ABOUT EVE Blu-Ray (****, 138 mins., 1950; Fox)
AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER (***½, 115 mins., 1957; Fox): Fox’s initial “Digibook” Blu-Ray releases offer matching HD presentations for two Golden Age classics: Joseph Mankiewicz’s brilliant 1950 tale of backstage drama “All About Eve,” as well as the Cinemascope soaper “An Affair to Remember” starring Deborah Kerr and Cary Grant.

Repackaged in 2008 as part of Fox’s “Cinema Classics” DVD line (and its excellent Bette Davis box-set), “All About Eve,” the 1950 Best Picture Oscar-winner, is presented in a limited-edition Blu-Ray set offering a somewhat hazy looking HD transfer (there seems to be a bit of filtering going on, not unlike Fox’s earlier “Diary of Anne Frank” Blu-Ray, while contrasts seem too hot at times), while bountiful extras – carried over from the 2008 DVD – include an isolated score track of Alfred Newman’s soundtrack, commentary from Celeste Holm, director Joseph Mankiewicz’s son Christopher, and biographer Ken Griest; another commentary with author Sam Staggs; numerous featurettes, the AMC “Backstory” profile of the film, trailers, and a handful of Fox Movietone newsreels. Mono and stereo DTS Master soundtracks are included on the audio side, while a 24-page booklet and the trailer are also on-hand.

“An Affair to Remember,” meanwhile, also benefits from the HD treatment as its wide, colorful 2.35 frame looks superior to “Eve” on Blu-Ray. Extras for this classic Leo McCarey soaper include commentary from author-historian Joseph McBride and Marni Nixon; a handful of retrospective featurettes touching upon the work of Grant, Kerr, McCarey, the film’s production design and producer Jerry Wald; an AMC Backstory episode; and more Fox Movietone newsreels. The trailer and another 24-page glossy Digibook package rounds out another essential release for Golden Age HD fans.

Also New on Blu-Ray

LIFE AS WE KNOW IT Blu-Ray/DVD (**, 114 mins., 2010, PG-13; Warner): Katherine Heigl’s streak of box-office successes hit a speed bump last year after the mediocre “Killers” (an instantly forgettable team-up with Heigl and Ashton Kutcher) and the fall’s dreary romantic-comedy “Life as We Know It.”

Greg Berlanti’s saccharine film offers the feel-good premise of what would happen if a couple die in a tragic accident, only to have their newborn infant raised by a bickering, tiresome couple of workaholic thirtysomethings? From this uneasy premise comes a standard-issue mix of infant jokes (think “Three Men and a Baby” for the rom-com crowd) and genre dramatics as Heigl and Josh Duhamel spar, fall for each other, argue and make up as they try and keep the best interests of their cute toddler goddaughter in mind. It’s pretty tired stuff, with only an occasional laugh or two in the Ian Deitchman-Kristin Rusk Robinson script livening things up.

Warner’s Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital combo pack sports a very nice AVC encoded 1080p transfer of the film with DTS Master Audio sound and extras including additional scenes and a pair of fluffy featurettes.

HOODWINKED Blu-Ray/DVD (***, 81 mins., 2005, G; Vivendi): Cute CGI-animated take on the Little Red Riding Hood story puts a manic, Warner Bros.-esque comedic spin on the tale. “Hoodwinked,” from directors Cory Edwards, Tony Leech and Todd Edwards, is a fun, short film for kids that won’t insult the intelligence of most adults, since the humor is fast-paced and often hits the mark. Unfortunately some of Todd Edwards’ original songs were cut in half (why, Weinsteins, why? The movie is only 81 minutes long!), though you can at least sample their unexpurgated versions in the deleted scenes. In addition to the latter, Weinstein’s Blu-Ray disc also includes a music video, the trailer, a featurette, and commentary from the filmmakers. The 1080p transfer and DTS Master Audio soundtrack are both excellent, while a copy of the DVD is also on-hand.

YOU AGAIN Blu-Ray/DVD (**, 105 mins., 2010, PG; Touchstone/Buena Vista): Poor Kristen Bell hasn’t had very much luck since the cancellation of her fan-favorite series “Veronica Mars.” Despite taking the title role in the Judd Apatow-produced comedy “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” Bell’s big-screen roles have found the talented young actress floundering in silly formula vehicles like Disney’s “When in Rome” and “You Again” – the second of her two-picture deal with the studio, and a film that’s actually inferior to its predecessor.

In Andy Fickman’s bland outing, Bell plays a typical twentysomething who sees her high-school past come back to haunt her when her former tormenter (Odette Yustman) becomes engaged to her brother, all the while Bell’s mom (Jamie Lee Curtis) ends up sparring with her former rival (Sigourney Weaver), who’s also Yustman’s aunt.

Moe Jelline’s script is pretty much pat and predictable all the way, but the cast does manage to make the most out of the material, with Kristin Chenoweth and Betty White adding a little bit of life, at least, to their supporting roles. “You Again” was a modest performer at the box-office last fall and won’t do much (or anything) to off-set Bell being seemingly typecast now in dumb comedies; here’s hoping she picks superior projects from here on out.

Disney’s Blu-Ray disc looks great with its 1080p transfer and DTS Master soundtrack. Extras include 11 deleted scenes, bloopers, behind-the-scenes segments and a “Funny or Die” interview spoof. The DVD edition is bundled inside the combo pack as well, though it only offers a few of the same featurettes and three deleted scenes.    

NEVER LET ME GO Blu-Ray (***, 104 mins., 2010, R; Fox): Exceedingly well-acted and atmospheric rendering of the Kazuo Ishiguro bestseller is nevertheless a truly depressing cinematic experience as it follows a trio of youngsters (Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and future “Spider-Man” Andrew Garfield) who grow up in an English boarding school with the sole purpose of becoming organ donors. All three performances are superb, director Mark Romanek does a fine job establishing a strong sense of (semi-futuristic) time and place, yet I found the film ultimately extremely maudlin to sit through. Fox’s Blu-Ray disc looks great: the AVC encoded 1080p transfer is top-notch, the DTS Master Audio sound nicely engineered with a Rachel Portman score, while lightweight extras include a few featurettes and samples of Romanek’s on-set photography.

CONVICTION Blu-Ray (**½, 103 mins., 2010, R; Fox): Hilary Swank gives a fine performance as Betty Anne Waters, a Rhode Island woman who spent almost two decades trying to get her brother (Sam Rockwell) out of prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Director Tony Goldwyn and writer Pamela Gray have a compelling real-life story to tell here, but they’re only somewhat successful in rendering Waters’ long but eventually successful fight for her brother’s freedom on the big screen; the performances are all fine (Minnie Driver, Melissa Leo, Peter Gallagher and Juliette Lewis comprise the top-notch supporting cast), but the film moves somewhat unevenly thorough its 103-minute running time, leaving one feeling that sections of it may have been cut too tightly. Nevertheless, its central story is still compelling and Swank and Rockwell’s performances are enough to warrant a view. Fox’s Blu-Ray disc boasts a 1080p transfer with DTS Master Audio and only one featurette, offering a conversation between Goldwyn and the real Betty Anne Waters.

DOCTOR WHO - A CHRISTMAS CAROL Blu-Ray (60 mins., 2009; BBC): Special holiday-themed episode of the long-running BBC series arrives on Blu-Ray. Here, Amy and Rory are trapped on a space liner about to go down in flames, and Dr. Who has to save them by saving the soul of a Scrooge-like miser. Fans will enjoy this colorful episode presented here on Blu-Ray in a 1080p transfer with DTS HD audio and extras including “Doctor Who Confidential” and “Doctor Who at the Proms 2010.”

Vintage & Family Finds

BRASS BANCROFT OF THE SECRET SERVICE DVD (four movies aprx. 60 minutes each; Warner Archive): Last column I reviewed Warner’s “Ronald Reagan Centennial Collection” anthology, a terrific retrospective of the future President’s tenure on the big-screen. Not to be outdone, the Warner Archive has released a terrific vintage package of their own: the complete, four-movie “Brass Bancroft of the Secret Service” compilation – four hour-long B-programmers starring Reagan as an intrepid Secret Service agent taking on Nazi spies, counterfeiters and other evil-dooers.

Dated (of course) but fairly entertaining stuff, Warner has compiled the four features in a two-disc set exclusively available from the Archive itself. The films look as crisp as can be expected given the age of the elements and the modest nature of the productions.

WHEELIE AND THE CHOPPER BUNCH Complete Series (1974-75, 275 mins., Warner Archive): I grew up watching a lot of cartoons, some newly produced for Saturday morning consumption, while other offerings were regurgitated in syndication during the week. Therefore, as a kid, you never knew when one cartoon might have been older than another, except when Bugs Bunny would be singing about a ‘40s or ‘50s tune and said reference, even to a youngster, would seem antiquated.

So even though the one and only season of “Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch” might’ve aired when I was just a newborn, I nevertheless grew up on the show years later. It’s certainly one of the more endearing Hanna-Barbera offerings, I’ve found, since its red Volkswagen Beetle protagonist never spoke, and was able to perform his stunts to big crowds, romance girlfriend Rote Ree and avoid bad guys Chopper, Revs, Riser and Scrambles without merely recycling last week’s “Scooby-Doo” mystery plot. It’s typical HB animation and storytelling, but with a bit more thought to the construction of its stories than usual (there weren’t any human characters on the show either).

“Wheelie” has made it to DVD in the form of a three-disc Warner Archives exclusive release. All 13 episodes are on-tap here in good-looking 4:3 transfers with mono sound, making for the new year’s first must-have release for nostalgic Hanna-Barbera lovers.

BEVERLY HILLS CHIHUAHUA 2 Blu-Ray/DVD (84 mins., 2011, G; Disney): Disney’s live-action “Beverly Hills Chihuahua” was a box-office hit, grossing nearly $100 million domestically – good, but apparently not good enough to warrant a feature-film sequel. Instead, the studio has pared down the second installment as a still-adorably silly new direct-to-video follow-up which finds mismatched canine couple Papi and Chloe now married and raising a litter of new puppies (seems like every dog-centric movie franchise, whether it’s this, the “Beethoven” movies or the “Air Bud” films, ends up throwing puppies into the mix sooner than later).

Its predecessor’s human stars (including Piper Perabo) were obviously not brought back, making “BHC2" a dog-centric affair (even more than the original), yet kids who enjoyed the prior comedy’s modest quotient of entertainment ought to get a sufficient wag or two out of this one as well.

Disney’s Blu-Ray presentation of “Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2" includes a vibrant AVC encoded 1080p transfer and DTS Master Audio soundtrack, with extras including a blooper reel, music video and interactive game. The DVD edition, bundled inside, offers the same extras sans the interactive game, along with a 16:9 (1.78) transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack.

CLIFFORD THE BIG RED DOG - BEST BUDDIES DVD (66 mins., 2010): Six episodes from the award-winning PBS children’s series reach DVD for the first time, including “A Ferry Tale,” “Cleo Comes to Town,” “Promises Promises,” “Jetta’s Sneak Peak,” “Ears Have It,” and “Saturday Morning.” Full-screen 1.33 transfers and 5.1 audio adorn the single-disc release.

CARE BEARS TO THE RESCUE MOVIE DVD (65 mins., 2009; Lionsgate): Colorful animated hyjinks from the most recent incarnation of the “Care Bears” animated franchise offers just over an hour of entertainment for kids, plus an interactive game and a couple of bonus episodes. 16:9 widescreen transfer, 5.1 audio.

New From History/A&E/NewVideo

ICE ROAD TRUCKERS Season 4 Blu-Ray (12 hrs., 2010; A&E/NewVideo): Alex, Hugh, Jack, and Lisa are back driving critical cargo across treacherous Alaskan ice roads in this fourth season of the History reality series. All 16 episodes from “Ice Road Truckers”’ fourth season are presented here in a four-disc Blu-Ray set from NewVideo, boasting crisp and impressive 1080p transfers, DTS 2.0 Master Audio soundtracks and additional footage for extras.

HOW THE EARTH WAS MADE Season 2 Blu-Ray (10 hrs., 2009-10; A&E/NewVideo): On-location shooting and scientific analysis mark this second season of the popular History Channel series, chronicling the origins of some of the Earth’s most well-known locations and geographical landmarks. The series’ 13 episodes are presented in 1080p widescreen with 2.0 DTS Master Audio and include the following shows: Grand Canyon, Vesuvius, Birth of the Earth, Sahara, Yosemite, The Rockies, Ring of Fire, Everest, Death Valley, Mt. St. Helens, Earth’s Deadliest Eruption, America’s Ice Age and America’s Gold. 

JEFFERSON DVD (91 mins., 2010; History/NewVideo): The life and times of Thomas Jefferson is documented in this interesting though not particularly in-depth chronicle of one of our Founding Fathers. This 90-minute documentary from History covers the basics of Jefferson’s political and personal life, making it sufficient for classroom viewing in particular, though history buffs might want more than its feature-length running time provides.

New From Acorn Entertainment

Two new Bill Moyers sets, an outstanding look at adapting the Bard, a value-priced collection for a popular ITV series and a well-received British WWII series are a part of Acorn’s early 2011 DVD releases.

DISCOVERING HAMLET (53 mins., 1990) first aired on PBS stations in 1990 and recounts the widely acclaimed adaptation of “Halmet” that launched Kenneth Branagh on the road to international fame. This hour-long documentary from filmmakers Mark Olshaker and Larry Klein (narrated by Patrick Stewart) follows Branagh, Derek Jacobi and company through four weeks of rehearsals, and while that ought to provide sufficient entertainment for Shakespeare enthusiasts alone, Acorn’s double-disc DVD set goes one step further and includes nearly four hours of extras: a new interview with Jacobi, nearly three-hours of extended production footage and cast/crew intervews; a 12-page viewer’s guide, including a history of the Renaissance Theatre Company; and more.

Two excellent anthologies of Bill Moyers’ PBS specials also hit DVD this winter from Acorn.

A WORLD OF IDEAS: WRITERS finds Moyers discussing a wide range of topics with award-winning authors including Isaac Asimov, Chinua Achebe, E.L. Doctorow, Carlos Fuentes, Nadine Gordimer, M. F.K. Fisher, Joseph Heller, Jeannette Haien, Toni Morrison, Bharati Mukherjee, Derek Walcott, August Wilson and Tom Wolfe. All 15 episodes are included plus over three additional hours of extras, comprised of bonus interviews from “Now with Bill Moyers” and “Bill Moyers Journal” featuring Alice Walker and others, while Acorn’s extras include a 16-page viewer’s guide with an introduction from Moyers and full bibliographies.

IN SEARCH OF THE CONSTITUTION, meanwhile, was originally produced to mark the Constituion’s Bicentennial, and offers an excellent, 11-part overview of America’s government, its history and contemporary application. Four Supreme Court justices, Judge Robert Bork, educators and legal experts join Moyers as he examines America’s past and current issues all involving the Constitution, with Acorn’s four-disc set sporting the complete series along with a 16-page viewer’s guide and updated information on the series participants.

British women who risked their lives as secret agents, behind the scenes in France during WWII, were the subject of the ITV series WISH ME LUCK, which starred Kate Buffery as a now-experienced operative working behind enemy lines as well as trying to bring a group of new recruits into the fold. Julian Glover, Jeremy Northam, and Jane Asher co-starred in this series which aired on PBS in the early ‘90s, and which arrives on DVD in the form of a two-disc Season 2 release from Acorn. Both 4:3 full-screen transfers and 2.0 stereo soundtracks are as satisfying as the material allows.

Finally, fans of the British crime thriller/domestic drama BLUE MURDER would do well to check out Acorn’s value-priced, nine-disc anthology featuring all 19 episodes from the 2003-09 ITV series. Caroline Quentin starred as a Manchester police detective trying to balance investigative work with her life at home as a single mother of four kids.

Acorn’s DVDs look superb; the 16:9 transfers and stereo soundtracks are all top-notch, while extras include text interviews with Quentin and co-star Ian Kelsey, a behind-the-scenes doc and filmographies for the principal players.

Exploitation, Horror & More on Blu-Ray

BAD BOYS Blu-Ray (***, 123 mins., 1983, R; Lionsgate): Sean Penn quickly shook off any attempts by Hollywood to typecast him as surfer-stoner Jeff Spicoli with his terrific performance in “Bad Boys” as a Chicago street hoodlum sentenced to juvenile prison after trying to rip off a drug dealer (Esai Morales) in this atmospheric, hard-hitting 1983 drama. Also featuring an early performance from Ally Sheedy and an effective score by Bill Conti, “Bad Boys” is a fairly tough, uncompromising youth picture that only turns formulaic in its second hour, culminating in a “big fight” climax whose outcome is pre-ordained. Despite that disappointment, Rick Rosenthal’s film is well-acted (Penn is superb) and shot, and Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray presents its original 123-minute version in a satisfying 1080p transfer and DTS Master 2.0 soundtrack. Extras include the trailer and a director commentary.
I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE Blu-Ray (101 mins., 1978, Not Rated; Anchor Bay)
I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE Blu-Ray (108 mins., 2010, Not Rated; Anchor Bay): One of the goriest, most exploitive horror films of all-time, the 1978 shocker “I Spit On Your Grave” was a low-budget affair written and directed by Meir Zarchi. Poor Camilee Keaton plays a woman who rents a cabin in the country, only to be attacked and then raped over and over by a group of degenerates – whom she then proceeds to turn the tables on, killing them off one-by-one in a number of, well, let’s just say memorable methods.

Crudely made, raw and disgusting, the original “I Spit” is not scary or dramatically potent – it’s simply shocking, and even by today’s standards it packs a potent punch. Its lack of music is also notable, so much that when I was in college, I grabbed a group of CDs and added a temp-soundtrack to portions of it with some friends – the results of which were a lot more entertaining than watching the film itself! (Nothing more hilarious than hearing the “Andy Griffith Show” theme play out over the end credits of this movie...okay, so you had to be there!)

The film was recently remade in the form of an even more reprehensible 2010 picture with Sarah Butler this time as the woman who’s degraded and later exacts revenge on the men who violated her. More violent, gorier and, if anything, even more unpleasant to watch, I’d bypass this remake and stick with the original “Day of the Woman” if you had  to see either of these films (but you’re probably best having avoided them altogether).

Anchor Bay brings both versions of “I Spit on Your Grave” to Blu-Ray next week in separate releases.

The 1978 version includes an amusing commentary from cult aficionado Joe Bob Briggs plus a commentary with director Meir Zarchi, along with a featurette, trailers, still galleries, radio spots and an alternate main title. The film is crisply detailed yet there’s no denying the low budget of the production, while Dolby TrueHD sound tries to make the most out of the coarse original mono mix.

The 2010 remake, meanwhile, receives a predictably sharper 1080p transfer with extras including commentary from director Steven R. Monroe and producer Lisa Hansen, along with a behind-the-scenes featurette, trailers, deleted scenes and a radio spot.

STAG NIGHT Blu-Ray and DVD (83 mins., 2008, R; Lionsgate)
PSYCH9 Blu-Ray and DVD (98 mins., 2009, R; Lionsgate): Two more entries in the “Ghost House Underground” indie horror series are toplined by “Psych9,” Andrew Shortell’s tale of a young woman (Sara Foster) who takes a job at a hospital where all kinds of oddball occurrences transpire – but what more do you need to know when Cary Elwes is one of the doctors? “Psych9" is pretty blah and indeed its ending is one of those “ooo, is it all real?” twists so predictable now that we’ve come to expect them – but at least the cast (Michael Biehn and Colleen Camp appear) is interesting enough. Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray sports a 1080p transfer with deleted scenes, outtakes, a Making Of and trailers on-hand for extras.

“Stag Night” is a lower-budgeted affair about a group of buddies on a night of craziness who get more than they bargained for when they run afoul of some subway-dwelling cannibals. Peter Dowling’s 2008 flick is, like “Psych9,” pretty lame, complete with a weak “shock” ending that only makes things worse.

Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray disc includes the regulation 1080p transfer along with DTS Master Audio sound, the trailer and one Making Of featurette. Both films are also available on DVD with the same extras, 16:9 transfers and 5.1 audio.

New on DVD

AMERICA AMERICA DVD (***½, 168 mins., 1963; Warner): Elia Kazan’s epic portrait of a Greek immigrant (Stathis Gialleis) and his journey from war-torn homeland to the U.S. was based on the experiences of Kazan’s own family, and finally hits DVD in a satisfying presentation from Warner Home Video. The studio’s dual-layered disc includes a crisp 16:9 (1.85) transfer with mono sound and an informative commentary from historian Foster Hirsch, who puts the multiple Oscar-nominee in the proper historical and cinematic context. “America America” is lengthy and at times a bit melodramatic, but it has a powerful message that resonates strongly in its concluding frames, and is likewise significant as being Kazan’s most personal film.

LIKE DANDELION DUST DVD (***, 104 mins., 2010, PG-13; Fox): Mira Sirvino and Barry Pepper play a working-class couple with a troubled past who struggle to regain custody of their now seven-year-old son, who was adopted by parents Kate Levering and Cole Hauser, in this adaptation of Karen Kingsbury’s novel. Fox’s DVD of this 2010 release (which I suppose you could call a “Christian film” yet is well-made and offers little in the way of overt religious elements) includes commentary with director Jon Gunn; deleted scenes with optional commentary; extended scenes; a featurette; and an “Adoption Stories” featurette with the author and producer Kevin Downes.

THE LAST PLAY AT SHEA DVD (96 mins., 2010, Not Rated; Lionsgate): Billy Joel’s 2008 concert in New York’s Shea Stadium forms the basis of this documentary that recounts the sometimes turbulent history of the stadium’s baseball-playing tenants, the New York Mets, as well as milestone events in the stadium’s history, leading up to Joel’s goodbye performance. A 16:9 transfer and 5.1 soundtrack are on-hand along with interviews and a featurette.

THE FUGITIVE - Season 4, Volume 2 (13 hrs., 1967; CBS): Dr. Richard Kimble’s search for the mysterious and elusive One-Armed Man came to a conclusion in 1967 at the end of the fourth season of the classic series “The Fugitive,” culminating in a final episode that ranks among the highest-rated TV episodes in history. CBS here completes their run of Quinn Martin’s series on DVD in a four-disc set spotlighting the final 15 episodes of the series, along with a nice featurette on composer Dominic Frontiere.

THE GUARDIAN - THE FINAL SEASON DVD (Aprx. 16 hours, 2003-04; CBS): Before he became “The Mentalist,” Simon Baker made his first splash on U.S. TV in this 2001-04 CBS series as a high-powered attorney who has to perform community service after being arrested on a drug charge. Subsequently Baker finds he’d rather work with the Children’s Legal Services of Pittsburgh instead of his usual day job, setting the stage in motion for a typical “court procedural” series relying on the charms of its star to get by. Certainly Baker made enough of a name for himself in “The Guardian” to establish future roles for the star, and CBS has belatedly brought the third and final season of the show to DVD this month in a six-disc set sporting all 22 final-season episodes. The 16:9 transfers and 2.0 stereo soundtracks are all fine, but no extras are included.

AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS DVD (285 mins., 1989; Entertainment One): Massive, expensive TV mini-series aired on NBC over several nights in 1989, and finally makes its way to DVD in an unexpurgated form courtesy of E One. This all-star production offers Pierce Brosnan as Phileas Fogg and Eric Idle as Passepartout as they traverse the world in this Jules Verne adaptation, running into many a recognizable face (Jack Klugman, Roddy McDowall, Darren McGavin, Robert Morley, Lee Remick, Jill St. John and Robert Wagner among them). Julia Nickson (Soul) and Peter Ustinov also appear in this somewhat overlong but occasionally entertaining brew, spiced up by a lovely Billy Goldenberg score. The 4:3 full-screen transfer and 2.0 soundtrack are both just fine.

LIFETIME VALENTINE’S DAY DVDs (Lifetime/NewVideo): A pair of romantic made-for-cable telefilms hit DVD for the first time this month, just in time for Valentine’s Day. “I Do (But I Don’t)” offers Denise Richards as a wedding consultant who falls for the would-be future husband (Dean Cain) of one of her obnoxious clients. “How I Married My High School Crush,” meanwhile, offers a much-needed change of pace for “Battlestar Galactica” and “24" veteran Katee Sackhoff as a 17-year-old who flashes ahead 18 years where she finds out that life with her intended beloved isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Fine transfers and 2.0 stereo soundtracks are on-tap on both single-platter releases.

Also New on Blu-Ray and DVD

ENTER THE VOID Blu-Ray (161 mins., 2010; IFC/MPI): Gaspar Noe’s “mind bending” tale of a drug-abuser living in Japan who dies and comes back to haunt his equally troubled stripper sister is one of those “not for all tastes” type of cinematic experiences. Some found “Enter the Void” to be spellbinding and fascinating; others were repelled by portions of it, and since I could only stomach a few minutes of the film, I would tend to fall into the latter camp. If you are a fan, however, IFC’s Blu-Ray of the Director’s Cut looks good (1080p transfer, 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack) considering its digital-video origins, while ample extras include deleted scenes, all kinds of trailers and visual effects featurettes.

GLORIOUS 39 Blu-Ray (133 mins., 2009, R; E One): British thriller about a young woman (the fetching Romola Garai) working as an actress in the late ‘30s who returns to her stately British home only to uncover family secrets involving Nazis. E One’s Blu-Ray of this Stephen Poliakoff thriller, which received mostly mixed reviews, does offer a nice 1080p transfer and DTS Master soundtrack, along with a behind-the-scenes featurette and interviews with the cast.

HAPPY EVER AFTERS DVD (101 mins., 2009, Not Rated; IFC/MPI): Cute Irish import about a pair of couples who end up having to share the same site for their wedding receptions, only to see one bride and the “other” groom fall for one another. Sally Hawkins and Tom Riley are both charismatic and fun to watch in this enjoyable comedy from writer-director Stephen Burke, which arrives on DVD in a 16:9 transfer with 5.1 audio and light extras including interviews and the trailer.

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