3/16/10 Edition
 March Madness Edition
HACHI, Criterions, Blu-Rays & More Reviewed
Plus: THE BLIND SIDE on Video
Poignant and beautifully told, Lasse Hallstrom’s newest film, HACHI: A DOG’S TALE (***½, 93 mins., 2009, G; Sony), might’ve gone straight to video but ranks as one of last year’s most emotional and satisfying films.

Richard Gere, who also co-produced this adaptation of a well-received Japanese film from several decades ago (itself based on true story that occurred in the early '20s), is perfect here as a college professor who befriends a lost Akita puppy after coming home from work. The duo form an instant bond much to the chagrin of Gere’s wife (Joan Allen), with Hachi diligently following his master to and from his daily routine.

Stephen Lindsey’s script and Hallstrom’s direction keep this simple story moving forward with little extraneous exposition or supporting characters, with Ron Fortunato’s natural cinematography capturing the Rhode Island-lensed locales splendidly. “Hachi” ultimately becomes a tearjerker, no doubt about it, but it’s done in such a straightforward manner that the film feels far more authentic than the comparatively maudlin dog-tale “Marley and Me” -- a picture which made loads of money, but as a film, is far inferior to this tender, low-key tale which hopefully will find an audience on video.

Sony’s Blu-Ray disc looks and sounds lovely; the AVC-encoded 1080p transfer is flawless, while DTS Master Audio sound is pitched perfectly for this type of picture. Extras include a Making Of featurette and Blu-Ray exclusive MovieIQ functions which are available via BD Live.

Though the studio opted not to release “Hachi” nationwide, this is a wonderful film suitable for all ages that comes highly recommended.

New From Criterion

High definition has provided a spectacular new forum for the cinema’s more gifted visualists, and Terrence Malick’s DAYS OF HEAVEN (****, 95 mins., PG; Criterion) looks utterly dazzling in Criterion’s upcoming Blu-Ray edition of Malick’s acclaimed 1978 film.

Richard Gere, Brooke Adams and Linda Manz (“The Wanderers”) play a trio of midwesterners who head to Texas at the turn of the century to work harvesting wheat on Sam Shepherd’s farm. After the harvest is done, they find that Shepherd is dying -- a fate that convinces Gere to push his girlfriend (Adams, masquerading as his sister) into marrying him for his inheritance.

While all the performances feel authentic, the real star of the movie is cinematographer Nestor Almendros (with an assist from Haskell Wexler), who fills the movie’s gorgeous landscapes with perfectly-hued “magic hour” lighting and nuanced textures. Like any Malick film “Days of Heaven” is packed with indelible images, an objective (and at times detached) feel, and an enveloping sound design -- the rich soundtrack comprised of Ennio Morricone’s original score, quotes from Saint-Saens and directional effects ranks as one of the most effective stereo soundtracks you’ll hear for a film of its era.

Criterion released a DVD of “Days of Heaven” in 2007, and while the disc was certainly exceptional for standard-definition, the studio’s new Blu-Ray edition shows just how outstanding their remastered high-definition transfer truly is; warm hues and just brilliant detail add immeasurably to the film’s dreamy mood and atmosphere. If there was ever a film produced to reap the benefits of HD “Days of Heaven” is it, and combined with a DTS Master Audio soundtrack (that even more clearly renders the prior DVD’s outstanding 5.1 mix), Criterion’s Blu-Ray presentation ranks at the top of the format’s releases so far.

An insightful array of supplements are carried over from the prior release -- on-camera interviews include a conversation with Wexler, who discusses how he took over for Almendros (who departed due to prior commitments) and worked diligently to remain consistent with his footage, as well as camera operator John Bailey, soon to be a fine D.P. in his own right. Sam Shepherd is also interviewed in a 12-minute discussion on the film from 2002, while Richard Gere participates in a fairly recent audio conversation (set against a montage of still images and footage from the movie) that runs nearly 20 minutes.

Last but certainly not least is a group commentary track, including art director Jack Fisk, editor Billy Weber, costume designer Patricia Norris, and casting director Dianne Crittenden, all of whom discuss Malick’s creative process and the production of the picture.

For movie fans this release comes unquestionably recommended, celebrating one of the finest films of the 1970s. Bravo!

Also this month, Criterion has slated for release a deluxe edition of Nicholas Ray’s fascinating 1956 Fox production BIGGER THAN LIFE (95 mins.), a tale of a teacher (James Mason) who takes cortisone for a possibly fatal affliction and becomes addicted to the then-experimental drug.

Vividly shot in Cinemascope, “Bigger Than Life” is being issued on DVD in a fine 16:9 transfer with mono sound and extras including commentary from Geoff Andrew, a 1977 interview with Ray, the trailer, and additional interviews with Ray’s widow, Susan, and critic Jonathan Lethem. (The title is also slated for a Blu-Ray release).

Criterion also has lined up an elaborate retrospective of the work of Portugese director Pedro Costa, dubbed LETTERS FROM FONTAINHAS: THREE FILMS BY PEDRO COSTA.

This four-disc anthology contains the 1997 “Ossos,” “In Vanda’s Room” (2000), and “Colossal Youth” (2006), the latter two in 1.33 full-screen and the former in 1.66 widescreen, all in Portugese with new English subtitle translations of the respective pictures.

A fourth disc includes over three hours of supplements, including a feature-length documentary on Costa, “All Blossoms Again,” plus additional short films by the director, trailers, photo galleries, video interviews, commentaries by Costa and others, as well as extensive booklet notes.

Finally Criterion brings Marco Ferrari’s utterly strange DILLINGER IS DEAD (95 mins., 1969) to DVD this month in a restored high-def transfer (1.66, 16:9) with video interviews with star Michel Piccoli and Italian film historian Adriano Apra; excerpts from a 1997 discussion on Ferrari; the trailer; a new and improved subtitle translation; and, as always for Criterion, booklet notes with insight into this late ‘60s New Wave favorite.

Also New on Blu-Ray and DVD

THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG Blu-Ray/DVD Combo Pack (**½, 98 mins., 2009, G; Disney). LOWDOWN: Ron Clements and John Musker, who brought us “Beauty and the Beast,” are back with this hand-drawn Disney animated feature set in New Orleans in the 1920s -- a fanciful fairy tale about a hard-working waitress who turns into a frog after kissing her suitor, Prince Naveen, who’s been transformed into a frog as well; the duo fall for each other while navigating through the Bayou swamps, hoping to reverse the curse. A gorgeous pallet of colors and an interesting locale make “Princess and the Frog” certainly watchable, but despite its fresh characters and settings, the movie never really comes to life. Part of the reason is due to Randy Newman’s serviceable but unmemorable score, with musical numbers that fail to impress as so many of Alan Menken’s scores have for Disney in the past. In fact, with a strong Menken score, it’s entirely possible “The Princess and the Frog” wouldn’t have done only disappointingly moderate business at the box-office. As it is, kids and animation fans are still urged to check it out; it’s just not on the level of the studio’s past classics. TECH SPECS: Utterly breathtaking on Blu-Ray, Disney’s AVC-encoded 1080p HD transfer is nothing short of immaculate. Rousing DTS Master Audio sound is also on tap, along with a number of supplements, including deleted scenes, commentary, featurettes on its production, a Ne-Yo music video, a look at Randy Newman’s scoring, a segment on the film’s return to hand-drawn animation, plus a digital copy for portable media players and a DVD edition of the film as well.

THE BLIND SIDE Blu-Ray (***½, 128 mins., 2009, PG-13; Warner). LOWDOWN: Sandra Bullock had a massive year in 2009 thanks to the performances of both the engaging romantic comedy “The Proposal” and the acclaimed, true-life drama “The Blind Side.” The latter affords Bullock easily her career-defining role (for which she just copped her first Oscar) -- a Tennessee woman named Leigh Anne Tuohy who adopts an oversized, sweet African-American teen named Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron) from the streets of Memphis and mothers him, watching him eventually blossom in college and, later, the NFL (Oher currently plays for the Baltimore Ravens). This could’ve made for a sickly-sweet Lifetime movie, but writer-director John Lee Hancock has fashioned a poignant, character-driven film marked by great performances from Bullock and Aaron, as well as Kathy Bates as a tutor who spearheads Aaron’s education. The cast is uniformly fine, and this adaptation of Michael Lewis’ book ranks as one of 2009's best movies. TECH SPECS: Warner’s Blu-Ray package of “The Blind Side” hits stores on March 23rd, offering a clear VC-1 encoded 1080p transfer ad DTS Master Audio soundtrack. Extras include a few additional scenes and several featurettes, including a conversation with Michael Oher, as well as a standard DVD/digital copy disc in the package. Highly recommended!

NINJA ASSASSIN Blu-Ray (**½, 99 mins., 2009, R; Warner). LOWDOWN: Agreeably over-the-top martial arts adventure with Korean superstar “Rain” as a lone ninja who breaks from the clan that trained him and tries to help an Interpol agent (“Pirates”’ Naomie Harris, sporting a believable American accent) take them down. This slick-looking affair produced by the Wachowski brothers and directed by “V For Vendetta”’s James McTeigue in the same workmanlike manner as that misfire offers the requisite special effects you’d expect from that collaboration, loads of blood and a nice salute to the Cannon ninja flicks of the ‘80s with the legendary Sho Kosugi cast as Rain’s nemesis. “Ninja Assassin” is ultimately a bit too effects-oriented with so many corpses that it’s hard to separate the real stunts from CGI, but for fans of the genre this time-killer isn’t bad. TECH SPECS: Warner’s great-looking Blu-Ray disc serves up a VC-1 encoded 1080p transfer with thundering DTS Master Audio sound. Extras include several featurettes and a digital copy/DVD packaged in the bundle.

THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS DVD and Blu-Ray (**, 94 mins., 2009, R: Anchor Bay). LOWDOWN: A fantastic cast (George Clooney, Jeff Bridges, Ewan McGregor, Kevin Spacey) fails to energize this flaccid, would-be comedic tale of a reporter (McGregor) who uncovers a top-secret government agency that specializes in psychic powers, including one such self-appointed “Warrior Monk” (Clooney). Clooney’s pal Grant Heslov directed this dry and offbeat tale that offers some sporadic laughs but ultimately wears out its welcome, becoming increasingly unhinged by the time it reaches its conclusion. TECH SPECS: Anchor Bay brings “The Men Who Stare at Goats” to both DVD and Blu-Ray next week; the DVD offering a fine 16:9 (2.35) transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, the Blu-Ray an even more impressive 1080p transfer with PCM uncompressed and 5.1 Dolby sound. Extras on both discs include deleted scenes, commentaries, and featurettes, with the Blu-Ray also including a digital copy for portable media players.

THE BOONDOCK SAINTS II: ALL SAINTS DAY Blu-Ray (**, 117 mins., 2009, R; Sony). LOWDOWN: Troy Duffy’s belated sequel to his minor cult hit “The Boondock Saints” is a disappointing affair with Norman Reedus and Sean Patrick Flanery back as the McManus brothers, who come out of hiding in Ireland and return to Boston after one of their friends, a local priest, is killed by the mob. Julie Benz, Peter Fonda, Judd Nelson, and Clifton Collins, Jr. co-star in Duffy’s crudely made follow-up, which is marked by a few hysterical performances and a story that never engages the viewer, even as it spirals out of control at times. TECH SPECS: Sony’s Blu-Ray of “Boondock Saints II” includes an AVC encoded transfer with DTS Master Audio sound and a number of special features, including multiple commentaries, deleted scenes, featurettes, and several other BD exclusive segments, MovieIQ and Blu-Ray live functions.
ARMORED Blu-Ray (**½, 88 mins., 2009, PG-13; Sony). LOWDOWN: Predictable but watchable heist thriller from director Nimrod Antal (currently helming this summer’s highly anticipated “Predators”) mainly gets by on the appeal of its terrific cast, including Matt Dillon, Jean Reno, Laurence Fishburne, Skeet Ulrich, Fred Ward, Columbus Short and Milo Ventimiglia among others. At its heart, though, “Armored” is mere typical B-movie fare about a group of security officers who decide to pull a fast one, only to be stopped by a reluctant young member of their squad who waffles on the morality of their decision making. “Heist” is over and done before the 90 minute mark and James V. Simpson’s script offers few surprises, but it provides watchable, if uninspired, action for genre fans. TECH SPECS: Sony’s Blu-Ray disc is a beauty, the AVC encoded transfer appearing flawless and DTS Master Audio sound comprising a well-layered sound design. Extras include several featurettes and commentary, plus a digital copy exclusive to the Blu-Ray package.

CIRQUE DU FREAK: THE VAMPIRE’S ASSISTANT Blu-Ray (**, 109 mins., 2009, PG-13; Universal). LOWDOWN: Strange attempt to launch another on-going film series for teenagers a la “Twilight” and “Harry Potter” nearly rolls snake eyes under the direction of Paul Weitz, who scripted alongside veteran scribe Brian Helgeland (adapting Darren Shan’s popular books). Josh Hutcherson stars as a normal kid who opts to become a vampire in the traveling sideshow Cirque Du Freak, presided over by Larten Crepsley (John C. Reilly, clearly relishing the role), and filled with oddbal characters essayed by the likes of Ken Watanabe, Patrick Fugit and Salma Hayek among others. Slickly produced but devoid of the needed emotional layers, “The Vampire’s Assistant” understandably flopped at the box-office, making its empty cliffhanger one that will likely never be resolved. TECH SPECS: Universal’s Blu-Ray disc offers a strong AVC encoded transfer with DTS Master Audio sound. Though not an excessively over-budgeted film, “Cirque Du Freak” does sport the look of quality at least in its technical attributes. Extras include BD exclusive deleted scenes and several featurettes, plus U-Control picture-in-picture content.

GENTLEMEN BRONCOS Blu-Ray (**, 89 mins., 2009, PG-13; Fox). LOWDOWN: “Napoleon Dynamite” director Jared Hess strikes out with this bizarre and only fleetingly funny tale of teen loner Michael Angarano, whose latest sci-fi story is stolen by pretentious author Jermaine Clement while at a writer’s camp. Fantasy sequences involving Angarano’s characters, as essayed by Sam Rockwell among others, are interspersed along with the dry tone, which resembles “Dynamite” but fails to provide the same level of laughs, Clement’s performance notwithstanding. TECH SPECS: Fox’s Blu-Ray disc includes a fine AVC encoded transfer with DTS Master Audio sound, extras, deleted scenes and several behind-the-scenes segments.

BROTHERS DVD and Blu-Ray (**, 105 mins., 2009, R; Lionsgate). LOWDOWN: Slow moving, unsatisfying drama offers Tobey Maguire as a family man and soldier who’s deployed overseas; while he undergoes a traumatic, life-changing series of events, his wife (Natalie Portman) and troubled younger brother (Jake Gyllenhaal) think he’s dead, turning his sibling into the new head of his family. Director Jim Sheridan has fashioned some superb films over the years, but this remake of a Danish film (scripted by David Benioff) comes off as stilted and dreary, the movie taking a long time to make its point and hitting the routine dramatic beats you’d expect. The performances are all fine, and Frederick Elmes’ excellent scope cinematography is a plus, but there’s a reason Lionsgate tried (unsuccessfully) to sell the film as a thriller when it’s anything but. TECH SPECS: Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray edition of “Brothers” looks superb, deftly capturing Elmes’ widescreen framing in its AVC encoded 1080p transfer. The DTS Master Audio sound is also finely layered given the low-key nature of the mix. Extras include commentary from Sheridan and two featurettes. The DVD includes the same extras plus a 16:9 (2.35) transfer with 5.1 audio.

PRECIOUS: BASED ON THE NOVEL ‘PUSH’ BY SAPPHIRE DVD and Blu-Ray (***, 109 mins., R, 2009; R). LOWDOWN: Acclaimed account of an overweight, illiterate inner-city high school girl, pregnant for the second time, won numerous awards for its unflinching, realistic portrayal of abuse and fractured families. Mo’Nique herself garnered several awards (including a Supporting Actress Oscar) as Precious Jones’ rotten, awful mother but Gabourey Sidibe is just as much of a revelation as Precious in this taut adaptation of Sapphire’s novel by writer Geoffrey Fletcher and director Lee Daniels. Powerful, hard to watch, but ultimately highly rewarding. TECH SPECS: Lionsgate’s DVD sports a fine 16:9 (1.85) transfer with 5.1 sound while the Blu-Ray sports an even more impressive AVC encoded 1080p presentation with DTS Master Audio sound. Extras include commentary from Daniels, conversations with producers Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey, plus one deleted scene, Sibide’s audition and more.

THE STONING OF SORAYA M. DVD and Blu-Ray (***, 116 mins., 2009, R; Lionsgate). LOWDOWN: Another powerful film based on a true story, Cyrus Nowraseth directed this chilling account of a remote Iranian village where a journalist (Jim Cavieziel) breaks down and meets a local woman (Shohreh Aghdashloo) who proceeds to tell him the account of her niece -- a mother of three about to be stoned to death because her cheating husband is accusing her of infidelity. This searing account of women being oppressed in the Middle East is superbly performed and directed, backed by a fine John Debney score. Not always easy to watch, but like “Precious,” more than worthwhile. TECH SPECS: Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray offers a spiffy AVC encoded 1080p transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital audio (in Farsi with English subtitles), plus extras including commentary with the filmmakers, another commentary with crew members, the trailer and a Making Of featurette. The DVD sports the same supplements with a 16:9 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital audio.

DID YOU HEAR ABOUT THE MORGANS? Blu-Ray (*½, 103 mins., 2009, PG-13; Sony). LOWDOWN: Painful romantic comedy with bickering Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker as an estranged couple who witness a murder and are sent out to the wilds of Wyoming (populated by the likes of Sam Elliott and Mary Steenburgen) for their own protection. Writer-director Marc Lawrence (the “Miss Congeniality” films) previously worked with Grant on the dismal “Two Weeks Notice” and “Music and Lyrics,” an okay rom-com that co-starred Drew Barrymore, but he falls short of even mediocrity with this labored affair, which bombed at the box-office last winter. TECH SPECS: Sony’s Blu-Ray disc offers the requisite superb AVC encoded transfer for the studio along with DTS Master Audio sound and a number of extras, including deleted scenes and outtakes, commentary with the director and the stars, several featurettes and BD-Live MovieIQ compatibility.

PLANET 51 Blu-Ray/DVD (**½, 91 mins., 2009, PG; Sony). LOWDOWN: An American astronaut (voiced by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) gets a taste of reverse-extraterrestrial paranoia when he lands on an alien planet, only to have its inhabitants believe he’s the start of an invasion. This genial CGI animated effort did only marginal business at the box-office last autumn, but it’s worth noting that “Planet 51" is clearly aware of its target audience and doesn’t try to engage adults so much as it aims its entertainment directly at kids. With that in mind, younger viewers are likely to enjoy its colorful characters and not mind its routine, predictable plot. TECH SPECS: Sony’s Blu-Ray platter is a combo pack with a DVD packaged inside, with extras including three extended scenes, two featurettes, a music video montage, a BD-exclusive interactive game, AVC-encoded 1080p transfer and DTS Master Audio sound.

BROKEN EMBRACES Blu-Ray (***, 127 mins., 2009; Sony). LOWDOWN: Penelope Cruz is terrific in another colorful, bombastic visual tale from director-writer Pedro Almodovar. Almodovar’s conceit this time is paying tribute to the melodramatic Hollywood films of the ‘50s, and does so with a typically outlandish story involving a blind former director (Lluis Homar) still writing scripts, a former hooker turned actress (Cruz), and several salutes to other genres and, indeed, Almodovar’s own prior works. Gorgeously visceral if convoluted, “Broken Embraces” is another offbeat affair that the director’s fans ought to eat up. TECH SPECS: HD is the perfect realm for Almodovar’s visuals, and Sony’s AVC-encoded, 1080p transfer does not disappoint. Neither does the well-designed DTS Master Audio soundtrack, featuring a fine score by Alberto Iglesias. Extras include deleted scenes, a Variety Q&A with Cruz, a short film (“The Cannibalistic Counselor”) by Almodovar, a NY Film Festival segment, and a “Pedro Directs Penelope” featurette.

VAMPYRES Blu-Ray (**½, 88 mins., 1974; Blue Underground): Marianne Morris and Anulka are the main draws in this vintage 1974 Euro-schlock import, the buxom femmes starring as a vampiric couple mostly wasting their time feeding on the blood of stiff Brits living out in the country. Jose Ramon Larraz’s film is a favorite of cult devotees, and while it’s short on story and style, there’s no denying the beauty of its leads, particularly now that Blue Underground has revisited “Vampyres” (aka “Daughters of Dracula”) in a fine 1080p HD transfer that increases the detail from their prior DVD edition; audio options, meanwhile, are comprised of both DTS 7.1 Master Audio and 5.1 Dolby Digital EX mixes. Extras include DTS Master Audio sound plus commentary with Larraz and producer Brian Smedley-Aston, interviews with the stars, and both U.S. and international trailers.

New From History/A&E

History Channel buffs have a handful of new discs to pick from this month. Here’s a rundown:

THE REAL WOLFMAN DVD (94 mins., 2009; A&E/History): Christophe Gans’ fanciful “Brotherhood of the Wolf” was based, in part, on a true incident that occurred in a small French village in the mid-18th century. This History Channel documentary probes that tale about a wolf that reportedly killed over 100 villagers in the town of Gevaudan, as well as more folklore involving wolfmen, kids raised by wolves, and other paranormal goings-on. The 94-minute special is presented in widescreen with stereo sound.
CLASH OF THE GODS Blu-Ray and DVD (aprx. 8 hours, 2009; A&E/History): Well-produced 10-part series dives into Greek mythology (with a couple of exceptions) via a colorful, high-def chronicle of classical myths and monsters. Individual episodes examine the legends of Zeus, Hercules, Hades, Medusa, Odysseus, Beowulf, The Minotaur, Thor, and another segment on “Tolkien’s Monsters.” Connections to historical events with expert interviews and fanciful effects make this a recommended view for all mythological enthusiasts, available both on DVD as well as an outstanding Blu-Ray set with 2.0 DTS Master Audio sound. Recommended.

NOSTRADAMUS EFFECT: Season 1 DVD (aprx. 10 hours, 2009; A&E/History): I recall a group of Nostradamus videos back in the ‘80s that examined the soothsayer’s visionary predictions -- not all of which came to pass -- but this 12-part History Channel series dives back in again to profile not just Nostradamus’ proclamations but other prophecies from around the globe. Widescreen transfers and stereo soundtracks comprise the three-disc set.

MYSTERYQUEST: Season 1 DVD (aprx. 8 hours, 2009; A&E/History): An updated rendition, more or less, of the old Leonard Nimoy series “In Search Of...,” this 10-part History Channel series examines a similar slate of unexplained mysteries, including “Hitler’s Escape,” “The Devil’s Triangle,” “San Francisco Slaughter,” “The Lost City of Atlantis,” “Alien Cover Up,” “The Rise of the Fourth Reich,” “Devil’s Island,” “Jack the Ripper,” “Stonehenge” and “Return of the Amityville Horror.” Bonus footage is on tap along with widescreen transfers and stereo soundtracks.

Also New on DVD

MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 - VOLUME XVII (Shout! Factory): Another collection of four top-notch MST3K episodes from Shout! Factory, Volume XVII includes the Joel Hodgson hosted episodes “The Crawling Eye” and “The Beatnicks” (a particularly funny episode) plus the Mike Nelson shows “The Final Sacrifice” and “Blood Waters of Dr. Z.”           

As with previous Shout! MST3K DVDs, the four-disc set is packed with extras including a special intro to “The Crawling Eye” with Joel Hodgson; a brand-new interview with “The Final Sacrifice”’s Bruce J. Mitchell; a Dragon-Con ‘09 segment; photo gallery from “Blood Waters of Dr. Z”; “Mystery Science Theater Hour Wraps On ‘The Beatnicks’”; original trailers and promos; and more. Another recommended release for all MST3K fans!
THE PRISONER DVD (288 mins., 2009; Warner): Disappointing new remake of the memorable ‘60s mini-series with Jim Cavieziel as “6,” a man who wakes up in the desert and joins The Village, wherein he butts heads with the mysterious “2" (Ian McKellen) in attempting to piece together his existence. A confused, utter mess ensues under the direction of Nick Hurran and writer Bill Gallagher; fans of the original Patrick McGoohan series have no reason to worry about this production ever eclipsing the popularity or acclaim of the original. Warner’s DVD edition presents the complete AMC “Prisoner” in 16:9 transfers with 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks and extras including two commentary tracks, unaired scenes and numerous Making Of featurettes.

MATLOCK Season 4 DVD (1989-90, aprx. 19 hours; CBS/Paramount): Andy Griffith is back as the irrepressible defense attorney Ben Matlock in this fourth season of the popular courtroom drama. Again teaming up with Nancy Stafford and Julie Sommars, Season 4 adds Clarence Gilyard, Jr. to the cast after they solve a case set on Virginia’s Roanoke Island. Episodes in the fourth season include “The Hunting Party,” “The Good Boy,” “The Best Seller,” “The Ex,” “The Clown,” “The Star,” “The Con Man,” the two-part “The Prisoner,” “The Fugitive,” “The Buddies,” “The Scrooge,” “The Witness,” “The Student,” “The Talk Show,” “The Victim,” “The Kidnapper,” “The Pro,” the two-part “The Informer,” “The D.A.,” “The Black Mailer,” and the season-finale “The Cookie Monster.” Full-screen transfers and stereo soundtracks are all fine.

SOUTH PARK Season 13 DVD (308 mins., 2009; Comedy Central/Paramount): Fueled by the hilarious “Fishsticks” (sporting the immortal “Gay Fish” song), Season 13 of “South Park” sports a number of top-notch episodes from the long-running series, including “The Ring,” “The Coon,” “Margaritaville,” “Eat, Pray, Queef,” “Pinewood Derby,” “Fatbeard,” “Dead Celebrities,” “Butters’ Bottom Bitch,” “W.T.F.,” “Whale Whores,” “The F Words,” the terrific “Dances With Smurfs,” and “Pee.” 16:9 transfers and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks adorn the 13th-season shows, with extras including seven deleted scenes and a behind-the-scenes tour of South Park Studios, which produced a recent video game for Xbox Live based on the franchise.

TREMORS: The Complete Series DVD (aprx. 9 hours, 2003; Universal): The Kevin Bacon-Fred Ward 1990 sci-fi western seemed like a longshot to spin-off several sequels and a TV series, but fans ate up each and every adventure in the “Tremors” franchise. Universal’s three-disc DVD set offers the complete, short-lived “Tremors” Sci-Fi Channel series, sporting Michael Gross reprising his role as Burt Gummer and plenty of laughs to go along with the modest special effects and amiable characters. The full-screen 1.33 transfers are fine, while 2.0 Dolby Stereo sound rounds out the presentation.

ALICE IN WONDERLAND DVD (***, 77 mins., 1933; Universal): This early ‘30s, all-star rendition of Lewis Carroll’s favorite offers the likes of Gary Cooper, W.C. Fields, Cary Grant, Charlie Ruggles, and Edward Everett Horton among others in its top notch cast, yet frustratingly, Universal here only serves up a mediocre transfer of the picture -- a major disappointment considering that UCLA reportedly holds a near-pristine print in its archives of Paramount’s original release. For now, aficionados will have to make due with this release, which is better than nothing, but not all it could have been. No extras are included.

BANDSLAM DVD (***, 111 mins., 2009, PG; Summit): Inaccurately advertised as a “High School Musical” variant (helped in part by the casting of that franchise’s sweetheart Vanessa Hudgens), Todd Graff’s entertaining teen movie is a great deal more satisfying than its dismal box-office performance from last summer indicates. Gaelan Connell plays a newcomer to a local high school who gets involved with popular girl Aly Michalka and guitar slinger Hudgens in order to take part in a band competition. Graff directed and co-wrote this good-natured Summit/Walden Media co-production, populated with likeable characters and a few laughs along the way. Summit’s DVD sports a 16:9 (2.35) widescreen transfer, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, and extras including commentary with Graff and cast members, plus deleted scenes, music videos and a featurette.

COLD SOULS DVD (**½, 101 mins., 2009, PG-13; Fox): Paul Giamatti plays “Paul Giamatti” in this uneven but amusing film from Sophie Barthes about the actor seeking a new soul after his old one grows heavy while rehearsing for “Uncle Vanya.” Offbeat and eccentric, Giamatti’s performance is consistently amusing throughout this tale, which Barthes wrote and directed. Fox’s DVD includes deleted scenes, a featurette, a 16:9 (1.78) transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

BITCH SLAP Unrated DVD (109 mins., 2010, R; Fox): Nutty direct-to-video tale about three femmes who try to collect stolen jewels taken from a gangster’s hideaway; plenty of T&A money shots, lesbian interaction, violence and tongue-in-cheek humor ought to keep young males interested though, cinematically, this Rick Jacobson film leaves a bit to be desired. Fox’s DVD (16:9, 2.35, 5.1 Dolby Digital) includes commentaries with cast and crew members, and a documentary on the film’s production.

New From BBC

The BBC has several new titles lined up for release this month. Here’s a look:

ALICE IN WONDERLAND DVD (71 mins., 1966; BBC): One of the strangest adaptations of Lewis Carroll’s book was produced as a BBC Christmas special in 1966. Shot in B&W, Jonathan Miller’s production offers a terrific cast (Peter Cook as the Mad Hatter, Peter Sellers as the King of Hearts, plus Leo McKern, John Gielgud, Michael Redgrave and others) but a very strange, eclectic vision that veers from dream-like to nightmarish, with some budgetary restrictions hampering the technical quality as well. That said, curious viewers are urged to check out BBC’s DVD, which includes commentary from Miller, a 1903 silent film version of the story, Dennis Potter’s 1965 biopic of the real Alice, a segment on Ravi Shankar (who scored this trippy version), and a behind-the-scenes photo gallery.

DALZIEL & PASCOE: Season 1 DVD (269 mins., BBC): Warren Clarke and Colin Buchanan star in this much-acclaimed BBC mystery series about mismatched investigators at Mid-Yorkshire CID. Well-liked by fans “Dalziel and Pascoe” has taken its time to garner a Region 1 release, but fans ought to be happy, as BBC’s DVD offers the episodes “A Clubbable Woman,” “An Advancement of Learning” and “An Autumn Shroud,” guest starring Francesca Annis and Prunella Scales. The mildly letterboxed transfers and stereo soundtracks are fine, though there is a disclaimer that “for clearance reasons certain edits have been made.”

DOCTOR WHO - DALEK WAR DVD (1973, BBC): Fans of John Pertwee’s good doctor would do well to check out stories 67 and 68 from the long-running BBC series, sporting the episode arcs “Frontier in Space” (143 mins.) and “Planet of the Daleks” (140 mins.). Loads of extras spread across this four-disc box-set include commentaries from actors, producers and other talent; numerous behind-the-scenes featurettes; photo galleries; easter eggs; PDF materials; and digitally restored, full-screen transfers.

DOCTOR WHO - REMEMBRANCE OF THE DALEKS DVD (1988, BBC): The Daleks are back on the trail of Time Lord technology in this episode from the Sylvester McCoy era. As with the “Dalek War” box-set, ample supplements adorn this two-disc set including commentary from McCoy and Sophie Aldred; remembrances; deleted and extended scenes; outtakes; multi-angle sequences; an isolated music track; a brand new, 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack; a remastered full-screen transfer; and an in-depth look at the history of the Daleks’ creation.

THE 39 STEPS DVD (85 mins., 2008; BBC): Taut, effective adaptation of the classic John Buchhan thriller stars Rupert Penry-Jones and Lydia Leonard in James Hawes’ BBC production, deftly scripted by Lizzie Mickery. BBC’s DVD follows the recent airing of the 2008 “39 Steps” on PBS Masterpiece Theater in the U.S., and sports a 16:9 transfer and 2.0 stereo sound.

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