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Titanic Remembered
Criterion's A NIGHT TO REMEMBER Reviewed
Plus: CHINATOWN, WAR HORSE, South Park & More!

Next month marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, and with it, a number of cinematic commemorations are scheduled to follow. Not only is a Blu-Ray of the Clifton Webb ‘50s Fox melodrama “Titanic” on-tap, but so is a 3-D theatrical re-release of James Cameron’s 1997 Oscar-winning blockbuster, and Criterion’s Blu-Ray edition of arguably the finest film on the subject: A NIGHT TO REMEMBER (****, 123 mins.), the magnificent 1958 British adaptation of Walter Lord’s classic book.

I’ve seen the picture several times over the years, and it’s remarkable how ahead of their time director Roy Ward Baker and producer William MacQuitty were in their approach to the material. Eschewing the soap opera theatrics of the 1953 Fox film, “A Night to Remember” is a concise, thrilling, harrowing, moving, and altogether powerful account of what transpired on the fateful night of April 14, 1912. Eric Ambler’s screenplay weaves a series of vignettes together all drawn from Lord’s book; Kenneth More’s stalwart officer Charles Lightoller is as close as we come to a singular, identifying figure in the picture, but so many other faces (from Honor Blackman to David McCallum) make a brief but lasting impression throughout. Whether it’s chronicling the efforts of a crew aware of their plight, the first-class passengers facing death with dignity or sheer ignorance, the second-class passengers being treated as inferior, or the crew of the nearby ship Californian – who callously ignored Titanic’s distress rockets and whose radio operator slept through their SOS calls – the film paints the sinking as a series of dominoes that fell one by one. Had any of them not fallen the disaster may not have taken place – but as Lord himself called it, the Titanic was a true Greek tragedy, and the fine historical details come across strongly in the movie, without any unnecessary exposition or embellishment (even William Alwyn’s music is restrained, much of the film being left wisely unscored). Cameron’s film might have the benefit of greater technology, but it’s amazing how much of his picture is indebted to Lord’s research and this classic filming of “A Night to Remember.”

Criterion’s Blu-Ray edition of the film is magnificent. The AVC encoded 1080p restored transfer of the film (1.66) crisply delivers its B&W cinematography while a number of extras includes an early ‘90s UK TV documentary on the making of the film, sporting interviews with MacQuitty and Lord; a 1962 Swedish TV documentary including interviews with Titanic survivors; another interview with survivor Eva Hart; a 2006 BBC documentary on the “Iceberg That Sank the Titanic”; and a fine commentary with authors Don Lynch and Ken Marschall. Highly recommended!

Also new from Criterion this month is DAVID LEAN DIRECTS NOEL COWARD, a wonderful Blu-Ray box-set celebrating the four marvelous films that resulted from the collaboration between Coward and Lean in the 1940s. Included here are the rousing propaganda piece IN WHICH WE SERVE (114 mins., 1942), the moving British domestic drama THIS HAPPY BREED (111 mins., 1944), the Rex Harrison supernatural comedy BLITHE SPIRIT (96 mins., 1945), and the classic romance BRIEF ENCOUNTER (88 mins., 1945) with Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson.

All four films have been derived from the BFI’s HD restorations and look splendid, crisp and freed from any obvious use of heavy noise reduction. Extras include: on “Brief Encounter,” Bruce Eder’s commentary, an interview with Coward scholar Barry Day, a short 2000 documentary on the making of the film, a 1971 TV interview with Lean, and the trailer; on “In Which We Serve,” a 2000 documentary, interview with Day, and an audio conversation between Coward and Richard Attenborough recorded in 1969; on “This Happy Breed,” an interview with Ronald Neame, and another conversation with Day; and on “Blithe Spirit,” a 1992 episode from the “Southbank Show” on Coward’s career, and a talk with Day on the picture’s legacy.

Criterion has housed each of the four films in an oversized box with extensive booklet notes. For British cinema fans, aficionados of Lean and Coward, this set naturally comes with my highest recommendation.

Paramount has also released a Blu-Ray edition of one of their own classics, CHINATOWN (****, 1974, 130 mins., R; Paramount), this month. Roman Polanski’s noir masterwork is one of the greats of the ‘70s and Paramount’s Blu-Ray edition is generally quite good: the 1080p encoded transfer offers gorgeous colors and appreciable enhancement over the DVD edition, even if there appears to be some type of filtering going on during close-ups of the stars. Overall, though, HD adds immeasurably to the picture’s stylish appearance and the transfer’s shortcomings shouldn’t keep fans away from the Blu-Ray.

Extras include a recent documentary, “Water and Power: The Aqueduct,” which includes a history of L.A.’s water system with screenwriter Robert Towne visiting various locales, plus extras from the previous Special Edition DVD. Then-recent interviews with Polanski, star Jack Nicholson (whose role as private eye Jake Gittes ranks as one of his best performances), and writer Towne adorn the hour-long look at “Chinatown,” split into four different segments and packed with insight into the film’s creation. Polanski discusses his issues working in Hollywood while all involved mention how the original score (by Philip Lambro) was universally disliked and tossed just days before the film’s release -- leading to Jerry Goldsmith’s phenomenal “rush job” that became one of the composer’s greatest works.

In addition to the original trailer (in HD), Paramount has included a 5.1 Dolby TrueHD stereo mix of the soundtrack in addition to its original mono mix. Highly recommended!

Also New on Blu-Ray

While “Tintin” had its shortcomings, it was a less frustrating viewing experience than director Steven Spielberg’s live-action output from 2011: WAR HORSE (**½, 146 mins., 2011, PG-13; Buena Vista), which arrives on Blu-Ray and DVD next week.

This adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s acclaimed book for young readers follows Joey, an equine hero who’s easy to root for as he travels from the English countryside to France’s WWI battlefields, from one primary owner (a young lad played by Jeremy Irvine) to a British captain (Tom Hiddleston) who selects Joey as his faithful steed. Joey’s adventures run the gamut from frolicking in the fields to enduring painful hardships and several close brushes with death as the horror of the devastating war takes its toll around him.

Stylishly shot by Janusz Kaminski mostly in a manner eschewing his typical use of diffusion filters, “War Horse” is a gorgeous film to look at. In fact, from John Williams' sublime scoring (the one “Pirates of the Caribbean” temp-tracked cue notwithstanding when Joey stomps through the trenches) to the fine performances by a star-less ensemble cast (reminding one of the director’s earlier films), portions of the picture represent Spielberg's best work in some time, but they’re unfortunately counterbalanced with as many disappointing elements as positive ones.

The tone is main culprit – “War Horse” is a bit all over the map, starting off as a “family film” (with a funny goose causing trouble on the farm) before morphing into a “Saving Private Ryan” for WWI during a very intense mid-section that’s, at times, hard to watch. And yet all of it is essentially a fable, a colorful and broadly played, evocative fantasy of sorts with a storybook-esque beginning and end...ultimately, I was confounded as to who the movie was aimed at, being far too intense and violent for children (the execution of the German teens, realistic as it likely was, was horrifying), and yet populated with fantastical, poignant elements that made it extremely emotional. In many ways I felt like Spielberg was trying to have it every way – blending the childlike wonder of “E.T.” together with a gritty war movie like “Private Ryan,” wrapped in a colorful, old-fashioned visual design (the home on the hill, the setting sun, etc.) that evoked classics like “The Quiet Man” and “Gone with the Wind” (especially the last shot).

The script by Richard Curtis and Lee Hall echoes the film’s inherent schizophrenia, veering from the realistic to the outlandishly melodramatic (a climactic moment in which Joey is about to be executed would’ve been over the top even by 1940s standards) with occasional “cute” moments that come off as contrived (i.e. an exchange between German and British soldiers that tries to put forth a "can't we all just get along" message in a wholly unbelievable manner).

What’s unfortunate is that there are some wonderful moments along the way, and a sincerity that recalls some of Spielberg’s earlier, better films. Perhaps if the picture had tried to follow the story more through its young human protagonist, the film would’ve been more consistent (I kept on thinking how much more effective “Empire of the Sun” was, particularly in how it never left the viewpoint of Jim, its young lead). Instead, it’s a film that comes off as “Heidi” one moment and “Schindler’s List” the next, making for a jarringly uneven and ultimately unsatisfying picture.

Dreamworks’ Blu-Ray of “War Horse” looks splendid. The AVC encoded 1080p transfer is spectacular and the DTS MA soundtrack likewise involving. Extras include a number of behind-the-scenes featurettes typical of Laurent Bouzereau’s style, chronicling the production in an informative yet distant manner – the best portion of which here includes Spielberg with Williams and long-time editor Michael Kahn, all discussing their decades-long association with the director. A DVD and digital copy are also included.

THE SITTER Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital Copy (*½, 81 mins., 2011, R/Unrated; Fox): Absolutely dreadful comedy tries to rework the 1987 Elisabeth Shue semi-classic “Adventures in Babysitting” as a raunchy vehicle for star/producer Jonah Hill, but proved to be so bad that Fox sat on the film for months before releasing it last December in a futile attempt to piggyback on the success of Hill’s “Moneyball” appearance.

A total miss on nearly every level, Hill plays a slacker twentysomething who decides to babysit for three precocious kids in order to help out his mom. After his loser girlfriend wants to inject her party with some cocaine, Hill – acting on the promise of finally hooking up with her – takes the kids into the Big Apple and, naturally, runs into all kinds of trouble, from a drug kingpin (a tedious, unfunny turn from Sam Rockwell) to a former high school classmate who’s hooked up with an inner-city gang.

Complete with some uneasy racial stereotyping (particularly the troublemaking, adopted Latino kid Hill is charged with looking after), “The Sitter” is a labored waste of talent that feels prolonged even at its sub-80 minute, credits-less running time. Faced with a strenuously unfunny screenplay by Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka, director David Gordon Green moves the film rapidly through its slight narrative with minimal exposition. Hill gets a couple of scenes to inject some “heart” into “The Sitter,” but overall, this feels like foul-mouthed leftovers from the Apatow school, and out of step with the actor’s recent successes in “Moneyball” and the crowd-pleasing remake/spoof of “21 Jump Street.”

Fox’s Blu-Ray includes both an Unrated version of “The Sitter” as well as its theatrical version, along with deleted scenes, an alternate ending, extended scenes, the pre-requisite gag reel, numerous featurettes, a DVD and digital copy. The 1080p transfer is fine and the DTS MA soundtrack includes a very John Carpenter-like, throwback synth score from David Wingo and Jeff Mcilwain that might have been more noteworthy had it accompanied a better film.

THE LION KING 1½ Blu-Ray/DVD (**½, 77 mins., 2004, G; Disney)
THE LION KING 2: SIMBA'S PRIDE Blu-Ray/DVD (**, 81 mins., G; 1998; Disney)

2004's “The Lion King 1½” was a cute made-for-video sequel and a good deal more satisfying than most recent Disney video projects – including its predecessor “Simba’s Pride,” both of which hit Blu-Ray this month in BD/DVD combo packs from Disney.

That's undoubtedly due to the involvement of original film personnel like Matthew Broderick, Ernie Sabella and Nathan Lane, the latter duo reprising their Timon and Pumbaa characters, who serve as the centerpiece of this animated follow-up. Elton John and Tim Rice, meanwhile, were recruited to provide a few songs (or at least polish off some discarded tracks from the original), which also gives the movie a touch of class that the majority of the studio's small-screen efforts have lacked. Though the story isn't nearly as compelling as its big-screen predecessor, it's an engaging affair that young kids should enjoy; the earlier “Simba’s Pride,” meanwhile, is also fun, but for whatever reason, not quite as polished as “1 ½".

Disney's Blu-Ray packages -- no surprise here – have targeted the small fry in their special features. There are plenty of interactive games for the kids, as well as a few jokey featurettes (including a Peter Graves profile of Timon) that adults should enjoy as well on “Lion King 1 ½”; “Lion King 2,” meanwhile, includes the animated short "One By One", plenty of supporting featurettes involving Timon and Pumbaa, more interactive games geared towards younger viewers, and a Making Of featurette.

Both AVC encoded 1080p (1.78) transfers are excellent, as are the 5.1 DTS MA soundtracks.

IN THE LAND OF BLOOD AND HONEY Blu-Ray/DVD (**½, 128 mins., 2011, R; Sony): Angelina Jolie’s directorial debut espouses her humanitarian world views in its portrait of two former lovers who find themselves being ravaged by the Bosnian war, especially now that the female – a Muslim artist – is held captive in the camp of her former lover, a Serbian general.

The atrocities that occurred during the early ‘90s in Bosnia are plainly spelled out in this certainly well-meaning film from Jolie, who receives a strong visual assist from cinematographer Dean Semler and equal support from composer Gabriel Yared. That said, despite good intentions, “In the Land of Blood and Honey” comes off as stilted and overlong; Jolie also tries to condense years of horrors in an effort to educate unfamiliar viewers of the region’s history, and the mix of reality with half-baked melodrama is occasionally awkward.

Sony’s Blu-Ray looks superb with its 1080p AVC encoded transfer and DTS MA soundtrack. Extra features include deleted scenes and a Making Of featurette plus a BD exclusive Q&A with Jolie and actress Vanessa Glodjo. A standard DVD is also included.

GIRLS JUST WANT TO HAVE FUN Blu-Ray (**, 91 mins., 1986, PG; Image): If you’re looking for ‘80s nostalgia, “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” fits the bill – at least to a certain extent, given that stars Sarah Jessica Parker, Helen Hunt and Shannen Doherty have all since gone onto varying degrees of fame and fortune.

A brainless slice of pop '80s nostalgia, Parker, Hunt and Doherty play three teens who want desperately to get on an afterschool dance program to show off their hot moves which had already become dated by the time the Cannon Group's immortal "Breakin'" hit screens several months later.

Directed by Alan Metter (who hit his peak with "Back to School" a year later and then a career nadir with "Police Academy: Mission to Moscow" in the early '90s) and produced by Chuck Russell (who since has directed "Eraser" and "The Mask"), GIRLS... is silly, stupid, and will appeal strictly to fans of the three actresses, but there's likely more than enough interest on the part of '80s nostalgia hounds to make this an entertaining trip for that audience (don't look at me!).

Image’s Blu-Ray edition of “Girls...” is no-frills and no more than serviceable: the 1080i HD transfer is clearly superior to Anchor Bay’s ages-old DVD, but not much more, and the mono sound is unremarkable (but then again, so was the original, on-the-cheap New World Pictures mix). No extras are included.


SOUTH PARK Season 15 (Paramount): Despite being a bit more uneven than recent seasons (perhaps due to Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s commitments involving their musical smash “The Book of Mormon”), there’s still plenty of laughs to be mined in this 15th season of “South Park.”

Paramount’s Blu-Ray edition includes the outrageous premiere episode ‘HumancentiPad,” the amusing “Funny Bot,” ridiculous “Royal Pudding,” “T.M.I.,” “Crack Baby Athletic Association,” “City Sushi,” “You’re Getting Old,” “Ass Burgers,” “The Last of the Meheecans” (one of the more inspired shows), “Bass to Mouth,” “1%,” “A History Channel Thanksgiving” and “The Poor Kid.”

Also on-hand is the excellent behind-the-scenes documentary “6 Days to Air: The Making of South Park,” which previously aired on Comedy Central and includes a candid and fascinating look at the creation of a typical South Park episode. Parker and Stone’s creative process and the tight deadlines involved with the program are deftly chronicled in this entertaining special, which is included (in HD) here alongside mini-commentaries, deleted scenes, 1080p AVC encoded transfers and Dolby TrueHD soundtracks.

BOB Complete Series DVD (aprx. 13 hours, 1992-93; CBS): After starring in two iconic sitcoms (“The Bob Newhart Show” in the ‘70s and the ‘80s staple “Newhart”), Bob Newhart tried – and failed – to match the same level of success with a pair of later series.

His first effort post-“Newhart” was “Bob,” which premiered on CBS Friday nights in September of 1992. The show cast Newhart as a former comic book artist whose creation, “Mad-Dog,” is resurrected after Bob had spent years as a greeting card writer; the show received a lot of promotion and generally good reviews, but never latched on with viewers until CBS moved it to Mondays later in the season. With a modest uptick in ratings, CBS brought “Bob” back but with major changes for the fall of 1993, including jettisoning nearly all the supporting cast and bringing Betty White in as the manager of the greeting card company that Bob was working for again (White’s involvement had to have been a key reason for the series’ release on DVD here). After performing weakly, “Bob” was cancelled, with a slew of episodes going unseen until TV Land showed them in 1997.

CBS brings both seasons of “Bob” to DVD this month in a complete series DVD set. The 4:3 transfers and stereo soundtracks are all fine, and a few bonuses are on-hand, including the first “Mad-Dog” comic (published by Marvel) and archival clips with Newhart and White from “Entertainment Tonight.”

Though not consistently funny and certainly not in a league with Newhart’s earlier TV hits, “Bob” is still genial sitcom entertainment that’s worth a view for Newhart aficionados. If nothing else, it’s also more pleasant than Newhart’s later failed CBS sitcom, “George and Leo,” which paired the comedian with Judd Hirsch and Jason Bateman, and didn’t last long, being canceled after just one season.

Also new from CBS is the belated release of the fifth season of LAVERNE & SHIRLEY (aprx. 11 hours; 1979-80). ABC’s “Happy Days” spin-off quickly became even more popular in the ratings than its predecessor, hitting #1 in both its third and fourth seasons on the air. Unfortunately, once the network moved the show to Thursdays in the fall of ‘79, it immediately slid in the ratings, and never recovered (even after moving back to its original Tuesday night home base).

Season 5 of the series includes a number of classic eps from the sitcom, including the season premiere “Shotgun Wedding,” the first part of which aired as a “Happy Days” lead-in episode (which, thankfully, has been included here as a bonus). Other highlights include the inspired “Murder on the Moosejaw Express,” a two-parter featuring guest stars Scatman Crothers, Wilfred Hyde-White, Roger C. Carmel and Charlene Tilton; the dramatic “Why Did the Fireman...” with guest star Ted Danson (and directed by Joel Zwick); and the two-part “You’re in the Army, Now,” which has later spun off (kinda) into the “Laverne & Shirley” animated series.

A gag reel and episode promos adorn each episode, which CBS has released in good looking 4:3 transfers with some music (understandably) having been changed from the original broadcast airings.

EUREKA Season 4.5 DVD (aprx. 7 hours; Universal): Syfy’s freewheeling series is back on DVD this month in a multi-disc set including the second half of episodes from its fourth season, which aired last year. Included here are the episodes Liftoff, Reprise, Glimpse, Up in the Air, Omega Girls, Of Mites and Men, Clash of the Titans, This One Time at Space Camp, One Small Step, One Giant Leap, and the Christmas finale Do You See What I See. For extras, Universal has included an extended version of “Of Mites and Men,” the bonus holiday episode “O Little Town...,” the “Warehouse 13" crossover show “Don’t Hate the Player,” plus a behind the scenes featurette, cast/crew commentaries, deleted scenes, a gag reel, and 16:9 transfers with 5.1 soundtracks.

New From Echo Bridge

Echo Bridge’s latest assortment of Miramax catalog titles on Blu-Ray includes some exciting new releases mixed in – including a good looking presentation of the Christian Bale futuristic sci-fi cult flick EQUILIBRIUM, but only in one particular presentation. Here’s a look:

HIGH-POWERED ACTION 6-FILM COLLECTION: This two-disc set is the most appealing anthology of the bunch, featuring a great new HD transfer of EQUILIBRIUM (2.35, DTS MA), a good looking presentation of the Joseph Gordon-Levitt drama THE LOOKOUT (2.35, DTS MA) and the Mark Wahlberg starrer THE YARDS (1.78, DTS MA). Also on hand are Jackie Chan’s SUPERCOP (cropped to 1.78, DTS MA), plus direct-to-vid snoozers NO CODE OF CONDUCT with Charlie Sheen (1.78, Dolby Digital) and Dolph Lundregn in Ted Kotcheff’s HIDDEN ASSASSIN (1.78, Dolby Digital).

Note that Echo Bridge released EQUILIBRIUM before – but in an inferior transfer with “lossy” sound – and are also releasing it again in a 2-pack with RENAISSANCE, the French animated sci-fi vehicle that has never made it to Blu-Ray previously. However, the “Equilibrium” contained in this particular single-disc 2-pack doesn’t have DTS MA audio, but rather 5.1 Dolby Digital – so fans are better off sticking with the 2-disc “6-film Collection.”

FAST ACTION 6-FILM COLLECTION: Another two-disc set that isn’t quite as appealing in terms of content, featuring Matt Dillon, Faye Dunaway and Gary Sinise in ALBINO ALLIGATOR (2.35, DTS MA), the Al Pacino drama PEOPLE I KNOW (1.78, 5.1 DTS MA), and Kevin Spacey and Linda Fiorentino in ORDINARY DECENT CRIMINAL (1.78, DTS MA). All three seem to originate from newer masters, while the other three films in the set look older and less satisfying: these include David Cronenberg’s EXISTENZ (1.78, Dolby Digital), Asia Argento in the forgettable B MONKEY (1.78, 5.1 Dolby Digital) and the worthless Lou Diamond Phillips-Kari Wuhrer flick MALEVOLENT (1.78, 5.1 Dolby Digital).

MASTERS OF TERROR 6-FILM COLLECTION: Up-and-down assortment of Dimension chillers boasts a good-looking presentation of HALLOWEEN: THE CURSE OF MICHAEL MYERS (1.78, DTS MA), the watchable Jim Gillespie-Kevin Williamson flop VENOM (1.78, Dolby Digital), the awful Anna Paquin starrer DARKNESS (1.78, Dolby Digital), Joe Chappelle’s terrible PHANTOMS (1.78, Dolby Digital), Christina Ricci in the unfortunate werewolf flick CURSED (1.78, Dolby Digital), and HELLRAISER: HELLSEEKER (1.78, Dolby Digital).

THE PROPHECY 4-FILM COLLECTION: I’m not entirely clear what the logic was for excluding PROPHECY II, as this single-disc Blu-Ray includes Gregory Widen’s original (and watchable) PROPHECY (1.78, DTS MA) and its second sequel PROPHECY 3: THE ASCENT (1.78, 5.1 DD), along with the Kari Wuhrer starring vehicles THE PROPHECY: UPRISING and THE PROPHECY: FORSAKEN (1.78, DTS MA).        

ROAD RACERS Blu-Ray (***, 95 mins., 1994, R; Echo Bridge): Back in the mid '90s, Showtime produced "Rebel Highway," a series of made-for-cable remakes of various American-International ‘50s B-movies. Some of the films were straight remakes, others offered a comical twist, but ultimately only a few were successful: Robert Rodriguez's "Roadracers" (with Salma Hayek and David Arquette) being one of them. This Blu-Ray edition of “Roadracers” looks great with a satisfying 1080p transfer and DTS MA soundtrack; the film itself is offbeat and energetic in Rodriguez’s typical style, and is a good deal of fun until it becomes a bit too violent and dark in its final third.

IN TOO DEEP Blu-Ray (***, 97 mins., 1999, R; Echo Bridge): Single-disc edition of Michael Rymer’s fairly well-received 1999 thriller about a young cop (Omar Epps) who infiltrates a charismatic crime lord (LL Cool J), only to fall under his spell. Good performances from Epps, Cool J, Nia Long and Stanley Tucci are on-hand in this effective film with a good score from Christopher Young. Echo Bridge’s Blu-Ray is one of their newer masters with a 1080p transfer and 5.1 DTS MA soundtrack.

HALLOWEEN RESURRECTION Blu-Ray (*½, 90 mins., 2002, R; Echo Bridge): Rick Rosenthal (“Halloween II”) returned to the Halloween series for this final installment in this loose continuity of the pre-Rob Zombie, Moustapha Akkad-presented “Halloween” films. Alas this tedious Mike Myers horrorfest is pretty lame, even if Echo Bridge’s 1080p transfer and DTS MA soundtrack are both fine. Extras carried over from the old DVD include commentary, alternate endings, deleted scenes and featurettes.

OPERATION CONDOR 2 Blu-Ray (***, 88 mins., 1995, R; Echo Bridge): Cut-down and cropped Americanization of one of Jackie Chan’s best outings hits Blu-Ray in a 1.78 formatted 1080p transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

RUSSELL MULCAHY’S TALE OF THE MUMMY Blu-Ray (**, 88 mins., 1998, R; Echo Bridge): One of the former “Highlander” auteur’s final directing gigs was this watchable if underwhelming monster mash made around that odd window when Jason Scott Lee was a name draw. A veteran cast (Christopher Lee, Honor Blackman, Shelley Duvall) pops up in an okay affair that Echo Bridge has released on Blu-Ray in its original US version, running a good deal shorter than its international counterpart. Echo Bridge’s 1080p transfer (2.35) and 2.0 Dolby Digital soundtrack are both fine.

New From Lionsgate

The early ‘90s was the peak of Madonna-mania, with the release of her book “Sex” (which I distinctly recall having to purchase for my then-slightly underraged fellow high school friend at the mall), and the film of TRUTH OR DARE (120 mins., 1991, R), Madonna’s “Blonde Ambition” concert tour. This better-than-average documentary mixes music with some frank interviews with Madonna at the height of her celebrity, all of it presented here in a decent 1080p transfer and DTS MA soundtrack much more satisfying than some of Miramax’s more recent Lionsgate Blu-Rays (“Reindeer Games” and “54").

BOUNCE (*½, 106 mins., 2000, PG-13), meanwhile, is a dour and slow-moving romantic drama with Gwyneth Paltrow and Ben Affleck failing to ignite any sparks in a film about a single mom (guess who?) whose husband is killed in a plane crash. Affleck essays the advertising exec who exchanged places with her spouse and, improbably, falls in love with her.

Miramax's Blu-Ray includes a decent 1080p transfer and DTS MA audio with audio commentary, deleted scenes, a featurette with the two stars, bloopers and trailers rounding out a solid package for a curiously cold, detached drama that never gives you a reason to care about it.

KATE & LEOPOLD Blu-Ray (**½, 122 mins., 2001, PG-13; Miramax): Take "Somewhere in Time," give it a comedic spin, and add a dose of "Sleepless in Seattle," and you have this entertaining albeit forgettable romantic-comedy from director James Mangold.

Meg Ryan is the workaholic modern day woman (where have we seen that one before?) who improbably ends up in a relationship with 19th century man Hugh Jackman, courtesy of ex-boyfriend (and daffy scientist) Liev Schreiber's time machine. Can the Duke of Albany learn to live in the 21st century? Will the two find true love in this modern civilization?

The answers definitely aren't going to astound you, but Jackman's charming performance lifts the predictable script into highly engaging fluff just the same. Taking a huge turn from his role as Wolverine in "X-Men," Jackman proves to be a deft comedic performer here, turning on the charisma and making this vehicle work despite its prolonged running time. Ryan is fine in a role she's played many times before, and the supporting cast is certainly better than usual: Breckin Meyer is quite amusing as Ryan's younger brother, while Schreiber and Natasha Lyonne lend additional support to the action.

Miramax's Blu-Ray includes the 122-minute Director’s Cut of the film. The studio removed five minutes from the film (including one scene that they believed raised the issue of incest!) just days before its release, and the BD restores Mangold’s original cut. Other extras include audio commentary, additional deleted scenes and a promotional featurette. The 1080p transfer is acceptable, as is the DTS MA audio, sporting a decent score by Rolfe Kent.

Also From Lionsgate: the director of “The 41-year-old Virgin Who Knocked Up Sarah Marshall and Felt Superbad About It” is back with BREAKING WIND (82 mins., 2012, Unrated), a feeble spoof of the “Twilight” films that hits DVD with a 16:9 transfer, 5.1 soundtrack, commentary and a behind the scenes featurette...Lionsgate has a knack of bringing out exploitation fare at just the right time: hence the DVD release of ENTER NOWHERE (90 mins., 2012, R), Jack Heller’s indie horror about three kids who arrive at a mysterious “Cabin in the Woods” (finally opening in April after spending a couple of years on the shelf at MGM). Lionsgate’s DVD includes a behind the scenes featurette, 16:9 transfer and 5.1 soundtrack....A young man joins a breakdancing troupe in CREW 2 CREW (95 mins., 2012, R), a “Step Up”-type urban drama with dance sequences that Lionsgate brings to DVD this month with a 16:9 transfer, 5.1 soundtrack and deleted scenes.

NEW FROM E ONE/MPI: James Franco wrote, directed, and starred in THE BROKEN TOWER (110 mins., 2011, Unrated), a profile of poet Hart Crane co-starring Michael Shannon and Franco’s brother Dave. E One’s DVD includes commentary with Franco, his producer and cinematographer, along with interviews with Crane scholars by Franco himself. The B&W shot picture includes a 16:9 transfer and 5.1 soundtrack...Six people are drugged and wake up in a facility with no knowledge of how they got there. A mysterious man holds them captive and subjects them to “The Trials” – stop me if you’ve heard this one before! This Canadian rip-off of “Saw,” titled DIE (94 mins., 2011) , hits DVD in a 16:9 (2.35) transfer with 5.1 audio...CHASING MADOFF (91 mins., 2011, Not Rated) is an interesting, low-budget filming of Bostons securities analyst Harry Markopolos’ pursuit of Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme – one which started ten years before the SEC jumped on board. MPI’s Blu-Ray includes a director’s commentary, deleted scenes, an alternate ending, the trailer, a 1080p transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack.

NEW FROM A&E/NEWVIDEO: The four-hour mini-series PLANET EGYPT (aprx. 3 hours, 2012) chronicles the technology, culture, and religion of Egypt through its first 3,000 years. A&E’s two-disc set includes “Planet Egypt” in 16:9 transfers and 2.0 stereo soundtracks...One of the better History documentary productions of late, THE PRESIDENTS (aprx. 7 hours; 2008-09) is an eight-part chronicle of the men who have served in the Oval Office from 1789 through George H.W. Bush, with a bonus Biography special on Barack Obama provided for good measure. Edward Herrmann’s sage narration graces the four-disc set, which also includes a special documentary “All The Presidents Wives”...ONLY IN AMERICA WITH LARRY THE CABLE GUY: VOLUME TWO (aprx. 8 hours, 2011) finds Larry traveling the fruited plain from a visit with the Amish to encountering the TSA. 11 episodes are included in A&E’s three-disc set, which hits stores on April 17th.

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