3/29/11 Edition Twitter: THEAISLESEATCOM
TRONx2 Edition
Blu-Ray Blowout Coverage Plus New DVD Releases

4/1 UPDATE: Warner Archive just announced an April Fool's Comedy Giveaway that's no laughing matter. Consumers can enter by using their Facebook account -- winners receive a prize package of 20 titles, mostly new releases, including the recently announced, long-lost Abbott & Costello comedy ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET CAPTAIN KIDD with Charles Laughton. Access the sweepstakes by clicking here.

Warner Home Video has also announced the long-awaited Blu-Ray release of SUPERMAN: THE MOTION PICTURE ANTHOLOGY, which will offer the Blu-Ray debuts of SUPERMAN II, SUPERMAN III, SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE, plus the theatrical version of SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE and the much-discussed discarded opening for Bryan Singer's ill-fated SUPERMAN RETURNS. "Supergirl" remains out of commission, sadly. Here's the press release (MSRP is $129.99):

Burbank, Calif. March 31, 2011Superman, the cultural icon and quintessential superhero, is back in a big way. In a powerhouse year marked by the theatrical releases of several major superhero films including Warner Bros.’ Green Lantern, his arrival couldn’t be more perfectly timed. Warner Home Video (WHV) is celebrating the year of the superhero with the June 7 release of Superman: The Motion Picture Anthology (1978-2006) on Blu-ray. For the first time, fans will be able to own one super-entertaining Blu-ray collection with all four original theatrical Superman films starring Christopher Reeve (available for the first time in high def), Superman Returns, and the two alternate versions of Superman I and Superman II.

Available now in superb hi-def, with new digital/hi-def film masters, the must-own comprehensive Superman: The Motion Picture Anthology (1978-2006) on Blu-ray includes all six versions of the films in the original Superman theatrical franchise -- Superman: The Movie – Original Theatrical, Superman:  The Movie – Expanded Edition, Superman II – Original Theatrical, Superman II – The Richard Donner Cut, Superman III – Original Theatrical, Superman IV – Original Theatrical, plus Superman Returns. The Collection also boasts 20 hours of bonus features including the never-before-seen original opening to Superman Returns. Also included are two documentaries in hi-def, Look, Up in the Sky! The Amazing Story of Superman and The Science of Superman, as well as You Will Believe: The Cinematic Saga of Superman, deleted scenes, and much more. Fan-boys and technophiles will especially appreciate that all of the Superman films are being released with English DTS-HD-MA soundtrack for superior sound quality. Also included is Movie Cash good up to $8 off one admission ticket to see the newest Warner Bros. superhero film, Green Lantern, at participating theaters between June 17, 2011 and July 3, 2011

Everyone has movies in their lives that they have a hard time being objective about, especially ones that pertain particularly to their childhood. Disney's 1982 sci-fi blockbuster TRON is, for me, one of those films. Now, this is not a film that I ever considered a classic or needed to see eight times at the movies (like E.T.), but it's still a movie that holds a special place in my heart because it – on a lot of levels – represents everything that the social experience of arcade gaming circa ‘82 meant to those of us who grew up and lived through the era.

Whereas now we're content to play video games in the comfort of our own homes with our Nintendos, Playstations, and Xboxes, back then the arcade was a gathering spot for all ages to hang out, drop a few quarters in the slots, and pound mercilessly on buttons, track-balls and joysticks in an often futile attempt to get your initials displayed on the "Pac-Man" monitor for all time -- or, at least until the machine was unplugged after 10 o'clock.

For me, “Tron” embodies the neon-lit hues of local gaming establishments of the era, even if it's an admittedly hokey, under-developed movie that was techno-savvy at the time but still gives us plenty of reasons why we should be thankful that Steven Lisberger was never able to direct another major movie in the United States.

That's not to say TRON (**½, 95 mins., PG) isn't fun or entertaining, even if the spoiled young people of today – those raised on high-tech games and 3-D IMAX movies like the belated sequel “Tron: Legacy” (more on that later) – will be chuckling at the effects and wondering what all the fuss is about.

“Tron” is like "Spartacus" set in the midst of a "Galaxian" machine: real-world arcade master and computer genius Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) is somehow sucked into the middle of his ex-company's mainframe, where the good, righteous programs (working on behalf of us, the human "users") do battle with the Big Brother-like Master Control program, which tries to stifle creativity and control everything within its grasp. Bridges is joined in his quest to free the oppressed from the tyrannical by a warrior named Tron (Bruce Boxleitner, in a role Michael Douglas would have been perfect for), while both are pursued by the ruthless Master Control (David Warner, whose image became a staple of villainy for me as a kid, having watching this film, "Time After Time," and "Time Bandits" innumerable times back in those days).

Everything in the world of “Tron” is bathed in blues and reds, set against dark backdrops -- the effects then groundbreaking for their striking use of CGI. Even now, the movie still plays like an arcade game from '82 -- it's empty cinematic calories all the way, glossy and good-looking even though the story never becomes developed much more than the plot summary I've just given you.

Most of the performances come off like posturing (especially with Boxleitner and Cindy Morgan), but it's hard to blame the actors, seeing that writer-director Steven Lisberger was an animator at the time, and lacked filmmaking fundamentals. His script boasts some alternately corny or stilted lines of dialogue, leaving the visuals to carry the show, aided throughout by an evocative Wendy Carlos score with occasional quasi-religious flourishes.

“Tron”may still be more of a great looking videogame-come-to-life than a good movie, but nostalgia alone has kept the film in circulation, leading Disney to release a gorgeous new Blu-Ray release alongside last year’s TRON: LEGACY (***, 125 mins., 2010, PG), a visually spellbinding sequel that follows its predecessor’s lead in terms of both its strengths and weaknesses but, overall, improves upon its foundation.

The threadbare plot follows Jeff Bridges’ son (the bland Garrett Hedlund) as he’s sucked back into the world of Tron, looking for his father, who went missing when he was a young boy. The decades haven’t been kind to the “world within a computer,” with the former-good guys having overthrown the MCP and started a dictatorial regime of their own – spearheaded by Bridges’ CPU alter-ego “Clu” (digital animation is only partially successful in attempting to make the actor appear as he did in 1982). Hedlund ends up finding the real Kevin Flynn, much older and wiser, who lives outside the computerized metropolis as an Obi-Wan-like castoff hoping to bring freedom back inside “the grid.”

“Tron Legacy” is an uneven yet ultimately entertaining film that will appeal, naturally, to fans of the original as well as video game addicts and special effects buffs. It’s curious to see that not only do director Joseph Kosinski and writers Edward Kitsis, Adam Horowitz, Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal latch onto the 1982 movie for inspiration, but how much of this film’s story refers back to it – establishing in lengthy flashbacks how the “Tron: Legacy” universe came to be. If you have never seen the first “Tron” (or haven’t watched it in years), the plot might seem unnecessarily convoluted, though in reality the movie simply serves up more of what made the original a cult favorite, dressed up with today’s cutting-edge special effects and even a bit of family-friendly moralizing (it’s still a Disney movie, after all!).

Hedlund is bland but Bridges and fetching female lead Olivia Wilde are game, as are some pulsating action sequences backed by outstanding visuals and one phenomenal soundtrack by British electronica group Daft Punk – apparently enhanced with orchestration supplied by a number of high-profile composer “consultants” – that’s one of the freshest and most exciting pieces of film music I’ve heard in several years. Their vibrant percussive cues and catchy riffs add a whole layer to the movie that helps you gloss over the scattershot character development and fumbled dramatic opportunities (is there any particular reason why the Tron character has to wear a helmet obscuring his face...could they not afford the CGI treatment to make Bruce Boxleitner also appear 30 years younger?).

It’s impossible to recommend “Tron: Legacy” to viewers who disliked the original “Tron,” since its strengths and weaknesses mirror the original 1982 film in many ways. Yet for sci-fi geeks and game enthusiasts, it’s still a lot of fun – and both movies are ideal to exploit the capabilities of your HDTV home theater via Disney’s flawless, five-disc Blu-Ray package.

“Tron: Legacy” is presented in a simply smashing AVC encoded 1080p transfer, framed at 1.78 (during its “real world” sequences) and 2.35 (for the sequences set inside the computer world) – a shifting aspect ratio that reflects its theatrical (non-IMAX) presentation. Colors are glorious, contrasts are perfect, and minus its digital 3-D gimmick, the picture offers a vibrancy lacking from its 3-D theatrical exhibition. (There’s a 3-D Blu-Ray and digital copy discs also included within the package. Having seen the film in theaters, I found some of the 3-D effects to be effective, yet overall, I’d take the superior brightness and clarity of the 2-D image over the 3-D exhibition). On the audio end, Daft Punk’s music and a brilliantly engineered sound design make for a reference-quality DTS Master Audio soundtrack that’s likewise going to be a staple to show off the benefits of your home-theater receiver.

Extras aren’t overwhelming but do include an interesting 10-minute “The Next Day” segment that would’ve fit in the film’s opening section (and also hints at a sequel that now seems inevitable given the picture’s near-$400 million worldwide gross), plus mostly lightweight featurettes, a music video of Daft Punk’s “Derezzed,” Comic Con footage and other mostly disposable segments.

Accompanying the “Tron Legacy” release is the debut of the original TRON on Blu-Ray (available as part of this five-disc package or separately), and once again Disney has done a miraculous job remastering the film for HD. The film’s 1080p transfer shows off the film as it has never been seen in almost 20 years, with beautiful colors and a pleasing amount of fine grain retained in the image. HDNet debuted a HD master of the picture a year ago, but the print screened here is much cleaner, with Wendy Carlos’ score and effective directional sounds expertly mixed in the DTS Master Audio soundtrack.

The BD includes two new featurettes: a 10-minute look back at the film (with recent interviews with the “Tron: Legacy” cast/crew) as well as a superior, particularly nice 16-minute segment with Steven Lisberger and his son Carl going through the Disney archives, looking at rare stills, pre-production concepts and artwork that viewers have never seen before.

Besides these two new extras, the Blu-Ray retains the supplements from its out-of-print 2002 DVD release, most of which were rehashed from the studio's outstanding laserdisc box-set that was released fairly late in the format’s run. There’s a terrific 90-minute documentary with cast and crew interviews that was produced for the 2002 DVD edition, offering comments from its principal players, all of whom boast proudly about the movie's technical accomplishments and how it laid the foundation for future CGI epics.

The deleted scenes have been brought back with Lisberger’s introductions, while several hilarious clips from the TV special "Computers Are People Too" are also here (don't miss the introduction of "young writer-director Steven Lisberger," who is seen staring out blankly into space, playing his xylophone!). The same trailers that marked the prior DVD/LD releases are also present, and there are an assortment of still-frame galleries included -- even the audio commentary is the very same track recorded in the mid '90s for the laserdisc!

“Tron” isn't a classic film, but it remains a cinematic milestone for its landmark computer effects, which were far ahead of its time. For many of us, though, it holds a greater significance as the one movie that brings back a rush of nostalgia for the days of our youth, plugging away at the "Tron" arcade game, grabbing another stack of tokens, and trying to establish our names on that coveted High Scorers list. That alone makes the Blu-Ray highly recommended for anyone who spent time growing up in the summer of '82, with “Tron: Legacy” a follow-up that fortunately doesn’t diminish its predecessor’s cult status, but rather adds to its own imperfect, and yet undeniably “cool,” cinematic legacy.

Also New on Blu-Ray

THE SHERLOCK HOLMES COLLECTION (MPI): HD enthusiasts with a passion for the Golden Age need to do themselves a favor next week by picking up MPI’s Blu-Ray box-set of the “Sherlock Holmes Collection.” Not only will it encourage the release of more classic films on Blu, but it’ll also infuse your collection with terrific HD presentations of the 14 vintage Holmes mysteries starring Basil Rathbone as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s legendary detective and Nigel Bruce as his faithful sidekick Dr. Watson.

The five-disc BD set offers the duo’s first two series entries – “The Hound of the Baskervilles” and the outstanding “Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” – which were produced at Fox as Grade-A productions in 1939, as well as the subsequent 12 pictures Rathbone and Bruce starred in for Universal Pictures beginning in 1942.

Universal’s entries differed from the Fox films in a number of ways: the studio produced the films on a lower (though not entirely bargain-basement) budget and, most notably, initially shifted the stories away from Victorian era England to the then-present day of the 1940s. This enabled the producers to offer more “contemporary” WWII-era stories (most evidently seen in “Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror,” “Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon,” and “Sherlock Holmes in Washington”), designed to appeal to populist sentiment of the time with anti-Nazi themes permeating the respective mysteries. Additional entries – “Sherlock Holmes Faces Death,” “The Spider Woman,” “The Scarlet Claw,” “The Pearl of Death,” “The House of Fear,” “The Woman in Green,” “Pursuit to Algiers,” “Terror by Night” and “Dressed to Kill” – lessened the war-time rhetoric, with the latter entries also de-emphasizing the modern trappings of the era in favor of a tone more in keeping with the material’s literary roots.

Some of the pictures are more successful than others (and many are a far cry from Conan Doyle’s stories), but with Rathbone and Bruce onboard, every one of them is at least entertaining and MPI’s Blu-Ray set is just tremendous. Universal’s 12 entries were painstakingly restored by the UCLA Archive over a span of nearly ten years; despite working often with less-than-stellar materials, the Archive’s efforts were dazzling, particularly considering the shambles some of the films were in (several had entered into the public domain after Universal sold them all in the ‘50s, resulting in decades of showings that were generations removed from the original negatives).

The 1080p AVC encoded transfers look like real film, with grain (and not much DNR save for the two Fox entries) prevailing in the impressively detailed transfers (and make no mistake – print damage and numerous other issues are also occasionally evident throughout the pictures). When screened on larger sets, there’s no question viewers will see an appreciable gain in detail over their prior DVD editions. Informative extras are carried over from MPI’s prior DVD releases of the pictures, including a half-dozen commentary tracks, an interview with UCLA preservationist Robert Gitt, a number of trailers, a photo gallery and several theatrical trailers.

This is a marvelous release and one that comes highly recommended for all Sherlock Holmes fans and Golden Age enthusiasts, and another terrific catalog release for the format in 2011.

HEREAFTER Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital Copy (**½, 129 mins., 2010, PG-13; Warner): Clint Eastwood’s recent films have mostly hit the bullseye, but this sleepy character drama from last fall failed to muster much of a reaction from most critics and movie-goers.

Peter Morgan’s script isn’t so much a supernatural drama as the title implies but rather an introspective study of three individuals affected by death (Matt Damon’s former Bay Area physic; Cecile de France’s French TV journalist; and a young British boy trying, with his brother, to help their heroin-addicted mother) and how life ends up bringing them all together.

“Hereafter,” which was co-produced by Steven Spielberg, Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy, is an awfully slow-going drama that only intermittently generates tangible emotional sparks. The performances are fine, but between the script’s lack of fire and Eastwood’s leisurely direction, the movie tends to meander on, failing to culminate in a satisfying payoff (it should also be noted that viewers sensitive to the tragedy in Japan may want to avoid this film’s depiction of a tsunami – in fact, Warner Bros. had to understandably pull the film from Japanese theatrical distribution in lieu of the recent earthquake).

Warner’s Blu-Ray disc does offer a fine AVC encoded transfer, DTS Master soundtrack, a couple of fluffy featurettes, and an extended HD version of “The Eastwood Factor” documentary. A DVD and digital copy round out the package.

TANGLED Blu-Ray/DVD (***, 100 mins., G, 2010; Disney): Cute animated rendering of the Rapunzel fairy tale, produced with CGI animation, boasts a few laughs, colorful design, and songs by Alan Menken and Glenn Slater that regrettably were dialed down in importance while “Tangled” went through some conceptual alterations during production.

The shifts of tone are evident in “Tangled,” which seems to want to veer off on a “Shrek”-ian kind of tangent with more ribald humor than is typical for a Disney ‘toon, yet its heart remains firmly entrenched in the studio’s more traditional “princess” tales of years past. It’s a bit of a schizophrenic feature for that reason, yet the movie nevertheless offers a pleasing amount of entertainment for kids and adults alike, and Disney’s Blu-Ray boasts a high-quality AVC encoded 1080p transfer with DTS Master Audio sound, deleted scenes, featurettes, Making Of materials, and a DVD copy for good measure.

SCREAM Blu-Ray (***, 111 mins., 1996, R; Lionsgate)
SCREAM 2 Blu-Ray (***, 120 mins., 1997, R; Lionsgate)
SCREAM 3 Blu-Ray (***, 117 mins., 2000, R; Lionsgate): Director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson’s hugely successful, self-referential horror trilogy finally sees a Blu-Ray release – in time for the release of “Scream 4.”

The original “Scream” came out of nowhere in 1996 and started a whole genre of imitators with its hip, if occasionally smug, dialogue, which references classic slashers as it spins a tale of high school students (Neve Campbell, Drew Barrymore, Skeet Ulrich, Matthew Lillard, Jamie Kennedy among others) being stalked by a hooded masked killer. TV reporter Courtney Cox is on hand to chronicle the ghastly killings (and exploit them for the betterment of her ratings) while David Arquette is the lovable if mostly clueless sheriff trying to make sense of the murders.

“Scream” is a tight, solid piece of entertainment, and it was followed by a pair of sequels in 1997 and 2000 – each offering variations on the same theme (funny dialogue, seriously gory murders, rinse and repeat) with attractive cast members being killed left and right by others who don the masked killer guise.

One of the things I wasn't too keen on in the original 1996 film was how the line between horror and comedy was blurred, particularly in its needlessly overdone "stabfest" finale. Thankfully, Craven and Williamson dialed much of the gore down a notch in “Scream 2,” which aside from being affected by temp-tracked cues from Hans Zimmer’s “Broken Arrow” score, ranks as the strongest series entry, with Campbell’s Sydney Prescott heading to college and being stalked by a copycat killer on campus.

“Scream 3" followed three years later, and saw Neve Campbell's heroine pretty much relegated to a secondary role, which allowed then-off-screen newlyweds David Arquette and Courtney Cox to take center stage as doofus Deputy Dewey and tabloid reporter Gail Weathers, investigating a series of killings that have taken place on the set of “Stab 3,” the final installment in Hollywood's crass commercialization of the Woodsboro murders.

As usual, there are the typical grab-bag of possible suspects and candidates for slayings, ranging from movie-within-a-movie stars Parker Posey (hilarious mimicking Cox's character), Matt Keeslar, Jenny McCarthy, and would-be-auteur filmmaker Scott Foley. Meanwhile, it turns out that the murders are linked back to the killing of Campbell's Mom, which culminates in another over-the-top climax and a series of revelations about the original “Scream.”

Ehren Kruger took over writing chores in “Scream 3" from creator Kevin Williamson, and while the movie lacks that sometimes-pretentious, sometimes-hilarious snap of Williamson's prose, it nevertheless manages to generate a successful amount of one-liners and appealing characters to compliment the usual goings-on. Craven handles the situation with his usual visual flair and the repartee between Arquette and Cox is often amusing, particularly as Campbell spends the first hour almost completely off-screen and appears mainly in the last third to properly finish off the series (or, at least we thought it was the end!).

The series produced too many clones for its own good, but on its own terms, the “Scream” pictures are certainly more enjoyable than most exercises in the slasher genre, and remain entertaining for their attractive casts and stylish widescreen lensing.

It’s taken an inordinate amount of time for the “Scream” films to see a release on Blu-Ray in the U.S., with Miramax having recently broke off from Buena Vista and taken their back catalog along with them. Because of that, Lionsgate has become the primary caretaker of the Miramax/Dimension catalog (Echo Bridge Home Entertainment will be releasing other Miramax/Dimension titles, presumably the “B” grade movies, on Blu-Ray over the next few months).

Lionsgate’s separate-disc BD releases of the “Scream” films look very good indeed. 1080p AVC encoded transfers and DTS Master soundtracks are all top-notch, while a good number of extras are carried over from each film’s prior DVD release and include commentaries, deleted scenes, outtakes, trailers, featurettes and more.    

ALSO NEW FROM LIONSGATE...Three Blu-Ray discs that have been Best Buy retail exclusives for a while will soon be available nationwide. The acclaimed, Oscar winning documentary THE COVE (96 mins., 2009, PG-13), the lame sequel STILL WAITING... (90 mins., 2009, Unrated), and Roger Avary’s overdone THE RULES OF ATTRACTION (110 mins., 2002, Unrated) all arrive on BD with 1080p AVC encoded transfers, DTS Master soundtracks, and their respective DVD extra features intact...Don Draper and Co. are back on DVD in the complete Fourth Season of MAD MEN (611 mins., 2010), which includes all 13 episodes in 16:9 transfers with 5.1 soundtracks and a number of extras including commentaries for every episode and a number of featurettes placing the show in its era’s proper historical and social context.

Warner Catalog Titles

KING OF KINGS Blu-Ray (***½, 171 mins., 1961, PG-13; Warner): Samuel Bronston’s sweeping 1961 Biblical epic is punctuated by a spectacular Miklos Rozsa score and sensitive direction from Nicholas Ray, and looks better than ever in Warner’s restored Blu-Ray edition. The AVC encoded transfer is utterly spectacular, filled with detail and striking colors, while robust DTS Master Audio sound does justice to Rozsa’s stirring soundtrack. There aren’t a whole lot of extra features here – just a vintage featurette, newsreels and the trailer are on-hand – but the restored presentation ought to give Blu-Ray owners another reason to boast about their format.

Also available from Warner on DVD, in time for Easter,  is a re-issue of CHARLTON HESTON PRESENTS THE BIBLE, the late actor’s 1992 sojourn to the Holy Land, where he recites tales from the Good Book with accompanying music provided by Leonard Rosenman. Full-screen transfers and stereo soundtracks accompany this four-volume DVD re-issue of a release that ought to enchant the faithful and Heston devotees.

ARTHUR/ARTHUR 2 Blu-Ray (***½ for Arthur, ** for Arthur 2, 1981-88, PG; Warner): I’ve said it before, but it seems the only good thing to come out of Hollywood’s recent remake explosion is a corresponding Blu-Ray release of said remake’s predecessor. Such is the case with next week’s Double Feature platter of Dudley Moore’s 1981 comedy classic “Arthur,” here paired with its tepid and unnecessary 1988 flop sequel “Arthur 2: On the Rocks” (time will tell if the new Russell Brand “Arthur” is actually any funnier than the original movie’s own mediocre follow-up).
The original “Arthur” is a thoroughly pleasant, occasionally hilarious updating of a ‘30s/‘40s romantic screwball comedy, following Moore’s drunken playboy around the Big Apple with Liza Minnelli as the working-class girl who wins his heart and John Gielgud in an Oscar-winning performance as his butler and confidant Hobson. Steve Gordon, who tragically died not long after the film’s release, wrote and directed this 1981 box-office hit (his only directorial feature), backed by a buoyant Burt Bacharach soundtrack that features Christopher Cross’s all-time classic movie song “Arthur’s Theme.” Warner’s Blu-Ray presentation generally does the film justice: the AVC encoded 1080p transfer is a bit glossier than expected (with some DNR having been applied), but it’s still a huge step up from the only DVD that’s ever been available of the movie – one that’s in full-screen only! The DTS MA sound offers a fine rendition of the movie’s mono mix, while the trailer is also included.

“Arthur 2" is one of those sequels that never should’ve been made – a completely unwarranted follow-up that feels belabored at every point. The original cast returns and tries hard, but aside from a few fleeting laughs, “On the Rocks” feels like a pointless rehash...even Bacharach’s score is a letdown, opening up with a forgettable Chris deBergh song that has the nerve to reference lyrics from Cross’ chart-topping original theme. The AVC encoded 1080p transfer and DTS MA stereo sound are both fine, while another trailer rounds out the disc – one that’s certainly worthwhile for offering the first widescreen release of the original “Arthur” in the U.S.

THE SPACE KIDETTES/YOUNG SAMSON DVD (Warner Archive): More vintage Hanna-Barbera fun joins the Warner Archives this month. This four-disc set couples two cartoons that shared a half-hour on the Saturday morning block: “The Space Kidettes,” which sports a quartet of youngsters who, along with their puppy pal Pupstar, take on the dastardly Captain Skyhook in a “Jetsons”-like future, and “Young Samson,” a super-hero like show that borrows from “Shazaam!” and “Johnny Quest” as it follows a teenage boy and his dog who transform into a muscled superhero and corresponding lion, respectively, and thwart evil around the globe. All 20 episodes of the show have been spread across the set, which is available exclusively now through the Warner Archive.

SCARECROW AND MRS. KING Season 2 DVD (1984-85, 1087 mins.; Warner): A lightweight slice of escapist entertainment that was likely influenced to some degree by the success of NBC’s “Remington Steele” (and one that would provide an influence on “True Lies” and similarly-themed “domestic” spy caper yarns), this popular CBS series followed Kate Jackson as single mom Amanda King, mom of two young boys in Washington D.C., who improbably gets swept up with secret agent Lee “Scarecrow” Stetson’s latest adventure -- thereby beginning a friendship with romantic overtones and a new profession for our seemingly everyday suburban mother.

Jackson and Boxleitner were both well-cast in this good-natured, upbeat show, which boasts a fantastic Arthur B. Rubinstein title theme and is back on DVD in a five-disc set from Warners, offering all 23 episodes from its second season. Good looking full-screen transfers and mono soundtracks adorn the package.

Also New on Blu-Ray

HOW DO YOU KNOW Blu-Ray (**, 121 mins., 2010, PG-13; Sony): James L. Brooks’ costly box-office flop is also, unsurprisingly, one of his weakest films: a contrived, unconvincing tale about a former softball player (Reese Witherspoon) who starts a relationship with a current baseball star (Owen Wilson) but quickly meets a businessman (Paul Rudd) under investigation by the feds whom she immediately strikes a rapport with. Brooks’ frequent collaborator Jack Nicholson also appears in “How Do You Know,” a phony and slow-going “relationship movie” that somehow cost upwards of $120 million and returned only $30 mil domestically. It’s unlikely Blu-Ray sales are going to help too much, yet Sony’s AVC encoded presentation is just fine, as is the DTS MA audio. Extras include deleted scenes, a Making Of, blooper reel, and commentary track; the BD also includes a couple of exclusive extras (19 additional minutes of deleted scenes and a conversation between Brooks and Hans Zimmer).

ALL GOOD THINGS Blu-Ray (***, 101 mins,, 2010, R; Magnolia): Andrew Jarecki's thriller profiles the disappearance of a young wife (Kirsten Dunst) of a New York real estate heir (Ryan Gosling) in the 1980s. “All Good Things” is an uneven yet well-performed and compelling mystery that was based on the notorious real-life case of Robert Durst, an NYC real estate mogul whose wife disappeared and who was later charged with murder in a separate case in Texas. The names have been changed but the Durst family threatened to sue the filmmakers of “All Good Things,” and at least succeeded in pressuring the Weinsteins (still credited as executive producers) to drop their distribution of the film. Magnolia picked it up and has now released it on Blu-Ray in a fine 1080p transfer with DTS Master Audio sound and extras including deleted scenes, two commentary tracks (including one with the real Robert Durst; perhaps a condition to the film being released?), and a look at the real-life tale that inspired it.

VANQUISHER Blu-Ray (93 mins., 2009, R; Magnolia): A female special ops agent (Sophita Sriban) joins forces with an American CIA agent (Jacquie A. Thannon) to take down an Al-Qaeda terrorist, only to find she’s been double-crossed in this Thai action import. Magnolia’s Blu-Ray sports a 1080p transfer, DTS Master soundtrack, two featurettes, the international trailer, and both English and Thai language offerings.

Also on DVD

WALLENBERG: A HERO’S STORY (188 mins., 1985; CBS/Paramount): Fact-based, Emmy-winning 1985 TV movie  Richard Chamberlain as a Swedish diplomat who helped over 100,000 Jews during the Holocaust finally gets released on DVD by CBS. The label’s single-disc presentation includes the original, uncut telefilm (over three hours long) in full-screen format with mono sound. From Lamont Johnson’s assured direction to Gerald Green’s teleplay and Ernest Gold’s music, this is one of the finest TV movies of its era and comes highly recommended on DVD.

ALSO NEW: E One brings us Colin Firth and Catherine Keener in Michael Winterbottom’s latest A SUMMER IN GENOA (93 mins., 2008, R), a family drama now being released on DVD with cast/crew interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, a 16:9 transfer (2.35) and 5.1 audio....Ethel Merman, Frank Sinatra, Burt Lahr and Sheree North starred in a 1954 Colgate Comedy Hour production of ANYTHING GOES (53 mins.), here remastered and presented on DVD from E One. Extras include a new interview with musical director Buddy Bergman and a 20-page booklet offering comments from writer-historian Stephen Cole...Paul King’s Brit comedy BUNNY AND THE BULL (101 mins., 2009, Not Rated) also finds a release from IFC this month, with interviews and behind-the-scenes content on-hand...Jim Sturgess stars in a new thriller from controversial director Philip Ridley (“The Reflecting Skin”) entitled HEARTLESS (114 mins., 2009, Not Rated), which IFC has packaged with commentary, extensive Making Of content and more...Finally, IFC also brings to Region 1 the bizarre French import RICKY (89 mins., 2008, Not Rated), about an odd toddler and how he integrates into a young family; a 16:9 (1.85) transfer and 5.1 soundtrack complete the disc.

THE GENIUS OF DESIGN DVD (242 mins., Acorn): First broadcast in the U.S. on the Smithsonian Channel, this five-part BBC documentary examines the art of design, whether it’s in the world of architecture or technological advances like computers. This wide-ranging doc offers interviews with contemporary designers like Dieter Rams, J Mays, and Jonathan Ive, all of whom discuss their creative processes and how design impacts our culture. Acorn’s box-set offers all five episodes from the series in 16:9 transfers with stereo soundtracks and extras including biographies of influential designers and a 12-page viewer’s guide.

THE COSMOS: A BEGINNER’S GUIDE DVD (169 mins., Acorn): Highly enjoyable BBC series finds Adam Hart-Davis examining the mystery of the cosmos, interviewing scientists and looking at high-tech telescopes and other science equipment. “The Cosmos” shouldn’t be confused with Carl Sagan’s own profile of the solar system, yet this is a more accessible and personable view of the world outside Earth’s front door. Acorn’s DVD is a six-disc set and also includes a viewer’s guide and gallery of Apollo astronauts.

UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS Season 1 (1971-72, 650 mins., Acorn): The legendary London Weekend Television series is back on DVD in a new release from Acorn after several years of being out-of-print. Acorn’s DVD releases include a lavish Complete Series set as well as individual Season releases, with Season 1 offering an alternate pilot episode, new commentary tracks, and the first part of a new documentary on the series’ production. The full-screen transfers are as solid as can be anticipated given the video origins of the series (three episodes are presented in B&W), making for a highly recommended release for series fans.

THE THIRD REICH DVD (180 mins., 2010; History/NewVideo): The rise, the fall, and the history of the Nazi Party is profiled in this 2010 three-hour documentary from the History Channel. Vintage newsreels and some unique footage (including material carried home by Russian troops) joins with the requisite historian interviews to provide a fascinating new documentary on a topic that’s been, naturally, much discussed in print and on film.

STAN LEE’S SUPERHUMANS Season 1 DVD (6 hrs., 2010; History/NewVideo): Stan “The Man” Lee steps out of his comic book comfort zone for this eight-episode History Channel series profiling humans with incredible “powers” of their own, including Daniel Browning Smith, the world’s most flexible man, who hosts the show. Widescreen transfers, stereo soundtracks and additional footage are all on tap in the two-disc set.

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