4/12/11 Edition Twitter: THEAISLESEATCOM
April Round-Up
Plus: HARRY POTTER's Finale (Part 1)

Next week Anchor Bay rolls out one of 2010's finest films on Blu-Ray: THE KING’S SPEECH (***½, 118 mins., R), Tom Hooper’s dramatization of the relationship between reluctant King George VI (Colin Firth) and his speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), who meet in the 1920s when the King was just the Duke of York, hoping to overcome his stutter and become a communicator like his father.

As time passes, though, his need to speak clearly and authoritatively becomes even more essential than before. After George’s father (Michael Gambon) passes away and his brother David (Guy Pearce) proves to be more of a playboy than a leader, the former naval officer ascends to the throne on the precipice of WWII. With the advent of radio and the dawn of mass communication upon him, ‘Bertie’‘s relationship with the charismatic Logue becomes vital as the need to address the nation about England’s future looms.

With a marvelous script by David Seidler, “The King’s Speech” is a rock-solid account of the real-life relationship between the two men. At times the film functions more like a play than a broad historical drama – the bulk of the picture articulating the friendship that develops between the two men – and both Rush and Firth (an Oscar winner for Best Actor) are dynamite together. Despite a fine supporting cast (Helena Bonham Carter has a mostly disposable role as Bertie’s wife, Queen Elizabeth I, while Derek Jacobi essays the not-always understanding Archbishop and Timothy Spall is a somewhat awkward Winston Churchill), the movie is a showcase for its superb lead actors, and Hooper and Seidler rarely steer off-course on subplots. This is an old-fashioned (in the best sense of the word) character study that culminates in an especially satisfying conclusion, made all the more remarkable in its apparent authenticity (Siedler and Hooper reportedly re-wrote their script when they began reading Logue’s own diaries, which they were given access to by his grandson).

Anchor Bay’s Blu-Ray release of “The King’s Speech” includes several fine extras, including an interview with Logue’s grandson, a commentary track, excerpts of the King’s actual speeches, a 20-minute cast/crew Q&A, and a promotional featurette. The DTS-MA audio is fine, featuring a serviceable Alexandre Desplat score, while the 1080p AVC encoded HD transfer is first-rate, even if the cinematography tends to favor a predictably “modern” washed-out, blue-tinted appearance.

Also due out shortly from Anchor Bay and Abkco are Blu-Ray editions of Alejandro Jodorowsky's new age western/Buddhist meditiation/counterculture EL TOPO (124 mins., 1970) and its follow-up THE HOLY MOUNTAIN (113 mins., 1973), a pair of pictures championed by the likes of John Lennon and Yoko Ono during the era, and two controversial films that remain a strikingly surrealistic experience for the unititiated.

Both movies hit Blu on April 26th with brand-new, remastered AVC encoded 1080p transfers (1.33 on "El Topo"; 2.35 on "Holy Mountain") and DTS Master Audio soundtracks. Extensive extras include commentaries by Jodorowsky on both movies, while "El Topo" also includes an English dubbed track, an interview with the director, the trailer, and a photo gallery with script excerpts. "The Holy Mountain" also includes deleted scenes with director introductions, a restoration process demonstration, another photo gallery, the trailer, and a "Tarot Bonus" with Jodorowsky's commentary.

Bob Hope’s film career petered out with a number of comedies that generally went from bad to worse, yet even the worst of the lot – his 1972 cinematic swan-song CANCEL MY RESERVATION – is oddly, inexplicably watchable. From its catchy Dominic Frontiere soundtrack (with a particularly memorable theme song) to Bob playing a 42-year-old leading man at age 68, this adaptation of a Louis L’Amour novel is strangely watchable in spite of its scattershot laughs and uninteresting mystery aspects.

Finally released on DVD as part of Shout! Factory’s BOB HOPE COLLECTION VOLUME 2, “Cancel My Reservation” was, like the majority of the comedian’s prior films, produced by Hope himself, and finds Bob as a New York TV talk show host who heads down to Arizona to get away from his wife (Eva Marie Saint). There, he meets an attractive young Native American woman who winds up dead in the house he’s renting. Soon the authorities including sheriff Keenan Wynn believe that Hope is responsible for the crime, though our hero ends up getting help from his estranged wife and a local girl (Anne Archer) who winds up in bed with Bob...talk about a memorable way for Archer to start her feature film career!

Frontiere’s terrifically dated score is fun and Archer is so attractive that it’s easy to overlook all the other problems with “Cancel My Reservation”; namely, that almost none of it is funny! I have no idea if L’Amour’s book was supposed to be serious, but veteran TV director Paul Bogart can do little here to make the action faintly comedic. Yet despite all of that, I found myself glued to the film from beginning to end...call it a bad movie guilty pleasure, but “Cancel My Reservation” is pretty much reason enough to pick up this second Shout! anthology of vintage Hope comedies.

Also included in the set are “mod” comedy HOW TO COMMIT MARRIAGE with Jane Wyman, Jackie Gleason, a young Tim Matheson and plenty of hippies; the horrendous THE PRIVATE NAVY OF SGT. O’FARRELL with Phyllis Diller and Jeffrey Hunter; Hope’s earlier classic SON OF PALEFACE; the widescreen PARIS HOLIDAY; and the black-and-white comedy THE GREAT LOVER with Rhonda Fleming.

Many of the Hope films have been released on video in less-than-stellar transfers and Shout! Factory here has done the best it can with the elements they had at hand. The majority of the transfers are all 4:3 full-screen and look fairly good, especially considering that “Cancel My Reservation” has been seldom screened over the years. Some of the movies' original studio logos have been retained (“Cancel” was a Warner Bros. release; “How to Commit Marriage” was a Columbia film) while others have been excised, but since none of these films were shot in widescreen, the full-screen image is acceptable in this instance.

The sole 16:9 transfer is “Paris Holiday,” and it looks decent, with the worst looking transfer of the lot being “The Great Lover,” which looks no better than a public domain print – it’s fuzzy and slightly out of focus throughout.

Overall, while most of the films in this set are far from Hope’s best, fans of the comedian ought to enjoy some of the rarities in this release, particularly that 1972 “comedy thriller” with a soundtrack that’s just begging to be released!

Also new from Shout! this month:

ROGER CORMAN ACTION PACKED TRIPLE FEATURE DVD: Enjoyable assortment of B-movies includes the 1977 Claudia Jennings-Jocelyn Jones vehicle “The Great Texas Dynamite Chase,” Jimmy McNicol in “Smokey Bites the Dust,” and Tanya Tucker and Dirk Benedict in the TV pilot “Georgia Peaches.” “Georgia Peaches” and “Great Texas Dynamite Chase” are presented in 16:9 while “Smokey Bites the Dust” arrives in a 4:3 transfer. Trailers are on tap for all three films.

DIRTY MARY, CRAZY LARRY/RACE WITH THE DEVIL Double Feature DVD: Peter Fonda, Warren Oates, Lara Parker and Loretta Swit run afoul of a satanic cult in Fox’s 1975 horror-road trip “Race with the Devil,” which boasts a Leonard Rosenman score and a memorable finale, and has been coupled on DVD with Fonda’s earlier effort “Dirty Mary Crazy Larry.” Both movies offer nice 16:9 transfers and extras including new commentaries (director John Hough, Fonda and Susan George on “Dirty Mary...”; Lara Parker and producer Paul Maslansky on “Race”), interviews, trailers, TV and radio spots.

DRAGNET 1970 Season 4 DVD (11 hrs., Shout!): Jack Webb and Harry Morgan reunited for the fourth and final season of the “Mod” era incarnation of “Dragnet,” which arrives on DVD from Shout! The four-disc set offers the series’ final 26 episodes, which aired on NBC between September 1969 and April 1970, along with a segment featuring Webb and Morgan on a Jack Benny special. Highly recommended for Dragnet fans.

New on Blu-Ray

HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART I Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital Copy (***, 146 mins., 2010, PG-13; Warner): The first cinematic part of the final installment in J.K. Rowling’s series manages to be an absorbing, if leisurely, chronicle that sets up Harry Potter’s final battle with Voldemort by splitting apart our heroes as well as wizards everywhere, all of whom are on the run from the Dark Lord’s forces.

David Yates returned to direct “Deathly Hallows” and this is a far more compelling film than “The Half-Blood Prince,” with the extended running time used to build the story up to a conclusion we’ll be seeing in theaters this summer. At times the pace almost feels too languid, particularly in a draggy mid-section that finds Harry and Hermoine hiding out after separating from Ron, while other aspects of the material receive, surprisingly, perfunctory treatment (i.e. the fate of Hedwig, Harry’s pet owl).

While Eduardo Serra’s cinematography has that bland, desaturated look so many modern movies do, and Alexandre Desplat’s score fails to lift the material, there are certainly enough memorable moments and ample entertainment here to enchant both series fans and casual viewers, particularly those who found the prior two entries overly plot-heavy.

Warner’s Blu-Ray disc looks well detailed, though viewers who haven’t seen it should be forewarned that this is one dark film (I wouldn’t recommend viewing it during the day, especially in a bright room). The DTS Master sound boasts effective usage of the surround channels, while extras include several featurettes, additional scenes, a look at the soundtrack, and “Maximum Movie Mode” picture-in-picture content. A DVD and digital copy are also on-hand.

BABE Blu-Ray (****, 92 mins., 1995, G; Universal): Producer George Miller and director Chris Noonan’s 1995 box-office surprise has since become a genuine children’s film classic.

This colorful, lyrical adaptation of Dick King-Smith’s novel about the pig with a heart of gold who mends fences with the animals on the farm of Mr. Hoggett (James Cromwell) and wife (Magda Szubanski) and becomes a champion sheepdog is almost perfectly rendered. From the gorgeous cinematography and production design (kudos to Andrew Lesnie and Roger Ford, respectively) to Nigel Westlake’s scoring, the eloquent narration of Roscoe Lee Browne and visual effects from Rhythm & Hues and Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, “Babe” is one of my favorite films of the ‘90s, never mind simply being a good “family” picture.

Universal’s Blu-Ray happily offers a fine VC-1 encoded 1080p transfer of “Babe.” While some debris can be seen on-screen at times, there’s a nice clarity to the image with fine detail that’s enhanced by a strong color pallet. DTS Master Audio sound and the extras from the prior DVD release (commentary with Miller, an interview and brief making of) round out the package.

LITTLE FOCKERS Blu-Ray/DVD (**, 98 mins., 2010, PG-13; Universal): Tired third entry in the “Fockers” series is so tepid that all the goodwill generated by the original “Meet the Parents” has long since evaporated. Here parents Ben Stiller and Teri Polo’s offspring exhibits more of the Focker bloodline than Robert DeNiro and Blythe Danner’s side of the family; predictable shenanigans about Stiller’s parental abilities ensue, along with a surprisingly high number of tasteless gags. Series regulars Owen Wilson and Barbra Streisand return, as does Dustin Hoffman, whose scenes were only added after poor test screenings necessitated a number of re-shoots (apparently Dustin initially had the good sense to turn down the movie, but ultimately couldn’t resist a second check). Universal’s Blu-Ray boasts a nice AVC encoded 1080p transfer, DTS Master soundtrack, a gag reel, deleted scenes, Making Of featurette, an alternate opening and ending, two BD exclusive featurettes, and a DVD copy for good measure.

BLACK SWAN Blu-Ray/Digital Copy (**½, 108 mins., R; Fox): Natalie Portman’s performance as a mentally fragile ballerina being pushed to the limit by both her mother (Barbara Hershey) and ballet director (Vicent Cassel) was certainly Oscar worthy, yet “Black Swan” as a film comes across as another overrated outing for director Darren Aronofsky following the ridiculous “The Fountain” and well-acted yet overpraised “The Wrestler.” Portman’s relationship with a fellow dancer (Mila Kunis) provides the film with its core dramatic sparks, but while the film is interesting visually and Portman’s performance compelling, the Mark Heyman-Andres Heinz-John McLaughlin script ultimately is just another “mind game” with an ending that will feel awfully familiar to a lot of viewers. Fox’s Blu-Ray disc includes a fine documentary on the making of the picture, cast profiles, and other behind-the-scenes content, plus BD Live extras and a digital copy. Since the movie was shot partially using 16mm cameras, the AVC encoded 1080p transfer isn’t the most impressive visceral experience you’ll have on Blu-Ray, but the DTS Master Audio sound is at least superbly rendered.       

CASINO JACK Blu-Ray (108 mins., 2010, R; Fox): Kevin Spacey plays infamous Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff in this not especially well-received 2010 film by George Hickenlooper, co-starring Barry Pepper, Jon Lovitz and Kelly Preston. Fox’s Blu-Ray disc includes deleted scenes, a gag reel, photo diary, 1080p AVC encoded transfer and DTS Master soundtrack on one 25GB Blu-Ray platter.

THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital Copy (***, 113 mins., 2010, PG; Fox): Despite having lost its original distributor (Fox took over for Disney) and a good chunk of its budget, this fairly economical adaptation of C.S. Lewis’ third entry in his “Narnia” series still became a hit at the box-office, grossing nearly $410 million worldwide.

While lacking the cinematic grandeur of its first installment, “The Dawn Traeder” is a good deal more satisfying than “Prince Caspian,” again following the Pevensie children as they return to Narnia in another attempt to save the kingdom. Most of the original cast (Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, Ben Barnes) of kids is back and director Michael Apted wisely puts the accent on them instead of the effects that dwarfed the human dimension in the series’ second installment. David Arnold’s rousing score adds a further assist to a satisfying family-friendly fantasy that looks fantastic on Blu-Ray: the AVC encoded 1080p transfer is superb, as is the DTS Master audio, while extensive extras include deleted scenes, numerous featurettes, a commentary, a DVD and digital copy disc.

Catalog Titles From Fox/MGM
THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD Blu-Ray (***, 199 mins., 1965; MGM/Fox): George Stevens’ lavishly produced – though only intermittently moving – 1965 epic reaches Blu-Ray in a terrible transfer that must have been struck around the same time as its 2001 DVD edition. The DTS Master Audio sound does justice to Alfred Newman’s fine score, but the AVC encoded transfer seems both aged and riddled with a fuzzy appearance. Barely “better than the DVD,” you have to look through a veil of video mist to see any additional details (and they’re seldom there). Certainly it’s a let down compared to what not only Warners did with their restored “King of Kings” but also Fox’s new Blu-Ray release of “The Bible.” The disc otherwise offers all the extras from its prior DVD, including an international version of the crucifixion sequence, a documentary on the production among other extras. Note for film music fans: at least the BD thankfully retains Newman’s original Overture, intermission and Exit Music, but this is one release that’s better to listen to than look at.

THE SECRET OF NIMH Blu-Ray (***, 82 mins., 1982, G; MGM/Fox): Don Bluth’s enchanting adaptation of the Robert C. O’Brien children’s book “Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH,” beautifully animated and capped by a magical score by Jerry Goldsmith, arrives on Blu-Ray in an overall satisfying presentation from MGM. The AVC encoded transfer hasn’t been treated to the kind of expensive frame-by-frame restoration that Disney titles frequently receive, but despite some debris and dirt that pop up throughout, it looks good, isn’t riddled with excessive noise reduction, and offers a satisfying upgrade in terms of color and detail from its prior DVD release. Supplemental wise, the disc includes the extras from its 2007 “Family Fun Edition,” highlighted by an informative commentary with Bluth and directing animator Gary Goldman. There’s also a 14-min. “Secrets Behind The Secret” featurette that gives a general overview of the picture as well, plus the original trailer.

It’s also nice to see the original UA logo from the early ‘80s – with Joe Harnell’s theme – included here and not replaced by the more modern logos as typically happens with catalog releases.

Also out this week is a Blu-Ray edition of Bluth’s ALL DOGS GO TO HEAVEN (**½, 84 mins., G), the well-animated, if surprisingly somewhat maudlin, 1989 cartoon feature that spawned a series of sequels (including a 1996 follow up, also newly issued on Blu, that was better received critically than this film). An even stronger AVC encoded 1080p transfer and DTS soundtrack are on-hand in the 25GB single layer BD release.

TEEN WOLF Blu-Ray (***, 90 mins., 1985, PG; MGM/Fox): Shortly before Michael J. Fox’s big-screen career took off with “Back to the Future” he starred in this Atlantic Releasing Corporation film as a typical high schooler who finds out he’s got lycanthrope blood inside him (Atlantic was wise to sit on the film, releasing it after BTTF to solid box-office grosses later on in the summer of ‘85). It’s a typical ‘80s teen comedy with a bit of a supernatural twist, but “Teen Wolf” still coasts along on Fox’s appeal and a solid supporting cast (prolific TV comedy writer Jay Tarses is a howl as Fox’s basketball coach and Susan Ursitti is quite appealing as Michael J.’s gal-pal). MGM’s Blu-Ray looks pretty solid all things considered, with an AVC encoded transfer that generally offers more detail than its prior DVD release and doesn’t seem to have been lathered up with excessive DNR. The mono soundtrack has been encoded as a DTS Master mono mix that’s pretty bland, while extras include the trailer and a sneak peak at the (wait for it) MTV series remake of the show, which predictably looks “edgier” and, well, terrible.

FIDDLER ON THE ROOF Blu-Ray (***½, 181 mins., 1971, G; MGM/Fox): MGM saved the best for last with this excellent Blu-Ray package of Norman Jewison’s memorable 1971 filming of the Jerry Bock-Sheldon Harnick musical. The AVC encoded 1080p transfer is the best of this catalog bunch, rendering all of Oswald Morris’ Oscar winning widescreen compositions with crisp detail and gorgeous hues, while the DTS Master Audio sound preserves John Williams’ likewise Oscar-winning arrangement of the Broadway score. Extras are carried over from the prior 2006 Special Edition DVD, with a terrific commentary track from director Norman Jewison and star Topol, plus a handful of supplements. Among the bonuses: the excellent, early '70s documentary "Norman Jewison, Filmmaker" is included, along with the deleted song "Any Day Now" (using still photos) and a full color version of "Teyve's Dream" (which is tinted in the film). Storyboard to film comparisons, the trailer, a reproduction of the movie's pressbook, an interview with John Williams, and information on the original Sholom Aleichem stories and the film's historical background are also here, making this a superb presentation of a movie that could well be viewed as the last, great Broadway musical adaptation of its era to reach the silver screen.

New From Disney

THE INCREDIBLES Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital Copy (***, 115 mins., 2004, PG; Buena Vista): The Oscar-winning animated film from Pixar and writer/director Brad Bird hits Blu-Ray on April 12th in a predictably terrific Disney release.

Bird had been the creative force behind "The Iron Giant" as well as the memorable "Amazing Stories" episode "Family Dog," and his penchant for strong characterizations and amusing comedic moments are on-hand throughout "The Incredibles." This super-hero saga is great fun for viewers of all ages, though perhaps older kids and adults will get the most mileage out of it, since the film is more story-heavy than most Pixar films, and offers brilliant animation in full 2.35 widescreen proportions.

On Blu-Ray, "The Incredibles" is even more fun than it was on the big screen, thanks to an all-digital AVC encoded 1080p transfer that’s just spectacular. The gorgeous animation design looks sharper and clearer on the small screen, and somehow the film seems to move even better on video than it did in theaters (it's still a bit long at 115 minutes, however).

For extras, the Blu-Ray boasts an exclusive new “filmmaker roundtable” looking back at the movie’s release, along with “Jack-Jack Attack Exploded.” Other extras are brought back from the DVD, including commentary from Brad Bird and producer John Walker, while there's an additional commentary group track with Pixar animators, stressing the technical production of "The Incredibles." The amusing short "Jack-Jack Attack," which runs a hare under five minutes, shows Jack-Jack's tormenting of the Parr family's babysitter. Also present is the charming, Oscar-nominated short "Boundin'" which preceded "The Incredibles" in theaters, along with some of Pixar's patented bloopers and outtakes. There are also nearly 35 minutes of deleted scenes, including an extensive, action-oriented alternate opening that was discarded in the storyboard process. These sequences are shown in mock-up storyboard form with comments from Bird, and will be of interest for fans of the movie.

"Making Of The Incredibles" is a fascinating look behind the scenes at the creation of the film, following the development of Bird's screenplay through production, and even Michael Giacchino's score. Additional featurettes, some 45 minutes of interviews and production footage, Easter Eggs, a pair of theatrical trailers, a profile of Bud Lackey (who wrote and directed "Boundin'"), and more goodies that round out the disc, which also comes with a DVD and digital copy for good measure.

"The Incredibles" is great entertainment for viewers of all ages and makes for every bit the sensational Blu-Ray package you knew it would. Now where’s “Finding Nemo”??

SHARPAY’S FABULOUS ADVENTURE Blu-Ray (89 mins., 2010, G; Disney): Ashley Tisdale is back as her “High School Musical” heroine in this Disney Channel feature-length movie, following her Sharpay Evans as she heads for the Big Apple and fame and fortune on Broadway. Disney’s Blu-Ray combo pack boasts the DVD and a number of extras, including bloopers, behind-the-scenes featurettes (including a BD exclusive segment on the character), an AVC encoded 1080p transfer and DTS Master Audio soundtrack.

WB Catalog Titles

Not to be outdone with this month’s new catalog titles, Charlton Heston fans are sure to appreciate a trio of new releases from Warner.

SOYLENT GREEN (**, 102 mins., 1972, PG, Blu-Ray) is a dated and often dull exercise in early ‘70s sci-fi, opening with a montage setting up a future world where overpopulation has taken its toll on the planet. Heston’s pre-Rick Deckard cop is hot on the trail of a murder that relates to the production of “Soylent Green,” a food ration that’s the only thing keeping most of the world alive.

Veteran director Richard Fleischer helmed all kinds of movies during his long career, many in a workmanlike fashion, and “Soylent Green” is pretty much a dud, accentuated by an often heavy-handed Fred Myrow score. On the plus side, Leigh Taylor-Young is fetching as the female lead, Edward G. Robinson bids the silver screen goodbye in his last film performance, while the film’s oft-parodied conclusion is sure to generate a few yucks for anyone who remembers the Saturday Night Live sketch which spoofed it.

Not nearly as much fun as another Heston futuristic fantasy produced around the same time (“The Omega Man”), “Soylent Green” hits Blu-Ray in a fine, low-cost BD from Warner. The AVC encoded 1080p transfer is as satisfying as the movie’s rather drab appearance allows, while mono sound and a few nice extras (vintage featurettes including a publicity party held for Robinson, plus an interesting commentary from Fleischer and Taylor-Young) round out the disc.

Also new on DVD from Warner: MOTHER LODE (**½, 103 mins., PG), an uneven 1982 outdoor adventure yarn with Kim Basinger and Nick Mancuso that Heston directed and stars in (in a dual role, no less!), made especially appealing now on DVD that its widescreen cinematography has been retained; and ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA (***, 148 mins., 1972, Not Rated), Chuck’s labor of love, backed by strong scope cinematography and a fine John Scott score. Good-looking 16:9 (2.35) transfers are on tap on both discs along with new interviews with Heston’s son Fraser, who wrote and produced “Mother Lode” for his dad.

DALLAS MOVIE COLLECTION DVD (1986, 96, 98, 2004; Warner): The iconic ‘80s prime time soap is coming back to TNT in the near future, so fans in the meantime can enjoy this collection of three TV movies: “Dallas: The Early Years,” a 1986 prequel to the series with David Marshall Grant, Dale Midkiff and Molly Hagan; the 1996 “Dallas: J.R. Returns” and 1998's “Dallas: War of the Ewings,” which follow up the original series’ run with Larry Hagman back as J.R. and other assorted cast members. Extra features include a 2004 retrospective look at the show (“Dallas Reunion: Return to Southfork”) hosted by Hagman, which includes copious episode highlights and interviews.

VALLEY OF THE DINOSAURS DVD (344 mins., Warner Archive): Available exclusively through the Warner Archive, this double-disc set offers all 16 episodes from the colorful Hanna-Barbera series about a family that ends up traveling back in time where they contend with dinosaurs and make friends with a clan of cave people.

“Valley of the Dinosaurs” aired on CBS between 1974 and ‘76, and almost certainly was produced in response to Sid and Marty Krofft’s “Land of the Lost” program, which offered a live-action rendition of almost the exact same premise. “Valley” didn’t last long but it’s still fondly remembered by those who grew up with it, with Warner’s exclusive Archive release including all 16 episodes in fine full-frame transfers with mono soundtracks.

Also new from the Warner Archives this month is ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET CAPTAIN KIDD (70 mins., 1952), one of the long-lost A&C comedies that the duo produced independently, outside their Universal contractual confines. “Captain Kidd” is one of the duo’s later efforts, and the second of their only two color pictures, with A&C essaying a pair of Tortuga waiters who come in contact with a treasure map and none other than the nefarious pirate (Charles Laughton, essaying a role he previously tackled in a straightforward 1945 picture) himself.

Laughton manages a few belly laughs and seems to be having a good time in this 1952 outing, which was directed by frequent A&C helmer Charles Lamont and co-written by John Grant, another name that will be familiar to fans of the boys. Even as A&C’s weaker later efforts go, however, “Captain Kidd” isn’t anything special: Raoul Kraushaar’s score is goosed by a number of original songs, which barely help to pad the movie out to a 70 minute length, while most of the gags are recycled bits that we’ve seen many times before.

There are a few chuckles but this is mostly recommended for A&C completists, many of whom have waited far too long for a DVD release of this seldom-screened production. Warner’s remastered Archive DVD is quite satisfying: the print is a bit banged up with dirt and debris, but all things considered it’s perfectly acceptable, though nobody will confuse the movie’s use of “Super Cinecolor” with one of the era’s Technicolor spectaculars.

The disc is available along with another rare A&C comedy, “Rio Rita,” exclusively from the Warner Archives.

Also New on Blu-Ray

THE RESIDENT Blu-Ray (*½, 91 mins., 2010, R; Image): The resurrection of Hammer Films has been almost a complete bust so far – first the company’s remake of “Let the Right One In” bombed in theaters, then their next feature, “The Resident,” went right to video in most territories.

As disappointing as “Let Me In” was creatively, it’s a far better movie than “The Resident,” a thoroughly depressing, by-the-numbers affair with heroine Hilary Swank being stalked by psycho Jeffrey Dean Morgan in her New York apartment. Aside from Christopher Lee’s brief appearance and effective widescreen lensing by Guillermo Navarro, there’s precious little to discuss in this Antti J. Jokinen effort. For the most part, “The Resident” feels like a more graphic version of the “urban psychological thriller” genre we saw in the early ‘90s (films like “Sliver” and “Single White Female”), offering zero surprises and suspense.

Image’s Blu-Ray disc does offer up a nice 1080p transfer and DTS Master soundtrack, the latter featuring a John Ottman score that deserved a better fate than appearing in this film.

Also new this week from Image is THE INERHITANCE (84 mins., 2010), a standard hack ‘n slash with an African-American cast (including Keith David and DB Woodside) that’s otherwise indistinguishable from other lame recent direct-to-video genre outings. Image’s BD serves up a 1080p transfer, DTS Master soundtrack and no extras.

I LOVE YOU PHILLIP MORRIS Blu-Ray (**, 98 mins., 2010, R; Lionsgate): Misfired “outrageous true story” from “Bad Santa” directors John Requa and Glen Ficarra failed to muster much theatrical play in North America, supposedly because of its gay romance between con man Jim Carrey and an inmate (Ewan McGregor) he meets in prison. After having sat through “I Love You, Phillip Morris,” the fact that this ultra-raunchy and often offensive comedy is seldom all that funny and barely believable (in spite of its claims) is probably more the reason why no studio wanted to pick it up. Carrey, McGregor and Leslie Mann (as Carrey’s wife) attempt to do their best but this has the foul stench “Bad Santa” gave off without the laugh quotient, making for a mostly unpleasant 98 minutes. Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray includes an AVC encoded 1080p transfer, DTS Master soundtrack, commentary from the writer-directors, deleted scenes, trailers and a featurette.

RABBIT HOLE Blu-Ray and DVD (***, 92 mins., 2010, PG-13; Lionsgate): Terrific performances from Nicole Kidman and Arron Eckhart as a pair of grieving parents who try and put the pieces back together after their child’s death fuels this adaptation of David Lindsay-Abaire’s play, scripted by the author for the screen and capably directed by John Cameron Mitchell. “Rabbit Hole” is a straightforward piece for its lead actors, and both Kidman and Eckhart manage to get beneath the surface of their roles, showing the heartbreak but, ultimately, also their joy in finding one another and attempting to move forward. Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray is fairly light on extras (commentary, deleted scenes and the trailer) and technically is graced by a fine AVC encoded 1080p transfer and DTS Master Audio soundtrack.

COUNTRY STRONG Blu-Ray (**½, 117 mins., 2010, PG-13; Sony): Predictable yet watchable vehicle for Gwyneth Paltrow and country star Tim McGraw finds Paltrow as an ex-superstar who sets out on a cross-country tour along with an up-and-coming singer (“Tron: Legacy”’s Garrett Hedlund, much better here), a former beauty pageant winner hoping to be a star (Leighton Meester), and Paltrow’s husband (McGraw). Shana Feste wrote and directed this 2010 box-office underperformer, which does offer a fairly tuneful soundtrack of “contemporary” country music and capable cinematography from veteran DP John Bailey. None of the film is surprising and the running time feels extended, but it’s not a bad night’s view if you’re into any of the stars or the music. Sony’s Blu-Ray includes deleted scenes, the original ending and several music videos, plus BD exclusive featurettes on the cast, songwriters, and costumes.

THE WAY BACK (***, 133 mins., 2010, PG-13; Image): Peter Weir’s latest film, based somewhat on a true story (whose factual elements were questioned), is an absorbing account of several men (including Ed Harris, Jim Sturgess, Colin Farrell) who escape from a Russian gulag deep inside Siberia and trek some 4,000 miles to reach India and freedom during WWII. Harris and Sturgess are both superb, as is Saoirse Ronan as a young Russian teenager who joins them on this superbly shot (kudos to cinematographer Russell Boyd), leisurely told affair that was deserving of more attention than it received in limited theatrical play last year. Image’s Blu-Ray disc is an excellent package, boasting a vividly rendered 1080p transfer, DTS Master soundtrack, and scant extras (just a featurette and the trailer).

DINOSHARK Blu-Ray (90 mins., 2009, Not Rated; Anchor Bay): Enjoyably bad, Roger Corman-produced Syfy Channel original about a prehistoric shark that ruins a good time for vacationers in Puerto Vallarta. Eric Balfour stars in this (intentionally) silly affair that looks terrific in Anchor Bay’s Blu-Ray, the 1080p transfer and Dolby TrueHD soundtrack being just fine. A commentary with Corman and wife Julie plus director Kevin O’Neill and the trailer comprise the extra features.

SHORT CIRCUIT 2 Blu-Ray (***, 111 mins., 1988, PG; Image): Good natured sequel to the 1986 box-office hit brings back lovable robot “Johnny” (Number) 5, who leaves the ranch of pals Ally Sheedy and Steve Guttenberg (who didn’t return) for the Big Apple in order to help creator-pal Fisher Stevens (who did) in Kenneth Johnson’s 1988 sequel. Original writers S.S. Wilson and Brent Maddock came back to pen this funny family comedy, and Number 5 (again voiced by Tim Blaney) is still appealing in a movie that in some ways improves upon its predecessor. This low-priced Blu-Ray from Image offers a satisfying 1080p transfer and uncompressed PCM soundtrack that’s superior technically than their original “Short Circuit” Blu-Ray from last year.

New From BBC

THE BBC TUDORS COLLECTION DVD (Aprx. 28 hours; BBC): Outstanding compilation of three acclaimed BBC mini-series: “The Shadow of the Tower” with James Maxwell, “The Six Wives of Henry VII” (with Keith Michell); and “Elizabeth R,” starring Glenda Jackson. Extra features include “The Tower of London,” a 50-minute pilot for “Shadow of the Tower,” plus a historian profile of Henry VII; the BBC’s dramatization of Philippa Gregory’s “The Other Boleyn Girl”; an interview with Glenda Jackson; historical background notes by historian Alison Weir; and a photo gallery.

LARK RISE TO CANDLEFORD Complete Collection DVD (2356 mins., BBC): Extremely well-received BBC series, an adaptation of Flora Thompson’s look at life in rural England in the 19th century – contrasted by two neighboring communities – receives a deluxe DVD release featuring its entire series run. The 14 disc set includes all four seasons of the show in excellent 16:9 transfers with 5.1 audio and numerous extras, including a Making Of doc, dozens of featurettes, and a look at the life of Thompson and the inspiration behind “Lark Rise to Candleford.”

DR. WHO - KINDA DVD (1982, 98 mins., BBC)
DR. WHO - SNAKEDANCE DVD (1983, 98 mins., BBC): The Peter Davison years get some love this month from BBC with a pair of new “Dr. Who” deluxe edition DVDs.

“Kinda” follows the good Doctor and Tegan into the jungle on paradise planet Deva Loka where the natives are not only restless but possess super powers beyond human comprehension. “Snakedance” follows some of the themes behind “Kinda,” including Tegan’s possession by the evil Mara, who now want to re-enter the physical world.

Extensive extras include commentaries on both episodes; isolated music scores; featurettes including a career retrospective on director Peter Grimwade (“Kinda”); optional CGI effects sequences (“Kinda”); photo galleries and PDF materials; and deleted scenes (“Snakedance”).

New From E One

THE LAST CONTINENT Blu-Ray (106 mins., 2007; E One):
ANTARCTIC MISSION Blu-Ray (150 mins., 2007, E One): A pair of French/Canadian nature documentaries – both following scientists onboard the Sedna IV in Antarctica –  arrive on Blu-Ray this month from E One.

“The Last Continent” chronicles the Antarctic landscape, from penguins and elephant seals to the albatross and other inhabitants of their icy terrain, along with a look at the effects of climate change on the region. “Antarctic Mission” does the same in a more concise, feature-length format, adding narration from Donald Sutherland as it likewise profiles the Sedna crew and the gorgeous natural surroundings they encounter.

Both features look stellar in 1.78 1080p HD, with DTS Master soundtracks gracing both discs. “The Last Continent” also includes 11 bonus featurettes that run over an hour.

Also New on DVD

FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS Season 5 DVD (2010, aprx. 10 hours; Universal): The acclaimed, if mostly little-seen, small-screen version of Peter Berg’s 2006 feature – chronicling the small-town story of a Texas high school football team and its struggles on and off the playing field with coach Kyle Chandler and his wife (Connie Britton) leading the way – finished out its fifth and final season in 2010. NBC’s series was never a big ratings grabber but saw its numbers diminish to the point where DirecTV came in to give the show new life; this final DVD package preserves the series’ last assortment of 13 episodes in fine 16:9 transfers and 5.1 soundtracks. Extras include deleted scenes, a yearbook, photo gallery, retrospective featurette and commentaries. A fitting goodbye for one of the better network TV series in many years (viewers should note that NBC will begin airing these episodes for the first time on April 15th).

LIFE UNEXPECTED Seasons 1 and 2 DVD (2010, 1088 mins., Warner): Shiri Appleby, long an Aisle Seat favorite, starred in this well-reviewed CW series as a radio talk show hostess who receives a visit from the 16-year-old daughter she gave up for adoption. “Life Unexpected” is a return of sorts to the kinds of family/character-driven dramas that used to air on the WB including “Everwood” and “Gilmore Girls,” and while the writing isn’t on the level of Kevin Williamson’s “Dawson’s Creek,” the characters are likeable, the performances warm, and the plot lines interesting enough to keep you watching. The problem for the series was its difficulty in getting viewers to tune in – the show had just started its second season when the plug was pulled, so this “Seasons 1 and 2" set is, in actuality, the complete series. The good news, at least, is that the program was still able to wrap up its story lines in its 13-episode second season, and Warner’s DVD includes terrific 16:9 transfers, 5.1 soundtracks, a gag reel and Making Of featurettes.

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