4/14/09 Edition
April Assault Edition
Plus: TELL NO ONE on Blu-Ray

This week I’m launching a new component to the Aisle Seat, just in time for baseball season: a group of “lead-off discs” which could either be high-profile new studio releases, particularly satisfying catalog titles, or a combination of both. Since I cover so much terrain in every Aisle Seat column, this will give you a concise, “up front” introduction to the most significant new titles each week on DVD and Blu-Ray, which I feel will be the most noteworthy for the majority of readers out there.

Starting off this week are several international titles on Blu-Ray, each offering a respite from the sorts of action-oriented catalog flicks we’ve seen in high-def lately.

*Francois Cluzet channels the intensity of a younger Dustin Hoffman in the terrific French thriller TELL NO ONE (***, 130 mins., 2007, R), which has debuted in a top-notch Blu-Ray release from MPI.

This adaptation of an American novel by Harlan Coben -- the settings and characters transplanted to Paris by director Guillaume Canet and co-writer Philippe Lefebvre -- finds pediatrician Cluzet and his wife attacked while swimming one fateful night, with his wife’s body ultimately found a short time later. Cluzet is suspected of the crime but eight years pass before two other bodies are discovered buried on the family property where Cluzet’s wife was killed. Almost simultaneously, the good doctor soon receives a cryptic email with footage of his wife...seemingly alive.

Cluzet never strikes a wrong note in a movie that’s compulsively watchable at every turn, backed by fine support from Kristin Scott Thomas (as his sister’s partner), Nathalie Baye, Jean Rochefort, and Andre Dussollier. The plot is intentionally convoluted and not every one of its twists and turns connects, but “Tell No One” is still an entertaining, exciting import (with a particularly satisfying ending) that’s been beautifully brought to Blu-Ray from MPI.

MPI’s 1080p transfer is crisp and stunning, with French 5.1 and uncompressed 2.0 stereo PCM audio tracks available with English subtitles. An English dubbed track is also on-hand, along with nearly 35 minutes of deleted scenes (subtitled and culled from a workprint), outtakes, and a Blu-Ray exclusive “Making Of” featurette. Thriller fans shouldn’t miss it.

The BBC/A&E co-production of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (510 mins., 1996) is generally regarded as the finest adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic book, which says something given other outstanding renditions of the Austen story produced over the decades. Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle have palpable chemistry in this 1996 production, gracefully adapted by director Simon Langton and writer Andrew Davies, with a marvelous supporting cast and sumptuous locales.

A&E has meticulously remastered “Pride and Prejudice” for Blu-Ray and the results completely blow away prior DVD and broadcast editions of this mid ‘90s mini-series that I’ve seen. As profiled in a featurette on the restoration, extensive work was done to produce a definitive HD transfer of the show and the results are outstanding indeed. The PCM stereo sound isn’t as much of an improvement, while several featurettes look back on the legacy of this wonderful effort that comes with my highest recommendation.

*The Criterion Collection continues to slowly roll out a number of Blu-Ray high def versions of classic titles in their canon, including a dynamic AVC encoded mastering of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s masterwork THE WAGES OF FEAR (147 mins., 1953).

This riveting, gripping tale of four men driving nitrogylcerin-loaded trucks over dangerous terrain has long been regarded as one of the defining “thrillers” of its era, with gritty realism and a pessimistic tone making this a stark departure from the kinds of pictures Hollywood was turning out at the time. Later remade by William Friedkin as the decent 1977 effort “Sorcerer,” “The Wages of Fear” is a memorable film-going experience that Criterion has brilliantly remastered here in HD: the restored transfer is sharp and finely detailed throughout, with uncompressed mono sound benefitting the audio portion.

Extras include video interviews with assitant director Michel Romanoff and Clouzot biographer Marc Godin, plus a video interview with Yves Montand from 1988, a 2004 documentary on the director, and an analysis of cuts made for the picture’s 1955 domestic release. (Additional Criterion DVD releases are profiled below).

*Several months ago Sony released a marvelous double-feature DVD of Michael Powell’s “A Matter of Life and Death” and “Age of Consent.” This week Sony dips back into their catalog for another “Director’s Choice” DVD release, spotlighting Peter Bogdanovich’s classic early ‘70s film THE LAST PICTURE SHOW (126 mins., 1971, R) and his comparatively little-seen 1976 effort, NICKELODEON (122 and 125 mins., 1976, PG).

Though “The Last Picture Show” is by far the superior work in the package, the release of “Nickelodeon” is the most noteworthy: this 1976 salute to the early days of Hollywood with Burt Reynolds, Ryan O’Neal, Tatum O’Neal and John Ritter met with mixed reaction from critics and flopped -- like Bogdanovich’s prior two movies (“Daisy Miller” and “At Long Last Love”) -- at the box-office. While the movie was issued on a Region 2 DVD back in 2003 (the picture was a co-production between Columbia and British Lion/EMI), “Nickelodeon” has never seen a video release in the United States of any kind, making its debut here a happy event for buffs: in spite of its poor commercial performance, this is a rather charming, if overlong, paean to the early days of moviemaking, complete with Laszlo Kovacs cinematography and appealing performances.

Even better, Sony has included both the movie’s original theatrical version (in color), as well as Bogdanovich’s all-new Director’s Cut in the filmmaker’s preferred black-and-white and with three minutes of additional footage restored to the print.

Insightful, new commentaries from Bogdanovich are on-hand on both movies (including the admission that he wanted John Ritter and Jeff Bridges to play the leads in “Nickelodeon,” but the studio insisted on stars like O’Neal and Reynolds instead), with superb 16:9 (1.85) transfers and mono soundtracks present for both movies, along with several extras on “The Last Picture Show” carried over from its prior DVD edition. Highly recommended!

*Fans of Philip Glass will want to reserve their copy of Scott Hicks’ GLASS: A PORTRAIT OF PHILIP IN TWELVE PARTS (Koch Lorber), which recently aired on PBS and is due for DVD release next week from Koch Lorber.

Filmmaker Hicks followed the composer for some 18 months around the world to produce this look at Glass, his family, his inspirations, and of course, his music. Reflections from collaborators Martin Scorsese, Errol Morris and other filmmakers are on-hand, and while the documentary is a bit overlong and not always revealing, I personally gained an appreciation for Glass here that I didn’t quite have before. He’s a unique composer and artist and Hicks has done a good job humanizing him, and celebrating his achievements, in a doc that’s accessible to the mainstream but most recommended, naturally, for the composer’s enthusiasts.

Koch’s DVD includes a fine 16:9 transfer with enveloping 5.1 audio and over three hours of extras, including bonus performances, deleted and extended scenes, commentary with Hicks and a booklet sporting production notes.

New on Blu-Ray

THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (**½, 104 mins., 2008, PG-13; Fox): As unnecessary remakes (or “reimaginings”, as they call them now) go, this stylish-looking re-do of the ‘50s sci-fi classic isn’t a total embarrassment.

Keanu Reeves steps into Michael Rennie’s shoes as an extraterrestrial visitor who arrives on Earth with a message for all of mankind. Unfortunately, humanity’s dastardly ways get in the way of good-hearted scientist Jennifer Connelly, who tries to proclaim the virtues of Earth to Reeves before he and robot Gort blow us all to kingdom come.

Writer David Scarpa’s updating of Edmund H. North’s original script puts all the pieces in place for an effective modernization of its predecessor, and director Scott Derrickson (“The Exorcism of Emily Rose”) seems up to the task: this is an attractive looking film, at least, with Reeves well-cast as Klaatu.

The problem is in its pacing and lack of character development: in transforming “Day” into a modern-day studio “event movie,” the story becomes a breathless, too frenetically-paced “thrill ride” that never stops to absorb the plight of the characters or the dramatic tension at-hand. It’s all Point A to Point B with as little exposition as possible, which ultimately robs the movie of any emotional pull, particularly when it comes to Connelly’s relationship with her late husband’s son (Jaden Smith). The movie’s simplistic, “evil government” menace, meanwhile, comes straight out of a comic book, with Kathy Bates in a particularly ridiculous role as the Secretary of State, compete with a totally unconvincing about-face in the concluding frames.

Ultimately, this “Day” isn’t a total wash, and is quite watchable thanks to a few interesting visceral touches on Derrickson’s behalf and a script that honors its predecessor for the most part. Alas, it’s also a movie that could’ve benefitted from another 20 or 30 minutes of character building sequences, as well as a better score than the formulaic mismash Tyler Bates composed here (I won’t even begin to draw a comparison, of any kind, to Bernard Herrmann’s classic original score).

Fox’s Blu-Ray disc is spectacular looking, at least, with a vivid AVC encoded transfer and active DTS Master Audio soundtrack. Extras are in abundance, from commentary with Scarpa to Bonus View extras, a few deleted scenes, and many fine Making Of featurettes, one of which interestingly examines the various “Gort” concepts the filmmakers struggled with before going back to the iconic robot’s original design.

The three-disc BD set also includes a digital copy as well as a Blu-Ray of the 1951 original -- buffs should note, however, that this is NOT the same Blu-Ray that’s available in a standalone release (and which I reviewed last December), as this barebones BD strips the disc of any and all supplemental content.

SIN CITY (**, 147 mins. [Recut] and 124 mins. [Theatrical Version], Unrated and R; Miramax/Buena Vista): “Sin City” fans with Blu-Ray players ought to be thrilled, as the 2005 Frank Miller-Robert Rodriguez collaboration hits BD next week in a features-packed HD package.

As for “Sin City” itself, I was less than impressed. Snazzy visuals and a great cast almost make this two-hour plus journey worthwhile...until you realize that visuals are all Robert Rodriguez’s cinematic adaptation of Miller’s graphic novels has going for it.

In this city of sin, Bruce Willis plays a hardened cop with a heart condition out to stop a psycho from preying on young girls; Mickey Rourke is a tough, Frankenstein-like monster of a man framed for a hooker’s murder actually committed by Elijah Wood, a psycho who literally devours the souls of his victims; Brittany Murphy is a waitress with a sicko ex-boyfriend (Benicio Del Toro) and a new love (Clive Owen) who takes him down, only to find out he’s actually a cop; and Jessica Alba is the grown version of the girl Willis saves in the opening...now a good-girl stripper who gets wrapped up with a bad guy who’s a cross between a “Dick Tracy” thug and something you’d ordinarily see in one of David Lynch’s films.

This repellent exercise in pulp “graphic novel noir” nonsense is apparently a faithful-to-an-extreme cinematic representation of Miller’s graphic novels. Rodriguez, fresh off his “Spy Kids” films, recruited Miller to “co-direct” and give his creative stamp to the movie version, and, admittedly, there are times when “Sin City” truly feels as if you’re watching a veritable comic book. The endlessly pretentious narration and dialogue were ripped right out of Miller’s books, as were the highly-stylized camera angles and editing rhythms -- all coordinated by Rodriguez to accurately bring each frame of “Sin City” to the screen.

As a consequence to its faithfulness, however, there’s no dramatic tension or anything to grasp onto in “Sin City” the movie. Here’s a film packed to the gills with outrageous violence and action (toned down somewhat by having most of the blood colored white in the theatrical cut), but nothing of interest from a character or dramatic angle. The movie is all posturing -- a group of “cool” moments that will get teenage boys aroused with its explicit violence and brainless action -- but there’s no weight to the movie at all because Miller and Rodriguez didn’t make any dramatic adjustments to the material. “Sin City” looks and feels like a comic book come to life, alright, but what works dramatically on the printed page doesn’t necessarily translate to the cinematic realm, as plainly demonstrated here.

Regardless, I realize there are numerous aficionados out there who’ll love Buena Vista’s Blu-Ray package, which contains the “Recut” version of the film, running just about 25 minutes longer than the theatrical version (it also separates each of Miller’s tales into self-contained sequences). The original, 124-minute theatrical cut is also on-hand, as well as three supplemental audio tracks: a pair of Rodriguez commentaries, one with Tarantino and another with Miller; and a recording of the Austin, Texas audience reaction to the movie’s premiere.

Loads of supplemental content is also on-hand here. Rodriguez typically shoots ample behind-the-scenes material, knowing it will make for interesting viewing on disc, and that’s the case here, as you’ll learn pretty much everything there is to know about the film. Though I’m not a fan of the movie, there’s no question that Rodriguez employed all kinds of amazing tricks to achieve the unique look and feel of the movie, and for some (like myself), you may find these featurettes more interesting than watching “Sin City” itself.

The double-disc Blu-Ray also boasts two exclusive new bonuses: a “Cine-Explore” visual commentary that offers green screen footage and original art; and a “Kill ‘em Good” interactive game that has you playing as Mickey Rourke’s Marv. Technically, Buena Vista’s marvelous AVC encoded transfer is as effective as you’d anticipate, and is backed by terrific DTS Master Audio soundtracks.

Warner Archive News

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention some of this year’s most exciting news for hard-core movie buffs: Warner Home Video’s recent launch of their new “Warner Archive” online service, which offers an exclusive series of manufactured-on-demand DVDs.

Now online with 150 titles -- a healthy mix of cult favorites and total oddities spread across multiple decades -- the Archive is intended to spotlight catalog titles from the Warner vaults (and other libraries they control) that wouldn’t generate enough interest to warrant a national retail release. The discs are manufactured according to the amount of orders they receive, keeping their costs down but giving consumers a comparable presentation as they would with most Warner catalog DVDs. The transfers aren’t remastered but are culled from the best available video masters, with 16:9 enhancement for widescreen films (some discs have trailers, others don’t). The transfers, then, are a bit of a mixed bag from what I’ve sampled, and from what I’ve read from other consumers so far. However, the discs are studio-produced recordable DVDs that are of a higher quality than consumer DVD-Rs, with full artwork and packaging as well.

Some of the interesting titles available now include the 1940 RKO drama “Abe Lincoln in Illinois”; the sagebrush saga “Across the Great Divide”; “Ah Wilderness”; “Captain Nemo in the Underwater City”; “Doc Savage, The Man of Bronze”; the 1965 “Brainstorm” with Jeffrey Hunter”; “Dream Lover” and “Just The Way You Are” with Kristy MacNicol; “Darby’s Rangers” with James Garner; the little-seen Steve McQueen drama “An Enemy of the People”; Montgomery Clift’s final movie, the spy adventure “The Defector”; Anthony Quinn in “A Dream of Kings”; the 1962 “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”; Nick Nolte, Sissy Spacek and John Heard in “Heart Beat”; “Interrupted Melody,” “King of the Roaring 20s,” “Kaleidoscope,” “The Mating Game,” “The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing”; several Greta Garbo titles; “One Trick Pony,” “One on One,” “Yes, Giorgio,” “Purple Hearts,” “Crescendo” (a rarely-screened Hammer title presented in its uncut version); Albert Finney in “Orphans,” “Oxford Blues” with Rob Lowe, the 1939 “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” Coppola’s “The Rain People,” George C. Scott in “Rage,” the original “Sweet November,” “Sunrise at Campobello,” “Three Sailors and a Girl,” “The Big Circus,” “The Money Trap,” and even the 1987 Emilio Estevez-Demi Moore teaming “Wisdom.”

New discs are slated to be added regularly, and international shipping is available as well (albeit at hefty UPS rates). Click here for Warner’s Archive webpage for the full list of titles.

Also New on Blu-Ray from Paramount

MEAN GIRLS (***, 99 mins., PG-13, 2004; Paramount): Sharp, funny, and winning teen comedy helped to launch writer/co-star Tina Fey’s career outside “Saturday Night Live.”

In basically the last of her successful big-screen roles, Lindsay Lohan stars as a home-schooled student who enters a suburban Chicago high school for the first time. There, she discovers all sorts of cliques, including one "in crowd" presided over by snobby Rachel McAdams, which promptly recruits her into its lair. Though torn between the "Queen Bees" and her outsider friends, Lohan ultimately succumbs to the pressure of popularity, and learns more than a few hard lessons about high school life in the process.

Fey scripted this adaptation of a Rosalind Wiseman novel, and also co-stars as one of Lohan's well-intentioned teachers. Her amusing and thoughtful screenplay anchors the colorful and consistently entertaining "Mean Girls," which sports solid performances from Lohan (who’s winning here, in spite of her subsequent transition to scandal-ridden party-queen off-camera) and McAdams, plus plenty of laughs throughout. This is one of those rare teen movies that can appeal to viewers of all ages, due to its easily-identifiable lead protagonist and on-target observations. Additional kudos go out to Rolfe Kent's comedic score, which utilizes African percussion and tribal beats to poke fun at the animalistic world of present-day high schools.

Paramount's Blu-Ray edition sports a clean, satisfying HD presentation of “Mean Girls” with a fine, not overpowering Dolby TrueHD soundtrack. Ample extras from the original DVD include a commentary track from director Mark Waters, Fey, and producer Lorne Michaels; three Making Of featurettes of the mostly fluffy, promotional variety; blooper reel; trailer and inter-stitials, plus deleted scenes.

ARCTIC TALE (***, 2007, 87 mins., G; Paramount): National Geographic- produced documentary follows two cubs in the arctic -- a polar bear and a seal -- through various trials and tribulations in their harsh environments. Outstanding cinematography is the main draw to "Arctic Tale," which has clearly been aimed at a younger audience than "March of the Penguins" (witness the soundtrack, stupid jokes, and Queen Latifah narration). Still, parents ought to be less concerned with some of the more "graphic" footage (it still received a G) than with the agenda of the filmmakers: it's no surprise that there's a heavy-handed global warming element when Al Gore's daughter, Kristin, is listed as one of the screenwriters! Others carped that the two main "characters" were fashioned out of over 10 years of compiled footage of numerous, different animals, somewhat cheapening the drama. That said, nature lovers who can overlook the film's pretentiousness and uneven elements will love the Blu-Ray disc’s outstanding AVC encoded transfer with Dolby TrueHD audio. Extras include a Making Of featurette and interactive game on the supplemental side.

THE LAST KISS (**, 2006, 103 mins., R, Dreamworks/Paramount): Zach Braff’s starring follow-up to his successful “Garden State” wasn’t written or directed by the young star, but rather scripted by Paul Haggis (based on an Italian film) and helmed by Tony Goldwyn. Perhaps Braff himself would have brought some freshness to this labored, contrived tale of a regular guy (Braff) who contemplates happiness at age 30 following a meeting with a younger girl (Rachel Bilson from “The O.C.”). Will Braff act on his instincts or will he grow up and marry fiancee Jacinda Barrett? Does anyone truly care? The believability factor is pretty low in “The Last Kiss,” which wastes supporting performances from Blythe Danner and Tom Wilkinson and never becomes as funny, moving or particularly insightful as it thinks it is. Dreamworks’ Blu-Ray disc offers a pleasant HD transfer, Dolby TrueHD audio, and quite a number of extras from its original DVD, including a pair of commentaries, deleted scenes, a gag reel and music video directed by Braff.

STRANGE WILDERNESS (**, 84 mins., 2008, R; Paramount): Brainless Adam Sandler-produced comedy (is there any other kind?) offers Steve Zahn as the host of a wildlife TV series who takes to finding Bigfoot in order to drive up ratings. Justin Long, Allen Covert, and Jonah Hill are a few of his cohorts in this box-office bust from winter ‘08, which sports the requisite raunchy gags and occasional appearance from veteran stars (in this case, Joe Don Baker and Ernest Borgnine) to spice up the predictability. Paramount's Blu-Ray disc does look quite nice, backed by Dolby TrueHD audio and also sporting deleted scenes and numerous feaurettes.

Recently Released on Blu-Ray from Sony

GHOSTS OF MARS: Blu-Ray (*½, 98 mins., 2001, R; Sony): John Carpenter’s most recent feature hopefully isn’t going to be his last, as “Ghosts of Mars” right now stands as a sad goodbye from the genre filmmaker.

Natasha Henstridge stars a policewoman on Mars in the 21st century who uncovers that the human Martian colonists are being possessed by -- yes, you guessed it -- ghosts of Mars! In a direct throwback to "Assault on Precinct 13," Ice Cube plays a prisoner who just may help her out in combating the army of the Martian undead that threatens to take over all the invaders. Jason Statham, meanwhile, puts in an early appearance as one of Henstridge’s team members (along with commandant Pam Grier, though she doesn’t last long).

That Carpenter hasn’t directed another feature since “Ghosts of Mars” speaks volumes about how poorly the film turned out. After the mediocre "Vampires," Carpenter sank to an even lower level with this tepid but so-bad-it's-almost-good rock & roll actionfest, complete with bad make-up (the Martians look like refugees from a KISS concert, as many pointed out) and weak performances, plus a recycled storyline from Larry Sulkis and Carpenter himself, who left no doubt that his best work was far behind him after this one died at the box-office.

Sony’s Blu-Ray disc sports an excellent AVC encoded transfer of “Ghosts of Mars” along with a boisterous Dolby TrueHD soundtrack. Extras are reprieved from the prior DVD and include commentary with Carpenter and Henstridge, plus a featurette on Carpenter’s score (not one of his best either) and the special effects.

THE ONE (**, 87 mins., 2001, PG-13; Sony): Fresh off the success of “Final Destination,” director James Wong penned this martial arts sci-fi adventure with partner Glen Morgan, which was eventually packaged into a vehicle for star Jet Li.

Jet essays both himself and a master criminal from an alternate dimension who’s attempting to become a god by killing off alternate versions of himself (of course, if he had actually seen “The Enemy Within” from “Star Trek,” he’d know that’s not really a good idea). Plenty of fisticuffs ensue in this okay time-killer co-starring Carla Gugino, Jason Statham (again) and Delroy Lindo.

Sony’s Blu-Ray edition of “The One” features a typically strong presentation from the studio, leading off with a superb AVC encoded transfer and Dolby TrueHD soundtrack. Extras include a director and crew commentary, a standard Making Of and numerous other bonuses from its original DVD release.

WHAT DOESN’T KILL YOU (**, 100 mins., 2008, R; Sony): Well-acted but predictable drama about South Boston tough guys Mark Ruffalo and Ethan Hawke working the streets of Southie and eventually falling under the influence of mobster Brian Goodman (who also directed and co-wrote the film). The duo succumb to a lifestyle of drugs and petty jobs for their new “boss,” but Ruffalo’s conscience eventually awakens after he continuously lets down wife Amanda Peet and their two kids.

Authentic atmosphere and believable performances do their best to make “What Doesn’t Kill You” worthwhile, yet there’s no denying how utterly routine the plot of Goodman, co-star Donnie Wahlberg and Paul T. Murray’s script turns out to be: leaden dialogue and by-the-numbers sequences you’ve seen many times before undercut the film’s sincerity, leading to a conclusion that’s basically pre-ordained.

Sony’s Blu-Ray edition of the film boasts the studio’s usual, excellent AVC encoded transfer with Dolby TrueHD audio and extras including commentary with Goodman and Wahlberg, deleted and alternate scenes, and one Making Of featurette.

Lionsgate’s “Lost Collection” on DVD

Lionsgate has scavenged through their back catalog for a handful of ‘80s catalog DVDs they’re dubbing “The Lost Collection,” offering cute artwork and a trivia track on most discs. The bad news is that most of the transfers are derived from old, full-screen video masters, though some viewers may find their antiquated presentation properly nostalgic. Here’s a rundown:

REPOSSESSED (84 mins., 1990, PG-13): “Re-Re-Re...Repossessed!” Yes, the memorable theme song is one of the more enjoyable aspects of this hit-or-miss 1990 spoof of the “The Exorcist,” done in a Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker style from writer-director Bob Logan and co-starring -- appropriately enough -- Leslie Nielsen as a priest trying to drive the devil out of (who else) Linda Blair. Back when “Repossessed” was released (and it basically went right to video if memory serves), the movie came across as a weak, pale imitation of “The Naked Gun.” These days, compared to the endless run of “__ Movie” and similar ripoffs, “Repossessed” is borderline genius, offering an uneven amount of gags but the occasional one that actually makes you chuckle. Lionsgate’s DVD of the movie is in full-screen with 5.1 audio, the trailer and a trivia track.

MORGAN STEWART’S COMING HOME (92 mins., 1987, PG-13)
HIDING OUT (99 mins., 1987, PG-13): Not one but two Jon Cryer comedies produced after the young star had a hit in “Pretty in Pink” are also part of Lionsgate’s “Lost Collection.”

“Morgan Stewart” boasts the talented Alan Smithee as its director and a tepid story line, involving Cryer as a brat who comes home to help his stuffy father’s senatorial campaign. “Maxie” director Paul Aaron replaced original helmer Terry Winsor, but was so ashamed by the final product he opted to take his name off the film (smart move).

“Hiding Out,” which was previously released on a long out-of-print Anchor Bay disc, fares much better. It's a patented "fish out of water" tale, with Cryer as a Boston stock broker who pretends to be a high school student after testifying in a mob trial and pursued by relentless mafia hitmen. So, Cryer goes for the goofy '80s dye-job and has a good time hanging out in high school, where cousin Keith Coogan (of "Adventures in Babysitting") offers tutoring and romantic interest is provided by Annabeth Gish, who was quite cute back in her teenage years.

Likely because a 16:9 transfer was struck for Anchor Bay’s DVD, the same master has been reprieved here (making it the only “Lost” title issued in widescreen), along with 5.1 audio, the trailer and a trivia track.

IRRECONCILABLE DIFFERENCES (113 mins., 1984, PG): Charles Shyer and Nancy Meyers wrote and Shyer directed this tale of a precocious nine-year-old (Drew Barrymore) who sues her bickering parents (Ryan O’Neal and Shelley Long) for divorce. Theatrically released by Warner Bros. but independently produced by an offshoot of Hemdale Films, “Differences” is a quite watchable if TV-movie like domestic “drama-edy” making its debut here on DVD in a plain full-screen transfer with 5.1 audio and a trivia track.

MY BEST FRIEND IS A VAMPIRE (89 mins., 1988, PG): Robert Sean Leonard has had an interesting career, starting off in movies like this and “Dead Poets Society,” then disappearing off the face of the Earth, only to reappear in Fox’s primetime hit “House.” “My Best Friend is a Vampire” is an enjoyable enough teen comedy (co-starring Rene Auberjonis and David Warner) written by Tab Murphy, who would go on to script Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” as well as write and direct the criminally underrated Tom Berenger-Barbara Hershey adventure “Last of the Dogmen.” Lionsgate’s DVD includes another full-screen transfer, 5.1 audio and a trivia track.

SLAUGHTER HIGH (92 mins., 1986, Not Rated): Uncut version of the hysterically over-the-top 1986 Vestron Pictures production, a horror outing with heavy comical (?) overtones that riffs other ‘80s slashers through a bonkers, off-the-wall, less-than-subtle approach. Though basically regarded as a piece of junk, “Slaughter High” has its fans, who ought to enjoy this unrated version of the movie, making its debut here on DVD with a full-screen transfer, 5.1 audio, the trailer, and a trivia track.

THE NIGHT BEFORE (90 mins., 1988, PG-13): A post-“Excellent Adventure,” pre-“Bogus Journey” Keanu Reeves tries to play a straight, unpopular high schooler who can’t quite recall his prom night in this not particularly satisfying comedy from director Thom Eberhardt, who had a much larger success with 1984's cult favorite “Night of the Comet.” Lori Laughlin co-stars but “The Night Before” is a pretty pedestrian affair all the way through (the similarly-themed Ethan Hawke-Teri Polo comedy “Mystery Date” fared better a short time later). Lionsgate’s DVD includes a particularly ancient looking full-screen transfer with 5.1 audio and a trivia track.

HOMER AND EDDIE (100 mins., 1989, R): Andrei Konchalovsky’s offbeat road movie is anything but fun, offering Jim Belushi as a mentally challenged man trying to find his parents and Whoopi Goldberg as an ailing woman with a tumor. The duo set off on a cross-country trip co-starring Karen Black, John Waters and Anne Ramsey. Lajos Koltai’s cinematography may have been effective on the big screen but there’s no approximation of it in this bland full-screen transfer also sporting a trivia track and 5.1 audio.

Also on DVD

MAX FLEISCHER’S SUPERMAN 1941-42 (Warner): Several years ago Warner remastered all of the classic Max and Dave Fleischer “Superman” cartoons from the 1940s for their excellent Superman Collection box-set, which was released at the time of “Superman Returns”’ DVD bow.

For viewers who didn’t purchase that set, Warners is now releasing a deluxe two-disc DVD edition of the Fleischer shorts in the same excellent transfers as that earlier release, along with one new featurette.

Included here are the cartoons “Superman” and “The Mechanical Monsters,” which launched the series in 1941; “Billion Dollar Limited,” “The Arctic Giant,” “The Bulleteers,” “The Magnetic Telescope,” “Electric Earthquake,” “Volcano,” and “Terror on the Midway” from 1942; “Japoteurs,” “Showdown,” “Eleventh Hour,” and “Destruction Inc.” from 1943; and “The Mummy Strikes,” “Jungle Drums,” “The Underground World,” and “Secret Agent,” which concluded the classic series in 1944.

Extras include the previously released “First Flight” and a new “The Man, The Myth, Superman” featurette examining superheroes on the page and screen.

VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA: Season 4, Volume 1 (711 mins., 1967): Irwin Allen fans rejoice! The fourth and final season of the producer’s full-color sci-fi fantasy series is at last hitting DVD courtesy of Fox. The good news is that the remastered transfers look crisp and colorful. The bad news? Once again the season has been split in half, with Fox here offering the first 13 episodes from “Voyage”’s fourth season spread across three discs. Included here are the episodes “Fires of Death,” “The Deadly Dolls,” “Cave of the Dead,” “Journey With Fear,” “Sealed Orders,” “Man of Many Faces,” “Fatal Cargo,” “Time Lock,” “Rescue,” “Terror,” “A Time to Die,” “Blow Up” and “Deadly Amphibians.” The stereo and mono soundtracks are both perfectly acceptable as well.

SNOOPY'S REUNION (1991, 23 mins.; Warner):
The latest addition to Warner’s remastered Peanuts DVDs is an interesting combination of two later, not overly popular, but still fun entries in the long litany of CBS prime-time specials adapted from Charles Schulz’s classic comic strip.

The 1991 “Snoopy’s Reunion” looks back on Charlie Brown’s adoption of a puppy Snoopy from the Daisy Hill Farm, and then finds our favorite beagle reuniting with Spike and his other siblings, and joining up to produce some down-home music in the process. First broadcast on May 1, 1991, “Snoopy’s Reunion” is one of the better Peanuts specials from the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, offering some charming scenes and a tuneful score by Judy Munsen.

Also on-hand here is the rather forgettable 1985 special “It’s Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown,” which promotes physical fitness and mid ‘80s pop music in a tale that stars Snoopy as a regular dog by day -- and “Flashbeagle” by night! Quite dated with bubblegum music by Ed Bogas and Desiree Goyette, “Flashbeagle” is an oddity that will appeal mostly to die-hard Peanuts fans (kids will have a hard time connecting with the “Flashdance”-spoof premise), with this DVD marking the debut release of both “Flashbeagle” and “Snoopy’s Reunion” on video.

Warner’s DVD offers pleasing, colorful transfers of both specials along with mono soundtracks and a featurette that profiles many of the various young talents who performed vocal performances on the specials, in interview footage culled from the 2008 ComicCon.

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: Season 6 (1971-72, aprx. 19 hours; CBS/Paramount): The next-to-last season of Bruce Geller’s popular prime-time espionage series added Lynda Day George as make-up artist Casey, who joins Peter Graves, Greg Morris and Peter Lupus for 22 additional episodes of vintage, groovy MI goodness. Episodes include “Blind,” “Encore,” “The Tram,” “Mindbend,” “Shape-Up,” “The Miracle,” “Encounter,” “Underwater,” “Invasion,” “Blues,” “The Visitors,” “Nerves,” “Run for the Money,” “The Connection,” “The Bride,” “Stone Pillow,” “Image,” “Committed,” “Bag Woman,” “Double Dead,” “Casino,” and “Trapped.” Remastered transfers and 5.1 soundtracks make this an exceptional addition to Paramount’s prior MI DVDs.

BEVERLY HILLS 90210: Season 7 (1996-97, 24 hours; CBS/Paramount): Season 7 of the long-running Fox night-time soap finds the gang at C.U. for their senior year, battling various demons including David’s (Brian Austin Green) mental illness, Donna (Tori Spelling) losing her virginity (goodness!) and Brandon (Jason Priestley) trying to look ahead to a career in directing episodes of “The Secret Life of the American Teenager” (just kidding, but that’s actually what Priestley has been up to!). CBS’ complete seventh season of “90210" boasts good-looking full-screen transfers and 2.0 stereo soundtracks, on-par with their prior editions of the show.

HAWAII FIVE-O: Season 6 (1973-74, 20 hours; CBS/Paramount): CBS’ quintessential prime-time cop drama with Jack Lord and Co. hit the midway mark after its sixth season, offered here in a six-disc set from CBS. Once again boasting remastered transfers and mono soundtracks (with disclaimers for network edits), the 24-episode collection includes “Hookman,” “Draw Me A Killer,” “Charter For Death,” “One Big Happy Family,” “Sunday Torch,” “Murder is a Taxing Affair,” “Tricks are Not Treats,” “Why Wait Until Uncle Kevin Dies”, “Flash of Color, Flash of Death,” “Bullet for El Diablo,” “Finishing Touch,” “Anyone Can Build a Bomb,” “Try to Die on Time,” “$100,000 Nickel,” “Flip Side is Death,” “Banzai Pipeline,” “One Born Every Minute,” “Secret Witness,” “Death With Father,” “Murder with a Golden Touch,” “Nightmare in Blue,” “Mother’s Deadly Helper,” “Killer at Sea,” and “30,000 Rooms and I Have the Key.”

DYNASTY, Season 4, Volume 1 (1983-84, aprx. 11 hours; CBS/Paramount): The Carrington clan is at it again, as Michael Nader joins the cast for another season of intrigue, sex, betrayal, and all sorts of other things that define “family” on ‘80s network prime-time soaps. Once again opting to split up a full season of shows for two separate releases, CBS’ first set of “Dynasty”’s fourth-season episodes offers the initial 14 shows from its 1983-84 season in remastered full-screen transfers and mono soundtracks.

RON WHITE: BEHAVIORAL PROBLEMS (71 mins., 2009; Paramount): The popular stand-up comic riffs on topics as varied as funding the war to excessive drinking in this Comedy Central special. Paramount’s DVD includes some 40 minutes not seen in the broadcast version, along with several additional vignettes and all of it presented uncensored in 4:3 widescreen and stereo sound.

LIFE OF RYAN: The Complete Series (640 mins., 2007-09; MTV/Paramount): MTV reality series profiles the life and times of pro skater Ryan Sheckler from his family obligations to his international competitions on the skating circuit. Extreme sports fans might enjoy this behind the scenes glimpse into Sheckler’s career and personal life, with Paramount’s three-disc set offering the complete series in full-screen transfers and stereo soundtracks. Three bonus skate videos round out the package.

BLUE GOLD: WORLD WATER WARS (90 mins., 2009; PBS): Malcolm McDowell narrates this documentary, based on a book by Maude Barlow and Tony Clarke, profiling the fight for control of the world’s water supply, and the battle between corporations, private investors and governments on both a national and local level. Sam Bozzo produced, directed and adapted this cautionary documentary which copped numerous festival honors last year. PBS’ DVD includes a letterboxed presentation and stereo audio.

THE BURROWERS (*½, 96 mins., 2008, R; Lionsgate): Disappointing, slow-moving horror/western from writer-director JT Petty focuses on supernatural creatures stalking the Dakota Territories in 1879. Lionsgate’s DVD includes commentary from Petty and actor Karl Geary plus several Making Of featurettes, a 16:9 (2.35) transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, the latter boasting a nice score by Joe LoDuca.

Also Coming From Criterion

In addition to the Blu-Ray edition of “The Wages of Fear,” several other superb titles also grace the Criterion Collection this month:

IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES (102 mins., 1976): Nagisa Oshima’s controversial 1976 work has been fully restored for Criterion’s DVD edition, offering a new, high-def derived transfer of the film’s uncensored cut; commentary from critic Tony Rayns; an interview with actor Tatsuya Fuji; a 1976 interview with Oshima; deleted footage and the U.S. trailer.

EMPIRE OF PASSION (105 mins., 1978): Oshima’s follow-up to the above is a powerful kaidan (Japanese tale of the supernatural) set at the end of the 19th century. Criterion’s DVD includes a video essay from historian Catherine Russell; new interviews with stars Kazuko Yoshiyuki and Tatsuya Fuji; a restored transfer; additional 2003 interviews; an optional English dubbed soundtrack; and the U.S. trailer.

THE HIT (98 mins., 1984): John Hurt, Tim Roth and Terence Stamp star in this early work from Stephen Frears, presented here on DVD in a Criterion edition sporting commentary from Frears, Hurt, Roth, writer Peter Prince and editor Mick Audsley; a 1988 interview with Stamp; the trailer; and a new digital transfer supervised by cinematographer Mike Molloy.

SCIENCE IS FICTION: 23 Films By Jean Painleve: Jean Painleve’s miraculous science films are compiled in this sublime Criterion retrospective, sporting some 23 films in French with English subs, each reflecting on the wonders of actual science and creatures in a meditative, surrealistic manner that’s impossible to describe without sampling them. Criterion’s three-disc set also includes a 1988 French television series on Painleve and his works, along with rock band Yo La Tengo’s eight-film score “The Sounds of Silence.”

Coming From Anchor Bay

On April 21st Anchor Bay will roll out a deluxe Blu-Ray presentation of Clive Barker's 1988 New World production HELLRAISER (*½, 94 mins., 1987, R), a movie that has never been a favorite of mine particularly but boasts a strong cult following among genre fans.

A gross and rather unpleasant odyssey of demonic terror, Barker's big-screen career was launched with this effort, establishing Doug Harvey's Pinhead as a Freddy Kruger-like menace and Barker as "the future of horror," or at least according to Stephen King at the time. Some two decades later, Barker's filmmaking career never took off, and “Hellraiser” is now best known as a film that produced a series of increasingly-poor, direct-to-video sequels.

Admittedly, there are individual moments of terror here and there but the claustrophobic and rather shoddy production of this New World Pictures release only magnifies the goo and gore, though I did appreciate Christopher Young's orchestral score, which gives the picture a sense of grandeur.

Anchor Bay's Blu-Ray disc features a quite satisfying 1080p transfer of “Hellraiser” with Dolby TrueHD audio and a smattering of extras, including commentary from Barker, star Ashley Laurence and screenwriter Peter Atkins; trailers; interviews with Laurence, co-star Andrew Robinson, Christopher Young, and Doug Bradley; DVD-ROM screenplays; storyboards; and a documentary on the production of the picture, focusing heavily on the make-up effects work.

If this is your cup of tea, go for the limited-edition set, which includes a replica of the “Lament Configuration” puzzle-box along with the 20th Anniversary standard DVDs of “Hellrasier” and “Hellraiser II: Hellbound,” which are identical to their prior releases, and can all be housed (along with the Blu-Ray) in the specialized packaging.

The Last Universal Review

THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS (***, 106 mins., 2001, PG-13; Universal)
2 FAST 2 FURIOUS (**, 106 mins, 2003, PG-13; Universal)
THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS: TOKYO DRIFT (**½, 105 mins., 2006, PG-13, Universal):

A comic-book B-movie revved into a superior modern action- thriller, "The Fast and the Furious" opened in 2001 and quickly became a surprise box-office hit, leading to two sequels which have been compiled in this superb new Blu-Ray box-set from Universal (the third entry, the bizarrely titled “Fast and Furious,” has just opened to record-breaking spring box-office in the U.S.).

Rob Cohen’s original 2001 movie is a slick, fast-moving and surprisingly well-crafted update of a typical '50s cars-cops-and-robbers effort (it even takes its title from a 1954 Roger Corman movie, though it has nothing to do with its plot), and features a throbbing soundtrack that matches the most sensational driving and stunt sequences to adorn a movie in recent memory.

The plot is simple: undercover cop Paul Walker is on the trail of highway bandits who have been stealing electronics and other home consumer items from helpless truckers. Walker infiltrates a group of California street racers including their imposing leader (Vin Diesel) who owns a seemingly benign convenience store, and whose sister (the literally hot Jordana Brewster) falls for our white-bread hero.

While trying to determine if Diesel is behind the high-speed crimes, Walker gets wrapped up in the pulse-pounding life of fast cars and seemingly faster women, resulting in a handful of breathtaking car-racing sequences. In fact, the climactic raid on a truck in the Arizona desert compares favorably on the modern scale with some of the better car chases in cinematic history. Certainly there's something to be said for genuine stunts and action sequences which don't feel as if they've been entirely assembled through the use of special effects and “The Fast and the Furious” has that "authentic" feel to many of its action scenes.

Walker is acceptable in the heroic cop role but Diesel -- as he did in "Pitch Black" -- steals the show as a vulnerable tough guy whose honor and trust in his friends appears to run deeper than his own ambition. Brewster, meanwhile, proves alluring as the main love interest, while Michelle Rodriguez appears in a somewhat under-developed role as Diesel's girl, and Rick Yune makes for an adequate nemesis of the group.

Gary Scott Thompson's script doesn't incorporate much psycho-analytic discussion of the nature of honor among thieves (and pretty much avoids Walker's conflicting emotions altogether), but it knows the genre and makes the material leading up to the action sequences more palatable than you would expect. Coupled with a loud but appropriate soundtrack of original score by BT and assorted rock songs, the original movie provides satisfying, high-octane entertainment.

Minus Cohen and Diesel, 2 FAST 2 FURIOUS chugged into theaters in 2003 as a disappointing follow-up to its predecessor, with Walker returning as cop Brian O’Conner, who here goes undercover with old pal Tyrese Gibson to take down a drug lord. John Singleton came onboard to helm the picture, and Eva Mendes is on-hand for some eye candy, but the final product is a pretty pedestrian ride, which was released to solid, though not spectacular, box-office in summer of ‘03.

Universal opted to shift gears and ditch the original cast completely with 2006's THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS: TOKYO DRIFT. The move was likely made out of cost-cutting considerations, but the big surprise was that writer Chris Morgan and director Justin Lin came up with a movie that was, at least, a big improvement on its immediate predecessor -- so much so that both Morgan and Lin were brought back to write and direct the series’ latest installment, “Fast and Furious,” which reunites the original’s principal cast.

“Tokyo Drift” wisely starts fresh, with young American hotshot Lucas Black heading to Japan and promptly getting mixed up with the local, hot-rod ridin’ underworld there. Lin and Morgan have fashioned a good-looking, predictable thrill ride for teens with plenty of exciting chases (as we’ve come to expect from the series) and a throbbing Brian Tyler score. It’s nothing out of the ordinary, but it’s superior to “2Fast2Furious” and offers a surprise cameo at the end that puts a satisfying cap on the action.

Universal’s Blu-Ray box-set of the first three “Fast and Furious” movies sport outstanding 1080p transfers with relentlessly active DTS Master Audio soundtracks. A bevy of supplements have been carried over from the prior DVD and HD-DVD editions, including commentary, deleted scenes, the regulation Making Of featurettes, U-Control extras and other bonuses. Recommended!

NEXT TIME: THE READER on Blu-Ray.Until then, don't forget to drop in on the official Aisle Seat Message Boards and direct any emails to our email address.  Cheers everyone!

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