5/1/07 Edition -- The AISLE SEAT BLOG Is Now Online!

May Day Edition!
Plus: Tyrone Power Swashbuckles Again!

May is here, folks! Time to do some spring cleaning (tell me about it) and get ready to hit the movie theaters at last with the beginning of the Summer Movie Season in just a few days with “Spider-Man 3.” No doubt that it’s a good time to be a movie buff, and while the big-screen will be heating up, so too are the amount of DVD, HD-DVD and Blu Ray discs looming on the horizon.

Our latest Aisle Seat round-up follows below, with titles ranging from Tyrone Power classics to WWII gems and the latest TV on DVD box sets. Read on, and don’t forget to join us at the Aisle Seat Message Board for a discussion of the latest films, news, sports and whatever else is on your mind. Cheers everyone!

Aisle Seat DVD Pick of the Week

SERAPHIM FALLS (***, 2006). 112 mins., R, Sony. DVD FEATURES: Commentary; Making Of featurette; 16:9 (2.35) Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound. Available May 15.

Rugged, exciting western with gorgeous John Toll cinematography went criminally un-seen in limited theatrical play dates, despite the presence of stars Liam Neeson and Pierce Brosnan  in a film produced by Mel Gibson’s Icon Productions.

Shortly after the Civil War, Brosnan plays a former Union captain trying to elude Neeson’s Confederate pursuer, for reasons that become clear as the film progresses. Director David Von Ancken and co-writer Abby Everett Jacques have fashioned a basic tale of retribution, revenge and ultimately redemption, as Neeson tracks Brosnan through a cavalcade of old west standbys (missionaries, bank robbers, homesteaders, etc.) in vivid, scenic Oregon and New Mexico backdrops.

One of the intriguing elements about “Seraphim Falls” is how it makes the viewer identify with Brosnan’s character through its first half, and then with Neeson’s initially-cold blooded pursuer in its second. The movie culminates in a surreal finale with Anjelica Huston and Wes Studi appearing in ambiguous roles, yet still provides a satisfying finish (albeit with supernatural overtones) to a first-class production all the way around, capped by a Harry Gregson-Williams score that represents its composer’s strongest work to date.

Sony’s DVD contains an outstanding 16:9 (2.35) transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, and two extras: commentary with Von Ancken, Brosnan and production designer Michael Hanan, as well as a standard Making Of featurette.

Violent but fascinating, “Seraphim Falls” is exactly the kind of film that home video was built for. Hopefully the movie will now find the audience that never really had a chance to see it the first time around.

New HD-DVD Titles
DREAMGIRLS: HD-DVD Edition (**½, 130 mins., 2006, PG-13; Paramount): Bill Condon’s big, brassy adaptation of the popular Henry Krieger-Tom Eyen Broadway musical is a mixed, but moderately entertaining, assembly of musical numbers (some dazzling, many others forgettable), a somewhat vacuous story, and uneven performances.

“Dreamgirls” takes the rise and fall of the Supremes and turns it into a fictional account of a ‘60s musical group (Beyonce Knowles, Anika Noni Rose, and Jennifer Hudson) that hits the big-time, only to endure the usual fall-out seen in most showbiz rags-to-riches tales; Jamie Foxx, meanwhile, essays the group’s calculating promoter and Eddie Murphy is the manic superstar who takes them under his wing.

Condon wrote and directed the screen version of “Dreamgirls,” which is oddly paced as a sort of “performance musical” in its first half with songs performed primarily over montages and during concert sequences, and then turns into more of a standard genre piece in its second half with numbers being sung “outwardly,” substituting for dialogue. The shift is a little jarring, and Condon can only do so much to enhance the superficial source material, which served on the stage as a showcase for its original stars, including Jennifer Holliday.

Here, though, Beyonce Knowles fails completely to take hold of the screen the way Holliday did on stage, despite taking the showy central leading role. Beyonce’s surprising lack of charisma leaves a hole at the center of “Dreamgirls,” but solid work from Murphy and the vocals of Hudson (who earned a Supporting Actress Oscar for her role of Effie, though I didn’t entirely buy her affected performance) keeps you watching.

“Dreamgirls” isn’t as satisfying as Rob Marshall’s recent adaptation of “Chicago,” but neither was the original show it was based upon. Musical fans will still find enough to enjoy here, despite its drawbacks, through its visuals and evocation of time and place.

Paramount’s double-disc HD-DVD edition of “Dreamgirls” sports some 12 extended musical numbers (cut down for the movie), a music video, full-length documentary, auditions and screen tests. The HD transfer (2.35) is dynamic, as is the 5.1 Dolby Digital Plus sound, which is sure to give your subwoofer a workout.

THE HITCHER: HD-DVD Edition (*½, 84 mins., 2007, R; Universal): Putrid remake of the 1986 Rutger Hauer-C. Thomas Howell cult favorite manages to throw away everything that made Eric Red’s original version compelling, opting for obvious, cliched shock sequences, cardboard characters, and a thoroughly pedestrian script instead.

Sean Bean might have made for a decent Hauer replacement had Jake Wade Wall (soiling yet another genre fave after his hideous “When a Stranger Calls” remake) and Eric Bernt’s script crafted a character that actually resembled the original “John Ryder,” but like everything else in the new “Hitcher,” the movie rolls snake eyes in terms of development.

Instead of the psychological battle between Hauer and Howell, the remake adds a female protagonist (Sophia Bush) who turns out to be the one that does battle with Bean in a tiresome, endless climax, but there’s no resonance in this retelling. Red’s original script was a fascinating battle of wits between a mad man and an initially meek college student; director Dave Meyers’ stylishly-looking but vapid remake strips away all the nuance and, subsequently, we get a empty-headed teen slasher in its place with nothing but splatter to satisfy the most hard-core gore fan.

Universal’s HD-DVD release looks fantastic, however. The VC-1 encoded transfer (2.35) is filled with detail, even though the movie was shot in producer Michael Bay’s trademark filter-filled, grain-enhanced visual manner. The Dolby Digital Plus sound is also effective, and extras include over 20 minutes of deleted scenes, a (somewhat) alternate ending, a Making Of segment, and “U-Control” picture-in-picture vignettes that pop up on an optional visual track. It’s a great presentation of a tepid, and totally unnecessary, remake. (A standard-definition version is available on the disc's flip side).

THE GOOD SHEPHERD: HD-DVD Edition (**½, 168 mins., 2006, R; Universal): Robert DeNiro directed this long, probing look into the life of Edward Wilson (Matt Damon), a Yale student recruited by the Office of Strategic Services and eventually becomes a major player in the CIA. Eric Roth’s script matches DeNiro’s ambitions with crafting a lengthy examination of a man who sacrifices personal happiness for what he believes to be the betterment of the U.S.A., but the point is taken early and often, and the movie feels lethargic and tedious in spite of first-class performances: Damon is fine in a role that’s difficult to find sympathetic, while an excellent supporting cast (Angelina Jolie, DeNiro, William Hurt, Timothy Hutton, even Keir Dullea) makes the picture endurable, if still disappointing. Universal’s HD-DVD edition looks stellar (2.35 widescreen) and packs a decent punch on the audio end (5.1 Dolby Digital Plus), though extras are limited to 16 minutes of deleted scenes and “U-Drive” interactive features, which crop up infrequently via an optional on-screen prompt and offer various featurettes on the production of the film. (A standard-definition version is available on the disc's flip side).

SMOKIN’ ACES: HD-DVD Edition (*½, 108 mins., 2007, R; Universal): Joe Carnahan’s loud, obnoxious action “comedy” isn’t very funny or particularly exciting, either. Mob informant Buddy “Aces” Israel (Jeremy Piven) is ratting out mafia secrets to the feds, leading a who’s who of assassins (Ben Affleck, Alicia Keys among them) and a pair of FBI agents (Ray Liotta, Ryan Reynolds) onto his trail. Carnahan’s first movie after quitting “Mission: Impossible III” is a weird film that was misleadingly marketed as having a lot of comedic, Tarantino-esque elements, when it fact the finished product is actually pretty heavy on the melodrama. As if to compensate for a story that’s never very interesting, Carnahan also throws in a big “twist” at the end that’s less than satisfying as well, and the various performances do little to put this rambling mess on-track. Universal’s dynamic HD-DVD presentation does sport a razor-sharp 2.35 (VC-1 encoded) transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital Plus sound; 18 minutes of deleted scenes; and Making Of featurettes, some of which are triggered while selecting the studio’s effective “U-Control” picture-in-picture option.

THE JERK: HD-DVD Edition (***, 94 mins., 1979, R; Universal): Steve Martin’s box-office breakthrough is still one of his funniest vehicles some 28 years later (was it really released that long ago?), with the star essaying Navin Johnson, the adopted white son of a black farming family, who hits the road hoping to make it on his own. Martin, Carl Gottlieb and Michael Elias’ script offers an abundance of gags, while Carl Reiner (helming the first of several Martin vehicles) utilizes his sage comic timing to craft an occasionally uproarious film that made a fortune in theaters and remains a viewer favorite. Universal’s HD-DVD edition is a noticeable upgrade on the standard-definition version, offering a new HD transfer in the 1.85 aspect ratio with 5.1 Dolby Digital Plus sound. The supplements are reprieved from the last “Special Edition” version of “The Jerk,” offering only the trailer and a “Lost Filmstrips of Father Carlos Las Vegas De Cordova” featurette (we’ll have to wait to see the extra scenes from the TV version at another point). The upgraded transfer makes this well worth it for HD-owning Martin aficionados!

ALPHA DOG: HD-DVD Edition (**½, 118 mins., 2007, R; Universal): Nick Cassavetes wrote and directed this fictionalized account of the life of Jesse James Hollywood, an L.A. drug dealer who became the youngest man ever to make the FBI’s most wanted list. Ben Foster, Emile Hirsch, Christopher Marquette, Anton Yelchin, Justin Timberlake, Sharon Stone and Bruce Willis all give strong performances in this sometimes-harrowing account of suburban L.A. kids, growing up without effective parenting, whose lives come tumbling down. Somewhat predictable but nevertheless compelling, particularly due to the performances, “Alpha Dog” arrives on HD-DVD this week in an excellent VC-1 (2.35) encoded transfer with Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and Dolby Digital Plus sound. Extras include a Making Of featurette and interactive U-Control “Witness Timeline.”

New Blu Ray Discs

THE QUEEN: Blu Ray Edition (***½, 103 mins., 2006, PG-13; Buena Vista): Helen Mirren’s Oscar-winning performance as Queen Elizabeth II lifts this Stephen Frears film from being merely entertaining to something more substantial. As a portrait of a woman who opens up following a tragic circumstance (here, the death of Princess Diana), “The Queen” is a witty, human character study. Writer Peter Morgan’s script follows the relationship between the Queen and Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) after that event and questions the point of the British monarchy and how far removed -- albeit well-intentioned -- the Queen is from her own subjects. “The Queen” isn’t particularly revolutionary, but the performances of Mirren and Sheen propel the material into an actor’s showcase, and those who missed the theatrical release most undoubtedly should check out Buena Vista’s Blu Ray disc. The high-definition transfer is generally leaps and bounds above the standard-definition DVD, though it’s curious how most of the sequences with Tony Blair talking to his staff or his family are much grainier than the rest of the film. Like the regular release, the Blu Ray disc also sports two commentary tracks (one with Fears and Morgan, the other with Royal authority Robert Lacey), and a Making Of featurette. The uncompressed 5.1 Dolby Digital sound is just what you’d anticipate from this kind of film, with Alexandre Desplat’s low-key score suiting the material properly.

DEJA VU: Blu Ray Edition (**, 126 mins., 2006, PG-13; Buena Vista): Director Tony Scott, producer Jerry Bruckheimer and star Denzel Washington have worked their magic before, but their streak at the box-office ran out with this silly, tedious thriller. Washington plays a cop investigating a New Orleans ferry explosion who finds out the government can alter time to attempt to set things straight. Val Kilmer, Jim Caviezel and Bruce Greenwood lead a strong supporting cast in a slickly-made but jumbled, incoherent film that’s far from the best work of any of the talent involved. Buena Vista’s Blu Ray DVD does an excellent job at offering the same supplements as the regular DVD edition, including deleted and extended scenes and a number of featurettes, while adding a gorgeous high-definition transfer and uncompressed 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack.

CATCH AND RELEASE: Blu Ray Edition (**½, 112 mins., 2006, PG-13; Sony): Jennifer Garner single-handedly carries this soapy, light drama-edy about a young woman whose fiancee has died, leading her to move in with her male best friends (Kevin Smith, Sam Jaeger, Timothy Olyphant), and finding new love with one of them (I’ll tell you this -- it’s not Kevin Smith). Susannah Grant’s credits include screenwriting work on “Ever After” and “Erin Brockovich” among others, and she makes her feature directorial debut here, in a movie that most critics found trite and audiences stayed away from earlier this year. In reality, “Catch and Release” isn’t at all bad, though the film does feel disjointed and jarringly shifts tone at times. That said, Garner is appealing and the movie has enough satisfying elements going for it that it ought to make for a decent rental for the dating crowd at least. Sony’s Blu Ray release (out May 8) includes deleted scenes, audition footage, a Making Of featurette, and a pair of commentaries, one with Grant and cinematographer John Lindley, the other with Grant and Kevin Smith. The high-definition transfer is crystal clear and 5.1 Dolby Digital PCM audio is offered on the audio side. The BT-Tommy Stinson score is unobtrusive and pleasant.

CLOSER: Blu Ray Edition (**½, 104 mins., 2004, R; Sony, available May 22): Patrick Marber adapted his stage play for this appropriately “stagy” four-character piece from director Mike Nichols.

Jude Law is a London obituary writer who runs into American stripper Natalie Portman. They fall in love, but Law soon falls for photographer Julia Roberts, who later becomes married to obnoxious doctor Clive Owen (actually that description could apply to any of the characters). Law then breaks up with Portman, Roberts dumps Owen (who also engages in the occasional, graphic sex chat online with Law), and each one of the characters struggles to find the proper balance between sex, love and honesty.

Director Nichols uses London locales and a quiet, introspective soundtrack to nice effect, yet regardless of his efforts – or that of the cast, who are uniformly excellent – “Closer” doesn’t really work as a cinematic experience. The dialogue, staging, and story can’t escape their origins on the stage, and as such, its “theatrical” elements come off as being forced and pretentious when captured on screen. None of the characters are appealing and the movie feels clinical and cold, which -- while likely being part of its point -- are I’m guessing only amplified by seeing the work filmed as opposed to being performed live.

Nevertheless, “Closer” is worth a look due to its performances, particularly by Portman in a role (deservedly nominated for an Oscar) that confirms her status as one of the finest young actresses working today.

Sony’s Blu Ray release contains an effective new high-definition transfer that better replicates the film’s moody cinematography than the standard definition release. The uncompressed 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack is fine, but this isn’t a film your audio receiver will be pushed to the limits on in the first place. As with the prior DVD release (which was a Superbit title), only a music video is offered on the supplemental side.

Fox Classics and New Releases

Fans of Golden Age cinema have been eagerly anticipating Fox’s latest collection of vintage titles, highlighted by the superb, five-disc TYRONE POWER COLLECTION.

This reasonably priced anthology sports five Power epics in new transfers and many with fresh supplements.

Leading the charge is the 1947 Darryl F. Zanuck/Technicolor classic “Captain From Castile,” presented with a remarkably clear isolated score of Alfred Newman’s all-time classic soundtrack, a new commentary with Nick Redman and fellow historians Jon Burlingame and Rudy Behlmer, plus a featurette on Power’s “Leading Ladies,” a still gallery and the original trailer. The movie is great fun with a zesty supporting cast (Jean Peters, Cesar Romero, Lee J. Cobb a others) and plenty of action as it follows a Spanish aristocrat’s adventures with New World explorer Hernan Cortez.

Newman’s work is also isolated on two other offerings in the box set, including “Son of Fury,” the 1942 potboiler with Power as Bejamin Blake, George Sanders, Roddy McDowall, Elsa Lanchester, Frances Farmer and John Carradine in an exciting 19th century adventure. Fox’s transfer is in good condition and the DVD also sports a behind-the-scenes featurette, trailer, advertising and still galleries.

Newman’s score for the former is solid but his work on the 1949 Italian costumer “Prince of Foxes” is even better, isolated here in mono with more still galleries, a Movietone news reel, and the original trailer also on-hand.

Power’s work in “Foxes” with Orson Welles would soon lead to another collaboration with the fabled star: Henry Hathaway’s 1950 epic “The Black Rose,” presented here with still galleries, the trailer, and a “Tyrone Power: Family Reunion” featurette.

Last but not least in the set is Power’s 1941 starring vehicle “Blood and Sand,” director Rouben Mamoulian’s remake of the Valentino silent with Power here starring as an aspiring matador. Commentary from cinematographer Richard Crudo and a photo gallery put the cap on a magnificent set for all fans of the Golden Age, with Fox offering each film in its own slim case with original poster art work. Bravo!

Also newly released from Fox (and available individually) are five additions to the studio’s “War Classics” line.

Included in the lot are the Jeffrey Hunter-Michael Rennie 1953 adaptation of C.S. Forester’s “Sailor of the King” (83 mins.), presented here with a rare alternate ending; the 1943 programmer “Tonight We Raid Calais” with Lee J. Cobb, John Sutton and Annabella, sporting a script by Waldo Salt and the DVD offering a still gallery and the trailer; Richard Baseheart and Gene Evans in Samuel Fuller’s “Fixed Bayonets!” ( 1951, 92 mins.,) also sporting a still gallery and the trailer; Robert Mitchum, Trevor Howard, and Barry Sullivan in the seldom-screened WWII courtroom thriller “Man in the Middle” (1964, 93 mins.), directed by future James Bond helmer Guy Hamilton and featuring a score by Lionel Bart; and the 1944 POW tale “The Pruple Heart,” with Dana Andrews, Richard Conte and Farley Granger starring and Fox’s DVD sporting a new commentary from critic Richard Shickel, a still gallery and the original trailer.

More Classics & New From Criterion
BECKET (***½, 1964, 150 mins., MPI): The Film Foundation and the Academy Film Archive present this restored edition of the 1964 filming of “Becket,” the David Merrick stage production which memorably made it to the screen as a full-fledged Hal Wallis production, starring Peter O’Toole as Henry II (a role he would play again to equal success in 1968's “The Lion In Winter”) and Richard Burton as Thomas Becket, his old chum whom he appoints to the Archbishop of Canterbury post, expecting no opposition...MPI’s new DVD release has obviously been mastered from the best available elements, though the print still shows its age at various points. Nevertheless, the movie looks far more vibrant in this new 16:9 (2.35) transfer than it did in MPI’s laserdisc from years ago, while the remastered 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack does justice to Laurence Rosenthal’s superb score. Speaking of Rosenthal, he’s interviewed in a new segment on the soundtrack, offered in the supplements alongside an interview with Anne V. Coates, trailers and TV spots, and archival interviews with Burton. Highly recommended!  (available mid-May)

JEAN RENOIR: 3-Disc Collector’s Edition (1925-62, Lionsgate): Another superb catalog title from Lionsgate includes a handful of offerings from Jean Renior. Included in the set are “Whirlpool of Fate” (1925), “Nana” (1926), “Charleston Parade” (1927), “The Little March Girl” (1928), “La Marseillaise” (1938), “Doctor’s Horrible Experiment” (1959) and “The Elusive Corporal” (1962), the latter presented in 16:9 widescreen. Recommended for all Renoir fans!

VENGEANCE IS MINE (1979, 140 mins., Criterion)
ARMY OF SHADOWS (1969, 145 mins., Criterion)

Among Criterion’s new releases for the month of May is “Vengeance Is Mine,” director Shohei Imamura’s chilling 1979 tale -- based on fact -- of a man (Ken Ogata) who goes on a 78-day killing spree. 

In light of the recent Virginia Tech shootings, this is a startling, uncomfortable but highly effective portrait of a man who lives firmly through the dark part of the human soul, presented here in yet another top-flight Criterion DVD celebration of Japanese cinema: the remastered 16:9 (1.66) transfer is superb, the mono sound is just fine, and extras include a video interview with Imamura, trailers, and an extensive booklet with interviews, essays and more.

Also new from Criterion this month is Jean-Pierre Melville’s “Army of Shadows,” the 1969 film (considered by many to be his masterwork) which went unreleased in the United States until domestic theatrical showings last year.

This ironic, atmospheric, emotionally charged tale of French resistance fighters trying to combat the Nazis in WWII isn’t action-packed, but boasts outstanding performances (Lino Ventura, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Simone Signoret among them) and atmospheric cinematography.

Criterion’s double-disc DVD set includes commentary from historian Ginette Vincendeau, a new restored 16:9 (1.85) transfer with mono sound, new interviews, archival video excerpts, rare shorts, and more. Highly recommended.

Also New From Fox

THAT THING YOU DO! (***½, 1996, 147 mins. [extended cut] and 108 mins. [theatrical cut], PG; Fox)
BIG (***, 1988, 130 mins. [extended cut] and 104 mins. [theatrical cut], PG; Fox)

Two Tom Hanks comedies are back on DVD in a pair of Extended Edition DVDs with all-new supplements this May.

A surprising box-office underachiever from the fall of 1996, “That Thing You Do!” marked Hanks' feature directorial debut -- a sweet, low-key tale of a young band trying to make it back in the pop music heyday of the early '60s. Tom Everett Scott plays the Hanks-like, nice-guy salesman who stumbles into playing drums for the One-ders, a group that improbably hits fleeting fame and fortune. Liv Tyler makes a good impression in one of her first lead roles (as does Charlize Theron), while Hanks' "Bosom Buddies" co-star, Peter "Newhart" Scolari, turns up as a TV host.

Hanks also wrote the script for this engaging comedy, filled with fun music (even if you get sick of the title song by the zillionth time it’s performed!), colorful cinematography, and a good, nostalgic sense of time and place.

Fox's new DVD offers both the theatrical cut and the premiere of an extended version featuring over 40 minutes of new footage (which varies between adding depth to the characters and the development of the story, to slowing the film’s pace down considerably). The 1.85 (16:9) transfer is often on the soft side, but the zesty 5.0 Dolby Digital soundtrack fares better. Supplementary-speaking, the second disc of extras offer a bunch of featurettes (both new and vintage), a music video, TV spot, and archival HBO First Look special.

“Big,” meanwhile, was Hanks’ first big success as a “leading man” outside the purely comedic realm, even if writers Anne Spielberg and Gary Ross’s fantasy about a teenage boy whose wish to become older is magically granted has plenty of comic moments in it.

That said, I found director Penny Marshall’s movie to be a bit more saccharine on this viewing than I initially did, with Hanks carrying the film single-handedly. It’s still a gentle fantasy but -- perhaps because of all the other body-switching/aging reversal films that came out in the wake of “Big” and through the years since -- it doesn’t seem as fresh as it did at the time.

Penny Marshall’s Director’s Cut (26 minutes longer than the released version) is on-hand in Fox’s two-disc Special Edition, along with deleted scenes and other extras. The 16:9 (1.85) transfer is superior to Fox’s previous DVD edition, while the 2.0 stereo sound and other supplements are equally good: an audio “documentary” by writers Spielberg and Ross is on-hand during the theatrical version, while a second platter of extra features includes deleted scenes with optional Penny Marshall commentary and several featurettes, including an AMC Hollywood Backstory documentary on the film’s production.

It all makes for an excellent new DVD package for fans of the film, with the only glaring omission between these sets being the lack of Tom Hanks’ own presence (though “That Thing...” is billed as “Tom Hanks’ Extended Edition”).   

CAGNEY & LACEY: Season 1 (1982-83, 1083 mins., Fox): The ground-breaking female cop series hits DVD for the first time courtesy of MGM and Fox on May 8th. Sharon Gless and Tyne Daly starred as the hard-working detective duo attempting to juggle work and personal lives in a series that initially began with Daly starring opposite Loretta Swit in a pilot movie, then with Meg Foster in Swit’s role for a limited, six-episode run. Gless replaced Foster, and after a massive fan campaign to save the series from cancellation, “Cagney and Lacey” eventually developed into the acclaimed prime-time drama that carried it through several seasons to come. Fox’s four-disc DVD box set does NOT contain the Swit or Foster episodes, making its designation as “The Complete First Season” somewhat misleading. It does offer the complete Second Season of the show (the first with Gless and Daily), in solid full-screen transfers and a two-part new featurette that fans will certainly appreciate.

A PERFECT COUPLE (1979, 111 mins., PG, Fox): Low-key and off-beat (even for its director’s standards) tale of odd couple Paul Dooley and Marta Heflin makes for an atypical romantic offering from helmer Robert Altman. A featurette and a new 16:9 (1.85) transfer are on-hand in this MGM/Fox offering, which also sports 2.0 stereo sound.

A GUIDE FOR THE MARRIED WOMAN (1978, 96 mins., Fox): Late ‘70s TV movie stars Cybill Shepherd and a gaggle of familiar faces (Bernie Koppell, John Hillerman, Elaine Joyce, Bonnie Franklin, “guest star” Barbara Feldon) in a sitcom-y tale that has little in common with the Walter Matthau late ‘60s fave “Guide For the Married Man,” except for being extremely dated! Fox’s DVD offers a full-screen transfer and mono soundtrack.

THE GIRLS NEXT DOOR: Season 2 (2006, 418 mins., Fox): Sophomore season of the Playboy reality series offers Heff, more babes plus uncensored audio on the series’ 16 second-season episodes, bloopers, deleted scenes, full-screen transfers and 2.0 stereo sound.

STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKE: Berry Blossom Festival (2007, 44 mins., Fox): Strawberry attempts to win the coveted Berry Blossom Festival in this latest DVD release, which comes complete with a crown for your favorite little one to wear.

THAT ‘70s SHOW: Complete Season 6 (2003-04, 545 mins., Fox): Season 6 for the long-running Fox sitcom hits DVD in a four-disc set with all 25 sixth season episodes; commentaries; promo spots; three featurettes; 2.0 Dolby Surround soundtracks and full-screen transfers.

New From Paramount

AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN (***, 124 mins., 1982, R; Paramount): One of the many box-office hits from the memorable cinematic summer of '82, Taylor Hackford's unabashedly melodramatic, entertaining look at a lost young man (Richard Gere) who finds himself in the military and love with a local girl (Debra Winger) in the process won Oscars for Lou Gossett, Jr.'s terrific performance as a drill sergeant and the soft-rock ballad "Up Where We Belong" (still played on lite FM stations everywhere to this day). Jack Nitzsche's score, Winger's performance, the screenplay and editing were all Oscar-nominated. As a movie, it's no classic, but in terms of star power and on-screen chemistry, Winger and Gere made for a memorable screen duo in a movie that endures as one of the top romances in '80s cinema.

Paramount’s new Collector’s Edition of “Officer and a Gentleman” includes Taylor Hackford’s commentary from the previous DVD (an excellent, insightful track, incidentally) along with several new featurettes. The half-hour new “25 Years Later” offers recollections from all the principals sans Debra Winger, while Lou Gossett, Jr. heads back to Port Townsend for a revisit of the picture’s shooting locales in another 10-minute featurette. Lyricist Will Jennings, meanwhile, is interviewed as part of a look at the picture’s soundtrack, which also includes an interview with Jack Nitzsche’s son and music supervisor Joel Sill. Visually, the 16:9 (1.85) transfer and 5.1 soundtrack are on-par with the prior DVD release.

TO CATCH A THIEF (***, 106 mins., 1955, Paramount): Special Edition re-issue of the memorable Alfred Hitchcock-Cary Grant-Grace Kelly teaming includes a new commentary track from Peter Bogdanovich and Laurent Bouzereau, recounting the production of the 1955 French Riviera romantic thriller, as well as a four-part documentary presented in the same manner as Bouzereau’s other Hitchcock DVD supplements. The 16:9 (1.85) transfer and 2.0 soundtrack appear to be on the same level as Paramount’s prior disc.

BEVERLY HILLS 90210: Season 2 (1991-92, aprx. 22 hours, Paramount): Season 2 for the Walsh family and their pals certainly streamlined the series’ original concept and delivered the real foundation for the subsequent years of the show to follow. Mixing high school morals with soap opera plots and colorful characters, year two for “Beverly Hills, 90210" introduced Christine Elise’s memorable Emily Valentine into the mix, finds Dylan (Luke Perry) and Brenda (Shannen Doherty) trying to hook up, and the usual social issues being a part of the individual episodes as well. Despite offering the disclaimer that some music was changed for the DVD, Paramount’s eight-disc box set will be more than satisfying for series fans, offering three featurettes (including an extended look at the arrival of Emily Valentine), good-looking full-screen transfers and 2.0 Dolby Digital stereo soundtracks.

More TV on DVD

DINOSAURS: The Complete Third and Fourth Seasons (1992-94, 670 mins., Buena Vista): The Henson Company’s animatronic sitcom about life in the jurassic age fell victim to sagging ratings during its third and fourth seasons, with the series’ final group of episodes never airing on network TV in the U.S. Not that it was necessarily a bad thing, as this series (which admittedly I was never a big fan of) comes to a horrifying, depressing end in a “controversial” episode that shouldn’t have been as needlessly downbeat, at least given the series’ parameters as a family comedy. That being said, “Dinosaurs” fans will still enjoy Disney’s four-disc set that assembles the series’ last two seasons in excellent full-screen transfers with commentaries and short Making Of featurettes that discuss the show’s problematic conclusion. Just be aware it’s a downer in case you have kids sitting around!
E/R: Complete Season 7 (2000-01, 22 Episodes, Warner): Complete seventh season of the still-ongoing NBC medical drama continued the series’ downward trend, with Noah Wiley’s Dr. Carter trying to clean himself up after detoxing, Kerry Weaver (Laura Innes) offering revelations about her sexuality, and the depressing plight of Dr. Greene (Anthony Edwards) coming to a head. “E/R” fans will still enjoy the soapy plots, but even die-hard series fans noted the gradual decline from the series’ previous high-quality as it entered its seventh season. Warner’s box-set includes the show’s 22 seventh-season episodes in 16:9 (1.85) widescreen transfers with 2.0 stereo sound, outtakes and a gag reel.

WHAT I LIKE ABOUT YOU: Complete Season 1 (2002-03, 478 mins., Warner): Cute comedy aired for several years on the WB network, working as a showcase for young star Amanda Bynes, playing a teenager who moves in with her older sister (90210's Jennie Garth) in Manhattan after their father is transferred overseas for a new job. Nothing groundbreaking here, just energetic performances from its two leads and family-friendly story lines. Warner’s box-set offers all 22 first-season episodes of the series in full-screen transfers with Dolby Surround soundtracks and a gag reel on the supplemental side.

FRANKLIN AND THE TURTLE LAKE TREASURE (2007, 76 mins., HBO): Everyone's favorite turtle (doing quite well on the Noggin channel, out-rating series like "Dora The Explorer" these days as well) comes to DVD in an original, feature-length film on May 22nd. "The Turtle Lake Treasure" finds Franklin and friends searching for a box that will hopefully make his ailing Aunt Lucy feel better. Kids will enjoy the colorful Nelvana animation and positive lessons about cooperation in this second made-for-DVD feature starring Franklin.

MORAL OREL: Unholy Edition (173 mins., Warner): In-your-face, offensive enough parody of “Davey and Goliath” is fun for a few yucks until its constant, one-note humor (aimed directly at Christians of any religious persuasion) grates on the viewer. Juvenile, to be sure, but this Adult Swim series has its fans, who ought to enjoy Warner’s two-disc DVD box set, containing uncensored episodes, commentaries, and other extras.

NEXT TIME: Pirates, super-heroes and more!
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