5/18/10 Edition
Aisle Seat May Mania!
KARATE KID Kicks Its Way onto Blu-Ray
Plus: Full Blu Rundown, Mel Brooks & More
All-star comedies have long been a thing of the past, particularly since the cost of securing a large assemblage of known celebrities has only escalated over the years.

That trend makes Garry Marshall’s recent comedy VALENTINE’S DAY (**, 125 mins., 2010, PG-13; Warner) a real throwback; a succession of interconnecting story lines centered around the annual February 14th salute to love and romance. And give Marshall credit, he must have friends in numerous high places to have assembled a cast so large (in alphabetical order: Jessica Alba, Kathy Bates, Jessica Biel, Bradley Cooper, Eric Dance, Patrick Dempsey, Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, Anne Hathaway, Ashton Kutcher, Queen Latifah, George Lopez, Shirley MacLaine, Julia Roberts, and even Marshall veteran Hector Elizondo) that it must have been a challenge for the film’s marketers to figure out how many of these actors should be individually spotlighted in the picture’s advertising.

“Valentine’s Day” was a big hit at the box-office last winter, but truth be told, it’s not a particularly funny nor engaging film. Katherine Fugate’s script is pretty much what you’d anticipate – an episodic collage of different couples alternately wooing or sparring over their respective relationships. Yes, we do get a gay couple for a change (Dane and Cooper), but it’s mostly a case of some relationships working, others falling apart, all the while the stars fill a variety of roles – some more believable than others (Julia as an army officer flying home form Iraq!?!). The cast makes it watchable enough, but it’s pretty much standard-issue, never hilarious nor really romantic, and ultimately coming across like a modern, updated version of “Love, American Style.”

Warner brings “Valentine’s Day” onto Blu-Ray, DVD and digital download this week. The Blu-Ray edition boasts a clean, nice 1080p transfer with DTS Master Audio sound and a few extras, including commentary from Marshall, a music video, blooper reel, and pair of fluffy behind-the-scenes featurettes. There’s also a digital copy and DVD on-hand in the combo package, which also sports a BD-exclusive set of additional scenes and sneak preview of “Sex and the City 2.”
Also highlighting a number of new Blu-Ray releases this week is Sony’s superb BD combo pairing of John G. Avildsen’s original THE KARATE KID  (***½, 126 mins., 1984, PG) with its box-office smash 1986 sequel, THE KARATE KID PART II (***, 113 mins., PG). With the inevitable (unnecessary) remake en route starring Jackie Chan and Will Smith’s son Jaden, the Blu-Rays offer the perfect opportunity to enjoy the formulaic but likeable original movies which inspired it.

The first “Karate Kid” is still, hands down, the best of the series -- Columbia’s “little” sleeper film that became an unlikely box-office smash. Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita fit their roles splendidly, while a young (and extremely fetching) Elisabeth Shue provides the female support to our underdog teenage hero. Capped off by a wonderful Bill Conti score and memorable climax, this “Rocky” variant has enchanted millions of viewers over the years, and remains a stirring entertainment even if it’s relentlessly predictable.

In addition to a new, vibrant 1080p AVC-encoded transfer with DTS Master Audio sound, Sony’s “Karate Kid” BD includes all the extras from its 2005 Special DVD edition. An informative, sometimes uproarious group commentary with stars Macchio and Morita, writer Robert Mark Kamen, and director Avildsen is the highlight of these, though the 45-minute "Way of the Karate Kid" documentary is likewise superb, offering a nice retrospective on the making of the picture. In addition to then-new interviews with all the creative personnel (sans Elisabeth Shue), the documentary includes copious home video footage shot by Avildsen during pre-production and shooting, plus plenty of revealing anecdotes (like how Kamen didn't particularly care for the first studio choice for Mr. Miyagi -- Toshiro Mifune!).

Additional featurettes examine the movie's application of martial arts and use of the Bonsai, while composer Bill Conti is on-hand to comment on the soundtrack in "East Meets West: A Composer's Notebook." Conti discusses his relationship with Avildsen and how the choice of a symphonic score wouldn't date the film (unlike the picture's source music, as he points out), and remains satisfied (deservedly so) with his efforts on the picture.

PART II continued the formula established by Avildsen and Kamen, with Macchio back as the not-so-kiddish Daniel, and Morita reprising Miyagi, the karate guru who instructs his high school protege in martial arts and life itself. With most of the same behind-the-scenes crew returning for both follow-ups (including Avildsen and Kamen), the sequel effortlessly re-created the atmosphere of the original film. Kamen’s story offers Miyagi traveling back to Okinawa to visit his ailing father while Macchio's Daniel travels with him, resulting in the usual culture clash and a romance with a young local girl (Tamlyn Tomita). It's formula, completely unsurprising, but pleasant just the same.

Part II was a bona-fide smash at the box-office (grossing $115 million in 1986 dollars is pretty impressive), leading to a horrid “Part III” which disappointed during the summer of 1989, lost in the last, truly "big" movie summer most of us remember ("Batman," "Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade," "Ghostbusters 2," "Lethal Weapon 2," "Star Trek V," "The Abyss," and "Licence to Kill" were just a few of the season's high profile movies). And a Macchio-less fourth installment, “The Next Karate Kid,” followed several years later with Morita and a young Hilary Swank, but struggled to garner a nationwide theatrical release and quickly went straight to video (at least it was better than “Part III”).

Sony’s Blu-Ray of PART II offers another top-notch AVC encoded 1080p transfer with DTS Master Audio sound and a featurette on the sequel’s production, plus music videos.

New From Fox

Several months ago Fox released a terrific box-set of Mel Brooks features in high-def, dubbed “The Mel Brooks Collection.” For those more interested in a specific title from that release (which offered both new and previously released titles), Fox has issued a few of those Blu-Rays their own separate packaging (“The Twelve Chairs,” “Silent Movie” and “To Be Or Not to Be” remain exclusive to that release for now).

The new discs are highlighted by the intermittently uproarious Hitchcock spoof HIGH ANXIETY (***, 1977, 94 mins., PG), complete with one of Brooks’ more memorable collaborations with composer John Morris (isn’t it well beyond the proper time for a CD retrospective of Brooks’ and Morris’ film music? Goodness knows with the veritable weekly parade of limited edition soundtracks we’re seeing, there should be ample room for more of Morris’ soundtracks than we’ve gotten so far, LaLaLand’s superb “Blazing Saddles” and “Spaceballs” excepted).

Though a bit hit-or-miss, and not nearly as consistently funny as Brooks’ 1974 classics “Young Frankenstein” and “Blazing Saddles,” “High Anxiety” is still good fun and arrives on Blu-Ray in a superb AVC encoded 1080p transfer with DTS Master stereo sound. The print looks a bit aged at times but the heightened detail and clarity of the presentation makes it quite satisfying for Brooks buffs, while a decided lack of digital noise reduction means grain is still happily evident. For extras, the disc offers an isolated score track in full DTS Master Audio 5.1, along with a 25-minute look back upon the production, a silly “Am I Very Very Nervous Test” that pops up on-screen, and more trailers.

Brooks’ HISTORY OF THE WORLD: PART I (**, 92 mins., 1981, R) was one of the director’s few flicks I couldn’t watch as a kid (due to its R rating), but it turns out I wasn’t missing much, as this rambling and often unfunny farce has one inspired, five-minute musical number -- memorably sending up the Spanish Inquisition (presumably a warm-up for Brooks’ later “Producers” musical) -- but precious little else to recommend it. Fox’s Blu-Ray platter once again sports a superb DTS Master Audio soundtrack and crisp AVC encoded transfer, alongside another DTS Master isolated score track, two interview segments with Brooks (one on the movie, the other on his “Inquisition” song), a trivia track and trailers.

Also individually released from Fox is Brooks’ genial 1993 parody ROBIN HOOD: MEN IN TIGHTS (**½, 104 mins., PG-13, 1993).

A mix of Brooks veterans (Dick Van Patten, Dom DeLuise) worked with a game assortment of younger comedians (Richard Lewis, Tracy Ullmann, and even Dave Chappelle) in this predictable, overlong, but nevertheless amusing assortment of gags primarily aimed at ribbing 1991's Kevin Costner blockbuster. Even Hummie Mann’s score is breezy enough (the love theme being surprisingly sweet), though I still wonder even now why Brooks’ relationship with John Morris terminated as abruptly as it did.

Fox’s Blu-Ray transfer of “Robin Hood: Men In Tights” was pretty much the strongest of the group of new Brooks Blu-Rays from that anthology set, with DTS Master Audio sound complimenting the fun. Extras, though, are sparse (just the trailer and a vintage HBO featurette), but admirers of Mann’s score will be happy to hear it presented here, fully isolated in DTS Master Audio sound.

THE EDGE Blu-Ray (***, 117 mins., 1997, R; Fox): Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin in a wilderness adventure scripted by David Mamet? Sounds like an intriguing combination, but the end results in this 1997 film by Lee Tamahouri are often uneven. While the "outdoor action" sequences, with Hopkins and Baldwin being hunted down by Bart the Bear, provide edge-of-your-seat excitement, the movie's annoying subplot – with Baldwin's fashion photographer fooling around with Hopkins' wife – gets in the way of the fun. Eventually, the movie turns tiresome and predictable at the end, especially after Bart departs, and character psycho-melodrama sets in. The big problem is that Baldwin's character is hard to believe, something further compounded by the fact that Baldwin is such a strong, charismatic screen presence, it's impossible to believe him as a wishy-washy con artist.

That said, the settings are phenomenal and Hopkins is superb as always in “The Edge,” even if the movie never really connects in the manner it intends to. Jerry Goldsmith's serviceable, somewhat redundant score doesn't do as much as it should, either, to back up the drama.

Still, this an interesting movie that's worth a look – and Fox’s Blu-Ray disc serves up a solid, if somewhat aged, MPEG-2 1080p transfer with DTS Master Audio sound on a single-layer 25gb platter.

ELEKTRA Blu-Ray (**½, 100 mins., 2005, Unrated; Fox): Not as satisfying as “Daredevil” but a minor guilty pleasure nonetheless, this 2005 box-office flop hits Blu-Ray in a solid Fox release.

Jennifer Garner is back as Elektra, the feisty heroine we last saw apparently being bumped off in “Daredevil.” It turns out she’s not dead after all, but rather brought back somehow from beyond and with enhanced super powers to boot. Elektra finds herself embroiled in a centuries-old conflict between good and evil (is there any other kind?) after she’s hired to perform a hit to the tune of a multi-million dollar payday. In the process, she runs into dad Goran Visnjic and his gifted 13-year-old daughter, and becomes a pawn in a martial arts battle slickly directed by “X-Files” vet Rob Bowman.

The Zak Penn-Stuart Zicherman-Raven Metzner script is pretty much a mess: with 100-minute running time and a plethora of poorly-defined supporting players, there’s not much room for character development in “Elektra.” Garner gives it her all, but she’s undercut by her role being likewise thinly-drawn, and the lack of a direct connection with “Daredevil” is odd (Ben Affleck’s cameo as Matt Murdock was dropped from the film, an ill-advised choice which can be seen in the disc’s deleted scenes).

That all being said, “Elektra” provides a colorful, no-brain good time if you can check your brain at the door (a whole lot easier to do with Garner being adorned in the Marvel heroine’s sleek red outfit!). The action scenes are crisp and only somewhat jarringly edited, the anamorphic frame is filled with strong colors courtesy of cinematographer Bill Roe (a nice switch from the dirt and grime of “Daredevil”), and Garner makes for a fetching action heroine. It may not be up to your typical episode of “Alias,” but “Elektra” is worthy of a look by comic book fans on video, where the movie should be greeted with more enthusiasm than its theatrical run.

Fox’s Blu-Ray serves up an HD presentation of its two-disc Director’s Cut DVD release: all the same extras (commentary, deleted/alternate scenes, numerous featurettes) are here, with the AVC encoded 1080p transfer appearing top-notch and DTS Master Audio sound rounding out the package.

MARKED FOR DEATH Blu-Ray (**½, 93 mins., 1990, R; Fox): Standard-issue but fairly well-produced vehicle for Steven Seagal, who stars as a DEA agent who goes back to his roots, only to find the old neighborhood overrun by Jamaican drug lords and voodoo followers. A few laughs, plenty of explosions and the usual fare follow in this Fox release, written and produced by “Poltergeist” I & II vets Michael Grais and Mark Victor. Fox’s Blu-Ray disc sports a fine AVC encoded 1080p transfer with DTS Master Audio sound.
TOOTH FAIRY Blu-Ray (**, 101 mins., 2009, PG; Fox): Innocuous family comedy with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as a hockey player who inherits the mantle of the new tooth fairy. Yes, it’s a pretty sad concept (a basic riff on Tim Allen’s “The Santa Clause,” without most of the laughs), but what’s even worse is seeing a solid cast including Julie Andrews, Billy Crystal and Ashley Judd wasting their time in this one. Fox’s Blu-Ray package is a three-disc combo pack offering an AVC-encoded BD platter (with DTS Master Audio and extras including a gag reel, commentary, deleted scenes, featurettes), standard def DVD and digital copy for portable media players.

Also new on Blu-Ray

TRUE BLOOD Season 2 Blu-Ray (720 mins., 2009; HBO): Massively popular cable series, created by Alan Ball and basked on the Sookie Stackhouse books by Charlaine Harris, generated big ratings in its second season on HBO last summer. Though the story lines seem to be moving further away from Harris’ original novels, fans of the series didn’t seem to mind one bit, as this time out, Sookie falls even further for vampire Bill and investigates the disappearance of a 2,000 year old member of the undead.

Production values remain top-notch in this well-crafted show, boasting a terrific cast (Anna Paquin, Stephen Moyer, Michelle Forbes, Ryan Kwaten, etc.) and some strong writing, though a bit of an uneven tone and some nasty violence here and there. That said, in this day and age of “Twilight,” Ball and HBO seem to have hit the gold mine in terms of picking the best time to produce a series like “True Blood.”

HBO’s Season 2 Blu-Ray box-set, which will arrive in-stores on May 25th, is yet another excellent release from the label. Razor-sharp 1.78 1080p transfers are matched with equally fine DTS Master Audio soundtracks and a number of extras: no fewer than seven commentaries with cast and cast members; “enhanced viewing” options on the series’ 12 second-season episodes with pop-up trivia, news and character perspectives; and amusing “Vampire Report” and “Fellowship of the Sun” extras that ought to catch the fancy of the series’ rabid fans.

THE YOUNG VICTORIA Blu-Ray (***, 104 mins., 2009, PG; Sony): Exquisite period drama recounting the young Queen Victoria (a wonderful Emily Blunt), her relationship with German cousin Albert (Rupert Friend), their courting and eventual romance while Victoria ascends to the height of British monarchy in the 19th century, dodging devious advisers and learning to rely on her own resolve. Julian Fellowes’ script and Jean-Marc Vallee’s direction are leisurely paced, to be sure, and the film doesn’t quite catch fire as some other, superb biographical portraits have in the past – yet it’s still a sturdy, well-performed and visually captivating picture which Sony has splendidly brought to Blu-Ray. The AVC encoded 1080p transfer is just gorgeous, backing Hagen Bogdanski’s cinematography, while DTS Master Audio sound and a slew of supplemental features (deleted/extended scenes, several featurettes) make for a most attractive disc on the whole.

LEGION Blu-Ray (**, 100 mins., 2010, R; Sony): God apparently hates humans so much that he not only wants to exterminate them off the face of the Earth, but also sends the apocalypse in the form of a tedious, absurd B-grade horror movie with a fine cast (Paul Bettany, Dennis Quaid, Charles S. Dutton) slumming for a check. Bettany plays the Archangel Michael, who descends upon Earth to protect a waitress (the rather cute Adrianne Palicki) and her unborn child from the big man’s onslaught of evil angels. This all plays out not on a worldwide scale but rather at a run-down desert diner because of budgetary restrictions. “Legion” is good for a couple of chuckles and the cast makes it watchable enough, but it’s a total failure as far as serious dramatic content goes. Sony’s Blu-Ray disc looks as robust as the somewhat mundane visuals of “Legion” allows, with its AVC encoded transfer and DTS Master Audio soundtrack, packed with effects and John Frizzell’s latest hodgepodge score. Extras include a few featurettes plus BD-Live picture-in-picture content and a digital copy for portable media players.

DEAR JOHN Blu-Ray (**½, 108 mins., 2010, PG-13; Sony): Not bad kitchen-sink melodrama from the pen of author Nicholas Sparks (directed by the usually competent Lasse Hallstrom), “Dear John” stars Channing Tatum as a young military man who’s sent back to complete his service, leaving his newfound girlfriend and soul mate (Amanda Seyfried) behind to complete her college degree. The duo exchange letters but 9/11 prevents Tatum from coming home permanently, with more than a few complications ensuing en route to its tearjerking finale. Tatum and Seyfried are actually pretty good here, generating some solid chemistry, while Richard Jenkins is excellent as Tatum’s coin-collecting father, but it’s still over-the-top and best recommended for fans of Sparks’ previous stories. Sony serves up a magnificent Blu-Ray release, at least, with a beautifully detailed AVC encoded 1080p (2.40) transfer with DTS Master Audio sound and a generous assortment of extras including an alternate ending, deleted scenes, outtakes, BD-Live goodies and several featurettes.

DJANGO Blu-Ray (91 mins., 1966; Blue Underground)
CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD Blu-Ray (93 mins., 1980; Blue Underground): Blue Underground’s latest releases are highlighted by the Blu-Ray debut of the cult Spaghetti western “Django,” the Franco Nero sagebrush saga with brutal violence and plenty of action. Anchor Bay previously issued “Django” on DVD many years back, but Blue Underground’s meticulous 1080p (1.66) transfer has been fully restored from its camera negative, and the movie looks more vibrant than ever before. DTS-HD mono sound in both English and Italian (with English subs) is also on tap plus plenty of extras, including interviews with Nero and assistant director Ruggero Deodato; Nero in “The Last Pistolero”; a 1968 documentary about the Italian western genre with interviews from directors Enzo Castellari, Sergio Sollima and Sergio Corbucci; trailers; and an intro from Nero.

Also soon to be available from Blue Underground is Lucio Fulci’s zombie affair “City of the Living Dead,” a 1980 gorefest with Christopher George and Catroina MacColl (from Luci’s prior “The Beyond”) struggling to close portals that are causing the undead to roam the earth.

Fans of Fulci’s works are sure to get a kick out of this typical genre affair, which once again boasts a freshly remastered 1080p (1.85) transfer with DTS Master Audio and Dolby EX audio options, as well as a boatload of extras. Included are trailers, poster/still galleries, and a MacColl interview (all in HD), plus radio spots, interviews with cast and crew recalling their work with the Italian filmmaker, and a full Making Of documentary.

THE NEW DAUGHTER Blu-Ray (*½, 108 mins., 2009, PG-13; Anchor Bay): Luis Berdejo, who co-wrote “Rec,” makes his English language directorial debut with this slow-moving, unsatisfying horror yarn – once intended to be a major studio release before being dumped out straight to video.

Kevin Costner (yes!) stars as a single parent who moves to a rural South Carolina home along with teen daughter Ivana Baquero (from “Pan’s Labyrinth,” also making her English language debut) and younger son Gattlin Griffith. Their expected tough adjustment period is made all the more difficult by the presence of a massive mound in the woods near their house -- once which beckons to Baquero, whispering thoughts and convincing her to join whatever lurks inside.

These days there’s an obvious line between the disgusting sadism of the “Saw” films and a movie like “The New Daughter,” which aims for low-key, PG-13 like shocks, not unlike the recent “Orphanage” import. That said, just because a movie is lacking in explicit violence and relies more on the power of suggestion doesn’t necessarily make it good -- and that’s the case with “The New Daughter.” Costner looks uncertain starring in an obvious change of pace for the actor, while Berdejo, working from a John Travis script (and story by John Connolly), paces the movie so slowly that one could watch it on fast-forward and not miss a beat. Eventually creatures do appear while bodies pile up, but it’s a futile attempt to drum up suspense, while an unnecessarily harsh, cruel ending lends an equally sour taste to the picture as well.

Anchor Bay’s good-looking Blu-Ray disc (2.35) hits stores next week, and comes with both 5.1 and uncompressed PCM 5.1 audio options. Extras include a good array of deleted scenes with the trailer, standard-issue Making Of featurette and commentary from the director also on-hand.

9 SONGS Blu-Ray (64 mins., 2010, Palisades Tartan): Michael Winterbottom’s latest offbeat cinematic excursion follows an American woman (Margo Stilley) and scientist (Kieran O’Brien) who engage in a frank sexual relationship while traveling around England watching concerts. That’s pretty much the gist of things in this short Winterbottom piece, packed with graphic sex scenes (let’s just say the action isn’t entirely simulated) and rock performances from groups like Primal Scream, Dandy Warholds and others, with concert footage shot from afar. It might be realistic but it’s certainly not for all tastes, and dramatically doesn’t really work. Palisades Tartan’s Blu-Ray does look quite nice given its modest budget, with a 1080p transfer and both DTS Master Audio and uncompressed PCM sound on the audio end of things.

New on DVD

THE VIRGINIAN: Season 1 DVD (39 hours., Timeless Media Group): James Drury starred as the title hero of Owen Wister’s turn-of-the-century western novel, which in turn became one of the longest-running westerns of TV’s “Golden Age.”

This 90-minute series aired on NBC from 1962-71, following Drury’s leading man in the town of Medicine Bow, Wyoming in the 1890s. Lee J. Cobb, Doug McClure, Gary Clark and Roberta Shore co-starred alongside a litany of familiar faces that routinely popped up as weekly guest stars, from George C. Scott and Lee Marvin to Bette Davis, Robert Duvall, Brian Keith, Colleen Dewhurst, Hugh O’Brian, Ricardo Montalban, Michael Rennie, Eddie Albert, Ida Lupino and others.

It’s old-time entertainment that western buffs should savor on DVD, especially now that Timeless Media Group has issued a satisfying 10-disc DVD box-set, complete in a nice tin case, offering the complete first season of “The Virginian.” The remastered full-color episodes look perfectly acceptable, while a bonus disc offers exclusive interviews with Drury, Shore and Clark, plus western vets Robert Fuller and Peter Brown. Highly recommended!

THE ROAD DVD (**½, 111 mins., 2009, R; Sony): Suitably bleak, depressing, slow-moving adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s bestseller failed to muster much of an audience in theaters last year, but figures to gain a wider viewership on video. Viggo Mortensen plays a father trying to protect his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) in a barren, post-apocalyptic North America; their run-ins with survivors and scavengers offers precious little hope for survival in this effectively oppressive cinematic rendering from director John Hillcoat and writer Joe Penhall. Sony brings “The Road” to DVD next week in a good-looking 16:9 (2.35) transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound and extras including deleted/extended scenes, commentary from the director, and one Making Of featurette.

LOUIS L’AMOUR WESTERN COLLECTION (Warner): In time for Father’s Day (or perhaps a belated Mother’s Day present, perhaps) comes this new Warner anthology of previously released Louis L’Amour western adaptations. Included in the release are Tom Selleck and Sam Elliott in the 1979 TV mini-series adaptation of “The Sacketts”; Elliott again, this time with wife Katharine Ross in the high-rated 1991 TNT movie version of “Conagher”; and the obscure 1971 MGM western “Catlow,” starring Yul Brynner, Richard Crenna and Leonard Nimoy, who took a role in the project to break away from his Spock image. Transfers and soundtracks are all on-par with their earlier DVD editions, making this a good choice for L’Amour enthusiasts who don’t own these releases in their libraries.

BARE KNUCKLES DVD (**, 95 mins., 2010, PG-13; Image): Martin Kove from “The Karate Kid” starred in and produced this low-budget affair, starring Jeanette Roxborough as a waitress who’s lured into the world of bare knuckle fighting by a certain trainer (Kove himself, naturally). Veteran Chris Mulkey also appears in this not-bad video programmer with cheap cinematography that at times looks as if it was filmed on someone’s iphone! Image brings “Bare Knuckles” to DVD on June 1st in a marginal looking 16:9 transfer (likely the result of its very modest production origins) with 5.1 audio, a featurette and a music video.

OWL AND THE SPARROW DVD (***, 98 mins., 2007, PG; Image): Acclaimed film from writer-director Stephane Gauger follows a 10-year-old girl who leaves her quiet Vietnamese village for the busy streets of Saigon. There, she meets a flight attendant and zookeeper who form a surrogate family, even while the authorities and the girl’s uncle try and track her down. This very likeable film has been a hit on the art-house circuit for some time, with Image’s DVD (out next week) offering a commentary from Gauger, behind-the-scenes featurette, deleted scenes, trailer and still galleries, along with a fine 16:9 (1.78) transfer and stereo soundtrack, presented in its native Vietnamese language with English or Spanish subtitles.

THE EASTWOOD FACTOR: Extended Version DVD (88 mins., 2010; Warner): In conjunction with the upcoming release of “Invictus” and a number of Eastwood catalog titles on Blu-Ray (including a double-feature edition of “Where Eagles Dare” and “Kelly’s Heroes”), Warner has issued this extended edition of Richard Schickel’s new, supposedly definite Eastwood documentary. Touching upon the actor-filmmaker’s vast career in front of and behind the lens, as well as his off-screen life, this insightful and well-rounded chronicle of all things Clint -- narrated by Morgan Freeman -- comes highly recommended. Warner’s DVD offers a full-screen 4:3 transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound and arrives in-stores June 1st.

New From History Channel

ANCIENTS BEHAVING BADLY DVD (aprx. 7 hours, 2009; History/A&E): The History Channel profiles some of the most infamous, ruthless leaders in history in this eight-part series, being issued on DVD in a two-disc set. Chronicles of the life and times of Alexander the Great, Attila the Hun, Julius Caesar, Caligula, Cleopatra, Hannibal, Genghis Khan and Nero are on-tap, all profiling their (often scandalous) rise to power, treatment of friends and colleagues, and general impact on their respective peoples. Widescreen and 2.0 stereo soundtracks round out the release.

I KNOW WHAT I SAW DVD (94 mins., 2009; History/A&E): There are countless UFO documentaries out there, but few offer the amount of “credible” witnesses as this 2009 History documentary, which is entirely filled with testimonies from government and military officials, including Air Force generals, astronauts, commercial pilots and FAA officials among others. Believe it or not, “I Know What I Saw” makes a compelling case that there are some things out there that cannot easily be explained, to say the least. History’s DVD boasts a good amount of bonus content as well, including a 1979 interview with UFO expert Dr. J. Allen Hynek and other key witness interviews. Recommended.

HOARDERS: Season 1 DVD (aprx. 6 hours, 2009; History/A&E): I have no doubt that there are Aisle Seat readers who might have rooms full of CDs and DVDs, but that’s nothing compared to some of the people profiled in this bizarre and disturbing A&E series who have a compulsive disorder to retain all kinds of possessions. Hard to classify as entertainment, “Hoarders” is nevertheless one of the more memorable “reality” shows airing these days, and A&E’s DVD includes its complete first season in widescreen transfers with stereo soundtracks and some bonus footage for extras.

New from BBC

Terry Nation’s acclaimed 1970s BBC series SURVIVORS has recently received the DVD treatment from BBC Worldwide here in the U.S., and even better, in both its original rendition and more recent remake.

“Survivors” chronicles a global plague that spares only a few thousand people as it ravages England. A small group of survivors fights to forge a community in the rubble, with the two-season series (produced from 1975-77) recounting the pandemic’s outbreak and humankind’s valiant attempts to bring civility back to a group of settlements. The remake series recounts the same events from a more modern perspective, but with mostly the same mix of characters. Fans can choose which version works the best.

Both respective DVD box sets include a decent amount of extras, with the original “Survivors” including a BBC documentary “The Cult of ‘Survivors’” and photo galleries, while the remake includes featurettes on its production, special effects, character profiles and an easter egg. Predictably, the 16:9 transfer and stereo audio on the “new” series is miles ahead of the aged and modest budget of the ‘70s rendition, which is offered in 4:3 full-screen and mono sound.

Also recently released by the label is the superb 1984 BBC mini-series FREUD (350 mins.), offering David Suchet as the psychoanalyst in this internationally produced portrait of his life and times, co-starring Helen Bourne, Michael Kitchen, Michael Pennington, Miriam Margolyes, Anton Lesser, David Swift and others. The DVD’s 4:3 full-screen transfer and mono sound are both fine, while extras include an exclusive interview with Suchet and a production archive of the actor’s.

Finally, David Tennant and Patrick Stewart starred in a new, more modern variation on Shakespeare’s HAMLET (182 mins., 2009), an acclaimed Royal Shakespeare Company production that’s been modestly opened up for film by director Gregory Doran.

Recently aired on PBS stations, “Hamlet”’s Blu-Ray presentation includes a satisfying 1080i HD transfer with PCM stereo and extras including an informative commentary from Doran, producer Sebastian Grant and cinematographer Chris Seager, along with a general Making Of featurette.

New & Upcoming From Acorn Entertainment

Among Acorn’s upcoming releases is a double-pack DVD set offering a pair of Cold War spy dramas.

THE GLORY BOYS/THE CONTRACT includes Anthony Perkins, Rod Steiger, Joanna Lumley and Alfred Burke in the 1984 ITV “Glory Boys,” which made its way to U.S. TV airings on TBS back in the ‘80s and follows a British agent (Perkins) trying to stop a Palestinian-IRA hit team from killing an Israeli nuclear scientist (Steiger). “The Contract,” meanwhile,” offers Kevin McNally, Bernard Hepton and James Faulkner in a 1988 ITV tele-film about British intelligence operative who tries to help a Soviet missile designer defect to the West. Both films have been transferred in their original 4:3 full-screen ratios and include biographies of the cast and author/espionage expert Gerald Seymour.

Alex Kingston, meanwhile, stars in the amiable BBC import HOPE SPRINGS, about a trio of women who rip off three-million pounds from one of the ladies’ gangster husbands and plan on fleeing to Barbados – but end up having to hideout in a remote village in the Scottish Highlands instead, where they end up involved in town’s secrets, relationships and even crimes.

Good-natured and well-acted, “Hope Springs” arrives on DVD early next month in fine 16:9 transfers with stereo soundtracks, and a photo gallery and bio of Kingston for extras.    

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