5/4/10 Edition
Aisle Seat May Arrival Edition
Plus: Criterion's New WALKABOUT
We’re certainly in the midst of a downward spiral for the horror genre these days. If old classics aren’t being remade by the likes of Michael Bay, then low-grade indie films seem intent on carrying on the “torture porn” legacy made popular by the endless glut of “Saw” sequels.

All of that makes a movie like the uneven but generally entertaining DAYBREAKERS (**½, 98 mins., 2010, R; Lionsgate) so enjoyable. This Australian production from siblings the Spierig Brothers offers fresh twists on old-fashioned genre conventions, and comes out a lively, entertaining brew with enjoyable performances from Ethan Hawke and Willem Dafoe, both laid back and seemingly quite content to be cashing a check.

In a future where a vampire virus has turned most of humanity into bloodsuckers, who in turn keep humans around only as food, Hawke plays a vampiric scientist who’s sympathetic to the living -- but worried that the vampires’ blood supply is running low. Without any real blood to feast on, the vamps (who look pretty much like anyone else save for their interest in blood and glowing eyes) are beginning to mutate into freaky looking creatures with more bat-like attributes than human ones. Fortunately Hawke meets with a renegade assortment of humans led by Dafoe, a former vamp with a secret that could hold the key to the future of both species...

Though a bit uneven (the movie does play like one of those B-flicks from the ‘70s and ‘80s where American leads starred in internationally-produced genre affairs), “Daybreakers” is satisfyingly old-school, for lack of a better term. The film offers a pleasing mix of action and horror with gore that’s gross but not over-the-top (at least not until its blood-soaked finale), along with an interesting concept. Not all of it pays off, the social commentary doesn’t work and the movie’s modest budget plays at odds with some of its grander concepts, but for horror aficionados worn out by endless remakes and sadistic violence, it’s engaging enough to come recommended.

Special kudos also go out to Christopher Gordon’s tremendous orchestral score. Big, stirring, mysterious, yet occasionally moving and just beautifully summed up in a long, flowing end credits piece, this is unquestionably one of the finest film scores I’ve heard in a long, long time, and a tribute to Gordon that it feels like a score from another era entirely.

Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray edition of “Daybreakers” arrives in-stores next week, sporting a crisp AVC-encoded 1080p transfer and nicely-layered DTS Master Audio soundtrack. Extras are a bit slender, comprised of commentary, a Making Of, a Spierig Bros. short entitled “The Big Picture,” posters and trailers, plus a digital copy for portable media players.

DIRTY DANCING: Limited Keepsake Edition Blu-Ray (***½, 1987, 105 mins., PG-13, Lionsgate): Lionsgate’s second Blu-Ray release of the 1987 classic “Dirty Dancing” isn’t, thankfully, just another re-issue of the prior release in more elaborate packaging.

In fact, fans of the Patrick Swayze-Jennifer Grey box-office smash have good reason to upgrade for the disc’s remastered picture and sound alone. An appreciable improvement on the 2007 Blu-Ray, Lionsgate’s new AVC encode has been remastered and is freed from the heavy noise-reduction and “jaggies” that plagued its earlier release. All-new 7.1 DTS Master Audio sound, meanwhile, compliments the superior transfer, while an abundance of extras, both new and re-issued from prior editions, is on-hand in addition to a digital copy disc.

Among the new inclusions is a tribute to Swayze, a trip back to the Virginia locations used in the film, a never-before seen photo gallery and fan reel. Carried over from prior releases, meanwhile, are deleted, extended and alternate scenes; cast audition footage; a pop-up trivia track; two commentaries (one from writer Eleanor Bergstein, another with various crew members); vintage music videos; outtakes; the trailer in HD; plus the kitschy ‘Dirty Dancing in Concert” special, which was left off the first Blu-Ray disc. The package also offers a hardbound book and a coupon for $50 off at the Virginia hotel where the movie was shot.

Though a bit pricier than the previous release, the new picture and sound is a major enhancement on the earlier Blu-ray and is well worth the expense for fans.

TETRO Blu-Ray and DVD (***, 127 mins., 2009, R; Lionsgate): It takes just a few seconds for you to realize how gorgeous Francis Ford Coppola’s latest offbeat filmmaking experiment is. The stark, high-contrast black-and-white cinematography (with only flashbacks in color) looks dreamy and so alive in high-definition that the first thing I thought of was my initial viewing of “Rumble Fish,” Coppola’s problematic but visually arresting S.E. Hinton adaptation.

“Tetro” isn’t entirely satisfying from a narrative standpoint -- Coppola’s quasi-autobiographical original script dissects the relationship between estranged brothers Vincent Gallo and Alden Ehrenreich in Buenos Aires, and their connection with their late father, a successful conductor played by Klaus Maria Brandauer. The film is talky and a bit long, but from a technical standpoint, it’s a gloriously cinematic movie, meticulously designed by Coppola and cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr., who bring black-and-white back to life here in a way no other recent film has.

Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray disc is also a dazzler. Though the standard DVD is impressive in its own right, the AVC-encoded 1080p presentation of “Tetro” is among the finest I’ve seen this year, backed by a well-designed DTS Master Audio soundtrack from long-time Coppola associate Walter Murch, with a moody score by Osvaldo Golijov adding to the drama. Extras on both platforms include commentary from Coppola and Ehrenreich, plus featurettes on the music, cinematography, and rehearsal process.

New on DVD

When someone says, “they don’t make movies like that anymore,” in response to the oft-mention of a Golden Age 1930s picture, what they really ought to do is take a glimpse at a handful of films made in the 1970s that would never be turned out today.

Nicolas Roeg’s exquisitely shot, surreal “adventure” film WALKABOUT (***½, 100 mins., 1971, PG; Criterion) is one of those special pictures that came out of the decade. This unique picture tells a story in such an original manner that it is as fascinating for what it doesn’t tell us as it is for its gorgeous locales and magnificent camera work.

Roeg directed and shot the acclaimed film, which relates -- in the form of a childhood memory -- how a pair of well-off Australian children (Jenny Agutter and Roeg’s son Lucien) end up isolated in the outback, where an Aborigine teen (on his Walkabout, or rite-of-passage into adulthood) guides them back to civilization. Roeg’s treatment of the subject matter never romanticizes the Aborigine’s life, nor does it make judgments on the characters and the culture clash that inevitably ensues; it simply shows us how similar everyday life can be regardless of the separation (geographical or otherwise) between cultures.

What Roeg does so effectively in this adaptation by Edward Bond of James Vance Marshall’s novel is illustrate all the problems and pleasures that are inherent in the life experience, with looking backward a crucial element to the journey. John Barry’s lyrical score is one of the film’s highlights, being one of those Barry works characterized by long, flowing melodic lines, and a particularly effective use of chorus (the use of Stockhausen’s “Hymnen” is striking, especially when framed against the untouched outback).

It’s a shame Barry’s score was never commercially released, but the pre-Criterion treatment of "Walkabout" itself was just as regrettable -- the movie was out-of-circulation for years until the late ‘90s, when Criterion issued the film on both laserdisc and DVD.

This new, double-disc DVD re-issue sports a brand new, high-def derived 16:9 transfer that’s substantially improved from the label’s initial package. The 2010 edition also includes a 2002 documentary on the career of actor David Gulpilil, plus the trailer, interviews with Agutter and Luc(ien) Roeg, and also carries over the prior release’s insightful commentary from Jenny Agutter and Nicolas Roeg, offering observations on the filming and the story itself. Still, no matter what their analysis of the film may be, the great thing about “Walkabout” is that, ultimately, its subjective meaning is left in the eyes of the viewer, for you to interpret and discuss.

Truly a movie to savor.

Also new this month from Criterion is an equally beautiful double-disc edition of John Ford’s seminal western STAGECOACH (***½, 96 mins., 1939), the original John Wayne classic that served as a blueprint for so many genre films that followed.

Ford’s black-and-white sagebrush affair hits DVD this month in a new, restored high-def derived transfer in its original 1.37 aspect ratio with commentary from western authority Jim Kitses; the trailer; a 1917 Ford short, “Bucking Broadway,” with a new score from Donald Sosin; a 1968 interview with Ford; comments from Peter Bogdanovich; a video homage to stuntman Yakima Canutt from veteran stunt coordinator Vic Armstrong; a 1949 radio dramatization of “Stagecoach” with Wayne and co-star Claire Trevor; and a full booklet that features Ernest Haycox’s “Stage to Lordburg,” a short story that inspired the movie.

New From Shout! Factory

THE FACTS OF LIFE Season 4 DVD (11 hours, 1982-83; Shout! Factory): For fans of vintage TV series, Shout! Factory has become a godsend, leaping in to complete or continue respective series’ DVD runs after being abandoned by their originating studios.

Their first release from the long-running NBC comedy “The Facts of Life” is terrific, packaging the sitcom in prime, vintage form from its fourth (1982-83) season. Among the more memorable moments are a two-hour movie, “The Facts of Life Go to Paris,” wherein the girls (Lisa Whelchel’s Blair, Kim Fields’ Tootie, Mindy Cohn’s Natalie and Nancy McKeon’s Jo) join Mrs. Garrett (Charlotte Rae) in France for a TV-film that aired in September, 1982, shortly before the fourth season began. Other classic episodes include Jo and Blair heading off to college and several socially-conscious storylines, including a drunk driving-centered show.

Shout!’s DVD box-set features all 24 episodes from “The Facts of Life”’s fourth season in solid full-screen transfers and with a trivia game rounding out the release. Highly recommended for fans, who undoubtedly hope that more Shout! DVDs will follow.

GAMERA THE GIANT MONSTER DVD (78 mins., 1965; Shout! Factory): The international success of Godzilla lead Toho competitor Kadokawa Pictures to start their own rival big monster: Gamera, the flying giant turtle who would go on to have a much sweeter disposition than his prehistoric counterpart.

The “Gamera” movies haven’t ever been treated with the same respect on this side of the Atlantic as the Toho pictures either, but that’s going to change this month when Shout! issues the U.S. DVD of “Gamera”’s original Japanese language version, presented in full 16:9 widescreen with newly translated English subtitles and ample extras, including a commentary from noted kaiju historian August Ragone, a retrospective look at the Gamera franchise and a publicity gallery on-hand for extras. According to DVD Drive-In, the cut and dubbed U.S. version of “Gamera” regrettably isn’t on-hand because the UCLA Film Archive (which houses the only known 2.35 scope print of “Gamera the Invicible”) demanded too much money to license it.

MARCUS WELBY M.D. Season 1 DVD (1969-70, 23 hours; Shout!): Robert Young starred as Dr. Marcus Welby in this long-running ABC series, which profiled a family physician who made house calls while sparring with a young doctor (James Brolin) whose methods often conflicted with our dependable veteran M.D. Guest stars from Anne Baxter to David Cassidy, Robert Guillaume, Vera Miles, Richard Thomas and others popped up during Season 1 of “Marcus Welby,” which hits DVD this month in a terrific seven-disc set from Shout! The 26 episodes appear in good condition given their age, while extras include the original two-hour pilot, “A Matter of Humanities,” which aired in March, 1969 and set up the subsequent series that followed.

THIRTYSOMETHING: Season 3 DVD (1989-90, 19 hours; Shout!): Ed Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz’s popular late ‘80s ABC series returns to DVD this month in a six-disc package from Shout! Offering all of its 24 third-season episodes -- several of which dealt with the Patricia Wettig character’s battle with cancer -- in impressive new high-def transfers, fans of the series ought to be fully satisfied with this top-notch release, which also includes a handful of new commentaries from cast and crew members, plus an introduction from Zwick and Herskovitz.

Also on DVD

NINE DVD (**, 119 mins., 2009, PG-13; Sony): Long-awaited adaptation of the popular Maury Yeston-Arthur Kopit Broadway hit -- a musical variation on Fellini’s “8 ½" -- flames out under the guidance of director Rob Marshall and a top-notch cast.

Daniel Day-Lewis plays the Fellini-like director ready to shoot his latest film with leading lady Nicole Kidman; unfortunately a major creative blockage causes Day-Lewis to go back over his personal life and the many women who populated his failed relationships. A littany of terrific actresses from Marion Cotillard, Penelop Cruz, and Sophia Loren pop up, as do Fergie, Kate Hudson, and Judi Dench as a costume designer whom Day-Lewis confides in.

Unfortunately “Nine” just doesn’t work in this overly flashy rendition from Marshall and his screenwriters, Michael Tolkin and the late Anthony Minghella. Overly choreographed and calculated, the movie dramatically doesn’t work, while Yeston and Kopit’s songs might have worked better on stage than the excessively-ornamented approach Marshall tries to give them here.

Sony’s DVD edition of “Nine” looks fine, offering a 16:9 (2.35) transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound. Extras include commentary, a whole slew of behind the scenes featurettes and a trio of music videos.

CRAZY ON THE OUTSIDE DVD (*½, 96 mins., 2010, PG-13; Fox): Tim Allen produced, directed and stars in this direct-to-video misfire about an ex-con recently released from prison (Allen) who has all kinds of problems adjusting to a suburban existence even crazier than his time behind bars. Allen was somehow able to round up a terrific cast including Sigourney Weaver, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Kelsey Grammer, Ray Liotta, J.K. Simmons and Julie Bowen for this labor of love, but it’s a painfully unfunny and pedestrian affair through and through. Fox’s DVD, which right now is being exclusively sold only at Target (lucky them), includes a 16:9 (1.85) transfer with 5.1 Dolb Digital sound, a gag reel, Making Of featurette, and digital copy for portable media players.
Horror (Pulse, Sick Nurses)
Action (Exiled, Dynamite Warrior; Magnolia): Cost-conscious aficionados of Asian cinema might want to check out Magnolia’s new line of Double Feature discs.

“Horror” offers the previously available DVD editions of the Thai import “Sick Nurses” and Japan’s original “Pulse,” the latter remade as a particularly poor Kristen Bell U.S. variant produced by the Weinstein brothers. Both titles are 16:9 enhanced in their original language tracks with optional English subtitles.

The “Action” set sports Johnnie To’s Hong Kong action-thriller “Exiled” as well as the wacky Thai effort “Dyanmite Warrior.” Again, each film is offered in 16:9 widescreen with either dubbed English or their original (subtitled) language mixes.

18 KIDS AND COUNTING Season 3 DVD (aprx. 598 mins., 2009-10; TLC Store): The Duggar family is back in the third season of the popular TLC Channel series. Unlike the Gosselins (of “Jon and Kate Plus 8" infamy), the Duggars have been able to stay out of the tabloid fray thanks to a family-centric, easy-going reality show for those who like that kind of thing. TLC’s Season 3 set is exclusive to the TLC website, and offers widescreen transfers and stereo soundtracks on DVD.

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