6/1/11 Edition Twitter: THEAISLESEATCOM
Western Spectacular
Wayne, Eastwood, Leone Classics in HD

Western fans have much to celebrate this month with the release of the Coen brothers’ 2010 smash adaptation of “True Grit” and a number of vintage sagebrush sagas arriving on Blu-Ray, offering something for every genre enthusiast – John Wayne, Clint Eastwood and Sergio Leone fans alike.

Coming off a pair of solid BD catalog offerings last month month, Paramount this week brings viewers a slew of westerns – several of which (the Wayne vehicles “Rio Lobo” and “Big Jake,” along with “A Man Called Horse”) weren’t screened for review, but if their superb release of Sergio Leone’s classic ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (****, 166 mins., 1969, Unrated/PG-13) is any indication, each ought to be of chief interest for buffs.

Leone’s masterwork is as fresh and powerful as ever as it recounts the slaying of the McBain family at the hands of the cold-blooded Frank (Henry Fonda), a hired gun for a railroad maven who wants the McBain property for its water source. The family patriarch’s new bride (a luminous Claudia Cardinale) arrives to find them dead, a gang leader (Jason Robards) framed for the crime and a harmonica-playing rebel (Charles Bronson) who wants to kill Frank for reasons of his own.

“Once Upon a Time in the West” feels like a natural progression for Leone after his Eastwood spaghetti westerns, offering a melancholy tone, more defined characters and sumptuously composed widescreen images. The film moves leisurely, accentuated by a gorgeous Ennio Morricone score that alternates with sound effects and stretches of silence in rendering an effective sound design – it all makes for a western classic that looks just splendid in high-def.

Paramount’s Blu-Ray serves up an HD reprise of its 2003 DVD edition, which included both the movie’s original theatrical cut as well as an extended 166-minute unrated version. The AVC encoded 1080p transfer is fairly detailed, boasting appreciable gains over its standard-def counterpart, though some of the elements do appear in healthier condition than others throughout (no surprise given the extensive work involved in the film’s restoration). The DTS MA 5.1 audio is mostly subdued while extras are carried over from that prior standard-def release, including several retrospective featurettes, a terrific commentary track involving directors John Carpenter, John Milius, cast and crew members, and historian Sir Christopher Frayling among others.

Clint Eastwood himself stepped out of his association with Leone and starred in several genre films of his own: “Hang ‘Em High” was followed by “High Plains Drifter” and one of his finest westerns, THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES (***½, 135 mins., 1976, PG; Warner), an exciting “revisionist” take on the genre that expanded its star’s emotional range beyond “The Man With No Name.”

Eastwood’s title character is a Missouri farmer who sees his wife and son murdered by pro-Union renegades. After joining a Confederate militia, and seeing his fellow soldiers wiped out by the same Kansas “Redlegs” who killed his family, Wales refuses to surrender and carries on his personal quest for revenge while picking up a number of travelers (including Chief Dan George’s Cherokee and Sondra Locke as the granddaughter of Paula Trueman’s Yankee widow) en route to Texas.

“Wales” was steeped in behind-the-scenes controversy since writer Philip Kaufman guided the film through pre-production and began directing the picture when Eastwood himself took over after sparring with Kaufman on the set. Despite the bickering between the two, the resulting film is one of Eastwood’s most satisfying exercises in the western genre, offering a more varied tone than his iconic Leone pictures, a dash of humor, exciting set-pieces and splendid Bruce Surtees cinematography.

The movie has been spectacularly brought to Blu-Ray by Warner Home Video, which not only includes a top-notch AVC encoded 1080p transfer and DTS MA soundtrack, but also a brand-new commentary with critic and Eastwood historian Richard Schickel plus a new featurette “Eastwood’s West” with Oliver Stone, Morgan Freeman and James Mangold on-hand; the prior retrospective Making Of; a vintage production featurette; and the trailer, with all of it housed in a Digibook package.

John Wayne fans, meanwhile, can look forward to a pair of new additions to Blu-Ray’s ever-expanding library of Duke titles, both from Fox:

THE HORSE SOLDIERS (***, 119 mins., 1959) isn’t regarded by most critics as one of director John Ford’s finest outings, but it’s still a quite entertaining Civil War tale with Union colonel Wayne sparring with compassionate doctor William Holden as he leads a charge into Confederate territory, destroying railroads and disrupting the opposition’s supply lines. Constance Towers, meanwhile, plays the requisite love interest for the Duke: a southern woman who finds her allegiance being tested by Wayne’s formidable charms.

MGM never issued the film in 16:9 widescreen on DVD, so the Blu-Ray doesn’t need to go far to pass its predecessor, which it does with ease; the AVC encoded 1080p transfer (1.66) is surprisingly good overall thanks to source elements that are generally in healthy condition. The mono sound is encoded as DTS MA and actually packs a fairly strong punch. The trailer is the disc’s sole extra.

Wayne later saddled up with director Michael Curtiz for the Cinemascope production THE COMANCHEROS (***, 107 mins., 1961), a lean, formulaic chronicle of a Texas Ranger who joins up with Stuart Whitman’s outlaw “Paul Regret” to take down a gang of gunrunners who smuggle booze ‘n bullets to the Comanche Indians. Elmer Bernstein’s rousing score and some taut action make this straightforward adaptation of a Paul Wellman novel a crackling good time, though behind-the-scenes Curtiz’s failing health led Wayne to finish the picture himself (Curtiz died shortly after filming was finished).

Fox’s Digibook-packaged Blu-Ray boasts an utterly fabulous, colorful AVC encoded (2.55) 1080p transfer of the film’s Cinemascope aspect ratio with not-bad DTS 5.1 MA audio. This is one of the best of this western BD batch in terms of eye-popping color and Golden Age fans ought to be highly pleased with its appearance. Extras include a handful of featurettes plus a two-part doc on  the Duke’s work at Fox (running some 40 minutes), trailers, even a vintage comic book gallery; the commentary has been carried over from the laserdisc edition and offers a nostalgic assortment of comments from Patrick Wayne, Stuart Whitman, Nehemiah Persoff, and Michael Ansara.

Finally, Mill Creek has joined the party as well with a quite affordable, bargain-priced SPAGHETTI WESTERN DOUBLE FEATURE that offers two (very) minor, but entertaining, genre films for aficionados: THE LAST GUN finds Cameron Mitchell in Sergio Bergonzelli’s occasionally inspired B-yarn. The movie, presented here in a 1.9:1 1080p transfer (with a print that’s got its share of speckles and faded colors), is coupled with the 1965 programmer 4 DOLLARS OF REVENGE, with Robert Woods in a routine yet competently told tale of a Civil War hero who gets double-crossed once he returns home and decides to run for governor.

“Revenge” is offered in a 2.40 widescreen transfer that, again, is derived from source materials that show their age, with 2.0 DTS MA mono audio included on both pictures (which are, of course, dubbed).

While neither “The Last Gun” or “4 Dollars of Revenge” are great movies, they make for a quite fetching $10 Blu-Ray. Kudos to Mill Creek for trying out a release like this, one which I hope sells well enough to incite the label (and others) to dabble into the vaults for more like them in the future.

All of these films are being issued, undoubtedly, to coincide with next week’s release of TRUE GRIT (***
½, 110 mins., 2010, PG-13; Paramount), the Coen brothers’ well-received adaptation of the Charles Portis novel that was previously brought to the screen by Henry Hathaway as a vehicle for John Wayne in 1969, winning The Duke his only Oscar in the process.

The Coens’ version adheres more faithfully to Portis’ book than the 1969 movie, vividly capturing the trials of 14-year-old Mattie Ross (a striking performance from young Hailee Steinfeld), who recruits a mean old codger of a US Marshal named Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to find Tom Cheney (Josh Brolin), the man responsible for the death of her father. Along the way she also meets a Texas Ranger (Matt Damon) likewise looking to bring the culprit to justice, but the road to finding him requires all three to venture into Indian territory and the wilderness of what would later become Oklahoma.

A big hit at the box-office last winter (blowing away all of the Coens’ prior films in terms of financial receipts), “True Grit” is sturdy, entertaining and visually captivating, though not without a few flaws. Roger Deakins’ cinematography and Carter Burwell’s score are each superlative, enhancing a technical presentation right in line with the filmmakers’ prior works, and the performances are excellent, most especially Steinfeld, Damon (almost unrecognizable at first glance) and Barry Pepper as the leader of Cheney’s gang. Bridges is also terrific, though his “Sling Blade”-esque marble-mouthed delivery makes him difficult to understand at times.

“True Grit” is also cut unevenly, as there are obvious gaps in the storytelling (at one point Mattie appears visibly sick and one character refers to it, though it’s quickly forgotten in the next sequence) as well as pacing issues (Cogburn’s introductory sequence in a courtroom feels endless). The faithfulness to Portis’ novel also means retaining an epilogue that doesn’t add much to the story, robbing the picture of the emotional release that the ‘69 version – old-fashioned as it was – was able to generate.

Still, “True Grit” 2010 is supremely crafted and atmospheric, and Paramount’s Blu-Ray edition does not disappoint in terms of its technical presentation (outstandingly detailed 1080p AVC encoded transfer, superbly engineered DTS Master Audio soundtrack). Extras include a number of behind-the-scenes featurettes examining the production and Deakins’ cinematography among other mostly-promotional extras, plus a DVD and digital copy for portable media players.

Also New From Fox and MGM

Several new manufactured-on-demand DVD titles in the MGM Limited Edition collection are on tap this month along with more Blu-Ray catalog titles from Fox. Here’s a round-up:   
Easily the best of MGM's vintage BD offerings is THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (****, 1962, 127 mins., PG-13), which offers a HD edition of its prior Special Edition DVD release.

John Frankenheimer's picture remains one of the top political thrillers of all-time – if not the definitive movie of its genre – for its performances (Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh, and a chilling turn from Angela Lansbury), script (George Axelrod adapted Richard Condon's novel), and taut, efficient Frankenheimer direction, the latter clearly years ahead of its time.

MGM’s Blu-Ray (which had been a Best Buy exclusive earlier this year) looks good, not great; the transfer is one of those “better than DVD” instances where some noise-reduction/processing has been added to the image, obscuring some of its clarity in the process. The disc has probably been derived from an older HD master, but whatever the case may be, it’s not a pristine presentation. For extras, in addition to interviews conducted in the late '80s with the principals (Sinatra, Frankenheimer, and Axelrod), the BD includes two featurettes from its DVD edition of a few years ago: "Queen of Diamonds" with Angela Lansbury and "A Little Solitaire" with director William Friedkin. Both share their views on the film and its legacy, while the original commentary track with Frankenheimer has also been included.

THE MISFITS Blu-Ray (***, 125 mins., 1962; MGM/Fox): The final film for Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe, John Huston’s well-respected 1962 film comes to Blu-Ray in a highly pleasing 1080p AVC encoded transfer with DTS HD MA mono sound. No extras are on tap, though SOME LIKE IT HOT (***½, 121 mins., 1959) has also made its way to HD with a number of extras carried over from its last Special Edition DVD: commentary sporting interviews with stars Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis, plus comments from Paul Diamond (son of co-writer I.A.L. Diamond, who penned the film with long-time collaborator, director Billy Wilder) and comedy screenwriters Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel; several featurettes and the original trailer. Fox has served up another satisfying AVC encoded 1080p image here that doesn’t look like it’s been trashed by DNR, while DTS HD MA mono sound is the sole audio option.

THE HUSTLER Blu-Ray Digibook (****, 1961, 135 mins.; Fox): Robert Rossen’s 1961 B&W classic has never looked better than it does in this Fox Digibook-packaged Blu-Ray release. The movie appears brilliantly detailed in an AVC encoded 1080p transfer while 5.1 DTS HD MA audio is likewise well rendered. Extras are bountiful: three featurettes are carried over from the 2007 DVD, while “trick shot analysis” and more how-to pool tips, additional featurettes, an A&E bio of Newman, and commentary from Newman and critic Richard Schickel among others is included along with a glossy 24-page booklet.

PLATOON Blu-Ray/DVD (***, 120 mins., 1986, R; MGM/Fox): I’m not the biggest Olvier Stone fan, and have truthfully found his 1986 Oscar winner to be overpraised, yet MGM has still delivered a strong Blu-Ray edition of the movie for its fans: the AVC encoded transfer and DTS MA 5.1 soundtrack are both excellent, while ample extras include separate commentaries by Stone and military advisor Dale Dye; deleted and extended scenes with Stone’s comments; a handful of retrospective featurettes and documentaries from prior releases; the trailer, TV spots, and a copy of the standard-def DVD for good measure.

THE TERMINATOR Blu-Ray Digibook (***½, 106 mins., 1984, R; MGM/Fox): Digibook-packaged Limited Edition release of the ‘84 James Cameron-Arnold Schwarzenegger sci-fi classic sadly offers the same Blu-Ray release that’s currently available on the market with a decent, if aged, HD master, uncompressed PCM audio and some, but not all, of the extras from MGM’s prior Special Edition DVD (deleted scenes and two featurettes). The movie is more than due for a proper remaster, but the only thing new about this offering is the packaging.    

TIGERLAND Blu-Ray (**, 101 mins., 2000, R: Fox): Joel Schumacher’s box-office failure with Colin Farrell as a recruit new to the battlefield in Vietnam has received a competent Blu-Ray release from Fox. The 50gb dual-layer disc includes an AVC encoded 1080p transfer with 5.1 DTS MA audio and all the extras from its prior package (commentary from Schumacher, a number of featurettes and trailers).

WAITING FOR FOREVER Blu-Ray (99 mins., 2010, PG-13; Fox): Rachel Bilson plays an aspiring actress whose childhood relationship with friend Tom Sutrridge results in typical rom-com cliches – and murder! – in this bittersweet, not-terrible genre concoction co-starring Richard Jenkins and Blythe Danner. Fox’s Blu-Ray of “Waiting For Forever” includes a 1080 AVC encoded transfer and DTS MA soundtrack.    

New Manufactured-on-Demand/Limited Edition DVD Titles

Twilight Time’s latest DVD, available exclusively through Screen Archives, offers a beautifully rendered print (in 16:9 widescreen) of FATE IS THE HUNTER (***, 106 mins.), the 1964 chronicle of a plane crash that claims the lives of everyone save a flight attendant (Suzanne Pleshette) who has trouble reconstructing the events that took down the flight she was on, including its passengers and crew, led by captain Rod Taylor.

Glenn Ford is the determined airline investigator who painstakingly tries to reconstruct the flight’s fatal moments, but runs into interference from his own co-workers, who want to blame Taylor for the crash, as well as the families of the victims seeking to find out what happened. Nancy Kwan, Jane Russell, Mark Stevens, Wally Cox and Nehemiah Persoff co-star in this matter-of-fact, absorbing thriller with a sparse (though memorable) score by Jerry Goldsmith.

Milton Krasner’s B&W Cinemascope cinematography is perfectly delivered in this Twilight Time DVD which also includes an isolated music-and-effects track, the original trailer, and insightful liner notes from Julie Kirgo. The 3000 copy limited edition is now available through Screen Archives.

New in MGM’s Limited Edition DVD-R line, meanwhile, are:

DEFIANCE (**½, 102 mins., 1979, PG): Agreeable time-killer plays like a softer variation on the gang movies (“Warriors,” “Wanderers,” etc.) of the era, with a merchant marine (Jan Michael Vincent) trying to tame a street gang. This American-International offering was co-produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and boasts a strong cast with Theresa Saldana and Art Carney co-starring. Dominic Frontiere scored the picture with songs provided by Gerard McMahon. A mediocre 16:9 transfer is on-hand plus mono sound.

OLD DRACULA (*, 88 mins., 1974, PG): Godawful spoof stars David Niven as an aging Drac who needs a blood transfusion in order to bring back his beloved wife to life. Unfunny and tedious, this 1974 Clive Donner film has been seldom screened over the years and with good reason – only George Hamilton ended up doing similar material justice later on in the ‘70s with his hit “Love at First Bite.” MGM’s DVD does look quite good, at least, thanks to a better-than-competent 16:9 transfer.

THOSE LIPS, THOSE EYES (***, 106 mins., 1980, R): Good-natured drama with Tom Hulce finding out about love and life in a small theater company in Cleveland during the 1950s. Frank Langella and the lovely Glynnis O’Connor co-star along with Gerry Stiller and Kevin McCarthy in Michael Pressman’s 1980 UA release, with a fine script by David Shaber and underscoring from Michael Small. An acceptable 16:9 (1.85) transfer is on-tap here.

CALL OF THE WILD (**, 103 mins., 1972, PG): Not one of Charlton Heston’s finest hours, this poverty-row adaptation of the Jack London classic was defanged by shlock producer Harry Alan Towers. Despite being directed unhder the guidance of veteran Ken Annakin, there’s not much to enjoy in this disappointing outing, which has surfaced on DVD in a 16:9 transfer from MGM that’s merely okay.

New from the Warner Archives, meanwhile, is CHALLENGE OF THE GOBOTS (110 mins.), the American version of the Japanese toy line “Machine Robo” which Tonka brought to the U.S. around the same time that Hasbro’s “Transformers” debuted in stores.

It’s ironic now to see Hasbro’s name associated with the Gobot property (they gobbled up Tonka years after the fact), but fans likely won’t care since Warner’s Archives DVD includes a crisply remastered edition of the initial Hanna-Barbera “Challenge of the Gobots” mini-series, which aired in syndication between October 29-November 4, 1984. All five episodes from the limited-run series are included here, which accompanied the toy line’s domestic arrival and set the stage for a full syndicated series which debuted in 1985.

The transfer is strong considering the elements and the single-disc is currently available now through the Warner Archives.

Also New on Blu-Ray

THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING Blu-Ray (***½, 129 mins., 1975, PG; Warner): John Huston’s memorable 1975 adaptation of the Rudyard Kipling tale has finally been released on video in a HD presentation that does justice to its original widescreen dimensions – particularly considering that its DVD release here in the U.S. came at the beginning of the format in a “flipper” that split the film between two sides!

Things fortunately fare much better in this Digibook edition of the ‘75 classic, which of course stars Sean Connery and Michael Caine as English buddies who travel deep into Kafiristan, beyond the Khyber Pass, where they discover, then aid, a village that ultimately believes Connery to be a God. Their tale is recounted to a young Kipling (Christopher Plummer) and played out on a beautiful scope canvas captured by Oswald Morris in a film long regarded as one of Huston’s finest.

Warner’s Blu-Ray transfer looks like it might have a bit of DNR applied to it as it looks a bit too “glossy” at times. The mono sound, sporting a decent score by Maurice Jarre, is encoded as a DTS MA mono audio track and is limited by the fidelity of the source material, while extras include just the trailer and a vintage promotional featurette.

Nevertheless, the fact that the movie finally has a truly respectable video presentation (in hardbound, Digibook packaging) at long last ought to be reason enough for fans to embrace this Warner release.

Blue Underground has released another entry in their growing line of Dario Argento Blu-Rays -- 1970's THE CAT O'NINE TAILS (**½, 112 mins., 1971, R) with James Fransiscus and Karl Malden in a Hitchcockian thriller that most Argento fans rate as one of the director's lesser films. However, its straightforward plot and use of 2.35 widescreen may make it more accessible for those not fully immersed in Italian cinema. I even recall seeing the movie on a local station's "Dialing for Dollars Afternoon Movie" in a horribly dark, cropped TV print in the early '80s, which made watching the 2.35 transfer of Blue Underground’s outstandingly detailed Blu-Ray a revelation.

In addition to the usual assortment of robust audio choices (DTS MA or plain 5.1), the BD includes interviews with Argento, writer Dardano Sacchetti, and composer Ennio Morricone (who provides a typically off-the-wall, early '70s score), along with trailers, TV spots, and radio commercials featuring interviews with the American stars. Recommended for Argento enthusiasts

GALAXINA/THE CRATER LAKE MONSTER Blu-Ray Double Feature (Mill Creek): Slain Playboy playmate Dorothy Stratten’s short-lived film career met a tragic end shortly after the release of “Galaxina,” a highly forgettable 1981 sci-fi spoof. Writer-director William Sachs’ 1980 “comedy” isn’t funny -- at all -- but the adequate model effects and widescreen frame at least create the illusion that you’re watching a vintage, post-“Star Wars” spoof, years before Mel Brooks tried his own satire out with “Spaceballs.” Given its poor reputation, it’s no surprise that “Galaxina” really IS awful (and not in a good way, either), but Mill Creek’s Blu-Ray does boast an attractive AVC encoded 1080i transfer of the movie’s uncut “international version” with 2.0 DTS HD and uncompressed PCM audio. (Note “Galaxina” was previously released on HD-DVD by BCI Eclipse with numerous extras, none of which surface here).

Mill Creek has combined “Galaxina” on an affordable BD platter with the 1977 Crown International drive-in offering THE CRATER LAKE MONSTER, which for nostalgic B-movie fans also offers a surprisingly good 1080i AVC encoded transfer with 2.0 HD/PCM audio.   

THE ROOMMATE Blu-Ray (*½, 91 mins., 2011, PG-13; Sony): Completely unremarkable, by-the-numbers teen “chiller” offers neither scares nor surprises. Current TV starlet Leighton Meester plays a crazy who’s watched “Single White Female” one too many times, and preys on her fellow college roommate Minka Kelly (soon to be seen as one of the new “Charlie’s Angels”) in this tedious all-cliche-fest that’s lazily written and slackly directed. In spite of its abundant shortcomings, “The Roommate” managed to entertain its core audience of teenagers, who scared up modest box-office returns for this low-budget Screen Gems release last winter. Sony’s Blu-Ray includes three featurettes (exclusive to the BD) plus commentary from director Christian E. Christiansen and deleted/alternate scenes, an AVC encoded 1080p (2.40) transfer and 5.1 DTS MA sound.

KILL THE IRISHMAN Blu-Ray (***, 106 mins., 2010, R; Anchor Bay): Jonathan Hensleigh’s latest film, a chronicle of  notorious Irish gangster Danny Greene who eventually waged war on the mob in the ‘60s and ‘70s in Cleveland, is an uneven but entertaining film worth watching for its cast alone. As Greene, Ray Stevenson gives a commanding performance as he joins forces with Vincent D’Onofrio in taking down Christopher Walken’s loan shark while being pursued by various factions of the mafia. A veritable who’s-who of supporting faces includes Paul Sorvino, Robert Davi, Tony Lo Bianco, Mike Starr, Vinnie Jones, Steven R. Schirripa, Linda Cardellini and a puffy-looking Val Kilmer; it’s all a bit episodic and rough around the edges, yet much like Hensleigh’s weird filming of “The Punisher,” “Kill the Irishman” is satisfying enough to warrant a view.

Anchor Bay’s Blu-Ray offers a documentary on Greene, plus a fine AVC encoded 1.78 1080p transfer and 5.1 Dolby TrueHD audio. Recommended!

PASSION PLAY Blu-Ray (*, 94 mins., 2011, R; Image): Unbelievably bad indie from writer-director Mitch Glazer (whose screenwriting credits include “Scrooged” and “The Recruit”) manages to waste the talents of Mickey Rourke, Bill Murray, Rhys Ifans and Kelly Lynch, to say nothing of Megan Fox, whose star has faded nearly into oblivion after her role in this mostly-unseen disaster. Rourke plays a downtrodden jazz musician who runs into Fox at a carnival – she’s not just “the woman with wings” but a legitimate angel whom Rourke whisks away, all the while being pursued by gangster Murray. Hard to image a worse film for any of these principals, with the film being a total misfire on every conceivable level, complete with an especially embarrassing climax. Image’s Blu-Ray offers no extras, just a mediocre 1080p transfer and 5.1 DTS MA audio.

THE BIG BANG Blu-Ray (*½, 101 mins., 2010, R: Anchor Bay): The good news is this other star-studded misfire is slightly more watchable than “Passion Play.” The bad news is that “The Big Bang” is an equal waste of a great cast.

Tony Krantz’s film-noir-whatever stars Antonio Banderas as a down-on-his-luck P.I. whose latest case involves a slimy Hollywood star (James Van Der Beek), a porn producer (Snoop Dogg), a missing stripper, lost diamonds, a waitress with wild tattoos (the hot Autumn Reeser), and a billionaire (Sam Elliott) and a physicist (Jimmi Simpson) who want to recreate the Big Bang under the New Mexico desert.

“The Big Bang” starts moderately well but ends up turning into something almost entirely indescribable in its second half, marked by bad CGI, ridiculous characters and writing that’s almost incomprehensible – alternately silly and serious, and unsatisfying on either level.

Anchor Bay’s Blu-Ray transfer is exceptional at least, with supplements including extended scenes, commentary with Krantz and co-producer Reece Pearson, plus a Making Of and Dolby TrueHD audio.

COMPANY MEN Blu-Ray (**½, 105 mins., 2010, R; Anchor Bay): Corporate downsizing costs Ben Affleck his job (and luxurious lifestyle), forcing him to take a blue collar gig with brother-in-law Kevin Costner in former “ER” show-runner John Wells’ 2010 character study co-starring Chris Cooper, Tommy Lee Jones (as Affleck’s mentor), Mario Bello and Craig T. Nelson. This Weinstein Company release didn’t make much noise in theaters but it’s an interesting enough character study, though not as involving as “Up in the Air” was with a similar type of plot. Anchor Bay’s Blu-Ray includes commentary with Wells, excised scenes, a featurette and alternate ending, plus a fine AVC encoded 1080p (1.78) transfer and DTS 5.1 MA soundtrack.

JACKASS 3.5 Blu-Ray (**½, 84 mins., Unrated, 2011; Paramount): Outtakes from the third entry in the “Jackass” movie franchise once again finds Johnny Knoxville, Bam Margera, Steve-O and the gang trying out a group of raunchy, ridiculous stunts, including Steve-O meeting a snapping turtle and the gang playing an “electrifying” game of limbo.

I wrote in my prior review of “Jackass 3" that, “as with the prior ‘Jackass’ movies (and its corresponding MTV series), some of the material is mildly amusing, some gags are hilarious, while others are tasteless (mostly the body-fluid jokes) and some may make you cringe. Overall I still think a little of this goes a long way, but in terms of its overall effectiveness, I’d place it ahead of” the second film. These outtakes, meanwhile, aren’t frankly as funny as the third film itself (and feel padded out to feature length), so “Jackass 3.5" is recommended strictly for fans.

Paramount’s Blu-Ray of “Jackass 3.5" includes deleted scenes, outtakes and two featurettes, plus an AVC encoded 1080p transfer and DTS MA 5.1 audio.

UNDERTOW Blu-Ray (***, 100 mins., 2009, R; Wolfe): Peruvian import from director Javier Fuentes-Leon stars Cristian Mercado as a fisherman and father-to-be who finds himself haunted by his gay lover, whose spirit can only be freed if their secret relationship becomes public. Well-made and acted, "Undertow" was a festival favorite in 2009 but only now is hitting Blu-Ray for the first time in a solid effort from Wolfe with deleted scenes and a handful of featurettes included. The disc is graced by a 1080p transfer with English subtitles and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

GREEN LANTERN: EMERALD KNIGHTS Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital Copy (84 mins., 2011, PG; Warner): DC Universe animated original movie serves as a prelude to this month’s live-action “Green Lantern” movie (which hopefully will be better than its anemic theatrical trailers appear). This feature-length video production chronicles Hal Jordan’s mentoring of a new Green Lantern Corps recruit, enabling Jordan to spin a series of tales in semi-anthology format involving other Green Lantern Corps members. Nathan Fillion and Elisabeth Moss provide some of the voices to this agreeable production, which arrives next week on Blu-Ray in a 1080p transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound and numerous extras including a sneak peak at “Batman: Year One”’s animated movie; two featurettes; commentary by Dan DiDio and Geoff Johns; two animated episodes handpicked by Bruce Timm; a DVD and digital copy; and numerous other bonuses.

New From HBO

TRUE BLOOD: Season 3 Blu-Ray (720 mins., 2010; HBO): Season three for Alan Ball’s adaptation of the popular Charlaine Harris novels finds Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin) and company mostly in Mississippi, searching for Bill (Stephen Moyer) while running into a world of werewolves and the nefarious Vampire King, Russell Edgington.

This collection of 12 episodes from “True Blood”’s third season is based mostly on Harris’ novel “Club Dead” and includes “Bad Blood,” “Beautifully Broken,” “It Hurts Me Too,” “9 Crimes,” “Trouble,” “I Got a Right to Sing the Blues,’ “Hitting the Ground,” “Night on the Sun,” “Everything is Broken,” “I Smell a Rat,” “Fresh Blood” and “Evil is Going On.”

HBO’s Blu-Ray presentation is dynamite, offering 12 “enhanced viewing” options on all the episodes (including character perspectives; flashbacks/flash forwards to connected scenes; character bios; and trivia facts) along with six commentaries with cast/crew members, an on-screen guide offering an overview of the show; episode “post-mortems” and a music video.

The AVC encoded 1080p transfers and 5.1 DTS Master Audio soundtracks are all superb. HBO’s standard DVD edition, meanwhile, boasts 16:9 DVD transfers, 5.1 soundtracks, and some, though not all, of the same extras.

Also new from HBO on DVD is PUBLIC SPEAKING (82 mins., 2011), Martin Scorsese’s profile of Fran Lebowitz, caught both on-stage at the Waverly Inn with friend Toni Morrison, as well as on the streets of the Big Apple, giving her views on controversial topics like gay rights as well as insights into tourists and pop culture. HBO’s DVD includes a 16:9 transfer, 5.1 soundtrack, interviews with Lebowitz and Scorsese, and additional extracts from the program.

DVD Round Up

NIGHT FLIGHT DVD (85 mins., 1933; Warner): All-star 1933 MGM melodrama about pilots trying to combat an outbreak of polio by flying serum through the Andes mountains hits DVD as a full retail release from Warner. The conflict between the dangerous activity in the air and the drama in the small airport coordinating the efforts below forms the gist of this Clarence Brown production with John Barrymore as the manager of the airline, Clark Gable as the intrepid pilot, plus Helen Hayes, Robert Montgomery and Myrna Loy co-starring. Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s best-selling book makes for a better adventure in the sky than it does an on-ground melodrama, with expert special effects for their day perking things up.

Warner’s DVD looks good considering the age of the elements while extras include a “Sports Champions” short entitled “Swing High” along with the cartoon “When the Cat’s Away.” Recommended for vintage enthusiasts!

CRASH AND BURN/ROBOT WARS DVD (aprx. 85 mins., 80 mins, 1990-93, R/PG; Shout!)
OFF LIMITS/GORDON’S WAR DVD (102 mins., 90 mins., 1973-1988, R; Shout!): Shout! Factory has mined the vaults of Full Moon and Fox, respectively, for a pair of new DVD Double Feature discs due out on June 14th.

CRASH AND BURN and ROBOT WARS are Full Moon B-movies from the early ‘90s: the former sports Paul Ganus and Megan Ward as rebels trying to stop a robot named the Synthoid who’s doing the bidding of the evil Unicom conglomerate in a future inspired by the likes of “The Terminator.” “Robot Wars,” meanwhile, is a semi-sequel to the superior “Robotjox,” with Don Michael Paul fighting for freedom by dusting off a giant robot in the hopes of stopping another mega-robot from destroying the world. Both movies include full-screen transfers and mono soundtracks.

“Off Limits,” meanwhile, is a tough 1988 actioner from director Christopher Crowe following military cops Willem Dafoe and Gregory Hines in Saigon circa 1968 where they investigate the murder of Vietnamese prostitutes. Amanda Pays, Scott Glenn, Fred Ward and Keith David comprise a superb supporting cast in a decent thriller that Shout! offers here in a good-looking 16:9 (1.78) transfer with an insightful commentary from Crowe and Dafoe. “Gordon’s War” offers a variation on that theme with Paul Winfield as a former Green Beret who returns from ‘Nam to find his Harlem neighborhood overrun with crime. He cleans up the streets in this Ossie Davis thriller that’s dated but engaging for exploitation enthusiasts. Shout!’s DVD boasts a 16:9 (1.78) transfer with 2.0 audio and commentary from cinematographer Victor J. Kemper and co-star Tony King, plus trailers.

Also due out shortly from Shout! on DVD is SPIDER-WOMAN: AGENT OF S.W.O.R.D., the latest “Marvel Knights” direct-to-video short feature (54 minutes) following the oddball Marvel heroine, Jessica Drew, as she seeks to inflict revenge on the Skrulls who replaced her on Earth. Shout!’s DVD includes a visual history of Spider-Woman, plus a music video, trailers, and a behind-the-scenes segment. The disc hits stores also on June 14th.

Finally, due out on June 21st is a terrific Roger Corman Triple Feature DVD, THE WOMEN IN CAGES COLLECTION, which includes the 1971 BIG DOLL HOUSE with Pam Grier as a prisoner in a sadistic women’s prison; the 1971 WOMEN IN CAGES, also with Grier, this time as a sadistic warden who takes out her rage on newcomer Jennifer Gan; and the 1972 THE BIG BIRD CAGE starring Anitra Ford as an inmate trying to escape from another hellish prison with the help of Grier. All three films include 16:9 remastered transfers; “The Big Doll House” also includes commentary with director Jack Hill plus a documentary on the film’s production along with a look at “The Big Bird Cage”; Hill also contributes a commentary to “The Big Bird Cage”; while trailers and TV spots are on-hand for all three pictures. A Blu-Ray edition is planned for later this summer.

FALL DOWN DEAD DVD (93 mins., 2010, R; Image): Former “Lolita” Dominique Swain plays a single mom who witnesses psycho Udo Kier killing a young woman; now she’s trapped in an office building on Christmas Eve as Kier comes calling to finish her off. This direct-to-vid effort has been on the shelf so long that David Carradine puts in a brief appearance, and while it’s mostly unremarkable, Swain remains one of those fetching leading ladies who has basically seen success elude her. Image’s DVD includes a 16:9 (1.78) transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

New & Upcoming From A&E/NewVideo: Season 2 of the popular History series ANCIENT ALIENS (aprx. 8 hours, 2010) continues to examine the possibility that extraterrestrials have visited Earth through the centuries. History’s three-disc DVD set, available later this month, includes 10 episodes from its second season, including the episodes “Mysterious Places,” “Gods & Aliens,” “Underwater Worlds,” “Underground Aliens,” “Aliens and the Third Reich,” “Alien Tech,” “Angels and Aliens,” the intriguing “Unexplained Structures,” “Alien Devastations” and “Alien Contacts.” Widescreen transfers and 2.0 stereo soundtracks adorn the box-set...UNDERWATER UNIVERSE: SEASON 1 (aprx. 188 mins., 2011) tries to do for the oceans what “The Universe” did for outer-space, as it mixes fact with speculation, actual footage with CGI in profiling life underneath the earth’s oceans. Finely detailed 16:9 transfers and 2.0 stereo soundtracks are on tap in this 2-disc set which includes the limited-run series as well as the original “pilot” documentary special which launched it...Billy Bretherton is back in the third season of BILLY THE EXTERMINATOR (aprx. 7 hours, 2010), the A&E reality series about a crazy pest-controller (and former Air Force sergeant) who tends to taking out all kinds of vermin, whether it’s rats, fire ants, snakes, gators or spiders. A&E’s three-disc set includes 16:9 transfers and 2.0 soundtracks, a couple of featurettes and a look behind the scenes...finally, DOG THE BOUNTY HUNTER is back in THIS FAMILY MEANS BUSINESS (198 mins., 2010), a collection of six new episodes (including its 200th program) following Duane “Dog” Chapman and friends persuing quarry from Hawaii to Colorado. A “Best Of” retrospective special is the sole extra in a single-disc set that includes 2.0 stereo soundtracks.

New From E One: An independent film from Down Under, IN HER SKIN (108 mins., 2008) has been dusted off for a U.S. release not coincidentally in the wake of “Black Swan.” It’s a depressing true story about a teenager’s murder at the hands of a babysitter who becomes obsessed with her; Sam Neill, Guy Pearce and Miranda Otto top-line a top-notch cast but the film is so plodding and ultimately pointless that it does little except drag you down for two hours. IFC’s DVD includes deleted scenes, interviews, a behind the scenes featurette and the trailer, plus a 16:9 transfer and 5.1 soundtrack...young Sophie Vavasseur finds herself being haunted in EXORCISMUS (101 mins., 2010), a Spanish horror import with Doug Bradley (Pinhead from “Hellraiser”) as a priest called in to help. IFC’s DVD boasts a 16:9 (2.35) transfer, 5.1 soundtrack, Making Of featurette and the trailer...the world of “Larping” is the subject of THE WILD HUNT (86 mins., 2009, Not Rated), a Canadian import that hits DVD with ample behind-the-scenes content, a 16:9 (1.78) transfer and 2.0 stereo sound...and Ed Burns’ new film, NICE GUY JOHNNY (90 mins., 2010, Not Rated), also arrives this month from IFC in a Special Edition DVD. Burns’ new effort (made for scant dollars and only released “on demand”) stars Matt Bush as a young man whose girlfriend wants him to drop his pursuit of his dream job and take a position with her father’s company; Burns plays his uncle, who whisks him away for a weekend to help him try and change his mind. MPI’s new DVD edition includes commentary with Burns, deleted/extended scenes, casting footage, a new interview with Burns and trailers, plus a 16:9 (2:1) widescreen transfer and 5.1 audio.

Coming up on June 14th are two new ELVIRA’S MOVIE MACABRE releases on DVD. The more enjoyable of the duo pairs the tired, final Hammer Dracula THE SATANTIC RITES OF DRACULA with the nutty Dean Stockwell ‘70s drive-in title THE WEREWOLF OF WASHINGTON, while the other disc combines NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD with I EAT YOUR SKIN. Extras include behind-the-scenes material, a music video on both discs, and of course, Elvira’s original cutaway sequences.

Finally, E One has a Blu-Ray edition coming up of HAVEN, the complete first season of the Canadian-lensed series that airs on the Syfy Channel. Emily Rose’s FBI agent Audrey Parker makes for an appealing heroine in a show that starts slow but gradually grows on you, as Audrey investigates a series of strange goings-on in a small Maine town. Based partially on Stephen King’s “The Colorado Kid,” “Haven” is entertaining and well-made, with E One’s Blu-Ray set hitting stores in mid June with 12 commentaries; three featurettes; six additional behind-the-scenes video blogs; interviews with cast members; and a sneak peek at season 2. Fine 1080p transfers and DTS Master Audio soundtracks adorn the four-disc set.

New From Lionsgate: Danielle Haris tries to survive BLOOD NIGHT (85 mins., 2011, R), a barely-better-than-average modern slasher with Bill Moseley starring in Frank Sabatella’s latest offering. Lionsgate’s DVD includes a 16:9 (2.40) transfer, 5.1 Dolby Digital audio, a Making Of, outttakes, and cast/crew interviews...Javier Bardem earned an Oscar nomination for his role in Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s new film BIUTIFUL (147 mins., 2010, R), which Lionsgate rolls out on DVD and Blu-Ray next week. Lionsgate’s DVD includes cast/crew interviews, “Director’s Flip Notes,” a look at the crew, and the trailer, along with a 16:9 (2.35) transfer and 5.1 Spanish audio with English subtitles...one of Sam Worthington’s Aussie thrillers, PROS AND EX-CONS (92 mins., R) makes its way to DVD from Lionsgate in a 16:9 (1.78) transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound...two new offerings in the “After Dark Horrorfest” are available this month in the form of “After Dark Originals”: the odd FERTILE GROUND (95 mins., R) finds a couple moving from the city to hubby’s old ancestral home, only to run afoul of assorted spooks, while SECONDS APART (89 mins., R) is one of the better “After Dark” releases of late, finding detective Orlando Jones on the trail of a pail of killer twins with telekenetic powers...for kids, Lionsgate has new DVDs lined up of BRATZ: BFF (88 mins., 2007), offering four episodes from the TV series, plus CARE BEARS: FLOWER POWER (88 mins., 2011), which includes eight shows from the small-screen. 2.0 stereo tracks and full-screen (“Care Bears”) and widescreen (“Bratz”) transfers are on-hand along with “kid-friendly direct-play” options.

TV on DVD Round-Up

THE BIG C: Season 1 (363 mins., 2010; Sony): Laura Linney gives a winning performance as Cathy Jamison, a teacher in her early 40s who finds out that she has melanoma; her decision to deal with it in an upbeat frame of mind drives this Showtime series from creator Darlene Hunt, co-starring Oliver Platt as Linney's husband, Idris Elba as a man whom Linney has an affair with, and Gabourey Sibide ("Precious...") as a mouthy student in Linney's class. Sony's complete Season 1 DVD set offers all 13 first-season episodes of "The Big C" in 16:9 (1.78) transfers and 5.1 soundtracks; extras include deleted scenes, outtakes, cast interviews and one Making Of featurette.

BREAKING BAD: Season 3 Blu-Ray (617 mins., 2010; Sony): Bryan Cranston copped an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor (Drama) while his co-star, Aaron Paul, earned a corresponding Supporting Actor Emmy for their roles in AMC's high-rated, critically acclaimed "Breaking Bad." Season three of the series hits Blu-Ray next week with all 13 episodes offered in crisp AVC-encoded 1080p (1.78) transfers and DTS MA 5.1 soundtracks. Ample extras in the three-disc set include three uncensored episodes; cast/crew commentaries on nine episodes; deleted scenes; a gag reel; seven different behind-the-scenes featurettes; mini "video podcasts" on every episode with cast/crew members; 20 episodes of "Inside Breaking Bad"; "Better Call Saul" commercials and testamonials; and a BD exclusive family photo album.

LEVERAGE Season 3 DVD (680 mins., 2010; Paramount): With Timothy Hutton’s protagonist in prison, the “Leverage” team seeks to break him out at the start of this TNT series’ third season, which hits DVD just in time for the show’s fourth-season premiere later this month. Paramount’s four-disc DVD set includes all 16 episodes in 16:9 transfers with a number of extras including a gag reel, commentary on every episode, deleted scenes and three featurettes.

THE GLADES Season 1 DVD (566 mins., 2010; Fox): Matt Passmore stars in this popular A&E dramatic series as a Chicago cop who moves to Florida and finds life in the swamp to be just as tough as the Windy City. Fox’s Season 1 set of “The Glades”’ first season includes deleted scenes, commentary on selected episodes, two featurettes, a gag reel, and 16:9 (1.78) transfers and 5.1 soundtracks.

WHITE COLLAR Season 2 DVD (694 mins., 2010-11; Fox): Matt Bomer is back as conman Neal Caffrey in the second season of the USA series “White Collar,” teaming up with an FBI agent to track various crimes ranging from extortion to murder. Fox’s four-disc box-set includes all 16 episodes from the show’s second season with 16:9 transfers, 5.1 soundtracks, deleted scenes, a gag reel, selected commentaries and several Making Of featurettes.       

BURN NOTICE Season 4 DVD (773 mins., 2010; Fox): Michael Western and co. return for more action and comedy in the fourth season of USA’s top-rated cable series. Fox’s DVD set (no Blu-Ray is planned at this time, alas) includes 16:9 (1.78) transfers, 5.1 soundtracks, deleted scenes, one commentary track, another gag reel and numerous behind-the-scenes featurettes.

NEXT TIME: More June titles! 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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