6/14/11 Edition Twitter: THEAISLESEATCOM
June Round-Up
New Criterion Titles, MOD DVDs and More
Plus: BATTLE: LOS ANGELES and New Blu-Rays

Just a quick heads-up this week that a number of Blu-Ray catalog titles have begun to appear of late – including the original “Taking of Pelham 1-2-3" and even “Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend” – though many are retailer exclusives for the time being. Best Buy currently has the following Blu-Ray titles (most $10, others $10-$15) available exclusively (one imagines a national release will happen later on this year for most of these, though some of their earlier 2011 exclusives – including “Poltergeist II” – are still only at BB):

-The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3 (‘74)
-Casino Royale (‘67)
-Midnight Cowboy
-Back to School
-City Slickers
-Get Shorty
-Wild Wild West
-The Firm

Walmart also has these MGM/Fox western exclusives ($10 each):

-Quigley Down Under

-The Big Country

Meanwhile, several more Disney/Touchstone live-action films have been released by Mill Creek, this time as $5 Walmart exclusives (should be in-stores this week):

-Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend (with Jerry Goldsmith’s gorgeous score)
-Holy Matrimony
-Scenes from a Mall
-Play it to the Bone
-The Tie That Binds
-The War at Home
-Last Dance
-Miami Rhapsody
-Ernest Scared Stupid

As always I’ll try and keep you posted with more news, though as you can tell, there are so many retailer-exclusives these days, it’s hard to keep up!

Now that the floodgates have opened up for catalog content on Blu-Ray, it’s easy to overlook some of the fine new titles from various independent labels that have been recently released. One of the latter that's certainly worth a look is the Blu-Ray release of the ‘80s British TV series ROBIN OF SHERWOOD, the cult program that’s been meticulously restored in high-definition.

Michael Praed starred as Robin in an entertaining retelling that mixed the old and traditional swashbuckling with a sense of ‘80s new age mysticism, with some supernatural elements interspersed with the typical derring-do involving Robin and his band of merry men. The humor is robust, the action well handled, the locations terrific – shot on location throughout the UK – and just a few elements hopelessly dated (Praed’s ‘80s mullet, Clannad’s synthesized score, and a fairly meager budget).

Still, aficionados of the program are sure to appreciate Acorn’s box-set, which includes the new HD transfers Network utilized for their UK Blu-Ray release, along with all the extras. The 1080p transfers (4:3) are far more detailed than any prior DVD I’ve seen of the series (though having been shot on 16mm, there are limitations to the source material), while viewers can select from either the original mono soundtrack or newly remixed 2.0 stereo tracks. Ample goodies include five commentaries, a 37-minute documentary on the show’s production, four isolated score tracks, and a bonus DVD offering new featurettes, outtakes, textless and foreign credit sequences, two more documentaries, and PDF material including PR and scripts. In all, a marvelous box-set that superbly preserves all of Praed's episodes for fans.

Also new this month from Acorn are:

GEORGE GENTLY Series 3 (176 mins., 1996) brings Tony nominee Martin Shaw back as Inspector George Gently, a London detective who teams with young cop Lee Ingleby to investigate a series of crimes in Northumberland, a remote region of Britain during the mid ‘60s. This Acorn Blu-Ray box-set includes two story arcs, 2.0 PCM stereo audio, and 1080i widescreen transfers. (Available June 28th)

Finally, Acorn has lined up MARPLE: SERIES 5, with Julia McKenzie starring as Agatha Christie’s super-sleuth in three mysteries: “The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side,” “The Secret of Chimneys” and “The Blue Geranium.” Joanna Lumley leads a superb supporting cast in this fine new adaptation of the character, which Acorn brings to DVD here in a multi-disc DVD set offering 16:9 transfers, stereo 2.0 soundtracks, and a bonus program, “Agatha Christie’s Garden,” profiling the late author’s secret retreat.

New From Criterion

Robert Aldrich’s tough adaptation of Mickey Spillane’s KISS ME DEADLY (106 mins., 1955) leads off a trio of new Criterion releases this month, and for film noir fans this superb Blu-Ray edition of a seminal genre work comes strongly recommended.

Ralph Meeker plays Spillane’s private eye Mike Hammer in this 1955 UA release, which caused quite the ruckus at the time of its debut because of its adult content, frank language and gritty violence. In A.I. Bezzerides’ script (which took heavy liberties with Spillane’s novel), Hammer picks up a wandering woman (Cloris Leachman) one fateful night, leading to her death and his beating at the hands of thugs whom he spends the rest of the picture trying to track down. Along the way he uncovers a plot involving a femme fatale (Marion Carr), her shady scientist benefactor (Albert Dekker) and a mysterious box that they believe is worth a fortune.

“Kiss Me Deadly” was made on a fairly low budget, and from a strictly visual standpoint the film is fairly crude, even by 1950s standards. The bland, mostly-stationary camerawork isn’t particularly compelling by itself, but when matched with the potent script and direction of Aldrich, the film becomes one of the most energetic, vivid thrillers of its era, complete with an off-the-wall ending that was made even more nihilistic when an editor sliced a hugely important minute or so out of it. For many years this was the only version of the film in circulation until, finally, the original ending was restored to the late '90s DVD edition.

Criterion’s Blu-Ray of “Kiss Me Deadly” offers a satisfying 1080p transfer of the film that’s been seemingly unaltered from its source materials, which are a bit dirty and grainy at times. The uncompressed mono sound is as effective as the limitations of its source allows, while ample extras include a commentary from film historians Alain Silver and James Ursini; a featurette with Alex Cox paying tribute to the film; extracts from a 2005 documentary on Bezzerides; a shortened new edit of a 1998 documentary on Spillane; the trailer; a locations featurette; and the abrupt ending that was tacked onto prints of the film shortly after its original exhibition. A nostalgic, tabloid-esque booklet adds notes from J Hoberman and a 1955 article from Aldrich himself discussing the film’s violence.

Nicolas Roeg’s 1985 film INSIGNIFICANCE (108 mins.) was greeted with mixed reviews from many critics, and is generally not regarded as one of his better films.

That said, this intriguing adaptation of Terry Johnson’s play, scripted for the screen by the author, still offers an unusual premise, with a number of real life figures from America’s Cold War era fictitiously interacting with one another, discussing their lives and foibles. Among the cast are Theresa Russell as, basically, Marilyn Monroe; Gary Busey is “The Ballplayer”, Joe DiMaggio; Tony Curtis is Joe McCarthy and Michael Emil essays Albert Einstein in the film’s most intriguing performance.

Roeg and producer Jeremy Thomas supervised Criterion’s Blu-Ray edition, which looks well composed in its 1080p transfer with uncompressed PCM audio (the eclectic soundtrack includes one of those ‘80s score collaborations between Stanley Myers and Hans Zimmer). Extra features aren’t extravagant: interviews with Roeg, Thomas, and editor Tony Lawson plus a short documentary produced on the set, along with the trailer, comprise the supplemental section, which is capped by Criterion’s customary booklet notes.

Last but not least is a sumptuous Blu-Ray platter of Kon Ichikawa’s 1983 beautiful THE MAKIOKA SISTERS (140 mins.), a film that finds the “Burmese Harp” director tackling Junichiro Tanizaki’s popular novel about four sisters, running their family’s kimono business, in the pre-WWII era Kansai region of Japan.

Poignantly made and episodic in nature, “The Makioka Sisters” looks stunning in this restored high-def 1080p Blu-Ray presentation, presented with an uncompressed mono soundtrack, the trailer, and newly translated English subtitles. Audie Bock, meanwhile, puts the film into the proper historical context in the set’s liner notes.

Also New on Blu-Ray

RED RIDING HOOD Blu-Ray/DVD/Dgitial Copy (**, 100 mins., 2011, PG-13; Warner): Hollywood is gearing up for a slew of “fairy tale reimaginings,” with multiple versions of “Snow White” on-tap, Bryan Singer in charge of “Jack the Giant Killer” and other genre films all poised to reach multiplexes over the next couple of years.

Warner’s “Red Riding Hood” hit theaters last spring ahead of the trend, though it’s unlikely anyone will remember it by the time its brethren show up. “Twilight” director Catherine Hardwicke’s watchable yet uninspired teeny-bopper fantasy sports Amanda Seyfried as Red (here dubbed Valerie) whose village is under attack from a wolf and whose family harbors deep, dark secrets. Is the wolf one of her parents? One of her Taylor Lautner-looking suitors? Or perhaps second-billed Gary Oldman as a pious priest?

“Red Riding Hood” looks fairly strong with Mandy Walker’s cinematography overcoming what had to have been a fairly modest budget. Aalas, the David Leslie Johnson script is never very compelling, despite giving work to veterans like Oldman, Julie Christie, Virginia Madsen and even Lukas Haas; the young protagonists, meanwhile, seldom ignite sparks, with Seyfried a particular blank slate as Hardwicke’s heroine. Call it a so-so effort from producer Leonardo DiCaprio’s production shingle, Appian Way – not as bad as some of its reviews might indicate, but not much more.

Warner’s Blu-Ray disc boasts a strongly delivered 1080p transfer with DTS Master Audio sound. The disc includes both the theatrical version and a barely-different “Alternate Cut” featuring a different stinger ending that doesn’t change the material much at all. Other extras include deleted scenes, a gag reel, picture-in-picture commentary with Hardwicke and assorted cast members; music videos, casting audition tapes, and a DVD/digital copy for portable media players.   

HALL PASS Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital Copy (**, 105/111 mins., 2011, R; New Line/Warner): The Farrelly Brothers’ latest effort is yet another “comedy of embarrassment” offering the sleazy premise of what would happen if a pair of married guys (Owen Wilson, Jason Sudeikis) are allowed, by their respective wives (Jenna Fischer, Christian Applegate), to engage in a week of freedom to pursue any female interests they so desire. Naturally, things fail to be quite as sexy and fun as the boys believe, with a predictable amount of shenanigans taking place en route to an ending that leads right where you’d expect it to.

Richard Jenkins briefly contributes a few (mild) laughs in “Hall Pass,” which made history by having one of the lowest-grossing #1 weekends in recent box-office memory when it was released last winter. Out this week on Blu-Ray from Warner, the movie offers a few laughs but the raunchy content ends up outweighing the genuinely funny by a country mile, making it a waste of time for most of the talents involved -- and yet another underwhelming Farrelly Brothers outing (come to think of it, so are most of their comedies!).

Warner’s Blu-Ray boasts over six minutes not offered in the theatrical release along with a BD exclusive extra scene and a gag reel, plus the theatrical version as well. A digital copy and DVD are also bundled inside the combo package. Warner's also has numerous online activities planned at the official "Hall Pass" website, which can be accessed at  hallpassmovie.warnerbros.com.

½, 116 mins., 2011, PG-13; Sony): Whenever you walk into a chain like Best Buy and start perusing their TVs, you can bet a “Demo Disc” of action scenes filled with special effects is likely playing. Often times said sequences are the most bombastic passages from a movie like “Transformers,” used to show off a TV’s technical prowess and/or a sound system’s bass potential.

It occurred to me while watching “Battle: Los Angeles” – Sony’s hyped sci-fi thriller from last spring – that you could take nearly any five-minute stretch from the picture and use it as “demo” material. For Best Buy employees that’s a good thing; for anyone else it’s a major problem, since this interminable assault on the senses provides a seemingly endless succession of action scenes with no real narrative momentum.

Director Jonathan Liebesman’s movie follows a troop of American soldiers who take on an extraterrestrial menace that attacks the U.S. suddenly after a group of meteorites fall into the earth’s oceans. The “script” credited to Chris Bertolini introduces a number of characters (including Aaron Eckhart’s veteran solider, coming off a tough time in Iraq) at the beginning who are then employed as either stock heroes or lambs for the slaughter in fight sequences that use every cliche in the book, whether it’s “Black Hawk Down”-inspired shootouts or nauseating use of shaky-cam.

Sony’s Blu-Ray looks dazzling and offers an aggressive DTS MA soundtrack to match, but a little of “Battle Los Angeles” goes a very long way indeed. For extra features, the disc includes four featurettes plus a number of BD exclusive featurettes and “Command Control” optional picture-in-picture extras, along with a demo of the upcoming Playstation 3 game “Resistance 3.”

CIRQUE DU SOLEIL: JOURNEY OF MAN 3-D Blu-Ray (39 mins., 2010, G; Sony): An IMAX 3-D film now hitting the small-screen in a dual 3-D/2-D version platter, Sony’s “Cirque Du Soleil: Journey of Man” is a spellbinding visual trip well worth undertaking on Blu-Ray.

Shot as a 39-minute Imax feature, “Journey of Man” takes the concept of human development and applies it to a typical assortment of artistically captivating, if occasionally outlandish, acts from the Cirque du Soleil troupe. Magnificent real world backdrops enhance the material even further, though as with most Imax presentations, you can only imagine how much more impressive the material plays on the large screen.

That said, Sony’s Blu-Ray does an exceptional job reproducing the visuals in either 2-D or 3-D format, with DTS Master Sound superbly delivering Benoit Jutras’ original score.

JUST GO WITH IT Blu-Ray (**, 116 mins., 2011, PG-13; Sony): Adam Sandler’s streak of $100 million-plus box-office grossers continued – just barely – with this mediocre winter comedy, starring the comedian as an L.A. plastic surgeon who can’t commit and plays the field, much to the chagrin of his long-suffering assistant Jennifer Aniston. After Sandler’s character meets gorgeous Brooklyn Decker, he opts to have Aniston act as his estranged wife (complete with her two kids in tow), with predictable shenanigans following.

If the plot of “Just Go With It” sounds similar, it’s because director Dennis Dugan’s movie is a credited remake of “Cactus Flower,” both Abe Burrows’ stage play and the late ‘60s Goldie Hawn comedy with Walter Matthau and Ingrid Berman in the roles here occupied by Sandler and Aniston (quite a comedown, no?). Most of “Just Go With It” – which co-stars Nicole Kidman in a major role uncredited in the film's advertising –  limps along, waking up only when Sandler buddies Nick Swardson and Kevin Nealon are on-hand to chip in a few laughs. Otherwise, this treacly rom-com is both familiar and overly labored at 116 minutes – even the original “Cactus Flower” (itself not a great movie) was far more entertaining.

Sony’s Blu-Ray includes a flawless 1080p transfer, DTS Master soundtrack, deleted scenes, a blooper reel, three making of featurettes, cast commentaries, and BD exclusive 9 additional featurettes and 11 more minutes of deleted scenes.

JAGGED EDGE Blu-Ray (**½, 108 mins., 1985, R; Image): Jeff Bridges is a wealthy San Francisco newspaper publisher who finds himself labeled prime suspect #1 after his wife is brutally murdered; his attorney, Glenn Close, doggedly pursues the case while falling in love with the man with a questionable alibi.

Joe Eszterhas’ script for “Jagged Edge” helped to set the standard for many an “erotic thriller” to follow (including his own “Basic Instinct”) and generated solid box-office for Columbia Pictures in the summer of ‘85. Under the direction of “Return of the Jedi” and “Eye of the Needle” helmer Richard Marquand, the picture is entertaining and certainly well-performed, though like a lot of its genre brethren its repeatability is limited after you’ve taken in its assorted twists and turns one time. Bridges and Close are terrific, as are Robert Loggia as the P.I. who assists Close and Peter Coyote as the local, arrogant District Attorney out to make a name for himself.

Image’s Blu-Ray edition of “Jagged Edge” has a really nice, natural looking 1080p transfer with DTS MA audio, the latter boasting one of John Barry’s less memorable scores.

For fun, also check out producer Martin Ransohoff’s 1989 production “Physical Evidence,” which was written as a sequel to “Jagged Edge” only to have the character names changed once Close and Loggia refused to reprise their roles (instead we got Theresa Russell and Burt Reynolds, respectively, and one heck of a turkey).

THE ISLAND Blu-Ray (**½, 136 mins., 2005, PG-13; Paramount): I’m not the biggest Michael Bay fan in the world, but I confess this box-office disappointment from the summer of ‘05 is one of his – at least – more watchable concoctions, a sci-fi extravaganza that ripped off “Parts: The Clonus Horror” but at least includes some semblance of a plot that crops up inbetween the director’s typical action sequences. Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson try to make sense of it all while a capable supporting cast (Steve Buscemi, Sean Bean, Michael Clarke Duncan and Djimon Hounsou) adds an able assist; it’s typical Bay for the most part with occasionally outlandish set-pieces and a plot that’s at least somewhat intriguing. “The Island” has, surprisingly, never been available domestically in high-def until now; HD-DVD imports surfaced in many territories outside the US, but only now, after an extremely long delay, has Paramount released the film on Blu-Ray. In terms of transfer and sound, the disc was worth the wait: the 1080p transfer is excellent and the DTS MA audio packs a potent punch. Extras, reprised from the prior DVD, are just so-so, including a commentary from the director and three featurettes.

HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX Blu-Ray Ultimate Edition (**½, 139 mins., 2007, PG-13; Warner)
HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE Blu-Ray Ultimate Edition (**½, 153 mins., 2009, PG; Warner).

Now available in deluxe Blu-Ray box sets, the fifth and sixth books in J.K. Rowling’s series make for the least satisfying of the Harry Potter film franchise, serving mainly to set up its concluding installment(s) without telling a particularly compelling story of their own.

After battling the Dark Forces in 2007's “Order of the Phoenix,” Harry learns even more about the evil sorcerer Voldemort in 2009's “Half-Blood Prince,” whose villainy continues to grow and whose back story Dumbeldore (Michael Gambon) wants Harry to understand, in order to better prepare him for the challenges that follow. Flashbacks, a few potions, and romantic relationships between Hermoine (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint), as well as Harry and Ron’s sister, comprise much of the action of “The Half-Blood Prince,” which has some nice moments and an exciting finish, but really takes its time getting there with aspects that are likely to please Harry’s legions of fans but come off as extraneous when taken on their own terms. It also appears that the series is utilizing more and more green-screen, as the cinematography here appears flat and “digital” in nature, particularly in comparison with prior entries in the series.

Warner’s lavishly packaged “Ultimate” Blu-Ray editions of both movies offer more installments in a lengthy, brand-new documentary that takes viewers behind the scenes, along with four respective hours of special features, a glossy book with 44 pages of photos, promo spots, and all the extras from their prior BD editions. The 1080p transfers appear identical to the earlier Blu-Rays, though DTS Master Audio is served up in place of the prior releases’ Dolby TrueHD soundtracks. Nicholas Hooper’s “Half-Blood Prince” score, while lacking the thematic richness that John Williams brought to the series’ first three installments, is at least an improvement on his “Order of the Phoenix” offering (to say nothing of Alexandre Desplat’s hugely disappointing “Deathly Hallows” effort).

Both films are contained in oversized cases with lenticular 3-D covers and digital copies of the main features, good for redemption through June 2012, by which point the final chapter of “The Deathly Hallows” will have been released on video.

HAPPYTHANKYOUMOREPLEASE Blu-Ray (**, 98 mins., 2010, R; Anchor Bay): “How I Met Your Mother” star Josh Radnor wrote, directed, and stars in this indie tale of an aspiring writer whose life is changed when he meets a young boy who becomes separated from his family on the subway, and who eventually makes our hero see life among his friends – including would-be love interest Kate Mara – a little differently. Earnestly performed by an ensemble cast but a bit self-indulgent, “Happythankyoumoreplease” hits Blu-Ray this week in an attractive 1080p transfer from Anchor Bay. The 5.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtrack is filled with folkish pop tunes, while extras include deleted scenes and commentary from the director and producer Jesse Hara.   

MEGAPYTHON VS. GATOROID Blu-Ray (91 mins., 2011; Image): Because you (or someone) asked for it, Syfy’s cheese-tastic “Movies of the Week” brought together the formidable talents of ex-teen pop stars Debbie Gibson and Tiffany for this agreeably ludicrous time-waster. “Megapython vs Gatoroid” finds Gibson’s animal activist unwittingly unleashing a python into the Everglades, which sends Tiffany’s ranger into a crazy panic to destroy it...by, of course, creating a swarm of genetically enhanced gators! Their ridiculous banter is good for a few laughs (enough so that “The Soup” showed a few clips last winter around the time that it aired), and Image’s Blu-Ray offers up a 1080p transfer that’s better than the material deserves. DTS MA 5.1 audio is also on-hand along with a featurette and the original trailer.   

KINGDOM OF WAR Parts 1 and 2 Blu-Ray (332 mins., 2007, Not Rated; Magnolia): King Naresuan the Great, who liberated the Siamese people from Burma, is the subject of this epic, two part Thai production, which arrives on Blu-Ray this week in a double-disc set from Magnolia (the two parts are also available separately). Part 1 chronicles Naresuan's life as a child, enslavement at the hands of the Burmese and life as a monk, while Part 2 is heavier on the action front as Naresuan's military might is established and his eventual freedom gained. Fine 1080p transfers and DTS Master 5.1 soundtracks are on-hand in both parts, with extras including Making Of featurettes, a music video, international trailers and more. In Thai with English subtitles.

CEREMONY Blu-Ray (90 mins., 2010, R; Magnolia): Offbeat, satisfying indie comedy-drama from writer-director Max Winkler (Henry's son) follows a children's book author (Michael Angarano) who convinces his best pal (Reece Thompson) to head off to a weekend at a seaside estate where, not coincidentally, his older ex-girlfrfiend (Uma Thurman) is about to get married. Some amusing scenes and performances are sprinkled throughout this Magnolia release, which arrives on Blu-Ray with a 1080p transfer, 5.1 DTS MA audio, and ample extras including deleted scenes, outtakes, extended scenes, several featurettes and an HDNet Making Of special.

New From Fox

A number of fine new, budget-priced BF catalog titles have arrived this week from Fox. Here’s a look:

THE LONG RIDERS Blu-Ray (***, 100 mins., 1980, R; MGM/Fox): One of Walter Hill’s most satisfying films, this 1980 western profiles the James-Younger gang and its three groups of siblings all portrayed, appropriately enough, by real-life brothers David, Keith and Robert Carradine (as the Youngers); James and Stacy Keach as Jesse and Frank James, respectively (they also co-produced the film); and Christopher and Nicholas Guest as the Ford brothers. Flavorful atmosphere, a fine Ry Cooder score and ample action make this a genre favorite, and MGM’s Blu-Ray does not disappoint with a satisfying 1080p transfer with DTS-HD MA mono audio and the original trailer.

Also on the western front is a Blu-Ray edition of Robert Aldrich’s 1954 production VERA CRUZ (***, 94 mins.), a rock-solid sagebrush saga with Gary Cooper and Burt Lancaster as mercenaries who run into revolution, skirmishes, and a beautiful countess (Denise Darcel) while down south in Mexico. The print looks a bit aged and washed-out, but at least the original 2:1 Superscope aspect ratio has been retained and there’s not a ton of DNR seemingly in evidence in MGM’s Blu-Ray edition.

Finally, less satisfying, would-be “revisionist” action can be seen in Mario Van Peebles’ misguided 1993 film POSSE (**, 111 mins., R; MGM/Fox), a self-indulgent affair made following the actor-director’s popular success “New Jack City.” Van Peebles leads the cast in a story of black soldiers, coming back from the Spanish-American war, who are betrayed by their white colonel (a smug Billy Zane) and end up fighting intolerance in a town where former slaves are being attacked by neighboring racists. A good cast struggles to maintain interest in a movie that, in spite of its scenario, is mostly routine and relies on old genre cliches. MGM’s Blu-Ray does offer up an acceptable 1080p AVC encoded transfer with 2.0 DTS MA stereo audio and the trailer.

HAIR Blu-Ray (**½, 121 mins., 1979, PG; MGM/Fox): Belated filming of the hit Broadway musical failed to take flight at the box-office in 1979 with many critics and audiences having found the material dated. It certainly has its moments (along with a couple of classic songs standing out in an otherwise mediocre book and score by Galt MacDermot, Gerome Ragni and James Rado), but since the show itself didn’t age well, it’s unsurprising that the film hasn’t either, despite the best efforts of director Milos Forman, cinematographer Miroslav Ondricek and a game cast (including John Savage, Treat Williams and Beverly D’Angelo). The 1080p AVC encoded transfer on the “Hair” Blu-Ray is mostly quite good and the 5.1 DTS MA audio often rollicking, dominated by overproduced songs. The trailer is included.

Finally, Martin Scorsese’s NEW YORK, NEW YORK (**½, 1977, 163 mins., PG; MGM/Fox) also arrives on Blu-Ray. This HD edition of Martin Scorsese's occasionally brilliant but overlong musical/drama with Liza Minnelli and Robert DeNiro offers a good, if uneven, 1080p AVC encoded transfer (restored portions seem to be noticeably grainier than the rest of the picture) plus a surprisingly strong 5.1 DTS MA soundtrack. Extras are carried over from the 2007 Special Edition DVD and include a plethora of supplements both familiar (deleted scenes, commentary by Scorsese and critic Carrie Rickey, photo gallery, select scenes commentary from DP Laszlo Kovacs) and then-exclusive to that release (interviews with Minnelli and a fresh two-part documentary).

Also new from Fox:

THE BOONDOCK SAINTS Truth & Justice Edition Blu-Ray/Digital Copy (**½, 1999, 108 mins., R; Fox): Writer-director Troy Duffy might have created quite a bad rep for himself with his antics behind the scenes of “The Boondock Saints,” his 1999 debut feature, but it seems Duffy may have the last laugh: this tale of Bostonian crime and retribution has indeed become something of a cult favorite since its initial release, and is back on Blu-Ray for a second time. Fox’s Blu-Ray offers an HD reprise of its 2007 Special Edition DVD -- commentary from Duffy, star Billy Connolly, deleted scenes, outtakes and a printable script make for a decent but not overwhelming supplemental package, while adding in a new featurette on the film's cult following for this 2011 10th Anniversary "Truth & Justice" edition. Both the Director’s Cut and its theatrical version are on-hand along with a digital copy for portable media players.

N-SECURE Blu-Ray (115 mins., R, 2011; Fox): African-American, urban workplace thriller with Cordell Moore as a domineering businessman who gets involved in multiple love triangles. Fox’s Blu-Ray of this direct-to-vid offering boasts a 1080p transfer, DTS MA 5.1 soundtrack and one making of featurette.

Finally, Fox also has several new manufactured-on-demand discs out this week – note that some batches of these titles have been reportedly pressed with the wrong movies, so be sure to check each disc after you purchase them (my copies were all fine):

BLOOD BATH (80 mins., 1966): Shlock horror fest from writer-producer-director Jack Hill recycles all kinds of footage in this (very) minor 1966 AIP offering with William Campbell, the Squire of Gothos himself. 16:9 widescreen transfer is decent enough to satisfy fans; no trailer is included.

BURN, WITCH, BURN (90 mins., 1962): Solid AIP horror offering about a college professor who finds out his wife is a witch who’s helped his academic success; life soon turns for the worse once a real rival witch shows up trying to take them down. Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont’s fairly high-concept script was later reworked for the troubled 1981 Richard Benjamin-Teri Garr comedy “Witches’ Brew.” The 16:9 transfer is acceptable enough and the trailer is included.

KEATON’S COP (95 mins., 1990, R): Wacky low-budget comedy with Lee Majors and Don Rickles as cops protecting a mob target (Abe Vigoda). The casting pays a few dividends but ultimately is sabotaged by a pedestrian Kevin Barnes-David Connor script. The 16:9 transfer is solid on this 1990 Cannon release.

HARRY IN YOUR POCKET (103 mins., 1973, PG): “Mission Impossible” creator Bruce Geller produced and directed this entertaining 1973 caper yarn about a group of pickpockets (James Coburn, Michael Sarrazin, Trish Van Devere and Walter Pidgeon). Lalo Schifrin scored this legitimate discovery in the MGM Archives series, here presented in a satisfying 16:9 transfer with the trailer included.

New from BBC

MADAGASCAR Blu-Ray (174 mins., 2011; BBC): Gorgeous HD imagery is the key reason to check out this BBC BD compilation, profiling the 70 different species found on the island of Madagascar with up-close-and-personal nature photography. David Attenborough provides the narration for two of the segments contained in this BD anthology (“Madagascar” and “Attenborough and the Giant Egg”), with “Lemurs of Madagascar” presented by Charlotte Uhlenbroek. 1080i transfers and stereo soundtracks comprise the single-platter BD package.

DR. WHO - FRONTIOS DVD (97 mins., 1984)
DR. WHO - TIME AND THE RANI DVD (98 mins., 1987): The latest Dr. Who Special Editions include a pair of relatively short story arcs from the mid ‘80s.

Peter Davison’s Doctor encounters a planet named "Frontios" which devours anyone who dares to cross it in this 1984 three-part story arc. BBC’s DVD includes commentary from Davison plus fellow cast members Jeff Rawle and John Gillett, script editor Eric Saward and sound effects designer Dick Mills; a 33-minute Making Of; 15 minutes of deleted and extended scenes; a photo gallery; isolated score; and PDF materials.

Sylvester McCoy, meanwhile, finds himself running into the Rani, who impersonate Mel and kidnap Albert Einstein and others in the 1987 “Time and the Rani.” More terrific bonuses features include commentary from McCoy, Bonnie Langford, and writers Pip and Jane Baker; a 28-minute documentary; a 12 minute visual effects featurette; a look at Dr. Who’s first CGI sequence; on-location segments; a photo gallery; PDF materials; and other assorted goodies.

AMERICAN: THE BILL HICKS STORY Blu-Ray (101 mins., 2011; BBC): Comedian-author Bill Hicks’ life and times are examined in this excellent Blu-Ray which includes a feature-length documentary on the late comedian, along with hours and hours (351 minutes to be precise) of extra features from extended interviews, deleted scenes, to unseen performance clips, trailers, and plenty more. The BD is presented in 1080i with 5.1 DTS MA audio.


SUPERNATURAL Season 2 Blu-Ray (2006-07, 903 mins., Warner): Creator Eric Kripke’s chilling tale of two brothers (Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki) traveling the country, searching for their lost father and running into all sorts of supernatural creepies along the way was one of the fledgling CW Network’s few solid performers during its second season. With more attention turned to the series’ core story, “Supernatural” ramps up the thrills and dramatic interest in its second season, which Warner brings to Blu-Ray for the first time offering unaired scenes, commentary on three episodes, Padalecki’s screen test, a gag reel, and an interactive U.S. map offering a guide to “urban legends and factoids pertaining to each episode.”

In addition to enhanced 1080p transfers and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks, the BD set also includes new cast/creator interviews in HD.

SOUTHLAND - Season 2 Uncensored (302 mins., 2010; Warner Archives): A gritty L.A. police procedural show that seemed out of place on NBC’s poverty row prime-time line-up, “Southland” found a second home at TNT, where the series has generated a larger audience for its taut examination of cops taking on a number of cases ranging from gangland shootouts to homicides.

Season two of the series, which aired uncensored thanks to its new cable home, only runs six episodes, but it’s certainly more effective programming than most shows in its genre, with a myriad of cases on-hand – not all of which end nice and tidy for its lead characters. Episodes include “Phase Three,” “Butch and Sundance,” “U Boat,” “The Runner,” “What Makes Sammy Run” and “Maximum Deployment,” all of which aired on TNT in March and April of last year. The two-disc release is available exclusively as part of Warner’s Manufactured-on-Demand program, and includes crisp 16:9 transfers and 2.0 stereo soundtracks.

Also new from Warner’s on-demand program is Season 1, Part 1 of THE FBI (821 mins., 1965), the long-running network procedural with Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. and Stephen Brooks as bureau agents taking on all kinds of evil-dooers from the mob to escaped convicts, with marvelous Guest Stars seen here including Robert Blake, Beau Bridges, Dabney Coleman, Robert Duvall, Jack Klugman, Leslie Nielsen and Burt Reynolds. This multi-disc set includes fine full-screen transfers and mono soundtracks; the episodes are in generally satisfactory condition with 16 episodes on-hand in the release, which is available now from wbshop.com

THE SECRET LIFE OF THE AMERICAN TEENAGER Volume 6 DVD (552 mins., 2010; Buena Vista): ABC Family’s highest rated show is one of the most watched dramatic series on cable, which is a surprise since “7th Heaven” creator Brenda Hampton’s “Secret Life” lost its grip on sanity some time ago.

This latest collection of episodes takes viewers right up to the current season’s finale, with Adrian and Ben heading down the aisle and Adrian about to give birth to their baby, which was conceived out of a one-night stand between two characters just jealous of the original couple who had a baby at the start of the series.

“Secret Life” may get high ratings and as a trashy TV drama it’s entirely watchable (often unintentionally funny at that), but I am troubled that young viewers might watch this show and think it’s an accurate reflection of life itself. This ridiculous program has blown every opportunity to make salient points about the nature of teen pregnancy, which in this show has often been written away as just another small problem in the life of wealthy suburban kids with loads of friends eager to help them overcome their problems. As if that isn’t bad enough, the program has retained Hampton’s oddball view of marriage, which is presented here like a carefree whim for people to duck in and out of whenever they feel like it. It’s utterly baffling to witness, like a traffic accident you ought to look away from, though the heartbreaking season finale at least strikes the right note and offers strong work from the cast.

Buena Vista’s DVD includes 16:9 (1.8) transfers and 5.1 soundtracks.

STARGATE UNIVERSE: THE FINAL SEASON DVD (880 mins., 2010-11; MGM/Fox): Once one of TV’s dependable sci-fi franchises, the “Stargate” brand couldn’t carry itself through this latest incarnation of a series that once began as a spin-off from the 1994 Roland Emmerich film.

The final season for “Stargate Universe” here wraps up its run in a multi-disc set with Fox’s DVD offering interviews with the cast, commentaries on every episode, behind the scenes featurettes, and other goodies. The 16:9 (1.78) transfers and 5.1 soundtracks are all excellent.

Studio Capsules

Among Lionsgate’s new releases are another new direct-to-video western, A COLD DAY IN HELL (96 mins., 2011), starring Michael Madsen as a US Marshal trying to take down a banker who controls an army of outlaws and assassins. Lionsgate’s DVD includes a 16:9 transfer (2.35) with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, a stills gallery and cast/director commentary.

New From E One: Brendan Cowell stars in the Australian WWII film BENEATH HILL 60 (122 mins., 2011, R), about an Aussie platoon who fights beneath German lines to preserve a labryinth’s worth of supplies and explosives. E One’s DVD includes a Making Of featurette, cast/crew interviews and B-roll footage, plus a 16:9 (2.35) transfer and 5.1 sound...Rossif Sutherland stars with his father, Donald, in THE CON ARTIST (87 minx., 2010, R), a Canadian import about a troubled ex-con trying to live on the straight and narrow until a crime boss forces him back onto the wrong path. Rebecca Romjin co-stars in this Risa Bramon Garcia film, with E One’s DVD including a commentary, a 16:9 (1.78) transfer and 5.1 soundtrack...Ole Bornedal is back in DELIVER US FROM EVIL (93 mins., 2009), a Danish import about a drunk driver kills a woman and blames a Bosnian refugee. E One's DVD boasts a 16:9 (2.35) transfer and 5.1 audio in both English (dubbed) and Danish...Finally, Michael Flatley is back in an all-new LORD OF THE DANCE (95 mins., 2011) program shot live in Dublin and London during its tour earlier this year. Four deleted scenes and a 20-minute Making Of are on-hand in E One's new DVD release which includes a 16:9 (2.40:1) transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital and 2.0 PCM audio tracks.

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