6/16/09 Edition
Mid-June Wrap-Up
FRIDAY THE 13th Entries on Blu-Ray & DVD
Plus: MORNING LIGHT, TV on DVD and More

Another Stanley Kubrick classic hits Blu-Ray this week courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

Quite obviously DR. STRANGELOVE (****, 95 mins., 1964, PG) needs little introduction for most viewers. Kubrick’s trenchant black comedy was nominated for four Oscars at the time of its release (losing to “My Fair Lady”) but has weathered the years more than most films made in the 1960s, managing to be a hilarious comedy as well as a powerful indictment of nuclear war, and offering memorable performances from Peter Sellers and George C. Scott to Sterling Hayden, Keenan Wynn and Slim Pickens along the way.

Sony’s Blu-Ray edition of “Strangelove” arrives in a hardbound “Digibook” identical to several of Warner’s catalog releases offered in the same packaging. The booklet notes include an essay from Richard Tanne and glossy photos, nicely complementing a good-looking Blu-Ray disc with a crisp and satisfying AVC encoded transfer and both Dolby TrueHD audio and the film’s original mono mix. Extras are mostly culled from the two-disc DVD edition (numerous featurettes, split-screen archival interviews with Scott and Sellers, an interview with Robert McNamara), with an added picture-in-picture/pop-up trivia track that’s exclusive to the Blu-Ray edition.

All Kinds of FRIDAY

FRIDAY THE 13th Blu-Ray (**½, 99/106 mins., 2009, R; New Line/Warner)
FRIDAY THE 13th PART II Blu-Ray (**, 86 mins., 1981, R; Paramount)
FRIDAY THE 13th PART III 3-D Blu-Ray (**½, 95 mins., 1982, R; Paramount)
FRIDAY THE 13th: THE FINAL CHAPTER DVD (**, 91 mins., 1984, R; Paramount)
FRIDAY THE 13th PART V: A NEW BEGINNING DVD (*½, 92 mins., 1985, R; Paramount)
FRIDAY THE 13th PART VI: JASON LIVES DVD (**, 87 mins., 1986, R; Paramount)

To coincide with Warner’s release of the recent “Friday the 13th” remake on video, Paramount is unleashing a series of vintage “Friday”s on both Blu-Ray and DVD that ought to rank as must-haves for Jason addicts.

First up on the archival front, and making their bows on Blu-Ray (Special Edition DVDs were released a few months ago), are the first two sequels in producer Sean S. Cunningham’s long-running series.

FRIDAY THE 13th PART II is a fairly hackneyed retread of its predecessor from producer-director Steve Miner, with former “Powers of Matthew Star” heroine Amy Steel taking over for Adrienne King, who’s offed in the early-going of this first sequel.

Paramount’s Blu-Ray transfer of “Friday Part Deux” is undoubtedly the best we’ll ever see the film outside of a theater, offering some detail not present in the recent, remastered DVD edition. However, the movie’s rather flat 1.85 cinematography is drab to begin with, so the HD benefits may not be as appreciable as you might anticipate. Extras include another new retrospective featurette on the production (with cast and crew interviews), a featurette on fan conventions and “Friday”’s role in their popularity, the second half of the “fan” film “Lost Tales From Camp Blood,” and the trailer.

The series made the move into the third dimension with 1982's release of FRIDAY THE 13th PART 3,which hits Blu-Ray in 3D, complete with two pairs of glasses. Though the old red/blue analygraph 3-D format doesn’t favorably compare to the “field sequential” version initially seen in theaters, the 3-D effects are still fairly good here -- especially when you view the BD in 1080p. The clarity of the images aren't perfect but it’s a good deal more effective than any of the old analygraph 3-D movies you might’ve watched back in the ‘80s on local TV.

The sequel itself was a huge success, far more of a hit than the second installment, and also looks quite impressive in 2.35 widescreen -- until the latest “Friday” was released, Part III was the only film of the entire series shot in an anamorphic process. The Dolby TrueHD audio offers a stereo remix of the soundtrack, with the original mono track also on-hand.

Paramount’s Blu-Ray edition of PART III also includes a 2-D version, along with a series of featurettes that were left off the latest DVD, including a proper Making Of, the trailer, “Lost Tales from Camp Blood - Part 3,” and more, all in HD as well.

On regular DVD, Paramount has a trio of Special Editions lined up for the fourth, fifth and sixth installments in the series.

FRIDAY THE 13th: THE FINAL CHAPTER dumps the numerical title for a sequel that some series fans claim is one of its better entries (perhaps it’s because of its casting, including Peter Barton, Crispin Glover and Corey Feldman). Faint praise that may be, those aficionados are sure to enjoy Paramount’s new DVD, which includes the “lost ending” of the film, cut scenes, two different commentary tracks (one from director Joseph “Invasion U.S.A.” Zito and editor Joel Goodman, plus a “fan commentary” from Adam Green and Joe Lynch), the fourth installment in “Lost Tales from Camp Blood,” the trailer and other goodies. The remastered 16:9 (1.85) transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack are both satisfying, with the original mono audio also included.

Of course, “The Final Chapter” was anything but the end for our hockey masked villain, with FRIDAY THE 13th PART V: A NEW BEGINNING quickly put into production and released hot on the heels of its predecessor. Not only do you get Corey Feldman again here but also Shavar Ross (Dudley from “Dif’frent Strokes”) co-starring in Danny Steinmann’s gory sequel, which here receives another remastered 16:9 (1.85) transfer, with a 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack, commentary with Steinmann and cast/crew members, featurettes and the original trailer rounding out the disc.

“A New Beginning” ushered in what a good deal of fans consider to be two of the better “Friday” sequels, lead off by FRIDAY THE 13th PART VI: JASON LIVES, a decent effort on the part of writer-director Tom McLaughlin that finds the now-grown Tommy Jarvis trying to off Jason once and for all.

Sporting a high body count and a fair degree of action, “Jason Lives” is a superior ‘80s hack ‘n slash, with Paramount’s DVD featuring commentary from McLaughlin and cast/crew members, Making Of content, the teaser trailer, cut scenes and more. The 16:9 (1.85) transfer is top-notch and both 5.1 and 2.0 Dolby Digital stereo tracks are also on-hand.

Naturally, all of these releases are timed to coincide with the debut of the 2009 FRIDAY remake, which hits Blu-Ray in a terrific package from New Line/Warner.

Producer Michael Bay and his Platinum Dunes label oversaw this slick retread of the original Jason slashers, with Jared Padalecki (“Supernatural”), Amanda Righetti and Danielle Panabaker running afoul of Voorhees in a basic recycling of the original films from writers Damian Shannon and Mark Swift.

Unsurprisingly, the new “Friday” doesn’t do anything revolutionary, nor does it inject a sense of playfulness the way the superior genre brawler “Freddy Vs. Jason” did a few years ago. The push-button narrative and cliched genre devices are right out of the old movies on every level -- the difference here is that director Marcus Nispel has given the movie a solid visceral presentation that’s superior to all of its predecessors. From Daniel Pearl’s scope cinematography to some fairly well-executed kill sequences, this “Friday” is a polished cinematic effort, even if its only intention is to fill up audiences with the same cinematic calories as its predecessors. For some that’ll be a major turnoff -- for others, it may provide exactly the type of no-brain summer-time entertainment certain horror fans might appreciate.

Warner’s Blu-Ray disc offers a crisp, vibrant VC-1 encoded transfer with rollicking Dolby TrueHD audio. Steve Jablonsky’s score doesn’t add much to the action, but it’s functional, while both the film’s 97-minute theatrical cut and an extended 106-minute version are both available on the BD (note that the extended cut is still rated R). Extras are slim, including a BD-exclusive trivia track, a Making Of featurette, additional deleted scenes, and more features that are slated to be available via BD-Live.

New from Criterion

Ingmar Bergman’s classic THE SEVENTH SEAL (97 mins., 1957) headlines Criterion’s offerings for the month of June.

This seminal 1957 Bergman work offers Max Von Sydow as a tired knight who runs into Death, challenging him to a game of chess, in a bona-fide cinematic masterpiece that has been parodied, imitated, and much-discussed ever since its original release. The stark black-and-white cinematography and layers of meaning mark “The Seventh Seal” as one of the more influential films of its time, ushering in, as the booklet notes indicate, “a new era of moviegoing.”

Criterion’s double-disc DVD edition includes a restored full-screen transfer (a Blu-Ray version is also available but was not sent for review) with commentary from critic Peter Cowie; a 2003 introduction from Bergman; an archival audio interview with Von Sydow; a 1989 Bergman tribute from Woody Allen; the trailer; an optional English dubbed soundtrack; and, on the second disc, journalist Marie Nyrerod’s Bergman documentary “Bergman Island,” plus a selected video filmography from Cowie (“Bergman 101"), and an essay from critic Gary Giddins.

BERGMAN ISLAND (83 mins., 2006) is also available separately in a presentation that reprieves the entire second disc from the new “Seventh Seal.”

For “Bergman Island,” Nyrerod conducted a series of interviews with the director prior to his death, reflecting on a myriad of topics including his career and personal life. Cinephiles will certainly appreciate this candid glimpse into the often reclusive filmmaker, with Criterion’s DVD offering a 16:9 (1.77) transfer with Peter Cowie’s “Bergman 101" filmography and an essay from Nyrerod rounding out the release.

Another film that broke through to major success on the international circuit was Alain Resnais’ surreal LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD (94 mins., 1961), which also arrives this month as a double-disc DVD edition from Criterion.

Impressively shot in scope with an intentionally muddy script that could be interpreted any number of ways, “Marienbad” is a meditative, visceral experience that has been splendidly brought to DVD. The new transfer, approved and supervised by Resnais, looks vibrant in 16:9 (2.35) widescreen, while a full second disc of extras includes a new audio interview with Resnais recorded for this release; a new documentary on the making of the film; a recent video interview with scholar Ginette Vincendeau on the legacy of the picture and its possible narrative explanations; and two late ‘50s, short documentaries from Resnais.

Finally, Criterion at long last brings viewers a new DVD edition of Louis Malle’s acclaimed 1981 film MY DINNER WITH ANDRE (111 mins., 1981), which chronicles the conversation between Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory at an NYC restaurant, tackling all kinds of topics from life and love to professional disappointments, death, money and pretty much anything else you can think of. It’s also a movie about living each day and not forgetting to accept its gifts in the contemporary world around us -- themes which all resonate today.

At the time of its original release “My Dinner With Andre” was looked at as a particularly audacious film; now, the chemistry between Gregory and Shawn is what marks it as one of the more indelible films of the ‘80s, and certainly one of the decade’s biggest art-house hits.

Criterion’s DVD includes a restored transfer (16:9, 1.66 widescreen) with new interviews with the stars; an episode from the BBC series “Arena,” where Shawn interviewed Malle; and extensive booklet notes.

New & Recently Released

JOHN ADAMS: Blu-Ray (2008, 501 mins.; HBO): Superior, absorbing HBO adaptation of David McCullough’s biography of the quintessential American patriot, from his role in the founding of the United States of America to his relationship with wife Abigail. Paul Giamatti’s casting is certainly a bit off the beaten path -- and does not resemble prior portrayals of Adams by the likes of William Daniels in “1776" -- but he gives a believable, effective (if not particularly “intellectual”) performance, while Laura Linney is exceptionally strong as usual as his beloved female counterpart.

This lavish production, directed by Tom Hooper in a leisurely manner, allows the drama to unfold over some seven parts, making for a superb drama for history buffs and movie lovers alike, even if the show tends to dwell on the "darker" aspects of Adams' life. A marvelous supporting cast lends a strong assist, including Tom Wilkinson (as Ben Franklin), Stephen Dillane, David Morse, Danny Huston and Sarah Polley among others, while Rob Lane and Joseph Vitarelli’s music scores are top-notch.

HBO’s Blu-Ray set is an appreciable upgrade on last year’s standard DVD edition, offering crisp 1080p transfers and DTS Master Audio soundtracks. Extras reprieved from the prior release include an interview with David McCollugh and a Making Of featurette, plus a Blu-Ray enhanced on-screen historical guide and character biographies.

MORNING LIGHT DVD and Blu-Ray (98 mins., 2009, PG; Disney): Intriguing Disney-produced documentary about a group of college-age sailors who helm an entry in the Transpac Yacht Race from California to Hawaii -- all due to sailing enthusiast Roy Disney, who thought his experiment would make for both an interesting competition and a Disney “True-Life Documentary.”

This no-frills account doesn’t go into a lot of detail about the 15 sailors chosen to sail the “Morning Light” in the 2007 Transpac race, instead opting to dissect the crew’s preparations and the eventual race itself. It makes for a compelling 97-minute feature, with some vivid HD imagery along the way, and yet “Morning Light” is a bit of a disappointment given the subject matter: there’s just not a lot of meat involved here, with most of the crew’s story told in typically superficial “Reality TV” style (with on-camera interviews and “journal passages” being read by monotone narrators), right down to the boat’s captain choosing crew members in a manner that feels a bit too much like “American Idol” for its own good. (In one particularly irritating moment that embodies the picture’s single-minded approach, the boat’s skipper decides to replace a crew member late in the game, but the movie never tells us the reason why!)

“Morning Light” would have likely made for a superior reality TV series on the likes of, say, ESPN, and the structure of both the movie and its supplements (including an hour-long look at the selection process) seem to hint that maybe that was the original intention. The finished product feels like an abbreviated highlight reel that tries to touch upon the race, the kids, the competition among themselves and with their chief rival in their sailing class, and eventually bites off a bit more than it can chew.

Still worthwhile viewing for sailing enthusiasts and family audiences, “Morning Light” looks spectacular on both DVD and especially Blu-Ray. The 16:9 DVD transfer is superb and the Blu-Ray’s AVC encoded transfer is gorgeous, serving up deep colors and incredible detail. The 5.1 Dolby Digital sound is fine, as is the Blu-Ray’s DTS-HD mix, though the incessant music by “Matter” could have been turned down several notches. Extras include the ESPN “Making the Cut” special and a half-hour behind-the-scenes featurette on both platforms.

INKHEART Blu-Ray (**, 106 mins., 2009, PG; New Line/Warner): Brendan Fraser managed to strike box-office gold twice in 2008 thanks to the unexpected success of “Journey to the Center of the Earth 3-D” and the third “Mummy” sequel, yet his luck ran out with this long-shelved New Line release. Unceremoniously dumped into release last winter, “Inkheart” is a hodgepodge of other, better family-friendly fantasies, with Fraser as a single dad who brings the world of an elusive fantasy novel to life by simply reading it. Iain Softley’s adaptation of the popular book by Cornelia Funke is something that kids might enjoy, but for adults, it plays out like an inferior version of “Jumanji” without that film’s sense of fun. New Line’s Blu-Ray disc boasts a fine VC-1 encoded transfer with Dolby TrueHD audio and numerous extras (in HD), including extra scenes and numerous featurettes, plus planned BD-Live extras.

THE CELL 2 Blu-Ray (*, 94 mins., 2009, R; New Line/Warner): Tepid direct-to-video follow-up to the disturbing, but viscerally spellbinding, Tarsem Singh-Jennifer Lopez thriller is an inferior, in-name-only sequel that strikes out on nearly every front. Tessie Santiago plays a psychic investigator who has to enter the mind of a psycho to prevent him from tormenting more innocent victims in this inept effort from director Tim Iacofano, which resembles a made-for-cable movie with its clumsy, derivative story and cheapjack production values. In fact, if it weren’t for the title, this would be just another disposable small-screen horror outing, with no tangible connection to its predecessor outside of its central premise. In any event, make it a point not to get locked into this “Cell.” New Line’s Blu-Ray disc does include a fine VC-1 encoded transfer and Dolby TrueHD soundtrack, yet the movie’s drab visuals don’t quite resemble HD eye candy. Extras include a standard Making Of and more supplements that are slated to be available through BD Live.

FIRED UP Blu-Ray (**, 90/91 mins., 2009, PG-13/Unrated; Sony): Patently silly teenage comedy about a pair of skirt-chasing high school jocks (Nicholas D’Agosto and Eric Christian Olsen) who decide to join their school’s cheerleading team in order to meet girls. Director Will Gluck has served up an enthusiastic enough movie here, but “Fired Up” is no “Bring It On,” even though the film offers more than a few outright mentions to that memorable Kirsten Dunst cheerleading comedy. D’Agosto and Olsen are okay, and Sarah Roemer is likeable as the nice girl (and team captain) who reluctantly accepts our heroes in the fold, yet the film is fairly sleepy and never develops its plot enough for you to care to any degree about its pre-ordained outcome. Sony’s Blu-Ray disc boasts a superb AVC encoded transfer with Dolby TrueHD sound, a digital copy, both unrated and PG-13 theatrical versions of the film, commentary, featturettes and an uncensored gag reel.

MIRACLE Blu-Ray (**½, 136 mins., 2004, PG-13; Buena Vista): Though we all share a common love of film and obviously movie music at The Aisle Seat and FSM, each of us has other interests that have nothing to do with the industry.

Case in point: I am a sports fanatic, and, specifically, a hockey fan. I've grown up watching college hockey and spent several years covering games in the Hockey East conference for US College Hockey Online (do a Google search under my name and you'll even find a recap I wrote of a PC-Brown "Mayor's Cup" skirmish from a few years back). I've interviewed great coaches like Jack Parker and Jerry York, been outside locker rooms with guys like Mike Eruzione and Jim Craig -- two key members of the 1980 Gold Medal-winning USA Hockey Team.

I mention my familiarity and love of the game because as much as I wanted to like the 2004 Disney release "Miracle," there are too many problems in the picture to fully recommend it. This is a workmanlike, routine film not so much about the group of college kids who rose up to beat the USSR in what has been widely acknowledged as the most dramatic American sporting event of the 20th century, but rather focuses on the man -- the late coach Herb Brooks -- who brought them there.

That leaves Kurt Russell to carry the show as the uncompromising Brooks, who brings a collection of young men together with rigid practices and tactics one would think are just a little bit insane, all in an effort to beat the unbeatable Soviets and capture the Gold at the 1980 Lake Placid games.

It's the kind of story that should make for a marvelous movie, but unfortunately "Miracle" isn't it. Both Eric Guggenheim's script and Gavin O'Connor's direction lack the spark to make the material come alive, compounded by what appears to have been a budget better suited for a made-for-TV film.

Scenes involving Brooks and his wife (Patricia Clarkson) don't ring true, while major international events that occurred during the period -- the gas shortage, the Iranian hostage crisis -- are sloppily raised in an effort to tell the audience that things weren't so good for us back in the late '70s. (These are many of the exact same clips used in HBO and ESPN documentaries on the team from years past -- both of which were more effective and emotional in chronicling the team than this film).

But what's most frustrating about the way in which the story is told is that none of the players on the team are developed at all. You get no sense of the individuals and their interactions with one another -- something even the 1981 made-for-TV film "Miracle On Ice" (with Karl Malden as Brooks) was able to do fairly well.

It's a real disappointment that ends up making the Olympic team itself -- a collection of heroes, great players from both eastern and western hockey -- into a faceless crowd, one player virtually indistinguishable from the next. If someone walked into the theater without knowing who Mike Eruzione was, for example, they'd have absolutely no idea what his accomplishments were on the team after watching the film. I kept wondering who Dave Silk was supposed to be, where Davey Christian was, etc. etc.

It also doesn't help that the movie never feels "real." What separates great sports movies from the rest of the pack is authenticity, and here "Miracle" also comes up short. Films like "Rudy" and "Hoosiers" gave you a strong sense of time and place, using actual locations in an effort to realistically re-stage events.

In this day and age, there should be no reason why the actual venues where the Olympic games were played weren't used -- or at least CGI mock-ups of them. Here, though, it's painfully obvious one or two rinks in British Columbia were used in place of all the real locations -- resulting in claustrophobically staged hockey scenes that give you no sense of speed or the intensity of the game itself. That the crowds contain modern-day stand-ins (and cardboard cut-outs) is also inexcusable for a movie like this.

I could go on -- especially about Mark Isham's bland, boring score (also a deficit) -- but I think by now I've raked "Miracle" over the coals enough. While Russell's performance is commendable and the movie likely satisfying for viewers who know little about the sport or the team, it comes up short on several levels. Perhaps if filmmakers with a vision for capturing a moment that meant so much to this nation were given a more workable budget to put the film together, "Miracle" could have soared.

As it is, it's ironic that -- for a movie that's supposed to be about teamwork -- that "Miracle" concentrates on one individual instead. That's something I doubt Herb Brooks himself would have wanted to see.

Disney's Blu-Ray edition, out this week, actually does a better job capturing who the individuals on the '80 team actually were than the film itself. Interviews with Jim Craig, Mike Eruzione, and others are included, and hearing the men talk about their experiences is insightful and revealing, regardless of the segment's fluffy, ESPN-based "round table" presentation. Commentary from director O'Connor, a regulation Making Of, featurettes on the young cast and the sound design (sporting comments from composer Mark Isham), and some four minutes of outtakes are also included.

Best of all, though, is nearly a half-hour of camcorder footage of the real Herb Brooks talking to Russell and the filmmakers before shooting began. Brooks died during production in a tragic car accident, and seeing him talk extensively -- and candidly -- about the game and his team is something no sports fan should miss.

The AVC encoded transfer on the movie itself is excellent and the DTS Master Audio sound effective, sporting a tedious assembly of '70s rock tracks and one of Isham's blandest original scores.

THE GREATEST GAME EVER PLAYED Blu-Ray (***, 2005, 121 mins., PG; Disney): Appealing, if slow-moving, adaptation of Mark Frost’s book (scripted by the author and former “Twin Peaks” co-creator) about amateur golfer Francis Ouimet (Shia LeBeouf), who challenges rival Harry Vardon (Stephen Dillane) for the U.S. Open title. Between this and the under-rated (and equally little-seen) “Bobby Jones: A Stroke of Genius,” 2005 wasn’t a good year for golf movies at the box-office, but this Bill Paxton-directed film boasts excellent cinematography by Shane Hurlbut, appealing performances and a strong sense of time and place. Disney’s Blu-Ray disc includes two commentaries by Paxton and Frost, respectively, numerous featurettes and information on the real Ouimet’s 1920 triumph. The AVC encoded transfer and DTS Master Audio soundtrack are both top-notch.

WALTZ WITH BASHIR Blu-Ray (***, 90 mins., 2008, R; Sony): Ari Folman wrote, produced and directed this impressive, visually arresting documentary -- almost entirely animated -- about the First Lebanon War. Folman, an Israeli veteran of the conflict, tries here to fill in the gaps of his memory from that early ‘80s war by interviewing friends and colleagues, as well as fictional composites of real people. The result is a potent anti-war film that’s likely to captivate viewers through its visceral presentation as well as educate them at the same time -- a superb combination that Sony has perfectly brought to Blu-Ray this month. The disc’s AVC encoded transfer is just terrific, with both Hebrew (English subtitled) and English Dolby TrueHD audio tracks on-hand along with numerous extras, including commentary with Folman, a Q&A session with the director, a Making Of and animatic mock-ups.

PREDATOR 2 Blu-Ray (**, 106 mins., 1990, R; Fox): I hadn't seen this sequel to the Arnold Schwarzenegger/John McTiernan hit since it first opened in 1990, and over that time, I guess I had forgotten just how regrettable this slick but pedestrian follow-up actually was.

Danny Glover -- the natural choice to replace Arnold -- fills in as a Los Angeles cop investigating a series of drug-related gang killings in a "future" 1997 where the temperatures run so high sweat pours off everyone's clothes and mass transit riders carry guns in their handbags. (As if the movie wasn't dated enough, you also get Morton Downey, Jr. as an obnoxious TV talk show host).

Into this searing-hot urban cityscape walks the Predator (the late Kevin Peter Hall), who quickly decides it's time to knock off the film's assembly line supporting characters: Glover's fellow cops Ruben Blades, Maria Conchita Alonso (the requisite female role) and Bill Paxton (still trying to find his way post-"Aliens"), along with government heavy Gary Busey (second-billed!) and department head Robert Davi.

“Predator 2" was directed competently enough by Stephen Hopkins ("24," "The Ghost and the Darkness"), but the whole enterprise plays like the second or third back-up plan for a sequel in the event that Schwarzenegger and McTiernan wanted nothing to do with it. The flat dialogue, thin characterizations, and messy story line of Jim and John Thomas' script played havoc with their intriguing original concept of an extraterrestrial hunting down the human race while on a vacation trip to Earth. The movie's second half - - a prolonged chase sequence between Glover and the Predator -- is more coherent than the first, and the final battle is well-executed enough so that comparisons don't need to be made between “Predator 2" and all-time horrid sequels like "Beyond the Poseidon Adventure." Nevertheless, this commercially disappointing follow-up -- released appropriately at Thanksgiving -- was still unappetizing enough to nix any future installments in Fox's would-be franchise (at least until Robert Rodriguez’s recent announcement that he’s in charge of overseeing its resurrection).

Fox’s Blu-Ray disc boasts a fine AVC encoded transfer and DTS Master Audio soundtrack and all the extras from its prior 2-disc DVD edition: numerous Making Of featurettes, two commentaries from the Thomases and Stephen Hopkins, a promotional gallery and TV spots.

THE SIEGE Blu-Ray (**½, 116 mins., 1998, R; Fox): Blu-Ray package of the fairly forgettable 1998 Edward Zwick drama about a series of bombings in NYC and the subsequent response from the various authorities in charge (Denzel Washington as an FBI agent, Annette Bening as a CIA operative, Bruce Willis as an army colonel) is noteworthy mainly for its pre-9/11 premise about a Big Apple besieged by terrorism. The Lawrence Wright-Menno Meyjes-Edward Zwick script is pretentious and talky, and while the performances are first-rate, this slow-moving film (which had been bumped around the 1998 release schedule and re-titled several times) likely wouldn’t be given a second glance these days if it weren’t for its recent topicality. Fox’s Blu-Ray edition looks and sounds like a holdover from its first generation format releases: the 25gb single-layer disc is devoid completely of supplements, offering just a standard MPEG-2 transfer and DTS Master Audio sound.

THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK Blu-Ray (***½, 179 mins., 1959; Fox): George Stevens’ memorable filming of the Frances Goodrich-Albert Hackett play arrives on Blu-Ray in a superlative Special Edition package loaded with extras: commentary with George Stevens Jr. and star Millie Perkins; behind-the-scenes and historical extras that address the picture’s production; Perkins’ screen test; Fox Movietone clips; trailers, an interactive pressbook, a segment on Alfred Newman’s score, and excerpts from the excellent “George Stevens: A Filmmaker’s Journey” documentary.V
isually the AVC encoded transfer is a mixed bag, ranging from excessively grainy and soft to occasionally excellent (though at least it's not hampered by an abundance of noise reduction), enhanced by DTS Master and 4.0 Dolby Digital audio tracks as well. Highly recommended!

HOME Blu-Ray (118 mins., 2008; Fox): French documentary from aerial photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand offers spellbinding cinematography that looks spectacular in Fox’s AVC-encoded Blu-Ray transfer, and unlike other dry documentaries, proves its point about climate change by offering ample visual evidence. Glenn Close narrated the U.S. version of “Home,” which Fox has done a fine job transferring in HD. Recommended.

TV on DVD & Blu-Ray

LOST Season 1 Blu-Ray (2004-05, 22 episodes, Buena Vista Home Entertainment)
LOST Season 2 Blu-Ray (2005-06, 24 episodes, Buena Vista Home Entertainment): Producer J.J. Abrams’ mix of character-drama, sci-fi fantasy, and “Survivor”-esque adventure show -- about a group of plane crash survivors stranded on a beautiful but mysterious island -- helped revitalize the one-hour network drama in 2004, making its mark as one of the more challenging and unique network series of all-time.

Superb performances by an ensemble cast led by Matthew Fox and the beguiling Evangeline Lilly complemented storytelling that was fresh and different: each episode would show the survivors trying to uncover where they were and possibly why they were there, while flashing back to the pre-flight life of one specific individual. More than just establishing each character’s identity, though, the flashbacks also give clues about the puzzling situation the survivors find themselves in...and that island (the hatch? The Frenchwoman? The distress signal?) is the creepiest place of its kind seen since Michael Caine ran afoul of David Warner in 1980's “The Island.”

Intelligently written and cinematically presented, “Lost” is grand entertainment that's satisfying on many levels. The show never plays its all of its cards at once, making for compelling viewing with a central plot that sustains interest throughout -- especially on video, where the occasional clunker of an episode is quickly compensated by another, better installment that’s just a few clicks away.

If you’re new to “Lost” or a long-time fan who wants to get caught up again in the show’s origins, this is a perfect time to do so since Buena Vista has brought Season 1 and 2 of “Lost” to Blu-Ray for the first time this month in gorgeous HD presentations. With exquisite Hawaiian locales and production values that rival feature films (if not surpass them), “Lost” makes for splendid high-def eye candy and the show’s visuals are enhanced immeasurably by their Blu-Ray presentation, offering AVC encoded transfers and terrific DTS Master Audio soundtracks.

Both sets are packed with outstanding extras culled from their respective DVD box-sets. From commentary tracks to countless behind-the-scenes featurettes and audition tapes of cast members, there’s something on here for everyone: deleted scenes, bloopers, some outtake footage (and two unaired flashbacks) round out a robust supplemental assortment. Highly recommended!

24: Season 7 DVD (1050 mins., 2008-09; Fox): After an extended stay on hiatus because of the writer’s strike, Jack Bauer returned to form -- at least to a degree -- in the seventh season of “24,” Fox’s long-running series about a covert government agent who will do more than just waterboard terrorists and anyone else standing in the way of justice.

After two tepid seasons with increasingly cliched and recycled story lines, “24" got off to a strong start in season seven, ditching numerous elements that had become completely worn-out in the process. Gone were CTU and the west coast setting in general, in were Washington, D.C. and a new, not nearly as dark visual scheme, a slew of fresh supporting characters (most effective is Annie Wersching’s FBI agent Renee Walker), a female President (Cherry Jones), a scenery-chewing villain (Jon Voight as “Jonas Hodges”) and a storyline involving a new rash of terrorist attacks that may be hatched partially by Jack’s old pal Tony Almeida (Carlos Bernard), back from the dead and with an agenda that seems to shift from show to show.

Old stalwarts Mary Lynn Rajskub (Chloe) and James Morrison (Bill Buchanan) also appear in a season that starts off on the right foot, stalls out midway through as it falls back on tired plot devices (such as, yawn, another White House inner-circle conspiracy!), and then recovers enough at the end so that you’re left feeling that there’s life in the old show yet.

Fox’s seventh-season box-set of “24" includes commentary on selected episodes, deleted scenes, a section on Sean Callery’s music, a Making Of featurette, strong 16:9 (1.78) transfers and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks.

THE SECRET LIFE OF THE AMERICAN TEENAGER: Season 2 DVD (516 mins., 2009; Buena Vista): Some folks who watch this so-bad-it’s-terrific ABC Family series, currently one of cable’s highest rated original shows, may never admit to being viewers of “The Secret Life of the American Teenager,” but I confess it makes for splendid guilty pleasure entertainment -- when it’s being good or, more frequently, outrageously bad.

“Seventh Heaven” creator Brenda Hampton’s show wants to be as wholesome as her past works but “edgier” at the same time, examining the lives of a group of high schoolers -- led by pregnant “good girl” Amy (Shailene Woodley) -- their interactions with each other, dating and sex, as well as their parents (including Molly Ringwald as Amy’s mom), who are often as clueless as their kids. Season 2 focuses further on Amy’s pregnancy and relationship with her boyfriend, while bad girl Adrienne (the attractive Francia Raisa) tries to think about dating instead of simply having intercourse. Yes, it sounds horrible, but “Secret Life” is like a G-rated (or PG-rated) “American Pie” with “Afterschool Special” overtones, making for a series that’s quite watchable for teen movie aficionados and those who just like watching shows that are so out there it’s hard to look away from them.

Buena Vista’s Season 2 DVD package, being issued to coincide with the series’ Season 3 premiere next week, offers excellent 16:9 (1.78) transfers, 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks, a music video and relatively minor featurettes.

CANNON Season 2, Vol. 1 DVD (11 hrs., 1972; CBS/Paramount): William Conrad is back as the larger-than-life detective in this compilation of the first 12 episodes from “Cannon”’s second season. The big guy takes on more blackmailers, murderers, and assorted criminal scum in Season 2, with the episodes “Bad Cats and Sudden Death,” “Sky Above, Death Below,” “Bitter Legion,” “That Was No Lady,” “Stakeout,” “The Predators,” “A Long Way Down,” “The Ripoff,” “Child of Fear,” “Shadow Man,” “Hear No Evil” and “Endangered Species” all being represented. Episodic promos are on tap for each show, with restored full-screen transfers and mono soundtracks also on-hand.

PERRY MASON Season 4, Vol. 1 DVD (14 hrs., 1960-61; CBS/Paramount): More courtroom action for Raymond Burr, Barbara Hale, William Hopper and the gang is on-tap in this fourth season of the Erle Stanley Gardner small-screen adaptation, which ran on CBS for nearly a decade from the late ‘50s through the mid ‘60s (before being resurrected as an equally long-running series of NBC TV movies in the mid ‘80s). CBS’ Season 4, Vol. 1 set offers the first 16 episodes of “Perry Mason”’s fourth season, including “The Case of the Treacherous Toupee,” “The Case of the Credulous Quarry,” “ The Case of the Ill-Fated Faker,” “The Case of the Singular Double,” “The Case of the Lavender Lipstick,” “The Case of the Wandering Widow,” “The Case of the Clumsy Clown,” “The Case of the Provocative Protégé,” “The Case of the Nine Dolls,” “The Case of the Loquacious Liar,” “The Case of the Red Riding Boots,” “The Case of the Larcenous Lady,” “The Case of the Envious Editor,” “The Case of the Resolute Reformer,” “The Case of the Fickle Fortune,” and “The Case of the Waylaid Wolf.” The full-screen black-and-white transfers and mono soundtracks are perfectly acceptable across the board.

THE CLEANER Season 1 DVD (aprx. 10 hours, 2008; CBS/Paramount): In this fairly well-received A&E series, Benjamin Bratt plays William Banks, an interventionist who strikes a deal with the man upstairs to help addicts from their alcohol and drug dependence. Bratt is terrific in this somewhat unusual and melodramatic series, which co-stars the lovely Grace Park (from “Battlestar Galactica”) and begins its second season on A&E next week. CBS’ box-set of “The Cleaner”’s first season includes 16:9 transfers, 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks and numerous extras including select episode commentaries, deleted scenes, featurettes, an international promo and cast and crew interviews.

JONAS BROTHERS: 3-D CONCERT EXPERIENCE Extended Edition Blu-Ray (89 mins., 2009, G; Disney)
PRINCESS PROTECTION PROGRAM DVD (89 mins., 2009; Disney): If you have young preteens in your household you're likely to hear about these two upcoming Disney releases.

Fresh off the success of the "Hannah Montana" concert movie Disney released the "Jonas Brothers: 3-D Concert Experience" to theaters earlier this year, featuring popular siblings Kevin, Joe and Nick crooning their latest pop hits -- and in 3-D, no less! While the Miley Cyrus concert raked in a healthy dose of cash (over $60 million domestic), the Jonases didn't quite match her efforts at the box-office, taking in just shy of $20 million -- still perfectly respectable for a concert film in this day and age.

Disney's Blu-Ray edition of the Jonas Brothers concert offers an exclusive 3-D version of the feature with four pairs of glasses, along with a 2-D version and four songs that weren't included in the theatrical release; a standard DVD edition; and a digital copy for portable media players. There are also two more, additional songs and one behind-the-scenes featurette, plus a perfect AVC-encoded HD transfer and DTS Master Audio sound.

One of the Jonases' guest stars, resident Disney teen actress/singer Demi Lovato, co-stars in a brand-new Disney Channel movie PRINCESS PROTECTION PROGRAM, which debuts on the Disney Channel on June 26th, with a DVD release to follow on the 30th.

This wacky comedy offers Lovato and fellow Disney staple Selena Gomez in a tale of a pampered princess (Lovato) who has to pass for a regular teen with the help of her cousin (Gomez) that ought to delight its intended teen audience, as it mixes up aspects of "The Princess Diaries" with a bit of "The Parent Tap." Older viewers aren't likely to be entertained as much as younger viewers, who won't notice the similarities between this project and its superior predecessors. Disney's DVD includes a 16:9 (1.78) transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, an extended version of the movie itself, plus a music video with Gomez and Lovato, a behind-the-scenes segment with the two stars, and a look at a real-life princess whose royal responsibilities are just a bit different those portrayed in the film.

New From Acorn Media

Several new DVD releases comprise Acorn Media’s line-up for the month of June.

APOLLO 11: A NIGHT TO REMEMBER offers a cavalcade of BBC archival footage following the first moon landing, from the preflight breakfast in July of ‘69 to Apollo 11's eventual splashdown in the Pacific. Priceless live footage is supplemented by amusing sequences of the BBC’s James Burke providing an explanation of the mission's technology to laymen. A must for history buffs as we approach the 40th Anniversary of the mission next month, with Acorn’s DVD offering two full hours of content plus a bonus 17-minute episode from “The Sky at Night” and biography of astronomer Sir Patrick Moore, who covered the events with veteran BBC reporters.

Anton Rodgers starred as fastidious Inspector Purbright in MURDER MOST ENGLISH: A FLAXBOROUGH CHRONICLE, a seven-episode 1977 BBC series adapted from a series of novels by Colin Watson. Acorn’s DVD box-set preserves the series’ complete run in 4:3 full-screen transfers culled from the best surviving elements (its videotaped portions appearing quite dated, as one might anticipate).

Meanwhile, the recent Canadian TV series MURDOCH MYSTERIES also hits DVD this month from Acorn. This intriguing import, set in Toronto during the 1890s and based on a series of novels by Maureen Jennings, follows a detective who tries to adopt “modern” techniques like finger marks and forensics to track down killers in this amusing series which is scheduled to be broadcast on various PBS stations beginning later this summer. Acorn’s DVD includes fine 16:9 widescreen transfers, stereo soundtracks and numerous extras, including commentaries, interviews, cast and character bios, and a photo gallery.

Last but not least from Acorn this month is the complete Series 1 of THE INVISIBLES, a recent BBC series with Anthony Head (best known on these shores as Giles from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”), Warren Clarke and Dean Lennox Kelly as a trio of thieves who opt to pick up where they left off 20 years prior in this well-received, playful British import. Acorn’s DVD includes all six episodes of "Series 1" in satisfying 16:9 transfers with stereo sound.

Quick Takes

HE’S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU DVD (**½, 129 mins., 2009, PG-13; New Line/Warner): Watchable ensemble romantic comedy follows a group of twenty-and-thirtysomethings, their relationships and interactions with each other, in a decent date flick from director Ken Kwapis.

Ben Affleck, Jennifer Aniston, Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Connelly, Bradley Cooper, Ginnifer Goodwin, Scarlett Johansson and Justin Long topline this adaptation of Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccilo’s book, which was distilled into an episodic framework by screenwriters Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein. As such, some portions of the movie work better than others (the phoney “woman on the street” interviews quickly wear out their welcome), and yet the quality production, from John Bailey’s widescreen cinematography to Cliff Eidelman’s score, and the cast itself, shines enough that the movie works for romantics and folks just searching for an alternative from typical action fare.

Warner’s DVD includes both a 16:9 (2.35) widescreen transfer and a full-screen version on the same disc, with extras including deleted scenes with commentary from Kwapis.

UNE FEMME MARIEE [A MARRIED WOMAN] DVD (95 mins., 1964; Koch Lorber): One of Jean-Luc Godard’s rarely-screened works arrives on DVD this month from Koch Lorber. This 1964 film received international raves upon its release in the mid ‘60s, especially at the Venice Film Festival, which asked Godard for a new work -- which the filmmaker shot, edited and brought to the festival in the span of one month! Koch Lorber’s DVD is presented in its original full-screen aspect ratio and mono sound, and in French with English subtitles.

WEEDS: Season 4 Blu-Ray (362 mins., 2008; Lionsgate): The wacky tale of a suburban mom who deals pot and (this time) gets involved with a Mexican drug cartel, “Weeds” gets a bit more somber in its fourth season, though fans generally seemed to like the changes. Lionsgate’s fourth-season Blu-Ray of this Mary-Louise Parker series ups the ante from its standard DVD edition by offering great-looking AVC encoded 1080p transfers and DTS Master Audio soundtracks, plus copious extras including cast commentaries, a gag reel, assorted featurettes and more.

REAPER: Season 2 DVD (585 mins., 2009; Lionsgate): More shenanigans are in-store for Sam, Sock and the gang in this second (and final) season of the critically lauded but only little-seen CW series. Lionsgate’s DVD box-set of “Reaper”’s sophomore year includes 16:9 (1.78) transfers, 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks, a gag reel, deleted scenes, and a “look back” at the making of the show.

DOUGH BOYS DVD (93 mins., 2009, Not Rated; Paramount): Wood Harris, Sticky Fingaz, Reagan Gomez-Preston and Arlen Escarpeta star in this urban thriller about four friends trying to make it in the inner-city. This indie film from writer-producer Peston Whitmore (“This Christmas”) is presented on DVD in a widescreen transfer from Paramount with 2.0 Dolby Digital stereo sound.

WHITE SOX MEMORIES DVD (130 mins., 2009; Shout!): Chicago fans of the American League ought to love this fine compilation from MLB and Shout! Factory, following the White Sox from their origins through their 2005 World Series. In addition to an entertaining overview of the team’s exploits throughout the years, the DVD also includes 9th inning footage of their various no-hitters, post-season clinchers and other goodies highly recommended for all White Sox fans.

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