6/6/06 Edition

An Aisle Seat June Marathon!
Plus: New Criterions, MUNICH, THE PINK PANTHER and More!

Fox’s Cinema Classics Collection debuts two more top-notch Special Editions this week, along with the first, long-overdue box-set of the studio’s Charlie Chan mysteries.

Whether you’re part of the cult that worships VALLEY OF THE DOLLS (**½, 1967, 123 mins., PG-13) as one of the all-time Bad Movie Classics, there’s little doubt that Fox’s 2-disc Special Edition of this 1967 release (a box-office smash despite putrid reviews) is chock-full of often hilarious supplements that only add to the movie’s enduring value as a camp perennial.

This glossy adaptation of Jacqueline Susann’s bestseller was directed with a straight face by Mark Robson, following the trials and tribulations of several aspiring starlets (Sharon Tate, Patty Duke and a new-to-the-scene Barbara Parkins) as they fight the perils of Hollywood, relationships, and drug addiction.

The Helen Deutsch-Dorothy Kingsley script boggles the mind with uproarious dialogue, which skirted the boundaries of the rating system at the time with its scandalous mention of substance abuse and tawdry sexual affairs, not to mention fading old dames who refuse to get out of the spotlight (a part played by Susan Hayward after Judy Garland vacated the role following several days of filming). Today “Valley of the Dolls” only has enough adult content to warrant a PG-13 rating, but this was heavy stuff for its day, and the performances of the stars -- from Duke’s bonkers performance as Nelly O’Hara and the bland, awful male leads (Tony Scotti? Martin Milner? Charles Drake?) -- often go to extreme lengths to make the drama believable.

It’s a weird, strange fusion of “old” Hollywood (the Andre and Dory Previn musical numbers; the lush widescreen cinemtography) with the increasingly more explicit adult content that would come to permeate films in the late ‘60s, capped off by unintentionally hilarious work from most of its leads.

Fox’s release of “Valley of the Dolls” marks its U.S. debut on DVD, some time after its digital premiere in various international territories. The wait, though, was worth it as the movie has been issued as part of the studio’s “Cinema Classics Collection” with a new transfer and ample, exclusive supplements that only enhance the viewing experience.

Top of the list is a terrific audio commentary with Barbara Parkins and E! TV’s Ted Casablanca, who share a candid and often hilarious conversation, touching upon the bad performances and general disinterest of Robson, whom Parkins says was only interested in his camera set-ups and lighting...leaving the door open for Duke among others to chew up the scenery with performances several decibels above and beyond what they should have been.

It’s a delicious talk complimented by a new documentary, “Gotta Get Off This Merry-Go-Round,” that offers interviews with Parkins, Casablanca, and numerous writers and devotees who touch upon the movie’s lasting legacy among B (as in “bad”) movie aficionados and the gay community in particular.

The second disc offers an AMC Hollywood Backstories episode from 2001, which chronicles the film’s production in a more straightforward manner and sports the participation of Patty Duke, who otherwise doesn’t appear in the supplements. Additional featurettes include a hysterical 10-minute vintage promo on the film’s international premiere hosted by Army Archerd and Bill Burrud; screen tests including Parkins in the Nelly O’Hara role (they ultimately switched the casting since Parkins already played a “bad girl” in “Peyton Place”); still galleries; karaoke; a look at Jacqueline Susann; and even the entire soundtrack album, which again omits Dionne Warwick’s classic performance of the movie’s title song.

Speaking of which, John Williams’ musical underscoring is tremendous in “Valley of the Dolls,” and no more so than in Warwick’s vocal, which ranks as one of the movie’s few positive artistic attributes. The fondly-remembered theme is still a gem and is only enhanced by Williams’ lyrical, almost magical arrangement, which perfectly underscores the wintry sequences of rural Connecticut at the movie’s beginning (and for some may rank as one of the film’s highlights).

Fox’s new 16:9 transfer is gorgeous, the 2.0 stereo and mono soundtracks are likewise engaging, and lobby cards round out a package that’s a must-have for fans of the movie or late ‘60s cinema in general.

Parkins was under contract to reprise her role in a sequel to “Valley of the Dolls,” but Fox decided to go the budget-conscious route by hiring sleaze merchant Russ Meyer to direct the in-name-only follow-up BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS (**½, 1970, 109 mins., NC-17; Fox).

Scripted by Roger Ebert, directed by Meyer, and scored by Stu Phillips, “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” is a ribald, wild spoof of not just the original movie but melodramas in general, following a trio of young ladies dreaming of making the big-time as a musical group but encountering all sorts of drugs and androgynous leading men along the way.

“Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” was sold, and accepted, as a lark, and the movie today is a no-holds-barred blast of its era’s social, musical, and political mores, with ample doses of sex, nudity, and dated songs that embody its period.

Like a veritable time capsule, “Beyond the Valley” is great fun, especially now that Fox has given this cult fave the Special Edition treatment in another 2-disc “Cinema Classics” package. Commentary by Ebert describes the consistently amusing process of making the film (the critic left his post at the Chicago Sun-Times to write the movie in L.A. with Meyer), while another commentary with cast members Dolly Read, Cynthia Myers, Harrison Page, John La Zar (who also hysterically introduces the film) and Erica Gavin offers ample recollections about the movie’s production.

Second-disc extras include a half-hour Making Of documentary; a look at the soundtrack with comments from Stu Phillips; screen tests; additional featurettes; and a dynamic 16:9 transfer with 2.0 stereo and mono soundtracks.

Not to be outdone in the camp department, Paramount has issued a new, “Hollywood Royalty Edition” of their 1981 cult classic MOMMIE DEAREST (**½, 1981, 128 mins., PG; Paramount) this week.

One of the quintessential camp titles of all-time previously found its way to DVD in a bare-bones 2001 effort from Paramount. The new disc is highlighted by commentary from filmmaker John Waters, who discusses his appreciation for Frank Perry’s bio-pic of Joan Crawford, with Faye Dunaway’s portrayal of the actresses’ terrifying descent into alcoholism and abuse of her adopted child Christina making for uneasy viewing at times. Certainly the movie is well-shot, capably scored by Henry Mancini, and compulsively watchable for its portrayal of the era, its stars, and the studio system that was to blame for many problems of the people who worked in it.

Hollywood voyeurs and fans of so-bad-it's-good cinema will savor Dunaway's melodramatic plunge from start to end, and Paramount’s new DVD clearly is geared towards that audience. In addition to Waters’ commentary, the new disc includes three fresh featurettes, touching upon the production of the movie (featuring interviews with producer Frank Yablans, Diana Scarwid and others) and its cult following with Waters and even Crawford impersonator Linsynka interviewed.

Technically the disc seems to contain the same a/v presentation as its predecessor. The 16:9 transfer is a bit on the grainy side but is generally acceptable, while the 5.1 Dolby Digital remixed sound is better than anticipated. The trailer ("Joan Crawford: the most dramatic role of her life WAS her life!") is included along with a brief photo gallery.

Going back to Fox, the studio reportedly spent much time restoring their classic Charlie Chan mysteries from the ‘30s, only to keep them on the shelf (and off the Fox Movie Channel airwaves) due to concerns over political correctness.

The good news is that whatever reservations Fox had, they’ve been erased since the studio is geared to release a dynamic, four-disc CHARLIE CHAN VOL. 1 Anthology (Fox) on June 20th that will be an essential purchase for fans.

Sporting the 1934 “Charlie Chan in London,” and “Charlie Chan In Paris,” “Charlie Chan In Egypt,” and “Charlie Chan In Shanghai” all from 1935, this anthology finally preserves some of the finest Chan efforts to originate from the studio and star Warner Oland, all of which look as healthy as can be expected here due to their age.

The respective mysteries, performances, and production values are all superb for what they are -- studio-produced ‘30s mysteries -- and Fox should be commended not just for finally releasing the set but also including three new retrospective featurettes (totaling nearly an hour) and even the little-seen, Spanish language Chan effort “Eran Trece” from 1931. “Trece” is the only surviving version of the first 1931 Chan mystery (“Charlie Chan Carries On”), and its inclusion here ought to be a godsend for Chan fans.

Splendidly packaged with each film contained in its own separate case, this first volume marks the start of goodies for old-time mystery aficionados -- not just for Chan buffs but for Peter Lorre’s Mr. Moto as well, with a first volume from that long-running series due out in August.

A happy day, indeed, for fans of Golden Age Hollywood and these rarely-screened studio gems.

New Releases on DVD

MUNICH (***, 2005). 164 mins., R, Universal. DVD FEATURES: 2.35 (16:9) Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

Steven Spielberg’s examination of the Israeli response to the horrifying executions of 11 of their country’s Olympic athletes at the 1972 Munich games makes for a gripping, though somewhat dramatically unsatisfying, tale.

How factual the Tony Kushner-Eric Roth script is has been the topic of much controversy (the movie is adapted from George Jonas’ 1984 book “Vengeance”), with many pundits coming down hard on the movie during its release last winter.

The controversy aside, “Munich” stars Eric Bana as the leader of a top-secret squad sent to take out targets whom he’s been told were responsible for the deaths of the athletes. With little debate over the authenticity of his information, Bana and his cohorts (including the new 007, Daniel Craig) travel from one venue to another around the globe, finishing off their assignments and then adding the next name on the list...but Bana’s life slowly begins to degrade as the months pass, leaving him with an empty soul that makes him nearly as much of a corpse as the men and women he’s targeted for assassination.

“Munich” has many taut, exciting sequences that keep you on the edge of your seat, with Spielberg capturing the story in a pseudo-documentary fashion. There are times when Janusz Kaminski’s overly showy cinematography again calls attention to itself, but John Williams’ haunting, subtle score works superbly, adding immensely to the drama.

As Spielberg states in the disc’s disclaimer, his “Munich” wasn’t intended to be a criticism of the Israeli response to the killings, but rather a look at the mechanics of assassination and the cost associated with that response -- whether it is warranted or not. Even if the film turns out to be mostly fictional, those questions are thought-provoking and make for an interesting drama that only becomes repetitious in its second half, with a somewhat weak conclusion (Bana having sex with his wife -- while “flashing back” to the executions of the Israeli athletes that Scott Bettencourt wryly mentioned he wasn’t even present for -- is nothing short of bizarre).

Universal’s DVD offers a strong 16:9 transfer and vibrant 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack. The single-disc release only includes a Spielberg’s introduction and a no-frills presentation of the movie (a Special Edition release is available separately but was not screened for review).

MR. AND MRS. SMITH: Unrated Edition (**½, 125 mins., Fox): Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s star power fuels this so-so action romp from director Doug Liman (“Bourne Identity,” “Swingers”), which grossed over $170 million and turned into one of last year’s few bona-fide box-office hits.

Pitt and Jolie play a married couple unaware that their spouse is actually a professional assassin, hired to take out a hit on a target (Adam Brody) both are pursuing independently. Simon Kinberg’s script unfolds leisurely, allowing for the palpable chemistry between Jolie and Pitt to take center stage. Meanwhile, Vince Vaughn pops up in an unbilled role as Pitt’s co-worker, and John Powell’s score punches up the action.

Still, “True Lies” this isn’t, with the movie’s story being too simplistic and straightforward to offer much amusement outside of its lead performances, and a tendency to meander particularly in its final third.

Fox’s new, 2-disc “Unrated Edition” of the film improves substantially on the previous DVD (which did, however, offer a commentary with Liman, Kinberg and others that’s not included in this release). Liman provides a new commentary to compliment his Director’s Cut of the movie, which runs some five minutes longer than the theatrical version (mostly inconsequential footage, as is often the case with these “Extended” editions lately), plus nearly a dozen additional deleted scenes (with an alternate ending), documentaries and numerous featurettes. The 16:9 transfer and 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital soundtracks are all excellent.

Worth an upgrade for aficionados of the film or Brangelina fans everywhere; a rental only for everyone else.

KISS KISS BANG BANG (***, 2005). 103 mins., R, Warner, available June 13. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Commentary; Gag Reel; Trailer; 16:9 (2.35) Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

Free-wheeling, highly entertaining effort from writer-director Shane Black deserved a better fate at the box-office (and more respectful treatment from its distributor, too).

Robert Downey, Jr. plays a petty thief who improbably stumbles into the Hollywood scene and becomes the new rising star of an upcoming thriller. In order to prepare for his role as a detective, Downey teams up with Hollywood P.I. Val Kilmer, and the duo promptly get involved with a kidnapping plot and one of Harry’s own, small-town flames (Michelle Monaghan), who may be more closely involved in the plot than she realizes.

Splendidly filmed and performed, “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” is a blast of entertainment with hilarious, mocking narration from Downey that often pokes fun at the conventions of film noir. The chemistry between Downey and Kilmer is strong and the film irresistibly appealing, which makes it a shame Warner’s DVD will mark the first real opportunity most viewers will have had to check out the picture.

The 16:9 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks are both exceptional, while extras include an amusing commentary with Downey, Kilmer and Black, plus the original trailer and a gag reel. Recommended!

Criterion Corner

A pair of contrasting films about adolescence are new to the Criterion Collection this month.

Richard Linklater’s terrific DAZED AND CONFUSED (***, 1993, 102 mins., R) compares favorably with George Lucas’ “American Graffiti” as a perfect, cultural snapshot of a specific time and place.

Just as Lucas’ 1973 film captured the early ‘60s, Linklater’s movie does the same for the spring of ‘76, showing a generation about to head out on their own in an era dominated by bad hairstyles, atrocious fashions, and some seriously good rock ‘n roll. Frequently hilarious and filled with insights into growing up that aren’t just exclusive to its decade, “Dazed and Confused” boasts a plethora of future stars in leading roles (Ben Affleck, Matthew McConaughey, Parker Posey among others), a great soundtrack, and a perfect mix of laughs and heartache that have made it not just a cult classic but a defining film for the era it depicts.

Criterion’s new double-disc DVD edition of “Dazed and Confused” is highlighted by new commentary from Linklater plus a fresh 50-minute documentary, “Making Dazed,” from filmmaker Kahane Corn. This is one of those rare disc documentaries that’s every bit as superlative as the film it chronicles, and Criterion’s other supplements are likewise as enlightening: numerous deleted scenes, rare on-set interviews and behind-the-scenes footage, auditions and a spectacular booklet with essays and even Linklater’s personal letters to the cast make for a DVD package as good as any I’ve reviewed this year (oh, and the 16:9 and 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital soundtracks are both exceptional, too!).

A NOS AMOURS (1983, 99 mins., R), meanwhile, offers one of French filmmaker Maurice Pialat’s most acclaimed films, with the gorgeous Sandrine Bonnaire starring as a promiscuous 15-year-old who attempts to rebel against her dominating father (Pialat himself) and a brother who beats and humiliates her.

I haven’t seen other works by Pialat but many critics compare the late filmmaker’s output with the work of John Cassavetes, and “A Nos Amours” is a perfect example of that comparison: the naturalistic performances and raw emotion stirred up by this 1983 film are substantial, and fans of French cinema (and Cassavetes, for that matter) ought to find the picture powerful, even in its own, quiet way.

Criterion’s two-disc set includes a new 1.66 widescreen transfer with English subtitles; a 1999 documentary on the making of the film called “The Human Eye”; an archival interview with Pialat; a 2003 interview with Bonnaire; fresh interviews with filmmakers Catherine Breillat and Jean-Pierre Gorin; auditions; and a booklet filled with essays and interviews from Molly Haskell among others.

Fox June Round Up

BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID: Ultimate Collector’s Edition (***, 1969, 110 mins., PG; Fox): Director George Roy Hill’s celebrated 1969 “revisionist” western has always felt slightly over-rated in my eyes and overly reliant on the chemistry between stars Robert Redford and Paul Newman, despite its four Oscar wins (for William Goldman’s script, Conrad Hall’s cinematography, and the one-two punch of Burt Bacharach’s score and the classic song “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head”). Nevertheless, Fox’s new two-disc Ultimate Edition represents a must-have for Butch & Sundance fans, as it’s jammed with plenty of supplements, including the previous commentary track with Hill, Hall, Hal David and Robert Crawford Jr.; a new commentary with William Goldman; no less than three featurettes (including the previous “Making Of” documentary), plus the addition of an excellent History Channel “History Through The Lens” documentary; the 1994 laserdisc interviews with Newman, Redford, Goldman, Bacharach and co-star Katharine Ross; trailers, one deleted scene, production notes, a good-looking 16:9 (2.35) transfer and 2.0 stereo and mono sound. Regardless of how you feel about the movie, this is yet another fantastic vintage release from Fox!

HOUSE OF STRANGERS (1941, 82 mins., Fox)
I WAKE UP SCREAMING (1949, 100 mins., Fox): The latest entries in the studio’s line of Film Noir classics is highlighted by Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s well-regarded 1941 thriller “House of Strangers,” with Edward G. Robinson, Susan Hayward and Richard Conte, complimented here on disc by a Foster Hirsch commentary and numerous still galleries, a fresh full-screen B&W transfer and 2.0 stereo and mono soundtracks (with a score by Daniele Amfitheatrof of “Major Dundee” infamy). Also new to the Fox Film Noir series is the 1949 Betty Grable-Victor Mature-Carole Landis effort “I Wake Up Screaming,” with commentary from historian Eddie Muller, a deleted scene, numerous still galleries, a full-screen B&W transfer, and 2.0 stereo and mono soundtracks (well representing Cyril J. Mockridge’s score), plus the original trailer.

GRANDMA’S BOY (**½, 2006, 94 mins., Not Rated; Fox): Entertaining low-budget comedy about a 36-year-old video game designer (Allen Covert) who enjoys smoking pot in his recreational time, and has to move in with his grandmother (Doris Roberts) and her roommates (Shirley Jones and Shirley Knight) after being tossed out by his landlord. This Adam Sandler-produced comedy boasts cameos by many Happy Madison alumni (Kevin Nealon, Rob Schneider, David Spade) but hits the comedic bullseye more times than most of Sandler’s own recent vehicles, with Covert and his co-star/co-writer Nick Swardson straddling the line between lowest-common denominator laughs and cleverly absurd touches throughout. Somehow it all works, though the ending is unfortunately on the weak and abrupt side. Fox’s Unrated DVD brings home the goods with both unrated and theatrical versions; commentary from Covert, Swardson, and co-star Peter Dante; another commentary with director Nicholaus Goossen; deleted scenes; bloopers, outtakes, music videos, a Fox Movie Channel special and more. The 5.1 Dolby Digital sound is just right and so is the 16:9 enhanced (2.35) Widescreen transfer. Recommended if the idea of the movie sounds like it’s up your alley...all others proceed with caution.

MOTHER TERESA (115 mins., 2003, Not Rated; Fox): Italian TV movie examines the life of Mother Teresa in a respectfully told, if somewhat poorly-edited, presentation with Olivia Hussey in the lead role. Fox’s no-frills DVD does offer a superb 16:9 (1.78) transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound; viewers should note, however, that this is the 115-minute “theatrical cut,” as a three-hour version apparently played in Italy upon its initial 2003 showing.

END OF THE SPEAR (**, 111 mins., 2006, PG-13; Fox): Well-intentioned but clumsily-made independent film with a religious bent, based on a true story, about Christian missionaries who are killed trying to convert a warring Amazon tribe in 1956. Sweeping cinematography by Robert Driskell, Jr. and the central story line are the movie’s main selling points, but it’s melodramatically directed by Jim Hanon and scored with a heavy hand by Ronald Owen. Fox’s DVD offers both 16:9 (2.35) and full-screen transfers with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

DAMON WAYANS: STILL STANDING (57 mins., 2006, Not Rated; Fox, available June 27): HBO concert special with Damon Wayans ranting on topics both large (national security) and small (his kids). Amusing, solid concert for Wayans fans, presented in full-screen with 2.0 Dolby Surround stereo.

Also New on DVD

FIREWALL (**½, 2006, 105 mins., PG-13; Warner): Formulaic but well-executed thriller stars Harrison Ford (looking his age, sadly) as a bank IT supervisor with a loving wife (Virginia Madsen), picture-perfect kids, and a job that even finds him with Chloe Sullivan as his secretary (Mary Lynn Rajskub, essentially reprising her “24" role). Unfortunately, Ford is also the target of a plot hatched by Paul Bettany, using his position to steal millions from the Seattle bank where he works alongside Robert Forster and Alan Arkin. One-time “Enemy Mine” director Richard Loncraine brings an old-fashioned approach to this well-paced but predictable film (Ford’s teen daughter wants nothing to do with him -- a shocker there), working from a Joe Forte script that both star and director claim was being rewritten even up to the start of filming. Warner’s DVD offers a lively conversation between Ford and Loncraine, which in many ways is more entertaining than the movie, with the two sparring over not just “Firewall” but also the state of modern moviemaking itself. A brief featurette with Forte and the trailer round out the disc, while a superb 16:9 (2.35) transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack make for an excellent technical presentation, with another better-than-average thriller score by Alexandre Desplat.

THE PINK PANTHER (**, 2006, 93 mins., PG; Sony): Bombastic but occasionally amusing update of the Blake Edwards series works well enough for young viewers, with Steve Martin handling Peter Sellers’ Inspector Clouseau more effectively than you might have anticipated (unfortunately Kevin Kline’s underplayed Chief Inspector Dreyfus is a disappointment, without any of Herbert Lom’s mounting hysteria). The film’s caper plot -- involving the death of a French soccer coach, the theft of the infamous diamond, and a mysterious pop singer played by Beyonce -- is fun, but director Shawn Levy (who handled Martin’s terrible, albeit financially successful “Cheaper by the Dozen”) strives for bigger explosions and slapstick jokes -- punctuated by overly-cartoony music by Christophe Beck -- than anything Edwards attempted in his original films. The result is a loud, overbearing movie that overstays its welcome even at 93 minutes, though again, kids may warm to the film (and indeed they must have, to the tune of an $81 million domestic gross and a sequel in the works). Sony’s DVD offers up a nice package, with 11 deleted scenes, including an intriguing, unused CGI opening; Making Of featurettes; and commentary from director Levy. The 16:9 transfer is colorful and the 5.1 Dolby Digital sound boisterous, with plenty of explosions and an over-reliance on Henry Mancini’s classic theme, which pops up more during the course of the film proper than it did in any of the old movies Mancini actually scored!

FREEDOMLAND (*½, 2006, 113 mins., R; Sony): Someone should issue a restraining order prohibiting Joe Roth from the director’s chair. The former producer’s latest cinematic monstrosity is a “guess the ending from the trailer” affair with Julianne Moore as a panicked mother who believes her young son was taken from the back seat of her car in an urban neighborhood populated by African-Americans. Samuel L. Jackson does his best as the detective assigned to the case, but Moore’s performance runs off the rails, the dialogue in the Richard Price script (based on his novel) doesn’t ring true, and the film’s conclusion is as predictable as one could imagine. Unsurprisingly, this box-office flop and critically-reviled film sports no DVD extras at all, but merely 16:9 (2.40) and full-screen transfers with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, offering a decent dramatic score by James Newton Howard that belonged in a better film.

IF ONLY (**, 2004, 96 mins., PG-13; Sony): Before she began hearing whispers from the recently departed, Jennifer Love Hewitt starred in this gooey romantic-drama from director Gil Junger (“10 Things I Hate About You”), with Hewitt in love with young Londoner Paul Nicholls before tragedy strikes and Love is killed in an accident...but then mysteriously turns up alive in a “Groundhog Day” kind of time-shifting scenario that has Nicholls promptly re-assessing his priorities. Hewitt croons a few songs, the overcast British locales are atmospherically captured by Giles Nuttgens, and Adrian Johnston’s score mostly hits the right notes...but the Christina Welsh script is sappy to the Nth degree, with an ending that proves highly unsatisfying. Sony’s DVD only sports a full-screen transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

FAREWELL TO THE KING (***, 1989, 114 mins., PG-13; Sony): Under-rated 1989 John Milius WWII tale finally lands a DVD release in the U.S. Nick Nolte is superb as an American POW who improbably becomes the leader of a Borneo tribe and drops out of the conflict...only to reluctantly fight again once the British need assistance combating the Japanese. Superb cinematography by Dean Semler, an excellent score by Basil Poledouris and Milius’ patented direction make this Orion release a recommended one for action fans. Sony’s DVD offers a satisfying 16:9 (1.85) transfer with 2.0 Dolby Digital surround.

SARAH SILVERMAN: JESUS IS MAGIC (72 mins., 2005, 72 mins., Visual Entertainment): Sarah Silverman manages to be alternately crass, silly, hot, and hilarious in this uneven assemblage of set-pieces and concert footage -- the latter working better than the former. Silverman’s comedy by itself isn’t uproarious, but as with the best comics, it’s her timing and delivery that makes it work. Visual Entertainment’s DVD offers commentary and other tidbits for Silverman addicts.    

Buena Vista Round Up

DUMBO: Big Top Edition (***½, 1941, 64 mins., G; Disney:) One of the studio’s earliest animated classics is back on DVD in a new “Big Top Edition” that does sport a new digital transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, plus the commentary from the previous 2001 DVD. Otherwise, this latest edition seems to be primarily aimed at kids, with new features comprised of sing-along songs, Disney interactive games, an on-screen DVD storybook, and other extras best suited for the little ones. Worth an upgrade if you don’t own the older 60th Anniversary set.

GLORY ROAD (**½, 2006, 118 mins., PG; Disney): Well-meaning but rather standard issue sports movie -- the story of Texas Western’s 1966 NCAA championship run -- enables Jerry Bruckheimer and Disney to turn their “Remember The Titans” formula around by having a white coach (Josh Lucas) in charge of the nation’s first all-African American college basketball roster. Slickly-produced with the usual Bruckheimer production sheen, “Glory Road” is entertaining but ultimately fails to stand out from other, better films in its genre. Disney’s DVD includes a dynamic 16:9 transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound; a pair of commentaries featuring the writers, Bruckheimer and director James Gartner; featurettes including interviews with the real players and coach Don Haskins; and an Alicia Keys music video.

POWER RANGERS MYSTIC FORCE Vol. 1: Broken Spell (67 mins., 2005, Buena Vista): DVD compilation of four episodes (“Broken Spell” parts one and two, “Code Busters” and “History”) from the latest incarnation of the “Power Rangers” franchise in full-screen transfers and 2.0 Dolby Surround stereo.

Capsules In Brief

RUNNING SCARED (***, 2006, 122 mins., R, New Line): Wayne Kramer’s follow-up to his cool “Cooler” is an insane chronicle of a mafia newbie (Paul Walker) who botches his one assignment to dispose of a gun involved in a drug deal. Colorful characters, plenty of profanity, violence and sex dominate this off-the-wall -- but always watchable -- tale from writer-director Kramer, which New Line has released on DVD along with commentary from the director, a behind-the-scenes documentary and storyboards. The 16:9 (2.35) and 5.1 Dolby and 6.1 DTS soundtracks are bound to give your home theater set-up a full workout, while a limited edition mini-graphic novel adaptation is included in the DVD’s first pressing run. Recommended for those who can stomach its violence and a possible cult favorite down the road, too.

ONE LAST THING... (2005, 93 mins., R; Magnolia): Michael Angarano plays a terminally ill boy whose “Make a Wish” is spending the weekend with supermodel Sunny Mabrey. Cynthia Nixon plays Mom and the offbeat supporting cast includes Wyclef Jean and Gina Gershon in this made-for-HDTV (there’s a first!) TV movie, which Magnolia has released on DVD with a 1.78 widescreen transfer, 2.0 Dolby Digital sound, outtakes, deleted scenes, commentary by director Alex Steyermark, and an episode looking at the movie from HDNet’s “Higher Definition.”

THE BOOTH (2005, 74 mins., Not Rated; Tartan): Short Japanese horror effort with Ruta Sato as a talk show DJ who moves into a haunted studio while his station remodels. Reasonably well-produced but short on length and genuine scares, Tartan’s new DVD includes a pair of interview segments, the original trailer, 16:9 widescreen and both 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital sound. Perhaps worth a rental for Japanese horror aficionados, since “The Booth,” if nothing else, doesn’t overstay its welcome at only 74 minutes long.

NEXT TIME: A Box Set Cavalcade with John Ford & John Wayne classics, TV on DVD and More! Don't forget to drop in on the official Aisle Seat Message Boards, direct any emails to the link above and we'll catch you then. Cheers everyone!

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