7/12/11 Edition Twitter: THEAISLESEATCOM


Summer Sizzler Edition

July usually means the summer doldrums for home video, but several quality films from this past spring have managed to spruce up what’s typically a slow-going time for home viewers.

THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU (***, 106 mins., 2011, PG-13; Universal) performed moderately well at the box-office last March after suffering through a series of release-date delays. In hindsight it’s easy to see why Universal had trouble marketing the film: despite the presence of star Matt Damon and a premise that sounds like a sci-fi/action film, writer-producer-director George Nolfi’s sly adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story is much more of a fanciful romantic fantasy with the emphasis not on FX but rather the relationship between Damon and female lead Emily Blunt.

Damon plays an aspiring presidential candidate whose relationship with Blunt, whom he meets on a chance encounter in New York City, is continuously sabotaged not by lady luck but rather “The Adjustment Bureau”: a group of mysterious men who possess the ability to create twists and turns that impact the flow of life itself. The suits (including John Slattery, Anthony Mackie and Terence Stamp) try to tell Damon that his “master plan” doesn’t include a life with Blunt, and that any attempts to further their relationship will result in Damon’s memory being wiped clean. Naturally, Damon has a hard time breaking free of his feelings for Blunt, and decides that free will can and will overpower the supernatural/quasi-religious powers of the Bureau.

Stylishly made with beautifully rendered cinematography of NYC by “Braveheart”’s John Toll, “The Adjustment Bureau” is likely to disappoint those anticipating another “Bourne”-like action picture while enchanting viewers tired of the same old Hollywood formula chase picture. Nolfi eschews shaky-cam and recent movie conventions for a slick, old-fashioned feel, relying on the chemistry between the stars to carry the picture through. It’s not a great movie but rather a quite likeable one, with effects that are ingenious when called upon (including a climactic, multi-door “opening” through Big Apple landmarks) and genuine chemistry generated between the leads.

Universal’s Blu-Ray sports a nicely detailed 1080p transfer with DTS 5.1 MA audio boasting a typically atmospheric score from Thomas Newman. Extra features include deleted/extended scenes, Nolfi’s commentary, multiple featurettes, a DVD and digital copy as well.

Another sci-fi tale, SOURCE CODE (**½, 94 mins., 2011, PG-13), makes its way to Blu-Ray on July 28th from Summit.

This Canadian-lensed production posits a twisty, though mostly predictable, “Twilight Zone”-type of scenario involving Air Force colonel Jake Gyllenhaal, who tries to prevent a train disaster outside the confines of Chicago by remotely entering the body of one of its passengers: a teacher traveling with a female companion (Michelle Monaghan).

The good news for Gyllenhaal is that he’s able to scientifically attempt this as many times he needs to – the bad news is that he has only eight minutes to do it at a time, necessitating a series of “Groundhog Day”-like mishaps in order to find out where the bomb on the train is, which one of the passengers is responsible, and how he can manage to complete the mission while working with a shady scientist (Geoffrey Wright) with questionable motives. Along the way, he’s guided by a fellow military advisor (Vera Farmiga) who can only divulge the true nature of Gyllenhaal’s current physical situation one step at a time.

Ben Ripley’s premise is intriguing and director Duncan Jones keeps things moving, yet there’s just something about “Source Code” that prevented me from really embracing the film. Perhaps it’s because of the story’s structure that you just know Gyllenhaal is going to blow his early attempts at finding the bad guy, making the first half of the film feel longer than it actually is, and that there’s more to Gyllenhaal’s actual fate than the story lets on. When the latter revelations are explained, it’s not much of a surprise, while the picture even boasts a bit of heavy-handed Political Correctness (when Gyllenhaal targets a man with a Middle Eastern appearance, Monaghan even scolds him for racial profiling!).  “Source Code” works decently as a one-time rental, with an ending that pleasingly backs off of a big action climax (even though it sets things up for a sequel), but it’s not a whole lot more than moderately entertaining.

Summit’s Blu-Ray disc scores on the technical end of things, in both its AVC encoded 1080p transfer as well as its 5.1 DTS MA soundtrack, though the disc is light on special features, with just a commentary and optional scene-specific extras on-hand.

There haven’t been a lot of animated movies aimed at kids recently that adults can sit through and find as satisfying as younger viewers, but Gore Verbinski’s enjoyable RANGO (***, 111 mins., 2011, PG; Paramount) is one of the exceptions to the rule.

The first animated film from Industrial Light & Magic, the beautifully designed “Rango” follows a pet chameleon (voiced by Johnny Depp) with an active imagination who survives a near-fatal car accident and ends up alone, stranded in an Old West with a collection of colorful characters in a dingy old town. There, “Rango” becomes a sheriff charged with finding water for his liquid-deprived friends, and encounters all kinds of resistance and villains along the way to revitalizing his new home.

John Logan’s script and Verbinski’s direction make “Rango” a lot more accessible for mature viewers than most CGI-kid-fare, with amusing references and a send-up of western conventions working with the intriguingly designed characters to create a unique viewing experience. Kids, meanwhile, ought to enjoy the comedy and colorful vocal work provided by Depp, whose Rango effortlessly improvises his way through life in much the same way Jack Sparrow does on high seas. It’s inspired and beautiful to look at, though a limp ending does sour the fun just a little bit.

“Rango” makes for a gorgeous Blu-Ray disc, the colors and details almost leaping off the screen in its AVC encoded 1080p transfer. Hans Zimmer’s score gets a good workout in the 5.1 DTS MA audio mix, while the movie itself is included in both its 107-minute theatrical version and an extended 111-minute cut. 10 additional deleted scenes are included in HD with several HD featurettes, a DVD and digital copy as well. Recommended!

Also New on Blu-Ray

DAS BOOT: Director’s Cut Blu-Ray (***½ , 208/147 mins., 1981; Sony): Wolfgang Petersen's definitive WWII submarine film -- detailing the harrowing exploits of a German U-Boat and its crew during the war -- seems to have been re-issued in the U.S. more than any other foreign film. Over the years, we've seen the U.S. theatrical cut, then an extended "Director's Cut" version, and most recently the "Original Uncut Version,” which offered the complete German TV version of the picture.

This latest Sony Blu-Ray package offers -- for the first time in North America -- an HD edition of both the theatrical version and Peterson’s Director’s Cut, which is a bit of a compromise between the 2 ½ hour theatrical version and the 283 minute “Uncut” TV cut. There are nuances and additional character development present in the reinstated footage that further enhance what's already a masterwork of suspense, though the pacing in the Director’s Cut feels a bit prolonged at times. For that reason, Sony wisely enabled viewers here to choose between the U.S. release version and Peterson’s preferred edit of the picture.

Sony’s BD looks good on balance; the print seems a bit aged but the studio rarely ever pollutes their transfers with DNR, so the appearance looks natural and faithful to its source. While the original German dialogue can be heard with English subtitles, the English dubbing isn't completely awful and offers a perfectly adequate viewing experience if you'd rather not read subs (the audio is DTS MA 5.1 on the remixed Director’s Cut, both English and German, while the theatrical version is DTS MA 2.0 on its respective German and dubbed tracks).

Even better, the Blu-Ray boasts a wealth of new extras, including a 45-minute retrospective documentary; a conversation with Petersen’s wife, Maria (assistant director on the film); star Jurgen Prochnow giving viewers a look at the set; a vintage, hour long documentary; a look at the creation of the Director’s Cut; a 40-minute German historical documentary on the underwater Battle of the Atlantic; and Petersen’s commentary on the Director’s Cut, where he’s joined by Prochnow and restoration producer Ortwin Freyermuth.

ARTHUR Blu-Ray /DVD/Digital Copy (**½, 109 mins., 2011, PG-13; Warner): Since it seems like there’s nothing, collectively, we can do to prevent every ‘80s hit from being remade these days, the best frustrated cinephiles can do is hope that these new “reimaginings” as they’re called (a buzz word used by PR departments just to cover the fact they’re remakes) don’t entirely disgrace their predecessors.

The completely unnecessary new version of “Arthur,” Dudley Moore’s 1981 box-office smash, is thankfully not entirely awful, and perhaps with a funnier script might have been a success at the box-office (this new version was a major disappointment, managing just $33 million in domestic receipts last spring).

Russell Brand lands the tough task of stepping into Moore’s shoes as a drunk NYC millionaire playboy (with the emphasis on “boy”), as Arthur spends most of his days watching cartoons and being tended to by nanny Hobson (Helen Mirren). Arthur’s mother, however, soon poses an ultimatum to our hero: either marry company exec Jennifer Garner or lose access to his fortune, something that causes even more of an issue once Arthur meets “blue collar” would-be children’s book author Greta Gerwig.

Peter Baynham’s script uses the basic premise of Steve Gordon’s original screenplay, and TV director Jason Winer, making his feature debut, is able to coax likeable performances out of most of the cast (sans Nick Nolte’s one-dimensional turn as Garner’s gruff father). Brand isn’t Moore but he tries hard and Gerwig is pleasant enough in the Liza Minnelli role, but the movie suffers from having watered down the original movie’s concept (Brand is more of a man-child than a drunk) and a distinct lack of laughs. Too much of the movie also plays out in by-the-numbers fashion, while there’s no dramatic chemistry generated between Brand and either Mirren (whose role here feels diminished from John Gielgud’s Oscar-winning turn in the 1981 version) or Gerwig – all elements that gelled so remarkably in the original film simply fail to come together here.

“Arthur” has its heart in the right place – and ultimately at least fares better than the infamous, inexplicable 1988 Moore-Minnelli sequel “Arthur 2: On the Rocks” – but there’s ultimately little reason for watching it when the original is freely available, even on Blu-Ray.

Warner’s Blu-Ray Combo Pack of “Arthur” also includes a DVD and a digital copy. The AVC encoded 1080p transfer is lovely, with the film having wisely been shot on location in the Big Apple. Extra features include a gag reel, several additional scenes, and a Making Of featurette.

THE LINCOLN LAWYER Blu-Ray (**½, 116 mins., 2011, R; Lionsgate): Matthew McConaughey’s performance as Mick Haller – a cocky defense attorney hired to get pretty rich-boy Ryan Phillippe off an assault charge – is the whole reason to watch this adaptation of Michael Connelly’s book.

Equal parts confident, arrogant and sympathetic, McConaughey’s Haller finds himself in over his head with a client who clearly knows more than he’s letting on, and whom Haller eventually believes might be connected with an earlier case of his. Once partner William H. Macy is murdered, Haller’s suspicions prove correct, but trying to get himself out of the case and expose the truth ends up putting the attorney in a web of deception.

“The Lincoln Lawyer” boasts a tremendous cast and is slickly directed by Brad Furman, though the story requires a major suspension of disbelief at a few key moments during its running time. The movie also suffers from some pacing issues (it’s been a while since I’ve seen one of those old-time fake climaxes where a character says “everything’s okay now, I’ll be right over,” only to end up in another life-or-death struggle) along with a supporting cast that’s not always well utilized (I’m looking squarely at you, Marisa Tomei!). Still, “The Lincoln Lawyer” makes for a moderately entertaining view, carried throughout by one of its star’s finest performances.

Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray boasts three featurettes and deleted scenes, plus a DVD and digital copy. The 1080p transfer is perfectly rendered, as is the 5.1 DTS MA soundtrack.

INSIDIOUS Blu-Ray (**½, 102 mins., 2011, PG-13; Sony): I’ll give credit where it’s due to “Saw” director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell: their haunted house hit “Insidious” doesn’t entirely succeed, but at least they decided to tone down the gore and attempt genuine scares without excessive, sadistic violence.

It’s an old-fashioned fright concept that, for a while, works: by using sound design, the fear of the unknown and occasionally spooky glimpses of phantoms haunting a young couple (Rose Bryne and Patrick Wilson) and their children, Wan and Whannell throw the viewer off-balance and generate a number of freaky scares. The surprisingly “retro” tone carries the picture’s first half, though things unfortunately get bogged down in too much story involving their comatose boy most affected by the haunting, astral projection and associated psycho-babble (the requisite “twist” ending doesn’t satisfy, either). Unlike the Freleng family in “Poltergeist,” the characters are never as sympathetic as they ought to be, either, which diminishes the overall impact of the story.

Still, “Insidious” provides enough spooky entertainment that makes it a recommended view for fright fans – particularly those with surround systems, where the Blu-Ray’s DTS MA soundtrack can be best appreciated. The 1080p transfer is also well executed here, though the film is so dark that it can be only appreciated by watching it late at night with the lights off. Extra features on Sony’s BD package are mostly slim: just a couple of featurettes are included on the 50gb platter.

HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN Blu-Ray/Digital Copy (*½, 86 mins., 2011, Not Rated; Magnolia): Rutger Hauer plays a homeless man sick of watching a group of thugs rape, pillage and plunder their way through an unnamed, grimy city in “Hobo With a Gun,” a movie that so desperately wants to attain cult status that you can see its obvious references to ‘70s, ‘80s and assorted grindhouse fare in plain sight. Unfortunately, its one, excessively violent joke is only good for a few laughs – seeing it stretched out feebly to the sub-90 minute mark makes for a near-painful experience as Hauer grabs a shotgun and combats the sadistic villains in a series of bloody encounters.

Writer-director Jason Eisener takes to the material with all the gratuitousness of early Peter Jackson or Quentin Tarantino, and tries to spice it up with occasional Raimi-esque, cartoonish visual flourishes, which is fine for a few minutes but “Hobo With a Shotgun” never really displays any singular voice of its own. More over, the mean spiritedness of some of the gags (particularly a bus of school children the bad guys literally burn) creates a sour taste in the mouth no amount of cinematic energy can overcome.

Magnolia’s Blu-Ray looks colorfully composed and the DTS MA audio sports a rambunctious score credited to a number of composers including the Obsidian Orchestra. Extra features are copious, including two commentaries, deleted scenes, HDNet featurettes and other bonuses, along with a digital copy.        

Also newly available from Magnolia is 13 ASSASSINS (125 mins., 2010, R), the latest bloody (but, thankfully, far more impressively rendered) samurai yarn from Japan’s Takashi Miike. Magnolia’s Blu-Ray includes a vivid 1080p transfer, 5.1 DTS MA soundtrack, an interview with the director, deleted scenes and the trailer, plus a digital copy for portable media players.

THE REEF Blu-Ray (88 mins., 2010, R; Image): Australian thriller, a knock-off of sorts of “Open Water,” finds a sailboat’s passengers fighting for their lives when their vessel capsizes and the group is hunted down seemingly one-by-one by a Great White. Andrew Traucki’s latest film (he also directed the cult fave “Dark Water”) is reasonably well-executed for the modest budget affair it is, though as with “Open Water,” the characters become grating as they attempt to swim for safety; it all ends up being stretched out (poorly) to feature length, not unlike its American counterpart of sorts. Image’s Blu-Ray disc includes a nice 1080p transfer and 5.1 soundtrack along with a featurette and the trailer.

TEKKEN Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital Copy (91 mins., 2010, R; Anchor Bay): Namco’s long-running video game franchise makes for a predictably fisticuff-laden brawl-fest in this loose adaptation of its gaming source material. “Tekken” finds a young fighter (John Foo) trying to win a futuristic tournament in 2039 to avenge his mother’s murder; plenty of action follows suit in a film from the “Halloween IV” team of scribe Alan B. McElroy and director Dwight Little. Anchor Bay’s combo pack sports a 1080p Blu-Ray transfer, 5.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtrack, one featurette, a DVD and a digital copy for portable media players.

HOUSE OF THE RISING SUN Blu-Ray and DVD (88 mins., 2011, R; Lionsgate): Dave Bautista plays a former cop hired by the mob to run security at a strip club in this direct-to-vid action thriller co-starring Amy Smart, Dominic Purcell and Craig Fairbrass. Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray boasts commentary from Bautista and director Brian A. Miller, cast interviews, the trailer, a 1080p transfer and 5.1 DTS MA audio.


ENTOURAGE: Season 7 Blu-Ray (285 mins., 2010; HBO): Guest stars Sasha Grey, John Stamos, Jerry Jones, William Fichtner, “Braveheart” scribe Randall Wallace, Nick Cassavetes, Mark Cuban, Eminem, John Cleese, Mark Cuban, Miguel Sandoval, Mike Tyson, Christina Aguilera, Jessica Simpson and Super Bowl winner Drew Brees appear in this seventh season of the hit HBO series, which hits Blu-Ray this month.

In addition to 1080p transfers and DTS Master 5.1 soundtracks, HBO’s high-def set of “Entourage”’s seventh season also includes a behind-the-scenes profile of the season’s creation; a Sasha Grey featurette; and three episode commentaries from producers and cast members. (The eighth and final season of “Entourage” premieres later this summer, by the way, on HBO)

E/R Complete Season 15 DVD (997 mins., 2009-10; Warner): The 15th and final season of NBC’s long-running medical drama, created by Michael Crichton and guided through its early years by John Wells, offers a satisfying mix of episodes that wrap up the plot lines of recent cast members Angela Bassett, John Stamos and Parminder Nagra while bringing back a litany of cast members from seasons past: Noah Wylie, George Clooney, Sherry Stringfield, Julianna Marguiles, Eriq La Salle, Laura Innes and Alex Kingston among them. Some appear in cameos, others take a direct involvement in the 22 episodes which conclude the program’s run.

Warner’s box-set includes 16:9 (1.85) transfers, 5.1 soundtracks, unaired scenes and a retrospective featurette that completes the series’ DVD editions in a recommended package for E/R fans.

DAMAGES: Season 3 DVD (573 mins., 2010; Sony): Glenn Close, Rose Bryne and Tate Donovan returned for the third season of the acclaimed cable drama, which ended up being canceled by F/X after declining ratings. (Fortunately for fans of Patty Hewes, DirecTV has since come to the rescue and agreed to pick up two new 10-episode seasons of “Damages,” beginning with Season 4 which premieres this week).

Season three of the legal drama involves a Bernie Madoff-type and his family, including mother Lily Tomlin, son Campbell Scott and attorney Martin Short. A return of Arthur Frobisher (Ted Danson) is also in the cards in this taut collection of episodes which ought to please series aficionados.

Sony’s three-disc DVD set includes the program’s complete third season with a number of fine extras, from deleted scenes and cast/crew commentaries to a blooper reel, season retrospective and episode director introductions. The 16:9 (1.78) transfers and 5.1 soundtracks are both perfectly fine.

THE SMURFS: A MAGICAL SMURF ADVENTURE DVD (190 mins., Warner): Peyo’s adorable blue characters, who first shot to fame on this side of the Atlantic during the 1980s, are poised for a relaunch with the upcoming Sony live-action film...which looks awful, but then again, so did “Alvin and the Chipmunks” and $800 million worldwide (and soon-to-be-three movies) later, who’s laughing now?

The original Hanna-Barbera “Smurfs” series is back on DVD from Warner to tie in with the new film, and this 2-disc set from WB includes 10 episodes from the show’s second season: Smurf Van Winkle, Revenge of the Smurfs, the Magic Fountain, Smurf Me No Flowers, the Cursed Country, The Blue Plague, The Ring of Castellac, A Mere Truffle, Gormandizing Greedy and Sister Smurf are all on-hand here in full-screen, monophonic transfers. Extra features in the three-hour plus set include top 10 moments from Season 2 along with “Smurf Speak.”

NEW FROM LIONSGATE - CLIFFORD, everyone’s favorite big red dog, is back in new DVD compilation appropriately titled DOG DAYS OF SUMMER. The five programs included in this hour-long package all pertain to making the right moral decisions in a release that ought to satisfy young viewers. Lionsgate’s DVD includes colorful full-screen transfers and 2.0 stereo soundtracks...Lauren Holly and Lance Henriksen do battle with the SCREAM OF THE BANSHEE (90 mins., 2011, R), the latest After Dark Horror DVD release from Lionsgate. This Syfy Channel movie is pretty much standard fare, with a script by former Fangoria writer-editor Anthony C. Ferrante. The DVD includes a 16:9 transfer, commentary and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound. Also new in the After Dark series is THE TASK (99 mins., 2011, R), an indie horror effort about a reality show where the would-be phony terror its contestants experience turns out to be real. Lionsgate’s DVD includes a featurette and the trailer, plus a 16:9 transfer and 5.1 soundtrack.

NEW FROM E ONE and MPI - Bruno Podalydes examines the lives of contemporary Parisians again in PARK BENCHES (114 mins.), an ensemble comedic-drama with Catherine Deneuve, Mathieu Amalric and Chiara Mastroianni. IFC’s DVD includes deleted scenes, a trailer, and a featurette; in 5.1 French with English subs and a 16:9 (2.35) transfer to boot....Judy Greer, Michael C. Hall, Taraji P. Henson, Kate Mara, Lesley Ann Warren, Rainn Wilson and comic Sarah Silverman star in the offbeat comedy PEEP WORLD (79 mins., 2010, Not Rated), an indie film from writer Peter Himmelstein and director Barry Baulstein that failed to drum up much noise upon its limited release a year ago. IFC’s Blu-Ray disc includes a 1080p transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack, with a few extras including deleted scenes and the trailer....Another would-be super-hero comedy surfaces in ZONAD (75 mins., 2010; Not Rated), with Simon Delaney as an escapee from a rehab clinic who believes he’s really a costumed, Mork-like extraterrestrial. IFC’s DVD of this Irish comedy import includes commentary from director-writers John Carney and Kieran Carney and the trailer, plus a 16:9 (1.78) transfer and 2.0 soundtrack...The new GIRLS NEXT DOOR move in along with Hef in Season 6 of the E! Reality series. All 10 Season 6 episodes are included in MPI’s two-disc DVD set in 16:9 (1.78) transfers with 2.0 soundtracks and several extras, including cast commentaries, deleted scenes and a bonus episode, “Transitions”....OMNIBUS: AMERICAN PROFILES, coming from E One, offers two disc profiles of Philippe Halsman, William Faulkner, Frank Lloyd Wright, Pearl Buck, E.B. White, Sugar Ray Robinson, James Thurber, Leonard Bernstein, the New York Times, Dr. Seuss and others in a compilation of vintage Omnibus programs unseen since their original 1952-60 broadcasts. 15 pages of essays and behind-the-scenes info make this a compelling package for Golden Age TV aficionados...Finally, THE CONQUEROR (133 mins., 2009) offers a Russian adaptation of “Taras Bulba” with E One’s DVD including a 5.1 Russian track or an English 2.0 dubbed mix; the video is provided in full 2.35 (16:9) widescreen.

NEXT TIME: BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS and More from Shout! Until then, don't forget to drop in on the official Aisle Seat Message Boards and direct any emails to our email address. Cheers everyone!

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