7/18/06 Edition

An AMAZING Aisle Seat
Spielberg's AMAZING STORIES Hits DVD At Last!

It was the tail end of the Summer of ‘85, and between “Back to the Future, “The Goonies,” the upcoming “Young Sherlock Holmes,” and the new-to-VHS “Gremlins” and “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” you couldn’t blame a 10-year-old for being hooked on Steven Spielberg Mania. In fact, I was so geared up for the premiere of his TV-anthology series “Amazing Stories” that I wouldn’t even let a power outage caused by Hurricane Gloria deter me; the small black-and-white, portable TV we had (for use only in the event of an emergency) was turned off for hours until the 8pm premiere on Channel 10 in Providence.

It didn’t matter that the debut episode, “Ghost Train,” was somewhat underwhelming (especially considering that Spielberg himself directed the story), or that the picture quality was something less than desirable, even by 1985 black-and-white, 7-inch TV standards...in the words of the NBC network itself, I had to “Be There!” for the launch of a series that had sci-fi/fantasy fans in a tizzy over what promised to be an epic event.

Thanks to Spielberg’s name, “Amazing Stories” had a major advantage over other genre shows of the period: unlike “Tales From the Darkside” and even CBS’ modernization of “The Twilight Zone” (which debuted at the same time as “Amazing Stories”), NBC and Universal had given the series not just a green light but an unprecedented budget. Each show was crafted by filmmakers with budgets rivaling some theatrical features, with exceptional talent in front of and behind the camera producing each story.

Regrettably, the resulting series was a disappointment in terms of ratings, at least: after a strong start “Amazing Stories” failed to perform to expectations, with the series fulfilling its two-year commitment from NBC and then quietly retiring from the air waves in early 1987. Critics looking to kibosh Spielberg’s run of success found fodder in the show’s inconsistency (even though that’s almost always a given when dealing with an anthology), while the filmmaker himself turned his attention to “Empire of the Sun” and seemingly lost interest in the series during its sophomore year.

For a show that only ran for two seasons and was generally branded a disappointment, however, “Amazing Stories” could be seen for years afterwards via no less than six different “Movie” compilations that appeared in syndication and on cable, each offering three or four episodes from the series packaged together with bridging “storybook” introductions (and music tracked from John Williams’ episode score from “The Mission”). Additional video releases and regular appearances on the Sci-Fi Channel continued to keep the program current to some extent, and the series has built a small but devoted fan following over the years since as a result.

This week Universal releases the first full, complete Season One DVD box-set of AMAZING STORIES (1985-86, 10 hrs.) in the U.S. (Japan received a laserdisc box set over a decade ago for several hundred yen), and both fans of the series and newcomers to it should delight at the show’s finest episodes.

Universal’s set preserves the superb technical aspects of the series in generally excellent full-screen transfers, while the original TV stereo soundtracks have been carefully remixed for 5.1 Dolby Digital. The latter enables the series’ abundance of outstanding scores -- written by a veritable who’s-who of composers circa 1985 -- a chance to be heard in their original stereophonic proportions, and likely for the first time for many viewers (after all, few TV sets at the time carried the capacity for stereo sound).

While there are definitely some clunkers in the “Amazing Stories” canon, even the weaker episodes from the series are still watchable. Each episode is, in many instances, a film within itself, with many bearing the distinctive stamp of Spielberg, who played a hand in co-authoring many shows, especially during the first season.

It should be noted that “Amazing Stories” wasn’t trying to be “The Twilight Zone” or “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.” There usually aren’t any twists in the final moments, with most shows simply being a flight of fantasy promised by the program’s title. Spielberg’s superb “The Mission” is often grilled by some viewers for its silly ending, but how is the episode’s ultimate implication that its protagonist possessed some sort of psychic power (or “good luck” as it’s explained) any different than being a more upbeat contrast over the gloomier “It’s a Good Life” from Serling’s show? Granted, it didn’t help that many of the best episodes were front-loaded during its first months on the air, but I still believe the series deserved better than the “flop” designation it received shortly after it premiered.

“Amazing Stories” is more upbeat than the ‘Zone and often looks and sounds like the kind of “Steven Spielberg Presents” product that its filmmaker was producing back at the time (“Back to the Future,” “The Goonies,” “Gremlins,” etc.). Taken on that level it’s sci-fi/fantasy TV on a grand scale that we sadly don’t see that much of these days, and I couldn’t recommend it more strongly for its roster of filmmakers, stars and composers that will likely never be matched on the small screen again in one creative endeavor.

Here’s a quick guide to the 24 episodes contained on Universal’s four-disc DVD set:

-GHOST TRAIN: Spielberg himself directed this premiere episode starring Roberts Blossom as an old man trying to catch a ghostly freight and Lukas Haas as his grandson. John Williams’ score contains a portion of his outstanding “Amazing Stories” theme but the show, admittedly, isn’t one of the stronger efforts in the series.

-THE MAIN ATTRACTION: Perfectly-pitched ‘80s high school romp with John Scott Clough as an obnoxious preppie who receives his just desserts after a meteorite crashes into his room and subsequently turns him into a human magnet. Future “Iron Giant” and “Incredibles” director Brad Bird co-wrote this lightweight but fitfully amusing story (Bird would also direct the fondly-remembered “Family Dog” episode of the second season), directed by Matthew Robbins and amusingly scored by Craig Safan, whose music plays off the inherent comedy of the episode perfectly.

-ALAMO JOBE: Kelly Reno from “The Black Stallion” plays a young soldier at the famous battle who crosses over into modern-day 1985. James Horner’s superb score is the strongest asset of this ultimately disappointing, dramatically thin episode, which was initially broadcast with an alternate, more synth-heavy version of the main theme over the opening intro (on the DVD, however, the usual “Amazing Stories” credit sequence runs instead).

-MUMMY, DADDY: An actor playing a mummy gets mistaken for the real thing while shooting in the backwoods of a local swamp in this send-up/homage of old Universal classics and modern moviemaking in general. Unquestionably one of the top episodes of the entire series, “Mummy, Daddy” is an energetic effort from director William Dear in which all the pieces fit perfectly together (Earl Pomerantz scripted from a Spielberg story). Bronson Pinchot is hilarious playing a very Spielberg-ian director, while Danny Elfman and Steve Bartek’s manic score fits the action perfectly. Don’t miss it!

-THE MISSION: Spielberg’s second (and final) directorial effort in his series, “The Mission” is a tense, thrilling hour-long episode with a knockout, outstanding John Williams score and taut performances from Casey Siezmako, Kevin Costner, and Kiefer Sutherland among others. Suspenseful and wholly moving at the end, this is generally regarded as the pinnacle of the series and with good reason: the music alone commands subsequent viewing.

-THE AMAZING FALSWORTH: Gregory Hines plays a nightclub entertainer who crosses paths with a serial killer in a creepy, memorable effort in the series, atmospherically directed by Peter Hyams and effectively scored by Billy Goldenberg. The intensity level of this episode forced NBC to run it on a Tuesday night in a later time slot.

-FINE TUNING: Gentle comic fantasy with Matthew Laberteaux as a teen who improbably finds aliens in outer space channeling ‘50s TV stars like Milton Berle (who appears in a cameo as himself). Bob Balaban directed this charming Earl Pomerantz script, which does a better job with its extraterrestrials-obsessed-with-Earth-pop-culture premise than Joe Dante’s feature “Explorers” did on the big screen that same year.

-MR. MAGIC: Sid Caesar’s performance as an aging magician who gets a career reprieve from a magical deck of cards sells this somewhat saccharine episode, though Bruce Broughton’s score ultimately puts the script from series co-producers Joshua Brand and John Falsey (directed by Donald Petrie) over the top.

-GUILT TRIP: Back in ‘85 it meant a great deal to see Dom DeLuise and Loni Anderson in a TV show directed by Burt Reynolds. While that teaming nowadays would be fortunate to get an appearance on any kind of television at all, “Guilt Trip” is still an amusing comic confection with Dom’s Guilt falling for Loni’s Love on a cruise, and appropriate underscoring provided by Steve Dorff. Not nearly as bad as it sounds!

-REMOTE CONTROL MAN: “A Christmas Story” helmer Bob Clark brings us this mildly amusing comedic episode, better remembered for its array of cameo appearances (Richard Simmons, Lou Ferrigno, Gary Coleman, Ed McMahon, Dirk Benedict, Barbara Billingsley) than the story itself. Forgettable but fun for nostalgia lovers, and Arthur B. Rubinstein’s score is engaging enough.

-SANTA ‘85: Another of the program’s jewels, “Santa ‘85" boasts tight, effective direction from then-prodigy Phil Joanou and a magical, snow-covered score by Thomas Newman that’s unquestionably one of the finest of the entire series. Douglas Seale’s performance as Santa and Pat Hingle’s portrayal of a wounded police chief are perfectly modulated, and the payoff is both emotional and perfect for annual viewing at Christmas time.

-VANESSA IN THE GARDEN: An excellent performance from Harvey Keitel distinguishes this low-key and eloquently directed period piece from director Clint Eastwood. Lennie Niehaus’ classy score further adds to this sensitively handled effort, written by Spielberg himself (and why, oh why, did NBC bury this particular episode between Christmas and New Years?).

-THE SITTER: Mediocre effort from director Joan Darling stars Mabel King as a magical sitter to a pair of obnoxious kids (one of which is essayed by a young Seth Green). Slim and quite a comedown from the better episodes that premiered before it, “The Sitter” is still an okay effort from writer Mick Garris and is at least complimented by a nice Craig Safan score.

-NO DAY AT THE BEACH: Stark black-and-white cinematography and a good Leonard Rosenman score help sell this somewhat predictable WWII story from writer Mick Garris (again working off a Spielberg outline) and director Lesli Linka Glatter. A young Charlie Sheen and Clancy Brown are among the stars.

-ONE FOR THE ROAD: One of the more under-rated efforts of the series, this is a low-key ensemble piece with superb character actors (James Cromwell, Joe Pantoliano, Royal Dano, Douglas Seale, Geoffrey Lewis among them) top-lining a black comedy set in the depression. Jim Bissell wrote, Thomas Carter directed, and Johnny Mandel satisfyingly scored this effort, which almost works as a more somber, period precursor to “Weekend at Bernie’s.” Recommended.

-GATHER YE ACORNS: Mark Hamill stars as a dreamer convinced by a troll (David Rappaport from “Time Bandits”) into never disposing of his youthful possessions. Frequent Spielberg production designer Norman Reynolds helmed this good-looking but contrived fairy tale with a false happy ending, though Bruce Broughton’s magical score is among the series’ best. Incidentally, Forest Whitaker appears as a collector who helps justify Hamill’s alternative-lifestyle (to say the least) at the end.

-BOO!: Joe Dante’s first foray into the “Amazing Stories” canon is an agreeable enough comic fantasy with Eddie Bracken and Evelyn Keyes as a pair of elderly spirits trying to scare the new, living homeowners (Dante regulars Robert Picardo and Wendy Schaal) out of their abode. Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel’s script and Dante’s direction combine for a moderately entertaining story that’s sadly lacking the manic energy Dante brought to his then-recent theatrical hits (i.e. “Gremlins”), though it’s curious to see the similarities between this and Tim Burton’s “Beetlejuice,” which would be produced a few years later. Jerry Goldsmith’s singular “Amazing Stories” effort is certainly pleasant though unremarkable by the composer’s high standards of the time.

-DOROTHY AND BEN: A marvelous performance from Joe Seneca and a gorgeous Georges Delerue score are among the chief attributes of “Dorothy and Ben,” one of the finest “Amazing Stories.” Seneca plays a man recently awakened from a coma who can communicate with a comatose young girl (Natalie Gregory); Lane Smith is one of the doctors tending to his precarious situation. Michael deGuzman’s script feels like a good “Twilight Zone” entry, but with a dose of appropriate Spielberg-ian sentimentality. Tom Carter’s sensitive direction paces the story perfectly and Delerue’s beautiful score adds the perfect layer to a fully satisfying episode.

-MIRROR, MIRROR: Martin Scorsese directing an “Amazing Stories” episode should have been a cause for celebration, but this silly effort with Sam Waterston as a Stephen King-esque author haunted by one of his own creations is a huge disappointment. Michael Kamen’s overwrought score adds a touch of unintentional humor to sequences that should have been creepy and disturbing, and it’s capped by an ending that’s downright hysterical...for all the wrong reasons.

-SECRET CINEMA: Long before “The Truman Show” came this Paul Bartel-authored and directed tale of a woman being secretly filmed for the pleasure of a paying, movie-going audience. Bartel laces this effort with black humor and Billy Goldenberg’s score adds the appropriate touch, but the premise is ultimately more interesting than the execution.

-HELL TOUPEE: One of the funniest of the strictly comedic “Amazing Stories” entries, director Irvin Kershner’s tale of a toupee on a killing spree is actually very funny, with David Shire’s score joining in the fun.

-THE DOLL: Along with “The Mission” and “Mummy, Daddy,” Richard Matheson’s poignant tale of a lonely man (John Lithgow) who feels strangely attached to a doll he’s bought for his niece is easily one of the most satisfying “Amazing Stories” episodes. Phil Joanou’s direction and Lithgow’s Emmy-winning performance are aided by a lovely Georges Delerue score, combining to breathe life into Matheson’s story, which was in fact initially intended as a “Twilight Zone” episode over 20 years prior. As it stands, “The Doll” is easily one of the select “must-view” efforts of the series and comes unquestionably recommended.

-ONE FOR THE BOOKS: Not to be confused with “One For the Road,” this collaboration between director Lesli Linka Glatter and writer Richard Matheson (adapting his own story) is an intriguing variation on “Charly” (not to mention later films like “Phenomenon”). Glenn Paxton’s score, though, proves to be a disappointment compared to other strong musical efforts in the series.

-GRANDPA’S GHOST: Andrew McCarthy gives an excellent performance as a young man who witnesses a seemingly supernatural occurrence after his beloved grandfather (Ian Wolfe) passes on, leaving his wife (Herta Ware) alone. Michael deGuzman scripted from a story by director Timothy Hutton, and the efforts of the filmmakers and cast -- along with composer Pat Metheny -- result in a sensitive and satisfying, low-key tale of a lifelong love.

Universal has also included nearly 20 total minutes of deleted scenes spread across the four platters. As you may expect, since all but one of the episodes are 22-24 minutes long, there’s not a whole lot of content that was edited out of the various episodes. Thus, most of the cut sequences are culled from a workprint and last about a minute or less; the lone exceptions are “Grandpa’s Ghost” (six minutes of deleted scenes) and “Vanessa in the Garden,” which offers nearly four minutes of excised material, mostly involving Beau Bridges’ character.

Packaging is superb in Universal’s set, with episode descriptions and the shows all presented in their proper broadcast order. Hopefully the studio will step up and release the Second Season of the series sooner than later, since “Amazing Stories” fans will be hungering for the rest of the program’s output in a similarly strong presentation after savoring this excellent DVD release. Bravo!

Also out from Universal this week is the Complete First Season of THE INCREDIBLE HULK (1977-78, 11 hrs.), which offers both pilot movies (“The Incredible Hulk” and “Return of the Incredible Hulk,” aka “A Death in the Family”) and the 10 original episodes from the series’ debut as a midseason replacement in spring 1978. Among the latter are “The Final Round,” “Of Guilt, Models and Murder” (guest starring Loni Anderson), “The Beast Within,” “Terror in Times Square” (a particular personal favorite), “747" (with its recycled “Airport” footage), “Never Give a Trucker an Even Break,” “The Hulk Breaks Las Vegas,” “Life and Death,” “Earthquakes Happen,” and “The Waterfront Story.”

The full-screen transfers are all in good condition, as are the 2.0 Dolby Digital mono soundtracks. On the extras side, Universal has reprieved Kenneth Johnson’s commentary from the 2003 “Hulk TV Premiere” DVD and included a bonus episode, “Stop the Presses,” from Season 2.

After watching these highly satisfying packages, here’s hoping Universal doesn’t wait too long in giving us the second seasons of both “Amazing Stories” and the “Hulk.” Absolutely recommended for summer-time, nostalgic TV viewing!

Bruce X 2: Two Campbell Series on DVD!

Between Bruce Campbell’s energetic and wry performance as the title hero, to the stirring music by Randy Edelman, THE ADVENTURES OF BRISCO COUNTY, JR. (1993-94, 27 Episodes, 1385 mins., Warner Home Video) was a highly entertaining series that deserved better than its one-season Fox network run.

Campbell starred in the Jeffrey Boam/Carlton Cuse-created program as a Harvard-educated cowboy who, along with faithful horse Comet, travels the land searching for the men who murdered his father and -- along with a sidekick (Julius Carry) who was once his rival -- trying to obtain a mysterious Orb with all kinds of supernatural enhancements attached.

This eclectic mix of western-adventure, comedy, and “Wild Wild West”-styled sci-fi was embraced by critics and the few fans the series attracted during its one and only season. Face it, between Fox having only a few legitimate hits on the air at the time (“The X-Files” launched simultaneously with “Brisco”), a wacky title, and the western genre being long dormant, “Brisco” had the odds stacked against it from the beginning.

The good news is that the series has held up beautifully, with Campbell playing marvelously off a superb supporting cast, from John Astin to Billy Drago (as resident bad guy John Bly), Christian Clemenson as Brisco’s lawyer-pal Socrates Poole, the under-rated Kelly Rutherford (later of “Melrose Place”) as showgirl Dixie Cousins, not to mention a slew of NFL veterans in the two-part finale “High Treason.” The cast is fun and the writing is a grand, goofy mix of genres that enables Campbell to play to his comedic best. Visually, the show had to have been reasonably pricey to produce, since it looks good even today, and is topped off by an infectious Randy Edelman theme that’s been used for years on various NBC sporting events.

Warner’s eight-disc box set houses not just the complete, 27-episode series but also a number of supplements that are worth every penny of the DVD’s $70-or-thereabouts price tag. Campbell contributes a commentary track with Carlton Cuse on the pilot in addition to fun episode synopses in the liner notes. What’s more, “The History of Brisco County” recounts the production with interviews with Campbell, Cuse, Rutherford, Carry, and Clemenson, while “Tools of the Trade: Brisco Lore” and “Brisco’s Book of Coming Things” offer narrated featurette galleries touching upon the show’s engaging back story and modern references. A writer’s panel is on-hand in “A Brisco County Writer’s Room Roundtable” and “A Reading from the Book of Bruce” finds our star narrating a section from his book “If Chins Could Kill,” reading a section pertaining (obviously) to the series.

The full-screen transfers and fairly robust 2.0 Dolby Stereo tracks are in excellent condition, and the supplements -- along with the quality of the show itself -- make for one of the year’s best TV on DVD releases, a must for fans and a strongly recommended view for everyone else. Giddy up!

Undaunted by the disappointing ratings of “Brisco,” Campbell returned to TV for another short-lived period series, JACK OF ALL TRADES (2000; 22 Episodes; Universal), which was syndicated by Universal along with the fun, if not forgettable, “Cleopatra 2525" in the same “Action Pack” hour.

Campbell is the whole show in this comical send-up, with Bruce starring as a Jack, an agent for Thomas Jefferson sent to a small South Pacific island to combat Napoleon with the help of a beautiful British agent (Angela Dotchin).

Since Napoleon is played by Mini-Me himself, Verne Troyer, you can pretty much guess where “Jack of All Trades” is coming from. And, indeed, make no mistake: this ridiculous lark isn’t nearly as much fun as “Brisco County, Jr.,” with next to no actual drama being established across the 22 half-hour episodes (only 22 minutes each with commercials extracted). The humor is slapstick in nature and likewise not as effective as Campbell’s sagebrush saga, though nearly each show has a chuckle here or there at least.

Instead, this is silly fluff that Campbell sells and sells hard, a hit-or-miss effort (produced by Campbell’s pals Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert) that’s nevertheless worth a look for hard-core Bruce devotees.

Universal’s three-disc set includes all 22 episodes of the series in satisfying full-screen transfers and 2.0 Dolby Surround stereo.

Real Life Drama!

My wife would never rank as a candidate for inclusion on this series (things went well for us last month, thankfully), but take it from someone who’s seen just how the wedding “industry” works: the “WE” Channel’s BRIDEZILLAS (Seasons 1 and 2; 329 and 375 mins., 2003-05; Genius Products) comes across as an accurate depiction of real-life brides on the rampage as their wedding day approaches.

Now, as crazy as some of the behavior exhibited throughout the show may seem to someone who hasn’t been involved in one of these shindigs, I can fully sympathize with some of the brides-to-be shown here who have to put up with manic “wedding planners,” florists who fail to deliver on time, dress makers who haven’t a clue, and stubborn family members with plans of their own. It’s one thing to be disappointed when someone fails to deliver on their promises -- but it’s quite another when said individual is being paid by the thousands to do their job. (At our wedding last month, most of our vendors were tremendous, but a certain smooth-talking wedding manager turned out to be more of a con man than a hard worker...and nobody on his staff even saw fit to get either my wife or I beverages as the evening progressed!).

Not that some of the manic behavior is entirely warranted: one of my favorite “Bridezillas” is a certain southerner named Patricia (yes, I had to watch this show at my then-fiancee’s request last year!) who misguidedly places all of her trust in a planner named Ramona, who generally looks like she’s just cashing a check and sits around, failing to “plan” much of anything. Patricia later flakes out in what has to be the highpoint of Seasons 1 and 2 of “Bridezillas,” which Genius Products has just released in a pair of double-disc DVD editions.

Collecting the complete first and second seasons of the show, “Bridezillas” is one of the better reality series simply because it, well, feels REAL. The series does a good job documenting the trials and tribulations most modern couples face, and a lot of the time the various “bridal meltdowns” are nothing more than misunderstandings that are quickly cleared up (and common to any wedding, albeit to varying degrees).

The full-screen transfers and stereo soundtracks are fine, and Season 2 adds in some additional scenes; supplements otherwise are comprised of the same WE TV spot and Season 3 sneak preview on both sets. Recommended, especially AFTER you’ve lived through one of these events!

Recent TV on DVD From Buena Vista & More

THE SUITE LIFE OF ZACK & CODY: Taking Over The Tipton (90 mins., Disney)
THAT’S SO RAVEN: Raven’s Makeover Madness (90 mins., Disney): The popular Disney channel “tween” sitcoms receive another round of DVD releases this week. “Suite Life of Zack & Cody” offers four shows from the series, with special guests Jesse McCartney (today’s Davy Jones I’m guessing) and Zac Efron, one of which has yet to be broadcast; while “That’s So Raven” similarly contains a program that has yet to air, with four shows from the program comprising the disc. Both discs contain colorful full-screen transfers and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks, with “Zack & Cody” also boasting a behind-the-scenes featurette while “Raven” contains a trivia quiz for its young fans.

TSOTSI (***, 2005, 94 mins., R; Miramax/Buena Vista): 2005's Oscar-winner for Foreign Language Film, “Tsotsi” is a powerful tale from South African filmmaker Gavin Hood, following a young urban gang leader on the streets of Johannesburg (played by Presley Chweneyagae). Hood’s modern interpretation of a novel by Athol Fugard offers its initially repellent lead character a chance for salvation by his discovery of a baby in the backseat of a carjacked auto; strong performances and taut direction from Hood compensate for a somewhat thin narrative that feels a bit manipulative, but nevertheless pulls you in. Miramax’s DVD includes both deleted scenes and alternate endings with commentary from Hood; a feature commentary track with the director; a Making Of featurette, and the filmmaker’s short movie “The Storekeeper.” The 16:9 (2.35) transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound are both excellent, with the movie offered in its native language with both English and Spanish subtitles.

New From Tartan

CELLO (2005, 92 mins., R, Tartan): South Korean chiller with Sung-Hyun-Ah as a musician who has nightmares and believes the supernatural is after her family following an accident that claimed the life of her friend. Scares that have become, by now, well-worn cliches in Asian horror mar this otherwise sturdy, if predictable, chiller, which Tartan has done a splendid job packaging on DVD. The label’s disc offers subtitled commentary, a behind-the-scenes featurette, the original trailer and a TV spot, plus English and Spanish subtitles. As usual with Tartan’s releases, the disc sports 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital soundtracks as well as a strong 16:9 (1.85) widescreen transfer.

THE HIDDEN BLADE (2004, 132 mins., R, Tartan, available August 8th): Exciting samurai drama about a warrior named Munezo, sent to assassinate a former friend after a failed political coup. Yoji Yamada’s epic film was well-received in Japan, where it was nominated for some 12 Japanese Academy Awards, but failed to make a lot of noise on this side of the pond, despite receiving generally enthusiastic reviews. Tartan’s excellent DVD presentation includes an a 1.85 (16:9) transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital and DTS sound (preserving a fine score by Isao Tomita), a behind-the-scenes featurette, international premiere footage and both Japanese and U.S. trailers.

New & Recent on DVD

30 DAYS (Fox, 2005, 270 minutes): Morgan Spurlock -- best known as the star-director behind “Super Size Me” -- took to the small screen in this insightful, refreshing F/X cable series, with Spurlock meeting a diverse array of people across America and chronicling their respective situations. The episode where a young homophobic man goes to San Fransisco and works in the Castro District is fascinating, as is another show where Spurlock and his fiancee try to maintain a budget on minimum wage jobs. Commentary on selected episodes and a “Diary Cam” add to Fox’s two-disc package, which sports full-screen transfers and 2.0 Dolby Stereo soundtracks. Recommended!

BLACKBALLED: The Bobby Dukes Story (**½, 91 mins., Shout Factory): “Daily Show” regular Rob Corddry plays a disgraced paintballer who returns to the sport after a 10-year ban, only to find his pastime being over-hyped by marketing firms and his teammates unwilling to join him. This Brant Sersen-directed “mockumentary” tries doing for paintball what Christopher Guest’s ersatz documentaries did for, say, dog shows and rock groups, and there are numerous belly laughs scattered across “Blackballed.” Sadly, the feature tends to run out of gas about midway through, and some of the obviously-improvised bits come across as tired and forced. Nevertheless, “Blackballed” has enough hits to outweigh its misfired gags, with Shout Factory’s DVD including outtakes, deleted scenes, and two commentary tracks. The non-anamorphic 1.85 transfer will disappoint some viewers.

NEXT TIME: The first discs of August (not already!!), including I'LL ALWAYS KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER, ROAD HOUSE 2, 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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