7/20/10 Edition Twitter: THEAISLESEATCOM
Summer Sizzler Edition
JOHN RAMBO Director's Cut Reviewed
While action fans eagerly anticipate Sylvester Stallone’s upcoming “The Expendables,” Lionsgate has a handful of titles coming up next week to tide them over, including what appears to be the Director’s Cut of Stallone’s most recent “Rambo” film, here re-titled JOHN RAMBO (***, 99 mins., 2008; Unrated).

I say “appears” because Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray disc only bears the moniker “Extended Cut,” yet the alterations in the film, from its title to the tone of its added sequences, seem to bear Stallone’s direct participation.

The film itself is a gripping, visceral action ride, another notch in the Stallone “Comeback Tour” that began with the superb “Rocky Balboa.” This fourth outing in the series finds Rambo making a living by hunting and selling cobras in Thailand until a group of American missionaries come looking for help. Needing Rambo’s boat in order to take them up river into Burma where the Karen people (many of which are Christian) are routinely slaughtered in a still on-going genocide, the missionaries (including cute Julie Benz and Paul Schulze) think they’re going to make a difference. To Rambo, their naivite is surpassed only by their lack of weaponry -- and our gruff hero ends up unsurprised once the group is captured in a brutal attack that slaughters nearly the entire village they were providing relief for.

“Rambo” doesn’t offer much plot (is there ever?) but the picture works due to its gut-punching action sequences, and make no mistake, this is a violent, graphic film that -- quite unlike its second and third installments of some 20-plus years ago -- shows the consequence of said violence, as well as takes a firm stand that there are times when it is necessary. None of it has the comic book feel of “Rambo” II or III and while this new “Rambo” doesn't have the strong character development of the original “First Blood” either, it’s surprising how well the film comes together. Stallone’s performance is more in-line with the John Rambo seen in the original “First Blood,” making this feel like a natural conclusion to Ted Kotcheff’s 1982 action classic instead of a re-run of the more outlandish, bigger-budgeted comic books that its sequels turned out to be.

The best news with this extended version of “Rambo” 2008 is that the film has been improved with the addition of eight previously excised minutes of footage. Aside from one sequence where Rambo covers up the evidence from a flotilla he destroyed, the additions aren’t action-intensive but rather character building sequences between Stallone and Julie Benz’s character. In the original cut it seemed like Rambo’s primary motivation to helping the missionaries was driven through Benz being a pretty young woman; here, there’s still some of that, but their conversations carry more of a discussion about Rambo’s past, the price of freedom and call to action that adds depth the original cut was simply lacking.

“Rambo” isn’t a classic movie but it’s nevertheless a potent piece of action filmmaking through and through -- a gritty and satisfying ride that marks some of Stallone’s finest work as a filmmaker, and one case where a few minutes of added footage makes a big difference.

Lionsgate’s “Extended Edition” of “(John) Rambo” offers an impressive AVC-encoded 1080p transfer with well-mixed DTS Master Audio sound. Fans should note that none of the extras from the prior Blu-Ray have been carried over to this new edition, though a feature-length “Production Diary,” presented in standard-def and running just under 90 minutes, does contain some revealing insights into the film’s physical shoot.

Being released alongside the new “Rambo” cut is the RAMBO: COMPLETE COLLECTOR’S SET, offering the previously released Blu-Rays of “First Blood,” “Rambo: First Blood Part II,” “Rambo III” and the ‘08 “Rambo.” For full details and analysis of all of these releases, read my original reviews here.

Also newly available from Lionsgate is the underrated 1989 Stallone prison thriller LOCK UP (***, 115 mins., 1989, R), offering Sly as an auto mechanic who’s about to complete his time at a low-security prison when circumstances (i.e. plot contrivances) conspire to send him to a penetentiary run by sadistic warden Donald Sutherland -- who knows Sly from his first prison tenure and won’t stop until Stallone is back behind bars for many years to come.

This relatively low-key film only did mediocre business at the box-office during the summer of ‘89, but, truth be told, “Lock-Up” is one of its star’s better efforts from the period. Credit director John Flynn with coaxing solid performances from its cast, as well as a satisfying score by Bill Conti which adds immeasurably to the action.

Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray release does seem riddled with a bit too much noise-reduction, as there isn’t a lot of grain in evidence, but the image overall is pleasing, especially given murky prior DVD and VHS releases. DTS Master Audio 5.1 sound is also on-hand, along with the trailer and some vintage promotional interviews and such.

Among the numerous stars in “The Expendables” is Mickey Rourke, whose starring role in Walter Hill’s 1989 contemporary film noir JOHNNY HANDSOME (***, 89 mins., R), also receives the Blu-Ray HD treatment from Lionsgate.

A box-office misfire that was one of three solid pictures Hill shot for Carolco in the late ‘80s (“Red Heat” and the underrated Nick Nolte effort “Extreme Prejudice” being the others), Rourke (in both one of his best performances and a somewhat eerie foreshadowing of his own plastic surgery issues) essays gangster John Sedley, aka “Johnny Handsome,” a deformed killer who’s double-crossed by a pair of thieves (Ellen Barkin, Lance Henriksen) and sent to prison. There he meets a surgeon (Forest Whitaker) who agrees to give him a new face, but not necessarily a new life, as Johnny promptly picks up where he left off in the outside world: namely, going after the thugs who double-crossed him.

Elizabeth McGovern, Scott Wilson and Morgan Freeman (as the wise cop who understands Johnny’s true nature) co-star in this well-paced thriller that’s both flavorfully shot (by Matthew F. Leonetti) and scored (by Ry Cooder, who composed one of his most satisfying film scores here). The performances are all on the mark as well, and Ken Friedman’s adaptation of John Godey’s novel works splendidly as a modern film noir where bad decisions, as always, lead to dire consequences for its lead character.

The remastered 1080p transfer on Lionsgate’s BD disc is a bit of a mixed bag, offering nice detail but also some processing that gives the picture a fuzzy appearance. The 2.0 DTS Master Audio stereo sound fares better, while extras include 30 minutes of recent featurettes, including an interview with Friedman (in HD), plus the trailer and a stills gallery.

Warner Double Features

Warner’s popular line of Double Feature Blu-Rays adds three new offerings this month: the Bruce Willis action flicks “Last Boy Scout”/”Last Man Standing,” plus the attractive pairing of PRACTICAL MAGIC/THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK and the decidedly less appealing mix of DR.GIGGLES/OTIS.

The “Witches Double-Bill” pairs the 1987 box-office hit THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK (***, 118 mins., R) with the troubled but engaging fantasy PRACTICAL MAGIC (***, 104 mins., 1998, PG-13).

“The Witches of Eastwick” was reportedly a highly tumultuous shoot for director George Miller, who made his American debut here after completing three “Mad Max” films in his native Australia.

With egos the size of Jack Nicholson and his lovely co-stars Cher, Susan Sarandon and Michelle Pfeiffer, it’s likely no surprise that the film might’ve been a bit of a bumpy ride behind the scenes. Yet the final product is a polished, delicious mix of supernatural fantasy, romantic comedy and horror, with Jack’s Devil bewitching a trio of small-town New England women and turning a quaint historical community upside down.

The movie’s tone is a bit all over the place, and the picture’s special effects-intensive ending isn’t entirely satisfying (there are reports that test audiences disliked early cuts of the picture’s finale, necessitating that a number of endings be shot), but there’s plenty to like here: the breezy performances of its cast (including support from Veronica Cartwright and then-actors from Rhode Island’s Trinity Rep, Richard Jenkins among them), gorgeous Vilmos Zsigmond cinematography, and a playful, wildly satisfying score from John Williams make this one of the more memorable big-studio summer films of the mid-late ‘80s.

Similar production woes plagued “Practical Magic,” the 1998 adaptation of Alice Hoffman’s popular book. This tale of two sisters (Sandra Bullock, Nicole Kidman) who inherit their family’s witch-bloodline and the curses inherent with it didn’t perform all that well in test screenings, leading the studio to replace Michael Nyman’s original score so late in the game that two tracks of his discarded music made the first round of Warner’s soundtrack album pressings.

Nyman’s music was terrific, but Alan Silvestri’s score is also just fine in its own right, and in spite of mixed reviews, “Practical Magic” is highly entertaining fluff with more of an accent on romance than fantasy. The Robin Swicord-Adam Brooks-Akiva Goldsman script seems like it might’ve been a bit too finessed in pre-production, but there’s enough chemistry between Bullock, Kidman and a terrific supporting cast (Aidan Quinn, Dianne Weist, Stockard Channing) to make the film worthwhile, especially on a “date movie” type of level.

Both movies look great on Blu-Ray. “The Witches of Eastwick” positively sings in this new VC-1 encode, with Zsigmond’s terrific scope compositions benefitting a great deal from the move to high-definition. “Practical Magic” also looks just fine in its VC-1 1080p transfer, though the film isn’t as elaborately designed as its counterpart. Each film also sports satisfying DTS Master Audio soundtracks and no extras.

Far less satisfying is the horror combo pairing the guilty-pleasure 1992 Largo/JVC release DR. GIGGLES (***, 96 mins., R) with the tepid OTIS (*½, 100 mins., Unrated), which, to add insult to injury, has already been issued on Blu-Ray (why not pair “Dr.Giggles” with any number of unreleased-in-HD Warner titles like “The Hand,” “Wolfen,” etc.?).

The main draw here for horror fans is “Dr. Giggles,” the under-rated, over-the-top horror outing -- in many ways a spoof -- that stars Larry Drake as a crazed surgeon who still practices his own brand of medicine in a small rural town. Loads of hilarious one-liners (in the Manny Coto-Graeme Whifler script) punctuate this free-wheeling vehicle -- directed by Coto and co-starring a pre-“Charmed” Holly Marie Combs -- that resurfaced on DVD in 2007 after years of being out of print.

Warner (which inherited the film from Universal as part of a distribution deal with Intermedia, who purchased the Largo/JVC library) has produced a decent VC-1 encoded transfer here that’s noteworthy in that the movie’s Super 35 frame has been modified from its 2.35 theatrical appearance to 1.78 on Blu-Ray. While nothing has been trimmed on the sides, there’s now less than a third of the frame on the top of the image that’s simply dead space: for example, characters are blocked so that heads never fill this un-matted portion of the image. While I’m all for the entire Super 35 image area being exposed on video -- most of the time -- this is one instance where “Dr. Giggles” must’ve been framed with 2.35 in mind, and should have been presented accordingly.

Meanwhile, a game cast is the only distinguishing aspect of 2007's “Otis,” which stars Daniel Stern and Illeana Douglas as a pair of suburbanites whose daughter (Ashley Johnson) has been abducted by a psychotic pizza guy (Bostin Christopher). Kevin Pollak and Jere Burns also should have known better than to saddle up for this “darkly comic” horror that’s awash in unpleasant gore, no matter how “lighthearted” former “24" director Tony Krantz tries to make it.

Warner’s VC-1 encode here is the exact same package that the studio previously issued on Blu (2.40 widescreen transfer with Dolby TrueHD audio). Meanwhile, “Dr. Giggles” is presented in DTS Master Audio, and no extras are included on either film.

New on Blu-Ray

THE PROWLER Blu-Ray (***, 89 mins., 1981, Not Rated; Blue Underground): Slasher fans ought to be jazzed over the release of this 1981 genre fave, fully remastered in crisp high-definition courtesy of Blue Underground.

Exploitation vet Joseph Zito’s best movie (more or less) finds a jilted WWII vet returning to his hometown to exact revenge on the girlfriend who left him and her classmates; decades later, more unsuspecting teens meet their demise in this well-executed horror flick with some of Tom Savini’s more memorable make-up effects.

Blue Underground’s 1080p HD transfer is splendid, offering a nice amount of grain and detail. Extras include commentary with Savini and Zito, some of Savini’s behind-the-scenes footage, and the trailer.

THE ECLIPSE Blu-Ray (**½, 88 mins., 2009, R; Magnolia): Atmospheric, well-acted though extremely slow-moving supernatural drama about a teacher and single father (Ciaran Hinds) haunted by ghosts, including one of his late wife. While working at a literary festival, he meets an author who specializes in the paranormal (Iben Hjejle), whose former lover (Aidan Quinn) is also present at the same gathering.

Conor McPherson directed and co-wrote this eerie drama, which works best in its introspective, quieter moments – and “The Eclipse” has more than its share of those. Fionnuala Ni Chiosain’s moody, low-key score is a definite asset, and there are a few jolts along the way – yet ultimately the film just seems to be missing a certain spark. It keeps you watching yet the final result doesn’t leave you with any lasting impression.

Magnolia’s Blu-Ray disc is a winner, at least, with the gorgeous 1080p transfer and DTS Master Audio soundtrack comprising an exceptional technical package. Slim extras include two Making Of featurettes.    

TIN MAN Blu-Ray (***, 267 mins., 2007; RHI/Vivendi): Nick Willing’s colorful Syfy Channel mini-series was a big hit upon its initial airing in 2007, and comes to Blu-Ray at last in a top-notch double-disc set from RHI. This “reinvention” of “The Wizard of Oz” offers Zooey Deschanel as Dorothy, here dubbed D.G., who finds Oz to be a wasteland presided over by the villainous (but extremely sexy) Azkadellia (Kathleen Robertson). Alan Cumming, Neal McDonough and Richard Dreyfuss co-star in this agreeably paced fantasy which looks just dynamite in HD; the 1080p transfer and DTS Master Audio soundtrack are each superlative, while a good assortment of extras include numerous cast and crew interviews and behind-the-scenes featurettes.

IP MAN Blu-Ray (***, 107 mins., R; Well Go): Donnie Yen stars as Ip Man, martial arts expert, Wing Chun grandmaster and mentor (Bruce Lee was one of his pupils) in this massively successful Chinese production, which earned numerous awards in its native country and rates as a must-see for martial arts enthusiasts.

The film tells the (mostly) true story of Ip Man, whose martial arts expertise is put to the test when the Japanese occupy China during the late ‘30s, forcing prisoners to fight to the death for a bag of rice.

Expertly choreographed fight scenes by Sammo Hung and a fine performance from Yen make this a vivid, entertaining mix of fact and fiction, while Yip Wai-Shun’s pacing is decidedly more satisfying and balanced than other genre films we typically see. “Ip Man” may have reportedly toyed with the facts of its protagonist’s life, but as a film, it’s undeniably effective and rousing.

Well Go USA’s Collector’s Edition Blu-Ray disc of “Ip Man” is satisfying: the 1080p transfer preserves the film’s original cinematography fairly well, while both English and Cantonese audio tracks are on-hand. A bonus DVD of extras includes a Making Of, behind-the-scenes content, deletes scenes, interviews, trailers, a shooting diary and more.

WHITE COLLAR Season 1 Blu-Ray (617 mins., 2009-10; Fox): USA Network series stars Matt Bomer as a con man who escapes from prison, is tracked down by his FBI agent nemesis (Tim DeKay), then talked into joining the bureau in order to hunt down other criminals. This colorful, engaging series, which recently started its second season, has just arrived on Blu-Ray in a complete Season 1 package, sporting AVC encoded 1080p transfers and DTS Master Audio soundtracks. Extras include selected episode commentaries, deleted scenes, a gag reel, and several featurettes.

OUR FAMILY WEDDING Blu-Ray (*½, 90 mins., 2010, PG-13; Fox): Painful “comedy” with America Ferrera and Lance Gross as college kids who want to get married; Forest Whitaker and Carlos Mencia play their respective fathers, who turn their big day into a series of mishaps in this labored affair from director Rick Famuyiwa and his co-writers Wayne Conley and Malcolm Spellman. “Our Family Wedding” is loud, abrasive and not especially endearing; even by romantic comedy standards this one is a mess. Fox’s Blu-Ray/digital copy combo package at least includes a pleasant AVC-encoded 1080p transfer, DTS Master Audio sound, deleted/extended scenes, a gag reel, and a few featurettes.

OPEN HOUSE Blu-Ray (*½, 87 mins., 2010, R; Lionsgate): Anna Paquin did her brother Andrew a huge favor by agreeing to star, along with Stephen Moyer, Tricia Helfer and Brian Geraghty, in this lame thriller which never received a wide release and bombed when it played at Tribeca earlier this year. Andrew Paquin wrote and directed this substandard, tedious slice of hokum, about a psycho who tortures a young couple trying to sell their own house. Perhaps a group of real estate firms helped bankroll this total waste of time; either way, Andrew’s going to be in debt to his sister and friends for a while to come after this mess. Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray of “Open House” includes an AVC encoded 1080p transfer, DTS Master Audio sound, commentary with Geraghty and Andrew Paquin and deleted scenes.

OPERATION: ENDGAME Blu-Ray (**, 82 mins., 2010, R; Anchor Bay): A huge cast from Rob Corddry to Ellen Barkin, Emilie De Ravin, Zach Galifianakis, Jeffrey Tambor, Maggie Q, Ving Rhames and Odette Yustman flounder in this gravely disappointing “spoof” from director Fouad Mikati. Scripted by Sam Levinson, “Operation: Endgame” chronicles what happens when top-secret agents end up trying to knock off each other once their boss is murdered; action and comedy forge an uncertain mix with only a few sporadic laughs sprinkled in (a major letdown given the cast), while even at 82 minutes the picture feels overlong. Anchor Bay’s Blu-Ray does offer a crisp 2.40 1080p transfer with PCM lossless 5.1 audio and extras including an alternate opening and ending and behind-the-scenes featurette.    

BATMAN: UNDER THE RED HOOD Blu-Ray (75 mins., 2010; Warner): Bat-fans will find plenty to appreciate about this newest made-for-video effort from Warner Animation, which ranks as one of the strongest DC Comics video productions to date.

This time out, writer Judd Winick adapted his popular graphic novel “Batman: Under the Hood” for the screen, following Batman and Nightwing’s efforts to take down the mysterious Red Hood -- a crusader without a code for proper justice, and whose attire resembles an outfit the Joker wore many years before. Action and better-than-average dialogue highlight this surprisingly good offering, with Batman reeling from the death of the second Robin (Jason Todd) -- a story device which weighs heavily on the drama here.

Warner’s Blu-Ray of “Under the Red Hood” is generally quite satisfying, though the VC-1 encode does look a bit noisy at times. The DTS Master Audio sound fares better, with extras including a BD-exclusive segment on DC’s resurrection of the Robin character, plus four episodes from the classic “Batman: The Animated Series,” featurettes, a “Jonah Hex” animated short and a look at the upcoming “Superman/Batman Apocalypse” original movie. Recommended!       

GREENBERG Blu-Ray (**½, 108 mins., 2009, R; Universal): Overpraised “indie dramedy” failed to muster much of an audience for star Ben Stiller, who plays the title character: a burned out former musician turned carpenter who agrees to housesit for his brother in L.A. Inbetween dog walks and writing letters of complaint, Greenberg has trouble trying to reconnect with former friends including Rhys Ifans and Jennifer Jason Leigh (who also produced and co-wrote the film with director Noah Baumbach), while his first meetings with his brother’s lovely young assistant Florence (Greta Gerwig) are awkward to say the least...until it seems clear the duo have forged a bond in spite of their respective quirks.

“Greenberg” has a lot of good things going for it, including vivid scope cinematography from Harris Savides and a fine performance from fetching newcomer Gerwig, who manages to be appealing and offbeat without appearing intentionally “quirky.” She’s a real find, and Baumbach, coming off the acclaimed “Squid and the Whale,” does craft several moments of poignancy and natural humor here. Still, I rarely found the film and its characters compelling, with a somewhat smug, pretentious script also being an obstacle: the environment and the types of characters one encounters in “Greenberg” are likely most relatable to the director, and it’s entirely possible that kind of “in” element put off viewers who don’t live inside the movie’s bubble.

Universal’s Blu-Ray does full justice to Savides’ cinematography with a vivid 1080p transfer. DTS Master Audio sound is on-hand along with just a few behind-the-scenes featurettes.

REPO MEN Blu-Ray (*½, 112 and 120 mins., 2010, R/Unrated; Universal): Prior to the release of the animated kids movie “Despicable Me” it had been a rough year for new Universal theatrical films, with this off-putting and unpleasant sci-fi thriller being one of the biggest of the studio’s financial misfires.

In one of those ugly, narcissistic futures we still see on the silver screen from time to time, Jude Law and Forest Whitaker play “Repo Men,” tough guys who will do anything to reclaim organs (yes, and I’m not talking of the electronic kind) from those who have fallen behind on their dues. After suffering an accident in which Law needs a heart transplant, the former assassin finds himself on the run from Whitaker when he can’t pay up.

This loud, unlikeable thriller has, obviously, nothing at all to do with “Repo Man,” the cult ‘80s item with Emilio Estevez, with Eric Garcia and Garrett Lerner’s script owing more of a debt to “Logan’s Run” in terms of its basic premise than anything else. Law, Whitaker, Liev Schrieber, and Alice Braga all deserved better than this downright ugly misfire, which Universal brings to Blu-Ray this month with both R-rated (112 mins.) and Unrated (120 mins.) versions on-tap.

Visually the disc looks fine with its VC-1 encoded transfer, while DTS Master Audio sound and a number of extras (deleted scenes, commentary, visual F/X featurette) round out the package.

New From Criterion

THE SECRET OF THE GRAIN Blu-Ray (154 mins., 2007; Criterion): Abdellatif Kechiche’s “The Secret of the Grain” earned four Cesar awards for its portrayal of an Arab family in the south of France, and joins the Criterion Collection this month in high-definition.

Kechiche’s film fascinatingly examines the immigrant experience through the eyes of family patriarch Slimane, whose time on the docks has been reduced in the port city of Sete. His dreams of building a restaurant to highlight his wife’s cooking drives the elder statesman, with various domestic family drama aspects likewise playing out throughout this (extremely) leisurely 154-minute French film.

Not entirely exciting or compelling, “The Secret of the Grain” is nevertheless an intriguing film for its point-of-view, and those with a taste for its methodical pacing are likely to be rewarded by the picture’s offbeat conclusion. Criterion’s Blu-Ray package of the picture will be available next week and offers an abundance of extras, including Kechiche’s extended reedit of the film’s belly-dancing sequence, which caps the film; video interviews with scholar Ludovic Cortade; an interview with the director; excerpts from a television interview with Kechiche and actress Hafsia Herzi; additional interviews with the cast and musicians; the trailer; and booklet notes from critic Wesley Morris.

The AVC encoded transfer is exceptional and DTS Master Audio sound rounds out the disc (also on DVD).

Also new from Criterion are a pair of fascinating documentaries from Terry Zwigoff: his 1995 chronicle of artist Robert CRUMB (on Blu-Ray; 120 mins., 1995), as well as his earlier portrait  of obscure musician/visual artist Howard LOUIE BLUIE Armstrong (on DVD; 60 mins., 1985).

This latter documentary from Zwigoff is an offbeat affair perfectly tailored for the documentary’s equally eccentric subject, with Criterion’s DVD including a new high-def derived transfer (in 1.33) approved by the director; a commentary from Zwigoff; over a half-hour of unused footage; illustrations from Howard Armstrong; a stills gallery; and a booklet featuring liner notes from critic Michael Sragow.

“Crumb”, meanwhile, profiles its central subject’s art, reclusive life style and influence on American pop-culture in a fascinating piece that many heralded as one of the best documentaries of the decade. Criterion’s Blu-Ray disc sports a new high-def digital transfer with uncompressed mono sound; two commentaries -- one with Zwigoff from 2010, plus a 2006 talk with Zwigoff and Roger Ebert; nearly an hour of unused footage; a still gallery; and a booklet with artwork and notes from critic Jonathan Rosenbaum.

New From Acorn

WORLD WAR I IN COLOR DVD ( 284 mins., 2009; Acorn): Kenneth Branagh narrates this fine WWI documentary, which offers colorized film footage from the era (produced under the guidance of various historians), enhancing its straightforward, fascinating chronicle of the war itself. The six parts include the episodes “Catastrophe,” “Slaughter in the Trenches,” “Blood in the Air,” “Killers of the Sea,” “Mayhem on the Eastern Front” and “Victory and Despair,” taking viewers through the events of the first Great War with countless interviews from historians, survivors, and letter and diary entries from others who lived through it. This effort from British documentarians Pihilip Nugus and Jonathan Martin comes highly recommended.

Acorn’s DVD set offers a number of bonus features including a 50-minute special “Tactics and Strategy,” a 15-minute production profile, biographies of various political and military leaders, a timeline, and a 12-page viewer’s guide with additional historical background.

LIFE ON MARS: The Complete Collection DVD (16 hours, 2005-06; Acorn): John Simm plays a modern-day detective who inexplicably wakes up in 1973 in this acclaimed and hugely popular BBC series, which was remade to lesser success in the U.S. two seasons ago.

Fans of the series – as well as newcomers who have wanted to check out the show but have yet to do so -- will definitely want to splurge for Acorn’s complete box-set of the series. In addition to superb 16:9 transfers and 5.1 soundtracks, Acorn has included a full range of extras, including commentaries for all Season 1 episodes; a featurette on the show’s music; outtake reel; interviews; documentaries; and bonus behind-the-scenes content.

The ending may have been controversial (and somewhat less than satisfying), but love it or hate it, viewers have the opportunity here to revisit the complete series in a wholly satisfying package from Acorn.

POIROT: THE MOVIE COLLECTION SET 5 DVD (275 mins., 2008-10; Acorn): David Suchet’s portrayal of Agatha Christie’s irrepressible Belgian detective Hercule Poirot is one of the most memorable of all-time, and the star is back in three feature-length Christie adaptations: “Murder on the Orient Express,” “Third Girl” and “Appointment with Death,” co-starring Tim Curry. All three are presented in 16:9 widescreen with stereo soundtracks and a few interesting extras, including a 48-minute tour of the Orient Express with Suchet recounting its history; “120 Years of Agatha Christie” and more.

TOUCHING EVIL: The Complete Collection DVD (13 hours, 1997-99; Acorn): Harrowing, unsettling British crime drama follows Robson Green as a cop who investigates some of the darkest of all crimes, whether it’s pedophiles or serial killers and sadists. This acclaimed Brit import certainly isn’t for everyone, but it’s nevertheless extremely well done with top performances. Acorn’s DVD collection offers all eight episodes of “Touching Evil” in 4:3 full-screen with stereo soundtracks.

Also New on DVD

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO DVD (***, 152 minz., 2009, R; Music Box Films): Stieg Larsson’s bestselling books have become an international sensation both in print and on screen, where Niels Arden Oplev’s film adaptations have been widely embraced by viewers and readers around the world.

It’s an interesting phenomenon since some of my mother’s elderly friends have all gone to see the film adaptation of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” even though there are individual moments in the picture that are so explicit, they might make even “Saw” fans cringe. I guess it’s the power of subtitles and the lure of an “art house” foreign movie that have drawn in audiences who wouldn’t ordinarily be caught dead watching a film about a serial killer being tracked down by a journalist and his talented, yet troubled, computer hacker.

For viewers new to the series, Oplev’s film is a tightly-executed, compelling, disturbing and occasionally unpleasant picture that thriller fans ought to eat up. The director’s widescreen visuals, combined with atmospheric cinematography and sound design, make this a fascinating film that’s unsurprisingly been lined up for an American remake (by David Fincher) -- one that may be problematic since going too overboard might result in a loud, bombastic version that accentuates too much of its source’s grizzly elements.

Music Box Films’ DVD looks terrific, presenting the 152-minute film in Swedish with English subtitles (or with an English dubbed track). Extras include an interview with star Noomi Rapace, the trailer, and a “Vanger Family Tree” segment.

THE KANSAS CITY ROYALS - 1985 WORLD SERIES Collector’s Edition DVD ( aprx. 18 hours; A&E/Newvideo): It’s been a long time since the KC Royals have been able to generate much success in the game of baseball. Perennial underdogs with payrolls that can’t match the big boys of Major League Baseball, Royals fans have had to make due with mostly inferior teams and young talent that, once it reaches the end of its initial contract, often seeks larger sums of money elsewhere.

For that reason it’s particularly nice the A&E has packaged together this seven-disc set, offering the original broadcasts of the Royals’ unforgettable 1985 run to the World Series, where KC vanquished the St. Louis Cardinals in a classic seven-game-series. Every game is presented here along with extras including highlights from the ‘85 ALCS, where the Royals had to rally back from a 3-1 deficit to defeat the Toronto Blue Jays, plus a proper “highlight film” of the season, retrospective interviews, clubhouse celebration goodies and more.

Strongly recommended for Royals fans, especially those hopeful that the good times will roll in KC once again some day soon.

THE BANNEN WAY DVD (94 mins., 2009; Sony): Original filmed web content seems to be spiking of late, with “The Bannen Way” being one of the more popular, award-winning web series currently online. This feature-length movie of the Crackle series offers Mark Gantt as Neal Bannen, a con artist and master thief whose dad (Michael Ironside) is a cop and uncle (Robert Forster) a mafia don. Naturally, Bannen just wants to finish off one more score before going straight, but finds out it’s harder than he bargained for. Sony’s DVD of “The Bannen Way” includes a 16:9 (1.78) transfer with 5.1 audio and six behind-the-scenes featurettes.

THE WRONGED MAN DVD (89 mins., 2010; Sony): High-rated Lifetime original movie offers Julia Ormond one of her better roles as a legal secretary who spends the better part of two decades trying to free an innocent African-American man (Mahershalalhashbaz Ali) who was sent to prison for raping a young girl. Excellent performances and fine direction from Tom McLoughlin make “The Wronged Man” a compelling true story, with Sony’s DVD containing a fine 16:9 (1.78) transfer and a Making Of featurette recounting the tele-film’s production along with a look at the actual story that inspired the case.

MY BOYS: Seasons 2 and 3 DVD (378 mins., 2008-09; Sony): Jordana Spiro plays a Chicago sportwriter with a bevy of guy friends (Jim Gaffigan, Kyle Howard, Reid Scott and Michael Bunin) who make her attempts at finding an actual guy difficult. This TBS original series, the network’s first original comedy, returns to DVD this month from Sony in a two-disc set offering its complete second and third seasons (9 episodes each) in 16:9 (1.78) transfers and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks.

JESSIE STONE: NO REMORSE DVD (87 mins., 2010; Sony): The latest made-for-TV thriller starring Tom Selleck as Robert B. Parker’s small-town police chief earned decent, though not spectacular, ratings on CBS last spring. This time out, Selleck and Michael Brandman wrote an original story wherein Jessie tracks down a series of murders leading to a Boston mobster (William Sadler). Kathy Baker, William Devane, Saul Rubinek and Stephen McHattie lead a strong supporting cast in this leisurely paced but still compelling TV-movie, which Sony brings to DVD in a fine 16:9 (1.78) transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

JUST ANOTHER DAY Blu-Ray (95 mins., 2009; Image): Jamie Hector essays a struggling rapper in this portrait of the highs and lows of the hip-hop scene from director Peter Spirer and writer Iain Kennedy. Image’s Blu-Ray disc of this belated reunion for “The Wire” cast members Hector and Wood Harris sports a good-looking 1080p (1.78) transfer with DTS Master Audio sound and extras including a Making Of featurette; deleted scenes; the trailer; and an additional featurette profiling the film’s music.      
NEIGHBOR DVD (90 mins., 2010, Unrated; Lionsgate): Yet another “torture porn” thriller about a beautiful girl (America Olivio) who enjoys sadistically toying with suburbanites in her spare time does offer a bit more humor than usual due to Robert Angelo Masciantonio’s script. Yet it’s ultimately still a gross-out, pointless affair best left for Eli Roth fans and those who find this genre of interest. Lionsgate’s DVD hits stores on the 27th, offering a 16:9 (2.35) transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound and a number of extras including commentaries, a gag reel, music video, and featurettes.

Animation & Family Entertainment

SESAME STREET: 20 YEARS AND COUNTING DVD ( 48 mins., 1989; Lionsgate): NBC TV special from 1989 celebrated 20 years of the classic PBS series, with Bill Cosby on-hand to introduce numerous classic Sesame clips (Ray Charles singing “It’s Not Easy Bein’ Green,” etc.). The special is quite affecting and was produced by Jim Henson’s company, concluding with a nice tribute to the late Joe Raposo. Lionsgate’s DVD is in full-screen, naturally, and stereo sound.

COURAGE THE COWARDLY DOG: Season 1 DVD (286 mins., Warner): Cartoon Network series hits DVD in a Season 1 set, offering all 13 episodes from the inaugural season of “Courage.” This wacky offering was one of the original CN series, running four seasons and still continues to be shown on the channel today; fans ought to enjoy the full-screen transfers and stereo soundtracks of Warner’s double-disc set.

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