7/6/10 Edition Twitter: THEAISLESEATCOM
July Mania Edition
Plus: Shout!, Anchor Bay Round-Up
Sometimes certain movies just have a track record of bad luck on video. Such is the case with the original PREDATOR (***½, 107 mins., 1987, R; Fox), which has now gone through two different releases on Blu-Ray, including a would-be “Ultimate Hunter Edition” that was meant to rectify its previous release’s omissions.

As a movie, this slam-bang extraterrestrial brawlfest is still one of the best outings for both star Arnold Schwarzenegger and director John McTiernan, offering tense, well- choreographed action, superb effects, and a rousing story line encompassing the best of '80s action filmmaking.

Alas, Fox’s original Blu-Ray disc was more in line with their first wave of BD catalog titles than some of their better efforts, offering only a very basic presentation of the movie -- on a single-layer 25GB disc no less -- with an okay MPEG-2 transfer and DTS Master Audio soundtrack. The film has always looked grainy and while it goes without saying that disc was the “best the film has ever looked” on video, the film still appeared “dirty” at times, as if the BD release was derived from an older HD master.

Unfortunately, the drawbacks from the original Blu-Ray seem tame compared to the new AVC-encode on the “Ultimate Hunter Edition,” which trades in grain for an overly processed, detail-free transfer that’s simply crushing for fans of the film. The image has been soiled with an excessive amount of digital noise reduction, resulting in the “cleanest” looking “Predator” you’ve ever seen -- so much that there’s seldom any grain, or HD detail, in the image at all!

The disappointment is accentuated when you consider this BD offers all the special features Fox inexplicably left off the first Blu-Ray, including commentary from McTiernan, an on-screen text commentary by historian Eric Lichtenfeld, a half-hour featurette on the creation of the film, a vintage promo featurette from 1987, the original trailer, a deleted scene in workprint form, special effects featurettes, and other goodies.

Fans will now have to choose between the original Blu-Ray’s flawed but at least far superior transfer, or the generous extras on this new release -- or own them both for a “complete” package. Did it have to be this complicated?       

Thankfully no such issues exist with Sony’s Blu-Ray of the Charles H. Schneer-Ray Harryhausen fantasy classic JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (***½, 104 mins., 1963), which streets this week.

A textbook example of how to treat a catalog title, this AVC-encoded 1080p transfer preserves the film’s 1.66 aspect ratio (meaning most HDTV sets will display black borders on the left and right hand edges of the frame) in a crisp, fully detailed image that fans of this magnificent genre adventure ought to be thrilled with. Unlike “Predator,” grain is preserved throughout, so the use of optical effects means some sequences of the picture naturally appear with more of their imperfections exposed than in prior standard-definition renditions. Overall, the image is marvelous, though I’m sure die-hard fans may want to compare some of the day-for-night sequences (a sticking point in prior video releases) with earlier DVDs and Criterion’s laserdisc release from way back when to see how faithful they are to the intended theatrical experience.

The audio fares well, representing Bernard Herrmann’s majestic score in both its original mono mix as well as a DTS Master Audio 5.1 track that only gives a bit of depth to the music and effects, with most of its activity confined to the center channel.

In addition to the expected supplements (John Landis’ old interviews with Harryhausen, the “Ray Harryhausen Chronicles” and “Harryhausen Legacy” featurettes, skeleton fight storyboards), a pair of new commentaries are on-hand. One track offers Harryhausen and his archivist, historian Tony Dalton, discussing the picture, with Dalton doing a good job prompting the legendary effects master to divulge technical details of his F/X and the challenges involved in shooting the picture. Another track is a quite interesting discussion with Peter Jackson and one of his “Lord of the Rings” special effects supervisors, Randall William Cook, which engagingly dissects the film’s technical and narrative attributes in a nice contrast to the more “scholarly” Dalton-Harryhausen conversation.

A slew of trailers and TV spots rounds out a disc that remains one of the most enjoyable of all of Harryhausen’s productions, from its entertaining story (penned by Jan Read and Beverly Cross) to colorful action, memorable creatures and unforgettable set-pieces. A must for all genre fans!

New From Criterion and Kino: Golden Age Classics

Continuing on with more exquisite “Golden Age” entertainment in high-definition, Criterion delivers a bullseye this month with outstanding Blu-Ray presentations of Michael Powell/Emeric Pressburger classics BLACK NARCISSUS (****, 101 mins., 1947) and THE RED SHOES (****, 134 mins., 1948).

Shot back-to-back, the tandem celebrate the power of art and the glory of cinema, particularly since movies don’t get more vivid than Jack Cardiff’s sensuous Technicolor pallet that’s on-display throughout both movies. And cinephiles don’t need much of an analysis of these pictures either, except to say few filmmakers have ever produced a consecutive pair of works in their respective careers as brilliant as these two Archers productions.

The 1947 “Black Narcissus,” with its tale of repression, madness, devout faith and obstacles both environmental and psychological, is nothing short of a magnificent visual experience. Deborah Kerr is terrific here as a young Mother Superior struggling to keep things together in a nunnery set atop the Himalayan mountains; Flora Robson, Sabu, David Farrar and Jean Simmons co-star in a film where Cardiff’s photography and Alfred Junge’s production design (almost entirely realized on Pinewood Studios sets) play as large a role in the drama as the actors themselves.

“Black Narcissus” becomes all the more satisfying when viewed in Criterion’s Blu-Ray edition. Colors are warmer, details clearer -- for a film that relies so heavily on its photography and production design, it’s not a stretch to suggest that this is one of those films that can only be fully appreciated when seen either in a theater or here in HD. Cardiff and Michael Powell’s widow, Thelma Schoonmaker Powell, participated in the creation of Criterion’s new transfer, which is further graced with an uncompressed mono soundtrack and numerous extras, including an older commentary from Michael Powell and Martin Scorsese; a video intro from filmmaker Bernard Tavernier; a video piece where Tavernier discusses the film and Powell’s works; a documentary on the production; the terrific Cardiff documentary “Painting with Light”; and the original trailer.

Powell and Pressburger followed up their “Black Narcissus” triumph with another film that was ahead of its time.

In “The Red Shoes,” the duo didn’t just captivate viewers with its dream-like examination of life on and off the stage – following a young ballerina (Moira Shearer) caught in a romantic triangle – but blurred the lines between fantasy and reality in a way no prior film had done before. This dark fairy tale captures the beauty, struggle and obsession with art to a degree that influenced generations of filmmakers, and can be appreciated on any number of levels – for its strong thematic messages; its sheer, gorgeous ballet sequences; and once again, Jack Cardiff’s unforgettable cinematography.

The UCLA Film & Television Archive worked with the Film Foundation for nearly three years on a restoration of “The Red Shoes,” painstakingly preserving the picture in high-definition for generations to come. Their efforts are breathtaking to behold on Blu-Ray, where once again, Criterion has packaged a lush, enormously satisfying image (with uncompressed mono sound) that breathes new life into this masterful film.

Extras are in abundance yet again, highlighted by a new demonstration on the restoration with Martin Scorsese; an older audio commentary with Ian Christie and assorted crew members (Cardiff, composer Brian Easdale, Shearer, co-star Marius Goring) and admirers (Scorsese); Jeremy Irons reading portions of both the original Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale as well as excerpts from Powell and Pressburger’s novelization; a documentary on the movie’s production; an interview with Thelma Schoonmaker Powell from the 2009 Cannes Film Festival; galleries of publicity stills and behind-the-scenes photos, including Scorsese’s personal collection of movie memorabilia; an animated film of Hein Heckroth’s painted storyboards; the trailer; and booklet notes with comments from UCLA film archivist Robert Gitt on the restoration process.

Also new on DVD this month from Criterion are a pair of films from Yasujiro Ozu, THE ONLY SON and THERE WAS A FATHER.

Shot in 1936 and 1942, these early Ozu works will be of interest for Japanese film scholars, one film having been shot during an economic depression in the country, while “There Was a Father,” portraying a schoolteacher who drifts apart from his son, was produced in the middle of WWII.

Supplements include new full-screen digital transfers, naturally in Japanese with optional English subtitles (newly re-translated); interviews with film scholars Tadao Sato, David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson; plus extensive essays and booklet notes.

Fans of Buster Keaton, meanwhile, have cause for celebration this month as well with the release of STEAMBOAT BILL JR. ( 70 mins., 1928; Kino), the legendary comic’s final independent production.

In this follow-up to the classic “The General,” Keaton plays a college-age young man who heads back south and reunites with his father, a riverboat captain dueling with a rival riverboat king who’s also the father of Keaton’s beloved (Marion Byron).

Fully restored in high-def, Kino’s Special Edition of the film offers an abundance of interesting archival materials, not the least of which includes two different versions of the film: one from the Buster Keaton Estate, and another from the Killiam Shows Archive (it was reportedly standard practice during the era for filmakers to create separate negatives, each with their own takes and camera angles). There are three different soundtracks on-hand, from an organ score by Lee Erwin to William Perry’s piano score, as well as music from the Biograph Players presented in full 5.1 DTS Master Audio. A documentary on the making of the film, a still gallery, two vintage recordings of the folk tune “Steamboat Bill,” and a musical montage of Keaton gags rounds out a disc that ought to enchant silent-film and Keaton fanatics – another excellent vintage package from Kino.

New From Shout!

Growing up, my main exposure to “Dragnet” was the funny Dan Aykroyd-Tom Hanks comedy from the summer of ‘87, so it has been a pleasure to watch not just my copy of the “Dragnet 1967" box-set (which I bought on the cheap a few weeks back), but also DRAGNET 1968, which makes its overdue debut on DVD this month courtesy of Shout! Factory.

This full-color updating of Jack Webb’s ‘50s TV series/radio drama makes for irresistible entertainment, with Webb’s Joe Friday and Harry Morgan’s Bill Gannon serving the LAPD circa 1968 with no-nonsense, by-the-book investigations. Their interplay, along with a litany of cases that range from the typical to period-centric (teens dropping acid, spiritual leaders peddling LSD), is what distinguished “Dragnet” as one of the most entertaining and influential shows of its era, and its 30-minute format makes the episodes just as snappy and fast-paced as they were back then -- and more durable today than many of its hour-long contemporaries.

Universal released Season 1 (“Dragnet 1967") on DVD several years ago so fans have had to wait patiently for Shout! to pick up the rights and at last release a terrific box-set of “Dragnet 1968,” which streets on DVD this week.

This package not just includes the entire “‘68" season but also the original, feature-length TV-pilot movie, “Dragnet 1966,” along with a remembrance from Webb’s daughter Stacy and Webb background notes from his authorized biography. Other extras include a vintage “Dragnet 1969" trailer and a featurette on Webb, offering comments from Peggy Webber, Tom Williams, Jackie Loughery, Herb Ellis and others.

Also new from Shout! and Fabulous Films this month is the entertaining STREET HAWK (1984, 690 mins.), a short-lived but fondly remembered Universal-TV series with Rex Smith starring as the immortal “Jesse Mach,” a cop injured in the line of duty who’s recruited for a top-secret government mission: riding the ultimate motorcycle, Street Hawk, with speeds up to 300 mph and an arsenal of weaponry that would only be rivaled by Kit in “Knight Rider” (or “Air Wolf,” or “Blue Thunder,” or any other ‘80s movie/TV series with “high tech” mech).

In fact, it’s the “Knight Rider” influence that can be felt the most strongly in this 13-episode series, which offered music from Tangerine Dream and “Moody Blues” keyboardist Paul Bliss, along with guest stars including George Clooney.

This second collaboration between Shout and Fabulous Films in the last month is at least more satisfying than “Tales of the Gold Monkey” in terms of its audio/visual components. The transfers are improved over that release, while extras include an unbroadcasted pilot “featuring different Street Hawk firepower,” a 41-minute look at the series, still galleries, bios, episode and series notes, and an eight-page booklet.

Also new this month from Shout!:

MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 - VOLUME XVIII DVD: More classic episodes from MST3K include the hilarious “Crash of the Moons,” uproarious “Jack Frost,” amusing “Lost Continent” and fitfully funny “The Beast of Yucca Flats.” Special intros from MST3K cast members Frank Conniff and Kevin Murphy, plus original MST3K episode wraps, trailers, four exclusive mini-posters from artist Steve Vance, and a Look Back at “Yucca Flats” comprises this latest must-have edition for MSTies everywhere.

THE SUPERHERO SQUAD SHOW Volume 1 DVD: Marvel animated series for young viewers offers Captain America, Wolverine, Thor, Iron Fist and Iron Man, along with Storm, Silver Surfer, and the Hulk, teaming up to take down Dr. Doom and his allies. “The Superhero Squad” is clearly aimed at kids with its colorful, blocky character designs, and Shout!’s DVD offers the first batch of episodes, over two-and-a-half hours total, in full-screen transfers with stereo audio.

GALAXY OF TERROR (81 mins., 1981, R)
FORBIDDEN WORLD (85 mins., 1982, R): More vintage Roger Corman goodness arrives from Shout! this month on DVD and Blu-Ray, with a pair of early ‘80s sci-fi horrors recalling “Alien” and other genre films of the era.

“Galaxy of Terror” offered production design from James Cameron along with a cast including Edward Albert, Erin Moran (Joanie from “Happy Days”!), Ray Walston and Robert Englund. It’s a basic “Alien” ripoff but fairly amusing for what it is, with a superlative collection of supplements including commentary with cast and crew members, Making Of featurettes, remembrances of working with Cameron, trailers, the screenplay in PDF format and more.

“Forbidden World” followed shortly thereafter and is more entertaining, with bounty hunter Jessie Vint called into investigate a series of deaths on a far-off planet. Both the movie’s original theatrical cut and a 82-minute Director’s Edition are on-hand here (though only the theatrical version is in newly remastered 16:9 widescreen), plus commentary with director Allan Holzman, a Corman interview, other conversations with crew members including composer Susan Justin, special effects profiles with the Skotak and Buechler brothers, trailers and other extras.

G.I. JOE THE MOVIE DVD (93 mins., 1987): Fans loved this feature-length conclusion (kind of) to Marvel’s classic ‘80s “G.I. Joe” cartoon, boasting a few celebrity voices (including Don Johnson’s Lt. Falcon) and PG-level violence that’s a bit more intense than its small-screen predecessor. Shout’s remastered DVD has been sourced from a brand-new high-def source and includes commentary with writer Buzz Dixon plus more of those classic Public Service Announcements, a printable script and art gallery.

GAMERA VS. BARUGON (100 mins., 1965): Gamera bursts back onto the screen – this time out in full color -- in this first sequel to the original turtle-kaiju featuring Godzilla’s favorite ‘60s rival battling the big horn of Barugon. An informative commentary from August Ragone and Jason Varney highlights the special features, which also include publicity galleries and the original movie program. Technically, the film looks spectacular in its fully restored 16:9 DVD transfer with English subtitles running under the frame.

Also New on Blu-Ray

HOT TUB TIME MACHINE Blu-Ray (**, 99 mins., 2010, R/Unrated; MGM/Fox): What could have been a breezy, silly comedy about a group of friends who improbably end up back in 1986 becomes a misfired lark for star John Cusack where the missed comedic opportunities end up dwarfing the jokes that actually hit the mark.

Cusack, Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson (“The Office”) and “Greek”’s Clark Duke are the time-traveling quartet who end up reliving (or in Duke’s case, just living) a lost weekend from their youth, after they end up at a broken-down ski resort with a magical hot tub that sends them back in time. Other than a couple of minor laughs involving bellhop Crispin Glover, “Hot Tub Time Machine” never gels, offering no female leads of any interest (as well as a pointless cameo for Chevy Chase), while the movie’s threadbare production values seem appalling for a film that reportedly cost upwards of $40 million.

MGM’s Blu-Ray disc offers an acceptable AVC encoded 1080p transfer with DTS Master Audio sound. Extras include both the R-rated theatrical cut and an Unrated version of the movie, along with deleted scenes, the trailer, a group of behind-the-scenes featurettes, and a digital copy for portable media players.

PERCY JACKSON AND THE OLYMPIANS: THE LIGHTNING THIEF Blu-Ray (**½, 118 mins., 2010, PG; Fox): Director Chris Columbus tries his hand at adapting yet another youth book franchise with this watchable but mostly unremarkable adaptation of Rick Riordan’s popular series.

Bearing more than a few similarities to “Harry Potter,” “Percy Jackson” follows a young American teen who’s really the son of Zeus himself. Unaware of his heritage, young Percy (Logan Lerman, supposedly under consideration for the Spider-Man role in the next sequel) sets out on a journey to return Zeus’ coveted lightning bolt before a feud between dad (Sean Bean) and Hades (Steve Coogan) threatens to exterminate mankind. A big-time supporting cast includes Pierce Brosnan, Rosario Dawson, Catherine Keener, Kevin McKidd, Joe Pantoliano and Uma Thurman, but it’s Brandon T. Jackson who engages the viewer more than any of the stars with his amusing performance as Percy’s satyr companion Grover.

The film is probably best left for younger viewers, who won’t mind the conceptual similarities between this and the Potter films, or the fact that, artistically, “Percy Jackson” pales in comparison with Columbus’ underrated work on that series. Neither Stephen Goldblatt’s cinematography captivates the senses the way that the first two Harry Potter films did, nor does Christophe Beck’s score come close to matching the thematic bounty of John Williams’ HP offerings. It’s pleasant and lightly entertaining, with the requisite special effects thrown in for good measure, but it often feels like Potter’s leftovers, and a comedown for Columbus given his participation in that series.

Only a modest performer at the box-office, “Percy Jackson” comes to Blu-Ray in an impressive package from Fox. The AVC encoded 1080p transfer and DTS Master Audio soundtrack are each exceptional, while a fair amount of extras includes 10 deleted scenes, interactive content and a number of featurettes. A DVD and digital copy round out the three-disc package.

Also New on Blu-Ray and DVD

BROOKLYN’S FINEST Blu-Ray (***, 132 mins., 2010, R; Anchor Bay): Compelling, if a bit derivative, new film from “Training Day” director Antoine Fuqua examines life in Brooklyn’s 65th Precinct, including about-to-retire cop Richard Gere, who’s seen it all; undercover officer Don Cheadle, whose motives are possibly being compromised by groups he’s become a part of; and Ethan Hawke, whose motives have completely gone over the hill as he tries to provide for his ailing, and ever-growing, family.

Fuqua has packaged a compelling effort backed by a tremendous cast; in addition to Gere, Cheadle and Hawke, there are equally strong supporting turns from Will Patton, Ellen Barkin, and Wesley Snipes as Cheadle’s gangster friend. Marcelo Zarvos’ fine score and Patrick Murguia’s cinematography add the icing on the cake to a movie that keeps you engaged throughout, even if it ends up hitting many of the same thematic beats past genre films have tackled.

Anchor Bay’s Blu-Ray disc of “Brooklyn’s Finest” is a top-notch package, including an excellent 1080p transfer and PCM 5.1 soundtrack, plus commentary from the director, deleted scenes, and several featurettes profiling the film and providing background to its real-life settings.

THE BOUNTY HUNTER Blu-Ray (**, 110 mins., 2010, PG-13; Sony): Jennifer Aniston is a reporter who skips bail in pursuit of a hot story; Gerald Butler is her ex-husband bounty hunter who just happens to have Aniston as his new quarry in this predictable, lightweight romantic comedy from director Andy Tennant.

Aniston and Butler fail to generate a lot of chemistry in “The Bounty Hunter,” which follows a standard romantic comedy/road trip framework and tries to pepper its tired script (credited to Sarah Thorp) with appearances from a solid array of supporting character actors including Christine Baranski, Cathy Moriarty, Carol Kane and Jeff Garlin. Alas, the results even for genre fans are tepid at best, making this another failed star vehicle from Andy Tennant following the lackluster “Fool’s Gold” (that said, the movie did manage to rake in $66 million at the box-office, so perhaps audiences were more tolerant of it than critics).

Sony’s Blu-Ray of “The Bounty Hunter” looks as crisp as you’d anticipate with its AVC encoded 1080p transfer, while DTS Master Audio sound offers an alright score from the ever-underrated George Fenton. Extras are slim, comprised of standard-issue Making Of featurettes along with a digital copy for portable media players.

THE CRAZIES Blu-Ray and DVD (**½, 101 mins., 2010, R; Anchor Bay): Competently-made but fairly ho-hum remake of George Romero’s original film, with small-town sheriff Timothy Olyphant trying to get his pregnant wife Radha Mitchell out of Dodge after his neighbors start turning into crazed killers.

Director Breck Eisner (“Sahara”) has fashioned a movie that’s likely to appeal to genre enthusiasts with its slick visuals and few, intermittent scares, but outside of the conviction of the performances, there’s not a whole lot to recommend here, and the well-worn plot (adapted by Scott Kosar and Ray Wright from its predecessor) adds nothing new when all is said and done.
Anchor Bay’s Blu-Ray disc does sport a good-looking 1080p transfer with “lossless” PCM audio and extras including director commentary, storyboards, a motion comic and other behind-the-scenes extras, along with a digital copy disc. The DVD sports the same extras (sans the digital copy) on a standard-def disc in 16:9 (2.40) widescreen with 5.1 audio.
PRETTY BIRD DVD (***, 98 mins., 2008, R; Paramount): Now here’s a surprise: an unreleased sleeper comedy that premiered at Sundance a couple of years ago but only now is making its debut on video.

Billy Crudup plays an inventor who comes up with an idea for a “rocket belt,” enlisting the help of pal David Hornsby and eccentric scientist Paul Giamatti (who also produced the film), in an odd but amusing, offbeat debut feature from writer-director Paul Schneider. The actors are all terrific as the story takes all kinds of turns, while Kristen Wiig also puts in one of her stronger performances on-screen to date. “Pretty Bird” has a bizarre title (that has nothing to do with the film itself) and an unevenness to it, but provides, overall, a refreshing tonic to the summer we’ve endured so far at the movies.

Paramount’s DVD of “Pretty Bird” includes a 16:9 (1.85) transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.            

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE: THE BEST OF WILL FERRELL DVD (144 mins., Lionsgate): More vintage SNL compilations hit DVD courtesy of Lionsgate. Both single disc releases salute a bevy of sketches from the Will Ferrell and Tracy Morgan era, with some choice cuts included on each. Some of my favorites: the “Jeopardy” sketches with Ferrell as Alex Trebek, not so amusing for Ferrell but rather Darrell Hammond’s uproarious Sean Connery; Ferrell’s James Lipton parody on “Inside the Actors Studio”; Morgan doing Star Jones in a memorable “View” spoof and “Uncle Jemima’s Mash Liquor.” Each disc runs over two hours and ought to give fans a memorable trip back to when SNL may not have been must-viewing, but at least was much funnier than it is today.

CAUGHT IN THE CROSSFIRE Blu-Ray (85 mins., 2010, R; Lionsgate): Adam Rodriguez and Chris Klein (remember him?) find out they’re on the wrong side of gangs and cops on the take in this independent thriller from writer-director Brian Miller, co-starring Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson. Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray offering of this adequate direct-to-video outing includes outtakes, a 1080p AVC encoded transfer and DTS Master Audio sound.

NINJA’S CREED DVD (90 mins., PG-13; Lionsgate): A royal soldier is sent to protect a princess, the last heir to the Himalayan Kingdom, in this direct-to-vid thriller from writer-director Babar Ahmed. Nobody will remember “Ninja’s Creed” as anything but a footnote for its final appearance of co-star Pat Morita, who passed away before filming concluded. Lionsgate’s DVD includes several featurettes, deleted scenes and outtakes, along with a 16:9 (1.78) transfer and 5.1 soundtrack.

LIFE AFTER PEOPLE Season 2 Blu-Ray (aprx. 8 hours, 2010; History/NewVideo): Popular History Channel series utilizes historian interviews and special effects to chronicle what might happen if all of us vanish off the face of the Earth (nobody will be around to buy Blu-Rays, that’s for sure).

This second-season for the series, which began its life as a one-shot History Channel special, hits Blu-Ray later on this month in a nice package offering vivid 1080p transfers and DTS Master Audio 2.0 stereo soundtracks.

DOG THE BOUNTY HUNTER: CRIME IS ON THE RUN DVD (176 mins., 2009-2010; A&E/Newvideo): “I am the dog....the big bad dog!” More new episodes from the popular A&E reality series follows Dog and his team back in Denver, hunting down more fugitives from the law in his own, unmistakable style. Episodes include “Nice Guys Finish Last,” “No Fly Zone,” “Save the Dogs,” “All in the Family,” “Call Waiting,” “Kid Stuff,” “Easy Does It,” and “Ghost Rider.” Available July 27.

SQUIDBILLIES Volume 3 DVD (101 mins., Warner): Utterly bizarre, surreal Cartoon Network series follows a group of “redneck squids” in northern Georgia. Weird is just the first word that comes to mind when watching a dose of this Adult Swim offering, but fans of “Squidbillies” will be excited to check out this third volume of episodes from the series, running just over 100 minutes with a few extra features (Dragon Con 2009 footage, bumps, etc.) thrown in for good measure.

MIDDLE OF NOWHERE Blu-Ray (***, 95 mins., 2008, R; Image): Colorful, engaging indie comedy-drama from director John Stockwell (“Blue Crush”) follows young Eva Amurri, an aspiring college student who finds out her mother (Susan Sarandon) maxed out her credit cards and therefore can’t get a student loan. While working at a waterpark, hoping to earn enough for school, Amurri meets a 17-year old pot dealer (Anton Yelchin) who wants to leave town by selling drugs to rich kids, and offers for Amurri to assist in his financial endeavors.

A well-written script by Michelle Morgan and likeable performances make “Middle of Nowhere” an underrated character study well worth checking out. Image’s Blu-Ray disc includes a 1080p transfer with DTS Master Audio 5.1 sound and extras including deleted scenes, a behind-the-scenes segment, cast/crew interviews and the trailer.

New From IFC

GIRL BY THE LAKE DVD (96 mins., 2008, Not Rated; IFC): Taut Italian thriller follows the investigation of a detective (Toni Servillo) into the death of a young local girl in Northern Italy. This first adaptation of Karin Fossum’s novels was a big hit and multiple award-winner in its native land, with IFC’s DVD boasting a clear 16:9 transfer with 5.1 Italian audio and English subtitles.

THE UNINVITED DVD (97 mins., 2008; IFC): Marguerite Moreau plays a young woman who’s recovered from a rare illness that makes her freak out if left between open spaces. This bizarre ailment, however, poses new complications once she and husband Colin Hay move into a new home where Satanic forces are at work.

Obviously, this indie horror bears no resemblance to either the 1944 “Uninvited” (still, inexplicably, not on video) or the Elizabeth Banks “Uninvited” from a couple of years ago, but it’s not half-bad, with a good performance from the underrated Moreau in the lead. IFC’s DVD offers a 16:9 (1.85) transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

2:37 DVD (95 mins., 2006; IFC): Effective Australian tale begins with a high school suicide and then flashes back to profile six high school students, their dark secrets and relationships with one another, before revealing which one opted to take their own life.

Maurali K. Thalluri wrote and directed “2:37,” which is an atmospheric, “realistic” portrayal of the downside of modern high school life, vividly acted and visually realized. IFC’s DVD of this film-festival favorite offers a Making Of and the trailer, plus a 16:9 transfer and 5.1 audio.

ZIFT DVD (94 mins., 2008; IFC): Zahary Baharov plays “The Moth,” freed after spending two decades in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, who navigates through killers, ex-cons, and even his former girlfriend in this atmospheric Bulgarian film noir which won raves on the festival circuit over the last couple of years. Part of the reason is due to Javor Gardev’s direction, which recycles formulaic elements from the genre in a new, interesting manner, crafting a great deal of tension and atmosphere throughout its tidy 90-minute running time. IFC’s DVD includes the trailer along with a 16:9 black-and-white transfer with 5.1 Bulgarian audio.

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