8/1/06 Edition

Aisle Seat August Assault Edition!
Filmation's FLASH GORDON, V FOR VENDETTA and More Reviewed
Plus: Anchor Bay's New HALLOWEENs, Perry Mason & The New Release Wrap

Revisiting the movies and TV shows of your youth can often be a perilous task: for every program that manages to entertain you as an adult there’s a series or feature film (“Last Flight of Noah’s Ark,” anyone?) that no longer possesses that spark.

Thankfully -- after taking in BCI’s new four-disc DVD release -- the word is good for Filmation’s 1979-80 animated adaptation of FLASH GORDON, which went into production prior to Dino DeLaurentiis’ much-publicized 1980 feature film and more faithfully adhered to both Alex Raymond’s original comic strip and the original Buster Crabbe serials than its live-action counterpart.

Airing on NBC on Saturday mornings, this “Flash Gordon” essentially represented the finest work of Filmation: with solid animation for its time, compelling stories and excellent voice work, the initial episodes of “Flash Gordon” are every bit as much fun for adults as they are for children. Later episodes skewered more towards kids, with more fragmented plots and the arrival of the pink little Gremlin (who looked and acted like Godzooky from the Hanna-Barbera “Godzilla” cartoon that aired at the same time), but despite the general inferiority of those later shows, fans still gravitated towards the Filmation “Flash” and consider it today to be one of the finest filmed adaptations of Raymond’s sci-fi hero.

BCI Eclipse and Hearst Entertainment have teamed up to release the entire Filmation series in a stellar DVD set with several superb special features, including three commentary tracks with production personnel (on the first episode, “A Planet in Peril,” “Sir Gremlin,” and the final show, “Gremlin’s Finest Hour”); animated storyboards; excellent DVD-ROM bonuses like scripts and even the series’ “Bible” in PDF format; a pair of collectible art cards; trivia facts on menu pages; character profiles; and a nice, new retrospective documentary, “Blasting Off With Flash Gordon,” highlighted by interviews with Filmation’s Lou Scheimer and many animators who worked on the series.

“Flash Gordon” has weathered the years quite well and, thanks to BCI’s excellent release, has been preserved on DVD for its fans, both young and old, to revisit or experience for the first time. Highly recommended!

Also newly available from BCI, and just as recommended, is the five-disc DVD box set of THE LEGEND OF PRINCE VALIANT, a 1991-93 animated series that fans likewise hold in high regard for its faithful adaptation of the long-running Hal Foster comic strip.

BCI’s box includes the initial 33 episodes from the Family Channel series (then-owned by Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting, which was reportedly uncomfortable at some of the violence in the show) in good-looking transfers. Again, excellent supplements adorn this package, including a pair of commentary tracks from creator/producer David J. Corbett and others; interviews with Corbett, comic strip historian Rick Norwood, and series writer Brooks Wachtel; storyboards; and scripts in PDF format. Good stuff, with a Volume 2 to follow soon!

Summer is the ideal time for dumb, plain o’l seasonal fun -- the kind of drive-in movie embodied by 1989's Patrick Swayze brawler “Road House.”

Action mogul Joel Silver (who then clearly had the Midas touch thanks to recent hits “Lethal Weapon” and “Die Hard” among others) helped turn Swayze’s down-home, rough-and-tumble, silly and no-holds-barred action pic into a moderate box-office success at the time. The years, however, have morphed the movie into a full-blown cult favorite, with Sony recently releasing a new Deluxe Edition DVD.

ROAD HOUSE (***, 114 mins., R, Sony/MGM) -- which stars Swayze as Harvard-educated “peaceful warrior” (as its star likes to describe the role) James Dalton, hired to clean up a ragged bar in a small Missouri town -- is guilty-pleasure nonsense all the way. Shortly after arriving on the scene, Swayze’s new, take-no-crap tactics turn the “Double Deuce” into a popular hangout, at least until our hero begins poking around town and finding out that things aren’t so good. Sure, pretty local doctor Kelly Preston is easy on the eyes, but her dad -- a noble hardware store owner -- is being taken advantage of by resident bad guy Ben Gazzara, who owns the town and isn’t afraid to collect from local business owners. It’s up to Swayze and pal Sam Elliott to clean up the mess and take out the trash....any way they can!

You know that a film has truly crossed into cult territory when admitted-fans Kevin Smith and pal Scott Mosier provide a DVD commentary track for a late ‘80s action movie, but that’s one of the assets of Sony’s new disc. The single-platter Deluxe release sports Smith and Mosier engagingly discussing one of their favorite studio B-flicks, while director Rowdy Herrington provides a more traditional discussion on another audio channel. 

What they see in “Road House” sums up the film’s enduring appeal as a cable-TV and video favorite: the movie pretty much has everything. Lots of fisticuffs (and some extreme violence at the end!). Preston and Swayze making out on the top of his house. Brawls ‘o plenty. Gratuitous, R-rated nudity. A giant monster truck destroying a Ford dealership. Even a Michael Kamen score -- yes, my friends, “Road House” makes no apologies about its hoary, old western-influenced plot, or the absurd nature of David Lee Henry and Hilary Henkin’s script in general. It’s B-thrills on a 1989 studio scale, complete with Dean Cundey scope cinematography and rockin’ musical performances by the Jeff Healey Band.

Sony’s new DVD also includes a fresh featurette, “On the Road House,” offering recent comments from Swayze, Lynch, Herrington, Healey and others. It’s a nice, albeit short piece (under 20 minutes) with the stars reflecting on the movie’s lasting appeal. “What Would Dalton Do?” is a brief featurette with comments from real bouncers about Swayze’s security tactics, while a highly amusing trivia track is also available during the movie.

Visually the 16:9 (2.35) transfer is usually spot-on terrific, with strong colors and little grain visible in the source material, while the 2.0 Dolby Surround track is healthier than most Pro Logic mixes on DVD.

If there’s any disappointment here, it’s the disc’s lack of a trailer and deleted scenes. Fans have noted that the original trailer displayed footage from excised sequences, yet there’s nothing along those lines to be found here.

Neither is there entertainment along the lines of its predecessor in the direct-to-video ROAD HOUSE 2: LAST CALL (**, 2006, 86 mins., R), a wild affair with Johnathon Schaech stepping into Swayze’s shoes as Tanner’s nephew, a DEA agent who heads home to the Bayou to help his Uncle Nate (Will Patton) battle a drug dealer (Jake Busey) making life miserable for one and all.

Schaech, once the young up-and-coming co-star of Tom Hanks’ “That Thing You Do!”, also co-wrote this small-screen affair, which is -- to its credit -- far more entertaining than most of these non-theatrical sequels. Director Scott Ziehl dials up the action, cuts down on the running time, and enables nearly every lead to land a few uppercuts in a movie that knows it’s all about the action (and don’t miss the female catfight that puts a cap on the entire film!). Visually and stylistically, though, “Road House 2" is obviously just a pale imitation of its papa, and despite the efforts of Schaech and scenery-chewer Busey (almost as much fun as his dad at his most unhinged!), ranks only as a curiosity item at best.

Sony’s DVD includes a fine 1.85 (16:9) transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound and no extras.

Also New From Sony

ALICE IN WONDERLAND (***, 1985). 187 mins., Sony. DVD FEATURES: Full-Screen, mono sound.

Disaster mogul Irwin Allen’s penultimate production was this lovely, two-part CBS mini-series adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s beloved “Alice” books, packed with an all-star celebrity cast that has mostly passed on -- making it even more bittersweet to watch today.

Cute little Natalie Gregory (who went onto star in an EPCOT attraction at Disney World and then vanished off the face of the Earth, sadly) plays Alice, who quickly wanders through the looking glass and into a set-bound, but expensive, fantasy world where veteran Hollywood stars (and a few newcomers) play each and every role. Sony didn’t bother including a full cast listing on their DVD packaging, and you can’t really blame them because this who’s-who of seasoned pros is too long to list on a disc jacket: Steve Allen, Scott Baio, Ernest Borgnine, Beau Bridges, Lloyd Bridges, Red Buttons, Sid Caesar, Carol Channing, Imogene Coca, Sammy Davis, Jr., Patrick Duffy, George Gobel, Eydie Gormet, Merv Griffin, Sherman Hemsley, Ann Jillian, Arte Johnson, Harvey Korman, Steve Lawrence, Karl Malden, Roddy McDowall, Jayne Meadows, Donna Mills, Pat Morita, Robert Morley, Anthony Newley, Louis Nye, Donald O’Connor, Martha Raye, Telly Savalas, John Stamos, Ringo Starr (!), Sally Struthers, Jack Warden, Jonathan Winters, and Shelley Winters all manage to pop up throughout this three-hour extravaganza, which also offers effects from John Dykstra and cinematography by Fred J. Koenekamp.

Scripted by Paul Zindel and directed by TV veteran Harry Harris, Allen’s “Alice” is highly entertaining. Admittedly, just to see all these familiar faces together in one charming, decidedly old-fashioned production is worth the price of the DVD alone. In addition to co-starring, Steve Allen also provided a handful of pleasant songs, one of which (the closing “Alice, Can You Hear Us”) is a lovely, beautiful tune that perfectly captures the tone of the show (Morton Stevens, meanwhile, provided the underscoring).

Sony’s DVD preserves the two-part structure of “Alice” with opening and closing credits for each portion, while the full-screen transfer and mono sound are both in satisfying condition.

Irwin Allen’s “Alice in Wonderland” has been seldom screened since its 1985 network broadcast and has been out of print on video for nearly as long. This is a tuneful and engaging production that ought to enchant kids and also provide adults with a blast of bittersweet nostalgia for its wonderful cast. In particular, the final performance of Steve Allen’s “Alice” song is even more touching now since so many of these marvelous talents have regrettably passed on, and the work itself a time capsule of star-driven cameo performances and old-fashioned entertainment that we rarely ever see today.

MY SUMMER STORY (***, 1994). 85 mins., PG, MGM/Sony. DVD FEATURES: 16:9 Widescreen (1.85), 2.0 Dolby Surround.

I actually caught this belated sequel to Jean Shepherd and Bob Clark’s “A Christmas Story” in theaters, since Rhode Island turned out to be one of the few states where MGM bothered to release it. The film’s title was “It Runs In The Family” at the time, and despite receiving some fairly positive reviews, the studio opted to send this inferior but still-entertaining follow-up straight to video after a brief trial run in select markets during September of 1994.

True, “My Summer Story” doesn’t have Darren McGavin (Charles Grodin proves to be an at-best adequate replacement), Melinda Dillon, or Peter Billingsley, and in general the movie lacks the freshness and eclectic touches that its predecessor offered. Still, it’d be a mistake to entirely dismiss this lovingly nostalgic sequel, which was produced by virtually the exact same crew behind “A Christmas Story,” from writer/narrator Shepherd to co-writers Leigh Brown and Bob Clark (who also directed), editor Stan Cole, production designer Harry Pottle, and composer Paul Zaza. (Actress Tedde Moore, who plays Ralphie’s teacher, is the only cast member common to the two films).

Shepherd’s story revolves again around Shepherd’s alter-ego Ralphie (Kieran Culkin), a little bit older here but just as mischievous, watching as both he and his parents get involved in all kinds of predicaments during one summer in the 1940s (the funniest moment involves Mary Steenburgen, playing Ralphie’s mom, going “postal” on a gravy boat giveaway at the local theater).

The film isn’t as consistently funny as “A Christmas Story” but it certainly remains charming, and it’s tough not to shed a tear during the marvelous final scene, with Shepherd’s narration and Paul Zaza’s lovely score making for an emotional goodbye to the Parker clan and a way of life that’s long since past.

Sony’s DVD contains a respectable 16:9 (1.85) transfer with 2.0 Dolby Stereo sound. Recommended!

THE BENCHWARMERS (**, 80 mins., 2006, PG-13; Sony): Writers Allen Covert and Nick Swardson might have struck out with the amusing comedy “Grandma’s Boy” last winter, but they hit box-office paydirt just a short time later with “The Benchwarmers,” another comic confection for producer Adam Sandler that grossed nearly $60 million. Rob Schneider, David Spade, and “Napoleon Dynamite” himself, Jon Heder, play three nerds who decide to turn the tables on obnoxious bully little-leaguers by challenging them on the field. Yes, “The Benchwarmers” isn’t high art, but this short feature is nevertheless filled with more effective gags than you might anticipate, backed by a robust supporting cast (Jon Lovitz and Craig Kilborn are both amusing), while plenty of cameos from big leaguers like Reggie Jackson ought to make it at least palatable for adults (and at least it’s better than last summer’s tepid remake of “The Bad News Bears.”). Sony’s DVD, out this week, includes just a few minutes of deleted scenes and standard Making Of featurettes, plus an excellent 16:9 (2.35) transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

I’LL ALWAYS KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER (*½, 91 mins., R; Sony): In-name-only follow-up to the Jennifer Love Hewitt chillers loses Love and gains a cast of relative unknowns as it mindlessly rehashes the concept of its predecessors: a group of teens stage a prank causing the death of one of their friends. Flashforward a year and a the killer with a hook is back, picking them off one by one. With no connection with the prior films (outside of “Captain Gorton with a Hook”), “I’ll Always Know...” is a standard-issue hack ‘n slash video affair with decent production values for small-screen features but little else to recommend it. Sony’s DVD offers a 1.85 (16:9) transfer with a decent 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack, a lengthy, half-hour “Making Of” and commentary from director Sylvain White.

New From Paramount

PERRY MASON, Season 1, Volume 1 (1957-58, aprx. 17 hours, Paramount): Excellent, five-disc DVD compilation preserves the first 19 episodes from the immortal legal series, which set a precedent for its genre that shows like “Law & Order” try to live up to today. Raymond Burr is tremendous as the irrepressible Perry, aided in his practice by secretary Della Street (Barbara Hale) and private eye Paul Drake (William Hopper), who proves to be a particular asset in cases that go down to the wire (don’t they all?). Paramount’s full-screen transfers and mono soundtracks are in excellent condition throughout the 19 shows, which crackle with fine writing and outstanding performances. (Hale’s son, William Katt, would later play the son of Drake in innumerable Perry Mason TV films produced throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s). A highly recommended release for Golden Age TV fans, with Paramount upholding their recent string of excellent TV-on-DVD box sets, despite the lack of supplemental content this time around (we’ll hope for that in future “Perry Mason” volumes!).

SHE’S THE MAN (**1/2, 2006, 105 mins., PG-13; Dreamworks): Diverting teen comedy co-written by Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith (of “10 Things I Hate About You”) offers a variation on “Twelfth Night,” of all things. Naturally, this vehicle for its young star Amanda Bynes isn’t a straightforward interpretation of The Bard, but rather a contemporary piece with Bynes as a high school girl who dresses up as her twin brother at a boys academy, plays soccer, and falls for the team’s star forward (Channing Tatum) in the process...with numerous predicaments and mistaken identities to follow. Everything about “She’s The Man” falls into place for the genre piece that it is: the performances, generally on-target writing, and direction of Andy Fickman are all uniformly fine, with both the comedy and romantic elements mixing together fairly well. (Sadly, the film's ending and climactic soccer match leave a bit to be desired). Dreamworks’ DVD offers commentary with Bynes, Fickman and others; deleted scenes; a gag reel; photo album; music video; and 1.85 (16:9) transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound. “She’s The Man” won’t be winning any Oscars but this is a pleasant comic confection ideal for summer-time viewing.

New From Warner Home Video

After their “Matrix” sequels met with mixed reaction and declining box-office receipts, the Wachowski Brothers returned with last spring’s V FOR VENDETTA (**, 2006, 132 mins., R; Warner), a loose adaptation of the Alan Moore DC graphic novel (which Moore completely dismissed and demanded his name be removed from) that the Wachowskis wrote and produced, with James McTeigue directing.

In a futuristic London presided over by a totalitarian government led by Big Brother-esque John Hurt, Natalie Portman plays a regular, everyday girl named Evey who unwittingly becomes wrapped up in the revolutionary -- or, to be more precise, terrorist -- tactics being carried out by “V” (Hugo Weaving), a caped freedom fighter wearing a Guy Fawkes mask, trying to bring the power back to the people.

“V For Vendetta” carried a lot of political baggage upon its release last spring, and with good reason: the Wachowskis’ script takes Moore’s graphic novel and uses it as a lightning rod to attack conservatives, Christians, and the United States in general, right down to a pedophile priest, a burning cross, an insinuation that a terrorist plot was in fact staged by the government (who then blamed it on innocent Islamists), and a general defense of terrorist tactics. Granted, the movie’s commentary is essentially so simplistic that its politics could be applied to any government, but it’s hard not to see through the filmmakers’ agenda here, which comes at a price to its story, which uses a kitchen-sink approach with poorly defined characters whom you never care about. “V For Vendetta” would like to be a sleek, provocative sci-fi spectacle, but it’s ultimately a very-good looking, well-acted (kudos to Portman in a tough role) but simple-minded affair with a pace that’s downright ponderous at times and a spiteful agenda that only left-leaning viewers may find palatable.

Despite containing a sensational 16:9 (2.35) transfer and active 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack, Warner’s two-disc Special Edition DVD is somewhat light on the supplemental side: a basic Making Of featurette adorns the first platter, while the second disc is comprised of several featurettes that take you behind the scenes. It’s all interesting but not particularly compelling, and disappointingly, there are no deleted scenes or commentary tracks on-hand to further a discussion of the picture’s themes or its production -- something that a future “Special Edition” will hopefully rectify for the movie’s fans.

New From Criterion

OLIVIER’S SHAKESPEARE (Criterion, aprx. $55): Superb box-set compiles the Criterion Collection’s excellent DVD editions of Laurence Olivier’s Technicolor smash “Henry V” (1944), the Oscar-winning  “Hamlet” (1948; scoring nods for Best Picture and Olivier for Best Actor), and “Richard III” (1955). Criterion’s affordable box-set reprises the same outstanding transfers and superlative supplements from each of those previous editions, including the double-disc edition of “Richard III” (sadly “Hamlet” remains in the same, feature-less but technically strong presentation as before). Absolutely essential if you don’t already own those previous DVDs! (Be sure and check The Aisle Seat Archives for in-depth reviews of the three DVDs, including our Google archive search!).

Anchor Bay: Divimax, Halloween, and Jack Tripper, Too

Anchor Bay’s latest releases are highlighted by a much-needed “Divimax” remastering of franchise sequels HALLOWEEN 4: The Return of Michael Myers (**½, 88 mins., R, Anchor Bay) and HALLOWEEN 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (**, 98 mins., R, Anchor Bay), plus an all-new documentary about the series making its debut on DVD.

Now, I'm not a big fan of slasher movies in general, though I admit that I have a soft spot for the “Halloween” series, since I grew up watching the videos with friends after elementary school dismissals and have a natural affection for any movie set in late October in the first place.

To refresh your memory, 1988's HALLOWEEN 4 marked the return of the series to the big-screen in 1988 after a five year layoff, and with its original bad-guy to boot. “Halloween II” saw poor Michael (and Doc Loomis) burn up in a hospital fire, but because “Halloween III: Season of the Witch” bombed and producer Moustapha Akkad saw "The Shape" as a continued, viable box-office presence, the series was resurrected just in time to hit financial paydirt thanks to a hungry group of fans.

The first part of a three-film cycle, “Halloween 4" is the best of the later sequels, and that includes the more polished (but less atmospheric) big-studio “Halloween: H20.” Donald Pleasence is back as the crazed Doc Loomis, who returns to Haddonfield, Illinois once Michael -- not killed in the fire, only badly burned (where have we heard that sequel excuse before?) -- breaks out of prison and decides to stalk his home-town once again. Naturally, that means idiotic teenagers being executed by The Shape, while a subplot materializes involving the cute Ellie Cornell and her little step-sister Jamie (Danielle Harris), an innocuous moppet related to Myers and Jamie Lee Curtis (who appears in the form of a photograph).

Director Dwight H. Little makes the most of the low budget and crafts a routine but nicely executed B- horror flick, which is much closer in its evocation of mounting tension and Halloween itself than any of its subsequent sequels. The twist ending is obvious (and was subsequently negated by the narrative of “Halloween 5"), but Pleasence is fun and the movie itself better than you might expect. Alan Howarth scored the movie with a creepy, brooding soundtrack (sprinkling John Carpenter's original theme throughout) that sounds terrific in Anchor Bay's Dolby Digital 5.1 remixed soundtrack as well.

“Halloween 4" has been released on DVD several times but Anchor Bay’s new, HD-based “Divimax” transfer blows away the previous, grainy looking disc releases with a sparkling new 16:9 transfer. New extras include commentary tracks from Ellie Cornell and Danielle Harris, plus another chat with writer Alan B. McElroy; Anchor Bay’s “Final Cut” retrospective featurette from a preceding DVD release; the original trailer; and a panel discussion from the 2003 “Halloween 25 Years” Convention with Harris and others.

“Halloween 4" performed well at the box-office, leading to an immediate, hastily-shot 1989 sequel, HALLOWEEN 5, that -- along with its belated 1995 follow-up "Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers" -- rank as the two series entries that fail to stand alone without prior knowledge of their predecessors.

With Dominique Othenin-Girard (of the unholy “Omen IV”) taking over behind the camera, Part V five lacks the efficient, B-grade thrills of its predecessor. Picking up right where part four left off (and off-setting its "twist" ending), Michael Myers is still alive and stalking little Jamie (Danielle Harris again), while an even more possessed Donald Pleasence returns as Doc Loomis, still pursuing Myers -- but hey, it's tough to keep a dead man down, right? Alan Howarth's music is subtle and eerier than his work on "Halloween 4," quoting John Carpenter's theme only sparsely throughout the action.

“Halloween 5" was first issued on DVD in 2000 with a transfer that was fine for its time and a handful of special features, all of which have been reprieved here (interviews, video taped footage of a deleted scene, etc.), in addition to new extras like commentary with Danielle Harris, Othenin-Girard and Jeffrey Landman; an introduction by Harris and Cornell (who was misguidedly offed in the opening minutes of the sequel); and more behind-the-scenes, on-set footage. The Divimax 16:9 transfer here is a modest enhancement from the prior DVD while the 5.1 Dolby Digital sound does justice to Howarth’s music.

Despite a couple of effective scares, “Halloween 5" drags on interminably, while the plot-heavy script ends with a gigantic, open-ended climax, one that took an unmanageable six years to properly conclude on the big-screen. (Tellingly, nearly everyone considers this to be the weakest of the series, having been rushed into production without a fully formed story).

By that point, Akkad had licensed “Halloween” out to Dimension Films/Miramax, and studio interference would soon cloud the franchise’s subsequent sequels, be it through misguided re-shoots (on “Halloween VI”), script interference and rejected musical scores (“Halloween: H20"), and general bad ideas like casting Busta Rhymes in a horror movie (“Halloween: Resurrection”). Hopefully the addition of Rob Zombie to the series will lead to some fresh ideas in his new, period-set “Halloween” remake/prequel, intended for release in 2008.

Fans, however, continue to gravitate towards the older movies, and this phenomenon is charted in the 2005 documentary HALLOWEEN: 25 YEARS OF TERROR (84 mins., Anchor Bay), which offers a retrospective look at the franchise -- in particular the Akkad-produced sequels -- with interviews with all the major participants involved in their creation (John Carpenter, Debra Hill, Jamie Lee Curtis, Akkad, Rick Rosenthal, Nick Castle, Tommy Lee Wallace, Alan Howarth, and even fans like Zombie, Clive Barker and others) and copious convention footage sprinkled into the mix.

The documentary is straightforward and likely doesn’t contain any trivia that die-hard fans won’t already know (it goes into only light detail about the sequel legal battle between Carpenter and Akkad; the “Halloween 4" script by Dennis Etchison that was never produced; and the myriad versions of VI), but the amount of participants on-hand is staggering and Anchor Bay has packed all sorts of superb extras onto this 2-DVD platter, making it an essential purchase for “Halloween” buffs.

15-20 minute length panel discussions from the 2003 Halloween Convention are included for “Halloween” (offering P.J. Soles among others), “Halloween II,” and “Halloween 6" (the panel discussion for Parts 4 and 5 can be found on the Divimax “Halloween 4" DVD reviewed above), each offering an engaging Q&A session between filmmakers and fans. There are additional panel discussions with Ellie Cornell, cinematographer Dean Cundey (who shot the first three films), the producers, and a basic talk on Michael “The Man” Myers himself, all of which add immeasurable entertainment to the set as a whole.

If that weren’t enough, there’s also a 20-minute Horror Channel “Horror’s Hallowed Grounds” with filming locale profiles; extra interviews pertaining to “Halloween II” and “III,” trimmed from the documentary itself, are also on-hand; numerous art and still galleries and even more fan-footage from various conventions round out a splendid release for “Halloween” buffs. Recommended!

Also new this week from Anchor Bay is the Complete Season 7 of THREE’S COMPANY (1982-83, 22 Episodes), which found John Ritter’s Jack Tripper attempting to start his own bistro and thereby providing the focus for many of the show’s 22 episodes.

By this point “Three’s Company” had firmly established itself as a staple for ABC and was a mainstay atop the ratings. Even if some of the shows had a familiar feel (story lines tended to be recycled more than a little during the series’ later years), the performances of the leads and generally strong writing kept the material consistently amusing.

Anchor Bay’s four-disc DVD set offers the seventh season in fine transfers and soundtracks right on-par with the label’s previous, excellent DVD editions. Liner notes are again provided by producer George Sunga, who outlines the behind-the-scenes anecdotes from this penultimate season of “Three’s Company” and provides insight into the recent passing of beloved co-star Don Knotts.

Extras here include a pair of commentary tracks from Richard Kline, best known as the swinging bachelor Larry Dallas, on episodes “Opening Night” and “The Impossible Dream,” while a retrospective of Knotts moments; various “Best Of” character highlight clips; and a sequence of the show dubbed in French round out another sparkling package for “Three’s Company” lovers.

New From Disney

THE SHAGGY DOG (**1/2, 2006, 99 mins., PG; Disney): Cute remake of the old Fred MacMurray/Tommy Kirk classic puts Tim Allen through the paces as a harried dad who magically transforms into a pooch. Director Brian Robbins’ film is good fun for kids, while adults ought to enjoy seeing the veteran supporting cast -- most especially Robert Downey, Jr. – loosen up in an amiable family comedy, complete with a pleasant Alan Menken underscore. Disney’s DVD includes commentary with Robbins and producer David Hoberman, deleted scenes, bloopers, a “bark-along bone-us” feature for your own dog, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, and both full-screen and 2.40 (16:9) transfers. No great shakes but mildly amusing for what it is.

BABY EINSTEIN: BABY’S FAVORITE PLACES (2006, 35 mins., Disney/Buena Vista): The award-winning toddler DVD series continues with an introduction for kids to their surroundings. Marlee Matlin appears to introduce little ones to sign language while soothing Mozart music adds a touch of class to another must-have release for parents with very young children. Disney’s DVD offers some additional supplements that parents can start up like bonus puppet shows.

DISNEY LEARNING ADVENTURES: Winnie The Pooh, Shapes and Sizes and Wonderful Word Adventures (Disney, 30 mins. Each): Well-produced pair of DVD volumes for kids encourage early math and problem solving (“Shapes and Sizes”) and early word recognition and vocabulary (“Wonderful Word Adventures”). The shows are only a half-hour each in duration but do offer interactive lessons for kids, plus bonus games for the little ones.

Mini-Series and More From Echo Bridge

Robert Halmi’s Hallmark Entertainment may no longer be producing “big ticket” network TV mini-series (likely because networks no longer broadcast mini-series in the first place), but the company is still in-business, occasionally outputting an entertaining new production.

Just released from Echo Bridge Home Entertainment is Hallmark’s BLACKBEARD (2005, 169 mins.), a highly enjoyable high seas romp with “Braveheart”’s Angus MacFadyen as the legendary pirate Edward Teach. This Blackbeard isn’t afraid to loot, plunder, and even woo a lovely young lass (quite-fetching newcomer Jessica Chastain) left in the care of a strapping British captain (Mark Umbers). Rachel Ward, Stacey Keach, and Richard Chamberlain provide the veteran presence in this solid two-part, three-hour adventure from director Kevin Connor, which also sports composer Elia Cmiral doing his best Hans Zimmer imitation. The leads do a fine job and the program is suitable for all audiences.

Echo Bridge’s DVD offers a fine 16:9 transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound and brief interviews with the stars.

Also newly available from the label are three other small-screen productions, including another effort from Hallmark Entertainment:

THE CURSE OF KING TUT’S TOMB (2005, 170 mins.): Agreeable enough variation on “The Mummy” even co-stars that film’s Jonathan Hyde in a tale of an American archaeologist (Casper Van Dien) who races against time to stop an evil rival (Hyde) from obtaining the power of King Tut’s Emerald Tablet. Russell Mulcahy stepped into the director’s chair for this fun, if juvenile, cross between “Raiders” and “The Mummy” (Van Dien even wears an Indy-like fedora), with the lovely Leonor Varela (of “Cleopatra” and “Blade 2" infamy) even cracking a smile as the female lead, and Simon Callow and Malcolm McDowell filling out the cast. A decent Hallmark effort with 16:9 widescreen, 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital sound, and bonus interviews on Echo Bridge’s fine DVD presentation.

THE BLACK HOLE (2006, 90 mins.): Tepid genre TV-film with Kristy Swanson as assistant to scientist Judd Nelson (wouldn’t it have been more interesting had it been the other way around?), who tries to save the Earth from an extraterrestrial that’s brought a Black Hole along with it in an attempt at wiping out the planet. Fresh off her “Celebrities On Ice” victory, Kristy still looks pretty good these days, but despite the best efforts of veteran director Tibor Takacs (“The Gate”), “The Black Hole” is a disappointingly sterile affair. Echo Bridge’s DVD does feature a good 16:9 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital and DTS surround.

10.5: APOCALYPSE (2006, 169 mins.): The NBC mini-series sequel few were interested in seeing, “10.5" brings back Kim Delaney as a seismologist and Beau Bridges as the president, who stand by while another huge earthquake causes major problems for the West Coast. “Child’s Play” sequel veteran John Lafia wrote and directed this by-the-numbers disaster spectacle, co-starring Oliver Hudson (Kate’s brother), “24"’s Carlos Bernard (come back to us, Tony Almeida!), and Frank Langella. The 16:9 transfer and 5.1 sound are both perfectly acceptable.

Also New on DVD

TRISTRAM SHANDY: A Cock & Bull Story (**½, 94 mins., 2005, R; HBO): It’s got to be a British thing.

Michael Winterbottom’s film-within-a-film adaptation of a “notoriously unfilmable British comic novel” by Laurence Sterne is a bizarre exercise in mockumentary. In this Martin Hardy-scripted adaptation, Steve Coogan essays both Tristram (the hero of the 18th century-set novel) and “himself,” an ego-obsessed star in a film version of the book directed by Jeremy Northam. The action shifts from a proper rendition of the offbeat novel -- which apparently begins with Tristram’s birth and becomes so sidetracked that it concludes not long after that happening -- to the modern scenes of Coogan being “Coogan,” attempting to deal with various off-camera duties (reporters, his wife) and the demands of the film, including shooting fantasy sequences like being thrown into a large, oversized womb (probably the funniest scene in the film).

“Tristram Shandy” certainly qualifies as being offbeat and its fans would have you believe this is high-class British comedy at its best. Frankly I found the film curious but rarely funny, with Coogan’s dry delivery and the superb supporting cast (including Rob Brydon, Naomie Harris, and Gillian Anderson) being left to dangle in the wind. As a literary adaptation its effectiveness depends on one’s knowledge of the book; as a comedy, the film misses the mark far more often than it strikes it, and there are long stretches of tedium on-hand throughout.

HBO’s DVD offers deleted scenes and extended sequences; commentary with Coogan and Brydon; behind-the-scenes footage; the original trailer; a 2.35 (16:9) transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, the latter offering a score credited to Michael Nyman, Nino Rota, Bach and others!

L.A. STORY (***, 98 mins., 1991, PG-13; Lions Gate): Steve Martin’s love letter to the City of Angels still ranks as one of the comedian’s more offbeat and engaging works, with the actor-writer starring as a weatherman with a trio of women (Marilu Henner, Sarah Jessica Parker, and then-real life wife Victoria Tennant) vying for his affections and the city itself hovering over all. Martin wrote and Mick Jackson directed Martin’s amusing comic-fantasy with ample cameos of note (Patrick Stewart being just one of several) and some occasional big laughs. Lions Gate’s remastered DVD edition includes outtakes and deleted scenes with John Lithgow and Scott Bakula that hit the cutting room floor; “The Story of L.A. Story” and “The L.A. of L.A. Story” offer brief featurettes reflecting on the production; while a 1991 vintage featurette, trailer and TV spots (all of which prominently feature Lithgow) round out the DVD, which also includes a superb 16:9 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound. Recommended strongly if you’re a fan of the film!

SCORPIUS GIGANTUS (2006, 90 mins., Buena Vista): Laughably bad TV-flick with Jeff Fahey as an Army colonel who takes on a giant scorpion. Pretty much standard-issue, though Buena Vista tries to sell the program hard by noting that it’s “In The Tradition of ‘Starship Troopers’!” on the front cover. Eeeh, maybe not, especially considering the DVD’s full-screen transfer and lack of extras. Stick to the real bugs!

NEXT TIME: SILENT HILL, SCARY MOVIE 4 & 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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