8/11/09 Edition
August Assault Edition

John Carpenter's BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA (***, 100 mins., 1986, PG-13; Fox) may not be a classic, but this cult favorite -- a pastiche of kung-fu mysticism, sci-fi fantasy, Saturday-matinee serials, '80s FX extravaganzas, and supernatural hokum that was clearly ahead of its time -- is nevertheless one of the director’s most entertaining films, and arrived last week in a top-notch Blu-Ray package from Fox.

Originally a western (!) that was substantially re-written by W.D. Richter ("Buckaroo Banzai"), "Big Trouble" stars Kurt Russell in one of his most engaging performances as trucker Jack Burton, who improbably stumbles into San Francisco's Chinatown, where an ensuing war between rival gangs coincides with the kidnapping of his best friend's bride. Undaunted by any of Richard Edlund's fine special effects, Russell and pal Dennis Dun, along with reporter Kim Cattrall, venture into the lower depths of a mysterious world where monsters run amok, an old sorcerer wants to seize the promise of eternal life, and folks fly around in a way that we would not see again until the likes of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon."

Carpenter's jokey, 1986 comic-book adventure was way ahead of the curve in pre-dating the '90s revival of martial arts movies, but "Big Trouble" owes as much to Indiana Jones and the genre of big, FX-heavy blockbusters that were so prevalent in the mid '80s as it does to Hong Kong cinema. Russell and Cattrall work up some believable chemistry, the pacing is quick and fun, Carpenter's trademark use of the wide Panavision frame is on full display, and even one of the director's better musical scores (composed, as was the norm for the era, with Alan Howarth) helps out.

"Big Trouble" has always been one of my favorite Carpenter films, and was previously released in a marvelous 2001 double-disc DVD package with loads of extras. Fox’s Blu-Ray, a 50gb dual-layer affair, is a virtual reprise of that release, but with a crisp and gorgeous AVC-encoded transfer. Carpenter and Dean Cundey’s widescreen visuals adapt beautifully to high-definition, and Fox has offered not just a rollicking DTS Master Audio soundtrack here but also an exclusive isolated score track -- in 5.1 DTS -- to further enhance the package.

Extras are also on-hand, reprieved from that DVD. Chief among the disc's pleasures is a commentary track with Russell and Carpenter. As anyone who has spent time listening to commentary tracks will tell you, Carpenter's monologues can be some of the dullest, driest discussions you'll ever hear (try "Assault on Precinct 13" or "In the Mouth of Madness," where he was accompanied by cinematographer Gary Kibbe). However, when Russell is around to rehash stories with his old friend (as in "The Thing" and "Escape From New York"), the two provide some of most engaging, revealing commentary talks you'll find.

Happily, that was the case here as both dive into the disappointing box-office performance of "Big Trouble," pointing the blame at studio executives and poor marketing on the publicity department's end. They also don't shy away from talking about Richter and his involvement in the shooting (specifically, how he hated Cattrall's performance and ultimately refused to visit the set), how then-Fox prez Barry Diller made Carpenter shoot the movie's opening scene in an attempt to make Russell out to be more heroic, and other issues of movie-making in general. It's a good-humored and fascinating discussion that’s still one of my favorite commentary tracks.

Also on-hand are trailers and TV spots, a promotional featurette, a new on-camera interview with Richard Edlund, production notes, and plenty of stills and storyboards. You also get a hysterically bad music video of the movie's theme song, featuring the "Coupe de Villes" including lead vocalist Carpenter himself! The only element the Blu-Ray is missing from the earlier two-DVD package are vintage magazine articles.

"Big Trouble" is one of many movies that failed to find an audience in theaters (as a pre-teenager, I was one of the few viewers there when it opened), but clicked with viewers on video and TV in the years since its release. This is no-holds-barred escapist entertainment with great effects and an engagingly bonkers story that -- enhanced by Carpenter's trademark use of anamorphic cinematography -- proves to be an ideal title for Blu-Ray. Well worth the HD upgrade for aficionados of the film and the director.

Also out from Fox this month is a remastered Blu-Ray presentation of the hit comedy MY COUSIN VINNY (***, 119 mins., 1992, R; Fox), which remains a viewer favorite thanks to its terrific performances by Joe Pesci and Oscar-winner Marisa Tomei in a courtroom comedy (with a fish-out-of-water twist) from director Jonathan Lynn. The comedic situations in Dale Launer's screenplay are perfectly exploited, and the supporting cast -- from Fred Gwynne's judge to Austin Pendleton's lawyer -- make perfect foils for the lead stars.

Fox's Blu-Ray disc, a 25gb single-layer effort, features a decent AVC-encoded transfer (that seems a bit “musty” and darker than it ought to be) and DTS Master Audio soundtrack, boasting one of Randy Edelman’s breezy comedy scores from the early ‘90s (it’s no “Kindergarten Cop,” but it’s still solid). Extras are comprised of trailers, TV spots, and a commentary track from the droll Lynn, who used this picture's success to make a handful of quite uneven comedies thereafter (including the terrible "Greedy," "Sgt. Bilko,” and the moderately successful "Whole Nine Yards"). Lynn does have a particular fondness for courtroom comedy, however, since his underrated 1997 Michael Richards-Jeff Daniels-Charlize Theron outing "Trial & Error" almost produces as many laughs as “Vinny,” which remains one of the more memorable comedies of its day.

Finally, Fox also rolls out STARGATE ATLANTIS: FAN’S CHOICE on Blu-Ray this month. This 50gb dual-layer release offers two fan-requested episodes from the Sci-Fi (err, Syfy, or whatever) series: “Rising” and “Enemy at the Gate,” both in extended versions with AVC encoded transfers and DTS Master soundtracks.

New From Criterion

THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO (***½, 113 mins., 1998, R; Criterion): We always hear about "independent" movies that are supposed to be refreshing simply because they're made outside the Hollywood studio system and, subsequently, have none of the commercial elements that make mainstream movies so predictable. Truth be told, there are just as many bad "indie" films out there as there are ineffective examples of studio filmmaking. The only difference is that, when an indie movie bombs, it isn't playing on 2500 screens across the country thanks to a multi-million advertising campaign.

Whit Stillman’s 1998 film “The Last Days of Disco,” however, is an indie movie with a lot of flair: a refreshing, intelligent, and often subtly hilarious look at shallow yuppies living, clubbing, and loving at the tail end of the Disco era (i.e. "the very early 1980s"). The demure Chloe Sevigny and the bitchy Kate Beckinsale play a vastly different pair of publishing assistants who decide to room in a New York railroad apartment while they hit the highlife at night with a colorful group of supporting characters -- not the least of which include advertising man Mackenzie Astin (who needs the disco to attract clients), club bouncer Chris Eigeman (a Stillman regular), and assistant district attorney Matt Keeslar (who perhaps has both the hots for Sevigny, and ulterior motives for visiting the disco himself). Many of them went to Harvard, all of them want the same things out of life in different ways, but all of them, invariably, love disco.

The performances are uniformly on target, each character believably echoing the frivolous nature of the music, but also the genuine feeling for the time and place they do share. Stillman provides seemingly every character with a vital scene or line of dialogue, and comes down hard on their essentially materialistic ideals while never condemning them or turning the picture into a broadly comic spoof. Sevigny's character, in particular, is a credible portrait of a young girl lost in the big city, emotionally if nothing else, and Beckinsale creates one of the most effectively obnoxious (but believable!) women you're ever likely to see on the big screen.

They all speak Stillman's prose, which is funny, insightful and hip, making “The Last Days of Disco” engaging and fun, filled with an enjoyable soundtrack, while Stillman handles each turn -- dramatic and (predominantly) comic -- with an unabashed love for the era. It may not have a gigantic, thought-provoking point, but then again, neither did the early '80s.

Long out-of-print on DVD, Criterion’s new edition of “The Last Days of Disco” is a delight, offering a newly restored 16:9 (1.78) transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound; a commentary from Stillman, Sevigny and Eigeman; four deleted scenes; the trailer, a behind-the-scenes featurette, stills gallery, and an audio recording of Stillman reading a chapter from his book “The Last Days of Disco, with Cocktails at Petrossian Afterwards.”

Also new from Criterion this month is Chantal Akerman’s JEANNE DIELMAN, 23, QUAI DU COMMERCE, 1080 BRUXELLES (1975), an unusual 201-minute account of a young widow who occasionally works as a prostitute to help provide for her son -- and the seemingly mundane daily rituals she performs whenever she’s not turning a “trick.” Critics have long debated the merits of Akerman’s experimental work here, and home viewers now have the chance to debate them as well thanks to Criterion’s double-disc DVD set, which includes a restored digital transfer (16:9, 1.66 widescreen) approved by the director; a 69-minute documentary on the picture produced during its filming; new interviews with the director and cinematographer and archival interviews with cast and crew. Certainly not for every taste, but a fine DVD package for those willing to invest in it.

Also New and Recently Released

300: The Complete Experience Blu-Ray (***, 2007, 115 mins., R; Warner): Frank Miller’s graphic novel -- depicting the final stand of King Leonidas and his 300 Spartans -- makes for a rousing action fantasy, vividly realized by director Zack Snyder in a striking, CGI-rendered visual realm that does full justice to Miller’s original design. Sure, it’s mostly all style and no substance, but unlike other Miller “green screen” affairs (“Sin City,” “The Spirit”), it’s hard to deny the effectiveness of the storytelling here, which apes other genre narratives but manages to entertain in its own unique visceral manner at every turn (think “Braveheart” and “Gladiator” mixed with more fantastic, outlandish visuals).

At the heart of “300" is Gerald Butler’s powerhouse performance as Leonidas, who opts to make a valiant, if suicidal, stand against an invading Persian army in Thermopylae as they come ashore in ancient Greece. The enemy is lead by Persian king Xerxes, whose black-clad warriors and beasts of burden far outnumber the hard-fighting Spartans, but Leonidas and his clan battle until the bitter end, becoming the stuff of legend in the process.

With its evocative visual design, “300" is clearly similar to what Miller and director Robert Rodriguez attempted in “Sin City” -- create a living, breathing cinematic adaptation of the author’s work. While the visual design of “Sin City” was spellbinding, the outlandishness of the material and questionable lapses in taste made its cinematic rendering less than satisfying (if not outright offensive) -- a problem “300" doesn’t have since this film is basic blood ‘n guts, thundering action sequences and stylish choreography that doesn’t beg to be taken overly seriously as drama. We know we’re watching a fantasy rendering of the Battle of Thermopylae, but the heightened visuals and design make for a thrilling action spectacle. It may have all the substance of a comic book but it’s great fun to watch, especially in Warner’s new deluxe “300: Complete Experience” HD package.

Speaking of high-definition, Warner’s Blu-Ray transfer is a marvel, capturing every nuance of “300"’s visuals in a spectacular VC-1 encoded transfer. The Dolby TrueHD enhances the movie’s raucous sound design (even if Tyler Bates’ score isn’t nearly as memorable as the film; fans should note there’s now an asterisk denoting that Bates’ music is “derived in part from preexisting compositions not authored” by the composer), while copious extras adorn this second Blu-Ray sojourn for the movie. There are no less than four “Picture in Picture” tracks, two of which are production-oriented, the third historically-geared, and the fourth a reprieve of the original HD-DVD extra that shows you the movie before its computer-generated animation was implemented, and in-synch with the completed film. Complimented by commentary from Snyder and others, all four comprise a “Comprehensive Immersion” that fans will be able to take in for hours at a time.

Other extras are mostly carry-overs from the prior releases, including three brief deleted scenes, webisodes, a “Fact or Fiction” featurette and additional Making Of segments, plus a digital copy disc, all presented in a beautiful, glossy Digibook cover with 40 pages of stills and production notes. Highly recommended!

HARVARD BEATS YALE 29-29 Blu-Ray (***½, 104 mins., 2008; Kino): Growing up my parents pleaded with me never to leave a sporting event early because “you just never know what might happen.”

They had good reason to feel that way, since they were in attendance for the fateful Harvard-Yale skirmish played on November 23rd, 1968 -- a game that would go down as one of the great sports comebacks of all-time, and which forms the basis of Kevin Rafferty’s wonderful new documentary “Harvard Beats Yale 29-29.”

Mixing vintage game footage (with play-by-play from Don Gillis) with copious new interviews with the players on both sidelines -- from Harvard offensive guard Tommy Lee Jones to Yale’s iconic QB Brian Dowling -- Rafferty spins an irresistible chronicle of time, place, and the game itself, one which followed a basic script until fate intervened in one of the most memorable endings of any game you’ll ever see. It all makes for a superb, compelling film that you needn’t be a football fan to appreciate.

Kino’s Blu-Ray edition of “Harvard Beats Yale” looks just fine, though it goes without saying the game footage is limited by its standard-def, decades-old appearance. The mono sound is perfectly acceptable as well, while over an hour of bonus, extended interviews offer more anecdotes and insights into what transpired on that crisp November afternoon in New Haven, Connecticut.
OBSESSED Blu-Ray (**, 106 mins., 2009, PG-13; Sony): Once in a while you see a movie that you could actually watch on fast-forward in about 5 minutes and not miss much of anything. Such is the case with this belated entry into the “Mad ___ From Hell” genre, with businessman Idris Elba being hounded by temp Ali Larter -- a seductress whose villainy serves to pump up Elba’s wife, played by Beyonce Knowles (who also produced), who wants Larter far away from him and their young son.

David Loughery (“Star Trek V”) has written a pedestrian script that’s been competently directed and more-than-adequately performed by Elba and Larter. Surprisingly, Beyonce’s second-billed role is a perfunctory supporting turn and Knowles has little screen time, leaving Elba to carry the film until the final 20 minutes, when the movie turns into an Ali Vs. Beyonce Catfight that’s good for a few chuckles but seems awfully amateurish for a film that surprisingly drummed up $68 million in box-office revenue last spring.

Sony’s Blu-Ray disc looks well-composed and offers a fine Dolby TrueHD soundtrack with a Jim Dooley score that tips its hand too early that something is off-kilter with Larter’s character. Slim extras include a couple of Making Of featurettes and a digital copy disc for portable media players.        

17 AGAIN Blu-Ray (**½, 102 mins., 2009, PG-13; New Line/Warner): Much like the resurrection of the 3-D format every other decade or so, it’s a time-honored tradition that we get a “body swap/reverse aging” film along similar lines.

In the ‘70s it was “Freaky Friday.” In the ‘80s it was “Big,” “Vice Versa” and “18 Again.” This decade we’ve already had “13 Going on 30" and now “17 Again,” an agreeable enough vehicle for “High School Musical” phenom Zac Efron as the younger version of disgruntled Matthew Perry, who magically turns back the aging process to help his kids in school, and also repair his relationship with wife Leslie Mann.

Jason Filardi’s script is a bit uneven and has some unnecessarily raunchy elements to it, but Efron is winning in both the comedic and dramatic elements of “17 Again,” managing to rise above the material along with his co-stars Mann, Michelle Trachtenberg and Thomas Lennon as his best pal. Warner’s Blu-Ray disc offers a vibrant VC-1 encoded transfer and Dolby TrueHD soundtrack plus a trivia track and fluffy featurettes, with commentary and other extras via BD Live. A digital copy disc is also on-hand.

DOLLHOUSE Blu-Ray (2009, 540 mins.; Fox): Joss Whedon’s latest series arrived on Fox with a lot of fanfare last spring, but only modest ratings and mixed reviews greeted this tale of a covert organization whose agents are programmed/brainwashed into carrying out whatever missions they’re contracted for.

“Dollhouse” takes this premise and follows one such agent, code-named Echo (Eliza Dushku), through a series of adventures with her “handler” in close pursuit. As the action progresses, Echo begins to remember fragments of her real (or at least former) life, while one FBI agent decides to take down Echo’s mysterious employer.

Like most series “Dollhouse” starts off a bit on the ragged side, with a few episodes that fizzle and only a couple of interesting concepts -- and Dushku -- carrying you through. Eventually the show picks up enough steam that one could see following the series through to its second season, which Fox surprisingly green lit in the spring. It’s a decent mix of action and intrigue but you have to be patient for the show’s stronger attributes to start to gel.

Fox has brought the first season of “Dollhouse” to Blu-Ray in a superb package, offering excellent AVC encoded transfers, DTS Master Audio soundtracks, three unaired episodes (including the unaired, original pilot), deleted scenes, commentaries and featurettes.

DRAGONBALL EVOLUTION Blu-Ray (*½, 85 mins., 2009, PG; Fox): The popular Japanese anime became a less-than-successful live-action American movie last spring, barely grossing more than “Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li.” Justin Chatwin, Chow Yun Fat and Emmy Rossum topline this adaptation of the animated series, which boasts lots of effects, action...and precious little story that anyone unfamiliar with the material will have a hard time getting into. Fox’s Blu-Ray disc looks and sounds just terrific, with a candy-coated AVC encoded transfer and DTS Master Audio soundtrack, sporting a better-than-the-material-deserves Brian Tyler score. Copious extras include featurettes, deleted scenes, a gag reel, interactive game, and digital copy disc.

MISS MARCH Blu-Ray (90 mins., 2009, Unrated; Fox): I can’t say I’ve ever heard of “The Whitest Kids U Know,” but two of them (Zach Cregger and Trevor Moore) directed and starred in this brainless sex comedy that makes last year’s “Sex Drive” look like the work of Welles or Kubrick by comparison. “Miss March” didn’t do much at the box-office but Fox has given the movie a Blu-Ray release regardless, offering an unrated cut of the film and several short featurettes, along with the studio’s customary AVC encoded transfer and DTS Master Audio soundtrack.

MUTANT CHRONICLES Blu-Ray (*½, 101 mins., 2008, R; Magnolia): Laughably inept CGI/green-screen affair set in the year 2707, where giant corporations control the globe and mutants descend from the depths of the Earth to battle what’s left of humanity. I’m guessing Thomas Jane, Ron Perlman and John Malkovich were properly compensated for their appearances in this ghastly comic-book effort from director Simon Hunter and producer Edward R. Pressman, who’s certainly been affiliated with superior genre films than this one. For the most part “Mutant Chronicles” plays like a really bad Sci-Fi Channel movie with slightly superior visual trappings -- in other words, skip it. Magnolia’s Blu-Ray disc is a commendable release, at least, thanks to its 1080p transfer, DTS Master soundtrack, and bevy of special features (commentary, deleted scenes, numerous Making Of segments, concept art, etc.).        

THE INFORMERS Blu-Ray (**, 98 mins., 2008, R; Sony): A terrific ensemble cast (Billy Bob Thornton, Kim Basinger, Winona Ryder, Mickey Rourke, Amber Heard, Chris Isaak) tries hard in this rough adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ sordid chronicle of ‘80s Los Angeles, following a group of mostly unlikeable characters -- movie producers, rock stars, etc. -- being miserable as they mostly travel down a dark path of sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll. There’s not much levity to this Gregor Jordan film, which was shot in 2007 (co-star Brad Renfro appears in his final role here) but was released in only limited distribution earlier this year; certainly watchable, it’s also tedious and difficult to sit through. Sony’s excellent Blu-Ray disc offers the studio’s requisite, top-notch AVC encoded transfer with Dolby TrueHD audio (sporting a solid Christopher Young score) and extras including director and cast commentary and a Making Of featurette.

New From Anchor Bay

It’s been a while since we’ve seen the cult-favorite DVD label issue a new stream of catalog titles, but August marks a happy occasion for fans of brainless ‘80s sex comedies -- and a return to what Anchor Bay does best!
After drumming up loads of business with “Friday the 13th,” shlock-meister Sean S. Cunningham turned his attention to the teen sex comedy genre, which hit its ‘80s apex with “Porky’s” -- a movie that surely lead to the production of Cunningham’s 1983 opus SPRING BREAK (**½, 101 mins., R), with Perry Lang and David Knell as two college students who head down to Ft. Lauderdale for surf, sand, and babes galore.

This innocuous and watchable ‘80s comedy isn’t any great shakes but it certainly isn’t any worse than, say, “Miss March” or the latest “Van Wilder” or “American Pie” sequel. Anchor Bay’s DVD is light on extras but offers a spiffy 16:9 (1.85) transfer with clear mono sound.

Another genre entry that performed well at the box-office during the era was Mark Griffiths’ HARD BODIES, which also gets dusted off this month in a double-feature release from Anchor Bay. Both the original 1984 “Hardbodies” (which Columbia released) and the 1986 barely-a-sequel “Hardbodies II” (which, as released by Cinetel Films, didn’t generate nearly as many dollars as its predecessor) are offered on a single dual-layer DVD with 16:9 (1.85) transfers and mono soundtracks.

For a dose of ‘80s nostalgia you could certainly do worse than these three amiable, no-brain affairs.

CHILDREN OF THE CORN Blu-Ray (**, 92 mins., 1984, R; Anchor Bay): Lame-brained but still-watchable 1984 adaptation of Stephen King’s story, released at a time when audiences were being deluged with all kinds of King projects hitting the silver-screen. Peter Horton and Linda Hamilton star as a couple that stumble upon a weird religious cult of kids in a Nebraska town in this low-budget effort which spawned a series of increasingly awful direct-to-video sequels. Anchor Bay’s Blu-Ray looks as satisfying as this 1984 New World release possibly could, with Dolby TrueHD audio, commentary with director Fritz Kiersch and other cast and crew members; brand-new interviews with composer Jonathan Elias, producer Donald P. Borchers and Linda Hamilton among others; trailers, storyboards, an earlier Making Of doc and more. 

BART GOT A ROOM (79 mins., 2009, PG-13; Anchor Bay): Slight teen sex comedy about a nerd who buys a hotel room in the hopes of having sex on prom night boasts a decent supporting cast (William H. Macy, Cheryl Hines, Jennifer Tilly). “Bart Got a Room” gets a decent DVD release from Anchor Bay, sporting a pop-up production notebook, trailer, 16:9 (1.85) transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.    


CBS’ August line-up boasts a pleasing mix of vintage and new series.

THE LOVE BOAT: Season 2, Volume 2 (1979, 11 hrs.) completes the second half of the Pacific Princess’ sophomore voyage with 12 episodes in remastered full-screen transfers. A tremendously varied list of guest stars who join Gavin MacLeod, Bernie Kopell, Fred Grandy, Ted Lange and Lauren Tewes include Abe Vigoda, Nancy Walker, Roddy McDowall, Raymond Burr, Dr. Joyce Brothers, Reggie Jackson, Hayley, John and Juliet Mills, Maren Jensen, Arthur Godfrey, Sonny Bono, Peter Lawford, Jill St. John, Charo (of course!), Anne Meara and Jerry Stiller, Craig Stevens and Ethel Merman among many others.

Chris Rock earned critical kudos with the CW series EVERYBODY HATES CHRIS (2008-09, aprx. 8 hours), which wrapped up its multi-year run this past spring. CBS’ DVD box-set of the show’s final 22 episodes includes a number of special features, including director webisodes, commentary, gag reel footage, deleted scenes, and several production featurettes, making for a nice final farewell for fans.

I can’t say that the return of 90210 (2008-09, aprx. 17 hours) to broadcast TV got me all that jazzed -- but that’s to be expected since this CW remake of the ‘90s Fox series is aimed primarily at youngsters who didn’t watch the original show to begin with. Season 1 of this moderately successful follow-up (which does bring back a few of the original series’ stars in occasional supporting roles, including Jennie Garth and Shannon Doherty) hits DVD this month in a fine six-disc DVD set, sporting colorful 16:9 transfers and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks. As with “Everybody Hates Chris” above, CBS has added a good array of extras here, including cast commentaries on select episodes and a handful of behind-the-scenes featurettes.

Last but not least from CBS this month is DEXTER: Season 3 (2008, aprx. 11 hours), the popular Showtime series starring Michael C. Hall, Jennifer Carpenter, Julie Benz and James Remar, which gained additional viewers through its infrequent, edited-down broadcasts on CBS. “Dexter: Season 3" is comprised of 12 episodes that look spiffy in Showtime/CBS’ Blu-Ray set (a DVD box is also available, of course), boasting superb VC-1 encoded transfers, Dolby TrueHD soundtracks, interviews with the cast, and bonus episodes from fellow Showtime series “The Tudors” and “United States of Tara.”

Fans of classic TV comedy, meanwhile, would do well to check out MPI’s long-awaited release of HERE’S LUCY (1968-69, 12 hours) later this month, which spun off from the success of “The Lucy Show” (which Paramount released in a fine Season 1 presentation last month).

This full-color sitcom finds Lucy as a widowed mom to real-life kids Lucie Arnaz and Desi Arnaz, Jr., working for her brother-in-law played by Gale Gordon. While any show would be a comedown after the legacy of “I Love Lucy,” “Here’s Lucy” nevertheless managed a lengthy run (through 1974) on CBS and is here presented in a terrific release from MPI. New video introductions from Lucie and Desi Arnaz, Jr. adorn each of the show’s 24 episodes, while screen tests, vintage home movies from Lucy’s vault (including golfing with Jackie Gleason), original network and syndication promos, and retrospective featurettes make this one of the year’s top vintage TV releases on DVD to date.

Warner Home Video is also out to please DC Comics aficionados with SUPER FRIENDS: THE LOST EPISODES (172 mins., Warner), a two-disc set boasting nearly three hours of content from the later, 1980s-produced “Super Friends” cartoons.

To be precise, the 24 episodes included herein were produced in the early ‘80s after the “Super Friends” series had finished, boasting Batman, Robin, Superman, Wonder Woman, Aqua Man and the Wonder Twins (Zan and Jayna for those who might’ve forgotten) and even Hanna-Barbera created heroes like El Dorado. Transfers and soundtracks are all fine, with two downloadable comic book adventures included for extras.

Also New on DVD

HOW TO LOSE A GUY IN 10 DAYS Deluxe Edition DVD (***, 115 mins., 2003, PG-13, Paramount): Lightweight but charming romantic comedy became one of 2003's larger box-office hits.

Kate Hudson plays a NYC magazine writer whose staff eggs her on to write an article about finding a good man and then dumping him within a span of 10 days. Matthew McConaughey, an ad exec, is the prey, though he helps to stir the pot by accepting a bet from his friends about finding a woman (guess who) and making her fall in love with him -- also within a period of 10 days.

So, Hudson drives McConaughey batty, whether it's ruining the NY Knicks playoff series they're trying to watch, or talking out loud at movies. McConaughey, meanwhile, continuously tries to woo Hudson in spite of her unpredictable and often obnoxious behavior.

The romantic comedy genre is filled with fluffy formula pieces, and the ones that click are often not dictated by cast alone but rather a combination of elements that makes them work (see this summer’s superb “The Proposal,” which has become star Sandra Bullock’s biggest hit) . “How to Lose a Guy,” the kind of film that is, entertains on all levels, mainly because the script is actually funny, the interplay between Hudson and McConaughey is consistently amusing, and veteran director Donald Petrie keeps the movie moving at a good clip. The NY locations add atmosphere to the picture, which is further complimented by a nice score by David Newman.

Paramount's new “deluxe” DVD offers a strong 1.85 transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, along with a handful of special features, most notably a decent look back on the movie’s production. Petrie also contributes a commentary track and also talks about why the film's five deleted scenes (included here) were excised, while other featurettes (carried over from the prior DVD) look at the picture's location shooting and the production in general, with typical "Making Of" soundbytes from the cast and crew. A music video rounds out the disc.

HUSBANDS Director’s Cut DVD (142 mins., 1970, PG-13; Sony): Ben Gazzara, Peter Falk and John Cassavetes essay a trio of middle-aged husbands who head off to London after one of their friends unexpectedly dies of a heart attack in this typical Cassavetes work. Devotees of the filmmaker will appreciate this new offering from Sony, which presents a longer version of the picture than what most viewers have seen at home over the years. The disc sports a remastered 16:9 (1.85) transfer with mono sound, a commentary from Cassavetes expert Marshall Fine and a retrospective featurette. 

PETE’S DRAGON DVD (**½, 129 mins., 1977, G; Disney): Don Bluth's memorable title creation interacts with often far less alive human actors (including Mickey Rooney and Helen Reddy) in this agreeable, but quite overlong, 1977 Disney fantasy with songs by Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn. Disney’s new “High Flying Edition” DVD of “Pete’s Dragon” includes over an hour of new extras, from an examination of the movie’s mix of live action and animation, to deleted demo songs, pop recordings of the film’s songs (produced as a promotional record), a deleted storyboard sequence, trailers and more. Visually the 16:9 (1.66) transfer is top notch and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound rounds out a disc that’s an appreciable upgrade on its prior DVD.

HANNAH MONTANA Blu-Ray (**, 102 mins., 2009, G; Disney): Will Miley live the rest of her life as celebrity pop songstress Hannah Montana? Will she move down to the family farm and romance her childhood best friend? If you don’t care about the answers to those questions, then you clearly aren’t the target audience for this big-screen adaptation of the uber-popular Disney Channel series, which managed to rake in a healthy sum at the box-office last spring, and is poised to bring home the bacon on video later this month as well. Disney’s Blu-Ray edition of “Hannah Montana” is a three-disc set sporting a Blu-Ray (1080p, DTS Master Audio) copy of the film, standard DVD edition (16:9, 5.1 Dolby Digital), and digital copy as well, plus a number of special features including commentary from director Peter Chelsom (whom some cinephiles may remember from the ‘90s sleeper “Hear My Song”), deleted scenes, music videos, cast bloopers and Making Of featurettes.

GREEK Chapter Three (2009, Disney): Critically respected and often quite funny, the ABC Family series hits DVD next week in a compilation boasting 10 episodes from its broadcast run earlier this year. Episodes include “Brothers and Sisters,” “Crush Landing,” “Let’s Make a Deal,” “Gays, Ghosts and Gamma Rays,” “Pledge Allegiance,” “See You Next Time, Sisters,” “Formally Yours,” “The Popular Vote,” “Three’s a Crowd,” and “Hell Week.” 16:9 transfers, 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks, 20 questions with cast members, bloopers and select audio commentaries round out the disc.

TYSON (***, 90 mins., 2009, R; Sony): I can’t say that I’ve ever been that fond of controversial former heavyweight champ Mike Tyson, but James Toback’s new documentary paints a compelling portrait of a troubled man fighting demons inside and out of the ring, and most especially within himself. In “Tyson,” Toback deftly chronicles Tyson from his upbringing to fame and fortune, and subsequent fall from grace, with ample interviews and insight. It’s a terrific documentary, even if the subject isn’t something you may particularly care about. Sony’s DVD of “Tyson” hits streets later this month in a satisfying 16:9 (1.85) transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound and extras including commentary with Toback, premiere footage and other bonus interviews.

THE SWAN PRINCESS AND THE SECRET OF THE CASTLE DVD (71 mins., 1997, G; Sony): Animator Richard Rich found success in the ‘90s with his nicely-animated and generally well-received “The Swan Princess,” but unfortunately followed it with a couple of tepid follow-ups. This first sequel, “The Secret of the Castle,” does offer a nice Lex DeAzevedo score and okay animation, but not much in the way of a story that will engage anyone over the age of six. Still, very young children might enjoy the picture regardless, with Sony’s DVD offering an acceptable full-screen transfer and 2.0 Dolby Digital sound, plus a pair of music video

NEXT TIME: THE LAST STARFIGHTER on Blu-Ray and more! Until then, don't forget to drop in on the official Aisle Seat Message Boards and direct any emails to our email address. Cheers everyone!

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