As we head into the months of September and October studios usually
start releasing the big guns on the home video front, with a healthy
dose of summer blockbusters and intriguing catalog titles alike.
This year, obviously, is following a similar pattern as Paramount
is poised to unveil their Special 2-disc DVD and Blu-Ray editions
of IRON MAN (***½, 125 mins., 2008, PG-13; Paramount) on September 30th.
teaming of star Robert Downey, Jr. with director Jon Favreau in an
adaptation of what’s essentially a secondary Marvel Comics
character wasn’t likely to become one of the highest-grossing
super-hero films of all-time, but kudos go out to all for a high-flying
escapist entertainment that outgrossed “Indiana Jones” and
ranks second only to “The Dark Knight” on the list of the
year’s top money makers.
Anchoring the picture is Downey: with a confident, funny, thoroughly
appealing performance, the star gives one of the genre’s finest
turns as Tony Stark, and he’s matched by a director who has
turned in a pitch-perfect super-hero movie on nearly every level.
Eschewing the dark, brooding approach too many other genre offerings
have employed, Favreau instead has made one of the more
“realistic” super-hero movies, with Downey’s
drunken-billionaire playboy reforming himself as an iron-clad hero
after nearly dying in the Afghan desert. From there it’s a
confident, upbeat mix of action, humor and just a dash of romance, with
superb supporting turns from Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Pots to
Jeff Bridges’ nefarious Obadiah Stane (now there’s a name
for a villain!), though second-billed Terence Howard doesn’t get
nearly as much to do as Stark’s Air Force commander pal.
Even if the Mark Fergus-Hawk Ostby-Art Marcum-Matt Holloway script
mostly adheres to a tried-and-true comic-book “origin
movie” formula -- and the bland score by Ramin Djawadi adds
little to the drama -- “Iron Man” is big fun, and worth
seeing for Downey’s winning performance alone. For all the talk
concerning Heath Ledger’s performance in “The Dark
Knight,” Downey brings as much heart and soul, if not more so, to
his role here, elevating the picture at every turn.
Paramount’s DVD and Blu-Ray releases of the movie will not
disappoint “Iron Man” fans when they hit stores later this
month. In fact, the 16:9 (2.35) DVD and Blu-Ray presentations are each
spectacular for their respective mediums, though obviously the edge
goes to the HD presentation, which offers a flawless rendering of
Matthew Libatique’s cinematography. The Dolby TrueHD (Blu-Ray)
and 5.1 Dolby Digital (DVD) soundtracks are as impressive as
you’d imagine, with an impressive array of directional effects
Copious extras include deleted and extended scenes; a full, seven-part
Making Of documentary that covers all the proverbial bases on the
production of the film; Downey’s screen test; a visual effects
featurette; a conversation with Downey; a selection of still galleries
(including a BD exclusive “Hall of Armor” feature); and BD
Live functions for those with player capability and an internet
connection. Most of the features are in HD as well for Blu-Ray
From the spectacular to the shockingly bad comes THE LOVE GURU (*½, 87 mins., 2008, PG-13; Paramount),
a Mike Myers stinker which stars the comic as an American raised in
India who comes back to the States to break into the self-help fad and
offer “spiritual enlightenment” to a hockey player (Justin
Timberlake) struggling on and off the ice.
Myers co-wrote this at-times painful exercise in would-be comedic
shenanigans, which also offers Jessica Alba (adding to her growing
roster of bad movies), Ben Kinglsey and Myers’ “Austin
Powers” cohort Verne “Mini-Me” Troyer attempting to
parade through a succession of gags that may not have cut it even in
“Meet the Spartans.”
Paramount’s Blu-Ray and 2-disc DVD editions of this June flop
include the requisite outtake reel, deleted scenes and numerous
featurettes, most of which are about as funny as the film itself. The
standard DVD acquits itself nicely with its 16:9
(2.35) transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack, while the Blu-Ray is
slated to offer a high-def transfer and uncompressed Dolby TrueHD sound
(we were still awaiting the disc at press time and will report back if
the specs turn out to be radically different).
Meanwhile, Universal next week rolls out a pair of theatrical efforts
from last spring, one of which became a solid hit at the box-office,
the other a disappointment given its cast and subject matter.
The latter was George Clooney’s pleasant, if forgettable, period football drama/romantic comedy LEATHERHEADS (**½, 114 mins., 2008, PG-13; Universal).
Clooney headlines this pet project as an aging star trying to recruit a
team in the earliest days of organized pro football. After losing a
sponsor Clooney recruits a war hero and college star (played by
“The Office”’s John Krasinski) to lead the team to
victory and develop a major fan following, much to the dismay of a
journalist (Renee Zellweger) who thinks there’s something a bit
“off” about Krasinski’s credentials.
With strong period atmosphere, fine cinematography by Newton Thomas
Sigel and a flavorful, though thematically weak, Randy Newman score,
“Leatherheads” has the look of class and it’s
certainly entertaining for the most part; in fact, the movie’s
poor box-office receipts could have easily been attributed to the
puzzling release date (why open a football movie in April?) more than a
major deficiency in the film.
not everything in “Leatherheads” clicks -- the main
obstacle is the script by Duncan Brantley and former “Sports
Illustrated” writer Rick Reilly which doesn’t cultivate
many belly laughs, or much chemistry between Clooney and Zellweger. Had
the dialogue been spruced up Clooney (who also directed) could have had
a major hit on his hands, but the picture isn’t quite as bad as
its flop status would have you believe in spite of its shortcomings.
Universal’s Blu-Ray disc offers a strong presentation of the
movie on one 25GB platter: the HD transfer is top notch while DTS
Master Audio sound compliments the visuals. Extras are limited to a
commentary by Clooney and producer Grant Heslov and “U
Control” picture-in-picture extras, most of which tend to be
typical promotional chatter.
FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL (***, 111 mins. [Theatrical] and 118 mins [Unrated], 2008; Universal) was
the bigger success for the studio -- another in a fast-growing line of
Judd Apatow-produced comedies, most of which have garnered huge dollars
(“The 40 Year Old Virgin,” “Knocked Up,”
“Superbad,” this summer’s “Pineapple
Express”) with just a couple of missteps along the way
This comedy from star-writer Jason Segel (who co-starred in
Apatow’s marvelous “Freaks and Geeks” TV series years
ago) is one of the more charming and good-natured pictures that Apatow
has produced thus far: a romantic tale of a musician and puppeteer
(Segel) whose actress girlfriend (“Veronica Mars”’
Kristen Bell) has broken up with him, leaving Segel a sad sack of
romantic disappointment. Trying to break away from his daily existence,
Segel heads to Hawaii to get away from it all -- only to run into his
ex-flame, now on vacation with an obnoxious Brit rock star (Russell
Brand, apparently playing himself). Fortunately a new relationship with
a cute hotel manager (Mila Kunis) offers Segel the potential to turn
Filled with laughs and a bit less of the raunchy stuff than usual
(despite some full-frontal male nudity), “Forgetting Sarah
Marshall” manages to be both a crazy, madcap Apatow-styled effort
as well as a delightful romantic-comedy at the same time. Segel is
thoroughly winning, as is Kunis and Bell, who plays the “bad
girl” here to good effect. Though the film technically
isn’t anything extraordinary (none of the Apatow films is),
“Forgetting Sarah Marhsall” is well worth checking out and
ranks as one of the year’s more satisfying comedic efforts.
Presented on a dual-layer 50GB Blu-Ray platter, “Forgetting Sarah
Marshall” offers both the original R-rated and
“Uncut” versions of the movie with loads of extras,
including more deleted scenes, both a standard commentary track and a
visual one, “U-Control” extras and video diaries. More
extras will be available through BD Live functionality, while the DTS
Master Audio soundtrack and HD transfer (1.85) are both excellent.
Also New on Blu-Ray
One of the genres that the advent of high-definition has aided
enormously is the “natural wonder”/”scenic
beauty” video travelogue. Thanks to Blu-Ray and broadcast HDTV
there seems to be an even healthier market than ever for shots of
nature backed either by music or just natural, ambient sound.
Several new releases on Blu-Ray offer a breathtaking array of nature’s wonder, including COASTAL DAWNS, a 100-minute program from BlueMarvel Productions.
Director David Conover and executive producer Jeff Garrard have
packaged a beautiful, dual-program assortment of images taken from
Maine’s Mt. Battie, which overlooks Penobscot Bay and the village
of Camden, as well as the lush tropical settings of Maui’s
Wai’anapanapa Park. Both programs set out to convey the majesty
of the dawn, the quiet of the morning, and the gradual awakening of
nature that happens each day around us, yet both programs have their
own unique flavor, from the autumnal images of a New England October to
the Pacific warmth from Hawaii.
BlueMarvel calls their HD even more “pristine” in its
source than both HD cable and satellite, and it’s hard to argue
with their Blu-Ray presentation: the level of detail in some of the
shots is exceptionally clear, from zoomed-in views of lobster boats to
the wind that visibly manifests itself against the calm morning surf of
both venues. The Dolby 5.1 sound is perfectly handled, making for
ideal, calming background noise even if you’re not watching the
scenic views, while there are also two different optional text overlays
you can choose to accompany the programs: one offering “field
guide” information on the locales seen in the video, another with
This inaugural Blu-Ray offering from BlueMarvel comes highly recommended and is available to order both from Amazon as well as BlueMarvel’s own website.
Another excellent program in a similar vein (no surprise since
“Coastal Dawns” director David Conover is involved with
some of the work glimpsed here also) is SUNRISE EARTH, the Discovery HD Theater series which hits Blu-Ray in two different four-disc volumes courtesy of the channel itself.
45-minute program captures the sights and sounds of a morning sunrise
from around the globe, and Discovery’s two box-sets house some 20
total episodes from the series.
Volume 1, which was also available on HD-DVD last year, includes
“American Sunrises” such as “Moose in the
Morning,” “Yellowstone Geysers,” “Gator
Hole,” “Bison Before Breakfast,” “Sea of
Terns,” “Vermont Balloons,” “Alewife Eternal
Return,” “Tropical Palms,” “Swallow Sea
Cave,” “Yosemite Dawn,” “Cribworks
Kayak,” “Sequoia Light” and a bonus feature
“Secrets of the Sun.” The VC-1 encoded transfers and Dolby
Digital soundtracks are all excellent across the board.
Volume 2, which arrives at the end of the month only on Blu-Ray, is
dubbed the “Seaside Collection” and includes “Island
First Light” (set in Maine’s Acadia National Park),
“The Great Barrier Reef,” “Societ Island
Sunrise,” “Sunrise Seal Colony,” “Mediterranean
Port,” “Ninagiak Island”, “Playa Grande
Moonset,” and “Argentinian Seal Pups.” The high-def
transfers and soundtracks are just as robust as their Vol. 1
counterparts, and offer relaxing, vibrant seascapes to grace all HD
home set-ups. Highly recommended!
Also new from Discovery this month is WHEN WE LEFT EARTH: THE NASA MISSIONS (258 mins., 2008), an
outstanding documentary series narrated by Gary Sinise that profiles
the 50th Anniversary of NASA and recounts all the missions, misfires,
tragedies and triumphs of our country’s push into outer space.
This real-life “Right Stuff” is packed with marvelous
interviews and archival footage from the NASA vaults, some of which has
never been seen -- and none of which has been viewed in the kind of
outstanding high-definition detail that Discovery’s Blu-Ray
The four-platter, six-episode set -- which begins with the earliest
days of astronaut recruiting and traces NASA’s work through the
Hubble telescope debacle -- offers vivid HD transfers and Dolby Digital
soundtracks, as well as a number of compelling extras, from bonus NASA
film highlights to astronaut interviews, individual mission clips, and
five full-length additional NASA movies (on the bonus fourth disc).
Needless to say this is a rich, involving and enormously rewarding
series that ought to recapture one’s interest in the space
program, remembering its infancy and examining the challenges it faces
Finally Discovery this week offers the complete first and second seasons of JON & KATE PLUS EIGHT: Seasons 1 and 2.
This Learning Channel reality series has become one of cable’s
most popular shows, as it follows the Gosselin family -- parents Kate
and Jon, twin girls Mady and Cara, and the Sextuplets -- through every
day events...events that might seem benign but become quite a challenge
when dealing with eight kids.
Now, I normally rag on most reality series, but this Discovery-produced
show is anything but junk -- in fact it’s become mandatory
viewing in the Aisle Seat household over the last year (along with the
wonderful “Little People, Big World”).
Moving and always entertaining, “Jon & Kate” is perfect
for family viewing, as it shows the good-natured and enormously patient
Gosselins as they attempt to remain sane and yet actually parent their
children through some sticky situations, be it a trip to the dentist or
It might not sound like the kind of program that becomes addictive
viewing yet that’s exactly what you may find if you check out the
series, which is just now hitting DVD. Volume 1 includes the
series’ first season in 4:3 transfers and with the original
“pilot” documentary, “Sextuplets and Twins,”
which served as the basis for the program. Volume 2 offers the
season’s sophomore roster of episodes plus the follow-up pilot
doc, “Sextuplets and Twins: One Year Later.” Highly
Interested viewers should note that this and all the Discovery DVDs are available from Amazon as well as the Discovery Store at www.discoverystore.com
More Aisle Seat Picks of the Week
of gorgeous scenery, Warner Home Video has hit a complete and total
home run with their new high-definition Blu-Ray release of HOW THE WEST WAS WON (***½, 162 mins., 1962; Warner), the uneven but hugely entertaining all-star MGM blockbuster co-directed by Henry Hathaway, John Ford, and George Marshall.
As someone who was born long after the film’s release, the only
opportunity I’ve had to watch this sprawling western was either
on television, in severe pan-and-scan crop jobs that all but ruined the
movie’s Cinerama dimensions, or letterboxed laserdiscs and DVDs
that were marred by visible “streaks” in the frame due to
the multi-strip filming employed when the picture was produced.
Thanks to Warner’s full-blown digital remastering, only now can I
gain a true appreciation of the movie’s magnificent
cinematography, as this stunning double-disc HD set is absolutely
spectacular: bright, bold colors and incredible detail make “How
the West...” appear as if it were shot yesterday, while digital
3-D technology has greatly diminished those Cinerama strip markers to
the degree where, at times, they’re no longer visible at all.
It’s an incredible achievement that’s enhanced even further
by a new “Smilebox” presentation which curves the frame on
the left and right hand edges to simulate the movie’s original
Cinerama exhibition. While viewers also have the opportunity to view
the movie in its “standard” widescreen (2.89:1) aspect
ratio, the “Smilebox” presentation is enormously effective
to the degree where I preferred it to the more conventional widescreen
The Dolby TrueHD sound is effective, if a bit limited due to the age of
the picture’s elements, while a superb “round table”
commentary includes comments from historian Rudy Behlmer, stunt man
Loren James, filmmaker David Strohmaeir, Cinerama director John Sittig,
and film music expert Jon Burligame, who’s on-hand to lend
insight into the creation of Alfred Newman’s outstanding
trailer and a superb, older documentary on the Cinerama process,
“Cinerama Adventure,” make this one of the year’s
must-have releases for Golden Age film buffs. Highly recommended!
Shelley Duvall’s wonderfully inventive FAERIE TALE THEATRE
was one of the crown jewels of cable programming in the early to mid
‘80s. Offering a cavalcade of stars and directors as diverse as
Francis Ford Coppola, Tim Burton, Roger Vadim and Tony Bill (as well as
scores by James Horner and Michael Convertino among others),
Duvall’s fantasy series enchanted children of all ages and earned
numerous awards during its run throughout the 1980s.
Koch Vision’s new Collector’s Edition offers all 26
episodes from the Showtime series, each newly remastered in the
best-possible condition given their videotape origins (for that reason,
don’t expect any kind of high-definition release to improve upon
the source material). The episodes are presented in alphabetical, as
opposed to chronological order, and extras include a “lost”
episode (“Faerie Tale Theatre’s Greatest Moments”),
plus a presentation reel with Duvall and B-roll promo footage.
Even more satisfying than the disc extras is a 112-page paperback
“storybook” offering a synopsis of each tale with color
photos, a small list of cast and crew, and a few trivia tidbits. While
it would have been even more satisfying to have extensive liner notes
on the episodes (producer Bridget Terry’s essay and a brief blurb
from Duvall is all we get here), this is still a phenomenal set from
Koch with superior picture and sound to the prior DVD and a bonus
“3-In-1" card game offering more trivia and a memory game in its
Last but not least among this week’s “elite” Aisle
Seat discs is Shout! Factory’s forthcoming, marvelous anthology
of SPORTS NIGHT (1998-2000),
Aaron Sorkin’s alternately funny and dramatic ABC series about an
ESPN-like network, its anchors, producers and other folks behind the
scenes, and how closely their personal, and professional, lives happen
to be intertwined.
From the ensemble cast (Felicity Huffman, Peter Krouse, Josh Charles,
Robert Guillaume, Joshua Malina and Sabrina Lloyd) to the snappy
dialogue, “Sports Night” represents some of Sorkin’s
strongest work -- more consistent than the unsatisfying “Studio
60 on the Sunset Strip” and less preachy than “The West
Wing” would become.
Previously available on a now out-of-print Buena Vista DVD,
Shout!’s new box-set offers both seasons of “Sports
Night” in fine full-screen transfers and Dolby 2.0 soundtracks. A
fresh assortment of extras gives the series the same deluxe treatment
the label gave to cult series “Freaks and Geeks” and
“Undeclared,” including extensive booklet notes (with an
introduction by Sorkin), interviews with Sorkin and frequent series
director Thomas Schlamme, gag reels, eight episode commentary tracks, a
whole batch of retrospective conversations with the cast and creator,
Making Of featurettes and discussions with ESPN
“Sportscenter” staff about the accuracy of the show.
“Sports Night” may have been borne out of ABC’s
purchase of ESPN at the time, but it’s a perfectly pitched, well
acted and written series that’s attracted a cult following of
fans over the years, in addition to the adoration the series received
from critics across the country. Shout!’s DVD box-set offers a
stellar package preserving the series in a top-notch Special Edition
that truly does it justice. Highly recommended! (available Sept. 30)
New on Blu-Ray
KILL BILL (***½, 111 mins., 2003, R; Miramax)
KILL BILL VOL. 2 (***, 137 mins., 2004, R; Miramax)
I'm not the world's biggest fan of Quentin Tarantino, but this
impressively designed, stylish and fun movie-movie -- released in two
installments, one appreciably weaker than the other -- is one of his
most satisfying works to date.
Equal parts comic book and '70s Hong Kong kung fu homage, "Kill Bill
Vol. 1" is the (superior) first half of Tarantino's tale of revenge and
retribution. Uma Thurman stars as "The Bride," a sleek assassin who's
shot on her wedding day and left for dead by her former boss and
employees. After spending four years in a coma, she wakes up, ready to
enact some vengeance for the death of her fiancee and unborn child by
taking down "Bill" (David Carradine) and his deadly band of contract
killers (including Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox and Daryl Hannah).
Tarantino's movie opens up with a Shaw Brothers logo, setting the tone
for a movie that's filled with in-jokes, homages, and plenty of
energetic filmmaking that shows off the filmmaker at his best: yes,
it's violent, but somehow the tone of "Kill Bill" manages to be more
playful and less vindictive (in spite of its copious gore) than much of
Tarantino's previous work. Using all corners of the widescreen frame,
Tarantino has made an enthusiastic film -- an exercise in style more
than plot, no question -- that works best if you take it in the proper
spirit, sporting a number of cinematic styles (including a full-blown
anime used to render the back story of Liu's character) backed up by
Robert Richardson's evocative cinematography. Even the hodge-podge
soundtrack works great, sporting copious doses of Bernard Herrmann's
score from "Twisted Nerve."
The second half of Tarantino's epic proves to be a bit less inspired
than its opening act. Still, Q-fans should savor the action, spicy
dialogue and amusing performances sprinkled throughout this final act,
which Buena Vista has released in two separate Blu-Ray discs reprieving
their prior DVD editions. This means light supplements (a Making Of,
music videos, etc.) and the inevitable possibility of a “Kill
Bill - Final Cut” assembly that could happen one day down the
That said, the matching Blu-Ray presentations are just spectacular,
marked by strong colors, a hint of cinematic grain, little “edge
enhancement” and a boisterous, uncompressed PCM soundtrack with
sonic textures coming at you in all directions. In all this is a
dynamic a/v feast that perfectly reproduces Tarantino’s opus,
resulting in one of the year’s better Blu-Ray discs to date.
THE LIFE BEFORE HER EYES: Blu-Ray (***, 90 mins., 2008, R; Magnolia):
Low-key, interesting character study about a woman (Uma Thurman) whose
involvement in a tragic high school incident causes an unending feeling
of guilt is a superior effort from director Vadim Perelman, making
amends for his debut feature, the well-acted but overly melodramatic
“House of Sand and Fog.” This independent effort offers
superb performances from Thurman and Evan Rachel Wood as the younger
version of Thurman’s character, and while some critics carped
that “The Life Before Her Eyes” was little more than an
R-rated Lifetime movie, it’s a sensitive, compelling picture with
a fine James Horner score (Horner had scored “House of Sand and
Fog” for the director and one hopes he’ll reunite with
Perelman for the upcoming “Poltergeist” remake).
Magnolia’s Bli-Ray disc includes deleted scenes, an alternate
ending, commentary, photo galleries and featurettes, plus an excellent
1080p transfer with DTS Master Audio sound. Recommended!
THE INVINCIBLE IRON MAN: Blu-Ray (2007, 83 mins., PG-13; Lionsgate):
Watchable Marvel direct-to-video production is at least a cut above the
prior Marvel/Lionsgate efforts (namely, the “Ultimate
Avengers” flicks), bringing Tony Stark and his armored alter-ego
into the present day with fairly good animation and a sometimes
overly-cluttered script. Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray disc includes a
dynamic AVC encoded transfer, a DTS Master Audio soundtrack, an
alternate opening, various featurettes, and a look at the next Marvel
small-screen production, “Dr. Strange.”
WARREN MILLER’S PLAYGROUND (100 mins., 2008; Shout! Factory):
Superb cinematography graces this, the 58th (!) sports feature film
from Warren Miller Entertainment. “Playground” features a
number of skiiers of the “free ride movement,” including
Sean Petit, Peter Olenick and Dean Treadway, as they attempt to tear up
snowy slopes from Japanese mountains to an indoor ski park in Dubai.
This Shout! Factory Blu-Ray disc is easily the only way to soak up the
intense visuals of this entertaining ride, with a superb HD transfer,
Dolby TrueHD audio and narration by Jonny Moseley setting the proper
mood for the “extreme” and dynamic skiing footage on hand
here. (available Oct. 14)
DAYWATCH (Both **, 117 and 146 mins., 2006, Unrated; Fox):
Filmmaker Timur Bekmambetov may have scored a huge success this past
summer thanks to his outrageous (and occasionally tasteless) thriller
“Wanted,” but horror fans with a keen eye for the
international scene were already well aware of the director’s
penchant for outrageous visuals thanks to these two Russian vampire
epics, both packed with outlandish set-pieces...and also a basic lack
of coherence. Fox’s Blu-Ray editions of “Nightwatch”
and its sequel “Daywatch” include excellent AVC-encoded
(1.85) transfers with DTS Master Audio sound, optional English subs
(though not the acclaimed “tricked out” subs that
accompanied some prints and video releases of the movies), an optional
English dubbed track, plus extra features (mostly on
“Nightwatch”) including commentary from the director,
subtitled commentary from novelist Sergei Lukyaneko, extended and/or
deleted scenes, featurettes and the trailer. The two films are
certainly an acquired taste, but fans are urged to check out the superb
HD transfers Fox has served up here on Blu-Ray.
Also New From Fox
FOX HORROR CLASSICS VOL. 2 (Fox):
Three-disc follow-up to last year’s vintage Fox horror anthology
is a bit of a mixed bag, seeing that two of the inclusions are hard to
classify as genre works. Bela Lugosi’s turn in the 1932
“Chandu the Magician” is as more of a fantasy than anything
else, featuring Edmund Lowe as the title hero and Lugosi as the vile
villain Roxor; the barely feature-length “Dr. Renault’s
Secret” (1942) finds a mad scientist turning an ape...into a
human; and finally there’s the atmospheric gothic melodrama
“Dragonwyck,” Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s first feature,
starring Walter Huston and Vincent Price. All three black-and-white
features are presented in newly minted full-screen transfers and mono
sound; solid extras include commentaries on “Dragonwyck”
and “Chandu,” plus featurettes on each platter and an
isolated score track of Alfred Newman’s marvelous
“Dragonwyck” music. It’s a bit uneven as anthologies
go but “Dragonwyck” alone makes this a good bet for Golden
Age horror buffs.
BOSTON LEGAL: Season 4 (888 mins., 2007-08; Fox):
“The Shat” is back for another year of crazy cases, David
E. Kelley’s typically colorful writing and the arrival of
“Star Trek III” cohort John Larroquette in this fourth
season of the ABC legal-comedic-drama. Fox’s five-disc DVD
box-set includes the series’ complete fourth season (20 episodes)
in excellent 16:9 transfers with 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks and one
Making Of featurette.
IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA: Season 3 (332 mins., 2007; Fox):
The acclaimed FX comedy series is about to return shortly for its
fourth season. Fans who might’ve missed last year’s
assortment of 15 episodes can get caught up to speed thanks to
Fox’s three-disc box-set, which offers “It’s Always
Sunny...”’s third season in full-screen transfers with
Dolby Stereo sound, commentaries, a number of behind-the-scenes
featurettes and a gag reel.
New From Criterion
Three films from French filmmaker Max Ophuls comprise Criterion’s
September offerings this month. Ophuls’ graceful camerawork is
on-hand in each title, all of which have been remastered in crisp, new
black-and-white transfers and presented with improved English subtitles:
-LA RONDE (93 mins., 1950) stars
Simone Signoret, Anton Walbrook and Simone Simon in an adaptation of
Arthur Schnitzler’s play “Reiegen.” Commentary from
Ophuls scholar Susan White; an interview with Ophuls’ son Marcel;
a conversation with actor Daniel Gelin; a talk with scholar Alan
Williams; correspondence between Laurence Olivier and Heinrich
Schnitzler, Arthur’s son, discussing the play; and an essay from
Terrence Rafferty grace the package.
–LE PLAISIR (97 mins., 1952)
finds Ophuls adapting a series of tales from Guy de Maupassant, with a
litany of French stars like Simone Simon, Jean Gabin, Danielle Darrieux
and others appearing in a breezy Ophuls concoction. Criterion’s
DVD offers an introduction from filmmaker Todd Haynes, both English and
German language versions of the opening narration, a video essay about
Ophuls’ screenplay featuring scholar Jean-Pierre Berthome,
interviews with actor Daniel Gelin and others, plus booklet commentary
from film critic Robin Wood.
-THE EARRINGS OF MADAME DE... (100 mins., 1952)
is regarded by many as one of Ophuls’ finest works, starring
Danielle Darrieux and Charles Boyer in a tale of tragic romance and
fabricated wealth. Criterion’s DVD includes an intro from Paul
Thomas Anderson, commentary from writers Susan White and Gaylyn
Sutdlar, interviews and a visual analysis, plus a booklet featuring
material on Ophuls and the source novel by Vilmorin.
Coming on DVD
THE BUSBY BERKELEY COLLECTION, Volume 2 (Warner):
More Golden Age musical goodness for film fans arrives this week with
the second installment in Warner’s Busby Berkeley Collection.
This four-film box-set offers a quartet of the director’s trademark genius:
-GOLD DIGGERS OF 1937: Dick Powell, Joan Blondell and Victor Moore star in this superb follow-up to the original “Gold Diggers.”
-GOLD DIGGERS IN PARIS: Rudy Vallee, Rosemary Lane and Hugh Herbert hit France in this 1938 romp.
-HOLLYWOOD HOTEL: Dick Powell, Benny Goodman and an all-star cast team up in this amusing 1937 effort.
-VARSITY SHOW: It may not be
“Good News” but Dick Powell and Fred Waring do their best
to come close in this 1937 tale of Powell attempting to save his
college’s musical revue.
As with the prior release, excellent remastered full-screen transfers,
additional music and comedy shorts, cartoons and bonus musical numbers
from other films (unlikely to see the light of day on DVD) make this a
spectacular set for all musical lovers. Highly recommended!
New From Universal
John Hughes’ ‘80s teen classics have been released, and
re-issued, numerous times on DVD, but seldom with any supplemental
content of interest.
Thankfully, Universal’s new HIGH SCHOOL FLASHBACK COLLECTION rectifies the situation a little bit, offering Hughes’ THE BREAKFAST CLUB, WEIRD SCIENCE and SIXTEEN CANDLES in new Special Edition packaging, complete with a tin “locker” styled case.
Extras aren’t overly abundant, but what’s here should be of
chief interest for fans: “The Breakfast Club” is
highlighted by a lengthy documentary on its production and cult status,
offering comments from stars Ally Sheedy, Judd Nelson and Anthony
Michael Hall, plus filmmakers like Amy Heckerling,
“Heathers”’ Michael Lehmann and “Juno”
writer Diablo Cody. This is easily the most substantive supplement on
any of the three discs, while commentary from Nelson and Hall makes for
an entertaining listen during the film. Another extra touches upon the
“Brat Pack” phenomenon, and while all of it is nice enough,
the absence of Hughes himself along with Molly Ringwald is baffling
(Ringwald is co-starring in the hit ABC Family series “The Secret
Life of the American Teenager,” so it’s hard to figure that
she would be that elusive to track down...unless she’s just not
talking about this phase of her career).
The earlier Hughes hit “Sixteen Candles” includes a shorter
look at the creation of the 1984 comedy, again sans Hughes and
Ringwald, while “Weird Science” boasts a 15-minute look
back at its creation with Hall, plus the pilot for the cable series.
All discs boast 16:9 (1.85) transfers, DTS and Dolby Digital soundtracks, and the original trailers.
Coming Soon on DVD & Blu-Ray
The great character actor Richard Jenkins is brilliant in Tom McCarthy’s highly praised film THE VISITOR (***, 104 mins., 2008, PG-13; Anchor Bay), which hits DVD and Blu-Ray early next month from our friends at Anchor Bay.
Jenkins stars as a disillusioned college professor who improbably
strikes a friendship with a pair of illegal immigrants whom he finds
living in his apartment. His relationship with Tarek (Haaz Sleiman) and
Zainab (Danai Gurira) changes Jenkins’ world, enabling him to
possibly open the door to another relationship with Tarek’s
mother, but all is threatened when the duo is threatened with
Illegal immigration is certainly a hot button issue these days, but
“The Visitor” isn’t really as interested in political
speechifying as it is presenting a clear, well-drawn character study
with fine performances from its ensemble cast. Jenkins is just
marvelous here -- I confess I’ve been a fan and have followed his
career for years since I went to school with his daughter, and after a
lifetime of essaying minor roles (and so many cops one loses count!),
he’s just superb in a career-defining part that hopefully ought
to give him more roles of substance from here on.
Anchor Bay’s Blu-Ray disc includes a fine 1080p HD transfer with
both uncompressed PCM and Dolby Digital 5.1 sound offerings. Extras
include deleted scenes, the trailer, commentary with McCarthy and
Jenkins, and a look at its production. Recommended!
New on DVD: TV Box Sets, Capsules & More
GREY’S ANATOMY Season 4: DVD and Blu-Ray (2007-08, 740 mins.; Buena Vista)
UGLY BETTY Season 2 (2007-08, 765 mins.; Buena Vista): A pair of hit ABC series return to DVD in time for the Fall season.
4 of “Grey’s Anatomy” arrives on DVD and Blu-Ray this
week in a set that ought to please fans of this popular night-time
soap/medical drama. Other than Katherine Heigl’s well-reported
off-screen run-ins with the series’ producers, it was fairly
smooth sailing for “Grey’s” in Season 4 -- at least
according to a friend of mine who religiously watches the program. Gone
were some of the odder plot lines from the previous season, while the
writer’s strike didn’t do much to derail the show’s
Buena Vista’s box-set includes a number of special features, from
outtakes to unaired scenes, excellent 16:9 (1.78) transfers and 5.1
Dolby Digital soundtracks, while the Blu-Ray box-set offers the same
presentation with the added benefit of high-def 1080p visuals.
One of ABC’s other popular night-time series, “Ugly
Betty,” is also back this week on DVD. This adaptation of a
Colombian “Telenovela” is an acquired taste, but there were
more than enough viewers to bring the flamboyant series back for
another season. Buena Vista’s box-set includes deleted scenes,
bloopers, a profile of the series’ Latin TV roots, colorful 16:9
(1.78) transfers and 5.1 Dolby Digital audio.
PRIVATE PRACTICE: Season 1 (2007-08, 340 mins.; Buena Vista)
SAMANTHA WHO: Season 1 (2007-08, 322 mins., Buena Vista): A pair of ABC series that had relatively successful freshman years also hit DVD from Buena Vista this month.
Kate Walsh left the cushy confines of “Grey’s
Anatomy” for the spotlight in her own spin-off series,
“Private Practice.” Backed by an excellent supporting cast
that seems almost too good for the material (including Taye Diggs, Amy
Brenneman, Tim Daly and Audra MacDonald), “Private
Practice” had a solid first season that Buena Vista has brought
to DVD in a top-notch box-set. The 16:9 (1.78) transfers are all
excellent, as are the 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks, while copious
extras include commentaries, two extended episodes, deleted scenes, a
look at the show’s casting process and other goodies.
Christina Applegate, meanwhile, returned to series TV with an amiable,
if somewhat unremarkable, new series entitled “Samantha
Who.” Again surrounded by a terrific ensemble (Jean Smart,
Jennifer Esposito, Melissa McCarthy, Barry Watson and Kevin Dunn among
others), this low-key series about a young woman, suffering from
amnesia, who finds out she wasn’t that nice of a person as she
puts her life back together is modestly entertaining and coasts along
on the performances of its cast. Buena Vista’s DVD box-set again
includes 16:9 transfers, 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks, deleted scenes,
a commentary track and the requisite blooper reel.
BROTHERS AND SISTERS: Season 2 (2007-08, 671 mins.; Buena Vista):
Politics, romance, and more botox adorn the second season of the Sunday
night ABC soap starring Sally Field, Rob Lowe and Calista Flockhart.
Fans will enjoy Buena Vista’s box-set, which includes bloopers,
outtakes, extended/deleted scenes, commentaries, a look at the food
served up on the show, 16:9 transfers and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks.
DIRTY SEXY MONEY: Season 1 (2007-08, 427 mins.; Buena Vista):
Peter Krouse, Donald Sutherland and William Baldwin star in this
Wednesday night ABC series, the first season of which is just arriving
on DVD from Buena Vista. The studio’s 16:9 (1.78) transfers and
5.1 soundtracks are all fine, while extras include bloopers,
commentaries, Making Of featurettes, and a VIP tour of the set.
THE OFFICE: Season 4 (2007-08, aprx. 7 hours; Universal): The
strike might have shortened up most network shows last fall, but
“The Office” -- easily one of the best series on TV today
-- compensates in quality what it might lack in quantity. This fourth
season for the hilarious NBC reworking of the Ricky Gervais-Stephen
Merchant British “Office” finds Michael Scott (Steve
Carrell) breaking apart from his girlfriend; Dwight (Rainn Wilson)
watching helplessly as his love is wooed away from him by upstart Andy
(Ed Helms); Jim (John Krasinski) and Pam (Jenna Fischer) trying to
navigate romance in the workplace; and a “Run for the Cure”
that’s undoubtedly the comedic highlight of the season.
Universal’s Season 4 box-set contains the series’ complete
fourth season in excellent 16:9 (1.78) transfers with 5.1 Dolby Digital
audio and a fine array of extra features, including deleted scenes,
commentaries, a blooper reel, promo ads, a copy of the script from the
episode “The Dinner” by Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg
(who are supposedly writing the next “Ghostbusters”), and
other goodies for “Office” fans.
HOUSE: Season 4 (2007-08, Aprx. 11 hours.; Universal):
More thrills, laughs and one-liners as the Fox medical drama returns
for a fourth season. This strike-shortened year again features Hugh
Laurie as the irrepressible House, who this time out auditions a number
of prospective team members to join his staff. “House” is a
bit outlandish if taken at face value, but it’s certainly
energetic and entertaining TV, anchored by Laurie’s great work.
Universal’s Season 4 DVD box-set includes 16:9 transfers,
commentary on the episode “House’s Head,” numerous
Making Of featurettes and a look at the series’ visual effects.
STAR TREK - ALTERNATE REALITIES (Aprx. 15 hours; Paramount): One
of the best “Star Trek” fan-centric
“Collectives” combines a handful of mostly-excellent
episodes across all spectrums of the long-running franchise, every one
dealing with alternate words: from the classic original series
“Mirror, Mirror” to Deep Space Nine’s “Through
the Looking Glass.” Also on-hand: “In a Mirror Darkly,
Parts 1 and 2" (Enterprise), “The Alternative Factor”
(original series), “Parallels” (TNG), “The Enemy
Within” (original series), “Turnabout Intruder”
(original series), “Frame of Mind” (TNG),
“Shattered” (Voyager), “Yesterday’s
Enterprise” (TNG), “The Inner Light” (TNG),
“The Visitor” (DS9), “Before and After”
(Voyager), “Timeless” (Voyager), “Course:
Oblivion” (Voyager), “E2" (Enterprise) and
“Twilight” (Enterprise). Commentaries and featurettes adorn
each of the five platters, plus nice 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks and
4:3 full-screen transfers (16:9 on the “Enterprise”
DVDs in Brief
101 DALMATIANS (***, 103 mins., 1996, G; Disney)
102 DALMATIANS (**½, 100 mins., 2000, G; Disney)
101 DALMATIANS II: PATCH’S LONDON ADVENTURE (71 mins., 2003, G; Disney)
A trio of Special Edition re-issues of Disney’s live-action
“Dalmatians” pictures plus the direct-to-video, animated
“101 Dalmatians II” hit stores this week.
John Hughes wrote and produced the highly entertaining 1996 live-action
“101 Dalmatians,” offering Glenn Close as Cruella De Vil,
Jeff Daniels and Joely Richardson plus a score by Michael Kamen and
plenty of canine fun -- with an assist from ILM’s special effects
gurus. Disney’s DVD re-issue of the box-office hit, which Stephen
Herek directed, is basically barebones, but does include a new 16:9
(2.35) widescreen transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, making it an
upgrade on the older, out-of-print non-anamorphic disc.
More extras are on-hand in the re-issue of “102
Dalmatians,” though the 2000 sequel itself, alas, is a comedown
from its predecessor, no surprise with Hughes having departed.
Commentary from director Kevin Lima is on-hand along with a deleted
scene, several Making Of featurettes, outtakes and interactive
features, plus the theatrical trailer. The 16:9 (1.85) transfer is just
fine, as are the 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital sound options.
The well-done 2003 made-for-video “101 Dalmatians II” also
receives a new transfer (1.66 with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound) plus a
music video, documentary, and interactive games for the little ones.
THE FOOT FIST WAY (**½, 82 mins., 2006, R; Paramount):
Low-budget, uneven but sporadically hilarious comedy stars Danny
McBride (co-star of “Pineapple Express” and screenwriter of
the “Underworld” movies!) as a mini-mall karate instructor
who journeys to meet his idol -- an obnoxious martial-arts celebrity --
after he finds out his wife is cheating on him. At barely 80 minutes
and “presented” by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, “The
Foot Fist Way” does feel like a padded comedy sketch, but fans
who enjoyed McBride’s antics in “Pineapple” are
likely to find some laughs here. Paramount’s DVD includes
commentary with McBride and director Jody Hill (the duo wrote the film
with Ben Best), plus 20 deleted/extended scenes, an alternate ending
and a blooper reel.
ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS: THE ALVINNN!!! EDITION (173 mins., 1983-87; Paramount):
Some 14 episodes -- nearly three hours -- of ‘80s
“Chimpunks” animated goodness hits DVD in a double-disc
edition from Paramount. Full-screen transfers and mono soundtracks make
this a decent bet for the little ones, and all Alvin fans at heart.
MY LITTLE PONY LIVE: THE WORLD’S BIGGEST TEA PARTY (65 mins., 2008; Paramount):
It’s amusing how toy franchises that were big when I was a kid,
then lied dormant for basically a generation while I was growing up,
have resurfaced for a whole new group of kids. Case in point: “My
Little Pony,” which has grown so popular apparently that even
live taped concerts of the characters in-action have now hit DVD!
Paramount’s DVD includes a group of sing-along songs, full-screen
transfers and a Dolby Digital stereo soundtrack.
ROB & BIG: Season 3 (300 mins., 2008; Paramount):
Season three of the popular MTV reality series follows the adventures
of DC Shoes skateboarder Rob Drydek, bodyguard Christopher “Big
Black” Boykin, bulldog Meaty and mini-horse “Mini.”
Paramount’s DVD includes deleted scenes, commentary and more plus
full-screen transfers and Dolby 2.0 soundtracks.
SCHOOLHOUSE ROCK: Election Collection (49 mins., Disney): 15
shorts from the classic late '70s/early '80s ABC Saturday Morning
cartoon vignettes all focused on the Presidential race comprise this
new collection from Disney. At 49 minutes there's little here to entice
owners of the complete "Schoolhouse Rock" DVD anthology, aside from one
new-to-DVD short "Presidential Minute" with a pair of "surprise
endings" and an election tracking kit for the little ones.
HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL 2: Dance Edition (111 mins., 2007; Disney): New
2-disc edition of the insanely high-rated cable movie offers a sneak
peek at the upcoming theatrical "High School Musical 3" along with
deleted scenes, music videos and more. The DVD transfer is again in
and ofers 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.
BEFORE THE RAINS (98 mins., 2008, PG-13; Lionsgate):
Merchant-Ivory produced period drama from director Santosh Sivan
arrives on DVD in a satisfying 16:9 (1.78) widescreen transfer with 5.1
Dolby Digital sound.
WILL & GRACE: Season 8 (23 Episodes, 2005-06; Lionsgate):
Long-running NBC sitcom finished its run with 23 eighth-season episodes
(2005-06), which hit DVD this week from Lionsgate. Making Of
featurettes, a look at the final episode, outtakes and commentary make
this a must for “Will & Grace” fans, while the 4:3
full-screen transfers and 2.0 Dolby Digital soundtracks are excellent
across the board.
BLOODSUCKING CINEMA (57 mins., 2007; Anchor Bay):
Moderately interesting Canadian documentary on modern vampire films,
which recently aired on the Starz network, offers the usual comments on
the genre from a variety of experts, including filmmakers John
Carpenter, Joel Schumacher and Len Wiseman; make-up gurus including
Greg Nicotero and the late Stan Winston; writers Marv Wolfman and David
S. Goyer; plus critics like Leonard Maltin and Harry Knowles.
Thankfully the beautiful Kristanna Loken is on-hand to off-set Big
Harry’s appearance, and there are copious clips from all kinds of
vamp staples on-hand. Horror fans should eat it up, even if the
revelations aren’t all that mind-blowing. Anchor Bay’s DVD,
out next week, includes a 16:9 (1.78) transfer and 2.0 Dolby Digital
BALLET SHOES (84 mins., 2007, PG; Koch Vision):
Well-made Granada/BBC production adapts Noel Streatfeild’s
original book, starring Emma Watson (from “Harry Potter”),
Yasmin Paige and Lucy Boynton as three orphans raised as sisters in
1930s London. Their ambition to break free from their surroundings and
embark on careers as diverse as aviation and ballet makes for a
heartwarming family film, co-starring a superb, veteran cast (Richard
Griffiths, Eileen Atkins, Gemma Jones, Adrian Lester and others).
Koch’s 16:9 (1.85) transfer is just fine, as is the 5.1 Dolby
TIME: John Carpenter's THE THING Hits Blu-Ray...will it measure up to the HD-DVD? Until
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