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Super September Edition
Plus: Blowout TV on DVD Coverage

Before diving into this week’s new releases, Twilight Time’s exciting recent news – that they’ll be issuing limited-edition Blu-Rays from the Sony vaults – is worth mentioning again in case you missed the announcement earlier this month. Included among the inaugural releases will be the early ‘60s Charles H. Schneer-Ray Harryhausen production of “Mysterious Island” and the original “Fright Night,” both of which will be limited to 3000 copies each (and are likely, especially in the latter case, to go quickly!).

New this month from Twilight Time on DVD is MY COUSIN RACHEL, 20th Century Fox’s 1952 answer to “Rebecca” with Nunnally Johnson adapting another Daphne Du Maurier novel for the screen – albeit one that’s a bit less romantic than that earlier screen classic.

Richard Burton won an Oscar for his second-billed, first American role as a young and naive Englishman whose beloved guardian-cousin passes away, leaving him his Cornwall estate and vast sums of wealth. He also grows attached to his cousin Rachel (Olivia De Havilland), a mysterious and alluring woman whom Burton later believes might have something to do with his cousin’s death.

Chock full of atmosphere, beautiful black-and-white cinematography and a fine score by Franz Waxman, “My Cousin Rachel” is a highly entertaining and well-performed studio picture that “Rebecca” admirers ought to particularly enjoy, in spite of its tonal differences. Since the film has faded into relative obscurity over the years, fans should be pleased with Twilight Time’s DVD, which marks its first release on home video and looks extremely nice: the transfer is strong, the mono audio nicely rendered, and for extras, an isolated score track, the trailer, and as always, a thoughtful essay from Julie Kirgo are on-hand.

New on Blu-Ray

THOR Blu-Ray/3-D Blu-Ray/DVD Combo Pack (***, 115 mins., 2011, PG-13) is what my idea of what a comic book movie should be – big, colorful, loud, a little bit corny at times, but hugely entertaining throughout.

Kenneth Branagh’s unabashedly colorful and fun take on the material offers memorable production design from Bo Welch, with sets and costumes that look like they just flew off the Marvel pages (I don't think I've seen anything like the Asgard scenes since "Flash Gordon", with plenty of rousing action to match.

Chris Hemsworth is undeniably charismatic as Odin’s son, who is banished to Earth by his father (Anthony Hopkins) after putting the kingdom of Asgard in trouble with his callous actions. Unlike some other, pre-fab Aussie leading men we’ve seen of late (Sam Worthington, anyone?), Hemsworth is the real deal, effortlessly navigating his way through the material with the right dash of arrogance and empathy (like many of the Marvel films, there’s ultimately a moral to this story). Action, humor, and fantasy all come together as Thor falls for a mere mortal grad student (Natalie Portman, so much more appealing than she was in the Star Wars prequels) who becomes infatuated with our muscle-bound hero, while Hopkins doesn't just cash the check as Odin and other roles are satisfyingly filled by the likes of Stellan Skaarsgard (Portman’s professor boss), Kat Dennings (her friend), Idris Elba (Asgard’s gatekeeper) and Tom Hiddelston as Loki, Thor’s troubled brother who we’re about to see a good deal more of in next summer’s “The Avengers.”

Speaking of that much-anticipated super-hero team mash-up, the lead-in material to that picture is incorporated into the story here far more organically than “Iron Man 2" – Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye makes a very brief appearance but people who don't know who he is won't be sitting there, thinking that the movie has stopped dead to incorporate references to “The Avengers.”

The pacing is a little bit odd at times as the movie flips between the Asgard and Earth sequences, and if anything, could have used more character development (it's cut lean under 2 hours), but overall I was very much entertained. This is colorful, romantic genre entertainment with a dynamic Patrick Doyle score that’s the most satisfying work I’ve heard from the composer since his Halcyon days of the mid ‘90s.

Paramount brings “Thor” to BD this week in a number of different flavors including a Blu-Ray/3-D Blu-Ray/DVD copy. The HD image on the Blu-Ray is expectedly strong (1080p AVC encoded widescreen), though I wasn’t so crazy about the use of 3-D with the picture: more often than not it dims the movie’s vivid cinematography, offering only occasional “depth of field” type of effects that are really noticeable. The DTS MA sound is strong on all the renditions, while extras include 24 minutes of deleted scenes (some of which would’ve helped the pacing) in HD, brief featurettes (there’s a Patrick Doyle interview that runs barely two minutes), a commentary from Branagh and some connecting featurettes designed to sell “The Avengers,” though little in the way of footage from the much-anticipated super-hero match-up.

“Thor” did well at the box-office, grossing nearly a half-billion worldwide, but its financial performance wasn’t matched by X-MEN FIRST CLASS, Fox’s relaunch of the franchise (**½, 132 mins., 2011, PG-13) which ranks as a perfectly serviceable, occasionally inspired prequel from director Matthew Vaughn and co-writer Jane Goldman, who previously collaborated on “Stardust” and last year’s wild “Kick-Ass.”

“First Class” establishes the first meeting of Professor X (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender), back when they were just Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr – mutants who find one another working on the same side of a top-secret U.S. government project. There, Xavier recruits a number of young people with special abilities – including the shape-shifting Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) – as the early, not-quite “X-Men” go up against Kevin Bacon’s villainous Sebastian Shaw, a mutant trying to steer the Cuban missile crisis through to its intended end.

With its ‘60s setting and Maurice Binder-like end titles, “X-Men: First Class” does come off like a breath of fresh air after the stale “Wolverine” spin-off with Hugh Jackman and friends. Vaughn’s visual flair and a good array of performances keep the film entertaining and compelling throughout, though truth be told I ended up feeling like something was missing from the film in the days after I saw it. The film moves so quickly at times that there’s never proper time to digest what’s happening, not enough character beats to satisfy the film’s large ensemble roster of heroes. This especially costs the film at its climax when the “lines have been drawn” between Xavier and Magneto, and characters like Mystique make their ultimate decision as to where their allegiances lie – there’s been so little development on this end of things that the resolution comes off as weakly developed at best.

The movie also misses having an “everyman” like Wolverine – much like the Star Wars prequels where Han Solo’s levity was sorely missed, “First Class” has no central hero for the audience to identify with, and the absence of someone like Jackman is especially evident once the sideburn-adorned, grumpy protagonist chips in a brief but funny cameo.

Fox’s Blu-Ray package includes a fine technical presentation (1080p AVC encode, DTS MA audio) and, like “Thor,” a somewhat slim group of supplements, though at least the eight-part behind-the-scenes doc is fairly substantial. An isolated score track is on-tap along with more deleted/extended scenes (once again one imagines that some of the discarded material would’ve helped the movie’s somewhat fragmented pace), the trailer and interactive featurettes, plus a digital copy for portable media players.

BRIDESMAIDS (**½, 125 mins., R/Unrated, 2011; Universal), meanwhile, has been one of the summer’s biggest surprises – a low-budget Universal comedy that has generated over $160 million in domestic returns so far.

A movie at war with itself, this agreeable comedy from SNL's Kristen Wiig and company has some mild laughs and a few nice scenes. They also, unfortunately, alternate with brief bursts of producer Judd Apatow's R-rated "raunch" -- like a ridiculous, unfunny gross-out scene where the ladies get food poisoning and end up relieving themselves in a dress shop. It made me wonder -- when did comedy take the sudden right turn to bodily fluid jokes of embarrassment? I'm guessing “There’s Something About Mary” and “American Pie” are the films to blame for the "modern trend" in R rated comedy, and with this film it's unfortunate since the tone of the film is a bit more mature than the norm and Wiig is quite sympathetic here. Also funny is the terrific Melissa McCarthy from "Mike & Molly" who steals most of her scenes.
Overall, the movie isn’t great – just decent – in spite of its inexplicably "90% fresh" rating at Rotten Tomatoes, though one can easily see the film being a favorite on home video for some time to come.

Universal’s combo pack includes a new, Unrated cut of the movie (running six minutes longer than its R-rated version) with more deleted scenes, extended/alternate bits, a gag reel and a number of featurettes (some of which are exclusive to the Blu-Ray), a commentary track from director Paul Feig and cast members, a digital copy and a DVD as well. The AVC encoded 1080p transfer is fine and DTS MA audio round out the package.

Also New on DVD and Blu-Ray

BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S Blu-Ray (***, 1961, 114 mins., Paramount): In spite of Mickey Rooney’s stereotypical (and, these days, controversial) performance, Blake Edwards’ Oscar-winning 1961 “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” remains one of the more enduring films of the early ‘60s, with its classic Henry Mancini score and memorable Hepburn performance.

This new Blu-Ray edition of the film that gave us “Moon River” reprises the extras from its 2006 DVD release (producer Richard Shepherd’s commentary, a number of short featurettes) while also adding some material from the 2009 “Centennial” edition (all in high-def): “A Go Glightly Gathering,” “Henry Mancini: More than Music” (giving proper respect to the composer’s unforgettable contribution to the movie), and “Mr. Yunioshi: An Asian Perspective,” which attempts to put a modern explanation for Mickey Rooney’s cartoonish, if not racist, portrayal of Hepburn’s upstairs neighbor. The original trailer and both a satisfying AVC encoded 1080p transfer and either DTS MA or original mono audio are also on-hand.    

GHOST HUNTERS: Season 6 Part 1 Blu-Ray (2010, aprx. 9 hours; Image): Season 10 of the top-rated Syfy Channel series kicks things off with a live investigation of Alcatraz, which has been edited down here from its original “uncut” broadcast length. That said, if you’ve ever seen one of Jay & Grant’s live shows, you’re better off getting the “highlights” package anyway, as the TAPS guys take their time finding whatever supernatural evidence might be at their disposal. Other episodes in this first-half anthology of Season 10 episodes includes Fort Ticonderoga; Shamrock Spirits; Phantoms of Jersey; Touched by Evil; Haunted Reform School; Ghosts in the Attic; Inn of the Dead; Spirits of the Night; Norwich State; Haunted Hotel; and America’s First zoo. The 1080i 1.78 transfers are all broadcast-worthy (if not better) and 2.0 stereo tracks comprise the audio package.

Also new from Image on the sci-fi/horror front is CHROMESKULL: LAID TO REST 2 (93 mins., 2011, Unrated), the sequel to Robert Hall’s “Laid to Rest” with Brian Austin Green as “ChromeSkull”’s assistant in another gory mess for genre fans, co-starring Thomas Dekker, Mimi Michaels and a special appearance from horror-movie fave Danielle Harris. Image’s BD includes an unrated cut of the movie along with commentary frm Hall, Green and Kevin Bocarde, plus a featurette, deleted scenes, bloopers, the trailer, and a look at “”Creating ChromeSkull.”

Image has also dusted off several more titles from the Sony vaults recently including the forgettable 1986 John Candy comedy ARMED AND DANGEROUS (**, 88 mins., PG-13), starring the late comedian and his SCTV castmate Eugene Levy as bumbling security guards who get involved in a rash of robberies and a local mob boss (Robert Loggia, channeling his inner-most heavy for the umpeenth time in the decade). Harold Ramis co-wrote “Armed and Dangerous” but he failed to do for Candy what he did for Rodney Dangerfield with an earlier – and far superior – Summer of ‘86 comedy, “Back to School.” Meg Ryan, at least, did manage to boost her career with a cute supporting turn in this otherwise formulaic Columbia comedy produced by Brian Grazer. Image’s Blu-Ray is mastered from a decent looking print and includes uncompressed PCM stereo sound.

UNITED 93 Blu-Ray (***, 111 mins., 2006, R; Universal): Paul Greengrass’ straight, no-nonsense direction boasts this effective chronicle of the doomed 9/11 flight’s hyjacking and subsequent crash far off-course from its intended target. Naturally, there’s a fair amount of speculation involved in telling the story of “United 93,” but the fact that its passengers likely did anything but stand idly by while terrorists seized control of the plane is undeniably, and compellingly, conveyed in Greengass’ film, with mounting tension culminating in a predictably tense climax.

“United 93" doesn’t spend a great deal of time on the specific passengers – they’re mostly anonymous in this feature – but Universal’s excellent Blu-Ray package includes memorials for each and every individual on the flight (boasting some 40 full biographies written by the victims’ family members), plus moving featurettes involving the families meeting the actors. Another excellent featurette, “Chasing Planes: Witnesses to 9/11,” focuses on the military and civilian response teams, and what each went through on that day.

The supplements are so good, in fact, that they’re actually more moving than the movie itself, which I found extremely well-produced yet somewhat perfunctory – in fact A&E’s docu-drama “Flight 93" is possibly even more effective in portraying the probable events, both nightmarish and heroic, that took place on that day.

Yet, the film is nevertheless well worth seeing, with Universal’s transfer and DTS MA soundtrack both being top-notch.

New From Criterion

A trio of French favorites highlight Criterion’s latest Blu-Ray releases, including a pair from director Claude Chabrol.

The former Cahiers du Cinema critic’s first feature, LE BEAU SERGE (99 mins., 1958), is a compelling character study of a young man (Jean-Claude Brialy) who returns to the small French village of his youth and finds his old friend (Gerard Blain) to be a wasted alcoholic. Criterion’s remastered Blu-Ray includes a new English subtitle translation, a crisp AVC encoded 1080p (1.33) transfer and uncompressed PCM soundtrack with insightful extras including a commentary by Chabrol authority Guy Austin; a Francis Girod documentary on the making of the film; a 1969 French television series featuring Chabrol returning to his old home town; and the trailer.

Chabrol followed the film with LES COUSINS (109 mins., 1959), offering the same leads (Brialy and Blain) in reversed roles as a provincial boy (Brialy) comes to Paris to live with his wild, swinging Parisian cousin (Blain). “Les Cousins” is, like “Le Beau Serge,” another major film from the French New Wave era, with a little bit more in the way of playfulness than its predecessor, though it too explores similar themes of success, jealousy, good and evil, right and wrong. Film scholar Adrian Martin provides a commentary on Criterion’s Blu-Ray, which again features an exemplary 1080p (1.33) transfer, uncompressed PCM soundtrack and insightful notes from critic Terrence Rafferty.

Jean Cocteau’s ORPHEUS (95 mins., 1950) also joins the Collection this month – a gorgeously lyrical, quintessential Cocteau rendition of the myth with Jean Marais as a poet who follows a princess (Maria Casares) into the land of the dead looking for his slain wife Eurydice (Marie Dea). Cocteau would make a trio of Orpheus films (forming a loose trilogy), and Criterion’s Blu-Ray puts the film into proper cinematic context with a rich, supplemental-laden package, highlighted by commentary from French film scholar James S. Williams; a 1984 feature-length biography of the director, “Jean Cocteau: Autobiography of an Unknown”; a 2008 interview with assistant director Claude Pinoteau; a 1957 interview with Cocteau; a 1956 conversation with Cocteau about his use of jazz in the film; a 1951 16mm color film by Cocteau entitled “La villa Santo-Sospir”; a gallery of images by photographer Roger Corbeau; and newsreel footage of the Saint-Cyr military academy ruins, circa 1950, which were used in the film. The disc is capped by another fine 1080p transfer with uncompressed PCM audio and extensive booklet notes.

Finally THE COMPLETE JEAN VIGO pays tribute to one of the legendary French filmmakers who helped pave the way for Cocteau and the later New Wave. This high-def compilation includes four of Vigo’s masterworks: the 1930 short “A Propos De Nice”; 1931's “Tardis”; 1933's “Zero de Condute”; and the 1934 feature-length “L’Atalante.” Extensive extras include commentaries from Vigo authority Michael Temple; Marc Perrone’s score for “Nice’; alternate edits from the latter, featuring footage cut by Vigo; a 1964 French television program, “Cineastes de notre temps” about the director; a 1968 conversation between Francois Truffaut and Erich Rohmer on “L’Atalante’; an animated tribute to Vigo’s films from filmmaker Michel Gondry; a 2001 documentary on “L’Atalante” by restoration expert/historian Bernard Eisenschitz; a video interview with Otar Iasseliani on Vigo; new English subs, 1080p transfers, uncompressed soundtracks and a number of essays in Criterion’s exemplary booklet commentary.

Coming up next week is THE PHANTOM CARRIAGE (106 mins., 1921), Swedish director Victor Sjostrom’s acclaimed silent fantasy with Dickens-like overtones about a drunk who abuses his wife and pushes aside a missionary trying to help him. Once death comes calling in the form of a phantom carriage driven by a friend who died on New Year’s Eve the year prior (as the legend goes, the last person to die before the clock strikes 12 on New Year’s Eve is charged with collecting souls for the subsequent year), the man tries to see the errors of his ways. Sjostrom’s film, which uses double exposure and other visual devices that were revolutionary for their time, is beloved by silent film aficionados, and while the story is somewhat jumbled (with an over-reliance on multiple flashbacks), it’s a fascinating piece for its era. Criterion’s Blu-Ray is loaded with insightful supplemental content, including two scores, commentary from historian Casper Tybjerg, an interview with Ingmar Bergman (who was inspired by the picture), a visual essay on the film’s influence on Bergman, new English subs, DTS MA audio and a color-tinted digital restoration that looks as strong as the source material allows.

Lastly, Olivier Assayas’ massive CARLOS (338 mins., 2010) makes its way onto a double-disc Criterion Blu-Ray release featuring the complete, unexpurgated 338-minute chronicle of Carlos the Jackal’s exploits during the ‘70s and ‘80s. Edgar Ramirez plays the infamous Ramirez Sanchez in Assayas’ ambitious film, which includes a high-def transfer supervised by cinematographers Denis Lenoir and Yorick Le Saux with DTS MA audio; interviews with the director and cast; selected-scene commentary from Lenoir; an hour-long documentary on Carlos; an archival interview with one of Carlos’ associates; a feature-length doc on a Carlos-orchestrated bombing not seen in the film; the trailer; a half-hour doc on the making of the film’s OPEC raid; and extensive booklet notes.

DVD & Blu-Ray Round-Up

THE 10th VICTIM Blu-Ray (92 mins., 1965; Blue Underground)
TORSO Blu-Ray (90/93 mins., 1973; Blue Underground): Blue Underground’s September releases include a pair of Italian genre favorites from the ‘60s and ‘70s.

The eclectic Elio Petri film “The 10th Victim” is a heavily dated, yet appealing, sci-fi piece with comedic elements set in a future where viewers flock to “The Big Hunt,” a game of legalized murder that ultimately pits two top assassins (Marcello Mastroianni and Ursula Andress) against one another. Petri’s film proved to be an influence on “The Running Man” as well as “Austin Powers” (check out Ursula’s first killing) but it’s ridiculous, over-the-top nonsense with good-looking stars and an antiquated sense of style (Piero Piccioni’s score sounds like it wouldn’t have been out of place at an ice skating rink!). Blue Underground’s Blu-Ray includes an attractive, seemingly unadulterated 1080p transfer with Italian and English mono soundtracks, a Mastroianni documentary, trailers and still galleries.

Also new from Blue Underground is “Torso,” Sergio Martino’s grizzly 1973 thriller with Suzy Kendall and Tina Aumont trying to flee from a masked killer in the countryside after a series of co-eds is killed on a nearby college campus. Blue Underground here includes the movie’s English language release as well as its longer Italian Director’s Cut in 1080p transfers with monophonic English or Italian soundtracks. Extras include an interview with Martino, U.S. opening credits and a full run of trailers, TV spots and a stills gallery.

CONAN O’BRIEN CAN’T STOP Blu-Ray (89 mins., 2011, R; Magnolia): After being axed by NBC, Conan O’Brien spent last summer going on a comedy tour (performances of which were beamed via closed-circuit TV to select movie theaters) that was well-received by fans and critics. O’Brien’s tour is documented in this feature-length offering from Rodman Flender that offers a sufficient amount of guffaws for fans (and even non-fans) of Conan, even though his subsequent TBS series has failed to keep the comedian’s ratings up (is anyone still paying attention?). Magnolia’s Blu-Ray includes commentary with Flender, Conan, Andy Richter and others; interview outtakes; additional scenes; a 1080p transfer and DTS MA soundtrack.

THE TEMPEST Blu-Ray (110 mins., 2011, PG-13; Touchstone): Right before Julie Taymor embarked on her “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” Broadway disaster, she returned to Shakespeare for this barely-released adaptation of “The Tempest,” which stars Helen Mirren as Prospera, who shipwrecks a group of her former enemies (David Strathairn, Reeve Carney, Chris Cooper among them) and some comic relief (Alfred Molina and Russell Brand) on a remote island. As usual with Taymor, the aesthetic values are the strongest suit in her “Tempest,” with Stuart Dryburgh’s cinematography and Elliot Goldenthal’s score coming across quite well in Buena Vista’s Blu-Ray edition, which includes a few format-exclusive extras like rehearsal footage with Taymor and the cast, along with director commentary, a documentary about its production, commentary from Bard experts, a music video and footage of Brand riffing in pre-production.

THE RIVER MURDERS DVD (92 mins., 2011, R; Sony): In this decent direct-to-vid production, Ray Liotta plays homicide detective Jack Verdon, who finds out the victims of a series of sex crimes are all his former girlfriends. Soon Verdon is suspected of the crimes by a FBI agent (Christian Slater) who takes over the investigation and suspended by his captain (Ving Rhames), but tries to put the pieces together in order to save himself and those he’s closest to. Rich Cowan produced and directed this not-bad thriller with a fairly involving script by Steve Anderson. Sony’s DVD includes filmmaker and cast commentaries plus a Making Of featurette, a 16:9 (1.78) transfer and 5.1 soundtrack.

TV on DVD Round-Up

Mill Creek’s latest releases include re-issues of several popular Carsey-Werner sitcoms presented in new, low-cost DVD packages.

3RD ROCK FROM THE SUN is on-hand in separate Season 1 and Season 2 box-sets retailing for under $10 in most outlets. I was always a fan of this good-natured, and splendidly performed, NBC comedy with John Lithgow, Kristen Johnson, French Stewart and Joseph-Gordon Levitt as aliens who disguise themselves as a normal human family in order to study, fit in and report back to their “Big Giant Head” commander about mankind. Anchor Bay previously released the series on DVD and Mill Creek’s packages include most of the extras from those out-of-print releases (interviews, bloopers) though the episodes are somewhat compressed to fit on the number of discs (two on Season 1, three on Season 2) in these new releases.

ROSEANNE and THAT ‘70S SHOW are also new from Mill Creek this month, each in Season 1 and 2 sets. As with “3rd Rock,” the episodes included are derived from their original broadcast-length versions (not the trimmed syndicated edits), with the original extras from their prior DVD incarnations also included.

Finally there’s GROUNDED FOR LIFE: Season 1, the Fox comedy with Donal Logue and Megyn Price as a Staten Island couple dealing with a group of kids. Mill Creek’s DVD set (again bargain-priced) includes all 15 episodes from the show’s first season with a number of extras (bloopers, interviews) culled from its prior DVD release.

Sitcom fans would do well to check out any of these Mill Creek sets with their fetching low-prices (Amazon is selling several for $7 each) though the added compression may be evident on larger HDTV sets; accordingly, one’s tolerance for slightly reduced image quality will dictate whether or not it becomes a distraction.

NIKITA: Season 1 Blu-Ray (927 mins., 2010-11; Warner). WHAT IT IS: Better-than-expected remake/sequel to Luc Besson’s “La Femme Nikita” (later remade as the forgettable Bridget Fonda-John Badham vehicle “Point of No Return” and a fairly popular cable series with Peta Wilson) puts Maggie Q in the role of a government-trained assassin who seeks to turn the tables on her former colleagues by planting a young recruit inside the same organization. Well-executed action, good performances and a compelling story line made “Nikita” a respectable ratings performer on the CW last season, and for those who bypassed it, Warners has brought the program to home video, in time for its second season premiere. BLU-RAY RUNDOWN: Warner’s Blu-Ray includes all 22 first-season episodes of “Nikita” in attractive 1080p transfers and DTS MA soundtracks. Extras include a BD-exclusive “Division Tracker” plus unaired scenes, a two-part documentary, two commentary tracks and a character profile gallery. TO TUNE IN OR NOT TO TUNE IN: With an attractive lead heroine, “Nikita” was one of the few bright spots of last year’s mostly-failed crop of new series. Recommended!   

THE BIG BANG THEORY: Season 4 Blu-Ray (501 mins., 2010-11; Warner). WHAT IT IS: Leonard goes for Raj’s sister Priya after breaking up with Penny, while Sheldon finds himself wrapped up with Amy, a scientist played with appropriate bookishness (to put it mildly) by “Blossom’‘s Mayim Bialik. Add in Raj fantasizing with Bollywood daydreams and you’ve got the ingredients for another wacky season of CBS’ massively successful comedy, which mixes broad laughs with geek references and an ensemble cast continuing to work in perfect synchronization with each other. BLU-RAY RUNDOWN: Season four of “The Big Bang Theory” offers all 24 episodes in 1080p transfers and DTS MA soundtracks, making them, in effect, better-than-broadcast so to speak. Extras include a Blu-exclusive “Big Bang Theory Live!” featurette that chronicles how a live show is taped, while other extras include a gag reel, behind-the-scenes footage and the Barenaked Ladies’ theme song music video. TO TUNE IN OR NOT TO TUNE IN: “The Big Bang Theory” is one of the most popular shows on TV, and right now the series has it going on all fronts: quality writing and a capable ensemble cast make it one of the more dependable shows on the tube if you’re looking for a few laughs. I’m not a devoted viewer of the program but it usually makes me laugh, and fans should enjoy its HD presentation on Blu-Ray.

SUPERNATURAL Season 6 Blu-Ray (917 mins., 2010-11; Warner). WHAT IT IS: Sixth season of the CW series finds Sam returning the depths of hell, wanting to bring brother Dean back into the supernatural hunting fold – but all isn’t what it initially appears to be in this next-to-last season of the CW series. Fans of the series ought to be sufficiently compelled by this latest assortment of 22 episodes (“Exile on Main Street,” “Two and a Half Men,” “The Third Man,” “Weekend At Bobby’s,” “Live Free or Twihard,” “You Can’t Handle the Truth,” “Family Matters,” “All Dogs Go to Heaven,” “Clap Your Hands if You Believe,” “Caged Heat,” “Appointment in Samarra,” “Like a Virgin,” “Unforgiven,” the playfully titled ‘Mannequin 3: The Reckoning,” “The French Mistake,” “And Then there Were None,” “My Heart Will Go On,” “Frontierland,” “Man Who Would Be King,” “Let It Bleed,” and “The Man Who Knew Too Much”). BLU-RAY RUNDOWN: Warner’s Blu-Ray HD offering includes a “Hunter’s Guide to Season 6" and selectable “French Mistake” trivia track (both exclusive to Blu), plus featurettes, two commentaries, outtakes, a gag reel, 1080p transfers and DTS MA soundtracks. TO TUNE IN OR NOT TO TUNE IN: An easy recommend for series fans, with top-flight transfers and soundtracks in high-def.

THE MENTALIST Season 3 DVD (1022 mins., 2010-11; Warner). WHAT IT IS: Simon Baker is back as Patrick Jane, the California Bureau of Investigation’s special “consultant” who uses his various gifts to help solve a series of crimes, in the third season of the CBS prime-time series. Warner’s Season 3 DVD set offers its 24-episode run, including: Red Sky at Night, Cackle-Bladder Blood, Blood on His Hands, Red Carpet Treatment, Red Ponies, Pink Channel Suit, Red Hot, Ball of Fire, Red Moon, jolly Red Elf, Bloodsport, Bloodhounds, Red Alert, Blood for Blood, Red Gold, Red Queen, Bloodstream, Red Mile, Every Rose Has Its Thorn, Redacted, Like a Redheaded Stepchild, Rhapsody in Red and the two-part Strawberries and Cream finale. DVD RUNDOWN: In addition to 16:9 transfers and 5.1 soundtracks, Warner’s five-disc set offers a number of extras, including unaired scenes, a look at Baker’s directorial outing Red Moon, and a roundtable of criminologists discussing the season’s big bad guy, Red John. TO TUNE IN OR NOT TO TUNE IN: Fans of “The Mentalist” should enjoy one of the show’s stronger campaigns in this fine DVD box-set from Warner.

HAPPY ENDINGS Season 1 DVD (2011, 276 mins., Sony). WHAT IT IS: Zachary Knighton breaks up with Kim from “24" (Elisha Cuthbert) but hangs onto their circle of friends in this amiable ABC sitcom which just squeaked by enough in the ratings to generate a second season. “Happy Endings” isn’t nearly as sharp as “Modern Family” even though the series uses a similar filmed format; however, the supporting cast (from Cuthbert to Casey Wilson and Damon Wayans, Jr.) is engaging and the show pleasant enough. DVD RUNDOWN: Sony’s Season 1 box-set of “Happy Endings” includes a good amount of extras, including deleted scenes, outtakes, previews, interviews and more. The 16:9 (1.85) transfers and 5.1 soundtracks are all just fine. TO TUNE IN OR NOT TO TUNE IN: There are better, and worse, comedies on TV these days than what I’ve watched of “Happy Endings,” but fans of the show are sure to appreciate Sony’s respectable DVD effort.

RESCUE ME Season 6/Final Season DVD (825 mins., 2010-11; Sony). WHAT IT IS: Denis Leary and Peter Tolan’s FX series finishes its up-and-down six season run in this Season 6 DVD release from Sony. Troubled NYPD fireman Tommy Gavin once again fends off fires on his personal and professional fronts as the crew of 62 Truck call it quits in the last 19 episodes from “Rescue Me.” DVD RUNDOWN: Sony’s presentation of “Rescue Me”’s swan song is a five-disc set that’s fairly light on extras (a gag reel, deleted scenes and featurettes) but at least includes crisp 16:9 (1.78) transfers and 5.1 soundtracks. TO TUNE IN OR NOT TO TUNE IN: I was never a big fan of “Rescue Me,” but its loyal fanbase should be satisfied that Sony completed the show’s run with this good-looking, if supplementally-slim, DVD edition.

BLUE BLOODS: Season 1 DVD (aprx 16 hours, 2010-11; CBS). WHAT IT IS: Tom Selleck essays NYC Police Comish Frank Reagan in this family drama/police procedural which generated solid ratings for CBS last fall, even on a Friday night prime-time schedule that’s become something of a graveyard. Donnie Wahlberg co-stars as his son, a streetwise detective; Bridget Moynahan is Selleck’s daughter, a tough lawyer and single mom; and Will Estes plays Selleck’s youngest – a smart Harvard grad who has decided to hit the streets as a beat cop. “Blue Bloods” is solid and dependable, old-school styled network television, which isn’t anything to scoff at given the declining ratings the big four are encountering these days. DVD RUNDOWN: CBS’ six-disc DVD set includes all 22 first-season episodes of “Blue Bloods” in satisfying 16:9 transfers and 5.1 soundtracks. Solid extras includes six featurettes, deleted scenes, a gag reel and network promos. TO TUNE IN OR NOT TO TUNE IN: “Blue Bloods” is a satisfying old-fashioned type of program with strong performances. It might be something of a dying breed on TV, which makes it well worth catching up to on DVD if you haven’t sampled it already.

ARMY WIVES Season 5 DVD (551 mins., 2011; Buena Vista). WHAT IT IS: Lifetime’s popular cable series is back on DVD in a three-disc Season 5 package. The fifth season of “Army Wives” finds Denise with her hands full with a newborn; Claudia Joy sending her daughter off to college; Roxy mixing business with home life; Pamela making a life-changing decision with Joan and Roland trying to expand their family. Sincere performances go a long way to selling this fan-favorite night-time soap. DVD RUNDOWN: Buena Vista’s three-disc DVD package includes 18 deleted scenes, bloopers, interviews, and a featurette with the cast reflecting on the past five seasons. The 16:9 (1.78) transfers and 5.1 soundtracks are all perfectly fine. TO TUNE IN OR NOT TO TUNE IN: With day-time soap operas fast becoming a thing of the past, shows like “Army Wives” are there to fill in the gap. Buena Vista’s DVD release is certainly just fine on all fronts.

CASTLE Season 3 DVD (1025 mins., 2010-11; Buena Vista). WHAT IT IS: An old-fashioned mystery/crime drama from creator Andrew Marlowe, “Castle” has been a strong performer on ABC, enabling “Firefly” star Nathan Fillion to fashion another memorable TV leading man. Fillion’s easy-going performance as Rick Castle, a bestselling novelist called in by the NYPD to solve a variety of homicides, is nicely contrasted by Stana Katic’s detective Kate Beckett. It’s formulaic but well-performed and entertaining, with good chemistry between its leads. DVD RUNDOWN: ABC’s Season 3 edition of “Castle” arrives on DVD boasting fine 16:9 (1.78) transfers and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks. Ample extras include Making Of featurettes, commentaries, deleted scenes, bloopers, a music video and more. TO TUNE IN OR NOT TO TUNE IN: An easy-going throwback to the kinds of prime-time crime dramas they just don’t make anymore, “Castle” is low-key and a lot of fun, and series fans are sure to eat up this Season 3 package.

GREY’S ANATOMY Season 7 DVD (946 mins., 2010-11; Buena Vista). WHAT IT IS: ABC’s successful night-time soap/medical drama returns in a Season 7 set offering more harrowing drama, romantic entanglements and wacky episodes like “The Music Event,” which finds the cast singing and dancing a la Joss Whedon’s “Buffy” episode from years back. DVD RUNDOWN: Buena Vista’s box-set includes an extended version of “The Music Event” plus a behind-the-scenes segment on its production. Unaired scenes, outtakes, webisodes, 16:9 (1.78) transfers and 5.1 soundtracks round out the package. TO TUNE IN OR NOT TO TUNE IN: I’ve always found “Grey’s Anatomy” to be something of an acquired taste, but the show continues to draw a substantial audience on a weekly basis and said viewers are sure to enjoy this latest assortment of series episodes.

GLEE: Season 2 Blu-Ray (1000 mins., 2010-11; Fox). WHAT IT IS: The Glee kids might have lost at Regionals but they’re about to try again with more musical madness and wild dramatic swings in the second season of Fox’s high-rated “dramcomusical” that makes its way to Blu-Ray this month. Episodes include Audition: Britney/Brittany; Grilled Cheesus; Duets; The Rocky Horror Glee Show; Never Been Kissed; The Substitute; Furt; Special Education; A Very Glee Christmas; Sue Sylvester Shuffle; Silly Love Songs; Comeback; Blame It on the Alcohol; Sexy; Original Song; A Night of Neglect; Born This Way; Rumours; Prom Queen: Funeral and New York. BLU-RAY RUNDOWN: Fox’s 1080p transfers and 5.1 DTS MA soundtracks are all superior to their broadcast counterparts, with extra features including a bonus song and a handful of featurettes spread across four discs. TO TUNE IN OR NOT TO TUNE IN: “Glee” is a polarizing show to be sure, but its fans should savor the high-def transfers and soundtracks in Fox’s sophomore format release for the show.

IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA SEASON 6 Blu-Ray (264 mins., 2010; Fox). WHAT IT IS: The gang at Paddy’s Irish Pub reunites for the sixth season of the acclaimed, over-the-top F/X comedy. This second Blu-Ray release for the series tackles gay marriage, class war, other controversial topics and does so with its trademark ribald humor. Fox brings Season 6 of “It’s Always Sunny...” to BD with the two-disc set offering its 12 episodes in AVC encoded (1.78) 1080p transfers and DTS Master Audio soundtracks. An ample array of extras includes a longer cut of the episode “Lethal Weapon 5" plus commentaries, deleted scenes, bloopers, podcasts, and a BD-exclusive trivia challenge.

GAVIN & STACEY Complete Collection DVD (605 mins., 2007-09; BBC): BAFTA-award winning BBC comedy stars Ruth Jones and James Corden (who also wrote the series) as, respectively, a girl from Wales and a guy from England who fall for one another and ignite a whirlwind romance that involves their respective friends and families. BBC’s DVD box-set includes the three seasons (including its Christmas special) of “Gavin and Stacey” in 16:9 (1.78) transfers and 2.0 stereo soundtracks with extras including outtakes, featurettes, photo galleries, interviews and commentaries with Jones and Corden.

GETTYSBURG Blu-Ray/DVD (94 mins., 2011; History/NewVideo): Ridley and Tony Scott produced this good-looking yet underwhelming History Channel documentary that recounts the oft-told battle from a semi-cinematic perspective, making it a sort of mix between the 1993 movie and a traditional History special. As such it’s a little bit of both and not enough of either, though NewVideo’s Blu-Ray does include a satisfying HD transfer and 5.1 soundtrack. Also new from History is a DVD of the recent documentary LEE & GRANT from writer/executive producer Winston Groom (author of “Forrest Gump” and a noted Civil War historian), presented in 16:9 widescreen and with bonus footage.

Label Wrap-Up

NEW FROM E One and IFC: SANCTUARY (aprx. 900 minutes, E One) is about to return for its fourth season on Syfy, and fans can whet their appetites by checking out Season 3 of the series, which is just hitting Blu-Ray from E One. E One’s BD box includes 1080p transfers, DTS MA soundtracks, and plenty of extras, including a look at the series’ music, commentary on selected episodes, deleted scenes, outtakes, bloopers and more. 20 episodes are housed on six discs in the package...Joseph Cross plays a copywriter mistaken for the messiah by reporter Heather Graham right as a solar catastrophe threatens the world in SON OF MORNING (80 mins., 2011, R), Yaniv Raz’s slight (barely 80 minute) comedy with a fine supporting cast including Edward Herrmann, Stephen Root, Jesse Bradford, Steven Weber, Danny Glover and Lorraine Bracco. The movie’s not nearly as funny as its premise suggests, unfortunately....Daniel Baldwin, James Russo and Brad Dourif take on a group of blood-thirsty creatures living below the surface of Prophet Hills in BORN OF EARTH (84 mins., 2008, R), a forgettable chiller from director Tommy Brunswick...WE ARE THE NIGHT (100 mins., 2010, R) is a passable, good-looking German chiller about a troubled young girl indoctrinated into a group of female vampires. IFC’s DVD includes both German and English soundtracks and a behind-the-scenes featurette.

NEW FROM HBO: CARRIE FISHER: WISHFUL DRINKING (76 mins., 2011) is a taped production of Fisher’s one-woman play touching upon her sometimes turbulent life, from her childhood to “Star Wars” and battle with addiction. HBO’s DVD includes a widescreen transfer, interview with Fisher’s mom Debbie Reynolds and other goodies...HOW TO MAKE IT IN AMERICA: Season 1 (240 mins., 2011) lands on Blu-Ray this month with all kinds of extras (deleted scenes, eight commentaries, multiple featurettes), 1080p transfers and DTS MA soundtracks...Tom Jane returns in the second season of HUNG (274 mins.), HBO’s controversial series about a divorced teacher/coach who enjoys pleasuring women of all persuasions. HBO’s Blu-Ray set includes 1080p transfers, DTS MA soundtracks, deleted scenes, five commentaries and a behind-the-scenes featurette...Season 2 of BORED TO DEATH arrives on Blu-Ray October 4th (203 mins., 2011), offering another collection of low-key comedic episodes with would-be detective Jason Schwartzman and pals Zach Galifanakis and Ted Danson on-hand. Some of “Bored to Death” can be funny but once again it’s an acquired taste; HBO’s BD set includes 1080p transfers, DTS MA soundtracks and deleted scenes, outtakes and commentaries on the supplemental side...Gabriel Byrne’s Dr. Paul Weston takes on a new assortment of clients (Debra Winger, Irrfan Khan and Dane DeHaan) and starts seeing a new therapist (Amy Ryan) in the third season of IN TREATMENT (840 mins., 2011), which HBO brings to DVD next month. The four-disc set includes 28 episodes in 16:9 transfers and with 5.1 soundtracks...Finally JERRY WEINTRAUB: HIS WAY (86 mins., 2011), a colorful portrait of the film producer/music promoter/entrepreneur with a wide-ranging array of interviews including former president Bush to George Clooney, Brad Pitt and others who’ve worked with Weintraub over the years. HBO’s DVD includes a bonus interview with Weintraub plus a 16:9 transfer and 5.1 soundtrack, boasting an original score from Rachel Portman.

NEW FROM LIONSGATE: Jung-Min Hwang and Seling-Won Cha star in BLADES OF BLOOD (108 mins., 2011), a Korean historical actioner from Jon-Ik Lee. Lionsgate’s DVD of this recent import includes a 16:9 (2.35) transfer, 5.1 soundtrack, a Making Of and a trailer gallery...New from Lionsgate’s “AfterDark Originals” is 51 (90 mins., 2011, R), a Syfy Channel original movie that’s utterly horrible even by the standards of its peers. Bruce Boxleitner, Jason London and Vanessa Branch star in a hideous creature-feature about reporters, allowed into Area 51, who run afoul of its imprisoned extraterrestrials. Director Jason Connery (yes, Sean’s son) fails to do anything but provoke laughs in a truly insipid genre affair brought to DVD this month in a 16:9 (1.78) transfer with 5.1 audio, trailers and a behind-the-scenes segment.   

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