9/2/08 Edition -- The AISLE SEAT BLOG Is Also Live

11th Anniversary Edition
September dvd & blu-ray releases Reviewed
Plus: Halloween in September

It’s always odd to review Halloween-themed product as we hit the beginning of September and the final weeks of summer, but as we enter this 12th year of The Aisle Seat online, it’s something long-time readers will recognize as being a bit commonplace.

This year two major new releases are sure to be on many viewer “must-have” lists: a new remastered edition of “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” as well as a deluxe package of Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”

IT’S THE GREAT PUMPKIN, CHARLIE BROWN (25 mins., 1966) needs little introduction for viewers: this classic Peanuts special -- the third produced for CBS by creator Charles M. Schulz and producers Lee Mendelson and Bill Melendez -- is synonymous with October 31st, having lost little of its charm and humor since its original 1966 airing.

While Linus might still be waiting in the pumpkin patch for the Great Pumpkin’s arrival, fans don’t have to wait any longer for Warner’s latest remastered Peanuts DVD. As with their prior Valentine’s and Easter DVDs, Warner has improved upon Paramount’s initial DVD edition of “The Great Pumpkin,” here including a more colorful and clean visual presentation with mono sound that’s comparable to its predecessor. Casual viewers aren’t likely to notice the differences but die-hard Peanuts fans are likely to appreciate the improvements.

Extras aren’t extravagant, but there’s a nice, if brief, new featurette on the production of the show, “We Need a Blockbuster, Charlie Brown!” Featuring interviews with Lee Mendelson and other crew members, this is a pleasant look at the story’s genesis and is complimented on the DVD by the 1981 Peanuts special “It’s Magic, Charlie Brown.” (Fans should note “You’re Not Elected, Charlie Brown” -- which accompanied “Great Pumpkin” in Paramount’s DVD -- is due out in a few weeks in a separate DVD release from Warner).

It’s been quite a long time in coming but fans of Tim Burton’s THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS (***, 76 mins., 1993, PG; Disney) have cause for celebration thanks to Disney’s new DVD and Blu-Ray Special Editions of the 1993 stop-motion fantasy.

Burton’s visually arresting, beautifully articulated tale of Jack Skellington, the “Halloween King” who discovers Christmas and attempts to take over the yuletide-joy-spreading biz from Santa Claus has been a viewer favorite for years. With its enchanting settings, unique and memorable characters, multi-holiday atmosphere and Danny Elfman’s songs carrying Caroline Thompson’s screenplay along, “Nightmare” has become something of a perennial favorite, even though the picture was only a moderate hit upon its 1993 theatrical release. It’s not a flawless film -- no matter how many times I’ve seen it, the last third always seems to drag and there’s probably one song too many -- but it is, certainly, a unique and memorable one.

Despite the movie’s cult following, Disney has, shockingly, never issued an anamorphic DVD of “Nightmare” in the U.S., an oversight that has now been properly rectified with the studio’s superb new Special Edition.

The 16:9 (1.66) transfer on the DVD is razor sharp and is surpassed only by the even more impressive Blu-Ray platter, which looks absolutely stunning in its crisp, AVC-encoded detail. This is one of those films that becomes even more impressive when seen in the high-definition medium, as the viewer can marvel even further at the work of Burton, director Henry Selick and their animators. On the audio side, both discs surpass the prior DVD with 5.1 Dolby Digital/DTS (DVD) and 7.1 Dolby TrueHD (Blu-Ray) mixes that offer an enveloping surround experience.

It should be noted that “Nightmare” was originally intended to be released under the Walt Disney Pictures brand name, but was ultimately switched over to the Touchstone banner prior to its initial release, most likely due to concerns over the movie’s darker-than-Disney, yet still whimsical, tone (check the original trailers on-hand here for confirmation). However, the print of “Nightmare” offered here is likely derived from the studio’s recently remastered 3-D version of the picture, as the current Disney logo opens the film in place of the Touchstone moniker.

For extras, the original “Nightmare” DVD contained its share of riches, many of which are reprieved here -- along with a compelling number of new extras.

Chief among the additions is a spirited, fun commentary track with Burton, Selick and Elfman, touching upon the film’s legacy and their painstaking work in getting it made (Selick’s comments appear to have been compiled from the prior DVD’s commentary). Burton’s original poem is also a fresh extra, with concept art being accompanied by Christopher Lee reading the filmmaker’s original inspiration for the picture.

Two different Making Of packages are also on-hand, plus a look behind the Disneyland “Jack’s Haunted Mansion Holiday Tour” ride, with both “Imagineer” interviews and a trivia-track accompanied “walk through” of the seasonal ride that supplants the original “Haunted Mansion” attraction during the holidays. Deleted scenes, storyboards, trailers and new intros from Burton are also presented for your perusal, along with the director’s short films “Frankenweenie” (the uncut version) and “Vincent.”

Many of the extras, especially the new additions, are presented in HD on the Blu-Ray disc, as well as “Frankenweenie,” which is framed in its original 4:3 aspect ratio. “Vincent,” on the other hand, is only offered in standard-definition from what appears to have been the same master used for the ‘90s laserdisc release.

A second disc containing a digital copy of the film for portable media players rounds out a spectacular disc all around -- easily one of the year’s finest catalog titles, and a highly recommended purchase for DVD and Blu-Ray owners alike.

New from Universal in High-Definition

Universal’s second wave of Blu-Ray releases has hit stores with solid results.

Unquestionably the major release among the group is the outstanding, five-disc Season 1 presentation of NBC’s hit Monday night series HEROES (aprx. 17 hours; 2006-07; Universal), a virtual reprise of the studio’s superb HD-DVD release from a year ago, which I hailed as the finest TV-on-DVD presentation found on any HD-optical format to date.

Creator-producer Tim Kring’s absorbing hybrid of domestic drama and super-hero saga offers an enormously intriguing set of varied characters, most of whom sport extraordinary powers and find themselves unknowingly crossing paths with one another -- as well as a psychotic villain named Sylar who’s able to retain the power of any and all “Heroes” in the known universe.

The appealing cast includes Milo Ventimiglia and Adrian Pasdar as a pair of brothers struggling with their newfound abilities; Hayden Pannetiere as a high school cheerleader with the power of invincibility, plus Jack Coleman as her mysterious father, who knows more about her potential than he’s letting on; Ali Larter as a female Jekyll/Hyde, trying to protect her equally “gifted” son and her estranged ex-con husband; Masi Oka as a Japanese office worker with the power to teleport anywhere, at any time; Greg Grunberg as a cop with physic abilities; and Sendhil Ramamurthy as a scientist searching for the answers that connect them all.

Together, the group encounter a number of villains, from the chilling Sylar (Zachary Quinto, tabbed to play Spock in the new “Star Trek” film) to Malcolm McDowell’s shady Trump-like entrepreneur, who has a few “special” abilities of his own.

With action, suspense, and terrific ensemble performances, “Heroes” was one of the happy surprises of the 2006-07 television season, leading NBC to renew the series (as well as a spin-off) for some 30 second-season episodes.

Unfortunately, the writer’s strike put a severe dent in the show’s plans -- only 8 episodes of Season 2 (aprx. 8 hours, 2007; Universal) would be produced, while the “Heroes: Origins” spin-off was written off completely.

In hindsight, though, the strike may have been a blessing in disguise, since Kring’s abbreviated Season 2 is marred by what can best be described as a “sophomore jinx.” The main story line, involving a virus that could destroy the world, takes too long to get going, with the principal characters separated from one another for far too long, while secondary plots are likewise unsatisfying.

Even if the season ran only a third as long as it was intended to, the subplot involving beloved character Hiro and his adventures in medieval Japan are cute but comprise too much of the action, while Kristen Bell is introduced in an intriguing supporting role that’s basically left as untapped potential. Kring mentioned in retrospect that they should have moved the story along faster, but just when adjustments were going to be made, the strike occurred and all involved decided to wipe the slate clean for Season 3 and end the second season with the eighth episode. From what critics and viewers have said about the new season, it appears to have been a wise move, as early reports indicate the series is back on-track in a big way with its upcoming Season 3 (debuting September 22nd on NBC).

Universal’s Blu-Ray presentations of both seasons of “Heroes” are exceptional across the board.

Season 1 offers numerous interactive features including picture-in-picture video commentaries; an “artwork presentation” of Isaac’s paintings which can be accessed during each episode; optional web-enabled features (not all of which were available as of this writing); character “connections” and a function entitled “The Helix Revealed,” all of which further immerse the viewer in the show’s universe and make rewatching the various episodes rewarding.

An extended, alternate edit of the show’s pilot (with commentary), some 50 deleted scenes and Making Of segments are also included, giving a full scope of the show’s production, including a profile on composers Wendy & Lisa, whose haunting score perfectly fits every episode.

The brand-new Season 2 set includes additional “U-Control” picture-in-picture segments plus a robust offering of standalone featurettes and deleted scenes, including an alternate ending that likely would’ve been utilized had the second season been extended beyond the eighth episode.

The VC-1 encoded transfers are all highly satisfying while DTS Master Audio soundtracks are on-par with the HD-DVD’s Dolby Digital Plus soundtracks.

BABY MAMA (**½, 99 mins., 2008, PG-13; Universal): Moderately amusing comedy, a low-budget hit for Universal this past spring, features Tina Fey as a workaholic single mom who can’t have a baby and doesn’t have a husband. After enlisting the help of a fertility expert (Sigourney Weaver) Fey meets a crazy surrogate (Amy Poehler) who agrees to carry her offspring...and the shenanigans follow from there. “Baby Mama” was written and directed by Michael McCullers, who wisely plays off the chemistry between former “Saturday Night Live” vets Fey and Poehler throughout. The laughs are hit-and-miss and at times -- predictably -- it feels like an SNL sketch padded out to feature length, but the duo are engaging together and it’s certainly more satisfying than, say, “It’s Pat” or the “Coneheads” movie. Universal’s Blu-Ray edition, out September 9th, includes a fine 1080p transfer with DTS Master Audio sound, a commentary track with McCullers, Fey, Poehler and producer Lorne Michaels, and “U-Control” picture-in-picture vignettes.

THE SCORPION KING 2: RISE OF A WARRIOR (109 mins., 2008, PG-13; Universal): Efficiently-directed but weak direct-to-video “prequel” follows the early adventures of future “Scorpion King” Mathayus (Michael Copon) as he takes on a vile ruler (wrestler Randy Couture) in an ancient kingdom. So, the film functions as a prequel to a prequel to “The Mummy”! Old pro Russell Mulcahy seems to be getting more work these days following the third “Resident Evil” film and now “Scorpion King 2,” but there’s only so much he can do to salvage the pedestrian Randall McCormick script. The production values are alright (and Klaus Badelt’s score isn’t terrible), but nothing here is inspired and the performances are flat across the board. Universal’s Blu-Ray edition looks as good as it possibly can with its VC-1 encoded transfer and DTS Master Audio soundtrack.

Coming On Blu-Ray

THE FALL (*½, 117 mins., 2006, R; Sony): Imagine what would happen if “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen” was adapted into a tale of a grief-stricken stuntman telling a fantasy to a precocious little girl in 1920s Hollywood. Then think about what would happen if you stripped the movie of its action and major special effects sequences, added over-the-top costumes by Eiko Ishioka and a story that rarely ever makes sense.

You’d end up with something resembling “The Fall,” a completely bonkers visual feast from Tarsem (Singh), the filmmaker behind “The Cell,” the visually audacious 2000 serial killer thriller. Viewers who have long wondered what Tarsem would do to follow up that memorable, if disturbing, exercise in opulent images are likely to be crushed by this barely-released, self-indulgent fantasy.

In the screenplay by Dan Gilroy, Nico Soultanakis and Tarsem, little Catinca Untaru plays a Romanian girl who spends her waking hours in a hospital where she’s captivated by tall tales being spun from a disgruntled former stuntman (Lee Pace). Pace spins a marvelous saga of five heroes, including Charles Darwin (!), who attempt to overthrow a tyrannical governor in a fantasy world comprised of a myriad of “real” locations, from China to Egypt, Fiji to the Himalayas, the Andaman Islands in the South Pacific, Italy, South Africa and Turkey, as well as other points in between.

The imagery is at times striking (Tarsem claimed the film was actually shot in these locales, and without much digital enhancement), but “The Fall” is an absolute mess from the moment it starts: Untaru’s heavily accented dialogue is next-to-impossible to comprehend, which robs the scenes between her and Pace of any emotional impact, while the story is an utter disaster, bordering on the incomprehensible at every turn. In retrospect, Tarsem might have been better off gunning for a strict children’s film here, yet the picture is still R-rated for some unnecessary gore, making it totally inappropriate for kids, while the story is too simplistic for adults, who are likely to be bored by it.

Despite being “presented” by David Fincher and Spike Jonze, “The Fall” had a hard time being screened in theaters worldwide (it was completed two years ago), but after seeing the finished product it’s easy to see why: without any supporting framework to back his visuals against, Tarsem’s second film is a glossy but wholly unsatisfying fantasy that’s a definite step backwards from his promising debut feature. Hopefully the filmmaker will bring a script along with him the next time out.

Sony’s Blu-Ray disc is, predictably, a dazzler: the AVC encoded transfer is gorgeous and some viewers will be captivated by the cinematography alone for its HD glory -- at least for a while. The Dolby TrueHD audio isn’t quite as compelling, while extras include two commentaries (one with Tarsem plus a group commentary involving Dan Gilroy and Lee Pace), a pair of brief deleted scenes (in HD), and the standard-issue Making Of featurettes.

88 MINUTES (*½, 107 mins., 2007, R; Sony): Shockingly pedestrian thriller ranks as one of star Al Pacino’s all-time worst vehicles.

As a forensic shrink who’s told by a psycho (Neal McDonough) he helped convict some eight years before that he has 88 minutes left to live, Pacino mopes about this interminable Jon Avnet film, which at times visually resembles a cheap direct-to-video pic, just with a first-class cast attached. Also lost in the misfire are Alicia Witt, Leelee Sobieski (fast becoming a staple of bad movies), Amy Brenneman, Deborah Kara Unger and William Forsythe, who struggle to make sense out of any aspect of Gary Scott Thompson’s absurd script. Pacino, meanwhile, looks as if he’d rather be anywhere else.

Released in most international markets a year ago, “88 Minutes” opened domestically to tepid reviews and indifferent box-office last spring, with Sony’s Blu-Ray edition -- available September 16th -- containing a hazy-looking AVC-encoded transfer that’s far from some of the better HD presentations we’ve seen in the format. The Dolby TrueHD audio is more serviceable but it’s still a fairly weak mix overall, while special features include commentary from Avnet, an alternate ending and two Making Of featurettes.

Certainly this film’s failure is a foreboding sign for the forthcoming Pacino-DeNiro teaming in “Righteous Kill,” which again finds Avnet sitting in the director’s chair.

1408 (**½, 112 mins., 2007, Unrated; Genius)
THE MIST (**, 126 mins., 2007, R; Genius)

In last year’s box-office hit 1408, John Cusack gives one of his strongest recent performances as a B-list writer who specializes in the paranormal but doesn’t believe the supernatural actually exists. One day he receives a mysterious invitation to check into room 1408 in New York City’s swank Dolphin Hotel, much to the chagrin of manager Samuel L. Jackson. Seems that the room is packed with more ghostly activity than all of the Overlook Hotel itself, something that takes Cusack only a few minutes to realize.

Director Mikael Hafstrom does an effective job moving this Stephen King adaptation along, the script by Matt Greenberg, Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski effectively developing Cusack’s mounting paranoia as other “guests” of room 1408 manifest themselves, not to mention our protagonist’s deceased young daughter.

The first hour of “1408" works just fine, but things fall apart once Hafstrom and the writers try and pull an obvious “false ending” trick that doesn’t work at all. The movie never recovers from this “twist,” either, limping weakly to an unsatisfying climax and concluding sequence that left me thinking “who cares?”

Like a “Twilight Zone” episode stretched out to feature length, “1408" isn’t all that bad, and Cusack’s performance alone makes this worth a rental. Yet at the same time, one feels that a missed opportunity to deliver a genre classic a la “Poltergeist” was missed here, with the movie’s botched final act putting the final nail in the film’s coffin.

Genius Products’ Blu-Ray disc is mislabeled in that the back cover indicates that it includes the PG-13 theatrical cut of “1408.” However, what’s actually contained here is the 112-minute unrated “Director’s Cut,” which offers about 10 minutes of extra footage as well as an alternate ending which works a little bit better than the released version, though not enough to save the film's fumbled final third.

Visually, this inaugural BD offering from Weinstein and Genius is tremendous, backed by a great-looking VC-1 encoded transfer and Dolby TrueHD soundtrack. Copious extras include two alternate endings previously available only in Blockbuster’s rental DVD (though curiosity not the theatrical version ending) as well as commentary, other deleted scenes (in standard-definition) and numerous featurettes.

While “1408" had its problems finding a proper ending, another King adaptation from last year -- Frank Darabont’s box-office flop THE MIST -- misfired completely in its concluding frames.

This heavy-handed, languid adaptation of King’s story from writer-director Darabont focuses on a group of Maine residents who hole up in a grocery store while a mist enshrouds them outside...and various creatures begin to appear around them.

King’s original story might have been on the bleak side, but that’s nothing compared to the endless narcissism of Darabont’s film, which clearly thinks it’s being more high-minded than it turns out to be. Thomas Jane is fine in what turns out to be a somewhat thankless role as the everyman single father trying to protect his young son, but other characterizations are one-dimensional at every turn, especially Marcia Gay Harden as the requisite religious fanatic in a role that might have you reaching for the remote long before the end credits roll.

A few suspenseful moments do pop up intermittently, but they’re negated by a hysterically downbeat, “what was he thinking?” finale that turned most audiences en mass against it. Suffice to say it’s been a while since we’ve seen such a cruel, self-indulgent conclusion to any film -- with Jane over-emoting to the strains of a cliched Mark Isham score, complete with a wailing female vocalist -- making one question what the point of the preceding two hours was (King’s original story ended with a “Birds”-like, open-ended finale by comparison).

Genius’ Blu-Ray edition includes all the extras from its original 2-disc DVD set, among them commentary from Darabont -- who seems overly satisfied with his work -- plus deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes “webisodes,” a trailer gallery, and featurette on artist Drew Struzan.

The VC-1 encoded transfer is top-notch, as is the Dolby TrueHD soundtrack, while both the original color version and an alternate black-and-white rendition are available in the two-disc set.

MARRIED LIFE (**½, 91 mins., 2007, PG-13; Sony): Unusual period piece, a mix of comedy, social satire and suspense, finds Pierce Brosnan as a businessman who falls for the mistress (Rachel McAdams) of one of his co-workers (Chris Cooper) in NYC circa 1949. Meanwhile, Cooper has one of those seemingly perfect suburban marriages with devout wife Patricia Clarkson, and loves her so much that he opts not to file for a divorce but to murder her instead! Ira Sachs’ good-looking film can’t quite make up its mind as to what it wants to be, but it’s still a compelling piece that doesn’t overstay its welcome at 91 minutes, and offers uniformly fine performances from the ensemble cast. Sony’s Blu-Ray disc includes commentary from Sachs and three alternate endings to compliment its AVC-encoded transfer and 5.1 Dolby TrueHD audio.

THEN SHE FOUND ME (***, 100 mins., 2007, R; ThinkFilm/Image): Helen Hunt directed, co-wrote, co-produced and stars in this effective “indie” comedy as a schoolteacher who wants a baby -- no, this isn’t “Baby Mama” -- much to the chagrin of husband Matthew Broderick. After he leaves, worried over the responsibility that a child entails, Hunt goes looking for her birth mother (Bette Midler) and finds love in the form of Colin Firth, essaying the father of one of her students. Well performed, funny and moving in places, this adaptation of Elinor Lipman’s novel from Hunt and co-writers Alice Arlen and Victor Levin (Hunt is actually credited with the script twice) is an insightful character study well worth the view on Blu-Ray, where Image has served up a fine 1080p transfer with DTS Master Audio sound, the latter offering a low-key David Mansfield score. Extras include commentary with Hunt, cast interviews and behind-the-scenes footage, plus the theatrical trailer.

COOL HAND LUKE (***, 126 mins., 1967, GP; Warner): Paul Newman, George Kennedy, Strother Martin and Jo Van Fleet are all tremendous in Stuart Rosenberg’s highly regarded 1967 film about a nonconformist (Newman) whose time in a tough Southern prison can’t break his spirit. Director Stuart Rosenberg’s career may be filled with flops and unremarkable efforts, but he certainly found the right match with “Cool Hand Luke,” an anti-establishment piece with a taut script by Donn Pearce and Frank R. Pierson, a fine score by Lalo Schifrin, marvelous performances (Dennis Hopper, Anthony Zerbe, Ralph Waite and Clifton James also appear), and outstanding cinematography by the great Conrad Hall. Warner’s Blu-Ray edition (which accompanies a new Deluxe DVD release) includes an excellent new HD transfer that brilliantly reproduces Hall’s cinematography; an okay mono soundtrack; commentary from historian and Paul Newman biographer Eric Lax; a new documentary on its production; and the theatrical trailer.

Recently Released on Blu-Ray

Sony has recently issued a handful of action catalog titles on Blu-Ray.

I didn’t care much for the original “XXX,” the Vin Diesel-Rob Cohen spy-adventure that nevertheless grossed well over $100 million domestically and seemed as if it had the potential for “franchise” written all over it.

Apparently, contractual negotiations and Diesel’s interest in the “Riddick” franchise (and we all know how that turned out) put the kibosh on a continuation of Vin’s “Xander Cage” character and a make-shift sequel, XXX: STATE OF THE UNION (**½, 101 mins., PG-13; Sony), was produced instead.

Released to theaters in 2005, “XXX 2" grossed a paltry $25 million and made one of the fastest transitions to DVD that you’ll ever see. What’s surprising about the film is that, in some ways, this mindless but entertaining action vehicle is superior to its predecessor -- the general public disinterest in the film notwithstanding.

Samuel L. Jackson actually gets billed this time out as he reprises his role of Agent Gibbons, a top-secret government agent whose department suffers an attack in the film’s opening minutes. With Diesel’s character recently killed in action, Jackson and fellow agent Shavers (Michael Roof, another holdover from the original) opt to recruit not another extreme sports star but a bad-ass inmate (Ice Cube) with “more attitude” to help them track down the culprit.

Cube has a history with Jackson, and soon uncovers a plot by the nefarious Secretary of Defense (Willem Dafoe) to overthrow the President (Peter Strauss). However, after Jackson is taken down in action, Ice has to work on his own -- and with a sympathetic NSA agent (Scott Speedman) -- to save the United States from being plunged into a state of Dafoe-led anarchy.

Lee Tamahori (“The Edge,” “Die Another Day”) directed this absurd but fun “old school” action romp that basically plays like the kind of no-brain escapism you’d routinely see back in the ‘80s. ILM’s effects are solid, the work of “Star Wars” vets Gavin Bocquet and David Tattersall give the movie a pleasing visual design, and Tamahori helms the stunts and action choreography in the same rugged style he typically brings to his projects. Marco Beltrami’s groovy action score also lends a solid assist.

The cast is just fine as well, though one could see any number of actors fitting into Ice Cube’s shoes: the rapper-actor’s lack of association with the action genre had to have been one of the main reasons for the film’s miserable box-office receipts. He’s not bad, but he’s basically acted off the screen by superior work from Jackson, Dafoe and even Strauss, in one of his first big-screen roles in quite some time.

“XXX: State of the Union” isn’t a great movie but for dumb, end-of-summer fun, it’s quite watchable, with Sony’s AVC encoded transfer and Dolby TrueHD audio each being top-notch. Extras ported over from the prior DVD release include commentary from Tamahori and writer Simon Kinberg; a secondary commentary from the visual FX team, a couple of deleted scenes and standard “Making Of” featurettes.

Also new from Sony in this batch of genre titles:

MAXIMUM RISK (**½, 100 mins., 1996, R; Sony): One of Jean-Claude Van Damme’s better offerings from his big-screen theatrical days features the muscleman as a guy who investigates the death of his twin brother, leading him to an international conspiracy and a run-in with his sibling’s gorgeous girlfriend (Nastasha Henstridge, fresh off the success of “Species”). Ringo Lam’s somewhat leisurely-paced affair has a decent script by veteran Larry Ferguson and solid production values, though it’s not exactly “Hard Target.” Sony’s Blu-Ray disc is light on extras but does boast a satisfying AVC encoded transfer (especially given the film’s somewhat drab visual scheme) and Dolby TrueHD audio, sporting a Robert Folk score that does its best to underscore the action.

7 SECONDS (*½, 96 mins., 2005; Sony): I’m not sure why Sony opted to issue this mediocre small-screen Wesley Snipes effort when there are plenty of superior works -- even among the direct-to-video genre -- they could have released. Nevertheless, you have to be hardcore Snipes fan to appreciate this silly, slow-going 2005 production, featuring a pre-convicted Wes as a former commando who botches an armored car heist and pays the consequences when he ends up with a Van Gogh painting that Russian gangsters want back. Sony’s no-frills Blu-Ray is marked by a fine AVC encoded transfer and Dolby TrueHD audio.

HALF PAST DEAD (**, 98 mins., 2002; Sony): One of the better efforts from the late Franchise Pictures (read into that what you will), this by-the-numbers but at least energetic enough programmer stars Steven Seagal as an FBI agent who improbably has to infiltrate Alcatraz to prevent a group of gung-ho special forces ops from taking down a death-row inmate hiding a $200 million secret. Morris Chesnut leads the revolt from the commandos while Seagal works diligently with his man on the inside (played by rapper Ja Rule) to turn the tables and stop the bad guys before it's too late.

Martial arts expert Don Michael Paul wrote and directed this standard-issue (and modestly-budgeted) action flick, which managed to make a few dollars at the box-office upon its original 2002 release. There are few surprises to be found, and the limited budget results in some claustrophobic action sequences, but “Half Past Dead” is at least swiftly-paced to work as a decent B-movie view for genre fans. And isn't it great to see Nia Peeples on screen again? (That would be a rhetorical question).

Sony’s Blu-Ray disc includes a satisfying AVC-encoded transfer with Dolby TrueHD audio, plus extras from the prior DVD: commentary with Paul, plus deleted scenes, a Cinemax making of special, and the original trailer.

From Lionsgate on DVD & Blu-Ray

BLACK MASK: Blu-Ray (**½, 102 mins., 1999; Lionsgate): This 1996 Jet Li Hong Kong kung-fu thriller hit the U.S. in a cut version in 1999 after the decade’s martial arts craze kicked into high gear.

Although several of Jackie Chan's films were cut-up and destroyed by U.S. distributors, the American version of “Black Mask” packs plenty of entertainment, with its unpretentious comic-book action (great fight scenes!) and hilarious, intentionally over-the-top dubbing by American editors enhancing the “Terminator”-meets-“Batman” convoluted plot (the dubbing makes the picture feel like a Godzilla movie without Godzilla). While Chan's movies were victimized by having much of their comedy removed, it could be that “Black Mask” had its humor accentuated by the presentation here -- in any case, I'm not going to complain.

Li's athletic assets are on full display and while little in this version is taken seriously (it wouldn't be so much fun if it was), “Black Mask” makes for ideal brainless entertainment, with Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray disc sporting a 1080p transfer that’s appreciably stronger than its prior standard-def DVD incarnation, while DTS Master Audio sound is solid but not spectacular, limited by the dubbing and rap-influenced “Americanized” soundtrack. Extras include a “Black Mask” game and featurettes on the art of Wushu.

THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM: DVD & Blu-Ray (**½, 104 mins., 2008, PG-13; Lionsgate): Enjoyable enough fantasy, aimed at family audiences, finds a young Boston teen (Michael Angarano) being thrust into a kung-fu fantasy world where he meets up with Jet Li and Jackie Chan (together for the first time) as they try and resurrect the “Monkey King” in order to vanquish a vile ruler.

Rob Minkoff (of “Lion King” fame) and veteran screenwriter John Fusco (“Young Guns,” “Hidalgo”) have fashioned a spirited salute to Hong Kong fantasies, bathed in beautiful colors by cinematographer Peter Pau and packed with Woo-Ping Yuen’s patented fight sequences. The main obstacle is that the story is routine to the point where the narrative offers no surprises, and the leisurely pace is likely to make older viewers itch for the fast-forward button. Kids, though, are likely to be enchanted by the accessible story and upbeat tone, even if it all feels like “The Neverending Story” for the martial arts genre.

Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray disc includes a magnificent AVC-encoded transfer that’s flawless at every turn, while DTS Master Audio sound is layered with a wall-to-wall score by David Buckley. Numerous extras include commentary from Minkoff and Fusco, bloopers, deleted scenes, numerous Making Of featurettes and BD-Live content. On the DVD side, the 16:9 (2.35) transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack are both excellent.

BAITSHOP (85 mins., 2008, PG; Lionsgate): Predictably over-the-top “rural” comedy with “down home” humor offers comedian Bill Engvall as a fisherman and bait shop owner who tries and hook “the big one” for $15,000. Billy Ray Cyrus is his rival in this okay family outing co-written by Engvall. Lionsgate’s DVD includes a 16:9 (1.78) transfer with multiple featurettes, deleted scenes and bloopers, along with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

NEXT AVENGERS: HEROES OF TOMORROW (78 mins., 2008, PG; Lionsgate): Original animated effort from Marvel and Lionsgate offers the off-spring of Avenger heroes Captain America, Black Widow, Thor, Black Panther, Hawkeye, Wasp and Iron Man doing battle with the robot Ultron after the latter wipes out their parents. This is an okay direct-to-vid production aimed at the younger set, with animation on-par with Lionsgate’s earlier “Avengers” DVD releases. The 16:9 (1.78) transfer is colorful and clear, while extras include a Making Of and sneak peeks of upcoming Lionsgate-Marvel efforts “Hulk Vs. Wolverine” and “Hulk Vs. Thor.”

September Releases from Fox & MGM

More goodies from the Fox vaults are available both this week and all September long.

New to the studio’s superb “Film Noir” series are three ‘40s programmers:

-Jean Gabin and Ida Lupino headline the entertaining 1942 noir romance “Moontide,” an adaptation of a Willard Robertson novel from director Archie Mayo (who replaced director Fritz Lang) and writer John O’Hara. With a superb supporting cast including Claude Rains, this is an atmospheric tale preserved in an excellent full-screen transfer with mono sound, with commentary from author Foster Hirsch, a Making Of featurette and still photo galleries on the supplemental side.

-Dana Andrews plays an attorney at the center of a real-life Connecticut case involving a murdered priest in Elia Kazan’s 1947 production “Boomerang.” Fox’s DVD includes a healthy-looking full-screen transfer with stereo and mono soundtracks, commentary from historians Alain Silver and James Ursini, the trailer and both poster and unit photography still galleries.

-Before Patrick Swayze tried to woo Kelly Preston there was Fox’s 1948 melodrama “Road House,” starring Ida Lupino, Cornel Wilde, Celeste Holm and Richard Widmark. This emotionally charged tale of romance and twisted relationships receives another strong full-screen transfer with mono sound, commentary from historians Kim Morgan and Eddie Muller, a featurette on Widmark and Lupino’s work at the studio, an interactive pressbook and additional still frame galleries.

Coming later this month from Fox is the fifth and final volume of CHARLIE CHAN Mysteries, offering the final seven entries in the long-running series that were produced and released by the studio.

“Charlie Chan’s Murder Cruise,” “Charlie Chan in Panama,” “Murder Over New York,” “Charlie Chan at the Wax Museum,” “Dead Men Tell,” “Charlie Chan in Rio,” and “Castle in the Desert” marked the final Fox appearances of Earl Biggers’ master sleuth, as here embodied by Sidney Toler in efforts produced between 1940 and 1942. Following a two year break in 1944, Toler -- who bought the rights to the character himself -- would return as Chan in a series of Monogram mysteries (several of which have been released by MGM already on DVD) that were inferior to their Fox counterparts in nearly every capacity.

For fans, then, this last release puts a bittersweet cap on a marvelous series of box-sets from Fox, each offering remastered transfers and soundtracks. Extras in this particular set are minimal compared to the last volume (just one featurette, “The Era of Chan,” plus trailers and still galleries for the respective films), but fans won’t mind, as Fox has given them another lovingly produced and remastered set of Golden Age mysteries. Highly recommended!

CHILD’S PLAY: Chucky’s 20th Birthday Edition (**½, 87 mins., 1988, R; MGM/Fox): Before writer Don Mancini took over the Chucky series with the brilliantly subversive “Bride of Chucky” and its disastrous follow-up “Seed of Chucky,” the killer doll was first launched on the big-screen in “Fright Night” director Tom Holland’s 1988 box-office hit.

The original “Child’s Play” has actually held up fairly well at that, with young Alex Vincent and mom Catherine Hicks stalked by Vincent’s Cabbage Patch-like little doll, who’s been possessed by the spirit of a dead serial killer (Brad Dourif). Unlike the later Chucky films Holland mixes ample horror with humor and comes away with an entertaining brew, somewhat let down by a bland Joe Renzetti score that’s a product of its time and some likewise vanilla supporting performances.

Perhaps because producer David Kirschner took the series over to Universal following the movie’s release, MGM has never shown a lot of interest in “Child’s Play” over the years. In fact, this brand-new 20th anniversary DVD contains the first widescreen presentation of the movie ever on video.

The 16:9 (1.85) image is excellent and is backed by a fresh 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack, with numerous new extras including two different commentary tracks: one with effects master Kevin Yagher, Alex Vincent and Catherine Hicks, and another with Don Mancini and David Kirschner. (Oddly, Tom Holland doesn’t participate in any of the extras). Mancini and Kirschner’s talk is of the most interest, discussing the 20+ minutes that were cut (none of which are contained on this DVD) as well as the -- get ready -- upcoming remake, which Mancini is writing and is supposed to bring “the series home” to its horror roots. There’s also another scene-specific commentary with Dourif in-character as Chucky in some amusing improvisations with Mancini.

A new, three-part documentary, “Evil Comes in Small Packages,” includes interviews with Mancini, Kirschner, Hicks, Vincent, co-star Chris Sarandon, Kevin Yagher (who’s married to Hicks) and Brad Dourif. This is a nice overview of the film’s production, and is complimented by a five-minute video of Hicks, Vincent and Sarandon at a horror convention, as well as a vintage featurette, the original trailer, and an additional look at Yagher’s design of the Chucky doll.

BRIGHT LIGHTS BIG CITY (**½, 108 mins., 1988, R; MGM/Fox): Michael J. Fox’s performance as a small-town farmboy (literally) who attempts to become a big-time writer in New York City during the yuppie-fied days of the 1980s is easily the highlight of James Bridges’ 1988 adaptation of Jay McInerney’s celebrated novel. Though the film is uneven and not entirely satisfying, Fox is more than compelling as naive Jamie Conway, who slowly succumbs to the nightlife and social mores of its era, while Kiefer Sutherland, Phoebe Cates, Dianne Weist, Frances Sternhagen, and John Houseman lend able support. Gordon Willis’ cinematography adds a major touch of class as well, an element that the DP discusses in a commentary track on MGM’s new DVD. In addition to the Willis discussion the disc also includes commentary with McInerney and two featurettes on its production as well as a new 16:9 (1.85) transfer with 2.0 Dolby Surround stereo.

MY SASSY GIRL (95 mins., 2008, PG-13; MGM/Fox): Likeable enough romantic comedy coasts along on the performances of Jesse Bradford as a typical nice guy and Elisha Cuthbert as a girl who turns his life upside down in this remake of a well-known Korean film of the same name. Director Yann Samuell and writer Victor Levin don’t serve up many surprises here but for romantic comedy fans “My Sassy Girl” gets the job done, as does MGM’s DVD, which sports a 16:9 (1.85) transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

New From Paramount

THE GHOST WHISPERER: Season 3 (13 hours, 2007-08; CBS/Paramount): Jennifer Love Hewitt’s popular series has become something of a Friday night staple (or a DVR’d favorite) for “Ghost Whisperer” fans.

Season 3 of the show, newly available on DVD from CBS, was thankfully not impacted all that much from the writer’s strike: 18 episodes were completed and broadcast, following Melinda Gordon as she again tackles a wide array of spirits, some seeking to move on and leave the land of the living -- or others trying to hang around. The central plot line this time involves Melinda’s estranged father and brother, who reappear in time for a solid group of concluding episodes that give some closure to our heroine’s mysterious past, as well as shed light on her mother (Anne Archer) and their often adversarial relationship. The supporting cast, though, remains something of a mixed bag: Camryn Manheim’s appeal continues to elude me, while Jay Mohr’s comic relief is often a bit much (thankfully Mohr is leaving the series for his own CBS sitcom).

CBS’ superb DVD box-set presents the entire third season of “The Ghost Whisperer” in excellent 16:9 transfers and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks. Copious extras include commentaries from the crew on several episodes, plus numerous short featurettes that profile the series as well as offer a light exploration of the paranormal.

WINGS: Season 7 (10 hours, 1995-96; CBS/Paramount): NBC’s long-running Thursday night sitcom produced an extensive collection of 26 seventh-season episodes. Even if the ratings were on the decline by this point, there was still enough interest from series fans to warrant a fill slate of shows, this seventh year (‘95-‘96 season) focusing on Joe and Helen (Tim Daly and Crystal Bernard) having to move in with Brian (Steven Webber) and Casey (Amy Yasbeck) after the latter duo burn down Helen’s house. Though predictable, this affable series has aged about as well as “Cheers,” no surprise given the same producers and writers often switching between the two series. CBS’ four-disc DVD box set includes the entire seventh season of “Wings” in satisfying full-screen transfers and 2.0 stereo soundtracks; extras aren’t on-hand but fans aren’t likely to mind.

MEDIUM: Season 4 (11 hours, 2008; CBS/Paramount): Glenn Gordon Caron’s offbeat NBC mystery-thriller/domestic drama remains one of the more unusual and engaging series on network TV today. Patricia Arquette and Jake Weber are chief to the program’s appeal, offering a believable and sympathetic couple who try and remain grounded -- even when he loses his job and she taps into yet another crime case. Paramount’s latest DVD edition of “Medium” includes the series’ 16 fourth season episodes in excellent 16:9 (1.85) widescreen transfers with 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks; deleted scenes; a Making Of featurette; gag reel; and additional featurettes

CSI MIAMI: Season 6 (aprx. 15 hours, 2007-08; CBS/Paramount): More fun -- and corpses -- in the sun in this, the sixth season for the first (and for most fans, still the best) “CSI” spin-off. David Caruso and the gang (Emily Procter, Adam Rodriguez, Eva La Rue, Rex Linn, Khandi Alexander and Jonathon Togo) are all back, this time investigating cases involving Caruso’s ex-flame – now stalking him and his son -- and Procter’s kidnapping. One of the shows least affected by the writer’s strike, Paramount’s Season 6 box-set includes all 21 episodes in fine 16:9 transfers with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, two audio commentaries (on the episodes “Permanent Vacation” and “Raising Caine”), Making Of featurettes and other extras.

ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS GO TO THE MOVIES - DAYTONA JONES AND THE PEARL OF WISDOM (68 mins., 1990; Paramount): Another compilation of animated episodes from the early ‘90s “Alvin” TV series, offering three movie spoofs, ribbing Indiana Jones (“Daytona Jones”), Batman (“Batmunk”) and Robocop (“Robomunk”) in equal measure. In all there’s about an hour-plus of content here for young viewers, with Paramount’s DVD including acceptable full-screen transfers and 2.0 Dolby Digital soundtracks.

BRIAN REGAN: THE EPITOME OF HYPERBOLE (42 mins., 2008; Paramount): Stand-up comedian Regan spotlights this new Comedy Central special, presented on DVD by Paramount in 4:3 widescreen and offering a pair of additional featurettes.

BEST OF DRAKE AND JOSH: Best of Seasons 1 and 2 (2004, 366 mins., Paramount)
HEY ARNOLD! Season 1 (1996, 460 mins., Paramount): Fans of Nickelodeon series “Hey Arnold!” and “Drake and Josh” are likely to enjoy these new Paramount releases. The live-action “Drake and Josh” offers 15 episodes from the series’ first two seasons in full-screen transfers on three discs while “Hey Arnold!” includes the series’ complete first season in full-screen transfers as well, this time on four platters. Viewers should note these box-sets are Amazon.com exclusives and are manufactured on DVD-Rs that are fully licensed, of course, by the studio. Transfers and soundtracks are excellent across the board so there’s no loss of quality on the video or audio side.

Horror From Genius Products

A couple of years ago a pair of rival “killer crocodile” movies went into production: Hollywood Pictures’ “Primeval,” a not-bad creature feature which offers some entertainment for monster fans, and Australian filmmaker Greg McLean’s ROGUE (***, 99 mins., 2006, Unrated; Genius).

Unfortunately for McLean, his follow-up to the acclaimed (though overrated) “Wolf Creek” sat on the shelf for nearly two years before it debuted Down Under to modest box-office. Apparently those receipts weren’t enough to convince producers Harvey and Bob Weinstein to give the film a theatrical release domestically, as the movie has recently made its way to DVD without much fanfare.

It’s a shame, too, because “Rogue” is an uneven but generally entertaining tale of a group of tourists on an Aussie river boat cruise who end up stranded and stalked by one of the largest crocodiles you’ll ever see. Guide Radha Mitchell does her best to keep the increasingly frustrated passengers alive, but it’s American journalist Michael Vartan (“Alias”) who ultimately comes to the rescue, taking on the massive maneater in a satisfying one-on-one climax.

McLean wrote, produced and directed this good-looking, atmospheric tale, backed by an effective, low-key score by Francois Tetaz and convincing special effects which kick into gear in the final half. The opening half-hour is a bit sluggish, though, and most of the supporting characters are unlikeable, making their bickering a little bit much during the picture’s initial third.

Still, monster lovers will enjoy this derivative but fun affair, beautifully shot on-location and presented splendidly on DVD thanks to Genius’ superb 16:9 (1.85) transfer. The 5.1 Dolby Digital sound is likewise involving, while copious extras include commentary by McLean, a documentary on the movie’s production by the filmmaker, a standard Making Of, a look at real Australian crocs and the theatrical trailer.

New TV on DVD

SMALLVILLE Season 7 DVD & Blu-Ray (820 mins., 2007-08; Warner): While Warner Bros. recently discussed their plans for a new Superman movie that wouldn’t be a “Superman Returns” follow-up (good news) and would be “darker” in tone (bad news) a la “The Dark Knight,” the small-screen Clark Kent saga continues along in this next-to-last season.

Season 7 again deftly mixes Superman lore (the appearance of Bizarro, the arrival of Supergirl) with fresh twists and dramatic situations, many of which occur in the strike-shortened 20-episode season’s second half. There, long-standing relationships between Clark (the superb Tom Welling), Lana Lang (Kristin Kreuk) and Lex Luthor (Michael Rosenbaum) all reach an ending of sorts that lays the groundwork for a Lana and Lex-less (for the most part) Season 8 -- one that’s also supposed to see the return of the fan-favorite Green Arrow, as well as properly end the WB/UPN program altogether. As far as Season 7 goes, it’s a bit uneven but the later episodes fare best, while Laura Vandervoort (as Kara/Supergirl, Clark’s Kryptonian cousin) proves to be an attractive, fresh addition to the durable main cast.

Warner is issuing “Smallville”’s seventh season on both DVD and Blu-Ray September 9th. Both versions include commentaries on two episodes, unaired scenes (in HD on the Blu-Ray side); a cute featurette on Jimmy Olsen featuring Jack Larson, Marc McClure, Sam Huntington and Aaron Ashmore discussing their respective portrayals of the character; a digital comic book; and other goodies.

The 16:9 (1.85) transfers are terrific on DVD but the VC-1 encoded transfers are even better on Blu-Ray, while potent 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks adorn both versions. Recommended!

DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES: Season 4 (2007-08, 721 mins.; Buena Vista)
ELI STONE: Season 1 (2008, 559 mins.; Buena Vista)

You don’t necessarily have to be desperate to enjoy Season 4 of ABC’s popular Sunday night soap, as this somewhat disjointed (due to the writer’s strike) but nevertheless entertaining mix of 17 episodes is at least an improvement on the prior two years of the series.

Though the program isn’t quite up to the level of its first, critically acclaimed season, there’s still fun to be had as the ensemble cast welcomes Dana Delaney to the show as the latest neighbor on Wisteria Lane. Interestingly, creator Marc Cherry originally tapped Delaney for the show at its conception but the actress declined at the time due to concerns over the similarity of her character with another series she recently worked on; apparently Delaney changed her mind (big ratings can have that effect!) when Cherry re-approached her heading into Season 4, and the actress’ performance as the mysterious Katharine gives the show a much-needed dose of energy.

It’s all still silly and not nearly as fresh as when it started, but fans ought to enjoy this latest Buena Vista box-set, containing the show’s 17 fourth-season episodes in sparkling 16:9 (1.85) transfers and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks, plus the requisite extras including deleted scenes, bloopers, selected commentaries, short featurettes and a collectible “Wisteria Lane Realtor’s Guide.” Some copies are also bundled with a bonus “Wednesday Night Starter Kit” disc with footage from ABC’s series “Pushing Daisies, “Private Practice” and “Dirty Sexy Money.”

Also out from Buena Vista this week is the complete first season of “Eli Stone,” starring Jonny Lee Miller as a lawyer who witnesses all kinds of fantasies -- from George Michael performing songs in his office to witnessing WWII planes buzzing about the Golden Gate Bridge -- that could be caused by a brain aneurysm or may have something more supernatural behind them.

Buena Vista’s DVD of this amiable show includes the series’ first 13 episodes with an extended pilot episode, deleted scenes, bloopers and multiple Making Of featurettes. The 16:9 transfers and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks are likewise excellent.

DVD Capsules

HORATIO HORNBLOWER: Collector’s Edition (aprx. 13+ hours; A&E/NewVideo): Another superb compilation from A&E collects the outstanding two-hour, made-for-cable adaptations of C.S. Forester’s novels, produced between 1998 and 2003.

Included in this new assembly are “The Duel,” “The Fire Ships,” “The Duchess and the Devil,” “The Wrong War,” “The Mutiny, “”Retribution, “Loyalty” and “Duty,” each contained on their own platters, as well as a generous assortment of extras. While some of these (two commentaries, three bonus documentaries, interactive nautical definition guides, etc.) were available in A&E’s last Hornblower box-set, there’s also a new interview with star Ioan Gruffudd, reflecting on the role that launched his career. Transfers and soundtracks remain solid, and on-par with prior video releases.

Highly recommended!

BILLIONAIRE BOYS CLUB (Aprx. 3+ hours, 1987; A&E): Highly watchable NBC mini-series, based on the true story of Joe Hunt, a financial wizard who launched an investment group in the heyday of the ‘80s and let nothing -- not even murder -- stand in his way of success.

Previously issued on VHS and laserdisc in a severely cut version, A&E’s new DVD preserves the entire three-hour, two-part mini-series as it originally aired, with Judd Nelson superb as Hunt and Ron Silver likewise excellent as Ron Levin. The full-screen transfer and sound are both fine.

POIROT: THE DEFINITIVE COLLECTION (Aprx. 20 hours; A&E): Superb box-set offers 12 of the most recent Agatha Christie Poirot mysteries starring David Suchet as the irrepressible detective. Included here are “After the Funeral,” “Cards on the Table,” “Death on the Nile,” “Evil Under the Sun,” “Five Little Pigs,” “The Hollow,” “Lord Edgware Dies,” “Murder In Mesopotamia,” “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd,” “The Mystery of the Blue Train,” “Sad Cypress” and “Taken at the Flood.” The full-screen transfers and Dolby Stereo soundtracks are all acceptable across the board.

POSTAL: DVD & Blu-Ray (*½, 102 mins., 2007, Unrated; Vivendi): Fresh off his cinematic non-triumph “In the Name of the King,” videogame-to-movie auteur Uwe Boll is back with something a little different. Yes, “Postal” is another game-to-film effort, but Boll here tries his hand at a manic, offensive comedy wherein the “Postal Dude” (Zack Ward) tries to save the world from both Osama Bin Laden and George W. Bush as well.

In-your-face, fast-paced, brainless, offensive, mostly tasteless and rarely funny, “Postal” is no “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World,” and certainly Boll is no Stanley Kramer, either. A few cameos from J.K. Simmons, Seymour Cassel, David Huddleston and Verne Troyer do little to off-set the film’s sour taste, though the movie at least looks competent (having a production budget of $15 million)...which is, if nothing else, more than you can say for some of Boll’s prior efforts.

Vivendi has issued “Postal” on both DVD and Blu-Ray in Unrated versions with a second bonus disc housing the PC game “Postal 2.” Extras include commentary from Boll, Making Of featurettes, a DTS-HD (Blu-Ray) soundtrack, crisp 1080p (BD) and 16:9 (DVD) transfers and an extra where Boll addresses his critics. Yes, for real!

NEVER CRY WEREWOLF (90 mins., 2007, Not Rated; Genius): Not-bad Sci-Fi Channel movie reworks the premise of “Fright Night” as a pretty teenager (Nina Dobrev) finds out that her new neighbor (Peter Stebbings) is really a werewolf. Predictably, nobody believes her, except a television actor (Kevin Sorbo) who proves to be her main help in the matter. Writer John Sheppard and director Brenton Spencer clearly owe Tom Holland a beer or two for this uncredited re-make (with a werewolf twist) of his 1985 horror favorite; obviously it’s no great shakes but the lead characters are appealing enough and genre fans are likely to enjoy it as a rental if nothing else. Genius’ DVD includes a fine 16:9 (1.85) transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

NEXT TIME: THE OMEN and more in high-definition! Until then, don't forget to drop in on the official Aisle Seat Message Boards, check out the Aisle Seat Blog, and direct any emails to our email address.  Cheers everyone!

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