9/27/11 EditionTwitter: THEAISLESEATCOM


Column Archive                              Message Board                                   Contact                                Aisle Seat FAQ
                                                                                 
Autumn Arrival Edition
FAST FIVE, TRANSFORMERS, DUMBO and More!
Plus: MIMIC, TV On DVD, New Burton on Blu-Ray

Modern summer escapist fare doesn’t come more slickly packaged or entertaining than FAST FIVE (***½, 131 mins., 2011, PG-13; Universal), the fifth and most satisfying entry in Universal’s improbably long-running, car-racing “Fast and the Furious” franchise.

Vin Diesel and Paul Walker return here as Dom Toretto and Brian O’Conner in a script fashioned by Chris Morgan and directed by Justin Lin (veterans of the prior two pictures). However, even if you’ve missed the last few sequels, you can jump right into this picture’s self-contained story set in Rio, where the boys find themselves being hunted down by a US task force (led by Dwayne Johnson) while trying to pull off a major score – a bank heist – in order to take down a local drug kingpin.

Dom and Brian end up reuniting stars of every prior installment in the series (Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges, Sun Kang and others) to carry out their plan – one that makes for a magnificently ridiculous, spectacularly edited climax that’s as good as any I’ve seen in a “summer blockbuster” over the last few years. Much-needed humor and colorful Rio backdrops (even if much of the film was shot in Georgia!) further enhance a purely fun caper film that catapulted the series to spectacular international box-office (over $600 million worldwide) earlier this summer.

Universal’s Blu-Ray looks and sounds as good as you’d anticipate (1080p AVC encoded transfer, 5.1 DTS MA soundtrack) and offers an extended version running a minute longer than the theatrical cut, plus a digital copy, deleted scenes, gag reel, commentary from Lin, and numerous BD-exclusive special featurettes. Recommended!

TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital Copy (**½, 154 mins., 2011, PG-13; Paramount): The third entry in Michael Bay’s sprawling cinematic adaptations of Hasbro’s action figures is in many ways the best, offering an interesting set-up, some spectacular special effects and a script that cleans up some – though not all – of its predecessors’ excesses.

Here the Autobots find themselves heading to the moon where, decades earlier, a ship fleeing Cybertron and carrying a mysterious cargo crashed on the moon’s dark side (a fun opening includes a cameo for none other than Buzz Aldrin). Without divulging all the secrets in Ehren Kruger’s script, it turns out that a conspiracy involving the Decepticons is afoot, with the end game being the resurrection of Cybertron itself on Earth. To nobody’s surprise, Sam Witwicky soon finds himself back trying to save the world along with new girlfriend Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and familiar faces from past films in the series (Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, and John Turturro among them).

If you’re a “Transformers” fan, there’s much to like in this installment, which is a definite step-up from “Revenge of the Fallen,” marked by pulse-pounding action set-pieces and some gorgeously rendered special effects courtesy of ILM. The human component remains something of a misfire – I’ve never found Shia LaBeouf that interesting in this series nor his obnoxious parents (Kevin Dunn and Julie White), who also reappear here. At least Huntington-Whiteley is pretty enough to be a serviceable fill-in for Megan Fox and it’s fun to see Coen Brothers alumni like Turturro, Frances McDormand and John Malkovich cashing the check in loud, dumb escapist fare like this.

With a worldwide gross of over $1.1 billion (by far the most impressive financial performance of all three films), “Dark of the Moon” is sure to please its core audience, even if I’ve never understood the thinking behind some of the profanity in the franchise (was Malkvovich’s f-bomb and several references to “a-holes” really necessary in a film essentially made with kids in mind?).

Paramount’s Blu-Ray offers a reference-level 1080p transfer and Dolby TrueHD soundtrack layered with effects. If you’re interested in supplements, you’re straight out of luck since the combo pack only includes a DVD and digital copy – the goodies are apparently being reserved for the 3-D Blu-Ray set, which will be available later on this fall.

SCREAM 4 Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital Copy (**, 111 mins., 2011, R; Anchor Bay): Labored reteaming of director Wes Craven, writer Kevin Williamson and principal cast members Neve Campbell, David Arquette and Courtney Cox fizzled out in theaters last spring, barely scraping up half the box-office returns of the “Friday the 13th” and “A Nightmare on Elm Street” remakes.

Not that “Scream 4" starts off badly, with Williamson’s self-aware in-jokes and a few star cameos giving the viewer some hope that this isn’t going to become the pointless, belated rehash it ultimately does. Williamson’s script (which was reportedly rewritten during filming) finds Campbell’s Sidney Prescott returning to Woodsboro just in time to meet with Sheriff Dewey (Arquette) and his reporter-wife Gale (Cox) and, not coincidentally, a new assortment of Ghost Face murders that threaten the lives of current high school students Hayden Panettiere and Emma Roberts, the latter playing Sidney’s cousin.

Panettiere delivers a few funny lines but I truthfully checked out of “Scream 4" at about the midway point when the movie’s energy level seemed to run out. After taking a few shots at “torture porn” genre trash like the “Saw” movies, Williamson’s script has nowhere to go but whittle down the number of possible suspects while giving viewers the pre-requisite gory murders they’ve come to expect, the shock effect of which is negligible since we’ve seen this formula too many times by now. Campbell still looks the part but Arquette and Cox’s chemistry – in accordance with their off-camera divorce – is non-existent and neither character ends up serving much of a purpose in the end. Much like the last “Indiana Jones” sequel, “Scream 4" never gives us any good reason why it had to exist in the first place, with nearly every aspect of it coming across as tired.

Anchor Bay brings “Scream 4" to Blu-Ray next week in a combo pack also sporting a DVD and digital copy. Perhaps tellingly, Williamson isn’t a part of the commentary which includes Craven and young stars Roberts, Panettiere and Campbell (for a “guest appearance”), along with deleted/extended scenes, a gag reel and Making Of featurettes.

DUMBO Blu-Ray (***½, 64 mins., 1942; Disney; Aisle Seat Pick of the Week): Another outstanding digital restoration from Disney of one of their all-time classics, “Dumbo” has never looked or sounded better than it does in the studio's new, fully restored 70th Anniversary Blu-Ray edition. This 1942 Disney feature is long on charm and memorable moments, and this Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack pays the picture proper tribute with a host of new supplements.

The picture (1080p 1.33 transfer) and sound (remixed 7.1 DTS MA and “restored” 2.0) are both exemplary, and the disc boasts a number of extras from prior editions (audio commentary, a Michael Crawford music video, art galleries) as well as never-before-seen deleted scenes and songs; a look at the Disneyland ride and other goodies.

Disney's 1941 classic is still one of the studio's finest works, and the AVC encoded 1080p transfer is marvelous, with a stereo soundtrack that doesn’t overpower the limited fidelity of its source, but enhances it for modern sound systems. A must for all Disney fans!

MOBY DICK Blu-Ray (***, 184 mins., 2010; Vivendi): Although this satisfying, well-crafted TV mini-series adaptation of the Helman Mellville classic deviates a good deal from its source – humanizing Captain Ahab for starters – it also offers robust sailing sequences, better-than-average special effects and an eclectic lead performance from William Hurt as the peg-legged Nantucket sailor obsessed with finding the great white whale of the deep. Ethan Hawke co-stars as the Pequod’s voice of reason with Charlie Cox as Ishmael and brief, Part 1-supporting turns from Gillian Anderson, Billy Boyd and Donald Sutherland (in one scene as Father Mapple) rounding out the cast. 

Primarily filmed in Nova Scotia (with some sequences shot in Malta’s famous tank), this expensive $25 million co-production between RHI and Germany’s Tele-Munchen is actually the second attempt by TV-movie guru Robert Halmi, Jr. to turn Melville’s book into a mini-series (the first, a 1998 effort with Patrick Stewart and Henry Thomas, was directed by Franc Roddam and met with mixed reviews). Though this two-part production – from a pair of British TV veterans, writer Nigel Williams and director Mike Barker – didn’t generate a lot of noise when it aired domestically on the Encore network earlier this year, it makes for a great-looking Blu-Ray with a VC-1 encoded 1080p transfer that does justice to the production’s nifty visuals. Most of the digital effects work is high quality for TV, with the scenes of the Pequod crew venturing out on the open ocean convincingly handled thanks to a mix of location footage, Malta-tank material and rendered, realistic-looking backdrops.

Even though the second part bogs down a bit and Hurt’s unique portrayal of Ahab feels a bit schizophrenic (veering from sympathetic to crazy at a moment’s notice), this “Moby Dick” adaptation is well worth seeing, and Vivendi’s Blu-Ray earns high marks for its detailed HD transfer and DTS MA soundtrack.

ZOOKEEPER Blu-Ray (**, 102 mins., 2011, PG; Sony): Has anyone been able to figure out how “Paul Blart, Mall Cop” grossed over $200 million? If ever there was a “movie of the moment” it had to have been that forgettable Kevin James comedy which somehow broke through to massive financial receipts despite the fact that critics hated it and I’ve yet to find one person who will admit to seeing it (much less found it funny).

James’ oft-delayed follow-up vehicle, “Zookeeper,” was originally an MGM film that Sony purchased and waited until this past summer to release – a decision that likely cost them a few dollars since the shine of James’ improbable box-office smash had worn off long ago.

“Zookeeper” isn’t the worst film of 2011 but it’s certainly an unremarkable comedic outing for the former “King of Queens” star, with James playing a good-natured zoo caretaker more comfortable dealing with his animal friends than relating to the opposite sex. Once James decides to leave his job at the Franklin Park Zoo, the animals decide to break their “code of silence” and talk him into staying – as well as tutoring him on how to talk to a woman (Rosario Dawson).

This Adam Sandler production boasts some infrequent laughs and a roster of celebrity voices from the likes of Sylvester Stallone, Cher, Nick Nolte and Sandler himself, though as with “Paul Blart” nearly all of the film’s appeal relies on James’ ability to carry himself through a thinly-drawn script. He tries hard but the picture simply doesn’t generate enough laughs to make it anything more than a slight diversion aimed mostly at kids (thankfully this PG-rated affair is a lot less raunchy than Sandler’s usual PG-13 efforts on that end of things).

Sony’s Blu-Ray, out on October 11th, includes deleted scenes, featurettes on the picture’s production and visual effects, and a 45-minute PS3 demo for “Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One.”        

Burton on Blu-Ray

PEE-WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE (***½, 85 mins., 1984, PG) is a personal favorite of mine, and no, I'm necessarily not a hardcore fan of Mr. Herman or his alter-ego, Paul Reubens. Tim Burton's 1984 directorial feature debut is such a fast-paced, colorful romp – affectionately spoofing various genres along the way of its "road trip" plot – that you needn't have enjoyed Pee-Wee’s comical stylings to get a big kick out of this one.

It's gleeful, giddy entertainment with a boisterous Danny Elfman score, several brilliant set-pieces (the trip to the Alamo, the backlot chase on the Warner Bros. lot that ends the movie, and the now-classic moment when Pee-Wee hitchhikes and gets picked up by a truck-driver who knows how to scare people!) that remain hilarious and fresh, the product of screenwriters Phil Hartman (yes, that Phil Hartman), Paul Reubens and Michael Varhol, along with Burton, who certainly brought his trademark imagery and imagination along for the comic journey. When Pee-Wee tried to fly solo without Burton in 1988's drab "Big Top Pee-Wee," it just didn't work – a testament to what Burton brought to this project, which landed the director firmly on the map.

Warner's Blu-Ray is essentially a high-def port of its DVD release from over a decade ago. The AVC encoded 1080p transfer looks generally colorful and acceptable (if a bit over-processed with some DNR), and it’s matched by a DTS MA soundtrack with Elfman’s earlier isolated score/commentary track also carried over from the DVD. Paul Reubens and Tim Burton participate in a funny, generally amusing commentary track, with Burton addressing head-on the misframing of the movie overseas, where viewers could see the boom microphone in every other shot! (No, it wasn't done on purpose, as some French critics had thought!). Several deleted scenes, taken off a ragged-looking videotape, are also included, along with a theatrical trailer and production storyboards.

For those who didn’t hear Elfman’s commentary/score track on the DVD, his discussion is quite insightful, recalling with some nostalgia his work on the picture, educational background at Cal Arts, his idols (Korngold, Herrmann), working with Tim Burton, and the specific cues and scoring session stories. It's still one of Elfman's freshest, most energetic scores, and the isolated score track is gratifying to have.

More Burton magic is on-hand in the director’s CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (***, 115 mins., 2005, PG; Warner), an entertaining adaptation of the Roald Dahl book. Despite some unappealing preliminary trailers, Burton’s take on the material is funny, inventive, colorful, fascinating visually, and filled with eccentric and equally delightful performances.

Despite his almost Michael Jackson-esque appearance, Johnny Depp’s crazed chocolate entrepreneur is another bold new creation for the star and a far cry from Gene Wilder’s frazzled Wonka. With a heartbreaking relationship with his estranged father (Christopher Lee) to blame for his isolated existence, this Wonka comes across as a little boy tutored in growing up by the valiant Charlie (the terrific Freddie Highmore, who worked with Depp in the superb “Finding Neverland”).


The John August script adheres more closely to Dahl than the ‘70s perennial, but the charm is in Burton’s imaginative visual trappings. From Alex McDowell’s sets to Philippe Rousselot’s cinematography, this is a captivating aesthetic experience, and Burton’s twists on the material – particularly having Deep Roy portray all the Oompa-Loompas –  are fresh enough that one can forget all about Anthony Newley’s songs and the comparatively plastic design of the original “Willy Wonka,” while still embracing the same core story.

Just as impressive is the music: Danny Elfman's score is one of his most inspired and effective works of late. His songs -- written to lyrics culled directly from Dahl’s text -- encompass a wide variety of genres, while his use of electronics is wickedly entertaining, no more so than in the striking opening credits.

Needless to say, all of it goes down sweeter than one of Wonka's candies, and the cherry on top is the heartfelt narration performed by Geoffrey Holder. Highly recommended – and the best film Burton (and Depp) have made in some time (disappointingly Depp seems to have repeated his performance here in a number of other films including Burton’s own, disappointing “Alice in Wonderland”).

Warner’s long-overdue Blu-Ray edition of “Charlie” includes a very strong AVC encoded 1080p transfer and Dolby TrueHD soundtrack. Supplements, repeated from earlier editions, include an extensive Making Of doc with segments involving Danny Elfman and Deep Roy, while additional featurettes include a superb, 17-minute BBC profile of the late Roald Dahl; a look at the training of wild squirrels for one of the picture’s more memorable sequences; a few interactive games; and a TrueHD isolated score track.

Also New on Blu-Ray

MIMIC: Director’s Cut Blu-Ray/DVD Combo (**½, 112 mins., 1997, R; Lionsgate): Guillermo Del Toro’s ‘90s creature feature is, in the director’s own words, a “B-movie” that met with reasonably positive word-of-mouth back in the summer of ‘97, despite having been compromised in the editing room. In Lionsgate’s new Blu-Ray edition of the 1997 Dimension/Miramax release, “Mimic” comes much closer to approximating Del Toro’s original intentions.

With some seven minutes of added footage, this “Mimic” is Del Toro’s own vision of his first American picture, one that was (like many Dimension/Miramax releases of its time) re-cut by Harvey and Bob Weinstein in post-production. The Weinsteins used credited co-producer Ole Bornedal to shoot some second unit footage and also added a number of jump-cuts in the editing room in an effort to punch up the scare quotient.


These alterations have been excised from the new cut of “Mimic,” which moves at a more deliberate clip than its predecessor (not entirely a welcome occurrence) as it details the efforts by scientists Mira Sorvino and Jeremy Northam (remember them?) to outwit a group of genetically-engineered roaches that have grown into full-fledged, human-imitating predators. With some just so-so CGI special effects and obvious “Se7en” influences (including a credit sequence stolen right out of David Fincher’s serial-killer thriller), “Mimic” is firmly stamped as a product of the ‘90s, yet there’s enough of Del Toro’s style to overcome some of the picture’s deficiencies, and a few creepy moments along the way.

Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray appears to offer a slightly tweaked color scheme than the DVD (accentuating yellows in particular) as well as a noticeably enhanced amount of brightness. Undoubtedly this was done in response to the movie’s dark cinematography, which made its DVD appearance a dreary, dank mess; while the image might be a bit too bright for its own good, at least it’s easier to see what’s actually going on this time. The DTS MA soundtrack is even better, offering a brooding Marco Beltrami score and some nifty sound effects.

Extras are most welcome, highlighted by a candid Del Toro commentary which discusses the film’s shortcomings and editing room issues, plus an interview with the director, a featurette on the production, a few deleted scenes (including a wisely unused alternate ending), a gag reel, the trailer, a standard DVD and a digital copy as well.    

Also new from Lionsgate this month on Blu-Ray is LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL (***½, 116 mins., 1997; PG-13), the 1997 Italian import featuring Roberto Benigni’s Oscar-winning performance. The AVC encoded 1080p transfer is acceptable and extras brought back from the DVD include a featurette, TV commercials and the trailer.

Meanwhile, Peter Jackson’s DEAD ALIVE (***, 97 mins., 1992, Unrated) also makes its high-def debut from Lionsgate in an unrated cut featuring an okay 1080p transfer, 2.0 DTS MA soundtrack and just the trailer for extras. Jackson’s gory horror-comedy features a number of big laughs, sufficiently disgusting gross-out gags and a memorable scene involving a lawn mower. Horror fans ought to groove on it!

FOOTLOOSE Blu-Ray (**½, 107 mins., 1984, PG; Paramount): Kevin Bacon’s star-making role in Hebert Ross’ “Footloose” premiered on DVD in a Collector’s Edition release a few years ago, and now makes its way to Blu-Ray high-def in a superior package. Paramount’s BD offers all the extras from its prior releases, highlighted by two commentary tracks: one by star Kevin Bacon, another with producer Craig Zadan and writer Dean Pitchford. Both discussions are laid back and insightful, recalling with some nostalgia the creation of a bona-fide '80s cinematic staple. A 30-minute Making Of featurette, "A Modern Musical," recounts the production with interviews with Bacon, John Lithgow, Pitchford, Lori Singer and Chris Penn, all fondly remembering the Utah location shooting. The 13-minute "Songs That Tell a Story" examines the movie's soundtrack, which became a chart-topping smash shortly after the picture's release, sporting comments from Kenny Loggins and other artists. New to this release are fresh interviews with Bacon and Sarah Jessica Parker and a nice tribute to Penn, plus screen tests and costume footage. The 1080p transfer is a bit of a washed-out mess (more like “48 Hrs.” than some of Paramount’s better catalog titles) but the  5.1 DTS MA sound fortunately fares better. The original trailer is also included.


BRAN NEU DAY [BRAND NEW DAY] Blu-Ray (**, 85 mins., 2009, PG-13; Fox): Here’s a bit of a surprise: a little-seen adaptation of an Australian musical that’s made its way to Blu-Ray courtesy of Fox without a whole lot of fanfare. “Bran Neu Day” (retitled BRAND NEW DAY for this release) is a goofy and beautiful looking film (brilliantly shot by Andrew Lesnie) that adapts a 1990 musical which was massively successful in its native country. This filmization from director Rachel Perkins, however, struggles to adapt its thin source material – about an Aboriginal boy in the late ‘60s leaving a seminary to pursue his would-be girlfriend – to the screen, with haphazard editing and overly frenetic filmmaking making the picture almost impossible to get into unless you’ve seen it on-stage. Some of the music (a mix of original songs and period tunes like “Stand By Your Man”) is appealing but nothing makes a lasting impression since the film offers a couple of minutes of dialogue, a brief burst of comedy, and then a song in a repetitive manner throughout its too-brief 85 minute running time. Fox’s BD offers a candy-coated 1080p transfer bathed in bold colors along with a DTS MA soundtrack. Of course, perhaps I should’ve known I was in for it when the box boasts a critic quote that says “If you loved ‘Mamma Mia,’ this is for you.” I didn’t, and “Brand New Day” is only slightly more appealing than that inexplicable box-office hit.

THE CIDER HOUSE RULES Blu-Ray (***, 125 mins., 1999, PG-13; Miramax/Lionsgate): The multi-Oscar nominated “Cider House Rules” is a moving adaptation of John Irvin's only semi-controversial novel – one that managed to appeal to the mainstream despite some dicey issues that lurked underneath the surface of the film's gentle, beautifully shot exteriors.

As an orphan growing up in 1940s Maine, Tobey Maguire is sympathetic as a young man who strikes out beyond the boundaries of his youth to explore the world and its various pleasures -- which, lucky him, include meeting up with none other than Charlize Theron. Michael Caine's memorable character turn as a friendly neighborhood abortionist earned him a well-deserved Oscar, while the immaculate cinematography of Oliver Stapleton and lyrical score by Rachel Portman help the picture capture the essence of time and place that director Lasse Hallstrom was seeking.

The AVC encoded 1080p transfer and DTS MA soundtrack are excellent, and supplements, carried over from the prior DVD release of over a decade ago, include a commentary from Hallstrom, Irving, and producer Richard N. Gladstein, along with a handful of deleted scenes, a documentary featurette, and trailers. I'm not the biggest fan of Irving's novels (much less the previous cinematic adaptations of them), but “Cider House” is less about politics and hot-button issues than it is a coming-of-age tale told in a wonderfully realized cinematic fashion.

New on DVD

Newly released titles in MGM’s manufactured on demand series include:

HERO’S ISLAND is an interesting 1962 collaboration between star James Mason and writer-director Leslie Stevens, who helmed this tale of an 18th century family’s run-in with Blackbeard the Pirate off the Carolina coast. Stevens’ sometimes eclectic filmmaking flair is on display in “Hero’s Island,” which includes highly watchable Panavision cinematography, a Dominic Frontiere score and an interesting supporting cast (Neville Brand, Rip Torn and Warren Oates among them). MGM’s 16:9 transfer is highly satisfying.

A staple on the “Creature Double Feature” growing up, AIP’s THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN is ‘70s genre trash that’s worth a look for non-discriminating horror fans, with Alex Rebar as an astronaut who finds out that he can’t survive unless he feeds on the flesh of other humans after returning from outer space. Threadbare production values mark William Sach’s 1977 non-opus, which arrives on a MGM MOD release with an acceptable 16:9 (1.85) transfer.

Much more entertaining AIP fare is on-hand in MASTER OF THE WORLD, the colorful Jules Verne adaptation from writer Richard Matheson starring Jules Verne as a crazed inventor who wants to stop warfare around the globe in his flying machine, the Albatross. Charles Bronson eventually takes him on in this dated 1965 fantasy that’s a far cry from “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” but is still fun for young audiences and viewers with a certain nostalgia for the material (Les Baxter’s score comes off as a bit much regardless of the time frame, however).

Finally there’s THE REVOLUTIONARY, a dated 1970 UA production from director Paul Williams with Jon Voight as a campus radical who takes his civil disobedience too far in this early effort from producer Edward R(ambach) Pressman. Seymour Cassel, Robert Duvall and Jennifer Salt co-star in a film scored by Michael Small that comes recommended mainly for Paul Williams devotees (and you know who you are!).

TV on DVD and Blu-Ray

RAISING HOPE Season 1 DVD (506 mins., 2010-11; Fox). WHAT IT IS: Fitfully funny Fox comedy about a young guy (Lucas Neff) who has an improbable one-night-stand with a female serial killer and ends up with their infant-child after she’s executed – and the shenanigans that ensue once his family (Martha Plimpton, Garret Dillahunt and intermittently-senile grandmother Cloris Leachman) helps him raise her. Despite the unseemly premise and occasionally raunchy humor, “Raising Hope” is a good-natured and extremely likeable new show from the creator of “My Name is Earl,” with engaging performances (Plimpton in particular is terrific) and an awful lot of heart. DVD RUNDOWN: Fox’s Season 1 DVD of “Raising Hope” includes an extended version of the season finale, an unaired network pilot with commentary, deleted scenes, a gag reel and a few featurettes. The 16:9 (1.78) transfers and 5.1 soundtracks are all top notch. TO TUNE IN OR NOT TO TUNE IN: There weren’t a lot of new series from a year ago that managed to generate a renewal, and while “Raising Hope” was by no means a blockbuster, it was one of the few bright spots of its freshman class. Fox’s DVD has some decent special features and comes recommended.  

MODERN FAMILY Season 2 Blu-Ray (528 mins., 2010-11; Fox). WHAT IT IS: Currently television’s reigning Emmy winner for Best Comedy two years running, “Modern Family” is a rare occurrence on network TV these days: a smart, incisive, well-performed and consistently written series about a diverse extended family, their daily challenges and various misadventures. Season 2 of the hit ABC series contains “Modern Family”’s 24 second-season episodes in excellent AVC encoded 1080p transfers with DTS MA soundtracks and extras including deleted family interviews, a host of featurettes and other extras.

HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER Season 6 DVD (558 mins., 2010-11; Fox). WHAT IT IS: Season six of the popular CBS Monday night comedy finds Marshall and Lily trying to become parents, Barney (the consistently hilarious Neil Patrick Harris) looking for his biological father and guest stars from Katy Perry to “Lost”’s Jorge Garcia showing up. DVD RUNDOWN: Fox’s three-disc set includes 24 episodes – the complete sixth season of “How I Met Your Mother” – in satisfying 16:9 transfers. Extras include selected episode commentaries, deleted scenes, gag reel and a couple of featurettes. TO TUNE IN OR NOT TO TUNE IN: Decent extras make this a good bet for HIMYM fans.

THE CLEVELAND SHOW Season 2 DVD (484 mins., 2010-11; Fox). WHAT IT IS: I’m not sure who thought spinning off Cleveland Brown – one of the least funny peripheral characters on Seth MacFarlane’s “Family Guy” – into his own series was a good idea, but apparently there are some who feel that “The Cleveland Show” is sufficiently funny since the program just started its third season. I’m not one of them, but said aficionados ought to be sufficiently pleased that the series’ second season has just hit DVD from Fox. Speaking of which... DVD RUNDOWN: Boasting all 22 second-season episodes in 16:9 transfers, Fox’s four-disc DVD set includes deleted scenes, guest commentaries and multiple featurettes. TO TUNE IN OR NOT TO TUNE IN: With “Family Guy” itself becoming more miss than hit lately, I’ve bypassed both “American Dad” and “The Cleveland Show” as series I frequent during the week. However, if you do find the program amusing, Fox’s DVD set boasts some quality supplements, and thus comes recommended for its core audience.

HAWAII FIVE-0: Season 1 (aprx. 18 hours, 2010-11; CBS). WHAT IT IS: CBS’ much-touted remake of the classic Leonard Freeman series is a bit of a mixed bag. On the plus side you have Scott Caan’s affable Danno, the gorgeous Grace Park as Kono Kalakaua and Daniel-Dae Kim as Chin Ho Kelly. On the downside is Alex O’Loughlin’s overly brooding Steve McGarrett, who’s not about to give Jack Lord a run for his money. The Hawaii locales, though, remain a constant in the new “Five-0,” and while some of the story lines – especially in the early going – feel too much like “CSI: Hawaii” for its own good, this is still a slickly produced modern version of a TV classic. DVD RUNDOWN: CBS’ DVD box-set of “Hawaii Five-0"’s first season includes good looking 16:9 transfers, 5.1 soundtracks and a number of extras from brief featurettes to a look at Brian Tyler’s respectful new recording of the original theme. TO TUNE IN OR NOT TO TUNE IN: Fans of the new “Hawaii Five-0" ought to be sufficiently entertained by CBS’ box-set which includes some nice extras and attractive transfers (also on Blu-Ray).

Fans of the original series, meanwhile, can celebrate the DVD release of Season 11 of the “classic” HAWAII FIVE-0 (aprx. 18 hours, 1978-79), which includes all 21 episodes from its penultimate season. Good looking transfers and mono soundtracks are on tap in what fans have called a superior presentation of the series than its prior Season 10 set (though there are some musical edits and a disclaimer for shows being edited from their network versions). Episodes in chronologically-descending order include the two-part “Year of the Horse,” “The Skyline Killer,” “A Very Personal Matter,” “The Execution File,” “Stringer,” “The Bark and the Bike,” “The Spirit is Willie,” “The Meighan Conspiracy,” the two-part “Number One With a Bullet,” “The Miracle Man,” “Why Won’t Linda Die?”,” “A Long Time Ago,” “The Pagoda Factor,” “Death Mask,” “A Distant Thunder,” “Small potatoes,” “The Case Against Philip Christie,” “Deadly Courier,” “Horoscope For Murder” and the season opener “The Sleeper”.

CHUCK: Season 4 Blu-Ray (1032 mins., 2010-11; Warner). WHAT IT IS: One of NBC's few successes over the last few years, the affable "Chuck" stars Zachary Levi as a normal, everyday guy who works at a Best Buy-like chain and lives a fairly drab existence. One day, an old friend sends him an email that turns out to be a group of government secrets that improbably become permanently etched into Chuck's mind. Needing to access that information both the CIA and NSA come calling to protect their newfound charge, the former in the form of lovely Yvonne Strahovski as an agent who quickly falls for our geeky hero. McG and Josh Schwartz co-produced this engaging series which has somehow managed to garner a series of renewals despite very marginal ratings throughout its life span – credit its comparably small but rabid fan base, who ought to enjoy this Season 4 Blu-Ray package from Warner, sporting all 24 episodes in high-def transfers. BLU-RAY RUNDOWN: Warner’s BD is a four-disc platter sporting VC-1 transfers and DTS MA soundtracks. Extras include a gag reel and several featurettes, deleted scenes, and a BD-exclusive “Chuckipedia Interactive Experience” that includes a video commentary, featurettes and more on the episode “Chuck Versus the First Fight.” TO TUNE IN OR NOT TO TUNE IN: “Chuck” is still good-natured fun though there are times it’s so lightweight that it’s impossible to take seriously, even when it’s not trying to be funny. Fans of the show should be sufficiently pleased with this satisfying high-def set from Warner.

JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS: Complete Series DVD (Aprx. 25 hours, 1985-88; Shout!): Hasbro produced this syndicated TV cartoon which those of us who grew up in the ‘80s ought to remember either fondly or with some derision, depending on your point of view (for young boys, I think “Jem” was one of the least-cool shows on the tube at the time – the type of fare that made you change the channel and hope that “GI Joe” or, in my case, reruns of “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father” would be on instead!).

For fans of this wacky animated series in which a beautiful young lass named Jerrica Benton turns into pop star singer Jem, lead singer of the group The Holograms, your ship has come in thanks to another great Shout! package. This animated precursor to “Hannah Montana” (and it’s probably a good deal more entertaining as well) ran for three seasons and produced some 65 episodes, all of which have been housed in this 11-disc set. Transfers and soundtracks are as satisfying as the Sunbow/Marvel animation allows (this is the same group that produced Hasbro’s other cartoons like “GI Joe”). Extras are contained on a bonus disc (exclusive to this release) including original toy commercials, animated storyboards, the writer’s bible, a video jukebox, retrospective featurettes and interviews with cast, crew and fans.

DEGRASSI Season 10 DVD (1102 mins., 2010; Echo Bridge): Canada’s teen soap just keeps rolling along in this 10th season of its “Next Generation” incarnation, which here finds Adam questioning his gender, Jenna having to deal with teen pregnancy, Riley opening up to his family about his sexuality – all “hot button” issues that have been dealt with before on the series, though never all at the same time! “Degrassi” feels a bit repetitive at this point but these days it’s being aimed at a whole new teen audience who never watched it a decade (or later) ago, and those viewers will appreciate Echo Bridge’s DVD box set, which includes all 44 episodes in widescreen transfers with music videos, bloopers, commentary and webisodes on-tap.

NEW From E One and IFC: Two former members of “The Girls Next Door” spun off into their own reality series to varying degrees of success. KENDRA Seasons 2 and 3 (540 mins., 2009) covers her pregnancy and relationship with husband/football player Hank in uncensored episodes with deleted scenes and outtakes, 16:9 transfers and 5.1 soundtracks. Holly Madison, meanwhile, didn’t quite generate the same ratings with her HOLLY’S WORLD (420 mins., 2009), which E One brings to DVD this month in a Season 1 and 2 combo-set following Holly around her Vegas stomping grounds. Uncensored episodes, outtakes and a music video comprise the supplements...Jason Priestley plays a ethically-challenged car salesman whose inner conscience (Ernie Grunwald) tries to set him straight in the first season of CALL ME FITZ (300 mins., 2011), an international co-production that airs domestically on DirecTV’s Audience Network (previously The 101). E One’s DVD set includes a blooper reel and several Making Of featurettes...Charlie Hunnam from “Sons of Anarchy” stars in THE LEDGE (101 mins., 2011, R) as a man who gets more than he bargained for after having an affair with his religiously-oriented neighbor’s wife (Liv Tyler). Matthew Chapman wrote and directed this indie thriller co-starring Patrick Wilson and Terrence Howard, which IFC brings to Blu-Ray this month with a 1080p transfer, 5.1 soundtrack and slim extras comprised of interviews and the trailer...The acclaimed documentary BUCK (89 mins., 2010) profiles real-life horse whisperer Buck Brannaman in an inspiring tale of his tough upbringing and remarkable sensitivity to animals. IFC’s DVD includes commentary, deleted scenes and the trailer...ELVIRA’S HAUNTED HILLS (90 mins., 2002, PG-13) finds the Queen of the Night in a sporadically amusing adventure which E One brings to DVD after being out of print for a while. New extras include commentaries with Elvira (aka Cassandra Peterson), featurettes, interviews, a 16:9 transfer and 5.1 soundtrack...Mikael Salomon was once one of Hollywood’s top cinematographers (shooting “The Abyss” for James Cameron and “Always” for Steven Spielberg) but he’s never amounted to much as a director. Salomon’s latest outing, THE LOST FUTURE (91 mins., 2010), is a throwaway TV-quality film with Sean Bean slumming in a post-apocalyptic tale, brought to DVD this month from IFC with cast/crew interviews and a featurette...Finally there’s 3 FROM THEO, a collection of films from the late, controversial Dutch director Theo van Gogh (“Blind Date,” “Interview,” and “1-900"). 4:3 transfers and English subtitles are on-hand in the three-disc set from E One.

NEXT TIME: Ken Burns' PROHIBITION Reviewed! Until then, don't forget to drop in on the official Aisle Seat Message Boards and direct any emails to our email address. Cheers everyone!



Copyright 1997-2011 All Reviews, Site and Design by Andre Dursin


SiteLock