by ANDY DURSIN
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It is not often you see a film whose convictions, dramatically and visually, match its ambitious intentions all the way through. Although it’s been oft-parodied for years, James Cameron's eloquent, unforgettable 1997 Oscar-winner TITANIC (****, 194 mins., 1997, PG-13; Paramount) is one of those special films: an "epic" with an intimate, character-driven center, and a visual panache that truly makes one feel that you're right at home on the doomed ship itself.
When the vessel meets its inevitable fate at the end, you feel the pain and horror along with the characters since Cameron has done such an amazing job balancing story with spectacle, paying proper respect and historically recounting the incident as accurately as he can, while still producing an entertainment – and, at times, a piece of art – that’s been seldom duplicated by Hollywood in recent years.
Part of the film's enduring appeal is due to the chemistry between Leonardo Dicaprio (outstanding) and Kate Winslet (excellent), who embody the film's admittedly old-fashioned, somewhat hokey but still compelling love story between the lower-class passenger and the upper-class rich girl slated to marry snobby tycoon Billy Zane. DiCaprio confirmed with his “Titanic” role why he was one of the top young actors of his generation, with an unpredictable yet earnest quality that informs his performance. The then-buxom Winslet is often captivating as the female lead, a role that often comes across as cliched and maybe a bit forced, yet she does such a fine job with it that it is hard to complain. Excellent supporting work abounds in this film, from Kathy Bates's Molly Brown to fine character turns by David Warner and Frances Fisher. The first half of the film is so good, in fact, that you forget the ship is on-course for the deadliest maritime disaster of the twentieth century.
When the big event does arrive, Cameron treats us to a simply breathtaking dramatic display, the closest thing to a veritable rollercoaster (geometrically and otherwise) we've yet seen in the movies. The incident is awesomely conveyed in size and scope, with detailed special effects that haven’t aged too badly. They masterfully assist Cameron in producing a meticulous recreation of the actual tragedy, with virtually every incident coming straight out of real-life accounts from survivors. (Indeed, Cameron frames shots that were supposed to have actually happened throughout the film. There is one moment early on where a young boy is spinning a top on the vessel's deck, a picture that originates from an Irish priest's photo of the Titanic in port at Belfast – one of the final photos ever taken of the ship. Clearly, Titanic scholars will find an incredible array of moments like those interpolated throughout the film, in addition to dialogue between some of the White Star line and crew members that also reportedly occurred in real life. Of course, not all of the film is historically accurate, yet that so much of it is speaks volumes about the director’s attempts to balance art with authenticity).
Like every great film, the cumulative whole of “Titanic” is that of a true, bona-fide experience – the kind we hope to see every time we go to the movies. The picture stays with you long after the film has ended – yes, its relatively simple messages of living your life to its fullest, freed from the restrictions imposed by other individuals and society itself, may seem straightforward enough, yet Cameron's movie has a haunting resonance that is almost impossible to describe (part of this is due to James Horner's outstanding score).
After it's over, you're left contemplating the immense significance of an almost incomprehensible event that has been broken down into pure human terms that apply to all of us. It's hard to think back on other movies that have left that much of an impression on viewers, which is why “Titanic” is a movie whose cinematic legacy may live on as long as the historical impact of the tragic sinking itself.
Paramount has, at last, brought “Titanic” to Blu-Ray in a couple of different editions, the most notable being a 3-D Limited Edition combo pack. I didn’t go to see the 3-D re-release in theaters, but there is no doubt that Cameron’s attention to detail has resulted in one of the strongest 3-D conversions to date: there’s scant ghosting, and plenty of depth-of-field, effects throughout here, with the picture playing more effectively in 3-D than you might’ve anticipated (note that the film has been split into two parts on the 3-D side). The 2-D version (contained on one disc), also included here, has been treated marvelously, with a razor sharp, natural looking 1080p AVC encoded transfer, while 5.1 DTS MA audio masterfully conveys an intricately mixed sound design that’s as important to the film as the visuals themselves. It’s a technical presentation as satisfying as you’d anticipate coming from Cameron and his Lightstorm Entertainment banner.
Extra features include three commentaries on the 2-D Blu-Ray plus a bonus fourth disc of extras. These include the all-new “Reflections on Titanic” (an hour-long film retrospective, in HD, offering interviews with all of the major participants sans DiCaprio) and “Titanic: The Final Word With James Cameron,” a 96-minute special (also in HD) that originally aired on the National Geographic Channel earlier this year, with Cameron talking with various Titanic experts one last time about the ship’s final night. Deleted scenes are also included, in full HD, with optional Cameron commentary that’s been brought over from the 2005 DVD edition. A series of original production featurettes are also on tap, plus a full range of trailers and TV spots (left off that 2005 release), Titanic parodies and, of course, the Celine Dion video for “My Heart Will Go On.”
It’s a rich, outstanding package that’s been assembled here by Cameron’s Lightstorm Entertainment and Paramount, with terrific extras and spectacular transfers, no matter which version of “Titanic” you wish to revisit.
In conjunction with the Blu-Ray release of “Titanic,” Disney has issued a genuine 3-D Blu-Ray presentation of GHOSTS OF THE ABYSS (***, 60/91 mins., 2002, G), Cameron’s journey back to the remnants of the Titanic, offering remarkable photography, some hackneyed narration (courtesy of Bill Paxton), and an effective usage of 3-D that adds to the documentary’s punch.
It’s because of Cameron’s vision that “Ghosts of the Abyss,” recounting the director’s 2001 expedition to the wreck’s site, surpasses all the other Titanic documentaries. The production, originally shot in a 60-minute form for IMAX 3-D screenings, has at last been rendered here in its native 3-D format and the results are impressive, with pop-out used to excellent effect in showing before/after comparisons of the ship and its ghostly remains. The extended 90-minute version of the picture has also been included here, in 2-D 1080p, though some viewers may find the shorter version to be the more satisfying – tighter and just as effective.
Extras include the “Reflections From the Deep,” a collection of cast/crew interviews with bonus footage, along with a fine DTS MA 5.1 soundtrack and standard DVD copy. In all, “Ghosts of the Abyss” makes for an ideal companion piece to Cameron’s blockbuster, in a superb presentation that makes great use of the Blu-Ray (and 3-D Blu-Ray) format.
New From Fox
Combining the best elements of “24" with more developed, realistic dramatic situations and richer characters, Fox’s Showtime series HOMELAND (664 mins., 2011) ranks as one of the finest television programs in recent years. Grandly compelling and brilliantly performed, “Homeland” – over the course of its 12 first-season episodes – profiles an an American POW (Damian Lewis) who returns home to the U.S. as a hero, but whose reappearance causes upheaval within the family he left behind and, more importantly, draws suspicions from a troubled CIA agent (Claire Danes) who believes he may have been turned while in captivity.
“24" producer Howard Gordon, along with Alex Gansa, developed this reportedly loose adaptation of an Israeli TV series and, after the project was sold to cable outlet Showtime, went about differentiating “Homeland” from the weekly adventures of Jack Bauer. This included an obvious upping of the ante in terms of sexual content and language, as well as making Danes’ Carrie Mathison anything but a Bauer clone. Instead, Carrie’s dogged pursuit of the truth is contrasted with her bi-polar disorder, which threatens not only her health but jeopardizes her job with the CIA. Her constant questioning of what she witnesses is amplified by her own self-doubts about her mental health, adding to the already powerful dramatic impact of the series.
Danes has rightly been praised (and has already earned a Golden Globe with a possible Emmy on the horizon) for her performance here, and she’s backed up by equally impressive work from Lewis, whose often placid exterior houses a turbulent, possibly villainous force within. His Nicholas Brody struggles to readjust to his wife (the lovely Morena Baccarin) and two children, while mysteriously vanishing to practice Islam outside of their view – but is his new faith the result of a spiritual reawakening that occurred while he was in captivity, or the fallout from Al Qaeda brainwashing? Brody’s main motives are slowly unraveled throughout the first season, culminating in a fever pitch of tension and suspense in the season finale. Mandy Patinkin, meanwhile, is also outstanding as Carrie’s father-figure boss, who tries to reconcile her brilliant methodology with a turbulent personal life that he hides from his superiors at the agency.
I can’t say enough about how entertaining, suspenseful, intelligent and compelling “Homeland” is – and now that the series is on Blu-Ray, there’s no reason to miss it.
Fox’s three-disc BD set includes the first season of “Homeland” in excellent 1080p AVC encoded transfers with 5.1 DTS MA soundtracks. Extras include deleted scenes, commentary on the pilot and a half-hour behind-the-scenes featurette, plus an extended storyline integrated into the episodes. There’s also a four-minute teaser from Season 2, which debuts later this month on Showtime.
Also new from Fox this month is the complete Season 4 of SONS OF ANARCHY (aprx. 656 mins., 2011), with the SAMCRO clan out of prison and back in business – but once again fighting internally as well as with a brand new nemesis. All 13 episodes are included in the three-disc Blu-Ray set, which includes crisp 1080p AVC encoded transfers, “Creator’s Cut” extended episodes, three featurettes, commentary on selected episodes by cast/crew members and other goodies.
Upcoming From Shout! Factory
Steve Martin, renaissance man – writer, author, comedian, playwright, screenwriter, producer, actor, banjo player extraordinaire – is more than deserving of his own Shout! Factory retrospective, and the label’s wonderful STEVE MARTIN: THE TELEVISION STUFF (aprx. 7 hours) ranks as one of the year’s most enjoyable DVD catalog retrospectives.
Available on September 18th, this three-disc set focuses primarily on the early Martin years, with his two taped concert performances and handful of network TV specials comprising the set’s first two platters. Martin’s stand-up is particularly noteworthy, seeing as he abandoned it in lieu of his feature-film career. In both a 1976 HBO special and a 1978 appearance at the Universal Ampitheatre (included in the 1984 home video special “Homage to Steve,” along with the funny short “The Absent-Minded Waiter”), Martin shows off both his adroit comedy writing and a side of his on-screen “persona” that viewers unfamiliar with his early material will find especially amusing. Unlike other stand-up acts which haven’t weathered the years well (including the Richard Pryor concert films, which I’ve seen recently on cable, and are almost entirely dependant on drug/shock humor that’s no longer shocking), Martin’s material is sly and offbeat, relying on his “performance” as a hapless magician and comedian to milk laughs out of intentionally-poor material.
Martin moved on to a series of network TV specials before hitting it big as an ‘80s big-screen star – the 1978 effort “A Wild and Crazy Guy,” 1980's “Comedy Is Not Pretty” and “All Commercials,” and 1981's “Steve Martin’s Best Show Ever” are all included here and work well within the confines of their genre, mostly comprised of SNL-like sketches with a series of guest stars appearing within (as Martin notes in a new interview split onto each of the three discs, the era of the star-driven network TV special was fading when he agreed to star in them). Disc three, meanwhile, is a self-described “Bits and Pieces” anthology of Martin appearances on SNL, Letterman, The Tonight Show, his Mark Twain acceptance speech from 2006, and even his first TV appearance in 1966 on “Dusty’s Attic.”
It’s a tremendous compilation of nostalgic – and occasionally hilarious – material from a gifted comedian that’s well worth revisiting or, perhaps, discovering for the first time – especially among younger viewers who may only know Martin from limp “comedies” like the “Pink Panther” and “Cheaper By the Dozen” films (and if that’s the only Steve Martin they know, then shame on them!).
On September 25th, meanwhile, Time Life releases the six-disc DVD box-set THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW: CAROL’S FAVORITES, a sampler of the label’s larger 22-disc Collector’s Set, offering 17 uncut episodes from the 1967-78 run of the Emmy-winning CBS comedy/variety series. Included here are some of the series’ classic moments – the “Went with the Wind” parody, “The Family,” “Mrs. Wiggins,” “The Oldest Man,” “The Charwoman,” “As the Stomach Turns,” guest appearances from Carl Reiner, Steve Martin, Betty White, George Carlin, the Jackson 5, and ample extras.
Included in the package are an abundance of supplements, including a cast reunion with Burnett, Vicki Lawrence, Tim Conway and Lyle Waggoner; a rare interview with Harvey Korman and Tim Conway; a “Gary Moore Show” sketch, featuring Burnett doing the Tarzan yell for the first time; a retrospective featurette on the series; interviews with Betty White and Carl Reiner, and the proverbial more. For viewers who can’t afford Time Life’s pricier box, this is a certainly attractive release with over 18 hours of material and solid extras.
More TV on Video Releases
PERSON OF INTEREST - Season 1 Blu-Ray/DVD/Ultraviolet (1008 mins., 2011-12; Warner). WHAT IT IS: J.J. Abrams-produced CBS series stars Jim Cavieziel as an ex-CIA agent who collaborates with eccentric billionaire Michael Emerson (Abrams’ “Lost” alumnus) to stop crimes before they happen, all with the help of the government’s pattern-recognition software. The chemistry between the duo is palpable and the show well-produced, yet “Person of Interest” sags once a pair of NYPD detectives (Taraji P. Henson and Kevin Chapman) end up stumbling onto the duo’s vigilante “pre-crime” tactics. Despite the sometimes routine nature of the cases involved, “Person of Interest” ranked as the most-watched new series of the 2011-12 season, generating over 14 million viewers per-episode. BLU-RAY SPECS: Warner’s “Person of Interest” first-season box-set includes excellent 1080p transfers, DTS MA 5.1 soundtracks and several extras, including the original broadcast pilot with commentary, an extended pilot episode with producer commentary, one featurette and a gag reel. The Blu-Ray also includes a DVD and format-exclusive Ultraviolet streaming copy. AISLE SEAT BOTTOM LINE: I love watching Cavieziel and Emerson together, but the writing in “Person of Interest”’s first season isn’t quite up to the level of their performances or the quality of the production altogether. Hopefully things will improve once Season 2 debuts later this month on CBS.
FRINGE - Season 4 Blu-Ray (957 mins., 2011-12; Warner). WHAT IT IS: Season four of the fan-favorite (though, as always, just modestly rated) Fox sci-fi series is set in two parallel universes where the FBI’s Fringe Division – lead by special agent Olivia Dunham, scientist Walter Bishop and his son Peter – continues to investigate mysteries and try and smooth over rifts between the universes. Anna Torv, Joshua Jackson, John Noble and Lance Reddick return for this penultimate season of “Fringe,” with the series’ fifth and final year scheduled to debut on September 28th. BLU-RAY BREAKDOWN: Warner’s 1080p transfers and 5.1 DTS MA soundtracks are all top notch across the board through the 22-episode fourth season. Extra features include over two hours of bonus features, including BD exclusive featurettes (“The Scientist Roundtable,” “Fringe Decoded”), a comic book, Peter Bishop audition tapes, gag reel, deleted scenes, and an Ultraviolet copy of the entire season. AISLE SEAT BOTTOM LINE: Die-hard “Fringe” fans (and there seem to be no other kind) should be quite content with this excellent HD package. For newcomers, though, it’s best to start at the beginning of the series, which lays the groundwork for the program’s intricate, at-times convoluted, mythology.
2 BROKE GIRLS: Season 1 Blu-Ray/Ultraviolet (516 mins., 2011-12; Warner). WHAT IT IS: Kat Dennings and Beth Behrs play two decidedly different young women trying to make it in New York City with one commonality: they’re both broke. Dennings is the hard-working blue collar type, Behrs is the book-smart, more uppity-girl who tries to fend for herself as the duo move in together and work in a small Brooklyn diner. Garrett Morris, Jonathan Kite and Matthew Moy co-star in this comedy from “Sex and the City” creator Michael Patrick King and comedian/writer Whitney Cummings, who starred in her own NBC comedy series this past year. BLU-RAY BREAKDOWN: All 24 episodes from “2 Broke Girls”’ first season are included here in satisfying 1080p transfers and 5.1 DTS MA soundtracks. Extra features include a behind-the-scenes featurette with cast/crew interviews, unaired scenes, and a BD exclusive Ultraviolet streaming copy. AISLE SEAT BOTTOM LINE: Averaging over 11 million viewers weekly, “2 Broke Girls” was an immediate hit for CBS, where it became the #1 new comedy and #1 new series amongst the coveted 18-49 demo during the 2011-12 season. The writing is generally good but it’s the chemistry between the appealing Dennings and Behrs that puts the show over the top. Recommended.
THE BIG BANG THEORY: Season 5 DVD (aprx. 498 mins., 2011-12; Warner). WHAT IT IS: Penny and Leonard try their relationship out in “beta test” mode while Sheldon, Howard and Raj try to understand the female mind – and Howard and Bernadette plan their wedding – in this fifth season of the phenomenally popular CBS sitcom. All 24 episodes from the series are included in Warner’s DVD box set. DVD SPECS: 16:9 transfers, 5.1 soundtracks and several extras (a 100th episode retrospective, gag reel and two featurettes) comprise Warner’s DVD edition. AISLE SEAT BOTTOM LINE: Still funny after all these years, “The Big Bang Theory” continues to draw big ratings both on CBS and in re-runs on TBS. Fans of the show will surely be satisfied with Warner’s effort here.
BLUE BLOODS: Season 2 DVD (aprx. 15 hours, 2011-12; CBS). WHAT IT IS: Tom Selleck is back as Frank Reagan, the NYPD commissioner and patriarch of the Reagan family – including son Danny (Donnie Wahlberg), DA Erin (Bridget Moynahan) and cop Jamie (Will Estes) – who continuously butt heads but all serve in law enforcement. Guest stars in Season 2 of this old-fashioned family drama/police procedural include appearances from F. Murray Abraham, Margaret Colin, Timothy Busfield, Tom Wopat, plus Tony Bennett and country superstar Carrie Underwood. DVD SPECS: All 22 episodes from “Blue Blood”’s second season are included here in 16:9 transfers and 5.1 soundtracks. Extra features include deleted scenes on most episodes plus select cast/crew commentaries, while featurettes include an interview with Tony Bennett plus on-set conversations with Donnie and Will, a gag rel and a two-part behind the scenes doc. AISLE SEAT BOTTOM LINE: “Blue Bloods” is based on tried-and-true tenants of older TV shows, but the fine cast and locations make it appealing. Worth viewing with the third season about to debut this month, again on CBS Friday nights.
ONCE UPON A TIME - Season 1 Blu-Ray (946 mins., 2011-12; ABC/Buena Vista). WHAT IT IS: “Lost” writers Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis developed this ABC Sunday night prime-time series, which ranked as one of the highest-rated new shows during the 2011-12 season. After spending just a few minutes with “Once Upon a Time,” it’s not hard to see why: this “Lost” variant substitutes its predecessor’s characters with fairy-tale figures who, after being bewitched by the evil queen, end up stranded in a small New England town – but with no knowledge of their actual selves. Into the town of Storybrooke comes Jennifer Morrison playing a 28-year-old looking for the son she gave up for adoption a decade before. What she stumbles into is a mystery that – much like “Lost” – is contrasted with scenes of the fairy-tale kingdom where its inhabitants came from, and whose stories are told in a way that serves as a counterpoint to their contemporary existence (sound familiar?). BLU-RAY SPECS: Disney has done a superb job bringing one of ABC’s crown jewels to Blu-Ray. Every episode includes a lovely 1080p AVC encoded transfer and 5.1 DTS MA soundtrack, while copious extras include commentaries, deleted scenes, bloopers, promo-centric featurettes, and a BD exclusive “Origins” special with Josh Dallas (Prince Charming) providing a casual examination of fairy tale legends. AISLE SEAT BOTTOM LINE: With a strong cast, high production values and superb scores by Mark Isham, “Once Upon a Time” was an instant hit for ABC, netting a wide swath of viewers both young and old alike. For this long-time “Lost” viewer though, I frankly became impatient – quickly – with the show’s formula and its slow pace, feeling as if I had seen it all before...and didn’t want to commit to another slow burn of a series. Still, “Once Upon a Time” fans ought to be charmed by its presentation, and there are a lot of them out there (including my wife, who loves it!).
REVENGE - Season 1 DVD (924 mins., 2011-12; ABC/Buena Vista). WHAT IT IS: One of the few new hits of the 2011-12 season, ABC’s “Revenge” is a high-class prime-time dramatic soap opera that provides a female twist on “The Count of Monte Cristo.” The attractive Emily VanCamp stars as Amanda Clarke – a young woman who returns to her Hamptons home as Emily Thorne in order to exact revenge on the Greysons, a wealthy clan whose devious, shady practices robbed Amanda/Emily of her childhood – and took her father away from her forever. Madeleine Stowe and Henry Czerny co-star as the heads of the Greyson clan, with a young and charismatic supporting cast adding to a delectable mix of suspense and character-driven soaper that’s irresistibly entertaining. DVD SPECS: ABC’s first-season DVD set of “Revenge” offers 16:9 transfers, 5.1 soundtracks and plenty of extras, including bloopers, deleted scenes, music videos, pilot commentary and several fluffy featurettes shot on location in North Carolina (doubling for Long Island). AISLE SEAT BOTTOM LINE: I was a big fan of “Revenge” and for those viewers who might’ve missed the first season, ABC’s DVD is the perfect way to catch up before its second-season premieres in a few weeks, in the Sunday 9pm timeslot that “Desperate Housewives” occupied for many years. This series is better, and hopefully will find a larger audience in its new day and time this fall.
CASTLE - Season 4 DVD (aprx. 985 mins., 2011-12; ABC/Buena Vista). WHAT IT IS: Season 4 of ABC’s popular Monday night crime drama once again implements a breezy mix of intrigue, mystery and romance with Castle (Nathan Fillion) and Beckett (Stana Katic) trying to pick up the pieces after Beckett’s third-season shooting. The duo’s relationship is rekindled while they investigate some 23 cases in the Big Apple, including the death of a paranormal investigator and the return of the Triple X killer. DVD SPECS: Disney’s box-set includes all 23 fourth-season episodes of “Castle” in 16:9 transfers with 5.1 soundtracks and ample extras, including commentaries, bloopers, excised scenes, and three featurettes. AISLE SEAT BOTTOM LINE: I’m glad there’s still an audience today for a solid, dependable show like “Castle,” which offers some of the most engaging banter on TV thanks to Fillion and Katic’s chemistry. Fans ought to pick up Season 4 in time for the series’ fifth-season debut in a few weeks.
GREY’S ANATOMY - Season 8 DVD (1032 mins., 2011-12; ABC/Buena Vista)
PRIVATE PRACTICE - Season 5 DVD (946 mins., 2011-12; ABC/Buena Vista): All 24 episodes from “Grey’s Anatomy”’s eighth season are on-tap in Buena Vista’s Season 8 DVD box-set of the long-running ABC medical drama/soaper. This time around, Meredith and Derek try and keep the flame going while they adopt a baby girl, while Christina tries to save her marriage. “Grey’s” fans will be satisfied with the 16:9 transfers, 5.1 soundtracks, one extended episode (“If/Then”), deleted scenes and blooper outtakes, plus a trip back to the Scottish highlands with star Kevin McKidd (Dr. Owen Hunt).
Meanwhile, a five-disc DVD collection includes the entire fifth-season of “Private Practice,” the “Grey’s” spin-off that’s about to conclude its lengthy run on ABC this fall. One cast-interview featurette, “The Practice of Parenthood,” is included here along with deleted scenes and bloopers, plus 16:9 transfers and 5.1 soundtracks.
SPARTACUS - VENGEANCE Season 2 Blu-Ray (572 mins., 2012; Starz). WHAT IT IS: Liam McIntyre takes over the late Andy Whitfield’s role as Spartacus, who here continues to spearhead the gladiator rebellion after escaping from the House of Batiatus. Craig Parker’s Gaius Claudius Glaber, meanwhile, sends Roman troops to Capua to take down the newly freed slaves, forcing Spartacus to make a choice between exacting a personal vendetta against him or building his army. Lucy Lawless, Peter Mensah, Manu Bennett and Dustin Clare co-star in this continuation of the first “Spartacus” series, which belatedly made its way to Starz after Whitfield’s untimely passing. BLU-RAY SPECS: Starz’s Blu-Ray of “Vengeance” includes 1080p transfers, 5.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtracks and extras including a Making Of featurette, McIntyre interview, bloopers, other featurettes, and BD exclusive commentaries and five extended episodes. AISLE SEAT BOTTOM LINE: Those who enjoyed the first season of “Spartacus” and its 2011 spin-off “Gods of the Arena” may have to take some time to adjust to the series’ new star. That said, the program offers enough over the top violence, sex and action to curb any hungry viewing appetite, and comes recommended for those who enjoyed the first season.
BORED TO DEATH - Season 3 Blu-Ray (aprx. 203 mins., 2011; HBO). WHAT IT IS: Third and, apparently, final season of the HBO comedy series finds Ray enjoying a newfound relationship, Jonathan appearing with Dick Cavett and George opening an upscale restaurant. As with the prior two seasons of “Bored to Death,” the series is a bit of an odd duck, with a droll sense of humor and accompanying performances from Jason Schwartzman, Zach Galifanakis and Ted Danson. BLU-RAY SPECS: HBO brings the third season of “Bored to Death” to Blu-Ray in a double-disc set including commentaries, deleted scenes, outtakes and “Inside the Episodes” featurettes. The 1080p transfers and DTS MA soundtracks are all just fine. AISLE SEAT BOTTOM LINE: “Bored to Death” isn’t for everyone, and from the looks of it, didn’t generate enough fans to keep the series going since HBO unceremoniously canned it last December. There’s been talk of a movie to finish the series off, but until then, aficionados will have to make do with this final group of episodes from writer/creator Jonathan Ames.
HOW TO MAKE IT IN AMERICA - Season 2 Blu-Ray (aprx. 240 mins., 2011; HBO). WHAT IT IS: Ben (Bryan Greenberg) and Cam (Victor Rasuk) continue their pursuit of the American Dream in the second season of the HBO series. This time out, the fashion entrepreneur hopefuls return from a business trip to Japan just in time to pound the NYC pavement and find more work. Lake Bell, Luis Guzman and Eddie Kaye Thomas guest star in another colorful season of “How to Make It in America.” BLU-RAY SPECS: “Inside the Series” featurettes, a trio of commentaries and a look at real NYC hopefuls comprise HBO’s special features. The 1080p transfers and DTS MA soundtracks are again uniformly excellent. AISLE SEAT BOTTOM LINE: Fans of the series should be quite pleased with another fine HBO Blu-Ray box set featuring a top-notch technical presentation and insightful extras.
HUNG - Season 3 Blu-Ray (aprx. 261 mins., 2011; HBO). WHAT IT IS: Ray (Thomas Jane) and his pimp Tanya (Jane Adams) find themselves opening the “Happiness Consultants Wellness Center for Women” – aka just another front for Ray’s gigolo hustling – in this third (and apparently final) season of the HBO series. BLU-RAY SPECS: Season three of “Hung” includes a never-before-seen alternate ending to the season finale, “The Whole Beefalo,” plus a “Inside the Series” profile, deleted scenes, four commentary tracks and additional featurettes. The 1080p AVC encoded transfers and DTS MA soundtracks are all perfectly satisfying. AISLE SEAT BOTTOM LINE: Like “Bored to Death,” it looks like HBO has hung up its plans to keep “Hung” going – canceling the series back in December. Fans, then, will have to make due with this goodbye assortment of episodes.
G.I. JOE RENEGADES - Season 1 Blu-Ray (aprx. 10 hours, 2011; Shout!): A younger G.I. Joe team – Duke, Scarlett, Roadblock, Tunnel Rat, Ripcord and (everyone’s fave) Snake Eyes – is forced to go on the run after a Cobra espionage mission goes wrong. In order to prove their innocence, the team has to avoid capture from not only Cobra but an elite military unit named the Falcons and the government authorities the Joes typically work with.
This new animated series, which aired in 2011 on the Hub channel, offers more “anime” styled design as compared to the ‘80s “G.I. Joe” cartoon, with voice talent including Clancy Brown, James Marsden, Michael Emerson, Peter MacNicol and Lee Majors working to create a show that ought to entertain hard-core buffs and younger viewers alike. Shout’s Blu-Ray boasts clear HD transfers and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks of the show’s 26-episode first season, along with a look behind the scenes and select commentary tracks.
THE VAMPIRE DIARIES - Season 3 DVD (927 mins., 2011-12; Warner): Damon and Elena try and put aside their growing relationship while bringing Damon’s brother Stefan back from the brink in this third season of the CW series, which culminates in a shocking finale twist. Warner’s DVD box-set of “The Vampire Diaries”’ third season includes 16:9 transfers and 5.1 soundtracks plus “Stefan’s Descent Into Darkness” and “The Original Vampires: The Beginning” featurettes, a gag reel and deleted scenes.
Acorn New Releases
Acorn’s brilliant Blu-Rays of David Suchet’s Hercule Poirot mysteries has been just splendid, a happy occurrence for both Agatha Christie die-hards and casual viewers looking to supplement their usual Blu-Ray viewing with classy, old-fashioned mysteries.
POIROT Series 6 has made its way to Blu offering four mysteries, produced in the mid ‘90s, that marked the end of the original ITV Poirot adaptations (Suchet would return, after a few years hiatus, in a series of A&E co-funded productions in 2000). These include “Hercule Poirot’s Christmas,” “Hickory Dickory Dock,” “Murder on the Links” and “Dumb Witness,” with Damian Lewis and Kate Buffery among the co-stars. Satisfying 1080p, 4:3 framed transfers and 2.0 PCM stereo soundtracks make for another highly recommended purchase for mystery lovers.
Also new from Acorn on DVD:
CLOUDSTREET (aprx. 365 mins., 2010) is a sprawling Australian mini-series written by Tim Winton from his award-winning novel, set around Perth from 1943-63 and recounting the lives of two rural families, brought together under tough circumstances, and their countless trials and tribulations as the years progress. Acorn’s DVD offers all six episodes (in 16:9 transfers) spread across a two-DVD set with extras including a 40-minute Making Of, several shorter featurettes and a stereo soundtrack.
INJUSTICE (aprx. 223 mins., 2010) is a five-part thriller starring James Purefoy as a Suffolk defense barrister called upon to defend an old friend accused of homicide in a mystery with more dire consequences than he originally anticipated. Dervla Kirwan, Nathaniel Parker and Charlie Creed-Miles co-star in Anthony Horowitz’s UK mini-series (which aired on DirecTV domestically), which Acorn has brought to DVD in a 16:9 transfer with stereo sound.
Lastly, Iain De Caestecker plays the title role in YOUNG JAMES HERRIOT (aprx. 176 mins., 2012), a BBC production focusing on Herriot’s early years at Glasgow Veterinary College. This well-made prequel to “All Creatures Great and Small” offers 16:9 widescreen transfers, stereo soundtracks, a 20-minute Making Of, photo gallery and Herriot biography.
New From NewVideo
BEST OF ANCIENT ALIENS (aprx. 4 hours, 2010-12) lands on Blu-Ray this month including a handful of episodes from the popular History Channel series. Fans of the program may lament that full season sets of the series haven’t made their way onto the format, and that this single-disc offering includes just under four hours of content, but the sub $20 price and selection of shows makes it a fairly attractive proposition for viewers.
History is also rolling out a handful of DVDs this month:
SECRET ACCESS: THE PRESIDENCY (aprx. 210 mins.) is comprised of three History Channel specials: “Air Force One”; “The White House Behind Closed Doors”; and “The President’s Book of Secrets,” all in widescreen transfers with stereo soundtracks.
JAMES BOND GADGETS (aprx. 90 mins.) is an enjoyable 2002 look at some of 007's favorite toys and their real-world counterparts (of sorts). History’s DVD also includes an interesting “Biography” of Ian Fleming from 2004.
AMERICA’S BOOK OF SECRETS (aprx. 8 hours; 2012) chronicles American mysteries and long-standing legacies, from the armored doors of Fort Knox to the history of the Freemasons. The original two-hour special (pilot) of “America’s Book of Secrets” is included here along with ten episodes devoted to The White House, The Pentagon, Area 51, Freemasons, Fort Knox, Presidential Transports, The Playboy Mansion, Black Ops, the FBI and West Point.
CAJUN PAWN STARS (aprx. 176 mins., 2012), meanwhile, is a spin-off from one of History’s top rated series, this one following Jimmie Deramus, owner of Louisiana’s largest pawnshop, and his various adventures. All eight episodes from the series’ first season are included here in a single-disc DVD including widescreen transfers and stereo soundtracks.
Brianna McCallister (Raven-Symone), meanwhile, decides to shake up her small town by challenging her district’s policy of segregated proms in FOR ONE NIGHT (89 mins., 2005), an Ernest Dickerson-directed Lifetime Original movie co-starring Aisha Tyler, Sam Jones III, and William Ragsdale. Lifetime/NewVideo’s DVD includes a widescreen transfer and 2.0 stereo soundtrack.
Also New on Blu-Ray and DVD
LOONEY TUNES MOUSE CHRONICLES: The Chuck Jones Collection Blu-Ray (145 mins.; Warner): Curious collection of 19 Chuck Jones shorts, remastered in HD, includes the complete adventures of Sniffles the Mouse (in Naughty But Mice; Little Brother Rat; the charming 1939 Sniffles and the Bookworm; Sniffles Takes a Trip; The Egg Collector; Bedtime for Sniffles; Sniffles Bells the Cat; Toy Trouble; The Brave Little Bat; The Unbearable Bear; Lost and Foundling; and Hush My Mouse), a series of mostly subdued, character-centric outings (produced in the late ‘30s and early ‘40s) starring the sweet, if troublesome, little mouse. They’re contrasted with the much zanier (and entertaining) Hubie & Bertie shorts which began near the end of the Sniffles run and continued into the mid ‘40s, with cartoons including The Artisto Cat, Trap happy Porky, Roughly Squeaking, House Hunting Mice, Mouse Wreckers, The Hypo-chondri-cat and Cheese Chasers.
All the AVC encoded 1080p transfers are terrific here, with solid detail and a thankful lack of DNR allowing the material to appear in a natural state. Extras include 11 bonus, mouse-themed shorts from the Looney Tunes vaults, albeit only in standard-def, along with four historian commentaries (by Jerry Beck among others), a storyboard reel for “The Hypo-Chrondri-Cat,” and an eight minute “Of Mice and Pen” featurette that gives some light historical background to the cartoons seen in this two-disc Blu-Ray set, which ranks overall as an appetizer before Volume 2 of the “Looney Tunes Platinum Collection” streets next month.
RE-ANIMATOR Blu-Ray (***, 86 mins., 1985, Unrated; Image): 1985 Empire Pictures release, inspired by H.P.Lovecraft's story "Herbert West, Re-Animator," was a certified B-movie favorite about a mad scientist (Jeffrey Combs) driven to bring the dead back to life. Filled with black humor and gory effects, “Re-Animator” – directed by Stuart Gordon from a script by Dennis Paoli, William J. Norris and the director – was one of those rare horror movies that was embraced by both genre fans and critics, making the movie into a bona-fide cult classic over the years since its initial theatrical and video premieres.
Still as much fun today as it was back then, “Re-Animator” makes its way to Blu-Ray this month as a low-priced offering from Image Entertainment. The good news is that all the extra features from the prior DVD Special Edition are on-hand, from two commentary tracks to a retrospective documentary, interviews with Gordon and producer Brian Yuzna, conversations with Dennis Paoli and composer Richard Band, an additional segment with Band, interview with Frangoria editor Tony Timpone, deleted/extended scenes, the trailer and TV spots. The bad news is that the 1080p 1.78 HD transfer looks dated and soft, and may be a negligible enhancement over the DVD for anyone other than viewers with excessively large TV sets. The movie likely deserves a superior treatment that probably would’ve been cost-prohibitive, so fans may have to live with this release (for now, at least).
WHERE DO WE GO NOW? Blu-Ray (102 mins., 2011, PG-13; Sony): Acclaimed Middle Eastern import from director Nadine Labaki examines a squabble in an isolated village in Lebanon where Christians and Muslims live separated lives despite inhabiting the same town; in order to diffuse the tension, the town’s women hire bellydancers in an effort to bring everyone together. “Where Do We Go Now?” mixes comedy with serious dramatic passages in a film that won numerous awards last year (it was Lebanon’s submission for the Oscars) and comes to Blu-Ray this month from Sony. The BD includes “An Evening with Nadine Labaki, Khaled Mouzanar and Anne Dominique Toussaint”, a Making Of featurette, profile of the soundtrack, and commentary from the director. The 1080p AVC encoded transfer and DTS MA soundtrack are both up to Sony’s typical high standards.
HEADHUNTERS Blu-Ray (100 mins., 2011, R; Magnolia): Norwegian thriller stars Askel Hennie as a headhunter who steals prized artwork in his spare time. After his wife hooks him up with a former mercenary who has a valuable painting of his own in his possession, Hennie risks everything to get it in an interesting import that Magnolia brings to Blu-Ray this month in a fine HD presentation, offering a 5.1 DTS MA Norwegian soundtrack (as well as an English dubbed track), a behind-the-scenes featurette, 1080p transfer and the trailer.
APARTMENT 143 Blu-Ray (80 mins., 2011, R; Magnolia): Spanish-produced thriller (in English) is yet another “real-time” ersatz documentary that attempts to find the cause for a number of supernatural occurrences. Magnolia’s Blu-Ray includes a Making Of and numerous other featurettes, an HDNet look behind the scenes, the trailer, a 1080p transfer and 5.1 DTS MA English soundtrack.
HIGH SCHOOL Blu-Ray (***, 100 mins., 2011, R; Anchor Bay): Surprisingly good, occasionally hilarious high school stoner comedy develops a likeable set of protagonists favoring character-driven humor as opposed to the usual juvenile drug jokes we typically get in films like this. Matt Bush (seen recently in “Piranha 3DD” and TBS’ defunct “Glory Days”) stars as a valedictorian who takes his first puff of pot, only to find out that he has to take a drug test as a graduation requirement. In order to stave off the inevitable consequences, Bush recruits his stoner pal (Sean Marquette) to “fix” things in an effort to preserve his future.
John Stalberg, Jr. directed and co-wrote this amiable sleeper with Adrien Brody netting top billing as the resident psycho drug dealer and Michael Chiklis as the school principal. There are some big laughs sprinkled throughout, and the lack of completely raunchy shenanigans that never go completely over the top is welcome. Anchor Bay’s Blu-Ray of “High School” offers commentary with Stalberg and deleted scenes, plus a 1080p transfer and 5.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtrack.
BARBIE: THE PRINCESS AND THE POPSTAR DVD (76 mins., 2012; Universal): Barbie “stars” here as Tori, a princess in the kingdom of Meribella who swaps places with a pop star named Keira in this colorful animated, direct-to-video feature that puts a female, CGI spin on “The Prince and the Pauper.” Plenty of pop music and cute animation ought to appeal to young girls, with Universal’s DVD including outtakes, a music video, webisodes, a 16:9 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack.
CLEANSKIN Blu-Ray (107 mins., 2012, Not Rated; E One): Sean Bean stars as
a British secret service agent out to stop a former law student-turned extremist (Ashin Galeya) in the terrorist thriller “Cleanskin.” This UK import from director-writer-producer Hadi Jajaig comes to Blu-Ray this month from E One offering a Making Of featurette, 1080p transfer and 5.1 DTS MA audio.
New From Lionsgate
SAFE Blu-Ray/Digital Copy/Ultraviolet (***, 95 mins., 2012, R; Lionsgate): One of Jason Statham’s best solo outings finds the action star as a former NYC detective who ends up in pursuit of a young Chinese girl with an advanced mind for mathematics – and who has memorized a safe combination desperately coveted by both the Chinese mafia and Russian mob. Boaz Yakin’s chase picture delivers exactly what you’d anticipate from its no-frills premise, as Statham dodges a succession of underworld thugs in a crisply edited, superbly choreographed action picture with fine cinematography from Stefan Czapsky and a surprisingly good score by Mark Mothersbaugh, not known necessarily for his work in the genre.
Lionsgate brings “Safe” to Blu-Ray this week in the form of a combo pack also sporting a digital copy and Ultraviolet edition. The 1080p AVC encoded transfer is pitch perfect, as is the DTS MA 7.1 audio, while extras include commentary from Yakin and several featurettes.
Also New From Lionsgate...It’s not often you see the tag line “from the award-winning cinematographer of ‘Reservoir Dogs’ and ‘Pulp Fiction’!”, but that’s how Lionsgate has tried to sell the urban drama FOR THE LOVE OF MONEY (93 mins., 2011, R), a forgettable drama with an eclectic cast (James Caan, Paul Sorvino, Oded Fehr, Edward Furlong, Jeffrey Tambor and former kid star Jonathan Lipnicki!). Lionsgate’s DVD includes a featurette, 16:9 (2.40) transfer and 5.1 soundtrack...Eva Mendes stars as an immature single mom and Cierra Ramirez as her smarter-than-her-years teen daughter in GIRL IN PROGRESS (93 mins., 2012, PG-13), an indie comedy from writer Hiram Martinez and director Patricia Riggen, co-starring Matthew Modine and Patricia Arquette. Lionsgate’s DVD includes a behind-the-scenes featurette...The Power Rangers are back in POWER RANGERS SAMURAI: MONSTER BASH (65 mins., 2011), offering three Halloween-themed episodes: “Party Monsters,” plus “Life’s a Masquerade” and “Trick or Treat” from the original “Mighty Morpin Power Rangers.” 1.33 full-screen transfers and stereo soundtracks are included plus a Halloween safety video...The mid ‘70s box-office hit THE ADVENTURES OF THE WILDERNESS FAMILY (100 mins., 1975, G) has been remastered in HD, along with its sequels, and bows in high-def exclusively on demand on September 4th. The new print also makes its way to DVD in the form of Lionsgate’s disc of the 1975 original starring Robert F. Logan and Susan Damante Shaw, sporting a lovely 16:9 transfer with the original trailers on-hand for extras.
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