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While Alfred Hitchcock fans wait patiently for Universal’s Blu-Ray box-set of Hitch’s classics to be released at the end of the month, Warner Home Video has a pair of marvelous HD releases due out this week, including the first-ever 3-D domestic edition of DIAL M FOR MURDER (***, 105 mins., PG; Warner).

Hitchcock’s 1954 adaptation of Frederick Knott’s stage play, scripted for the screen by the author, is one of the director’s drawing room thrillers – a triangle involving a cunning, unhappy husband/tennis player (Ray Milland) plotting to murder his wealthy wife (Grace Kelly), who’s having an affair with a writer played by Robert Cummings. Milland’s “perfect murder” plan, however, goes wrong, leading to a police investigation (headed by detective John Williams) that sen
ds the husband improvising in a taut, if leisurely paced, Hitch thriller that stays true to its stage origins, and is backed by solid performances from the cast (especially Milland). 

Instead of opening the play up for the big screen, Hitchcock opted to shoot “Dial M For Murder” in 3-D – thereby giving the otherwise plain visuals a sense of depth, and, occasionally, some effective pop-out effects. Of course, the movie has seldom been screened in its native 3-D format since its original theatrical run, with every domestic home video release offering a 2-D version of the picture instead.While the movie has always been watchable without its three-dimensional component, 3-D adds immeasurably to the viewing experience: one can now appreciate Hitch’s compositional style much more since it was always meant to be seen in 3-D.

Warner’s Blu-Ray release of “Dial M For Murder” offers both a 2-D version of the film and, for those equipped with the proper set-up, its much-anticipated 3-D release. Although there’s occasional ghosting in the image, the 3-D is effectively presented in Warner’s remastered 1080p AVC encoded transfer. The DTS MA 1.0 audio, sporting Dimitri Tiomkin’s underscore, actually packs a decent punch when spread out to two channels, and two extras (the featurette “Hitchcock and Dial M” and the trailer) round out the release, which comes with a lenticular 3-D slipcover.

“Dial M For Murder” is certainly looked upon as a solid Hitchcock offering, but it’s not on the same level as STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (****, 101/103 mins.,1951, PG; Warner), which also makes a welcome appearance on Blu-Ray this week.

One of the director’s strongest American films, this crackling 1951 thriller finds conniving playboy Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker) introducing himself to tennis pro Guy Haines (Farley Granger) on a train – setting in motion a chain of events that finds Bruno offering to knock off Guy’s cheating wife (Laura Elliott), pregnant with another man’s child, with the hitch that Guy reciprocate by bumping off Bruno’s domineering father. Featuring a number of memorable set-pieces (Bruno’s stalking of Guy’s wife at a carnival being one of them) and backed by a searing Raymond Chandler-Czenzi Ormonde screenplay, “Strangers on a Train” is Hitchcock at the peak of his talents, with a striking performance from Walker – who tragically died the same year as the film’s release at age 31 – heightening the tension throughout.

Warner’s Blu-Ray edition of “Strangers on a Train” includes a sensational, DNR-free 1080p AVC encoded transfer preserving the contrasts and crispness of the picture’s B&W cinematography. Mono sound (1.0 DTS MA on the final version) is provided on both the film as well as its slightly longer preview cut (103 mins.), which is offered here as an extra in 480i. Extras, carried over from the prior DVD Special Edition, include a commentary track comprised of Peter Bogdanovich, Joseph Stefano and others; a 36-minute retrospective documentary; a 12-minute Hitchcock appreciation by M. Night Shyamalan; several shorter featurettes; and the trailer. Highly recommended!

Also New on Blu-Ray

MOONRISE KINGDOM Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital Copy (***½, 94 mins., 2012, PG-13; Universal): Wes Anderson's films are an acquired taste and it's been a while since one of his films connected beyond his core group of fans. “Moonrise Kingdom,” however, is easily one of his sweetest and more accessible pictures: a visually captivating tale of two young teens (Kara Hayward and Jared Gillman, both making impressive feature debuts here) from a fictional coastal New England community in the '60s who run away from their environmental confines (the girl from a pair of bickering parents played by Frances McDormand and Bill Murray; the boy from a foster home that's already said they won't be taking him back). As the two depart on their adventure, the townspeople – including her parents, a police chief played by Bruce Willis and the boy's camp scout master (Ed Norton) – go off in search of them.

As always, Anderson brings his idiosyncratic flourishes to "Moonrise Kingdom," which was almost entirely shot here in Rhode Island in a movie with some evocative cinematography, offbeat touches (plenty of Benjamin Britten, on-camera narration by Bob Balaban, even some old school miniature effects from Fantasy II), terrific performances from the young cast, and a magical tone that's hard to dislike. While not all of it works – the story of the adults isn't nearly as interesting as the kids, there's no payoff to McDormand and Murray's thinly drawn characters, and portions of Alexandre Desplat's score are irritatingly repetitive – it's often enchanting, and thankfully not as impenetrable as some of Anderson's other works.

Universal brings “Moonrise Kingdom” to Blu-Ray on October 16th in a combo pack also including a DVD, digital copy and Ultraviolet streaming copy. The 1080p AVC encoded transfer is decent though doesn’t include as much detail as one might expect (a limitation of the original cinematography perhaps?), while the DTS MA sound is engagingly delivered. Scant extras (barely running 10 minutes in duration) include a “Set Tour with Bill Murray,” a promotional featurette, and “Welcome to the Island of New Penzance,” leading one to believe a Criterion release will happen at some point in the future. Until then, the film at least comes highly recommended.

ROCK OF AGES Blu-Ray/DVD/Ultraviolet (**½, 123/136 mins., PG-13/R; New Line/Warner): Plenty of new musicals these days seem to be comprised of classic pop hits shoehorned into a paper-thin story that’s often just an excuse to perform them. “Rock of Ages” certainly isn’t the first, nor is it going to be the last, in its genre, and I suppose for audiences who enjoyed the stage musical, they will also appreciate Adam Shankman’s film version, even if it struck out at the box-office this summer.

The movie’s lightweight story revolves around a small-town girl (Julianne Hough) who meets an L.A. bus boy (Diega Boneta) while working at the Bourbon Room – a Sunset Strip nightclub run by Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand – during the heyday of the big-hair, loud-rock 1980s. Their love story is played out through an assortment of hit tunes worked into a mostly comical (and over the top) story line, including “Any Way You Want It,” “Don’t Stop Believin’,” “More Than Words,” “We Built This City,” and other power ballads. Shankman’s film is colorfully bombastic and benefits from good-natured, and occasionally funny, performances from Baldwin, Brand, and Paul Giamatti; Tom Cruise, meanwhile, struts his stuff as aging rocker Stacee Jaxx. “Rock of Ages” doesn’t amount to much of anything dramatically, and the film could’ve been tightened up, but fans of the show and its music will likely enjoy it nevertheless.

Warner’s Blu-Ray combo pack includes the PG-13-rated, 123 min. theatrical version as well as a raunchier, R-rated 136 min. extended version with more explicit sexual content. The 1080p transfers and DTS MA soundtracks are top-notch, and extras include several featurettes (“Legends of the Sunset Strip,” “The Stories We Sing,” “Defining a Decade,” plus a music featurette), a DVD and Ultraviolet copy.

CINDERELLA Diamond Edition Blu-Ray/DVD (***½, 75 mins., 1951, G; Disney): Disney's outstanding, restored edition of their 1951 animated classic offers a spotless new AVC encoded 1080p transfer (1.33 full-frame) and both a 7.1 DTS MA soundtrack as well as its original theatrical mix. One of the most enduring animated features in the Disney stable, “Cinderella” boasts enchanting songs (“A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes,” “So This Is Love,” “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo”) and delightful character animation – while not as sumptuously framed as the Cinemascope version of “Sleeping Beauty,” this is a warmer and more accessible fairy tale that’s delighted generations of viewers, and Disney’s Diamond Edition Combo Pack (also including a DVD version of the film) ranks as another must for Blu-Ray animation fans and Disney lovers.

Extra features include a brand-new “Tangled Ever After” combo short (in HD) plus a never-before-seen alternate opening sequence to the film, presented in storyboard form. A “personalized” Disney Digital Storybook, requiring Disney’s “Second Screen” app for the iphone/ipad/pc/mac, is included as an interactive extra for kids. Two deleted scenes, a look at the new “Princess Fantasyland” at Disney World, and a profile of Disney artist Ken O’Connor’s wife Mary complete the disc.

Fans will note that some vintage extras haven’t been ported over here from the previous DVD edition (including an appearance on the Perry Como Show by members of the cast), and some may lament the cross-branding going on here instead (ads for Disney World and the Second Screen app) – but the movie itself is so masterful – and the restoration as sparkling as Cinderella’s dress – that it’s hard to rain on the parade.

12 DOGS OF CHRISTMAS: GREAT PUPPY RESCUE DVD (102 mins., 2012, PG; Sony): Writer-director Kieth Merrill’s sequel to his 2005 family-favorite “12 Dogs of Christmas” stars Danielle Chuchran as Emma O’Conner, who manages to get her friends involved in an effort to save their town’s old puppy orphanage from an obnoxious tycoon (Sean Patrick Flanery). D.B. Sweeney and Radio Disney star Alli Simpson co-star in another cute, feel-good film with adorable puppies and a festive musical finale – all of perfectly suited for young viewers. Sony’s DVD, out October 9th, includes a Cody Simpson performance of “Jingle Bells”; “What’s Your Favorite Dog,” “Behind 12 Dogs of Christmas,” “Working With Kieth Merill,” “The Basketball Game Sequence” and “The Christmas Finale” featurettes, all of which take viewers behind the scenes. The 16:9 transfer and 5.1 soundtrack are both just fine.

WEREWOLF: THE BEAST AMONG US Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital Copy (93/94 mins., 2012, R/Unrated; Universal): Made-for-video Universal production has nothing to do with “The Wolf Man” as it spins a watchable, though not particularly exciting, chronicle of a small European village attacked by a werewolf. A group of hunters join one of the young villagers (Guy Wilson) in order to find out the culprit in a fairly routine genre exercise that does include a somewhat refreshing ending, veteran support turned in by Stephen Rea and Steven Bauer, and a cute heroine in Rachel DiPillo’s sympathetic villager. Universal’s Blu-Ray edition of “Werewolf” includes a 1080p transfer, DTS MA soundtrack, and extras including a commentary by director Louis Morneau and producer Mike Elliott, along with deleted scenes, featurettes, a DVD, digital copy and Ultraviolet streaming copy as well.

THE BARRENS Blu-Ray/DVD (97 mins., 2012, R; Anchor Bay): “Saw” sequel helmer Darren Lynn Bousman’s latest chiller sends couple Stephen Moyer and Mia Kirshner along with their kids on a camping trip in south Jersey. Nothing ever good comes from that in a horror movie, naturally, and “The Barrens” finds Moyer’s hubby questioning his sanity, and whether or not what he’s seeing is the result of his own paranoia or the work of the “Jersey Devil” itself. Thankfully, Bousman provides an answer in “The Barrens,” a decent supernatural chiller that, if nothing else, is a huge step-up from the director’s last project – the feeble in-name-only reworking of the Troma favorite “Mother’s Day.” Anchor Bay’s Blu-Ray includes a DVD copy plus commentary with Bousman, one deleted scene, a 1080p transfer and Dolby TrueHD audio.

The other new Anchor Bay genre offering of note this week is undoubtedly EXCISION (81 mins., 2012, Unrated), a supremely strange – and disturbing – account of a high school loner (AnnaLynne McCord, quite good here) who wants to care for her sick younger sister (Ariel Winter from “Modern Family”) and ends up trying to gain the approval of her mother (Traci Lords!) by performing brutally graphic surgeries. Richard Bates, Jr. clearly pushes the envelope – and crosses the line of good taste early and often – in “Excision,” which sports an eclectic supporting cast (Roger Bart, John Waters, Ray Wise and Marlee Matlin among them) and is certainly not recommended for the squeamish. Anchor Bay’s Blu-Ray includes a commentary from Bates and McCord, a 1080p transfer and Dolby TrueHD soundtrack.

TV on Video

HART OF DIXIE: Season 1 DVD (928 mins., 2011-12; Warner). WHAT IT IS: “The O.C.”’s Rachel Bilson stars in this CW drama as Dr. Zoe Hart, an aspiring New York City heart surgeon who ends up in BlueBell, Alabama after being passed over for a fellowship. Usual “fish out of water” cliches mesh with a likeable ensemble cast in this variation on (among other things) the old Michael J. Fox film “Doc Hollywood,” except with Bilson as the hotshot New Yorker who learns life and love from the good-natured, small-town Southerners she encounters. DVD SPECS: Warner’s DVD set includes the complete first season of “Hart of Dixie” in 16:9 transfers and 5.1 soundtracks. Extras include “Straight from the Hart of Dixie,” a fluffy featurette profiling the series, plus a gag reel and deleted scenes. AISLE SEAT BOTTOM LINE: Renewed for a second season, “Hart of Dixie” is intended for a younger audience who won’t recognize the show’s inherent stereotypical elements. Bilson seems initially like a cold fish here, but from what I sampled, she grows into the role and the series seemed to be embraced by the CW’s core audience by the time its first season concluded.

FAMILY GUY: Season 10 DVD (438 mins., 2010-11; Fox): Nowhere near as consistently funny as it once was, Seth MacFarlane’s long-running animated series’ latest DVD set reflects the diminished laugh quotient “Family Guy” has seen of late. Fox’s three-disc set includes the episodes Halloween on Spooner Street, Baby You Knock Me Out, Brian Writes a Bestseller, Road to the North Pole, New Kidney in Town, And I’m Joyce Kinney, Friends of Peter G, German Guy, The Hand That Rocks the Wheelchair, Trading Places, Tiegs For Two, Brothers & Sisters, The Big Bang Theory and Foreign Affairs. Extras include commentary on several episodes; deleted scenes; a look at the music of “Road to the North Pole” (easily the show’s strongest element); and additional featurettes, plus 16:9 transfers and 5.1 soundtracks.

ADVENTURE TIME: JAKE VS. ME-MOW DVD (176 mins., 2012; Cartoon Network/Warner): More episodes from the popular Cartoon Network series include Jake Vs. Me-Mow: The Jiggler; What Is Life?; His Hero; Susan Strong; Belly of the Beast; Videomakers; Mortal Folly; Mortal Recoil; Too Young; Five Short Graybles; Thank You; Ocean of Fear; Goliad; Dad’s Dungeon; and Another Way. Also included in the DVD is a special “Finn Hat” for Adventure Time enthusiasts.

MAGIC CITY: Season 1 Blu-Ray (419 mins., 2012; Starz/Anchor Bay). WHAT IT IS: Attractively produced period piece, set in Miami Beach circa 1959, stars Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Ike Evans, owner of the new Miramar Hotel, who deals with Castro seizing control of Havana, a nefarious partner (Danny Huston), the mob, unions, the CIA and celebrities like the Kennedys and Frank Sinatra all surrounding his resort. It’s a heady mix of “Mad Men”-era social mores and gangster drama, but creator Mitch Glazer’s series is a bit uneven and struggles to find its dramatic center during its first season. Still, Morgan and Olga Kurylenko are both terrific, and the show’s production values strong enough to overcome some of its deficiencies. BLU-RAY BREAKDOWN: Anchor Bay’s HD package of “Magic City”’s first season includes great looking 1080p transfers and Dolby TrueHD soundtracks. Extras include a number of behind-the-scenes featurettes, including a look at Miami Beach and the show’s music soundtrack. AISLE SEAT BOTTOM LINE: Viewers interested in the subject matter should find sufficient entertainment in the first season of “Magic City,” though the program itself isn’t as satisfying as it looks.    

90210 Season 4 DVD (aprx. 17 hours, 2011-12; CBS). WHAT IT IS: Season four of “90210" may not match up with the comparable season of its predecessor, “Beverly Hills 90210" – by which point the old show had become a pop-culture phenomenon – but the CW series is still holding its own among younger viewers at least. CBS’ DVD box-set of 90210 V2's fourth season finds the gang leaving high school and trying to step out into the real world; all 24 episodes are included here in 16:9 transfers and 5.1 soundtracks with ample extras. Included among the supplements are select cast/crew interviews; several Set Tours; a hair/make-up featurette; a look at the show’s soundtrack; gag reel; deleted scenes; and music video.

BONANZA: Season 4 DVD (1962-63; CBS). WHAT IT IS: The fourth-season adventures of the Cartwright family – including patriarch Ben (Lorne Greene) and his three songs (Pernell Roberts, Dan Blocker and “Little Joe” Michael Landon”) – have been rustled up by CBS for this two-volume DVD anthology of “Bonanza”’s 1962-63 campaign. Episodes include The First Born; The Quest; The Artist; A Hot Day For a Hanging; The Deserter; The Way Station; The War Comes to Washoe; Knight Errant; The Beginning; The Deadly Ones; Gallagher’s Sons; The Decision; The Good Samaritan; The Jury; The Colonel; Song in the Dark; Elegy for a Hangman; Half a Rogue; The Last Haircut; Marie My Love; The Hayburner; The Actress; A Stranger Pased This Way; The Way of Aaron; A Woman Lost; Any Friend of Walter’s; Mirror of a Man; My Brother’s Keeper; Five Into the Wind; The Saga of Whizzer McGee; The Thudner Man; Rich Man, Poor Man, The Boss; and Little Man 10 Feet Tall. Original music tracks and terrific full-screen transfers are included in the double-volume pack (the two volumes are also available separately).

Also New & Noteworthy

New From E One/Cohen Media Group: Luc Besson’s most recent directorial outing, THE LADY (128 mins., 2011, R) stars Michelle Yeoh as Aung San Suu Kyi, daughter of a slain Burmese leader who lobbied for the country’s independence, and who finds herself leading the charge against a hostile regime in this well-made 2011 picture co-starring David Thewlis as her husband, Michael Aris. Besson’s usual collaborative team (composer Luc Besson, photographer Thierry Arbogast) adds to one of the most straightforward, and emotional, films from Besson, which Cohen brings to Blu-Ray with a Making Of, trailer, DTS MA soundtrack (in English and Burmese) and 1080p transfer.

WE ARE THE HARTMANS DVD (81 mins., 2012; Virgil): A small-town music club is about to close down when a colorful cast of folks rebels against its fallen owner’s (Richard Chamberlain) family, who wants to sell it, in Laura Newman’s indie comedy. Virgil Films’ DVD boasts a music video; one of Newman’s short movies, “Eviction From Zuccotti,” and a behind the scenes promo, plus a 16:9 transfer and stereo soundtrack.

DAVID BLAINE: DECADE OF MAGIC DVD (Virgil): Two-disc DVD collector’s set includes three of the magician’s most death-defying stunts (his submersion in 10,000 gallons of water in front of Lincoln Center being one of them) plus copious special features.

PORTLANDIA Season 2 Blu-Ray (220 mins., 2012; Video Services Corp): Fred Armisen and Carrie Bronstein are back in the second season of the offbeat IFC comedy series produced by Saturday Night Live mastermind Lorne Michaels. This time out, Armisen and Brownstein encounter more eclectic residents of Portland, Oregon including a “Battlestar Galactica”-obsessed couple and a woman who kidnaps her favorite band. The complee second season of “Portlandia” is included here in HD transfers and stereo soundtracks with extras including two specials, a deleted scene, director’s cut of “Brunch Village,” four commentary tracks and an extract from the book “Portlandia: A Guide For Visitors.”

THE SAMARITAN Blu-Ray (93 mins., 2012, R; IFC): Samuel L. Jackson stars as an ex-con who swears off his previous indiscretions until the son of one of his former partners (Luke Kirby) wants him to help pull off a new score. David Weaver’s film offers a fine performance from Jackson with Ruth Negga and Tim Wilkinson supporting a fairly predictable but moderately involving character piece. IFC’s Blu-Ray includes a 1080p transfer, DTS MA soundtrack and the trailer. Also new from IFC is Bruce Beresford’s PEACE, LOVE AND MISUNDERSTANDING (92 mins., 2011, R), which finds Manhattan lawyer Catherine Keener heading to upstate NY after her husband decides that he wants to divorce. In Woodstock, she reconnects with her hippie mother (Jane Fonda) while her kids get a fresh start in a nicely-acted little film with the sort of intimate character development one anticipates from a Beresford project. IFC’s Blu-Ray includes a 1080p transfer, DTS MA soundtrack, a behind-the-scenes featurette and the trailer.

IRON SKY Blu-Ray (**, 93 mins., 2012, R; E One): Low-budget German sci-fi comedy posits that Nazis fled to the moon after their defeat in WWII, hiding out and plotting their subsequent invasion until an African-American astronaut (Christopher Kirby) stumbles onto their scheme. Produced by several Germans who found some success online with various sci-fi parodies, “Iron Sky” is like a low-rent (and I mean low-rent) “Sky Captain,” offering lots of plastic digital backdrops as it spins a colorful, but not very funny, yarn filled with heavy stereotypes (the American president is a Sarah Palin-lookalike and nearly every performance includes an odd accent). E One’s Blu-Ray of “Iron Sky” includes a 1080p transfer, DTS MA soundtrack and extras including a Making Of featurette, behind the scenes footage, trailers, and commentary.

THE COTTAGE DVD (88 mins., 2012, Not Rated; E One): David Arquette goes batty in this direct-to-video thriller as a novelist who stirs up trouble for couple Kristen Dalton (who also produced) and Victor Browne after he rents a cottage behind their house in Chris James’ thriller. E One’s DVD boasts a 16:9 transfer and 5.1 soundtrack.

HYPOTHERMIA DVD (73 mins., 2011, Not Rated; Dark Sky/MPI): Michael Rooker stars in this short horror flick from writer-director James Felix McKenney about an ice fishing family weekend gone seriously awry. MPI’s DVD boasts three featurettes, the trailer, a 16:9 transfer (1.78) and 5.1 soundtrack.

THE AMBASSADOR Blu-Ray (93 mins., 2012; Drafthouse/Image): Controversial political filmmaker Mads Brugger transforms himself into a phony European-African consul in the Central African Republic in order to exposure corruption in this latest “expose” documentary from Brugger. Image’s Blu-Ray includes a commentary from Brugger, the trailer, a 15-page booklet, 1080p transfer and 2.0 stereo soundtrack.

FLYING SWORDS OF DRAGON DATE 3-D Blu-Ray/Blu-Ray and DVD (122 mins., 2011, R; Vivendi): Tsui Hark and Jet Li reunited for this period adventure that picks up the saga of the last “Dragon Inn” film (with Bridgitte Lin) three years after it was left in ruins, and spins a flavorful martial arts fantasy that’s a bit long but filled with colorful action sequences that should appeal to fans. Vivendi’s 3-D Blu-Ray/Blu-Ray combo pack looks terrific, offering solid depth-of-field effects, a Making Of, cast/crew interviews, a featurette, a DTS MA soundtrack and 1080p transfer (the films are contained on their own platters). The standard DVD also includes a Making Of featurette, cast/filmmaker interviews, a behind-the-scenes segment, a 16:9 transfer and 5.1 soundtrack in Mandarin with English subtitles.

New From Mill Creek

It’s great to see Mill Creek going back to one of their staples: the 50-movie DVD pack, with the highly appealing THE SWINGIN’ SEVENTIES offering 50 titles culled from the Crown International library on-hand. Transfers, as always, vary depending on the nature of the elements, but for around $20, you can’t do much better in terms of cult movie value.

On-hand here are: Against a Crooked Sky with Richard Boone; Border Cop with Telly Savalas; The Borrowers (1973 TV version) with Eddie Albert; the Joe Namath non-classic CC & Company; Cold Sweat with Charles Bronson; Concrete Cowboys with Tom Selleck; the 1971 TV film Congratulations, It’s a Boy with Bill Bixby; The Cop in Blue Jeans with Jack Palance; Crypt of the Living Dead; David Copperfield with Michael Redgrave; The Death of Richie with Robbie Benson; Faye Dunaway in Death Scream; Elizabeth Taylor in The Driver’ Seat; George Hamilton as Evel Knievel; Fair Play; Firehouse; The Four Deuces; Get Christie Love!; Good against Evil with Kim Cattrall (TV movie); The Gun and the Pulpit; The Hanged Man; How Awful About Allan with Anthony Perkins; Hustling; James Dean; the 1971 Jane Eyre with George C. Scott (scored by John Williams, but sadly present here in a cut-down 98 minute version); Robby Benson again in Jory; Katherine with Sissy Spacek; Lee Marvin in the hilarious The Klansman; Las Vegas Lady; The Last of the Belles; Sally Field in Maybe I’ll Come Home in the Spring; Mister Scarface; The New Adventures of Heidi; The Proud and Damned; A Real American Hero; The River Niger; Rogue Male; Stunts; The Squeeze; The Swiss Conspiracy; They Call It Murder; To All My Friends On Shore with Bill Cosby; Treasure of the Jamaica Reef with Stephen Boyd; Wacky Taxi; Wanted: Babysitter; The War of the Robots; Warhead; The Werewolf of Washington; and The Young Graduates.

On Blu-Ray: GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS: CROWN JEWEL OF THE APPALACHIANS (76 mins., 2012) offers a casual look at the gorgeous national park with 1080i HD footage and fine music from David Arkenstone. This is one of the better Mill Creek travelogue videos I’ve seen with a nice HD transfer and 2.0 Dolby Digital soundtrack...YELLOWSTONE: THE WORLD’S FIRST NATIONAL PARK (68 mins., 2012) is from the same creative team, with Alphonse Keasley providing narration and David Arkenstone composing a nice underscore as it gives an overview of the park’s amazing geysers and hot springs.

Finally, Mill Creek has released new DVD editions of THAT ‘70S SHOW: SEASON 5 (aprx. 10 hours) and THAT ‘70S SHOW: SEASON 6 (aprx. 10 hours), each containing brand-new 16:9 widescreen transfers, 30-second promos for each show; highlights from each season; and commentaries (on Season 6 only), interviews with Debra Jo Rupp and Kurtwood Smith (on Season 6), and Wilmer Valderrama and Danny Masterson (on Season 5). Mill Creek has also dusted off seasons 5 and 6 of ROSEANNE on DVD (aprx. 10 hours each), both of which were previously available in now-out-of-print Anchor Bay releases. Full-screen transfers are on-hand in both sets plus commentary and “Roseanne Answers the Fans” extras in the Season 6 DVD.

Aisle Seat Bookshelf

A number of new, terrific film and film-music related tomes have been recently released. Here’s a look:

MUSIQUE FANTASTIQUE by Randall D. Larson, introduction by Christopher Young (Creature Features): Randall Larson’s indispensable 1985 examination of sci-fi/fantasy/horror music has been published in a brand-new edition from Creature Features.

Book one, now available in a limited-edition, trade-paperback run of 500 copies (as well as in ebook form), takes readers through the origins of genre music in silent films, ‘30s and ‘40s fantasies, to Franz Waxman’s benchmark score in “The Bride of Frankenstein” and Max Steiner’s “King Kong.” Scores for Japanese classics like “Godzilla,” the work of composers  Bernard Herrmann and Jerry Goldsmith in “The Twilight Zone,” soundtracks composed for some of the ‘50s monster mashes, and full chapters on Dimitri Tiomkin, Roy Webb and Miklos Rozsa are all examined here with Larson’s expert commentary provided throughout.

Creature Features plans to release the remaining three volumes of “Musique Fantastique” shortly. Until then, fans can find out more information on Randall's work at the official book website,, which includes excerpts from the forthcoming three volumes, and should snap up the attractively designed, limited paperback version while they can at

STEVEN SPIELBERG: A RETROSPECTIVE by Richard Schickel (Sterling): Glossy hardcover includes a terrific set of photographs spanning all of Steven Spielberg’s career (up to this year’s “Lincoln”) with accompanying text provided by critic and Spielberg friend Richard Schickel. This isn’t an in-depth commentary of the director’s works, with Schickel laying the hammer down on “Hook” and “1941" but otherwise praising most all of Spielberg’s other pictures, including “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” and “The Lost World: Jurassic Park.” As such, “A Retrospective” needs to be appreciated for what it is – a large, nicely designed coffee table tome that leads readers through a casual retrospective of Spielberg’s career – and not a comprehensive, in-depth examination of his cinematic works.

JAWS: MEMORIES FROM MARTHA’S VINEYARD 2nd (Expanded) Edition (Titan Books): The making of Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws” has been chronicled in numerous places: in no less than at least two terrific books (Carl Gottlieb’s “The Jaws Log” and Edith Blake’s “On Location...On Martha’s Vineyard: The Making of the Movie ‘Jaws,’” both of which are still in print) and numerous documentaries (from the laserdisc/DVD documentary to specials that have aired on E!, Bravo and most recently the Bio channel). The original “summer blockbuster” has now been given a gorgeous, colorful treatment in Matt Taylor and Jim Beller’s tome “Jaws: Memories From Martha’s Vineyard,” and in some ways this may be the finest chronicle yet of a turbulent production that gave birth to an all-time screen classic.

Instead of taking the point of view of the filmmakers themselves (which has already been done in Gottlieb’s definitive study), Moonrise Media’s coffee-table paperback chronicles “Jaws” from the perspective of Martha’s Vineyard itself – from its locations to its residents, business owners, politicians and everyone else in between. Starting with the arrival of production designer Joe Alves while location scouting in December of 1973, “Jaws” is portrayed almost like a Nor’easter that descended upon MV, impacting the town economically, socially and practically just in terms of simple day-to-day living. Neighbors, friends and colleagues all found themselves a part of the filmmaking process, and their memories add a fresh new perspective to the oft-told telling of the movie’s production.

The book accomplishes this by including hundreds of photographs, most never-before-seen by the public, and many from islanders like Edith Blake who had the good sense to document the shooting with their own cameras, at a time very different than today when cell phones are so readily available. Candid shots of the crew, of the shark, of the sets, cast members and locals dominate each and every page, accentuated by text culled from interviews with a few crew members (Alves and Carl Gottlieb in particular) but mostly Vineyard locals who found themselves being employed far beyond their initial tasks. In particular, Lynn and Susan Murphy found themselves not just driving boat launches but also working with Alves and effects-master Bob Mattey in making Bruce the mechanical shark function as the long summer of ‘74 dragged on – their recollections are fascinating and humorous as they portray just how much “Jaws” was shot flying by the seat of the filmmakers’ pants.

In fact, it’s the one aspect that Taylor’s beautifully designed book most reinforces: that “Jaws” itself was a collaborative success, one that saw actors from Roy Scheider down to even extras improvising their lines, giving the film a real, human center that we seldom see these days at the movies. The daily schedule couldn’t be mapped out all that far in advance since Gottlieb spent most nights rewriting the script with Spielberg – combined with our unpredictable and ever-changing weather here in southern New England, “Jaws” relied on the people making it so much that it’s because of their efforts (as well as Spielberg who marshaled them all together) that the movie overcame its physical production struggles.

Many of the stories are priceless – Lee Fierro’s casting of Mrs. Kintner and her objection to some profanity Gottlieb and Spielberg ultimately excised; the attempts by journalists to break into “Shark City” to photograph Bruce; constant pressure from local politicians and a studio that didn’t think shooting on the Vineyard would be as difficult as it turned out to be; and dozens of local newspaper articles, most reprinted in their entirety here, all of which transport the reader back to when filmmaking, and life itself for that matter, were far different than they are today.

What adds to the book’s brilliance is its lay-out and design. This isn’t just a collection of glossy photographs and random recollections – Taylor went to great lengths in laying it all out in chronological order, making this a must for any “Jaws” fan (and not just Vineyard locals). The book documents, painstakingly, where “Jaws” was at during the spring and summer of 1974 – divulging what scenes where shot when, where, and how. You’ll find out about sequences that had been shot and never discussed since (including the kids who “karate the picket fences” of an Amity bike shop owner), as well as those planned but abandoned for one reason or another (Alves went to great lengths to construct Quint’s boating wharf, even though it’s hardly seen in the finished film at all).

It’s a treasure trove of riches for those of us who love the movie “Jaws,” and the many stories told by the people who were there make for a brilliant package – gorgeous to look at, informative and enlightening to read, and surely a pleasure to revisit in the years to come.

After Moonrise Media published their initial edition of the book last year (in editions that promptly sold out), Titan Books has issued their own paperback edition – and included some 16 additional pages of photographs and production memories along with it. The layout and execution of the book, as well as its cover, is otherwise identical – so if you missed the first release, make sure you track down this one!

Also New on Video

THE WORLD SERIES: HISTORY OF THE CALL CLASSIC 4-Disc Special Editiopn (aprx. 7 hours; A&E/NewVideo): Baseball fans can get stoked for the World Series with this terrific new box-set from A&E Home Video. “The World Series: History of the Fall Classic” profiles the World Series’ landmark moments with highlights from the Fall Classic, offering everything from game clinching moments, unforgettable plays, and game analysis to loads of vintage extras. The latter include historic game programs and scorecards; ceremonial first pitches; MVP award winners and clubhouse celebrations. Narrated by Bob Costas, this four-disc DVD retrospective comes with the highest recommendation for baseball buffs. Also new from A&E and MLB this month:

NEW YORK METS: 50 GREATEST PLAYERS (67 mins., 2012; A&E/Newvideo) profiles the 50 best players to wear the Metropolitans’ uniforms thanks to a panel comprised of Gary Cohen, John Harper, Steve Hirdt, Ralph Kiner, and Howie Rose. Player interviews and plenty of bonus features are on tap in A&E’s DVD...FENWAY PARK: 100 YEARS AS THE HEART OF RED SOX NATION (94 mins., 2012) is a 94-minute profile of the hallowed confines of the Boston Red Sox, boasting all kinds of historical footage. Also includes the pre-game ceremony from this year’s 100th Anniversary celebration.    

THE ESSENTIAL GAMES OF THE MILWAUKEE BREWERS is a four-disc DVD set featuring the Brew crew’s 1982 pennant clinching victory; a game from the 1982 Fall Classic featuring Robin Yount’s heroic play; the team’s first victory in Miller Park; and the 2011 divisional series clinching game. A must for Brewers fans.

NewVideo has also rolled out two Lifetime films on DVD: WHAT COLOR IS LOVE (2008), based on a true story, follows the court battle between a white woman (Jennifer Finnigan) and the father (Roger Cross) of her son for his custody. THE FANTASIA BARRINO STORY: LIFE IS NOT A FAIRY TALE  (105 mins.), meanwhile, stars the American Idol winner as herself in a chronicle of her life directed by Debbie Allen and with an excellent  supporting cast (Viola Davis, Loretta Devine and Kadeem Hardison among them).

30 BEATS DVD (88 mins., 2010, R; Lionsgate) stars Paz de la Huerta, Justin Kirk, Lee Pace, Thomas Sadoski and Jennifer Tilly in a steamy chronicle of ten New Yorkers and their various sexual exploits over the course of a three-day summer heat wave. Lionsgate’s DVD includes a 16:9 transfer, 5.1 soundtrack and the trailer.

CARE BEARS: THE ORIGINAL SERIES COLLECTION DVD (aprx. 923 mins.; Lionsgate): All 64 episodes from the original “Care Bears” series are collected in this Lionsgate box-set which also includes the full-length “Nutcracker” movie. Full-screen transfers and 2.0 audio comprise the six-DVD package.

MANCATION DVD (100 mins., Unrated, 2012; Lionsgate): Joey Fatone and his buddies head to Atlantic City in this low-budget indie comedy co-starring Matt Kawczynski, character actor Mike Starr and “Wonder Years”’ Danica McKellar. Plenty of extras, from outtakes and deleted scenes to featurettes, are included along with a 16:9 transfer and 5.1 soundtrack.

NEXT TIME: More new releases! 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!

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The fourth-season adventures of the Cartwright family – including patriarch Ben (Lorne Green) and his three songs (...) :

I only know one song : "We chased lady luck, 'til we finally struck Bonanza. With a gun and a rope and a hat full of hope, planted a family tree..." Besides, Lorne wasn't so green.

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