by ANDY DURSIN
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Twilight Time’s October releases have already generated a huge amount of buzz, mainly because one of their 3000-copy limited releases – the Blu-Ray of the 1990 version of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD – sold out during its pre-order window.This makes it the fastest Twilight Time sell-out to date, which speaks to how strongly horror fans gravitate towards the zombie genre in general these days.
I say that because this remake of George Romero’s 1968 genre classic isn’t particularly good, hitting the same notes as the original film but nowhere near as effectively. Taking over for Romero (who still scripted and produced), make-up guru Tom Savini’s 1990 “Night” (**, 88 mins., R) once again finds a group of disparate types holed up in a farmhouse fighting off a zombie invasion. With the passage of time having muted the impact of a female lead and a corresponding African-American hero, Patricia Tallman and Tony Todd can only do so much with thinly developed roles in a plastic looking production that’s heavy on gore but light on excitement. Much of the film – a production of Menahem Golan’s short-lived 21st Century Film Corporation, which Golan formed after the demise of the Cannon Group – feels like a by-the-numbers replay of its predecessor with flat cinematography and a leaden, faux-Carpenter/Howarth music score by Paul McCollough. And the ending, which strains to bring social commentary in at the last minute, feels equally wrong-headed.
Nevertheless – and in spite of a poor box-office showing (the movie bombed, barely grossing $5 million) – the mix of Romero, Savini and some gory make-up effects continue to appeal to genre buffs, as evidenced by the fast sell-out of Twilight Time’s Blu-Ray edition. The release hasn’t been without controversy, however, as posters of a particular message board got all riled up, generating over 5,000 posts offering screenshots of the movie’s DVD edition (which offers a much brighter image) and even attacking the credentials of Twilight Time’s Nick Redman and Brian Jamieson – only to find out the transfer had been signed off by the cinematographer and that director Savini thought it looked great. While I sympathize with viewers who just want to see the film presented as it was theatrically (memories of John Badham’s even more glaring stylistic alteration to his 1979 “Dracula” abound), the new transfer is nowhere near as problematic (or blue-hued) as some online screenshots attest. The 1080p AVC encoded transfer is marked by strong detail and likely wouldn’t cause a viewer to raise an eyebrow unless they had a prior knowledge of the changes; the film darkens as soon as the zombie outbreak occurs, which makes dramatic sense and doesn’t seem inappropriate given the subject matter. More over, the DVD edition seems to be overly bright – especially for a zombie film! – leading one to suspect the picture may have always been intended to be darkened as it is here. Either way, the changes were apparently implemented by the D.P. so the transfer is not an erroneous one, even though Twilight Time has offered to take in refunds for dissatisfied customers. Ultimately, one’s familiarity with the film will likely dictate how much of a dealbreaker the altered appearance is; extra features, meanwhile, include Savini’s commentary, plus the trailer and an isolated score track.
Sci-fi fans have more of a cinematic treat in-store with Twilight Time’s other release this month – ENEMY MINE (***½, 108 mins., 1985, PG-13), Wolfgang Petersen's humanistic sci-fi fantasy that pits stranded pilot Dennis Quaid and alien rival Lou Gossett, Jr. on a desolate planet in the midst of a war-torn galaxy. Elements of "Hell in the Pacific" and numerous story elements from Byron Haskin's underrated "Robinson Crusoe on Mars" make their way into former Starlog writer Edward Khmara's script, which is elevated by Petersen's direction and two great lead performances into one of the most unsung genre films of the '80s.
I’ve always liked “Enemy Mine” from the time my parents took me to see it in theaters during Christmas time ‘85, and I'm glad to say the picture holds up well – and even better now that the film’s visuals can be appreciated in HD. Chris Walas’ tremendous make-up design for Gossett's extraterrestrial fighter is spectacularly executed, and Maurice Jarre's powerful score ranks as one of his finest – orchestral and glorious, especially in its concluding moments. Many genre observers have noted the obvious similarities between this and "Robinson Crusoe on Mars," and despite a somewhat weak set of “bad guys” and an inherently turbulent production (original director Richard Loncraine’s “realistic” approach, including his four weeks of Iceland shooting, was entirely jettisoned), it's a perfect, '80s counterpart to Haskin’s '60s cult favorite.
How much “Enemy Mine” benefits from the high-definition treatment can be seen throughout the picture – Petersen’s striking colors and Tony Imi’s cinematography gain immeasurably from the heightened clarity – but it’s in the movie’s beautiful final shot where the Blu-Ray’s enhancement is most noticeable. For the first time since the original theatrical release was I able to actually see Quaid’s character and “Zamis” appearing on the Drac home planet, the sun shining down on the Holy Council in a ending perfectly accompanied by Jarre’s eloquent score. The meaning of the shot was still obvious in the prior laserdisc and DVD releases – but its dramatic impact is restored here in high-definition, as the 1080p AVC encoded transfer approximates the original theatrical experience, enabling you to clearly make out specific details that standard-definition couldn’t replicate.
Similar to the old Fox DVD release, two audio options are included on the Blu-Ray: a 4.0 DTS MA track as well as a 2-channel DTS MA mix – and as was the case on DVD, the 2.0 mix has more bass and comes across more effectively. The isolated score track has been assembled from the original masters as well as the movie’s music-and-effects mix, a result of certain elements having been lost. An effective original trailer, with voice-over by Charles Aidman (whose pipes also make an appearance at the tail end of the movie, even though the rest of the film is narrated by Quaid!), is also included.
“Enemy Mine” is an unusual ‘80s genre film with top-drawer performances by Quaid and Gossett, interesting artistic design, a compelling human story and a great score by Jarre. Because its emotional component – and its moving message – outweigh the “hardware factor,” the movie remains a unique entry in a decade of terrific sci-fi fantasy films. Highly recommended!
Aisle Seat Pick of the Week
Warner Home Video’s second Blu-Ray retrospective of classic Looney Tunes cartoons, LOONEY TUNES PLATINUM COLLECTION VOLUME 2, arrives in stores this week and gives fans another array of remastered, 1080p cartoons with ample standard-def supplements and supporting shorts.
Once again employing the sage commentary of historians like Jerry Beck, Volume 2 offers the following:
-Disc one (all shorts in HD) includes a generous assortment of cartoons starring the WB power players, including Bugs Bunny in A Wild Hare, Buckaroo Bugs, Long-Haired Hare, Ali Baba Bunny and Showbiz Bugs; several Daffy Duck shorts including The Wise Quacking Duck, What Makes Daffy Duck?, Bob Clampett’s hugely entertaining early Book Revue, and Chuck Jones’ Deduce You Say; Porky Pig in Porky in Wackyland, You Ought to Be in Pictures, and Porky in Egypt; Sylvester and/or Tweety in Back Alley Uproar, Little Red Rodent Hood, Canned Feud, Gift Wrapped, Birdy and the Beast, and Home Tweet Home; Road Runner shorts including Going! Going Gosh! and Zipping Along; Pepe Le Pew in Scent-Imental Romeo; Foghorn Leghorn in a Henery Hawk short that introduced the character; the Daffy Duck-Foghorn Leghorn team-up, The High and the Flighty; and a pair of Speedy Gonzales shorts, Tabasco Road and Mexicali Shmoes. Extra features include featurettes on Tex Avery, Elmer Fudd, Bob Clampett, black-and-white Looney Tunes shorts, and Leon Schlesinger.
-Disc two (all shorts in HD) offers several mini-anthologies, including Chuck Jones’ “Hunting Trilogy” with Elmer Fudd taking on Bugs or Daffy in Rabbit Fire, Rabbit Seasoning, and Duck! Rabbit, Duck!; the complete Nasty Canasta with the Wild West villain going up against Daffy in Drip-Along Daffy and My Little Duckaroo, and against Bugs Bunny in Barbary-Coast Bunny; Bugs Bunny vs. Cecil Turtle in Tortoise Beats Hare; Tortoise Wins by a Hare, and Rabbit Transit; early Leon Schlesinger rabbit ‘toons with Porky’s Hare Hunt, Hare-Um Scare-Um, Prest-o Change-o, and Elmer’s Candid Camera; Beaky Buzzard’s output (Bugs Bunny Gets the Boid, The Bashful Buzzard, The Lion’s Busy, and Strife With Father); a pair of cartoons featuring A. Flea (An Itch in Time, A Horsefly Fleas); and several terrific “one shot classics” including Page Miss Glory, Tex Avery’s Hollywood Steps Out, Chuck Jones’ Rocket-Bye Baby, Russian Rhapsody and Dough Ray Me-Ow. Featurettes include a look at Chuck Jones’ “Wabbit Season Twilogy”; “Looney Tunes Go Hollywood”; an archival conversation with Tex Avery; and Looney Tunes Go To War.
-Disc three is a special features platter including numerous featurettes and bonus cartoons, though all of these are presented in standard definition. Among the retrospective featurettes are Tex Avery: The King of Cartoons; Friz on Film, profiling the work of Friz Freleng; a Cartoon Network documentary, “Toonheads,” on some of the “lost” Warner Bros. animation; and a look at Private SNAFU’s animated output. Bonus shorts include numerous Avery efforts from his tenure at MGM (Blitz Wolf, Red Hot Riding Hood, Screwball Squirrel, Swing Shift Cinderella, King-Size Canary, Bad Luck Blackie, Senor Droopy, Wags to Riches, Symphony in Slang, Magical Maestro and Rock-a-Bye Bear); several Freleng MGM cartoons (Poultry Pirates, A Day at the Beach, The Captain’s Christmas, Seal Skinners and Mama’s New Hat); a variety of Leon Schlesinger animated pieces (Boko; Sinkin in the Bathtub; Crying for the Carolines, an early “Spooney Melodies” short; It’s Got Me Again, the first Oscar for the studio’s animation unit; the title sequence from the John Wayne early ‘30s western “Haunted Gold”; and Scheslinger Productions’ Christmas Party); and the complete run of Private SNAFU and Mr. Hook shorts.
In all this is another appealing anthology for Warner Bros. animation fans with the newly remastered HD cartoons offering appreciable gains in detail and sharpness from their standard-def counterparts, especially considering the age of the materials involved. As with before, consumer support will be needed in order for more volumes to proceed, so hopefully buffs will support it to secure future endeavors.
Also New on Blu-Ray
A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN Blu-Ray (***, 128 mins., 1992, PG-13; Sony): One of Penny Marshall's most successful outings as a filmmaker, "A League of Their Own" hits Blu-Ray this month, just in time for this year’s Fall Classic.
The movie, released in 1992, remains a favorite of many viewers, not so much because of its sometimes-syrupy plot (and an unnecessary epilogue), but rather because of its deft comedic performances -- one of which comes from Tom Hanks, who, in the early '90s, was still trying to improve his image after starring in a myriad of mindless comedies.
Hanks' role as a boozy manager of a women's baseball team won him critical kudos in addition to a plethora of laughs, and basically paved the way for his resurgence as a dramatic leading man in "Philadelphia" and "Forrest Gump." He's the perfect compliment to a standard but entertaining yarn of underdogs who test the conventions of 1943 America, giving a dose of feminine empowerment to the country at a time of war. Geena Davis gives a strong lead performance as the team's MVP, while an excellent supporting cast includes Lori Petty, Madonna, and Rosie O'Donnell, the latter two forming an unlikely odd couple that clicks on-screen, while other roles are filled by David Straithairn, Garry Marshall (brother of the director), and Jon Lovitz.
The widescreen cinematography of Miroslav Ondricek gives the movie a glossy visual sheen, while Hans Zimmer's bouncy score remains one of his best from the period. In all, "A League of Their Own" is a classy production, a good story, and a highly entertaining movie that has worn well over the years.
Sony’s Blu-Ray tansfer offers a terrific 1080p AVC encoded transfer that’s a necessity as Ondricek's cinematography demands to be seen in its wide scope dimensions. The DTS MA sound is also well executed, while copious interviews include a director/cast commentary; a full half-hour of deleted scenes; a 2004 Making Of sporting then-recent interviews with all the major participants (sans Madonna); a music video of the godawful Madonna song "This Used To Be My Playground”; and director/cast commentaries during the film with Marshall, Petty, and Marshall's daughter, Tracy Reiner, who plays a role in the film. Highly recommended!
SECRET OF THE WINGS 3-D Blu-Ray/Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital Copy (***, 75 mins., 2012, G; Disney): Disney’s latest direct-to-video animated feature is one of the best the studio has produced: a gorgeously rendered Tinkerbell original with the fairy daring to cross the line from her lush home of Pixie Hollow into the chilly, yet equally enchanting, world of the Winter Woods. There, Tink meets Periwinkle, a fairy who turns out to be her sister, but their new family bond is put to the test when the two worlds begin to mix with one another.
“Secret of the Wings,” which Disney releases next week on home video, offers a number of messages involving social segregation and even the environment, but does so in such an upbeat way that it never becomes overly saccharine. The story is somewhat standard-issue but the character designs are appealing; best of all is the candy-coated, beautiful animation, which positively sings in Disney’s 3-D Blu-Ray edition. The movie looks dazzling and is sure to please adults (at least on a technical level) who won’t be necessarily looking forward to sitting through it with their little princesses. Disney’s combo pack includes a tremendous 3-D BD transfer, plus an excellent AVC encoded 1080p 2D transfer as well. Extras (on the 2D platter) include the 22-minute “Pixie Hollow Games” bonus adventure, two music videos and a “pixie preview,” “Fright Light.” A digital copy is also on-hand plus a 3-D lenticular slipcover. Recommended for family audiences.
MADAGASCAR 3: EUROPE’S MOST WANTED 3-D Blu-Ray/Blu-Ray/DVD (**½, 93 mins., 2012, PG; Dreamworks/Paramount): More colorful hyjinks abound in Dreamworks’ third entry in the “Madagascar” series. This time around, Alex, Marty, Melman and Gloria star in a globe-trotting adventure that begins when some of the animals decide to visit a Monte Carlo casino and don’t return. A run-in with an evil animal poacher, a trip to the Circus, and zany trips to New York City, Rome and assorted stops inbetween make this a great-looking visual trip. Less impressive is the story by Eric Darnell and Noah Baumbach, which takes too long to get going and is best appreciated by its core audience of young viewers.
Dreamworks’ 3D combo pack of “Madagascar 3" includes a dazzling 3-D Blu-Ray that offers excellent depth-of-field effects, as well as a standard, good looking Blu-Ray presentation and a DVD and digital copies (both Ultraviolet and itunes compatible). Extras include BD-exclusive goodies (a trivia track, “Animator’s Corner” and “Get Them to the Train”) plus deleted scenes, commentary by the filmmakers, a roundtable discussion and an excellent Dolby TrueHD soundtrack.
SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital Copy/Ultraviolet (**, 101 mins., 2012, R; Universal): Steve Carell plays an insurance salesman whose wife leaves him after they find out that an asteroid is about to hit the earth and end civilization as we know it. After a failed attempt to commit suicide, Carell’s Dodge Petersen strikes up a relationship with one of his nextdoor neighbors: Penny, a younger British woman (Keira Knightley) whose relationship with her boyfriend (Adam Brody) has also bit the dust. With all of humankind about to likewise vanish off the face of the Earth, Dodge and Penny head out on one last roadtrip...
Nancy Scafaria’s “Seeking a Friend For the End of the World” is certainly a noble attempt at doing something different with the romantic comedy genre, but its uneven tone and heavy-handed finale put a damper on its moments of poignancy and humor. Carell and Knightley both put in work, but the movie ultimately comes across as a lighthearted version of Lars von Trier’s “Melancholia,” and that’s not exactly a good thing. Universal’s Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack sports outtakes, a featurette, commentary and music featurette. The 1080p AVC encoded transfer is fine, as is the DTS MA audio, and a DVD and ultraviolet/standard digital copy round out the release.
NEIL YOUNG JOURNEYS Blu-Ray (***, 87 mins., 2012, PG; Sony): Terrific documentary from Jonathan Demme follows Neil Young from his Ontario home to Toronto where he performed the final two nights of his 2011 world tour. The singer recounts numerous anecdotes of growing up while Demme intersperses a number of Young’s performances (including his classics “Ohio,” “Hey Hey, My My” as well as a few unreleased songs) in a unique blend of travelogue, biography and concert film. Flavorful and entertaining, “Neil Young Journeys” is certainly best appreciated by Young’s fans but is atmospheric and accessible for all thanks to Demme’s perceptive direction. Sony’s Blu-Ray of the film streets this week and includes both an excellent AVC encoded 1080p transfer and powerhouse DTS MA soundtrack. Extras include three featurettes and the trailer.
New From Shout! Factory
GET A LIFE: THE COMPLETE SERIES DVD (aprx. 14 hours, 1990-92; Shout!): Chris Elliott had developed a fervent cult following thanks to his assorted, memorable appearances on “Late Night with David Letterman” throughout the ‘80s. The comedian’s deadpan delivery and penchant for playing offbeat – if not downright psychotic – characters ended up serving him well on “Get a Life,” a Fox sitcom from New World Television that drew modest ratings during its brief, but unforgettable, two-season run.
As grown-up paperboy Chris Peterson, Elliott was able to tap into his inner-man child and straddle a psycho/creepy line in a show that, at its best, satirized sitcom cliches and the very predictability of network TV circa the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. First-season gems include “Zoo Animals on Wheels,” an uproarious spoof of Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals; “Camping 2000,” where Chris takes his father (played by Elliott’s real-life dad Bob of Bob & Ray fame) and nextdoor neighbor Larry (Sam Robards) into the wilderness; and “Neptune 2000,” where Chris and his father are trapped in a two-man submarine...in the family’s bathtub. Season 2 of the show isn’t as funny, with Chris moving out and into the garage of a grumpy ex-cop played by Brian Doyle-Murray, but there are sporadic moments of nuttiness in the show’s sophomore (and final) campaign, including the absurd penultimate episode “1977-2000.”
“Get a Life” has long been coveted on DVD by fans, as evidenced by the high secondary-market prices for Rhino’s “Best Of” DVD anthologies of a decade ago. Shout!’s box-set is infinitely more appealing, since it contains all 35 uncut episodes from the series in a marvelous package one has come to routinely expect from the label. An interview with co-creator David Mirkin and several of the show’s writers is included, along with a 2012 featurette on the series’ legacy with Peter Chernin, Judd Apatow and James L. Brooks. Commentaries are included on every episode, while a Palyfest retrospective includes most of the supporting cast, several writers and Mirkin discussing the series’ legacy. There’s also the option of hearing selected episodes without the show’s canned laughtrack, which only adds to the lunacy, plus a commentary from a psychologist seriously discussing the main character’s issues! The transfers are spotty at times, though (the pilot looks particularly bad), and a booklet includes full episode/date synopses as well as comments from critic Tom Shales.
AN AMERICAN CHRISTMAS CAROL Blu-Ray (96 mins., 1979; Shout! Factory): Henry Winkler gives a fine performance in this tale of a miserly finance company president visited by three ghosts in a Depression-era spin on Dickens. While Winkler’s Scrooge is a bit hammy at times, the actor holds this otherwise mediocre TV movie adaptation together with writer Jerome Coopersmith and director Eric Till failing to evoke positive comparisons with the myriad of other “Christmas Carol” movies out there. Nevertheless, Shout! has done a nice job with their Blu-Ray edition of the 1979 ABC movie, including a solid if unspectacular 1080p transfer and new, albeit brief (eight-minute) interview with Winkler. The mono sound is what you’d anticipate from a tele-movie of its era, and Hagood Hardy’s score is one of the best things about it.
THE FIRM: THE COMPLETE SERIES DVD (968 mins., 2011-12; Shout!): Josh Lucas takes over Tom Cruise’s role as Mitch McDeere in this TV series sequel to Josh Grisham’s “The Firm.” Shot in Canada with a terrific supporting cast (Molly Parker as McDeere’s wife; Juliette Lewis as his secretary and girlfriend to his brother, played by Callum Keith Rennie), “The Firm” struggled to find an audience on NBC but for fans of small-screen courtroom dramas, it’s fairly well-done. Shout’s DVD set includes the complete, one-season run of “The Firm” with 16:9 transfers and 5.1 soundtracks; extras include a couple of behind-the-scenes featurettes and cast/crew interviews.
FANTASY ISLAND: Season 3 DVD (18 hours, 1979-80; Shout!): Mr. Roarke and Tattoo welcome another eclectic assortment of ‘70s celebrities to Fantasy Island in this third season of the hit ABC Saturday night series: Peter Graves, Abe Vigoda, Doris Roberts, Roddy McDowall, Don Adams, Sonny Bono, Dick Sargent, Fred Williamson, John Larroquette, David Cassidy, Bob Denver, Robert Goulet, Annette Funicello and, of course, Leslie Nielsen all appear throughout the course of the 23-episode 1979-80 season. Shout!’s DVD box-set, a must for “Fantasy Island” fans, includes unedited broadcast length versions of the various episodes along with mono sound. Recommended!
LAW & ORDER CRIMINAL INTENT Season 8 DVD (11 hours, 2009; Shout!): Jeff Goldblum joined the cast of “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” during this eighth season of the show, which originally aired in 2009 on USA. This time around, Goldblum’s Zach Nichols becomes the new partner of Julianne Nicholson’s Det. Wheeler, while Goren (Vincent D’Onofrio) and Eames (Kathryn Erbe) investigate the death of a drug dealer who was involved with a politician’s stepdaughter. 16:9 transfers and 5.1 soundtracks adorn Shout!’s DVD box-set.
THE KATHY GRIFFIN COLLECTION: RED, WHITE & RAW DVD (5 hours, 2012; Shout!): Kathy Griffin fans ought to be thrilled with Shout!’s two-disc DVD anthology of the comedienne’s uncensored Bravo comedy specials. Included here are Balls of Steel, Does the Bible Belt, Whores on Crutches, 50 & Not Pregnant, Gurrl Down, Pants Off and Tired Hooker, along with copious unaired bonus footage. Personally I find a little of Griffin goes a very long way indeed, but her fans are naturally the target audience here, and Shout! has packaged an attractive set for the devoted.
TV on Video Round-Up
MAD MEN Season 5 Blu-Ray (585 mins., 2012; Lionsgate): The fifth season of AMC’s award-winning dramatic series – which didn’t, for a change, end up winning an Emmy for dramatic series (that honor, deservedly, went to Showtime’s “Homeland” instead) – finds more intrigue inside the offices of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and, of course, sexual and dramatic happenings outside as well. Though not as satisfying on balance as prior seasons, there’s still ample entertainment, fine performances and sharp writing on-hand in “Mad Men”’s fifth season, which Lionsgate releases this week on Blu-Ray. Episodes include A Little Kiss; Tea Leaves; Mystery Date; Signal 30; Far Away Places; At the Codfish Ball; Lazy Lazarus; Dark Shadows; Christmas Waltz; The Other Woman; Commissions and Fees; and The Phantom. Ample extras include an examination of the show’s scoring featuring composer David Carbonara and orchestrator Geoff Stradling; a retrospective look at the show’s one-liners; a glance into the life of artist Giorgio de Chirico; background on Truman Capote’s 1966 Plaza Hotel ball; the enacting of the Uniform Time Act of 1966; Newsweek covers from 1966; and numerous commentary tracks. Excellent AVC encoded 1080p transfers and DTS MA soundtracks round out the release.
PSYCH Season 6 DVD (aprx. 12 hours, 2011; Universal): Fake detective Shawn Spencer (James Roday) and pal Gus (Dule Hill) return in the sixth season of the popular USA cable series. Episodes include Shawn Rescues Darth Vader; Last Night Gus; This Episode Sucks; The Amazing Psych-Man and Tap-Man, Issue #2; Dead Man’s Curveball; Shawn Interrupted; In For A Penny...; The Tao of Gus; Neil Simon’s Lover’s Retreat; Indiana Shawn and the Temple of the Kinda Crappy, Rusty Old Dagger; Heeere’s Lassie; and Shawn and the Real Girl. Extended episodes, deleted scenes, gag reels, commentaries (both audio and video) are all included plus 16:9 transfers and 5.1 soundtracks.
THE LUCY SHOW Season 6 (Final Season) DVD (1967-68; CBS): The sixth and final season of “The Lucy Show” ended up finishing #2 among all TV series during its 1967-68 run – not bad at all for Lucille Ball’s follow-up to the iconic “I Love Lucy.” CBS’ remastered DVD edition includes all 24 episodes (that ran from September 1967 through March 1968) in healthy color transfers, with numerous extras: a “Carol Burnett Show” clip; clip from the 1968 Emmy Awards; outtakes; “Lucy Gets Her Diploma” with Italian audio and opening graphics; costume sketches; vintage opening and closing sequences; guest cast biographies (Burnett, Phil Harris, Jack Benny, Robert Goulet and Edie Adams are among the many familiar faces who turn up); photo galleries and other goodies. Highly recommended for Golden Age TV fans.
THE SNORKS: Season 1 DVD (286 mins., 1984-85; Warner Archive): Hanna-Barbera was always good at recycling some of their popular successes. Their “reskinning” applied in part to “The Snorks,” an NBC companion piece to “The Smurfs,” which was set under the ocean where a group of colorful, happy-go-lucky types with snorkel-antennae on top of their heads lived peacefully. You could see the clear intent at making an “Aquatic Smurfs,” and to a degree the show worked: while never catapulting into the pop-culture pantheon the same way that Peyo’s characters did, “The Snorks” managed a good run, lasting for a few years on NBC before hightailing into similar success in syndication. Best remembered by those of us who grew up in the ‘80s, “The Snorks” hits DVD finally this month in the form of a manufactured-on-demand release courtesy of the Warner Archives. The full-screen transfers are as solid as one would anticipate, with the two-disc set including over four hours of frivolous, but fun, Saturday morning memories.
New From Lionsgate
ELLA ENCHANTED Blu-Ray/DVD (**½, 96 mins., 2004, PG; Miramax/Lionsgate): Director Tommy O'Haver helmed the underrated teen comedy "Get Over It," showing some real energy that explains some of the appeal of his 2004 effort "Ella Enchanted." This silly 2004 children's fantasy is disjointed in places, but is at least colorful and amusing enough to hold the attention spans of its intended audience. Though Gail Carson Levin's much-loved book was heavily altered in this Miramax adaptation (no less than five screenwriters are credited), with some "Shrek"-like comedy thrown in, Anne Hathaway's spirited lead performance holds the movie together. Miramax/Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack sports a fine AVC encoded transfer, DTS MA audio, and extras from the original release (deleted and extended scenes, commentary from O'Haver, Hathaway, and co-star Hugh Dancy, and several featurettes).
EVERYBODY’S FINE Blu-Ray (**, 100 mins., 2009, PG-13; Miramax/Lionsgate): Mediocre, maudlin road-trip drama failed to muster much in the way of box-office returns during Christmas ‘09, when it was (understandably) buried under an avalanche of other films. In this remake of an Italian film, “Stanno Tutti Bene,” Robert DeNiro plays a widower who goes on a cross-country trek to reconnect with his estranged kids, including Drew Barrymore, Kate Beckinsale and Sam Rockwell. It’s fairly difficult to accept this group of “movie stars” as DeNiro’s off-spring, but the real problem is Kirk Jones’ depressing story, which allows DeNiro to give a solid, ultimately thankless performance in a movie where almost nobody is fine. Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray includes a respectable 1080p transfer, DTS MA sound, deleted/extended scenes and a “Making Of” Paul McCartney’s tune “(I Want To) Come Home.
On DVD: Dinesh D’Souza’s powerful documentary 2016: OBAMA’S AMERICA (90 mins., 2012, PG) makes a fast track for home video following a very successful theatrical run. Lionsgate’s DVD includes a 16:9 transfer and 5.1 soundtrack; I’ll let the political pundits hash out its relevance, suffice to say the documentary itself is compelling and entertaining...Brendan Gleeson stars in Simon Wincer’s chronicle of the 2002 Melbourne Cup, naturally titled THE CUP (96 mins., 2012, PG), recommended for horse racing enthusiasts. Lionsgate’s DVD includes a 16:9 transfer, 5.1 soundtrack and featurette...POWER RANGERS SAMURAI: CHRISTMAS TOGETHER/FRIENDS FOREVER (63 mins., 2011) includes the “Samurai Power Rangers” episode “Christmas Together, Friends Forever,” the “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” show “I’m Dreaming of a White Ranger,” and the “Power Rangers Zeo” episode “A Season to Remember.” All three episodes are included here in a new DVD anthology also including a full-screen transfer, stereo soundtrack, and bonus music videos...Roger Moore essays the Duke of Catlebury Hall, who invites an American girl (Katie McGrath) and her niece and nephew to Europe in A PRINCESS FOR CHRISTMAS (90 mins., 2011), a feel-good family TV film. Lionsgate’s DVD includes a behind-the-scenes featurette, 16:9 transfer and 5.1 soundtrack.
More Holiday Fare
THE HEART OF CHRISTMAS DVD (89 mins., 2011, Not Rated; Image): Based on a true story, “The Heart of Christmas” finds a family trying to celebrate the holiday season ahead of time for young Dax, a boy stricken with cancer who doesn’t have long to live. Candace Cameron Bure and George Newbern star in this 2011 TV film that’s unabashedly sentimental and probably worth a viewing for those predisposed to enjoying Hallmark-styled holiday fare (me included!). Image’s DVD includes a music video of Matthew West’s Emmy nominated title song, a 16:9 transfer and 5.1 soundtrack.
THOMAS KINKADE PRESENTS CHRISTMAS MIRACLE DVD (92 mins., 2012; Vivendi): Painter Thomas Kinkade presents another feel-good holiday drama, this one involving a group of strangers who seek shelter in an abandoned church during a snowstorm. Allison Hossack, Aaron Pearl, Dan Payne and George Canyon star in a nice TV film with some positive messages; Vivendi’s DVD includes a featurette, deleted scenes, a 16:9 transfer and 5.1 soundtrack.
ANNIE CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN DVD (87 mins., 2011; Vivendi): Cute TV movie with Maria Thayer as Santa's sheltered, perky daughter, who heads to L.A. to mingle with the less-merry folk and find a suitable replacement for her papa at the North Pole. This typical Hallmark Channel romantic fantasy offers a breezy Nathan Wang score, a relentlessly upbeat tone and a nice message provided you don't mind a few pounds of syrup laid on thick. Vivendi's DVD includes a 16:9 enhanced transfer of this RHI-Larry Levinson production with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.
THE CHRISTMAS PAGEANT DVD (87 mins., 2011; Vivendi): Another Larry Revinson-RHI production that aired last winter on the Hallmark Channel, "The Christmas Pageant" stars Melissa Gilbert as a Broadway director whose diva persona is put to the test when she's fired from her latest production. Looking for work, she ends up directing a small-town Christmas pageant and rekindles a relationship with her ex-fiance. Edward Herrmann co-stars in another predictable but watchable romantic-drama that Vivendi brings to DVD this month with a 16:9 transfer and 5.1 soundtrack.
Also New From Fox
Fox’s “Filmmaker’s Signature Series” line of Blu-Ray releases first hit Best Buy retail locations earlier this year and are just now rolling out nationally. In addition to several new-to-Blu titles, remastered – and appreciably improved – transfers of “The French Connection” and “Wall Street” are also on-tap.
THE FRENCH CONNECTION (****, 104 mins., 1971, R) represents a second HD rendering of William Friedkin's gritty 1971 classic, starring Gene Hackman as "Popeye" Doyle and Roy Scheider as Buddy Russo -- a pair of New York City cops who take down an international drug cartel in a film inspired by Robin Moore's book (itself based on the real-life exploits of cops Sonny Grosso and Eddie Egan).
Most movie buffs recall the film for Friedkin's dynamite car chase -- one of the greatest of all-time, if not THE greatest -- but the rest of the movie is every bit as potent. Friedkin's documentary-like approach, the realistic performances and atmospheric use of NYC locations courtesy of Owen Roizman's cinematography all helped to make "The French Connection" a multi-Oscar winner that was revolutionary in its day and remains a landmark in the crime-thriller genre.
Fox's “Filmmaker’s Signature Series” Blu-Ray marks the second format release for the film, and it’s a huge improvement over its predecessor. The prior 2009 Blu-Ray offered a Friedkin-approved remaster with brand-new color timing that generated much controversy with viewers. While the image was crisp and showed a healthy amount of film grain, Friedkin performed a visual "revision" similar to what Francis Ford Coppola did on "Bram Stoker's Dracula," and that's tinker with the print's colors and contrast. The result was a washed-out transfer that boasted heightened contrast, much to the detriment of the original, more natural looking cinematography.
That’s been, thankfully, rectified in a new transfer supervised by Friedkin and Owen Roizman that restores the film’s original color in a DNR-free, striking HD presentation preserving all the grit and grime of the movie’s original cinematography.
The single-disc Blu-Ray also retains most, though not all, of the prior Blu-Ray’s extras, leaving off Mark Kermode’s BBC documentary "The Poughkeepsie Shuffle" and, understandably, Friedkin’s discussion of the prior Blu-Ray’s transfer. Retained here are twenty minutes of deleted scenes, culled from very rough surviving prints, along with a pair of commentary tracks: one by the director (always willing to share an anecdote), the other with Scheider and Hackman alternating in separately recorded interviews. “Anatomy of a Chase,” “Making the Connection,” “Rogue Cop,” “The Music of Don Ellis” (featuring a Jon Burlingame interview), “Scene of the Crime,” “Friedkin and Grosso Remember the Real French Connection” and “Hackman on Doyle” are also carried over along with a Blu-Ray exclusive trivia track and an isolated score track (in 5.1 Dolby Digital) of Ellis’ music, highlighting many cues that weren’t retained in the finished picture.
This is a sparkling package that does justice to the 1971 Oscar-winner for Best Picture, director, actor, script and editing, and comes strongly recommended.
WALL STREET (***, 126 mins., 1987, R; Fox): Oliver Stone's morality play is best viewed now as a showcase for Michael Douglas' Oscar-winning, powerhouse performance as Wall Street mogul Gordon Gekko, who tutors young broker Charlie Sheen in the ways of '80s greed and power. Scripted by Stone and Stanley Weiser, "Wall Street" is an at-times slow-moving drama bogged down by a surplus of supporting characters (some of whom, like Sean Young and even third-billed Daryl Hannah, may have been left on the cutting room floor), but stays on course whenever Douglas takes the fore in a scenery-chewing but highly entertaining performance that remains one of his best.
Fox’s “Filmmaker’s Signature Series” edition of “Wall Street” is an enhancement upon the studio’s prior format release, which included an unimpressive MPEG-2 high-def transfer. This new release spruces up the picture (thanks to a 1080p AVC encode) and adds a couple of new extras, including a Fox Movie Channel special hosted by Tom Rothman, the “Money Never Sleeps” documentary, deleted scenes with Stone’s optional commentary, “Greed is Good,” and Stone’s older commentary track, plus a DTS MA soundtrack.
THE WAR OF THE ROSES (**½, 116 mins., 1989, R): Danny DeVitio’s strident reteaming of the “Romancing the Stone” cast (Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner and DeVito) is an acid-black comedy about a crumbling ‘80s marriage. Fox’s Blu-Ray offers extras from the ages-old laserdisc release of the film (DeVito was a champion of that beloved format) including commentary from DeVito; deleted scenes; trailers; production galleries; the script; a conversation with DeVito and composer David Newman; and a retrospective featurette with DeVito and producer James L. Brooks. Both the DTS MA soundtrack and AVC encoded 1080p transfer are excellent.
DeVito’s biopic of HOFFA (**½, 140 mins., 1992, R) also joins the Filmmakers Signature Series, once again retaining numerous supplements from the director’s pricey laserdisc edition that was released shortly after the film’s release. In addition to a good-looking 1080p transfer and DTS MA soundtrack, extras include another conversation between DeVito and composer David Newman; commentary with the director; excised scenes; historical Hoffa news coverage; a Siskel & Ebert segment; production galleries; DeVito’s 2011 speech at the Teamsters convention; and countless other extras.
Finally, two of Edward Burns’ earliest films, THE BROTHERS McMULLEN (***, 98 mins., 1995, R) and SHE’S THE ONE (**½, 96 mins., 1996, R), are also new-to-Blu-Ray this month. Each includes commentaries with Burns, 1080p AVC encoded transfers, DTS MA mono (“McMullen”) and stereo (“She’s The One”) soundtracks, and trailers. Additional extras include a Fox Movie Channel segment on “The Brothers McMillen” and both a promo featurette and Tom Petty’s music video on “She’s The One.”
THE RAVEN Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital Copy (**, 110 mins., 2012, R; Fox): Unimaginative blend of “Sleepy Hollow” and “From Hell” – and certainly not as compelling as either – is set during the final days of Edgar Allen Poe’s life. As portrayed by John Cusack, the troubled author is tapped by the Baltimore police department – and, in particular, one dogged detective (Luke Evans) – to investigate a series of serial killings where the perpetrator has emulated Poe’s writings.
Writers Hannah Skespeare and Ben Livingston’s premise is intriguing but director James McTeigue’s film is almost DOA from the get-go. Cusack’s wide-eyed performance goes for broke but he never seems believable as Poe, while Evans delivers a more effective turn as his straight-laced police counterpart and Alice Eve is pleasant as the female lead. Dramatically the film is a fizzle, and in terms of its production design and cinematography, “The Raven” comes off like a Burton-wannabe without any of the inspiration – narratively or artistically – as its superior genre counterparts.
Fox’s Blu-Ray/DVD/digital copy combo pack includes a number of extras, among them commentary; deleted/extended scenes; and several featurettes. The 1080p AVC encoded transfer and DTS MA soundtrack are both fine.
THE PRINCESS BRIDE 25th Anniversary Edition Blu-Ray (**½, 1987, 98 mins., PG; MGM/Fox): Yet another MGM re-issue of the Rob Reiner-William Goldman fantasy fave adds a new, two-art featurette, “True Love: The Princess Bride Phenomenon,” offering interviews with Robin Reiner, Robin Wright, Carey Elwes, Mandy Patinkin and others. The other extras are cobbled other from prior releases, including commentaries from Reiner and author William Goldman, plus Cary Elwes’ video diaries and “The Art of Fencing,” “Ash You Wish,” “The Dread Pirate Roberts,” “Fairy Tales and Folklore,” “Love Is Like a Storybook,” “Miraculous Makie-Up” and “The Princess Bride: The Untold Tales” featurettes. The AVC encoded transfer is satisfying and DTS Master Audio sound does justice to the film’s audio mix – both of which are identical to the prior Blu-Ray release.
PROMETHEUS Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital Copy (***½, 124 mins., 2012, R; Fox): Ridley Scott’s triumphant return to the science fiction genre may have started off as a prequel to his 1979 classic “Alien,” but “Prometheus” is a very different type of picture: a suspenseful and captivating film with provocative concepts and thematic material that challenges the viewer as much as it satisfies on a rich aesthetic level.
Its “Alien” aspects – and there are some – are secondary to a story that asks where the human race came from, how we got here, and where we’re going. Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof’s screenplay posits these eternal questions in a manner that’s positively refreshing in our current age of soulless blockbusters, opening with an utterly beautiful prologue set on Earth at the dawn of time (shot in Iceland by Scott) and proceeding to follow a spaceship crew in the late 21st century setting out to uncover the answers.
Among the crew of the ship “Prometheus” are scientists Noomi Rapace and Logan Marshall-Green, gruff captain Idris Elba, icy cold Weyland corporation exec Charlize Theron, and a curious android named David (Michael Fassbender), the work of the elderly Charles Weyland (Guy Pearce) himself, who funded the mission to track down the whereabouts of beings who left “calling cards” on ancient cave paintings around the globe. Upon arriving on a desolate planet, Rapace and company find a dank, deserted chamber with remnants of an alien race that fled the scene some time before – as well as a gooey chemical substance that’s anything but benevolent.
Scott’s penchant for amazing visuals are, of course, on-hand throughout the film, and there are a handful of dynamic set-pieces: a thrilling storm that threatens the crew is later followed by a harrowing “medical” sequence and a sensational finale with a truly miraculous sense of scale. The director said in pre-publicity that he wanted “Prometheus” to be “big” and the film is indeed that, both in the messages it develops and the visuals on-screen. Spectacular effects and haunting creatures include concepts that resemble the work of H.R. Giger, giving fans a taste of the universe that Scott first brought to the screen with “Alien” but here in a very different context. (In fact, if there’s a moment that feels somewhat out of step here, it’s in a quote from Jerry Goldsmith’s unused main title from “Alien” that comes across as unnecessarily shoe-horned into the picture).
Dariusz Wolski’s cinematography and even the score, credited to Marc Streitenfeld but enhanced with a lovely theme by Harry Gregson-Williams that’s used throughout the picture (so much that it’s surprising he only received an “Additional Music” credit), are likewise effective: this is a film that’s filled with so much artistic invention and memorable images that one can see sci-fi fans returning to “Prometheus” for some time to come, both to dissect its narrative as well as take in its amazing artistic design.
Fox sent only the standard Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack of the film for review, which is unfortunate seeing as most of the extras are included in the Collector’s Edition 3-D release of the movie. The 1080p AVC encoded transfer in the 2D version is very strong, as is the DTS MA audio soundtrack. While there are some supplements (including nearly 40 minutes of deleted scenes and a pair of commentary tracks), fans will want to shell out the additional cash for the 3-D version, whether or not they have a 3-D set-up at their disposal, and pass on this particular release.
Also New & Noteworthy
LAST OF THE SUMMER WINE: VINTAGE 1993 DVD (300 mins., 1993; BBC): Foggy sets up a training course in order to get Compo and Clegg in shape in one of several wild storylines in this 1993 campaign of the long-running BBC comedy starring Bill Owen, Peter Sallis and Brian Wilde. BBC’s DVD edition includes the series’ Christmas special, “Welcome to Earth,” plus stereo soundtracks and 4:3 full-frame transfers.
KINGDOM Season 1 DVD (275 mins., 2012; BBC): Stgephen Fry stars as country solicitor Peter Kingdom in this highly enjoyable new BBC series set in Norfolk with a nice mixture of small-town personality clashes and mystery involving Peter’s missing brother. 16:9 transfers and 2.0 stereo soundtracks are on-hand in BBC’s two-disc set, which is now available.
JEFF DUNHAM: MINDING THE MONSTERS Blu-Ray (80 mins., 2012; Paramount): The ventriloquist comic is back in a new special featuring all of his assorted creations (Walter, Peanut, Bubba J, Jose Jalapeno) cracking wise in a haunted house. Fans of Dunham’s material are sure to get a kick out of his latest TV special which is geared towards mature audiences. Paramount’s Blu-Ray includes a 1080p transfer plus a number of behind-the-scenes featurettes, commentary, and a Dolby TrueHD soundtrack.
SOMETHING BIG DVD (108 mins., 1971, PG-13; CBS): Here’s a surprise: a catalog debut of an early ‘70s western comedy from director Andrew V. McLaglen that’s actually hitting retail shelves. This teaming of Dean Martin and Brian Keith is a fitfully amusing widescreen outing from writer James Lee Barrett with a terrific supporting cast (“Goldfinger”’s Pussy Galore, Honor Blackman, plus Ben Johnson, Albert Salmi, Denver Pyle, Merlin Olsen, Joyce Van Patten and Carol White) clearly having a good time in this old-fashioned outing. Marvin Hamlisch’s score is a plus, as is the Burt Bacharach-Hal David title tune. CBS’ DVD includes a terrific 16:9 transfer with mono sound.
247F Blu-Ray (88 mins., 2012, R; Anchor Bay): Rob Zombie “Halloween” lead Scout Taylor-Compton stars in the first, and only, sauna thriller that I can recall as a young woman who ends up – yes – trapped in a sauna with three of her friends. As the temperature rises, Taylor-Compton flashes back to a car accident where she was trapped with the corpse of her fiancee – seems like some girls just don’t have any luck. Tyler Mane – another Zombie alumnus – co-stars with Christine Ulloa and Travis Van Winkle in a silly spin on other claustrophobic terrors (like “Frozen” and “Buried Alive”) that might generate some mild interest from genre buffs. Anchor Bay’s Blu-Ray includes a commentary with producer-director Levan Bakhia and deleted scenes, along with a 1080p transfer and Dolby TrueHD soundtrack.
TRUTH OR DIE DVD (92 mins., 2011, Not Rated; Vivendi): Better-than-average film from The Collective and Bloody Disgusting brand finds a group of college-age friends taking the ages-old “Truth or Dare” game to deadly levels. Robert Heath’s 2011 thriller thankfully isn’t just another “torture porn” affair and manages to generate some suspense along with decent performances from its cast. Vivendi’s DVD includes a 16:9 transfer, 5.1 soundtrack and a Making Of featurette.
CHECK IT OUT! WITH DR. STEVE BRULE Seasons 1 and 2 DVD (132 mins., 2012; Warner): John C. Reilly stars in the first two seasons of the live-action Cartoon Network series which Warner Home Video releases this month on DVD. 16:9 transfers and 5.1 soundtracks are on-hand in the single-disc release.
NEXT TIME: Universal's Hitchcock Blu-Ray box-set! 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!