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by ANDY DURSIN

Twitter - @theaisleseatcom

Message Board - Come and Discuss The Latest Videos, Movies & Anything Else!

Hurricane Sandy blew through the Northeast just in time to bid adieu to the month of October with a wallop that will never be forgotten. Here at our Aisle Seat offices in Rhode Island, even a “brushing” from the storm meant winds over 80mph and a storm surge that hadn’t been seen since Hurricane Carol in 1954. Nearby beachfront communities were ravaged, some homes destroyed – a taste of the devastation that hit areas to our east in Connecticut, New York and, especially, New Jersey. For all readers affected by the storm, I send my best wishes and pray that the recovery is as speedy as possible for all of us.

Because of this, I’ve had a steady stream of discs come in over the last few days – but due to storm preparations and now a multi-day power outage, not much of an ability check them out. Thankfully my parents’ residence is a few minutes away and has been one of the only areas with power in our town – so I’ve done my best to jot down a few thoughts on some of these titles, sprinkle in a few reviews, but mostly do a rapid-fire rundown of new release titles before they’re, well, not so new. So without any further delay, here’s the post-Sandy Aisle Seat – waterlogged but, thankfully, not deluged!

New on Blu-Ray

ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER 3D Blu-Ray/Blu-Ray/Digital Copy (**½, 105 mins., 2012, R; Fox): Box-office disappointment from producer Tim Burton and director Timur Bekamambetov adapted Seth Grahame-Smith’s popular, offbeat book to the screen. Grahame-Smith’s own script deviates a great deal from his source material, but the film itself is reasonably entertaining provided you overlook its obvious weaknesses.

Benjamin Walker stars as Honest Abe, who runs into the undead as a child and continues to battle their legions – mostly confined to the South – as he works his way up America’s political system. Dominic Cooper is Abe’s vampiric right-hand man, who tutors Lincoln in the ways of slaughtering vampires, while Rufus Sewell essays the plantation-owning aristocratic vamp at the center of Lincoln’s fury. Mary Elizabeth Winstead, meanwhile, provides a sunny female presence in her scenes as Lincoln’s wife Mary, but the movie’s strongest elements are its action scenes. Bekamambetov, never one for subtlety, goes for the gusto with several outlandish set-pieces including a chase on a herd of wild horses that resembles an old Americana painting, as well as a climax on a burning locomotive that’s a lot of fun.

These intermittent moments of visual intensity are immeasurably enhanced by the film’s use of 3-D. More than any other recent film I can think of, 3D lifts “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” from a patently mediocre outing (there’s no dramatic interest here really; most of its appeal comes from seeing Abraham Lincoln running around with an axe) to a visually interesting ride that held my attention because of its appearance. There’s something quite effective about the 3D in the film, which gives dimensionality to an otherwise – and surprisingly – flat looking film that’s not among veteran cinematographer Caleb Deschanel's finest work. In 2D, the film just sits there with special effects that have been designed for the 3D format (blood spurting at the screen, shots that were obviously composed for the format, etc.), while the movie’s uneven cinematography (heavily filtered at times) is flat as a pancake and stands out even more – all to the movie’s detriment.

Fox’s 3D Blu-Ray combo pack, then, comes strongly recommended for 3D enthusiasts. DTS MA sound is also included, while extras on the standard Blu-Ray include a Making Of, several featurettes, a “Great Calamity” format exclusive graphic novel, Ultraviolet and digital copies, plus a DVD.

BRAVE 3D Blu-Ray/Blu-Ray/DVD (**½, 93 mins., 2012, PG; Disney): It might be controversial to say it – especially to fans who think they can’t do any wrong – but Pixar seems to be in a bit of a rut these days, relying on sequels (“Cars 2,” “Toy Story 3,” upcoming “Monsters Inc.” and “Finding Nemo” follow-ups) to overcome a mounting lack of freshness in their storytelling. “Brave” is proof positive of the tired nature of some of Pixar’s recent films, despite what seemed to be a can’t-miss Scottish Highlands setting and addition of a strong-willed heroine to Pixar’s stable of protagonists.

The flaming red-haired Scottish princess Merida is certainly an attractively designed creation at the center of “Brave,” but the plot – credited to Mark Andrews, Steve Purcell, Brenda Chapman and Irene Mecchi – is an overly frenetic affair that involves Merida unknowingly cursing her mother and turning her into a bear, along with other supernatural calamities, misunderstandings and easily digestible family messages. Somehow or other bringing back a plot element from one of Disney’s animated misfires (the lamentable “Brother Bear”) doesn’t seem to have been a wise idea, but then again, “Brave” itself fumbles opportunity after opportunity to craft a charming film for kids and adults alike. It’s captivatingly animated (particularly in 3D), nicely scored by Patrick Doyle, but something is just fundamentally missing in its center – a feeling I’ve had (“Toy Story 3" excepted) from many of Pixar’s recent films, which have had compelling lead characters (like “Wall-E”) but disappointing stories surrounding them.

Disney has certainly packaged a quality Blu-Ray effort, as you would anticipate, with “Brave.” The 3D imagery is effectively implemented in the 3D BD platter, though 2D is likely to suffice just as well for most viewers – beautiful colors, an effective mix of light and shadow, and superb artistic design make for a perfect technical presentation no matter which Blu-Ray one selects. Extra features are abundant, from the short film “La Luna” which precedes to the picture, to extended scenes, crew commentary, countless featurettes spread across both the standard BD and its special features disc, plus a DVD, digital copy, and lenticular 3D slipcover (note that “La Luna” is also included in 3D on the 3D platter). Alas, one wishes “Brave” itself had more magic beyond its technical attributes.

ARTHUR CHRISTMAS 3D Blu-Ray/Blu-Ray/DVD/Ultraviolet (***, 97 mins., 2011, PG; Sony): In contrast to “Brave” is Aardman’s first collaboration with Sony Pictures Animation – “Arthur Christmas,” a fanciful and appealing tale that disappointingly couldn’t generate much of an audience in theaters last year.

Peter Baynham and Sarah Smith’s original story finds an aging Santa eyeing retirement from his now tech-savvy, international business of providing toys for children around the world. His organized, by-the-book son Steve would seem to be the ideal candidate to assume his position, but disorganized, well-meaning brother Arthur turns out to have the right stuff – which he proves when he, along with an enterprising elf named Bryony, attempt to deliver one last Christmas present that fell off the assembly line.

Smith directed “Arthur Christmas,” a CGI rendered animated feature with eye-popping colors and a warm-hearted, charming story line. Aardman’s humor is also in abundance here, which makes the movie’s commercial failure (it failed to hit $50 million stateside, and barely recouped its budget internationally) all the more difficult to explain. Certainly it’s the type of kid-flick that adults can also appreciate, and I’m going to wager “Arthur Christmas” will generate a larger set of fans now that Sony has brought the film to home video, in time for the holiday season.

The 3D Blu-Ray presentation is, expectedly, sterling, doing more with the 3D format than Aardman’s stop-motion feature “The Pirates!” did earlier this year – the transfer is razor sharp and there are attractive depth of field effects throughout. The 2D disc is likewise excellent, and DTS MA audio is superbly rendered as well. Extra features include typical behind-the-scenes content, an “Elf Recruitment Video” and progression reels, along with a DVD, Ultraviolet streaming copy and 3-D lenticular slipcover.

BLADE RUNNER 30th Anniversary Blu-Ray (****, 1982, R; Warner): Ridley Scott’s seminal sci-fi classic was withdrawn on Blu-Ray a few months back in lieu of the release of its 30th Anniversary edition. Three different variants are on-hand: a single-disc "Final Cut" release (sold under the 30th Anniversary edition banner), a three-disc Digibook "Collector's Edition," and a pricier box set offering the same disc content as the Digibook plus a DVD and digital copy. As for the Digibook, Warner’s release features everything on three Blu-Ray platters that the prior 5-disc BD/DVD set contained: Disc 1 offers Scott’s remastered “Final Cut”; Disc 2 includes the original theatrical release, the international version and the 1992 “Director’s Cut”; while Disc 3 boasts the movie’s workprint version and accompanying supplements (including Charlie deLauzirika’s “Dangerous Days” documentary).

What’s new to this release are 1000 HD still frame images and the workprint being offered in an AVC encoded transfer with DTS MA audio (the prior “Workprint” Blu-Ray release was VC-1 encoded and included only 5.1 Dolby Digital sound). For those who never bought the prior Blu-Ray package, this is a must-have, but fans who already purchased that earlier release may want to pass. For full details on the specific versions, and my analysis of “Blade Runner” itself, refer to my original 2007 review here.

HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS Blu-Ray (***, 97 mins., 1970, PG; Warner)
NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS Blu-Ray (**½, 95 mins., 1971, PG; Warner):
Dan Curtis’ feature film spin-offs from his popular TV soap opera arrive on Blu-Ray in time for belated trick-or-treat viewing.

“House of Dark Shadows” is the less ambitious but more entertaining of the duo – a feature distillation of the series itself, focusing on Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid), searching for a cure to his vampiric nature so he can claim the reincarnation of his lost love. Clearly the basis for Tim Burton’s recent “Dark Shadows” film (which I actually liked), “House of Dark Shadows” provides solid fun for series fans, who may also appreciate “Night of Dark Shadows” despite its unexpected, self-contained storyline. This unusual spin-off features stars from the series in an otherwise unrelated supernatural tale involving Quentin Collins and his wife Tracy (David Selby and Kate Jackson) who return to the husband’s ancestral home – Collinwood – only to get involved in a harrowing reincarnation plot that ends with a climax resembling Curtis’ later haunted house misfire “Burnt Offerings.”

Fans of “Night of Dark Shadows” – produced essentially as a standalone feature when star Frid refused to return as Barnabas in a theatrical sequel – had hoped Warner’s Blu-Ray release would include Curtis’ original, much longer version of the film. Some of the discarded material has apparently been found over recent years, yet the Blu-Ray contains only the original theatrical cut of the film, presented in a satisfying 1080p transfer with DTS MA mono audio (“House” has a similarly respectable presentation). Trailers are the only extras, leaving fans with faint hopes that a more elaborate, deluxe release of the picture will follow down the line.

THE BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES Blu-Ray (**½, 125 mins., 1990, R; Warner)
THE CLIENT Blu-Ray (***, 121 mins., 1994, PG-13; Warner):
It’s back to the ‘90s with a pair of Warner Blu-Ray catalog titles hitting store shelves this month.

Ridiculed, critically savaged and the subject of Julie Salamon’s outstanding book “The Devil’s Candy,” Brian DePalma’s “The Bonfire of the Vanities” is worth a second look on Blu-Ray for a few reasons. Granted, this misfired adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s celebrated novel proved to be a huge disappointment for Warner Bros., which was likely thinking “Oscar” with its starring triumvirate of Tom Hanks, Bruce Willis and Melanie Griffith. What they got instead was a very uneven,  mostly lightweight satire on the recently concluded ‘80s, well directed by DePalma with stylish Vilmos Zsigmond cinematography, but sabotaged by a limp Michael Cristofer screenplay. Still, the film is moderately entertaining if viewed as a time capsule of its period (and particularly when separated from its far superior source material). Dave Grusin’s infectious score is also a plus – mostly buoyant and tuneful, even when the film it’s trying to support struggles to find its dramatic balance. The AVC encoded 1080p transfer is superb; DTS MA 2.0 stereo sound is on-hand along with the trailer as the disc’s sole extra.

One of numerous John Grisham bestsellers to hit the big screen in the ‘90s, “The Client” ranks among the finest of its genre: a slick, formulaic but well-executed film with Brad Renfro as an 11-year-old caught in a deadly trap between a hitman who wants him dead and a federal prosecutor (Tommy Lee Jones) who wants him to talk. Susan Sarandon is the understanding attorney who forms a bond with him in a terrific picture that’s strongly produced with scope cinematography by Tony Pierce-Roberts and an excellent supporting cast (Mary-Louise Parker, Anthony LaPaglia, Anthony Edwards, Ossie Davis). Unquestionably one of director Joel Schumacher’s stronger outings, “The Client” debuts on Blu-Ray this month offering the trailer along with the 1995 TV series pilot starring JoBeth Williams, which lasted only one season. The AVC encoded 1080p transfer is excellent and is supported by DTS MA audio.

PLANES, TRAINS & AUTOMOBILES Blu-Ray (***½, 93 mins., 1987, R): One of John Hughes’ best films (and arguably his finest feature as a director), this teaming of John Candy and Steve Martin (both tremendous) was just a modest box-office performer back in December '87, when it was out-grossed by the saccharine, cuddly "Three Men and a Baby." Decades later, "Planes, Trains" is the movie audiences keep coming back to -- a spirited holiday travel comedy with a heartwarming ending. It's a shame Hughes subsequently abandoned making movies for audiences outside of the 13-and-under crowd, since this picture (one of his few R-rated efforts – albeit only for one well-remembered, profanity-laced Martin tirade) remains a perennial favorite.

Paramount’s Blu-Ray isn’t up to the studio’s finer outings: the AVC encoded presentation boasts some noise reduction and other processing which detracts from its high-def crispness. It’s certainly better than DVD, but looks as “glossy” as “Footloose,” another Paramount catalog disc marred by too much filtering. The DTS MA remixed soundtrack is more impressive, featuring an eclectic mix of pop songs and Ira Newborn score.

For extras, the BD boasts a couple of excellent new supplements devoted to Hughes’ career. Presented in HD, “John Hughes: The Voice of a Generation” and “Heartbreak and Triumph: The Legacy of John Hughes” examine his creative process and lasting legacy in an enlightening pair of half-hour programs (included among the interviewees are Hughes collaborators Lauren Shuler Donner, Howard Deutch and Marilyn Vance, plus film alumni Matthew Broderick, Alan Ruck, Jon Cryer and Lea Thompson). A trio of older featurettes (in SD) are mainly comprised of material from the picture’s EPK, along with a three-minute deleted scene (in HD) that was restored to syndicated TV broadcasts of the film.

Despite the somewhat underwhelming transfer this is still an excellent package for fans of the movie, and is now available nationwide (previously was a Best Buy exclusive last year at this time).

SAVAGES Blu-Ray (**, 131/142 mins., 2012, R/Unrated; Universal): Oliver Stone’s latest good-looking but sleazy – and tedious – misfire enabled star Taylor Kitsch to complete a rare trifecta of box-office disappointments (following starring appearances in the comparatively more expensive “John Carter” and “Battleship”).

Kitsch isn’t the principal problem in “Savages” at least, as the “Friday Night Lights” alumnus stars as an owner – alongside Aaron Johnson – of a budding California marijuana business. Kitsch and Johnson, with their “shared” girlfriend Blake Lively, soon receive a disturbing message from a cartel thug (Benicio Del Toro), leading to Lively’s kidnapping. Ultimately, the duo try and free her – and work with a corrupt DEA agent (John Travolta) – as they navigate the dangerous waters of the Mexican Baja cartel.

“Savages” – adapted by Shane Salerno, Don Winslow and Stone from Winslow’s book – gets more complicated from there, but not a whole lot more interesting. Stone peppers the film with flashy visuals and a cast that’s meant to bridge “young Hollywood” with the “old guard” of Travolta, Del Toro and Salma Hayek, yet Kitsch, Lively and Johnson are patently bland compared to their older counterparts. What’s more, the film is bloated and ends with one of the more baffling conclusions I’ve seen in recent memory – the type of thing usually confined to horror movies.

Universal’s Blu-Ray combo pack of “Savages” includes the film’s 131-minute theatrical version as well as a 142-minute unrated cut. The AVC encoded 1080p transfers and DTS MA soundtracks are fine in both instances. A DVD and digital copy are also included, with the Blu-Ray offering format-exclusive supplements (deleted scenes and a five-part Making Of documentary). Commentaries are also included on the BD and DVD.


NewVideo Recent & Upcoming Releases

HISTORY IN 3D 3D Blu-Ray (Aprx. 179 mins., NewVideo): Three-disc set includes the previously-released “WWII in 3D,” “Titanic: 100 Years in 3D,” and “History of the World in Two Hours in 3D.” Check the Aisle Seat archives for full reviews.


THE UNIVERSE IN 3D 3D Blu-Ray (2 hours, NewVideo): Three specials from the popular History Channel series, presented in 3-D, include “Catastrophes That Changed the Planets,” “Nemesis: The Sun’s Evil Twin,” and “How the Solar System Was Made.” 3-D transfers and uncompressed 2.0 PCM stereo soundtracks comprise the three-disc set.

LIFETIME RELEASES: Fans of those compulsively watchable Lifetime original movies will want to check out a pair of new DVD releases. The LIFETIME GOLD COLLECTION includes Kathy Bates in “Ambulance Girl,” Thora Birch in “Homeless to Harvard: The Liz Murray Story,” Beau Bridges and Blythe Danner in “We Were the Mulvaneys,” and Sarah Chalke taking a serious turn in “Why I Wore Lipstick to My Mastectomy.” The MOMS TO THE RESCUE COLLECTION offers Shelley Long and Virginia Williams in “Honeymoon With Mom,” Taraji P. Henson in “Taken From Me: The Tiffany Rubin Story,” Brittney Wilson in “Mom, Dad and Her,” and Danielle Panabaker and Mercedes Ruehl in the particularly compelling “Mom at Sixteen.” Both two-disc sets are bargain priced.

A&E ORIGINAL SERIES: Several successful reality series that have come to define A&E’s programming also return to (or debut on) DVD this month. “Top Shot: Season 4" is once again hosted by Colby Donaldson and finds 18 competitors vying for the title. “Storage Wars: Texas, Season 1" spins-off the popular “Storage Wars” brand as it profiles five Dallas storage unit hunters as they search for possible auction treasures. “Shipping Wars: Season 1" looks at six competing, independent shippers whose cargo include unique items that UPS and FedEx wouldn’t dream of transporting. “American Restoration: Volume 2" includes 17 episodes from the popular series involving Rick Dale and his crew at Rick’s Restorations in Las Vegas.


New From Mill Creek

A number of new, low-priced Blu-Ray double features (two films on a single platter) have been newly released by Mill Creek. As with the studio’s prior Buena Vista catalog titles, these 1080p transfers are generally satisfying and DTS MA audio (mostly in 2.0 stereo) is included on the lot of these, along with trailers. (Be sure to check the Aisle Seat archives for more in-depth reviews of the individual titles, as I’ve covered many of these films in the past):


MAFIA!/THE CREW: Jim Abrahams’ spoof (theatrically released as “Jane Austen’s Mafia!”) is paired here with Michael Dinner’s gently entertaining “Goodfellas”-like mob comedy co-starring Richard Dreyfuss and Burt Reynolds.

ONE GOOD COP/A STRANGER AMONG US: A pair of Hollywood Pictures misfires includes the forgettable Michael Keaton drama “One Good Cop” and Melanie Griffith in the ridiculous Sidney Lumet bomb “A Stranger Among Us.”

BILLY BATHGATE/BLAZE: Dustin Hoffman, Bruce Willis and Nicole Kidman served up a box-office disappointment in Robert Benton’s “Billy Bathgate” while Paul Newman and Lolita Davidovich only generated moderate sparks in Ron Shelton’s “Blaze.”

THE DOCTOR/STELLA: Two tearjerkers. William Hurt and Christine Lahti star in the moving “The Doctor,” while Bette Midler struggled to rekindle her “Beaches” success with her “Stella Dallas” remake, “Stella,” co-starring John Goodman and Trini Alvarado.

A SIMPLE TWIST OF FATE/UNSTRUNG HEROES: Steve Martin wrote and produced “A Simple Twist of Fate,” a modern serio-comic take on “Silas Marner,” while “Unstrung Heroes” offers Andie Macdowell, Michael Richards and John Turturro in one of Diane Keaton’s better-reviewed directorial outings.

FATHER HOOD/LIFE WITH MIKEY: Patrick Swayze struggles to reconnect with the children he abandoned in “Father Hood” (oddly produced by Nicholas Pileggi) while Michael J. Fox stars in James Lapine’s okay insider comedy “Life With Mikey.”

STEALTH/VERTICAL LIMIT: A Sony double-header offers Jamie Foxx, Josh Lucas and Jessica Biel in Rob Cohen’s hideous “Stealth” and Chris O’Donnell, Bill Paxton, Robin Tunney and Izabella Scorupco in Martin Campbell’s so-so “Vertical Limit.” Both films include 5.1 DTS MA soundtracks in addition to 1080p transfers; folks searching for extras should track down each film’s prior Blu-Ray release.


Also New For November

MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING Blu-Ray (***½, 96 mins., 2002, PG; HBO): Like any movie that breaks through to become a mammoth success, the backlash against the 2002 smash “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” did expose some of the film's shortcomings. Sure, the script sometimes resembles a sitcom. Yes, the WASP-ish parents of the groom (John Corbett) seem like they're from a Twilight Zone episode, being strict comedic concoctions with no connection to reality whatsoever. All of that being said, however, the backlash didn't stop this frothy and thoroughly charming film from becoming one of the all-time great underdog success stories in Hollywood history.

Nia Vardalos wrote this adaptation of her one-woman stage show, in which he starred as a frumpy 30-ish Greek woman who discussed, among other topics, her wacky family and ethnic traditions. In the film version, Vardalos' family (mother Lainie Kazan, father Michael Constantine among them) has to come to grips with her dating a regular guy (schoolteacher John Corbett) who isn't from their homeland. Even if the shenanigans that ensue are predictable, most of them are hysterical and the cast (which also includes a terrific Andrea Martin and pop crooner Joey Fatone) plays it to a hilt.

While the mix of comedy and romance works splendidly (you can't imagine a better date movie than this one), at the heart of the film is Vardalos' warm, loving portrayal of her family and background. Here's a picture that is unabashedly ethnic, positive, and "uncommercial" -- studios apparently would have backed it only if Vardalos' role was played by the likes of Julia Roberts -- and yet managed to become one of the highest-grossing independent films of all-time. Not only that, but with $236 million and change pocketed at the U.S. box-office, the picture is actually one of the highest-grossing comedies ever made: a testament to the movie's word-of-mouth and popularity among audiences who went back to see it again and again.

HBO’s 10th Anniversary Blu-Ray includes a 30-minute retrospective look back on the movie with Nia Vardalos and John Corbett interviews, plus deleted scenes and the original 2002 commentary with Varadlos, Corbett and director Joel Zwick. The DTS MA soundtrack and 1080p transfer are both fine.

THE DUST BOWL Blu-Ray (4 hours, 2012; PBS): Ken Burns’ latest effort is – for the prolific documentarian – a much shorter affair than usual, chronicling over the course of four hours the worst man-made ecological disaster in American history. Caused by a wheat boom and subsequent drought throughout the 1930s – which saw farmers moving out of the Plains in an attempt to save their families and themselves – “The Dust Bowl” offers ample testimony from survivors as well as photographs and rare film footage that recount times that were devastating for Americans in that part of the country.

As engrossing as Burns’ better efforts – especially because of its manageable running time – “The Dust Bowl” arrives on Blu-Ray following its national PBS broadcasts (which presented the program over two nights). The label’s 1080i widescreen presentation is top notch, with special features including deleted scenes, additional, unaired interviews, and a behind the scenes segment. The 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack is also perfectly fine. Recommended.

THE PACT Blu-Ray (89 mins., 2011, R; IFC): Caity Lotz (“Mad Men”) stars as a young woman who returns to her childhood home, only to find an evil presence and nightmarish dreams haunting her in this thriller from Nicholas McCarthy. IFC’s Blu-Ray includes a commentary from the director, a Making Of featurette, the trailer, a 1080p transfer and 5.1 DTS MA soundtrack.

DARK HORSE DVD (88 mins., 2012, Not Rated; Virgil): Todd Solondz’s latest film chronicles Abe (Jordan Gelner), a thirtysomething man-child who gravitates towards action figures but finds the potential for true love in troubled Selma Blair. Virgil’s DVD includes a 16:9 transfer and 5.1 soundtrack.
               
YOUR SISTER’S SISTER Blu-Ray (90 mins., 2010, R; IFC): Lynn Shelton’s independent comedy-drama stars Mark Duplass as a man, reeling from the death of his brother, who heads to the country with ex-girlfriend Emily Blunt. She, in turn, brings along her equally depressed sister (Rosemarie DeWitt), who bonds with Duplass, in “Your Sister’s Sister,
” which arrives on Blu-Ray from IFC sporting a 1080p transfer, DTS MA 5.1 soundtrack and extras (filmmaker and crew commentary, another commentary with Shelton and Duplass, and the trailer).        

WITH GREAT POWER... THE STAN LEE STORY (80 mins., 2012; MPI): Terrific documentary focuses on the life and times of Stan “The Man” Lee, profiling his personal life as well as his prolific comic book creations. MPI’s DVD includes commentary; over 90 minutes of extended interviews and featurettes; a gallery of over 500 characters created by Lee; and the trailer. Terrific – ‘nuff said!

WOLF LAKE: Complete Series DVD (465 mins., 2001-02; E One): Short-lived CBS prime-time drama stars Lou Diamond Phillips as a Seattle police detective who tracks down his girlfriend (Mia Kirshner) to her mysterious hometown where werewolves lurk about. “Wolf Lake” never found much of an audience (CBS axed it after only five episodes aired; UPN eventually ran the rest of it) but the cast is terrific – Tim Matheson, Sharon Lawrence, Graham Greene and a fetching, young Mary Elizabeth Winstead co-star – and fans of the series should be satisfied with E One’s DVD package. In addition to 16:9 transfers and 2.0 soundtracks, the multi-disc set includes an unaired pilot episode with commentary from director Rupert Wainwright and creator John Leekley (in 1.33 full-screen) plus a retrospective documentary.

REC 3: GENESIS DVD (80 mins., 2012, R; Sony): The “Rec” franchise hits rock bottom with this tepid import “prequel” that tries – and fails – to mix some humor into the mix with the zombie/plague/whatever-it-is breaking out at an unfortunate wedding between Leticia Dolera and Diego Martin. Director Paco Plaza struggles to inject a freshness into the series and the unpleasant ending seals the deal. For “Rec” enthusiasts only. Sony’s DVD includes deleted scenes, outtakes, a 16:9 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack.

COPPER: Season 1 Blu-Ray (440 mins., 2012; BBC): Intriguing, entertaining BBC production – which aired domestically on BBC America – focuses on the investigations of Irish-American boxer turned cop Kevin Corcoran (Tom Weston-Jones) in 1864 New York City. This gritty, interesting show mixes crime-procedural plots with historical material involving the Five Points neighborhood of NYC; it’s a rich, well-acted brew co-produced by Barry Levinson and now available in high-def courtesy of BBC’s Blu-Ray box-set. 1080p transfers and DTS HD soundtracks comprise the two-disc set; extras include commentary with Weston-Jones, Franka Potente and other cast members; deleted scenes; featurettes; and a Making Of. Recommended.

RUBY SPARKS Blu-Ray (104 mins., 2012, R; Fox): “Little Miss Sunshine” directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris’ new film has been released on Blu-Ray by Fox, offering a 1080p AVC encoded transfer, DTS MA 5.1 soundtrack and numerous behind-the-scenes featurettes.



New From Lionsgate

LEAP FROG GIFT OF LEARNING DVD and Plush Box Set (Lionsgate): Gift box-set, perfect for kids for the holidays, includes the previously released “Leap Frog” DVDs “Number Land” and “Phonics Farm,” along with a Scout plush doll.
   
GUMMIBAR: THE YUMMY GUMMY SEARCH FOR SANTA DVD (50 mins., 2012; Lionsgate): German produced animated special follows the “Youtube Sensation” in his first movie offering the #1 hit “I am a Gummy Bear” (sorry I haven’t heard it!) plus bonus music videos, a 16:9 transfer and 5.1 soundtrack.

“Devin the Dude,” Lil Duval, Eddie Griffin and Keith David attempt to serve up stoner laughs in HIGHWAY (77 mins., 2012, R), a low-brow, mercifully brief comedy about a pair of brothers who embark on a quest to find “mirjuana nirvana.” Lionsgate’s DVD boasts a 16:9 transfer, 5.1 soundtrack and no extras...Mauro Borrelli’s THE GHOSTMAKER (91 mins., 2012, R) details an ancient coffin that enables the living to experience life as ghosts. Commentary from Borrelli and crew, deleted scenes, a Making Of featurette, 16:9 (2.35) transfer and 5.1 soundtrack comprise Lionsgate’s DVD...The JAVIER BARDEM: 3 FILM COLLECTION includes previously-released DVD editions of “Biutiful,” “No Country For Old Men,” and “Mondays in the Sun”...Wes Bentley, Angus MacFadyen and Julian Sands serve up low-budget genre shenanigans in HIROKIN: THE LAST SAMURAI (105 mins., 2012, R), a film from Alejo Mo-Sun that Lionsgate brings to DVD along with plenty of extras (two featurettes and deleted scenes), a 16:9 transfer and 5.1 soundtrack...Josh Duhamel stars as a firefighter who goes into witness protection in FIRE WITH FIRE (97 mins., 2012, R), co-starring Bruce Willis, Rosario Dawson, Julian McMahon and Vincent D’Onofrio. Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray is packed with supplements (commentary from director David Barrett, actor commentary, behind-the-scenes material, extended cast/crew interviews) along with a 1080p transfer and DTS MA soundtrack.


Also Newly Released

SHAZAM! Complete Series DVD (588 mins., Warner Archives): Kids growing up in the late ‘70s and ‘80s like me didn’t have much in the way of live-action super-hero fun to look forward to on TV. Sure, reruns of “Batman” with Adam West were still in circulation, but other than “The Incredible Hulk” with Bill Bixby, Lynda Carter in “Wonder Woman,” and the TV-movie packages of episodes from the short-lived “Amazing Spider-Man” series with Nicholas Hammond, the youth market of the time wasn’t saturated with genre entertainment that kids today are.

All of that made “Shazam!” something to treasure – even if it was just a silly CBS Saturday morning show that aired in the mid ‘70s as part of a package with the superior “Isis” (where did you go, Joanna Cameron?). By the time I ended up getting into “Shazam!,” it was courtesy of early ‘80s re-runs, before the series would vanish off the face of the earth for a time. All that being said, the show is a good amount of fun even today, with young Billy Batson transforming into Captain Marvel when heroic circumstances necessitate, courtesy of a mix of live-action drama and Filmation animation.

For viewers nostalgic enough to remember it, Warner Home Video has brought the complete series (all 28 episodes) to DVD via the Warner Archive. The transfers are satisfactory and the episodes suitably cheesy and ridiculous – just as I remember them being.

THE SWAN PRINCESS CHRISTMAS DVD (84 mins., 2012, PG; Sony): Director-animator Richard Rich is back with another entry in his long-running “Swan Princess” series. This time out, Princess Odette, Prince Derek and their forest friends reunite to stop the villainous Rothbart from destroying Christmas. The original “Swan Princess” was, at the time, a well-drawn alternative to Disney’s fairy tales, albeit one produced clearly with the same audience in mind (it also bore more than a few resemblances to “Beauty and the Beast”). This new animated offering employs CGI instead of hand-drawn animation, which is likely to give the project more appeal to today’s kids, but it doesn’t have the same charm as its predecessors. Sony’s DVD includes a pretty 16:9 transfer, 5.1 soundtrack, two music videos (one by “America’s Got Talent” competitor Anna Graceman), and a storybook read-along.

LUKEWARM DVD (97 mins., 2012, Not Rated; Image): Luke Rogers (Jeremy Jones) suffers a conscience of faith in this feel-good drama from director Thomas Makowski. John Schneider stars as Rogers’ father, who walked out on him when he was younger, and their reconnection also prompts his son to come to terms with his girlfriend (Nicole Gale Anderson) in this faith-based effort from All Entertainment. Image’s DVD, from their ”Slingshot Pictures” imprint, includes a 16:9 transfer, 5.1 soundtrack, and a discussion guide for church and home group study.


New Releases From Acorn Entertainment

VERA Set 2 DVD ( aprx. 370 mins., 2011; Acorn): Brenda Blethyn returns in this second group of episodes as “Vera” Stanhope – a Northumberland detective who comes off nearly like a modern “Miss Marple” in a popular series from ITV. Set 2 includes four full dramas co-starring David Leon, Jon Morrison and Paul Ritter; guest stars include Rose Leslie, Julie Graham and Judy Parfitt. Acorn’s DVD offers 16:9 transfers and stereo soundtracks, with all four episode arcs included on four respective DVD platters.

THE DUCHESS OF DUKE STREET Complete Series DVD (1976-77, aprx. 27 hours): Masterpiece Theatre aired this BBC production in the late ‘70s, and it remains one of the more enduring British imports of its era (which says something indeed given its counterparts). Gemma Jones is terrific as Louisa Layton, who rises up to become one of Edwardian England’s top chefs and managers of one of London’s top hotels. Her professional and personal life is splendidly detailed in this 31-episode, 10-disc set, containing the complete UK broadcasts in 4:3 transfers as strong as the elements allow. A biography of Rosa Lewis – the owner of London’s Cavendish Hotel, whose life story “The Duchess of Duke Street” is based upon – is included in Acorn’s superb box-set, along with a photo gallery and cast filmographies. Unquestionably recommended!       

NARROW ESCAPES OF WORLD WAR II DVD (653 mins., 2012; Athena/Acorn): 13 episodes comprise the complete “Narrow Escapes of World War II,” a British series that aired – in edited form – on the Military Channel in the U.S. Historians, military experts and surviving participants offer their testimony to some of the closest scrapes the Allies faced in WWII, from the jungles of Southeast Asia to Russia, Nazi-occupied France and even the Himalayan mountains. 16:9 transfers and stereo soundtracks comprise the technical side of Athena’s DVD box; for supplements, a 16 page viewer’s guide offers supporting maps, timelines,  articles, and profiles of select WWII escapees. Essential viewing for WWII buffs.

New From Shout! Factory

Several new releases from the Shout! label hit stores this November, including Season 4 of DIFF’RENT STROKES (aprx. 10 hours), the 1981-82 campaign of the long-running NBC sitcom. This time around, Kimberly gets in trouble in “The Ski Weeekend,” while Charlene dumps Willis in “Jilted,” and laughs and dramatic tension mix in the two-part “very special” episode “Crime in the Streets.” Unedited broadcast-length episodes (26 in all) make for a terrific early Christmas present for “Diff’frent Strokes” fans – here’s hoping Shout! keeps up the series releases as we head into 2013.

Available later this month, and once again in time for the holidays, is MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000: VOLUME XXV (aprx. 8 hours), the latest box-set anthology for MST’ies everywhere. This time, Shout! has assembled four more memorable episodes from the series: “Revenge of the Creature,” plus “Kitten With a Whip,” “Operation Kid Brother,” and the immortal “Robot Holocaust.” Introductions from stars Joel Hodgson and Mike Nelson are on-tap, plus “Jack Arnold at Universal,” “Life After MST3K: Bill Corbett,” “Life After MST3L: J. Elvis Weinstein,” and four mini-posters from artist Steve Vance. Once again, highly recommended for MST3K aficionados.

Coming on Blu-Ray shortly is THE ASTONISHING X-MEN (aprx. 5 hours), an anthology of four stories from writer Joss Whedon and artist John Cassaday, adapted here in animated form by Marvel Knights. “Gifted” focuses on a controversial “mutant cure”; “Dangerous” finds the team investigating the death of a student at the Xavier Institute; Emma Frost is at the center of “Torn”; and “Unstoppable” pits the X-Men against the Breakworld. 1080p AVC encoded transfers and stereo soundtracks adorn the two-disc set, which boasts interviews with Joe Quesada and Neal Adams; a behind-the-scenes look at Marvel Knights animation; and a music video. Recommended for X-Men enthusiasts.


New From Legend Films

Legend Films, which has produced colorized films for major studios, has debuted new 3-D conversions of Little Rascals and Three Stooges shorts in a pair of 3-D Blu-Ray releases.       

THE BEST OF THE LITTLE RASCALS IN 3-D (84 mins., 1931-38) includes a handful of classic Hal Roach comedy shorts, including “Fly My Kite,” “A Lad ‘an a Lamp,” “The Kid From Borneo,” “Hi’ Neighbor” and “Hide and Shriek.” THE THREE STOOGES IN 3-D (78 mins., 1936-49), meanwhile, includes “Disorder in the Court,” “Brideless Groom,” “Sing a Song of Six Pants” and “Malice in the Palace.”

The colorized 3-D isn’t bad – it’s probably more effective than I expected, giving the material a “Viewmaster” type of panoramic effect – but it ultimately doesn’t add a whole lot to the material. B&W 2-D versions are also included here, and the transfers of those are crisp and in line with Legend’s “March of the Wooden Soldiers” Laurel & Hardy release from a year ago.


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