by ANDY DURSIN
Twitter - @theaisleseatcom
Message Board - Come and Discuss The Latest Videos, Movies & Anything Else!
One of the most eagerly anticipated TV on DVD releases of the year, StarVista Entertainment’s massive box-set of the 1988-1991 Vietnam soap opera CHINA BEACH (aprx. 60 hours) represents one of the most satisfying and comprehensive DVD releases of its kind to date.
This ABC series, which aired on Wednesday nights at 10pm basically for the duration of its run, was one of several attempts at bringing the Vietnam War to television in the form of a serialized drama. CBS had tried but failed to muster a consistent audience with their more battlefield-oriented “Tour of Duty,” but ABC and Warner Bros. TV fared better in the ratings with “China Beach.”
This multiple Emmy-winner starred Dana Delaney as Colleen McMurphy, a nurse at an EVAC hospital and USO entertainment center populated with both hard-working medical personnel (Robert Picardo’s Dr. Dick; Marg Helgenberger’s K.C., Colleen’s assistant and a former addict; Concetta Tomei’s hard-nosed Major Lila Garreau) and singers and entertainers who passed through the facility (Chloe Webb’s Laurette Barber, Nan Woods’ Cherry White among them). Most of the latter were concentrated in the show’s earlier episodes, while the later lives and loves of the various characters were touched upon in the present-day as the program concluded at the end of its fourth season. Speaking of that, series in the ‘80s and ‘90s didn’t always have a chance to provide the type of closure that “China Beach” was able to, but it’s something that serves the series well for the first-time viewers used to today’s more serialized programs.
Starvista’s 21-disc box-set houses all 62 episodes of the series in full-screen transfers and stereo soundtracks. The licensing of the innumerable period songs used on the soundtrack was a major hang-up in terms of licensing; from Diana Ross & The Supremes’ “Reflections” as its main theme to tracks by Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, James Brown and Van Morrison, Starvista and Time Life claim to have cleared 268 songs, taking over a year to do so. The efforts, though, will be more than worth it for fans, who’ve had to live with comprised “some music was altered for this home video release” disclaimers across other series too many times over the years. “China Beach”’s soundtrack is integral to the atmosphere of the program and any edits to its soundtrack would’ve compromised its effectiveness.
Special features are abundant. In fact, over 10 hours of goodies are included, from commentaries and interviews to reunion footage shot in December 2012. All the principal cast and crew are on-hand, including Dana Delany, Marg Helgenberger, Robert Picardo, Brian Wimmer, producer John Wells and creators John Sacret Young and William Broyles, Jr. Young and Picardo also provide behind-the-scenes home video footage shot during production of its final episode, while a gag reel and deleted scenes complete a tremendous package for all “China Beach” aficionados.
New From Twilight Time
In 1964, Sam Peckinpah – fresh off the success of his Randolph Scott western “Ride the High Country” – was hired by producer Jerry Bresler to shoot his first big-budget studio picture. “Major Dundee” starred Charlton Heston as a tough, uncompromising Union officer guarding a jail full of Confederate soldiers and other deviants in New Mexico.
After a renegade Apache warrior ransacks a ranch – killing nearly everyone in its path, from Union soldiers to young children – Heston takes charge of tracking him down by any means necessary, including the recruitment of Confederate prisoners to join the cavalry. Among the latter is Richard Harris as one of Heston’s former rivals, who joins The Major, scout James Coburn, and bugler Michael Anderson, Jr. (who also narrates Dundee’s tale) as the troops venture into Mexico to dispatch the Apaches, avoiding French interference along the way.
Originally intended to be a full-blown, three-hour Columbia epic – a la “Lawrence of Arabia” – Peckinpah, Heston and Bresler watched helplessly during production as the studio cut the budget back on the movie. The director and producer sparred over all kinds of problems, and according to Heston, Peckinpah’s off-set vices resulted in the star taking over the direction of the film for a time.
In the editing room “Major Dundee” became even more of a jumbled mess. Bresler and the distributor each removed sections of Peckinpah’s original cut, but according to most experts (notably “DVD Savant” Glenn Erickson), the movie was never satisfactorily completed or even fully formed on the printed page to begin with. Adding insult to injury was the addition of an inane musical score by Daniele Amfitheatrof, utilizing a Colonel Bogey-esque theme song by Mitch Miller & His Sing-Along-Gang that couldn’t have been more out of place.
Over the years “Major Dundee” has gained a sizable cult reputation (mainly among Peckinpah aficionados), with fans long hoping for a restoration that would finally bring all elements of Peckinpah’s “lost masterpiece” together for the first time.
Though billed by Sony as “an authentic American classic, at last presented as its legendary director intended!,” the 2006 Extended Edition of MAJOR DUNDEE (***, 136 mins., PG-13; Twilight Time) was still – in spite of considerable restoration efforts – a flawed film with only intermittent flashes of brilliance. Nevertheless, its arrival on Blu-Ray from Twilight Time is cause for celebration for Heston and Peckinpah devotees as it offers a superb HD presentation of both cuts of the film.
Far from a classic, even of its genre, the movie nevertheless offers some spectacular moments and superb widescreen imagery, along with strong performances from an excellent cast -- most of whom are poorly utilized in a script that never seems sure where it’s going or what precisely it’s trying to say. Is it a profile of American’s adventurous spirit in the dwindling days of the Civil War? A commentary on the futility of warfare in general? Even the experts seem divided on what the movie’s point is. Meanwhile, though some of the supporting characters have more of a place here (one of the chief criticisms of Columbia’s original theatrical cut), several still appear and then disappear with no rhyme or reason (and what exactly is the deal with Senta Berger’s love interest?).
Still, “Dundee” devotees will find much to rejoice about in the extended cut: mainly, a new score by Christopher Caliendo that easily tops Amfitheatrof’s often inane original soundtrack. Caliendo’s music is appropriately dense and bombastic enough that it doesn’t sound out of place for a mid ‘60s film, whilst retaining a modern sensibility that makes it far more satisfying than Amfitheatrof’s work, which is marred by the Mitch Miller march and a laughably bad synthesizer “stab” whenever the Apaches appear on-screen. Still, purists can find comfort that Amfitheatrof’s music is offered as well on the theatrical cut, though the 5.1 DTS MA track (with Caliendo’s soundtrack) is unquestionably more satisfying than the comparatively pinched DTS MA 1.0 original mono mix available on the theatrical version.
Twilight Time’s Blu-Ray presentation also boasts a terrific 1080p AVC encoded transfer that’s appreciably better than the prior DVD release, particularly when you consider the myriad quality of elements Sony had to work with for the restored sequences. Supplemental features are also in abundance, many of which have been reprieved from that DVD.
Peckinpah experts Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons and David Weddle join moderator Nick Redman on a commentary track discusses the genesis of the film and how it fits in the Peckinpah canon. It’s a fascinating talk that’s well-balanced and surprisingly critical of the finished work throughout (most are even dismissive of the new introduction of Richard Harris’ character in the longer version). Some additional deleted footage can be found in surviving footage from the “Knife Fight” and an extended sequence between “Major Dundee and Teresa,” additional silent outtakes, trailers, an exhibitor promo reel excerpt, trailer artwork outtakes, and isolated scores on both versions. (It should be noted the disc does not offer the option of watching the extended version with Amfitheatrof’s score, which the earlier DVD did include).
Despite the movie’s shortcomings, the 136-minute Extended Version is nevertheless an important, ambitious attempt at restoring “Major Dundee” as best as can be. Twilight Time’s Blu-Ray is chock full of supplements, offers both cuts of the film, a superior HD transfer and is certainly worth a viewing for its brisk action scenes and excellent performances from Heston and Harris.
Also new on Blu-Ray
JACK REACHER Blu-Ray Combo Pack (**, 130 mins., 2012, PG-13; Paramount): Exceedingly well-shot, would-be franchise-starter for star/producer Tom Cruise is a disappointingly downbeat affair that takes a long time to unravel a mystery that’s not particularly interesting.
Cruise plays Jack Reacher, the former military cop hero of Lee Child’s bestselling books. While traveling the country as a "ghost", Reacher is called into Pittsburgh by a former squadmate – a troubled assassin wanted for the shooting deaths of a handful of innocent victims along the city’s River Walk. The District Attorney’s daughter (Rosamund Pike) has the unenviable task of defending him, but Reacher finds out his participation in the killings is tied to a cover up and a larger conspiracy.
Christopher McQuarrie wrote and directed “Jack Reacher,” which is notably distinguished by outstanding cinematography from Caleb Deschanel. The movie looks natural, crisp, and detailed – the transfer here on Paramount’s Blu-Ray is likewise outstanding, with Deschanel capturing the essence of the city and the film’s characters without excessive use of filters or shaky-cam. McQuarrie as well ought to be lauded for a film that, despite its excessive running time, is refreshingly direct and old-fashioned in its editorial rhythms and overall approach – the issue is that the story, sadly, goes nowhere. Outside of a well-executed car chase, most of “Jack Reacher” is spent on our protagonist tracking down leads and getting to the bottom of a mystery that’s decidedly depressing and uninvolving. Ultimately, when we get to the real bad guys – including a Russian mobster played by Werner Herzog, of all people – the film collapses further into a bland battle of fists (not so much wits) between Reacher and the thugs.
Though many derided Cruise’s participation here as he doesn’t physically resemble the Jack Reacher of Child’s books, the star is suitably brooding and “tough”. The rest of the performances aren’t nearly as effective, however, with Pike straining to believably convey her justice-minded attorney and failing to ignite chemistry with either Reacher or her District Attorney father (Richard Jenkins). Robert Duvall does manage to inject some life into the later stages as an old military vet who helps Cruise, but this reunion between the “Days of Thunder” castmates ultimately provides only so much energy. McQuarrie, meanwhile, also struggles with a tone that’s almost unflinchingly “down,” interspersing some brief doses of humor in a film that could’ve used more of them – or at least something to shake up the one-note story.
Paramount’s Blu-Ray boasts the before-mentioned stellar 1080p AVC encoded transfer as well as a strongly designed DTS MA track. Extras include a pair of commentaries, one by Cruise and McQuarrie, and another with composer Joe Kraemer that also functions as an isolated score track (something we haven’t seen much of lately; sadly, Kraemer’s score isn’t anything to write home about). Other extras include a few featurettes, plus a DVD and the standard digital copies.
MAMA Blu-Ray Combo Pack (**½, 100 mins., 2013, PG-13; Universal): On the sheer level of an old-time spookshow, Andres Muschietti’s feature-length expansion of his short “Mama” gets the job done. On the other hand, while the film is littered with some genuinely unsettling moments, it’s also severely let down by a disjointed story.
The script by Muschietti, his sister Barbara and Neil Cross, is an awkwardly constructed tale of two young girls – deserted in an abandoned mountain cabin by their distraught father – who are, essentially, raised by a supernatural force that keeps them alive and fed...at least with cherries. Years later, the girls’ uncle (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) locates them after an all-consuming search and brings them back to civilization. Their feral ways are, to a degree, soon diminished (at least in the case of the older girl), but it seems “Mama” has come along for the ride, freaking out the uncle and his girlfriend – a tattoo-laden rocker (Jessica Chastain, wearing a stark black wig a la Joan Jett) who never really wanted kids to begin with.
“Mama” is the sort of film that works best while you’re watching it, and less so after the smoke has cleared and you begin to dissect all of its deficiencies. The first half is clearly the better portion, with the girls’ “Nell”-like upbringing being nearly as weird and visually arresting as the occasional supernatural activity posed by “Mama” herself. Once the plot kicks into gear, the script fails the film with numerous gaps (why does the ghost kill one character in particular, who was trying to help her? why does the uncle disappear for the whole last third of the film after he goes into the hospital?) and poor story construction in general (it’s even hard to tell who the "main character" is for the longest time, seeing as the psychiatrist character narrates the film for a while). More should’ve been made of the girls’ reacclamation to the real world, but it’s swept under the carpet quickly to make way for the movie’s second half of more CGI-laden, explicitly visual frights, which aren’t nearly as effective. To no one’s surprise, “Mama” is decidedly less scary as a CGI-like puppet with glowing eyes than she is in the earlier section of the film when she’s only fleetingly viewed.
The performances do help, at least, despite the fact that Chastain seems out of her element as an “edgy alternative chick”; she’s at least much more effective in dramatic beats with the young actresses essaying the lost little girls, and the film could’ve used more of those moments. Ultimately “Mama” still rates moderately well as a tale of terror co-produced by Guillermo Del Toro, who – after this film, “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “The Orphanage” – seems to have a fetish for placing kids not only in jeopardy but in knocking them off altogether. Oh the horror!
Universal’s Blu-Ray combo pack offers nearly seven minutes of deleted scenes; the original short subject; a featurette; commentary; and a BD-format exclusive visual effects featurette. The DTS MA soundtrack is excellent as is the 1080p transfer, while a DVD and digital copy round out the release.
More May Releases
FUNNY GIRL Blu-Ray (***, 155 mins., 1968, G; Sony): I'm not the world's biggest Barbra Streisand fan, so right away that disqualifies me from giving a completely neutral view of this much-loved (by the fans' stars) 1968 musical “Funny Girl,” the box-office smash that copped a handful of Oscar nominations and a win for Streisand as Best Actress.
Still, the tuneful Jule Styne-Bob Merrill score, which includes such favorites as "People," "Don't Rain on My Parade" and the title song, lends solid support to Barb's quintessential big-screen performance as comedienne Fanny Brice, ranging from high comedy to melodramatic passages in William Wyler's film (with musical numbers handled by Herbert Ross). Either way, it's a much better film than the bloated 1975 sequel, "Funny Lady,” which found Ross replacing Wyler, Kander & Ebb subbing for Styne & Merill, and James Caan taking over screen time from Omar Sharif, who returned for a few scenes as Brice’s first husband.
Mastered from a 4K source, “Funny Girl” sings on Blu-Ray with a beautiful 1080p AVC encoded transfer. The 5.0 DTS MA audio is fine, and Streisand aficionados will enjoy the two featurettes ("Barbra in Movieland" and "This is Streisand") included in a rare catalog release these days from Sony.
PBS New Releases: In the new “Nature” documentary WHAT PLANTS TALK ABOUT (60 mins., 2013), writer-director Erna Buffie engagingly dissects the different relationships plants have with each other in environments as varied as west coast Canada and the Great Basin Desert. Ecologist J.C. Cahill joins a number of other scientists in an accessible program for both nature enthusiasts and casual viewers alike. PBS’ DVD includes a widescreen transfer and stereo soundtrack...The superb drama THE BLETCHLEY CIRCLE (135 mins., 2012) stars Anna Maxwell Martin, Rachael Stirling, Sophie Rundle and Julie Graham as four intelligence agents who worked during WWII at the top-secret Bletchley Park, helping to crack German military codes. Years later, the quartet reunite once a series of unsolved murders plague London circa 1952. Well made and performed with solid period atmosphere, “The Bletchley Circle” has made its way to Blu-Ray from PBS in a fine presentation offering a 1080i transfer, stereo soundtrack, and 25 minutes of cast/crew interviews for extras.
E ONE New Releases: Lindsay Lohan’s off-screen antics have made far more noise than any project she’s actually acted in of late – and with good reason, really, since the flaccid biopic LIZ & DICK (90 mins., 2012) is a lame cable-film with Lohan attempting to essay Elizabeth Taylor and Grant Bowler stepping into the shoes of Richard Burton. Reading the numerous books on their relationship would be more interesting than this by-the-numbers affair, which E One brings to DVD in May boasting interviews, a 16:9 transfer and 5.1 soundtrack...The makers of “Cold Prey” produced the period adventure ESCAPE (80 mins., 2013), a short but watchable import that plays like a Norwegian variation on “The Most Dangerous Game.” E One’s Blu-Ray includes bloopers, deleted scenes and a visual effects featurette, plus a 1080p transfer and soundtracks in either Norwegian (DTS MA) or English dubbed (2.0 Dolby Digital)...In Season 3 of ROOKIE BLUE (556 mins., 2012), Missy Peregrym returns as one of several officers no longer rookies but seasoned cops on the beat. Guest stars include William Shatner in this third season of the popular Canadian drama which ABC has aired to decent ratings during the summer time. E One’s DVD includes seven behind the scenes featurettes, on-set cast interviews, 16:9 transfers and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks.
LIONSGATE New Releases: NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD: RESURRECTION (90 mins., 2013, R) is a UK quickie with a family trying to hide from a zombie apocalypse in a Wales farmhouse. Lionsgate’s DVD includes a cast/crew commentary, 16:9 (2.35) transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack.
TV on DVD
FRIENDS Season 1 Blu-Ray (542 mins., 1994-95; Warner)
FRIENDS Season 2 Blu-Ray (544 mins., 1995-96; Warner)
When “Friends” debuted on NBC in the fall of 1994, few – if anyone – would have believed the success the series would generate. An ensemble comedy of twentysomethings living, dating, loving, and laughing in New York City, the series – created by David Crane and Marta Kauffmann – boasted a (then) mostly nondescript cast that most viewers wouldn’t have had any familiarity with. Yet, thanks to smart writing, ample chemistry between the stars and the power of NBC’s Thursday night prime-time line-up during the era, the series garnered a fanbase right off the bat and would see its viewership steadily increase as the years progressed.
Mixing laughs with romance in a format that became more arc-driven – and less self-contained – as it went on, “Friends” introduced viewers to chef Monica (Courtney Cox), her paleontologist brother Ross (David Schwimmer), fashionista Rachel (Jennifer Aniston), actor Joey (Matt LeBlanc), corporate exec Chandler (Matthew Perry) and hippie-crunchy waitress Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow). The group’s various personal and professional aspirations are, like the best ensemble sitcoms, given ample time to percolate: the on-again, off-again romance between Rachel and Ross; Joey’s often funny television roles (including a starring role in the action-drama “Mac and C.H.E.E.SE.”); Phoebe becoming a surrogate mom for her brother, while intermittently butting heads with “evil twin” Ursula; Chandler and Monica’s slow-developing relationship; and assorted break-ups (many of them) along the way.
“Friends” debuted strongly during the fall of 1994, and by its fifth season had an audience that climbed to nearly 20 million viewers on average weekly. Over 50 million viewers tuned into the show’s finale in 2004, nearly a decade – and a total of 236 episodes – after it first premiered. The show’s theme song – The Remembrandts’ “I’ll Be There For You” – became one of the last big TV themes to hit it big on the pop charts, and the series is still viewed in syndication on an almost-daily basis. Though I was never a weekly viewer of “Friends,” you have to admire any series that remains on the air for 10 years; the program remains one of the pop-culture smash success stories of its day, and its devoted fans will be thrilled with Warner’s new HD presentation of the series on Blu-Ray.
Previously available in the form of a full-series box-set, Warner has brought Seasons 1 and 2 of “Friends” to Blu-Ray again, this time as individual season releases. Season 1 includes a pilot episode producers commentary and memorable guest star clips; Season 2 offers an uncut version of “Smelly Cat” and a guestbook, while both offer 1080p transfers and Dolby Digital soundtracks.
Also New & Noteworthy
THE GUILT TRIP Blu-Ray Combo Pack (95 mins., 2012, PG-13; Paramount): A box-office disappointment last Christmas, “The Guilt Trip” sports the nobody-asked-for-it pairing of Seth Rogen and Barbra Streisand in a mom/son road trip film from comedian Dan Fogelman, who penned the script, and director Anne Fletcher. “The Guilt Trip” is pretty much by-the-numbers stuff all the way through, and although both Streisand and Rogen try their best as they cross the fruited plain (often getting into each other’s way in the process), it’s easy to see why viewers didn’t latch onto it. Paramount’s Blu-Ray combo pack includes deleted scenes and numerous featurettes, a 1080p AVC encoded transfer, DTS MA soundtrack and a digital copy for both Ultraviolet and itunes platforms.
NOT FADE AWAY Blu-Ray (112 mins., 2012, R; Paramount): Disappointing film from “Sopranos” creator David Chase follows a young aspiring musician (John Magaro) who drops out of college in the ‘60s and tries to pursue a music career with his band. Things, naturally, don’t entirely go his way in a flavorful but unappealing film that made little noise in limited release a year ago. “Sopranos” devotees might want to see Chase try and work his magic in a feature format, but the results are middling at best, despite a game soundtrack and a co-starring role for James Gandolfini (as Magaro’s father) among others. Paramount’s Blu-Ray boasts deleted scenes, multiple featurettes, an Ultraviolet and digital copy, 1080p transfer and DTS MA soundtrack.
PIERRE ETAIX Blu-Ray (Criterion): An absolute must-have for French cinephiles, this Criterion double-disc Blu-Ray celebrates the work of filmmaker/comedian Pierre Etaix, whose pictures went unseen for years while they were entangled in legal issues.
All five of Etaix’s feature films are included here: 1963's “The Suitor,” 1965's “Yoyo,” 1966's “As Long As You’ve Got Your Health,” 1969's “Le Grand Amour,” and 1971's “Land of Milk and Honey,” plus the shorts “Rupture” (1961), “Happy Anniversary” (1962) and “Feeling Good” (1966). Uncompressed mono soundtracks adorn the HD restorations, with new video introductions provided by Etaix, along with “Pierre Etaix: Un Destin Anime,” a 2011 profile of Etaix by his wife Odile.
Etaix’s films are good-natured and gently amusing – those who admire the films of Jacques Tati will find these to be an interesting complement to the whimsical efforts of that other famous Frenchman with a funnybone.
THE DETAILS Blu-Ray (101 mins., 2012, R; Anchor Bay): Pitch-black, and not especially likeable, tale of a seemingly normal suburbanite (Tobey Maguire), trapped in a sexless marriage with Elizabeth Banks (hard to believe that’s possible, but I digress!), who ultimately blows his stack and loses his way. Murder and mayhem follow in Jacob Aaron Estes’ barely-seen black comedy that wastes a tremendous cast with Laura Linney, Dennis Haysbert, Ray Liotta and Kerry Washington getting wrapped up in an unsatisfying affair all the way around. Anchor Bay’s Blu-Ray, out this week, includes an alternate opening and ending, a 1080p transfer and 5.1 DTS MA soundtrack.
SHANGHAI NOON/SHANGHAI KNIGHTS Blu-Ray (**½, 110/114 mins., 2000/2003, PG-13; Touchstone): The beneficiary of positive reviews from critics (the likely result of having been screened right after viewings of “Battlefield Earth”), the amiable 2000 “Shanghai Noon” is an overlong western-comedy provides the kind of carefree entertainment I would have felt better about if I didn't have to pay $8.50 at the time to see it.
Jackie Chan is a member of the Imperial Guard of China sent to find abducted Princess Lucy Liu in the hills of the old West; Owen Wilson plays the good-hearted outlaw who ultimately helps him out. Culture shock laughs, well-worn western gags, and barroom fights ensue, the funniest moments of which involve Jackie waking up from a hangover in a teepee.
“Shanghai Noon,” despite some laughs and a few nifty set-pieces, never really gets its act together. The plot is a snore and Randy Edelman's distressingly bland score is a bore, so even though Chan gives it his usual all, the movie plays like a well-executed but thoroughly by-the-numbers western-comedy that you've seen before.
Nevertheless, the film’s success lead to “Shanghai Knights” three years later: a similarly likeable-yet-underwhelming sequel that sends former sagebrush pals Chon Wang (Chan) and Roy O'Bannon (Wilson) to London where Wang's sister is engaged in a struggle to find their father's killer.
Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, the "Smallville" guys who also wrote "Shanghai Noon," are back to provide more breezy laughs and action in this entertaining if overlong follow-up, which again gets by primarily due to the stars' interplay. Chan and Wilson are a lot easier to take than Chan and Chris Tucker in "Rush Hour," though the movie's somewhat lackadaisical execution ends up robbing the picture of energy. There are the requisite gags involving historical figures (from Jack the Ripper to Charlie Chaplin), a few fun fight sequences (most notably Jackie's homage to Gene Kelly), a couple of amusing lines, and a superior score by Randy Edelman, but despite all of that, it still provides a fairly large "so what?" quotient.
Buena Vista’s Blu-Ray combines both “Shanghai Noon” and “Shanghai Knights” on the same Blu-Ray platter. While the 1080p AVC encoded transfers are both excellent (especially “Noon”) and loads of extras have been retained from the prior DVDs (commentaries and deleted scenes to Making Of featurettes), fans may lament the absence of lossless audio as both movies are only offered in 5.1 Dolby Digital.
CHEECH & CHONG’S ANIMATED MOVIE (83 mins., 2013, R; Fox) is a predictably trippy animated production that “reunites” Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong – kind of – in a series of older audio skits that have been edited together as a free-flowing cartoon with limited original material. Fans of the duo will be, naturally, the most receptive to the effort, with Fox’s Blu-Ray boasting commentaries and other supplements, a 1080p transfer and DTS MA soundtrack.
REVENGE FOR JOLLY! DVD (84 mins., 2012, R; Sony): Elijah Wood, Adam Brody, Ryan Phillippe and Kristen Wiig star in Chadd Harbold’s “Revenge For Jolly!,” yet another dark-comedy bloodbath wherein a pair of losers seek revenge for the death of their little dog. The eclectic cast makes the brief running time palatable, but the film itself comes off like just another Tarantino wannabe. Sony’s DVD includes a 16:9 (1.78) transfer and 5.1 soundtrack.
BEN-HUR DVD (192 mins., 2010; Sony): Joseph Morgan, Emily Vancamp, Kristin Kruek and Stephen Campbell Moore star in this watchable TV mini-series rendition of the oft-told tale. While nobody will be mistaking this for the exploits of Charlton Heston, this Sony Pictures Television co-production is watchable enough, with guest star turns from Ray Winston and Ben Cross augmenting the supporting cast. Sony’s single-disc DVD boasts a Making Of featurette along with a 16:9 transfer and 5.1 soundtrack.
THE ASSASSIN’S BLADE Blu-Ray (103 mins., 2008; Well Go USA): Jingle Ma, who staged the “action” sequences in “Hero” and “House of Flying Daggers,” helmed this above-average HK import with Charlene Choi as a girl who pretends to be a man in order to learn martial arts. She falls for her instructor (Chun Wu), setting in motion a series of events that boil over when Choi finds out her parents are in danger. “The Assassin’s Blade” boasts a satisfying mix of martial arts and character-driven drama, and Well Go’s Blu-Ray includes a 1080p transfer, 5.1 DTS MA soundtrack (in Cantonese with English subtitles), and the trailer.
SHELTER ME DVD (57 mins., 2013; Virgil Films): Moving documentary about shelter pets, from dogs who become family pets to those being used for therapy and in assistance with disabled individuals. Katherine Heigel hosts this hour-long documentary from director Steven Latham, which was co-sponsored by Ellen Degeneres’ company and arrives on DVD this month from Virgil Films in a 16:9 transfer with stereo audio.
MANBORG DVD (72 mins., 2011, Not Rated; Dark Sky/MPI): Absolutely ridiculous no-budget sci-fi mash-up is patently off-the-wall, but at least director/co-writer Steven Kostanski has a sense of humor about it. MPI’s DVD of “Manborg” boasts bloopers, stop motion footage, FX montage material, commentaries, and the bonus feature “Bio Cop.” You’ve been warned – but it’s kind of fun, at least for a few minutes.
THE WICKED DVD (105 mins., 2012, Not Rated; Image): As direct-to-video horrors go, this is a surprisingly alright tale of teens who take on a witch that haunts their local town. An agreeably silly thriller with a sense of humor thanks to director Peter Winther and writer Michael Vickerman. Image’s DVD boasts a 16:9 transfer, 5.1 soundtrack and a Making Of featurette.
WITNESS: A WORLD IN CONFLICT THROUGH A LENS DVD (187 mins., 2013; HBO): Michael Mann was one of the executive producers of this four-part HBO documentary series, which follows three combat photographers into hotzones in Mexico, Libya, South Sudan and Brazil, where drug trafficking, poverty and violence rule the day. An unflinching production from director David Frankham, “Witness” will be released on DVD on May 7th from HBO sporting a 5.1 soundtrack and 16:9 transfer.
Mill Creek New Releases
Mill Creek’s new March releases are highlighted by several multi-disc DVD box sets.
GREATEST WESTERN HEROES includes over 67 hours of old-time classic western fun, from 17 episodes from the 1949 “The Lone Ranger” TV series with Clayton Moore; the 1938 Lee Powell “Lone Ranger” movie serial; multiple episodes from “The Gabby Hayes Show,” “The Adventures of Kit Carson,” “The Cisco Kid” and “Annie Oakley”; and a number of Gail Davis and Roy Rogers programmers from the ‘30s and ‘40s.
WWII DIARIES (28 hours) is a 9-disc set that offers a month-by-month account of the early conflicts between the Axis and the Allies, from September 1939 through June 1942. Newsreel footage, photographs and more are on-hand in this compelling program for history buffs. Also worth checking out is THE LINCOLN CHRONICLES (aprx. 30 hours), a 10-disc set that includes “Sandburg’s Lincoln,” the first TV mini-series with Hal Holbrook as the President in a David L. Wolper production; the 10-part documentary “America: The Birth of Freedom”; the 10-part “Civil War: America Divided”; and the 5-part documentary “Lincoln: Trial By Fire,” with D.W. Griffith’s “Abraham Lincoln” presented as a bonus.
Finally, the short-lived FLASH GORDON series (16 hours, 2007) also lands on DVD as a four-disc set from Mill Creek, including all 22 episodes from the program starring Eric Johnson as Flash. Disappointingly, most of the action here is comprised of mediocre, Earth-bound action with Flash and friends taking on Ming the Merciless. It was all more fun in the old serials – or the Dino DeLaurentiis movie. Mill Creek’s release offers 16:9 transfers and stereo soundtracks.
NEXT TIME: Shout's new releases and catalog manufactured-on-demand madness! 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!