What ‘The Reaping’ Sows and ‘Grindhouse’ Grinds

“The Reaping,” a supernatural thriller giving Hilary Swank a break from more challenging rolls, is not as bad as you may have heard nor as good as it might have been.l

Like the much better “Grindhouse,” a different genre but a similar problem, the picture stays with the same old blueprint.

In “Planet Terror,” the Robert Rodriguez portion of “Grindhouse,” a quirk of science transforms hapless bystanders and bad people into zombies.

Rodriguez, one of the most creative minds in Hollywood, opts for the familiar; it’s lively, it’s loud, it’s fun – it’s the same-o, same-o.

From other directors, OK fine. From Rodriguez, it’s an easy do; fun but zero risk; cult films have built-in audiences.

In fairness, he does a wonderful job capturing the static bursts and lines that riddled the original crank-’em-out, quick-assembly, low-budget grindhouse films that played the grindhouse circuit.

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Best movies of 2008

The eye of the beholder

There’s no accounting for taste, which is why the year’s-best lists veer all over the place, and some crit picks leave us wondering if the reviewer was sipping from a flask at the screening.

(That doesn’t happen with the Bay Area contingent but I can’t speak for other parts of the country, where one reviewer was recently outed for recommending films based on their trailers. For shame.)

Which brings us back to the present. I haven’t seen all of the 2008 releases. Frankly, I don’t know if anyone has, except perhaps a handful who fit the criteria of single, socially challenged, obsessed, and unaware there was an election last year.

But like everyone else in the universe, I have my likes and dislikes, my choices for best and worst. (The latter starts and stops with with “Speed ‘what were they thinking?’ Racer.”)

If this were purely a remembrance of personal favorites it would include “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” and “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” They were great fun but, in critic-speak, “awkward” in too many spots to qualify as best-ofs.

My other favorites – “Wall-E,” “Milk,” “Tell No One,” “Vicky Christina Barcelona,” “The Visitor,” “Slumdog Millionaire,” “Frost/Nixon” and “The Dark Knight” – were also flawed here and there, but not enough to bump them for the list.

To which I’ll add “Iron Man” and, in a tie for 10th, “The Wrestler” and “Revolutionary Road” – because 10 seems to be the number that provides closure for most people who cherish these sorts of compilations.

Among my criteria: I walked away with the feeling, Hey, that was really something, and, the picture was easy to see a second time around on DVD.

The list, in approximate order, last to first:

10. (tie) “Revolutionary Road” and “The Wrestler”: both feature excellent acting, by Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio as an unhappily married 1950s suburban couple in the unsettling former, and by Mickey Rourke for his raw portrayal of an over-the-hill pro wrestler in the gritty latter.

9. “Iron Man”: second-best comic-book adaptation with Robert Downey Jr. providing unexpected depth (along with expected wry wit) as the title character.

8. “The Dark Knight”: best-ever comic adaptation highlighted by Heath Ledger’s mesmerizing performance as The Joker.

7. “The Visitor”: compelling, convincing slice-of-life, starting-over story with character actor Richard Jenkins embracing the role of a grieving, distant college professor who slowly re-enters the world after befriending the immigrant couple he finds living in his previously uninhabited rental. Poignant and encouraging.

6. “Tell No One”: Exciting, suspenseful French adaptation of American writer Harlen Coben’s mystery about a doctor who starts receiving e-mails with photos of his wife – who ostensibly was murdered years ago. Solid story and performances.

5. “Wall-E”: Pixar’s animated magic continues with this charmer that recalls some of the best comedies from the silent era. Hard not to fall for the lonely but creative little robot who compacts trash on a deserted Earth, then falls for a pristine but volatile visiting probe robot. Rendered with humor, sensitivity and loads of personality.

4. “Frost/Nixon”: Fine translation of the play based on the David Frost TV interviews with former president Richard Nixon in the ’70s, with Frank Langella superb as the ex prez. Rich performances, strong writing and direction (by Ron Howard) and insightful story.

3. “Slumdog Millionaire”: Wonderfully layered Dickensian saga about a young Indian man arrested and interrogated by police the day before he’s scheduled to go for the top prize in his country’s biggest quiz show. Director Danny Boyle parades him, and us, via unobtrusive flashbacks, through the violence and grime of the slums where he and his estranged brother grew up, fending for themselves.

The pictures provide a bleak yet colorful – in that Dickensian way – background to the tale of the young man’s enduring love for his childhood sweetheart. A powerful, sweeping saga enhanced by appealing performances by the actors who play the leads as children, teens and adults. And with a Bollywood musical production number on top of everything else.

2. “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”: Woody Allen’s best film in years is a charming meditation on love and what makes it stay, on changing and unchanging relationships, on men and women and life in general. Javier Bardem as a passionate painter and Scarlett Johansson, Rebecca Hall and, especially, Penelope Cruz as the women in his life are perfectly cast and, in their bumbling, fumbling, sexy ways, endearing. Fine writing and direction. A gem.

1. “Milk”: Sean Penn finally shows a tender side, allowing a host of emotions to eke through his portrayal of Harvey Milk, the country’s first openly gay man elected to a major political office, that of San Francisco supervisor in the late ’70s.

Director Gus Van Sant complements Penn’s Oscar-caliber performance with a coterie of heavy hitters, including Emile Hirsch, almost unrecognizable as the street hustler who becomes Milk’s trusted political adviser, James Franco as Milk’s lover and Josh Brolin as Dan White, the SF supervisor who Mayor George Moscone and Milk. Brolin’s earned a deserved Oscar Buzz in the supporting category.

Dustin Lance Black’s impressive screenplay paints Milk as a complex, kind-hearted and committed man who found himself in the right place – what became the Castro District – at what he helped make the right time. “Milk” paints a colorful and realistic portrait of SF in the ’70s and does a very good job blending old news footage of rallies and S.F. with its insightful, touching and spirited narrative.

It’s not perfect; then again, all of the year’s films have flaws.

Feel free to nitpick.

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“Delgo”: All-Time-Worst Movie Opening

Hello, I Must Be Going

I was wondering why the animated film “Delgo,” a mainstream release, disappeared from the movie listings only a week after opening.

I figured it probably opened poorly, but I had no idea how poorly.

Until a Chicago Tribune report surfaced today, declaring the stiff fantasy “secured a special place in cinema history this week as the least-attended film ever to open on more than 2,000 screens.

In a darkly amusing anecdote, the writer, Robert K. Elder, said he and one other person were the only people at the 1:50 p.m. Tuesday screening he attended. And, he said, the other person snored through half the film.

Evidently, it was an accurate sample. Media by Numbers reported “Delgo’s” opening-weekend take at $511,920 in 2,160 theaters. Yahoo! movie writer Jonathan Crow reported that that translates to an average of two people per screening.

I know you can’t win ’em all, but I’d think you could at least win an audience of three.

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DVD reviews: “Mamma Mia!,” “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor,” “House Bunny,” “Traitor,” box sets, Blu-ray releases

Oh, Mamma!

It’s so tempting to call “Mamma Mia! The Movie” a chick flick, especially after the opening 20 minutes or so of women hugging and giggling.

But the catchy ABBA songs have universal appeal (“Dancing Queen” and “Take a Chance on Me” play in your brain on a continuous loop until you’re ready for the loony bin).

Meryl Streep’s a treat singing and dancing — maybe “shimmying” is a better word — in the lead. And the picture mixes in lusty men such as Pierce Brosnan (except when he, shudder, sings), Stellan Skarsgard and, while not lusty, stalwart Colin Firth to add a dollop of testosterone to the proceedings.

Adapted from the megahit stage production, the bouncy musical comedy is foot-tapping fun, despite a couple of scenes that run on forever.

Also, the film’s relentlessly upbeat, a bonus at this time of year. Streep’s strong as Donna, a happily single mother raising her daughter Sophie on a Greek island.

Amanda Seyfried stands out as Sophie who, unbeknownst to her mother, has sent wedding invitations to the three men in mom’s life around the time she was conceived — to learn which is her father so he can escort her down the aisle.

The plot, such as it is, plays out on single disc and two-disc DVD and Blu-ray sets.

Extras: “Sing Along” to on-screen lyrics from the 22 songs as the picture plays, new musical number (“The Name of the Game”) and commentary with director Phyllida Lloyd on all versions; deleted scenes, outtakes, making-of shorts, piece on becoming a singer, digital copy and more on two-disc sets and Blu-ray.

Mummy dearest

Brendan Fraser dabbles in mummy mumbo-jumbo for the third time with “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor,” only this time he does it with Maria Bello as his wife Evelyn rather than Rachel Weisz.

A pity; Bello and Fraser go together about as well as Lily Tomlin and John Travolta in “Moment by Moment.”

This “Mummy” brings plenty of action, the film’s biggest plus, as archeologist/tomb raider Rick O’Connell (Fraser) and Evelyn help their now-grown son (Luke Ford) deal with the newly resurrected Dragon Emperor (Jet Li) as he attempts to raise his sleeping army and conquer the world.

Or something like that.

The story runs out of juice before the finale, but that shouldn’t bother fans of mindless escapism with computer-generated armies of the dead running rampant. Also on Blu-ray.

Extras: Gobs: deleted and extended scenes; making-of shorts; commentary; history of terra cotta soldiers; battle preps; more. Blu-ray also offers picture-in-picture and more.

What’s up, Anna?

Launched by the “Scary Movie” series, Anna Faris has evolved into a comic star and a personal favorite of mine. I like her comic timing, sparkly personality and aura that suggests life just isn’t that serious.

While that’s not enough to carry “House Bunny” into, say, “Legally Blonde” territory, it sparks enough grins and chuckles to make the frothy film a hopping good time. (What? You expected a “House Bunny” piece without at least one bad pun?)

At 27, Faris’ character is considered too old to be a Playboy Bunny, so she’s booted from the mansion and, before you can say, “Oh, please, you’ve got to be kidding,” she lands the job of house mother to the frumpiest, most awkward sorority on campus.

And who better to do a makeover — on Emma Stone, Kat Dennings and Katharine McPhee?

Despite having the depth of a dust mote, “House Bunny” is cute, amusing and a decent pick on a cold and rainy day. Also on Blu-ray.

Extras: Deleted scenes; shorts on Faris, Colin Hanks, costumes, makeup; music video.

Dandy Don does terrorism

“Traitor” is a suspense drama that goes nowhere slowly.

Well, maybe that’s too negative. Don Cheadle convinces as an angst-laden ex-Special Forces member now dealing in explosives and climbing up the ladder in a terrorist cell targeting the U.S.

And there are a couple of cool explosions and tense moments.

But the pacing, a mix of stop and go, is mostly stop, and even Cheadle gets mired in the mucky screenplay.

OK, so maybe the description wasn’t too negative after all.

With Guy Pearce as a fed who stays hot on Cheadle’s trail.

Extras: Commentary by Cheadle and director Jeffrey Nachmanoff; shorts on stunts, effects and locations.

Box sets

“Mr. Bean: The Ultimate Collection”: Seven discs, 14 episodes from original series, “Mr. Bean: The Movie,” “Mr. Bean’s Holiday,” “Mr. Bean: The Animated Series,” more.

“The New Christmas Classics”: “George of the Jungle: Jungle Bells,” “Casper’s Haunted Christmas,” “Gumby Season’s Greetings,” “Fat Albert’s Christmas Special.”

“The Original Christmas Classics”: Remastered versions of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Frosty the Snowman,” “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town,” “The Little Drummer Boy,” “Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol,” “Cricket on the Hearth,” “Frosty Returns,” plus holiday music CD.

Also on DVD

“Goldilocks and the 3 Bears”: Reality TV hits the fairy-tale circuit with Goldilocks and the three bears living together in “Big Brother”-like show; computer-animated.

“The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea Special Edition”:
Ariel and Eric hide their daughter’s mermaid heritage to keep her safe from the dastardly Morgana.

“Sangre de Mi Sanger”:
Thief steals identity of young Mexican illegal in New York City to find his father; 2007 Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner.

“Wild Country”: Wolf-like beast stalks church youth group, including teen, her ex and an abandoned baby, through Scottish Highlands.

New on Blu-ray

“Coach Carter”: Samuel L. Jackson as controversial Richmond High hoops coach.

“Death Proof: Unrated and Extended Cut”: Kurt Russell drives a souped-up car and kills women.

“The Heartbreak Kid”: Shnook (Ben Stiller) meets soulmate on his honeymoon.

“Hot Rod”: “SNL’s” Andy Samberg plays a disrespected amateur stuntman.

“In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale”: Jason Statham wields a sword.

“Into the Wild”: Emile Hirsch as young adventurer Christopher McCandless.

“Old School: Unrated”: Luke Wilson, Will Ferrell and Vince Vaughn party on, dude.

“Planet Terror”: Zombie romp with Rose McGowan replacing her lost leg with a machine-gun prosthesis.

“The Third Man”: Taut Orson Welles-Joseph Cotton suspense thriller ranks among the all-time greats.

“Tommy Boy: Holy Schnike Edition”: Salesmen (Chris Farley, David Spade) hit the road to save the family biz.

TV on DVD

“Aqua Teen Hunger Force: Volume 6”
“The Cheetah Girls: One World – Extended Music Edition”
“Generation Kill” (HBO miniseries with Marines in action at the start of the Iraq War)
“Petticoat Junction: The Official First Season”
“Transformers Energon: The Ultimate Collection”

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S.F. Film Critics Circle votes “Milk” best picture of 2008

“Milk” wins four awards from SF Film Critics Circle

“Milk,” the story of gay rights activist Harvey Milk, won four awards including Best Picture of 2008 in Monday’s balloting by the San Francisco Film Critics Circle.

The biopic about the first openly gay man voted into a major U.S. public office also earned Best Director for Gus Van Sant, Best Original Screenplay for Dustin Lance Black and Best Actor for Sean Penn – who tied for that honor with Mickey Rourke, the lead in “The Wrestler.”

The San Francisco Film Critics Circle (SFFCC), which includes 23 Bay Area film critics, voted Sally Hawkins, the perpetually cheery lead in “Happy-Go-Lucky,” as Best Actress.

Supporting honors when to the late Heath Ledger for his role as the Joker in “The Dark Knight” and to Marisa Tomei, an Oscar winner for “My Cousin Vinny,” for playing an exotic dancer involved with the title character in “The Wrestler.”

Peter Morgan won Best Adapted Screenplay for adapting his his hit play “Frost/Nixon.” The Best Cinematography award went to Wally Pfister for his groundbreaking work on “The Dark Knight.”

The San Francisco critics picked “My Winnipeg,” Guy Maddin’s “docu-fantasia” about his hometown and the nature of memory, as the year’s Best Documentary.

The award for Best Foreign Language Picture went to Tomas Alfredson’s “Let the Right One In” (“Låt den rätte komma in”), a combination Swedish vampire film and coming-of-age story.

The group gave its Marlon Riggs Award, honoring a Bay Area filmmaker or individual who represents courage and innovation in the world of cinema, to filmmaker Rob Nilsson. The award recognizes Nilsson’s distinctive series 9@NIGHT, nine thematically connected films produced independently in San Francisco Bay Area communities.

The San Francisco Film Critics Circle (SFFCC), founded in 2002, is comprised of film critics from Bay Area publications. Its members include Jeffrey Anderson (CombustibleCelluloid.com), Jeanne Aufmuth (Palo Alto Weekly), Barry Caine (Oakland Tribune/Contra Costa Times), Peter Canavese (GrouchoReviews.com), Andrea Chase (Killer Movie Reviews.com), Cheryl Eddy (SF Bay Guardian), Michael Fox (J-The Jewish News Weekly of Northern California), Susan Gerhard (SF360), Pam Grady (FilmStew.com), Peter Hartlaub (San Francisco Chronicle), Dennis Harvey (Variety), Johnny Ray Huston (SF Bay Guardian), Jonathan Kiefer (Sacramento News and Review), Mick LaSalle (San Francisco Chronicle), Carla Meyer (Sacramento Bee), Mary Pols (Alliance of Women Film Journalists), Tim Sika (CelluloidDreams.net), Michael Snyder (Sirius Satellite Radio), Ruthe Stein (San Francisco
Chronicle), Jan Wahl (KCBS AM & FM), Jason Walsh (Pacific Sun), Kelly Vance (East Bay Express)
and Richard Von Busack (Metro Newspapers).

The full list of winners for the 2008 San Francisco Film Critics Circle Awards:

Best Picture

“Milk”

Best Director

Gus Van Sant, “Milk”

Best Original Screenplay

Dustin Lance Black, “Milk”

Best Adapted Screenplay

Peter Morgan, “Frost/Nixon”

Best Actor

TIE: Sean Penn, “Milk”/Mickey Rourke, “The Wrestler”

Best Actress

Sally Hawkins, “Happy-Go-Lucky”

Best Supporting Actor

Heath Ledger, “The Dark Knight”

Best Supporting Actress

Marisa Tomei, “The Wrestler”

Best Foreign Language Film

“Let the Right One In”

Best Documentary

“My Winnipeg”

Best Cinematography

Wally Pfister, “The Dark Knight”

Marlon Riggs Award for courage & vision in the Bay Area film community

Rob Nilsson, filmmaker, in recognition of his “9@NIGHT” series of films.

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DVD reviews: “The Dark Knight,” “Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who,” “Man on Wire,” “Peter & The Wolf,” box sets

And in the dark of night

As if the “The Dark Knight” needs any more cash in its coffers; reportedly, it’s already taken in more than half-a-billion dollars worldwide. And now it’s in stores, just in time for the holidays.

I want a cut of the action.

Heath Ledger’s stunning performance as the Joker and the superb stunts and visual effects carry the film and make it worth a second look. Every time Ledger’s on screen as the psychotic, demonic criminal mastermind with the sardonic wit, director Christopher Nolan’s grim and violent pastiche approaches nirvana. (Not the group.)

Christian Bale’s still strong as the repressed title character with the split personality (Bruce Wayne/Batman: psych 101), but this remains Ledger’s movie, with Batman secondary as a brooding crime fighter with woman troubles.

The love of his life — as much as he’s able to love — Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal, the heartthrob for intellectuals) is dating the people’s hero, D.A. Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), and it looks serious.

Luckily, there’s enough razzle-dazzle to distract from the melodrama.

The movie seems more episodic and feels too long on the small screen — like a compressed serial with multiple cliff-hangers; on single disc, two discs and Blu-ray.

Extras:
Vary by version, none of which offers a tribute or insights into Ledger; a look at the six action scenes shot in IMAX; pieces on creating the Bat-suit and Bad-pod, the score, the city and the effects; more.

Hears a what? No, a Who

Jim Carrey is much more fun voicing Horton, the happy elephant in the computer-animated “Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who,” than he was as the Grinch in the live-action “How The Grinch Stole Christmas.”

The film’s more entertaining, too. “Horton’s” colorful, lively and sweet, and a fine pick for kids or adults drawn to this sort of whimsy.

The story follows Horton after he hears cries for help from a speck of dust — containing the town of Who-ville and its befuddled Mayor (Steve Carell letting it all out).

In that oh-so-Seussical way, Horton’s neighbors thinks he’s a nutcase when he tells them about the miniscule town and its residents, prompting the lesson: “A person’s a person no matter how small.”

On single disc, two discs and Blu-ray with digital copy, and as a two-DVD set with a Horton plush toy.

Extras:
Cute new animated “Ice Age” short “Surviving Sid” and commentary on single disc and sets; sets also have deleted footage, making-of shorts, more.

Step carefully

“Man on Wire,” a delightful documentary in color and black and white, plays like a caper film as it tells the fascinating story of Philippe Petit, a French high-wire artist who, with a little help from his friends, walked on a wire between the towers of the then-newly built World Trade Center in 1974.

An art-house staple, the complex movie smoothly mixes vintage footage and interviews with new material, including an enthusiastic narration by Petit.

Extras: Interview with Petit; short on his 1973 crossing of the Sydney Harbor Bridge in Australia; animated short “The Man Who Walked Between the Towers.”

Loving “the Wolf”

This contemporary re-imagining of Prokofiev’s “Peter & the Wolf” picked up an Oscar for Best Animated Short Film at this year’s ceremony, and boy, does the picture deserve it.

A British-Polish collaboration, the mesmerizing film was shot with stop-frame model animation and digital technology. Told with music only — watch the version that includes an introduction — it’s the story of the frightened boy who lives in Russia with his grandfather and has a scruffy duck for a companion.

When the boy leaves the safety of his house — with the duck, a bird that uses a balloon to fly, and granddad’s fat cat in pursuit — to visit the ice-covered pond outside, he and the animals are stalked by the wolf.

Here’s where I’d hum the themes if I could carry a tune. Alas.

The characters have great faces, with expressions that change just enough to give them personality.

I loved the film (shot on the largest animation set ever made). It’s suspenseful, witty and, ultimately, poignant.

Extras: A kid-friendly piece uses segments of the film and music as teaching tools; good making-of and behind-the-scenes docs; commentary, more.

Box sets

“Deadwood: The Complete Series”: All three seasons of the dense, gritty Western drama on 19 discs; more than two hours of extras.

“I Am Legend: Ultimate Collector’s Edition”: Two versions of the post-apocalyptic saga with Will Smith as the last man on earth, one with an alternate ending; digital copy; animated comics; new extras; concept sketchbook; more; three DVDs, two Blu-ray.

“Lost: The Complete Fourth Season – The Expanded Experiences” (14 episodes, five discs; also on Blu-ray).

“M-Squad”: The Complete Series — Starring Lee Marvin”: Marvin plays a tough Chicago undercover cop in the intense, black-and-white, late-’50s crime drama; 117 episodes, 15 DVDs, plus CD of the classy, jazz-packed soundtrack.

“Murnau, Borzage and Fox”: Twelve Fox films from the ‘20s and early ‘30s by F.W. Murnau and Frank Borzage; 12 discs; with documentary, two hard-cover books, more.

“The Philadelphia Phillies 2008 World Series Collector’s Edition”: On eight DVDs.

“The Wire: The Complete Series”: Five seasons, 23 discs; drug and murder investigations evolve into a study of a city’s politics, crime and corruption.

Also on DVD

“Anamorph”: NYPD detective (Willem Dafoe) faces his dark side with investigating a serial killer’s gruesome murders.

“Blue Blood”: A private eye (Roy Scheider) investigates a murder in the Hamptons.

“Chamber of Horrors”/“The Brides of Fu Manchu”: A 1966 slasher film about a one-handed nut who uses special tools to demolish perceived enemies and a 1966 tale of Christopher Lee’s villainous Fu Manchu after a death ray.

“Dear Talula”: Autobiographical look at aspiring filmmaker Lori Benson’s battle with breast cancer, at 38, with a filmmaker husband and 1-year-old daughter.

“The Early Works of Cheryl Dunye”: Compilation of the Liberian native’s witty, insightful films that blend narrative and documentary.

“A Hole in a Fence”: Doc about the transition of a former New York City homeless community into an urban hub.

“Make It Happen”: Small-town dancer (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) adopts new moves as she tries to make it in the Windy City.

“The Man Who Came Back”: Old-fashioned Western with man framed for murder after his family’s killers; with Eric Braeden, Armand Assante, Sean Young.

“Passion & Power: The Technology of Orgasm”: History of vibrators and the female orgasm in the U.S.

“The Royal Air Force at War: The Unseen Films”: Three discs, 24 RAF training and public-information films from 1940-1944.

“The Shuttered Room”/“It!”: A 1967 Gothic thriller with Carol Lynley and a 1966 Roddy McDowell film about a 16th-century statue of a monster that comes to life.

“Takva: A Man’s Fear of God”: Turkish film about a devout Muslim forced to deal with a world of money and corruption when made rent collector by a religious leader.

“A Viking Saga: Son of Thor”: Viking battles king who slaughtered his family; low-budget, amateurish.

TV on DVD

“The Best of Dr. Katz” (animated therapist)
“Gunsmoke: Season Three, Vol. One” (Marshal Matt Dillon and Miss Kitty, three discs)
“Happy Days: The Fourth Season” (Ron Howard had hair as a teen in the ‘50s-era series inspired by “American Graffiti,” on three discs)
“McLeod’s Daughters: The Complete Seventh Season” (matriarchal family adventures on an Australian sheep ranch, eight discs)
“Rawhide: Season Three, Vol. Two” (cattle-drive Western that launched Clint Eastwood, four discs)
“Swingtown: The First Season” (three couples, open marriages, 1976)

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DVD reviews: “Hancock,” “Meet Dave,” “Fred Claus”

Up, up and away

Had high hopes for “Hancock,” the Will Smith popcorn movie about a curmudgeonly superhero with a drinking problem.

So much for expectations.

“Hancock: The Two-Disc Unrated Special Edition” gives you a choice of watching the theatrical version or the unrated rendition, which contains 10 additional minutes. Figuring the story would seem more coherent with the additives, I chose the latter.

Not sure it made much difference. “Hancock’s” drastic tonal shifts still hiccup loudly. The title character (Smith) is self-indulgent, insensitive and abrasive during most of the story, and, as such, he’s not much fun to watch — although some of the special effects are cool. (Toss that beached whale, baby.)

Because the public’s fed up with him, Hancock agrees to let a cheery consultant (the always-solid Jason Bateman) work on his PR, despite criticism by the guy’s beautiful wife (Charlize Theron).

Sound concept, sloppy execution.

The film contains one surprise whose evolution might have made a good story on its own. Coming as it does midway into the comedy wannabe, it jars, dropping the picture on its numb skull and letting it flail.

Also, in the what-were-they-thinking category, shots of intense, graphic violence explode before the eyes of the couple’s young son near the end, raising more issues than they resolve. (Is he in shock, or just dumbfounded by the turn of events?)

The film delivers a couple of funny moments and is also on Blu-ray.

Extras: Digital copy; docs on stunts, sets, behind the scenes, making the movie, more.

He walks funny

“Meet Dave,” a one-joke comedy that generates plenty of laughs, especially from kids, is Eddie Murphy’s best film in a while.

Murphy plays two roles, somber mini-captain of spaceship crew of mini-aliens, and the spaceship — designed to look like a human who resembles the captain.

Most of the humor comes from Murphy-as-spaceship trying to act human and fit in. If you remember Monty Python’s “Ministry of Silly Walks” routine, you’ll have an idea of Murphy’s shtick.

His handshake routine owes everything to Harpo Marx.

But his attempts to blend with shoppers at a Gap outlet using what he thinks is a natural smile and a human greeting (“Welcome to the Gap”) are all his own, and they grow creepier with each repetition.

He and his crew are after a missing small metal ball created to drain Earth’s oceans, providing the salt necessary for the aliens’ planet to survive. Not that it matters.

The laughs come from Murphy’s well-timed gags, and hits outnumber misses.

Schmaltz leaks from the captain’s falling for a widow (the ubiquitous Elizabeth Banks) and, as the spaceship, bonding with her young son. Kids won’t mind. Also on Blu-ray.

Extras: So-so gag reel and featurette on DVD, more on Blu-ray.

Not awful

In “Fred Claus,” Santa’s resentful, screw-up older brother Fred (Vince Vaughn) hops a reindeer flight to the North Pole after agreeing to work for his saintly sib (Paul Giamatti emoting with watery eyes) to pay a debt and earn a grubstake.

Self-involved like Hancock, the lanky slacker hampers Santa’s chances to keep Christmas on schedule by messing with the elves’ assembly line and playing into the hands of a sneaky efficiency expert (Kevin Spacey) eager to stamp “Closed” on Santa’s shop.

Santa’s snowy town looks like a kid’s fantasy and the elf-populated toy factory could delight any age. But, unless you’re a Vaughn fan, you’ll probably find Fred’s act a turn-off, though not as much as Hancock’s.

The film delivers a cute bit about a Siblings Anonymous group (check out the longer versions in the extras).

Although “Fred” could use more wit, the writing’s serviceable and there’s an amusing sequence with Ludicris as an elf DJ. Elizabeth Banks again pops up, this time as Santa’s time-management specialist. She doesn’t do much but it’s nice to see her.

The requisite sentimental holiday ending works well enough to make this a good pick for kids. Also on Blu-ray.

Extras: widescreen and full-screen versions on same disc; commentary; additional scenes include surprisingly violent renditions of sequences that made the final cut.

Also on DVD

“BachelorMan: God’s Gift to Women Edition”: Perennial bachelor/ladies man dispenses tips to other male singles, then falls for his mysterious new neighbor; with David DeLuise, Missi Pyle.

“Beautiful Ohio”: Family drama centers on two brothers trying to adjust to life in the rapidly changing ’70s; based on an Ethan Canin short story; with William Hurt.

“Becket” on Blu-ray: Excellent 1964 drama, with powerful portrayals by Peter O’Toole as Henry II and Richard Burton as Thomas Becket, Henry’s good friend and the man who defies him after Henry appoints Becket the Archibishop of Canterbury.

“Columbia Best Pictures Collection”: Includes “It Happened One Night,” “From Here to Eternity,” “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” “On the Waterfront,” Lawrence of Arabia,” Gandhi,” more; on 14 discs.

“Conjurer”: Concerned photographer and mournful wife move into haunted farmhouse.

“Daryl Hall and John Oates: Live at the Troubadour”: You’re not alone in asking why.

“Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson Collector’s Edition”: Entertaining doc about the man considered the father of gonzo journalism.

“Misty”: Brother and sister capture, tame and train wild mare in the 1961 version of “Misty of Chicoteague”; with David Ladd, Anne Seymour, Cicely Tyson.

“The Nutty Professor”: Animated sequel with awkward boy taking his grandfather’s secret potion; with voices by Jerry Lewis and Drake Bell.

“Orthodox Stance”: Documentary about a 24-year-old Orthodox Jewish pro boxer.

“The Ron Howard Spotlight Collection”: “Backdraft,” “Apollo 13,” “Cinderella Man,” “A Beautiful Mind.”

“Sounder”: African-American sharecropper family struggles through adversity during the Depression in this Oscar-nominated 1972 film; with Cicely Tyson, Paul Winfield.

“Space Chimps”: Animated simian astronauts are sent on a one-way space trip to a faraway planet run by an evil dictator; animated high jinks ensue; also on Blu-ray.

“Treasury of 20 Storybook Classics”: “Bear Snores On …,” “Diary of a Spider,” more.

TV on DVD

Arctic Exposure With Nigel Marven”
“Band of Brothers” on Blu-ray
“Beverly Hills 90210: The Sixth Season”
“A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All”
“Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C.: The Final Season”
“The Mod Squad: The Second Season, Vol. 1”
“24: Redemption”

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DVD reviews: “WALL-E,” “Tropic Thunder,” “Mister Lonely,” “Charmed”

Futzing with friction

Who knew robots had so much personality?

Granted, R2-D2 and C-3PO had their moments, but nothing like the prolonged pleasure and enchantment of the little trash compactor in “WALL-E.”

One of the year’s best pictures, even if it doesn’t get nominated in that category, the Walt Disney/Pixar animated release works as slapstick sci-fi adventure, romantic comedy, sweet love story and metaphor.

Best of all, its appeal is universal.

Dialogue is sparse (and limited to a few humans), forcing viewers to tune into the expressions and mannerisms of the cute robot lead, WALL-E (for Waste Allocation Load Lifter), the last ’bot on an abandoned, polluted Earth. With a cockroach as his only companion, the lonely soul spends days compacting trash and bringing home trinkets (a Rubik’s Cube, a light bulb) to brighten his so-called life.

When a shiny but volatile ’bot named EVE (for Extra-terrestrial Vegetation Evaluator) arrives, it’s giddiness at first sight. Smitten, WALL-E follows her to the spaceship that sent her, eventually landing on a city-size craft containing the balance of the human race — obese from sitting and consuming.

Consistent with previous Pixar releases, the visuals are colorful and amusing. The comedy is beautifully timed and the story is a joy.

On single disc, three-disc DVD set, two- and three-disc Blu-ray sets; sets include digital copy.

Extras: Vary by package. Commentaries; “Presto” short shown during theatrical release; animated short “BURN-E” about a secondary character; making-of shorts; interactive storybook; Pixar doc; much more.

Futzing with war

Ben Stiller’s “Tropic Thunder” is a funny movie that I wasn’t crazy about — which put me in the minority.

Good idea: Actors with swelled heads make a Vietnam-era war movie, not realizing the jungle landscape they’ve chosen for the shoot puts them in the middle of real warfare which they think is part of the picture.

Attractive cast: Robert Downey Jr., Stiller, Jack Black and Nick Nolte. Plus, Downey’s character’s opting to change his skin color to black to play the film-within-a-film’s African-American star seemed a workable spoof of the Method.

It amused at first, and at second, maybe even third, but by fourth, fifth and infinity, it grated.

In general, gags were either funny or deadening. The “Unrated Director’s Cut” comes with 14 more minutes of both. Yet the film plays better on DVD. Downey’s character seems more entertaining — and I was able to fast-forward through the annoying parts.

Single disc has the theatrical version, two-disc set and Blu-ray the director’s cut.

Extras: Alternate ending; mockumentary about making the film-within-a-film; commentaries; deleted and extended scenes; making-of shorts; rehearsals; more.

Futzing with reality

Marilyn Monroe meets Michael Jackson and invites him home to meet her husband Charlie Chaplin and her daughter Shirley Temple.

Sounds like the start of a shaggy-dog story or a bad joke, and “Mister Lonely” could be either if it wasn’t so depressing — a shame because the acting is solid and the images haunting.

Diego Luna stars as a lonely Michael Jackson impersonator who goes by Michael, and, in his narration, muses about the comfort of creating a false identity that fits.

Michael’s attracted to fragile Marilyn (Samantha Morton at her best), who brings him home to a commune inhabited solely by celebrity impersonators.

Always dressed in character — Lincoln, the pope, the Three Stooges, Red Riding Hood and such — they live to perform; implicitly, to be seen and approved of. It’s an innovative idea that doesn’t quite work.

Key subplots include Marilyn’s strained marriage to misogynistic Charlie (Denis Lavant) and the group’s rush to build a stage and put on a show for the locals.

The picture’s infused with touching moments and surreal sequences. It contains seeds of a compelling drama about illusion, fear and identity, but the storytelling’s bumbling and thick with sadness and disappointment.

Extras: Making-of doc with writer-director Harmony Korine; deleted scenes.

Big, bold and beautiful

“Charmed” was a guilty pleasure. Witch-babe sisters played by Holly Marie Combs, Alyssa Milano and Shannen Doherty for the first few seasons, Rose McGowan after Doherty’s departure, battled evil and dealt with relationship issues.

Now, 173 episodes, plus the original unaired pilot, are packed onto 49 discs in “Charmed: The Complete Series.” Be still my hungry heart.

Python fans can do silly walks over “The Complete Monty Python’s Flying Circus: Collector’s Edition,” a set containing the entire series plus live performances, best-of-sketch collections, documentaries, on 21 discs.

Also on DVD

“Awake” on Blu-ray: Awake during an operation despite the anesthesia, a man (Hayden Christensen) overhears a murder plot, with him as the target; with Jessica Alba.

“Big Truck”: How to build one; for kids.

“Encounters at the End of the World”: Beautifully shot Werner Herzog documentary about eccentrics who live at the South Pole; also on Blu-ray.

“Fire Truck”: How to build one; for kids.

“Garden Party”: Five edgy people trying to manage in L.A.

“Lucky Number Slevin” on Blu-ray: Clever, off-kilter, oft-witty revenge yarn involving rival gang leaders; with Josh Hartnett, Lucy Liu, Morgan Freeman.

“Madame Bovary”: Claude Chabrol’s 1991 version of Flaubert’s novel, with Isabelle Huppert as the bored, country doctor’s wife who has affairs with two men; in French with English subtitles.

“Priceless”: Romantic comedy with Audrey Tautou as a gold-digging seductress mistakenly luring a handsome bartender into her web; in French with English subtitles; also on Blu-ray.

“The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2”: The jeans still fit best friends, now in college, played by America Ferrera, Amber Tamblyn, Alexis Bledel and Blake Lively.

“Toots”: Documentary about controversial saloon keeper/restaurateur Toots Shor; Shor narrates.

“Wu: The Story of the Wu-Tang Clan”: Documentary about the hip-hop group.

“Zombie Diaries”: British zombie fodder follows three groups of shrill survivors.

TV on DVD

“Bones: Season Three”
“Daniel Boone: The Final Season”
“Doctor Who: The Complete Fourth Series”
“Hannah Montana: The Complete First Season”
“The Hannah Montana DVD Game”
“High School Musical DVD Game”
“Paul McCartney: The Space Within Us” on Blu-ray
“Spongebob Squarepants: Season 5, Vol. 2”
“Star Trek The Original Series: Season Three Remastered”
“The Universe: The Complete First Season” on Blu-ray

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DVD reviews: “Hellboy II,” “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” “Sukiyaki Western Django,” “Firefly: The Series”

“Hellboy” smokes

Packed with action, personality and fantastical images, “Hellboy II: The Golden Army” pops off the small screen like a carnival at twilight.

Ron Perlman exudes character as the ornery title character, red-skinned demon spawn smoking stogies, getting drunk with his aquatic, empathetic pal Abe (Doug Jones), and frustrated figuring out his flammable girlfriend’s (a minimally emoting Selma Blair) moods.

A colorful bunch, the eccentric superheroes — and the myth-like story — sometimes get lost in writer-director Guillermo del Toro’s amazing visuals (wings with eyes, a mountain taking human form).

In the extras, Mike Mignola, creator of the “Hellboy” comics and co-writer of the movie stories, says he kept reminding del Toro to push the envelope because people would expect visual-effects nirvana after del Toro’s stunning creations for “Pan’s Labyrinth.”

Well, he pushed. and the visuals are mesmerizing.

The story centers around an ancient faerie prince seeking to find the last pieces of a gold crown that will allow him to control a mythical army of mechanical soldiers, created long ago by goblins, and wipe out humanity.

Or something like that; the plot’s a little convoluted. Also in Blu-ray.

Extras: In the “3-Disc Special Edition,” Mignola’s animated short comic book ostensibly hints at the next step in the story line, but I couldn’t make sense of it. Also: deleted scenes; an extensive making-of doc; tour of the Troll Market; much more.

Send in the clones

To fully appreciate the animated “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” you probably have to sleep in “Star Wars” pajamas on a “Star Wars” pillow case and between “Star Wars” sheets.

Designed as a lead-in to the new “Star Wars” Comedy Central animated series, and to fill the gap between the second and third live-action films, the picture has “for kids only” graffiti painted all over it.

Jammed with battles, gobbledy-gook dialogue and, well, more battles, the story teams Jedi knights Anakin Skywalker, as a young man, and Obi-wan Kenobi, in early middle-age, with a feisty young female trainee in a quest to find Jabba’s kidnapped daughter and form an alliance with the big slug.

Did I mention there are a lot of battles?

As in the movies, the characters are one-dimensional — but with saucer-like eyes? Good sound, though. In single, two-disc and Blu-ray editions.

Extras: Filmmakers commentary on single disc; more features on other editions.

Smile when you say that

Director Takashi Miike’s “Sukiyaki Western Django” takes the Spaghetti Western and turns it on its nostrils, setting his story in Japan and casting it with Japanese actors trying to speak English: If they’re speaking phonetically, they need to redial; poorly pronounced cliched dialogue really grates.

Otherwise, Miike (“Audition”) crafts an energetic shoot-’em-up built around rival gangs, or clans, courting the new quick-draw kid in town as they vie for hidden treasure. Besides surreal images that seem to exist only because Miike likes them, the film’s filled packed with gunplay, horseplay and swordplay.

It’s fun but strange and uneven.

Extras: Deleted scenes and making-of short; more on Blu-ray.

Hands up, alien

“Firefly: The Complete Series” (on Blu-ray) is an entertaining sci-fi Western with spaceships and six-shooters.

The show lasted only 14 episodes, despite the provenance of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” creator Joss Whedon at the helm, but that was enough to develop a cult following whose devotion inspired the big-screen sequel “Serenity.”

Nathan Fillion plays the captain of a crew of oddities on the low-rent, fugitive spaceship Serenity. Smuggling’s their game. It’s fun to play.

Extras:
Round-table discussion with cast; deleted scenes, more; on three discs.

Also on DVD

“Becoming Family”:
Documentary about a doctor and medical students working on a relief mission in Sri Lanka six months after the 2004 tsunami.

“Beer for My Horse”: Road-trip comedy about two deputies out to rescue a pal from drug-running kidnappers; with Toby Keith and Claire Forlani.

“The Chronological Donald, Volume 4”: Be kind to your web-footed friend, 1951-1961.

“The General”: Buster Keaton’s 1927 Civil War-era silent classic about a train race between a Southern engineer and the Union soldiers who steal his locomotive.

“Love Songs”: Contemporary musical love story, about a couple who bring in a third person to spice up their relationship; with Ludivine Sagnier; in French.

“Merle Haggard Legendary Performances”: Vintage country live.

“Mister Foe”: Troubled young voyeurist (Jamie Bell), searching for the cause of his mother’s death, searches for love in all the wrong places; with Claire Forlani.

“Operation Valkyrie:
The Stauffenberg Plot to Kill Hitler”: Two-disc documentary.

“Opium: Diary of a Madwoman”: A morphine-addicted Hungarian neurologist becomes involved with a suicidal patient in an asylum for women. Get your copy now.

“The Perfect Holiday”: Little girl asks department-store Santa (Morris Chestnut) to find a husband for her mom (Gabrielle Union) for Christmas; Queen Latifah co-stars.

“Roman Holiday”: Digitally remastered Gregory Peck-Audrey Hepburn romantic comedy.

“Sabrina”: Digitally remastered Humphrey Bogart-Audrey Hepburn romantic comedy.

“Sunset Blvd.”: Gloria Swanson’s ready for her digitally remastered close-up.

“This Christmas”: Siblings bring baggage home for the holidays; with Idris Elba, Loretta Devine, Delroy Lindo.

“Thomas Kinkade’s Christmas Cottage”: Jared Padalecki (of TV’s “Supernatural”) plays the artist as a college student, home for the holidays visiting his mom (Marcia Gay Harden) and learning from the artist next door (Peter O’Toole).

TV on DVD

“The Commander, Set 1” (four thrillers by “Prime Suspect’s” Lynda La Plante)
“The Cosby Show – The 25th Anniversary Commemorative Edition” (26 discs, all eight seasons, with commemorative book, Bill Cosby photo, bloopers, new interviews, more)
“Flying: Confessions of a Free Woman” (six-part, reality series about and by 40ish New Yorker Jennifer Fox);
“Dr. Syn: The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh” (Vintage Disney live-action adventure)
“George Gently, Series 1” (BBC cop show)
“The Howdy Doody Show — 40 Episode Collection” (a two-disc, 20-episode set also available)
“I Dream of Jeannie: The Complete Series” (20 discs)
“Live From Abbey Road: Best of Season 1”
“The Lone Ranger 75th Anniversary Collector’s Edition” (12 discs, first two seasons)
“The Mickey Mouse Club Presents: Annette”
“M Squad: The Complete Series” (1950s Lee Marvin cop drama).
“MXC: Most Extreme Elimination Challenge — Vol. Four & Vol. Five”
“The Sopranos: The Complete Series”: all six seasons, 86 episodes, on 30 DVDs; plus two CD soundtracks of the show’s music
“Scrubs: The Complete Seventh Season”
“Shaun The Sheep: Off The Baa!” (from Aardman Animation studio)
“Studio One Anthology” (six discs, 17 shows, including 1954’s “Twelve Angry Men” and two Rod Serling teleplays)
“UFC Classics Collection: Gift Set Vol. 2”

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DVD reviews: ‘Get Smart,’ ‘Transsiberian,’ ‘Kung Fu Panda,’ ‘Waterworld’

Clever extra helps viewer `Get Smart’

Steve Carell slips on Maxwell Smart’s spy-spoofish paraphernalia in “Get Smart,” a silly comedy based on a decades-old TV series starring Don Adams and Barbara Feldon.

Turns out the movie’s not as awful as you may have imagined — especially with the “Comedy Optimization Mode” engaged at the start: A phone-booth icon pops up onscreen, click it and you see an alternate version, or versions, of the same scene, usually with ad-libs funnier than what made it into the theatrical version (which is also on the disc).

Tip: Skip the Terence Stamp alternates; not funny
.
Carell’s timing is on target as the analyst-turned-agent, and he and Anne Hathaway as his reluctant veteran partner Agent 99 meld well.

Most of the physical gags work but the verbal jokes are more hit than miss, and the plot is skimpy: CONTROL, a good agency (entered via a phone booth), tries to foil a fiendish plot by KAOS, a crime syndicate.

And any similarities to the James Bond movies are not coincidental. Also on Blu-ray.

Extras: Alternate scenes with different versions of jokes on single disc. Gag reel, making-of short, bit with Carell riffing in different languages, digital copy, more on two-disc DVD set and Blu-ray.

Panda expresses

Due in stores next Sunday, “Kung Fu Panda” was one of the year’s most popular pictures.

The animated comedy, also on Blu-ray, presents a colorful look at a clumsy noodle-shop worker (voiced by Jack Black) who studies with a kung fu master (Dustin Hoffman) after he learns he’s been chosen to fulfill an ancient prophecy.

Lively, cute and amusing, the film will be available in single disc, double pack (with “Secrets of the Furious Five” disc) and Blu-ray.

Extras: Vary with edition; include commentary, effects, making-of shorts, “How to Use Chopsticks,” more.

Good training

One of summer’s most entertaining diversions, the atmospheric thriller “Transsiberian” rides the capable coattails of Emily Mortimer as the enigmatic wife of a gregarious Texan (Woody Harrelson) who decides they should travel back to Moscow from Beijing by train — a classic setting for a mystery.

On board they wind up sharing a cabin with a scruffy young woman (Kate Mara) and her lusty, quietly menacing Russian boyfriend (Eduardo Noriega), who has an eye for Mortimer’s character.

Soon, death, drugs and a former KGB detective played by Ben Kingsley enter the fray.

The film drops a few surprises into its complex plot, which plays against a snow-covered landscape.

Mortimer’s a marvel. The rest of the cast keeps pace in this captivating, occasionally violent, old-fashioned suspense film. Also on Blu-ray. Extras: None.

Costner’s all wet

An extra 40 minutes of Kevin Costner with gills, webbed toes and a bad attitude; can you stand it?

If so, you should enjoy the remastered “Waterworld 2-Disc Extended Edition,” which includes the original 2-hour, 15-minute theatrical version as well.

Many considered it a career killer (Costner directed as well as starred) because it was overly long, hugely expensive, frequently stupid and suffered from thematic overkill.

In the future, the ice caps have melted on an Earth covered with water due to melted ice caps, a loner known as The Mariner (Costner) clashes with bigoted survivors and cartoonish villains (led by Dennis Hopper, with one eye and over-the-top emoting).

When a single woman (Jeanne Tripplehorn) and a little girl (Tina Majorino of “Veronica Mars”) push their way onto his boat, the rude loner gradually begins to get in touch with his feelings.

Themes such as global warming, ecology, prejudice and the importance of knowing how to swim course through the film, which contains a handful of exciting action sequences, looks good and is entertaining when viewed while doing chores. Extras: None.

Also on DVD

“Alvin and the Chipmunks: Special Edition” (also out as a “Limited Edition Gift Set” with an Alvin Beanie Baby Plush toy): New extras accompany the tale of a struggling songwriter’s (Jason Lee) life with the animated singing critters; includes digital copy.

“Animal House: 30th Anniversary Edition”: Director John Landis’ frat-house screwball comedy classic, with John Belushi, Karen Allen and new extras.

“Baraka”: Restored 70mm film tours 24 countries on six continents as it explores the human condition without words; beautiful imagery; also on Blu-ray.

“The Bourne Trilogy”: The Matt Damon spy thrillers in one set.

“The Boys in the Band”: A cult-favorite 1970 film about a group of gay male friends gathering in a New York apartment for a birthday party; William Friedkin directs.

“Confessions of a Pit Fighter”: Ex-convict seeks to avenge his brother, killed in an illegal underground street fight in East L.A.

“A Christmas Story: Ultimate Collector’s Edition”: Perennial 1940s-era Jean Shepherd charmer with Peter Billingsley as a little boy crazy for a Red Ryder rifle for Christmas; 25-anniversary collector’s edition comes with cookie cutters; also on Blu-ray.

“The Films of Budd Boetticher Box Set”: “The Tall T,” “Decision at Sundown,” “Ride Lonesome,” “Buchanan Rides Alone,” “Comanche Station,” all with Randolph Scott.

“Futurama: Bender’s Game”: A fuel crisis sends the animated Planet Express gang to a dark-matter mine, beneath which they find a medieval land; also on Blu-ray.

“The Good Life”: Comedy-drama set in a football-obsessed Nebraska town where a young man uninterested in the sport escapes with old movie classics; with Mark Webber.

“The Gregory Peck Film Collection”:
“To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Cape Fear,” “Arabesque,” “Mirage,” “Captain Newman M.D.,” “The World in His Arms.”

“Noelle”: Young Catholic priest (filmmaker David Wall) comes to Cape Cod village the week before Christmas to close a dying church and becomes involved with townspeople.

“Orchestra of Piazza Vittorio”: Documentary about the musicians who created an organization to save a movie theater in Rome’s Piazza Vittorio and helped change the city’s immigration policy.

“Parliament Funkadelic: The Mothership Connection Live 1976”:
Concert film with George Clinton, Bootsy Collins.

“Planet of the Apes: 40 Year Evolution Blu-Ray Collection”: The five “Planet of the Apes” films, beginning with astronauts crash-landing on a world ruled by talking simians with attitude; gobs of extras, some new.

“Popeye the Sailor: 1941-1943, Vol. 3”: Cartoons for spinach lovers.

“Return to Sleepaway Camp”: Freaky camp deaths accelerate in this sequel timed to the original’s 25th anniversary; with Felissa Rose and Vincent Pastore.

“Swing State”: Documentary about Ohio’s 2006 governor’s race and the state’s influence on the presidential election; interviewees include Barack Obama, Bill Clinton.

DVD on TV

“Batman – The Complete Animated Series”
“Chowder Volume 1”; “The Christmas Toy” (with Jim Henson puppets)
“Fraggle Rock Complete Series Collection” (96 episodes, 20 discs, of Henson’s puppetry)
“Get Smart – The Complete Series Gift Set”
“Jag: The Seventh Season”
“Little House on the Prairie: The Complete Series”
“Mind of Mencia: Season Four”
“Primeval: Vol. 1, Series 1 and 2”
“Reaper: Season One”
“Shrek the Halls” (animated ogre family deals with first Christmas in what was originally aired as a half-hour TV special; with original voice cast)
“Son of the Beach: Vol. 2”
“Spin City: The Complete First Season”
“Too Tough to Die: A Tribute to Johnny Ramone” (mix of documentary and concert film)
“The Wild Wild West: The Complete Series Box Set” (1965-1969, 27 discs of Robert Conrad and Ross Martin as President Ulysses S. Grant’s innovative secret agents James West and Artemus Gordon).

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