..Gary Dretzka
Noah Forrest
..Leonard Klady
..David Poland
..Douglas Pratt
..Ray Pride
..Kim Voynar
..Michael Wilmington

October 21, 2008
October 1, 2008
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August 25, 2008
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August 1, 2008
July 22, 2008
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Dec 27, 2007
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Nov 28, 2007
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Oct 18, 2007
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Aug 24, 2007
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Jan 30, 2007
Jan 9, 2007

The Wrap Up ...

Kung Fu Panda: Blu-ray

Kung Fu Panda: Secrets of the Furious Five


Before DreamWorks and Paramount announced that they were divorcing, their marketing teams cooked up what might be the most elaborate send-off for a video product in the last 30 years. I'm not sure the box-office success of Kung Fu Panda took anyone by surprise - it was well received by exhibitors at a ShoWest preview, in March - but, this time through, the companies are leaving almost nothing to chance. Besides the small fortune that's being spent on advertising and the unusually large number of promotional partners - ranging from Hardees and Chuck E. Cheese, to Energizer and Bank of America - Kung Fu Panda is being released on a Sunday, instead of Tuesday, as is typical. Even more surprising, perhaps, is the same-day launch of a sequel, Secrets of the Furious Five, in a special DVD Pandamania twin-pack (not, however, on Blu-ray). Presumably, more kids visit video, food and discount outlets with their parents on weekends, thus creating more opportunities for impulse purchases. I'm sure there's a good reason for not including the sequel on the Blu-ray version, but I can't think of one.

The movie's protagonist is a roly-poly panda, Po (delightfully voiced by Jack Black), who, when he's not working in the family noodle shop, incessantly hones his martial-arts skills. Just as dalai lamas are chosen by some combination of math, karma and astrology, Po is chosen by Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) to train with the Furious Five: Tigress, Crane, Mantis, Viper and Monkey. Feeling slighted, though, the ferocious snow leopard Tai Lung (Ian McShane) vows to destroy Po and take over the kingdom. At first glance, it would appear to be the most lop-sided contest since Appalachian State traveled to Ann Arbor last year to be devoured by the Michigan football squad. That one didn't exactly turn out as planned, either. Kung Fu Panda is a thoroughly enjoyable animated feature, beautifully rendered by CGI gnomes and accessible to all members of a family. In Blu-ray, it looks even better. There is a generous supply of bonus features, as well. They range from interesting making-of featurettes, to interactive games, a Kung Fu Fighting music video, a visit to Mr. Ping's noodle house, a guide to the use of chopsticks and primers on the zodiac and forest conservation. The sequel, Secrets of the Furious Five, extends both the enjoyment of the movies and the Kung Fu Panda brand. -- Gary Dretzka

Shrek the Halls

DreamWorks' Shrek franchise is being extended, as well, with the release on DVD and television of Shrek the Halls. The same all-star roster of voicing talent that made the original Shrek such a delight returns here for what is intended to be a new holiday staple. Here, the jolly green ogre endeavors to give his family a memorable Christmas - or, to be more precise, Giftmas - but some familiar characters want their share of the fun, as well. The extras include 12 Days of Christmas and Deck the Halls sing-alongs, Gingy's Dunking Game and a demo of Shrek Carnival Craze Video Game. Fans should know ahead of time that, while the feature presentation is a mere 22 minutes long, the list price is $19.99. It's worth checking out the Internet for bargains. -- Gary Dretzka


Moscow Zero

Having your movie compared stylistically to a Hitchcock classic is both a blessing and a curse. The Hitchcock brand is second to none in the marketplace, so it demands a certain standard of quality be delivered to the customer. Naturally, most fall short. Any thriller set primarily within the cramped confines of a passenger train is going to remind critics of Hitchcock, especially those who believe there's nothing new under the Hollywood sun. Transsiberian largely takes place during a marathon journey - Beijing to Moscow in eight days - during which people disappear, objects aren't what they appear to be, bystanders are assumed to be guilty of a serious crime and lots of money is at stake. Director Brad Anderson (The Machinist, Session 9) opens his movie at a port city in far eastern Russia. A customs official, who we are led to believe is dirty, has been stabbed to death and left to turn into an ice cube. A hard-ass detective played by Ben Kingsley realizes that something of value is missing - a drug cache, probably -- and vows to get to the bottom of the mystery. With that, he disappears from view for about 45 minutes. Instead of following him around, we are introduced to an American couple, Roy (Woody Harrelson) and Jessie (Emily Mortimer), Midwesterners doing charitable work in China. These innocents abroad are about to board the trans-Siberian train, where, to the surprise of no one, they will share a tourist-class cabin with the killer and Kingsley. The When, How and What Happens Next are questions viewers will happily wait for Anderson to answer in due course. Harrelson's Roy is a rabid train buff, who makes friends easily and can't wait to get to the elephant graveyard of Soviet-era engines. His wife, who turned to Jesus after surviving a misspent youth, appears to be on the brink of a relapse. Like many American tourists, they foolishly lower their defenses when introduced to the inebriants favored by local alcoholics, making them easy prey for con artists, wily vagabonds and crooked cops. While Kingsley's motives remain unclear throughout the course of the journey, it's obvious that their traveling companions - a Goth runaway (Kate Mara) and Eurotrash drifter (Eduardo Noriega) - clearly are up to no good. Despite the monotony of the Lithuania-for-Siberia landscape, Anderson finds beauty and intrigue in such unexpected places as a deserted monastery in a dense Siberian forest. It all makes for good, suspenseful fun, and, yes, Hitch probably would have enjoyed Transsiberian, too.

Besides providing some interesting location footage, Moscow and the ghost of Joseph Stalin inspired this supernatural thriller from Spanish filmmaker Maria Lidón (a.k.a., Luna). Apparently, the feared dictator commissioned an extensive system of tunnels and underground railroads, through which apparatchiks and other commie riff-raff could beat a quick retreat in the case of thermonuclear war or a coup d'état. In Moscow Zero, Vincent Gallo plays a Russian Orthodox priest who descends into the city under the city - and the caves and catacombs below that -- in search of an anthropologist friend, Sergei (Rade Serbedzija). Sergei believes the gateway to hell can be found therein. Among those who dwell in the dark are Val Kilmer and a bunch of zombies. How one feels about Moscow Zero largely depends on how scared and claustrophobic one gets in tight spaces. -- Gary Dretzka

The Wild Wild West: The Complete Series

Get Smart

Get Smart: The Complete Series Gift Set

The less one can recall of the original Get Smart, the greater that person is likely to enjoy last summer's reimagining, which starred the estimable Steve Carell. The original TV series, created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry, was as much a part of its time as James Bond, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., I Spy, Mission: Impossible, The Avengers and, in its focus on spies and counter-terrorism, The Wild Wild West. After the heat from the Cuban Missile Crisis dissipated, people on this side of the Iron Curtain were ready for some cathartic laughter and invincible spies. Today, of course, Al Qaeda and the Taliban aren't nearly as easy to mock as the Russians and East Germans of yesteryear, and Maxwell Smart couldn't be any more incompetent than the CIA agents who gave President Bush an excuse to go to war in Iraq. Neither does the threat of KAOS trigger many alarms in people born after the collapse of the Berlin Wall. So most of the weight falls on the shoulders of Carell and Anne Hathaway, who is beautiful but not nearly as sexy as the original Agent 99, Barbara Feldon. While Carell looks the part, his delivery isn't nearly as snappy as that of Don Adams. It's fard to imagine anyone under 50 taking notice, though. For Get Smart to have worked in 2008, Brooks and Henry would have had to write the script and create some new, even more politically incorrect foes of democracy. Still, as they used to say about Elvis Presley, 50 million Steve Carell fans can't be wrong. Get Smart made lots of money, and a sequel already is on the drawing board.

But, don't take my word on the superiority of the original series. All of the evidence necessary to make my case can be found on Get Smart: The Complete Series Gift Set. The set has been digitally restored, re-mastered and re-packaged in a 25-disc collection, suitable for holiday gift gifting.

Ditto, The Wild Wild West: The Complete Series which contains 27 discs - yes, these are big boxes - and two previously unreleased post-series movies. Agents James West and Artemus Gordon, who took orders directly from President Ulysses S. Grant, traveled the west in a tricked-out private train car. Their arsenal included gadgets the Mission:Impossible team would envy, while their recurring arch-enemies were as dastardly as any faced by 007. -- Gary Dretzka



Blue Man Group: How to Be a Megastar Live!
Cirque Du Soleil: Corteo: Blu-ray
Paul McCartney: The Space Within Us: Blu-ray

Disappointed by the performance of your new Blu-ray machine? Maybe, you're not watching the right stuff. Besides nature titles, nothing looks better on hi-def than concerts and other recordings of live performances. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Blue Man Group looks especially good on Blu-ray. Indeed, I've never seen bluer blues than on How to Be a Megastar Live! Employing their usual array of industrial-strength instruments - all available at Home Depot - the boys in blue demonstrate in paint, percussion and song how anyone who can bang an oil drum with a stick can become a superstar. The pounding rhythms are supported by a full-blown rock ensemble and a pair of very dynamic singers. The group also interacts with characters on a giant screen overlooking the stage. The Blu-ray edition adds a behind-the-scenes featurette, a couple of short spoofs and a music video.
Likewise, the hi-def versions of Cirque du Soleil's previously released Corteo and Paul McCartney: The Space Within Us will make Blu-ray owners happy they made the investment. I long ago stopped trying to figure out what the individual Cirque shows are trying to say. This one, though, has something to do with a clown who dreams he's dead, prompting a series of interludes featuring the usual company of acrobats, jesters, musicians and trapeze artists. The colors of the costumes really pop and the performers look as if they're ready to jump into your living room.

It's astonishing to see the broad demographic range of fans at a Paul McCartney concert. It spans hippies, old enough to remember the release of Meet the Beatles, to the kids boogeying in the aisles alongside Jack Nicholson. It's difficult now to imagine anyone thinking the Beatles were a threat to America's youth, at least based on the McCartney on display in The Space Within Us. While his new material isn't all that exciting, McCartney's delivery of Beatles and Wings favorites was as compelling as ever. If there's a problem with this disc, it's in the many testimonials from people like Steve Jobs, Bill Clinton, Tony Bennett and Eddie Vedder and the attention paid to the homes of multi-generational fans. There's also a bit too much fuss made over songs beamed to the astronauts on the space shuttle. Otherwise, this is a very generous gift from a truly iconic performer. .
-- Gary Dretzka

Kit Kittredge: An American Girl
Tinker Bell
Journey to the Center of the Earth: Limited-Edition 2-D/3-D

Most dads didn't have the slightest clue that the An American Girl in the title of Kit Kittredge: An American Girl referred less to the citizenship of the protagonist than to a lifestyle brand of signature dolls, clothing, furniture, toys, magazines, purses and baking sets sold in fancy boutiques at upscale malls. American moms who had grown up with American Girl dolls of their own - if not the stores and websites -- naturally passed the obsession on to their daughters. If the producers of Kit Kittredge - Julia Roberts among them -- thought this generational bond would ensure long lines at the multiplex, they were in for a surprise, as it seriously underperformed at the box office. Many marketing-savvy moms, I suspect, feared the live-action movie would be little more than a 90-minute exercise in product placement, just like most TV shows and movies targeted to kids. How were they to know that Kit Kittredge would open to excellent reviews and be more intent on delivering a compelling narrative than selling accessories? It deserves a better fate on DVD. Set in Cincinnati during the Great Depression - the last one, not the current Wall Street debacle - the movie tells the story of a 10-year-old girl (Abigail Breslin) whose comfortable lifestyle was seriously disrupted when her father's business was liquidated by the bankers. While her parents (Julia Ormond, Chris O'Donnell) struggle to make ends meet, Kit lands a gig as a cub investigative reporter at the local newspaper. Her biggest story hits very close to home. Clearly, no corners were cut in the re-creation of the Depression, and the performances, including those of Max Thieriot, Joan Cusack, Stanley Tucci, Jane Krakowski and Zach Mills, are uniformly excellent. In fact, the product placement is less obtrusive here than in most Hollywood pictures, where the parade of brands grows longer every day. This time around, though, the bonus features are nothing special.

There's no such lack of extras on Tinker Bell, Disney's extensively marketed straight-to-DVD extension of its Peter Pan brand. The good news is that Tinker Bell, unlike other recent sequels, wears the imprint of Pixar's creative team like a badge of honor. While clearly computer-generated, the characters possess a distinctly warmer and far less synthetic texture than those in previous knock-offs, and Blu-ray only adds to their sparkle. The story may not challenge viewers older than 7 or 8, but their younger siblings will enjoy learning more about the residents of Pixie Hollow and their relationship to the changing of seasons. The voicing cast includes Kristin Chenoweth, America Ferrera, Jane Horrocks, Angelica Huston, Lucy Liu and Kathy Najimy. Among the many bonus treats are a music video by Selena Gomez, a DVD-ROM section on fairy training, a guide to Pixie Hollow, a featurette on how fairies nurture nature and various making-of docs.

Jules Verne's venerable sci-fi adventure, Journey to the Center of the Earth, was revisited this summer in an edition shot entirely in digital 3D. Chock full of lava flows, dinosaurs, ice bridges, runaway mining cars, giant insects and man-eating plants, Journey provided a great test vehicle for the latest in 3D technology. Twenty-first Century Everyman, Brendan Fraser, was recruited to play the geologist who is determined to prove seismic theories laid forth by his brother before being swallowed up by a volcano. Josh Hutcherson played the hyperactive nephew who tagged along on the journey, while Icelandic actress Anita Briem made the perfect companion for any subterranean suicide mission. The Limited Edition includes both 2D and 3D versions, as well as four pairs of 3D glasses (not the modern lightweight sunglass variety used in theaters). The extras in the Blu-ray version are presented in hi-def, including a featurette on Hollow Earth Theories and How to Make a Dinosaur Drool. -- Gary Dretzka

Birds of America

When Leo Tolstoy observed, All happy families are happy in the same way, whereas unhappy families are all unhappy in their own way, he couldn't have foreseen how rookie filmmakers would work so hard to prove him wrong. At Sundance, especially, unhappy has become synonymous for dysfunctional, and the indie marketplace overflows with comedies cut from the same dark cloth. Birds of America, in which Matthew Perry plays the big brother in a family of suburban loonies, is another movie that strains to be different, when originality would have been the smarter way to go. When Morrie Tanager's suicidal younger brother Jay (Ben Foster) moves into the family abode, simultaneous to the arrival of their self-absorbed sister, the slutty Ida (Ginnifer Goodwin), the impromptu reunion convinces Morrie's impossibly patient wife (Lauren Graham) that she ought to start weighing her options. She's wanted to start a family of her own, but Morrie is afraid their kids would inherit his family's nutzo gene. For contrast, writer Elyse Friedman added a relatively sane couple to the mix as friends of the Tanagers. Naturally, their intolerance for bizarre behavior turns them into the film's meanies. None of the metaphorical birds is particularly interesting, though, no matter how much sweat equity the actors invest on their portrayals. Neither do they add much to the catalogue of dysfunctional souls we've already met in such pictures as Running With Scissors, Home for the Holidays, Smart People, The Royal Tenenbaums and, yes, every other family we've met at Sundance in the last 10 years.
-- Gary Dretzka
Eight Miles High

No doubt, the producers of this hot and horny profile of '60s supermodel Uschi Obermaier chose the title of a classic Byrds song to help them sell their biopic to former hippies and other unrepentant hedonists. I might have picked So You Want to Be a Rock 'N' Roll Star, as the movie seems more like a cautionary tale for aspiring musicians and groupies. In this way, Eight Miles High can be seen as a companion piece to the Brian Jones' biopic, Stoned, Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg's Performance, George Hickenlooper's Factory Girl and Oliver Stone's The Doors. After suburban runaway Obermaier became the face of West Germany in the mid-'60s, she effectively extended the radical-chic trend from Manhattan to the communes of Berlin. Apparently, she was drawn to the radical left by their anarchic principles and openness toward cheap drugs, commandeered housing and guilt-free sex. Like poor little rich girl, Edie Sedgwick, she finally decided that slumming was far less stimulating than becoming an accessory for rock stars, artists and people who could afford mansions, limousines and excursions to India and Africa, as was the case with hippie bon vivant, Dieter Bockhorn. Unlike most groupies, Obermaier never was content to remain in the background and she definitely wasn't anyone's old lady. Indeed, she seemed to use her conquests - Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Jimi Hendrix - as calling cards. The stunning Polish actress Natalia Avelon delivered a splendid portrayal of Obermaier, who gained her first notoriety as a model ready and willing to pose topless and nude … and there's plenty of Natalia's skin on display in Eight Miles High. Even if critics pretty much hated the film, true believers in the rock-'n'-roll mystique should enjoy the depiction of unfettered hedonism, which is what it's all about, anyway
. -- Gary Dretzka
Hell Ride

Having already helped resurrect the Grindhouse genre from obscurity, Quentin Tarantino lent his name as producer to another long-dormant offshoot, the biker-gang flick. The Tarantino imprint may have helped Hell Ride find a distributor, but very little of his artistic vision found its way to the screen. Instead, the movie was written and directed by Larry Bishop, the son of Rat Packer Joey Bishop and veteran of such vintage biker flicks as The Savage Seven, Angel Unchained and Chrome and Hot Leather. He's retained much of what he learned about barbaric biker behavior, but, then, how much has really changed in nearly 40 years? Only those viewers lubricated by booze, crank and gonzo porn will find much to recommend in Hell Ride. The instruments of messy destruction even include crossbows. Bishop also played one of the renegade bikers, alongside such certified bad asses as Michael Madsen, Eric Balfour, Dennis Hopper and Vinnie Jones. And, yes, the T&A quotient is extremely high, as well. Besides commentary, the Hell Ride DVD adds making-of featurettes on the movie's babes, guys and choppers, and Michael Madsen's Video Diary.

Like Hell Ride, Red is a throwback to such blood-soaked revenge movies as Death Wish, Walking Tall, Breaking Point, Billy Jack and Dirty Harry. Here, Brian Cox plays Avery, a reclusive Korean War veteran whose only true friend is his dog, Red. In one of those senseless acts of violence that happen so often at the beginning of certain American movies, the 14-year-old mutt is shot and killed after three local hoodlums confront Avery at his favorite fishing hole. Grief-stricken, Avery tracks the boys and reports their crime to local law-enforcement agencies, which happen to be in cahoots with the wealthy father of one of the killers. When he is denied justice for the hideous act, Avery takes on the burden of extracting an apology from the boys. If the rest of the story is perfectly predictable, the events of the film's final half-hour still retained the ability to shock. Cox and Tom Sizemore turn in highly believable performances as adversaries from different sides of the track, while actors who play the punks are evil incarnate.
-- Gary Dretzka

Jake's Closet
Death Defying Act

From Spain comes Shiver, a dandy something's-in-the-woods thriller that slowly morphs from horror into suspense as the face of the monster is revealed to be something far different than superstitious villagers expected it to be. The story revolves around a teenage boy, Santi (Junio Valverdi, of The Devil's Backbone), whose life is being made miserable by bullies who ridicule his skin condition, caused by exposure to light. Santi convinces his mother to move to a mountainous region, where steep cliffs block the sun's rays for most of the day. Naturally, his photophobia suggests to the local knuckleheads that Santi might be a vampire, thus eligible for constant harassment. His skin problem now relatively under control, the boy must contend with a new threat. A mysterious, seemingly ubiquitous creature lives in the woods outside his house and sustains itself on livestock and the occasional human ankle. Circumstances lead Santi to confront the beast on its own turf and endeavor to separate local legend from realistic monster behavior. From here on in, Shiver is all about revenge and the administration of old-school justice. Monster purists will have problems with Shiver, if only because logic and truth are the enemies of terror and superstition. As such, Isidro Ortiz' film wraps up the loose ends in a bundle more suitable for delivery to TV viewers than dyed-in-the-wool genre fanatics.

Like Shiver, Jake's Closet is square-peg thriller that arrives on DVD without the benefit of a domestic theatrical release. Jake is a wee lad who believes that a zombie that lives inside his closet is responsible for the death of small animals who wander into the backyard of his suburban home. Viewers are encouraged to believe that the monster is either a figment of Jake's fertile imagination or a cry for help from someone who's watched his parents' marriage collapse. One way or another, though, it's clear that something hinky is going on in the general vicinity of his closet. My only reservation would be that Jake's Closet may be far too intense an experience for kids the same age as its 10-year-old star, Anthony De Marco, who does a remarkable job in his first leading role. The PG-13 rating is warranted, so parents shouldn't confuse Jake's Closet with a baby-sitter. Kudos also go to writer-director Shelli Ryan for securing such a performance in her freshman feature.

Harry Houdini died a medically unnecessary death 82 years ago this Halloween. Death Defying Acts describes events that might have occurred during his last tour of Great Britain, in 1926, and the fake Scottish psychic with whom he enjoyed a passionate affair. Catherine Zeta-Jones plays the seer, who, along with her daughter, attempts to weasel her way into a séance Houdini (Guy Pearce) staged to contact his recently deceased mother. As directed by ace Aussie director Gillian Armstrong (Oscar and Lucinda), Death Defying Acts is far more attuned to the romantic aspects of Houdini's final days than his supernatural quests. As such, it won't send shivers down the spines of trick-or-treaters or fans of paranormal activity. Armstrong's studied re-creation of the period feel is probably the best reason to seek out the movie. The real mystery is how any movie starring Oscar-winner Zeta-Jones and the very gifted Guy Pearce can be ignored by American distributors, even those catering to arthouses. -- Gary Dretzka

TheDonna Reed Show: The Complete First Season
Sister, Sister: The First Season
Fanny Hill
Affairs of the Heart: Series 1
Agatha Christie: Mystery Lover's Collection
Carlos Mencia: Performance Enhanced

Although it shared several thematic characteristics with Leave It to Beaver and Ozzie & Harriet, no television sitcom represented the middle-class values of Eisenhower-era suburbia as much as The Donna Reed Show. Reed was raised on an Iowa farm, and, like so many other corn-fed beauties, she made the pilgrimage to Hollywood to see how far her good looks would take her. Despite being typecast as the girl-next-door, the former Donna Belle Mullenger would win an Oscar by playing a prostitute in From Here to Eternity. No such notoriety would attach to her sitcom incarnation, Donna Stone, who woke up early each morning to make bag lunches for her pediatrician husband (Carl Betz) and teenage son (Paul Petersen) and daughter (Shelley Fabares). She would spend the rest of her day sipping coffee with friends and vacuuming in her high heels. There was no Eddie Haskell to disturb the tranquility of the Stone household, and Ricky Nelson looked like Jerry Lee Lewis alongside the Stone children. Nonetheless, the show enjoyed a good, long run. Reed dressed modestly, but there was no mistaking how modern underwire technology worked to the benefit of the star's figure and the show's ratings. Indeed, it's widely believed that Donna Stone was the prototype for all sitcom MILFs to follow. Likewise, Petersen and Fabares would be molded into teen idols, recording stars and heartthrobs. (More than a few Boomer lads launched themselves into puberty with the assistance of Fabares' publicity photos). Eventually, the family Stone would tackle social issues avoided in other sitcoms, but, in Season One, the emphasis was on goofy family situations.

It would take nearly two decades for the networks to acknowledge that nuclear families weren't exclusive to Caucasian households and black children didn't all grow up with absentee fathers or teenage mothers. The great success of The Cosby Show would ensure that family sitcoms such as Sister, Sister would become as common as any other programming. Launched in 1994, the show featured identical twins (Tia and Tamera Mowry), who were separated at birth and re-united after a chance meeting in a Detroit shopping mall. The teenagers no longer wanted to live separate lives, so they got their adoptive parents (Tim Reid, Jackee Harry) to move in together. As is the wont of teen twins, the girls get into plenty of trouble playing identity games and messing with the minds of their very different parents.

This week's collection of classy British mini-series includes Andrew Davies' adaptation of Fanny Hill, one of the most notorious novels of the 18th Century. Rebecca Night, Samantha Bond, Alison Steadman, Philip Jackson and Hugo Speer starred in story of one woman's struggle for independence and pleasure. The set includes behind-the-scenes footage and interviews.

Affairs of the Heart is a collection of stories based on the Victorian-era fiction of Henry James. Among the actors who participated in the hour-long dramas, which originally ran in the mid-'70s, were Diana Rigg, Margaret Tyzack, Pamela Brown, Ian Ogilvy, Anton Rodgers and Jeremy Brett. Among the titles are Washington Square, The Aspern Papers and The Wings of the Dove.

No one does Agatha Christie like the Brits. The new collection spotlights such titles as The Secret Adversary, The Affair of the Pink Pearl, The Body in the Library, The Mysterious Affair at Styles and The Pale Horse.

Comedy Channel mainstay Carlos Mencia is an equal-opportunity offender. In his new stand-up special, he discusses his trip to Iraq and shares freely his opinions on race and politics.

Other new TV-to-DVD packages encapsulate, The L-Word: The Complete Fifth Season, Girlfriends: The Fifth Season, The 4400: The Complete Series, Newsradio: The Complete Series, Sanford and Son: The Complete Series and Good Times: The Complete Series.
Gary Dretzka

Inside Bob Dylan's Jesus Years: Busy Being Born ... Again!
Double Dynamite
Jewel: The Essential Live Songbook
Electric Band: Live at the Maintenance Shop

In hindsight, the music from Bob Dylan's gospel period can be studied and enjoyed absent the baggage of shock, dismay and prejudice. Much of it not only was quite good but it also holds up nearly 30 years after first being released. Busy Being Born … Again! recalls the events that led to Dylan's midcourse religious correction through the eyes of members of the Vineyard Christian Fellowship Church, producer Jerry Wexler, background singer Regina McCrary, keyboardist Spooner Oldham, San Francisco Chronicle rock reporter Joel Selvin, songwriter Al Kasha and the dumpster-diving Dylanologist A.J. Weberman. Also included are photos and exclusive live concert footage from 1978-1981, as well as a recently unearthed interview from 1981.

Collections such as Double Dynamite will go a long way toward relieving fans of the final, sour memories of the Godfather of Soul, James Brown. Instead of rehashing his brushes with the law and the sordid squabbling among various wives and girlfriends following his death, Double Dynamite focuses directly on his music. The concerts here were recorded at venues in Manhattan and Atlanta, in 1980 and 1985 … even if the photograph on the cover looks as if it might have been taken in the early '60s. Past his prime and riding squarely in the mainstream of pop culture, Brown remained a dynamic showman.

Jewel has found a niche not only among sensitive high school- and college-age girls, but also in firmament of the Nashville establishment. Her new collection includes concerts recorded in a historic theater in Joliet, Ill.; the Meyerson Symphony Center, in Dallas; and, exclusive to the Blu-ray edition, Denver's Red Rocks amphitheater. Some 45 songs are included, as well as a video.

Jazz and fusion pioneer Chick Corea is represented this week by an in-concert DVD recording. The setting was Iowa State University, in 1987, and his sidemen included Dave Weckl and John Patitucci. -- Gary Dretzka


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