ALL IN THE FAMILY: THE COMPLETE EIGHTH SEASON (1977-1978). After a record five years at #1 in the Nielsen ratings, All in the Family saw its stock slip with the seventh season, losing viewers, dropping out the Top 10 (to #12) and making ill-advised changes to the accepted template (a softer edge, a needless new character, etc.). But this eighth go-around witnessed a temporary, Lazarus-like rise: a significant bump in the ratings (to #4), a near-sweep of the Emmy Awards (six major prizes, including another win for Outstanding Comedy Series) and, most importantly, a number of powerful episodes (many of them two-parters) that rank among the series’ finest. The poignant “Edith’s Crisis of Faith” finds Edith Bunker (Jean Stapleton) seriously questioning her trust in God after a friend is brutally murdered; “Archie Gets the Business” sees Archie (Carroll O’Connor) quitting his longtime job in order to buy Kelsey’s bar (thus setting up the subsequent spin-off show, Archie Bunker’s Place); “Archie and the KKK” involves Archie having to prevent the title goobers from going after liberal son-in-law Mike (Rob Reiner); “Edith’s 50th Birthday” is a dramatic two-parter involving an attempted rape; and the season’s final episodes center on Mike and Gloria (Sally Struthers) as they prepare to move from New York to California.
There are no extras in the collection aside from some promos for other TV series.
BURLESQUE (2010). Sorry, camp-classic aficionados: Burlesque is no Showgirls or Staying Alive. Certainly, the film contains some risible moments, but nothing wretched enough to plunge it into the bowels of bad cinema. Ultimately, it's too competently made to be a genuine stinker yet too indebted to hoary show biz clichés to come close to succeeding. Cher, her face as immobile as a kabuki mask (and far less expressive), receives top billing but actually plays second fiddle to Christina Aguilera; the latter is just OK as Ali, who leaves her podunk Iowa town in the hopes of making it in LA. It's not long before she stumbles across an intriguing nightclub called Burlesque, and from there, everything proceeds according to formulaic plan: She snags a job at the joint waiting tables, wins the grudging respect of club owner Tess (Cher) and Tess' gay BFF (film MVP Stanley Tucci), lands a hottie boyfriend (Cam Gigandet), clashes with the venue's bitchy star (a miscast Kristen Bell, whose vamp is about as toothless as a newborn baby), and — you go, girl! — gets that big break that turns her into an overnight sensation. About the only thing missing is someone barking, "You're going out a youngster, but you've got to come back a star!" ... although I can't guarantee that wasn't in an earlier draft of the script.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by writer-director Steven Antin; The Burlesque Jukebox (featuring six uncut musical performances from the film); five featurettes (totaling 33 minutes) on the film's casting, sets, music and more; an alternate opening; and a 5-minute blooper reel.
RIOT (1969) / LUCKY LADY (1975). One of the greatest actors ever to grace American screens, Gene Hackman has been retired for approximately seven years now. Luckily, his appearances in roughly 80 movies in the four-decade span between 1964 and 2004 insures that we'll always have plenty of home-entertainment options, from his Oscar-winning performances in The French Connection and Unforgiven to his equally stellar turns in Bonnie and Clyde, The Firm and Mississippi Burning (the latter for which he should have won an Oscar). Of course, Hackman's also made his shares of duds, and two of these lesser efforts have recently been released separately on DVD by two different outfits. Not surprisingly, he's the best thing in both of them.
Riot is the second of two films Hackman made opposite Jim Brown (The Split was the other) immediately after earning his first Oscar nomination for Bonnie and Clyde. Produced by William Castle of all people, this fact-based drama centers on the efforts of a group of convicts who, after taking the requisite hostages, stage a protest for better prison conditions while secretly plotting on how best to make their great escape. Hackman's natural efficiency is appreciated even if it can't quite flesh out a nondescript role, while Cleveland Browns legend Brown glowers with the best of them. But between TV vet Buzz Kulik's unpolished direction, the intrusive music score and some truly awful dialogue, this ranks at the bottom of the prison flick subgenre.
Unlike the low-budget Riot, Lucky Lady was an expensive production sporting an accomplished director (Singin' in the Rain's Stanley Donen), respected writers (the husband-and-wife team of Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz, coming off American Graffiti) and an A-list cast fronted by two Oscar winners (Hackman and Liza Minnelli) and a top box office star (Burt Reynolds). All of this talent only makes it an even bigger disappointment than Riot, with the stars playing Prohibition-era rumrunners trying to dodge both the Coast Guard and rival bootleggers; during their down time, the three share beds together, since the lady can't decide which of the men she prefers. Hackman and Reynolds escape with their dignity intact, but Minnelli is abrasive (she's the one who gets to spout the classic bad line, "It's so quiet, you could hear a fish fart"), the comedy misfires left and right, and the action-packed ending fails to resolve the story in any appreciable manner.
There are no extras on Riot. DVD extras on Lucky Lady consist of two vintage making-of featurettes totaling 16 minutes; three theatrical trailers; and a TV spot.
Both Movies: *1/2
Riot Extras: *
Lucky Lady Extras: **
UNSTOPPABLE (2010). The inspired-by-true-events Unstoppable isn't unwatchable like far too many movies helmed by Tony Scott, but viewers hoping that their hearts will be racing as fast as the film's runaway train may find themselves disappointed by how frequently the picture brakes for tedium. Denzel Washington, who should have steered clear of trains after the ill-advised remake of The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, plays the saintly, sage engineer at the end of his career; Chris Pine, Star Trek's new James T. Kirk, portrays the brash, brawny conductor on his first assignment. Ultimately, it's up to these two to stop an unmanned train that's barreling along while carrying tons of explosives. It's as straightforward as an action flick gets, but even at a trim 98 minutes, its lack of substance and variety limits its appeal, with lame backstories for both characters slowing it down even more. Because this is a 20th Century Fox production, Fox News plays a starring role, with huge chunks of the action being shown via the network's live news coverage. But because the studio wanted the film to score with all demographics, it pulls its political punches — after all, in the real world, Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity would be frequently interrupting the live feed to squarely place the blame for the runaway train on Obama.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Scott; a half-hour making-of featurette; a 15-minute piece on the stuntwork; and a 14-minute on-set conversation with Scott, Washington, Pine and co-star Rosario Dawson.