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View From The Couch

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ALL IN THE FAMILY: THE COMPLETE FIFTH SEASON (1974-75) / ARCHIE BUNKER'S PLACE: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (1979-80). All In the Family, for my money the greatest sitcom ever to be broadcast on prime-time television, set a record by emerging as the number one ranked series for five consecutive years (an honor it still holds today, tied with The Cosby Show). Certainly, the show rewarded regular followers of the Bunker clan -- Archie (Carroll O'Connor), Edith (Jean Stapleton), Mike (Rob Reiner) and Gloria (Sally Struthers) -- by maintaining the high standards that made it a hit from the start. Among this fifth season's 24 episodes are a multi-part story line dealing with rising inflation and union woes, the Bunker-free episode in which the Jeffersons move out of the neighborhood and into their posh new digs (this episode set up the Jeffersons' own series), and a personal favorite, "Archie and the Quiz," in which a magazine quiz reveals that Archie only has a few more years to go before kicking the bucket.

All In the Family would last for several more seasons before it was phased out and replaced by Archie Bunker's Place, but Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has elected to go ahead and release Place's first season on DVD. Unfortunately, placed side by side with its predecessor, it's clear that the absence of O'Connor's Family co-stars (Reiner and Struthers were long gone and Stapleton appeared only sporadically) meant that this follow-up was not much different from the usual sitcom fodder clogging the airwaves. The premise deals with Archie running his neighborhood bar along with his new Jewish partner Murray (Martin Balsam), but it was a lot more fun watching him verbally spar with his own family members.

There are no extras in either DVD set.

All In the Family: Rating: ****

Extras: Rating: *

Archie Bunker's Place: Rating: **1/2

Extras: Rating: *

FLIGHTPLAN (2005). Flightplan followed on the heels of another aerial thriller, Red Eye, both in theaters and onto DVD, meaning that it twice brought up the rear in more ways than one. Both films require some suspension of disbelief, but Red Eye at least took care to dot every i, cross every t and shovel dirt into every gaping plot hole. This one, about a widow (Jodie Foster) whose daughter disappears during an intercontinental flight, begins its narrative descent almost immediately, thanks to an unconvincing set-up. Once Flightplan gets over this expository hump, it begins to work its magic as a competent thriller, and as long as Foster is allowed to tap into the psychological bent of her character, the movie remains compelling enough that we're almost willing to overlook the shabby opening. But at about the two-thirds mark -- past the point of no return in airline lingo -- the film begins to deteriorate at a rapid clip, with an obvious villain, a ludicrous resolution, several unanswered questions and gargantuan leaps in logic. It's a shame, as Foster's performance deserves a better showcase. Instead, she's much like the lone suitcase that finds itself left on the baggage claim belt, circling wearily while surrounded by an atmosphere of indifference. DVD extras include audio commentary by director Robert Schwentke, a feature on designing the plane's interiors (incidentally, production designer Alexander Hammond did a bang-up job) and several making-of vignettes.

Movie: Rating: **

Extras: Rating: **1/2

TIM BURTON'S CORPSE BRIDE (2005). A fine mix of rot and romance, Corpse Bride finds Johnny Depp, working with Tim Burton for the fifth time, providing the voice of Victor, a shy Victorian lad who's set to marry Victoria, a shy Victorian lass (Emily Watson). Instead, he accidentally ends up wed to Emily (Helena Bonham Carter), a lovely (if decaying) young woman who died on her wedding night and who's been waiting ever since for her true love to come along. Against his will, Victor is dragged by his newfound spouse below the earth into the Land of the Dead, which resembles nothing so much as a jazz joint populated by beer-swilling skeletons, men with hacked up bodies and a buck-toothed maggot who sounds like Peter Lorre. Yet even as Victor plots his great escape from this apparent purgatory, he finds himself becoming increasingly sympathetic to Emily's plight. Corpse Bride is a marvel of craft and imagination -- I especially liked the manner in which one skeleton's single eyeball kept rolling back and forth between sockets, depending on which way he tilted his head -- and while the movie is light on boisterous laughs, its visual wit never ceases to delight. Yet what's most surprising about the film is its ability to make us care about the fate of Bonham Carter's character, a lovely woman who suffered a cruel betrayal she didn't deserve (we learn the circumstances behind her death, and its grisliness is right in line with a Victorian era that produced the factual Jack the Ripper and the fictional Mr. Hyde). DVD extras include numerous short pieces (all under 10 minutes) on various aspects of the film's production (vocal casting, effects work, Burton's directorial decisions, etc.), a preproduction art gallery and a music-only track allowing unfettered enjoyment of Danny Elfman's score.

Movie: Rating: ***

Extras: Rating: ***

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