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G.I. Joe A Real American Hero: Season 1.1 [Shout!]

In August 2009 the feature film "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra" will be released. What better time to release the original animated series based on the classic toy line of military action heroes relaunched in 1983 by Hasbro? G.I. JOE: A Real American Hero Season 1.1 is a 4-DVD box set featuring the first 22 episodes, including the three 5-part mini-series The M.A.S.S. Device, The Revenge of Cobra and The Pyramid of Darkness. Based more on the comic book series from Marvel Comics than any earlier incarnations of the 1960s iconic toy, it relates the animated adventures of Duke, Scarlett, Snake Eyes, Flint, Lady Jaye and the rest of the G.I. Joe team. Along with the episodes, there are several bonus features that will prove invaluable to fans of the series, as well as of the toys: The featurette Looking Back With Writer Ron Friedman is undoubtedly the star attraction, but there are also seven PSA's (Alpine - What to Do When You're Lost, Barbeque - What to Do If Your House is On Fire, Deep Six - Don't Swim When It's Storming, Mutt - Don't Pet Strange Dogs, Quick Kick - Take Your Time When Building Your Tree House, Spirit - What To Do If You Catch On Fire and Torpedo - How To Tread Water) archival Hasbro Toy Commercials, the original G.I. Joe 1963 Toy Fair Presentation, as well as extras included inside the slipcase box (a season episode summary booklet, a flier for the GI Joe action figures and tattoos. For those not familiar with the series, the format is pretty much standard animation action for preadolescent boys -- that is, several characters, each with unique skills who battle evil in one form after another. From the Ninja Turtles to the Power Rangers, the plots are almost interchangeable. Yet, it is perhaps the fact that G.I. Joe is all-American that makes it different for a whole generation of kids, who are now adults and desperate to collect the series. First partly released by Rhino, Shout Factory has taken over and production is underway for G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero The Complete Series Collector's Set. But for fans and collectors this is a good start.

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The Tale of Despereaux [Universal]

This witty and original fairy tale is based on Kate DiCamillo popular "The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup and a Spool of Thread." Faithful to the dark elements of the book, this may not be for very young children: a princess dies, we clearly see evidence of overwhelming grief, and one of the several worlds in the film, the one inhabited by rats, is a despotic dystopia. Still, there's maturity to the narrative, with several characters who are less than good but not evil -- like regular people, they often lash out of desperation, greed, envy, etc. and they are capable of forgiveness and redemption. The story is about a small mouse named Despereaux (voiced by Matthew Broderick) that does not fit in with his family and community because he is not afraid of things that cause automatic panic among his fellow mice. After being banished to a deep drain where the rats live and from which no mouse has ever returned, Despereaux determines to save the life of a beautiful princess who is being threatened by the evil rat ruler. Also with the voices of Tracey Ullman, Emma Watson, Tony Hale, Frances Conroy, Frank Langella, Sigourney Weaver, Dustin Hoffman, Kevin Kline, William H. Macy, Stanley Tucci, Robbie Coltrane, Ciaran Hinds and Christopher Lloyd. Directed by Sam Fell & Rob Stevenhagen. [1:34]

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The Spirit [Lionsgate]

Roger Ebert dismissed this graphic novel brought to screen by Frank Miller (who was also behind the graphic-novel-to-screen adaptations of "Sin City" and "300") as much ado about style and nothing else. He's quite right that most of the characters seem one dimensional, as if pulled off a paper page; and he's also right that style reigns supreme. But, so what? Graphic novels may have distinguished themselves from mere comics because of their narrative complexity and character development, but both forms are essentially about style, and art trumps prose. Yes, "The Spirit" is stylish to a fault, but that's what's a lot of fun about it. Indeed, it's the story that drags here and there while the dystopian landscape and the costumes, as well as the stylized violence, make this screen comic a real treat. Based on Will Eisner's graphic novel, it stars Gabriel Macht as the superhero who can't or won't die, a masked vigilante after the ruthless arch villain The Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson), who's also immortal. Scarlett Johansson, Eva Mendes, Sarah Paulson, Dan Lauria, Stana Katic, Johnny Simmons and Louis Lombardi co-star.

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Timecrimes [Magnolia]

Reportedly David Cronenberg will be helming the English-language version of this Oscar-nominated Spanish sci-fi thriller, and while he's a talented and competent director, why not enjoy the original first? While classified as a horror film, the time-traveling paradoxes and twists and turns are more typical if science fiction with a dose of Christopher Nolan’s Memento thrown in for good measure. The plot won't make any sense as text on a page, but here goes: Héctor (Karra Elejalde), a middle-aged Spaniard and his wife (Candela Fernández) are vacationing in the country when they see a nude woman in the woods (Bárbara Goenaga). Then, a man with a bandaged face stabs Héctor's arm with scissors and disappears, Héctor runs into a scientist (played by writer/director Nacho Vigalondo) and later realizes that he can see his house, his wife and himself from a hill. It is a "mirror image" from the previous day, and soon Héctor realizes that he has to repeating what has already happened. This is Vigalondo's first feature, done on a meager budget. Nevertheless, it is involving and suspenseful and ultimately the story is thoughtful and original. [1:32]

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The Day the Earth Stood Still [Fox]

Poorly madre remake of the 1951 sci-fi classic: a representative of an alien and far superior civilization visits the Earth to determine whether humanity is capable of changing its aggressive nature. Otherwise, humanity may have to be destroyed to allow Earth to survive. The problem is a basic one, with both character development and plot. Keanu Reeves wanders around seemingly clueless until a minor event with the ubiquitous obnoxious/cute mopet helps him decide that humanity is not dreadful, We're never convinced. Also with Jennifer Connelly, Kathy Bates, Jon Hamm, Jaden Christopher Smith, Mousa Kraish and John Cleese. Directed by Scott Derrickson.

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Doubt [Disney]

Top-notch drama taking place in the early 1960s: Meryl Streep stars as a rather severe nun in a Catholic school, who prides herself on being feared by the students. She sets her sights on the apparently kind priest of the parish (Philip Seymour Hoffman) when she suspects that he has an inappropriate relationship with a young boy. Amy Adams is as incredible here as Streep and Hoffman, two of our best actors. But beyond the acting, the mature plotting and excellent pacing make this drama thrilling and satisfying despite the ambiguous ending. Also Viola Davis, Alice Drummond, Audrie Neenan, Susan Blommaert and Carrie Preston. Directed by John Patrick Shanley.

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Bedtime Stories [Disney]

Adam Sandler stars as a maintenance man who dreams of managing a five-star resort hotel, that was built on the site of his father's far more modest hotel. When he has to take care of his young niece and nephew for a few days, he realizes that the bedtime tales they begin spinning have real-life repercussions. This could have been good if it actually concentrated on the stories and their telling instead of depending on Sandler's tired joke repertoire of mild scatology.  Also with Courtney Cox Arquette, Keri Russell, Teresa Palmer, Guy Pearce, Lucy Lawless, Russell Brand, Richard Griffiths, Aisha Tyler and Jonathan Pryce. Directed by Adam Shankman.

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Wii Fit [Nintendo]

Does anyone remember the days when video games were bad for you because they turned players into couch potatoes? Well, as everybody probably knows the Nintendo Wii Fit is in such great demand that shortages are forcing stores to limit the total number of Fit units that can be purchased. Imagine: a video game accessory that will make you work and sweat, and it's flying off the shelves even during a time of recession. And no wonder, since this is a genuine phenomenon, and so much better for you in so many ways than any talking Elmo doll. While it may seem like a system for people who are already fit or too young to know any better, the Fit is designed for everyone, young or old, fit or full of cupcakes, with more than 40 activities of differing tension and challenge level. Each player works towards his personal fitness goal, by choosing Strength Training, Aerobics, Yoga and Balance games. You can check your daily progress, set goals, and check your Wii Fit Age (measured by factoring the user's BMI reading, testing the user's center of gravity and conducting quick balance tests). Exercise (sorry, meant to say "Play") as much or as little as you wish. Please be warned that the Fit will allow up to eight family members to create their own profiles, and everyone can see each other's BMI progress. Better get fit fast.

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Guitar Hero World Tour - Band Kit [Activision]

Even with the success of "Guitar Hero III" last year, this year's "World Tour Band Kit" must be acknowledged as the ultimate incarnation of the "Guitar Hero" franchise (while we reviewed the Wii version, it is also available for the Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3). For fans of classic rock music this is the opportunity to build a Band Career or engage in the 8-player "Battle of the Bands," which allows two full bands to compete head-to-head online. There are also the authentic rock venues, but the greatest innovation is that the Band Kit comes with a groovy redesigned guitar, an authentic electronic drum kit, and a microphone, as well as the Music Studio music creator that lets players compose, record, edit and share their own rock ‘n’ roll anthems. As we said last year, go ahead and unleash your inner Hendrix and Rock on!

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The Minotaur’s Island [Acorn]

The Greek island of Crete gave birth to Europe’s first civilization nearly 5,000 years ago, well before Athens and Alexander's Macedonia came to symbolize Greek Antiquity. It was even older than Mycenae and Troy, more than two millennia before Homer composed The Iliad. Suddenly it collapsed violently -- was it invasion or a natural disaster? Perhaps a tsunami from the explosion at neighboring Thera (the modern island of Santorini)? Historian Bettany Hughes follows the footsteps of Arthur Evans, Harriet Boyd, and other famed archaeologists to find startling new insights into the tragedy of Minoan culture.

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Alfresco [Acorn]

Before House, M.D. and in the tradition of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Hugh Laurie was a member in an up-and-coming British comedy troupe that created Alfresco in the 1980s. the other members? Why, Emma Thompson, Robbie Coltrane, Ben Elton, Stephen Fry, all of whom have gone on to individual success on TV and film. Alfresco serves social satire and delightfully wacky and off-the-wall sketches that still seem somehow fresh and topical. The DVD special features include the three-episode pilot series, the story of the alternative comedy boom in 1980s Britain, and cast biographies and filmographies.

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The Commander Set 1 [Acorn]

From Lynda La Plante, the creator of the grown-up and gritty mystery series Prime Suspect, comes the first installment of another serial about a tough but flawed female cop: After 20 years with London’s Metropolitan Police, Clare Blake (Amanda Burton) has reached the top of her profession and she’s New Scotland Yard’s highest-ranking female officer. But she's as ambitious as she's reckless, and she allows her personal life to interfere in her career, to the delight of her a vengeful colleague. The DVD special features include an interview with Burton, character retrospective with La Plante, supporting cast featurette, and bios.

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George Gently, Series 1 [Acorn]

Based on the long-running series of novels by Alan Hunter, the feature-length mysteries take place in 1960s Britain. An untouchable, uncompromising and incorruptible detective (Martin Shaw) is transplanted from London’s Scotland Yard to England’s North Country where he finds an unlikely ally in a young sergeant (Lee Ingleby) who's not exactly scrupulous about following police procedures. The odd couple goes after murderers, drug dealers and gun runners. Like the Midsomer Murders series, the idyllic backdrop of rural Britain creates a nice contrast.

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Midsomer Murders 1-11  [Acorn]

  John Nettles's DCI Barnaby has had three assistants, while he's kept the same actresses for his wife and daughter throughout this long-running British series. But despite the talented cast, the star, of course, is the seemingly tranquil county of Midsomer. The contrast between the beautiful locale (where it's almost always sunny, despite the fact that this is England) and violent murders is the main attraction of the series. It's a winning formula, and the 11 seasons of the ongoing series live up to it splendidly. The gentle DCI Barnaby, with his uncomplicated personal life, is always welcome in our home. Interview with Nettles, a Midsomer map, a Caroline Graham biography and cast filmographies round out the extra features in many of the sets.

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Doctor Who: The Complete Fourth Series [BBC]

Time is the Doctor's enemy in the Children in Need special "Time Crash" where the 10th Doctor (David Tennat) meets himself in his Fifth incarnation (Peter Davison) as the TARDIS from their respective eras collide. That's just the tip of the iceberg so to speak as we also get to voyage on the Titanic a spacecraft named after Earth's luxury liner (although the designers of the spacecraft clearly had no clue as to what really happened to the real Titanic) and the Doctor has to stop the ship from being destroyed in the 2007 Christmas Special featuring Kylie Minogue. The Doctor also gets a new companion is an old one -- Donna (Catherine Tate) returns after her brief tenure with the Doctor from the previous year.

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Get Smart: The Complete Collection [HBO/]

For anyone who grew up in the '60s "Get Smart," was as much of a must-see for those with a developed sense of humor as "The Daily Show" is today. Disguised as a sitcom, it was also a penetrating satire on the Cold War. It is undoubtedly a TV classic, but it also seems relevant -- and funny -- today. And now the whole collection is available from Time Life. All 138 original episodes of the Emmy® Award-winning series, each remastered and restored for flawless clarity on 25 DVDs. There are also 9 hours of bonus materials, including never-before-seen bloopers, interviews and commentaries and rare TV footage. It all comes in a special phone booth collector's box with photos and booklets for each season. It is therefore one of our top picks of the year.

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Simon Schama's Power of Art [BBC]

What do eight works of art from different eras have in common? Why choose these eight as, ostensibly, the most significant? Does art (or rather "Art") still have anything to tell us about human nature and civilization? Is visual imagination still relevant? Well, Simon Schama aims to tell you. Traversing time from the world of baroque Rome to revolutionary Paris via the civil-war massacres of 20th century Spain and the excitement of avant-garde 1950s New York, Schama uses a combination of dramatic reconstruction, spectacular photography and his idiosyncratic personal style to tell stories that provide necessary context to these masterpieces. Extra features include revealing and funny commentary tracks by Schama and his co-producer.

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My Hero 1 & 2 [BBC]

Sci-fi comedies are hard to do, let alone sci-fi sitcoms. American TV may have tried with Mork and Mindy, but the result was lackluster, and I'd be hard-pressed to even call it sci-fi. On the other hand, the BBC has done a fantastic job at this hybrid genre, first with Red Dwarf and now with My Hero. The beauty of the show is in not bothering with FX -- which stateside defines sci-fi -- and instead concentrating on character-based comedy.

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