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Aisle Seat Election Special Part Two

Overlooked Recent Titles and Remastered Oldies on DVD

By Andy Dursin

As the campaign comes to a close, the Electoral College will be lighting up like a bunch of Lite-Brites later on today. In anticipation of this American event, we continue on with our mind-blowing November Aisle Seat DVD round-up by looking at some candidates you might have missed: several sleeper hits and overlooked titles from earlier this year, plus older titles just being remastered on DVD.

Overlooked Recent Candidates:

FREQUENCY. Studio/Price/Availability: New Line, $24.98, available now.

CANDIDATE BREAKDOWN: One of those movies that boasts good word-of-mouth from audiences but only garners mediocre critical notices, Gregory Hoblit's "Frequency" was the "other" spring sleeper hit for New Line -- a "Twilight Zone"-esque time-travel thriller with Jim Caviezel as a police officer who is improbably able to contact his firefighter dad (Dennis Quaid) whose been dead for almost 30 years. Their communication is able to change the past but triggers a series of deadly murders which end up changing Caviezel's present in an equally tragic manner in the process. Written by Toby Emmerich, "Frequency" is a convoluted sci-fi thriller with so many twists and turns that ultimately you lose faith in the movie as a viewer, and no amount of goodwill on the part of the actors can compensate for it. Still, the movie was a big hit with audiences and is likely to gain an even larger following on home video.

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Another super, deluxe New Line special, with deleted scenes, commentary tracks from Hoblit and actor Noah Emmerich with writer/producer Toby Emmerich, a documentary on the movie's science (plus animated solar galleries), the original trailer, and -- once again, a big bonus for FSM readers -- isolated score of Michael Kamen's soundtrack with composer commentary when the score isn't running. For the price, it's another super value from a studio that's always been a friend to DVD consumers.

TRANSFER AND SOUND: Shot in Super 35, the movie boasts a clear 2.35 transfer and an especially effective 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack.

WHY IT DESERVES YOUR VOTE: The film is clearly a matter of taste, and perhaps you'll groove to the film's time-bending premise more than I did. Listen, I enjoyed "Back to the Future Part II" more than anyone, but the more-pretentious tone of "Frequency" requires far more of a suspension of disbelief than BTTF II ever did. In any event, New Line's DVD is the only way to enjoy the movie at home and sweetens the pot with a solid collection of supplements, even if the movie isn't right up your alley.


LOVE AND BASKETBALL. New Line, $24.98, available now.

CANDIDATE BREAKDOWN: A surprisingly winning love story/sports pic chronicles the lives of two professional hoopsters: an up-and- coming male star (Omar Epps) and his female counterpart (Sanaa Lathan), whose lifelong relationship is tested when the two both make it big in the pros. Epps and Lathan are excellent and are backed by a solid supporting cast including Dennis Haysbert (of the excellent and lamentably short-lived TV series "Now and Again") and Alfre Woodard. The star behind the scenes is filmmaker Gina Prince-Bythewood, whose script and direction accentuate character and heart to a degree that producer Spike Lee should take a few lessons from.

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Does New Line love special features or what? Commentary from the director and actress Lathan is included, along with a 5.1 isolated score track featuring music by Terence Blanchard. However, because there's an ample amount of song scoring in the picture, the music track also includes comments from Blanchard plus the film editor and Price-Bythewood. Deleted scenes, bloopers, audition tapes, and animated storyboards round out a fine package.

TRANSFER AND SOUND: The 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack isn't going to knock your socks off, but it's not really meant to. The 1.85 transfer is right on par with past New Line DVDs, meaning it's industry-standard.

WHY IT DESERVES YOUR VOTE: At a time when character-driven films and few and far between, "Love and Basketball" is a breath of fresh air. Solid performances and well-drawn characters are a great combo, and even though the film is a bit overlong (with a final third that becomes a bit cliched), the movie is highly satisfying and New Line's DVD enhances the package with a fine batch of supplements. Check it out.


CENTER STAGE. Columbia TriStar, $24.98, available now.

CANDIDATE BREAKDOWN: Kids try to make it with the American Ballet Company in NYC, and find out it's a lot harder than it's cracked up to be. This "Fame" for the new Millennium is well-directed by Nicholas Hytner ("The Crucible"), with a script by Carol Heikknen that drags out all the obligatory "show-biz ain't all grand" cliches and plot devices one could imagine. It's entertaining, though, for the most part, and teenagers should enjoy the characters despite the bloated 116-minute running time.

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Another excellent job by Columbia, "Center Stage" boasts commentary from Hytner, deleted scenes, featurettes, trailers, extended dance sequences -- and best of all for FSM folk -- an isolated score track featuring a subdued (and to date unreleased) score by George Fenton. It's a nice package right up there with Columbia's typically supplemental-packed DVD release.

TRANSFER AND SOUND: The Super 35 cinematography is done full justice in an efficient 2.35 transfer with a pleasing 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack.

WHY IT DESERVES YOUR VOTE: Teens should go for this predictable but glossy production that rehashes a ton of plot elements in the process -- the kind that will be old hat to most movie-goers. Then again, for the target audience that this picture is aiming for, it's not going to matter. The film is well played and is entertaining for what it is, and if you're tired of effects-heavy features or are just looking for a decent date flick, "Center Stage" is a good bet.


HIGH FIDELITY. Buena Vista, $29.98, now available.

CANDIDATE BREAKDOWN: John Cusack's follow-up to his overrated "Grosse Pointe Blank" is a more engaging comedic-drama with the actor starring as a Chicago record store owner who reflects on his past girlfriends in a free adaptation of Nick Hornby's novel. As scripted by D.V. DeVincentis, Steve Pink and Cusack (the "Grosse Pointe" team) with Scott Rosenberg, "High Fidelity" allows Cusack to interact with a terrific cast; Lisa Bonet, Lili Taylor, Natasha Gregson Wagner, Joelle Carter, and Sara Gilbert are among his past female relations, while Iben Hjele makes a good impression in her big-screen debut as our protagonist's current love. If "Grosse Pointe" had a tendency to think that it was more intelligent and amusing than it actually was, the grittier "High Fidelity" boasts a more cohesive storyline and makes for satisfying entertainment, with Cusack adding to his resume of affable leading men with his performance here.

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: While not a full-blown special edition, Hollywood's special edition does include interviews with Cusack and director Stephen Frears, along with deleted scenes and a trailer.

TRANSFER AND SOUND: The 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack includes a raucous collection of rock and roll hits, plus a solid 1.85 transfer as well.

WHY IT DESERVES YOUR VOTE: Easy. With smart dialogue and a good cast, "High Fidelity" makes for superior romantic fare, and the comedic edge Cusack spins with his "Grosse Pointe" cohorts results in a funny and engaging picture that marks another step-up for its leading man.


ANNA AND THE KING. Fox, $29.98, now available.

CANDIDATE BREAKDOWN: An old-fashioned romantic epic that suffers from sub-par screenwriting but offers more than enough in the way of visual splendor (lush cinematography and settings) to make it worth a look on DVD. This de-musicalization of "The King and I" (previously shot in the '30s, sans music, with Rex Harrison) finds Jodie Foster -- prim and proper in a way that barely rises above cliched British stereotype -- as Anna, sent to the faraway kingdom of Siam during the 1860s to tutor the young son of the King (Chow Yun-Fat), who, with his twenty-plus wives and warring neighbors, has enough on his mind than to worry about a culture clash. "Ever After" director Andy Tennant tries spinning another fairy-tale with this lavish yarn, yet the movie was a box-office disappointment last year and never became the Oscar contender it was touted to be. Nevertheless, the movie is great to look at and deserves another look from audiences at home.

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: An overdue but solid effort from Fox, the DVD features commentary from Tennant, a handful of featurettes (including a TV special), trailers, TV spots, a music video, and most interestingly, several deleted scenes -- the most intriguing of which feature an excised prologue and epilogue that would have added to the movie's historical significance, and yet were wisely cut since they proved unnecessary to the finished product (and are reminiscent of "Ever After").

TRANSFER AND SOUND: An immaculate 2.35 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack help reproduce the movie's big screen splendor on the small screen flawlessly.

WHY IT DESERVES YOUR VOTE: Despite its flaws, "Anna and the King" is still a highly entertaining movie that's worth a look for the cinematic trappings and Chow's performance. For viewers seeking an alternative to the effects-heavy fare we've been bombarded by, and particularly for those predisposed to an old-fashioned romantic epic in the first place, I'd recommend it.


WAKING THE DEAD. USA Films, $29.98, now available.

CANDIDATE BREAKDOWN: An unusual love story with Billy Crudup as a man whose '70s ideology is contrasted with '80s financial gain after his free-spirited girlfriend (Jennifer Connelly, in one of her best roles to date) dies and later materializes as a spirit to set him straight -- or does she? Director Keith Gordon's adaptation of Scott Spencer's mammoth novel (scripted by Robert Dillon) is a haunting story that unravels slowly but surely, and weaves an intoxicating spell that makes it hard to forget.

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Tomandandy's unreleased score is included, apparently almost in its entirety, under the various menu screens in USA's DVD release, which also boasts some 45 minutes of deleted scenes, including performances from Ed Harris among others. Gordon's commentary track, a featurette, and other goodies wrap up a surprisingly formidable supplemental package from the folks at USA.

TRANSFER AND SOUND: The 1.85 transfer is solid and the 5.1 Dolby Digital mix is more than adequate for the kind of picture "Waking the Dead" is.

WHY IT DESERVES YOUR VOTE: The luminous Connelly's career has never taken off (she's now a regular on the Fox series "The Street"), but she's never looked better than she does here. Oh, the movie is pretty good, too, and was well-received by critics despite receiving scant theatrical distribution. If you're in the mood for a somber but moving love story, "Waking the Dead" is worth a look.


Remastered Candidates

TUCKER: THE MAN AND HIS DREAM. Paramount, $29.98, available now.

CANDIDATE BREAKDOWN: Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas teamed up to produce this 1988 critically- acclaimed financial underachiever, starring Jeff Bridges as real-life car manufacturer Preston Tucker, whose run-ins with the auto industry made for a "little-guy-fights-big-industry" tale perfectly suited for Coppola, who viewed the project as bearing more than a little resemblance to his own struggles running Zoetrope Studios. As a movie, "Tucker" is mainly an exploration only on the surface of the actual Tucker history, directed by Coppola in a flamboyant style intentionally designed to resemble a commercial from the period. Bridges is fine and the supporting cast is likewise superb, including turns from Joan Allen, Martin Landau, and Dean Stockwell. Arnold Schulman and David Seidler's script doesn't delve much below the surface of its protagonist, but the filmmaking style is fun and the movie is energetic from start to finish.

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Zoetrope themselves collaborated to produce Paramount's DVD release, and included some wonderful animated menus (made to resemble a dashboard) in addition to a running commentary by Coppola that's sporadic but fairly informative, a featurette containing interviews with Coppola and Lucas, and even an entire 1948 Tucker promo film, which also features commentary from the director.

TRANSFER AND SOUND: Just as Coppola did with "Apocalypse Now," the filmmaker opted to transfer the original 2.35 anamorphic frame in the 2:1 aspect ratio, thereby losing some action on both sides of the frame. Otherwise, the THX mastering is as good as expected and the Dolby Digital 5.1 track jazzes up Joe Jackson's toe-tapping score.

WHY IT DESERVES YOUR VOTE: An overlooked production that critics loved but audiences dismissed, Paramount's DVD looks and sounds almost as good as one of the many vintage cars contained in this loving tribute to Preston Tucker.


AIRPLANE! and AIRPLANE II: THE SEQUEL. Paramount, $29.98 each, available now.

CANDIDATE BREAKDOWN: One of the funniest movies ever made, David & Jerry Zucker and Jim Abrahams' 1980 classic "Airplane!" has been given its first-ever widescreen video release with Paramount's irresistible DVD presentation -- featuring a newly-remixed 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack to boot! There's not much to say about how energetic and hilarious the picture still is, aside from the fact that what constitutes so much of today's "comedy" hits (like the work of would-be funnymen the Farrelly Brothers and Keenan Ivory Wayans) is put to shame by watching a legitimate comedy like "Airplane!" And, in contrast, "Airplane II" looks like it, too, should have made its way onto the AFI Top 100 comedies list when compared to other recent comedic efforts. Ken Finkleman's 1982 sequel rehashes many of its predecessor's jokes, but at least incorporates enough new funny bits to make it worthwhile -- including a hysterical William Shatner doing his first bit of self-parody. The original remains the best, needless to say, with Robert Hays and Julie Haggerty as the star-crossed lovers on a doomed flight across the U.S., Leslie Nielsen as the doctor, Peter Graves as the captain, and guest appearances by everyone from Kareem Abdul Jabbar to Ethel Merman along the way.

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: The original includes a group commentary track with the Zuckers, Jim Abrahams, and producer Jon Davison that's every bit as amusing as the talk that accompanied "Kentucky Fried Movie" earlier this year. A theatrical trailer has also been included. "Airplane II," unfortunately, includes no such special features, but at least it's not the "rescored for home video" version that drops Richard Hazard's constant use of the theme from "Battlestar Galactica" on the soundtrack!

TRANSFER AND SOUND: "Airplane!" has been given a wonderful, 5.1 Dolby Digital remixed soundtrack, enhancing Elmer Bernstein's sly comedic score in full stereo. The 1.85 transfer is fine and the print is in decent shape. "Airplane II" is in mono but is also matted for 1.85 and looks acceptable.

WHY IT DESERVES YOUR VOTE: Because you need to laugh, and the original "Airplane!" will do it better than any movie you can find on DVD. The second film isn't as fresh, obviously, but you'll still get a chuckle or two of it. Hopefully Paramount will take the time to release the ZAZ team's best movie (for my money, anyway) -- the 1984 spy-thriller/Elvis-musical spoof "Top Secret!" with Val Kilmer -- on DVD in the near future, particularly since the movie was given a letterboxed presentation on laserdisc just a few years ago.


DOCTOR DOLITTLE. Fox, $29.98, available now.

CANDIDATE BREAKDOWN: The bloated 1967 musical that nearly sank Twentieth Century Fox, Leslie Bricusse's musical was nevertheless nominated for a handful of Oscars and managed to win one for his "Talk to the Animals" tune. It's a good thing something positive came out of this interminably long, albeit good-natured, star spectacle, with Rex Harrison as the good doctor and Anthony Newley, Samantha Eggar, and Geoffrey Holder lending able support.

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: A theatrical trailer.

TRANSFER AND SOUND: Good news here, as the remastered 2.35 transfer is particularly strong. Like Fox's Double Feature DVDs, you have your choice of two audio formats: a seemingly remixed 4.0 Dolby Digital track and the original 2.0 stereo mix, with the dialogue a bit over-amplified on the former.

WHY IT DESERVES YOUR VOTE: Kids who don't have short attention spans will enjoy the animals and a few of Bricusse's songs, but why did this movie have to go on for 154 minutes?


BLUEBEARD. Anchor Bay, $29.98, available now.

CANDIDATE BREAKDOWN: Alexander Salkind presented this 1972 account of the infamous historical figure, but in reality the movie is just a tedious knock-off of "Dr. Phibes" with Richard Burton overdoing it (just a little bit) as the man who just couildn't keep his wives' heads on. Director Edward Dmytryk consistently directed plenty of big-screen studio fare in the '50s (from "Raintree County" to "The Caine Mutiny"), but finished off his fine career with a bunch of fizzles in the '70s, including this one and the infamous Sean Connery western "Shalako." Ennio Morricone's languid score doesn't do the movie any favors, but Raquel Welch's performance is spirited enough for any red-blooded young American male to enjoy.

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: A trailer, 'tis all.

TRANSFER AND SOUND: Surprisingly, the print is in good shape, as is the 1.85 transfer and a okay mono soundtrack.

WHY IT DESERVES YOUR VOTE: If there's an obscure third-party candidate out there, "Bluebeard" is it. The movie has been rescued from a dark and dusty vault for curious cinephiles to check out, and it's an intriguing curiosity item if nothing else.


NEXT WEEK: Back to movie theaters with your comments and CHARLIE'S ANGELS. Have a happy Election Day and remember to get out there and vote! Send all comments to dursina@att.net and we'll catch you next time. Excelsior!


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