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
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,
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.
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
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,
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,
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
and we'll catch you next time. Excelsior!