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Valentine's Day DVD Round-Up

Columbia Isolates JUMANJI, plus new Fox & Anchor Bay Releases

...And a Very Special Valentine's Poem from The Aisle Seat

By Andy Dursin

Before we dive into this week's column, I want everyone to know that the all-new Aisle Seat archive page is up and running! Our webmaster Bill had been busy with more important work of late, but the technology has now advanced to the point where I'm able to update the page myself -- so, do give it a click, bookmark it, show it to all your friends, etc. And to make matters even better, I've updated the older columns, making it easier to find pertinent reviews and Mail Bag sections (and of course the page will now be updated as every new column is posted on the web). For the record, this is Aisle Seat column #88, and if you don't believe me, CLICK HERE!

Last week's Aisle Seat Mail Bag ran a bit long, so I had to separate this week's DVD reviews into its own column (as usual, those seeking an analysis of the Life and Times of J. Peter Robinson will have to look elsewhere today!).

However, even those who pick up a DVD just here and there may find some of this week's new titles to be of interest, particularly one new release with isolated score content.

In fact, Columbia TriStar is downright becoming a friend to fans of score-only tracks (meaning the FSM readership ought to be sending out a special batch of kudos to the studio). Their "Collector's Series" DVD releases has been including isolated stereo scores of late, in titles ranging from THE DARK CRYSTAL to the upcoming RANDOM HEARTS, JAKOB THE LIAR, THE MESSENGER, and LITTLE WOMEN.

One of their most recent titles in this series is a Collector's Edition of Joe Johnston's highly entertaining 1995 fantasy JUMANJI (***1/2, $29.98), which has been re-released with a handful of supplemental materials, most noticeably (and appreciably) a fine stereo score track for James Horner's music. Unlike some isolated scores that raise or lower in volume, or come from a music/effects track source, the JUMANJI track is clear and maintains its presence, offering a thorough representation of Horner's fine work on the picture -- his third for director Johnston (there are rumors that he'll be scoring JURASSIC PARK 3 since Johnston will be taking over the reigns from Spielberg and bringing some of his own people onboard; it's also unlikely John Williams will want to return for a third go-around, especially after how the last one fared). One interesting element of Horner's music as it fits in JUMANJI is that some of the helter- skelter, HONEY I SHRUNK THE KIDS, Danny Elfman-like cues found on the soundtrack (particularly at the beginning of the end credits on the album) were thankfully removed from the final print.

As far as the picture itself goes, it's superior kids fantasy, offering a solid plot to compliment some great special effects. If somehow you missed the film, or never saw the cartoon which still airs on UPN, this is the flick where Robin Williams is trapped in a boardgame since childhood and is unknowingly sprung by a pair of tykes (including Kirsten Dunst) who also let all of the animals and other critters from the game into the real world along with him.

Columbia's transfer, as is usually the case with any of the studio's DVD releases, is impeccable, matted at 1.85:1 and likely adding picture information to the sides during the effects sequences. The Dolby Digital track is also great fun, filled with subwoofer effects and surround activity.

In terms of supplements, Columbia has included a good package here, particularly if you're into the effects angle. An audio commentary featuring members of the effects crew, a pair of featurettes, trailers, storyboards, photo galleries, and a documentary round out the release, which should provide sufficient interest for FX aficionados in particular.

Fox's February release slate includes some interesting titles from last year, along with a Deluxe 2-DVD presentation of their Monday night staple ALLY McBEAL ($39.98), which marks Fox's first DVD sojourn in releasing episodes of their network television series (hopefully THE X-FILES won't be far behind!).

If you're stuck for a Valentine's Day present (and happen to have a significant other hung up on the series), you could do a lot worse than to nab this set, which features 6 episodes from the program. Disc One features the Pilot, and three other episodes including the original "Dancing Baby" episode, while Disc Two contains a pair of programs featuring a supporting turn by Tracey Ullman as Ally's therapist.

I'm not a huge Calista Flockhart fan, but if you've never seen the show before, this package gives you a good indication of why audiences enjoy the show: David E.Kelley's writing can be pretentious or syrupy at its worst, but funny, insightful and sometimes touching at its best. The selected episodes included here are a fine representation of the show, and are complimented by excerpts from a forthcoming, authorized guide to the program, and a music video of Vona Shepard's "Searchin' My Soul."

Due out on February 15th from Fox is last year's unfortunately titled BROKEDOWN PALACE (**, $34.98), which features Claire Danes and Kate Beckinsale as a pair of Ohio teenagers who travel to Thailand, become victimized by a drug smuggler, found guilty by the court, and sent away to a prison camp while they futilely attempt to navigate through the suspect judicial system.

Danes has several moments where the actress is able to show why she's one of the top young performers working today, yet aside from her performance, BROKEDOWN PALACE comes across as a disjointed, predictable rehash of unjustly-accused-people-in-prison movies, regardless of its foreign setting. As the lawyer who takes the case for a quick buck but eventually has a change of heart, Bill Pullman is acceptable in a secondary role, while Beckinsale -- who went from playing a twentysomething in LAST DAYS OF DISCO several years ago to a recent high school graduate here -- suffers the most from that terrible prison fate: a really bad haircut.

All kidding aside, director Jonathan Kaplan does an OK job manning the ship, and at least adeptly exploits the settings for cinematic consumption by making good use out of the 2.35:1 Panavision cinematography (kudos to photographer Newton Thomas Sigel for bringing a widescreen sheen to the picture).

BROKEDOWN PALACE is moderately compelling throughout, but it always remains something of a superficial thriller, mainly because it lacks the depth and strong supporting characters that a picture like this ordinarily needs to fully engage the viewer. Judging from some footage in the trailer not shown in the film, perhaps the picture was cut down significantly before its release, since a number of possible subplots (involving a prison guard and several other inmates from different cultures) never pay off.

On the plus side, Fox's DVD looks terrific and sounds great in Dolby Digital (notice how David Newman's score is more than a bit reminiscent of the work by another Newman named Thomas), though the only extra is the before-mentioned trailer.

More feature-laden from Fox is their Special Edition DVD of Mike Barker's thriller BEST LAID PLANS (*1/2, $34.98), which will be released on February 22nd with a handful of supplemental materials.

This little-seen Fox Searchlight production is yet another film noir-wannabe, though at least it refrains from the gratuitous violence and "hip" pop references of Quentin Tarantino's films. The plot, written by Ted Griffin (who had a tough year between this picture and the equally unseen RAVENOUS), is straightforward enough: an educated small-town guy named Nick (Alessandro Nivola) needs to pay up a debt after his father's estate leaves him nothing behind. He finds and courts a local girl (Reese Witherspoon) willing to help him get out of his jam and leave the town behind them, but naturally, a few detours happen along the way to their escape.

The performances are adequate but Griffin's dialogue is often overwrought to the point of either being unintentionally humorous or simply annoying, depending on your point of view. The characters simply aren't compelling or likeable enough for you to care about, while the scenario is pretty much by the numbers until the climax. I give credit to both Griffin and Barker for their surprisingly low-key ending, which happily doesn't quite end up where you expect it to, but getting there tends to be a bit of a chore.

Fox's DVD goes the distance, however, with a collection of supplements: eight deleted scenes, including a slightly different ending, are culled from videotape, while Barker's commentary, trailers and a featurette round out a nice package all around. The 1.85:1 transfer is solid while the Dolby Digital track features a modest score by musician Craig Armstrong.

Finally, Anchor Bay has rolled out yet another week's worth of eclectic fare, with two staples from the '80s and an obscure road movie from the '70s (all three titles hit stores this Tuesday).

The best of this batch is clearly Garry Marshall's winning 1984 slice-of-life THE FLAMINGO KID (***1/2, $24.98), starring Matt Dillon as a Brooklyn kid who gets a job as a cabana boy at a posh Long Island beach club during the summer of '63. Richard Crenna plays a car dealer and local card shark who tutors Dillon in the game and life itself, much to the consternation of Dillon's dad Hector Elizondo, who is troubled by his son's fascination with people from a higher class.

Co-written by Neal Marshall (no relation) with the director, THE FLAMINGO KID is a great coming-of- age picture, boasting many funny and quietly poignant sequences. The supporting cast includes early appearances by Janet Jones, John Tuturro, Marisa Tomei, and Fisher Stevens, but it's the relationship between Dillon, Crenna and Elizondo that really sings, bringing a memorable and realistic dramatic angle to a super movie.

Culled from the ABC Pictures vaults, Anchor Bay's transfer is generally colorful and clean, with only a bit of digital shimmering here and there. The 1.85:1 transfer looks noticeably better than the full-frame presentation on the other side, which actually crops the left and right edges while adding nothing at the top or bottom. The movie is a gem of its kind and still holds up as Marshall's best film. Highly recommended.

From that acclaimed 1984 hit to a movie that John Hughes likely wished that his name wasn't on comes NATIONAL LAMPOON'S CLASS REUNION (**, $24.98), a low-brow comedy that attempted to send up slasher films and nostalgic reunion pictures, but managed to score only a few hits inbetween handfuls of blanks.

The humor is definitely not P.C. and would never make it into a movie made these days, but most of CLASS REUNION just isn't funny. Hughes's name is attached as screenwriter (his first feature-film credit), but either someone mucked with his script or director Michael Miller hadn't a clue to mine laughs out of it. Thus, the cast -- which includes Gerrit Graham, Stephen Furst, Michael Lerner, and a special appearance by Chuck Berry -- is left to flounder while gags misfire left and right.

Still, it's a fascinating curio from the early '80s, particularly for Hughes, who would hit paydirt with his scripts for NATIONAL LAMPOON'S VACATION and MR.MOM the following year (along with one more misfire, the pirate adventure NATE & HAYES with Tommy Lee Jones).

The DVD transfer looks quite good, matted at 1.85:1, and features a modest Dolby Stereo soundtrack with score co-written by Peter Bernstein.

Finally, we come to the 1975 road movie ALOHA, BOBBY AND ROSE (**, $24.98), a flick that features Paul LeMat as an auto mechanic who gets involved with single Mom Dianne Hull and wheels around Southern California until he accidentally gets himself involved with some criminal activity.

Written and directed by Floyd Mutrux, this is a dated movie of the moment, but Anchor Bay has gone beyond the line of duty including a 1.85:1 transfer (enhanced for widescreen TVs) and full-frame format, a theatrical trailer and 5.1 Dolby Digital remixed sound. Obviously someone at the company truly cared about this film, but if it's not a nostalgic favorite of yours, chances are that you won't be that interested in Bobby or Rose's adventures.


New Release News: A Special Valentine to the One the Laserphile Loves

You waited for it diligently, never promising more than you could give. Your love meant more to me than a red candle burning its wax on my tablecloth. You told me it didn't matter, that we could Regis some other time. Alas, the fiery passion of your embrace meant that I had forever carved a Lifeline in your heart.

That is why, my love, that on April 25th, I will give you this present: the movie you have longed for, pined for, waited for. That movie, of course, is a follow-up to a film that you never thought you would see in this part of the world. A movie shot in Prague or some other country under tax shelter regulations. A movie that will make you hunger for love in a world that shuns it.

We know, in both of our hearts, that movie is FORTRESS 2.

Yes, go dance now under the moon and cavort, dreaming of Christopher Lambert and his cartoony voice. And hark! What's this? Pam Grier as well? Aye, even though it lacks a theatrical trailer and other extras, 'tis only $24.95! Now go, remembering that the true Valentine's Day will be the one where John Brennick returns to that wretched prison and must fight for freedom, both for he and his son, and the one he loves (alas, not Lorin Locklin but some other poor lass).


Supergirl Delayed (for a good reason)

Right, back to reality. You know, a friend of mine and I were talking last week about this upcoming Anchor Bay DVD of SUPERGIRL, and we both chuckled when discussing the supplements and said, "yes, maybe they'll even get Jeannot Swarzc to do a commentary track!"

Well, it's no joke. The SUPERGIRL LIMITED EDITION set will be pushed back to June 7th so it can include a commentary track from Swarzc, best known for helming not just SUPERGIRL, but also JAWS 2, BUG, and SOMEWHERE IN TIME.

And as if Anchor Bay didn't leave enough presents under our tree in December, they've confirmed a THX- approved, letterboxed edition of Alexander Salkind's SANTA CLAUS: THE MOVIE for an August bow. Hopefully Swarzc will render another commentary for this one, sure to be one of next holiday season's DVD treats.


NEXT WEEK: More in the way of reviews and comments. Don't forget to send all relevant emails to me at dursina@att.net and we'll see you next time!


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