Aisle Seat DVD Holiday Buyer's Guide, Part Two: Vintage Goods!
From THE ODD COUPLE to G.I. JOE and THE CONVERSATION, 11 more new
DVDs prime for holiday giving this season!
By Andy Dursin
Yesterday we focused on recent big-screen flicks newly released on DVD,
and today we look at recent DVDs for films ranging from '80s favorites
to classics from the '60s and '70s. Just as the format has caught on with
consumers, there are even more viewing options out there than ever before
(still, where's STAR WARS? INDIANA JONES? Call George Lucas, folks, that's
all I can say. On the flip side, at least CLOSE ENCOUNTERS should be out
by next year at this time).
Remember to send in your comments to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
and we'll catch you next time. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, everyone!
PLANES, TRAINS & AUTOMOBILES.
MOVIE RATING: ***1/2 of four.
WHAT IT IS: One of John Hughes's best films, this teaming of John Candy
and Steve Martin (both tremendous) was a lukewarm box-office performer
back in December '87, where it was out-grossed by the saccharine, cuddly
"Three Men and a Baby." 13 years later, "Planes, Trains"
is the movie audiences keep coming back to -- a spirited holiday travel
comedy with a heartwarming ending. It's a shame Hughes abandoned making
movies for audiences outside of the 13-and-under crowd, since this picture
(one of his few R-rated efforts -- albeit only for one well-remembered,
profanity-laced Martin tirade), remains a perennial favorite and a perfect
picture for holiday consumption.
TRANSFER AND SOUND: Paramount's DVD marks the first time that the movie
has been screened in its original 1.85 aspect ratio at home. The transfer
otherwise is merely OK, with some grain evident throughout the movie. The
5.1 Dolby Digital remixed soundtrack fares much better, featuring an eclectic
mix of songs and Ira Newborn score.
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Unfortunately, none. Not even a trailer. The unavailability
of Hughes was the reason for the lack of supplements, according to online
GIFT POTENTIAL: High. The movie has rightly become a near-classic and
is constantly shown on the tube, and the DVD is the best-looking presentation
of the movie at home to date. It'd be nice to see a full-blown Special
Edition someday, but this will suffice in the meantime.
SHE'S HAVING A BABY. Paramount,
MOVIE RATING: *** of four.
WHAT IT IS: Pretty much the last "adult" comedy John Hughes
attempted, this 1988 comedic-drama features Kevin Bacon and Elizabeth McGovern
as a pair of Chicago yuppies trying to find success in business and domestic
bliss -- the very essence of the American dream as defined in the late
'80s. Alec Baldwin gets a lot of mileage out of his supporting role as
one of Bacon's obnoxious friends while Hughes intertwines autobiographical
elements with outlandish comedy in an uneven but generally satisfying movie
that sat on the shelf for a while before Paramount released it (I recall
seeing trailers for the movie with "Ferris Bueller" in 1986 even
though the movie wasn't released until spring, 1988!).
TRANSFER AND SOUND: Paramount's DVD presents a strong, colorful 1.85
transfer which is an improvement on the remastered letterboxed laserdisc
release from a few years ago. The 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack is quite
vibrant given the kind of film this is.
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: A theatrical trailer is included, although it's
not the effective, no-dialogue one initially rolled out several years before
the movie's eventual release.
GIFT POTENTIAL: The movie's bouncy soundtrack remains in circulation,
so I assume the movie still has a decent following. Certainly the performances
are engaging and the movie entertaining enough, even though you'd wish
Hughes would have settled on a consistent tone at certain points.
THE ODD COUPLE. Paramount,
MOVIE RATING: ****.
WHAT IT IS: The original 1967 comedy classic, with Jack Lemmon and Walter
Matthau in their unforgettable roles as Felix Unger and Oscar Madison,
the two mismatched roommates who spar in Neil Simon's funniest play. The
movie version, directed by Gene Saks and scored memorably by Neal Hefti,
is a laugh-riot, and demands to be seen in its original widescreen, Panavision
aspect ratio -- or not at all.
TRANSFER AND SOUND: Good news all around with this disc. The 2.35 transfer
correctly frames the movie's anamorphic frame (the film is damaged heavily
in its pan-and-scan TV prints) and presents a dark but balanced and crisp
new transfer superior to even the earlier letterbox laser package. What's
more, Paramount has presented both a "restored" mono soundtrack
and a surprisingly good 5.1 Dolby Digital stereo remix, which adds a bit
of ambiance and presents the movie's score in stereo. Unlike a lot of "remastered"
Dolby Digital tracks, this one works quite well.
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: A theatrical trailer is included.
GIFT POTENTIAL: Extremely high. One of the all-time top cinematic comedies
has been given a wonderful presentation on DVD, and for audiences of all
ages, it's a must-own. Watching it again simply reminded me just how funny
it is, and how amazing Lemmon and Matthau were on-screen together in their
AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN.
MOVIE RATING: ***.
WHAT IT IS: One of the many box-office hits from the memorable cinematic
summer of '82, Taylor Hackford's unabashedly melodramatic, entertaining
look at a lost young man (Richard Gere) who finds himself in the military
and love with a local girl (Debra Winger) in the process won Oscars for
Lou Gossett, Jr.'s terrific performance as a drill sergeant and the soft-rock
ballad "Up Where We Belong" (still played on lite FM stations
everywhere to this day). Jack Nitzsche's score, Winger's performance, the
screenplay and editing were all Oscar-nominated. As a movie, it's no classic,
but in terms of star power and on-screen chemistry, Winger and Gere made
for a memorable screen duo in a movie that endures as one of the top romances
in '80s cinema.
TRANSFER AND SOUND: The sometimes grainy, remastered 1.85 transfer is
quite good, surpassing the earlier Pioneer letterboxed laserdisc release.
The mono soundtrack is effective but could have used the stereophonic oomph
that Paramount brought to their 5.1 stereo remixes on titles like "Odd
Couple," "Airplane," and "The Conversation." Perhaps
the director, ultimately, wanted to leave his project as is.
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Hackford gives an informative discussion on the
commentary track, and talks frankly about the production of the picture
and working with the honchos then in place at Paramount (including Michael
Eisner). Why is it that the best commentary tracks come from directors
talking about their movies some time after the fact, and not immediately
after a film's release? A theatrical trailer is also thrown in the mix.
GIFT POTENTIAL: As a date movie and an entertaining, star-powered romantic
drama from the early '80s, "Officer and a Gentleman" is a good
bet. The disc isn't loaded with extras but the commentary is solid and
the transfer efficient enough. Now, sing with me -- "love lift us
up where we belong!..."
THE CONVERSATION. Paramount,
MOVIE RATING: ***1/2.
WHAT IT IS: Considered by many critics to be one of the finest films
of the 1970s, this is a picture that shows a director (in this case, Francis
Ford Coppola) and a star working at their peak. Coppola's study of a surveillance
expert who gets involved in what may be a murder was both a commentary
on Watergate and a chronicle of man's struggle with technology and privacy.
The result is a thriller that's technically adept and always disturbing,
well- directed by Coppola (inbetween filming of his two "Godfather"
classics) and with a great performance by Gene Hackman as the protagonist.
The movie may be slightly overrated, but even if you're not so high on
the story, early performances by the likes of Harrison Ford, Cindy Williams,
and Frederic Forrest make it essential viewing.
TRANSFER AND SOUND: Two big thumbs-up here for the excellent 1.85 widescreen
transfer and superb 5.1 Dolby Digital remastered soundtrack. David Shire's
score never sounded so good.
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: It's good to see Coppola continuing his involvement
in the DVD medium, following the fine work Zoetrope did on "Tucker"
a few weeks ago. Here, Paramount's DVD includes separate commentary tracks
from Coppola and editor Walter Murch, both of which will give film students
hours of information to chew on. A featurette showing Coppola at work,
shot during the film's production, is fascinating, as is the movie's theatrical
trailer. A solid package all around.
GIFT POTENTIAL: For fans of Coppola, Hackman, or a movie which many
feel to be one of the very best of its decade, the DVD is hard to pass
up. The supplements make it even more attractive for others who aren't
so hot on the film itself.
THE BOUNTY. MGM, $19.98.
MOVIE RATING: ***1/2.
WHAT IT IS: The lavish and beautifully shot 1984 Dino DeLaurentiis adaptation
of the "Mutiny on the Bounty" tale, here adapted from a novel
by Richard Hough ("Captain Bligh and Mister Christian") that
offered an alternative take on the material. As scripted by David Lean
collaborator Robert Bolt, "The Bounty" was initially conceived
as a two-picture Lean project, to star Christopher Reeve and Anthony Hopkins.
After that production fell through (as well as a proposed TV mini-series),
DeLaurentiis and Orion Pictures teamed to make this feature effort with
Mel Gibson replacing Reeve and Hopkins in the Bligh role he was originally
proposed for. The ensuing movie, directed by Roger Donaldson and scored
by Vangelis, is highly entertaining and gorgeous to watch, featuring a
great supporting cast of Edward Fox, Laurence Olivier, and early roles
filled by Liam Neeson and Daniel Day-Lewis.
TRANSFER AND SOUND: MGM's new 2.35 transfer is marvelous, colorful and
clear. The 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack is pungent and heavy on the bass.
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Theatrical trailer.
GIFT POTENTIAL: Lovely cinematography, widescreen images, top-notch
performances and a classic adventure story make this remastered MGM release
ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK. MGM,
MOVIE RATING: **.
WHAT IT IS: A great idea, an evocative poster, and a fun lead performance
lost in a ponderous and gloomy John Carpenter sci-fi opus. Granted, time
seems to have done wonders to many movie-goers' memories in regards to
this picture, which has never been a favorite of critics but is best-remembered
for Kurt Russell's Clint Eastwood-like anti-hero, Snake Plissken, and a
cool concept (Manhattan Island is turned into a maximum security prison
in the late '90s). Unfortunately, Carpenter's movie is incredibly slow
and badly written (by Carpenter and Nick Castle), filled with unlikeable
characters and limp sets. Even a larger budget on the belated 1996 sequel,
"Escape From L.A.," couldn't do any favors for Carpenter's inability
to mine humor out of this doomsday futuristic scenario.
TRANSFER AND SOUND: The 2.35 transfer is excellent, superior to New
Line/Image's earlier letterboxed LD release. (A worthless pan-and-scan
transfer is found on side B). The 2.0 Dolby Surround track is fine, nicely
rendering the movie's basic stereo soundtrack.
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Unfortunately, there's nothing here aside from
the trailer. The LD release featured a great commentary track from Russell
and Carpenter, along with a featurette that showed clips from the movie's
bank robbery prologue sequence, which was cut completely out of the final
print. That LD drew criticism since it didn't show the sequence in its
entirety, but it's obviously preferable to the extras-free DVD we have
GIFT POTENTIAL: If you're a fan of "Escape From New York,"
the improved transfer and affordable price should be enough to bring you
to snag the DVD. Hopefully a supplemental version will follow someday.
CLASS. MGM, $19.98.
MOVIE RATING: **1/2.
WHAT IT IS: Even though many viewers remember the John Hughes teen comedies
of the mid '80s, few folks view this 1983 teen-sex romp as a precursor
to the superior Molly Ringwald films that followed. An odd mix of a "Graduate"
rip-off with "Animal House" like boarding school shenanigans,
this Orion movie from now-forgotten director Lewis John Carlino boosted
the careers of then-budding youngsters Rob Lowe, Andrew McCarthy and John
Cusack. It's a messy ride at times, but there are sporadic laughs to be
found in the Jim Kouf-David Greenwalt script, along with a pleasant Elmer
Bernstein score and a great deal of appeal provided by the presence of
later stars in their first big-screen roles.
TRANSFER AND SOUND: The source material doesn't seem to be in the best
shape, but the transfers (both 1.85 and full-frame) are acceptable. The
mono sound is fine, too.
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: A theatrical trailer, featuring an annoying female
voice-over (in the style of the early '80s, "Porky's"-like leering
sex farce genre), is thrown into the mix.
GIFT POTENTIAL: If you're a fan of any of the stars, or a teen movie
buff looking for an effort that's turned into a veritable "lost"
genre pic, "Class" is worth a view.
WALL STREET. Fox, $29.98.
MOVIE RATING: ***.
WHAT IT IS: Oliver Stone's morality play is best viewed now as a showcase
for Michael Douglas' Oscar-winning, powerhouse performance as Wall Street
mogul Gordon Gekko, who tutors young broker Charlie Sheen in the ways of
'80s greed and power. Scripted by Stone and Stanley Weiser, "Wall
Street" is an at-times slow-moving drama bogged down by a surplus
of supporting characters (some of whom, like Sean Young and even third-billed
Daryl Hannah, may have been left on the cutting room floor), but stays
on course whenever Douglas takes the fore in a scenary- chewing but highly
entertaining performance that remains one of his best.
TRANSFER AND SOUND: The 1.85 transfer is excellent and the 5.1 Dolby
Digital soundtrack are both on a par with the best of Fox's prolific DVD
output from this past year.
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: An excellent and informative commentary track
from Stone is included, along with a full range of TV spots and theatrical
GIFT POTENTIAL: Douglas's performance remains the key to "Wall
Street"'s longevity, even if the movie's melodramatic points are hammered
home over and over by Stone. The disc looks and sounds great, and boasts
a fine assortment of supplements that will enrich the presentation for
viewers. Strongly recommended.
TRANSFORMERS: THE MOVIE and
G.I. JOE: THE MOVIE. Rhino, $24.98 each.
WHAT THEY ARE: Aaah, growing up in the '80s. For those of us fortunate
enough to do so, we were treated by a handful of afternoon cartoons that
often resembled toy commercials as much as they did actual animated entertainment.
Marvel Productions teamed with Sunbow Ltd. to produce a pair of those highly
successful cartoons based on the hottest Habro toys of the period: G.I.
Joe, which rocked in its '80s incarnation with a motley crew of members
(like Snake Eyes, Duke, and Sgt. Slaughter!), and the Transformers, big
robots with the possibility to change into other cool vehicles. The success
of both properties on the small-screen lead to the creation of a pair of
big-screen "movies," though only TRANSFORMERS: THE MOVIE received
a theatrical release (through Dino DeLaurentiis' DEG Studios). The 1986
effort boasted voices by the likes of Eric Idle, Leonard Nimoy, Robert
Stack, Judd Nelson, and Orson Welles, along with a hugely popular score
by Vince DiCola that's still a hot commodity on the bootleg market. If
you were into Transformers at all, you'll love the look and feel of this
PG-rated effort, here presented in its uncut glory. On the other hand,
G.I. JOE: THE MOVIE is a curious, feature-length 1987 effort that actually
throws the spotlight on a group of newer characters that were created near
the end of that particular show's cycle. The anime-like creatures (Cobra
Commander is turned into an actual snake!) feel at odds with the show's
previous, blood n'guts American action, and the story is bogged down in
concluding loose ends established by what I assume was the end of the actual
TV cartoon's run. Still, it's fun, especially if you were into G.I. Joe
at the time of this feature's creation (1987), and the DVD includes one
great assortment of extras for all fans (read on).
TRANSFER AND SOUND: Both DVDs feature good full-frame transfers and
overpowering, but effective, 5.1 reprocessed Dolby Digital soundtracks.
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Vince DiCola fans take note -- the TRANSFORMERS
DVD includes a new 10-minute interview with the composer touching upon
his score, career, new projects and compositional techniques. G.I. JOE,
meanwhile, features some 25 (!) Public Service Announcements that ran at
the end of each episode of the TV show -- it's this "Joe" that
I remember from my youth, and the DVD will serve as a larger piece of nostalgia
for this feature, more than the actual movie. Great fun! TRANSFORMERS also
features storyboards, while G.I. JOE throws in some TV commercials from
the toy's late '60s run.
GIFT POTENTIAL: If you grew up with either G.I. Joe or Transformers
toys in your home, Rhino's DVDs would make a perfect present for any thiry/twentysomething
on your Christmas list.
...And with a Happy Ho Ho Ho to you, I want to wish you
all a happy, healthy and wonderful Holiday season. We'll see you on the
other side in 2001! Cheers everyone.