Aisle Seat Summer DVD Preview Part II
New Releases from Universal, Image, and Artisan, plus Anchor Bay rolls
out the Special Edition of KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE!
By Andy Dursin
Continuing on through big recent and upcoming DVD releases this summer
while waiting in line for MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 2 tickets...
UNIVERSAL: While the most anticipated DVD of the
summer is undoubtedly the July bow of Steven Spielberg's JAWS, there are
a handful of noteworthy new Universal releases out there to tide you over
till Bruce the Mechanical Shark comes swimming over for a bite.
The best of the bunch is Scott Hicks's beautiful SNOW FALLING ON CEDARS
(***1/2, $24.98), a film that is alternately a murder-mystery, romance,
and social commentary all at once. Based on the acclaimed novel by David
Gutterson, SNOW is better as a mood piece than a character study, with
Ethan Hawke as a reporter in post-WWII Washington state covering the trial
of a Japanese fisherman (Rick Yune) married to his former flame (Youki
Kudoh). Max Von Sydow, James Rebhorn, Richard Jenkins, and Sam Shepherd
co-star in this evocative, slow-moving but fascinating film, although the
big star of the movie turns out to be cinematographer Robert Richardson.
Best known for his work on many Oliver Stone projects, Richardson steals
the show with one of the most impressively shot films I can ever recall
seeing. The scenes of the small town, coupled with the majestic oceanic
shots -- both punctuated by gloomy skies and falling snow -- often resemble
a painting in their artistry. Later on in this review we'll look at the
great documentary VISIONS OF LIGHT (now available from Image), which chronicles
the work of the finest cinematographers, and it's no stretch to think that
Richardson deserves to be placed in that company.
Universal's DVD, while not billed as a Special Edition, features a handful
of deleted scenes, commentary with the director, a promotional featurette
and trailer, and more -- quite a bargain considering the $25 retail price.
James Newton Howard's superb score is perfectly rendered in the Dolby Digital
soundtrack, and the 2.35 transfer is likewise excellent. One of last year's
more underrated films, SNOW FALLING ON CEDARS is highly recommended.
A box-office flop but nevertheless an entertaining picture, Milos Forman's
biography of Andy Kaufman, MAN ON THE MOON (***, $24.98) has also been
released on DVD in a release not dubbed a "Collector's Edition,"
though it might as well be.
Jim Carrey gives a truly magnificent performance as Kaufman, and while
a lot of audiences stayed away since they had no interest in the subject
matter, it's certainly a worthwhile picture for anyone interested in entertainment,
celebrity, and the ways in which comedy has changed over the past 30 years
or so -- through the rise of Saturday Night Live, talkshow hosts like David
Letterman (who appears in the film as himself), and comics like Kaufman,
who paved the way for many of today's comedians that use character guises
instead of simply standing and telling jokes.
The DVD boasts deleted scenes, a featurette, a look at Kaufman through
actual film clips, and rounds out the release with a strong 2.35 transfer
and a choice of DTS or Dolby Digital soundtracks. While there is not a
gigantic difference between the two audio formats, the DTS track simply
sounds a bit crisper and more enveloping.
Now, even though both SNOW FALLING ON CEDARS and MAN ON THE MOON weren't
designated as "Collector's Edition" releases, both have more
interesting supplements than END OF DAYS (**, $29.98), which despite being
dubbed an official Collector's release, only offers a dull commentary track
from Peter Hyams and a featurette on the special effects, in addition to
the usual Universal standbys of a promotional documentary and a trailer
for one of their upcoming theatrical releases (in this case, U-571).
As a movie, END OF DAYS is a well-mounted horror film to be certain,
although Andrew Marlowe's script turns into an uncertain marriage of supernatural
OMEN-like thrills and the over-the-top antics of a typical Arnold Schwarzenegger
action romp. On the sheer guilty pleasure meter, however, END OF DAYS has
some wonderfully surreal moments (such as Arnold beating up batty o'l English
lady Miriam Marguiles!), so it may well be worth adding to your library
just the same.
Visually, the DVD is a marvel, offering an always-active Dolby Digital
soundtrack and a terrific 2.35 transfer. For my original review of the
Kevin Costner generally had a good track record with baseball movies
up until last year's FOR LOVE OF THE GAME (**1/2, $29.98), a movie that
had an overall theatrical attendance on a par with a typical mid- September
Expos home game in Montreal.
Still, as corny, sentimental, utterly predictable, and overlong as this
138 minute is, I had to admit I was entertained by most of it. You have
Costner as your gruff, aging pitcher trying to win at both life and the
game itself, Kelly Preston as his love interest, plenty of actual baseball
locales shot in widescreen quite effectively by John Bailey, and direction
from Sam Raimi that looks good if nothing else. Basil Poledouris, meanwhile,
provides a moving, lower-key variation on THE NATURAL-esque baseball hymns
on the musical end, making the whole project a glossy star vehicle that's
as watchable as it is routine.
Once again, Universal's DVD includes a handful of deleted scenes (including
the nude scene Raimi cut to get the film a PG-13 rating), a terrific Dolby
Digital track and a flawless 2.35 transfer as well. It looks good, it sounds
good... the movie could have been better, but for an evening's entertainment,
you could do a lot worse.
Following on the heels of Universal's excellent DVD of THE BIRDS last
month, the studio has turned their attention to another Alfred Hitchcock
'60s effort, MARNIE (***, $29.98), generally regarded as a lesser Hitchcock
vehicle but still better cinema than most filmmakers' "second-tier"
In a role intended for Grace Kelley, 'Tippi' Hedren is just-about-adequate
as a compulsive thief who is married by Sean Connery in an effort to reform
her mischevious past. Bernard Herrmann's score -- correctly designated
as one of his best in the documentary and liner notes -- lends a major
assist in making this drama work, although there are times when Jay Presson
Allen's script threatens to turn into outright tedium. Connery is good
but there are moments when you wish that he was working opposite another
actress, since Hedren doesn't have the kind of range to make the various
emotions inherent in the character come explicitly across. Still an interesting
picture, however -- just not on the level with some of Hitch's other classics.
If the movie leaves you somewhat cold, Universal has sweetened the deal
with a fine assortment of extras. The 58-minute documentary feature is
almost more interesting than the film, containing interviews with Joseph
Stefano, Tippi Hedren, and most compellingly for FSM readers, a lengthy
examination of Herrmann's work by Steven C.Smith. The comments about the
music are fascinating and illustrate just how essential Herrmann's music
was not only to MARNIE but all of the films he collaborated with Hitchcock
The 1.85 transfer is as clean as I've seen a print of the film look,
and the 2.0 mono sound -- while not anything extraordinary -- does the
job. Still photo archives, production notes, and the director's usually
entertaining theatrical trailer fill out another great package for Hitchcock
Finally, while I try not to cover too many direct-to-video projects
here, I do have to make special mention of Universal's recent production
of the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice musical JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR
Anyone who went to school in England or the US over the last, oh, 25
years or so, likely had to sit through a production of this wacky but exuberant
musical, which has been filmed specifically for video not as a live-concert,
but rather as a slightly-more-cinematic-than-usual production capturing
the pageantry and general fun of the more recent worldwide stage production.
Contrary to what you might recall, Lloyd Webber's music is actually terrific,
with a handful of different song styles and arrangements (from pop to country-western,
jazz, calypso, and lyrical ballads), while Rice's lyrics are witty and
sharp, making JOSEPH truly great entertainment for adults and kids alike.
It also helps that the cast (including Donny Osmond as Joseph and Maria
Friedman as the Narrator) is tremendous and the entire production first-class
all the way.
Universal's DVD boasts an amazingly pristine, 1.55 transfer and both
Dolby Digital and DTS audio tracks. Once again, the DTS track frequently
exhibits a warmer sound, although on both mixes, there's a tendency for
some passages to be recorded at a volume much too low in relation to the
rest of the track. An interesting documentary chronicles both the production
of the program and a look at the genesis of the musical, but concentrates
primarily on why JOSEPH remains an enduring work for school children around
the world, interspersing clips from a British school production to illustrate
that point. Great stuff!
IMAGE: One of our favorite independent labels has
stepped up to the plate and released a pair of terrific documentary features
VISIONS OF LIGHT: THE ART OF CINEMATOGRAPHY (***1/2, $24.98) is a spellbinding
look at a purely cinematic artform, masterfully edited to include a wide
range of movies and photographic styles. When I say wide range, I mean
movies from the RKO efforts of Gregg Toland (on Orson Welles's films) and
the pioneering film noir films of the '40s and '50s, to the current work
of greats Vittorio Storaro, Conrad Hall, Haskell Wexler, Vilmos Zsigmond,
William A.Fraker, and Gordon Willis just to name a few. Along the way there
are clips from films as diverse as APOCALYPSE NOW (Storraro), DAYS OF HEAVEN
(Nestor Almendros), JAWS (Bill Butler), and others representing the work
of Frederic Elmes (BLUE VELVET), Michael Chapman (RAGING BULL), and Ernest
Dickerson (DO THE RIGHT THING) among others.
All clips culled from widescreen films (like JAWS) are screened in their
original aspect ratios; the 92-minute program looks good and sounds more
than adequate. A documentary that's enlightening, no pun intended, and
scholarly without being stuffy and boring, VISIONS OF LIGHT is an essential
component to any movie buff's DVD collection.
Also new from Image is one of the all-time great cult documentaries,
Bruce Brown's endlessly entertaining THE ENDLESS SUMMER (***1/2, $24.98),
which is back in circulation on a high-end video format years after Image's
out-of-print laserdisc from nearly a decade ago.
This surfing documentary is somewhat dated now (it's actually 40 years
old!), but only in the attire of the beach-goers and the GIDGET-like music
on the soundtrack. The activity and the sport itself is bigger now than
it was then, making this engaging chronicle of two surfers traveling the
world to capture the perfect wave more nostalgic than ever (if nothing
else, seeing desirable beaches without hundreds of surfers on them is a
blast from the past!).
The worldwide locations -- from West Africa, South Africa, Australia,
New Zealand, Tahiti and Hawaii to various California surfspots -- were
an immeasurable part of the program's appeal and Brown's own narration
keeps things lively and fun. Even after all these years, THE ENDLESS SUMMER
remains fresh and highly rewarding, even if you've never been called Moondoggie!
Image's full-frame transfer looks perfectly acceptable and is certainly
colorful enough; the mono sound is also clearer than I expected for a film
of this age. If you enjoy this one, try and check out THE ENDLESS SUMMER
2, which has even more spectacular surf footage and looks at how surfing
has changed over the years since the original's first release (it's not
on DVD yet, however).
Image has also been adding to their roster of obscure and bizarre cult
films, something that the nutty 1967 opus known as SHE-FREAK ($24.98) provides
A color reworking of Tod Browning's FREAKS but with a sense of humor
and affection, this twisted tale of carnival lust and murder stars Claire
Brennen as a waitress who joins up with a traveling sideshow and becomes
mixed up with a two-timing jerk named Blackie who has an affair with Brennen
and kills off the carny owner. Those freaks vow revenge after Brennen takes
over the show, leading to a climax right out of Browning's film, albeit
with less of a sadistic edge.
Image has rolled out all the stops with this DVD, including commentary
by the film's producer, David F. Friedman, the original trailer, a gallery
of exploitation art, plus rare newsreel footage of Siamese twins and sound
footage of an actual '30s sideshow. The colorful transfer is well-rendered
in full-frame format and for anyone seeking some vintage, indie-styled
horror from a different era, SHE-FREAK may be just the ticket for your
ANCHOR BAY: If the words "we're building a
fighting force of extraordinary magnitude" mean anything to you, then
chances are good that 1977's KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE (****, $24.98, available
June 20th) is one of your all-time favorite comedies. At 75 minutes, this
sketch-comedy epic boasts as many memorable comedic moments as any film
I've ever seen, from a hilarious parody of "Enter the Dragon"
(A FISTFUL OF YEN) to satires on morning TV shows, commercials, coming
attraction trailers (who will ever forget CATHOLIC HIGH SCHOOL GIRLS IN
TROUBLE or THAT'S ARMAGEDDON?), reality- based programs (DANGER SEEKERS!),
and an assassination board game that -- as the filmmakers point out in
their audio commentary -- makes more sense in less than three minutes than
Oliver Stone's JFK did in three hours!
A film that launched the careers of director John Landis (who went onto
ANIMAL HOUSE shortly thereafter) and writers Jim Abrahams, David and Jerry
Zucker (who hit paydirt with AIRPLANE a couple of years later), KENTUCKY
FRIED MOVIE is one of the funniest, raunchiest examples of sketch comedy
you're going to find. Along with Ken Shapiro's THE GROOVE TUBE (which predated
this film and also deserves to be screened on DVD), KFM helped to establish
a new kind of post-Mel Brooks sight gag comedy, and laid the groundwork
for programs like Saturday Night Live.
Anchor Bay's DVD will be headed to stores in mid-June, but judging from
the advance copy I received last week, you may want to pre-order this baby:
the transfer, in either 1.85 matted widescreen or full-frame (which feels
more comfortable), is better than I've ever seen the movie appear before,
and the sound is surprisingly clearer and louder as well. Image's old LD
had a grainy, weak transfer that was almost unwatchable, but Anchor Bay
has truly done a superb job and made this DVD the best-looking presentation
of the movie ever screened before.
Fans will also go bonkers over the hysterical audio commentary for the
film, which features Landis, the Zucker brothers, Abrahams, and producer
Robert K.Weiss recounting their frequently hilarious adventures during
the film's production. While the speakers frequently talk over each other,
it's jam-packed with funny bits of trivia (like how the composer of KINGDOM
OF THE SPIDERS scored the FISTFUL OF YEN segment with music so bad it made
the sequence even funnier than they thought it would be!) and is one of
the most entertaining chats you'll hear on a commentary track. A trailer
and some production notes help to make this DVD a great presentation for
an all-time classic!
AB has also been busy releasing a handful of Euro horror movies, including
the sexy BLOOD SPATTERED BRIDE (with some of the sexiest women I've ever
seen in a horror film!) and the nutty Freddie Francis spoof THE VAMPIRE
HAPPENING, both of which contain their share of lovely, busty young ladies
and plenty of T&A for those so inclined (both letterboxed, $29.98).
Also newly released from the company is their latest batch of Hammer horrors,
including QUARTERMASS 2 (with audio commentary by Val Guest and Nigel Kneale),
Terence Fisher's FOUR SIDED TRIANGLE, and THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN (all letterboxed,
$29.98). Sonny & Cher fans, meanwhile, may want to take a peek at GOOD
TIMES ($29.98), William Friedkin's feature debut (!) offered in a pleasing
widescreen format and with several immortal (or in this case -- with the
exception of "I've Got You Babe" -- mortal) songs by the singing
ARTISAN: Two interesting, offbeat thrillers with
similar antagonists comprise the studio's most recent batch of releases.
BLADE RUNNER scribe Hampton Fancher's THE MINUS MAN (**1/2, $24.98)
is a compelling but protracted psychological thriller with Owen Wilson
as a serial killer who drifts into a small town and starts to practice
his profession on an unsuspecting populace. However, even though the performances
by Wilson, Janeane Garofolo, Brian Cox and Mercedes Ruehl are excellent
-- and Marco Beltrami's music effectively creepy -- the movie ends up being
something minus the sum of its parts. Nevertheless, adventurous viewers
will want to take a look, with the 2.35 transfer and well-detailed Dolby
Digital track both well-rendered on DVD.
Finally, filmmaker Atom Egoyan's follow-up to his acclaimed "The
Sweet Hereafter," FELICIA'S JOURNEY (**1/2, $24.98), didn't receive
a lot of press last year, but it's nevertheless a well-shot, interesting
affair boasting an excellent performance by Bob Hoskins as a seemingly
ordinary chef who, like Owen Wilson, also has a problem taking other people's
lives. Paul Sarossy's evocative cinematography and Mychael Danna's eerie
score go a long way to making this slow-moving drama palatable, while Artisan's
DVD offers a crisp 2.35 transfer, Dolby Digital track, commentary from
the director and a handful of trailers and featurettes to round out the
NEXT TIME: MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 2, SHANGHAI NOON,
a look at the DVD of BRINGING OUT THE DEAD and, of course, your comments!
Until then, send all emails to firstname.lastname@example.org
and have a great Memorial Day weekend. Excelsior!