Spring DVD Round-Up
Warner's THREE KINGS plus Columbia Goodies and Anchor Bay Cult Classics
Equal Seasonal Viewing Pleasure!
An Aisle Seat Entry by Andy Dursin
Spring is in the air, and for those that follow the inner-workings of
the video industry, that undoubtedly means a plethora of titles are on
the way that will attract the eyes of consumers everywhere. Indeed, April
will see THE PHANTOM MENACE makes its way to the small screen (though not
on DVD), in addition to a whole new box-set of James Bond movies from MGM
that we hope to do a piece on next month (stay tuned). Some of last fall's
movies will bear down on the cassette & DVD market, too.
It was regarded as one of last year's best films, and for those who
felt that it was, David O. Russell's Gulf War hyper-action-thriller-comedy
THREE KINGS (***, $24.98) will make for a must-purchase when Warner
Home Video unveils their supplement-filled DVD on April 11th.
George Clooney stars with Mark Wahlberg and Ice Cube as three Gulf War
soldiers who improbably stumble upon a treasure map detailing the location
of some secret stash Sadaam and his soldiers stole from the Kuwaitis. After
finding the gold, the three plan their escape but get mixed up with a band
of anti- Sadaamites trying to fend for themselves after the U.S. frees
Kuwait but leaves the local people alone to fight their own battles.
Warner, which has always been one of the champions for extras in the
DVD format, does not disappoint here with a presentation chock-full of
goodies: two audio commentaries (one from Russell, another from the producers),
a handful of featurettes (including a 21-minute documentary and a bit with
Ice Cube about acting), trailers, deleted scenes (basically extensions
or alternately filmed footage of existing sequences), and production artwork.
The behind the scenes footage is quite revealing, with Russell's "Video
Diary" featuring shots of an appropriately annoyed Clooney and some
additional, uncensored rants from Russell about working with the studio.
The movie was reportedly a difficult shoot for most of the crew, and some
of that animosity can be seen in this featurette.
As far as the movie goes, Russell has a few clever ideas up his sleeve
(he wrote and directed the picture), but tends to over-direct the movie
in a way that feels as if he was trying to out-do Quentin Tarantino. The
mad rush of cuts, use of filters, and handheld camera feel more like cinematic
trickery than elements that enhance the drama; in fact, the scenes that
don't employ these devices (such as when Wahlberg is tortured by a member
of the Republican Guard) pack more of a punch than the unstable "action"
sequences. When blended with the mix of songs and non-stop profanity, THREE
KINGS comes off at times like a Tarantino- wannabe.
Because Russell and cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel shot the movie
with different filters and what appears to be different stocks of celluloid
at that, there's a disclaimer that runs before the film stating that the
discrepancy between the appearance of certain scenes was intentional and
done for dramatic effect. With that in mind, Warner's 2.35:1 transfer (enhanced
for 16:9 TVs) looks as good as it probably could, with some excessive grain
in certain sequences but solid colors and details. The Dolby Digital 5.1
soundtrack is highly effective with a great deal of surround activity,
along with an eclectic collection of songs and Carter Burwell score.
It's still fun and effective at times, but Russell the director tries
too hard to make THREE KINGS into the kind of non-stop '90s "cool
movie" that will seem dated in a few years the way that Tarantino's
pictures, to a degree, already are. A little more faith in his own material
would have produced a movie with more of its own voice and less of a stylistic
technique that has been already been beaten to death.
Warner's has also rolled out a DVD for last year's wacky romantic comedy
THREE TO TANGO (**, $24.98), with Matthew Perry (getting his slapstick
chops in before THE WHOLE NINE YARDS) as an architect who falls for iron-wielding
artist Neve Campbell (you think this is FLASHDANCE all over again for a
few seconds), the girlfriend of his boss Dylan McDermott. Unfortunately
for Perry, his office believes that he's gay after he gives homosexual
pal Oliver Platt a congratulatory hug and kiss after they land a big job.
Oh, the problems of dating in the '90s! (or is it the '00s now?)
This extremely lightweight but somewhat engaging farce was not a box-office
hit, although it's certainly no better or worse than a lot of other frivolous
genre flicks that HAVE become financial successes over the last few years
(including IN AND OUT, which this movie is a reverse clone of). Perry and
Campbell manage to generate an amiable chemistry that carries the movie
past its poorly developed supporting characters and incessant use of swing
tunes (so much for a movie with the Tango in its title!) that tends to
get in the way of the fun.
Warner's DVD, also due out April 11th, is supplement-free for a change,
offering only a theatrical trailer and some production notes. The 1.85:1
transfer (enhanced for widescreen TVs) looks colorful and the Dolby Digital
5.1 soundtrack is vibrant, offering a good score by Graeme Revell whenever
the songtrack allows the composer a chance at writing his own material.
Columbia TriStar's new releases include a wonderful, remastered presentation
of Jean Jacques Annaud's terrific 1988 outdoor adventure THE BEAR
(***1/2, $24.98), adapted by Gerard Brach from James Oliver Curwood's "The
This marvelous nature picture was outstandingly shot (Philippe Rousselot
handled the cinematography) and beautifully scored by Philippe Sarde, technically
complimenting the story of a bear cub left on its own and how it tentatively
befriends a hunter (Tcheky Karyo) in the mountains of British Columbia
during the mid 1880s. The movie is exciting and offers splendid, remarkable
footage of the bears (including the Kodiak Bart who has since gone onto
fame in movies like THE EDGE) in their natural habitat, along with a story
that should enchant both older children and adults.
Shot in Panavision, Columbia's remastered presentation is a substantial
improvement on the movie's letterboxed laserdisc release: the 2.35:1 transfer
is clear and colorful (enhanced for 16:9 TVs) and boasts a superb 5.1 Dolby
Digital remix in addition to the standard 2-channel Pro Logic track. The
DVD includes two brief featurettes with some revealing behind-the-scenes
footage of the bears at work, along with comments from Annaud. Production
notes and talent files round out a fine package all around -- highly recommended.
One of last year's box-office underachievers, Sydney Pollak's RANDOM
HEARTS (**1/2, $24.98) isn't quite the disaster many made it out to
be. Sure, the romantic sparks between stars Harrison Ford and Kristin Scott
Thomas are limited to Ford sneering and Thomas staring, the subplots are
bare, the supporting cast is wasted, and the whole movie never answers
the question "who cares about these people?," but there is still
a touch of class in this old-fashioned melodrama.
Ford plays a D.C. internal affairs cop whose wife is killed in a plane
crash along with senatorial candidate Scott Thomas's husband. A little
detective work uncovers that the two were having an affair, and the pursuit
of the truth leads Ford and Scott Thomas down a dangerous path--well, not
so dangerous--where they find out they have more than common than just
a pair of cheating deceased spouses.
Charles S. Dutton, Bonnie Hunt, Dennis Haysbert, and Richard Jenkins
(whose lovely daughter Sarah was in my high school class; just thought
I'd give him a plug whenever I can) comprise a solid supporting cast that
has little to do but sit on the sides while Kurt Ludetke's script tries
to craft a memorable love story for this media-obsessed age. Unfortunately,
because Ford mopes about and has no chemistry whatsoever with Scott Thomas,
RANDOM HEARTS doesn't catch fire, but the movie manages to work in spite
of itself through Pollak's assured direction, good-looking cinematography,
and a pleasant jazz score by Dave Grusin.
Grusin's score is isolated in 5-channel stereo in Columbia's DVD, which
also features a 1.85:1 transfer (enhanced for 16:9 televisions), a 5.0
Dolby Digital soundtrack, Pollak's commentary, the HBO "First Look"
Making Of special, three deleted scenes, and the film's problematic theatrical
trailer (which tries and fails miserably to sell the movie both as a thriller
and a romantic drama).
It's not AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER, and Ford's performance is not one of
his best, but at least RANDOM HEARTS is a high-class production that looks
and sounds good.
Artisan, meanwhile, has collaborated with TV mogul Robert Halmi in bringing
a pair of his successful tube mini-series to DVD. However, there's no real
comparison between the two in terms of quality.
LONESOME DOVE (****, $39.98) needs no introduction for most viewers.
This 1989 mini-series was one of the highest rated of all-time and one
of the most critically acclaimed television programs ever aired. After
sitting through all six hours of it just a few years ago, I can say that
the accolades were certainly justified.
Unlike most TV efforts, this lavish mini-series represents the best
that the format can offer to filmmakers (longer running times, additional
space for character development) but only seldom takes advantage of because
less money is spent on budgets and casts are usually inferior to their
Not so with LONESOME DOVE, an adaptation of Larry McMurtry's acclaimed
novel, adapted by Bill Wittliff (THE BLACK STALLION), directed by Simon
Wincer, scored by Basil Poledouris, and starring one of the best casts
you'll ever see assembled for the small screen: Robert Duvall, Tommy Lee
Jones, Anjelica Huston, Danny Glover, Diane Lane, Robert Urich, Frederic
Forrest, and Rick Schroder among them.
It's a western with plenty of action, but also a moving, eloquent story
focusing on the relationship between two aging, former Texas Rangers (Duvall,
Jones) as they head on one final cattle drive to Montana. The film is technically
proficient (Poledouris' score won't leave a dry eye in the house during
the closing minutes) but it was the performances and remarkable dialogue
that made LONESOME DOVE such a memorable event, one that has come to DVD
from Artisan in a superbly mounted "DVD-18" package.
The "DVD-18" format has been employed only on recent releases
like THE STAND, allowing a studio to glue two Dual Layer discs together
to comprise both sides of a single DVD. This, in turn, enables the viewer
to watch a six-hour mini-series like LONESOME DOVE on one DVD, without
having to fumble through discs and change sides more than once.
Convenience aside, the best news is that the LONESOME DOVE DVD also
looks better than Image's deluxe laserdisc box-set release from 1993 (and,
because it was shot on film instead of video, infinitely superior to THE
STAND DVD, which was grainier and a definite step-down from its laserdisc
counterpart). The packaging notes that the soundtrack is 2.0 Dolby Surround,
but it's a mistake: both the laserdisc and the DVD are in the program's
original mono format (a tape I made of the initial broadcast airing in
1989 was in simulated stereo, confirming that the program was indeed recorded
New interviews with McMurtry and producer Suzanne dePasse are included
in the program, along with end credits for each of the four 90-minute episodes
that comprise the mini-series (the laserdisc omitted the respective end
titles except for the final part). Image's LD did contain an interesting
50-minute documentary, but aside from that element, Artisan's DVD is a
superior presentation all the way through. Definitely recommended for fans
and anyone who hasn't sat through what remains a genuine classic of television
Halmi's recent AFTERSHOCK: EARTHQUAKE IN NEW YORK ($29.98) isn't
on the level of LONESOME DOVE, but it's superior to much of his recent
output (including the wretched fantasy minis 10TH KINGDOM, ALICE IN WONDERLAND,
and NOAH'S ARK).
A fun disaster movie with competent special effects, this highly improbably
yarn sports Charles S.Dutton as the Mayor of the Big Apple and Tom Skerritt
as a fire marshall who come to blows when an earthquake paralyzes the big
city; based on the novel by Chuck Scarborough (the New York City TV anchor?).
All kidding aside, AFTERSHOCK is surprisingly watchable, with kudos
going out to the director -- well- known cinematographer Mikael Salomon
(THE ABYSS, FAR AND AWAY), once tapped to helm JURASSIC PARK 3 a few years
ago but stranded directing films like HARD RAIN and this made-for-TV project
instead. Salomon does a competent job and AFTERSHOCK makes for 170 minutes
of popcorn- munching entertainment, particularly for Irwin Allen-philes
Finally, every few weeks we give a round-up of Anchor Bay's new releases,
and each time there's undoubtedly something in there that will appeal to
a very specific audience that will appreciate the pains AB has gone through
to unearth a certain film on DVD.
AB's latest batch includes a handful of horror thrillers and a pair
of unique music-oriented features that someone out there will savor and
enjoy, particularly since they have all been transferred and enhanced for
16:9 televisions ("anamorphically enhanced," generally meaning
sharper picture quality), retailing for $29.98 each.
The chillers open with the 1973 Carlo Ponti production TORSO ($29.98),
starring Suzy Kendall as a college student over in Italy who becomes the
target of a serial killer. With the international market booming and the
horror genre on the rise, Ponti decided to turn away from producing epics
like WAR AND PEACE and alter his approach to suit the need for horror movies
featuring attractive, busty young ladies: hence TORSO, with its sexy women,
gratuitous (but appreciative) nude scenes, exploitative atmosphere, "mod"
generation get-togethers, and plenty of blood and violence for one and
Director Sergio Martino uses zoom-ins, quick cuts, and other filmmaking
staples of the time to create a truly wacked-out movie that will surely
make for a great night of entertainment for its core audience (and for
anyone else who downs a few brews and just wants to see topless girls --
oh wait, that IS its niche audience!). The DVD is matted at 1.85:1, comes
in either English or Italian languages (there's a notable lack of production
sound in either version though the actors seem to be mouthing English),
contains some footage chopped out of U.S. prints (subtitled in English),
and a pair of theatrical trailers. The U.S. trailer features a hilarious
electric guitar (and a voice-over guy who yells "TORSO!") while
the actual film spotlights a moody '70s score by Guido and Maurizio DeAngelis.
Ennio Morricone was responsible for composing the appropriately spooky
score for the 1973 effort AUTOPSY, starring Mimsy Farmer and Barry
Primus. Yes, it's another Italian spaghetti splatter effort, with Mimsy
as a forensic pathologist (apparently Jack Klugman was NOT available) who
has visions of corpses and Primus as a priest who helps her out when suicides
spurt up all over Rome. For fans of this one (it's not as much fun as TORSO),
you do get 15 minutes never seen in the U.S. and a pair of trailers.
The final effort in the trio is Armand Mastroianni's THE KILLING
HOUR (aka THE CLAIRVOYANT), an engaging, American B-movie from 1982
with Elizabeth Kemp as an art student with psychic powers who gains knowledge
of a series of murders plaguing New York City. Perry King, Kenneth McMillan,
Joe Morton, and Jon Polito offer able support to this competent thriller,
which is presented here with deleted scenes, trailer, audio commentary
by the director, and in a "Director's Cut" presentation to round
it off (though the running time seems to be the same as all previous versions).
Not bad, and a bit more entertaining than either of the Italian horrors
above (not to mention a superior serial killer thriller than recent flicks
like THE BONE COLLECTOR).
The two AB musical efforts include the rarely-screened 1966 British
musical THE GHOST GOES GEAR, a totally "mod" British boy group
tunefest starring The Spencer Davis Group (with Steve Winwood), along with
appearances by Acker Bilk, The M6, Dave Berry, The Lorne Gibson Trio, St.Louis
Union, and The Three Bells. It's absolutely dated (and apparently has never
been available before in the U.S.), but if you're a fan of this music,
the movie provides goofy fun to match the songs, along with a fun commentary
from Davis and humorist Martin Lewis. Right up there with those Herman's
Hermits movies screened on TCM from time to time.
Finally, there's Ulli Lommel's BLANK GENERATION, a movie likely shot
when everyone was blitzed (on AND off the camera!). It's a staggeringly
weird 1979 chronicle of life of the punk scene in NYC, with appearances
by Andy Warhol and some other, bizarre looking folks. Still, Carole Bouquet
(pre-FOR YOUR EYES ONLY) and Lommel's then-wife Suzanna Love star, so it
can't be all bad. Strangest element? Elliot Goldenthal did the score, some
years before he appeared on the mainstream scene in PET SEMATARY.
NEXT WEEK: Readers Respond to MISSION TO MARS! Remember to keep
the emails coming to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
and I'll see you for the post-Oscar fallout in 7. Excelsior!