Aisle Seat Summer Extravaganza
DVDs hit THE BEACH as a Plethora of New Releases Go THE WHOLE NINE
By Andy Dursin
The water may still be in the low 60s here in southern New England,
but hey, summer HAS begun, even if you wouldn't necessarily know it. At
the box-office, you'd hardly have guessed this was the month of June, judging
from movies like GONE IN 60 SECONDS, SHANGHAI NOON, DINOSAUR (given its
expensive pricetag), and TITAN A.E. failing to live up to their studio's
In the media, we've been seeing articles like, "why aren't people
going to the movies this summer?" The answer is easy: when they make
some movies we want to see, audiences will be there. Haven't they learned
that the problem with the box-office and overall attendance are the movies
themselves? The big Fourth of July weekend will see a duel between a Mel
Gibson "Braveheart"-kinda spin on the Revolutionary War, THE
PATRIOT, and THE PERFECT STORM, with George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg getting
caught in an oceanic "Twister" after going out fishing.
Neither movie has received a lot of positive word-of-mouth prior to
release, which doesn't surprise me any given the subpar theatrical trailers
turned out for both efforts. (I still laugh whenever I see that ad for
THE PERFECT STORM with Wahlberg, Bostonian accent firmly entrenched, going
"I love my wife -- but I love to fish!" Talk about quality melodrama!).
Anyhow, I'll be going in with an open mind -- and between John Williams's
score for THE PATRIOT and plenty of effects in THE PERFECT STORM, it's
hard to imagine either firm being a total waste -- but if both pictures
tank in terms of their expectations, once again let's tell the studios
that the problem is the product, not the audience.
Next time we'll have a full rundown on the summer MOVIE season, but
right now, we need to wrap up some recent DVD releases, including a pair
of exciting new Special Editions from Fox...
New DVD Round-Up
Just in time for the Fourth of July, Fox unleashes a terrific 2-DVD
Special Edition of INDEPENDENCE DAY (*** movie, ***1/2 extras, $34.98)
this Tuesday, which fits comfortably on the shelf alongside their recent,
outstanding deluxe packages of "Fight Club," "The Abyss,"
and "Walking With Dinosaurs."
Say what you will about the movie -- which, yes, did work better in
a theater alongside a howling audience -- but the presentation and supplements
jammed into this lavish DVD set are more than worthwhile. For starters,
you can choose either the original theatrical cut or a special extended
version restoring nine minutes of basic plot-filler with Randy Quaid trying
to find medicine for his ailing kid. There are also a pair of commentary
tracks, one from director Roland Emmerich and his partner in crime Dean
Devlin, and another by the effects team (which is actually a bit more interesting);
several documentaries; every trailer you could imagine (including the effective
Super Bowl spot and another for Mac PCs); plus plenty of other assorted
goodies on the special effects. The THX-approved, 2.35 transfer is excellent,
the 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack will give your subwoofer an intense workout,
and the package is spread across 2 DVDs with elaborate animated menus for
those who are into such things.
A lot of folks have turned on ID4 since its original release, claiming
the movie made a lot of money simply on the basis of its flag-waving, patriotic
mind-set and shameless "borrowing" from every other sci-fi alien
invasion picture ever produced. While all of that is true, ID4 always did
work -- and still does -- on the same level of your excessive, overproduced
Irwin Allen-esque spectacle: there are good performances and bad ones,
plenty of effects and over-the-top action, and despite an over-reliance
on comic relief (Judd Hirsch should have hit the cutting room floor), it
all culminates in an entertaining ride.
If nothing else, Fox's presentation of the movie on DVD once again confirms
the studio's dedication to producing supplement-rich releases in the format,
a trait that once again is evident on their Special Edition of THE BEACH
(**1/2 movie, ***1/2 for extras, $34.98), last winter's Leonardo DiCaprio
box-office underachiever which seems to be a cross between "Hearts
of Darkness" and "Lord of the Flies" with just a dash of
the anti-society tone that permeated David Fincher's "Fight Club."
Due to be released on July 25th, the movie is a beautifully shot and
interesting tale that works well for about an hour, with would-be college
student Leo journeying through Thailand and improbably stumbling across
an island paradise after being told of its location through a meeting with
a crazy man (Robert Carlyle) in a rundown hotel. What he soon finds is
a strange assortment of weed-tokers who populate the other half of a beautiful
paradise with gun-toting drug farmers making their living on the other
Directed and written by the same folks who made "Trainspotting"
(who followed that up with an earlier bomb at Fox, the awful Cameron Diaz-Ewan
MacGregor romp "A Life Less Ordinary"), THE BEACH is fine until
it becomes a disjointed, rambling "thriller" with elements culled
from previous films about paradise lost and dissatisfied youth trying to
find fulfillment in this unfair world of ours. Of course, it's hard to
envision just how dissatisfied one would be when you spend your time going
to the beach, taking a jaunt up the river, and making out with gorgeous
Virginie Ledoyen, whose brief but memorable love scene with Leo makes for
the film's most enticing moment.
Shot on gorgeous locations and presented flawlessly on DVD in a razor-sharp
2.35 transfer (with a bass- heavy Dolby Digital soundtrack), THE BEACH
is an interesting but heavily flawed movie worth checking out for Leo fans
and aficionados of the filmmakers -- and for some scenic cinematography
with one extremely attractive female lead in it. When Ledoyen disappears
from the main plot about an hour into the film, THE BEACH becomes awash
in preachy, heavy-handed melodrama.
Fox's DVD here contains commentary from director Danny Boyle, nine deleted
scenes (with inferior, alternate opening and ending sequences), trailers
and TV spots, an All Saints music video, storyboards, and bios for the
cast and crew. Special mention should be made of Angelo Badalamenti's effective,
often lyrical score -- one of this year's best, in fact -- which meshes
well with a collection of techno-driven songs that fortunately will not
drive one to turn down the volume for a change. Badalamenti's music has
been recently released on a separate score album in the UK, though no domestic
release has been set (THE BEACH performed far better overseas than it did
Paramount has also been extremely busy on the DVD front of late, with
their June releases containing something for everyone.
Top of the list is Tim Burton's SLEEPY HOLLOW (***1/2, $29.98),
the auteur's latest opus which became an instant classic for the director's
fans upon its release last November. A merry mix of spoof, Hammer horror,
Americana folklore, and romantic fantasy, this uniquely Burton concoction
excels in all the areas one would expect it to: production design, cinematography,
and score (this picture containing one of Danny Elfman's most lyrical and
effective recent works). If Andrew Kevin Walker's script becomes somewhat
convoluted, the performances of Johnny Depp and Christina Ricci and the
film's spellbinding look and feel are more than enough to make this a must-view;
in fact, a lot of viewers will probably soak up the sights and sounds even
more on repeat viewing, where the plot becomes secondary to the picture's
elegant visual sheen, certain to become a Halloween perennial and revered
The DVD features a sporadic but intermittently engaging commentary track
from Burton, along with a promotional-but-interesting half-hour documentary
feature containing snippets of the filmmaker, cast, and even Elfman at
work. Additional cast interviews, storyboards, and both the film's effective
theatrical teaser and trailer have also been included -- a well-rounded
package for one of my favorite movies of last year. The 1.85 transfer and
crisp, effective Dolby Digital soundtrack (close to being reference-quality)
are both outstandingly rendered.
One of last year's more disappointing collaborations was BRINGING
OUT THE DEAD (**1/2, $29.98), with Martin Scorsese and screenwriter
Paul Schrader reuniting for an adaptation of Joe Connelly's book about
an ambulance driver (Nicolas Cage) who has seen too many victims die and
searches for meaning amongst all the tragedies he encounters on a daily
Cage is good, giving a nicely modulated performance for the first time
in a while, but while he's supported by a terrific cast (including John
Goodman, Ving Rhames, Tom Sizemore, and ex-wife Patricia Arquette), BRINGING
OUT THE DEAD is ultimately undone by a repetitive script that's never as
emotional or insightful as it would like to be. Scorsese's patented use
of editing and his use of Robert Richardson's stark lighting are effective,
but somewhere along the line, something went amiss. When it's all said
and done, you're left stuck wondering just what the fuss was about, solid
performances and dazzling visuals notwithstanding.
Paramount's DVD transfer is exceptional, framed at 2.35, and the Dolby
Digital soundtrack, featuring a collection of songs and serviceable score
by Elmer Bernstein, also pulsates with energy. A pair of trailers and interviews
with the cast round out a good presentation for what turned out to be one
of 1999's most frustrating just-misses.
Another recent release from the studio, THE FIRM (***, $24.98),
wasn't my favorite John Grisham film adaptation, but in all honesty, it's
still a pretty competent thriller. Tom Cruise and Gene Hackman (whose billing
was relegated to the film credits for contractual reasons) star in this
long but generally involving effort, which makes good use of location filming
and all the technical proficiencies that a Sydney Pollak film has to offer:
a solid cast, usually smart dialogue, and a polished look and feel.
Aficionados of the book weren't too pleased with the movie, but it was
a big box-office hit anyway, and some of the supporting performances (most
notably by Holly Hunter) are at least as engaging as the Cruise- Jeanne
Tripplehorn lead duo. Paramount's DVD features a good 1.85 transfer and
a 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack, though this isn't the kind of affair that's
going to get your sound system cranking -- particularly with Dave Grusin's
alternately offbeat and repetitive score being a primarily all-piano effort.
Supplements here are relegated to a theatrical trailer.
This week, Paramount unveils two more murder-mysteries, one with a comedic
angle and the other a decidedly more dramatic twist.
Kenneth Branagh's engaging American feature debut, DEAD AGAIN (***,
$24.98), was his 1991 romantic thriller, with he and then-significant-other
Emma Thompson playing a pair of dual roles in a nutty reincarnation plot
penned by Scott Frank. The terrific supporting cast includes Andy Garcia
(who doesn't fare so well under unconvincing old-age make-up), Derek Jacobi,
Hanna Schygulla, and a brief contribution by Robin Williams that tends
to throw the movie's pacing a bit off-kilter. However, that's part of the
film's charm, in Branagh's ability to tell a melodramatic love story with
a homage to old-time detective thrillers and film noir thrown in for good
The DVD, while not labeled as a Special Edition, does contain a pair
of commentary tracks; one by Scott Frank and producer Lindsay Doran, and
another with Branagh commenting on the production. A theatrical trailer
is also included, along with a super 1.85 enhanced transfer and an effective
Dolby Digital soundtrack featuring a bombastic but enjoyable score by Patrick
The other mystery-thriller from the studio is definitely more on the
lighter side, that being Jonathan Lynn's 1985 directorial debut, CLUE
(**1/2, $29.98), which arrives this week on DVD in a presentation that
almost -- but not quite -- takes full advantage of the benefits of the
Originally a John Landis vehicle (he's still listed as an executive
producer), CLUE is a fast-paced, wacky whoduneit with all the principal
characters from the famous Parker Brothers board game assembled for a night
of murder and mystery. The cast tries their hardest to make the frantic
shenanigans of Lynn's script come to life (Tim Curry is terrific as the
Butler, while Martin Mull and Michael McKean provide some laughs as two
possible suspects), but the problem with the movie is that it often tries
too hard to be funny -- leaving you exhausted by the time the outcome is
That's the one area where the DVD almost fulfills its promise, since
CLUE was shot with three different endings (A, B, and C) and was released
that way to theaters, which advertised the specific version of the movie
they were showing. On video, all three endings were assembled to create
a disjointed finale that didn't really work too well.
For the DVD, Paramount has taken the three endings and presented them
in a frustrating manner: you can either choose to watch the movie with
all three finales (as it was released on video), OR you can choose to watch
the film with a random ending selected from all three conclusions. Good
idea, right? Well, not if you've seen the movie once, played one random
ending, and then see the same finale again the next time out! A better
idea would have been to have the viewer select which ending they'd like
to see, but alas, that didn't happen. I assume the culprit had to be one
of the DVD producers -- in the physical plant -- with a mental lapse!
Speaking of director Jonathan Lynn, the Brit, whose work runs hot ("My
Cousin Vinny," "Trial and Error") and cold ("Greedy"),
gives a full commentary track on the upcoming DVD release of his latest
film, THE WHOLE NINE YARDS (**1/2, *** extras, Warner Home Video,
$19.98), which is slated to be released on July 18th.
This nutty Bruce Willis comedy is definitely on the off-kilter side:
Willis plays a macho mafia hitman in the witness protection program outside
Montreal who runs into a dentist ("Friends"' Matthew Perry) with
a money-hungry, bitchy wife (Rosanna Arquette) and a co-worker (Amanda
Peet) who's really in love with him. Mitchell Kapner's script veers from
broad farce to thriller and never quite works fully on either level, but
the movie is sustained by its cast and Lynn's energetic direction, which
keeps things moving at a fairly quick clip.
And speaking of the cast, how can't you at least partially enjoy a movie
with Michael Clarke Duncan, Natasha Henstridge and Kevin Pollak amongst
its stars? Willis and Perry also have an enjoyable chemistry together on-screen,
making it easier to gloss over the film's sometimes strange shifts in tone.
Warner's DVD has a flawless 1.85 transfer and a particularly active
Dolby Digital soundtrack, featuring a jaunty Randy Edelman score. The DVD
sports a theatrical trailer along with interview clips with the principal
cast members, along with Lynn's commentary. All in all, quite a bargain
given the relatively inexpensive price-tag, and another solid effort from
Warner Home Video.
Finally, MGM has been making some noise of late, with a trio of releases
culled from the shelves of Orion Pictures.
F/X (***, $24.98) was one of 1986's sleeper hits, with Bryan
Brown as a special effects artist who gets involved with what claims to
be the justice department in the staging of an assassination. Naturally,
all goes wrong and Brown goes on the lam, with cop Brian Dennehy trying
to lend an able assist as they elude the mob and other assorted goons --
while using just a bit of special effects wizardry in the process.
The good-natured chemistry between Brown and Dennehy, along with a surprisingly
smart and fast-paced script by Robert T. Megginson and Gregory Fleeman,
combined to make F/X one of the best thrillers from the mid '80s. Director
Robert Mandel keeps the action moving while Miroslav Ondricek ("Amadeus")
contributes a good-looking cinematographic sheen to compliment the action.
And so what if Bill Conti's synth score is a dated relic of the '80s --
F/X still remains good fun.
MGM's DVD features a 2.0 Dolby Surround track that's so-so, with an
OK 1.85, non-enhanced transfer with a choice of a full-frame, non-matted
version on the other side. The only extra is a theatrical trailer.
There are more goodies on the DVD of DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN
(**, $19.98), Susan Seidelman's acclaimed 1985 comedy that got Madonna
going on the big screen (blame this movie!), playing a none-too-subtly
disguised version of herself whose identity is claimed by housewife Rosanna
Aruqette after she gets bumped on the head. Maybe it's me, but I've tried
to sit through this movie several times and it's been a chore every time
out. At 104 minutes, the movie feels like a concept that's stretched to
its possible breaking point, and the film is never as funny or amusing
as it would like to be.
Still, the movie has its share of fans, and they will almost certainly
enjoy MGM's DVD, which features commentary from the producers, original
and alternate endings, plus a theatrical trailer. The enhanced 1.85 transfer
looks good though the mono sound is only passable.
Finally, another Orion movie has found its way to DVD via MGM -- 1988's
MARRIED TO THE MOB (**1/2, $19.98), yet another acclaimed comedy
that I've never really been all that fond of. Michelle Pfeiffer gives an
engaging performance as a mafia wife who tries to break out of the system
after her gangster husband (Alec Baldwin) is bumped off by Dean Stockwell.
Jonathan Demme's farce is labored but is enjoyably played, with a supporting
cast including Matthew Modine, Mercedes Ruehl, and Joan Cusack. MGM's transfer
is enhanced 1.85 and there's a decent Dolby Surround track, theatrical
trailer, and booklet notes to round out the package.
NEXT TIME: SHAFT scores, ME MYSELF & IRENE
misfires, and a look at THE PATRIOT and THE PERFECT STORM on our Fourth
of July extravaganza! Until then send all emails to firstname.lastname@example.org.