Aisle Seat DVD Summer Mania
New DVDs plus MORE Mailbag on "A.I."!
By Andy Dursin
Wednesday will see the release of JURASSIC PARK III, the latest summer
sequel that's arriving after a tumultuous shooting schedule that saw the
movie's script re-written each and every day. With a rep like that, it's
going to be hard to top the 1993 original film, though for me, it won't
take much to surpass Spielberg's 1997 sequel, "The Lost World," which still
ranks as the director's worst film all told.
I'll be back Wednesday with a review (I'm catching the film Monday night),
but in the meantime, here's a round-up of recent summer DVD releases, plus
even more A.I. comments from the Mailbag! (And don't forget to email your
thoughts to email@example.com anytime).
New From Buena Vista
UNBREAKABLE (*1/2 for movie, *** for content, Buena Vista, $29.98):
Bruce Willis, looking like he needs a gallon of coffee, gives a sleep-inducing
performance in this disappointing "modern comic book" from M. Night Shyamalan,
the "Sixth Sense" director who fell victim here to the follow-up-to-a-smash-hit
routine that's plagued many a filmmaker in the past.
The plot finds Willis plays the last survivor of a train wreck whom
comic-book guru Samuel L. Jackson believes is really a super-hero. Willis's
estranged wife, Robin Wright-Penn (in another ineffective role), tries
to reconcile her relationship with Bruno while the security guard goes
about finding out if he indeed is as strong as the Man of Steel.
Shyamalan has a bigger budget at his disposal here but retains many
of the same cinematic techniques that he brought to his last picture, along
with the addition of several embarrassing moments -- including endless
shots of Willis lifting weights, an awful sequence where Willis' son attempts
to prove his dad is Superman by shooting him in the family kitchen, and
a laughable ending complete with a tacked-on epilogue scroll.
While "The Sixth Sense" worked because of its well-developed characters,
UNBREAKABLE's protagonists are so stilted and one-dimensional that it's
hard to care, ultimately, where this picture goes (which, after 107 minutes,
isn't very far). The movie is slow, sterile, even ponderous at times, with
a pretentious tone that's hard to comprehend since the story, in the end,
has nothing to be pretentious about.
After a big opening, Shyamalan's film faded at the box-office but Buena
Vista has nevertheless selected it to inaugurate its two-disc "Vista Series"
line of Special Edition DVDs. The results are not up to the work other
studios have produced (like New Line's Platinum/Infinifilm or Fox's special
editions), but for a first-time effort, the 2-disc package is agreeable
The disc features a full array of deleted scenes introduced by the filmmaker
(including even more scenes of Willis lifting weights!), featurettes on
the film's production and comic books in general, multi-angle footage of
the train station sequence, an excerpt from one of Shyamalan's early films,
plus a pair of Alex Ross postcard illustrations that have reportedly been
missing from some copies of the set. The 2.35 transfer is excellent and
a subtle, effective DTS track packs a potent punch on the audio end (a
Dolby Digital track is also available).
UNBREAKABLE did boast its share of admirers in the cinema and, while
the movie didn't quite work for me, Touchstone's DVD is the best way to
appreciate the film at home, with some interesting supplements backed by
a top-notch technical presentation.
DUETS (**, $26.98, Hollywood) and BOUNCE
(*1/2, $26.98, Miramax): It wasn't a memorable year in 2000 for Gwyenth
Paltrow, who starred in a pair of films last autumn that failed to find
appreciative audiences despite a few positive critical notices.
In DUETS, Director Bruce Paltrow guides a solid ensemble cast (including
daughter Gwyenth) in a quite uneven comedy-drama-road-movie about how a
group of assorted folks find solace from their everyday lives in the wild
world of Karaoke. Included among them are Paltrow and estranged father
Huey Lewis; harried businessman Paul Giamatti and small-time crook Andre
Braugher; and former "ER" doctor Maria Bello and current "Felicity" co-star
There are solid performances and a few nice scenes in John Byrum's screenplay,
but the movie never really comes together and fizzles when Braugher and
Giamatti's story turns melodramatic and violent. Still, the music is good
(Gwyenth can sing!) and keeps the movie rolling along, even over some of
the picture's rough edges.
Though not advertised as a Special Edition, Hollywood's good-looking
1.85, Dolby Digital DVD features audio commentary with Bruce Paltrow, several
deleted scenes, a multi-angle music video of the Huey Lewis-Gwyneth duet
"Cruisin'," the original trailer, and a fairly interesting featurette on
the film's production.
"Duets"' weak theatrical showing was followed by BOUNCE, a dour and
slow- moving romantic drama with Gwyneth and ex-boyfriend Ben Affleck failing
to ignite any sparks in a film about a single mom (guess who?) whose husband
is killed in a plane crash. Affleck essays the advertising exec who exchanged
places with her spouse and, improbably, falls in love with her.
Miramax's two-disc set is a bona-fide Special Edition, with audio commentary,
deleted scenes, a featurette with the two stars, bloopers and trailers
rounding out a solid package for a curiously cold, detached drama that
never gives you a reason to care about it.
DRACULA 2000 (**, $26.98, Dimension): If you're
in the mood for brainless horror- action, this slick and entertaining B-movie
should satisfy viewers on the small screen more than it did for audiences
paying $8.75 a ticket last December.
Director Patrick Lussier and writer Joel Soisson have fashioned an intriguing,
albeit highly uneven picture that's part-youth horror chiller (think SCREAM),
part updated Hammer horror, with fight sequences a la BLADE and bizarre,
GREATEST EVER STORY EVER TOLD-like flashbacks (for Drac's Biblical origin)
thrown in for good measure!
This time out, Drac (the far-from-intimidating Gerald Butler) is unknowingly
resurrected in the present day by a group of thieves (including slumming
Omar Epps and Jennifer Esposito) who break into the vaults of our old pal,
professor Van Helsing (Christopher Plummer). Turns out that Van Helsing
has been "guarding" the crypt of the Count in his Carfax Abbey offices
in case something goes wrong -- which, predictably, it does.
Drac's new intended love is Van Helsing's daughter (the appealing Justine
Waddell), who shares a deep spiritual (and chemical) connection with the
head vamp through her father's blood ties with him. Now, it's up to antiquities
dealer Jonny Lee Miller (another ex up-and-coming star gone wrong) to head
to New Orleans and put the kibosh on old Dracula's plans before it's too
There are times when the filmmakers do seem to be aiming for some fresh
twists on the material (at least in regards to the relationship between
Dracula and Van Helsing), but they're mostly negated by incorporating too
many overly-familiar elements from other films and genres. On the other
hand, Lussier does a solid job in establishing a trio of vamped bombshells
(including Jeri "Seven of Nine" Ryan and pop singer Vitamin C, under her
real name, Colleen Fitzpatrick), and the movie is well-paced with a few
You have to love DVD commentaries where directors actually spill the
beans and truly, honestly discuss what REALLY happened on the set of their
films. Obviously, these talks are few and far between, but Lussier and
Soisson's commentary track here does the next-best thing, by admitting
"DVD commentaries are a lovefest" and joking "the 'real' commentary can
be accessed through a hidden feature on the disc"! (Maybe that's the reason
for the strange disclaimer that runs each time you select the commentary,
stating "these views are not representative of the studio and should be
used for entertainment purposes only." Umm...ok!)
You can read between the lines enough here to discern that Dimension
tinkered with the concept for the film before shooting began (upping the
budget and effects), and made a few decisions in post-production (such
as re-cutting the film's effective opening, here included in the deleted
scenes) which made DRACULA 2000 broader and less inviting than it could
Dimension's DVD looks great in its 2.35 transfer and features a crisp
5.1 soundtrack featuring a loud but effective Marco Beltrami score (and
you have to admire Lussier's commentary, which sarcastically cracks "here
come those metal tunes!" when jarringly inappropriate head-bashing rock
comes blaring on during the end credits). Though not billed as a Special
Edition, the disc comes pretty close, featuring a handful of deleted and
extended scenes, a promotional featurette, storyboards, the trailer, and
several audition tapes (for Waddell, Butler, and Fitzpatrick in her Vitamin
In the end, DRACULA 2000 isn't scary, sexy, or suspenseful enough to
rank as a superior slice of the cinematic undead, but if you were interested
in catching the movie on video, it rates as no-brain summer fun with just
enough bite to warrant a look.
New From Columbia
The best of the Muppet films -- even though it was a box-office disappointment
-- 1981's THE GREAT MUPPET CAPER (***1/2, $19.98) has been released
by Columbia on DVD, marking the first time that the movie has been available
in letterboxed format on video.
The only big-screen adventure of Kermit and Company that Jim Henson
directed himself, this highly engaging caper-musical features a wonderful
score by the late Joe Raposo, which deservedly copped an Oscar nomination
for "The First Time It Happens," plus an agreeably over-the-top performance
by Charles Grodin and a fun script courtesy of Tom Patchett & Jay Tarses
and Jerry Juhl & Jack Rose.
Unlike its predecessor, the star cameos take a back seat to the story,
as Kermit and Fonzie travel to London to solve a jewel heist that may have
been perpetrated by glamorous fashion guru Lady Holiday (Diana Rigg) and
her playboy brother (Grodin). Henson's direction is right on-target and
Raposo's songs include a hysterical, Busby Berkley-styled musical number
("Miss Piggy's Fantasy") with Kermit and a dubbed Grodin trading operatic
verses on separate corners of the screen. Great stuff that's just as much
fun for adults as it is for kids (and I can attest to that, having now
seen the movie as both!).
The 1.85 transfer is somewhat grainy, but it's as good as the film has
ever looked through its numerous video releases and the widescreen framing
preserves the original aspect ratio. Like the other Muppet films, the movie
was shot in a "hard matte" meaning you gain information on the sides and
lose nothing on the top and bottom when watching the letterboxed version.
(A full-frame, cropped version is also available).
The 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack is equivalent to the movie's earlier,
Dolby Stereo video releases, but the 2.0 stereo sound is severely compressed,
sounding like a mono track by comparison. Some "Muppetisms" and a few bonus
trailers are also included.
THE GREAT MUPPET CAPER is terrific fun, the best of the original Muppet
films and a must for Henson and Muppet fans on DVD. And for my recent reviews
of THE MUPPET MOVIE and MUPPETS TAKE MANHATTAN, click
Columbia has also gone back to the '80s and released the
second and third films in their lucrative "Karate Kid" series on DVD --
1986's box-office blockbuster hit THE KARATE KID PART II (***, $19.98)
and its pointless, 1989 flop follow-up THE KARATE KID PART III (*1/2,
Both films continue the formula set by director John G. Avildsen's 1984
sleeper hit, with Ralph Macchio back as the not-so-kiddish Daniel, and
Pat Morita as Mr. Miyagi, the karate guru who instructs his high school
protégé in martial arts and life itself. With most of the
same behind-the-scenes crew returning for both follow-ups (including writer
Robert Mark Kamen), the sequels are easily able to re-create the atmosphere
of the original film, although only the 1986 picture comes close to matching
its charm. With Miyagi traveling back to Okinawa to visit his ailing father,
Daniel travels with him, resulting in the usual culture clash and a romance
with a young local girl (Tamlyn Tomita). It's formula but pleasant just
Part II was a bona-fide smash at the box-office ($115 million in 1986
dollars pretty impressive), but the belated Part III ($38 million gorss)
disappointed during the summer of 1989, lost in the last, truly "big" movie
summer most of us remember ("Batman," "Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade,"
"Ghostbusters 2," "Lethal Weapon 2," "Star Trek V," "The Abyss," and "Licence
to Kill" were just a few of the season's high profile movies).
In reality, though, this third go-round is a laughably melodramatic
affair, with its comic book villains (including an over-the-top Thomas
Ian Griffith) and tired plot. And Macchio himself, now five years removed
from the original (okay, so he's a young 27!), seems ill-at-ease in his
Both KARATE KID sequels feature solid 1.85 transfers and 2.0 Dolby Surround
soundtracks, highlighting Bill Conti's enjoyable scores (plus some good,
and bad, '80s pop music like Part II's hit single "The Glory of Love,"
performed by Peter Cetera). Trailers are included on both discs, and there's
an interesting featurette included on Part II.
In case you're wondering, 1994's THE NEXT KARATE KID with Hilary Swank
- - a definite improvement on Part III -- is due out at the beginning of
Columbia has also dusted off another kung-fu fighting
relic from the '80s -- BERRY GORDY'S THE LAST DRAGON (**1/2, $19.98),
with Taimak as a martial arts student seeking not the Force but rather
"The Glow" in a gritty, urban NYC overseen by "The Shogun of Harlem" (played
by an outrageously nutty Julius J. Carey III). Meanwhile, former Prince
ingenue Vanity plays (what else?) a beautiful singer.
Director Michael Shultz contributes a spirited commentary track to the
new DVD, and in particular relates a hilarious story about how he accidentally
deleted some 40 pages of writer Louis Venosta's script from his PC while
he was off taking a nap! The movie is ridiculous, dated '80s fun, meaning
it's perfect entertainment for nostalgia freaks, and features a top-quality
soundtrack of pop hits (including El Debarge's classic "Rhythm of the Night,"
performed on-screen as a music video during the film).
Columbia's DVD features a strong 1.85 transfer of the movie's somewhat
ordinary cinematography, plus a 2.0 stereo mix, trailers, filmographies,
and production notes. As close to a definitive presentation as you can
get for a movie like this, THE LAST DRAGON proves to be a winner on DVD.
Aisle Seat Mail Bag: More on A.I.
From Troy Carmann:
While I mostly agreed with Andy Dursin's analysis of AI's
flaws, I think he was a bit harsh in his overall reaction. It was an uneven
movie, true, but had many touching and magical moments, a feat I haven't
seen in many movies over that last five years or so, especially big-budget
summer blockbusters. During much of the movie I was completely captivated,
not wanting to break the spell it cast. The acting in general was impressive,
and there were more than a few dazzling effects.
I think this movie could have been a masterpiece if Spielberg hadn't
included so many references to other films (Pinocchio, Close Encounters),
which ended up seeming like something out of a personal agenda and robbing
originality from the plot.
I must agree with his opinion of John Williams's score, which offered
some of his most inspiring music in years, daring to become involved with
the characters and heart of the film in ways he hasn't done since the Jurassic
Park/Schindler's List days. The writing for the final scenes and the end
credits was both haunting and sublime, causing me to close my eyes and
relish the mood and ideas projected by the music and the film in general.
The absence of lyrics to the closing song made it much more effective,
and by contrast with most current films made me appreciate non-pop song
endings. Way to go John and Steven!
From Steve Stromberg:
I did not read your review yet. I've taken to not reading any reviews
or watching Mr. Ebert and his sidekick give away half the plot to movies
that would ordinarily have surprised me. I read them after I've seen the
movie. Movie-going is much more satisfying that way. I like to walk in
there knowing nothing (or as little as I can) about the movie. I found
"A.I." to be a frustrating experience. It was top heavy with narration
and had an ending that went on (much like "The Color Purple") forever so
that it became anti- climactic. By the time David climbed into bed with
his mom I could have cared less. I also had trouble believing the relationship
with David and his "parents" and charming brother.
But it had some marvelous sequences and nice plot twists such as
David finding all the boxes labeled "David" and then one moved as if the
being inside was trying to kick his (its) way out - creepy. Even with the
Mad Max and the Thunderdome sequence I though Jude Law's performance the
best in the movie. He looked and acted like a robot. His little soft shoe
numbers in the puddles and his quizzical way of regarding his surroundings
I thought quite charming.
The worst part was the visit to Dr. Know where once again Robin
Williams showed how really untalented (except for his improv stand-up stuff)
he can be. It was dreadful. Geez, somebody get the hook, would ya? That
whole sequence could have been left out of the movie or at least shortened
to help David and Joe move along at a bit faster pace. But there were some
wonderful visuals and I like William Hurt's opening monologue, the oceans
at the beginning, and the haunting remains of New York City near the end.
Williams score was okay but I'm still waiting for him to top "The Reivers"
COMING WEDNESDAY: I'll break down JURASSIC PARK
III for you, plus more reader comments. See you then!