Aisle Seat End of Summer DVD Bash, Part One
From CHOCOLAT to MARATHON MAN, 13 new DVD reviews!
By Andy Dursin
Like it or not, we've already come to the end of August, and the Aisle
Seat has been flooded with countless new DVD titles over the last few weeks
that need immediate reviewing attention.
So as we wind down a terrific, albeit hot summer in the Northeast (just
as it has been throughout the United States), here's Part One of our End
of Summer DVD Bash, going studio-by-studio through some new releases. Are
they worth your while? The Laserphile knows
ENEMY AT THE GATES. $29.98, R.
WHAT IT IS: Jean-Jacques Annaud's lavish WWII epic is a true story of
a Russian sharpshooter (another effective role for Jude Law), popularized
by military propaganda, whom the Germans decide to rub out by bringing
in a vicious marksman (Ed Harris) while the Battle of Stalingrad rages
on in the wintry Russian landscape. Annaud is one of the few directors
left who can make a classically-constructed film that feels like it could
have been made exactly the same way 15 or even 30 years ago, and ENEMY
is a well-mounted, powerful piece of filmmaking that's flawed in its pacing
and certain narrative decisions (the Rachel Weisz love interest angle should
have either been augmented or cut completely), but is striking in how it
details the conflict between two individuals while thousands are dying
in the battle surrounding them.
DVD TRANSFER AND SOUND: Paramount's superlative 2.35 transfer preserves
the original Panavision cinematography, and the 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack
is a masterful mix of James Horner's highly effective original score (it
works great once you put the "Schindler's" influence aside) and potent
sound effects. One of the best audio/video presentations of the year to
DVD EXTRA FEATURES: Two documentary features include a promotional featurette
on the production as well as a more interesting, 22-minute piece consisting
of interviews with the cast and Annaud, who dives into greater detail surrounding
the historical background of the actual event. A handful of interesting,
but not integral, deleted scenes are included (a first for Paramount?),
along with the excellent theatrical trailer.
ANDY'S BOTTOM LINE: ***. Flaws and all, there have been few movies as
technically well-made in the last few years as ENEMY AT THE GATES. Annaud's
film conveys the necessary atmosphere, look and feel of the event, making
you feel as if you're really there.
AISLE SEAT TRIVIA: Despite being hissed off the screen at the Berlin
Film Festival earlier this year, ENEMY performed quite well in the U.S.,
grossing over $50 million domestically. Annaud's co-writer here was Alain
Godard, who also worked with the filmmaker on "The Name of the Rose" --
coincidentally the last time that Annaud collaborated with composer James
MARATHON MAN. $29.98, R.
WHAT IT IS: Back when thrillers were REALLY thrillers, director John
Schlesinger fashioned this tough, gritty 1976 adaptation of William Goldman's
novel, scripted for the screen by the author. Dustin Hoffman portrays a
grad student unwittingly plunged into the world of international espionage
involving his CIA agent brother (Roy Scheider, fresh off "Jaws") and a
sadistic Nazi, Dr. Szell (one of Laurence Olivier's most memorable roles),
searching for a bounty of diamonds. William Devane and Marthe Keller co-star
in a supremely memorable thriller that has remained a highlight of '70s
cinema for several top-notch sequences, and catapulted the phrase "is it
safe?" into many a movie- goer's memories forever.
DVD TRANSFER AND SOUND: Presented in a new, 16:9 enhanced 1.85 transfer,
MARATHON MAN looks pretty good on DVD overall. The original mono soundtrack
has been included, along with a new, 5.1 "enhanced" track that mildly separates
the discreet channels and adds just a bit of stereophonic oomph to Michael
Small's music score.
DVD EXTRA FEATURES: A solid, 30-minute new documentary includes interviews
with all the principal players, from Dustin Hoffman to producer Robert
Evans, Roy Scheider, and Marthe Keller. It's a fascinating look behind
the scenes and a fine addition to the disc, which also includes rehearsal
footage introduced by Evans, the original '76 featurette, and the trailer.
ANDY'S BOTTOM LINE: ***1/2. You hate to use the phrase "they don't make
'em like this anymore," but this taut and exceptionally well-acted picture
represents one of the best thrillers of the '70s. For anyone who hasn't
seen it, now's your best chance, in an excellent package from Paramount.
COMPANY MAN. $29.98, PG-13.
WHAT IT IS: Go figure this: a movie starring Sigourney Weaver, John
Turturro, Denis Leary, Woody Allen, Alan Cumming, Jeffrey Jones, and young
stars Ryan Philippe and Heather Matarazzo that not only didn't receive
a wide theatrical release, but basically went right to video. Naturally,
there had to be a reason why, and it only takes a few minutes of watching
COMPANY MAN to see why: virtually none of it works. Co-writer/director
Douglas McGrath plays a bumbling grammar school teacher who improbably
becomes a CIA agent to help sort out a war-torn Cuba, led by Fidel Castro
(Anthony LaPaglia), while his country-club snob of a wife (Weaver) believes
her spouse to be a bumbling underachiever. McGrath directed the Gwenyth
Paltrow version of "Emma" and co-wrote "Bullets Over Broadway" with Allen
(whose relationship there must have had something to do with his unbilled
appearance here), but this time displays none of the comic panache that
he brought to either film.
DVD TRANSFER AND SOUND: The 1.85 transfer is fine and the 5.1 soundtrack
features a marginal score by David Lawrence.
DVD EXTRA FEATURES: Unsurprisingly, none, except for the trailer.
ANDY'S BOTTOM LINE: *1/2. With that cast, the movie is a definite curio,
but the movie feels a prolonged ride right from the get-go, even at 81
A PLACE IN THE SUN. $29.98.
WHAT IT IS: Switching gears from misfired farce to a highly respected
Oscar-winner that nevertheless has a reputation as being overpraised, Paramount
has done a superb job with their deluxe edition of this 1951 George Stevens
film. Elizabeth Taylor stars as a wealthy woman whom overachieving factory
worker Montgomery Clift tries to court in early '50s upstate New York,
with Shelley Winters as the lower-class girl who reminds Clift all too
well of his roots. Michael Wilson and Harry Brown adapted Theodore Dreiser's
novel "An American Tragedy," which was also turned into a play by Patrick
Kearney (as well as a 1931 Josef von Sternburg movie). Despite being somewhat
preachy, with an over-the-top performance by Raymond Burr in the last half
hour, Stevens' film is still highly interesting, and infused with a handful
of biting lines and several strong performances from Clift, Taylor, and
Winters. Critics are still divided over the film, with many saying it's
overlong and misses the point of the novel -- but either way, as an example
of Hollywood's "Golden Age" filmmaking in its prime, this multiple Oscar
winner is worth a view.
DVD TRANSFER AND SOUND: The full-frame, black-and-white picture looks
to be in better-than-average shape, while the 5.1 reprocessed soundtrack
is fine, featuring an award-winning score from Franz Waxman.
DVD EXTRA FEATURES: Paramount has included a commentary track with George
Stevens, Jr. and Ivan Moffat, which is quite candid and interesting, with
Moffat going so far as to criticize Waxman's overly theatrical main title.
Their recollections will be of top interest for fans of the film or the
era in which it was made. Two featurettes (produced a few years ago) looking
at Stevens' career are also included, one featuring interviews with Elizabeth
Taylor, Shelley Winters, and others, while the other features specific
comments from other directors on Stevens' legacy (these include the late
Frank Capra, Alan J. Pakula, Rouben Mamoulian, and Joseph L. Mankiewicz).
ANDY'S BOTTOM LINE: ***. The movie is overly melodramatic and slow at
times, but the craftsmanship of the cast and crew make it a worthwhile
endeavor to sit through.
JOSIE AND THE PUSSYCATS. Universal, PG-13, $26.98.
WHAT IT IS: This live-action version of the Hanna-Barbera cartoon didn't
quite perform at the box-office for co-producers Universal and MGM, but
as the genre goes, it's a lively enough spoof. Small-town girls Rachael
Leigh Cook, Tara Reid, and Rosario Dawson are improbably transformed overnight
into a teeny-bopper rock sensation by dastardly record producers Alan Cumming
and Parker Posey, who use subliminal messages in their CDs to hook unsuspecting
youth consumers. The Babyface-produced music is bouncy and the movie colorful
enough, even if the entire film is stolen by "DuJour," a Backstreet Boys-parody
group with Seth Green and Breckin Meyer, that's funnier in its five minutes
of screen time than anything else in the film.
DVD TRANSFER AND SOUND: Unsurprisingly active 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital
soundtracks compliment a typically strong 1.85 transfer from Universal.
DVD EXTRAS: Four minutes of deleted scenes, audio commentary from Harry
Elfont and Deborah Kaplan (who wrote and directed), three music videos,
production notes, a promotional featurette, and the original trailer.
ANDY'S BOTTOM LINE: **1/2. This slice of cartoon nostalgia was a bit
before my time (I think "Josie & The Pussycats in Outer Space" might
have been rerun when I was a kid), and the movie isn't anything substantial,
but on its own terms JOSIE is modest fun and perfect fodder for teens and
kids at heart.
AISLE SEAT TRIVIA: A PG-rated "Director's Cut" of JOSIE was recently
rated by the MPAA, an interesting move since the original, PG-13 theatrical
version included here doesn't seem to have warranted its "edgier" rating
HEAD OVER HEELS. Universal, PG-13, $26.98.
WHAT IT IS: Between this and "Josie," Universal's spring slate combined
to gross less than half the opening weekend take of any film the studio
released this summer. Still, it's hard to completely dislike this ridiculous
but surprisingly watchable comedy that snuck under the radar of most moviegoers
altogether. Monica Potter (quite likable here) stars as an art restoration
expert who moves in with a gaggle of super models in NYC after her latest
boyfriend cheats on her. After receiving the requisite goofy makeover,
Potter spies heartthrob Freddie Prinze, Jr. in the building next door --
and promptly believes he's murdered a young girl. What follows thereafter
is a goofy piece of cinematic escapism that's over before the 90 minute
mark and likely will be out of your memory before then.
DVD TRANSFER AND SOUND: Shot in Super 35, the movie looks solid in its
2.35 transfer and features a decent 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack with a
score by Randy Edelman and Steve Porcaro.
DVD EXTRAS: Not much here aside from a Spotlight on Location featurette,
some production notes, and the original trailer, which tries unsuccessfully
to sell the movie as a Cinderella-esque romantic comedy and a Hitchcockian
ANDY'S BOTTOM LINE: **1/2. Prinze comes off like Keanu Reeves in the
middle of his "learning how to act" phase from the late '80s, but this
fast-paced nonsense plays better than it sounds. No classic, but not a
total dud, either.
AISLE SEAT TRIVIA: Ex-Toto member Steve Porcaro was credited with "additional
music" on THE SKULLS, which Randy Edelman also scored.
THE BROTHERS. $24.98, R.
WHAT IT IS: An African-American tale of four friends living and loving
in Southern California, THE BROTHERS played well in theaters last spring,
grossing some $30-million for Columbia's specialty brand, Screen Gems.
Morris Chestnut, Shemar Moore, D.L. Hughley, and Bill Bellamy play the
"Brothers," whose personal relationships are tainted by the usual standbys
of growing up: failure to commit, the pressure of balancing work and pleasure,
and moving on with their lives. When Moore decides to tie the knot, his
pals begin to wonder if this is the end of the line -- or the start of
a new beginning. The four leads generate a fair amount of goodwill, which
manages to overcome the lengthy running time and dramatic creakiness that
takes over whenever writer-director Gary Hardwicke opts to go beyond the
sitcom-like boundaries of the movie's premise.
DVD TRANSFER AND SOUND: An acceptable 1.85 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital
soundtrack are both up to Columbia's usual high standards.
DVD EXTRA FEATURES: Audio commentary, deleted scenes, a promotional
featurette, a music video, and the original trailer make for a solid supplemental
ANDY'S BOTTOM LINE: **. Funny in places (Hughley's very R-rated argument
with his wife over the boundaries of their physical contact is hysterical),
THE BROTHERS isn't on a par with other, recent African-American-cast films
like "The Best Man." The cast is engaging but the screenplay doesn't back
the characters with enough dramatic depth to make you really care about
them. Still, Hardwicke shows some promise as a skilled comedic filmmaker
if he concentrates strictly on the funny next time out.
AISLE SEAT TRIVIA: Hardwicke made his directorial debut here after several
years of cutting his teeth writing urban TV sitcoms like the short-lived
SAVING SILVERMAN. $24.98, PG-13.
WHAT IT IS: One of several forgettable movies that were released during
the February doldrums, Dennis Dugan's latest no-brain comedy epic (following
on the heels of the Adam Sandler turkey "Little Nicky"), SAVING SILVERMAN
stars Jason Biggs (whose high school mop makes him appear creepily similar
to Slim Goodbody!), Steve Zahn, and Jack Black as childhood buddies all
lusting after WB network ingénue Amanda Peet. Plenty of slapstick
gags, juvenile pranks, and low-brow humor make for a whacked-out ride redeemed
only somewhat by the appearance of Neil Diamond, who convincingly stars
DVD TRANSFER AND SOUND: Both 1.85 and full-screen transfers are included,
and the 5.1 Dolby Digital sound is about on a par with your standard comedy
DVD EXTRA FEATURES: Audio commentary from Dugan, the original trailer,
and some outtakes are included for supplements.
ANDY'S BOTTOM LINE: *1/2. Straining TOO hard to be silly, SILVERMAN
is the latest crude comedy to take a page out of the Farrelly Brothers
play book. But, as we've seen from the Farrellys themselves (who have tanked
twice with recent producing efforts "Say It Isn't So" and "Osmosis Jones"),
being gross doesn't necessarily mean being funny.
AISLE SEAT TRIVIA: Columbia has released two separate packages of SAVING
SILVERMAN -- the original PG-13 rated cut (which I viewed) and a longer,
R-rated version that reportedly contains four minutes of added profanity
and sexual references. (Apparently those four minutes don't make it any
funnier, however). Supplements are the same on both discs.
TOMCATS. $24.98, R.
WHAT IT IS: Now you can read a critic who just slammed a movie for being
crude and rude recommending another that's, if anything, even more offensive!
The difference is that TOMCATS is actually funny, believe it or not. This
box-office underachiever from Revolution Studios (which scored more successfully
with "The Animal" and "America's Sweethearts" over the last few months)
is a raunchy chronicle of three bachelors (Jerry O'Connell, Jake Busey,
and SNL's Horatio Sanz) trying to win a bet by remaining single. In some
ways, this is a wackier, whiter version of "The Brothers" (see above) but
with no pretension other than making you laugh. And as much as I hate to
admit it, TOMCATS did make me laugh, getting a major dose of energy from
writer-director Gregory Poirier, who keeps the movie moving from film parody
to gross-out gag and back again.
DVD TRANSFER AND SOUND: The 1.85 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack
are both up to Columbia's usual high standards.
DVD EXTRA FEATURES: Likely due to the movie's scant financial returns,
the DVD is bereft of supplements outside of a trailer and cast and crew
ANDY'S BOTTOM LINE: ***. You won't be watching this movie unless you
know what you're getting yourself into, so chances are that you'll laugh
at TOMCATS despite its lowest-common denominator jokes. I found it funnier
than any other films of its ilk (including recent Farrelly Bros. films
and the original "American Pie").
AISLE SEAT TRIVIA: Can you believe that writer-director Poirier once
authored the script for the noble John Singleton drama "Rosewood"?
HAUNTED. $19.98, R.
WHAT IT IS: A terrific, little-seen 1995 British ghost story directed
by veteran filmmaker Lewis Gilbert and co-produced by Francis Ford Coppola,
HAUNTED stars Aidan Quinn, John Gielgud, and a young Kate Beckinsale in
a tale of a haunting at an isolated English country manor. Debbie Wiseman's
gorgeous score adds a touch of class to a creepy little movie that's more
dramatically pungent than "The Others," with a twist you can't see coming
from miles away. Based on James Herbert's novel, HAUNTED deserved more
exposure than it received, premiering in the U.S. on video several years
ago. Artisan's DVD gives you a perfect chance to take another look.
DVD TRANSFER AND SOUND: This is the same, full-frame transfer released
on laserdisc a few years back, but the movie doesn't appear to be losing
any peripheral information and looks well composed in the 1.33 aspect ratio.
The 2.0 Dolby Surround sound isn't anything spectacular, but it's functional.
DVD EXTRAS: Nothing. No trailers, cast bios, or even production notes.
ANDY'S BOTTOM LINE: ***1/2. I wrote a glowing review of HAUNTED when
it first hit video for a Canadian magazine (the sadly now-defunct Home
Movies) and received positive feedback from a few readers who took a chance
on it. With Artisan's new DVD, HAUNTED is back in circulation and comes
highly recommended, even if the disc is a no-frills re-issue, essentially,
of the original video release.
AISLE SEAT TRIVIA: Kate Beckinsale may be riding high on the success
of "Pearl Harbor," but she first burst onto the scene in 1993's "Much Ado
About Nothing," and followed that role with parts in "Haunted" and the
excellent "Cold Comfort Farm" in the mid-90s.
WHEN DINOSAURS ROAMED AMERICA. Artisan/Discovery,
WHAT IT IS: A recent Discovery Channel documentary attempts to show
life in North America back in the time of the dinosaurs, with CGI special
effects and narration by John Goodman. For the most part, though, this
90-minute special plays like an inferior version of the acclaimed, hugely
successful BBC mini-series "Walking With Dinosaurs," with less elaborate
special effects. Still, if you have kids obsessed with the walking creatures
of millions of years ago, they'll likely be captivated by this production
just the same.
DVD TRANSFER AND SOUND: A top-notch 1.85 transfer, enhanced for 16:9
televisions, and a 5.1 Dolby Digital track features a score by Christopher
Franke. (For some reason, my review copy starts playing with on-screen
English subtitles that have to be manually turned off). DVD EXTRAS: Various
Discovery Channel featurettes are included, along with interviews, a "music
video," and interactive quizzes, dino facts, and information on the special
effects and Franke's music.
ANDY'S BOTTOM LINE: **1/2. If you have "Walking With Dinosaurs," you're
probably all set when it comes to owning a dino-doc in your video library.
But this is still a well-done, if not somewhat simplistic, special that
would have been far more impressive if it wasn't overshadowed by its predecessor.
AISLE SEAT TRIVIA: It's curious that John Goodman's name doesn't appear
anywhere on the exterior packaging and the jacket production credits. Perhaps
someone was worried his attachment would evoke memories of his work on
the Steven Spielberg-produced, animated dino flop "We're Back!"??
CHOCOLAT. Miramax, $29.98, PG-13.
WHAT IT IS: A pleasant, enjoyable fairy tale with gypsy Juliette Binoche
transforming a repressed French village into a town of free-thinkers during
Lent in the late '50s. Alfred Molina, Judi Dench, Lena Olin, and Johnny
Depp lend able support to this Lasse Hallstrom- directed, Robert Nelson
Jacobs-scripted adaptation of the Joanne Harris novel, a critical and commercial
darling that garnered a fistful of Oscar nominations last spring. Rachel
Portman's catchy score and Roger Pratt's expert lensing all contribute
to a classy production that's as delectable as its title.
DVD TRANSFER AND SOUND: Strong 1.85 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack.
DVD EXTRA FEATURES: A Miramax Collector's Edition, CHOCOLAT features
a commentary track, several deleted scenes (not terribly significant),
a behind-the-scenes featurette on the production and costumes, and trailers.
ANDY'S BOTTOM LINE: ***1/2. The somewhat hackneyed story and typical
anti-religious tone aside (why does virtually every Hollywood movie make
established, organized faiths out to be restrictive, stifling institutions?),
CHOCOLAT is a superb film, well-acted and told. Buena Vista's DVD looks
and sounds great, and adds some tasty supplements to sweeten the pot.
VATEL. Miramax, $29.98, PG-13.
WHAT IT IS: The movie that nearly sank French studio Gaumont, VATEL
was a pricey flop that didn't exactly re-launch director Roland Joffe's
fading career. Gerard Depardieu stars as Francois Vatel, 17th century cook
to France's Prince de Conde (Julian Glover). Large and in charge of putting
together an elaborate feast for the Sun King (Julian Sands) at a country
estate, Vatel ultimately falls for the king's mistress (Uma Thurman, adding
yet another nail in the career coffin) -- obviously a no-no -- as he prepares
a banquet that would make Emeril drool. The production design by Jean Rebasse
and the nicely understated Ennio Morricone score create a sumptuous look
that's easy to get lost in, at least until you realize how vapid the story
is. It's hard to believe that Tom Stoppard was one of the screenwriters,
hired to translate a French script into muddled English for Depardieu,
Thurman, and co-star Tim Roth. U.S. distributor Miramax went all out to
get the movie an Oscar nomination for Best Costume Design (which it certainly
deserved), but was saddled with a limp, overlong movie that the Weinsteins
cut by over 20 minutes for its domestic release here. Still, this could
be one of the few times they were correct in being hasty in the editing
room -- VATEL is slow and sterile, despite the evocative production design.
DVD TRANSFER AND SOUND: The 2.35 transfer has solid colors and contrasts,
but there's a slight instability in the image (there's a persistent shift
around certain edges) that prevents it from being classified as pristine.
The 5.1 Dolby Digital sound is perfectly acceptable.
DVD EXTRA FEATURES: A theatrical trailer and a featurette on the costume
design are included.
ANDY'S BOTTOM LINE: **. A depressing movie with a tragic ending, but
hey, the cinematography is nice!
AISLE SEAT TRIVIA: Roland Joffe has misfired completely in his last
few cinematic outings, including the strange semi-spoof "Goodbye, Lover"
and the much-ballyhooed "Scarlet Letter" (which I still believe got a bad
rap that it wasn't completely deserving of).
THURSDAY: Round two looks at MGM goodies, including
HANNIBAL. Send all emails to firstname.lastname@example.org
and we'll catch you then. Excelsior!