Aisle Seat End of Summer DVD Bash, Part Two
MGM scores with HANNIBAL, early DePalma thrillers
Plus: 15 MINUTES and John Landis' SHLOCK!
By Andy Dursin
the Aisle Seat turned its attention to a handful of exciting new DVDs to
temp your late August viewing habits -- the perfect remedy to cure your
back-to-work or back-to-school blues. Continuing on with our fast and furious
rundown, here's a look at what MGM has been up to lately, including
deluxe packages of two eagerly awaited thrillersŠ
HANNIBAL. MGM, $29.98.
WHAT IT IS: Illustrating, unfortunately, that Hannibal himself is better
served as a side character to a main narrative course than the central
figure in it, Ridley Scott's visually impressive but repellent sequel to
"Silence of the Lambs" is a good-looking but pointless cinematic affair.
Anthony Hopkins is engagingly laid back as Hannibal the Cannibal, here
enjoying the sights and sounds of Italy while Julianne Moore takes over
for Jodie Foster, spending most of the movie as Clarice Starling in a basement
listening to taped conversations she had with the good doctor. The first
half of the movie is appreciably more interesting than the second, when
sicko gore (that would have been rated NC-17 had anyone other than this
cast and crew been involved) takes over. Despite a few impressive sequences,
and a fine score by Hans Zimmer, the movie never gives us a reason to care
about anything that happens in it, overly relying on its predecessor to
establish the chemistry between Moore (in a relatively thankless part)
and Hopkins. Unfortunately, memories of the original overshadow almost
everything in this unnecessary follow-up.
DVD TRANSFER AND SOUND: Unsurprisingly pristine 1.85 transfer and terrific
5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital soundtracks make for a flawless DVD presentation.
DVD EXTRAS: Plenty. One of the nicest supplemental packages of the year
to date, MGM's elaborate double-disc set offers some 76 minutes of documentary
featurettes ranging from pre-production interviews to locating filming
excerpts, and even a 15 minute section on the music, with Hans Zimmer shown
presiding over the recording session. The self-contained mini-documentaries
can be played together, forming an interesting overview of the movie's
production, though there's often a promotional air about the piece, especially
in overly-enthusiastic comments from Dino DeLaurentiis and his wife, fellow
producer Martha (you have to love how Dino, in his trademark broken English,
says Jodie Foster "wouldn't have been correct" reprising Clarice Starling
here. I don't sense any sour grapes, do you?). There are also a good deal
of issues not discussed at all, like Gary Oldman's uncredited part and
David Mamet's work on the screenplay, but with so much material included,
it's hard to complain. Ridley Scott does detail Oldman's involvement in
his running audio commentary, which can be accessed throughout the film
and also during the movie's bounty of deleted scenes.
Some 35 minutes of excised footage is included on the second disc, which
will reportedly be inserted back into the film for its future TV airings
on CBS. While most are trims from the movie's opening section in Italy,
the cut scenes are mainly interesting tangents the film could have taken,
but are not integral to the central story line. And the extended alternate
ending isn't as interesting as you might have hoped.
ANDY'S BOTTOM LINE: *1/2. The movie may be a runaway train wreck, but
it's the kind of whacked-out mess that makes for compelling viewing just
the same. MGM's polished presentation and extras make this one of the year's
best DVD packages, even if you'll find yourself returning more to the extras
than the movie on repeat viewing.
AISLE SEAT TRIVIA: MGM may have co-produced HANNIBAL with Universal,
but it's Universal that will have sole rights to the upcoming RED DRAGON
-- as well as perhaps ALL future Hannibal installments. The reason? MGM's
involvement in the series relies strictly on their ownership of SILENCE
OF THE LAMBS (which they obtained through their purchase of Orion Pictures).
If the character of Clarice Starling is involved, MGM gets a share of the
pie. If it's just Dr. Lecter, then Dino DeLaurentiis and Universal are
on their own -- which is why future Hannibal adventures may not feature
any further appearances of the Starling part. Why filter out potential
profits by splitting the revenues with another studio?
SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. $24.98, R.
WHAT IT IS: Jonathan Demme's 1991 Oscar-winner seems as fresh now as
it did a decade ago, despite over ten year's worth of imitators, hacks,
and even a misguided sequel following in its wake. Jodie Foster here displays
a tremendous range as Clarice Starling, tracking down a serial killer (Ted
Levine) with the help of the then-jailed Hannibal (Anthony Hopkins, in
a showier but creepier interpretation than his subsequent work on the above).
Superior in every way, shape and form to recent psycho-thrillers, with
an excellent script by Ted Tally.
DVD TRANSFER AND SOUND: Sporting a new 1.85, 16:9 transfer, MGM's DVD
features the best transfer I've seen of "Silence" on home video. The 5.1
Dolby Digital soundtrack isn't quite as elaborate (some have complained
about the lack of bass), but it's still effective.
DVD EXTRAS: This isn't the same supplemental package that Criterion
released several years ago (on both laserdisc and a now-discontinued DVD),
but despite the lack of commentary, in some ways this is a more interesting
assortment of extras. A new retrospective documentary is included, offering
interviews with the cast and crew, while a full compliment of trailers
and TV spots are also featured. More over, the entire collection of deleted
scenes from the Criterion edition are here, and in much better condition
(taken fresh from the workprint) than the Criterion version, which culled
its cut scenes from a muddy-looking videotape.
ANDY'S BOTTOM LINE: ***1/2. A sure-fire thriller classic given a more
than respectable new release from MGM, with the best transfer of the movie
DePalma Goods from MGM
CARRIE. $19.98, R.
WHAT IT IS: Brian DePalma's visceral 1976 take on Stephen King's novel
is well- remembered for its blood-bath climax, as well as its interesting
cast of young, future stars, from Sissy Spacek to John Travolta. As a movie,
CARRIE relies heavily on big shock moments, chronicling how a tortured
teen with ESP (and a religious fanatic mom played by Piper Laurie) comes
to take revenge on her classmates' repugnant behavior. Nancy Allen, Amy
Irving, and William Katt are among the faces you'll spot in the terrific
ensemble, which was assembled concurrently with the casting call for "Star
Wars"! Like a lot of DePalma's early work, there are countless Hitchcock
homages in both the movie and Pino Donaggio's score, but CARRIE is still
one of the filmmaker's better films all around.
DVD TRANSFER AND SOUND: Newly re-issued with additional extras, CARRIE
is presented in a 16:9 enhanced, 1.85 transfer. Unfortunately, it looks
identical to MGM's earlier DVD, meaning there are various problems with
the source material and framing that feels a bit cramped at times. The
5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack is light on surround activity and also appears
to be identical to the earlier DVD mix.
DVD EXTRAS: This new Special Edition features two excellent, 40-minute
documentaries -- one addressing the cast with location stories from seemingly
everyone EXCEPT Travolta, the other focusing on the production and DePalma's
handling of the material. A six-minute featurette talks about the very,
very short-lived CARRIE musical, and still-frame articles are included
that look specifically at Stephen King's novel and the changes from his
work to the screen. Along with the original trailer and the same 8-page
booklet contained in the first DVD, this is an excellent supplemental package
highly recommended for the money.
ANDY'S BOTTOM LINE: ***. CARRIE set the standard for countless genre
"revenge" films that followed, and it still poignantly taps into timeless
themes of teenage alienation and acceptance, the gruesome gore notwithstanding.
DRESSED TO KILL. $19.98, R and Unrated.
WHAT IT IS: After the "Vertigo"-like variant that was "Obsession," DePalma
did Hitchcock again -- more or less -- in this tale of a psychiatrist (Michael
Caine) investigating a series of brutal murders with patient Angie Dickinson
and call girl Nancy Allen involved with a stalker. This 1980 thriller generated
a great deal of controversy in its day, and MGM has here included both
the R-rated cut and a more explicit unrated version with added sex and
violence. Either way, you get DePalma's persistent homages to Hitch, trademark
use of anamorphic widescreen cinematography, and a story that seems quite
familiar, no matter how good it looks.
DVD TRANSFER AND SOUND: Presented in a new 2.35 transfer, DRESSED seems
to be in fairly good shape here. The picture is a little soft but is certainly
acceptable, though I'm not familiar with previous video versions of the
film, and therefore can't comment on how it looks in comparison to earlier
releases. The 5.1 remixed sound, like CARRIE, employs only a limited range
of the Dolby Digital sound field.
DVD EXTRAS: A new 40- minute documentary provides a solid overview of
the film's production, while a comprehensive look at different edits of
the film (from the R to the unrated and even the bastardized TV version!),
an interview with co-star Keith Gordon, and the original trailer are also
ANDY'S BOTTOM LINE: **1/2. This isn't my favorite DePalma film for a
number of reasons, one of them being that the filmmaker repeats himself
even more blatantly here than in any of his early work (the coda is a homage
to CARRIE, of all things!). Still worth a look if you're a fan of the director,
or Angie Dickinson (who was, however, body- doubled in the soft-lit nude
BLOW OUT. $19.98, R.
WHAT IT IS: Following "Dressed to Kill," DePalma shot this 1981 box-office
disappointment that, nevertheless, remains one of the filmmaker's most
effective thrillers. John Travolta plays a sound engineer whose mic captures
the audio of a car crash that kills a hopeful presidential candidate. The
man's mistress (Nancy Allen again) is only slightly injured, however, leading
Travolta to join her on a nightmarish journey to uncover the truth. BLOW
OUT was not a hit, but actually remains one of DePalma's better works:
Travolta is perfectly acceptable here, while solid support is lent by Dennis
Franz (a DePalma staple) and a creepy John Lithgow. The downbeat ending
was likely a tough sell for the public, but there's more honesty in it
than anything in the lot of DePalma's early, Hitchcock-inspired chillers.
DVD TRANSFER AND SOUND: Sporting a new 2.35, 16:9 enhanced transfer,
this is the best looking presentation of BLOW OUT to date on home video.
The Dolby Stereo sound is encoded as 2.0 Surround and it's functional for
an early Dolby soundtrack. For no apparent reason, MGM has also included
a completely worthless pan-and-scan transfer that is a must to avoid.
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: The only DePalma MGM title not to receive the
Special Edition treatment of the trio, only the original trailer has been
ANDY'S BOTTOM LINE: ***1/2. This was the first Brian DePalma film I
ever watched, viewing it as a pre-teen on NBC sometime in the mid '80s.
The acting is superb and the plot -- a DePalma original (only slightly
inspired by the similarly-titled, late '60s Italian effort "Blow Up") --
is the most gripping of the filmmaker's early films. Highly recommended,
with MGM's DVD being far superior to Image's blurry, older letterboxed
More MGM MIDNIGHT Madness
We break briefly from formula to mention MGM's new collection of MIDNIGHT
MOVIES titles, which arrive in stores this week and present some great,
B-movie fun at an affordable price.
Available Tuesday for $14.95 are classics like KILLER KLOWNS FROM
OUTER SPACE -- the Chiodo Brothers' 1988 cult classic that arrives
as a bona-fide Special Edition (with extras ranging from audio commentary
to deleted scenes and outtake footage) -- and '60s fare like the immortal
Danish monster opus REPTILICUS, presented in a full-frame transfer
with the original trailer. (REPTILICUS remains a childhood fave as Channel
56 in Boston routinely ran it on their "Creature Double Feature" Saturday
Other films worth checking out include Joe Dante's THE HOWLING
(though without any additional extras), THE BEAST WITHIN, PLANET OF
THE VAMPIRES, IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE, the 1977 AIP version
of THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU (with a superb Laurence Rosenthal score
and a bizarrely abrupt ending), Vincent Price in THEATRE OF BLOOD and
TWICE TOLD TALES, and Tobe Hooper's terrible 1986 remake of INAVDERS
Another genre film newly available on DVD from MGM is Robert Wise's
1977 adaptation of Frank De Felitta's bestseller AUDREY ROSE ($19.98),
sporting an over-the-top performance by Anthony Hopkins as a man who believes
that Marsha Mason's 11-year-old child is the living reincarnation of his
dead daughter, killed in a fiery car crash years before. Spooky at times
and protracted at others, Wise's film features a solid score by Michael
Small and a good performance from Mason, but as the movie becomes more
outlandish (going into a court battle to prove the legalities of reincarnation),
it becomes progressively less interesting, with a let-down of an ending.
Still, it's an interesting, if not somewhat dated, film, presented on DVD
in an OK 1.85, non-anamorphic transfer with the original trailer (more
like a brief teaser) rounding out the release.
Now, back to our regularly scheduled columnŠ
Warner Home Video
3,000 MILES TO GRACELAND. $19.98, R.
WHAT IT IS: Arguably the latest career nadir for Kevin Costner, this
way-late Tarantino-wannabe is a gratuitous, over-directed mess that's nevertheless
completely watchable due to the cast and premise. Costner and Kurt Russell
play a pair of dueling bank robbers who pretend to be Elvis impersonators
in order to topple a Vegas casino. Naturally, the heist goes wrong and
Costner takes off in hot pursuit of Russell, who not only has the loot
but a wacky single mom (Courtney Cox, looking quite healthy) and her wise-acre
kid in tow. Shoot-outs and unfunny dialogue fill up the remainder of the
time, which features thankless supporting roles for Christian Slater, David
Arquette, Kevin Pollak, Paul Anka (yes!), and none other than Ice T himself.
DVD TRANSFER AND SOUND: The 2.35 transfer is exemplary but the 5.1 Dolby
Digital soundtrack seems a bit bass-heavy for my tastes.
DVD EXTRA FEATURES: Although announced as a Special Edition release,
with commentary and deleted scenes, Warner scaled back the disc to a theatrical
trailer after the movie performed poorly at the box- office. But can you
ANDY'S BOTTOM LINE: *1/2. Drive-in absurdity on an over-produced scale
all the way, fans of Russell and Costner are likely to enjoy the movie
despite its abundance of flaws. It's a bad movie, not quite so bad it's
good, but probably worth a look if you're so inclined.
AISLE SEAT TRIVIA: "Graceland" was yet another disappointment for Franchise
Pictures, whose recent slate has included "Angel Eyes," "Get Carter," "Driven,"
and "Battlefield: Earth." Due to a European lawsuit, few (if any) of these
films have been released overseas.
MALENA. $26.98, R.
WHAT IT IS: "Cinema Paradiso" auteur Guiseppe Tornatore's latest may
have been cut by Miramax by eight minutes and barely released, but MALENA
is the kind of art-house foreign fare that's not as high brow as you would
expect it to be. The ravishing Monica Belucci stars as a free-spirited
widow with a bad reputation in a small Italian town during WWII, who captivates
the imagination (often overly-active ones, at that) of both the townspeople
and young Guiseppe Sulfaro, whose eyes Tornatore frames the action through.
This nostalgic tale is severely hampered by Tornatore's one-dimensional,
stock characters and an overly melodramatic script, which takes dramatic
tangents that are often unbelievable. The cinematography by Lajos Koltai
and Ennio Morricone's Oscar-nominated score are both tremendous, as is
Belucci's figure, but MALENA's overly theatrical ending doesn't work at
DVD TRANSFER AND SOUND: The 2.35 transfer is solid, with white English
subtitles under the frame. The 5.1 Dolby Digital sound is serviceable,
and both the original trailer, several TV spots, and a fairly interesting
promotional "Making Of" round out the disc.
ANDY'S BOTTOM LINE: **. Belucci and the settings are good looking, to
be sure, but Tornatore's film is an uncertain mix of juvenile comedy, Italian
T&A, and pseudo-righteous political commentary. The mix doesn't quite
GET OVER IT. $26.98, PG-13.
WHAT IT IS: Seemingly the last of the recent glut of high school comedies,
this Kirsten Dunst teeny-bopper effort bombed at the box-office last spring.
Not to be confused with the far superior Dunst high school vehicle "Bring
It On" (one of last summer's sleeper hits), GET OVER IT does have the novelty
of setting its teen romance against a musical backdrop of "A Midsummer's
Night's Dream," with Martin Short as a gay director trying to whip his
young charges into shape. In actuality, this is a pleasantly diverting
piece of juvenile fluff, with engaging performances and some mild laughs.
Marc Shaiman co-composed the original songs, giving GET OVER IT some distinction
in relation to other, similar youth pictures.
DVD TRANSFER AND SOUND: The Super 35, 2.35 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital
sound are both excellent.
DVD EXTRA FEATURES: Buena Vista has done a superb job incorporating
a handful of supplements here, including outtakes, a promotional featurette,
and a surprisingly interesting audio commentary with the filmmakers, who
discuss their run-ins with the MPAA (the movie had to be cut in order to
avoid an R) and the studio. Director Tommy O'Haver and writer R. Lee Fleming
(who wrote the inferior but far more financially successful "She's All
That") are quite candid in their analysis of the film and offer funny anecdotes
throughout the discussion. Several deleted scenes -- including a raunchy
strip club extension that DID initially net the movie an R -- are included,
along with all of the original Marc Shaiman songs, several of which didn't
make it into the film. Since all but one of the songs were left off the
soundtrack album, Shaiman fans will find this bonus invaluable.
ANDY'S BOTTOM LINE: ***. Yes, I am a sucker for this kind of film, but
this engaging, fast-paced comedy is outlandish and fun, and much better
than its tepid box-office performance (and failure to be screened for critics
on its opening day) would have you believe.
15 MINUTES. $24.98, R.
WHAT IT IS: Robert DeNiro and Edward Burns star as a pair of NYC cops
trying to stop a pair of European psychos on a crime spree intended to
gain them wide exposure on national television. John Herzfeld's thriller
works far better as a thrill-ride than it does an expose into the ways
in which media exploits and sensationalizes violence (one could argue the
movie glamorizes the very thing it's criticizing), but nevertheless, 15
MINUTES packs a potent punch: DeNiro and Burns click on-screen, while both
Kelsey Grammer and Melina Kanakakaredes jump from NBC sitcoms to the big-screen
successfully. Herzfeld, who also scripted, does a solid job keeping the
action moving, with just enough subtext so that there's more to the eye
than just the usual shoot 'em up. [Hi, Lukas here. I just saw this movie.
It's terrible! -LK]
DVD TRANSFER AND SOUND: As per all of New Line's special edition releases,
the 2.35 transfer is excellent, and the 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack quite
efficient in its directional activity. Anthony Marinelli and J. Peter Robinson
both receive credit for the music, leading one to believe some re-scoring
must have taken place somewhere along the line.
DVD EXTRA FEATURES: This is the second of New Line's "Infinifilm" releases
I've seen, and once again, the studio has done an exemplary job packing
the disc with all sorts of extras. Two separate documentaries address both
the production of the film (featuring interviews with the full cast and
crew), while another, less interesting piece looks into actual tabloid
TV shows, spotlighting conversations from Sally Jessy Raphael to Maury
Povich. An audio commentary with Herzfeld, a whole slate of deleted scenes,
the original trailer, a behind-the-scenes video tape look at the production,
a music video, and a running subtitle track (featuring "Pop Up Video" like
production anecdotes) all make for a superb supplemental package. Additional
features are available for your PC as well (including the original script).
ANDY'S BOTTOM LINE: **1/2. The movie isn't anything out of the ordinary,
but 15 MINUTES is an efficient thriller enriched on DVD by New Line's commitment
to extensive supplemental features. DeNiro fans and aficionados of the
genre should certainly give it a look.
SCHLOCK. $19.98, PG.
WHAT IT IS: Writer-director John Landis' rarely-seen 1972 debut picture
is a nutty spoof of monsters-on-the-loose B-pictures, focusing on the exploits
of an ape named Schlockthropus (essayed by Landis in a suit designed by
Rick Baker), who terrorizes southern California and falls in love with
a high school girl whose sight has only recently been restored. Landis'
lampoon is a real hit-or-miss affair, often feeling like an extended home
movie, but livened up occasionally by some bright, brainless gags (the
best of which skewers "2001" with Schlock breaking into a convenience store
to steal bananas -- which he properly disposes by tossing them at a hippie
sitting at a nearby picnic table!). You can see the genesis of the filmmaker's
comedic talents at work here, but even at 79 minutes, chances are good
that you'll be reaching for the remote to get you through the slow spots.
DVD TRANSFER AND SOUND: For a movie that's been out of circulation for
years, the 1.85 transfer is surprisingly good, and the 2.0 mono sound not
all that shabby, either.
DVD EXTRA FEATURES: A fun commentary track from Landis and Baker is
included, poking fun at their then-crude filmmaking habits, along with
the original trailer, radio spots, talent bios, and a still gallery.
ANDY'S BOTTOM LINE: **1/2. The scene where Schlock eats an ice cream
cake with a pair of toddlers AND a dog is a gem, as is the before-mentioned
"2001" riff. For Landis fans, those scenes alone are worth a look. Hats
off once again to Anchor Bay for dusting off a genuine cinematic curio
AISLE SEAT TRIVIA: Co-star Eliza Garrett went to high school with John
Landis, had a role in "Animal House" and, years later, popped up in the
ill-fated U.S. TV pilot of "Dr. Who."
If you're looking for more in the way of independent-minded genre efforts,
Image's recent slate has included some intriguing, eclectic fare.
Chief among them is THE FLESH AND THE FIENDS ($24.98), a spooky
British 1960 chiller starring Peter Cushing as Dr. Robert Knox -- eminent
surgeon in 1927 England, who opts to make medicinal progress through experimenting
on human corpses. Donald Pleasance and George Rose are the creepy immigrants
who provide Doc Cushing with the fresh bodies, at least until the corpses
-- actually not of the dead, but rather the living poor and sick -- start
seeming a little too fresh for comfort.
This gritty black-and-white effort counts Martin Scorsese and Joe Dante
among its fans, who should both be quite pleased with Image's DVD: the
2.35 anamorphic cinematography, enhanced for 16:9, is in fairly good shape
here, and the coarse mono soundtrack is about on a par with a typical low-budget,
independent British genre effort from that period.
Both the original British version and a slightly longer "Continental"
edit, featuring some additional nudity, are included here, along with an
alternate opening credit sequence from one U.S. version of the film (re-
titled MANIA). A theatrical trailer from a different American release,
THE FIENDISH GHOULS, is included, along with full cast and crew filmographies,
a photo and still gallery, and informative liner notes from writer Jonathan
A far lesser cinematic effort from the same year, GOLIATH AND THE
DRAGON ($24.98) stars Mark Forest as Goliath, muscled strong-man (obviously
Steve Reeves and Kirk Morris were off tanning somewhere), pitted against
evil King Eurystheus (Broderick Crawford), who killed his folks and has
abducted his wife. But other than that, he's not a bad guy.
Clearly a minor effort in the sword-and-scandal Italian genre of the
period, this is a hilarious movie made even more entertaining by Image's
DVD, which features a 2.40:1 letterboxed transfer (not enhanced for 16:9,
sadly), and a full assortment of extras, including an entire "B feature,"
THE CONQUEROR OF ATLANTIS, with Kirk Morris himself, that's been
culled from a pan-and-scan videotape and should only be viewed for novelty's
sake (like everything else on this DVD!).
Three short subjects, a gallery of exploitation art, and about a dozen
trailers for other fantasy ersatz-epics from the same period (with titles
ranging from SAMSON AND THE SEVEN MIRACLES OF THE WORLD to GOLIATH AT THE
CONQUEST OF DAMASCUS) round out the release.
Finally, jumping ahead 37 years but remaining just as brainless is Richard
Sears' drug comedy BONGWATER ($19.98), which has a title funnier
than anything else in the film.
Sears' pic concerns a slacker artist, his ex-girlfriend, and a gaggle
of pot-smoking pals. This amateurish comedy is, however, intriguing for
its talented cast, which includes Luke Wilson, Alicia Witt, Brittany Murphy,
Jack Black, Scott Caan, Jeremy Sisto, Jaime Kennedy, and Amy Locane --
all of whom have delivered far more interesting work than this picture.
Image's DVD is a no-frills, full-frame DVD without any special features,
and thus comes recommended strictly for die-hard fans of a specific performer
in the film.
AND THAT'S ALL, FOLKS! We'll be back next time
with the Fall Premiere of the Fifth Season of the Aisle Seat. Until then,
have a great Labor Day weekend, everyone! (You can reach me at email@example.com
but be warned, I'll be at the beach!)