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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

On Tuesday 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 to date.


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 included.

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 scenes).


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 included.

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 laser issue.


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 afternoon package).

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 FROM MARS.

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 blame them?

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.


Buena Vista

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 all.

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 work.


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.


New Line

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.


Anchor Bay

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 on DVD.

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."


Image

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 Sothcott.

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 dursina@att.net but be warned, I'll be at the beach!)


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