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Aisle Seat 6th Season Premiere!!

Andy Reviews the Unreleased Stallone flick, D-TOX

Plus: A Sneak Peek at Horner's FOUR FEATHERS, a trip back to
SCHOOLHOUSE ROCK, and The Mail Bag!

By Andy Dursin

Yes, another year has come and gone, and I'm happy to announce that this column marks the beginning of Season #6 here at the Aisle Seat. This column began as a one-shot in May of 1997, just as I was finishing up at Boston College, and started on a regular basis that fall. Since then, we've become one of the net's most respected DVD review columns, something that's particularly noteworthy with the abundance of DVD websites that have cropped up over the years.

As always, I'd like to thank all the faithful readers who email with comments, criticisms and what not every week, not to mention the terrific folks at respective studios and agencies for the support they've showed us over the years.

Some of your favorite sites may be in the process of either being slightly downsized or having you pay for content -- but not here at FSM. As we enter into the sixth year of The Aisle Seat, I vow to continue the honest analysis of new discs, flicks, and soundtracks just as I have in the past. (No, I'm not running for office!). As always, send comments to dursina@att.net, and without further delay, let's move on to the business of this week:


Forgotten Flicks: The Unreleased Stallone

D-TOX (**, 97 mins., 2000, R; Universal Japanese import DVD): Nine years ago, Sylvester Stallone capped what would be his last (successful) comeback with the entertaining hit "Cliffhanger" and cult classic "Demolition Man." Since then, Sly has appeared in numerous flops, even though "Copland" was underrated and "Get Carter" nowhere near the disaster that its reputation would have lead you to believe.

All that being taken into consideration, it's still surprising that Universal has released his long-shelved thriller D-TOX everywhere BUT the United States. This is a slickly-made and watchable thriller that suffers mainly from jumpy editing and a lack of strong characterizations, but is certainly not an un-releasable film.

Alternately titled "The Outpost" and "Eye See You," D-TOX finds Stallone as a FBI agent investigating a serial killer who preys on cops. After his friends are wiped out -- along with sexy fiancee Dina Meyer (she's gone after 15 minutes, sad to say) -- Sly takes in a daily dose of the drink to the point where ex-boss Charles S. Dutton decides to send him to a remote, wintry rehab center to clean up his act.

There, Stallone finds a motley assortment of alcoholic law enforcement officers, including Robert Patrick, Robert Prosky, Sean Patrick Flannery, and Geoffrey Wright, not to mention facility employees Kris Kristofferson and the ever-underrated Polly Walker. They bicker and quibble to no end, and soon begin to be picked off by -- you guessed it -- the same killer Stallone has been pursuing for years.

D-TOX is more or less routine most of the way, from its "Thing"/"Alien 3"-like claustrophobic confines, down to paper-thin characterizations and dramatic developments. Most of the fine cast is wasted (like Tom Berenger as a facility handyman), and the pacing is much too frantic, with large gaps in the plot presumably explained by an overabundance of post-production work.

Still, D-TOX is the kind of B-movie that makes for guilty pleasure cinema all the way. Director Jim Gillespie (fresh off "I Know What You Did Last Summer" at the time of filming) has basically made "I Know What You Did Before I Started Drinking And You Killed My Hot Fiancee." It's essentially a slasher movie with a terrific cast, but somehow the movie remains oddly watchable in spite of its glaring flaws.

Part of it is due to the splendid visual presentation: Dean Semler's scope cinematography is excellent and John Powell's terrific score (which sadly will never be released, one would have to assume) lend an able assist to Stallone and company, who look a bit bewildered as to what kind of film was being made here. There are times when the movie is aiming for horrific shocks, other moments when it takes an Agatha Christie mystery- like spin, and caps it all off with a climax sporting a rousing one-on-one showdown between Stallone and the killer that delivers the goods (a little late, but better than never).

It's predictable but entertaining nevertheless, which makes its lack of a domestic release particularly curious.

D-TOX was shot in 1999 and has been on the shelf at Universal ever since. Late in 2000 the movie began appearing in various foreign territories, and has recently appeared on DVD in Japan, the UK, Germany, Australia, and elsewhere.

I'm not sure if contractual obligations are the reason for its failure to appear in the U.S. (perhaps Universal has to release it theatrically before it can appear on video, and doesn't want to), but for whatever reason, checking out an import DVD is your only way to see the movie at the moment.

The Japanese DVD I viewed contains a terrific 2.35 transfer and bass-heavy 5.1 soundtrack, plus a handful of extras, including 13 minutes of deleted scenes, the original trailer (which includes numerous shots from the cutting room floor), and a bizarre, seven- minute "Wrap Reel" that resembles a music video montage of the movie. (I've been told the European DVD features the same extras).

Until Universal decides what to do with D-TOX in North America, at least Stallone fans can look into seeing this long-shelved thriller courtesy of your friendly neighborhood import DVD specialist.


Aisle Seat DVD Pick Of The Week

Most everyone who grew up on Saturday morning TV remembers Schoolhouse Rock -- those three-minute songs with an educational slant that were played often every half-hour in between various cartoons on ABC.

The titles ("Conjunction Junction," "I'm Just A Bill") are instantly recognizable, the short little vignettes marked by catchy lyrics, often infectious melodies, and cute, hand-drawn animation that's a reminder of an era long since past on Saturday morning TV.

That era has been celebrated in a wonderful new two-disc DVD collection from Disney, SCHOOLHOUSE ROCK (****, 283 mins.), that should prove to be a must for all big kids with memories of the program.

The set includes every Schoolhouse Rock song produced from the '70s to the '90s (the later ones quite obvious in their more recent animation style), along with a great deal of supplemental material that only adds to the fun.

Disc One groups all the songs by category, so you can select from mathematics, history, science, and other assorted topics that the show covered during its run on the tube. Among these are tunes like "The Great American Melting Pot" (written by Lynn Ahrens, who has since gone onto pen numerous Broadway shows), "Mr. Morton," "Interplanet Janet," "Three Is A Magic Number," and many others that you'll instantly recall from growing up. There are also a number of songs you probably either didn't hear or completely forgot about, like the completely, totally bizarre "Little Twelvetoes" (so weird you'll have to watch it at least twice to understand it), and a new, (sadly) unmemorable song written exclusively for the disc.

What's nice about the presentation is that you can select the songs you want to hear and the order in which you want to hear them, thanks to easy-to-navigate menu screens that are perfectly accessible enough for kids and adults (now there's a nice switch). Kudos to Disney on a great job here.

Disc Two includes a long-lost song "The Weather Show" (which was withdrawn due to a legal wrangling with Ringling Bros. Circus over its introductory lyrics), commentary by the show's creators on some 10 individual songs, a featurette on the show's Emmy Award-winning history, a look at the recording of the new song, a Nike spot that featured "Three Is a Magic Number," a particularly fun "assemble-a-song" editing workshop, trivia quiz (with a bonus promo spot included as a reward upon successful completion), and some four modern music videos of classic Schoolhouse numbers.

The transfers are generally excellent, with only the animation itself displaying its age from time to time. Audio soundtracks are crisp and usually quite good, with the more recent songs in stereo.

My only disappointment with the set is that there isn't a full credit listing for the folks who worked on the specific songs and animation -- a booklet includes lyrics and credits for the "Top Ten" selected songs, but it would have been nice to know who wrote each individual number, what year it was produced, etc.

That said, SCHOOLHOUSE ROCK has been given a loving presentation on DVD courtesy of Disney. For a change, the interactive features are easy to navigate and a lot of fun for kids of all ages. Highly recommended for nostalgia buffs, Schoolhouse fans, or parents looking for some quality programming for children of their own.


Aisle Seat Soundtrack Sneak Peek

For a movie that's been on the shelf for a few months, THE FOUR FEATHERS has been generating surprisingly positive word-of-mouth in recent weeks. After seeing the trailer for this lavish epic-adventure starring Heath Ledger and Kate Hudson, it's hard to imagine the movie won't at least be somewhat entertaining -- particularly not with lush visual trappings and a superb score by James Horner backing it up.

For anyone who isn't familiar with my stand on Horner in general, I'll briefly recap by saying that there are few composers out there working today who do as good a job fulfilling the needs of a film's soundtrack as Horner. You can say whatever you want about the derivative nature of his music, both in the re-use of his own material and "influence" of other composer's works -- it's certainly a valid point from a compositional standpoint and I will not argue that.

The bottom line, though, is that his scores work in the films they're written for. Particularly in recent years, where Horner has become a little more subdued and "introspective," if you will, since winning his TITANIC Oscar.

His scores generally suit the films they're written for perfectly, rarely call attention to themselves, and have a classical construction that makes him a consistent, reliable commodity at a time when so many soundtracks have that "wall of sound," hit-you-over- the-head approach that's interchangeable from one score to the next.

It's that element that makes THE FOUR FEATHERS (Sony Classical, due out September 17) a pleasure to listen to.

This is yet another strong new work from the composer, who here incorporates a great deal of "ethnic" Indian instrumentation into a rousing blend of action music and quieter, more reflective cues. It makes for a superb balance on the 79+ minute Sony album, to the degree that the music can be fully appreciated without having seen the film (another Horner trademark that I've grown to appreciate over the years).

You have plaintive trumpets echoing the call of war ("The Makings Of a Fine Soldier"), quiet, emotional underscore ("The Dance"), bombastic action cues ("The Mahdi"), and sprinkled throughout this effort, vocals by Rahat Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan that set a distinct tone for this varied new work. It all culminates in a typically satisfying -- and long -- final cue (the 14-minute "A Coward No Longer") that wraps up the score and soundtrack quite effectively.

The album is due out next week and comes highly recommended if, like me, your film score appetite has gone basically unfulfilled over these last few weeks of summer.


New On DVD

9/11 (****, 130 mins., 2002; Paramount): With a full year now having past since September 11th, a handful of new documentary DVDs have been released chronicling the events of that horrible day from a number of different angles.

Clearly the best of the lot -- and what will likely prove to be the definitive documentary on the terrorist attacks on the U.S. -- is "9/11," the gripping and incredible work produced by French filmmaker-brothers Jules and Gedeon Naudet.

The Naudets were in New York City weeks before the World Trade Centers were destroyed, shooting a documentary on a rookie firefighter recently assigned to a NYC company. The long hours, incredible dedication, and hard work that firefighters put in a daily basis is what the Naudets intended to show -- and that they did.

What they never anticipated filming is a miraculous first-hand look at the company's involvement in the WTC collapse, and the harrowing events that followed. The Naudets separated prior to the first tower's collapse, with one of the brothers actually inside the building, and the other outside on the streets of New York as terrified individuals ran for their lives.

The footage is striking, incredible, and gut wrenching because it's all real. As much as other news programs have also done a phenomenal job documenting the events, 9/11 frames the day from the perspective of individuals who were there, who saw, watched, and survived the horror. Because the filmmakers do such a superb job showing us the men -- interacting with one another in revealing footage shot before the attacks -- combining the personal aspect of the tragedy with the event itself is simply an amazing viewing experience.

9/11 originally aired on CBS with Robert DeNiro introducing various segments following brief commercial breaks. This slightly expanded edition cuts out DeNiro, though truth be told, his monologues didn't add much to the presentation, serving mainly to get viewers back into the frame of the program. Nearly 30 minutes of additional interviews with the men are also included as a bonus, enhancing the 1.85 transfer and Dolby Stereo presentation on the DVD itself.

9/11 is an incredible film that will still be examined years, perhaps even decades from now for its amazing footage and powerful personal story. If you feel that you only have room for one program remembering the events of that day a year ago, I urge you to watch and own 9/11.


New Vintage DVDs

Milos Forman's exquisitely filmed VALMONT (***, 137 mins., R, 1989; MGM) has often been unfavorably compared with another adaptation of Choderlos De Laclos' play "Les Liaisons Dangeruses": Stephen Frears' 1988 "Dangerous Liaisons" with Glenn Close, John Malkvoich, and Michelle Pfeiffer.

VALMONT followed that Hollywood production within a year and Frears' film had clearly stole most of the thunder from Forman. Viewers didn't seem interested in "Valmont"'s lower-profile cast and critics often cited Frears' film as covering the exact same ground just a few months before in their analysis of the picture.

It's a shame, too, because VALMONT is a more playful, comedic, and gorgeous cinematic adaptation that reunites Forman with many players from his 1984 Oscar- winner, "Amadeus," including cinematographer Miroslav Ondricek, music supervisor Sir Neville Marriner, and cast members including Jeffrey Jones.

Colin Firth plays Valmont, who wages with the cunning Madame de Merteuil (Annette Bening, in the kind of sexy role that really placed her on the map) to seduce the beautiful (and married) Madame de Tourvel (Meg Tilly). If he's able to do it, he gets to sleep with Merteuil (is this a good gig or what?).

Fairuza Balk and Henry Thomas co-star in this gorgeously mounted production, which has been hampered for years by terribly cropped video presentations on both tape and laserdisc. The good news is that MGM's 2.35, 16:9 enhanced DVD transfer preserves the original Panavision framing, while the 2.0 Stereo sound isn't all bad, either. The theatrical trailer -- which accentuates the film's comedic elements -- is included as a bonus.


Harold Becker's tough, gritty 1979 adaptation of Joseph Wambaugh's THE ONION FIELD (***, 126 mins., 1979, R; MGM) has also been given a Special Edition treatment by MGM.

Based on a famous, real-life 1963 case, John Savage and Ted Danson play a pair of Los Angeles cops who end up being abducted by a pair of armed robbers (James Woods, Franklyn Seales) after pulling them over on a U-turn violation. One of them ends up being executed while the other attempts to escape, only to flounder in the years ensuing the tragedy.

THE ONION FIELD is an uncompromising, tough drama that was primarily financed by Wambaugh himself. The performances of Woods and Seales are highly effective, while Danson does an admirable job in an early performance as slain officer Ian Campbell. Unfortunately, lead John Savage doesn't quite convey the wide emotional arc inherent in officer Karl Hettinger's odyssey, which detracts just a bit from the film's overall power (Emuir Deodato's unremarkable score is also not an asset).

Still, THE ONION FIELD is a gripping and powerful film that MGM has surprisingly given a Special Edition DVD treatment. A half-hour documentary covers the production of the film and sports new interviews with Wambaugh, Becker, and Danson among others, while an audio commentary by the director is included, which is sporadic but nice for fans of the film. A theatrical trailer rounds out a superb 1.85 transfer and mono soundtrack.


Also new from MGM is a long-overdue DVD of John Duigan's wonderful 1991 coming- of-age tale FLIRTING (***, 99 mins., R, MGM).

A follow-up to Duigan's "The Year My Voice Broke," FLIRTING finds Noah Taylor reprising his role as a slightly awkward young man who discovers love with a gorgeous African girl (Thandie Newton) at a nearby boarding school. Nicole Kidman -- in one of her earliest performances -- plays a snotty student whose clique does not include Newton.

FLIRTING is a tender, warm, and amusing picture that confirmed Duigan to be one of the more promising Australian directors at the time of its release. While he's made little noise in the years since, FLIRTING is a terrific little movie highly recommended on DVD.

MGM's 1.85, 16:9 transfer looks solid, while the English stereo soundtrack is relatively subdued (just like the original mix). A theatrical trailer is it on the supplemental side, but the studio should be commended for releasing this picture in the first place on DVD. Well worth a look!


Vintage Anchor Bay Chillers

Kathryn Bigelow has a track record of making really good looking films -- not necessarily good movies, just good LOOKING films.

In fact, the movie that landed her a place among cult movie fans is the only film in her filmography that truly demands repeat viewing: the 1987 vampire-western thriller NEAR DARK (***, 1987, 94 mins., R; Anchor Bay).

This fan favorite has been dormant in terms of its video circulation for several years, with tapes and discs selling like wildfire on eBay. Luckily, Anchor Bay has come to the rescue with a terrific 2-DVD Special Edition that will enable you to finally toss out that ragged HBO Home Video tape.

Bigelow and Eric Red's script finds innocent guy Adrian Pasdar falling for cute young Jenny Wright -- only to learn she's part of a bloodsucking family of drifters lead by Lance Henriksen, who's one of several ALIENS alumni on-hand here (Bill Paxton and Jennette Goldstein play fellow vamps). Their trek through a barren countryside makes for a violent, visually charged ride of horrific entertainment that was generally well-received by critics and embraced by legions of fans on video in the years since its original release (through the DeLaurentiis Entertainment Group, which went under right after the film's debut).

Anchor Bay's deluxe edition scores major points in its THX-approved 1.85 transfer (quite good) and 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital soundtracks, spotlighting Tangerine Dream's atmospheric score.

For supplements, NEAR DARK is loaded with goodies. Bigelow's commentary is quite candid and enlightening, while a 47-minute documentary covers the bases from conception to post-production, featuring new interviews with Bigelow and all the major cast members (sans Wright). A sole deleted scene is included with Bigelow's commentary (there's no dialogue), along with storyboards, trailers, production photos, poster gallery, and DVD-ROM content (including screen savers and the original script). It's an excellent package that should be on the must list for all die-hard horror aficionados.


Anchor Bay has also dusted off a pair of '80s screamers: Brian Yuzna's gross-out fest SOCIETY (99 mins., 1989, Unrated) and the intriguing slasher effort THE INITIATION (90 mins., 1983, R).

The former is a completely disgusting effort (meaning it has its ardent fans) focusing on a teen ("Baywatch" alumn Billy Warlock) whose Beverly Hills family is involved in sexual shenanigans and other devious maneuverings by the filthy rich. Turns out that the movie's SoCal high society really IS a society of demons and devils, and Warlock attempts to escape from its clutches before it's too late.

With an abundance of splatter-ific effects (including four minutes that were trimmed in the U.S. to accommodate an R rating), SOCIETY is a movie for a very specialized audience of hard-core horror fans. In other words, it's gooey entertainment for those with a strong enough stomach, and Anchor Bay's DVD features a generally solid 1.85 transfer with audio commentary from the director, in addition to the original trailer.

THE INITIATION is a little more fun for my more mainstream tastes, starring Marilyn Kagan (ex-talk show gabber) and Daphne Zuniga in a bloody mess of collegiate slasher horror. It's predictable, low-budget entertainment for those looking for a few laughs, but I found it pretty inspired for the kind of film that it is.

Anchor Bay's 1.66 transfer is good and the original trailer is included as an extra.


Aisle Seat Mail Bag

From Art Lintgen

You are so right on LORD OF THE RINGS. I felt like the overwheming minority in admiring the variety and invention in Rosenman's score compared to Shore's functional but tiring densely orchestrated score with its overemphasis on the ubiquitous voices. And the Hobbit theme is almost a verbatim quote from Dvorak's New World Symphony. Concerning The Fury, you need to go no further than the overwhelming expanded version of the Main Title in the LSO recording. This is one of the greatest cues ever written by anyone.
From Steve Lehti:
Enjoyed your column as always, Andy. For my two cents, I'd say that, unlike STAR WARS, LOTR won't be seen, twenty years hence, to have dated so badly.
From Luis Miguel Ramos:
Well, Andy. You have your opinion regarding The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring", and I have mine. Personally I think LOTR is the best movie -at least in the fantasy genre -I've seen in years. All the performance were right on the money, and Howard Shore has created his best score ever. In fact, I didn't find them as redundant as you said in your review. In fact the last excellent fantasy movies I have seen are Dragonslayer and Excalibur, both in 1981 if memory serves. I also like to mention that I enjoyed your article on another fantasy film: I'm talking about the Legend-Ultimate Edition DVD, where you talked about the injustices that the film and Jerry Godsmith's magnificent score suffered, but I'm not interested in buying that DVD because I think Legend was disappointing. Then I saw LOTR in the multiplex -in fact, I have seen it five times in the multiplexes -and I still insist this movie is fantastic. Hey, but this is just me. As for the DVD edition of the Peter Jackson film, I am one of the few people who would like to wait for the Special Director's Cut DVD because I've always considered that a good movie, as long as it runs, is good all the time. However, you said that the documentaries on the original release may not appear in the new edition, and that made me a little uneasy because I love a DVD full of extras, especially if there is an isolated score track in it. Then again, this is just me. Anyway, keep up the good work.
Watching LOTR with a friend the other night, I actually had more respect for Shore's score: I think still think it's a little redundant, but I applaud the relatively subdued approach he took to the score instead of banging us over the head with too much bombast.

My analysis of the film, however, still holds: it's an awfully shallow movie for a three- hour epic. The characterizations seem even thinner upon repeat viewing and the tone of the movie remains one-note, with little dramatic variation.

If all Peter Jackson has up his sleeve is more effects and battles in THE TWO TOWERS, this is going to be a great-looking but extremely superficial saga missing the nuance and colorful characterizations of Tolkien's text.

From Michael Karoly:

Hi. I wanted to briefly comment on THE FURY- great stuff. It's interesting to hear scores from a composer's career in relation to each other. There is a lot of string writing in this score which mimic that writing found in JAWS, CE3K, and STAR WARS. This score was written on the tail end of his 70s era, and, in my opinion, by the time 1941 and RAIDERS showed up (excepting EMPIRE, which was in between), it seems that Williams had moved on and begun a new compositional style. There is such a lushness and feeling in THE FURY's score.....and it's also interesting to compare the 2 discs that were released. I feel that the original album's Main Title, for example, packs a more melodramatic punch than the film's actual main title scoring. Despite the "rethinking" of music scored for a film, I enjoy the original tracks as a whole better....and the same goes for this score. After all, it is the music actually heard in the film. But, it is nonetheless interesting to compare them. (I'd love to see an expanded edition of DRACULA) And, I must say I was completely shocked at how much I enjoyed ROMANCING THE STONE. I like the movie more for DeVito's performance than anything else (Turner is ok, and Douglas has his moments), and when I first heard the score I couldn't believe how 80s synth-y it was. Drum programming, synth horns -- but the memories this score brings back! All I could think about were the sequences in the film the music was composed for- I saw the dancing, the gorge, the ending, the ransacked apartment, the chases- I have listened to it every day since it was released. Who knew? Have you heard anything about ED WOOD or THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL? How about THE ACCIDENTAL TOURIST? Have a good one!
Michael, ED WOOD DVD was announced for release last month, but it seems to have vanished into thin air. An overseas release has been announced with a few supplemental extras, but nothing has been confirmed for the U.S. disc. However, various online sites like The Digital Bits have reported that it was delayed so Tim Burton could join in with new supplemental material (in between his work on Jim Steinman's BATMAN: THE MUSICAL, no doubt!).

By the way, Buena Vista has not been sending out review product on many of their back catalogue titles recently (like THE PUPPET MASTERS and CAN'T BUY ME LOVE), apparently not wanting to push catalogue product. Either that, or they're embarrassed by these mostly pan-and-scan only DVDs (like THE SCARLET LETTER), fearing bad reviews (they'd be right!).


NEXT TIME: More comments, more reviews, and more everything as September continues to roll on. Email me at dursina@att.net and we'll catch you next time. Cheers everyone!


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