Aisle Seat November Madness
New Columbia Titles including WHALE RIDER, MAROONED and
TV on DVD! Plus: Criterion Out of Print Alert!!
By Andy Dursin
We start off the month of November this week with a warning to Aisle
Seat and Laserphile readers everywhere. Criterion will be deleting
their outstanding Special Edition DVDs of Alfred Hitchcock's REBECCA,
NOTORIOUS, and SPELLBOUND -- plus Sam Peckinpah's STRAW
DOGS -- on December 31st of this year.
This means that the DVDs will no longer be in circulation beyond that
point, and will become top-dollar collectibles everywhere in the near future.
I assume the reason for this is that Criterion's license with ABC Motion
Pictures (which owns the rights to the respective titles) is expiring.
Needless to say, even if the respective movies are re-released by another
company, there's next to no chance that subsequent DVD versions will include
the copious special features each Criterion release offers. There are isolated
scores, complete radio plays, insightful commentaries, and fantastic Making
Of material on all of the Hitchcock discs, which will make the titles instant
collector's items once 2004 kicks into gear.
Obviously, my advice is to track down these titles now at your favorite
online dealer or local shop, before they become difficult to come by. It's
a shame that the excellent work Criterion put into these DVDs will soon
become unavailable to the viewing public, so don't miss out and grab 'em
now while you can!
Aisle Seat DVD Pick of the Week
WHALE RIDER. 101 mins., 2002, PG-13, Columbia TriStar. ANDY'S
RATING: ***. CAST: Keisha Castle-Hughes, Rawiri Paratene, Vicky Haughton,
Cliff Curtis. COMPOSER: Lisa Gerrard. SCRIPT: Niki Caro from the novel
by Witi Ihimaera. DIRECTOR: Niki Caro. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Audio Commentary;
deleted scenes; Making Of featurette; soundtrack segment with full cues
and composer introduction; art/photo gallery; trailer. TECHNICAL SPECS:
2.35 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.
A young Maori girl -- the only heir to the leadership of her tribe --
tries valiantly to become her people's leader in this moving and enormously
well-acted film from writer-director Niki Caro.
Shot on the New Zealand coast, WHALE RIDER is one of those critically
praised movies that's actually as good as its reputation would lead you
to believe. Based on a Maori novel by Witi Ihimaera, this is a picture
that's both a tender coming of age story and a tale of ancient traditions
being counterbalanced by the modern world. The latter aspect of the material
is what gives WHALE RIDER a satisfying and compelling center, in how the
grandfather of the young girl, Pai, struggles to accept her potential destiny
and yet embrace her as his family at the same time. The relationship between
the two -- and the performances of Keisha Castle-Hughes as the girl and
Rawiri Paratene as her grandfather -- make this a more powerful, intelligent,
and emotional journey than you'd expect from a story of this nature, while
the Maori culture is treated with great care and respect by the filmmakers.
Complimenting the storytelling is outstanding filmmaking. There are
rich, widescreen visuals courtesy of director Caro and cinematographer
Leon Narbey, as well as a haunting score by Lisa Gerrard. WHALE RIDER may
not sound like a traditional teenage story, and it's not: this is a serious
and ultimately uplifting picture that's well worth viewing on DVD.
Columbia TriStar's disc includes a terrific 2.35 widescreen transfer
(enhanced for 16:9 televisions), along with an effective 5.1 Dolby Digital
soundtrack. Supplements are also bountiful: an excellent commentary track
from Niki Caro divulges her approach to the story, while a better-than-average
Making Of profiles the production itself. A collection of deleted scenes
are included with commentary, along with the original trailer and stills
gallery. Finally, Gerrard's score is also given some time in the spotlight,
with a handful of cues from the soundtrack album available to play in their
entirety, along with the composer's liner notes -- a great idea that I'd
love to see other studios pick up on!
CHARLIE'S ANGELS: FULL THROTTLE. 107 mins., 2003, Unrated, Columbia
TriStar. ANDY'S RATING: *1/2. CAST: Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, Lucy
Liu, Bernie Mac, Demi Moore, Luke Wilson, Matt LeBlanc, Justin Theroux,
Robert Patrick, Crispin Glover, John Cleese, Bruce Willis. COMPOSER: Edward
Shearmur. SCRIPT: John August, Cormac and Marianne Wibberley. DIRECTOR:
McG. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Unrated Edition includes Making Of featurettes;
Audio Commentary by the director; Commentary by the writers; trailers;
On-screen trivia track; soundtrack sampler with director introduction;
additional featurettes. TECHNICAL SPECS: 2.40 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital
The original "Charlie's Angels" certainly wasn't a classic, but as an
excuse to see its stars parade around in sleek attire and have a good time,
it fill the bill as a decent enough lark. I'm not sure, though, how many
people were crying out for a sequel, which is why the tiresome, endlessly
bombastic CHARLIE'S ANGELS: FULL THROTTLE failed to ignite as much audience
interest last summer.
Despite having a script credited to John August and Cormac and Marianne
Wibberley ("The Sixth Day"), FULL THROTTLE is a mindless mess that plays
like a feature-length coming attractions trailer. No scene lasts longer
than a couple of minutes, the character development is non-existent, and
the overly-cute dance sequences and in- jokes quickly become cloying in
this second (and hopefully final) go-around for the cinematic series.
The "plot" has the girls trying to track down a missing ring that's
encoded with the whereabouts of individuals being protected by the FBI's
witness relocation program. The "Halo" ring has been stolen by none other
than former Angel Demi Moore, who looks gaunt and gives a shrill, one-note
performance in her would-be "comeback" role.
What little story there is takes a backseat to a seemingly endless collection
of set pieces with so many references to pop music and other movies that,
ultimately, FULL THROTTLE lacks any identity of its own. One minute the
girls are in a James Bond spoof, the next they're mimicking "The Matrix,"
the following they're dressed up a la Jennifer Beals in "Flashdance." It
must have been fun for the cast and crew to make, but the film ultimately
wears you down, only coming alive when Crispin Glover makes a brief appearance
as the assassin from the previous film -- it's just too bad he doesn't
stay around long enough to see the end credits. (And as far as Bill Murray
goes, the actor was smart enough to pass up a reprisal of his "Bosley"
character, with Bernie Mac substituting here in a thankless part).
Columbia TriStar's DVD is at least entertaining enough, offering plenty
of special features for fans. The Unrated Widescreen Edition apparently
restores less than a minute of additional fight sequence violence, boasting
a colorful and perfect 2.35 transfer with a non-stop 5.1 Dolby Digital
soundtrack. Director McG offers a director commentary while the screenwriters
participate in their own track; over a handful of featurettes profile the
production of the movie from a mostly fluffy, self-promotional standpoint,
while trailers and a "jukebox" with McG introducing various bits of the
song-soundtrack are exclusive to the Unrated version. (The movie's PG-13
theatrical cut is available separately).
DADDY DAY CARE. 92 mins., 2003, PG, Columbia TriStar.
ANDY'S RATING: **1/2. CAST: Eddie Murphy, Jeff Garlin, Steve Zahn, Regina
King, Anjelica Huston. COMPOSER: David Newman. SCRIPT: Geoff Rodkey. DIRECTOR:
Steve Carr. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Blooper reel; Making Of featurettes;
interactive games for kids. TECHNICAL SPECS: 1.85 Widescreen and full-screen
versions, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.
Cute, kid-friendly comedy again shows that Eddie Murphy's forte these
days is in the family entertainment genre. Murphy plays a workaholic dad
who loses his job along with co-worker Jeff Garlin. With their toddler
kids about to be enrolled in a strict "evil" kids academy run by the witchy
Anjelica Huston, Murphy and friends decide to start their own day care
center -- and promptly find themselves in over their heads.
The best aspect of DADDY DAY CARE is that it's an earnest, well-meaning
family movie. Steve Carr's direction and the script by Geoff Rodkey are
free of cynicism, refusing to look down on the genre or its target audience.
Murphy is game, the supporting cast -- including Garlin and Steve Zahn
-- seem to be having a good time, and the film manages to provide a good
dose of laughs as it progresses through its routine story structure. If
you have young kids and are seeking a worthwhile movie that won't wear
on your nerves, DADDY DAY CARE is a solid choice.
Columbia TriStar's DVD is definitely, like the film, geared towards
the young end of the viewing demographic. Interactive games for kids, an
animated short titled "Early Bloomers," a blooper reel, and Making Of featurettes
suitable for kids are included, as are both colorful 1.85 and full-screen
transfers, and a 5.1 Dolby Digital mix sporting a pleasant score by David
Vintage Titles from Columbia
MICKI AND MAUDE. 118 mins., 1984, PG-13, Columbia TriStar. ANDY'S
RATING: **1/2. CAST: Dudley Moore, Amy Irving, Ann Reinking, Richard Mulligan.
COMPOSER: Lee Holdridge. SCRIPT: Jonathan Reynolds. DIRECTOR: Blake Edwards.
TECHNICAL SPECS: 2.35 Widescreen, mono sound.
One of Blake Edwards' better films from the '80s (though that doesn't
say a whole lot), MICKI AND MAUDE is best known as the feel-good Dudley
Moore bigamist comedy.
Moore plays a TV reporter whose wife (Ann Reinking) becomes a state
court appointee thanks to the recent election of a new California governor.
Reinking doesn't have the time to start a family, so a disappointed Moore
ends up falling for cellist Amy Irving and getting her pregnant. Eventually,
Moore marries Irving at the same time Reinking herself becomes pregnant
-- with the inevitable shenanigans to follow.
Edwards' penchant for slapstick and the presence of Moore might suggest
a wacky, ribald comedy, but the big surprise with MICKI AND MAUDE is how
earnest and heart-tugging the film becomes. Aside from a wild hospital
climax where both of Moore's wives give birth, Jonathan Reynolds' script
plays things more straight than silly, which results in a curious film
that's neither as funny or dramatically sound as it ought to be. The movie
also misses Henry Mancini's gift for comedic scoring, as Lee Holdridge's
nice but sappy score accentuates the movie's weepy side; ditto for the
Michel Legrand/Alan & Marilyn Bergman penned theme song, performed
by Stephen Bishop in an obvious attempt at recapturing the magic of the
Columbia TriStar's DVD does offer a solid 2.35 transfer, which captures
all of Edwards' trademark widescreen cinematography. The mono sound is
a bit weak, and trailers for other Edwards comedies (including "Blind Date"
and "The Man Who Loved Women") round out the package.
MAROONED. 129 mins., 1969, G, Columbia TriStar,
available November 18. ANDY'S RATING: **. CAST: Gregory Peck, Richard Crenna,
David Janssen, James Fransiscus, Gene Hackman, Mariette Hartley, Lee Grant.
SCRIPT: Mayo Simon, from the novel by Martin Caidin. DIRECTOR: John Sturges.
TECHNICAL SPECS: 2.35 Widescreen, Dolby Surround sound.
The late '60s were a seminal time for science-fiction cinema, thanks
in large part to the success of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY.
Decades later, the influence of Kubrick's film can still be felt even while
other genre films made at the same time feel stagnant and dated.
Such is the case with John Sturges' earnest but painfully dull MAROONED,
a "realistic" science "fact" yarn about a NASA mission (headed by astronauts
James Fransiscus, Gene Hackman, and Richard Crenna) that goes awry, and
the subsequent efforts by experts on the ground (Gregory Peck, David Janssen)
to save the day. It's a slow paced, methodical film that strove to be "realistic"
in its day (heck, the musical score consists of sound effects!), yet its
attempt at being a no-nonsense space rescue mission make the movie feel
today like a Disney World ride that's several decades out of step.
The cast tries hard under the circumstances, with Peck, Fransiscus,
Janssen, Crenna and Hackman giving solid performances. One assumes that
they must have taken the roles due to the involvement of director John
Sturges, who arrived on the project with a pocketful of classics ("Magnificent
Seven") on his resume but not a whole lot of experience in outer-space
drama. MAROONED is so static that you can fast-forward through it without
missing a thing, stopping occasionally to admire the then-cutting edge
special effects or tedious scenes with the astronaut's wives (including
Lee Grant and Mariette Hartley), which fail to give the movie the kind
of dramatic tension the material desperately needs. In fact, MAROONED remains
the most high profile studio film to ever make it into an episode of Mystery
Science Theater 3000!
At least Columbia TriStar has done a fine job mastering "Marooned" on
DVD. The Panavision cinematography looks great in 2.35 while the 2.0 Dolby
"stereo" mix rarely ever kicks into a multi-channel presence.
A side note on the soundtrack: if anyone remembers playing with Mego's
robot 2- XL as a kid, you'll undoubtedly recognize the constant beeping
tones heard in MAROONED's "soundtrack." It'll give you a feeling of nostalgia
for a few minutes, until you opt to hit the fast-forward button again!
THE TROUBLE WITH ANGELS (***, 1966, 111 mins.,
PG; Columbia TriStar) and WHERE ANGELS GO, TROUBLE FOLLOWS (**1/2,
1967, 94 mins., G; Columbia TriStar; both available Nov. 11): Hayley Mills
and June Harding cause all kinds of trouble for Mother Superior Rosalind
Russell in this well-liked 1966 comedy, capably directed by actress Ida
Lupino. With Jerry Goldsmith's goofy score backing up the shenanigans,
this family comedy about a convent school became a box-office hit, thanks
to its appealing leads, Russell's performance, and sincere tone. The movie
was such a success that it spawned a hastily-filmed sequel the following
year, "Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows," which is more dated due to its
"youth movement" angle. In this sequel, Stella Stevens plays a progressive
nun who convinces Russell to take the girls on a bus trip to a peace rally;
Susan Saint James plays the troublemaker who needs to be put in her place,
while Lalo Schifrin replaces Goldsmith on the musical side. It's more predictable
and not as polished as its predecessor, though fans will likely want to
indulge in both titles now that Columbia TriStar has issued the two movies
on DVD. On disc, both "Angels" movies look sharp in their full-frame formatted
transfers; while 16X9 owners may be disappointed by the lack of a widescreen
transfer, I wouldn't doubt that the two movies were originally shot in
the standard Academy ratio and are thus properly presented here. The mono
soundtracks are fine, and both discs hit store shelves next Tuesday.
THE FORBIDDEN DANCE (**, 97 mins., 1990, PG-13;
Columbia TriStar): Hilarious bad-movie fun ensues when a princess from
the rain forest (Laura Harring) journeys to L.A. in an attempt to stop
an evil company from paving over her home. In the States, Harring ultimately
falls for the son of the corporation's president, and decides -- why not?
-- to enter with him in a dance contest to both spread the word about her
plight and to show off the Lambada! "The Forbidden Dance" was one of two
Lambada movies made in 1990, and most observers feel this Menahem Golan-produced
21st Century Film Corp. release is superior to the Melora Hardin non-classic
"Lambada" (which MGM recently released on DVD). Harring, a former Miss
USA who won kudos for her work in David Lynch's overpraised "Mulholland
Drive" (and is billed as Laura Herring here), is appealing and can't dance
worth a lick -- reasons all to check out Columbia's excellent DVD, which
boasts a solid 16:9 enhanced widescreen transfer and Dolby Surround soundtrack.
And how can you not (partially) recommend a movie boasting Jose Feliciano
on the soundtrack?
Columbia TriStar TV on DVD
SOAP: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON. 1977-78, Columbia TriStar. CAST:
Robert Mandan, Katharine Helmond, Diana Canova, Jennifer Salt, Robert Guillaume,
Richard Mulligan, Billy Crystal, Ted Wass, Robert Urich. TECHNICAL SPECS:
Full frame, mono sound.
MARRIED, WITH CHILDREN: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON. 1987, 302
mins., Columbia TriStar. CAST: Ed O'Neill, Katey Segal, Christina Applegate,
David Faustino, Amanda Bearse, David Garrison. TECHNICAL SPECS: Full frame,
Two sitcoms that helped define the sitcom genre -- one from the '70s,
another from the '80s -- have arrived on DVD from Columbia TriStar in box
sets that compile each show's first season.
SOAP was undoubtedly one of the most controversial programs of all-time,
particularly when you consider the era in which it debuted. According to
Tim Brooks and Earle Marsh's indispensable "Directory to Prime Time Network
TV Shows," even before the ABC sitcom premiered, the show was the subject
of debate across the nation: various stations refused to air the program,
and a few affiliates that did only ran it late at night.
The reason was simple: few shows, even in a satirical form like the
one "Soap" utilized, would have homosexual characters like the one Billy
Crystal played as a central part of its large cast. The series, which premiered
in 1977, raised taboo issues as it chronicled the conflicts between the
sparring Tate and Campbell families. The cast included Robert Mandan and
Katharine Helmond as Chester and Jessica Tate, with Cathryn Damon and Richard
Mulligan as the heads of the Campbell clan. Other familiar faces included
Crystal, Ted Wass, Jennifer Salt, and Robert Guillaume, who debuted as
the butler "Benson" here before spinning off into greater success in his
"Soap" is sporadically funny today but the outrageous plot lines seem,
well, pretty tame by modern standards. The cast is superb, but as history
shows, "Soap" didn't last long: after success in its first few seasons,
the program fizzled out as it ended its fourth year on the air. The controversy
and "groundbreaking" aspect of the show seemed to be as much a part of
ABC's own self-promotion at the time as those who felt that it did break
barriers. Certainly there are times when the show is smug and pretentious,
looking to score "hot button" points instead of going for a laugh.
That isn't the case with MARRIED, WITH CHILDREN, which helped catapult
the Fox network into the mainstream when it premiered in April, 1987. Though
the show stirred up some controversy of its own due to its raunchy humor,
this series -- quite unlike "Soap" -- was more than content simply to provoke
laughs over the course of its ten year run.
This chronicle of a blue collar family -- led by acerbic Al Bundy (Ed
O'Neill) with wife Peg (Katey Segal), daughter Kelly (Christina Applegate),
and son bud (David Faustino) -- is one of those shows that was easy for
critics to dismiss, yet few comedy programs proved as durable over the
long haul as "Married, With Children." Seen constantly on cable and local
stations even now in re-runs, "Married" was able to parlay its initial
success into miraculous longevity due to its cast and consistently funny
writing. The barbs between Al and Peg, the outrageous plots and self-contained
stories all enabled the Fox program to live a remarkable life as one of
the longest running sitcoms of all- time.
Watching the first season episodes on Columbia TriStar's DVD (13 of
them, since the show debuted in April), it's interesting to watch the genesis
of the humor and characters, which the cast would further settle into as
the program went along. The DVD also includes a "Reunion" special that
aired on Fox, along with episode descriptions. The programs themselves
look OK, while the early stereo soundtracks are in good shape. SOAP, meanwhile,
boasts no special features -- just episode descriptions and the entire
first season with decent full-screen transfers.
What's more, the episodes from both series are presented in their original,
uncut network versions, and not in the edit-plagued syndicated versions
that many might be familiar with. For fans, these two box sets are more
than worth the purchase, enabling you to relive and rewatch each respective
series at your leisure -- one of the prime benefits of having full season
box sets on DVD.
Also New On DVD
DIRTY DEEDS. 97 mins., 2002, R, Paramount. ANDY'S RATING: **.
CAST: Bryan Brown, Toni Collette, John Goodman, Sam Neill, Sam Worthington.
COMPOSER: Paul Healy. SCRIPT-DIRECTOR: David Caesar. SPECIAL FEATURES:
Trailer. DVD TECHNICAL SPECS: 2.35 and full-frame versions, 5.1 Dolby Digital
As Australian gangster movies go, DIRTY DEEDS isn't bad.
Of course, the land Down Under isn't exactly renowned for its output
in the genre, though this adequate, Tarantino-like wannabe is likely worth
a viewing for genre fans.
Set in the late '60s, Bryan Brown plays an Aussie gangster with a supportive
wife (Toni Collette) and cop-ally (Sam Neill) in tow. Into his world, though,
come American gangsters John Goodman and Felix Williamson, who arrive from
Chicago wanting their own piece of the pie.
It sets up a predictable showdown in writer-director David Caesar's
film, which tries so hard to be "cool" and mimic its American counterparts
with dizzying camera work and an overly active, throbbing rock soundtrack
that it takes away from the goodwill the cast generates. The actors are
excellent -- it's great to see Brown in a leading role again, and Collette,
Neill and Goodman all put in fine supporting work -- but the routine aspect
of the story, despite its setting, is a disappointment. Caesar does score
a few points for a few introspective, amusing exchanges between Brown and
Goodman, along with maintaining a genial tone, yet the end result is simply
too violent and pretentious to really score. If DIRTY DEEDS had enough
confidence in itself, it wouldn't have had to resort to the overly obvious
"Pulp Fiction" and "Snatch" influences it displays here.
The widescreen scope cinematography does look vivid in Paramount's DVD,
which also offers a cropped full-screen version (avoid). The 5.1 Dolby
Digital soundtrack is too loud and shrill, being overly-amplified and designed,
to be fully effective. A brief trailer (for the film's video release) is
NEXT WEEK: TERMINATOR 3 and THE HULK arrive on DVD, plus the
Mail Bag returns! Email all comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
and we'll catch you then.