Aisle Seat Seventh Season Premiere!
Reviews of new DVDs (as always) as the Aisle Seat Celebrates
its FSM Anniversary
By Andy Dursin
It seems like it was just a short time ago when the Aisle Seat launched
as a regular FSM column back on October
7th, 1997 (Back then DVDs were just in the early days of their development,
so laserdiscs and VHS tapes were among the first titles I covered here).
Controversies, Mail Bag debates, and plenty of Q&A sessions have ensued
over the years, and I have to thank all of the readers who drop a line
each week with mostly enlightening comments -- all of which encourage me
to keep on going! (Not to mention all the fine folks at the various studios
and PR firms, too numerous to list here, without whom this column couldn't
So after a summer of mediocre cinematic fare (with a few exceptions,
like "Pirates of the Caribbean," the car chase in "Matrix Reloaded," and
the surprisingly robust "Terminator 3"), fall is here with the promise
of big studio films, smaller indie flicks, and tons of big DVD releases
that we'll be covering as the autumnal air begins to filter down from the
north (at least for some of us in the US). Read on as the Aisle Seat begins
year number eight (is it even possible??!?) here on Film Score Monthly.com.
[Actually, I think Andy's math is a ltitle faulty -- it's the start
of year number seven -- SB]
New on DVD
THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS. 179 mins., 2002, PG-13,
New Line. ANDY'S RATING: ***. CAST: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen,
Sean Astin, John Rhys-Davies, Orlando Bloom, Christopher Lee, Liv Tyler,
Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett. COMPOSER: Howard
Shore. SCRIPT: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Stephen Sinclair, Peter Jackson.
DIRECTOR: Peter Jackson. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Lordoftherings.net featurettes;
Sean Astin movie "The Long and Short of It"; additional specials; 10-minute
preview of "Return of the King"; trailers, TV spots; Emiliana Torrini music
video. TECHNICAL SPECS: 2.35 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital EX surround.
While I'm not exactly leading the LORD OF THE RINGS bandwagon that seems
to have swept up most critics and audiences around the world, Peter Jackson's
second entry in his Tolkien adaptation, THE TWO TOWERS is, in some aspects,
a superior fantasy adventure than its predecessor. Since everyone knows
the story by now, I'll spare you from a lengthy plot summary -- suffice
to say this sequel picks up right from the end of the first picture and
is comprised of big action scenes, sprawling battles, and fascinating new
creatures. Gollum is a tremendously articulated CGI character, and Andy
Serkis' "performance" gives this second part of Peter Jackson's trilogy
a boost of energy in all the scenes he appears. There are some amazing
moments here, marked by the climactic tussle at Helm's Deep that will surely
draw repeat viewing from action and FX enthusiasts for years to come. I
still don't understand how Liv Tyler nabbed herself third billing on the
credits (she's been in the first six hours of the trilogy for a grand total
of, what, 25 minutes?), but still, the movie manages to deliver the goods
most of the way.
I was entertained by the film on the level of an old-time fantasy adventure
(not unlike a technically proficient updating of an old Ray Harryhausen
Greek mythology flick), but a few problems still linger in Jackson's Tolkien
adaptation. Howard Shore's score here is a disappointment compared to his
work on "Fellowship," being repetitious and overbearing in a manner that
his first work was not -- something that partially has to do with structure
of the story itself. After a slow start, THE TWO TOWERS turns into an impressive
battle epic with tons of visual effects, though after 30 minutes of the
battle at Helm's Deep, I had seen enough. In its own way, the small-scale
and much lower-budgeted "Army of Darkness" had a climactic battle sequence
that was more fun to watch -- ditto for John McTiernan's underrated "The
13th Warrior," with its crackling action scenes.
Finally, Jackson and his screenwriters have moved around elements of
Tolkien's book, including what a friend of mine tells me is an unnecessary
extension to Frodo's run-in with the brother of Sean Bean's character from
the original -- resulting in a pointless trip to a burned-down city near
the end. There are also long stretches of the movie when the hobbits are
hardly in the film, with Jackson taking the safe route of concentrating
on Aragon's adventures instead of developing Frodo's internal struggle
with the Ring.
That said, THE TWO TOWERS is certainly an exciting piece of escapist
fare and there's still much to savor in the picture, and New Line's 2-DVD
set of the theatrical cut will be well worth a purchase for fans -- at
least until the 4-disc Special Edition streets in November. The 2.35 Widescreen
transfer is exceptional and the Dolby Digital 5.1 EX soundtrack impressively
mounted -- unsurprisingly, both are on "reference quality" levels and few
should be disappointed with the DVD presentation here. Like the initial
2-disc, theatrical cut DVD of "The Fellowship of the Ring," New Line has
included a fair amount of extras here, mostly of the self-promotional variety:
featurettes culled from the Sci-Fi Channel and Lordoftherings.net primarily
serve to promote the movie as much as show how it was made, while a music
video of "Gollum's Song" and complete trailers and TV spots are also included
(note that the trailers and TV ads were glaringly absent from the Deluxe
Expanded 4-DVD set of "Fellowship" last year -- something that completists
may want to note when debating on buying this DVD).
Sean Astin also produced a cute movie, "The Long and Short of It," which
is also included here, along with a 10-minute preview of "Return of the
King" and EA's upcoming video game. Discriminating consumers, though, may
once again want to hold off for New Line's four-disc DVD of the expanded
"Two Towers" cut, which will be available November 18th and promises more
of the superb supplementary features the studio included in the expanded
"Fellowship" box set at the same time last year.
IDENTITY. 90 mins., 2003, R, Columbia TriStar.
ANDY'S RATING: **. CAST: John Cusack, Ray Liotta, Amanda Peet, John Hawkes,
Alfred Molina, John C. McGinley, Jake Busey, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Rebecca
DeMornay. COMPOSER: Alan Silvestri. SCRIPT: Michael Cooney. DIRECTOR: James
Mangold. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: "Extended branching version" of the film;
director commentary; deleted scenes; Starz on-set special; trailer. TECHNICAL
SPECS: 2.40 Widescreen, full-screen formats; 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.
Here's yet another thriller with a big twist that proves to be a predictable
cinematic game (or sham, depending on how you look at it) instead of an
actual drama with characters you care about. John Cusack, Ray Liotta, and
Amanda Peet are part of a group of stranded motorists who end up at a motel
in the middle of nowhere on a dark, rainy night. Soon after, the various
individuals assembled there begin to be picked off one-by-one by a killer
who may just be one of them. Meanwhile, in a story that Might Just Have
Something to Do With What's Going On (it couldn't be any more obvious),
psychologist Alfred Molina tries to persuade a judge to place a stay on
his deranged client's execution.
It's almost impossible to review IDENTITY -- a movie that thinks it's
much smarter than it actually is -- without giving away a ton of spoilers,
so I'll just say that most movie buffs will have unlocked the movie's puzzle
after just a few minutes, and once you've figured it out, there's nothing
left to sustain viewer interest. The direction by James Mangold is comprised
of stock suspense movie cliches, with nothing remotely scary to make you
jump out of your seat as the thinly-developed characters are offed one
after another (not unless you count co-star Rebecca DeMornay's latest cosmetic
surgery). IDENTITY feels like the work of someone who recently sat through
"The Sixth Sense," "The Cell," "A Beautiful Mind," "The Usual Suspects,"
and Agatha Christie's "And Then There Were None." It's a hodgepodge of
cliches without a voice of its own, capped by a laughable ending that's
trumped by yet another ridiculous twist -- but, in hindsight, what more
could you have expected from the writer of the JACK FROST franchise of
direct-to-video horror movies?
Columbia TriStar's DVD offers the option of watching the movie in a
barely- expended version that runs less than a whole minute longer than
the theatrical cut; director James Mangold's commentary; a handful of deleted
scenes with optional commentary; storyboards, the original trailer, and
a "Starz" channel on-set special. The 2.40 widescreen frame looks well
composed (a cropped full-frame version is also available), and the 5.1
Dolby Digital soundtrack is layered with rumbles of thunder and, unfortunately,
one of Alan Silvestri's dullest scores.
Universal Special Editions and Re-Issues
Universal has recently re-issued several popular comedy titles on DVD,
in superior presentations than their earlier DVD releases.
Top of the line is their 2-disc Special Edition of MONTY PYTHON'S
THE MEANING OF LIFE (***, 108 mins., 1983, R), which was previously
issued in a widescreen DVD by Image sans extra features.
This new release is a marked improvement in both the video and sound
departments: the 1.85 Widescreen transfer is clearer and sharper than the
earlier DVD, while the stereo surround has been remixed in 5.1 Dolby Digital,
giving the music more punch in the process. (There's also a hysterical
"Soundtrack For the Lonely," which is definitely fun for a few minutes
if nothing else).
For most, though, the main reason to upgrade will be the extras, which
-- like the "Holy Grail" Special Edition DVD -- are bountiful. Commentaries
from Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam compliment the film, while the movie
can be viewed with a handful of deleted scenes restored back into the movie.
Additional deleted scenes can be found on Disc Two, which also features
a terrific 50-minute documentary on the making of the movie, highlighted
by fresh interviews with Jones, Gilliam, Michael Palin, John Cleese, and
Eric Idle. The featurette also sports vintage production footage and a
candid analysis of what worked and what didn't in the film, though Cleese
seems a bit overly critical of the movie's sketch nature.
The movie's terrific soundtrack is also given time in the spotlight,
with a ten-minute featurette looking at the production of the film's musical
numbers (among the chorus girls is Jane Leeves, better known as Daphne
from "Frasier"). Three odd segments include Idle and Jones re-recording
the original songs, while copious trailers, TV spots, and brief comedic
bits newly shot by the Pythons round out the disc.
Also re-issued from Universal is the seminal John Belushi
college classic NATIONAL LAMPOON'S ANIMAL HOUSE in its so-called
"Double Secret Probation" edition (***, 109 mins., 1978, R).
This new disc does include a newly produced segment, "Where Are They
Now? A Delta Alumni Update," featuring recent interviews with the original
cast -- in their original roles, no less. It's a cute, 23-minute piece
of fluff for fans, though a better reason to upgrade here would be the
DVD's remastered 1.85 transfer and remixed 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack.
The original DVD was a "Collector's Edition" that basically contained
the same transfer and supplements as its laserdisc counterpart. The new,
16:9 enhanced transfer here easily bests the original DVD, and the 5.1
sound is likewise an improvement from the original mono mix, giving a bit
more presence to Elmer Bernstein's original score (could we PLEASE get
a score album from this movie someday?).
You also get the full, 45-minute "Yearbook: An Animal House Reunion"
documentary from the previous release, plus a new on-screen trivia track,
the original trailer, and a "Shout" music video from the group MxPx. For
the price ($15 and under), this is a highly recommended purchase.
Universal has also remastered three John Hughes teen comedy
classics as part of its just- released HIGH SCHOOL REUNION box set
(the titles are also available separately).
The charming Molly Ringwald vehicle SIXTEEN CANDLES (***, 93
mins., 1984, PG), the wacky albeit uneven Anthony Michael Hall-Kelly LeBrock
SuperStation staple WEIRD SCIENCE (**1/2, 94 mins., 1985, PG-13),
and the classic high school comedy- drama THE BREAKFAST CLUB (***1/2,
98 mins., 1985, R) comprise the three-disc set, and offer plenty of incentive
for fans to plop down a few bucks for the new discs.
Though lacking extras, the DVDs offer new 16:9 transfers, each outdoing
the overly grainy widescreen presentations that Image Entertainment and
Universal released several years ago on DVD (which were, until recently,
collector's items). Though the elements still exhibit a little bit of grain
here and there, the colors are stronger and the picture better balanced
overall in each instance from the earlier DVD versions.
More over, the soundtracks have all been remastered in 5.1 DTS and Dolby
Digital, and include the original song soundtracks as heard in each movie's
theatrical version. Thus, there are no instances of "Some Music Re-Scored
For Home Video" here, since Universal has apparently paid all the original
song licenses. It's a nice addition that die-hard fans will undoubtedly
Also available as part of the "High School Reunion" collection (though
not as part of the box set) is Phil Joanou's underrated 1987 high school
gem THREE O'CLOCK HIGH (***1/2, 90 mins., PG-13).
This clever variation on "High Noon" stars Casey Siezmako as an average
high schooler who runs afoul of the new class bully, and is coerced into
a fight in the parking lot right after school ends at 3 o'clock. Siezmako's
attempts to get out of his predicament makes for a hilarious, even suspenseful
high school yarn that's stylishly directed by Joanou and filled with deft
The Richard Christian Matheson-Thomas Szollosi script is a cut above
for the genre, but it's the movie's style and presentation that make it
one of the better teen comedies of the '80s. Joanou was unfairly criticized
for "over-directing" the film when it was first released, but it's his
visual style that separates THREE O'CLOCK HIGH from so many youth comedies
released in the last 20 years.
Universal's DVD sports a strong, colorful transfer in the movie's original
1.85 widescreen aspect ratio. Since this is the first time the film has
been properly letterboxed, it goes without saying that the DVD is essential
for fans, and the 2.0 Dolby Surround soundtrack is also polished, sporting
an unobtrusive and effective score by Tangerine Dream and Sylvester Levay.
Also New & Noteworthy
WHAT'S UP TIGER LILY? (***, 80 mins., 1966, PG; Image): Special
Edition of Woody Allen's pre-MST3K spy spoof is dated in spots, but overall
still comes off as one of the comedian-filmmaker's more inspired efforts.
Allen was hired to re-dub a 1964 Japanese spy movie called "Key of Keys,"
turning what appeared to be a colorful, Far East version of James Bond
into an amusing and sporadically hilarious spoof with a group of spies
searching for the secret recipe to egg salad! Naturally, a lot of TIGER
LILY is hit or miss, but it's still fun if you're in the proper spirit,
with Allen and the group the Lovin' Spoonful appearing in the film. Image's
Special Edition DVD includes the full 2.35 presentation of the movie's
original TohoScope aspect ratio, and looks drab in places but decent enough
all told. Image has also included the film's original soundtrack, along
with an alternate TV soundtrack with different comedic dubbing and voices
(and not nearly as amusing as the theatrical track).
CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND (**1/2, 114 mins.,
2003, R; Buena Vista): Adaptation of "Gong Show" host Chuck Barris' (supposedly-true)
autobiographical account of his secret life as a CIA agent is exactly as
off-kilter as you might expect. Sam Rockwell puts in a superb performance
as Barris, who climbs the ladder of Hollywood fame thanks to his success
as a game show producer, while simultaneously living another life after
being recruited by a CIA man (George Clooney, who also directed) for the
purposes of becoming a covert operative. His double life threatens to consume
his relationship with his girlfriend (Drew Barrymore) and his career, which
receives a big jolt after "The Gong Show" debuts. Charlie Kaufman penned
the script for this strangely compelling tale, which boasts a strong cast
(Julia Roberts and Rutger Hauer appear in supporting roles, along with
insiders like Dick Clark and Jaye P. Morgan) and a glossy, somewhat distracting
visual scheme concocted by Clooney and cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel
(the movie looks as if it's been colorized at times). Ultimately, though,
the subject matter will appeal primarily to showbiz followers, who should
enjoy the tall tale (?) that Barris spins here. Miramax's DVD offers 2.40
widescreen and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, plus plenty of extras: commentary
with Clooney and Sigel, lots of deleted scenes, behind the scenes vignettes,
Rockwell's screen test, and a brief documentary on Barris himself, who
appears at the end of the finished film.
ENOUGH: Special Edition (**1/2, 115 mins., 2002,
PG-13; Columbia TriStar)
ENIGMA: Special Edition (***, 119 mins., 2001, R; Columbia TriStar,
available Sept. 16)
Two of director Michael Apted's recent films have been available on
DVD in deluxe Special Editions for over a year, but only now have arrived
ENIGMA was Apted's classy, elegant WWII thriller, which sadly received
scant distribution in the U.S. and met with only mixed reviews -- half
of which seemed to come from viewers anticipating the next James Bond movie.
In actuality, this is a leisurely-paced but haunting thriller, starring
an appropriately disheveled-looking Dougray Scott as a code-breaker in
London attempting to shatter the Nazis' Engima code; Kate Winslet is excellent
as the roommate of Scott's missing girlfriend (Saffron Burrows), while
Apted and screenwriter Tom Stoppard (adapting Robert Harris' novel) do
a wonderful job capturing time and place, all of it complemented by a moody
and effective John Barry score. Columbia's DVD, as with their previous
DVD from last year, offers a fine 2.35 scope transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital
sound, but this time out adds some supplementaries: an enlightening commentary
track from the director, plus a pair of 20 minute featurettes and nearly
10 minutes worth of deleted scenes culled from a workprint.
ENOUGH was last year's watchable J.Lo woman-in-peril thriller, in which
Jennifer Lopez plays the wife of suave Billy Campbell, who ultimately turns
out to be quite the psychotic, abusive spouse in Apted's contrived but
compulsively watchable thriller.
To her credit, Lopez gives a strong performance as the suffering wife,
who tries to move away from Campbell, only to have him track her down --
even in her "new" life with daughter in tow. So, Lopez decides to get back
at him the only way she can: by becoming an expert in self-defense. Nicholas
Kazan scripted ENOUGH, a movie that works well as a domestic abuse drama
and less effectively in its final third, when Lopez turns the tables on
Campbell in a contrived and predictable finale. Still, for much of the
way, the movie is taut and compelling, marked by Apted's assured direction
and fine ensemble performances (from Juliette Lewis, Fred Ward, and Noah
Wyle among others). While the plot description may sound like "Sleeping
With The Enemy" and countless TV Movies of the Week, ENOUGH is good enough
to warrant a viewing.
Columbia's DVD offers a strong 2.35 transfer that captures the full
aspect ratio of the Panavision frame, while the 5.1 Dolby Digital sound
is fine, sporting an effective enough score by David Arnold. For supplements,
the DVD adds on last year's supplemental section (which primarily consisted
of a J. Lo music video), and adds a commentary from Apted plus another
with producer Irwin Winkler, three brief deleted scenes, a 12-minute Cinemax
special, three vignettes totaling a little under 20 minutes, and trailers
for other Lopez flicks (including "Gigli"!).
NEXT WEEK: An Aisle Seat September TV on DVD round
up, with ALIAS, 24, SMALLVILLE, and FAMILY GUY all newly released in deluxe
box sets. Email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
and we'll catch you then. 'Nuff said!