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Aisle Seat Fall TV on DVD Edition

Reviews of New Box Sets from 24 to THE TICK
Plus: Paramount Vintage Titles, THE CORE, and more!

By Andy Dursin

When I'm asked to explain my fondness for THE FAMILY GUY, all I can say is that any program that manages to reference William Shatner's live performance of Elton John's "Rocketman" at the 1978 Science Fiction Film Awards is a show close to my own heart.

Earlier this year Fox released the first box set of Seth MacFarlane's hilarious and under- appreciated series on DVD. For a show that bounced around the prime time schedule nearly as much as another highly touted, animated show that similarly under performed in the ratings ("Futurama"), "The Family Guy" looked like it would at the least cement its cult status among fans through its DVD release -- and perhaps gain a few more viewers in the process.

The plan more than paid off: the set sold so well that not only has the VOLUME 2 box set been newly released (****, Fox), but its success has ensured the production of a new made-for-DVD movie that creator/voice artist MacFarlane just confirmed will go into production in the near future, complete with all the original performers and crew intact.

It's great news for a show that's packed with so many obscure pop culture references that only media savants can expect to catch each joke. In addition to the Shatner ballad (seen in the episode "And the Weiner Is" on disc one of this set), another show I recently rewatched from the season one box set included tributes to Joe Harnell's "Incredible Hulk" theme and the Stephen J. Cannell Productions logo (remember that one?), which should give you a good idea of the kind of humor MacFarlane and his writing staff typically include in each episode.

The new Volume 2 box includes all 21 episodes from the Family Guy's third and final season, which aired on the UPN network in the summer of 2001 and early 2002. As with the first two seasons, the show traces the nutty antics of local buffoon Peter Griffin, an obnoxious Rhode Islander (who bares no resemblance to this one, incidentally) with a family comprised of wife Lois, kids Chris and Meg, a talking dog named Brian and baby Stewie, who talks like a cross between Rex Harrison and Peter Lorre, and schemes to take over the world.

The characters and situations are amusing, but are mostly just an excuse for the writers to parade out as many outrageous jokes and references to movies and TV shows as possible -- something that makes the show inferior to programs like "The Simpsons" in the eyes of some viewers. For me, though, "The Family Guy" is consistently hilarious and as entertaining as animated show that's been broadcast in recent memory, and it's gratifying to see the program finally gain the success on video that eluded it when it first aired several years ago. (Incidentally, fans of the show's energetic orchestral scores will note the "cameo appearances" of composers Ron Jones and Walter Murphy in the third season's second episode, "Brian Does Hollywood").

Fox's DVD is identically packaged to the first volume DVD, with the discs contained in separate slim cases with episode descriptions and air dates on the outside. The bonus features, though, are a step up from its predecessor: audio commentaries from the show's cast and crew are contained on selected episodes, along with animatic mock-ups of some 28 deleted scenes, a pair of featurettes looking at the show's production, low ratings and fervent fan base, and a bonus episode, "When You Wish Upon a Weinstein," that never aired. The full-frame transfers, meanwhile, are impeccable and more consistent in their quality than the first box-set, while the 2.0 Dolby Stereo tracks pack a fair amount of punch.


Another show that deserved a far better fate than it received was the live-action series of THE TICK (***, 201 mins., 2001-2002; Columbia TriStar) from executive producers Barry Sonnenfeld and Ben Edlund.

Patrick Warburton starred as the wild and wacky blue avenger of freedom, who in the memorable pilot episode, has to save Jimmy Carter from the nefarious villain Red Scare. Other episodes take a less conventional tact, probing the inner-psyche of the Tick and his crime-fighting, caped brethren, including Captain Liberty (Liz Vassey), Batmanuel (Nestor Carbonell), and the Tick's sidekick, Arthur (David Burke), who dresses up as a moth.

Despite critical kudos, "The Tick" shared the same fate as "The Family Guy": the program bounced around the Fox schedule so much that it was almost impossible to find (even if you were trying). It's a shame, too, because this super-hero spoof boasts several uproarious moments, solid effects, and perfect casting (Ron Perlman special guests in one show), with Warburton being the perfect embodiment of "heroic ignorance is bliss." In many ways, "The Tick" succeeds where the similarly-themed, big-screen feature "Mystery Men" failed, in creating a live-action, comic-book comedy that works. Bo Welch's production design, Colleen Atwood's costumes, and the music of Steve Bartek, meanwhile, all combine to give "The Tick" a cinematic look and feel -- it's just unfortunate that the program never really had a fighting chance when it aired.

Columbia TriStar's two-disc edition features all nine episodes (including one show that was never broadcast), in perfect 1.78 transfers enhanced for 16:9 TVs. The soundtracks sound crisp and pungent in the 2.0 Dolby Surround mix, while selected commentaries are provided by Sonnenfeld and Edlund, who seem to know that they created a quality program that now has a better chance of finding its audience with its DVD release.


Also newly available is the seven-disc box-set of 24: SEASON 2 (***1/2, 1064 mins., 2002-03; Fox), which reinforced my analysis of the series' first season: when 24 is good it's very good, but when it's bad, it's equally entertaining.

Kiefer Sutherland is once again tremendous here as renegade CTS agent Jack Bauer, who's brought back into the fold to stop the detonation of a nuclear bomb in Los Angeles. Meanwhile, beloved President Palmer (Dennis Haysbert) attempts to hold his staff together in spite of the crisis, while Jack's former associate, Nina (Sarah Clarke), is also back, having been jailed for murdering Bauer's wife and holding information critical to the new terrorist plot. At CTS, back-stabbing and conspiracies again rule the day as Tony Almeida (Carlos Bernard) fights with George Mason (Xander Berkeley) over how to run the unit, while the lovely Kate Warner (Sarah Wynter) comes into the picture once the terrorist plot is hatched. And, of course, there's Jack's daughter Kim (Elisha Cuthbert), whose misadventures this season include babysitting for a mother with an abusive husband, running into crazy survivalist Kevin Dillon, and being attacked by a mountain lion.

Although 24 faced the departure of some key personnel members as it began its second season (most notably director Stephen Hopkins), creators Joel Surnow and Robert Cochran returned to reprise the show's edge-of-your-seat pacing, pulse-pounding action, and scripts with occasional lapses of common sense (can we possibly have yet another sequence where someone's location is given away by a ringing cell phone?). Yet that's the fun of 24: along with the power of the central performances and the nail-biting tension of the show, there are some unintentionally funny moments that surface every now and then, requiring such a huge suspension of disbelief that all you can do is laugh.

Still, even those moments are highly entertaining, and because of the show's on-going story (a movement by the network to deepsix the hour-a-day format and use self- contained stories instead was thankfully discarded), there isn't a show better suited to DVD than 24. Fox's box set contains every episode from the second season, along with selected audio commentaries, a pair of excellent 45-minute documentaries looking at the production of the program (a must for fans), and some 44 brief deleted scenes from various episodes. The 1.85 transfers look superb, and the 2.0 Dolby Stereo sound is likewise solid. Highly recommended!


Also well worth tracking down -- and another show that you need to see from beginning to end or you'll be totally lost -- is ALIAS (***1/2, 2001-02; Buena Vista), the sleek spy adventure starring Jennifer Garner that's not quite as flashy as 24 but offers more developed characters and complicated dramatic situations.

That's due to the involvement of writer-creator-producer J.J. Abrams, whose smart dialogue keeps the sometimes convoluted storyline involving CIA double agent Sydney Bristow (Garner), her double agent father (Victor Garber), and the mysterious organization they work for afloat. Garner is immeasurably appealing as the grad student/super spy, while Garber and Michael Vartan are equally strong in fleshed-out roles that make you care about the characters while typically routine action-adventure material is given a fresh spin by Abrams as the scenario unfolds.

Speaking of which, ALIAS is one of those programs that's impossible to get into midstream, which again makes this a perfect show for DVD viewing. Buena Vista's three-disc box set offers all 22 episodes from the series' first season, adding selected audio commentaries and brief deleted scenes for extras. Other extras include a gag reel and look at Garner's physical training. The 1.78 transfers look great and the 5.1 Dolby Digital sound is as impressive as they come for network TV series.

Like 24, ALIAS is definitely worth a purchase if you've been interested in watching the series but have found it difficult to get into without starting from the beginning. Thankfully, DVD gives you the chance to do that, and at your own leisure as well. Highly recommended!


Finally, fans of the late Jim Henson will definitely want to seek out the long-awaited DVD of THE STORYTELLER (***, 216 mins., 1987, Columbia TriStar), which has been newly released with all nine episodes from the short-lived series.

John Hurt narrates and stars as the title character, who sits near a warm fire with his canine companion and spins a series of yarns, each adapted by Anthony Minghella from various European folk tales. The stories are visually enchanting, superbly acted (with stars such as Jonathan Pryce, Jennifer Saunders, Sean Bean, and Miranda Richardson), and eloquently scored by Rachel Portman, with directors ranging from Jon Amiel to Henson himself ("The Soldier and Death"). While the episodes are mostly dark and mysterious (like good fairy tales should be), all of the respective stories have a delicious, magical tone and message that should not be lost on younger viewers. Hurt's narration also strikes just the right tone in contrast to the more somber endings of a few episodes, which aired on NBC in 1987 and 1989 (and were rebroadcast by HBO a few years ago).

Columbia TriStar's DVD includes decent full-screen transfers from the original broadcast masters. Whatever problems there are in terms of the picture being somewhat soft and grainy are undoubtedly due to how the program was shot, though most viewers likely won't be disappointed by the transfers. The Dolby Stereo 2.0 soundtracks are a bit more accomplished, with brief liner notes and episode capsules included in the DVD booklet.


New on DVD

THE CORE. 134 mins., 2003, PG-13, Paramount. ANDY'S RATING: **1/2. CAST: Aaron Eckhart, Hilary Swank, Delroy Lindo, Stanley Tucci, Richard Jenkins, Tcheky Karyo, Bruce Greenwood, D.J. Qualls, Alfre Woodard. COMPOSER: Christopher Young. SCRIPT: Cooper Layne, John Rodgers. DIRECTOR: Jon Amiel. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Commentary by the director; deleted scenes; featurette; visual effects featurette. TECHNICAL SPECS: 2.35 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

Watchable, mildly diverting disaster epic failed to ignite at the box-office last spring.

After it's discovered that the Earth's core has stopped rotating, a team of scientists -- lead by smug Stanley Tucci and including college professor Aaron Eckhart and Delroy Lindo -- is assembled by the government in a last-ditch attempt at saving the Earth. The trio joins up with hotshot NASA pilot Hilary Swank and her shuttle commander, Bruce Greenwood, in a ship designed by Lindo to penetrate into the Earth's core, all the while magnetic storms begin to cause worldwide destruction above.

It's a "Deep Impact" kind of scenario concocted by writers Cooper Layne and John Rodgers, but unlike that comet-hitting-the-earth disaster epic, THE CORE never builds up enough dramatic tension to make us care about what ultimately happens. The special effects sequences are quite modest for a major-studio sci-fi flick, and while Eckhart and Swank are appealing enough, there are too many characters and not enough time devoted to developing them. The motley supporting cast includes a completely over- the-top Tucci as a Carl Sagan-like scientist caught up in his own success, fine French actor Tcheky Karyo as a requisite lamb-for-the-slaughter (you couldn't label him any more obviously), and "Road Trip" geek D.J. Qualls as a computer expert. You also get Alfre Woodard as a NASA worker and Richard Jenkins as a stuffy army general, but sadly, none get enough screen time to register, while the action is pretty much routine.

THE CORE is certainly entertaining enough for sci-fi fans -- especially the first hour -- but as it moves along the film becomes more predictable and less entertaining, with a disappointing ending that turns the whole film into a watchable missed opportunity (not unlike several of director Jon Amiel's past films, including "Sommersby" and "Copycat").

Paramount's fine DVD offers a strong 2.35 widescreen transfer with a bass-heavy, effects-filled 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack, boasting a mostly routine Christopher Young score. Special features include a commentary track by the director; 10 deleted scenes that actually would have helped the film's character development; and decent though mostly promotional featurettes on the visual effects and the production itself.


ANGER MANAGEMENT. 106 mins., 2003, PG-13, Columbia TriStar. ANDY'S RATING: *1/2. CAST: Adam Sandler, Jack Nicholson, Marisa Tomei, Luis Guzman, John Turturro, Woody Harrelson. COMPOSER: Teddy Castellucci. SCRIPT: David Dorfman. DIRECTOR: Peter Segal. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Commentary by Sandler and the director; featurettes; deleted scenes; gag reel. TECHNICAL SPECS: 2.40 Widescreen (separate full-frame version is also available), 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

Yet another dismal Adam Sandler comedy, ANGER MANAGEMENT manages to be even worse than last year's "Mr. Deeds," though teaming the comedian with Jack Nicholson proved to be a box-office hit in theaters last spring.

As seen in the infinitely more amusing theatrical trailers, Sandler plays a nebbish who ends up being sentenced to anger management therapy after an unlikely incident on a plane. In charge of the sessions is Dr. Buddy Rydell (Nicholson), whose methods are, of course, a little unorthodox, leading Sandler to meet up with Rydell's other patients (including John Turturro and Luis Guzman), a cross-dressing hooker (the increasingly scary Woody Harrelson), and other misadventures on the way to his "recovery."

After a rough start, ANGER MANAGEMENT marches on with failed gags in David Dorfman's script, only to take a somewhat dramatic turn -- like most Sandler vehicles -- in its final third. The only problem is that it's impossible to take the movie seriously, and with the movie's scattershot laughs being few and far between in the bloated 106 minute running time, there's little reason to recommend it (and especially not with Marisa Tomei being completely wasted as the female lead).

Columbia TriStar's DVD looks fine in widescreen (a cropped full-frame version is also available), while the 5.1 soundtrack is competent, sporting an overly zany score by Teddy Castellucci. Special features include a generic commentary track by director Peter Segal and Sandler, basically saying how much fun making the movie was (well, at least someone got something out of it!); several deleted scenes, a pair of fluffy featurettes, an interactive "Do You Have Anger Problems" game, the requisite gag reel, and bonus trailers.


ALL I WANT. 93 mins., 2002, R, Columbia TriStar. ANDY'S RATING: **1/2. CAST: Elijah Wood, Franka Potente, Mandy Moore, Elizabeth Perkins, Deborah Harry. COMPOSER: Andrew Gross. SCRIPT: Charles Kephart. DIRECTOR: Jeffrey Porter. DVD TECHNICAL SPECS: 1.85 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

If you can believe Elijah Wood's role here as a college student, aspiring writer, and babe magnet, then you're likely to enjoy this quirky independent film from writer Charles Kephart and director Jeffrey Porter.

Wood plays a would-be student who decides to opt out of his dorm and move into a boarding house where the tenants include a would-be actress (Mandy Moore) and an older photographer (Franka Potente from "Run, Lola, Run" and "The Bourne Identity"), who begins a love affair with our protagonist, a young man with a wild imagination trying to win affection from his mother (Elizabeth Perkins).

This mostly upbeat and wacky comedy-drama attempts to find a niche somewhere between a teen movie and a Coen Brothers effort, and is amiable enough for the most part. The performances are engaging and there are sporadic laughs to be found, though at 93 minutes "All I Want" feels like a great short movie stretched into a prolonged and uneven feature film. Some of the supporting players feel more like stereotypes than real people, and once the film takes a predictable "dramatic" turn at the end, the film's energy begins to run out.

Columbia TriStar's DVD offers a good-looking, 16:9 enhanced 1.85 transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound. Andrew Gross' fine orchestral score sounds like a cross between Thomas Newman and Michael Convertino, and goes a long way to selling the picture.


Vintage Titles From Paramount

Paramount has issued a strong array of titles culled from their archives lately, including Peter Bogdonavich's "Targets" (which will be reviewed in the Halloween "Laserphile" in the forthcoming FSM), and a Special Edition of the director's wonderful PAPER MOON (****, 1973, 102 mins., PG).

This vivid and memorable Oscar winner, scripted by Alvin Sargent from Joe David Brown's novel "Addie Pray," starred Ryan O'Neal as Moses Pray, a con man who attempts to woo a succession of widows in Depression-era Kansas. O'Neal's real-life daughter, Tatum, copped an Oscar for her role as an orphan who saddles up with Moses after her mother dies. She aids him in his schemes, while Madeline Kahn plays a dancer who latches onto Pray and threatens to ruin the budding relationship between the two.

Bogdanovich was right at the peak of his talents with "Paper Moon," which has finally arrived on DVD in a low-priced (list price is $14.99) edition sporting director commentary and a multi-part "Making Of" offering vintage on-set footage, a new interview with Bogdanovich, and plenty of recollections about the production of the film. The 1.85 widescreen transfer captures every nuance of the original black-and-white cinematography, while the mono soundtrack sounds every bit as intentionally old- fashioned as it was meant to. A classic film, and an absolute steal at the price.


From the '70s we shift to the '80s and a typical though amiable teen farce, CAMPUS MAN (**1/2, 94 mins., PG, 1987), starring John Dye as a college student who tries to strike it rich by producing a male pin-up calendar featuring his buddy, a budding swimming superstar at Arizona State University.

There's nothing especially noteworthy about "Campus Man," an inoffensive and mostly forgettable comedy for youngsters about ethics, morality, and friendship, and yet the very fact that the movie attempts to throw in a few positive messages distinguishes it from some of the raunchier, brainless films of that era (i.e. "Revenge of the Nerds"). Kim Delaney and Kathleen Wilhoite pop up as the female leads, while James Newton Howard provides an early score on the musical side of things.

Paramount's DVD offers a colorful 1.85 widescreen transfer and an efficient, unremarkable mono soundtrack. No extras are provided, though for the disc's list price (most retailers offer it at $15), it's a fun and nostalgic trek back into '80s cinema, suitable for the whole family.


From the mores of the '80s to a tale of post-'80s, yuppie-recovery, we come to REGARDING HENRY (**1/2, 107 mins., PG-13, 1991), starring Harrison Ford in one his best dramatic performances as a slick, obnoxious lawyer, wounded by a gunshot, who develops amnesia. With wife Annette Bening attempting to help her husband re-discover himself, Ford takes an emotional journey and re-connects with his family, eschewing the materialistic and workaholic existence he previously had.

Mike Nichols directed this tender and emotional picture that ultimately becomes just a bit too goopy and melodramatic for its own good. The picture's predictability is accentuated by a slow pace and a syrupy Hans Zimmer score (Georges Delerue's original soundtrack was excised), off-setting the good intentions of the picture, and the fine performances of Ford and Bening.

Nevertheless, it's a decent film that Paramount has released with a strong, colorful 1.85 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.


Last but not least is the pleasant romantic comedy I.Q. (**1/2, 95 mins., 1994, PG), which Paramount has issued with a similarly strong 2.35 transfer, derived from the original Super 35 aspect ratio, and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

This is the period piece with Walter Matthau playing Albert Einstein, Meg Ryan essaying his niece (yup, the casting still makes no sense, does it?), and Tim Robbins in one of his more likeable performances as a garage mechanic who falls in love with her.

It seems as if the casting was more important to director Fred Schepisi than the relatively weak Andy Breckman-Michael Leeson script, though the movie has all the hallmarks of quality: superb, colorful cinematography by Ian Baker in widescreen, scenic Princeton, N.J. locales, and a strong supporting cast (including Stephen Fry, Frank Whaley, Charles Durning, Gene Saks, and Tony Shalhoub).

Jerry Goldsmith's score, though, is a major distraction, melding '50s pop with "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star," in what has to undoubtedly rank as one of the great composer's worst (and still unreleased) scores.

I.Q. is not especially memorable, and only did modest business at the box-office during the '94 holiday season. Nevertheless, it's a high quality studio film, well-produced and directed, with an offbeat, amiable cast that keeps you watching in spite of its under- whelming script. Recommended for all romantics out there.


NEXT WEEK: Harrison Ford tries to revive his career with HOLLYWOOD HOMICIDE, plus more of your comments and emails. You can reach me at dursina@att.net and we'll catch you then. 'Nuff said!


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