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Aisle Seat Vintage DVD Round Up

Classics from Billy Wilder to REMO WILLIAMS
Plus: Mail Bag and more!

By Andy Dursin

Although I've covered a whole batch of hot new titles on DVD in the last few weeks, you shouldn't overlook the bounty of vintage goodies that have recently become available in the format -- some with added features as well (yup, even for movies made before 1990!)

Here's a rundown of the latest "Vintage" disc spins, along with this week's Aisle Seat Pick of the Week, and a full-blown Mail Bag just jam-packed with fun. Read on!

New From MGM

REMO WILLIAMS: THE ADVENTURE BEGINS. 121 mins., 1985, PG-13, MGM. ANDY'S RATING: ***. CAST: Fred Ward, Joel Grey, Wilford Brimley, J.A. Preston, Kate Mulgrew, George Coe, Charles Cioffi. COMPOSER: Craig Safan. SCRIPT: Christopher Wood. DIRECTOR: Guy Hamilton. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Theatrical trailer. TECHNICAL SPECS: Full frame, 2.0 Stereo Surround.

The ADVENTURE for Remo began and promptly ended with this big-budget spin-off of the popular "Destroyer" novels by Richard Sapir and Warren Murphy, here adapted by James Bond veterans Christopher Wood ("The Spy Who Loved Me") and director Guy Hamilton ("Goldfinger").

Fred Ward plays the title character, a NYC cop who undergoes plastic surgery and becomes a super-hero tutored in the ways of the martial arts by Korean master Joel Grey (under lots of make-up in a terrific performance). Remo's job is to stop a ruthless billionaire bent on taking over the world -- in other words, your typical '80s bad guy -- but the real sparks are provided by Grey's sage, all-knowing combat instructor, who spars with our hero in a handful of memorable training sequences.

Powered by Craig Safan's thunderous, rousing score, REMO WILLIAMS is a standard '80s action movie that remains memorable because of the performances of -- and interplay between -- Ward and Grey. They fit so perfectly together as a crime-fighting tandem that it's a shame future installments weren't made (a failed TV pilot did surface in 1987 with Roddy McDowall in the Grey role). Hamilton's efficient direction makes for a fun, entertaining ride that's finally available on DVD.

Speaking of which, you might be surprised that MGM's disc offers only a standard, full-screen transfer with 2.0 stereo sound. However, the full-frame formatting here actually doesn't crop information off the sides, but rather adds material to the top and bottom of the frame. It's a slight modification to the original aspect ratio, but the bottom line is that the transfer is exceptionally crisp and looks fine in the 4:3 format presented here. Extras, though, are limited to a rather dull theatrical trailer.

While this may not be the Special Edition package REMO addicts have been waiting for, it's a solid presentation of the movie that beats the heck out of those old, grainy VHS and laserdisc issues. Strongly recommended for all Remo fans and '80s movie fanatics!

THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES. 125 minutes, 1970, PG-13, MGM. ANDY'S RATING: ***1/2. CAST: Robert Stephens, Colin Blakely, Christopher Lee, Clive Revill, Genevieve Page. COMPOSER: Miklos Rozsa. SCRIPT: Billy Wilder, I.A.L. Diamond. DIRECTOR: Billy Wilder. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Reconstructed deleted sequences; script excerpts; Christopher Lee and Ernest Waller interviews; photo gallery. TECHNICAL SPECS: 2.35 Widescreen, mono sound.

Billy Wilder's compromised classic was the subject of a cinephile-manhunt in the early '90s, when Image Entertainment attempted to find the lost sequences from Wilder's Sherlock Holmes epic for inclusion in a Special Edition laserdisc. After an extensive search on both sides of the Atlantic, only the audio from one sequence ("The Curious Case of the Upside Down Room") and the soundless picture from another ("The Dreadful Business of the Naked Honeymooners") were recovered.

MGM's new Special Edition DVD offers most of the supplements from the Image laserdisc, though the 16:9 transfer and pinched mono soundtrack are negligible upgrades on the LD release.

Wilder's film, for the uninitiated, is a low-key, eloquent film that attempts to show the "personal" side of Arthur Conan Doyle's great detective. It's a gently comic, bittersweet collection of "episodes" linked by a beautiful score by Miklos Rozsa and terrific performances by Robert Stephens (as Holmes) and Colin Blakely as Dr. Watson. While many still feel that Wilder's vision is incomplete with the missing sequences still lost to the cutting room floor, even the compromised version of THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES ranks as one of Wilder's finest achievements, and one of the all- time best Sherlock Holmes films.

As with the Image laser, MGM's DVD offers the deleted "Naked Honeymooners" sequence as a silent, subtitled extra. "The Curious Case of the Upside Down Room" actually plays better on DVD than it did on laserdisc, since MGM has included stills and script excerpts of the scene to accompany the surviving soundtrack. The previously included interview with editor Ernest Waller is reprised here, along with a photo gallery set to Miklos Rozsa's score and a more recent discussion with Christopher Lee.

Though the presentation makes for a solid package, fans are advised to hold onto their laserdiscs since the DVD lacks the laser's isolated score track.

ONE, TWO, THREE. 109 mins., 1961, MGM. ANDY'S RATING: ***1/2. CAST: Jimmy Cagney, Horst Buchholz, Pamela Tiffin, Arlene Francis. COMPOSER: Andre Pevin. SCRIPT: Billy Wilder, I.A.L. Diamond. DIRECTOR: Billy Wilder. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Trailer. TECHNICAL SPECS: 2.35 Widescreen and full-screen formats, mono sound.

One of Billy Wilder's finest comedies, ONE TWO THREE stars Jimmy Cagney as a Coca-Cola salesman whose boss's daughter (Pamela Tiffin) falls for a communist (Horst Buchholz) in early '60s West Berlin. This Cold War-era farce, written by Diamond and collaborator I.A.L. Diamond, offers big laughs and a fast pace, plus one of its star's finest performances. Based on a play by Ferenc Molnar, ONE TWO THREE is a film that does belong to a particular time and place, but remains funny and entertaining due to Wilder and Diamond's script, the director's perfect sense of comic timing, and Cagney's winning performance -- rated by many as one of his best. MGM's DVD offers a 2.35 transfer of the original Panavision frame (avoid the cropped pan-and-scan version also included on the DVD), plus an OK mono soundtrack and the original trailer. Available as part of the Billy Wilder box-set, or separately (like THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES) for $19.99 and under.

JUGGERNAUT. 110 minutes, 1974, PG, MGM. ANDY'S RATING: ***. CAST: Richard Harris, Omar Sharif, David Hemmings, Anthony Hopkins, Shirley Knight, Ian Holm, Roy Kinnear, Clifton James. COMPOSER: Ken Thorne. SCRIPT: Richard DeKoker. DIRECTOR: Richard Lester. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Theatrical trailer. TECHNICAL SPECS: 1.66 Widescreen, Mono sound.

A mad bomber wants to blow up Omar Sharif's cruise ship, and explosives expert Richard Harris is called to drop in and save the day while the HMS Britannic sails away at sea.

Richard Lester's 1974 film is a taut, almost documentary-like adventure that barely stops for characterization or melodrama. Harris and Sharif give performances that can be best described as believable, since producer Richard DeKoker's script doesn't pause for superfluous plot devices and cliches that plagued most "disaster" movies made at the same time. Early appearances by the likes of Anthony Hopkins and Ian Holm further enhance JUGGERNAUT's no-nonsense entertainment value.

MGM's DVD includes a spotless 1.66 transfer that preserves Lester's original aspect ratio. While not enhanced for 16:9 televisions, this is nevertheless a superlative transfer with strong colors, struck from pristine source material. The original mono soundtrack is fine, and the movie's theatrical trailer is included as an extra.

LA FEMME NIKITA. 117 minutes, 1990, R, MGM. ANDY'S RATING: ***. CAST: Anne Parillaud, Tcheky Karyo, Jean-Hughes Anglade, Jeanne Moreau, Jean Reno, Jean Bouise. COMPOSER: Eric Serra. SCRIPT-DIRECTOR: Luc Besson. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: "Sound of Nikita" featurette with Eric Serra interview; "Making of" new documentary; original trailer. TECHNICAL SPECS: 2.35 Widescreen, 5.1 French and English dialogue tracks.

Luc Besson's 1990 action-thriller firmly placed the French filmmaker on the international map, and while the movie's plot has since formed the basis for both a long- running U.S. cable TV series and a lousy American theatrical remake (John Badham's forgettable "Point of No Return"), LA FEMME NIKITA remains a must-view.

MGM's new Special Edition trumps their earlier DVD release by the inclusion of new supplements. "The Sound of 'Nikita'" featurette includes an interview with Eric Serra, discussing the creation of his score for the film, while "Revealed: The Making of 'La Femme Nikita'" is a solid documentary including new interviews with Anne Parillaud, Tcheky Karyo and others reflecting on their work on the groundbreaking international hit. Both of these are original documentary featurettes and are not culled from pre-existing international DVDs, so kudos to MGM for their work on this domestic Special Edition release. The 2.35 transfer is very good, offering only some minor "edge enhancement" and unsteady background objects, while the 5.1 sound in both French and English is throbbing with bass effects.

Aisle Seat DVD Pick of the Week

DAREDEVIL. 103 mins., 2003, PG-13, Fox, available next week. ANDY'S RATING: ***. CAST: Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner, Michael Clarke Duncan, Colin Farrell, Joe Pantoliano, Jon Favreau, David Keith. COMPOSER: Graeme Revell. SCRIPT- DIRECTOR: Mark Steven Johnson. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Director-producer audio commentary; Enhanced viewing mode; trivia track; two 60-minute documentaries; six production featurettes; music videos; cast auditions. TECHNICAL SPECS: 2.35 Widescreen, 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital sound.

Sure, I had heard all about how Mark Steven Johnson's live-action film of the Marvel Comics hero was "edgy" and more "adult" than "Spider-Man" and other comic book films -- but as we all know, it's one thing to hype your movie as being different, and quite another to make a movie really as edgy as it claims to be.

The good news is that "Daredevil" is that movie -- a more adult comic book adventure that still manages to be faithful to its source. This is a stylish and highly entertaining flick that boasts crisp action scenes (with vibrant fight choreography by Hong Kong martial artists), solid character development (considering the material), and even some decent performances. Yes, believe it or not, I actually liked Ben Affleck in this role, with the actor playing blind lawyer/super-hero Matt Murdock as actually written in the comics, and not the smarmy, sarcastic guy that Affleck plays in virtually every film he's made. Of course, it helps that Jennifer Garner is easy on the eyes, and that Colin Farrell and Michael Clarke Duncan adequately portray the comic's classic villains, Bullseye and the Kingpin, respectively. Johnson does a superb job mixing action, comic book adventure, and developing the dark themes lurking under the surface to the degree where "Daredevil" ranks as one of the best movies of its kind. Only the soundtrack -- comprised of hard-rock tracks and a forgettable score by Graeme Revell -- disappoints.

Despite grossing over $100 million, DAREDEVIL certainly received mixed reaction from critics. It's true that, if you're adverse to these kinds of movies, you may want to bypass "Daredevil," but anyone looking for slick comic-book action is urged to give it a shot. Fox's two-disc DVD edition, out next week, offers a stellar 5.1 soundtrack in both DTS and Dolby Digital formats. This is easily one of the best audio mixes I've heard on DVD in years -- an outstanding, highly effective use of the surround channels is employed throughout, making for a reference-quality disc sonically. The 2.35 transfer is also fine though the movie's garish cinematography may motivate you to turn up the brightness on your set.

Supplements-wise, the disc is chock-full of behind-the-scenes material: an audio commentary with Mark Steven Johnson and producer Gary Foster is included, along with a pair of hour-long documentaries, six shorter featurettes, Jennifer Garner's cast audition, an on-screen trivia track, information about the original Marvel comic, and more. There is, however, a notable lack of deleted scenes -- something a reported "R-rated" DVD version of the movie is supposed to rectify later this year. (Parents should take note: it wouldn't take much for DAREDEVIL to net an R -- this has to be one of the most violent, adult PG-13 rated films I've ever seen).

Also New on DVD

LAUREL CANYON. 103 mins., 2002, R, Columbia TriStar. ANDY'S RATING: **1/2. CAST: Frances McDormand, Christian Bale, Kate Beckinsale, Natascha McElhone, Alessandro Nivola. COMPOSER: Craig Werden. SCRIPT-DIRECTION: Lisa Cholodenko. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Director Commentary; Featurette; Bios; Trailers. TECHNICAL SPECS: 1.85 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

Well-acted though somewhat pretentious study of a young man (Christian Bale) who goes home with his fiancee (Kate Beckinsale) to the Southern California pad of his burned out, rocker mom (Frances McDormand). From there, filmmaker Lisa Cholodenko ("High Art") profiles the relationships between hippie McDormand and her pal Alessandro Nivola, and how their free-spirited, sex-drugs-rock-n-roll existence rub off on the conservative Bale and Beckinsale.

Like any indie film, LAUREL CANYON relies heavily on the performances of its cast -- especially McDormand, who shows off her range as a woman who lives without consequence. It's a little jarring to see Brits Bale and Beckinsale playing an American couple, but both put in fine work here, as each succumb to the free-wheeling lifestyle of Bale's mother. The cast is good enough to keep you watching through Cholodenko's rambling script, which never seems to go far enough in detailing the relationships between the characters -- it skims the surface when it ought to be diving beneath it.

Columbia TriStar's DVD offers a perfect 1.85 transfer with 5.1 surround sound, offering an atmospheric, unobtrusive background score by Craig Werden. Extras include a solid commentary track with the director, Making Of featurette, bios and bonus trailers.

NICHOLAS NICKLEBY. 122 minutes, 2002, PG, MGM. ANDY'S RATING: ***. CAST: Charlie Hunnam, Jamie Bell, Jim Broadbent, Alan Cumming, Edward Fox, Anne Hathaway, Nathan Lane, Christopher Plummer, Juliet Stevenson. COMPOSER: Rachel Portman. SCRIPT-DIRECTION: Douglas McGrath. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Director commentary; Making Of featurette; "On the Set" multi-angle featurette; photo gallery; original trailer. TECHNICAL SPECS: 2.35 Widescreen and full-frame formats, 5.1 Dolby Digital surround.

Well-acted and tasteful adaptation of the Charles Dickens novel from director Douglas McGrath ("Emma"). Charlie Hunnam is terrific as young Nicholas Nickleby, who attempts to find fortune and love in spite of a greedy uncle (Christopher Plummer) who's virtually downright evil in his motives.

This particular Dickens story has only been filmed once before for the big-screen -- in 1948 with Cedric Hardwicke (earlier versions were silent). Watching McGrath's film shows you why -- although marvelously performed and shot, with a definite period flavor, NICHOLAS NICKLEBY is a dense and sometimes depressing tale that's not exactly "A Christmas Carol." The story is decidedly melodramatic, with large shifts of emotion, and yet the cast and filmmaking is so strong that it's certainly worth seeing. As with the case with McGrath's previous work, Rachel Portman's moving score lends a strong assist.

MGM's fine Special Edition DVD includes a fine 2.35 transfer (a full-frame version is also included) with a crisp 5.1 soundtrack. Extras include an informative commentary track with McGrath, a Making Of segment and a "On the Set" featurette with multi-angle capability.

PINOCCHIO. 100 minutes (US version; English dubbed), 110 mins. (Italian version; in Italian with English subtitles or English dubbed), 2002, G, Miramax Home Entertainment. ANDY'S RATING: ½ star. CAST: Roberto Benigni, Nicoletta Braschi. COMPOSER: Nicola Piovani. SCRIPT: Vincenzo Cerami, Roberto Benigni. DIRECTOR: Roberto Benigni. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Dubbing featurette; FAO Schwartz window display featurette. TECHNICAL SPECS: 2.35 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

Roberto Benigni's woefully misguided live-action fairy tale became an even  bigger, unintentionally amusing mess once its U.S. distributor, Miramax, dubbed the whole movie with an "all-star" cast just days before its disastrous American release.

The end result was one of last year's worst movies, a turkey on every conceivable level that bad movie seekers may want to track down -- though truth be told, this is one of those bad movies that's just plain bad.

Lavishly designed by Danilo Donati and shot by Dante Spinotti, this PINOCCHIO needs little description other than to say that Pinocchio is here played by Benigni -- a middle-aged, balding comic who chases down chickens, sells his school books, and causes trouble everywhere he goes. Sounds like the perfect casting choice, right? Well, the shenanigans don't stop there -- Pinocchio's odyssey includes a cricket who's a far cry from Jiminey, a Blue Fairy with a dog/butler driver in a carriage powered by mice, and a huge shark that consumes our hero and his kindly woodmaker father.

In Italian, the movie is taxing enough (and is best recommended to Benigni die- hards), but in English, PINOCCHIO is an almost indescribable cinematic experience. To dub Benigni, Miramax hired Breckin Meyer?!? Just a few seconds of Meyer dubbing Benigni is all you'll need to see before wanting to shut this spectacle down, though if you keep going, the voices of Queen Latifah, Regis Philbin, Kevin James, Glenn Close, Eric Idle, Cheech Marin, and John Cleese also turn up in one jaw-droppingly hideous scene after another.

Now, had the cast been hired to improvise lines and put a "What's Up Tiger Lily?" spin on PINOCCHIO, the movie might have been entertaining. As it is, it's a beyond-bad dud that makes the dubbing on the old "Godzilla" films look like the work of geniuses by comparison.

To their credit, Miramax has included the U.S. release version as well as its longer, original Italian counterpart. Extended by 10 minutes, this cut offers the native Italian language with English subtitles as well as the awful Hollywood-voiced track (apparently the entire movie was dubbed before the cutting room floor scissors came out), though even in its original form, a little of this goes a very long way.

The 2.35 transfer is lovely (as is Nicola Piovani's somewhat repetitious score), and extras include a featurette on the dubbing (!!), as well as a look at the lobby scenes created in NYC's FAO Schwartz toy store to "celebrate" the movie's release. One wonders -- who at FAO Schwartz decided to help market this sorry mess?

Short Takes

ANASTASIA (***1/2, 1956, Fox): Golden Age fans should rejoice over the release of the 1956 Oscar winner on DVD. Not only is the presentation (2.35 widescreen, 4.0 Dolby Digital surround) better than most given to classic films on disc, but Fox has included plenty of extras to accompany this latest release in their "Studio Classics" line. An audio commentary includes comments from Arthur Laurents, James McArthus, Sylvia Stoddard, and film score maven Jon Burlingame, who discusses Alfred Newman's classic film soundtrack and its influence on other works. An A&E "Biography" examines the relevance of the "real" Anastasia, while Movietone Newsreels and a restoration comparison round out a great disc all around.

THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY: New Special Edition (***, 119 mins., 1998, R, Fox): Two-disc Special Edition re-issue of the Farrelly Brothers' masterwork (at least by their standards) offers some tasty new extras for fans. In addition to the standard theatrical version, Fox's new DVD offers a longer cut of the movie with 15 minutes of extra footage -- including the optional use of the excised Claymation title sequence. A new writers' commentary is included, and the pre-existing Farrelly commentary is here amended by the brothers' additional comments, clarifying and updating what they said on the FIRST disc's commentary track! The second disc's goodies are pretty much limited to typical promotional filler (a Comedy Central special, featurettes, the AMC Backstory episode), but all of it should be worthwhile for fans. The 1.85 transfer and 5.1 sound are both on par with the preceding disc's quality.

MURDER IN GREENWICH (**1/2, 88 mins., 2002, R; Columbia TriStar): The compelling case of Martha Moxley -- murdered at 15 by Michael Skakel, a Kennedy relative who was convicted of the 1975 crime only last year -- is ripe for big-screen treatment, but in the meantime, we're left with this adequate TV movie. Christopher Meloni plays Mark Fuhrman (yup, THAT Mark Fuhrman), whose fascinating book about the case re-lit the fires that were still burning in Moxley's home of Greenwich, Connecticut. This unremarkable but efficient cable film, directed by Tom McLoughlin, is interesting enough, and yet the material cries out for a more elaborate, theatrical treatment that it hopefully might receive one day. Columbia's DVD offers an extremely grainy full-screen transfer of the "R" rated version (just a few extra seconds of gore); the 2.0 Dolby Surround soundtrack luckily fares better.

Aisle Seat Mail Bag

From Brian Lindstrand:


Once again, you have the hit the proverbial nail on the head! To this day, I have never seen the original GREASE, but really enjoyed the sequel when I caught it on cable once. I liked the songs, the performances, etc. (especially Michele Pfeiffer astride the Christmas tree during "Cool Rider," I believe).
I was working at the Widescreen Drive-in that was located on Route 45 just north of Urbana, Illinois the summer that ANGEL came out and we actually got it late that summer. What a hoot! The scene that is burned into my brain is when the class nerd asks her if she would like to go out on a date. Angel thinks that's sweet, but he then holds out some money and asks if it's enough. Hilarious! If Anchor Bay offered the films separately, I would definitely go for the first one.
Keep up the great work, love the column.

Thanks Brian -- those WERE the days, weren't they?

From Matthew Osborne:

Hey there, Andy!

After having seen that ARTISAN just released revamped "Young Guns," I just gots to wondering if you have any info on whether there was a planed "Special Edition" DVD being prepared of "Young Guns II?" Please let me know. Love your reviews - keep up the good work.

Hi Matt, thanks for the kudos. Warner Home Video controls the rights to the movie through their association with Morgan Creek, and since WB released the DVD of YOUNG GUNS II not all that long ago (in 16:9 and 5.1 as well), I doubt we'll be seeing a Special Edition re-issue anytime soon.

From Glenn Warren:

With the release of Columbia/Tri-Star's "70's Greatest Cop Shows" DVD, I was wondering if they might release "complete" seasons of POLICE WOMAN starring Angie Dickinson? Any word on this? Thanks.
Glenn, POLICE WOMAN wasn't one of the recently-announced TV shows that Columbia has pegged for DVD release. However, at the rate these box sets are being turned out, there's always hope.

From Steve Skodzinsky:

After reading your FSM column on July 8, I am happy to report that in response to Randy Derchan's question, the Wild Wild West is available on DVD from Columbia House Video. I have received the first three volumes, each contains 3 episode per DVD and they are being released in the original broadcast order. For anyone who is interested, they can check out the general discussion board at for more information about these DVDs.
Thanks for the info Steve!

From William J. O'Hara:

I was wondering if you could provide any information why 20th Century Fox didn't follow through with their announced release of the 300 Spartans DVD. Will it be released at all, or is it just delayed?
William, I'm looking into it. If anyone has any additional information, please let us know.

NEXT TIME: Back to the '80s (again!) with a full slate of High School comedy classics, including an Aisle Seat favorite, THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN. Send all emails to and we'll catch you next time!

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