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
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
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
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
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
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?
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
Aisle Seat Mail Bag
From Brian Lindstrand:
Thanks Brian -- those WERE the days, weren't they?
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.
From Matthew Osborne:
Hey there, Andy!
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.
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.
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 www.wildwildwest.org 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
and we'll catch you next time!