by ANDY DURSIN
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Mill Creek’s latest batch of Buena Vista catalog titles on Blu-Ray mixes in a few gems in with other product from the Touchstone and Hollywood Pictures labels from the 1990s, all of which share a common theme: none grossed more than $20 million in domestic box-office.
Ridley Scott’s WHITE SQUALL (***, 129 mins., 1996, PG-13) is the best of the batch: one of the director’s least successful box-office undertakings, yet a fairly well-received adventure-drama based on a true story. Scott Wolf stars as Chuck Geig, a Connecticut high school student circa 1960 who sets off on a sailing expedition from Florida with a group of other young men. Under the guidance of sage sailor Jeff Bridges, the boys learn the ropes of sailing and living in a series of rites-of-passage movie cliches – all before a harrowing, unique weather phenomena puts all of them to the test. This section of the picture offers some of Scott’s strongest work, a legitimate “Perfect Storm” that’s intense and horrifying (the actual “micro burst” of bad weather lasted for 90 seconds; in the movie, it’s a nearly 20 minute, bravura set piece).
Although Todd Robinson’s script doesn’t offer many surprises – basically reworking “Dead Poets Society” and including a courtroom sequence that feels needlessly tacked on – the gorgeous Carribean locales are vividly captured by Scott and cinematographer Hugh Johnson, the performances by Bridges and Wolf capable, and the film highly entertaining.
“White Squall” never received a proper 16:9 DVD release in the US, so Mill Creek’s Blu-Ray presentation is especially welcome. The movie’s cinematography is exponentially enhanced by the AVC encoded 1080p transfer, with DTS MA audio (sporting an okay score by Jeff Rona, who replaced Maurice Jarre) and the original trailer also offered as a bonus. One of Scott’s more unheralded pictures, “White Squall” is certainly worth a look now that its visuals can finally be rendered in a proper home video release.
Probably Charlie Sheen’s finest starring vehicle, TERMINAL VELOCITY (***, 102 mins., 1995, PG-13) is a wild action romp with Sheen as “Ditch Brodie,” a skydiving instructor who runs into a gorgeous woman (Natassja Kinski) who fakes her own death, leading to Ditch getting involved in an international game of intrigue with a pre-“Sopranos” James Gandolfini as one of the bad guys. David Twohy’s amusing script mixes straight-ahead action with some offbeat comedy and director Deran Sarafian executes the film’s dynamic action set-pieces with aplomb. This was an expensive production at the time, with a top-flight production team including cinematographer Oliver Wood, production design by “Blade Runner”’s David L. Snyder, and one of Joel McNeely’s best scores; alas, while the film didn’t catch fire in theaters, it did net a few fans (and some positive critical notices as well). Mill Creek’s Blu-Ray looks fabulous and contains both a 5.1 DTS MA soundtrack and the original trailer.
D.O.A. (**, 93 mins., 1988, R) was an interesting, albeit not particularly successful, reworking of a 1950 film noir with Dennis Quaid as a professor who has just 24 hours to live after ingesting poison, and spends the time trying to sort out who did the crime. “Max Headroom” directors Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel over-directed this highly stylized, at-times grating thriller with a fine cast (Meg Ryan, Daniel Stern, Charlotte Rampling, Robert Knepper, Jane Kaczmarek and Brion James all co-star) and a script by Charles Edward Pogue. Mill Creek’s transfer of this 1988 Touchstone release isn’t on the level of the newer Hollywood Pictures titles but it’s still passable, albeit soft looking in places (at least there’s no DNR on hand). The 2.0 DTS MA audio is okay, sporting a dated score from Chaz Jankel, and the original trailer is also included.
BEFORE AND AFTER (*½, 108 mins., 1996, R) was a misfired Barbet Schroeder film featuring Meryl Streep and Liam Neeson as parents trying to determine whether son Edward Furlong murdered his girlfriend. Depressing and slow moving, “Before and After” does include a quality 1080p transfer and 5.1 DTS MA soundtrack, plus the trailer.
HOLY MAN (**, 114 mins., 1998, PG) is one of many Eddie Murphy bombs that we’ve been saddled with over the years – and while it’s far from good, it’s also a watchable, albeit dated, profile of an ‘inspirational guru’ trying to save the declining fortunes of a home shopping network overseen by Jeff Goldblum. A few amusing celebrity cameos pop up in this Stephen Herek comedy with a nice Alan Silvestri score and another solid 1080p transfer with 5.1 DTS MA audio.
MR. WRONG (*½, 97 mins., 1996, PG-13) finds director Nick Castle (“The Last Starfighter”) attempting to build a romantic comedy vehicle for a then in-the-closet Ellen DeGeneres. This feeble Touchstone comedy boasts a tepid script that fails to generate many laughs, though Bill Pullman does try his all as Degeneres’ hapless male lead. Craig Safan provided the score for this one, with an acceptable 1080p transfer and 2.0 DTS MA soundtrack.
DUETS (** ,112 mins., 2001, R): Director Bruce Paltrow guides a solid ensemble cast (including daughter Gwyenth) in a quite uneven comedy-drama-road-movie about how a group of assorted folks seek solace from their everyday lives in the wild world of Karaoke. Included among them are Paltrow and estranged father Huey Lewis; harried businessman Paul Giamatti and small-time crook Andre Braugher; and former "ER" doctor Maria Bello and current "Felicity" co-star Scott Speedman. There are solid performances and a few nice scenes in John Byrum's screenplay, but the movie never really comes together and fizzles when Braugher and Giamatti's story turns melodramatic and violent. Still, the music is good (Gwyenth can sing!) and keeps the movie rolling along, even over some of the picture's rough edges. The 1080p transfer is satisfying and 5.1 DTS MA sound is also on-tap.
BORN YESTERDAY (**½, 100 mins., 1993, PG) is a watchable remake of the Judy Holliday vehicle, retooled for Melanie Griffith and her then-husband Don Johnson. The 1080p transfer is just okay, with 5.1 DTS MA audio on-hand.
Joe Pesci and Danny Glover attempted to rekindle their “Lethal Weapon” chemistry with the comedy GONE FISHIN’ (**½, 94 mins., 1997, PG), an easy-going outing from director Christopher Cain, with the duo as best friends on a particularly memorable (for all the wrong reasons) fishing trip. Randy Edelman’s pleasant score is one of the more positive elements of this 1997 release, with Mill Creek’s Blu-Ray offering a fine 1080p transfer and 5.1 DTS MA soundtrack plus the trailer.
Finally there’s NEW YORK STORIES (**½, 108 mins., 1988, PG), an ultimately disappointing anthology of three self-contained films from directors Martin Scorsese (whose “Life Lessons” with Nick Nolte and Rosanna Arquette is merely okay), Francis Ford Coppola (who turns in the weakest entry, “Life Without Zoe”), and Woody Allen, whose amusing “Oedipius Wrecks” is the strongest element of this Touchstone production from Allen’s longtime associates Jack Rollins, Charles H. Joffe and Robert Greenhut. The 1080p transfer is serviceable and 2.0 DTS MA sound rounds out the release alongside the trailer.
Also new from Mill Creek are a pair of new 50 movie sets, TIMELESS FAMILY CLASSICS and NIFTY FIFTIES, each offering a great deal of public domain content that fans of their respective, individual films might find of interest (check Mill Creek’s website for listings). The label has also re-released the 50 movie set DARK CRIMES in new packaging but has the same content as before...UP FROM SLAVERY is a new seven-part documentary series on both Blu-Ray and DVD, while MEDAL OF HONOR is another fine series profiling honored veterans from the Civil War through contemporary conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, also available on Blu-Ray and DVD from Mill Creek...BEAUTIFUL PLANET: FRANCE/ITALY and BEAUTIFUL PLANET: SPAIN/PORTUGAL shouldn’t be confused with either “Planet Earth” or Rudy Maxa’s excellent “Smart Travels” series, as both are a disappointing collection of travelogues available on budget-priced Blu-Ray platters.
Also New on Blu-Ray
THIS MEANS WAR Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital Copy (**, 97 mins., 2012, PG-13; Fox): Completely disposable romantic comedy with light action elements stars Chris Pine and Tom Hardy as lifelong best friends and CIA operatives whose latest mission lands both of them in hot water. Seeking to liven up their down time, the two unwittingly begin courting the same girl: consumer goods advocate Reese Witherspoon, who just wants to settle down and meet the right guy. Pine and Hardy then simultaneously date Reese and compete for her affections with an increasing number of gadgets that would surely land both in the brig for their abuse of government power.
“This Means War” drummed up modest box-office last February, and if you’ve seen the movie’s trailer, the movie gives you nothing more in 97 minutes than what a two-minute digest of the picture does. There’s not much tension in the formulaic Timothy Dowling-Simon Kinberg script – the film is light as a feather, with good chemistry between the actors, and a couple of chuckles. Pine and Hardy are both appealing, though I couldn’t say the same for Chelsea Handler, who deserves a Razzie nomination for her cliched role as Witherspoon’s undersexed, foul-mouthed older sister. Director McG handles the material with an accent towards the stars, and not its throwaway “action” plot, which basically comprises the first and last five minutes of the film. For a date-night rental, it’s not a terrible choice, but the movie never really kicks into a higher gear, content to serve up one-liners and dramatic situations that are never as engaging, romantic or funny as they ought to be.
Fox’s Blu-Ray includes three alternate endings, deleted scenes, a gag reel, featurette, DVD and digital copy. The 1080p transfer and DTS MA soundtrack are both top notch.
CHRONICLE Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital Copy (**½, 84/89 mins., 2012, PG-13; Fox): Low-budget “found footage” movie generated decent box-office returns and a bit of acclaim from certain critics when it was released last winter.
After a group of high school students (bullied Dane DeHaan, “golden boy” Alex Russell and aspiring class president Michael B. Jordan) come across a mysterious meteorite that’s crashed near their suburban Seattle, Washington home, all three soon develop telekinetic powers. DeHaan in particular quickly adapts to his blossoming abilities, even while his abusive, alcoholic father suspects something is going on with his son. It doesn’t take long, however, for the trio to go from making card tricks and causing a raucous in a local mall to abusing their newfound powers, with DeHaan in particular going over the line and only Russell and Jordan able to stop him.
Directed by Josh Trank and written by Max Landis (John’s son), “Chronicle” takes an awfully long time to get going and comes off feeling like an extended version of a “Smallville” episode minus Clark Kent (Russell’s character never masters the ability to fly either). The first half of the barely 80 minute feature is filled with repetitive scenes of the boys trying out their abilities, then squealing with delight and giving one another high-fives. Naturally, you know DeHaan is going to lose it, and eventually he does, which is when “Chronicle” actually becomes interesting – though there’s barely a third of the picture left when it happens.
The “found footage” aspect of the film is also a bit of a cheat, seeing that DeHaan develops the ability to move his expensive camcorder around at will – enabling viewers to see far more operatic shots than they would have otherwise. The effects in the finale are well-executed, and the film is ultimately worth a viewing for genre buffs, but truthfully I found this “Chronicle” to be a bit overpraised.
Fox’s Blu-Ray includes both the theatrical cut of “Chronicle” (84 minutes) as well as an 89-minute Director’s extended version, with some added character bits (personally, I think the released version is long enough as is). Extra features include a deleted scene and pre-production featurettes, plus a digital copy and DVD edition. Landis, by the way, has already been signed to write a sequel.
RED TAILS Blu-Ray/DVD (**½, 125 mins., 2012, PG-13; Fox): Decidedly old-fashioned chronicle of the Tuskegee Airmen – one of producer George Lucas’ pet projects dating back to the time of the original “Star Wars” trilogy – is a bit rough around the edges in terms of its story, yet visually at least, “Red Tails” is a compelling production from Lucasfilm and director Anthony Hemingway.
Nate Parker, David Oyelowo, Ne-Yo and Elijah Kelly portray members of the African-American combat unit assigned to the skies over Italy in 1944. Their battles in the air and on the ground, fighting discrimination, are given a basic treatment in John Ridley and Aaron McGruder’s script, which is chock full of war-movie cliches and predictable dramatic situations. When the film takes flight, however – in a series of brilliantly choreographed and spectacularly animated dog battles from ILM – “Red Tails” manages to be sufficiently engaging. Lucas shot “Red Tails” fairly inexpensively in the Czech Republic and had a couple of outside vendors work in conjunction with ILM to produce its digital effects, but you’d never know it from the end result, since from a technical angle, the picture is impressively mounted, believably rendering its aerial combat and overall production scale.
Overall, because of its unevenness and paper-thin characterizations, “Red Tails” is certainly not a great film by any means (and both Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Terence Howard are mostly wasted in supporting roles), but at least it’s superior to “Radioland Murders.”
Fox’s Blu-Ray of “Red Tails” is gorgeous in both its AVC encoded 1080p transfer and DTS MA 5.1 soundtrack – no surprise with Ben Burtt having assembled the audio. Unfortunately, Terence Blanchard’s score is an almost complete failure, lacking strong themes and failing to give the inherently dramatic story the musical backing it deserved. Light extra features include a documentary on the Tuskegee Airmen and a number of featurettes on Hemingway, Blanchard, George Lucas and the cast, plus a standard DVD copy.
WANDERLUST Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital Copy (**, 98 mins., 2012, R; Universal): Sorry reunion of “Role Models” director David Wain with star Paul Rudd and numerous alumni from MTV’s “The State” has difficulty generating laughs in spite of a premise ripe for comedic ribbing.
Rudd and Jennifer Aniston play a New York couple who, after Rudd loses his job, head down to Georgia to live with his brother (Ken Marino, who also co-wrote the script with Wain). En route they end up in a hippie commune named Elysium, where a number of wacky, pot-smoking types live freely, including the beautiful Malin Akerman, scatterbrained Alan Alda and the smooth-talking Justin Theroux. The couple soon lose their inhibitions, and start drifting apart, as they engage in an unusual “free love” world without boundaries.
“Wanderlust” was produced by Judd Apatow, who on the basis of his prior box-office smashes for Universal, must have gotten this weak script greenlight; the movie, despite a fine cast, is a near-total misfire, with jokes that just aren’t funny and an annoying pair of leads whom we really don’t care anything about.
Universal’s Blu-Ray includes the theatrical version of the picture and a “bizarro” version running 18 minutes shorter (!) and with different jokes in every scene (sadly they’re not any funnier than the R rated version). A gag reel, featurettes, DVD and digital copy round out the combo pack, along with a 1080p transfer and DTS MA soundtrack.
ACT OF VENGEANCE Blu-Ray (101 mins., 2012, Not Rated; Millennium): Shot as “Five Minarets in New York,” “Act of Vengeance” is a Turkish made thriller concerning a pair of anti-terrorist agents from Istanbul who fly to New York City to apprehend the notorious “Dejjal.” Along the way they meet with local FBI and NYPD agents including Danny Glover and Robert Patrick, seen here in stock genre roles.
Most of “Act of Vengeance” is likewise cliched, coming off like a poor man’s ‘24' episode, though the foreign-made production does enable viewers to see both the American and Muslim points of view in pursuing a worldwide terrorist – it’s just that neither aspect of the film is particularly compelling. Millennium’s Blu-Ray of “Act of Vengeance” includes a 1080p transfer and Dolby TrueHD soundtrack without much in the way of extras.
GONE Blu-Ray (**, 95 mins., 2012, PG-13; Summit): Standard-issue thriller stars Amanda Seyfried as a young woman who managed to escape from a serial killer, only to have her alcoholic sister likewise go missing. When the cops don’t believe her because of her prior time spent in an mental institution, Seyfried decides to go it alone and track down the same psycho responsible for her own abduction. Allison Burnett’s script and director Heitor Dhalia’s by-the-numbers filming make for little more than a more expensive Lifetime original movie, with most of the cast likewise going through the motions. Summit’s Blu-Ray includes a 1080p transfer and 5.1 DTS MA soundtrack.
MAN ON A LEDGE Blu-Ray (**, 102 mins., 2012, PG-13; Summit): One of those “concept” movies where the trailers gave away far too much, the lackluster “Man on a Ledge” stars Sam Worthington as an ex-cop who creates a diversion (danging off a New York City building) in order for his team to steal a $40 million diamond from corrupt businessman Ed Harris. By this point nobody is trying to keep the plot a surprise (it’s all explained on the Blu-Ray’s back cover!) which leaves this limp thriller as a moderate time-killer and little more. Summit’s Blu-Ray includes a featurette and a commentary – only on the trailer! – with star Elizabeth Banks. The 1080p transfer and DTS MA soundtrack are both fine.
CAT RUN Blu-Ray (107 mins., 2012,R; Universal): John Stockwell directed this action thriller starring Paz Vega as a call girl holding key evidence to a government cover-up. A pair of incompetent private eyes (Scott Mechlowicz, Alophonso McAuley) try and help her avoid the mob and a female assassin (Janet McTeer) in this direct-to-video feature that Universal brings to Blu-Ray on June 19th. The disc includes deleted scenes, commentary and a featurette, plus a 1080p transfer and DTS MA soundtrack.