Aisle Seat New Year's Edition

New Reviews and Thoughts For 2004
By Andy Dursin

Another New Year has arrived, Aisle Seat readers -- and as we once again reflect on another year of cinematic mediocrity (is there any other way to put it?), we can look ahead to a winter full of solid DVD offerings and hopefully a few good NEW movies as well.

For this year at the Aisle Seat, I'm going to be including a short DVD release calendar in the first column of each month -- note that this is just a tentative schedule of titles I think you might find of note (by no means comprehensive at all) and dates may be "off" at times depending on the information I use (sometimes even press releases are wrong!). I also am going to cut down on listing the cast/crew credits of the various DVDs I review - - if you want to look up the specific individuals that I don't happen to mention, the IMDB is just a click or two away after all (this will save me a bit of time as well). Remember I can always be reached at and welcome all constructive comments, criticisms, and questions -- and without further delay, let's dive straight into the new year!

January Release Schedule

Freddy Vs. Jason (reviewed below)
New Guy Director's Cut (reviewed below)
Swimming Pool

The Accidental Tourist
Cabin Fever
Everybody's All-American
Once Upon a Time in Mexico

Alice in Wonderland (Disney)
Comic Book: The Movie
The Critic: Complete Series
One From the Heart (Special Edition w/isolated music track)
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (Special Edition)
Time Bandits (New Criterion Release)

Aisle Seat DVD Picks of the Week

FREDDY VS. JASON (***, 2003). 98 minutes, New Line, R. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Audio commentary, deleted scenes, alternate ending, Making Of featurettes, trailers, DVD-ROM content; 2.35 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

It doesn't take a genius to know that movies like "Freddy Vs. Jason" -- like the brilliant "Bride of Chucky" before it -- are never going to get good reviews from mainstream critics. It's easier to spend the better part of a thousand words bashing how ridiculous the entire concept of a movie like this battle-of-the-horror-titans is than praising what it actually does right.

Of course, we're not talking about a film of deep substance like a Kurosawa work. "Freddy Vs. Jason" is all about having a bloody good time, a jokey horror vehicle where the anti-hero of the Elm Street series -- Freddy Kruger himself -- does battle with the goalie-masked Jason, who along with Michael Myers helped secure the slasher genre as the principal horror venue of the '80s. After years of stops and starts, endless rumors and aborted scripts, "Freddy Vs. Jason" was finally been released to boffo box-office receipts last August, satisfying horror fans who grew up watching the "Elm Street" and "Friday the 13th" movies throughout the last two decades.

Robert Englund is back as Freddy, and looks like he's having the time of his life as the dream-master tries to stage a comeback. In order to do so, though, he has to resurrect Jason Vorhees, and use the knife-wielding maniac to kill off the next generation of Elm Street teens. In doing so, Freddy will gain power and be able to enter "reality" again -- though Jason ultimately has other ideas about Freddy infringing on his turf.

The younger leads (Monica Keena, Jason Ritter) are a cut above for this kind of material, but it's all about Freddy and Jason here. The outrageous special effects and fights deliver the goods, as does a full-fledged fisticuffs brawl that serves as the movie's climax. Fans of both series should have a great time watching the duo duke it out, while the script wisely avoids the overly self-referential tone of the "Scream" films: it's tongue- in-cheek but doesn't insult its core audience, instead garnering laughs through amusing, character-driven dialogue. Kudos should also go out to Graeme Revell for his original score, which quotes a dash of his predecessors (Charles Bernstein's "Elm Street" and Harry Manfredini's "Friday" themes, respectively) and holds its own against the hard- rock songs layered on the soundtrack.

Director Ronny Yu also helmed "Bride of Chucky," and while "Freddy Vs. Jason" doesn't quite have the genre-pushing satirical component of that 1998 release, it's nevertheless a better movie than it has any right to be. This is a nostalgic, over-the-top affair that finds the right balance between horror and humor, and if nothing else, ends up being a far more exciting confrontation than "King Kong Vs. Godzilla." For dumb end- of-summer fun, it was well worth the price of admission, and for a cold winter night's viewing, it's equally ideal.

New Line's 2-disc "Platinum Series" collection release has a good assortment of extras, though the release on the whole isn't as jam-packed as we've come to expect from the studio. Commentary from the director and writer is included, along with several deleted scenes and an absolutely dreadful alternate ending that was thankfully discarded in the preview process (the audience, as the filmmakers point out, was right on the mark this time). Making Of featurettes examine the production and its tenure in development, while DVD-ROM content and trailers round out the disc. The 2.35 transfer is excellent and the 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack potent on the audio side.

CHEERS: The Complete Second Season (1983-84). 540 mins., Paramount. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Second season featurette, blooper reel, full-screen transfers, Dolby 2.0 sound.

The seminal '80s sitcom is back on DVD in another superb box-set from Paramount, containing all 22 unedited episodes from "Cheers"' sophomore season.

Not unlike several classic sitcoms with remarkable longevity, "Cheers" was a slow starter out of the blocks. Despite solid critical reviews, the program took its time finding an audience, languishing with mediocre Nielsen numbers through its inaugural season on the air. As co-star George "Norm" Wendt mentions in one of the DVD's bonus segments, "Cheers" benefited from then-new NBC head Grant Tinker's mandate about keeping quality programming on the air until it found its audience.

Happily, "Cheers" did just that in its second year, which again brings back the entire gang in Boston's funniest watering hole, further elaborating upon the relationships between the principal characters and introducing a series of amusing new supporting roles in the process. This was the season in which Carla's ex-husband, Nick Tortelli (Dan Hedaya) appears, along with his new, addle-brained wife (Jean Kasem), while Christopher Lloyd turns up as an artist who throws in a wrench into the on-again, off- again relationship between Sam and Diane. Speaking of which, later episodes in the season turn a bit dramatic, and it would be the tension between Ted Danson and Shelley Long's characters that turned up the heat on "Cheers" as it continued to develop its audience. (For this reason, I actually prefer the first few, Diane-less seasons of the show, which tweak the formula and are actually more consistently funny than the ones where the romantic element too often dominated the story lines).

Paramount's four-disc box-set is once again superbly assembled with outstanding, remastered full-screen transfers that are in great condition. With the episodes uncut (unlike their syndicated re-run counterparts), the pacing of each show is appreciably smooth and allows the viewer to enjoy the top comic timing and smart writing in every episode. Extras include a featurette on the series and its then-growing audience, with both vintage interview clips from "Entertainment Tonight" interspersed with more recent conversations with the stars, plus a blooper reel. Highly recommended!

Chillers and Sci-Fi Fun

AVALON (***, 2001). 107 mins., R, Miramax. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Effects featurette, interview with the director, 1.85 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound in Polish and English dubbed versions.

"Ghost in the Shell" director Mamoru Oshii's live-action sci-fi thriller went straight to video in the U.S., with Miramax making only slight "adjustments" to the original theatrical version.

This tale of a grim future where some of its inhabitants continue to play an illegal virtual reality video game features striking visual effects and cinematography, both of which should make the movie instantly appealing to genre fans. Both director Oshii and writer Kazunori Ito work hard to incorporate mythological references in the movie's plot, leading to a conclusion that's thought-provoking and just a little bit ambiguous -- that is, if you watch the movie in its original Polish dialogue track.

The problem with Miramax's presentation is that the U.S. version includes added narration spoken by the lead character (a female game player named Ash), which tries to clarify the movie's premise both at the beginning of the movie and especially at the end. It's totally unnecessary, and what's worse -- because the English subtitles are intended for the English dubbed track -- even if you listen to the original Polish language track (which doesn't have the narration), you'll still be READING the bogus English narration! Even when Miramax leaves a movie intact in terms of its running time, it seems as if they can't completely keep it untouched.

The other (possibly) questionable element of Miramax's DVD is that the 1.85 transfer is much more colorful than I had seen the film previously. The opening sequence is tinted bright orange, while the earlier Korean DVD I viewed was more sepia in nature and less intense (perhaps someone can relay what Oshii's original intentions were). The 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack is excellent, at least.

Despite these drawbacks, "Avalon" is a journey well worth taking for sci-fi fans. While other movies (like David Cronenberg's "eXistenZ") have examined this material before, few have done it as poetically and powerfully as Oshii does here. Miramax has included two special features (a featurette on the F/X and an interview with Oshii, both subtitled) on the DVD, and if you can mute the narration during the film proper, it's a solid disc for a superb film that's finally been released in the U.S.

MAKING CONTACT (*1/2, 1985). 98 mins [German version] and 79 mins [US Version], PG, Anchor Bay Entertainment. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: 2.35 Widescreen presentation enhanced for 16:9 Televisions, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound and 2.0 Dolby Surround, original trailers; long version in German with English subtitles.

Future "Independence Day" and "Stargate" auteur Roland Emmerich began his career with this unsettling German-made hodgepodge of "Poltergeist," "E.T.," and "Close Encounters." The movie isn't so unsettling because of its actual story, but rather because the movie so blatantly "borrows" from Steven Spielberg's fantasies that it's jarring to see the kind of same widescreen imagery being used with a second-rate story and foreign cast.

"Joey" is a precocious nine-year old who unwittingly unleashes a supernatural force that he first meets by communicating with his freaky wooden ventriloquist dummy. Turns out the "other side" (read: an evil magician) has its designs on poor Joey, who tries to get in contact with his recently-deceased father but ultimately ends up opening up a gateway to lots of lighting and blue-screen effects.

I remember first renting a VHS tape of "Making Contact" when I was in elementary school, thinking how cool the movie looked -- after all, there are dozens of shots literally lifted from Spielberg films. However, after seeing just a few minutes of bad dubbing and a tepid music score, I knew I wasn't watching "Poltergeist" and turned the tape off.

It turns out that New World Pictures, the movie's U.S. distributor, didn't do the film any favors by cutting out over 20 minutes, adding an overwrought soundtrack by Paul Gilreath, and doing a horrendous job on the dubbing side. On the other hand, watching the original German version (with a different -- and even worse -- electronic score by Hubert Bartholome), it's safe to say that no version of "Making Contact" is worth making contact with. The film is noteworthy because of Emmerich's participation, but it would take a few years for the director to effectively mix various genre elements with his own directorial style. "Making Contact" is simply a Euro-rehash of '80s American fantasies, and never really clicks.

Anchor Bay's 2-disc DVD will surely be worth a gander for fans at least. The 2.35 transfers on both versions look fine, while the 5.1/2.0 Dolby Stereo soundtracks are both acceptable. Original trailers are included, and it's amusing to see how the New World trailer tries to build the film up as the next "E.T."

JEEPERS CREEPERS 2 (**, 2003). 104 mins., R, MGM. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Commentaries, deleted scenes, Making Of featurettes including a segment on the score, 2.35 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

Superior sequel to Victor Salva's tedious 2001 thriller is quicker-paced and less pretentious -- and still pretty dumb, even as monster movies go. This time the Creeper hunts down a literal bus load of high school students, including a boys basketball team, who run afoul of the roadside monster out in the middle of rural farm country. Farmer Ray Wise, though, has a few tricks up his sleeve as he tracks the creature in this conventional thriller that's at least less unpleasant than its predecessor and doesn't take itself quite as seriously.

MGM's Special Edition DVD includes commentary from the director and cast, plus a separate track with Jonathan Breck, the Creeper himself; deleted scenes including a longer cameo by original star Justin Long; and a handful of excellent Making Of featurettes, including a nice interview and profile of composer Bennett Salvay (whose score is again one of the movie's strongest assets). The 2.35 Widescreen transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound are both excellent.

Other New Releases of Note

S.W.A.T. (**1/2, 2003). 117 mins., PG-13, Columbia TriStar. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Deleted scenes, cast/director and writers/consultant commentaries, gag reel, Making Of featurettes, 2.40 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

Entertaining update of the short-lived '70s TV show (with the memorable theme song) sports Colin Farrell as an L.A. S.W.A.T. team member who hooks up with veteran chief Samuel L. Jackson after an incident suspends him and his hot-shot partner. Their assignment, which includes the participation of rookie team members Michelle Rodriguez and LL Cool J, sends the team on a mission to transport a drug kingpin (Oliver Martinez) into federal custody -- at least until the crime czar makes a few offers that some of the guys can't refuse.

Director Clark Johnson's efficient action piece did moderately well at the box- office last August, and it's not too hard to see why: the movie isn't anything out of the ordinary, but it does its thing well and gets amiable performances out of Farrell, Jackson, 'Cool J and Rodriguez. The characters are developed fairly well in the David Ayer-David McKenna script, though most of the interplay is predictably disposed of during the final third in favor of mostly routine action sequences. With a bit more confidence in its own characters "S.W.A.T." could have been a standout in the genre, yet it's still a functional late-summer blockbuster that's a notch or two above the norm.

Columbia TriStar's DVD offers a superlative 2.40 widescreen transfer that looks exceptional, while the 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack is filled with impressive snaps, crackles, and gunshots, plus an Elliot Goldenthal score that throws in the occasional quote from the old TV theme (heck, the characters even perform it during a post- assignment dinner!). Separate commentaries from the director and cast (edited together), plus a superior one provided by the writers and technical consultant, are included, along with a handful of deleted scenes, gag reel, four behind-the-scenes Making Of featurettes, and an easter egg containing amusing footage of the "S.W.A.T. golf tournament."

FREAKY FRIDAY (***, 2003). 97 mins., PG, Disney. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Deleted scene, alternate endings, bloopers, featurettes, videos, 1.85 and full-frame versions, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

Roy Disney may be out at the studio his uncle began, but he picked a bad time to criticize The House That Walt Built as Disney found box-office gold thanks to hits like "Finding Nemo" (last year's highest-grossing movie), "Pirates of the Caribbean" (the year's highest-grossing live action film), and the surprise late summer sleeper remake of "Freaky Friday."

This cute -- if slightly over-praised -- re-do of the 1976 Jodie Foster-Barbara Harris favorite provides an entertaining, breezy 97 minutes of family fun. This time it's widowed mom Jamie Lee Curtis who ends up trading places with teen daughter Lindsay Lohan, just days before Curtis is set to be married to bachelor Mark Harmon (who for no apparent reason seems to be everywhere these days). Heather Hach and Leslie Dixon's new scripting of Mary Rodgers' original story has Mom trying to juggle her daughter's high school life (and garage rock band) while young Annabel tries to hold her mother's psychiatric practice together and keep the wedding on course.

Lohan and Curtis are both terrific in this good-natured Disney remake, directed with a decent amount of energy by Mark Waters. Even original star Marc McClure has a cameo in this effort, which stumbles only in its use of ethnic stereotypes to set up the movie's body-switching premise (couldn't they have done better than a Chinese restaurant with a family that speaks pidgin English?).

Disney's DVD offers colorful 1.85 and full-screen transfers, plus a 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack featuring an OK score by Rolfe Kent and up-tempo rock tracks. Extras include several deleted endings (all of which were thankfully discarded), one deleted scene, fluffy, kid-oriented Making Of segments and music videos.

THE NEW GUY: Director's Cut (**1/2, 2002). 92 mins., Unrated (originally PG-13), Columbia TriStar. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Cast and crew commentary, music video, 1.85 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

Absolutely cracked teen comedy stars DJ Qualls ("Road Trip") as a high school nerd who decides to get expelled, spend time in prison, and then surface at his cross-town rival school as a bad-ass rebel. Yes, it's the high school movie formula turned upside down, and "The New Guy" has some choice moments, many of them provided by Eddie Griffin as the deranged, hardened con who helps Qualls find his groove in prison, as well as amusing cameos by the likes of Tony Hawk, David Hasselhoff, and Jerry O'Connell. On the eye-candy side, Zooey Deschanel plays one of Qualls' pals, and Eliza Dushku (of "Buffy" and "Bring It On" fame) gets to play a cheerleader again, providing in the process an entertaining bathing suit montage for all red-blooded young American males.

The movie, directed by Ed Decter (one of the "There's Something About Mary" writers), certainly has some big laughs and the benefit of an unconventional storyline that keeps things relatively fresh. Unfortunately, it sputters down the stretch, ending without a climax and padding its running time with eight minutes of credits and outtakes. Too bad, because up until that point, "The New Guy" was certainly a cut above for this genre, though it may still be worth a view for teen movie fans looking for something with a little originality.

Columbia previously released "The New Guy" on DVD in a pretty much bare- bones DVD shortly after the movie was released in 2002. The new "Director's Cut" disc includes some four minutes of added footage (including an extension of the amusing "Braveheart" parody), and adds a commentary track with Ed Decter, DJ Qualls, and Eliza Dushku, which sounds as if it was recorded shortly after (or even prior to) the movie's release. The 1.85 transfer is again superb and the 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack sports score by Ralph Sall and (surprise) lots and lots of songs.

BRING IT ON AGAIN (**, 2003). 90 mins., PG-13, Universal. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Alternate opening and deleted scenes, featurette, 1.85 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

Universal's latest made-for-video effort is a mostly tepid (though watchable) in- name-only sequel to the sleeper 2000 smash hit.

This time, a pair of high school cheerleaders (obviously patterned after original stars Kirsten Dunst and Gabrielle Union, albeit with different character names) arrive at a fictitious California college where they're recruited by the snobby head cheerleader and join the campus squad. After a few run-ins with the typical college slobs, snobs, and jocks, though, the girls decide to start their own cheerleading team, and find a motley assortment of types in art freaks and geeks and other assorted "losers."

This is one of those movies that features familiar faces who you might recognize but will have a hard time placing: the cheerleading guru was in at least one car commercial I can remember, while two of the guys were in canceled TV series. None of them are especially charismatic or interesting, which is the main problem with "Bring It On Again": had this been made as an actual feature follow-up to the original (with the returning cast members), the movie might have worked. The central concept is sound, but the writing, direction, and performances of this production are all on such a lower level than its predecessor that none of it compares in any regard.

That said, there are a few laughs here and there, and cheerleading fanatics will likely find the picture of interest just the same. Universal's DVD offers brief deleted and alternate scenes, plus a fluffy Making Of featurette and a segment with the movie's "cheer" coordinator. The 1.85 transfer is fine (the cinematography is unusually drab, however), and the 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack is decent, featuring a score by Paul Haslinger, who obviously found a better project with "Underworld" last year (reviewed next week).


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