1/27/09 Edition

Super Bowl Edition
Sutherland's MIRRORS reviewed
Plus: TV on DVD, PRIDE & GLORY, REPO! and more

While all eyes will be in Tampa Bay this weekend for the big battle between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the heavy-underdog Arizona Cardinals, alternative viewing choices are in abundance on DVD and Blu-Ray. Here’s a breakdown of both new and upcoming discs on both platforms as we head into the icy weeks of February...

New on Blu-Ray

MIRRORS (**, 111 mins., 2008, R/Unrated; Fox): Supernatural chiller, yet another remake of an Asian fright fest, from director Alexandre Aja stars Kiefer Sutherland as a disgraced, depressed former NYC cop -- estranged from his family -- now working as a security guard at a deserted Macy’s-like department store ravaged by fire. Everything in the store has been trashed yet the mirrors somehow sparkle with their clarity...and a demon that happens to be haunting from within, wanting to break out into our world!

“Mirrors” actually has a few effective jolts but these sporadic moments are curtailed in their effectiveness by a plodding pace and needlessly explicit violence (Amy Smart, essaying Sutherland’s sister, suffers a particularly gratuitous fate). Sutherland, who also co-executive produced, makes for a sympathetic protagonist, but the Aja-Gregory Levasseur script is lean on character development and ultimately fails to give Kiefer much to do beyond looking shocked or appalled at the horrors around him. What’s more, in this Shyamalan-wannabe-age, the filmmakers feel the need to throw in a “twist” ending that, while being a bit more subtle than you’d anticipate, isn’t any more satisfying in terms of resolving the story.

Fox’s Blu-Ray edition of “Mirrors” includes a solid AVC encoded transfer with Dolby TrueHD sound, sporting a surprisingly effective score by Javier Navarette. Both the theatrical and unrated versions of the movie are on-hand (the latter with even more gore) plus deleted scenes and a weak alternate ending that’s not much different than the final version, along with other Making Of materials, commentary in the “BonusView” picture-in-picture track, and a digital copy for portable media players.

While not nearly as bad as most of its genre brethren of late, “Mirrors” is an ultimately disappointing affair that could’ve been better than it was. Genre fans may still want to check it out, but Jack Bauer buffs wanting to see Sutherland stretch beyond “24" are likely to be let down by the less intense action on-hand here.

13 GOING ON 30 (***, 98 mins., 2004, PG-13; Sony): One of the more charming “date” movies of this decade, “13 Going On 30" is less a variation on the Tom Hanks favorite "Big" than it is a cross between that movie and "A Christmas Carol.”

Here, Jennifer Garner plays the adult incarnation of a hapless 13-year-old girl in 1987 who wishes she was 30. After attending a disastrous birthday party, Jenna Rink wakes up as the adult Garner -- a NYC magazine editor with a hockey player boyfriend, plenty of money, and seemingly everything she ever wanted. To help her sort out her new surroundings, Garner tracks down her former middle-school guy-pal Mark Ruffalo, who now lives in the Village and makes a modest living as a  photographer. Ruffalo helps Garner fill in the blanks of the lost 17 years of her life, and Garner finds herself discovering that she's not exactly the person she thought she might be in the process.

One of the things I enjoyed about "13 Going On 30" was how it paid scant attention to the regulation requirements of this genre (launched in the contemporary era by "Freaky Friday," made popular by "Big," then carried on through films like "Vice Versa”). Screenwriters Josh Goldsmith and Cathy Yuspa don't spend an eternity on Garner first discovering that she's 30 -- nor do they hit you over the head with gags about Garner being out of her element as a 13-year-old living in an adult body.

Instead, the filmmakers are content to tell an appealing story about the consequence of bad choices and trying to make amends for those decisions. Garner is as effervescent as you'd anticipate her being, and she's perfectly matched with Ruffalo, laid back as a heartbroken soul who discovers himself falling for a girl who tortured him in high school.

Even though the movie doesn't do a good job developing its supporting players ("Rings" veteran Andy Serkis is wasted as Garner's high-strung boss), "13 Going on 30" has a satisfying romance at its center that makes it very difficult to dislike. The ending is especially well-handled, the bouncy soundtrack is filled with the expected '80s pop tunes and a lyrical score by the ever-reliable Theodore Shapiro, and the leads are so downright likable that the film works in spite of its abbreviated running time.

Sony’s terrific Blu-Ray disc sports a colorful and quite satisfying AVC encoded transfer with Dolby TrueHD audio. Extras are culled mostly from the “Fun and Flirty” DVD edition, including a ten-minute assembly of the movie’s original opening and epilogue, with the two young actors playing the Garner and Ruffalo roles closing things out; and an extraneous “Fashion Flashback” featurette. Three workprint montages (perhaps tossed because Jennifer Garner looked silly in them, bopping around to scenes without any music), deleted/extended scenes, a Making Of featurette, bloopers, and two commentaries from the original DVD have also been reprieved.

THE PINK PANTHER (**, 2006, 93 mins., PG; Sony): Bombastic but occasionally amusing update of the Blake Edwards series works well enough for young viewers, with Steve Martin handling Peter Sellers’ Inspector Clouseau more effectively than you might have anticipated; unfortunately Kevin Kline’s underplayed Chief Inspector Dreyfus is a disappointment, without any of Herbert Lom’s mounting hysteria (perhaps one reason why Kline was replaced by John Cleese in the forthcoming “Pink Panther 2").

The film’s caper plot -- involving the death of a French soccer coach, the theft of the infamous diamond, and a mysterious pop singer played by Beyonce -- is fun, but director Shawn Levy (who handled Martin’s terrible, albeit financially successful “Cheaper by the Dozen”) strives for bigger explosions and slapstick jokes -- punctuated by overly-cartoony music by Christophe Beck -- than anything Edwards attempted in his original films. 

The result is a loud, overbearing movie that overstays its welcome even at 93 minutes, though again, kids may warm to the film (and indeed they must have, to the tune of an $81 million domestic gross and February 6th’s sequel).

Sony’s Blu-Ray disc offers up a nice package, with 11 deleted scenes, including an intriguing, unused CGI opening; Making Of featurettes; commentary from director Levy; a Blu-Ray exclusive “Code Pink” graphics-in-picture track; and BD-Live extras for those equipped with BD-Live players. The AVC encoded transfer is colorful and the Dolby TrueHD audio sound boisterous, with plenty of explosions and an over-reliance on Henry Mancini’s classic theme, which pops up more during the course of the film proper than it did in any of the old movies Mancini originally scored!

REPO! THE GENETIC OPERA (*, 97 mins., 2008, R; Lionsgate): Sometimes you come across movies that are just plain “off.” “Repo! The Genetic Opera” is one that you can add to the list of misbegotten, wayward misfires -- a film so unrelentingly awful you wonder how it ever could have been produced in the first place.

The producers of “Saw” and the director of several of that franchise’s sequels packaged this big-screen adaptation of a stage play by Darren Smith and Terrance Zdunich -- a futuristic sci-fi musical about a society where organ failures have claimed the lives of millions, leaving in charge a massive corporation overseen by Paul Sorvino that offers organ transplants for a price.

Among the talents who signed up for this claustrophobically staged, cult musical-wannabe -- complete with comic-book paneled interludes -- are Sarah Brightman, Anthony Stewart Head (“Buffy”), one-time “Spy Kid” Alexa Vega and Sorvino, who at least has a bit of opera background in his resume; among the untalented are Paris Hilton and Bill Moseley from the “House of 10000 Corpses,” who’s awful as Sorvino’s son. Co-composer Zdunich also appears in a supporting role in a film that’s just plain bizarre, from its comedic elements to ample gore, self-satirical passages and garish visuals that are often grimy and unpleasant to watch. It’s a mess all the way, but the big problem with the movie isn’t so much the oddball story but the unappealing, noisy Smith-Zdunich musical score, which isn’t memorable or thematic enough to lure you in and keep you glued for the ride that follows.

Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray and DVD editions both sport multiple commentary tracks, one with director Darren Lynn Bousman and the cast, another with Bousman and show creators Smith and Zdunich. Deleted scenes and select scene commentary from Paris Hilton are also on-hand (just what you always wanted, right?), plus trailers and poster galleries, a fine 16:9 (1.85) transfer on DVD and a vibrant AVC-encoded HD presentation on Blu-Ray. The DTS Master Audio sound is also potent on Blu-Ray, with just a bit less pop on the DVD’s standard 5.1 Dolby Digital track.

SAW V (*½, 96 mins., Unrated, 2008; Lionsgate): More gory nonsense, the fifth in the now-unending series with Jigsaw and company, hits DVD and Blu-Ray in effectively blood soaked special editions. Both platforms sport a new, longer cut of the movie with two commentaries from director David Hakl to members of the production team, the trailer and numerous featurettes. The AVC encoded 1080p HD transfer is just fine, the DTS Master Audio sound pungent on Blu-Ray, while the DVD looks great in 16:9 (1.85) widescreen and sports comparable 5.1 Dolby Digital sound. For “Saw” fans only, though it’s nice to see former ‘80s B-queen Betsy Russell on-screen again.

ROCKNROLLA (**½, 115 mins., 2008, R; Warner): Guy Ritchie’s return to the world of gangsters, thugs, losers and wannabes is an entertaining if overly familiar tale of a small-time playa (Gerard Butler) taking on a veteran London mobster (Tom Wilkinson) and a group of foreigners new in town and with a swindle of their own.

Laughs, violence, a dash of sex and garish cinematography trademark Ritchie’s latest effort, complete with amusing performances by the likes of Butler, Wilkinson, Thandie Newton, Idris Elba, and Jeremy Piven. It’s nothing out of the norm for its genre but Ritchie fans ought to be pleased.

New Line’s Blu-Ray disc includes a fine VC-1 encoded transfer with Dolby TrueHD audio, commentary from Ritchie and co-star Mark Strong, an additional scene, and two featurettes in HD, along with a digital copy for portable media players on a second disc.

PRIDE AND GLORY (**, 130 mins., 2008, R; New Line/Warner): Ed Norton plays a NYC detective investigating a botched drug bust that claimed the lives of several cops; Colin Farrell and Noah Emmerich are his brother-in-law and brother, respectively, both of whom were involved in the incident in director Gavin O’Connor’s overlong, mostly predictable corrupt cop drama.

New Line’s Blu-Ray edition of “Pride and Glory” includes a robust VC-1 encoded transfer with Dolby TrueHD audio, a documentary on the production, and a digital copy for portable media players.

Horrors from Paramount

Growing up I was always a big fan of John Carpenter’s original “Halloween” and, to a lesser extent, the Freddy Krueger “Nightmare on Elm Street” pictures. Despite their popularity, I was never that excited by the “Friday the 13th” movies, which seemed to come out at an annual basis while I was in grade school, but failed to captivate me, even on a juvenile level, as a youngster.

However, times have changed, and these days, with one relentlessly awful “torture porn” film after another constituting much of the modern horror market, it’s almost refreshing to go back to the carefree days of idiot teenagers having sex, running around Crystal Lake and getting hacked to pieces by Jason Voorhees.

And, right on time with the upcoming “Friday the 13th” remake looming on (when else?) Friday, February 13th, Paramount has gotten into the act with brand-new Special Editions of FRIDAY THE 13th (**½, 95 mins., 1980), FRIDAY THE 13th PART II (**, 86 mins., 1981, R) and the 3-D frightfest of FRIDAY THE 13th PART III (**½, 95 mins., 1982, R).

While the studio previously released a superb box-set anthology compiling all the series’ original entries (with numerous special features as well), these newly remastered editions are superior in their technical presentation and offer fresh extras that fans will want to eat up.

Sean S. Cunningham’s original “Friday,” in fact, makes its “Uncut” debut in North America courtesy of Paramount’s upcoming DVD and Blu-Ray edition. This inaugural slayfest for Jason and Co. sports Kevin Bacon in an early role and Adrienne King as the first heroine who takes on Jason and his mom (Betsy Palmer) in a fairly effective, low-key slasher that set the textbook for the myriad of sequels and rip-offs that followed.

While viewers outside the U.S. have been able to see “Friday” in its original uncut form (with just a few seconds of added gore) for some time through Warner Bros. (which owns distribution rights in certain territories), only now do American fans have the opportunity to watch the film with its “unrated” tag intact.

The DVD’s crisp, remastered transfer (16:9 widescreen, 1.85) is superior (and at least brighter) than the prior DVD, but the new master’s added benefits are obviously more on display in the Blu-Ray edition, which sports a fine VC-1 encoded 1080p presentation that represents as strong a transfer as we’ll ever see for a low-budget, nearly 30-year-old horror outing like this one. The Dolby TrueHD audio is potent as well, having been freshly remixed for this new release.

Brand-new extras spread across both platforms (in HD on Blu-Ray) include a commentary track with Cunningham and several cast members, which was previously included only in Warner’s international DVD editions of the “Uncut” version; a new, 15-minute “Fresh Cuts” featurette with cast and crew interviews; a new, 10-minute interview with Sean S. Cunningham; a half-hour reunion of the cast at a convention from last year; “Lost Tales From Camp Blood” (Part 1), a student film “inspired by” the “Friday” movies; and the original trailer. Exclusive to the Blu-Ray platter is a 10-minute conversation with make-up expert Tom Savini and -- in standard definition -- “The Friday the 13th Chronicles,” a 20-minute segment on the picture’s production that was issued previously in Paramount’s multi-disc DVD box-set.

In addition to the uncut Special Edition of the first “Friday,” Paramount is also issuing the first two sequels on DVD in new editions -- though oddly, both of these are also showing up on Blu-Ray...but only overseas (no word on a U.S. release).

The immediately-produced follow-up, FRIDAY THE 13th PART II, is a fairly hackneyed retread of its predecessor from producer-director Steve Miner, with former “Powers of Matthew Star” heroine Amy Steel taking over for King, who’s offed in the early-going of this first sequel.

Paramount’s remastered 16:9 DVD transfer (1.85) again appears brighter and crisper than the movie’s prior release, while extras include another new retrospective featurette on the production (with cast and crew interviews), a featurette on fan conventions and “Friday”’s role in their popularity, the second half of “Lost Tales From Camp Blood,” and the trailer.

The series made the move into the third dimension with 1982's release of FRIDAY THE 13th PART III, which hits DVD also for the first time in 3-D. Though naturally the old red/blue analygraph 3-D format doesn’t compare to the “field sequential” version initially seen in theaters, the 3-D effects are still fairly good here -- especially when you view the DVD upconverted in high-definition. The clarity of the images isn’t perfect but it’s a good deal more effective than any of the old analygraph 3-D movies you might’ve watched back in the ‘80s on local TV.

The movie itself was a huge success, far more of a hit than the second installment, and also looks visually quite impressive in 2.35 widescreen -- the only film of the entire series shot in an anamorphic process.

In addition to the 3-D transfer (with a pair of 3-D glasses), Paramount’s DVD also includes a 2-D version of the movie, also in 16:9 (2.35) widescreen and with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound. Extras, oddly, are non-existent on this Special Edition outside of the theatrical trailer -- which comes as a surprise since the UK DVD and Blu-Ray releases are slated to include a host of supplements.

New TV on DVD

Paramount and CBS have a full slate of titles lined up for release in February. Here’s a breakdown:

CHEERS: Season 11 (1992-93, 11 hours, CBS/Paramount): It may not include the memorable, bleary-eyed “Tonight Show with Jay Leno” program from hours after the last episode’s conclusion, but “Cheers” fans nevertheless have reason to rejoice with this, the 11th and final season of NBC’s classic sitcom, which has just arrived on DVD from Paramount. The four-disc set includes the final 28 episodes from the series’ run, and although the program showed its age quite a bit during its last couple of years, it ended its run on a high-note in the three-part “One For the Road.” Highly recommended!

FRIDAY THE 13th THE SERIES Season 2 (1988-89, aprx. 20 hours, CBS/Paramount): 26 chilling episodes from the cult favorite series (which has nothing to do with Jason or any other hockey masked-killers, for that matter) hit DVD in Paramount’s Season 2 set of “Friday the 13th.” The full-screen transfers are fine and fairly effective stereo soundtracks are also on-tap for series fans.

THE INVADERS: Season 2 (1967-68, 22 hours., CBS/Paramount): Roy Thinnes is back as David Vincent in this second and -- lamentably -- final season of the Quinn Martin-produced TV series, which arrives on DVD in another fine package from Paramount. All 26 episodes look crisp and highly satisfying, while extras include commentary on the episode “The Peacemaker” by Alan Armer, a new interview with Roy Thinnes and episodic intros from Thinnes. A must for series fans, with only a disclaimer about edits from the network TV versions (not musical alterations) listed on the back jacket.

DAVE’S WORLD Season 2 (1994-95, 10 hours, CBS/Paramount): Where Have You Gone, Harry Anderson? The former comic and “Night Court” star has all but disappeared after starring in this mediocre CBS series, which nevertheless ran for much of the 1990s on the network’s airwaves. Anderson starred as columnist Dave Barry in a so-so family sitcom that also brought along Shadoe Stevens and Meshach Taylor as Dave’s best friends. Paramount’s Season 2 set of the show boasts 25 episodes in full-screen transfers and stereo soundtracks.

BECKER Season 2 (1999-2000, 9 hours, CBS/Paramount): I never much warmed to Ted Danson’s post-“Cheers” starring vehicle as an abrasive New York doctor, but clearly someone did as “Becker” enjoyed a healthy run on CBS. Shortly due out on DVD in a three-disc set, Paramount’s Season 2 box-set of “Becker” includes 24 episodes in full-screen transfers and with stereo soundtracks.

MELROSE PLACE Season 5, Volume 1 (1996-97, 15 hours, CBS/Paramount): Fox’s night-time soaper welcomed “Silk Stalkings” co-star Rob Estes plus Kelly Rutherford and Lisa Rinna to the cast for its fifth season. Paramount’s DVD box-set sports the first 19 episodes of the show’s fifth season in full-screen transfers and stereo soundtracks.

Sony “Martini Movies”

Several eclectic catalog titles join Sony’s latest wave of popular “Martini Movies” on DVD.

Joining the ranks this time out is VIBES (**, 99 mins., 1988, PG-13), a box-office bomb from producers Ron Howard and Brian Grazer that attempted to recycle “Indiana Jones” and “Romancing the Stone” as a vehicle for pop princess Cyndi Lauper.

Lauper stars as a psychic who joins another medium (Jeff Goldblum) in South America after being asked by Peter Falk to help him find his missing son. Would-be adventure and romance follows in a film that was very obviously intended to be a blockbuster -- from Richard Edlund’s effects to James Horner providing the original score -- but completely died with critics and audiences alike, thanks mainly to heavy-handed direction from Ken Kwapis and one of Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel’s weakest scripts. Lauper is fun but she ultimately provides some of the only “Vibes” the movie has going for it.

Sony’s DVD includes a fine 16:9 (1.85) transfer with 2.0 stereo sound and the original trailer.

Veteran British filmmaker Stephen Frears, meanwhile, helmed his first feature with 1971's GUMSHOE (**½, 86 mins.), which also debuts on DVD next week from Sony.

This seldom-screened British spoof stars Albert Finney as a comedian who dreams of becoming a Marlowe-like P.I. and takes on a case, much to the chagrin of brother Frank Finlay and former love Billie Whitelaw. Chris Menges shot “Gumshoe,” which also sports a score by Andrew Lloyd Webber, a strong performance from Finney and a disarming tone which veers from serious to satirical and which movie buffs -- and especially film noir fans -- ought to find sufficiently entertaining in spite of its inherent unevenness.

Sony’s DVD sports a newly remastered 16:9 (1.66) transfer with mono sound and the original trailer.

Finally Sony also has lined up the Elliott Gould-Candice Bergen pairing in GETTING STRAIGHT (**½, 1970, R), a dated period relic about a Vietnam vet who comes home during the turbulent campus riots of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s to a society in which he doesn’t quite fit on any level.

Richard Rush’s 1970 movie wasn’t all that well received upon its initial release, but Gould’s strong performance grounds “Getting Straight” in spite of its rather conventional structure, and is worth a look for period enthusiasts at least.

Sony’s DVD looks well-composed in its 16:9 (1.85) transfer and boasts mono sound.

Also on DVD

THE STEWARDESSES 3-D (**½, 93 mins., 1969; Shout! Factory): Antiquated but moderately entertaining late ‘60s affair about a group of nubile young stewardesses in the free love era hits DVD in a tremendously nostalgic package courtesy of Shout Factory.

A word-of-mouth success in its day, “The Stewardesses” was touted as the world’s first 3-D “sex film,” earning an X back in its day -- yet it’s tough to classify as being pornographic. The movie was so successful that it was later re-edited with new footage, and Shout’s version includes basically everything that you could think of: the original uncut version in both 3-D (color and black-and-white) and 2-D versions, in addition to 3-D outtakes and screen tests, interviews with the cast and crew, and an SCTV parody of the film from the early ‘80s.

The 3-D effects are superior to “Friday the 13th Part III,” at least, with the black-and-white version being offered here because its three-dimensional clarity is superior to the color version. Either way you go, get ready for some legitimate late ‘60s shenanigans, with booklet notes and a pair of glasses added for good measure.

CITY OF EMBER (***, 95 mins., 2008, PG; Fox): Absorbing family film from Walden Media and producer Tom Hanks died at the autumn box-office, despite a game cast (Bill Murray, Martin Landau and Tim Robbins provide the veteran support) and former Tim Burton collaborator Caroline Thompson adapting Jeanne Duprau’s novel.

Gil Kenan’s film follows a pair of teenagers and a young girl living in an underground city who set off to restore power to their subterranean kingdom. No, it’s not a remake of “Supergirl,” but rather a captivating and well-produced fantasy that children and adults should both enjoy, and doesn’t overstay its welcome at a tidy 95-minute running time.

Fox’s DVD is short on extras but does include superb 16:9 (2.35) and full-screen transfers with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound. Blu-Ray owners should note that while no domestic HD release is planned, a UK Blu-Ray edition is due out later in February.

THE RIDE OF THEIR LIVES (93 mins., 2009; Paramount): Kevin Costner narrates this feature-length documentary on the history of NASCAR, from its origins in the 1950s to its present day status as a pastime for many Americans in certain parts of the country. This CMT network original sports plenty of interviews and excellent archival footage, putting a solid historical account of the organization together for its fans. Paramount’s DVD includes a widescreen transfer with over an hour of bonus interviews.

NITE TAILS (93 mins., 2008; Paramount): A pair of horrific tales are on-hand in this Flavor Flav-hosted direct-to-video enterprise from BET and creator/writer/director Deon Taylor. Paramount’s DVD includes a widescreen transfer with 2.0 sound and a behind-the-scenes featurette narrated by Taylor.

NOAH’S ARC: JUMPING THE BROOM (101 mins., 2008; Paramount): Logo Channel-produced series jumps into a feature-length adventure with the boys heading to Martha’s Vineyard for a weekend of craziness. Paramount’s DVD offers an hour-plus of bonus features, including director diaries, deleted scenes, a cast photo shoot, a full-screen transfer and stereo sound.

THE GENE GENERATION (96 mins., 2008, R; Lionsgate): Bai Ling looks fetching in this “Blade Runner”/”Cyberpunk” wannabe as a futuristic assassin in this little-seen 2007 production, co-starring Faye Dunaway! Lionsgate’s DVD includes a 16:9 (1.78) transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

I LOVE THE ‘80s DVD Wave (Paramount): Specially packaged re-issues of ‘80s viewer favorites “Coming to America,” “Flashdance,” “Top Secret!,” “The Naked Gun,” and “Cheech & Chong Still Smokin’.” Unlike several titles in Paramount’s prior wave of “I Love the ‘80s” titles, supplements have been carried over on the respective titles, making them a good bet if you never owned their prior DVD editions. For individual coverage on each title, use my Aisle Seat page’s Archive search for more information and reviews of each disc.

NEXT TIME: The original PINK PANTHER in HD! Until then, don't forget to drop in on the official Aisle Seat Message Boards and direct any emails to our email address.  Cheers everyone!

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