1/30/07 Edition

Super Bowl Edition!
New Reviews Including THE GUARDIAN & Doris Day Comedies
Plus: SPACE ACADEMY Beams Down From BCI!

February starts at the end of this week and, to celebrate the end of January (traditionally a quiet time for new theatrical and home video releases), a good array of new releases and recent vintage Special Editions have been issued from Fox, Disney, Paramount, and BCI/Brentwood Home Video.     

At the top of the list this week among recent theatrical fare is the Kevin Costner-Ashton Kutcher action vehicle THE GUARDIAN (**½, 139 mins., 2006, PG-13; Buena Vista), which offers few surprises but comes across as a sturdy, well-made, old-fashioned slice of Hollywood escapism.

Costner plays a veteran Coast Guard diver who loses his teammates in a tragic accident. After being re-assigned to a training facility, Costner attempts to put his career back together while educating a group of new recruits -- including brash champion high school swimmer Kutcher -- in how to survive emergency situations. Naturally, you just know Costner’s lessons will come in handy as teacher and pupil have to team up in a rousing action climax where only one will survive...

Under the direction of “Fugitive” veteran Andrew Davis, “The Guardian” is chock full of the usual military-genre cliches from “An Officer and a Gentleman” to “Top Gun,” with the Coast Guard substituting for the other armed services. The movie offers very little in the way of surprises but the picture is never boring (even at 139 minutes) and Ron L. Brinkerhoff’s script takes the time to effectively develop its protagonists. Costner and Kutcher are perfectly fine, while the movie’s authentic Coast Guard Academy backdrops and training footage were a result of heavy cooperation from the service itself.

Disney’s DVD includes commentary with Davis and Brinkerhoff; an alternate ending; deleted scenes; and two Making Of featurettes. The movie’s various visual effects resemble “The Perfect Storm” and make for an impressive 16:9 (1.85) transfer while the 5.1 Dolby Digital sound is heavy on Trevor Rabin’s effective score and thundering sound effects when the circumstances warrant.

“The Guardian” isn’t fresh or innovative, but it’s an entertaining enough star-driven vehicle that’s a nice departure from much of today’s bland action filmmaking. If nothing else, the picture is certainly worth a rental on a chilly winter’s eve.

CINDERELLA III: A TWIST IN TIME (**½, 2007, 74 mins., G; Disney): I’m not sure how anyone could say this made-for-video sequel is “just as magical as the original” (as the front cover jacket attests), but in the realm of small-screen Disney follow-ups, “Cinderella III” is at least superior to its predecessor -- meaning it’s routine but solidly done. This sequel follows Cinderella and Prince Charming through a “What If...” scenario wherein the Wicked Stepmother casts a spell that turns back time, thereby enabling her obnoxious daughter Anastasia to wear the glass slipper instead. A better-than-average premise is complimented by colorful animation and a story that will appeal to all little princesses. Disney’s DVD is supposed to be available for a limited time only and contains a pair of interactive games and a music video featuring “Heroes” star Hayden Panettiere. The 1.78 (16:9) transfer and 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital soundtracks are both top-notch. (available February 6th).

Fox January: Catalog Titles, New Special Editions & More

MOVE OVER, DARLING (1963, 103 mins.; Fox)
DO NOT DISTURB (1965, 102 mins.; Fox)
CAPRICE (1967, 98 mins.; Fox)

Three Doris Day comedies join Fox’s splendid collection of “Cinema Classics” this week.

The 1963 farce “Move Over, Darling” offers America’s Sweetheart as a married woman who’s shipwrecked and eventually rescued. In the meantime, her husband (James Garner) has been remarried (to Polly Bergen) and calamity eventually ensues once Day turns up in a glossy, comedic ‘60s version of Tom Hanks’ “Castaway.”

Don Knotts, Chuck Connors, and Thelma Ritter co-star in this Cinemascope comedy that’s also known as the re-shot version of “Something’s Got To Give,” the infamous, unfinished final film starring Marilyn Monroe.

The movie is reasonably amusing and Fox’s DVD includes several featurettes touching upon the movie’s background, a comparison between Monroe and Day’s performances in the same role, and an interview with Polly Bergen. A D.W. Griffith 1911 short (based on the poem that inspired the film) and a restoration comparison round out the disc, which is presented in a crisp 16:9 transfer with 2.0 stereo and mono sound.

Day’s popularity with audiences may not have waned as the ‘60s progressed, but the quality of her films did steadily decline from her heyday in Rock Hudson bedroom farces, as evidenced by the 1965 formula piece “Do Not Disturb.”

This tale of wife Day relocating with hubby Rod Taylor to England -- and the various comedic complications that follow -- is forgettable stuff, but fans, at least, ought to enjoy its modest pleasures and Fox’s DVD does preserve the movie’s wide Cinemascope frame in a nifty new 16:9  transfer with 2.0 stereo and mono tracks. Four featurettes include a profile of orchestrator Mort Garson, profiles of Day’s supporting cast, and photo galleries.

Last and arguably least among the trio is the 1967 spy spoof “Caprice,” with Doris as a spy who crosses path with dashing Richard Harris en route to finding a formula that would keep women’s hair dry in the water.

Despite being directed by comedy vet Frank Tashlin, “Caprice” is pretty much a plastic piece of late ‘60s studio filmmaking, though Leon Shamroy’s Cinemascope lensing looks awfully perky in Fox’s new 16:9 (2.35) transfer. The fashions and dialogue scream “dated,” but Day and Harris work well enough in what would be one of Day’s final screen comedies (only the tepid “Where Were You When The Lights Went Out” and the innocuous “With Six You Get Eggroll” would follow for the iconic star).

Fox’s DVD includes a commentary by spy movie historians John Cork and Pierre Patrick; an interview with costume designer Ray Aghayan; additional featurettes and radio interviews; a photo gallery and 2.0 stereo and mono sound.

THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (***½, 1991, 118 mins., R; MGM/Fox): New double-disc Special Edition of the 1991 Jonathan Demme Oscar-winner rushes to stores just in time for the February 9th release of the inevitable, check-cashing prequel “Hannibal Rising.” However, if you haven’t owned any prior edition of “The Silence of the Lambs” on DVD, this is a top-notch release with several all-new featurettes, including a conversation with composer Howard Shore (“Scoring the Silence”), two new documentaries, a prior Making Of, 22 deleted scenes, a fresh 16:9 (1.85) transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound plus other goodies. Superior to the out-of-print Criterion edition and the most definitive presentation of the movie to date on video.

THE FABULOUS BAKER BOYS (***, 114 mins., 1989, R; MGM/Fox): Sterling performances from Michelle Pfeiffer, Jeff and Beau Bridges sell writer-director Steve Kloves’ acclaimed 1989 romantic character study. MGM’s new DVD edition offers a new 16:9 transfer of the film with 2.0 Dolby Surround stereo, but neglects some materials from previous versions (like a commentary with cinematographer Michael Ballhaus that was apparently on the previous Live DVD release).

TRUST THE MAN (**, 100 mins., 2006, R; Fox): Writer-director Bart Freundlich’s ensemble comedy offers David Duchovny, Julianne Moore, Billy Crudup, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Eva Mendes in a talky and seldom funny tale of modern relationships as seen through the eyes of two couples. Fox’s DVD, available February 6th, includes both widescreen and full-screen transfers with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, a Making Of featurette, and deleted scenes and commentary by Freundlich and Duchovny.

FLICKA (***, 95 mins., PG, 2006; Fox): Heartwarming remake of the old Roddy McDowall ‘40s vehicle “My Friend Flicka” stars Alison Lohman as a teen who tries to tame a wild mustang in scribes Mark Rosenthal and Lawrence Konner’s updating of Mary O’Hara’s novel. Excellent supporting performances by country music star Tim McGraw and Maria Bello and scenic cinematography by J. Michael Muro (shot in Wyoming) put this feel-good family movie over the top. Fox’s DVD includes both widescreen (2.35) and full-screen transfers with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, commentary, deleted scenes, bloopers, and a music video of McGraw’s single “My Little Girl.” Aaron Zigman’s understated score is a further asset.    

IDIOCRACY (**, 85 mins., R, 2006; Fox): Mike Judge’s follow-up to “Office Space” never made it to theaters and instead sat dormant on the Fox shelves for months before finally being issued to DVD a few weeks ago. This silly comedy stars Luke Wilson as a ordinary Joe who, as part of a government experiment, wakes up in the future to find he’s the smartest living man on the planet. Judge mixes slapstick with satire somewhat effectively here, providing enough laughs  to compensate for the unevenness of the material and its odd pacing, perhaps the result of the movie having been taken out of his hands. Fox’s DVD includes a 16:9 (1.85) transfer, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, and just a few minutes of deleted scenes.

ROMEO + JULIET: Music Edition (**½, 1996, 120 mins., PG-13; Fox): Nifty new “Music Edition” of the 1996 Baz Luhrmann rendition of Shakespeare's perennial puts the accent on the film’s soundtrack, with the package offering ample bonus material. Included among the fresh extras are new commentaries from score composer/arranger Craig Armstrong, Marius DeVries and Luhrmann; several featurettes on the music, including the temp score; a documentary on the soundtrack; and an interactive “Music Machine” that enables you to jump to sequences containing a specific track. The 16:9 transfer and 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital soundtracks are all exceptionally handled, and a separate new CD of the movie’s soundtrack (on Capitol Records) offers some five new bonus tracks as well. (available February 6th)

STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKE: The Sweet Dreams Movie (2006, 83 mins., G; Fox): Strawberry Shortcake has been entrenched on the comeback trail for some time, starring in a new TV series, innumerable made-for-video titles, and now this CGI-rendered feature which played in theaters last fall. Say what you will about the story, but this DiC-animated production is leaps and bounds above the old “Shortcake” series that aired when I was a kid and our next door neighbor had every doll in the line (Blueberry Muffin, Huckleberry Pie, etc...hey, at least they smelled nice!). Fox’s DVD, out next week, offers a full-screen transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound. (available February 6th).

ONE NIGHT WITH THE KING (124 mins., 2006, PG; Fox): Moderately budgeted tale of Esther, the Queen of Persia, boasts supporting cameos from Peter O’Toole and Omar Sharif, plus a sweeping score by J.A.C. Redford. Fox’s DVD looks spiffy in 16:9 (1.78) widescreen and boasts a 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack.

New TV on DVD: Beauty & The Beast

I was entering 7th grade when Ron Koslow’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (1987-88, 22 Episodes) premiered on CBS, and clearly I was not the intended demographic for this lush, romantic series which ran on Friday nights for three seasons on “The Eye.”

In this soulful updating of the original fairy tale, Linda Hamilton plays a typically harried ‘80s professional whose conscience is awakened after she’s saved by The Beast -- a big, hairy, intelligent animal-human hybrid who lives beneath the streets of New York, along with his father (Roy Dotrice) and other, similar societal outcasts. For all 22 first season episodes, the series charts the gradually developing relationship between Hamilton’s Catherine and the Beast, named Vincent, which ultimately would come to a tragic end in Season 2 once Hamilton decided she wanted to leave the series.

Though the series never really took off in the ratings, “Beauty and the Beast” was in some ways the ‘80s version of “Star Trek”: while the program didn’t stay on the air long, what audience it did attract were hard-core, devoted viewers who gobbled up any and all merchandise from the series (including a CD of poetry and Lee Holdridge’s lush original score).

Those fans will be thrilled to see that Paramount is releasing the cult-fave show on DVD in a couple of weeks, in a standard but satisfying box-set. All of the show’s original Season 1 episodes are on-hand in solid full-screen transfers with 2.0 stereo soundtracks; no extras are on-hand this time out, but most viewers will likely be happy to revisit the series’ contemporary yet timeless take on the fairy tale regardless.

BEN 10, Complete Season 1 (2006, 286 mins., Warner): Cartoon Network series follows the life of a 10-year-old, regular human boy who uncovers a wristband dubbed the “Omnitrix” in the rubble of a crashed meteorite. The device enables mild-mannered Ben Tennyson to change into a variety of extraterrestrial super-heroes, which he uses to fight evil and, occasionally, just get into trouble. This free-wheeling, kid-centric series offers colorful action for youngsters, and Warner’s 2-disc DVD edition (due out February 6th) of the series’ first season includes commentaries, sneak previews of future episodes, and creator drawing demos.

More Filmation Fun

Filmation Studios looked to capitalize on the success of “Star Wars” by jumping aboard the genre and producing the short-lived CBS Saturday morning series SPACE ACADEMY (1977, 15 Episodes).

In the distant future (3732 to be precise), a young cast of outer-space trainees (Pamelyn Ferdin, Ric Carrott, Ty Henderson, Eric Greene, Maggie Cooper, and Brian Tochi) are tutored by Jonathan “Lost in Space” Harris (sporting that year’s worst comb-over) in this fun slice of ‘70s nostalgia. Aimed, obviously, at youngsters hungry for anything sci-fi related in the wake of the George Lucas blockbuster, “Space Academy” offers decent enough (for their time) special effects and engagingly outlandish stories, often seasoned with morals and playing out like a Jr. “Star Trek,” making it a more entertaining view than, say, Filmation’s earlier kids offering “Ark II.”

Following in the footsteps of that earlier Norm Prescott-Lou Scheimer series, BCI Eclipse has dusted off “Space Academy” and assembled all 15 episodes in a marvelous DVD box set with terrific special features. The show looks and sounds just fine, while a pair of commentary tracks and a retrospective documentary include cast and crew interviews. Still galleries, DVD-ROM scripts and an episode booklet round out the package, which should come highly recommended for kids of all ages.

Also new from BCI Eclipse is the second half of the complete series of PRINCE VALIANT (1992-93, 32 Episodes). This Family Channel-televised series, based on Hal Foster’s long-running comic strip, became a favorite among viewers for its episodic and developed story lines, placing it on a pedestal above most weekday afternoon cartoon fare (despite the Family Channel objecting to the series’ action-packed pace and occasional violence).

BCI issued the series’ initial 33 episodes in a box-set last summer, and now the studio’s Ink and Paint label finishes off the program with its final 32 entries in this 5-disc set. Once again the transfers and soundtracks are more than acceptable, while a full array of supplemental content includes commentaries, interviews, DVD-ROM goodies (scripts) and still galleries. Recommended for all enthusiasts of Foster’s strip and ‘90s animation.

New From Genius Products

INFERNAL AFFAIRS 2 (2003, 119 mins., Weinstein/Genius)
INFERNAL AFFAIRS 3 (2003, 118 mins., Weinstein/Genius)
POLICE STORY 2 (1988, 122 mins., Weinstein/Genius)

Three more entries into Weinstein’s “Dragon Dynasty” line of Asian cinema Special Editions include the two sequels to the HK classic “Infernal Affairs” -- unquestionably being released to coincide with the Oscar candidacy of its American remake, Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed” (indeed, there are references to the Scorsese film on both back jackets).

“Infernal Affairs 2" is a prequel to its predecessor while the third film (shot simultaneously) concludes the trilogy. Both movies include teasers, trailers, Making Of featurettes, as well as deleted scenes and a subtitled cast/crew commentary track on the second film.     

One of Jackie Chan’s top-rated martial arts epics, “Police Story 2,” also makes its way back on DVD in a proper presentation courtesy of Weinstein and Genius Products. The 1988 sequel’s new “Dragon Dynasty” release includes alternate outtakes, commentary with director Brett Ratner (whose praise for the movie lands a front cover quote) and HK expert Bey Logan, and a conversation with the duo.

Transfers across all three films are newly remastered in 16:9 widescreen and feature English and 5.1 Cantonese soundtracks. (available February 13th).

SCHOOL FOR SCOUNDRELS (**½, 108 mins., Unrated, 2006; Genius/Weinstein): Todd Phillips’ remake of an obscure ‘60s comedy presents the sure-fire teaming of “Napoleon Dyanmite”’s Jon Heder with Billy Bob Thornton. Heder is the delinquent who’s whipped into shape by teacher Thornton, with the usual assortment of cameos (Ben Stiller, David Cross, etc.) sprinkled into an uneven but occasionally funny farce. Weinstein’s DVD offers an Unrated version sporting some eight minutes of added content; commentary with Phillips and writer Scot Armstrong; an alternate ending; gag reel; and a “Making Of” that “you didn’t see on TV.” The 16:9 (1.85) transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack are both just fine. (available February 13th)

Also New & Noteworthy    

HELLBOY: SWORD OF STORMS (2007, 75 mins., Anchor Bay): So-so animated TV adventure continues the “Hellboy” comic book and film franchise started by Guillermo Del Toro, who serves here as executive producer alongside creator Mike Mignola. Solid animation and the voices of Ron Perlman, Selma Blair and Doug Jones help, but the story by Matt Wayne and Tad Stones is routine and the action rather tedious as a result. Still, hard-core “Hellboy” fans may find this to be a decent enough fill-in until the live-action sequel rolls out, with Anchor Bay’s DVD sporting numerous featurettes, commentary, 16:9 (1.78) widescreen and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound. (available February 6th)

DIVERGENCE (2005, 100 mins., Tartan): Hong Kong import wants to be the new “Infernal Affairs” (and is compared as such in the packaging) but is, in reality, a cluttered and only intermittently interesting action-thriller from director Benny Chan. Tartan’s superb two-disc DVD is packed with extras (16:9 widescreen, commentary, Making Of materials) but sadly falls short in terms of the central experience, which is routine stuff best left for HK cinema die-hards.

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