10/17/06 Edition

Caine Cult Classics New on DVD
Michael Swings in DEADFALL and More From Fox
Plus: October Criterions; Cavett Chat Classics & TV on DVD Wrap Up

October is always a busy month for DVD, as evidenced by the barrage of genre-related Halloween titles just hitting store shelves. However, it’s not just the spooks getting the attention -- some excellent vintage titles are new to disc, including three Michael Caine efforts from the ‘60s and ‘70s; new editions of Ridley Scott’s “Black Rain” and Disney’s classic “The Little Mermaid”; and a plethora of other recent releases, from Adam Sandler’s “Click” to Jack Black’s Mexican wrestler-spoof “Nacho Libre.”

All follow below with an extensive look at the latest TV on DVD offerings, highlighted by a sublime box-set of Dick Cavett conversations with “Hollywood Greats.” Read on, and be here next week for Part 2 of our annual Aisle Seat Halloween Special!

New From Fox: The Michael Caine Collection

DEADFALL (**, 120 mins., 1968, R; Fox)
THE MAGUS (**, 116 mins., 1968, PG; Fox)
PEEPER (***, 87 mins., 1975, PG; Fox)

Buffs ought to be delighted by the debut of three almost entirely forgotten Michael Caine vehicles turning up on DVD for the first time this week.

Peter Hyams’ little-seen ‘40s film noir spoof “Peeper” is the best of the batch, offering Caine as an L.A.-based private detective seeking his client’s long-lost daughter. W.D. Richter, coming off his script for the equally oddball and amusing “Slither” (now there’s a movie that also deserves a DVD release!), penned a fitfully amusing parody with atmospheric Panavision cinematography and an excellent supporting cast (Natalie Wood, Michael Constantine, Kitty Winn) peppered with numerous character actors.

It’s a shame this one has been so rarely screened over the years, since the film’s breezy tone and engaging performances make it irresistibly appealing, especially for fans (there are even opening credits spoken by a Bogart impersonator!). Fox’s DVD offers an excellent 16:9 (2.35) transfer preserving Hyams’ preference for widescreen scope cinematography, while the 2.0 stereo sound is likewise in good condition, sporting a pleasant, appropriately jazzy score by Richard Clements.

“Deadfall,” meanwhile, offers Caine in a lurid tale of a thief who gets involved in a couple and a jewel heist that’s a long way removed from the cool sexiness of “The Thomas Crown Affair,” a far more satisfying caper released around the same time. This 1968 Fox release boasts an appropriately moody John Barry score but is a pretty much a mess otherwise, with a disjointed script and direction from Bryan Forbes that never gives us a reason to care about any of its protagonists.

Now, here’s the good news: Fox’s DVD doesn’t just include a 16:9 (1.66) transfer of the movie, but also an excellent new featurette “The John Barry Touch: The Music of a Master,” featuring interviews with Barry, Forbes and author Eddi Fiegel. This 20-minute featurette is all about Barry’s superb score for the film, his collaboration with Forbes, the use of Shirley Bassey for the main title song, and how the picture marked a landmark work for the composer outside of the Bond series.

It’s a superb extra that’s also complimented by a full isolated score/SFX track, though I hardly heard any SFX on the channel. The score sounds decent and is included in mono on a DVD that ought to please all Barry fans, if not aficionados of dated ‘60s cinema too!

As far as “The Magus” goes, the less said about this 1968 adaptation of John Fowles’ novel, the better, though bad movie buffs might enjoy this weird all-star collaboration between Caine, Anthony Quinn and Candice Bergen. Fox’s DVD includes a Fowles featurette, a new 16:9 (2.35) widescreen transfer plus the trailer and mono and stereo 2.0 soundtracks -- features also included in both “Peeper” and “Deadfall.”

Criterion Offerings For October

Lodge Kerrigan’s short and supremely disturbing 1993 film CLEAN, SHAVEN (79 mins., R) leads off the latest releases from The Criterion Collection.

Kerrigan wrote and directed this purposefully fragmented tale of a seriously disturbed man (Peter Greene) recently released from an institution. Greene’s character is a schizophrenic attempting to reunite with his daughter, who has since been adopted, but his illness precludes him from any semblance of sanity, and a run-in with a police detective (Robert Albert) soon has him wrapped up in an investigation that he may or may not be a suspect in.

While Greene’s performance is wholly believable, it’s the direction of Kerrigan that makes “Clean, Shaven” such a compelling piece. This is a deliberately off-kilter and ambiguous thriller that raises as many questions as it provides answers, and the combination of striking editing and cinematography take you inside the head of a potentially dangerous individual suffering from a severe mental illness. It’s not a journey for everyone but in terms of sheer filmmaking “Clean, Shaven” is a strongly recommended thriller.

Criterion’s single-disc Special Edition includes a commentary with Steven Soderbergh interviewing Kerrigan; a “video essay” from critic Michael Atkinson profiling the film; the original soundtrack composed by Hahn Rowe and clips from the final audio mix, provided in MP3 format; and the original trailer. The 1.66 widescreen transfer was approved by Kerrigan and looks as sharp as this low-budget indie film will ever appear.

One of director Alfonso Cauron’s early Mexican works has also received the Criterion treatment. The 1991 comic-satire SOLO CON TU PAREJA (94 mins., R) profiles a young swinger (Daniel Gimenez Cacho) who is informed that he has AIDS from one of his revenge-seeking ex-conquests. After futilely attempting to end his own life, he falls in love for real over a stewardess likewise spurned by her cheating boyfriend.

While Cauron’s “Y Tu Mama Tambien” met with strong reaction from American critics and positive box-office results, “Solo Con Tu Pareja” was never released in the U.S. until this year. It’s a frothy concoction reminiscent of some of Amenabar’s more lightweight works, with the added bonus of colorful cinematography by the great Emmanuel Lubezki, preserved here in 16:9 (1.78) widescreen.

Extras in Criterion’s Special Edition DVD include a “Making Of” with new interviews with Cauron, Cacho and others; a selection of shorts by Alfonso and Carlos Cauron, who also scripted the film; the original trailer; and a new, remastered high-definition transfer.

Jane Campion, meanwhile, first burst onto the scene with her 1989 debut feature SWEETIE (99 mins., R), a family drama which profiles how a mentally ill woman can hold her quirky sister’s development back.

Campion’s wryly observed character drama met with widespread acclaim and quickly propelled her into the international arena. The movie is amusing and heartfelt without being saccharine, a tribute to Campion and Gerard Lee’s script and the filmmaker’s observant direction of a top-notch ensemble cast.

Criterion’s deluxe release (available next week) includes commentary from Campion, Lee, and cinematographer Sally Bongers; a video conversation between stars Genevieve Lemon and Karen Colston; two short Campion films; a 1989 interview between Campion and Australian critic Peter Thompson; still galleries; the trailer; and a remastered 16:9 (1.85) transfer with 2.0 Dolby Digital sound.

Last but not least among the Collection’s discs for October is Francesco Rosi’s HANDS OVER THE CITY (1963, 101 mins.), starring Rod Steiger as a shady Naples land developer in a politically charged Italian drama.

Not having been familiar with Rosi’s work, I found the film intriguing as a portrait of power, corruption and construction, with Criterion’s double-disc set sporting improved English subtitles (the film is in Italian); Rosi’s 1992 sequel “Neapolitan Diary”; interviews with Rosi, co-writer Raffaele La Capria, and others. The 1.85 (16:9) transfer is in healthy condition and an extensive booklet provides the usually thoughtful notes and essays one comes to anticipate from a Criterion package. Recommended.

New Releases on DVD

CLICK (**, 107 mins., 2006, PG-13; Sony): Another “wacky” Adam Sandler comedy with numerous alumni of the comic’s previous efforts on-hand in supporting parts (Rob Schneider, Sean Astin and Henry Winkler among them). Yet this yuppie-centric look at a workaholic dad who comes across a magical TV remote that enables him to stop and fast-forward through time is more pretentious -- and therefore less funny -- than most Sandler vehicles, offering easily digestible messages about juggling business and family life that mark this Steve Koren-Mark O’Keefe script as a watered-down “Christmas Carol” variant with obvious “Groundhog Day” overtones -- and plenty of self-serving corporate tie-ins (from Bed Bath & Beyond to Hostess cakes, etc.) Frequent Sandler collaborator Frank Coraci directed “Click,” which also boasts Kate Beckinsale in the disposable role of Sandler’s wife, Christopher Walken as the mysterious “Morty,” and David Hasselhoff (like you’ve never seen him before!) as Sandler’s obnoxious boss. Sony’s Special Edition DVD offers deleted scenes and numerous Making Of featurettes (heavy on the technical aspects of the movie’s FX), plus a 16:9 (1.85) widescreen transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

NACHO LIBRE (**½, 92 mins., 2006, PG; Paramount): Wildly uneven comedy from “Napoleon Dynamite” filmmaker Jared Hess (who scripted with his wife Jerusha and “Orange County”’s Mike White) does have some inspired moments of hilarity. Jack Black is the whole show here as a man raised in a monastery who dons tights to become a wrestler at night, in order to raise enough money to better provide for the poor kids he’s charged with during the day. Black’s penchant for physical comedy suits this vehicle splendidly, but the script feels like it needed a bit more work, since the story is fragmented and the varying degree of success in the gag department is underscored since you have little interest in the characters. Still, kids will enjoy the slapstick fun, and Black goes for broke with a no-holds barred performance. Paramount’s Special Edition DVD includes a funny commentary with Black, Hess, and White, plus deleted scenes, Making Of featurettes, and other extras designed primarily with the young, Nickelodeon viewer in mind (no surprise with the film having been produced under the network’s banner). The 16:9 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound are both excellent, with Danny Elfman’s score doing the best it can to suit the shenanigans.

GARFIELD: A TAIL OF TWO KITTIES (***, 86 mins. [extended version], 78 mins. [theatrical cut], 2006, PG; Fox): Okay, so I admit it: this surprisingly fun sequel to the so-so 2004 box-office hit is a big improvement on its predecessor, offering a comedic, kids version of “The Prince and the Pauper” with Garfield heading to England where his owner Jon (Breckin Meyer again) attempts to propose to girlfriend Liz (Jennifer Love Hewitt). Meanwhile, Jim Davis’ fat feline exchanges places with a dapper English tabby (voiced by Billy Connolly) who’s not just an aristo-cat but also a dead ringer for our hero. The Joel Cohen-Alec Sokolow script is pleasantly amusing and boasts a more appealing story than the original, while Bill Murray’s vocals remain spot-on for our hero. Fox’s DVD includes an extended version of the movie (running eight minutes longer than the theatrical cut) in 1.85 (16:9) widescreen with the original released version on-hand in full-screen format. Extras are on the light side, including interactive games, a music video, and a drawing featurette with creator Davis. Good fun for the little ones.

PIZZA (**, 81 mins., 2006, Not Rated; IFC/Genius Products): Mediocre indie film from writer-director Mark Christopher examines the relationship between a plus-sized 18-year-old (the appealing Kylie Sparks) and a former high school big-wig turned pizza delivery guy (Ethan Embry) in a movie that strives for John Hughes-ian heights but pretty much rolls snake eyes in the comedy and romance department. A nice try with good intentions but simply not compelling or funny enough to function, with Genius’ DVD including a non-16:9 widescreen transfer, commentary, and Making Of featurette. Call it a stale slice.

Re-Issues, Special Editions & More

THE LITTLE MERMAID: Platinum Edition (***½, 1989, 83 mins., G; Disney): Double-disc re-issue supplants Disney’s prior, basically bare-bones DVD edition with a production personnel commentary; numerous deleted scenes in workprint form; an engaging 45-minute “Treasures Untold” documentary; additional featurettes, including an early presentation reel; and numerous games and activities designed with younger kids in mind. The movie looks good (though not eye-poppingly spectacular) in its new 16:9 (1.78) widescreen transfer, but so far reaction has been mixed in regards to the 5.1 “Disney Enhanced Home Theater” soundtrack, which is the only audio option available and boasts thin dialogue with effects that sometimes overwhelm the rest of the track. Most viewers likely won’t notice the difference, but for die-hard fans it might give some a reason to hold on to their earlier “Little Mermaid” DVD editions. Still, this limited time-only “Platinum Edition” set comes highly recommended overall, with the movie itself remaining an important jewel in the Disney canon -- and a film that basically relaunched the studio’s commitment to animated features, thanks to an engaging story and, best of all, the outstanding music of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman.

BAD SANTA: Director’s Cut (**½ for this cut; 88 mins., 2003, R; Dimension/Buena Vista): If you’re counting at home, this is the third such version of Terry Zwigoff’s raunchy 2003 comedy “Bad Santa” to reach DVD, following the R-rated theatrical version (93 mins.) and the extended “Badder Santa” Unrated edit (98 mins.) that were issued back in 2004. Now comes Zwigoff’s “Director’s Cut,” which is tellingly the shortest (88 mins.) and strangely is the weakest of the trio as well. Zwigoff’s original version may be “blacker” with less narration and the subtraction of a few scenes that were added to soften Billy Bob Thornton’s lead character, but this “Director’s Cut” actually misses some of those more comedic moments, adding more violence that doesn’t make the film any more satisfying than its released counterpart(s). At least fans can see what the filmmaker originally had in mind in this DVD, which also boasts an exclusive new commentary with Zwigoff and editor Robert Hoffman, plus deleted/alternate scenes, outtakes and a behind-the-scenes featurette. Worth it for fans but others are advised to check out the Unrated “Badder Santa” if you’re watching the picture for the first time.

BLACK RAIN (***½, 1989, 125 mins., R; Paramount): The long wait for a satisfying DVD release of the 1989 Michael Douglas-Ridley Scott thriller was worth it, as Paramount’s terrific Collector’s Edition of “Black Rain” offers not just a new 16:9 (2.35) transfer but also an excellent documentary and Scott commentary as well. This crackling suspense-travelogue performed only moderately well at the box-office, but it’s held up as one of Scott’s best pictures, with one of Douglas’ finest performances (as an American detective sent to Japan to escort a killer back to his native land) to match. Add in a throbbing Hans Zimmer score and atmospheric Jan De Bont cinematography finally done justice in this new transfer (previous versions were grainy, out of focus, and even misframed), and you’ve got a great movie enhanced on disc by Scott’s informative commentary and a multi-part Making Of offering interviews with Douglas, Andy Garcia, Kate Capshaw, Zimmer, Scott, and others (among the revelations: due to contractual obligations, Scott cut the film under two hours at one point, forcing Paramount execs to request he restore footage from a longer version since even they realized the shorter version was too much of a compromise). Produced by Laurent Bouzereau, this is the kind of comprehensive documentary one wishes we’d routinely encounter on DVD, and the original trailer puts a satisfying cap on the whole disc. Highly recommended!

New TV on DVD: Series, Concerts, Interviews & More

THE DICK CAVETT SHOW: Hollywood Greats (Shout! Factory, 1970-1973, 4 Discs; Aisle Seat DVD Pick of the Week): If you’ve watched Shout! Factory’s prior compilations of “Dick Cavett Show” interviews (Rock or Comic Legends), you know that you’re in for a treat with this latest four-DVD boxed set.

Offering extended conversations with Katharine Hepburn (10/2/73), Fred Astaire (11/10/70), Bette Davis (11/17/71), Kirk Douglas (11/29/71), John Huston (2/21/72), Marlon Brando and assorted Native American friends (6/12/73), Robert Mitchum (4/29/71), Orson Welles (7/27/70), Alfred Hitchcock (6/8/72), Groucho Marx, Debbie Reynolds and Dan Rowan (12/16/71), and Mel Brooks, Frank Capra, Robert Altman and Peter Bogdanovich (1/21/72), this retrospective captures the best of Cavett chatting with some of Hollywood’s bona-fide legends.

The much-discussed conversation with Hepburn -- taped on the fly as soon as the actress sat down in the ABC studio, without an audience and no prep -- is alone worth the price of the package, with the seldom-interviewed star discussing all aspects of her distinguished career in a program that spanned two entire episodes and is supplemented here with additional bonus footage. Other conversations are likewise insightful and ought to provide compelling viewing for any movie buff, particularly Cavett’s conversations with Davis, Douglas, Huston, Mitchum and Welles.

Watching Shout!’s box set (with is presented over four discs with a new interview between Cavett and TCM’s Robert Osborne and extensive liner notes), it’s sad to compare these episodes with the modern state of talk show television, with its flippant comics and PR-laden interviews. These days it’s all about the hype; back then it was all about information and entertainment, which this outstanding release -- one of the year’s finest to date -- presents in spades.

WONDER SHOWZEN: Complete Second Season (2006, 172 mins., Paramount): Season Two of MTV2's absurdist “Sesame Street” parody proves to be just as infuriating as the latter half of its generally-superior first season was: some episodes hit the mark so brilliantly that the program makes “South Park” pale by comparison for belly laughs, yet others are so unbelievably self-indulgent and unfunny that you’d wonder what its creators might have been smoking when they went into production. This sophomore roster of eight episodes (“Body,” “Time,” Science,” “Knowledge,” “Justice,” “Cooperation,” “Mathematics” and an entire episode devoted to “The Clarence Special Report”) runs the gamut between the amusing to the absurd with varying degrees of success, though there’s a notable increase in political satire going on that makes you wish “Wonder Showzen”’s creators would spread their attacks to less obvious targets. Outtakes, commentaries, a bonus “Beat Kids” featurette, and an activity book (in an old-fashioned Golden Books-styled hardbound cover, no less!) round out a splendid package for a wildly uneven show that can be as funny as anything on the tube...when it wants to be.

LA FEMME NIKITA: Complete Fifth Season (2000-01, 354 mins., Warner Home Video): Luc Besson’s international hit became a popular U.S. cable series that wrapped up in 2001 after some five seasons on USA. Peta Wilson (who sadly hasn’t been heard of much since, her co-starring turn in “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” excepted) is back as Nikita, in eight full-length episodes that put a satisfying wrap on the series. Warner’s box set offers solid full-screen transfers with 2.0 Dolby Surround stereo, while extras include a featurette, deleted scenes on three episodes, and an internet teaser with introduction from director Jon Cassar.

THE O.C.: Complete Third Season (2005-06, 1089 mins., Warner Home Video): What separates the longest-running TV series from those that blast on the scene, only to fade out quickly, is a combination of strong writing and casting that keeps viewers coming back week after week. Sadly for fans of the Fox night-time soap opera “The O.C.,” it seems as if the bus left the station (or “Jumped the Shark” as internet lingo goes) in its third year, with the lighter and frothier aspects of the program replaced with more sober subplots -- heightened by an added involvement from the show’s adult cast members -- and a truly shocking season finale. One thing “90210" learned quickly was that its target audience didn’t care about parental units -- a lesson “The O.C.” has hopefully been wise to take under advisement during its current fourth season (so far it doesn’t seem to have helped as ratings continue to plunge). Warner’s box-set offers all 25 third-season “O.C.” episodes in excellent 16:9 (1.85) transfers with 2.0 Dolby Surround stereo, selected commentary tracks, featurettes, and a gag reel. For hard-core “O.C.” fanatics only.

THAT ‘70s SHOW: Season 5 (2002-03, 547 mins., Fox): Fifth season for the long-running Fox sitcom (which only wrapped its season finale back in the spring) comes to DVD in a four-disc set containing all 25 episodes from the 2002-03 season. Full-screen transfers, 2.0 Dolby Digital soundtracks, episode promos and three new featurettes (spotlighting Wilmer Valderrama, Danny Masterson, and the entire season encapsulated in five minutes!) round out a must for fans of the series.

LITTLE ROBOTS: BIG ADVENTURES (2003, 41 mins., Fox): Highly-rated BBC animated series has been a favorite among the pre-school set for some time, and makes its domestic debut on DVD this week. Fox’s “Big Adventures” compilation combines four segments (totaling only 40 minutes) from the program in full-screen transfers and 2.0 Dolby Surround stereo.

LATIN LEGENDS OF COMEDY (92 mins., 2006, Key Video/Fox): Latino comedians Joey Vega, J.J. Ramirez and Angel Salazar top-line this well-executed, feature-length concert film with documentary-styled interviews interspersed throughout. Fox’s DVD includes a 16:9 (1.85) widescreen transfer and 2.0 Dolby Digital sound.

THE BIG BLACK COMEDY SHOW BOX SET (5 Discs, 2006, Fox): A cavalcade of popular African-American comics (including Mo’Nique, Michael Colyar, Ralphie May and others) appears in this five-disc Fox box set, offering four previously released volumes of concert material with a brand-new Volume 5. The latter is hosted by John Witherspoon and offers performances from Wanda Smith, Tony Tone and others. Transfers include full-screen and 1.78 widescreen formats while 2.0 Dolby Surround is provided on each disc’s audio side.

KRYPTO THE SUPERDOG: Volume 2 (110 mins., Warner)
CARTOON NETWORK CHRISTMAS 3 (107 mins., Warner):
It might be a bit early to celebrate the next holiday season, but Warner is gearing up with a new, third installment in their "Cartoon Network Christmas" series. Volume 3 offers five holiday-themed shows from the cable channel's various series ("Camp Lazlo," "The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy," "Foster's Home For Imaginary Friends," "Codename: Kids Next Door," and "Ed, Edd N Eddy") that fans of the respective series ought to get a kick out of. Next week, the label releases the second volume of "Krypto The Superdog," sporting five episodes from the colorful, goofy series spotlighting Krypton's most lovable hound. Transfers are in full-screen across the board and 2.0 Dolby Stereo soundtracks are offered on both discs.

NEXT TIME: Part 2 of our annual Halloween Special, with Warner's anticipated LEGENDS OF HORROR, the return of the GROOVIE GHOULIES, and More! Until then, don't forget to drop in on the official Aisle Seat Message Boards and direct any emails to the link above . Cheers!

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