By Andy Dursin
With the World Series locked up in New England for the first time since 1918 (see, miracles sometimes DO happen!), it's been a hectic last couple of weeks for this critic. A heavy dose of late nights spent watching the Red Sox battle Anaheim, the Yankees, and Cardinals have slowed down the Aisle Seat production for a bit, but now things are back on-track.
This week we have a potpourri of titles -- from new TV on DVD to recently issued foreign films -- all for your viewing pleasure, and now that the weather is cooling off, will come in handy as winter approaches (and, thanks to the Patriots and now the Red Sox, the winter ought to be a little easier to live through this year here in New England!).
Shout! Factory's second box set of SCTV episodes, SCTV: Volume 2 (11 hours, 1981- 82) ranks alongside Paramount's "Star Trek: Season 2" as this week's Aisle Seat DVD Pick of the Week.
Just as good as the first batch of episodes Shout! released back in the spring, this five- disc set includes 9 full-length episodes that aired on NBC between October 1981 and February 1982. Episodes and highlights include "CCCP 1" (Russian programming with Al Jarreau crooning "We're in this Love Together"), "I'm Taking My Own Head Screwing It On Right and No Guy's Gonna Tell Me It Ain't" ("The Richardo Montalban School of Fine Acting"), "Zontar" (DeForrest Kelly in "The Julia Child Story"), "Walter Cronkite's Brain" (Monster Chiller Horror Theatre), "Doorway to Hell" ("New York Rhapsody"), "The Godfather" (lengthy parody with James Ingram performing "Just Once"), "SCTV Staff Christmas Party" (Neil Simon's "Nutcracker Suite"), "Teacher's Pet" ("Farm Film Report with Brooke Shields"), and "Midnight Video Special" (lengthy Gerry Todd sketch).
As with the previous set, Shout! has included a handful of excellent special features. Among them are: Dick Blasucci interviewing the show's writing staff in a 2003 interview; Joe Flaherty and Eugene Levy discussing their memories of the show; a look at "The Juul Haalmeyer Dancers" and a 1982 clip of the show winning its well-deserved Emmy; and a profile of the show when famed photographer Norman Seeff arrived to shoot the staff for Life magazine. Full liner notes include an episode synopsis and an essay from L.A. Times critic Howard Rosenberg, plus a photo gallery and the promise of another box set to follow in early 2005. We can't wait!
Again packaged together in a bubbly blue plastic shell, this collection of "TOS" second season episodes includes fan favorites like "Amok Time," "The Doomsday Machine," "Mirror, Mirror" (need I say more?), "I, Mudd," the immortal "Journey to Babel," "The Trouble With Tribbles," and "The Gamesters of Triskellion." There are also some clunkers here ("A Piece of the Action," "Patterns of Force"), but even in its least successful moments, Gene Roddenberry's creation manages to entertain with colorful plots and Shatner, Nimoy and Kelly leading the way.
More special features are also on-hand here, though the individual episode extras are limited to just a pair of Denise and Michael Okuda text commentaries (on "Amok Time" and "The Trouble With Tribbles"). Featurettes on the seventh disc include "To Boldly Go -- Season Two," a 20-minute account of the show's second year; "Life Beyond Trek: Leonard Nimoy," an 11-minute interview with the star focusing on his love of photography; "Kirk, Spock & Bones: Star Trek's Great Trio," a 7-minute piece about the show's heroes, with comments from William Shatner and series writers including D.C. Fontana; "Designing the Final Frontier" (22 mins.) profiles production designer Matt Jefferies' contributions to the program; "Star Trek's Divine Diva" (13 mins.) devotes time to the ample talents of Nichelle Nichols, while "Writer's Notebook" (8 mins.) looks at D.C. Fontana's involvement in the Trek legacy. Production art, preview trailers (on each respective episode) and a photo gallery round out this essential release, while the full- screen color transfers and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks are all solid, just as they were on the original DVD releases.
Notable for being one of the first breakout hits for the then-fledgling Fox network, "21 Jump Street" deftly mixes standard cop-series plots with a young cast that clearly connected with its target audience. Thanks to the performances of Johnny Depp, Holly Robinson Peete, Dustin Nguyen, and Peter DeLuise, teen viewers instantly ate up the '80s styled action and social issues that made it "fresh" back in the day (and today -- while a bit dated in terms of its fashions and language -- still thoroughly entertaining).
Anchor Bay's two-disc DVD set includes the original half-season run of the series, along with liner notes, interviews with Cannell, Robinson Peete, Nguyen and co-star Steven Williams, and amusingly wry commentary from Peter DeLuise. Definitely recommended for its nostalgia value, and for seeing young stars like Depp, Jason Priestley, Sherilyn Fenn and others in action.
THE STEPFORD WIVES (**, 2004). 92 mins., PG-13, Paramount, available November 9th. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Director commentary, Making Of featurettes, Deleted/Extended Scenes, gag reel, teaser and theatrical trailers; 1.85 Widescreen (16:9), 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.
A great cast is wasted in director Frank Oz and writer Paul Rudnick's odd spoof/satire/remake of the perennial '70s flick (and Ira Levin novel), which never seems to make up its mind about what it wants to be or say.
Nicole Kidman plays a network TV executive who loses her job and, soon, her mind once hubby Matthew Broderick moves his clan to Stepford, Connecticut, where housewives are perennially blonde, perky, and ready to cook and clean at a moment's notice. Kidman initially tries to fit in with her domesticated brethren (including Glenn Close), but once her outspoken writer pal Bette Midler becomes a virtual Bette Crocker, she dares to find out what's going on with the men's club, run by Christopher Walken, that her husband belongs to.
I wasn't a big fan of the original "Stepford Wives," so the quasi-comical take that Oz and Rudnick spin on the material isn't so objectionable -- it's the execution of the movie that's all wrong. The film has few laughs and no surprises at all, and the pacing also feels disjointed -- a likely result of the film's turbulent shooting and post-production problems, which may be the reason for the picture's scant character development. The movie doesn't want to be taken seriously, yet it's too plot heavy for its own good, with a tepid ending and lots of missed opportunities (Walken could have been a hoot here) making for an odd and ultimately unsatisfying viewing experience.
Paramount's DVD, out next week, includes a crisp, colorful 1.85 transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, offering a distressingly Danny Elfman-like score by the usually dependable David Arnold. Special features include Oz's director commentary, along with a few deleted/extended scenes, and numerous Making Of featurettes ("Stepford: A Definition," "Stepford: The Architects" looks at the production design," while "The Stepford Wives" and "The Stepford Husbands" interviews cast members). The movie's intriguing trailers are also included, with the tantalizing teaser hinting at a more serious affair, and the standard theatrical trailer playing up the comedic elements that are prevalent in the final cut.
MULAN (***, 1998). 88 mins., G, Disney. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Deleted scenes, commentary, music videos, games and activities for kids; Making Of with filmmaker interviews; 1.85 Widescreen (16:9), 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.
Special Edition re-issue of the splendid 1998 Disney animated feature includes a newly remastered transfer and Dolby Digital soundtrack.
While not on the level of Alan Menken's numerous Disney classics, "Mulan" is still a first-class production with top-flight animation and functional, if not memorable, songs provided by Matthew Wilder and Tony-winning lyricist David Zippel. Jerry Goldsmith's soaring score, meanwhile, ranks right up there with his only other foray into animation -- his wonderful score for 1982's "The Secret of NIMH" -- and supports the picture through its colorful story line, one that did enchant audiences of all ages and continues to do so on DVD.
While Disney's new 2-disc edition is not as packed with supplements as their recent release of "Aladdin," this is still a superior presentation with solid extra features. An unused song written for Eddie Murphy's dragon, "Keep 'Em Guessing," is included in workprint form, along with several other discarded sequences, while music videos range from Christina Aguilera's "Reflection" to the utterly bizarre Cantonese rendition of "I'll Make a Man Out of You" performed by none other than Jackie Chan. Commentary from the filmmakers and interactive games for the little ones round out the first disc, while Disc 2 offers early presentation reels and brief featurettes (most between 5-10 minutes each) that take the viewer through each step of production. Comments from the filmmakers make for a pleasant "Making Of" that's not as comprehensive as other recent Disney discs, but still provides an enlightening view for fans.
The movie itself looks sparkling in 1.85 widescreen (16:9 enhanced) courtesy of a new digital transfer superior to its previous DVD release. On the audio side, the 5.1 Dolby Digital sound is exemplary, and the whole package an essential purchase for all Disney buffs.
Last summer's box-office flop isn't all bad, though the pairing of Jackie Chan and Steve Coogan isn't likely to evoke memories of David Niven and Cantinflas flying around the world.
In fact, director Frank Coraci's colorful, juvenile fantasy has a good deal more in common with Chan's "Shanghai Noon" than it does with Michael Anderson's '50s classic, with Chan's Passepartout and Coogan's Phileas Fogg getting into a succession of action sequences as they race around the world. Along the way, they run into a cute love interest for Coogan (Cecile DeFrance) and several star cameos, including Arnold Schwarzenneger, Kathy Bates, Mark Addy, and Chan's "Shanghai" buddy, Owen Wilson (with his brother Luke alongside).
Though overlong and heavy on the slapstick, young viewers are likely to be entertained by this "80 Days" just the same, making it worthwhile for family audiences.
Disney's Special Edition DVD includes a colorful 2.35 Widescreen transfer, perfectly replicating the superb scope cinematography of Phil Meheux. The 5.1 Dolby Digital sound is robust, sporting a pleasant score by Trevor Jones, while special features include a goofy, unused alternate opening (which can be viewed in conjunction with the movie), deleted scenes, featurettes on the Making of the movie plus Chan's stunts, commentary, and a David Stewart music video.
Depressing British thriller never received a major theatrical release in the U.S. and now bows on DVD after having spent some time on the Dimension shelf.
Thora Birch plays Liz, a seemingly shy teen at an English prep school where a stock collection of stereotypes -- the slutty girl (Keira Knightley), her ex-boyfriend, and a guy interested in Birch -- decide that the best way to party is to hide out in an abandoned bomb shelter. Cut to some time later, where everyone but Birch is dead, and investigator Embeth Davidtz tries to sort out what happened while the teens were locked in the shelter.
I never read (or even heard of) Guy Burt's novel "After the Hole," but there's very little surprising about the Ben Court-Caroline Ip screenplay as handled by director Nick Hamm, who was also responsible for one of this year's more unholy flops, "The Godsend." "The Hole" tries to fit within the grimy confines of a David Fincher-like thriller, with a dash of "The Usual Suspects" thrown in for good measure, but the characters are unappealing and the story so predictable that there's little to sustain interest. The ending can be seen coming from miles away, and the film dwells on the seedy, unpleasant aspects of the material so much that it's difficult to accept the picture as any form of entertainment.
Dimension's DVD includes several special features, from Nick Hamm's director commentary to a few deleted scenes, including an unused epilogue. The movie's British trailer, a photo gallery, and bios round out the package, which includes a 2.35 widescreen transfer and 2.0 Dolby Stereo surround.
Gabrielle Salvatores' acclaimed thriller was barely released in the U.S., despite being the recipient of strong reviews and what could have been palpable word of mouth.
Michele is a 10-year-old living in a quaint Italian village in 1978, doing what all little boys enjoy: rolling through the hills with reckless abandon, playing with friends and savoring the innocence of being a child. One day, Michele comes across a young boy imprisoned in an isolated area of town, and begins to suspect that someone close to him may be responsible for the crime.
With vivid scope cinematography and an evocative score, "I'm Not Scared" is an unusual and effective suspense-thriller that's unique in that it's told from the angle of the young protagonist, making this an offbeat coming of age story at the same time. The film isn't overly melodramatic and works on numerous levels, making for a thoroughly satisfying DVD.
Miramax's disc includes a stellar 2.35 widescreen transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound in the original Italian dialogue. English and Spanish subtitles are also included. Recommended!
CASTLE KEEP (**1/2, 1969). 107 mins., R, Columbia TriStar. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: 2.35 Widescreen (16:9), 4.0 Dolby Digital stereo.
Just a couple of months after fans roundly criticized Columbia for their pan-and- scan DVD release of "Castle Keep," the studio has made good and re-issued the title in identical packaging -- but this time in 16:9 widescreen, thereby preserving the movie's original 2.35 widescreen dimensions. This oddball late '60s WWII tale is an obvious cult favorite, albeit only if you indulge in the story's eccentricities. Burt Lancaster and Peter Falk star as members of an American squadron who come across a medieval castle in the midst of the Ardennes Forest. What follows from there in the Daniel Taradash-David Rayfiel script (based on a book by William Eastlake) is a mix of satire, action-adventure, and black comedy, all backed by a bizarre Michel Legrand score, no less! The 4.0 Dolby Digital sound is solid, and the source materials seem to be in decent shape. Fans ought to be excited by the presentation, and also that Columbia made amends by re-issuing the DVD so quickly in its proper form. Bravo!
Ferzan Ozpetek's romantic drama focuses on a young wife (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) with a downtrodden husband and a pair of children in tow. Her world is turned upside down when her husband brings home a senile elderly gentleman, a concentration camp survivor, who makes Giovanna see the possibilities of finding love with her mysterious next-door neighbor (Raoul Bova).
Gianfilippo Corticelli's cinematography makes great use of the wide scope proportions, while Andrea Guerra's music is appropriately dense. "Facing Windows" may not be a thriller per se, but it's a fascinating character study that manages to be suspenseful and intriguing instead of melodramatic and saccharine. Ozpetek brings a refreshingly somber and spiritual element to the picture, steering clear of cliches and cutesy asides, making "Facing Windows" a satisfying piece.
Columbia TriStar's DVD, out this week, offers an excellent 2.35 transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound. Subtitles are offered in either English or French.
FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH/DAZED AND CONFUSED: The Ultimate Party Collection. Universal, available next week. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: New 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital soundtracks; "Dazed and Confused" deleted scenes; 16:9 transfers.
Universal's new DVD two-pack of fan favorites "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" (****) and "Dazed and Confused" (***) offers a pair of teen classics at a great low price -- and in presentations superior to their earlier disc editions as well.
Amy Heckerling and Cameron Crowe's quintessential "Fast Times" previously bowed in a Special Edition DVD release with copious supplements (commentary, documentary), albeit no deleted scenes from the movie's expanded TV version. While those excellent deleted sequences are still absent, the "Party Collection" DVD does premiere brand-new, remixed 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital soundtracks that are an appreciable upgrade on the original mono mix. What's more, all of the previous DVD special features are included.
Richard Linklater's "Dazed and Confused," meanwhile, offers some 12 minutes of deleted scenes culled from the movie's workprint, plus a pair of retro public service commercials.
Both movies offer big stars in early roles and deftly examine coming of age in two distinct eras (the '80s and '70s, respectively), and are each highly entertaining and often uproariously funny. Highly recommended!
Last year's blockbuster has been re-packaged with a new "Lost Disc," contained in a separate cardboard case with eight featurettes that didn't make the previous DVD. None of them are earth-shattering, but fans of the movie are likely to take them in just the same. "Dead Men Tell No Tales" is the highlight of the new extras, going behind the scenes at the Disney Land/Disney World attraction favorite, while "Spirit of the Ride" includes interviews with Johnny Depp and director Gore Verbinski, reflecting on their memories of the ride. Other featurettes examine Johnny Depp's take on his role, Geoffrey Rush speaking about his villainous Captain Barbossa, a look at Jack the Monkey, a comparison of different "Pirates" dubs around the world, and more.
The charming 2001 adaptation of Helen Fielding's novel has been re-issued to coincide with the upcoming release of its sequel, "Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason." New special features on the DVD include featurettes "The Bridget Phenomenon," "The Young and the Mateless," Portrait of the Makeup Artist," plus reviews, domestic and international TV spots, and reviews of "Diary." Supplements retained from the previous DVD include commentary with director Sharon Maguire, a behind-the-scenes featurette, deleted scenes and a splendid 2.35 transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.