11/2/10 Edition Twitter: THEAISLESEATCOM
November Arrival Edition
Disney's TOY STORY 3 Hits the Mark

Every bit as ingenious and entertaining as its critical acclaim and widespread commercial appeal suggests, Disney’s TOY STORY 3 (***½, 103 mins., 2010, G) arrives in stores this week and is sure to become a favorite of kids for years to come – and very likely adults as well, since this third entry in Pixar’s irresistible series is just as charming as its predecessors.

Woody, Buzz and the rest of the toys are back, having been understandably banished to a chest in the room of their owner, a now college-bound Andy. The group hopes for a nice retirement in the family attic, until the day when Andy’s own kids might play with them, but an inevitable mix-up sends Buzz and most of the toys to Sunnyside Daycare, where toys are played with, mashed with, and ripped apart all day long! Woody soon plots a spirited rescue, despite having accidentally fallen in with a young girl named Bonnie, whose love for her toys resembles his actual owner’s.

In addition to a thoroughly charming, inventive and funny screenplay (credited to Michael Arndt from a story by John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and director Lee Unkrich), it’s amazing to see how far CGI has come in “Toy Story 3,” particularly compared to its predecessors. Candy-coated colors and unbelievable detail grace every frame of the picture, making it obvious that the extended time Pixar took to produce this sequel showed in every element of its final product. From its tightly-constructed script to a nice mix of merriment and emotion, “Toy Story 3" truly is great fun for all ages, and one imagines that it will be rewarded come Oscar time, particularly given the dearth of “award worthy” live-action dramas we’ve seen so far this year.

Disney brings “Toy Story 3" to DVD and Blu-Ray this week in a four-disc combo package. The all-digital AVC encoded transfer is glorious, a sure-fire demo title, and Randy Newman’s score gets a nice boost from the superbly-engineered DTS Master Audio sound.

Extras, as you might anticipate, are copious. The main Blu-Ray disc includes the cute short “Night & Day,” scored by Michael Giacchino, which preceded “Toy Story 3" in theaters, along with “Buzz Lightyear Mission Logs,” but the bulk of the extras are housed on Disc 2, including a picture-in-picture commentary on the movie by the filmmakers, a separate audio commentary with Pixar crew, numerous featurettes, a full publicity gallery, other goodies, plus a DVD copy and a digital copy disc added in for good measure. A terrific package for one of 2010's best movies!

New From Warner

Warner Home Video has several gift-sized Special Edition Blu-Rays lined up this month, offering the requisite bells-and-whistles on the BD side and extra paraphernalia that fans of these respective films might enjoy.

Released on Blu-Ray overseas some time ago, Warner finally brings fans their long overdue HD edition of THE GOONIES (**½, 114 mins., 1985, PG), the “Steven Spielberg Presents” adventure which entertained many a young viewer in the summer of ‘85 and for many years afterwards on the small-screen.

I was nearly 11 when “The Goonies” was originally released, but for some odd reason the picture never really captivated me the way, say, “Gremlins” had the year before. Richard Donner’s movie, scripted by “Gremlins” scribe Chris Columbus, manages to incorporate some laughs and a sense of adventure as its young cast tries to find the long-lost treasure of One Eyed Willy in order to save their Oregon homes from an expanding country club. Run-ins with the Fratellis, a group of mobsters, and their deformed brother Sloth make for a picture that’s fun in spots but Donner’s annoying habit of having the kids talk on top of one another proves grating to a degree, especially for older viewers.

Warner’s Blu-Ray edition of “The Goonies” is the same disc that’s been released in numerous overseas territories, offering an HD reprise of its 2001 DVD with a nice VC-1 encoded 1080p transfer and Dolby TrueHD soundtrack, the latter sporting a robust Dave Grusin score. Extras are carried over from prior releases, including its Donner/cast commentary, retrospective featurette, deleted scenes, trailer and music video of Cyndi Lauper’s memorable theme song.

Additional goodies exclusive to this 25th Anniversary Collector’s Edition include a board-game (for 2-4 players), 10 storyboard cards, and best of all, a 64-page reproduction of the “Goonies” 1985 souvenir magazine and a reprint of Empire Magazine’s “Where Are They Now?” cast article.

Also new are a pair of BD Ultimate Editions for the third and fourth Harry Potter films.

HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN (***, 142 mins., 2004, PG) had Alfonso Cuaron ("A Little Princess") taking over the directorial reigns from Chris Columbus, and many critics who subscribed to the auteur theory instantly bestowed kudos for his work in "The Prisoner of Azkaban." This is, after all, the same filmmaker who made the art-house smash "Y Tu Mama Tambien" -- not the director of mainstream blockbusters like "Home Alone" -- and more than a few critics seemed to go out of their way to praise this movie for doing things right that Columbus's preceding two films didn't.

Unfortunately, as much as I admired "A Little Princess," Cuaron's directorial stamp in this film was all too obvious. Sure, the movie may be "darker" and "edgier," but it also lacks the magic of the previous two films, starting with Cauron’s decision to give the film a supposedly more "realistic" look which clashes with its prior entries. He throws in the same fade-in and fade-out transitions he used in "A Little Princess," but they're ultimately over-used (and I still can’t get over the horrid freeze-frame of a final shot Cuaron got away with). There's also a certain warmth and humanity inherent in the earlier Potter adventures that's notably lacking here – in its place, there's a lot of story, some delightful moments, but also a certain dramatic flat-line to the drama. The performances of the now-growing youthful cast are all on the mark, David Thewlis and Gary Oldman are excellent (though I wish Oldman had more screen time), and I certainly was entertained for the most part. When it was all over, though, the film left me a bit cold.

Some of Cuaron’s artistic touches, though, are what the sequel’s fans enjoy about the picture, though I’ve only warmed to it a few times since its release, and that carries over to John Williams’ relatively subdued score, which offers little reprieves for his prior series themes.

I realize I'm focusing on the negatives of "The Prisoner of Azkaban," yet there are certainly some wonderful moments in the movie, and fans may want to check out this oversize-packaged Ultimate Edition of the sequel on Blu-Ray. The set offers four hours of new-to-Blu extras (some of which were previously released on the HD-DVD version) including Creature Shop segments and countless behind-the-scenes featurettes, along with a 48-page photo book, a lenticular card, glossy booklet and character cards. Technically, the three-disc set also includes a DTS Master Audio soundtrack (replacing the prior BD’s PCM lossless track) and VC-1 encoded transfer of the film that seems identical to its prior BD appearance.

Also now available from Warner is a three-disc edition of HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE (***, 157 mins., 2005, PG-13), the more workmanlike fourth installment that’s not as magical as the first two Potter films, and not as stylized as the third, yet still offers an efficient, entertaining continuation of J.K. Rowling’s saga.

In “Year Four,” Harry’s name is entered into the prestigious Triwizard Tournament, despite young Potter not being old enough to officially participate. More than just your typical Quidditch tournament, the Triwizard tourney involves terrifying tasks including dragons, ethereal water sprites, labyrinthine hedges, and the distinct possibility that something far more sinister is at play for our young wizard.

Director Mike Newell stages some lovely scenes and keeps the picture moving rolling, despite its lengthy 157 minute running time. Unlike his “Azkaban” predecessor Alfonso Cuaron, Newell doesn’t have any pretense about stamping “The Goblet of Fire” with his own artistic agenda and, consequently, the movie retains the fantastical feel of Chris Columbus’ initial installments, even if the picture ultimately feels more workmanlike than visionary. Technically the movie still boasts top-flight talent across the board: Roger Pratt’s cinematography is moody and the effects as accomplished as those in the preceding pictures (I especially loved the aquatic demons Harry encounters), though from a musical standpoint, I can’t say I’m fond of Patrick Doyle’s work in this sequel.

In addition to an excellent VC-1 encoded 1080p transfer and DTS Master Audio soundtrack (again, the transfer appears identical to its prior BD release, while the DTS-MA track takes over for the prior BD’s PCM mix), Warner’s three-disc “Ultimate” Goblet of Fire includes numerous supplements, including an examination of John Williams’ original themes, Patrick Doyle’s score for this installment and how music and sound effects function together in the series; more material culled from the HD-DVD release of the film; a 44-page hardback book, another lenticular and several character cards.

Finally, Warner has one last Collector’s package on tap, in plenty of time for the holidays: a deluxe (!) edition of ELF (**½, 95 mins., 2003, PG, New Line/Warner), the cute, appealing but somewhat under-developed vehicle for Will Ferrell, who stars as the North Pole's only human elf, "Buddy." Wanting to meet his real dad (an under-written role for James Caan), Buddy ventures to the big city where he tries to spread Christmas cheer and falls for cute department store clerk Zooey Deschanel.

Jon Favreau's movie has its heart in the right place and generates a few big laughs, but as gentle a fantasy as "Elf" is, the final result just never really gels. The comedy is hit-or-miss and while there are some neat references to Rankin-Bass animated specials mixed in (along with Bob Newhart as the Head Elf and Buddy’s adoptive father), the picture doesn’t hit on all cylinders when it comes to the “domestic” drama of our big elf’s human family. Still, at least it’s better than numerous other holiday misfires (“Fred Klaus,” “Deck the Halls,” etc.) lurking out there that have already been forgotten.

Warner’s Collector’s set offers the same Blu-Ray disc from a year ago, sporting commentaries from the filmmakers, a few deleted/alternate scenes, plenty of Behind the Scenes segments, interactive games for kids, and a breezy Dolby TrueHD soundtrack sporting a fine John Debney score. The VC-1 encoded transfer is also just fine.

New extras in the collectible holiday tin include an “Elf” CD soundtrack sampler, a holiday stocking, gift tags and a magnetic picture frame. For fans of the movie (and I realize there are a growing amount of them out there) who might have missed the prior Blu-Ray, this more elaborately packaged release comes recommended.    

Also New On Blu-Ray

GROWN UPS Blu-Ray (*½, 102 mins., 2010, PG-13; Sony): Adam Sandler movies continue to hit the jackpot at the box-office, despite the fact that none of them recently have been particularly funny.

“Grown Ups” is another case in point: a sitcomy type of vehicle for Sandler and his buddies (Kevin James, Chris Rock, David Spade, Rob Schneider) to do their typical shtick as five childhood friends who reunite for a Fourth of July weekend after their beloved basketball coach passes away. Utterly predictable shenanigans among the guys ensue, whether it’s trying to teach their precocious kids how to act like men or getting along with their ever-suffering significant others (Salma Hayek, Maria Bello, Maya Rudolph among them).

I’m not sure audiences still love Sandler’s blend of bathroom humor and heartwarming pathos, or that there’s simply nothing else being produced by studios these days to feed comedy-deprived viewers. “Grown Ups” is a by-the-numbers affair that’s seldom amusing, and seems to have been produced mainly as an excuse for Sandler and his pals to coast along and cash a check – either way, it was one of the highest grossing films of this past summer at the box-office, which ought to tell you something about the state of movies circa 2010.

Sony’s Blu-Ray serves up an appropriately sunny AVC encoded, 1080p transfer with DTS Master Audio sound and a number of extras, including BD-exclusive deleted scenes, a “Riff-o-Rama” featurette, interview with Dennis Dugan, plus the requisite blooper reel, gag reel and other making of segments.

A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET Blu-Ray/DVD (*, 95 mins., 2010, R; Warner): Platinum Dunes’ ransacking of ‘70s and ‘80s horror hits continues with this dreary re-do of the Robert Englund/Wes Craven 1984 favorite. The company, spearheaded by Michael Bay, has run hot and (mostly) cold with their track record of “re-imaginings,” and unlike their wacky and mostly upbeat “Friday the 13th” remake, the 2010 “Nightmare on Elm Street” is a wholly depressing, glum and lifeless retread of its predecessor.

Samuel Bayer’s somnambulant direction, Jackie Earle Haley’s dull, witless performance as iconic monster-villain Freddy Krueger (with nearly all of his dialogue dubbed over in post-production), and even the dream-death sequences are so low-key that it’s surprising how bad this “Elm Street” is – even by today’s lowering standards. Didn’t anyone involved in the production go back and examine why the original series worked? Those pictures didn’t just have a sense of dread and suspense, but also a fantasy component that, matched with Englund’s pitch-perfect performance as Freddy, expanded the series beyond its slasher roots, and enabled directors like Craven, Chuck Russell and Renny Harlin to bring an interesting visceral component to the material.

There’s no such inspiration on display here, and the film’s fast-fade at the box-office (grossing under the “Friday” and “Amityville” remakes) seems to hint that even its intended young audience didn’t care for it. More over, stripping the humor out of Freddy doesn’t just make the character less interesting, but also more predictable – just another stock horror movie bad guy in a stunningly awful film that seems to get nearly everything wrong.

Warner’s Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack of “Elm Street” does include an effective VC-1 encoded 1080p transfer, though the film is so relentlessly grim that most of its added detail is lost in a shroud of darkness. The DTS Master Audio sound is fine, and a decent smattering of extras includes a “WB Maniacal Movie Mode,” sporting picture-in-picture segments, plus a number of other featurettes, a deleted scene, opening and alternate ending, and a digital copy for the film for portable media players.

NEXT TIME: Criterion's NIGHT OF THE HUNTER! 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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