Following the massive success of "The Passion of the Christ," it figured that the next project star Jim Caviezel would be involved in would be the subject of a backlash from critics.
Caviezel followed the title role in Mel Gibson's film by playing one of the most respected and revered sports legends of all-time -- golfer Bobby Jones -- in the little-seen, independently-produced BOBBY JONES: STROKE OF GENIUS (***1/2, 2004, PG, 129 mins., Columbia TriStar).
Though the movie received a glut of mixed reviews (some of which were inexplicably bad), it's a wonderfully performed and told biography that looks at all aspects of the Jones legend -- his triumphs on and off the course, and some of the hallmarks that still are unsurpassed in the modern game of golf.
Jones was truly one of the last amateur stars in the sports world, winning golf's grand slam, becoming a lawyer, and having a family despite battling a nervous disorder that affected his day-to-day life. As with many of his past performances, Caviezel is remarkably able to tap into his character's persona and desires, making Jones a fully rounded person whose pursuits off the course were just as important to his drive to win. His relationships with journalist/sage Malcolm McDowell, wife Claire Forlani, and Jeremy Northam's Walter Hagen are well detailed in the Rowdy Herrington-Bill Pryor- Tony DePaul script, and the golf footage -- shot on-location at courses including St. Andrews and Augusta National (which Jones, of course, founded) -- is beautifully captured by cinematographer Tom Stern and director Rowdy Herrington.
In addition to Caviezel's performance, there's also a beautiful score by James Horner that ranks as one of the finest of 2004. Horner's Irish-influenced soundtrack is superbly layered and tremendously moving, capturing the essence of Jones' life and achievements. Though many criticize Horner for his use of redundant phrases and motifs, there's no question that -- when it comes to sheer dramatic scoring ability -- there are few composers still working who understand the needs of a film and are able to enhance it the way Horner still does today.
Columbia TriStar's Special Edition DVD of this sleeper includes an excellent array of supplements. Commentary with Herrington and NYU Professor Richard Brown sheds light on the filmmaking process and how Jones' life was adapted to the screen. The talk is also enlightening about how the project was mounted (it was funded privately with no studio backing), making one disappointed that the film didn't perform better theatrically. A few deleted scenes and a blooper reel are included, though the meat of the supplements come in featurettes that detail Jones's legacy and the production of the movie.
A moving and thoughtful film that's certainly worthy of discovery now that the DVD is available. Highly recommended!
One of the problems with the amount of re-issues, Special Editions, Ultimate Versions, and remastered titles is that, every once in a while, one of these sets is a step backwards, offering less content than its predecessors.
Such is the case with Lion's Gate's three-disc ULTIMATE RAMBO COLLECTION set, which while boasting a few features die-hard Rambo fans will want to check out, actually offers LESS content and features than its previous incarnation.
First for the good news: the original "First Blood" includes two bona-fide deleted scenes, one being the movie's much-discussed alternate ending in which Rambo takes his own life. It's fascinating to see the footage for the first time (along with a Hanoi flashback sequence that runs over two minutes), and it's in remarkably good condition.
Ditto for the 10 minutes of deleted scenes in "Rambo III." No wonder why Jerry Goldsmith's score was so chopped up in the final print of the 1988 sequel -- the extra scenes vary from insignificant dialogue asides during action scenes, to a lengthy alternate pre-credits sequence that was discarded, plus the film's original ending where Rambo opts to stay in Afghanistan (where he would have become a member of the Taliban?). Again, the sequences are all in surprisingly good shape, and "joke endings" are also included for both "First Blood" and "Rambo III."
Sylvester Stallone also contributes an excellent commentary track on "First Blood." Sly delivers plenty of nuggets about his participation with the project, its years in development and how he managed to craft the final screenplay. He also delves into tidbits about the production, and has a lot of informative anecdotes to pass along throughout the film.
Those features should give fans reason to pick up Lion's Gate's three-disc collection, or at least incentive enough to purchase the "First Blood" and "Rambo III" discs separately.
The bad news is what's NOT here: the 16:9 transfers are on a par with the preceding Artisan Special Editions (though I swear the color is warmer on the Artisan discs), but the 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks are a definite step backwards.
Artisan's 2002 Special Edition box set included dynamic 5.1 DTS soundtracks on all three films which quite frankly blow these new Dolby Digital tracks out of the water. The dynamic range and sound design is far superior on the 2002 DVDs, so if you're one of the many aficionados of Jerry Goldsmith's outstanding scores, I'd recommend sticking to the older discs.
What's more, Artisan's previous DVDs boasted some terrific special features not included here. "First Blood" author David Morrell contributed an outstanding commentary track in the preceding DVD, but that track is nowhere to be found in the Ultimate Edition. Though George Cosmatos' "Rambo II" track and Peter MacDonald's "Rambo III" commentary are both, respectively, reprised in the new DVDs, there aren't any trailers present on the new discs (again, edge to the Artisan Special Editions). The new featurettes produced for the 2002 DVDs aren't included here, either, nor are any of the additional "Making Of" featurettes that graced the fourth bonus DVD.
In the end, what you have here is a curious assembly of never-before-seen footage with one great new commentary track, plus an interactive "MetaVision Survival Mode" that appears optionally on-screen with all kinds of military-like maps and visuals, offering dossiers on the characters and other special effects. It's nicely done but it's usefulness is limited -- after a few minutes I couldn't imagine utilizing the function again.
Most significantly, the inferior soundtracks (specifically, lack of DTS) are a big drawback, and the transfers aren't any kind of enhancement on the previous Special Editions (which are quite good). The lack of trailers and featurettes is a disappointment, and the omission of Morrell's "First Blood" commentary is also notable.
Thus, what to do if you're a Rambo fan? If you don't own any DVD of the series, I'd track down a copy of the 2002 Artisan Special Edition. If you already own that set, I'd only pick up the first and third Lion's Gate discs, and only then if you were a MAJOR fan of the series, just to see the deleted scenes. Perhaps one day we'll get a real "Ultimate Edition" release that covers the whole series comprehensively?
While none of the supplements from the "Rocky" Special Edition DVD have been ported over, the extra space has enabled MGM to include a brand-new DTS soundtrack on the original "Rocky", with several other series installments making their debut in full Dolby Digital 5.1 here. The result are cleaner and punchier stereo tracks that surpass all previous editions of the respective movies on video.
Even more impressively, all five films have been treated to a thorough 16:9 high- definition remastering. Seeing that the previous "Rocky" box-set included a few old, non- 16:9 transfers, this comes as a long overdue development, and the improvements are appreciable: the original in particular looks clearer and less grainy than any transfer I've ever seen of the 1976 Oscar winner.
Trailers are included for each film, and as a bonus, MGM has included an extra sixth DVD featuring the A&E Biography of Stallone, narrated by Peter Graves. It's a nice bonus to have, and is apparently going to be included only in early copies sold of the set.
THE TERMINAL (**1/2, 2004). 129 mins., PG-13, Dreamworks. DVD FEATURES: 1.85 Widescreen, 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital sound.
Not the total disaster some chalked it up to be, this alternately charming and credibility- straining drama-edy from Steven Spielberg isn't likely to change some viewers' perception that the filmmaker's pinnacle of greatness is behind him.
Tom Hanks plays Viktor Navorski, a European traveler who becomes stranded at JFK Airport in New York when war breaks out in his homeland. Faced with a legal loophole with no clear solution, the airport's uncaring Homeland Security director (Stanley Tucci) opts to keep Navorski in the international lounge for weeks on end, which enables Viktor to make friends with some of the airport's zanier characters and have a nice, casual dinner with stewardess Catherine Zeta-Jones.
Spielberg's third teaming with Tom Hanks failed to recapture the magic of "Saving Private Ryan" and "Catch Me If You Can." The latter was able to balance comedic elements with dramatic passages far more effectively than "The Terminal," which even in its first half-hour awkwardly shifts from broadly-drawn characterizations (including Tucci's unbelievably over-the-top antagonist) to dramatic moments, including Viktor's horrific realization of his country's plight. Thereafter, the movie becomes essentially a light, almost Blake Edwards-esque comedy with a few amusing gags and a dose of completely unnecessary romance with Zeta-Jones offering eye candy and little else in the Sacha Gervasi-Jeff Nathanson script, which had been based on a story by Andrew Niccol ("The Truman Show," "Gattaca").
Through it all, Hanks does an admirable job, and John Williams' underrated score is pleasant. It's just hard to fathom what drew Spielberg and all this talent to "The Terminal": the movie isn't funny enough to be classified as a comedy, isn't serious enough to be digested as a dramatic experience, and feels downright dated, like it could have been produced by a filmmaker like Edwards back in the '60s. It's a fluffy, forgettable picture that may be worth a one-time viewing but little more.
Dreamworks' standard edition DVD includes just a superb presentation of the movie with a superlative 1.85 transfer and 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital sound. The studio has also released a double-disc Special Edition DVD with a copy of the soundtrack album, though that edition was unavailable for review.
The year's biggest box-office smash is actually an appreciable comedown from its predecessor, though audiences didn't seem to mind.
This follow-up to "Shrek" finds the jolly green one and his new bride, Princess Fiona, about to live happily ever after in Shrek's rundown shack. Unfortunately for them, Fiona's parents come calling along with a wacky fairy godmother in tow, changing the duo back to human form for a time while Donkey and Shrek attempt to figure out what's going on.
PDI's colorful animation and character design reaches new heights with "Shrek 2": the digital 3-D landscape looks amazing, with an unsurpassed level of depth to the drawing. If only the story was as compelling: despite the arrival of the amusing Puss In Boots (voiced by Antonio Banderas), "Shrek 2"'s plot simply isn't as interesting as its predecessor, and the laughs come less frequently. After a while, the formula of using older rock songs (like "Funkytown") to contrast with the storybook setting grows tiresome, as do the references to modern pop culture -- they're just not as funny and a lot more obvious here.
Despite its massive success, it's hard to figure that "Shrek" and particularly this sequel will be viewed as timeless genre classics. In the not-so-distant future, the numerous in- jokes and cultural references will become dated, and future generations may well wonder (even more so than Robin Williams' zany genie in "Aladdin") what all the fuss was about.
Dreamworks' DVD certainly looks brilliant, however. The 1.85 transfer is stunning and the animation perfectly rendered. Harry Gregson-Williams' score is overshadowed by the countless rock songs, though everything sounds just right in 5.1 Dolby Digital. For special features, the five-minute "Far Far Away Idol" segment, created exclusively for the DVD, is the disc's highlight, though it's only moderately amusing and, likewise, will become a dated curiosity item down the road. Filmmaker commentary is included along with a look at the production of the music, with most attention paid to the various artists the filmmakers utilized on the soundtrack. Interactive games and a couple of Making Of featurettes round out the disc.
Made-for-video entry in the "Species" series isn't much to write home about, but does boast a cameo by Natasha Henstridge and, in spite of its humble origins, is at least superior to the disastrous "Species II."
This time out, Sunny Mabrey stars as "Sara," the now-grown daughter of Eve (Henstridge), who seeks to repopulate her species by taking over the planet Earth. As with the previous films in this series, the military (along with scientist Robin Dunne) try to stop the deadly, serpentine-like alien queen from her nefarious plans, though not until a few steamy sex scenes and adequate special effects offer a bit of small-screen razzle- dazzle.
Writer Ben Ripley and director Brad Turner's production went straight to the Sci-Fi Channel a few weeks ago, though MGM's Unrated DVD edition offers over a half-hour of sequences cut from the broadcast version. Running 112 minutes and with a few shots of added gore and nudity, "Species III" isn't anything out of the ordinary, but it's not bad for what it is: an easily forgettable, modestly entertaining TV-film with some unrated sex and violence. The ending is as wide open for a "Species IV" as its predecessors were, and one can see another installment quickly going forward provided this sequel fares well on the video circuit.
MGM's Unrated Special Edition DVD includes commentary from Turner, Ripley, and Dunne, along with four Making Of featurettes ("Alien Odyssey: Evolution, Species DNA, Alien Technology, and Intelligent Lifeforms"), and a photo gallery. The 1.78 (16:9 enhanced) transfer is excellent and the 5.1 Dolby Digital sound just fine, sporting an original score by Elia Cmiral (answering the question, "whatever happened to Elia Cmiral?").
Remember the good o'l days of the early '70s? Back when made-for-television films were sometimes just as good, if not occasionally better, than new theatrical releases? When young filmmakers would get their chance to prove their mettle with the weekly ABC Sunday Night Movie?
Those days are long since past, but it's good to see MGM releasing one such Movie of the Week: Michael Crichton's directorial debut, "Pursuit," with Ben Gazzara as a government agent whose somewhat routine investigation into political extremist E.G. Marshall results in the uncovering of Marshall's plot to kill thousands of San Diego residents during the Republican Convention.
Taut, well-acted and suspenseful entertainment boasts a great veteran cast (Gazzara, Marshall, William Windom, Joseph Wiseman, Jim McMullan and a young Martin Sheen) plus a solid score by Jerry Goldsmith -- the first of many collaborations between he and the director.
"Pursuit" is proof that they really don't make 'em like this anymore, and hopefully MGM will follow this release with more '70s tele-films awaiting a release on DVD. Recommended!
GARFIELD & FRIENDS VOL. 2 (1989-90). 576 mins., Fox. DVD FEATURES: Full- screen transfers, Dolby Digital mono sound.
Fox's second disc of episodes culled from the "Garfield & Friends" Saturday morning cartoon series offers more zany fun for all Jim Davis fans.
The three-disc set boasts an additional 24 episodes (numbers 25-48 to be precise) from the CBS series, which features the late Lorenzo Music voicing Davis' feline creation in a pair of stories with a "U.S. Acres" tale in between. The series is more outlandish and less consistently funny than, say, the "Garfield" network specials that were produced by Davis and Film Roman Productions prior to the show's 1989 debut, but they're still pleasant and good fun, particularly for younger viewers.
As with the previous box set, the full-screen transfers are merely OK, though again it seems the uneven nature of the animation and general softness in the image is due to the actual production of the series itself. The mono sound is also fine, and Fox has promised another compilation of Garfield's CBS prime-time specials for release in early 2005.
There's something reassuring and enthralling about watching "Unsolved Mysteries." The long-running series may have left the air years ago, but the show is still seen in re-runs and First Look Media has recently issued a series of DVD anthology box sets that feature some of the series' best stories.
At around $30 a piece, the four-disc sets are a bargain when you consider how much material has been packed onto each release. The theme-intensive sets include "Ghosts," "UFOs," and now "Miracles," all with over 30 segments on each box set that total almost six hours. That's a lot of classic "Unsolved Mysteries" to explore, and watching even a few of them is like pure video crack: like the show itself, I couldn't stop at just a couple of the episodes on any one of the sets. The combination of Robert Stack's narration, eye- witness interviews, and tastefully handled recreations makes even the most seemingly mundane tale suspenseful and compelling.
"Miracles" focuses obviously on some of the more miraculous tales the show, along with host Robert Stack, profiled: from religious offerings to amazing medical recoveries. The various segments are presented in adequate full-screen transfers with punchier 5.1 Dolby Digital audio, and synopsis of the individual stories is found on the back of each respective disc. For extras, introductions from series creators John Cosgrove and Terry Dunn Meurer are included along with commentaries on various episodes from "Unsolved Mysteries" creators, directors and producers.
First Look is planning on additional releases in 2005 (Psychics, Bizarre Murders, and Legends), which should delight "Unsolved Mysteries" fans everywhere.
3 (**1/2, 92 mins., 2004): ESPN's attempts at creating original film productions have, so far, left much to be desired. Based on the overdone "A Season on the Brink" and the mediocre "Junction Boys" (to say nothing of Tom Sizemore's performance as Pete Rose in "Hustle"), most concluded that ESPN should stick to sports and leave the entertainment to Hollywood. Their latest production, "3," isn't all bad, however. Veteran director Russell Mulcahy ("Highlander," "The Shadow") has fashioned a good-looking, fast-paced bio-pic of NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt, well played by star Barry Pepper. I'm not a fan of NASCAR, but this competent (if not formulaic) production should prove to be of interest for any Earnhardt fan, and easily ranks as ESPN's best TV-film effort to date. Special DVD features include interviews with the real Earnhardt, actual ESPN racing footage, a documentary on Earnhardt's life, a "Making Of" featurette and more. The 1.78 transfer is terrific, as is the 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.
From Bill Williams:
I have some comments on your review of Star Trek: Season 3, pertaining to "The Cage". You shared that both versions of "The Cage" are on the new DVD set. There are actually three different versions that have been released to home video, all of them with varying episode labels, along with a fourth unreleased variant. Allow me to explain:
The first version is the original hybrid version that was released on VHS in 1986 as "Episode 1". This is the same version that has appeared on both Vol. 40 of the single-disc releases in 2001, and on this new DVD set, as "Episode 99", containing as much of the color footage that was used in the 2-parter "The Menagerie", black and white footage from Gene Roddenberry's workprint version of "The Cage", and the wraparound commentary from Roddenberry on the ST movie sets. On the S3 set, this version is presented in a 2.0 mono mix.
The second version is actually the first full-color version that appeared to the public on October 4, 1988 as part of the syndicated TV special "The Star Trek Saga: From One Generation to the Next" (with 30 minutes of wrap-around interview segments with the Original Series and TNG casts). This full-color version was later released on VHS and LD in 1989 as "Episode 99". This version has the same 2.0 mono audio track as the original hybrid version, and some of the restored color sequences were electronically slowed to account for missing gaps of footage that have, unfortunately, been lost forever. This second version remains unreleased to date. Rumors surfaced during the 90's that the color footage was in fact computer colorized, but the footage is too precise in its color balancing and tinting to be computer coloring.
The third version is the recent restored version that first surfaced on the Vol. 40 DVD in 2001 and on the new DVD set. This version is labeled "Episode 1" and has the erroneous first broadcast date of October 15, 1988 on Disc 7 of the set. The major differences with this "Episode 1" and the 1988-89 version are a more balanced resequencing of the restored color footage, the digitally enhanced 5.1 mix, an additional 2.0 mix (this is only available on the S3 set), the digitally enhanced voices of the Talosians, and a better musical sound mix restoring nearly all of Alexander Courage's original score. In the case of the latter, one piece of music underscoring Pike and Vina on Rigel VII is NOT the original Courage score, but rather a re-scoring from a later date. If you listen carefully to this section of music in both DVD versions, you will notice some substantial differences in its performances, though the music is similar. Also, listen to the digitally enhanced voices of the Talosians in the restored footage. You can make out some very distinct sound hisses in the audio mix. Finally, to account for the restored color footage, some 5-6 second of footage has been trimmed from the overall re-edit.
Even with all of this restored footage, digital enhancing, and resequencing to the 1988- 89 VHS and 2001 DVD versions, there are still approximately 30 seconds of footage that unfortunately have been lost forever. The sad case behind it is, when it was decided to fold "The Cage" into the series' 2-parter "The Menagerie", Gene Roddenberry loaned out his only color master to the film editors, with the belief that they would make a duplicate print for editing purposes and return the original to him. The film editors, however, thought that Roddenberry had given him a duplicate print to begin with and went to work in editing the necessary footage for the 2-parter. Imagine the s--t that hit the fan as a result of this miscommunication!
This leads to a fourth, unreleased version, and that is Roddenberry's black and white workprint version of "The Cage". This one looks and sounds rougher in places, as Roddenberry had taken it to science fiction conventions over the years and showed it to fans. If you look at the 1986 VHS version ("Episode 99" on the DVDs), you'll notice portions of the black and white footage that is present only in that version and not in other versions. Some die-hard Trek fans have wanted to see this black and white workprint version released in an official capacity, but to this day it remains unreleased. (Of course, there is the case of the unreleased alternate version of "Where No Man Has Gone Before", but that is a story for another day.)
In addition, very rare outtakes from "The Cage", showing production occurring as late as December 15-18, 1964, have not been seen by a lot of people - except for those who saw the E! documentary on the life of Jeffrey Hunter. When StarTrek.com commented on the production of "The Cage" and referenced the Justman/Solow book "Inside Star Trek", I forwarded the editor a .wav file of the "Cage" outtakes as documentation, and the article has since been updated and clarified with this information.
While the restored 2001 DVD version of "The Cage" is not the original version as Roddenberry had originally filmed, it does remain as close as possible to what Roddenberry had intended and stands to this day as close to the original version that can be achieved. Hope this helps!
From David Jeffrey Moraza:
Hi Andy. Please take a look at the recent release of 'Missing' from Universal Studios. I got this important film home and found a couple of anomalies with it. The outside of the case could have at least mentioned that it WON an Oscar for Best Screenplay and that it was nominated for Best Picture, Actor, Actress as well. When you put in the disc, there is absolutely NO MENU. I have never before seen a film play with NO menu. Granted, there are no extras but I got the distinct impression that Universal doesn't want to 'dote' on this film because of it's hard-hitting political message against the U.S. Govenment and the (unfortunate) current political climate (?) No trailer. I would very much have liked to have seen HOW this film was marketed back in 1982. As you can guess, I LOVE this film tremendously. Hopefully, you can perhaps address these issues...(?) Thanks.
David, at the end of last month Universal released a handful of catalog titles under the banner "Universal Studio Selections." Along with MISSING, some of the titles included Alan Alda's SWEET LIBERTY and the Henry Thomas '84 classic CLOAK AND DAGGER. Obviously the "Studio Selections" are intended to be Universal's bargain line of discs with no menus and special features to speak of -- the kind you'll find in the discount bin at your local supermarket. You can certainly argue that MISSING (along with any of those other viewer favorites) is deserving of better treatment, but it's not a slight against the Costa-Gavras film per se as it is Universal's way of marketing older catalog titles that they think won't sell big numbers. At least most of them are in 16:9 widescreen and look just fine (I purchased my copies as the studio didn't send out review copies; obviously a sign these are weren't high priorities on Universal's list).
Also, I apologize for my erroneous information about Scotty himself, James Doohan, in my review of the Star Trek Season 3 box set last week. For all those who emailed me, I appreciate the comments, and am sincerely sorry for the error.