Aisle Seat Holiday
Wrap-Up Part 2
From 24 to BACKSTAIRS AT THE WHITE
HOUSE, Andy's Full Coverage of the Newest DVDs!
plus: EMILY ROSE, FANTASTIC FOUR,
INTO THE BLUE and More!
The countdown is on: just a few days left until Christmas, and more
than a few DVDs left to review! Though this will be my last
“official” column for the year (I have a special interview
that will run beginning next week), don’t forget to check in with
our Aisle Seat Message Boards over
Christmas and New Years to discuss
the latest movies, DVD sales and more. I wish you all a very merry
Christmas, New Years, and a safe and happy 2006 -- and before we go,
here are the final reviews for what’s been a most productive, and
satisfying, year that’s about to come to a close...
TV on DVD
THE WHITE HOUSE (1979). 444 mins., Acorn Media. DVD FEATURES: Companion
Guide with Producer Comments and Historical Timeline; Photo Gallery;
Full-Screen, Dolby Digital mono.
Back when TV mini-series were blockbuster events crafted by top-flight
talent, producer Ed Friendly brought this marvelous, four-part dramatic
series to NBC.
Based on the memoirs of White House maid Lillian Rogers Parks,
“Backstairs” tells the story of an African-American mother,
Maggie Rogers (Olivia Cole), and daughter Lillian (Leslie Uggams) who
work at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue from the turn of the century through
the early 1960s and the beginning of the Kennedy administration.
Through it all, the Rogers serve a succession of administrations, from
William Howard Taft (Victor Buono) and Woodrow Wilson (Robert Vaughn)
to Warren G. Harding (George Kennedy) and Calvin Coolidge (Ed
Flanders), Herbert Hoover (Larry Gates), F.D.R. (John Anderson), Harry
Truman (Harry Morgan) and finally Dwight D. Eisenhower (Andrew Duggan)
-- not to mention their respective First Ladies (played by Julie
Harris, Kim Hunter, Celeste Holm, Lee Grant, Jan Sterling, Eileen
Heckart, Estelle Parsons and Barbara Barrie, respectively). Employed
with them are a collection of stalwart workers who pay attention to
each and every detail, including Lou Gossett, Jr., Cloris Leachman,
Leslie Nielsen ad Louise Latham.
Although there are a small amount of soap opera elements in
“Backstairs at the White House,” this is -- as Friendly
points out in his booklet notes -- the “quintessence of
‘docudrama’” that shows the dramatic changes in the
American landscape through the eyes of everyday working women at the
White House. Gwen Bagni and Paul Dubov superbly brought Lillian
Rogers’ memories to the screen, while director Michael
O’Herilhy received ample support from his cast. The performances
of Cole and Uggams are nothing short of wonderful, and though some of
the “Guest Star” performances are a bit over the top (Harry
Morgan shows up and basically plays himself, for example), the entire
production is first-class, informative entertainment -- the sort that
truly no longer graces the airwaves today. In addition to the superb
lead performances, special mention should be made of the moving score
by Morton Stevens, one which is ripe for rediscovery and worthy of its
Acorn Media’s four-disc box-set contains the entire mini-series
in satisfying full-screen transfers and Dolby Digital mono soundtracks.
Extras include photo galleries and short cast bios, as well as a
booklet featuring a heartfelt remembrance of the show by Ed Friendly,
an essay by White House Historical Association President Neil W.
Horstman, photographs, and a historical timeline. Highly recommended!
24: SEASON 4
(2005, 1052 mins.). 24 Episodes, Fox. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: 16:9
Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound; Season 5 Prequel Bridging Seasons
4 & 5; Cast/Crew Commentaries; Deleted Scenes; 4 Featurettes; Music
It doesn’t get much more exciting on network television than
watching Kiefer Sutherland take on terrorists each week on
“24.” While fans wait patiently for the fifth season to
begin in just a few weeks, viewers can catch up with the latest
exploits of CTU agent Jack Bauer in Fox’s seven-disc box-set of
24's fourth season.
Having been a big fan of the series since its first episode, Season 4
represents some of 24's strongest hours: this time, Jack is out to once
again track down a nefarious terrorist plot that threatens us all, but
it’s one that especially twists and turns throughout the 24
episodes of the fourth season. New to the show in season four are
William Devane as the Secretary of Defense Heller and Kim Raver as his
daughter (and Jack’s new love interest); an Arab-American family
with a role to play in the plot masterminded by Habib Marwan (played by
“Mummy” star Arnold Vosloo); and the rousing,
applause-worthy return of hero Tony Almeida (Carlos Bernard) several
“24" has plot holes to spare and its share of cliches, but in
terms of sheer suspense, no show on the air right now grabs you and
keeps you spellbound the way this series does on a weekly basis.
Sutherland’s taut performance anchors the series, and the
supporting cast in Season Four is the finest yet: Vosloo projects a
chilly, icy terror, while Oscar winner Shohreh Aghdashloo essays one of
the creepiest tough-love mothers you’ll ever encounter (too bad
her role in the show abruptly ends about midway through the season).
Sutherland’s chemistry with Bernard and Reiko Aylesworth (as
Tony’s ex-wife Michelle Dessler) is also back in full form, and
former President David Palmer (Dennis Haysbert) also works his way back
into the fold eventually as well.
Though the show runs out of steam somewhat towards the finish line (a
common complaint among 24's four seasons), this is perhaps the most
satisfying season of all for 24, and viewers will likewise savor each
and every episode on DVD. Fox’s seven-disc set offers the
requisite selected commentaries and deleted scenes (39 of them, in
fact!), plus four behind-the-scenes featurettes, a music video, and --
best of all -- a Season 5 “prequel” that will bridge the
events between the end of Season 4 and the new year starting up in
January. Like the show’s rabid fans, I can’t wait!
STAR WARS: THE
CLONE WARS, Volume 2 (2005), 64 minutes, Fox: Single-disc
release houses the second batch of Cartoon Network “Clone
Wars” cartoons, finishing off the small-screen adventures of
Anakin Slywalker and company. As with the previous DVD release, these
five-minute (or under) segments have been edited together to form a
dizzying, at-times jumpy assortment of cliffhangers that should still
delight Star Wars aficionados. (And it’s not the end, either, as
Lucasfilm recently greenlit a whole season’s worth of longer
“Clone Wars” animated episodes). Fox’s DVD includes a
gorgeous 1.78 widescreen transfer, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, and a bevy
of supplements, including a Making Of featurette; commentaries with
director Genndy Tartakovsky and others; concept Art Galleries; and as
many video game demos as one could imagine.
New From Sony
THE EXORCISM OF
EMILY ROSE (***, 2005). 122 mins., PG-13, Sony. DVD FEATURES:
Commentary; Deleted Scene; Three Featurettes; Extended Version of the
Film; 16:9 (2.40) Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital.
One of 2005's surprise
box-office hits is an absorbing, fascinating hybrid of courtroom
thriller and supernatural shocker.
Jennifer Carpenter plays a college student possessed by an entity that
tortures her and torments her religious family; Tom Wilkinson is the
understanding priest who frees her soul in an exorcism, only to later
face criminal charges in connection with her death. Rising attorney
Laura Linney takes Wilkinson’s case, despite doubting the
priest’s claims that there are forces beyond this world on both
sides of the spiritual coin.
Based loosely on a reported true story that happened in Germany several
decades ago, “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” is a
superbly-acted picture that’s anything but a re-run of William
Peter Blatty’s genre benchmark. Director Scott Derrickson and his
co-writer, Paul Harris Boardman, have fashioned a disturbing character
drama that’s particularly fascinating in its portrayal of
possession, as well as the nature of evil and faith. It's shocking to
see a movie in this day and age actually provoke an intelligent
discussion of these subjects, and yet “Emily Rose” does
just that. Linney, Wilkinson, Carpenter, and particularly Campbell
Scott (as the prosecutor) are uniformly excellent -- and in regards to
the latter, the movie does offer an alternative explanation to Emily's
plight that seems completely plausible, despite the supernatural
elements in the picture being played up.
Vividly shot by Tom Stern and creepily scored by Christopher Young,
“Emily Rose” is also somewhat disjointed. The beginning of
the movie seems a bit rushed, as if large chunks of it had been cut
(there should have been more of Emily's background and Laura Linney's
first few meetings with Tom Wilkinson). Thus, you never really feel an
emotional connection with Emily -- nor do you really feel for Linney
and her questioning of faith as much as you might have. Sony’s
DVD does restore three minutes of footage related to the case, and
while it improves on the theatrical version, I still felt even more
material could have been added, enhancing the drama.
Despite its shortcomings, “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” is
unquestionably one of the finest genre films that has been released in
some time. Highly recommended.
Sony’s DVD, available this week, offers commentary from
Derrickson that discusses the “real” Emily Rose case, three
Making Of featurettes, and one additional deleted scene. The 2.40
Widescreen transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound are both superb.
WARS (***, 2004). 133 mins., PG-13, Sony. DVD FEATURES: Featurette;
16:9 Widescreen (2.35), 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.
direction fuels this unabashedly over-the-top monster fest: an
over-stuffed “Kaiju” with Godzilla rushing to save the
Earth one more time after a group of seemingly benevolent aliens turn
out to be frauds ripped right out of the “V” playbook and
seeking to conquer the planet.
This 50th Anniversary Godzilla film met with polarized reaction from
fans: some thought the movie was a mess, but others embraced the
craziness, outlandish characters and reliance on special effects. Make
no mistake, you need to be a Godzilla fan to enjoy “Final
Wars,” but I have to admit that I was captivated by the monster
battles (and there are plenty of them; everyone from Rodan to Mothra
and even the American Godzilla show up!) and found the usually tedious
human sequences to be more fun than not, thanks to Kitamura’s
stylized direction. The movie moves along fairly well considering its
bloated length, and while the effects are far from Peter Jackson
territory, there’s just something refreshing about the
“anything for entertainment” style that Kitamura employs in
this movie. G-fans, likewise, will appreciate the musical motifs from a
bevy of Toho classics, not to mention the reappearance of Minya,
“Son of Godzilla”!
More accessible for casual Godzilla aficionados than some of the more
somber ‘90s productions, “Godzilla: Final Wars” even
offers a fairly cheesy, ‘80s-styled synth score from Keith
Emerson, plus a rowdy, fan-pleasing finale. Monster addicts
shouldn’t miss it!
Sony’s DVD offers a terrific 16:9 transfer that’s the
best-looking of all of Toho’s imports to reach the digital realm
on this side of the Atlantic. The 5.1 Dolby Digital sound is offered in
both Japanese (with optional subtitles) and an amusing English dubbing,
while some 18 minutes of behind-the-scenes footage rounds out a disc
that’s wild, wooly, and great fun for those who can get into its
Just In Time For
Christmas: A Mark Wahlberg Double Feature...
(***, 2005). 108 mins., R, Paramount. DVD FEATURES: Commentary by John
Singleton; Four Featurettes; 9 Deleted Scenes; Trailer; 16:9 Widescreen
(2.35), 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.
(**½, 2000). 115 mins., R, Miramax/Buena Vista. DVD FEATURES:
Director’s Cut; Commentary by James Gray and Steven Soderbergh;
Three Featurettes; Concept Art; Original Director’s Commentary;
16:9 Widescreen (2.35), 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.
John Singleton’s “Four Brothers” was
promoted as a tough-guy urban revenge picture, which to some degree it
is, but that marketing was ultimately misleading: Singleton’s
film is a well-balanced mixture of action-suspense and introspective
character drama, with a good amount of humor peppered into the mix.
Mark Wahlberg, Tyrese Gibson, Andre Benjamin (best known as
“Andre 3000" from Outkast) and Garrett Hedlund play four
“siblings” who return home to their foster mother’s
funeral after she (Fionnula Flanagan) is gunned down in a convenience
store hold-up. Flanagan, a former hippie, had spent her life placing
troubled youths, only failing in finding homes for four youngsters whom
she ultimately raised as her own (and guess which ones they happen to
Now back in Detroit, Wahlberg, Gibson and Hedlund try and work the
streets to figure out what happened to their beloved mom, while
Benjamin -- now married with kids and a future in real estate --
struggles with the violence he knows is about to follow.
Exciting, well-performed and with lots of energy to spare, “Four
Brothers” compliments its pseudo-western premise by being an
ensemble piece marked by strong characters you really care about by the
film’s end. This seemingly disparate “family”
functions as well as the real thing, with the colorful banter between
Wahlberg, Gibson, Benjamin and Hedlund feeling as real as possible
given the film’s genre conventions. As usual, Singleton excels at
the movie’s pacing and action scenes, while David Arnold’s
dynamic score works with a flavorful (but not overwhelming) assortment
of ‘70s soul tracks to perfectly convey the mood. Definitely
Paramount’s DVD offers commentary from Singleton, nine deleted
scenes culled off the workprint, and four Making Of featurettes. The
16:9 enhanced transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound are both superb
(film music fans will note that Edward Shearmur receives a notice for
“additional music” in the end credits).
Also out this week from Miramax is a new Unrated Director’s Cut
of “The Yards,” director James Gray’s 2000
“Godfather-on-the-rails” drama, also starring Mark Wahlberg
as a recently-released ex-con who returns home to work with Uncle James
Caan and his control over a corrupt contracting business.
Joaquin Phoenix (as Wahlberg’s buddy), Charlize Theron
(Wahlberg’s cousin) and Faye Dunaway (his mother) co-star in this
atmospheric, moody but unrelentingly grim film, well-scored by Howard
Shore and shot by Harris Savides.
Miramax’s new single-disc DVD includes an Unrated
Director’s Cut that boasts the same running time as its
theatrical version, plus a fresh commentary with Gray and Steven
Soderbergh, deleted scenes, a Making Of featurette (“Visualizing
The Yards”), and a “roundtable discussion” with the
stars and director. The original DVD supplements have also been
reprised, including Gray’s solo commentary, promo featurette, and
theatrical trailer. The 16:9 enhanced transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital
soundtrack are both just fine.
...and a Jessica Alba
Double Bill as well!
(**½, 2005). 106 mins., PG-13, Fox. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Cast
commentary; Video Diary; Deleted Scenes; Making Of featurette; Music
Videos; Trailers; 16:9 Widescreen (2.35), 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital
Colorful, somewhat contrived
adaptation of the Marvel Comics franchise suffers from some
questionable casting and uninspired direction.
Ioan Gruffudd is Reed Richards, the brilliant scientist who convinces
rival Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon) to fund a journey into
outer-space so Richards and his team can study a passing meteor storm.
As anyone who might have flipped through the pages of the Stan Lee-Jack
Kirby-created comic knows, the storm turns Richards into Mr. Fantastic,
his future love Sue Storm (Jessica Alba) into The Invisible Girl, her
brother Johnny into a veritable Human Torch, and tough guy Ben Grimm
(Michael Chiklis) into the ever-lovin’ giant The Thing. Together,
they form a family-oriented team that takes on “Doctor
Doom”’s nefarious plans in order to save the city of New
The “Fantastic Four” had a well-documented, troubled
journey to the silver screen: Bernd Eichinger’s Constantin Film
initially worked with Roger Corman to produce an ultra-cheapie,
unreleased version in the early ‘90s. With that monstrosity out
of the way, the rights ultimately reverted back to Marvel, who teamed
up with Fox and Chris Columbus’1492 Pictures to produce this
serviceable, lightly entertaining adventure.
Under the guidance of director Tim Story (“Barbershop”!),
“Fantastic Four” is good fun for the kids, and a decent
time-killer for everyone else. The movie takes its time getting going,
and the Mark Frost-Michael France script isn’t particularly
appealing, but the movie still manages to work just the same. Gruffudd,
Chiklis and Chris Evans (as Johnny Storm) all perfectly embody their
Marvel counterparts, but Jessica Alba is less than convincing as Sue
Storm (too bad they bypassed Rachel McAdams, who reportedly tested for
the part, and would have provided a far more interesting presence).
McMahon’s Dr. Doom, meanwhile, is also a disappointment, looking
like he’d be better off serving up villainy on “The
O.C.” or McMahon’s own “Nip/Tuck” than a genre
film like this.
Fox’s DVD is a single-disc Special Edition with plenty of
content: commentary from the cast, a Video Dairy, deleted scenes, Fox
Movie Channel segments, and a “Making Of” featurette make
for a competent array of special features. The 2.35 transfer and 5.1
Dolby Digital/DTS sound are both as robust as one would anticipate,
while John Ottman tries to contribute a more upbeat super-hero score
than the norm (and succeeds with a decent, though not especially
memorable main theme).
INTO THE BLUE
(**½, 2005). 110 mins., PG-13, Sony. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES:
Commentary; Screen Tests; Deleted Scenes; Making Of; 16:9 Widescreen
(2.35), 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.
Okay, so Jessica Alba as a scientist/super-hero was less than
convincing. But Jessica Alba as a bikini-clad scuba diver? Now
that’s more like it!
Director John Stockwell’s uncredited remake of “The
Deep” (though Peter Guber is listed as an executive producer)
serves up colorful locales and Alba and Paul Walker as the
treasure-seeking couple who stumble upon a fortune in cocaine while
diving along the bottom of the sea. Scott Caan is Stockwell’s
brother and Ashley Scott portrays his main squeeze, while James Frain
appears as the drug czar in search of his lost cargo.
One of MGM’s last productions and a box-office disappointment,
“Into The Blue” nevertheless offers an entertaining slice
of escapism. Alba and Walker look the part, and the Matt Johnson script
fortunately doesn’t really require either to do much in the way
of acting. The Shane Hurlbut cinematography is just right and Stockwell
edits a few effective action sequences along the way. A real guilty
pleasure, “Into The Blue” is just the right tonic on a cold
winter’s night, with attractive leads and enough action to get by.
Sony’s DVD, out on December 26th, includes commentary from John
Stockwell, no less than 10 deleted scenes with optional commentary,
screen tests and a Making Of featurette. The 2.35 transfer and 5.1
Dolby Digital sound are both excellent.
Roger Corman Strikes
A few months ago, Roger Corman inked a new deal with Buena Vista to
handle his library of B-movie favorites on DVD. Buena Vista’s
first batch of Corman discs were released last week, offering solid
Special Edition packages of several New World cult classics.
Top of the list are two staples of ‘70s cult
moviedom: the silly 1975 actioner DEATH RACE 2000
(**½, 78 mins., R) and the teen favorite ROCK ‘N’
ROLL HIGH SCHOOL from 1979 (***, 84 mins., PG).
“Death Race 2000" is best known as the movie in which David
Carradine races Sylvester Stallone in a manic cross-country event
set...of course...in the year 2000! (Cue the Conan O’Brien music
here). Paul Bartel’s campy, deliberately off-kilter film was
violent for its day, but today it’s pretty tame and
unintentionally amusing whenever it’s not trying to be
intentionally humorous. The Buena Vista DVD offers a retrospective
featurette highlighted by interviews with Corman, actors Martin Kove
and Mary Woronov, and writer Charles Griffith. Woronov and Corman also
provide an audio commentary, while the movie debuts in 16:9 widescreen
for the first time (and make no mistake: the film still looks
cheap...just as clear as it possibly can!).
Allan Arkush’s manic “Rock ‘N’ Roll High
School” stars “Halloween” vet P.J. Soles in the
liberating tale of a group of cooky kids who rebel against the
tyrannical rule of a new principal. Sole and her pals (Vincent Van
Patten, Clint Howard among them) recruit The Ramones to strut their
stuff in this highly entertaining pic, one of Corman’s most
satisfying productions, co-produced and written by Joe Dante and
Michael Finnell. BV’s Special Edition offers numerous extras
culled from previous laser/DVD editions, including commentary with
Arkush, Finnell, and writer Richard Whitley; audio outtakes, radio ads,
the original trailer; and adds a new commentary with Roger Corman and
co-star Dey Young, along with a retrospective look back on the
production. The 1.85 widescreen transfer looks better than I recall the
film looking before, and the 2.0 Dolby Digital mono sound holds up fine
(note that this DVD is NOT enhanced for 16:9 TVs, though the packaging
Also part of the Corman “Early Films” roster is a special
edition of BIG
BAD MAMA (**½, 84 mins., 1972, R), the Angie
Dickinson-William Shatner exploitation epic that reprises the previous
New Concorde DVD release (retrospective featurette, commentary and
trailer; full-screen, 2.0 mono sound); and DINOCROC (2004, 85
mins., R), a more recent Corman production about a prehistoric
bad guy who takes on former would-be heartthrob Costas Mandylor in a
bland, direct-to-vid creature feature with B-movie vets Charles Napier
and Joanna Pacula, but sadly has little to recommend it. The 16:9
transfer is okay, as is the Dolby Surround 2.0 stereo, and no special
features are included.
Also New From Buena
Razzle Dazzle Edition (***½, 2003). 113 mins., PG-13,
Miramax/Buena Vista. DVD FEATURES: Previous DVD extras (commentary,
deleted scene) plus new “From Stage To Screen” documentary;
numerous new musical performances; VH1 special; 5.1 DTS and Dolby
Digital sound; 16:9 (1.85) Widescreen.
The long wait for the John Kander-Fred Ebb Broadway
musical to reach the screen was worth it: 2003's Best Picture Oscar
winner is a breezy blast of musical entertainment with a memorable
score and zesty song sequences.
This faithful adaptation of its source has Renee Zellweger as a
nightclub-wannabe who's imprisoned for murdering her lover. Catherine
Zeta-Jones plays the torch singer Zellweger emulates who's also on
murderer's row in '30s Chicago, while Richard Gere essays the
high-priced attorney who ultimately represents both.
Director Rob Marshall and screenwriter Bill Condon employ the device of
having most of the musical numbers originate from the minds of the
various characters -- a decision that results in some bare-bones
production numbers that are nevertheless faithfully reproduced from the
stage version. You may also get tired of the cross-cutting between the
movie's "reality" and fantasy sequences, but Marshall's direction is
sure-handed most of the way and the choreography (based on Bob Fosse's
original staging) is vibrant.
The song adaptations, meanwhile, are excellent and the performances
right on the money: Zeta Jones (a Supporting Actress Oscar winner) is
sensational while Zellweger proved to be a pleasant surprise as the
anti-heroine. John C. Reilly and Christine Baranski shine in supporting
roles. Only Gere seemed a little out of his element, with a singing
voice that at times resembles Buddy Hackett (!), but he does, to his
credit, manage to pull off a few deft dancing moves.
Despite the "dark" subject matter, "Chicago" is great entertainment.
Anyone who enjoys a good musical -- the kind they just don't make
anymore -- is urged to check it out, particularly now that Buena Vista
has released a new 2-disc “Razzle-Dazzle” DVD Special
In addition to reprising many extras from the previous DVD edition
(commentary, the cut song “Class”), Miramax/Buena Vista
have included an interesting new featurette, “From Stage To
Screen: The History of ‘Chicago’,” which profiles the
Broadway show; a slew of extended musical performances, which
incorporate filming footage and behind-the-scenes rehearsals of nearly
all the songs; a segment on Chita Rivera, who starred in the original
show, and an amusing anecdote about Liza Minnelli’s Roxie Hart
performance (which occurred when stage star Gwen Verdon was ill);
segments on production designer John Myhre and costume designer Colleen
Atwood, plus a VH1 “Behind The Movie” special. The 16:9
enhanced transfer and 5.1 DTS/Dolby Digital soundtracks seem to be
right on par with the previous release.
Recut, Extended, Unrated (**, 2005). 147 mins. (Recut), 124 mins.
(Theatrical Version), Unrated and R. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Both
Versions of the Film; New Commentary Tracks on the Theatrical Version
with Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller, and Quentin Tarantino; Making Of
materials; 16:9 (1.85) Widescreen, 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital sound;
also contains a copy of Frank Miller’s original graphic novel.
The deluxe edition fans clamored for didn’t take long to reach
DVD, as the Frank Miller-Robert Rodriguez collaboration “Sin
City” is already back on DVD in an elaborate edition that ought
to please aficionados of the film.
As for “Sin City”
itself, I was less than impressed. Snazzy visuals and a great cast
almost make this two-hour plus journey worthwhile...until you realize
that visuals are all Robert Rodriguez’s cinematic adaptation of
Miller’s graphic novels has going for it.
In this city of sin, Bruce Willis plays a hardened cop with a heart
condition out to stop a psycho from preying on young girls; Mickey
Rourke is a tough, Frankenstein-like monster of a man framed for a
hooker’s murder actually committed by Elijah Wood, a psycho who
literally devours the souls of his victims; Brittany Murphy is a
waitress with a sicko ex-boyfriend (Benicio Del Toro) and a new love
(Clive Owen) who takes him down, only to find out he’s actually a
cop; and Jessica Alba is the grown version of the girl Willis saves in
the opening...now a good-girl stripper who gets wrapped up with a bad
guy who’s a cross between a “Dick Tracy” thug and
something you’d ordinarily see in one of David Lynch’s
This repellent exercise in pulp “graphic novel noir”
nonsense is apparently a faithful-to-an-extreme cinematic
representation of Miller’s graphic novels. Rodriguez, fresh off
his “Spy Kids” films, recruited Miller to
“co-direct” and give his creative stamp to the movie
version, and, admittedly, there are times when “Sin City”
truly feels as if you’re watching a veritable comic book. The
endlessly pretentious narration and dialogue were ripped right out of
Miller’s books, as were the highly-stylized camera angles and
editing rhythms -- all coordinated by Rodriguez to accurately bring
each frame of “Sin City” to the screen.
As a consequence to its faithfulness, however, there’s no
dramatic tension or anything to grasp onto in “Sin City”
the movie. Here’s a film packed to the gills with outrageous
violence and action (toned down somewhat by having most of the blood
colored white), but nothing of interest from a character or dramatic
angle. The movie is all posturing -- a group of “cool”
moments that will get teenage boys aroused with its explicit violence
and brainless action -- but there’s no weight to the movie at all
because Miller and Rodriguez didn’t make any dramatic adjustments
to the material. “Sin City” looks and feels like a comic
book come to life, alright, but what works dramatically on the printed
page doesn’t necessarily translate to the cinematic realm, as
plainly demonstrated here.
Regardless, I realize there are numerous aficionados out there
who’ll love Buena Vista’s “Recut, Extended,
Unrated” DVD box set, which contains a newly edited version of
the film, running just about 25 minutes longer than the theatrical
version (it also separates each of Miller’s tales into
self-contained sequences). The original, 124-minute theatrical cut is
also on-hand, as well as three supplemental audio tracks: a pair of
Rodriguez commentaries, one with Tarantino and another with Miller; and
a recording of the Austin, Texas audience reaction to the movie’s
Loads of supplemental content are also on-hand here, to compensate for
the previous, mostly-vanilla DVD release from last summer: Rodriguez
typically shoots ample behind-the-scenes material, knowing it will make
for interesting viewing on disc, and that’s the case here, as
you’ll learn pretty much everything there is to know about the
film. Though I’m not a fan of the movie, there’s no
question that Rodriguez employed all kinds of amazing tricks to achieve
the unique look and feel of the movie, and for some (like myself), you
may find these featurettes more interesting than watching “Sin
The 16:9 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital/DTS soundtracks are identical
to the reference-level original DVD, while the superb packaging
includes a copy of Miller’s original graphic novel.
THE BROTHERS GRIMM (**,
2005). 118 mins., PG-13, Dimension/Buena Vista. DVD FEATURES:
Commentary by Terry Gilliam; Deleted Scenes with optional commentary;
Two Featurettes; 16:9 Widescreen (1.85) and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.
Strange is the most appropriate word to describe the latest from
director Terry Gilliam...not that strange hasn’t ever been used
to discuss one of Gilliam’s past movies, but here it totally
applies to this muddled attempt at crossing Tim Burton’s
“Sleepy Hollow” with a “Ghostbusters” kind of
plot and the former Python's stylized visuals.
Matt Damon and Heath Ledger play the Brothers as a pair of traveling
storytellers who run into a forest of nightmares for real after
traveling into a small German town in 1812. There, they meet a brave
local girl (Lena Headey) haunted by her past and, together, attempt to
end the curse put on them by an evil queen (Monica Bellucci) who
utilizes numerous fairy tale elements in tormenting the townsfolk.
“The Brothers Grimm” was a troubled production that was
delayed for months before being released. MGM initially funded the
movie and later backed out, leaving the Weinsteins and Miramax to bail
Gilliam out of a film that could have possibly gone the way of the
auteur’s abandoned “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote.”
After tales of tension between Gilliam and the Weinsteins, the finished
“Brothers Grimm” opened to mixed reviews and decent, if not
respectable, box-office last August.
Though the movie has atmospheric cinematography by Newton Thomas Sigel
and a terrific cast, the picture itself is disjointed and simply not
very appealing. Damon and Ledger both look out of sorts here, mumbling
silly dialogue and neither appearing comfortable in their roles as con
men who eventually turn into heroes. Peter Stormare’s
over-the-top performance as a henchman for local French government
villain Jonathan Pryce is too far in the other direction, though Headey
effectively channels Keira Knightley in both looks and persona as a
Gilliam’s penchant for outlandish visuals is once again on-hand,
but somehow his creations here are unsettling rather than imaginative:
a demonic horse that swallows a child and another young one who becomes
a gingerbread man (and eats a part of his arm, exclaiming
“I’m delicious!”) are the kinds of unsavory effects
you’ll find in a movie that also boasts a fair amount of
unsatisfying CGI. Worst of all is the brittle musical score by Dario
Marianelli, one that sounds off-kilter from the very beginning and
calls the wrong kind of attention onto itself throughout.
Dimension’s DVD offers an informative, though not especially
critical, commentary from Gilliam, along with nearly a dozen deleted
scenes likewise with comments from the director. Given the turbulent
production, it’s surprising to hear Gilliam talk at all about the
picture, making the DVD worthwhile for fans on those grounds alone. Two
short Making Of featurettes are included, along with a satisfying 16:9
(1.85) transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.
Also New and Noteworthy
MAKE LOVE! THE
BRUCE CAMPBELL WAY. Rykodisc Records, 6 CDs: Highly entertaining
adaptation of B-movie auteur Bruce Campbell’s semi-fictional
account of trying to go “straight” in mainstream Hollywood
receives an interesting audio adaptation from Rykodisc. Campbell not
just narrates his tale (filled with tales of run-ins with Hollywood
insiders) but also “stars” in what basically amounts to a
radio dramatization of his work, and not just your standard
“Books on Tape” production. Through six discs, Campbell
charts his misadventures with stars and studio moguls, while trying to
make a remake of “Let’s Make Love!” with Renee
Zellweger. Production values are high and while most of the material
here is tongue-in-cheek, no doubt that a lot of Bruce’s barbs are
right on target and based on his own experiences. Recommended (use the
Amazon link on the Aisle Seat front page to order directly with free
THE CAVE (**,
2005). 97 mins., PG-13, Sony: Watchable time-waster finds a team
of explorers venturing into a subterranean lair, where they encounter a
new form of creature running amok. Aside from Patrick Tatopoulos’
creature design and a decently-executed final 15 minutes, this is a
routine genre piece from director Bruce Hunt, Screen Gems, Lakeshore
and Cinerenta, with an appropriately-cast assembly of B-stars: Cole
Hauser, Eddie Cibrian (“Invasion”), Morris Chestnut, Lena
Headey, and Piper Perabo, who vanishes off the roster fast.
Sony’s DVD, out on January 3rd, offers commentary from Hunt and
writers Michael Steinberg and Tegan West, plus two featurettes, one of
them focusing on Tatopoulos’ effects. The 16:9 enhanced transfer
and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks are both fine.
that, I will bid you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Don't
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we'll catch you
then. Cheers everyone!
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