Aisle Seat Holiday Edition Password, Blu-Rays, GHOSTs & More! Plus: EAGLE EYE and EVENT HORIZON in HD
not sure if it’s an indication of our struggling economy, or
perhaps a sign of movies that audiences simply aren’t that
interested in, but home video sales have been lagging over the last few
months of the year. DVD sales basically flatlined during the third
Blu-Ray sales enjoyed some growth but have yet to experience the
massive leaps and bounds some experts predicted (it’ll be quite
interesting to see how analysts project the format did over the holiday
season, once numbers start coming in during the new year). Compared
to a year ago, this has resulted in not nearly as many “Special
Edition” DVD re-issues of catalog offerings, and with the
exception of “The Dark Knight,” nowhere near the amount of
hot-selling “must have” new titles as well.
While we take a look at the final discs of 2008 below, I sincerely hope
that things turn around in 2009 for viewers, consumers and merchants
alike -- that we get more specially-packaged DVD editions of past
classics (like last December’s outstanding “Blade
Runner” release from Warner), and Blu-Ray releases that go beyond
some of the routine title offerings we’ve seen thus far. Titles
like Paramount’s “The Godfather Trilogy” and
Fox’s “Omen” and “Planet of the Apes”
Blu-Ray sets were outstanding, yet there should’ve been more of
them -- and with a format that desperately needs to generate consumer
interest and growth, time is of the essence.
And finally, before we close out this past year, I’d also like to
wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year -- thanks as
always for reading, and don’t forget to save us a cup of your
best eggnog at the Aisle Seat! New Universal Blu-Rays
THE MUMMY - TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR (**, 112 mins., 2008, PG-13; Universal):
Mediocre third go-around for the Universal fantasy-adventure franchise
finds a new director (Rob Cohen) and writers
(“Smallville”’s Alfred Gough and Miles Millar) at the
helm, yet not a whole lot of energy on-hand.
Brendan Fraser returns as Rick O’Connell, again having to battle
mummies -- this time of an Asian persuasion after his son (the terribly
uncharismatic Luke Ford) unearths the tomb of China’s legendary,
nefarious Dragon Emperor (Jet Li). Maria Bello subs for Rachel Weisz
here, but it might’ve been better just to write the character off
as she serves little purpose accompanying her husband and brother (John
Hannah once again) through the Himalayas where the group enlists the
help of some Yetis, an Army of the Undead, and an immortal Michelle
Yeoh to take down Li.
Despite a few effective action sequences and a playful, disarming tone,
“Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” feels awkward, from
Bello’s stilted accent to the complete waste of Li in a role
that’s often CGI’d. Why even cast the international martial
arts star if he only appears for a few minutes at a time in the first
place? Ford, meanwhile, is just awful and Randy Edelman’s score
never finds a strong central theme for listeners to grasp onto.
It’s still watchable and passable entertainment for younger
viewers (who helped the film gross over $100 million domestically in
spite of tepid reviews), but for fans of its predecessors it feels like
the franchise’s rendition of “Allan Quartermain and the
Lost City of Gold.”
Universal’s Blu-Ray edition of “The Mummy 3" is a gem, at
least: the AVC encoded transfer and DTS Master Audio soundtrack are
both reference quality. Ample extras include picture-in-picture
“U-Control” segments, deleted and extended scenes, visual
commentary with Rob Cohen, numerous Making Of featurettes, interactive
games and BD-Live extras.
MAMMA MIA! (*½, 109 mins., 2008, PG-13; Universal):
Surprisingly amateurish adaptation of the popular musical became a
worldwide box-office phenomenon this past year, generating nearly $600
million in revenue.
Of course, “Mamma Mia!”’s source material
wasn’t anything exceptional to begin with: a musical entirely
based on Abba songs has “novelty” written all over it, and
the stage version’s flimsy story hasn’t been fleshed out
any further, really, in this Tom Hanks co-produced big-screen version.
Meryl Streep stars as a former hippie living the good life on a Greek
island where her daughter (Amanda Seyfried) is about to be married.
Seyfried, though, still wonders about her father’s identity, and
invites three of her mother’s former lovers (Pierce Brosnan,
Colin Firth, and Stellan Skarsgard) to the wedding, hoping to find out
who papa really is.
From there, it’s an endless parade of Abba tunes shoehorned into
the lightweight premise, though what’s surprising about
“Mamma Mia!” isn’t just its embarrassing staging and
pedestrian choreography -- if you go to the trouble of shooting in the
Mediterranean, couldn’t you actually film all of it there, and
not partially on phony CGI-enhanced backdrops? While director Phylinda
Lloyd and writer Catherine Johnson can only do so much to enhance the
movie’s clunky stage origins, “Mamma Mia!” is still a
chore to sit through at every turn. Unless you’re an Abba addict
who can overlook the relentless mugging from the cast and tepid story,
it’s best to avoid this modern equivalent of “Can’t
Stop the Music,” which at least had Steve Guttenberg, Bruce
Jenner and a particularly buoyant Valerie Perrine going for it!
Universal’s Blu-Ray disc looks crisp enough with its 1080p
transfer (though the artificial backdrops still look painfully obvious)
and powerful DTS Master Audio soundtrack, while numerous extras include
deleted songs, excised scenes, outtakes, Making Of featurettes,
commentary with the director, U-Control picture-in-picture extras, and
a digital copy for portable media players.
BURN AFTER READING (**½, 96 mins., 2008, R; Universal):
Fresh off their Oscar win for “No Country For Old Men,”
Joel and Ethan Coen opted to film this flimsy comic-thriller involving
misplaced CIA secrets that fall into the hands of two personal fitness
trainers (Frances McDormand and Brad Pitt) who do everything wrong
while trying to get something for their “hot” possession.
John Malkovich, Richard Jenkins, Tilda Swinton and J.K. Simmons are
also on-hand in this quirky Coen concoction that never takes itself
seriously, but nevertheless has its moments of graphic violence and
tension. It’s an unsatisfying brew even for Coen fans, like
watching “Fargo” without a strong lead character anchoring
the narrative’s surrounding chaos. While moderately entertaining
“Burn After Reading” is about as disposable a Coen project
as you’ll find -- a cold and detached movie that will be best
remembered for the flamboyant performances of Clooney, Malkvoich and
especially Pitt, who’s quite funny here. Universal’s
Blu-Ray disc includes a satisfying 1080p transfer with DTS Master Audio
sound and three fairly slight, if amusing, featurettes. DEATH RACE (**½, 111 mins. [Unrated], 2008; Universal):
Absolutely stupid but highly entertaining reworking of Roger
Corman’s “Death Race 2000,” with Jason Statham as a
wrongly-imprisoned man coerced into taking part in a series of deadly
auto races in order to gain his freedom. As with most Anderson movies
“Death Race” doesn’t offer much work for your brain,
but the action sequences, humor and performances by Statham, Ian
McShane and a slumming Joan Allen make for a rowdy good time for action
fans. Universal’s Blu-Ray disc sports both the R-rated theatrical
cut of “Death Race” and an expanded Unrated version in
dynamic 1080p transfers, with DTS Master Audio soundtracks, commentary
with Anderson and producer Jeremy Bolt (on the longer cut), two Making
Of featurettes (in HD) and U-Control picture-in-picture extras rounding
out the fun.
SERENITY (***, 119 mins., 2005, PG-13; Universal):
Joss Whedon’s “Firefly” leapt to the big screen in
this entertaining enough adventure that will please fans of the series
more than newcomers to the material. Whedon doesn’t spend much
time re-establishing the characters onboard the ship Serenity, here
caring for the 17-year-old psychic sister of the crew’s doctor,
who’s being relentlessly pursued by an evil galactic government
regime. Still, “Serenity” offers some terrific effects, a
neat mix of humor and action, and amiable performances from the
original “Firefly” cast, making it worthwhile for sci-fi
buffs (and especially viewers of the series). Universal’s
smashing Blu-Ray includes a flawless 1080p transfer, potent DTS Master
Audio soundtrack, Whedon commentary, deleted scenes, Making Of material
(profiling the material’s journey from series to film) and other
goodies including U-Control picture-in-picture content, extra
interviews and BD-Live bonuses.
JET LI’S FEARLESS (***, 141 mins., 2006, Unrated; Universal):
Terrific Blu-Ray edition of Jet Li’s supposed farewell to the
martial arts genre sports three different cuts of Ronny Yu’s 2006
release: the 101-minute U.S. theatrical release, its 104-minute Unrated
edition, and best of all, a 141-minute Director’s Cut that adds
ample character development and back story to its tale of a disgraced
“Wushu” champion who finds redemption spiritually and in
the ring. Gorgeous 1080p transfers and DTS Master Audio soundtracks
adorn each version, though the added dramatic content makes the
Director’s Cut the only way to go. New From Paramount on Blu-Ray & DVD
GHOST TOWN (***, 102 mins., 2008, PG-13; Dreamworks/Paramount):
Unfortunate box-office misfire from director David Koepp, who turns in
a better script here (with co-writer John Kamps) than most of the huge
blockbuster movies he’s authored that people have, in fact, seen.
Ricky Gervais stars as a depressed NYC dentist who gains the ability to
see dead people all around town, including the recently-deceased
husband (Greg Kinnear) of a woman (Tea Leoni) who lives in his
apartment building. Though it’s a bit surprising that Koepp opted
to utilize the exact same concept here as the Jennifer Love Hewitt TV
series “The Ghost Whisperer,” “Ghost Town” is
low-key and endearing, playing off Gervais’ timing and offering a
great deal of heart at its core. This is one of those movies that
deserved to find a larger audience, even if it does play out as
predictably as it sounds.
Paramount’s Blu-Ray disc offers a fine 1080p transfer that does
justice to Fred Murphy’s classy look for the picture, while Dolby
TrueHD audio compliments the sound offerings. The DVD includes a highly
satisfying 16:9 (1.85) transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, while
both platters include commentary from Koepp and Gervais and three
Making Of featurettes. EAGLE EYE (**, 117 mins., 2008, PG-13; Dreamworks/Paramount):
Slick but superficial fall box-office hit from executive producer
Steven Spielberg once again finds his young-star-of-choice Shia LaBeouf
as a regular guy wrapped up in a bizarre scenario wherein a mysterious
woman who calls his cell phone tells both he and another unwitting
victim (Michelle Monaghan) that they’re involved in an
assassination plot and have to carry out various illegal acts or else
suffer the personal consequences.
Director D.J. Caruso infuses this big-budget action effort with a few
nifty set pieces but the story (credited to four different writers)
doesn’t hold up as the movie barrels towards a particularly silly
conclusion. That said, action fans found enough entertainment here to
turn “Eagle Eye” into a box-office hit, and
Paramount’s Blu-Ray and DVD editions of the picture both offer
plenty of extras: deleted scenes, alternate endings, a gag reel, the
trailer, multiple Making Of featurettes and a photo gallery as well.
Technically both versions look superb, though the edge is obviously
with the Blu-Ray platter thanks to its razor-sharp 1080p transfer,
while the BD’s Dolby TrueHD track bests the standard DVD’s
5.1 Dolby Digital mix.
THE DUCHESS (**½, 109 mins., 2008, PG-13; Paramount):
Good-looking but moderately dull costume drama affords Keira Knightley
one of her better leading roles as Georgiana Spencer, the Duchess of
Devonshire, who navigates her status as Britain’s “Empress
of Fashion” despite living through an unhappy marriage to husband
Saul Dibb’s movie -- an adaptation of an Amanda Foreman book by
writers Jeffrey Hatcher, Anders Thomas Jensen and the director –
offers all the requisite aesthetic trappings one would expect from a
quality British period production, from Rachel Portman’s score to
Gyula Pados’ cinematography. The film may not stand out
particularly from other films in this genre, yet it’s solid for
what it is and the performances of Knightley, Fiennes and Dominic
Cooper are all superb.
Paramount’s Blu-Ray disc sports a vivid 1080p transfer with Dolby
TrueHD audio, while the standard DVD looks as satisfying as one would
anticipate with its 16:9 (2.35) transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.
Slim extras include two Making Of featurettes and a “costume
diary.” Also New on Blu-Ray from Paramount
There are good movies, and there are bad movies. Then there are bad movies which end up as great Blu-Ray discs.
Paramount’s high-def Blu-Ray edition of EVENT HORIZON (**, 1997, 95 mins., R)
follows on the heels of its prior 2006 Special Edition package, which
ranked as one of the studio’s more accomplished DVD releases.
That the movie itself remains a big-budget turkey on a number of levels
doesn’t detract from the superb extras and polished presentation
Paramount gave to a film that was more or less universally dismissed by
critics and most audiences when first released in 1997.
It’s not as if the movie is unwatchable or doesn’t have
some positive aspects: Paul Anderson’s film was a major British
production, augmented by American studio money, and offers both
impressive cinematography by the late Adrian Biddle and evocative
production design by Joseph Bennett. The cast is also terrific:
Laurence Fishburne, Sam Neill, Kathleen Quinlan, Joely Richardson,
Jason Isaacs and Sean Pertwee manage to create one of the more
impressive ensembles you’ll see in any sci-fi/horror genre piece.
The problem with “Event Horizon” then and now remains the
story: a ship, deep in space, attempts to uncover what happened to the
vessel Event Horizon, which was presumed lost until it turned up in the
far reaches of the galaxy, minus any signs of actual life. On the case
are captain Fishburne, crew Quinlan, Richardson, Isaacs and Pertwee,
and mysterious doctor Sam Neill, who may know more than he's saying
about the secretive mission.
Philip Eisner’s original story had to do with an alien force
inhabiting the deserted ship but Anderson and producer Jeremy Bolt
opted to alter the premise to suit a “haunted house in
space” plot. The monsters were excised but the visions of hell
itself remained -- along with a messy script that rips off “The
Shining,” “Dead Calm,” “Hellraiser,”
“Alien,” “Aliens,” “2010" and
“Lifeforce,” to name just a few. The movie's premise is
similar to Michael Crichton's novel “Sphere” (which opened
a short time after “Event Horizon” in its own, ill-fated
film adaptation), which wouldn’t have been so much of a problem
had the movie not developed its own characters and dramatic situations
Instead, despite its visuals, the picture becomes increasingly
ridiculous as it goes along, ultimately succumbing to unintentional
laughs and one of the worst fade-out endings in recent genre history.
Thinly-drawn characters make all the usual mistakes of running down dim
corridors and succumbing to their own private demons, while horror fans
will have to weigh the decent quotient of gore on-hand (and there was
even more in Anderson’s original cut) with ample doses of
cringe-inducing dialogue (like Neill’s “we don’t need
eyes where we’re going!” and the cliched,
“ethnic” comic relief supplied by Richard T. Jones, with
the immortal “something hot and black inside you” line
about drinking coffee!).
I suppose hard-core horror fans can overlook those shortcomings and
find sufficient entertainment in “Event Horizon,” but other
viewers are likely to marvel at the movie’s look while being
puzzled by its basic, under-nourished screenplay. My friend Paul
MacLean and I had a memorable experience watching the film on the
big-screen back in ‘97, noting at times that the chair Fishburne
sat in didn’t seem quite big enough to support the tall actor --
and then laughing hysterically when the same chair blows up and flies
into the camera near the end! Add in the ridiculous “Funky
S--t” end title techno track (featuring samples from Barry
Devorzon’s “SWAT” theme song!) and we pretty much
lost it altogether walking out of the theater, while distraught
movie-goers in back of us had a more hostile reaction to the
Though still viewed today as a missed opportunity, “Event
Horizon” makes for a superb Blu-Ray edition, courtesy of a
stellar new HD transfer and bass-pounding Dolby TrueHD soundtrack.
Anderson talked for years about restoring his grizzly
“hell” footage and offering a longer cut of the movie,
which he lamented didn’t happen back in ‘97 due to a lack
of post-production time. That being said, Anderson did willingly trim
his two-plus hour version down for the eventual 97-minute theatrical
release, noting the first cut was too long...but then realizing now
that the theatrical cut isn’t long enough.
Unfortunately, Anderson couldn’t locate all the elements needed
to restore the movie, so what we have here is a high-def presentation
of “Event Horizon”’s released version with commentary
from Anderson and Bolt (who admit to not having seen the movie in a
long while, which results in infrequent moments of silence), along with
a bounty of extras offering what remains of the deleted sequences.
The highlight of the extras is a fascinating, thorough documentary
running over 100 minutes, featuring new interviews with Anderson, Bolt,
Jason Isaacs and even the two fellows who comprise
“Orbital” (who added techno elements to Michael
Kamen’s orchestra, resulting in a loud, pulsating score) talking
about the movie. It’s a bit dry and could have used some editing
-- some of the speakers repeat the same information a few times over
the course of its duration -- but it’s nevertheless essential for
“Event Horizon” fans. An additional documentary, “The
Point of No Return,” includes more technically-oriented
featurettes, primarily devoted to the filming and effects.
Even more revealing are the tantalizing deleted sequences, including an
alternate climax (albeit without dialogue but rather commentary from
Anderson), other unfinished scenes (one of which was written by
“Seven” and “Sleepy Hollow” scribe Andrew Kevin
Walker), and an unused prologue in storyboard form. Some of the
material had to be culled off surviving videotaped footage, though all
of it points to an even more graphic and bloody movie than the
still-violent final cut that was eventually released.
“Event Horizon” is a movie that looks good, sounds good,
and is fairly well acted, but ultimately fails to provide a coherent
and suspenseful story to match its creepy tone and atmosphere.
Regardless of how you fall on the movie, though, there’s no
question Paramount’s Blu-Ray is one of the year’s better
catalog releases to date, offering ample extras and an excellent HD
transfer for fans to savor.
THE TRUMAN SHOW (****, 102 mins., 1998, PG; Paramount): It’s
remarkable how prescient screenwriter Andrew Niccol was in chronicling
the breakout rise of “reality TV” with his script for
“The Truman Show” a decade ago.
In the years following the release of Peter Weir’s superlative
film, “reality TV” has very nearly turned into what Niccol
saw: an all-knowing media, and specifically an entertainment industry,
that could possibly lower itself to the level of fabricating a
“life” for an unknowing participant in its ruse...all for
the sake of ratings.
As for the movie itself, director Weir's delicious fantasy is a
constant visual treat, and Jim Carrey's manic persona was modulated
just enough to make him the perfect embodiment of a naive, literally
sheltered man whose entire life has been fabricated for the purposes of
producing a television program. Weir's direction and Carrey's
performance were justifiably praised (in spite of the fact that some
audiences thought the film, at least initially, was just another Carrey
comedy), but equally worth mentioning are Niccol's screenplay and
several strong supporting performances.
Niccol -- who wrote the terrific “Gattaca” around the same
time (a fascinating companion piece to ”Truman” due to its
complimentary theme of a technological governing body controlling
society) -- penned a witty, thought-provoking script that works best as
a quirky fantasy centering on a man escaping from what he perceives as
his reality, with satirical overtones touching upon the ever-growing
media and its involvement in our own lives. At what point does the
medium become the message, and where does the audience take into
account the consequences of their own voyeurism? Themes like these,
touched upon in Niccol's script, are what make “The Truman
Show” such a relevant and interesting piece.
“The Truman Show” remains a superb, inventive picture with
more on its mind than virtually all of the films released in 2008
combined...a film that will undoubtedly be viewed years from now as one
of the best films of the 1990s.
The Blu-Ray edition of “The Truman Show” sports another
superb HD transfer from Paramount along with a fine Dolby TrueHD
Supplements are culled from the 2005 Special Edition DVD of the movie,
and are highlighted by an excellent documentary on the picture’s
somewhat turbulent production. Featuring new interviews with Weir,
producer Edward S. Feldman, co-stars Laura Linney, Ed Harris and Noah
Emmerich, this is a candid and fascinating examination of how the film
was produced, as well as its growing legacy. Weir and Feldman even
discuss Dennis Hopper’s departure from the film (Hopper was the
original Christof before being “fired”), though they
don’t reference Hopper by name. Nearly 15 minutes of interesting
deleted/extended sequences are shown in workprint form, while
there’s a look at the visual FX in “Faux Finishing.”
A photo gallery and several trailers and TV spots round out the disc.
The latter shows the curious hole the studio was in at the time, trying
to sell the film to Carrey’s young core audience but remain
truthful about the story’s premise simultaneously. As one can
see, only the later trailers give an accurate read as to what type of
film “The Truman Show” is, even though they also reveal too
much of the film’s plot.
GHOST (***, 126 mins., 1990, PG-13; Paramount):
A word-of-mouth blockbuster hit during the summer months of 1990
“Ghost” has everything but the kitchen sink: supernatural
thrills, romantic drama, manic comedy, and a bit of mystery as well. It
also has Demi Moore in one of her better performances (though I was
never a fan of the chopped pixie cut she sports in this one), plus
Patrick Swayze as her dead lover who returns from the grave to find out
what happened to him and why -- and to set things straight with the
Zucker's film makes the most of Bruce Joel Rubin's sometimes weepy
script and never becomes as pretentious as it sometimes threatens to.
Only Maurice Jarre's unremarkable score and the constant use of the
Righteous Brothers' "Unchained Melody" wear out their welcome here,
though the song WAS one of the movie's top draws for some viewers!
Paramount’s Blu-Ray disc offers a strong, though not always
eye-popping, new 1080p transfer with Dolby TrueHD audio that’s
often fairly restrained. Extras include several retrospective
featurettes, plus commentary from Zucker and Rubin and the theatrical
trailer in HD.
DAYS OF THUNDER (**½, 107 mins., 1990, PG-13; Paramount):
Slick but forgettable 1990 Simpson/Bruckheimer summer-time fare offers
Tom Cruise as a brash, arrogant (sound familiar?) NASCAR driver who
nearly loses everything in a crash, but is brought back to health by
Aussie doc Nicole Kidman (in her first “U.S. role”). Robert
Duvall, Randy Quaid and Cary Elwes offer Cruise fine support in this
glossy but superficial Tony Scott film, which didn’t quite do for
auto racing what “Top Gun” did for our armed forces several
years prior. Paramount’s Blu-Ray disc is a no-frills presentation
sporting a satisfying new 1080p HD transfer and Dolby TrueHD audio, the
latter sporting a Hans Zimmer score that, like everything else in the
picture, just feels overly familiar.
OLD SCHOOL (**½, 91 mins., 2003, Unrated; Dreamworks/Paramount):
Director Todd Phillips' follow-up to his surprisingly funny "Road Trip"
isn't as cohesive or consistently amusing, but “Old School”
does sport a few choice moments just the same.
Luke Wilson plays a normal, everyday guy whose old college pals (Vince
Vaughn, SNL's Will Ferrell) opt to start a "fraternity" for their
friend after his girl is caught cheating with not one but two different
accomplices. Yup, it's the ol' collegiate life lived all over again --
crazy initiation ceremonies, huge parties with endless brew, silly
pranks and big-time hangovers -- but this time with the added benefit
of its characters being older and even more irresponsible than before.
The movie’s central "story" -- of Wilson rediscovering his zest
for life and love again -- doesn't work at all, and feels like strict
filler for the "funny parts." Thankfully, there are enough of them to
warrant a viewing, particularly with the manic Ferrell on-hand to
single-handedly provide the majority of the script's guffaws. Playing a
Party Animal repressed by his recent marriage, Ferrell believably
essays an ex-Bluto who's able to find himself again by guzzling mass
quantities of beer -- a quest decidedly more entertaining than anything
else in the film. So even if the picture is an uneven romp, Ferrell and
some uproarious scenes make “Old School”worth enrolling in.
Dreamworks' belated Blu-Ray disc includes a satisfying 1080p transfer
(seemingly the same encode used for the HD-DVD) plus a rollicking Dolby
TrueHD soundtrack. Excellent supplements include a 20-minute "Inside
the Actors Studio" spoof, offering a perfect replication of James
Lipton's pretentious Bravo chatfest, with Ferrell reprising his SNL
impersonation for a conversation with the cast and crew (including
himself). Deleted scenes, bloopers, and more traditional Making Of
featurettes round out the package, which also includes an amusing group
commentary. Also New on Blu-Ray
JINGLE ALL THE
WAY: Family Fun Edition [Director's Cut] (**½, 94 mins.
[Extended] and 89 mins. [Theatrical], 1996, PG; Fox): I'm not
entirely sure if viewers have been clamoring for a Blu-Ray HD version
of this passable 1996 holiday comedy, which at one point was supposed
to pit Arnold Schwarzenegger (starring in his last comedic leading
role) and Joe Pesci, although this Chris Columbus production ended up
with comedian Sinbad in Pesci's role instead. It's still an enjoyable
enough lark, with Phil Hartman, Jim Belushi and Robert Conrad offering
decent support and a spirited soundtrack boasting Brian Setzer
Orchestra yuletide favorites (including “So They Say It’s
Christmas” with vocalist Lou Rawls) a fine David Newman score.
Fox's AVC encoded transfer transfer is superb, as is the DTS Master
Audio sound, and additional extras include set-top games and three
featurettes. Both the original 89-minute theatrical version and a
94-minute extended cut are available on the BD disc.
DR. SEUSS’ HORTON HEARS A WHO (**½, 86 mins., 2008, G; Fox):
Blue Sky Studios, the animators behind the “Ice Age” films,
were responsible for this amiable enough CGI adaptation of the Dr.
Seuss classic. Jim Carrey voices the lovable elephant who tries to save
the microscopic residents of Who-ville including Mayor Steve Carrell.
Beautiful animation splendidly captures the world of Seuss and
articulates the characters, though the movie’s script, as adapted
by Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio, incorporates a few too many
“contemporary” jokes that detract from the timeless
messages and humor of its source material. Fox’s Blu-Ray disc
sports a gorgeous, flawless AVC encded transfer with DTS Master Audio
sound and countless special features, including commentary from
directors Jimmy Hayward and Steve Martino, an all-new “Ice
Age” short starring Sid, deleted footage and animation tests,
Making Of featurettes, interviews, and a digital copy for portable
IN THE NAME OF THE KING: Director’s Cut (**½, 162 mins., 2007, Unrated; Fox):
Just what the Blu-Ray format needed as an exclusive: a full-on,
expanded (by over half an hour!) Director’s Cut of Uwe
Boll’s deliriously entertaining “In the Name of the
King.” This asolutely bonkers (and thus quite enjoyable for bad
movie fans) fantasy-adventure from video-game film auteur Boll mixes
"Braveheart," "Lord of the Rings" and nearly every sword-and-sorcery
spectacle you can imagine. Jason Statham is the hero called to avenge
his son's death and take on a wizard (Ray Liotta!) trying to take over
the kingdom; Leelee Sobieski, Claire Forlani, Kristanna Loken, Matthew
Lillard, John Rhys-Davies and Ron Perlman are a few of the co-stars who
pop up in this entertaining hodge-podge of styles, which will likely go
down as Boll's "Citizen Kane." Fox's Blu-Ray disc gives the world its
first look at the full, 162-minute Unrated cut with a pitch-perfect AVC
encoded transfer and DTS Master Audio soundtrack. Extras include
commentary from Boll, a few other deleted scenes and a Making Of
THE CHEETAH GIRLS: ONE WORLD (88 mins., 2008, G; Disney): Disney
Channel “tween” fun finds the Cheetah Girls (Adrienne
Bailon, Sabrina Bryan and Kiely Williams) heading off this time to
India to star in a legitimate Bollywood musical. Loads of musical
numbers, colorful costumes and a few life lessons are imparted in this
good-natured and entertaining enough TV movie for teens. Disney’s
Blu-Ray disc sports a gorgeous AVC encoded transfer with a potent
uncompressed PCM soundtrack and extras including an alternate version
of the movie with pop-up trivia tracks, bloopers, music videos and a
“rock-along mode” for aspiring singers everywhere.
THE HOUSE BUNNY (**, 97 mins., 2008, PG-13; Sony):
Limp comedy follows Playboy bunny Anna Faris as she’s kicked out
of Hef’s mansion and ends up at a downtrodden sorority house,
where her ridiculous playmate Shelley opts to turn a group of unpopular
female geeks (Emma Stone, Kat Dennings, Katherine McPhee and Rumer
Willis) into gorgeous campus gals.
“Legally Blonde” writers Kirsten Smith and Karen McCullah
Lutz have recycled the same formula from their earlier Reese
Witherspoon hit for this seldom-amusing comedy, co-produced by Adam
Sandler’s gang. The end result is only intermittently funny and
never comes together, while Faris, surprisingly, seems like she
can’t get a handle on her character: is she a dumb sex kitten, a
sexy and somewhat intelligent klutz, or all of the above? Ultimately
her character isn’t endearing enough for you to care about,
leaving only Emma Stone (from “Superbad”) a few fleeting
opportunities to carry the picture as the smart but gawky leader of her
Sony’s Blu-Ray disc of “The House Bunny” includes a
sunny AVC-encoded transfer with Dolby TrueHD audio, deleted scenes,
Making Of featurettes and a music video on the supplemental side.
RESIDENT EVIL: DEGENERATION (*½, 96 mins., 2008, R; Sony): Fans
of the “Resident Evil” video game series are likely to be
disappointed by this stilted, Japanese-produced CGI feature, following
the adventures of game heroes Leon Kennedy and Claire Redfield as they
attempt to contain the “G-Virus” after a plane carrying the
plague crashes into an airport terminal. Too much talk and not enough
creature action make this a tedious view that only hard-core buffs of
the “Biohazard” game series are likely to be entertained
by. Sony’s Blu-Ray disc does boast a flawless 1080p transfer with
Dolby TrueHD audio and extras including a preview of the upcoming
“Resident Evil 5" game, BD Live features, voice bloopers and a
Making Of featurette.
HEATHERS: Special Edition (***, 103 mins., 1988, R; Anchor Bay):
A movie that appears on the list of nearly every fan of '80s cult
cinema, Anchor Bay's Blu-Ray platter of “Heathers” offers a
satisfying HD edition of Michael Lehmann and Daniel Waters’ high
school black comedy.
Despite the high-def presentation, however, the movie still exhibits
the somewhat drab look of a low-budget New World Pictures production
(which it is, after all). The Dolby Digital TrueHD remixed sound is
somewhat more accomplished, featuring David Newman's eccentric score
and several songs from the period.
Supplements include a half-hour Making Of retrospective and the
2001-produced "Swatch Dogs and Diet Coke Heads," which does offer
conversations (many of them then-new) with Winona Ryder, Christian
Slater, director Michael Lehmann, writer Daniel Waters, and producer
Denise DiNovi among others. It's a nice bonus that looks back on the
picture from a fondly nostalgic angle, with some fun behind-the-scenes
stories shared as well.
The theatrical trailer (with its SO annoying rendition of "Three Blind
Mice") is also on-hand, along with a chatty and informative commentary
track with Lehmann, DiNovi, and Waters that was incorporated from
Lumivision's laserdisc release, meaning it was recorded about a decade
ago at this point.
The movie itself has held up pretty well, though its pitch-black, acid
tone and sometimes heavy- handed preaching make the movie hard to
consider a "classic," even of the black comic kind. Still, Waters'
dialogue is often very funny, the performances are appealing, and the
movie a nostalgic blast for '80s high school fans.
SURFER, DUDE (85 mins., 2008, R; Anchor Bay):
Matthew McConaughey plays a stoned-out surfer who refuses to sell out
for video game appearances and a reality TV series, in this horribly
overlong and barely-released film -- which McConaughey also co-produced
-- which doesn’t sound promising but actually plays out even less
entertainingly than its premise indicates. Anchor Bay’s Blu-Ray
edition of “Surfer, Dude” includes deleted scenes,
behind-the-scenes featurettes, commentary with the star, and a digital
copy for portable media players.
TRAITOR (***, 114 mins., 2008, PG-13; Overture/Anchor Bay):
An FBI agent (Guy Pearce) tracking down the culprit behind a series of
bombings finds an ex-U.S. special agent op (Don Cheadle) at the center
of them all. A tangled web of conspiracies, lies and moral dilemmas
follow in this taut thriller from director Jeffrey Nachmanoff, who
co-wrote the movie with executive producer Steve Martin. Solid
performances and a compelling story that keeps you guessing makes
“Traitor” one of the better sleepers of this past year.
Anchor Bay’s Blu-Ray disc offers commentary with the director and
Cheadle, two Making Of featurettes, a fine 1080p transfer and Dolby
TrueHD audio, plus a digital copy for portable media players.
THE WOMEN (**, 114 mins., 2008, PG-13; Warner):
“Murphy Brown” creator Diane English’s modern
updating of the Clare Boothe Luce play and its 1939 all-star movie
adaptation offers an episodic tale of Meg Ryan and her cheating
husband, the “other woman” (Eva Mendes), and Ryan’s
acquaintances (Annette Bening, Debra Messing, Jada Pinkett Smith,
Carrie Fisher, Cloris Leachman, Debi Mazar, Bette Midler and Candice
Bergen as Ryan’s mother) who attempt to help their galpal out.
Additional scenes and Making Of featurettes make for a fine Blu-Ray
disc, the VC-1 encoded transfer offering soft-focus photography from
Anastas Michos (no surprise given the amount of wrinkle cream and botox
involved). Though the Dolby Digital 5.1 sound is fairly flat,
“The Women” isn’t a movie that’s crying out for
the high-def audio treatment in the first place; in fact, the movie
almost feels like a generic Lifetime TV movie, despite its talented
female ensemble cast.
LA FEMME NIKITA (***, 117 mins., 1990, R; Sony) THE MESSENGER [JOAN OF ARC] (**½, 158 mins., 1999, Unrated; Sony): Two Luc Besson films make their way to Blu-Ray this month from Sony.
Besson’s “La Femme Nikita” is one of the French
filmmaker’s strongest efforts, profiling the transformation of
street-savvy Nikita (Anne Parillaud) from downtrodden gang member to
government assassin in a sleek, sexy 1990 French thriller. Jean Reno,
Tcheky Karyo, Jean-Hugues Anglade and Jeanne Moreau lend strong support
to this stylish Besson effort, which Sony has mastered on Blu-Ray in an
excellent AVC encoded transfer with both French and English DolbyTrueHD
soundtracks and optional English subtitles.
“The Messenger,” meanwhile, was Besson’s expensive
1999 chronicle of Joan of Arc, starring a miscast Milla Jovovich as
Joan and an international array of stars including John Malkovich, Faye
Dunaway, Dustin Hoffman, Tchéky Karyo, and Vincent Cassel -- all
resulting in a mishmash of accents, loads of melodrama and questionable
historical accuracy. That said, Besson’s movie is wacky and
usually quite watchable, especially here in its AVC encoded transfer
and pounding Dolby TrueHD audio soundtrack. Sony has included the
movie’s 158-minute international version for the BD release (with
the on-screen title “Joan of Arc”), though in the process,
has sadly dropped all extras from its prior DVD package, including Eric
Serra’s isolated score and a few Making Of featurettes.
DISASTER MOVIE (*½, 88 mins., 2008, Unrated; Lionsgate):
Finally! After scoring improbable box-office hits with “Date
Movie,” “Epic Movie,” and even last spring’s
“Meet the Spartans,” this seemingly endless series of movie
parodies struck out financially with “Disaster Movie” -- a
film that really has little to do with disasters other than being one
itself. Sure, there are a couple of laughs provided by Mad TV alumnus
Crista Flanagan, who’s already off for greener pastures
(including “Mad Men”), and her talented cohort Nicole
Parker, but this is otherwise another tiresome effort that’s a
comedy in name only. Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray edition and DVD will be
out in early January, sporting the requisite Making Of content,
sing-alongs (!), a fine 1080p transfer and DTS Master Audio sound.
BANGKOK DANGEROUS (**, 100 mins., 2008, R; Lionsgate):
His oily hair slicked back, Nicolas Cage looks like he needs at least
one or two showers in this mediocre remake of a Thai action movie from
those elusive Pang Brothers, Danny and “Oxide.” A couple of
potent action scenes provide the few fireworks in this tedious, muddled
affair that tanked at the box-office last summer. Lionsgate’s
Blu-Ray disc (a standard DVD is also due out on January 6th) sports a
cool 1080p transfer, DTS Master Audio sound, an alternate ending,
Making Of featurettes, and a digital copy for portable media players. Upcoming From Criterion
Filmmaker Wes Anderson’s debut feature, the 1996 comedy BOTTLE ROCKET (91 mins., R), joins the Criterion Collection this month.
Along with “Rushmore,” “Bottle Rocket” still
ranks as one of the eclectic filmmaker’s finest works,
chronicling three pals in a small Southwestern town (Luke Wilson, Owen
Wilson and Robert Musgrave) who go on the lam, seeking advice from
local thief “Mr. Henry” (James Caan) along the way.
Offbeat and yet endearing in a way some of Anderson’s more recent
films haven’t been, “Bottle Rocket” boasts a solid
quotient of laughs and strong visuals from the director, making it an
ideal title for Criterion, who have already released deluxe versions of
the filmmaker’s “Rushmore,” “The Life
Aquatic” and “The Royal Tenenbaums.”
Extra fetaures include a commentary with Anderson and Owen Wilson (who
co-wrote the film with the director) plus a new 16:9 (1.85) transfer
supervised by Anderson; a Making Of documentary from filmmaker Barry
Braverman, recounting the film’s history; Anderson’s
original black-and-white “Bottle Rocket” short from 1992;
nearly a dozen deleted scenes; and copious booklet notes sporting an
appreciation from Martin Scorsese and producer James Brooks. Also New on DVD
PASSWORD: Best of the CBS Years, 1962-67 (BCI Eclipse):
Highly satisfying four-disc DVD set from BCI includes over 30 episodes
of the classic game show as hosted by Allen Ludden. All the episodes
are presented from their best-surviving B&W/color sources and
feature a cavalcade of stars, from Johnny Carson to Carol Burnett, Gary
Moore, Jimmy Stewart, Laurence Harvey, Betty White (Mrs. Ludden), Dick
Van Dyke, Jack Benny, Lauren Bacall, Lucille Ball and others. These
episodes provide great, nostalgic fun for game show buffs -- and
what’s particularly enjoyable about the show is not only
Ludden’s on-the-mark hosting, but also the general enthusiasm and
fun most of the celebrities seem to have participating in the game.
BCI’s DVD set is straightforward in its presentation and ranks as
a fine addition to their growing roster of game show DVDs (including
their prior “Price is Right” and “Match Game”
sets). Here’s hoping another set of “Password” shows
follows, including the one where a pre-“Late Night” David
Letterman guest stars.
THE SECRET LIFE OF THE AMERICAN TEENAGER: Season 1 (473 mins., 2008; Buena Vista):
Hugely popular ABC Family series from “Seventh Heaven”
creator Brenda Hampton is an unintentionally funny yet compulsively
watchable yarn about a group of high schoolers, including a good-girl
teen (Shailene Woodley) who finds herself pregnant, a Latino sexpot, a
rigid Christian, and how each intersects along with the equally
turbulent lives of their parents, including Molly Ringwald as
Hampton tries to be more “cutting edge” and
“topical” here than she was with the mostly wholesome
“Seventh Heaven,” but “Secret Life” is so
weirdly similar that you almost expect Stephen Collins and Catherine
Hicks to come walking onto the set any second (it even has the same
musical background and visual appearance). The show’s
“adult themes” are ridiculously explored on a strictly
superficial level, while unintentional yucks come fast and furious,
such as when one of the main character’s brothers, who has
Down’s Syndrome, orders a hooker over the internet. It’s so
bad you can’t help but watch it.
Buena Vista’s DVD box-set precedes the show’s upcoming
second season and offers fine 16:9 (1.78) transfers with 5.1 Dolby
Digital soundtracks. One brief set visit comprises the meager
GREEK: Book 2 (517 mins., 2008; Buena Vista): Winning
ABC Family series about life on a college campus continues with this
assortment of 12 episodes from
“Greek”’s...well...I’m not sure if this is
Season 2 or 3, since the show has been on the air three times over a
span of 18 months yet the story line just concluded its “Freshman
Year” (I’ll call it a season-and-a-half). As with its first
DVD anthology “Greek” offers likeable characters, incisive
dialogue and compelling story lines, and comes highly recommended.
Buena Vista’s box-set sports fine 16:9 (1.78) transfers and 5.1
Dolby Digital soundtracks, plus extras including bloopers, commentaries
KYLE XY: Season 2 (994 mins., 2008; Buena Vista): ABC
Family sci-fi series is back on DVD in a pleasing box-set courtesy of
Buena Vista. An alternate ending, deleted scenes, commentaries and
Making Of featurettes are on tap along with 16:9 (1.78) transfers and
5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks.
THE LITTLE MERMAID II: RETURN TO THE SEA (75 mins., 2000, G; Disney):
So-so direct-to-video sequel follows Ariel and human hubby Eric as they
welcome daughter Melody to their family. Turns out that Melody has
inherited some of mom’s mermaidic traits, thanks to the
villainous Morgana, sister of the original “Little Mermaid”
big bad, Ursula. Respectable animation and an okay score make this 2000
effort watchable enough for kids, but it’s forgettable pretty
much across the board. Disney’s new DVD edition of “Return
to the Sea” includes brand-new bonus games plus a deleted song
that wasn’t contained on the prior DVD release. The 16:9 (1.66)
transfer is excellent and the 5.1 Dolby Digital sound effective enough.
TRANSFORMERS ANIMATED: Season 2 (297 mins., 2008; Paramount): More
new animated action involving Hasbro’s giant robots follows the
Autobots from the end of Season 1, having to clean up the city of
Detroit (easier said than done) and trying to track down the pieces of
the shattered Allspark. Adequate fun for the little ones with
Paramount’s box-set offering commentary on episodes 19 and 20,
two animated shorts, a photo gallery, colorful full-screen transfers
and 2.0 Dolby Digital soundtracks.
THE TUDORS: Season 2 (9 hrs., 2008; Paramount):
Jonathan Rhys Meyers is back as King Henry VIII, still up to his old
shenanigans in this second season of the popular Showtime cable series.
Paramount’s DVD box-set of “The Tudors”’ Season
2 includes fine 16:9 (1.78) transfers, 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks,
two behind-the-scenes featurettes, biographies, and premiere episodes
of other Showtime series, as well as other extras for PC users.
COMEDY CENTRAL ROAST OF BOB SAGET (74 mins., 2008; Paramount):
John Stamos serves as the roastmaster for his “Full House”
cohort Bob Saget’s Comedy Central Roast, with ample laughs
(mostly of the raunchy, not-suitable-for-TGIF variety) on-hand courtesy
of comics like Greg Giraldo, Jeffrey Ross and Jeff Garlin. Interviews
and featurettes compliment the 74-minute unrated feature, presented
here on DVD in full-screen with stereo sound.
TIME: The first discs of 2009! Until
to drop in
on the official Aisle Seat Message
out the Aisle
Seat Blog, and
any emails to our email address. Cheers everyone and we'll see you on the other side in the New Year!
Copyright 1997-2008 All Reviews, Site and Design by Andre