It’s a rare occasion these days when a film that’s been out
of circulation for years is released on DVD for the first time. Most
weeks we tend to cover DVD catalog titles on their second or third
incarnation on disc -- typically not films which still command over
$100 on the secondary market for their ancient VHS releases.
This month marks such an occasion, as Richard Donner’s superb INSIDE MOVES (***½, 113 mins., 1980, R) at last receives a DVD edition courtesy of Lionsgate.
Fresh off the success of “Superman” (and his
firing/departure from “Superman II”), Donner opted to helm
this low-key character study about “damaged” individuals at
a Bay Area bar and their relationships with one another. John Savage
plays Rory, a man we first see trying to kill himself in the
picture’s opening scenes -- as Rory later aptly puts it, he
couldn’t even manage suicide without screwing it up. Rory regains
his soul, in spite of his crippled body, by hanging out at Max’s,
a local watering hole populated with off-kilter characters, a cute
waitress (Diana Scarwid) and Jerry, a bartender (David Morse) who wants
to pursue his dreams of a basketball career if he can afford a costly
operation on his knees. Jerry is also saddled with a troubled floozy of
a girlfriend (Amy Wright), much to the consternation of Rory, who
latches onto the ably bodied but emotionally handicapped Jerry in the
hopes that he can live out his dreams.
Valerie Curtin and Barry Levinson adapted Todd Walton’s mid
‘70s novel for this critically adored 1980 release, which I
assume has been held up for release on video due to a rights issue
(long-defunct Associated Film Distribution released the movie, leaving
it in some kind of ITC/Carlton/Grenada limbo ever since). Whatever the
reason for the picture’s inordinate delay, “Inside
Moves” is a terrific “little” film worthy of
reappraisal, and highlighted by marvelous performances from Savage and
Morse. Donner handles the picture sensitively and without an excess of
melodrama, while the screenplay realistically examines the relationship
between its leads, the problems both men face and how the two of them
need each other in spite of their differences. Laszlo Kovacs’
cinematography is atmospheric and richly textured, while John Barry
provides a moody, subtle score that’s effective whenever
it’s utilized. It’s a picture with a warm human center, and
one that ranks with Donner’s finest.
One can only wonder after years of laying dormant on studio shelves
what kind of condition “Inside Moves” was in when Lionsgate
produced their DVD master. Regrettably, the print utilized here is
often soft and not in the greatest shape, though at least the 16:9
(1.78) transfer appears well-composed. The mono sound is merely OK as
Special features include an insightful commentary track with Donner and
Brian Helgeland (
even though Helgeland amusingly mistakes John Barry as having written the
score for "Superman," and Donner then mistakenly declares that Barry
also scored "another film of his" -- "Radio Flyer"!), the screenwriter-director who accompanied Donner on
the commentary of “The Omen,” as well as an interview with
Todd Walton and Donner, discussing the film’s transition from
novel to screen. Highly recommended!
Aisle Seat Co-Pick of the Week
Although it virtually plays out like a “Law & Order” episode set in the 1920s, CHANGELING
-- Clint Eastwood’s fact-based tale of the infamous California
“Chicken Coop” child murders, and the odd case of Pauline
Collins’ missing son -- makes for an absorbing, compelling film
(***, 142 mins., 2008, R; Universal).
Angelina Jolie plays Collins, a single mother in 1928 Los Angeles who
returns home to find her son Walter missing. Some time later, the
authorities -- not all that cooperative to begin with -- tell her that
they’ve found Walter, who apparently was picked up by a drifter
in the midwest. Despite her initial problems with the police -- in
particular a gruff, less-than-understanding captain (Jeffrey Donovan)
-- Collins is elated at the news...at least until she sees that the boy
the police return home isn’t her son, much to the consternation
of the authorities, who need to trumpet Walter’s return in order
to improve their rapidly declining public image.
Undeterred by their behavior, Collins continues to plea for her
son’s return, leading to her being admitted into a psychiatric
hospital...all the while one determined cop (Michael Kelly) continues
his search for a group of missing children south of the city in the
dusty town of Wineville.
Noted science fiction writer J. Michael Straczynski’s script for
“Changeling” (his first produced feature screenplay) is
laid out so that, eventually, the film splits into two paralleling
stories: Collins’ inexplicable treatment by the Los Angeles
Police Department, and the investigation into child predator Gordon
Northcott, who tries to flee north of the border after his nephew
confesses to the police. Eastwood’s direction is as no-frills as
the screenplay, which dissects the harrowing, and almost entirely true,
account of the slayings and Collins’ hope that somehow,
somewhere, her son was still alive.
Jolie is convincing as Collins, and the film has the look of quality,
spearheaded by period atmosphere provided by cinematographer Tom Stern
and production designer James J. Murakami. It’s a taut and
effectively rendered tale, though the movie tends to be so clinical in
its approach that, emotionally, it’s difficult to penetrate its
subject matter. Jolie is believable enough as Collins but John
Malkovich, who appears as Gustav A. Briegleb, a Presbyterian minister
who aided Collins (and had a seemingly popular radio program at the
time), is simply a passerby in a story that moves to point to point
with little pause for emotional beats -- all culminating in an ending
that doesn’t pack nearly the emotional power it should have.
“Changeling” is certainly still a worthwhile film but it
never grabs you and takes hold the way you might anticipate.
Universal’s Blu-Ray disc includes a highly satisfying AVC encoded
transfer with Dolby TrueHD audio, sporting a low-key, elegiac score
from Eastwood, orchestrated (as usual) by Lennie Niehaus. Technically
this is an excellent package from Universal, though extras are
disappointingly slim: picture-in-picture segments and two Making Of
featurettes make for a fairly bland collection of extras, though
archival images and documents will provide some insight for history
Also New On Blu-Ray
GROUNDHOG DAY: 15th Anniversary DVD (****, 1993, 101 mins., Sony; PG): One
of Bill Murray's finest vehicles remains one of the funniest
romantic-comedies of the '90s, offering big laughs and a poignant
message (not unlike "’A Christmas Carol’ in February") in
addition to its innovative and clever time-paradox premise.
Murray plays a TV weatherman who becomes bound in time to relive
Groundhog Day over and over and over again, with his producer Andie
MacDowell and cameraman Chris Elliott attempting each time to
understand just what's ticking off the irascible tube personality. Soon
Murray's Phil Connors goes from frustration to acquiring God-like
powers by living the day through repetition and bewildering the
small-town residents with his vast knowledge of every individual's life.
Director Harold Ramis, reteaming with his "Ghostbusters" co-star, keeps
the action moving, mixing laughs and sentiment perfectly, and
constantly putting spins on the ingenious Danny Rubin premise. It's an
undeniably entertaining brew that represents some of the best work of
its cast and crew, with a great Murray performance and a catchy George
Fenton score adding to the fun.
Sony’s Blu-Ray disc sports a crisp AVC encoded transfer, Dolby
TrueHD audio and extras from its 15th Anniversary Special Edition DVD
release (has it been 15 years?) from a year ago, offering inviting
supplemental features, including never-before-screened deleted
sequences and a new documentary on the production, as well as a recent
Ramis interview and the commentary from the prior DVD release.
There’s also a BD exclusive “Needle Nose Ned’s
Picture in Picture Track” that enables Stephen Tobolowsky to
reprise Ned Ryerson one more time as well!
ANY GIVEN SUNDAY (***½, 157 mins., 1999, R): Subtract
a star if you're not a sports fan, since this 157-minute
adrenaline-rush -- Oliver Stone's energetic, cinematic 1999 look at
professional football -- manages to capture all the elements of the
game: bone-crunching hits, veteran quarterbacks, younger rising stars,
battle-scarred coaches, and tumultuous upper-management.
You've read a plot scenario like this before: the movie chronicles the
on and off-field escapades of the Miami Sharks (the NFL wisely opted
not to grant their license for this all-too realistic film), a
once-champion team now fading into the twilight. The coach (Al Pacino)
has seen better days, and now is faced with the prospects of using a
hothead rookie (Jamie Foxx) after the veteran QB (Dennis Quaid) is hit
early and often in the film's opening game sequence. To make matters
worse, the owner (Cameron Diaz) wants to pick up stakes and move the
team to Los Angeles, while the Sharks themselves are mired in a
four-game losing streak.
It sounds hackneyed, but “Any Given Sunday” manages to not
only encompass the usual "sports movie" formula of underdogs rising up
against all odds, but also the controversial elements that make pro
football such a constant topic of discussion in the sports world: drug
abuse, medicinal cover-ups, players out of control making money beyond
their wildest dreams, and succumbing to temptation at the cost of the
game itself. Issues of race, sex, and merchandizing contracts are also
adeptly brought up in the picture, which manages to touch upon each of
these subjects without overly dwelling on any of them, and indeed, the
film was a bit ahead of its time with its portrayal of “illegal
Stone's hyperkinetic filmmaking style has run colder than hot during
the more recent portions of his career, but “Any Given
Sunday” is one of his more satisfying films all told: hand-held
camera, use of different film stocks, pounding music (from rap and
techno tracks to original music co-composed by Robbie Robertson among
others), and frequent montages make this one of the shortest
two-and-a-half hours you're likely to spend, even if some of the game
footage is too eclectic for its own good (often times it's impossible
to follow one play from start to finish without getting dizzy). Still,
more often than not, the technique works.
Even better are the performances, which manage to penetrate through
Stone's fast cutting and the episodic script (written by Stone and John
Logan from Rob Huizenga's novel): Pacino is perfect as the embattled
coach, while Diaz surprises with a fairly believable performance as the
fetching young owner of the team, which her father built for success
along with the current coach. Foxx, meanwhile, is terrific as the new
QB who rises too quickly to fame, and Quaid believably conveys the
veteran who has seen it all and knows his time is up. Additional
supporting performances manage to add to the movie's depth, from
real-life football greats (Lawence Taylor, Johnny Unitas, Dick Butkus,
etc.) to smaller parts played by John C. McGinley (as a Jim Rome-like
reporter), James Woods and Matthew Modine as the team physicians, and
Stone himself as the Sharks's color commentator.
The movie moves fast, looks great, and captures the essence of the game
-- and its turbulent off-field issues -- while firmly remaining a
celebration of the sport itself. If you could care less about football,
chances are good that you'll find the movie to be a lot of noise and
nonsense. For sports aficionados, “Any Given Sunday” is a
feast of entertainment
Warner’s Blu-Ray disc includes the shorter Director’s Cut
of the movie in a splendid VC-1 encoded transfer and with pleasingly
effective Dolby TrueHD audio. Extras reprieved from the prior Special
Edition DVD of the movie include commentary by Stone, another
commentary with Foxx, deleted/extended scenes, music videos, outtakes,
Making Of featurettes, a music-only track, and a documentary on the
making of the picture. A digital copy for portable media players is
PRETTY WOMAN (***, 120 mins., 1990, R; Buena Vista):
Garry Marshall’s box-office smash receives its first Blu-Ray
release in a basic reprise of its 2005 15th Anniversary edition, minus
its “Director’s Cut” presentation.
The AVC encoded transfer and uncompressed PCM sound are both quite good
for a catalog title, while Marshall’s commentary, a vintage 1990
promo featurette, Natalie Cole’s “Wild Women Do”
video, the original trailer, and a blooper reel comprise the extras. A
pair of featurettes (“Live From the Wrap Party,” taken from
a camcorder source, and “LA: The Pretty Woman Tour,” which
includes a map of the film’s locales), produced for the then-new
2005 DVD, are also included.
The film remains a romantic fairy tale, a total star vehicle for Julia
Roberts and Richard Gere, and isn’t to be taken too seriously.
It’s still a highly entertaining, glossy romantic-comedy, and
Buena Vista’s Blu-Ray edition serves up a nice presentation of
the picture for its fans.
CLERKS II (**½, 97 mins., 2006, R; Genius/Weinstein):
Kevin Smith's 2006 return to the movie that jump-started his career is
a funny but somewhat lukewarm character drama. Jeff Anderson and Brian
O'Halloran are back as Randal and Dante, now working at a fast food
chain but still getting into plenty of trouble, particularly with new
manager Rosario Dawson. "Clerks II" does have a good quotient of laughs
but there's no urgency in Smith's film -- it's all kind of
“there,” livened up by cameos from the filmmaker's usual
crew (Jason Lee, Ben Affleck, etc.), but ultimately it just doesn't
have the lasting effect its predecessor had. Perhaps the weak
performances from the original leads is part of the problem; Smith's
less polished original "Clerks" made it easier to overlook their
deficiencies, but here they pale in comparison to their supporting cast
and have a hard time carrying the picture. Weinstein/Genius'
double-disc BD release offers three different commentaries plus deleted
scenes, a full 90-minute documentary, bloopers, a VC-1 encoded transfer
and Dolby TrueHD audio.
ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO (**½, 90 mins., 2008, R; Genius/Weinstein): Kevin
Smith’s latest comedy is a foul-mouthed, basically lightweight
tale of a pair of down-on-their-luck best friends and roommates (Seth
Rogen, Elizabeth Banks) who opt to produce a porno in order to pay
their bills. And, of course, fall in love in the process.
The flimsy premise aside (not much else happens other than an extended,
and amusing, cameo for Justin Long), “Zack and Miri” is a
likeable enough affair that coasts along on the performances of its
leads. No surprise, Rogen is basically Rogen again here, meaning the
Apatow Company superstar is playing the same exact role -- more of a
persona -- that he has in every project he’s ever been in. Banks,
predictably, outshines him, bringing a warmth and dimension to a
character that’s a bit thinly written on the surface. A few
scattered laughs occur every now and then, but dramatically the picture
runs out of gas, leading to a “so what?” kind of
conclusion. Smith aficionados are also likely to lament the lack of
choice lines and gags here, but at least it’s better than
The Weinstein Company’s Blu-Ray disc sports a fine 1080p transfer
with Dolby TrueHD audio and several documentary materials, but,
surprisingly from Smith, no commentary.
DRUMLINE (***, 118 mins., 2002, PG-13; Fox):
One of 2003's sleeper hits, “Drumline” tells the story of
an African-American high schooler (Nick Cannon) from New York City who
receives a scholarship to join a southern college with a big marching
band. Cannon's obnoxious behavior, though, soon contrasts with his
musical ability, and the youngster needs to learn a few lessons from
bandleader Orlando Jones and his peers before he can strut his stuff
out on the football field during halftime.
This vivid, highly entertaining youth picture doesn't condescend to its
audience or muck up the drama with unnecessary comedic interludes -- a
credit to the Shawn Schepps-Tina Gordon Chism script and director
Charles Stone III, who does an excellent job capturing the intensity of
the movie's dueling-band finale. The performances are also on the mark,
especially Leonard Roberts as Cannon's frustrated line leader. John
Powell's score also works well within the confines of the drama, and
the 2.35 widescreen framing gives the movie a strong cinematic feel.
For extras, Fox's Blu-Ray disc includes four cut scenes with commentary
by Stone, along with his audio commentary track during the movie
proper. A half-hour BET Making Of is included along with a pair of
music videos and other featurettes from a more recent Special Edition
of the picture. The DTS Master Audio soundtrack is constantly active
while a superb AVC encoded 1080p transfer rounds out the package.
Blu-Ray & More: The Latest Disc Rundown!
QUARANTINE: Blu-Ray (**, 89 mins., 2008, R; Sony).
ANDY’S ANALYSIS: A remake of the Spanish language horror flick
“Rec” finds TV reporter Jennifer Carpenter accompanying a
group of firemen to the scene of an emergency, only to have the
government seal the building off due to a virus that’s turning
its inhabitants into zombies. Shot entirely in pseudo-documentary style
(a la “Cloverfield”), this American remake from
director/co-writer John Erick Dowdle is competently performed and
compelling -- up until a point. The early going portions of the movie
are believably executed and the scenario is well laid-out, but as the
picture progresses, it’s clear this is just another “zombie
movie” that we’ve all seen before. BLU-RAY BOTTOM LINE: The
movie’s intentional “TV-news” styled photography
makes it more suited to the small screen than theatrical exhibition,
and Sony’s AVC encoded BD transfer is rock solid -- even though
the very nature of the cinematography makes it far from being a title
you’d dig out to show off the benefits of HD. The Dolby TrueHD
audio is effectively active, while commentary from the director and
three featurettes comprise the extras.
MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA: DVD & Blu-Ray (**, 160 mins., 2008, R; Buena Vista).
ANDY’S ANALYSIS: Rambling, disappointing Spike Lee joint adapted
by James McBride from his book chronicles four African-American
soldiers during the waning days of WWII, who find themselves in a small
Tuscan village, threatened by incoming German forces and forming
relationships with the local residents. At 160 minutes “Miracle
at St. Anna” is overlong and something of a mess, trying too hard
to be too many different things (a conventional war film from the
viewpoint of black soldiers; a chronicle of the era’s racism; a
drama with religious elements and “modern” bookends) and
doing none of them especially well. All the performances are earnest
and portions of it are absorbing, yet the final result doesn’t
gel, and could’ve benefitted from judicious editing. DVD &
BLU-RAY BOTTOM LINE: Both Buena Vista’s DVD and Blu-Ray packages
look terrific: the DVD with a strong 16:9 (2.35) widescreen transfer
and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, the Blu-Ray disc backed by a vivid AVC
encoded presentation and DTS HD sound (not DTS Master, but rather DTS
High Resolution). Extras across both platforms include deleted scenes
and two Making Of featurettes, one focused on the historical aspects of
the real Buffalo Soldiers, and another with Spike Lee and assorted WWII
SPACE BUDDIES: DVD & Blu-Ray (84 mins., 2008, G; Disney).
ANDY’S ANALYSIS: Robert Vince’s “Air Bud,” the
1997 tale of a particularly athletic golden retriever, has become a
popular family video franchise over the last decade. “Space
Buddies” is the latest in the series: a decidedly outlandish tale
of several dogs who somehow end up in orbit, and on the moon! As
improbable as the premise may be, “Space Buddies”
isn’t nearly as cute as its predecessor, the surprisingly good
2006 effort “Air Buddies.” Most of the comedy is juvenile
and the contrived story is likely to test the patience of adults who
might sit through it along with their kids. Hopefully things will turn
around in the forthcoming “Santa Buddies,” starring George
Wendt as St. Nick himself, but I’m not holding my breath. DVD
& BLU-RAY BOTTOM LINE: A number of extras, mostly geared towards
the series’ intended young audience (“Buddy Finder,”
bloopers, dog facts, etc.), comprise the goodies on both DVD and
Blu-Ray. The latter’s AVC encoded transfer is spotless, while DTS
Master Audio sound compliments the juvenile shenanigans. The standard
DVD is just fine too, with 16:9 (1.78) “family friendly”
widescreen and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound comprising the technical specs.
MAX PAYNE: DVD & Blu-Ray (*, 103 mins. [unrated] and 100 mins. [theatrical], 2008, PG-13; Fox). ANDY’S
ANALYSIS: Unrelentingly awful videogame-to-film adaptation follows cop
Mark Wahlberg around a snowy, noirish metropolis trying to hunt down
his family’s killers and also what’s causing a rash of
drug-induced deaths around town. John Moore, fresh off the mediocrity
of his “Omen” remake, does a good job capturing the stylish
visuals of the “Max Payne” video game series here, but the
movie’s impressive appearance aside, there’s nothing good
about the rest of this mess: Beau Thorne’s script is convoluted
to the point of being incomprehensible, while Wahlberg looks like
he’s on auto-pilot. And what more needs to be said when Chris
O’Donnell pops up in a role that wasn’t even billed beyond
the film’s end credits? If it weren’t for new Bond girl
Olga Kurylenko’s early appearance and Mila Kunis’ sultry
(if relatively thankless) turn as a fellow assassin helping Max, this
one would be even more Payne-ful than it is. DVD & BLU-RAY BOTTOM
LINE: I’ve yet again got to hand it to Fox. A year after issuing
vanilla Blu-Ray discs, the studio has basically leapt to the top of its
field, presenting features-rich BD discs with extensive extras.
“Max Payne” is no exception, offering two different cuts of
the movie, commentary, picture-in-picture extras and other goodies. The
AVC encoded transfer is spectacular and the DTS Master Audio sound
robust, complete with a score credited to both Marco Beltrami and Buck
Sanders. The standard DVD also looks terrific with its 16:9 (2.35)
transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack, while both discs include a
digital copy for portable media players.
UNFAITHFUL: Blu-Ray (**½, 124 mins., 2002, R; Fox). ANDY'S
ANALYSIS: Diane Lane plays a wife who decides to engage in an affair
with a handsome artist (Oliver Martinez) in Adrian Lyne's intriguing
though at times overblown 2002 character study. Richard Gere essays
Lane's husband, who watches as his relationship with his spouse
threatens to unravel while she toils around with the handsome stranger.
Critical pundits were high on "Unfaithful," which nevertheless comes
across as a contrived and stilted piece with good performances. Gere,
who was here coming off the criminally underrated "Mothman Prophecies,"
gives another solid, nicely modulated performance as the husband, while
Lane does a fine job as a woman who acts on her impulses. The trouble
is the script (credited to Alvin Sargent and William Broyles, Jr.),
which is never quite convincing in how the situation is set up: the
opening scene alone is ridiculous in its execution. While
“Unfaithful” is a depressing, at-times revealing, and often
frustrating film that never really gets its act together, for Gere or
Lane die-hards, Lyne's steamy picture is worth a view. BLU-RAY BOTTOM
LINE: Fox's BD disc offers an excellent AVC encoded transfer with DTS
Master Audio sound. It’s not a presentation that will knock your
socks off but the film still looks pleasing in HD. For supplements, the
disc offers commentary from the director and a separate cast
commentary, along with 11 excellent deleted scenes (including a more
predictable, alternate ending), behind-the-scenes and editing
featurettes, "The Charlie Rose Show" interview with Gere and Lyne, and
a few assorted odds and ends.
ANTWONE FISHER (***, 120 mins., 2002, PG-13; Fox).
ANDY’S ANALYSIS: Denzel Washington’s feature directorial
debut came with this low-key story about a young African-American
sailor (Derek Luke) with a troubled past and temper who finds help in
the form of an understanding naval shrink (Washington). Fine
performances and understated direction from Washington make this true
story, written by Fisher himself, so effective. BLU-RAY BOTTOM LINE:
Another fine job from Fox, “Antwone Fisher” boasts a
satisfying AVC encoded transfer with DTS Master Audio sound. Extras,
culled from the prior DVD edition, include a commentary from Washington
and producer Todd Black, plus three fairly bland Making Of featurettes.
NAPOLEON DYNAMITE (***, 94 mins., 2004, PG; Fox).
ANDY’S ANALYSIS: The cult hit arrives on Blu-Ray in a fine HD
presentation reprieving the contents of its first DVD release
(commentary with Jon Heder and writer/director Jared Hess, deleted
scenes) and assorted extras from its second, including even more
alternate and excised sequences; another cast commentary with Tina
Majorino, Jon Gries, Efren Ramirez, and Aaron Ruell; audition clips;
and the featurette “On Location: Napoleon Dynamite.” Jared
Hess’ film is low-key and subtly amusing throughout, with a warm,
uniquely off-kilter sensibility. BLU-RAY BOTTOM LINE: The AVC encoded
transfer is superb, as is the DTS Master Audio sound. Highly
recommended for all “Napoleon” fans!
IGOR: DVD & Blu-Ray (**½, 86 mins., 2008, PG; MGM/Fox).
ANDY’S ANALYSIS: Not-bad, CGI animated children’s film
about the fun-loving monster caretaker, here not so much a Bela
Lugosi-inspired loon but rather a lovable outcast in the Disney
“Hunchback” mold. This Exodus Film Group production, which
did decent bucks at the box-office last autumn, boasts some fine
celebrity vocal work (John Cusack, Steve Buscemi, Eddie Izzard, Jay
Leno, Molly Shannon and James Lipton!), a few laughs and a quick pace.
It’s not Disney or Dreamworks quality, but it’s
surprisingly passable entertainment for kids and nostalgic monster fans
alike. DVD & BLU-RAY BOTTOM LINE: While Fox’s DVD looks great
in 1.85 widescreen, the Blu-Ray presentation is spectacular, offering a
flawless AVC encoded transfer with DTS Master Audio sound, the latter
sporting a pleasing Patrick Doyle score. Extras on both platforms
include commentary from the filmmakers, an alternate opening scene,
concept art galleries and other goodies.
THE PINK PANTHER (***½, 115 mins., 1964; MGM/Fox).
ANDY’S ANALYSIS: While it’s depressing to see Steve Martin
flailing around in the critically reviled “Pink Panther 2" (they
couldn’t have come up with a lazier title if they tried),
“Pink Panther” fans still have much to celebrate, including
this beautiful new Blu-Ray edition of Blake Edwards’ original
1964 hit. BLU-RAY BOTTOM LINE: This new, AVC encoded transfer of the
original “Panther” is a sight for sore eyes: never before
has the movie looked this fresh, this vivid on video. Both DTS Master
Audio sound and the original mono soundtrack are also on-hand, while
copious extras culled from prior DVD editions include commentary from
Blake Edwards and a number of Making Of featurettes. Highly recommended!
SIDEWAYS (**½, 127 mins., 2004, R; Fox).
ANDY’S ANALYSIS: Paul Giamatti plays a down-on-his-luck English
teacher and would-be novelist whose actor pal (Thomas Haden Church) is
about to be married. Out for one last buddy-fling before the wedding,
Giamatti and Church head up north of L.A. where they wine, dine and
fall for a couple of locals: waitress (and recent divorcee) Virginia
Madsen and winery worker Sandra Oh, both unaware of Church’s
situation and Giamatti’s constant depression. In a year of
disappointing 2004 films, it was easy for critics to overrate
“Sideways,” which has a few bright moments but several
pretentious passages with an overly-active Rolfe Kent score that soon
wears out its welcome. Director Alexander Payne and co-writer Jim
Taylor adapted Rex Pickett’s novel, and they have a tendency to
downplay the depressing aspects of the material in favor of offbeat
comedic moments. The lack of consequence to the characters’ often
disreputable actions (particularly Church’s playboy) never really
ring true (often they’re anything but funny), but thankfully
Giamatti’s strong central performance anchors the movie and makes
you care about his character. Giamatti enables us to see all angles of
his character’s alternately pathetic and sympathetic personality,
though it could have been just as easily captured in a film that ran 30
minutes less than it does. BLU-RAY BOTTOM LINE: Fox’s AVC encoded
transfer is sunny and bright, while DTS Master Audio is perfectly fine,
even if it’s a subdued mix that (the score aside) doesn’t
need to overstate its presence. Extras include a hysterical commentary
track with Giamatti and Haden Church that’s often funnier and
more playful than the film itself, seven deleted scenes and a Making Of
featurette. Overrated but still worthwhile, “Sideways” is
worth the trip for Giamatti’s journey (or the duo’s
commentary track), and is best viewed with a glass of wine (or two) by
OFFICE SPACE (**½, 89 mins., 1999, R; Fox).
ANDY’S ANALYSIS: Mike Judge’s 1999 cult favorite
follows the misadventures of bored office worker Ron Livingston, with
Gary Cole his spin-centric boss, Stephen Root a harried co-worker
(“Milton,” a character based on Judge’s shorts of the
same name), and Jennifer Aniston as the “Friday’s”
waitress he romances. Though the movie runs out of steam after an hour,
“Office Space” nevertheless has plenty of laughs and keen
observations on the grind of daily work that so many of us have to
endure (I’ll say nothing of my own schedule). An obvious
influence on the later British comedy “The Office” (and its
massively entertaining US spin-off), Judge’s film is entertaining
in spite of its somewhat listless final act, and the performances all
hit the mark. BLU-RAY BOTTOM LINE: Fox reprises their 2005
“Special Edition...With Flair!” package here, offering a
30-minute documentary with comments from Judge; eight deleted scenes
totaling about six minutes; the original trailer, a trivia track, and a
spotless AVC encoded transfer with DTS Master Audio sound.
THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES (***, 110 mins., 2008, PG-13; Fox). ANDY’S
ANALYSIS: Melodramatic but effective adaptation of Sue Monk Kid’s
novel about a precocious 14-year-old (Dakota Fanning) who leaves her
unrelentingly cruel father with her caregiver (Jennifer Hudson) en
route to a rural South Carolina town and the wise, bee-keeping
Boatwright sisters (Queen Latifah, Alicia Keys and Sophie Okonedo)
during the mid ‘60s. Atmospheric and well-performed across the
board. BLU-RAY BOTTOM LINE: Fox’s AVC encoded transfer is
exemplary, as is the DTS Master Audio soundtrack. Extras include two
different commentary tracks, two different cuts of the film, eight
deleted scenes and a handful of Making Of featurettes.
LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE (***, 102 mins., 2006, R; Fox).
ANDY’S ANALYSIS: Dysfunctional family comedy from directors
Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, and writer Michael Arndt, follows
pop Greg Kinnear and mom Toni Colette on a road trip along with
depressed sibling Steve Carrell, grandfather Alan Arkin and kids Paul
Dano and Abigail Breslin -- the latter about to enter a California
children’s pageant. Laughs and excellent performances make for a
quite entertaining “indie” film that generated solid
box-office dollars in 2006. BLU-RAY BOTTOM LINE: Fox’s Blu-Ray
disc includes an excellent AVC encoded transfer with DTS Master Audio
sound and all the extras from the prior DVD, including four alternate
endings, two commentaries and a slew of Making Of featurettes.
STARGATE - THE ARK OF TRUTH (102 mins., 2007; Fox).
ANDY’S ANALYSIS: Direct-to-video
“Stargate” follow-up to the long-running Sci-Fi Channel
series (a sequel/spin-off of sorts from the Roland Emmerich film) precedes 2007's “Stargate:
Continuum.” Ben Browder, Amanda Tapping, Michael Shanks, and the
original cast are back in a feature-length production that will
naturally appeal mostly to series fans. BLU-RAY BOTTOM LINE: Boasting a
crisp AVC encoded transfer and decent DTS Master Audio soundtrack,
Fox’s Blu-Ray disc also includes commentary from
producer-director Robert C. Cooper, co-star Christopher Judge and
cinematographer Peter Woeste, plus two featurettes and other extras.
THE ROCKER: DVD & Blu-Ray (**, 102 mins., 2008, PG-13; Fox).
ANDY’S ANALYSIS: Rainn Wilson from “The Office” tries
to rock out as a former metal-head given another chance at fame when a
local teen band needs a drummer. Sadly this by-the-numbers affair feels
like Jack Black’s leftovers, with Wilson trying hard to hold a
threadbare, uneven and not particularly enjoyable comedy together. A
capable supporting cast (Christina Applegate, Jeff Garlin, Emma Stone)
are wasted as well. BLU-RAY BOTTOM LINE: Fox once again serves up a
terrific disc with an AVC encoded transfer, DTS Master audio and all
kinds of extras: two commentaries, deleted scenes, outtakes,
interviews, featurettes, and a digital copy for portable media players.
The DVD’s 16:9 (1.85) transfer is also satisfying and 5.1 Dolby
Digital sound comprises the audio presentation.
BODY OF LIES (**½, 128 mins., 2008, R; Warner).
ANDY’S ANALYSIS: Ridley Scott’s latest thriller turned out
to be a box-office disappointment, despite the presence of stars
Leonardo DiCaprio (a CIA ground operative in Jordan) and Russell Crowe
(his stuffy superior watching things from afar in the US). Scott brings
his usual bag of tricks to the fore here, from crisp visuals to
rapid-fire editing, yet the story just isn’t that interesting,
and has been covered in other, superior films than this one. BLU-RAY
BOTTOM LINE: Warner’s 1080p transfer is marvelous; as we’ve
seen with prior Scott films, the director’s works adapt
brilliantly to high-definition, where the added resolution adds
immeasurably to the filmmaker’s visual pallet. The Dolby TrueHD
audio is also robust, while extras include commentary from Scott,
screenwriter William Monahan (who adapted David Ignatius’ book)
and the author, plus additional scenes in HD with Scott’s
introductions, extensive Making Of materials and BD-Live enabled
NIGHTS IN RODANTHE (**½, 97 mins., 2008, PG-13; Warner). ANDY’S
ANALYSIS: Another weepy Nicholas Sparks melodrama works due to the
performances of Richard Gere, as a hard-working surgeon who falls for
Diane Lane, who’s currently estranged from her husband. Nice
locales and the palpable chemistry between the two leads helps to
compensate for a pretty standard story adapted by Ann Peacock and John
Romano from Sparks’ novel. BLU-RAY BOTTOM LINE: Warner’s
VC-1 encoded transfer is sound but audiophiles may be let down by the
ordinary Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. Extras in HD include alternate
scenes with commentary from director George C. Wolfe and several Making
STREET FIGHTER: EXTREME EDITION: DVD & Blu-Ray (**½, 102 mins., 1994, PG-13; Universal).
ANDY’S ANALYSIS: Silly, frenetic but fun adaptation of the Capcom
video game series -- about to be relaunched this month with both a new
game and a fresh feature film starring “Smallville”’s
Kristin Kreuk -- pits Jean-Claude Van Damme and his team of martial
arts commandos against vile general Raul Julia. Julia sadly looks frail
in his final screen appearance, but veteran action writer Steven E.
DeSouza’s film is otherwise enjoyably over-the-top, cartoonish
fun, from its bright, vivid colors and costumes down to the comic-book
action. DVD & BLU-RAY BOTTOM LINE: Universal’s HD transfer of
“Street Fighter” is a bit of a disappointment, appearing
soft and a bit grainier than anticipated. The DTS Master Audio sound
provides a decent kick, though, while standard DVD fans will be
satisfied by the “Extreme Edition”’s 16:9 (2.35)
transfer and 5.1 audio, both of which appear to be upgrades on the old,
Collector’s Edition DVD release. Speaking of which, all the
extras from that early-format DVD release have been retained here, from
deSouza’s commentary to outtakes, a pair of deleted scenes,
production archives, a promotional-flavored Making Of and several
trailers for the upcoming “Street Fighter IV” video game.
THE ROCK: BLU-RAY ACTION PACK (Universal). ANDY’S
ANALYSIS: Specially-priced three-disc box-set includes the
previously-released Blu-Ray edition of “The Scorpion King”
along with the debuts of two other movies starring Dwayne “The
Rock” Johnson: the moderately entertaining action-comedy
“The Rundown” (co-starring Seann William Scott, Christopher
Walken and Rosario Dawson), as well as the disappointing adaptation of
popular sci-fi/horror video game franchise “Doom.” BLU-RAY
BOTTOM LINE: Rock-solid (no pun intended) AVC encoded transfers and DTS
Master Audio soundtracks are on-hand along with extras ported over from
prior DVD and HD-DVD editions, including commentaries and other extras.
“Rock” fans should be pleased with the presentations, even
if all the movies have their drawbacks. (For individual title reviews,
use our Aisle Seat archive search).
THE HULK VS [Hulk Vs. Thor, Hulk Vs. Wolverine] (82 mins., 2008, PG-13; Lionsgate).
ANDY’S ANALYSIS: Marvel’s latest direct-to-video production
is far and away their most satisfying effort to date, offering a pair
of self-contained Hulk tales loosely adapted from actual comic book
story lines. “Hulk Vs. Wolverine” is a particularly
entertaining tale of the big green one meeting up with the most popular
X-Man, sparring and taking on a bevy of bad guys in the process.
“Hulk Vs. Thor” isn’t quite as much fun, but colorful
animation and loads of action should make these attractive for comic
book buffs and younger viewers (the PG-13 rating notwithstanding)
alike. BLU-RAY BOTTOM LINE: Spectacular AVC encoded transfers add an
almost-three dimensional clarity to the decent animation values, while
DTS Master Audio sound and a number of fine supplements (commentaries,
Comic Con interviews, trailers and more) round out a disc that’s
a must-have for Hulk fanatics.
W. (**, 129 mins., 2008, PG-13; Lionsgate). ANDY’S
ANALYSIS: Mildly entertaining yet surprisingly toothless Oliver Stone bio-pic of the life and
times of George W. Bush plays, at times, like one of Will Ferrell’s Saturday
Night Live sketches -- but without the laughs. Josh Brolin does a
reasonable impersonation of our 43rd President but most of the other
casting is a bust: Elizabeth Banks is all wrong as first lady Laura,
Thandie Newton a disaster as Condi Rice, Richard Dreyfuss is overboard
as Dick Cheney and James Cromwell serves up George H.W. Bush with the
same type of villainy as he did on “24.” Shockingly far
from judgmental, this feels like a rough draft for a movie that
should’ve been produced years from now, with more perspective, on
the part of Stone and writer Stanley Weiser. BLU-RAY BOTTOM LINE:
Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray and DVD editions of the movie are terrific:
the BD’s 1080p, AVC-encoded transfer is superlative, as is the
DTS Master Audio sound, while the standard DVD’s 16:9 (2.35)
transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack are likewise excellent.
Extras are highlighted by commentary from Stone while deleted scenes,
the trailer, documentaries on the movie and an analysis of Bush’s
presidency are also on-hand.
MY NAME IS BRUCE: DVD & Blu-Ray (***, 84 mins., 2006, R; Image).
ANDY’S ANALYSIS: Goofy, highly enjoyable lark for
director-producer-star Bruce Campbell, here playing
“himself” -- a B-movie star who ends up having to fight
evil for real after a group of kids resurrect a Chinese
“protector of the dead.” Loads of comedy ensues in this
Dark Horse Comics-funded enterprise, written by Mark Verheiden and
seasoned with appropriate Campbell touches, which fans should love. DVD
& BLU-RAY BOTTOM LINE: Image’s BD and DVD releases each come
packed with terrific extras: a 24-page comic book, commentary with
Campbell and Richardson, an amusing documentary, numerous featurettes,
trailers, poster and other still galleries, and matching, superb 1080p
(BD) and 16:9 (1.78) transfers with 5.1 Dolby Digital (DVD) and DTS
Master Audio (BD) sound, respectively.
THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN (*½, 100 mins., 2008, Unrated; Lionsgate). ANDY’S
ANALYSIS: Barely-released horror film produced by Clive Barker, and
based on one of the author’s short stories, is a well-produced
and yet ridiculous, uninvolving tale of a photographer (Bradley Cooper)
who becomes involved with a savage killer (Vinnie Jones) while riding
the NYC transit system. Jeff Buhler adapted Barker’s story and
Japanese director Ryuhei Kitamura brings a gritty edge to the gory
visuals, but the story quickly turns into a bland cat-and-mouse game,
with Jones’ killings a front for a larger, more demonic
conspiracy. Brooke Shields, Roger Bart and Lesley Bibb provide stronger
support than this material really needs, but horror addicts could still
get a kick out of the over-the-top beheadings and other murders...at
least until the train derails en route to an especially absurd
conclusion. BLU-RAY BOTTOM LINE: Lionsgate’s AVC encoded transfer
is excellent, as is the DTS Master Audio sound. Extras include
commentary with Kitamura and Barker, who lament the film’s lack
of distribution, and three Making Of featurettes.
SOUL MEN (**, 98 mins., 2008, R; Genius/Weinstein).
ANDY’S ANALYSIS: Tired comedy pairs Samuel L. Jackson and Bernie
Mac (in his final role) as former big-time soul singers who come
together for one last road trip and performance at the Apollo Theater.
Malcolm D. Lee’s film has some fine music but the abrasive
relationship between the two leads and lack of laughs in the Robert
Ramsey-Matthew Stone script culminate in a disappointing swan song for
the late Mac. BLU-RAY BOTTOM LINE: Weinstein’s VC-1 encoded
transfer is excellent, while the Dolby TrueHD provides a rockin’
sonic backdrop for the movie’s various songs. Numerous extras
include commentary from the writers and director, behind-the-scenes
footage, and copious interviews with the cast and crew.
MADAGASCAR 2: DVD & Blu-Ray (***, 89 mins., 2008, G; Dreamworks/Paramount). ANDY’S
ANALYSIS: Superior to its predecessor, this fast-paced, fun and
colorful continuation of Dreamworks’ original
“Madagascar” finds Alex the Lion, Marty the Zebra, Melman
the Giraffe and Gloria the Hippo still living in Africa and wanting to
get home to their cozy NYC Zoo confines. Plenty of laughs, excellent
animation and likeable characters make this a winner for family
audiences. DVD & BLU-RAY BOTTOM LINE: As you might expect,
Paramount’s Blu-Ray disc provides an outstanding 1080p transfer
with Dolby TrueHD audio. Both picture and sound are exemplary, filled
with eye-popping color and three-dimensional details. Though it
naturally pales in comparison with the Blu-Ray release, the standard
DVD still fares well, with a 16:9 (1.85) transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital
sound. Extras include commentary from the filmmakers, Making Of
featurettes, and interactive games, while the standard DVD also comes
bundled with “The Penguins of Madagascar,” a standalone
short feature for kids that’s also a precursor for the upcoming
Nickelodeon cable TV series of the same name.
Works from Luis Bunuel, John Cassavetes and Sir David Lean comprise the new offerings from the Criterion Collection this month.
Bunuel’s short feature SIMON OF THE DESERT (45 mins., 1965)
arrives on DVD with a new, high-def black-and-white transfer in
full-screen and mono sound, backed with a 1997 documentary on Bunuel
from Emilio Maille, a new interview with actress Silvia Pinal and a
booklet sporting a 1970s interview with Bunuel.
An earlier work, THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL, is
also new to DVD this month from Criterion. This double-disc set from
1962 sports another, high-definition derived transfer in full-screen
and with mono sound, with fine supplements including “The Last
Script,” a 2008 documentary with screenwriter Jean Claude
Carriere and director Juan Luis Bunuel, plus interviews again with
actress Silvia Pinal and filmmaker Arturo Ripstein.
John Cassavetes’ films are an acquired taste, so aficionados of
the filmmaker will be thrilled with a pair of new releases in the
Criterion canon, each film having been available previously in
Criterion’s five-film Cassavetes 2004 DVD retrospective:
FACES (130 mins., 1968),
shot in 16mm, is a searing portrait of a marriage’s dissolution,
starring John Marley and Lynn Carlin in one of Cassavetes’ more
acclaimed films. Criterion’s DVD includes a restored, high-def
transfer of the movie in 16:9 (1.66) widescreen, plus a 17-minute
alternate opening from an early version of the film; a 1968 French
television tribute to Cassavetes; a 2004 documentary on the
film’s production; a short documentary from 2007 with
cinematographer Al Ruban describing the look of the film; and notes
from critic Stuart Klawans.
Cassavetes’ directorial debut, SHADOWS (81 mins., 1959), is
also due out next week from Criterion, sporting video interviews with
actress Lelia Goldoni, 16mm footage of Cassavetes and Burt Lane’s
acting workshop, the trailer, an extensive stills gallery, and a
restoration demonstration. The film is presented in a restored
high-definition digital transfer in 1.33 full-screen black-and-white
and complimented by remastered mono sound.
Last but certainly not least this month is David Lean’s HOBSON’S CHOICE (108 mins., 1954),
the classic adaptation of Harold Brighthouse’s play starring
Charles Laughton as a boot shop owner who clashes with his daughter
(Brenda DeBanzie) after she falls for his co-worker (John Mills).
Lean’s delightful film is here presented in a crisp new restored
transfer courtesy of the BFI National Archive, the David Lean Archive
and Studio Canal, while extras include a commentary from film critics
Alain Silver and James Ursini and a 1978 BBC documentary on the life
and times of Charles Laughton.
Also New on DVD
YENTL: Special Edition (***, 137 mins., 1983, PG; MGM/Fox):
Special Edition of Barbra Streisand’s long-gestating pet project,
a 1983 adaptation of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s story “Yentl,
the Yeshiva Boy,” offers an extended Director’s Cut of the
movie seen here for the first time; commentary from Streisand and
co-producer Rusty Lemorande; deleted scenes; featurettes; storyboards
for Michel Legrand and Alan and Marilyn Bergman’s deleted songs;
a new 16:9 (1.66) transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.
BLINDNESS (*½, 121 mins., 2008, R; Buena Vista):
Misfire from “The Constant Gardener” director Fernando
Meirelles, an adaptation of Jose Saramago’s novel by writer Don
McKellar, finds couple Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo in the middle of
a horrifying epidemic that blinds most of the Earth’s population.
Moore is impervious to the affliction, and tries to help those being
taken advantage of by criminals and other assorted scum.
“Blindness” is difficult to take, being the result of a
book many felt would be unadaptable for the screen...and likely should
have stayed that way. Buena Vista’s DVD includes deleted scenes
and a fluffy Making Of documentary, a 16:9 (1.85) transfer and 5.1
Dolby Digital sound.
OLIVER & COMPANY (***, 74 mins., 1988, G; Disney): Cute,
if forgettable, late ‘80s Disney modernization of “Oliver
Twist,” set in New York City and populated with both furry
characters and slight pop tunes (from Billy Joel, Huey Lewis and Bette
Midler), isn’t on the level of the Menken-Ashman renaissance that
would follow a year later in “The Little Mermaid,” but
it’s still fun for young viewers and Disney aficionados.
Disney’s new 20th Anniversary DVD of “Oliver and
Company” includes a nifty 16:9 (1.66) widescreen transfer with
5.1 Dolby Digital sound, a Making Of featurette, sing-along songs, two
different vintage shorts, and new games and activities for the little
THE BERENSTAIN BEARS: Learning Is Fun (Sony): Another
compilation of episodes from “The Berenstain Bears”’
NBC cartoon from a couple of decades ago includes the prime-time Easter
special “Easter Surprise.” Perfect family entertainment for
adults who might’ve grown up on these shows and young kids alike,
with full-screen transfers and stereo soundtracks both on-hand.
AGAINST THE DARK (94 mins., 2009, R; Sony):
Tepid direct-to-vid thriller about a post-apocalyptic future where
vampires have wiped out most of humanity...and one certain martial arts
expert who can still take them down. No, it’s not
“Blade” -- it’s Steven Seagal! Yes, this is the
infamous “Seagal Vs. Vampires’ thriller you may (or may
not) have heard about, and it’s a pretty tired (no shocker
there), formulaic affair with surprisingly little screen time for the
big man himself, who also co-produced. Sony’s DVD includes a
pretty dreary looking 16:9 (1.85) transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound
and one Making Of featurette.
DEA DETROIT (276 mins., 2008; Paramount):
Spike TV reality series follows a group of Drug Enforcement officers as
they hit the streets and try to clean up Detroit. Paramount’s
double-disc set includes uncut episodes with some graphic language and
a bonus episode of the Spike series “Real Vice Cops: Uncut.”
OUT AT THE WEDDING (96 mins., 2009; Paramount): Logo
Channel-branded original movie about a pair of sisters, one of whom is
about to be married, hits DVD in a no-frills disc from Paramount,
offering a 4:3 widescreen transfer and 2.0 stereo sound, along with a
director commentary track.
CHRISTOPHER TITUS: LOVE IS EVOL (2009, Paramount):
Extended live concert featuring the popular comedian features bonus
footage, featurettes and over 40 minutes of footage not seen on cable.
Perfectly timed for a Valentine’s release, for the Titus fan
RELIGULOUS (101 mins., 2008, R; Lionsgate):
Bill Maher travels the globe in this strident commentary on religion
from the comic and director Larry Charles. Lionsgate’s DVD
includes commentary with Maher and Charles, deleted scenes and
COLLEGE (*½, 94 [theatrical] and 95 [uncut] mins., 2008, R; MGM/Fox):
Threadbare comedy about a group of high schoolers (including
“American Idol”’s former “Chicken
Little,” Kevin Covais) who head to campus where they get involved
in all kinds of predictable shenanigans. Fox’s DVD includes both
R-rated and uncut versions of the movie in 16:9 (1.85) widescreen and
5.1 Dolby Digital sound. Extras are limited to a gag reel.
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