Edition -- Happy Valentine's Day
Aisle Seat Olympic
A handful of comedies highlight
Warner’s vintage titles this week, with a heavy accent on
star-driven vehicles from the ‘80s.
FEBRUARY RELEASES INCLUDING MIRRORMASK,
WEATHER MAN, DOOM and More!
Plus: New Criterions, Disney & Warner Catalog Titles
The best of the batch is undoubtedly QUICK CHANGE (***,
88 mins., R, 1990; Warner), the Bill Murray caper comedy that
became a casualty at the summer box-office in 1990, despite receiving
mostly positive notices from critics.
“Quick Change” was adapted from a novel by Jay Cronley,
whose books also formed the basis for two other memorable comedies of
the era: the hilarious and under-appreciated Chevy Chase comedy
“Funny Farm” (1988) and the equally charming “Let It
Ride” starring Richard Dreyfuss, which opened in 1989.
Co-directors Murray and Howard Franklin (who also scripted) were
responsible for this often uproarious adaptation, with Murray, Geena
Davis and Randy Quaid as thieves who knock over an NYC bank, but have a
difficult time getting out of the city once they’ve bagged the
loot. Jason Robards is the cop on their trail (shades of Walter Matthau
in “The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3,” right down to the final
scene), while Tony Shalhoub is a clueless cabbie and Philip Bosco a
less-than-understanding bus driver, whom the trio meet in their
attempts to elude the cops.
Big laughs, flavorful NY location filming, and engaging performances
should have made “Quick Change”a huge hit, but alas, the
movie got lost in the shuffle during its initial release. Time,
fortunately, has been kind to the picture, which holds up well and
looks terrific in Warner’s new DVD.
The 16:9 transfer appears well-composed and in good shape overall, with
a moderately stereophonic 2.0 Dolby Surround mix. The original trailer,
which didn’t do an especially good job selling the movie (nor did
the poster art), is included.
Star vehicles are what Murray’s frequent collaborator --
actor-filmmaker Harold Ramis -- had in mind when he set out to helm CLUB PARADISE
(**½, 96 mins., PG-13; 1986) in the mid ‘80s.
This almost-forgotten Caribbean comedy was one of several such films
produced at the same time: Michael Caine’s “Water,”
which has vanished entirely from the cinematic landscape, was released
to negligible box-office returns several months prior.
“Club Paradise” stars Robin Williams as a Chicago fireman
who gets a large settlement claim after he’s injured in the line
of duty. Williams opts to leave the Windy Cindy for a Jamaica-type of
isle (the movie was, in fact, shot in Jamaica), where he quickly sets
up a tourist spot with the help of local crooner Jimmy Cliff, much to
the chagrin of tea-sipping governor Peter O’Toole and
bureaucrat Adolph Ceasar, who might just be facing the prospects of a
revolution by the locals in addition to Williams’ would-be
With a script credited to Ramis and Brian Doyle-Murray, “Club
Paradise” is a disjointed comedy with a premise that’s
barely established before all kinds of supporting characters appear --
these include a virtual reunion of SCTV (Rick Moranis, Eugene Levy,
Andrea Martin, Joe Flaherty), Saturday Night Live (Robin Duke, Mary
Gross), and other sitcom (Stephen Kampmann from “Newhart”)
alumni, who crank out the movie’s laugh quotient to a modest
degree. In between, we have thinly-drawn sequences with Williams (who
looks ticked off for some reason from start to finish), O’Toole,
Ceasar, and Twiggy (as the requisite female lead) attempting to act out
some semblance of a “story.”
Needless to say, “Club Paradise” doesn’t entirely
click -- this must have been one of those movies that everyone loved to
make, with the screenplay relegated to the back-burner in place of
surf, sand and sun -- but it’s still fun to watch the appealing
cast at work, especially Moranis and Levy, who produce most of the
laughs. The score is filled with upbeat Jimmy Cliff tunes and an
intermittent underscore curiously credited to both David Mansfield and
Van Dyke Parks.
Warner’s DVD features a highly appealing, colorful 16:9 transfer
of the movie’s 1.85 frame. This being the middle of February, the
time couldn’t be more appealing to soak up the scenic locales of
“Club Paradise,” while a moderately active 2.0 Dolby
Digital surround track conveys the audio aspect equally well. The
theatrical trailer, which contains some footage not used in the final
cut, is also on-hand.
Unused footage is again in evidence in the trailer for DEAL OF THE CENTURY
(**, 100 mins., 1983, PG; Warner).
William Friedkin and writer Paul Brickman (“Risky
Business”) teamed for this box-office flop, a costly failure that
attempted to be a manic Chevy Chase comedy at the same time it offered
a rash of special effects at its climax and “something
important” to say about international arms smuggling.
Chase and cohort Gregory Hines play arms dealers who help upstarts
topple regimes in third world countries; Sigourney Weaver is the wife
of Wallace Shawn, who just killed himself over contracts that Chase
promptly picked up, pertaining to a top-secret fighter project.
The rest of Brickman’s script had to have either not been shot or
was cut to shreds in the editing room, since “Deal of the
Century” is short on story and long on scenes of Chase at his
most obnoxiously smug, flirting with Weaver, and interacting with
Hines, as the typical second banana. There are scenes which feel like
they belong in a different movie (Hines getting into an altercation
with a racist psycho, for example), a loud, tiresome climax, and a
notable lack of laughs, while Friedkin’s camera work and
direction are at their most stilted and uninteresting. Suffice to say,
Friedkin never tried comedy again after this one.
The best part of “Deal of the Century” is Arthur B.
Rubinstein’s pleasant score, which I don’t recall at all on
first viewing years back, but provided some of the only interest while
watching Warner’s new DVD.
Speaking of which, the 16:9 enhanced transfer is in good condition,
framed in the 1.85 ratio, while the 2.0 Dolby Surround track is active
throughout. The theatrical trailer is also included, and it’s
curious to see how the studio tried selling the film as a wild,
“Stripes”-kind of vehicle for Chase, who -- luckily for him
-- netted a bigger success with “National Lampoon’s
Vacation” earlier in ‘83 to off-set the stench that
“Deal of the Century” left at Thanksgiving time.
Speaking of National Lampoon, the comedic publication found mostly good
success lending its name out to movies like “Vacation” and
“Animal House” (people tend to forget the misses, like
“Class Reunion” and the unreleased “Movie
Not to be outdone, Mad Magazine found itself “presenting”
their one and only film around that period: the 1980 minor-cult favorite UP THE ACADEMY
(**½, 87 mins., R; Warner), a comedy that saw its
chances of developing a larger following kiboshed over the years due to
limited showings, horribly cropped transfers, and cut versions (one of
which reportedly excised all mention of Mad and its mascot, Alfred E.
Luckily, Warner’s new DVD preserves the entire Panavision frame
of this ribald, non-P.C. comedy about a group of screwball kids
(including Ralph Macchio) at a military academy run by dictatorial
Major Liceman. The Major is hilariously portrayed by Ron Leibman
(repeat after me: “Say It Again!!”), the Tony-winning actor
who opted to have his name completely removed from the credits...a
bizarre maneuver since director Robert Downey (Sr.)’s movie
actually has its moments.
Sure, “Up The Academy” isn’t as consistently funny as
the better efforts of the National Lampoon school, but the combination
of R-rated laughs (with, remember, teenage characters) and comic
portrayals by Leibman, Tom Poston, Antonio Fargas and Barbara Bach make
for a wild, nostalgic good time -- truly the kind they don’t make
The 16:9 transfer splendidly captures the wide 2.35 ratio of “Up
The Academy,” while the 2.0 Dolby Digital stereo track is nearly
as rambunctious as the movie itself. The amusing theatrical trailer,
which prominently displays Leibman’s lead role and the presence
of Alfred E. Newman, is also on-hand.
Madonna didn’t want her name removed from the credits of the
all-time godawful 1986 comedy “Shanghai Surprise,” so there
wouldn’t be any reason for her to feel bad about her next
starring vehicle: the innocuous 1987 screwball effort WHO’S THAT
GIRL (**, 94 mins., PG; Warner).
Far more watchable than her teaming with then-hubby Sean Penn,
“Who’s That Girl” has the Material Girl as Nikki
Finn, an unjustly-sentenced ex-con who springs out of jail and tries to
clear her name. Griffin Dunne (then riding the success of the Martin
Scorsese vehicle “After Hours”) is the lawyer who picks up
Finn upon her release from prison and finds that she was set up by the
family he’s set to marry into.
Critics hated “Who’s That Girl” and the movie only
did minor box-office, but outside of Madonna bashers looking to rag on
the songstress’ efforts, this silly piece of fluff isn’t
anywhere near as bad as its reputation would lead you to believe. Dunne
is superb and Madonna’s performance displays more deft comic
timing than you might anticipate -- it’s all ridiculous,
‘80s escapism, but on those grounds “Who’s That
Girl” works well enough.
Warner’s DVD offers the movie in a solid 16:9 transfer with 2.0
Dolby Digital sound, offering several Madonna pop hits (including the
title track). The theatrical trailer is also on-hand.
Last but not least among the Warner catalog titles is THE FRISCO KID (**,
1979, 119 mins., PG; Warner), the rambling Gene Wilder-Harrison
Ford western comedy that marked the next-to-last film directed by
veteran filmmaker Robert Aldrich.
Wilder is a rabbi who immigrates from Poland in 1850 and heads west
towards San Fransisco. Along the way he meets cowboy Harrison Ford, in
a role Wilder claims was originally written for John Wayne, who turned
down the movie over after the studio balked at paying his usual salary.
“The Frisco Kid” is likeable enough but, at two full hours,
feels overlong and uneven. There are moments of comedy and character
insight but somehow the movie never really clicks, culminating in a
Warner’s DVD does offer a clean, 16:9 transfer with 2.0 Dolby
Digital mono sound. The original trailer, selling Wilder’s
box-office appeal at the time, rounds out the disc.
New From Paramount
Cameron Crowe’s ELIZABETHTOWN
(**½, 2005, 123 mins., PG-13; Paramount) was not
regarded nor received as one of the filmmaker’s best efforts,
though even second-rate Crowe makes for more intriguing viewing than
most of the junk we’ve seen lately.
Orlando Bloom seems a bit ill-at-ease as the centerpiece of
Crowe’s drama-edy, as a young athletic shoe designer who gets
fired and returns home -- to find out his father has unexpectedly
passed away as well. Bloom flies out to the back roads of Kentucky to
handle his dad’s funeral arrangements, and falls in love with a
perky flight attendant (Kirsten Dunst) along the way. Naturally,
complications arise in their newfound romance, but somehow Bloom pulls
through, as well as finds common ground with his “country”
cousins, who had a history of clashing with Bloom and his eccentric
mother (Susan Sarandon).
“Elizabethtown” was originally shown at the Toronto Film
Festival in a version that critics report was 20 minutes longer and
even more of a rambling wreck than Crowe’s subsequently trimmed
theatrical release. I didn’t see the “work in
progress” version, and Paramount’s DVD only includes two
extended scenes (Roger Ebert’s review mentions that the original
version had an endless stream of faux-endings). Subsequently, while I
can’t state for certain as to what the original version was like,
I can write that the reservations many critics had with Crowe’s
first screened cut of “Elizabethtown” are understandable --
if only because they exist in the slimmed-down, released version as
Essentially, the central romance between Bloom and Dunst works; though
I found Bloom to be over-eager and trying too hard to sell his part, he
clicks with Dunst and the movie provides the kind of cute, appealing
romance so many of Crowe’s previous films have contained. That
element of “Elizabethtown” works well enough, but
everything else feels forced -- especially the scenes with Bloom and
his cliched “backwoods” family, as well as Sarandon and
Judy Greer (as Bloom’s sister), with the former performing a
supposedly heartfelt “dance” at her late husband’s
funeral that, to put it mildly, does not work. Apparently there was
even more of this in Crowe’s previous, longer cut, and one can
sense why these sequences were trimmed for the theatrical release
(needless to say Crowe could have cut the movie down even further than
As it stands, “Elizabethtown” has some likeable moments and
a nice performance by Dunst, with an appealing romance at its core.
Everything surrounding it feels extraneous, however, and one could
possibly fast-forward through the film, only watch the Bloom-Dunst
sequences, and come away more satisfied than sitting through the entire
Paramount’s DVD contains two extended scenes along with two
Making Of featurettes (“Training Wheels” and “Meet
the Crew”), plus a photo gallery and two trailers. The 1.85, 16:9
transfer is perfect (sporting cinematography by Oscar-winner John
Toll), while the 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack unsurprisingly boasts an
endless array of classic rock tracks, in keeping with Crowe’s
traditional sound design.
Nicholas Cage gives an appropriately dour performance as THE WEATHER MAN
(**, 2005, 101 mins., R; Paramount), director Gore
Verbinski’s one-note meditation on the downside of the American
dream -- not to mention a movie that gives Willard Scott, Al Roker, and
other TV forecasters a bad name.
Cage plays Chicago weatherman David Spritz, who’s aspiring to
take a national job on a Today-like morning news program (Bryant Gumbel
even serves as host on it). At the same time, Spritz is a loser in his
personal life, hopelessly trying to patch up his marriage with Hope
Davis, trying in vain to impress his intellectual father (Michael
Caine), and failing to connect with his kids -- an overweight daughter
and a teenage son being taken advantage of by his pedophile counselor
(Gil Bellows), the latter ranking as one of the most unpleasant
cinematic subplots of last year (not to mention eerily similar to the
“Diff’rent Strokes” episode with Gordon Jump as the
local child molester).
Verbinski, along with writer Steven Conrad and cinematographer Phedon
Papamichael, vividly capture the gloomy, wintry Chicago setting, and
Cage gives a strong performance as a guy who slowly realizes that life
sucks but you eventually have to move on. The problem is that
“The Weather Man” is so relentlessly dour that it seems to
go on forever, while Cage’s voice-over makes sequences even more
heavy-handed than they need to be.
I give the filmmakers credit for trying to make an uncompromising
character study about a man whose family is falling apart at the same
time his career is taking off. Ultimately, “The Weather
Man” is too uneven and vulgar for its own good, with some pungent
lines and too-few splashes of black humor contrasted by raunchy
dialogue and interminable scenes of Cage trying to reconcile with
Davis. Caine and Cage are both superb but “The Weather Man”
makes its point early, rams it down your throat for 101 minutes, and
has nothing else to say.
The movie might have fizzled at the box-office (no surprise given its
sometimes repellent tone), but the DVD boasts several Making Of
documentaries, which do a nice enough job of charting the production of
“The Weather Man.” Included are a look at the development
of the script and Hans Zimmer’s moody, effective score. The 16:9
transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack are more than effective in
conveying the downbeat look and feel of the piece.
New From Sony
2005). 104 mins., PG, Sony. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Commentary by Dave
McKean and Neil Gaiman; Comprehensive Making Of documentary; 1.85
Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.
The Jim Henson Company produced this surreal, not entirely satisfying
but nevertheless compelling fantasy from writer Neil Gaiman and
director Dave McKean as a sort-of-follow-up to their ‘80s genre
efforts (the wonderful “Dark Crystal” and less-successful
“Labyrinth,” which this picture seems like a distant cousin
Weird is just one word to describe “Mirrormask,” which
finds a teenage girl (the fetching Stephanie Leonidas) venturing into a
make-believe world after her circus mom (Gina McKee) ends up in the
hospital, awaiting an operation. In the fantasy realm, Leonidas finds
characters, creatures and settings cobbled partially out of her own
drawings, in a kingdom ruled by an evil queen (McKee again) with a
rebellious daughter who exchanges places with Leonidas and ends up in
the “real” world, causing all kinds of problems as a result.
Visually spellbinding but not nearly as sound from a story or character
angle, “Mirrormask” is a movie that one appreciates for its
artistry, even if it ultimately provides somewhat of a detached viewing
experience. The unusual look and feel of the film is due to a mix of
CGI and live-action, while Gaiman’s story is, at times, nothing
short of bizarre. When Leonidas gets a make-over from a group of
pseudo-automatons, a cyber-redo of the Carpenters’ “Close
To You” spins on the soundtrack -- something, at least, you can
say that you’ve never seen before (and likely will never see
And that, in a nutshell, summarizes “Mirrormask.” This is
one of those films that you may love or despise depending on your
affection for the movie’s visual design. The story, a reworking
of “Labyrinth” to some degree, does fare better than
Henson’s own 1986 film (which featured a young, beautiful
Jennifer Connelly and a couple of bouncy David Bowie songs), but
that’s faint praise since the narrative was the least compelling
aspect of that picture as well. Still, “Mirrormask” offers
something unique, with unusual sights and sounds that you might find
compelling, and is worth at least one viewing to determine your
tolerance for its eclectic cinematic world.
It’s easy to see why Sony decided to nix a major release for this
obscure, destined-to-be-a-cult movie, but their DVD presentation is
superb. Gaiman and McKean provide a commentary while a multi-part
Documentary examines the production of the film, which took over three
years to reach the screen. The 1.85 Widescreen transfer is excellent
and the 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack likewise effective, though the
Iain Ballamy jazz-fusion score is not one of the film’s more
THE LEGACY Season 1 (1996; 21 episodes, 970 minutes, Sony):
Showtime produced this made-for-cable series, an in-name-only
continuation of the movie franchise centering on a paranormal team lead
by Dr. Derek Rayne (Derek DeLint). Rayne recruits a group of experts --
ranging from a Navy SEAL to a Catholic priest and a psychiatrist -- to
investigate a weekly series of supernatural mysteries. From there, the
San Fransisco-based “Legacy” takes on whatever comes their
way, whether it’s witches, demons, ghosts or curses from beyond
the grave. “Poltergeist: The Legacy” had a loyal following
of viewers who helped the series run for three seasons before joining
the Sci-Fi Channel in 1999 for one last hurrah. Though the series never
became a big hit, the show is well-performed and often entertaining, as
Sony’s five-disc box set attests: the full-screen transfers (in
their original 4:3 aspect ratio) appear to be in satisfactory condition
while the stereo scores are likewise acceptable. The box set (offering
the original “Poltergeist” letterhead on the packaging)
boasts 21 episodes on the five platters from the series’ initial
run, and comes highly recommended for fans.
THE NET 2.0
(**, 2005, 93 mins., R; Sony): Watchable made-for-video retread
puts Nikki DeLoach (former MMC member) through the paces traveled by
Sandra Bullock in the original “Net.” Here, DeLoach stars
as a computer analyst who arrives in Istanbul, where it turns out her
identity has been (gasp!) stolen and she’s been set up for a
crime she didn’t commit. Charles Winkler directed “The Net
2.0,” and no surprise here: Winkler is the son of Oscar-winning
producer Irwin Winkler...who not coincidentally produced the original
“Net.” Sadly, it doesn’t seem that the apple fell
very far from the tree here, since “The Net 2.0" is a
workmanlike, not-very-exciting suspense vehicle with a few reasonably
executed scenes but not much else to write about. Sony’s DVD
offers commentary from Winkler, a 1.78 widescreen transfer, and 5.1
Dolby Digital sound, sporting an ok score by Stephen Endelman, who
seems to be out of his element here scoring a direct-to-video project
New Criterion Titles
February’s group of new Criterion Collection releases is
highlighted by John Ford’s 1939 classic YOUNG MR. LINCOLN
(****, 100 mins., PG; Fox), which hits DVD for the first time
Ford teamed here with Henry Fonda for the first of several
collaborations, with Fonda starring as the earnest young lawyer from
Illinois in a movie that’s best regarded as a prime example of
“cinematic Americana” as opposed to an accurate history
lesson. The movie boasts superb cinematography by Bert Glennon (who
worked with Ford on his more highly-regarded “Drums Along The
Mohawk” also in 1939) and a script that presents a highly
fictionalized account of Lincoln’s early years as an attorney,
solving a murder case, struggling with the death of his girlfriend, and
the start of his journey to becoming an American president.
“Young Mr. Lincoln” is the kind of very old-fashioned,
glossy “biopic” that Hollywood turned out in the
“Golden” age, and Criterion’s double-disc set
provides a celebration of the film’s artistry. As expected the
restored, high-definition digital transfer is a thorough restoration,
while supplements on the second disc include a BBC profile of Ford and
interview with Fonda; audio interviews with Ford and Fonda, as
interviewed by the director’s grandson Dan; a radio dramatization
of “Young Mr. Lincoln,” downloadable as an MP3 file; a
gallery of production stills; and a lengthy 28-page booklet with notes
from critic Geoffrey O’Brien and notes from celebrated filmmaker
Sergei Eisenstein, who championed “Young Mr. Lincoln” as
one of his favorite films.
Whit Stillman’s METROPOLITAN (***,
1990, 99 mins., PG-13) also makes its debut on DVD this week
Stillman scored a major critical and “art house” success
with this tale of young, upper-crust New Yorkers who spend their time
chatting, drinking, and generally acting like snobs. Stillman only
produced two movies in the wake of “Metropolitan” -- the
amiable “Barcelona” and criminally under-rated “Last
Days of Disco” -- and it’s a shame, because
Stillman’s ear for intelligent, insightful dialogue and strong
characterizations comes through loud and clear in
“Metropolitan.” Despite a few tedious stretches this
comedy-drama offers engaging performances (from Carolyn Farina, Edward
Clements, and particularly Stillman regulars Chris Eigeman and Taylor
Nichols) and dialogue that’s as much fun to listen to as it is
watching play out on-screen.
Criterion’s DVD includes a new transfer approved by Stillman and
cinematographer John Thomas; commentary from Stillman, editor
Christopher Tellefsen, and stars Eigeman and Nichols; outtakes and
alternate casting tapes with commentary from the director; and an essay
from author Luc Sante. The 1.66 transfer is superb and the mono sound
fine for the movie.
Last but not least among the new Criterion February offerings is Jean
BETE HUMAINE (***½, 1938, 96 mins.). Based on the novel
by Emile Zola, Renoir’s 1938 film follows the tragic plight of a
train engineer (Jean Gabin) who makes the mistake of falling for the
attractive young wife (Simone Simon) of his stationmaster. Murder and
madness fill this gloomy, but incredibly well-produced,
“noir” that fans of Renoir ought to love in
Criterion’s new DVD.
The Collection’s disc includes a restored, high-definition
transfer of the film’s unexpurgated, original version, with newly
translated English subtitles; an introduction to the film by Renoir; a
new interview with filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich; vintage footage of
Renoir directing Simon, and interviews with Renoir and various scholars
on adapting Zola’s novel; a stills gallery of set photographs and
posters; and a booklet including notes from critic Geoffrey
O’Brien, historian Ginette Vincendeau, and production designer
Eugene Lourie (also known as the director of the early ‘60s giant
monster classic “Gorgo”!).
New From Universal
2005). 113 mins., Unrated, Universal. DVD FEATURES: Extended Version;
Longer first-person shooter sequence; Making Of movie and game
featurettes; 2.35 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.
The videogame-to-movie genre is not filled with many
successes: the B-movie, trashy thrills of the two “Resident
Evil” films are, pretty much, the most satisfying this filmmaking
niche has to offer (we’ve long forgotten “Super Mario
Bros.,” “Street Fighter,” and of course the two
“Mortal Kombat” flicks).
The hugely popular “Doom” franchise made the leap to the
screen with last fall’s movie version of the same name, but
bombed out in theaters, grossing just $28 million domestically (with a
reported production budget nearly three times that amount).
In reality, “Doom”: The Movie isn’t a total disaster,
but it’s also nothing more than a routine, somewhat entertaining
hodge-podge of “Aliens” (which the “Doom 3" game
itself owes a major debt of gratitude towards) and the “Resident
Evil” movies, meaning there’s a good amount of
zombie-action and Romero-esque riffs worked into the mix.
The Rock (wonder when he’s going to finally drop the name?) plays
a gruff leader of an elite marine tactical force sent to Mars where an
archeological dig has uncovered general monster mayhem. Rock’s
second-in-command, Karl Urban (from “Lord of the Rings”),
has a rough go since not only are the former workers being mutated into
all kinds of slimy beasts, but his sister (Rosamund Pike) is one of the
lead scientists on the project.
Andrej Bartkowiak directed this not-inexpensive sci-fi epic, which is
surprising in itself since the movie looks so cheap. The claustrophobic
sets and effects lack even the visual polish of the last
“Resident Evil” sequel (which cost less to produce), while
the performances are by-the-numbers, even down to The Rock’s
perfunctory leading role. Urban and Pike, meanwhile, fail to enliven
their thin characterizations in the David Callaham-Wesley Strick script.
Game fans, meanwhile, may appreciate some of the creatures and weapons
having been ported over from the last incarnation of the series, and
there’s even a fun -- if not cheesy -- “first person”
sequence to recapture the experience of playing the game...albeit here
with lousy rock-metal music.
Universal’s “Unrated” DVD offers an extended version
of the film that restores some 8 minutes of previously excised footage.
Extras include a look at the creation of the “first person”
scene (with a longer edit of that sequence), several featurettes on the
“Doom 3" game featuring interviews with G4 TV personalities (in
case you’re wondering, G4 is a video game channel), and a
featurette with The Rock.
Visually the 2.35 transfer is fine but the 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack
is even more impressive, packed with creepy surround effects that are a
good deal more unnerving than anything on-screen.
CHARGE: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (1984-85). Aprx. 9 hours. Universal.
GIMME A BREAK:
THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (1981-82). Aprx. 7 hours, 47 mins. Universal.
Now, for all those of you afraid to come forward and admit how much you
loved “Charles in Charge”...well, this is your opportunity
to say, “yes, I watched it, I enjoyed it, and damn it, now
I’m buying the DVD!”.
Yes, dear readers, that day has come, as Universal this week releases
the first-ever DVD edition of the quintessential ‘80s sitcom CHARLES IN CHARGE
on DVD in a three-disc box set.
Not that the series was a hit
right off the bat, because it wasn’t: CBS aired
“Charles” on Wednesday nights at 8pm in the fall of 1984,
where the show became an only modest success. No matter that Scott Baio
was fresh off “Happy Days” and brought his magical
chemistry with co-star Willie Aames to this family sitcom about a
college student named...you guessed it...who plays caretaker for the
precocious Pembroke kids (April Lerman, Jonathan Ward, Michael
Pearlman), whose parents (Julie Cobb and “Animal House”
alum and current TV-director James Widdoes) seem to be away just when
Charles needs time studying, cavorting with Aames (as best friend Buddy
Lembeck), or trying to make it with girlfriend Gwendolyn (Jennifer
Runyon, best known as the college student Bill Murray hits on at the
beginning of “Ghostbusters”).
“Charles in Charge” originally ran for just one season on
CBS before being cancelled. The series looked like a one-shot for Baio
and Aames, but Universal ended up resurrecting the series for
syndication in January of ‘87, retaining Charles and Buddy but
dumping the Pembrokes in favor of a new family, the Powells, for
Charles to take care of (among the Powell kids was future
“Baywatch” babe Nicole Eggert). The result was a massively
successful, four-year run that saw “Charles” climb to the
top of the syndicated ratings, right alongside “Star Trek: The
Universal’s first season box set contains the initial 22 episodes
(including the pilot) from the series’ one and only season on
network TV. The performances are engaging enough to over-ride the
pedestrian plots you’d routinely see in the series, and fans and
family audiences will find the episodes to be as satisfying as they
were back in the day (and I’d still take an episode of
“Charles in Charge” over the lame antics of “Three
and a Half Men” any day). Curiously enough, the CBS shows also
have a somewhat more “wholesome” feel, with occasional
moments of dramatic interest, that were largely abandoned in the later,
syndicated years by broader, borderline-slapstick comedy. Sharp-eyed
viewers will note early guest roles for Meg Ryan, Christina Applegate,
Matthew Perry, Michelle Nicastro, and Kathy Ireland among others in
these first-season episodes.
The transfers appear in good shape and feature the original broadcast
length shows (about 25 minutes each), and not the syndicated versions
we’ve been seeing in re-runs for the last 22 years. Extras
include the “Great 80s TV Flashback” featurette (basically
an ad for Universal’s other TV on DVD box sets) and a bonus show
from the second season (a “preview” episode that I assume
is setting us up for a second box-set to follow...admit it, you
can’t wait, can you?).
Also out from Universal this week is the complete first season of GIMME A BREAK!,
the sitcom that found Nell Carter as the housekeeper to the Kanisky
family, led by gruff police chief Dolph Sweet.
Though “Gimme a Break!” started off as an African-American
variant on various sitcoms of the day (black housekeeper becomes
surrogate mom to a white family), the series offered as much drama and
emotion as it did comedy, particularly in its early years (and later
when Sweet passed away, which added another tinge of sadness to the
series). Carter’s boisterous performance sold the series’
one-liners while the performances of the kids in the Kanisky clan (Kari
Michaelson, Lauri Hendler, and Lara Jill Miller) bounced the comedy and
drama off its larger-than-life star perfectly.
Universal’s three-disc set includes all 19 episodes from
“Gimme a Break!”’s first season on NBC. The transfers
and soundtracks are all fine, and extras include bonus episodes from
the series’ second year, an episode a-piece from “Charlies
in Charge” and “Kate and Allie” (the latter due out
on DVD this spring), and the same “Great ‘80s
Flashback” documentary contained on the “Charles in
Charge” DVD. Recommended for all ‘80s TV enthusiasts
New From Buena Vista
DISNEY’S QUACK PACK, Volume 1 (1996, 66 mins.,
GOOF TROP, Volume 1 (1992, 66 mins., Disney): Two of
Disney’s animated series from the ‘90s arrive on DVD for
the first time in these low-priced single-disc releases. Fans of the
two series may be disappointed that Disney didn’t give these
shows the fuller box-set treatment they recently did for “Rescue
Rangers” and “Duck Tales,” but aficionados will have
to live with them for the time being. “Quack Pack,” a
follow-up of sorts to “Duck Tales,” offers three episodes
(“Transmission Impossible,” “Heavy Dental” and
“Feats of Clay”) while the Goofy-clan’s “Goof
Troop” likewise sports three shows from the early ‘90s
series (“Slightly Dinghy,” “Wrecks, Lies &
Videotape,” and “Shake, Rattle & Goof”). The
full-screen transfers and 2.0 Dolby Digital stereo tracks are both
perfectly fine, and kids should enjoy the colorful shenanigans of each.
THE BEST OF
YOUTH (***1/2, 2003, 368 mins., R; Miramax/Buena Vista): Lengthy
Italian-produced epic about a pair of brothers and their lives from
1963 through the start of the 21st century. Marco Tullio
Giordana’s film plays like a lengthy, but well-acted, soap opera,
and Miramax’s DVD enables you watch the six-hours of this human
odyssey at your own pace. Certainly the performances and story will
keep you watching, through the standard melodramatic passages and
splashes of Italian history. Miramax’s DVD offers a fine 1.85
transfer with both Italian and French language tracks, English and
Spanish subtitles, and 2.0 Dolby Digital sound.
Also New on DVD
HOUSE OF 9 (*,
2005, 88 mins., R; Bauer Martinez Distribution): Desperate
“Saw” rip-off from producer Bauer Martinez puts a cast of
assorted types (including priest Dennis Hopper and requisite attractive
leading lady Kelly Brook) into a mansion where they’re being held
against their will by a deranged individual watching their every move.
There’s not much to say about “House of 9,” except
it’s curious how the back cover includes a critic quote with no
author attributed to it! The Visual Entertainment DVD includes a
widescreen transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, with trailers for
other Bauer Martinez Studios efforts...hopefully all of which are more
watchable than this one (though I wouldn’t hold my breath).
NEXT TIME: Fox Box-Set
Blow Out, TRANSPORTER 2 and More! Don't
to drop in
on the official Aisle Seat Message
any emails to the
we'll catch you
then. Cheers everyone!
Copyright 1997-2006 All Reviews, Site and Design by Andy