2/21/06 Edition

Aisle Seat Presidents Day Edition

“Cult” is definitely the most appropriate word to describe Mark L. Lester’s 1982 exploitation fave CLASS OF 1984 (***, 98 mins., R), which Anchor Bay finally releases this week on DVD.

Don’t be put off by Lester’s self-congratulatory statements about how “Class of ‘84" predicted the future of high school violence (there’s even a mention about Columbine): this raunchy B-movie is basically just a high school variant on the “Death Wish” genre, with new teacher Perry King fighting off a gang of despicable thugs led by Timothy Van Patten. In regards to the latter, this villainous punk-group has as more in common with similar, antagonistic thugs seen in gang movies of the late ‘70s (“The Warriors” and “The Wanderers”) as they do in terms of making a statement about the future of American education, though Van Patten’s passive mom and hapless school administrators -- as portrayed in the film -- do send off a foreboding alarm about what’s to come.

“Class of 1984" has sex, violence, dead rabbits, a sobbing Roddy McDowall, an over-the-top finale, a young Michael J. Fox (minus the “J”), and even a Lalo Schifrin score (appropriately bombastic, especially in an early gang rumble) complete with a theme song performed by....Alice Cooper?!? One can only imagine how much fun all those disparate elements are, and it’s true this early ‘80s cult classic is indeed highly entertaining -- a bit rough around the edges, and purposefully unpleasant at times, but well worth a look for the B-movie aficionado.

Anchor Bay announced “Class of 1984" some time ago and their DVD was worth the wait: a 35-minute documentary, “Blood and Blackboards,” offers comments from Lester, King and co-star/executive producer Merrie Lynn Ross; a commentary with Lester, prompted by an Anchor Bay producer; the original trailer, two TV spots, the screenplay as a DVD-ROM extra, stills gallery, and liner notes. The 16:9 enhanced transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack both present the film better than it’s ever appeared before outside of a theater.

Lester would later re-work his premise as the more futuristic (and less effective) “Class of 1999,” this time channeling “The Terminator” as much as its predecessor re-worked the dozens of one-man-wrecking-crew revenge thrillers we saw so often in the ‘70s and early ‘80s. The sequel would become a less-affectionately remembered, yet still amusing, video rental for many a high schooler in the early ‘90s. Hopefully it’ll garner a DVD release one day with the same, superb treatment Anchor Bay has given to the original “Class” of ‘84.

New From Fox

It’s been a good year to be an Irwin Allen fan. Fox released a fine box-set of “The Time Tunnel” last month, and is slated to unleash all-new, remastered Special Editions of “The Towering Inferno” and “The Poseidon Adventure” to coincide with the big-budget remake of the latter this May.

In the meantime, Fox travels down to the bottom of the ocean depths for their first release of the fan-favorite VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA (1964, 818 mins., Fox) this week, which includes the inaugural 16 episodes from the series’ first season on the ABC airwaves.

The show was a spin-off from the full-color Fox film of the same name, and followed the adventures of the Seaview, the high-tech submarine captained by Admiral Harriman Nelson (Richard Basehart) and Captain Lee Crane (David Hedison), which takes off here for what would be a successful four-season run. During their journeys, the Seaview run into plots of both Cold War (stories like “Hot Line” and “Hail To The Chief”) and extraterrestrial origin (“The Sky Is Falling,” “Turn Back The Clock”), with good amounts of action, colorful, comic-book stories (though the series was filmed in black-and-white during season one), and scenery-chewing performances to boot.

Fox’s three-DVD box set, like “The Time Tunnel,” includes the first half of the series’ first season episodes (16 to be precise) in very crisp, healthy full-screen transfers with both stereo and mono soundtracks. Extras include an alternately-edited pilot episode, home movie footage from Irwin Allen’s archives, a promo reel, and still galleries -- needless to say this package comes highly recommended for genre fans.

Fox has also released excellent new box sets compiling the third seasons of both NYPD BLUE (22 episodes, 1014 mins., 1995-96) and THE PRETENDER (21 episodes, 1013 mins., 1998-99), each offering a few extras.

The third season of “Blue” showcases the long-running police procedural at its best, with Jimmy Smits and Dennis Franz, along with Kim Delaney, making for perhaps the finest of the show’s various ensembles. Fox’s four-disc set offers two episode commentary tracks (one by series stalwart Gordon Clapp), three-featurettes (“Life in the 15th Precinct,” “Father and Son,” and “Women of NYPD Blue”), an NYPD Blue F/X channel spot, and full-screen transfers with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

“The Pretender,” meanwhile, was an NBC series that attracted a relatively modest but loyal audience through its four seasons. Fox’s third-season set of the series continues to follow Michael T. Weiss as the highly-intelligent, mysterious hero who helps people at the same time he dives into his spooky, unremembered past. The three-disc set includes a trio of episode commentary tracks and a three-part Making Of featurette, plus 1.78 (16:9) transfers and 2.0 Dolby Surround soundtracks.

Fox Musicals

Three “Marquee Musicals” mark this month’s new catalog offerings from Fox.

Betty Grable was at the pinnacle of stardom when she starred in Fox’s full-color WWII musical PIN UP GIRL (**½, 83 mins., 1944), though the movie is a bit on the flimsy side in terms of score (nothing overly memorable in the song department) and plot (basically, and predictably, just an excuse for a series of those musical numbers).

Still, Grable devotees will find plenty of amusement on-hand as the actress plays a secretary and regional USO entertainer who opts to leave her midwestern town for D.C. En route, she ends up in New York City, where Grable claims she’s a famous Broadway star, which impresses Navy man John Harvey, and shenanigans (of course) follow.

Fox has pulled out all the stops for this catalog DVD, offering commentary from critic Richard Shickel, a deleted song (“This Is It”), the trailer and a still photo gallery. The full-color transfer and 2.0 stereo soundtrack are each in good shape, while the original mono track and collectible lobby cards round out the disc.

Film historian Jeanine Basinger provides a commentary on the highly engaging 1941 release WEEKEND IN HAVANA (***, 1941, 80 mins.). Another Fox Technicolor product of the WWII era, this superior ensemble offering stars Alice Faye as a young lass on a cruise, John Payne as the handsome ship executive who has to grant her a free vacation to Havana after their boat runs aground -- in turn, he has to delay his wedding, and the duo, naturally, fall for each other while Faye enjoys her trip gratis.

Carmen Miranda and Cesar Romero provide the Latin spice in this 80-minute, whirlwind “south of the border” fantasy with big, colorful musical numbers, amusing comedic sequences, and appealing performances by the cast, which also sports Cabina Wright, Jr. (as Payne’s stuffy fiancee), Sheldon Leonard, Chris-Pin Martin, George Barbier, Leonid Kinskey, and Billy Gilbert among others.

Fox’s DVD includes a good-looking, full-screen transfer preserving the original Technicolor hues of Walter Lang’s film. Basinger’s commentary offers a historical context for the movie, while the original trailer, another stills gallery, and both 2.0 stereo and mono mixes are included on the audio side of things.

Fox’s trio of “Marquee Musicals” is completed with the entertaining 1955 teaming of Fred Astaire and Leslie Caron, DADDY LONG LEGS (***, 1955, 126 mins.). Astaire plays a benefactor who sends a young French girl (Caron) to college where she grows up to be a nubile young woman; Astaire then grapples with whether or not he can fall for her in a movie filled with dynamic dance sequences, tuneful Johnny Mercer songs ,and very wide, Cinemascope cinematography.

Fox’s premiere domestic DVD edition of “Daddy Long Legs” offers the movie in an excellent 2.55 widescreen transfer with 4.0 Dolby Digital stereo sound. Extras offer commentary from Ava Astaire McKenzie and historian Ken Barnes with Mercer comments drawn from the Fox archives; Fox Movietone news footage of the movie’s premiere, the original trailer, and a still gallery round out the DVD. Recommended!

Also New From Fox

IN HER SHOES (***, 130 mins., 2005, PG-13; Fox): Superb performances from Cameron Diaz, Toni Collette and Shirley MacLaine make this Curtis Hanson film highly recommended viewing. Susannah Grant’s screenplay, adapting Jennifer Weiner’s novel, crafts two distinct siblings (Collette, Diaz) who attempt to reconcile after finding the grandmother they never knew (MacLaine). Mark Isham’s sensitive score, a smart script, and winning performances make “In Her Shoes” one of the more intelligent and layered “chick flicks” of recent years. Fox’s DVD isn’t filled with special features -- just three Making Of featurettes, plus a 2.35 widescreen (16:9) transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

TRANSPORTER 2 (**½, 87 mins., 2005, PG-13; Fox): Jason Statham is back as tough guy Frank Martin, here escorting the family of an American politician who’s son is targeted by kidnappers. Standard, but well-executed, action scenes dominate this stylish, short, and not especially memorable sequel, though Statham is always amusing to watch and the movie provides a decent amount of escapist entertainment for action fans. Fox’s DVD contains a smashing 2.35 (16:9) transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, deleted scenes, bloopers, extended fight scenes, standard Making Of featurettes, and a look at the creation of the soundtrack, sporting a score by “Replicant.”

New From Magnolia Entertainment

PULSE (KAIRO) (**½, 119 mins., 2001; R): Well-regarded Japanese horror import finally reaches domestic DVD for the first time, after sitting on the Weinstein shelves for the better part of the last four years.
“Kairo” offers ghostly haunting not through a video tape (“The Ring”) or a phone (Korea’s “The Phone”) but rather the spooky internet itself. Writer-director Kiyoshi Kurosawa has more on his mind than shock value, however, and populates his tale with existential questions about death, the afterlife, and the issue of poltergeist overcrowding. With often striking visuals that outweigh the dramatic potency of the script, “Pulse” is a leisurely tale that fans of modern Japanese horror should enjoy, with the now-requisite American remake (courtesy of Harvey and Bob) coming in July and starring “Veronica Mars” herself, the marvelous Kirsten Bell. Magnolia Home Entertainment offers a good-looking 1.78 (16:9) transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, the trailer, and behind-the-scenes footage.

THE SEAT FILLER (**½, 90 mins., 2005; PG-13): Cute fluff involving a law student (Duane Martin) who generates income by filling seats at award show gigs. Kelly Rowan is the pop songstress whom he falls for, despite the fact that she believes he’s a record industry executive! This romantic comedy with an African-American cast was capably directed by Nick Castle (“The Last Starfighter”) and offers an appealing cast, with the two leads generating believable chemistry throughout. Magnolia’s DVD sports a 1.85 (16:9) transfer, a bass-heavy 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack, deleted scenes, a fluffy Making Of featurette, and an extended performance of the song “Follow Your Destiny” performed by Rowland.

New From Paramount

THE LORDS OF DISCIPLINE (**½, 1983, 102 mins., R): Pat Conroy’s highly-regarded novel became an efficient, though not especially inspired early ‘80s film from director Franc Roddam (“The Bride”). The underrated David Keith plays an even-tempered cadet at a military academy in the south circa 1964, where he’s assigned to look out for the academy’s first black student. Early appearances for Judge Reinhold, Rick Rossovich, Matt Frewer, and “Wild” Bill Paxton (as he’s billed here) make this well-acted effort worth seeing, though there’s something bland about the final product (the fact that Roddam shot this particularly American story in his native England possibly being one of them). Paramount’s DVD offers a decent 16:9 enhanced transfer framed in the 1.85 aspect ratio with 2.0 mono sound; the picture isn’t up to the studio’s usual standards but it’s acceptable, while the soundtrack sports a score by British composer Howard Blake.

CHARMED: COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON (21 episodes, aprx. 16 hours, 2001-02; Paramount): “Charmed” is a show that I’ve tuned into here and there over the years, though never on a committed basis. It’s understandable, though, since the show is lightweight and proudly so -- it doesn’t demand your attention but it’s always fun to watch attractive leading ladies Alyssa Milano and Holly Marie Combs play witch-siblings who take on the forces of darkness each week. In the series’ fourth season, Shannen Doherty’s character had been killed in the previous season ender, so the producers brought in Rose McGowan as the Halliwell’s half-sister -- a drastic but needed cast change that nevertheless worked magic (for a while at least), as the series is about to conclude its eighth and final year on the WB (soon to be CW) network. Paramount’s six-disc box-set includes all 21 fourth season episodes in satisfying full-screen transfers with 2.0 Dolby Digital stereo soundtracks. The series will sign off in May as the longest-running TV series in history starring all female leads, an accomplishment “Charmed” -- regardless of how frivolous its plots are -- will always be able to point to.

New From Buena Vista

PROOF (***, 2005). 99 mins., PG-13, Buena Vista. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Commentary; Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary; Making Of featurette; 2.35 Widescreen (16:9), Dolby Digital 5.1.

David Auburn’s Pulitzer-winning play makes for a predictably-stagy but nevertheless compelling film.

Gwyneth Paltrow plays a young woman whose genius math professor father (Anthony Hopkins) is breaking down mentally. Paltrow worries that she may suffer the same fate as her dad, whom she has sacrificed much of her time for, though Hopkins’ assistant (Jake Gyllenhaal) offers a ray of hope both personally and professionally for her future.

Paltrow’s “Shakespeare in Love” director, John Madden, helmed this appropriately literate film, which tries to breath some life into the sparsely-staged play by opening the picture up for full widescreen and taking advantage of the film’s London locales (substituting for Chicago). Paltrow gives an excellent performance in a demanding role, while Hopkins effectively channels both genius and madness equally throughout. Shorter and less melodramatic than “A Beautiful Mind,” “Proof” didn’t perform overly well in theaters but boasts an actor’s showcase that’s well worth catching on DVD.

Buena Vista’s DVD offers a few deleted scenes with optional commentary from Madden, who directed “Proof” on stage (with Paltrow) and also provides a running discussion throughout the film. A fairly interesting Making Of featurette, offering comments from the creators and playwright David Auburn, is also included, while the 2.35 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound are both highly satisfying.

THE GOLDEN GIRLS: Complete Fourth Season (1988-89), 624 minutes, Buena Vista. SPECIAL FEATURES: Top Ten Guest Stars of Season 4; Full-Screen, Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround.

GREY’S ANATOMY: Complete Season One (2005), 397 minutes, Buena Vista. SPECIAL FEATURES: Unaired Scenes; Pilot Episode Deleted Scenes; Behind The Scenes Featurette; Commentaries; Trailer; 1.78 Widescreen (16:9), Dolby Digital 5.1.

Buena Vista’s latest TV on DVD box sets highlight one of the top series of the ‘80s, along with one of the top new shows on the air today.

In the three-DVD set compiling 24 episodes from its fourth season, “The Golden Girls” finds the ensemble cast of the long-running series (Bea Arthur, Betty White, Rue Maclanahan, and Estelle Getty) at the peak of their success. The series by now had settled into a formula that nevertheless milked big laughs out of elderly characters speaking their minds, living life as vivaciously as younger people half their age, and fans should again be delighted with Disney’s DVD presentation.

Buena Vista’s three-disc set is similar in presentation to their previous “Golden Girls” sets – meaning there’s not much in the way of supplements, outside of a clip compilation of guest star bits, including Bob Hope and Julio Igleasias, not to mention then-unknown Quentin Tarantino, who pops up as Elvis! The full-screen transfers and soundtracks are all fine, once again incorporating the unexpurgated broadcast-length episodes as seen originally on NBC.

You might think that the medical drama has pretty much been exhausted over the years, most recently through the success of “E/R.” While the long-running NBC workhorse has been showing signs of erosion (both creatively and in the ratings) for years now, ABC has re-ignited the genre with the recent success of “Grey’s Anatomy.”

The Sunday night series -- which launched and immediately found an audience thanks to its “Desperate Housewives” lead-in -- often serves up lighter, more soapy fare than “E/R,” but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Patrick Dempsey was able to resurrect his career here as one of several young doctors at a Seattle hospital, but it’s Ellen Pompeo who plays the “Grey” of the title, as a first-year surgical intern working alongside colleagues Sandra Oh and Katharine Heigl.

Buena Vista’s double-disc set includes all 9 first-season episodes of “Grey’s Anatomy” in excellent 16:9 transfers with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound. A good amount of extras are also on-hand, including unaired scenes and a look at how the pilot episode was shaped; various cast and crew commentaries; a Behind the Scenes featurette; and other extras that viewers ought to find sufficiently satisfying.

DISNEY PRINCESS SINGALONG SONGS Vol.3 (2006, 40 mins., Disney): Seven princess-oriented singalongs and numerous interactive games will help your child learn the ways of becoming (no, not a jedi) but a Disney Princess in this 40-minute DVD for the little ones. 5.1 Dolby Digital sound and additional extras are included as well.

New From Sony

13 GOING ON 30: Fun and Flirty Edition (***, 2004). 98 mins., PG-13, Sony. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Alternate Beginning and Ending; “Fashion Flashback” Featurette; Mostly Same Contents From Previous DVD; 1.85 Widescreen (16:9), 5.1 Dolby Digital.

One of the more charming “date” movies of late, “13 Going On 30" is less a variation on the Tom Hanks favorite "Big" than it is a cross between that movie and (yes) "A Christmas Carol.” Here, Jennifer Garner plays the adult incarnation of a hapless 13-year-old girl in 1987 who wishes she was 30. After attending a disastrous birthday party, Jenna Rink wakes up as the adult Garner -- a NYC magazine editor with a hockey player boyfriend, plenty of money, and seemingly everything she ever wanted. To help her sort out her new surroundings, Garner tracks down her former middle-school guy-pal Mark Ruffalo, who now lives in the Village and makes a modest living as a  photographer. Ruffalo helps Garner fill in the blanks of the lost 17 years of her life, and Garner finds herself discovering that she's not exactly the person she thought she might be in the process.

One of the things I enjoyed about "13 Going On 30" was how it paid scant attention to the regulation requirements of this genre (launched in the contemporary era by "Freaky Friday," made popular by "Big," then carried on through films like "Vice Versa," reviewed below). Screenwriters Josh Goldsmith and Cathy Yuspa don't spend an eternity on Garner first discovering that she's 30 -- nor do they hit you over the head with gags about Garner being out of her element as a 13-year-old living in an adult body.

Instead, the filmmakers made an appealing story about the consequence of bad choices and trying to make amends for those decisions. Garner is as effervescent as you'd anticipate her being, and she's perfectly matched with Ruffalo, laid back as a heartbroken soul who discovers himself falling for a girl who ultimately tortured him in high school.

Even though the movie doesn't do a good job developing its supporting players ("Rings" veteran Andy Serkis is wasted as Garner's high-strung boss), "13 Going on 30" has a satisfying romance at its center that makes it very difficult to dislike. The ending is especially well-handled, the bouncy soundtrack is filled with the expected '80s pop tunes and a superb, lyrical score by the ever-reliable Theodore Shapiro, and the leads are so downright likable that the film works in spite of its abbreviated running time.

In terms of Sony’s new “Fun and Flirty Edition” DVD, which comes in a hot pink case with a bubblegum (!) scent, new extras include a ten-minute assembly of the movie’s original opening and epilogue, with the two young actors playing the Garner and Ruffalo roles closing things out; and an extraneous “Fashion Flashback” featurette. Outside of three workprint montages (perhaps tossed because Jennifer Garner looked silly in them, bopping around to scenes without any music), the deleted/extended scenes from the original DVD have been reprised, in addition to the music videos, Making Of featurette, bloopers and other supplements from the prior disc. The only glaring omission are the two production commentary tracks, which frankly weren’t all that interesting to begin with.

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