Aisle Seat End of February Rundown

Reviews of New Releases, Catalog Titles and Much More
By Andy Dursin

I've said this before several times, but it seems to me that not only were movies better back in the '80s, but so were BAD movies. Let's face it, while "Dreamcatcher" gave "Lifeforce" a good run for its money, there haven't been too many entertainments like it in recent years. Bad movies today are, by and large, just plain dull.

Back in the '80s, though, that wasn't the case. Those wild and wacky Israeli filmmakers, Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, gave us many movies to hoot and hiss at, and the legacy of The Cannon Group, inc. remains untouched in the annals of B-grade cinema over the last few decades.

One of Cannon's higher-profile projects was KING SOLOMON'S MINES (**1/2, 100 mins., 1985, PG-13; MGM), starring Richard Chamberlain as H. Rider Haggard's Allan Quatermain and Sharon Stone as Jessie, his intrepid archeologist girlfriend. The plot has Quatermain and Jessie searching for her lost father in the wilds of Africa, where the duo run into both Nazis (Herbert Lom) and cannibals, as well as the rugged riches of King Solomon's Mines.

Now, most of you undoubtedly remember this film because of Jerry Goldsmith's entertaining musical variation on "Raiders of the Lost Ark." I've always enjoyed Goldsmith's score in the movie, but much like the picture itself, it doesn't have nearly the depth that John Williams' "Raiders" score did, though on the surface the films are fairly similar.

A patented knock-off of the Lucas-Spielberg classic, "King Solomon's Mines" was scripted by the prolific Gene Quintano and James R. Silke, and directed by J. Lee Thompson, who became a mainstay at the company during most of the '80s. The interplay between Stone (who, for some odd reason, I find more engaging here than in most of her later roles) and Chamberlain is forced and was clearly influenced by the Harrison Ford-Kate Capshaw romance of "Temple of Doom," yet the movie nevertheless manages to work as one of Cannon's most entertaining pictures. There was enough of a budget on-hand to provide the film with solid cinematography (by Alex Phillips) and a few good stunts, while the presence of Goldsmith's score gives the picture a touch of class that most Cannon films never had.

The fun, though, quickly dissipated in the tedious sequel ALLAN QUATERMAIN AND THE LOST CITY OF GOLD (*1/2, 100 mins., 1987, PG-13; MGM), which was shot virtually back-to-back with its predecessor.

Unfortunately, this lame follow-up is a comedown in every department, from Michael Linn's drab score (Goldsmith's themes are recycled, without the composer receiving credit!), down to an inferior supporting cast (Henry Silva?), and TV vet Gary Nelson's direction. I'm sure James Earl Jones is having a much better time doing his Verizon commercials than he did making this one, which sports a cameo by Cassandra "Elvira" Peterson and a few unintended laughs -- but sadly not enough to compensate for what's an unfortunately dull ride the rest of the way.

Both movies, though, should provide solid entertainment for '80s action buffs, and MGM's DVD presentations both look nifty. The 2.35 transfers improve both pictures immeasurably, though in a disappointing move for widescreen TV owners, only "Allan Quatermain" has been enhanced for 16:9. The stereo soundtracks are robust and the original trailers are included on both films.

Even better for actions fans is the widescreen DVD debut of Paul Verhoeven's tough, exciting FLESH + BLOOD (***, 128 mins., 1985, Unrated; MGM), featuring the expanded European cut making its debut in the U.S. for the first time.

This tale of a mercenary (Rutger Hauer) who spars with a nobleman's son (Tom Burlinson) over his young bride-to-be (Jennifer Jason Leigh, who never looked better than here) during the Middle Ages is classic Verhoeven: gritty, graphic, and not especially politically correct. Then again, this WAS Europe in the early 1500's, and Verhoeven (along with screenwriter Gerard Soeteman) isn't a romanticist: there's plenty of carnage, sex, rape, violence, and gore to go around, so squeamish viewers should beware.

If you're up for the ride, MGM's DVD finally restores the movie to watchable, 2.35 proportions, which go a long way to making the movie accessible for the first time for many viewers. Jan DeBont's cinematography is one of the movie's chief assets and previous cropped versions didn't convey the sense of the scope his original compositions contained. The Dolby Stereo surround is also adequate, and what's more, MGM has included several special features to make the release even more enticing.

Chief among the supplements is a featurette with composer Basil Poledouris, who provides a powerful score that has become something of a soundtrack fan's staple after its early release on the Varese CD Club. Poledouris discusses his collaboration with Verhoeven and scoring the film, in a similar fashion to his interview on MGM's international "Conan the Destroyer" Special Edition DVD (in fact, it seems to have been shot at the exact same time).

It's a nice extra on a disc that also includes a typically fiery, rambling Verhoeven commentary and the original trailer. Recommended, but only if you can handle the gore!

March DVD Release Schedule

March 3
Cold Creek Manor
Good Boy
Night Crossing
School of Rock

March 9
Raquel Welch Collection (including One Million Years B.C.)
Schindler's List
Ten Commandments (New Special Edition)

March 16
21 Grams
The Commitments
Flintstones: Season One
Last Unicorn
Running Man: Special Edition
Wrong is Right

March 23
Beyond Borders
For Keeps
Fresh Horses
John Carpenter: The Man and His Movies
Osterman Weekend
Ransom (Special Edition)
Splash (Special Edition)

March 30
Final Countdown (Limited Edition and regular release)
House of Sand and Fog
Jack Paar Collection
Panic Room (Special Edition)

Aisle Seat DVD Picks of the Week

RUNAWAY JURY (***, 2003). Fox, PG-13, 127 minutes. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: 2.35 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

Agreeable enough variation on the John Grisham novel (which at one point was to have starred Sean Connery) finds jury "fixer" Gene Hackman doing battle with a juror (John Cusack) over the fate of a verdict in a high- profile gun control case. While prosecutor Dustin Hoffman tries to stick to doing his job, Cusack and his accomplice (Rachel Weisz) try to extort $10 million from both Hoffman and Hackman, who's working for the gun manufacturers and will stop at nothing to win the trial.

"Runaway Jury" was a long-in-gestation project, which might account for four different screenwriters being credited on it. Grisham's original story actually centered on the tobacco industry, but the switch (presumably made to avoid similarities with "The Insider') works better than you might anticipate. Sure, there are times when the movie has a workmanlike feel, and the supporting jurors are poorly developed (Jennifer Beals receives prominent billing but not one line of dialogue), but director Gary Fleder ("Don't Say a Word") knows how to fashion a compelling thriller, even of the formulaic variety, and as a result "Runaway Jury" works. The performances of Cusack, Hoffman and Hackman are all fine; Weisz, though, seems a little out of her element in a role that might have been better served by a bit more star power.

Fox's Special Edition DVD offers a running commentary from the director, plus featurettes on the making of the movie. Most revealing is a segment showing Hackman and Hoffman rehearsing, marking the first time the two stars have shared a scene together after all these years. Several brief deleted scenes are a bit of a disappointment (surely more material had to have been cut from the movie), but the 2.35 transfer is excellent as is the 5.1 Dolby Digital audio, sporting an effective underscore by Christopher Young.

CHAPPELLE'S SHOW: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (2003), available today. Paramount. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Selected commentaries, deleted segments.

PUNK'D: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (2003). Paramount. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Selected commentaries, deleted segments. Comic Dave Chappelle's hilarious Comedy Central series has been issued on DVD in a two-disc Paramount set that preserves the ribald, profane, and often uproariously funny sketch comedy's first season.

There isn't anything sacred on "Chappelle's Show," with each program devoting its time to a broad series of sketches that satirize modern culture -- especially movies and TV -- as well as interracial relations. The latter is skewered in a hysterical "Frontline" parody in which Chappelle plays Clayton Brigsby, a blind white separatist who doesn't know he's black! Other hilarious bits include a "My Left Foot" parody that left me in stitches, as well as on-target spoofs of those anti-tobacco ads, the WB, and DVD outtake reels (from "Roots"!).

Paramount has released the show uncensored on DVD, meaning it's filled with every bad word imaginable and a few fleeting glimpses of nudity that were obviously obscured when aired on Comedy Central. That said, this is some of the most consistently funny material you'll see anywhere on TV, and the DVD box set also features commentaries on several episodes and a deleted scenes/blooper reel. The full-screen transfers and Dolby Surround tracks are both fine.

Is there anything more entertaining than seeing celebrities being taken down by a pre-adolescent red carpet interviewer? Ashton Kutcher serves as host and roast-master of PUNK'D, the MTV version of "TV Bloopers and Practical Jokes," with the accent on ribbing celebrities that its target demographic would identify with: Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, Mandy Moore, and Eliza Dushku among others.

The skits are actually funny -- mainly due to the victims' constant exasperation at the predicaments they find themselves in -- and, for me, evoked plenty of fond memories of watching Dick Clark and Ed McMahon grilling the likes of Ann Jillian and Pat Morita (who, come to think of it, didn't find the practical joke played on him especially funny).

Paramount's two-disc DVD set contains uncensored versions of the first season episodes, plus selected commentaries by Kutcher and co- conspirator Dax Shepard, a few segments that never made it to air, deleted scenes and menus hosted by Kutcher. While I'm still at a loss to explain his popularity (I guess not being a 16-year-old girl doesn't help), at least he did a solid job producing an agreeably goofy show that you needn't be familiar with the celebrities being targeted to enjoy.

Also New on DVD

IN THE CUT (*1/2, 2003). Columbia TriStar, Unrated (R rated version available separately), 114 minutes. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Commentary by the filmmakers; trailer; 1.85 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

Grimy "sensual thriller" stars mousy Meg Ryan as a wallflower who's looking to break out of her sexual slump. Meanwhile, just as a series of murders plague New York, Ryan engages in an affair with cop Mark Ruffalo, while all signs point to someone around Ryan as the murderer -- possibly Ruffalo, her ex-lover Kevin Bacon, or maybe herself!!

Jane Campion's career as a filmmaker has been a hit-or-miss affair, and "In the Cut" -- based on a novel by Susanna Moore -- definitely fits into the "miss" category. This is an ugly and poorly scripted mystery-thriller filled with depressing characters that tries so desperately hard to be "edgy" and "provocative" it misfires totally on the dramatic level. Ryan seems at a loss to project any nuances in her role aside from the many "realistic" sex scenes, while Campion and cinematographer Dion Beebe accentuate the "dark underside" of New York in a movie that ultimately is neither provocative or satisfying on any kind of aesthetic or dramatic level. I assume Campion took the reigns of "In the Cut" so she could make a commercial thriller (Nicole Kidman is also one of the producers), yet despite her pedigree having made pictures like "The Piano," she proves here that she's no more successful in the genre than your typical Hollywood hack.

Columbia TriStar has issued two different DVD packages for "In the Cut." Both features are 16:9 enhanced, but the Unrated Version reviewed here boasts less than a minute of added sex. The 5.1 sound design is adequate, and for extras, the studio has included a commentary track with the director, along with a Making Of featurette.

If seeing Meg Ryan nude is enough to satisfy you, then by all means give "In the Cut" a view. There's plenty of sex, but not much of a movie in it.

DICKIE ROBERTS: FORMER CHILD STAR (**, 2003). 98 mins., PG-13, Paramount. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Two commentary tracks; Featurettes; Deleted Scenes; Music Video; 2.35 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

Good-hearted but unfunny David Spade comedy stars the comic as the title character -- a one-time TV moppet who finds life after fame to be a real drag. Dickie hangs out with pals Barry Williams (Greg Brady), Dustin Diamond (Screech), Corey Feldman ('nuff said), and Leif Garrett, all of whom lament their lack of adulthood success, at least until Dickie finds a comeback vehicle in the new film from Rob Reiner (playing, unsurprisingly, himself).

Reiner tells Dickie that he has no perspective on playing a "normal guy," which leads Roberts to "hire" a regular family in the hopes of living through a childhood he never had.

Adam Sandler co-produced this cameo-filled vehicle, which has a few amusing lines but is basically flat throughout. The former kid stars are fun to see together, but Spade isn't especially interesting and the movie never develops its premise beyond its first five minutes: the opening "E! True Hollywood Story" is, tellingly, funnier than the rest of the movie.

Paramount's Special Edition DVD does include one great extra: an extended music video of the closing credit song, crooned by what appears to be every major child sitcom star who's still alive and kicking. A handful of deleted scenes and numerous Making Of featurettes are included, along with a 2.35 widescreen transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

COMIC BOOK: THE MOVIE (**, 2003). 109 mins., PG-13, Buena Vista. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Commentary, Making Of, deleted scenes; full-frame format (shot for 1.33), 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

Disappointing Mark Hamill pseudo-documentary about a comic book fan (himself) recruited to serve as a consultant for a movie about his favorite super hero. The "plot" is basically just an excuse for Hamill and company to improvise at a San Diego comic convention, where they meet up with all kinds of familiar faces (Bruce Campbell, Kevin Smith, and a few "Star Wars" alumni among them).

I wanted to like "Comic Book," which certainly has its heart in the right place and obviously was made with a great deal of affection by Hamill. Unfortunately, the film is rarely funny, with too much of the humor feeling forced and a lot of it lingering on far too long -- a good half-hour (or more) could have been cut with no problem. While comic book fans will enjoy the cameos, I can imagine an hour-long public access documentary (played straight) would have been just as satisfying than the "Spinal Tap"-like feature Hamill tried to produce here.

Buena Vista's DVD is superb, packed with special features including commentary, deleted scenes, featurettes, and more. The two-disc set includes a full-frame transfer (how the film was originally shot) and a surprisingly good Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack.

THE LION KING 1 1/2 (**1/2, 2004). 77 mins., G, Disney. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: 1.66 Widescreen, 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital sound; deleted scenes; interactive games, featurettes.

Cute made-for-video sequel to "The Lion King" is a good deal more satisfying than most recent Disney video projects.

That's undoubtedly due to the involvement of original film personnel like Matthew Broderick, Ernie Sabella and Nathan Lane, the latter duo reprising their Timon and Pumbaa characters, who serve as the centerpiece of this animated follow-up. Elton John and Tim Rice, meanwhile, were recruited to provide a few songs (or at least polish off some discarded tracks from the original), which also gives the movie a touch of class that the majority of the studio's small-screen efforts have lacked. Though the story isn't nearly as compelling as its big-screen predecessor, it's an engaging affair that young kids should enjoy.

Disney's two-disc DVD set has also -- no surprise here -- targeted the small fry in its special features. There are plenty of interactive games for the kids, as well as a few jokey featurettes (including a Peter Graves profile of Timon) that adults should enjoy as well. The 1.66 widescreen transfer is terrific and the animation is also a cut above for made-for-video fare, while the 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital soundtracks are bouncy and upbeat.

THE ANIMAL: UNCUT (*1/2, 2001). 84 mins., Columbia TriStar, Unrated (originally PG-13). DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: 1.85 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound; commentaries, featurette.

Rob Schneider's antics are more accepted here than in some areas of the internet (yes, I liked "Deuce Bigalo"!), but even I had a hard time with this silly -- and only intermittently amusing -- concoction starring the comic as a regular guy who, thanks to the miracle of a mad scientist, acquires the powers of our animal friends.

Even as a broad farce goes, "The Animal" strikes out in the laugh department one too many times to really score, which is unfortunate because the performances are game -- including one-time "Survivor" contestant Colleen Haskell as Schneider's love interest. The script is just too slight and the gags misfire too often for the 80-some-odd minute picture to work.

If you ARE a Schneider addict (and can't wait for the release of "Harve the Barbarian"), by all means check out Columbia's "Uncut" DVD, which restores a few minutes of footage that were trimmed from the theatrical release. Since I hadn't seen the movie previously I can't discern the difference between the two versions, but I'm sure someone out there will be receptive to the changes. Additional special features from the earlier DVD have been ported over, including commentary from director Luke Greenfield and another track with Schneider. The 1.85 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound are both perfectly acceptable.

MEMORIES (***, 1996). 114 mins., PG-13, Columbia TriStar. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Interviews with the directors, featurettes, 1.85 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

Impressive, entertaining anime anthology from writer Katsuhiro Otomo boasts three separate stories by the anime auteur, each with its own unique visual design and tone.

The first entry, "Magnetic Rose," is the most visually inspired and satisfying of the trio. A deep-space salvage expedition hears an SOS signal sent out by a vessel containing the memories of a faded opera singer whose life ended tragically. Despite her apparent demise, there's enough of her presence left to try and seduce two of the men into her ghostly world, and let's just say it doesn't end happily.

Otomo's "Stink Bomb," directed by Koji Morimoto, balances off the deadly serious tone of the first entry with a story of a young scientist who ends up becoming a virus that takes out anyone who comes in contact with him. The humor is decidedly black, but it's an amusing piece, albeit the slightest of the three.

"Memories" is capped off by Otomo's own "Cannon Fodder," a strange tale of a young boy on a distant, militant world who wants to grow up to launch cannon fire at an unknown presence outside his world. This intriguingly designed story, the shortest of the three, contrasts cartoony children with their weary, frail parents on a world where giant cannons rule society. I'm not entirely sure what the point was (unless the disparity in the character design WAS the point), but it's interesting nevertheless.

Anime fans should savor Columbia's DVD presentation, which treats the source material right: the original Japanese 5.1 track is included and sounds superb, with a nicely-textured sound design sporting impressive original scores by Yoko Kanno, Jun Miyaki, and Hiroyuki Nagashima. The 16:9 enhanced widescreen transfer is also excellent (with subtitles running just below the frame), and special features include interviews with the filmmakers and "pilot films" for each of the three stories.

MASKED AND ANONYMOUS (*1/2, 2003). 106 mins., R, Columbia TriStar. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Commentary, deleted scenes, making of; 1.78 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

Utterly bizarre, nearly-indescribable mess stars none other than Bob Dylan as a songwriter whose manager (John Goodman) springs him out of a south-of-the-border jail just in time to perform in a TV concert. From there, Jeff Bridges, Penelope Cruz, Angela Bassett, Ed Harris, Val Kilmer, Christian Slater, Jessica Lange, and Luke Wilson pop up in roles so strange that the mind boggles as to why so many familiar faces decided to participate in this barely-seen indie film.

The plot seems to be an excuse for Dylan and his band to perform live in concert, but even as a musical piece "Masked and Anonymous" strikes out. Part of the reason is due to the flat, uninspired Dolby Digital 5.1 audio on Columbia's DVD, which only uses the three center channels and is so quiet that you'll need to push the volume up to max in order to coax any presence out of it. The rest of the movie is a surreal mismash of political satire, comedy and thriller, and is best left for die-hard Dylan fans only.

The DVD also includes a commentary by director Larry Charles, several deleted scenes culled off a workprint, and a Making Of featurette. Strange, odd, and none of it in a good way, either.

New Vintage Titles on DVD

THE CHASE (1966, **1/2). 133 mins., Columbia TriStar, available this week. DVD FEATURES: 2.35 Widescreen, Dolby Digital mono.

Convict Robert Redford escapes from prison just in time to find his wife Jane Fonda involved with oil mogul E.G. Marshall's son (James Fox), and an uncompromising sheriff (Marlon Brando) hot on his tail in Horton Foote's rural melodrama that boasts a great cast in a movie that still, after all these years, comes off as underwhelming.

It certainly wasn't not for lack of trying: Arthur Penn was hired to direct Sam Spiegel's production, with a few key members of the James Bond team brought in for good measure (including Maurice Binder, who designed the main titles, and composer John Barry, who provided a low-key, atmospheric score). Brando, Fonda, and Redford offer solid performances, with a supporting cast that's just as good: Marshall, Angie Dickinson (as Brando's wife), Robert Duvall, and even a young Paul Williams. "The Chase" has it all on paper, yet the reason why it's become a forgotten film over the years is because, somewhere along the line, the movie lost its way. The story isn't compelling enough, the characters not sufficiently interesting, and the movie's ending too obvious, leaving you to concentrate on the star power, which only carries the movie to a certain extent. Problems involving Penn, Spielgel, and screenwriter Lillian Hellman were reportedly part of the trouble, which wouldn't have been surprising given the final result.

Columbia's DVD does a superb job preserving the movie on disc: the 2.35 widescreen transfer (16:9 enhanced) is solid, offering a fresh-looking print and not as much grain as you might expect. The mono sound is weak, though, failing to do justice to Barry's score. No extras are included.

WE'RE NO ANGELS (***, 1989). 107 mins., PG-13, Paramount. DVD FEATURES: 2.35 Widescreen, Dolby Surround stereo.

This big-budget collaboration between screenwriter David Mamet, director Neil Jordan, and stars Robert DeNiro and Sean Penn was intended to be one of the big hits of the 1989 holiday season. Unfortunately, "We're No Angels" struck out at the box-office, and has never been treated properly on video since its original release.

The good news is that Paramount has finally rectified that situation with the release of their widescreen DVD, which captures the movie's full Panavision image for the first time on video. The anamorphic dimensions restore much of the film's polished visual sheen, from Philippe Rousselot's cinematography to Wolf Kroeger's production design, and enhance the movie's gentle comic drama of two convicts who escape from prison and pretend to be priests in a small town on the Canadian border.

Audiences weren't receptive to the movie's light humor (a remake of the 1955 Humphrey Bogart film), but I've always found it to be an under- rated and entertaining piece with solid performances from the two leads and able support provided by Demi Moore, Bruno Kirby, and Hoyt Axton, not to mention George Fenton's superb score.

The 2.35 DVD transfer is exceptional and the 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack much more potent than you'd anticipate from a late '80s film of this sort.

PERMANENT RECORD (***, 1988). 91 mins., PG-13, Paramount. DVD FEATURES: 1.85 Widescreen, Ultra Stereo 2.0 surround.

Sensitive, straight-forward drama about teen suicide, well-made and performed.

Keanu Reeves plays an Oregon high schooler who enjoys rock 'n roll and hanging out with his best friend Chris (Alan Boyce), who seems to have all the answers and his act totally together, at least in appearance. Nobody -- not Chris' friends or his guidance counselor -- can see his eventual suicide coming, which shatters the lives of everyone around him, sending all scrambling for answers.

Frederick Elmes has shot many of David Lynch's films, and his cinematography here lends a strong assist to a quietly moving film, nicely written by Jarre Fees, Alice Liddle, and playwright Larry Ketron, and capably directed by Marisa Silver. Reeves is good in easily one of his best "juvenile" performances, while Michelle Meyrink, Jennifer Rubin, and Richard Bradford shine in supporting roles.

Paramount's DVD offers a strong 1.85 transfer with a 2.0 "Ultra Stereo" soundtrack, including a handful of rock tracks and original score by Joe Strummer.

NEXT TIME: Back with more reviews, comments and analysis!


Get Firefox!