2/28/12 EditionTwitter @THEAISLESEATCOM

Column Archive                              Message Board                                   Contact                                Aisle Seat FAQ
Warner Releases John Ford's Classic in HD

The first film in John Ford’s celebrated “cavalry trilogy” (which would be followed by the superb “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon” and “Rio Grande”), Warner Home Video brings FORT APACHE (***½, 128 mins.) to Blu-Ray this month in a satisfying 1080p transfer, crisply delivering the film’s original B&W cinematography.

John Wayne, Henry Fonda, John Agar, Pedro Armendariz and Shirley Temple starred alongside a number of familiar faces from Ford’s stock company in this 1948 western classic, which features an interesting script by Frank S. Nugent that portrays Fonda’s arrogant West Point grad, newly assigned to commandeer the isolated outpost of Ford Apache, in at times unflattering terms. The film is rich with humor and action, yet also paints Native Americans with a sensitivity few other movies did in the ‘40s, and seeing Fonda and Wayne play off each other, and against their usual ‘type,’ makes the film a certified classic.

Warner’s Blu-Ray includes a commentary from F.X. Feeney and the featurette “Monument Valley: John Ford Country” that was included on the prior DVD release. Again, the high-def transfer on-hand here is superb, while DTS MA audio renders the original monophonic soundtrack as best it can be replicated. The trailer is also on-hand.

Also New From Warner Home Video

Clint Eastwood’s laid-back cinematic approach and an unconvincing performance from Leonardo DiCaprio made for the wrong mix in J. EDGAR (**, 137 mins., 2011, R; Warner), an eagerly-awaited but disappointing bio-pic that failed to generate either the box-office revenues or critical acclaim the project aspired to.

Right off the bat, DiCaprio seems like a young man playing dress up as the controversial, long-time head of the FBI – particularly in his pasty “old age” make-up, where an elderly Hoover recounts the cases and events that shaped decades of his law-enforcement career. A fair amount of time in Dustin Lance Black’s script is devoted to the Lindburgh baby kidnapping, his pursuit of John Dillinger, Hoover’s development of the FBI and constant battles with politicians and legislators over the scope of its power, and, eventually, his personal life – including his closeted homosexuality, as embodied by his relationship with second-in-command Clyde Tolson (an ineffective Armie Hammer), treated here in a decidedly “chaste” manner.

With an unappealing, muted color scheme, “J. Edgar” looks appropriately drab  and never believably conveys its era or Hoover himself. DiCaprio doesn’t have the gravitas to pull off the role and Black’s script falls back on narration to cover a disjointed script that dramatically never builds momentum. The movie feels like bits and pieces of an interesting profile of Hoover’s life and times but never gets under the surface – it’s like watching a cinematic rendering of Wikipedia. Perhaps with more punch and urgency Black’s approach might’ve worked better, but under the guidance of Eastwood, the film moves at a somnambulant pace, ranking (regrettably) as a fitting companion piece with Eastwood’s similarly slow-going recent fare (“The Changeling” and “Hereafter” in particular).

Warner’s Blu-Ray offers a combo pack with a DVD and Ultraviolet digital copy. The 1080p transfer accurately renders Tom Stern’s unappealing cinematography while the DTS MA soundtrack is serviceable, once again offering a tepid score credited to Eastwood himself. Extra features are few and far between – just a singular featurette profiling Hoover and the film’s creation are included, which does, at least, reveal that Black appears to be even younger than DiCaprio himself!   

JUSTICE LEAGUE: DOOM Blu-Ray/DVD/Ultraviolet Digital Copy (77 mins., 2012, PG-13; Warner): The latest DC Animated Movie is one of the better efforts from Warner Home Video’s animation unit of late. When Batman’s files on his fellow Justice League heroes fall into the wrong hands, the team assembles to combat a menace that knows exactly how to exploit their weaknesses. A solid script from writer Dwayne McDuffie (who passed away before the project was completed), “Doom” ought to satisfy fans of the JLA animated series and DC buffs in general, with fine voice acting (from Kevin Conroy, Tim Daly, Nathan Fillion among others) and decent animation values to boot. Warner’s Blu-Ray includes an exclusive team commentary, two featurettes and a digital JLA comic book (“Tower of Babel”) which inspired the production. Other extras include two bonus cartoons, a profile of McDuffie, and a preview of the next DC production, “Superman vs. The Elite.”

GAME OF THRONES Season 1 Blu-Ray (600 mins., 2011; HBO): Sprawling, ambitious adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s acclaimed “A Song of Ice and Fire” novels from David Benioff and D.B. Weiss garnered all kinds of attention a year ago, and with good reason. Though leisurely paced, “Game of Thrones” is an enthralling chronicle of the fantastical Seven Kingdoms of Westeros and the various factions and families that populate it, with plenty of intrigue and action interspersed along the way. Martin’s dense fantasy tomes could only be adapted in this manner, and HBO brings their usual outstanding production values to the series with strong performances from Sean Bean and especially Peter Dinklage who deservedly copped a number of awards for his portrayal of Tyrion Lannister. HBO’s Blu-Ray box includes superb 1080p transfers and 5.1 DTS MA soundtracks; extras include a number of fine commentaries involving Benioff, Weiss and Martin among others; a Blu-Ray guide to Westeros; pop-up content; hidden extras (all exclusive to BD); plus several behind-the-scenes featurettes. Highly recommended!

New on Blu-Ray

MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE Blu-Ray (**½, 102 mins., 2011, R; Fox): Independent – and overpraised – psychological thriller follows a young woman named Martha (Elizabeth Olson) who walks out of a cult and back into the home of her estranged sister (Sarah Paulson), who, along with her husband (Hugh Dancy), is puzzled by her sibling’s erratic and increasingly odd behavior.

Sean Durkin wrote and directed “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” a film which didn’t make much noise in theaters but was a darling among critics last year. The movie unfolds slowly, showing fragments of Martha’s existence in the cult and her relationship with its seedy leader (John Hawkes) as flashbacks while she struggles in the present to overcome her life there and the brainwashing – and assault – she endured. The movie has some effective scenes and is backed by believable performances, especially from Olson (the younger sister of “Full House” twins/tabloid favorites Mary-Kate and Ashley) and Paulson as her sibling, who tries to be sympathetic – almost to a fault.

Unfortunately the film’s pace is so slow and so little ultimately happens in the film that it makes the lack of development of Martha’s backstory a particularly glaring missing element. There’s no attempt to show Martha’s life before she joined the cult, making the seemingly easy transition every character in the film has to freely joining Hawkes’ deranged group seem less than convincing (you’d almost believe Hawkes and his associates were vampires the way they so easily seduce young women to join his gang). With the movie meandering on, you just know Durkin is holding the film’s most graphic and “shocking” flashback for the climax, which he does – but then the film ends just when it’s becoming genuinely interesting.

Still worth a view for the conviction of its performances, Fox brings “Martha Marcy May Marlene” to Blu-Ray this month. The film was shot quite modestly and the digital-video AVC encoded transfer is just okay, appearing overly bright on balance. The DTS MA soundtrack is low-key, with extras including Durkin’s short “Mary Last Seen,” several featurettes and a music video with Hawkes.

FOOTLOOSE Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital Copy (***, 113 mins., 2011, PG-13; Paramount): Now here’s a legitimate surprise: a faithful remake of the ‘80s Kevin Bacon “let’s dance!” teen hit that’s been atmospherically shot by director Craig Brewer and enthusiastically performed.

Kenny Wormald steps into Bacon’s shoes and brings more of a Mark Wahlberg-like sensibility to his performance as a Boston teenager who moves to Texas after the death of his mother. Things in the small-town Southwest don’t go smoothly for Wormald, especially after he learns that dancing (gasp!) has been outlawed by the town council. Dennis Quaid, meanwhile, takes on the John Lithgow role of the preacher mending his local flock (still reeling from the death of several high school seniors, including his own son, in a car accident), while Julianne Hough makes a strong case that she’s better suited to the role of Quaid’s rebellious teen daughter than Lori Singer was in the original.

Shot in Georgia, the new “Footloose” won’t hold any surprises to those who watched the original (this is most certainly a remake and not a “reimagining”), yet it’s sincerely made and Brewer – helmer of “Hustle and Flow” and the terrific “Blake Snake Moan” – infuses the material with a good amount of location shooting and local color. The story takes its time developing characters, there’s chemistry between the leads, the dance sequences are well-executed, and the soundtrack deftly updates the classic pop tunes from its predecessor, as well as reincorporates a few of the original performances (like Denise Williams’ “Let’s Hear It For the Boy”) back into the story effectively. The film is lively and fun, if not overly (and expectedly) familiar.

Paramount’s Blu-Ray of the 2011 “Footloose” looks dynamic with a colorful 1080p AVC encoded transfer. The DTS MA soundtrack is expectedly rocking while extras include several deleted scenes, commentary from Brewer, several featurettes, a DVD feature film and Ultraviolet/standard digital copy.

PUSS IN BOOTS 3-D Blu-Ray/Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital Copy (***, 90 mins., 2011, PG; Dreamworks/Paramount): Cute, appealing off-shoot of the “Shrek” series gives the Antonio Banderas-voiced feline swashbuckler his own feature to star in. The result is an unabashedly gorgeous visual treat that ought to please adult viewers with its 3-D visuals while kids should enjoy the slapstick antics. Here, Puss – much like Shrek – has to save his fractured fairy tale world from the conniving Jack and Jill (voiced by Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Sedaris) with the help of Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek) and Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifanakis). “Puss in Boots” doesn’t offer many surprises, yet it’s superior to the last couple of “Shrek” films, moves at a good clip, and ranked as one of the better animated movies of last year. Dreamworks’ multi-disc combo package sports a sensational 3-D 1080p transfer that makes good use of the technology along with a standard Blu-Ray, DVD and a digital copy. Extras include several format-exclusive supplements (trivia track, an interactive game and “Animator’s Corner”) along with deleted scenes and numerous behind-the-scenes segments, plus other interactive content aimed at younger viewers.

Another 3-D darling, Martin Scorsese’s celebrated – though costly – adaptation of Brian Selznick’s “The Invention of Hugo Cabaret,” here simply titled HUGO (***, 126 mins., 2011, PG) also arrives on Blu-Ray this month. Scorsese’s attempt at making a children’s movie after a career spent turning out adult fare, “Hugo” is a bit too long and I could have done without Sacha Baron Cohen’s heavy-handed train inspector, yet there are some truly magical moments in its chronicle of a Parisian orphan trying to find his place in the world during the early ‘30s. It’s a paean to movie making, Méliès, the city of Paris and the magic of the everyday world all at once, and Scorsese brings viewers some enchanting moments – though the sometimes-languid pacing is likely to put off certain younger viewers for whom the film was intended (something that would explain the film’s mediocre box-office receipts).

Shot in 3-D, “Hugo” likely loses some of its appeal in the conversion to 2-D, though the film is certainly still watchable in Paramount’s regular Blu-Ray edition, which includes a 1080p transfer and DTS MA soundtrack. Extras include numerous behind-the-scenes featurettes chronicling the production, along with a DVD and digital copy.

JACK AND JILL Blu-Ray (*½, 91 mins., 2011, PG; Sony): For a while now Adam Sandler’s annual comedy outings seem as if they’ve been embraced strictly by the comedian’s fans, who managed to turn mediocre tripe like “Just Go With It” and “Grown Ups” into $100-million plus box-office hits.

Unfortunately for Sandler, his string of dependable box-office performers ran out with the awful “Jack and Jill,” a belabored farce that offers Sandler as both an L.A. ad exec/family man and his obnoxious sister, who gets into all kinds of trouble with Sandler’s wife Katie Holmes and their kids. Sandler recruited numerous familiar faces (past co-stars from Rob Schneider to Drew Barrymore) for cameo roles and brought pal Dennis Dugan into helm “Jack and Jill,” but despite a game attempt by Al Pacino (these days it’s sadly not a surprise to see Pacino slumming in this kind of thing) to inject some life into the material, the movie can never overcome the simple fact that Sandler looks, sounds, and acts so ridiculous as Jill that the film’s attempts to be occasionally heart-tugging are laughably insane.

Sony’s Blu-Ray includes deleted scenes, a blooper reel, several behind-the-scenes featurettes (a couple of which are exclusive to Blu-Ray), plus a 1080p transfer and DTS MA soundtrack.

MANDRILL Blu-Ray (88 mins., 2009, R; Magnolia): Chilean action import – with a heaping of silliness – stars Ernesto Diaz Espinoza as an orphan seeking vengeance for the murder of his parents. Now an assassin, “Mandrill”’s job is to take out the men responsible for their deaths, but ends up falling for the daughter of the mobster casino owner who happens to be his latest target. Diaz Espinoza also directed “Mandrill,” which generated a fair amount of acclaim from critics and hits Blu-Ray domestically as a good-looking Magnolia Blu-Ray that also includes a pair of behind-the-scenes featurettes, a 1080p transfer and DTS MA 5.1 soundtrack in both English (dubbed) and Spanish with English subtitles.

COLUMBUS CIRCLE Blu-Ray (86 mins., 2012, PG-13; Universal): Independently-produced thriller (with several cast members and even composer Brian Tyler also serving as Executive Producers) stars Selma Blair as an agoraphobic New York City heiress forced to leave her sheltered existence when an elderly neighbor dies and a detective (Giovanni Ribisi) comes into investigate. Things get even more complicated once a couple (Amy Smart, Jason Lee) move in next door in this film from “29th Street” director (and “Midnight Run” writer) George Gallo, who co-authored the script with co-star Kevin Pollak. Although the film didn’t receive a theatrical release, Universal brings “Columbus Circle” to Blu-Ray next week with a 1080p transfer and DTS MA soundtrack.

New From Shout! Factory

Christopher Reeve had a difficult time finding success on-screen outside of his performances as the Man of Steel. While working on the first three “Superman” films, Reeve made a trio of films that met with mediocre box-office: the 1980 Jeannot Swarzc adaptation of Richard Matheson’s “Somewhere in Time” (some of Reeve’s finest work), the film version of the hit Broadway play “Deathtrap” with Michael Caine, and MONSIGNOR (121 mins., 1982, R), which Shout! has recently released on DVD.

This Fox release from director Frank Perry stars Reeve as an ambitious priest living in Rome during WWII, who utilizes his place behind the altar to maneuver the Church in a number of business dealings: first smuggling cigarettes with the help of an army sergeant (Joe Cortese) and a local mafioso (Jason Miller), then buying real estate in an effort to make his way up the ladder of the Catholic Church hierarchy. Along the way he falls for a nun (Genevieve Bujold) without telling her of his true occupation, leading to a fantastic sequence in the halls of the Vatican itself.

The singular moment in which Bujold finds out what Reeve has been concealing to her – set to John Williams’ spectacularly gorgeous rendition of “Gloria” – is the undisputed highlight of “Monsignor,” an otherwise workmanlike adaptation of a French novel scripted by Abraham Polonsky and veteran screenwriter Wendell Mayes. Shot on location, the movie benefits enormously from Williams’ better-than-the-material-deserves scoring, particularly since the film aesthetically is otherwise unremarkable. Perry’s direction is routine and Billy Williams’ flat cinematography comes off more like a TV-movie than a feature film. Reeve, meanwhile, gives a believable performance here in a film that the actor claimed was ruined in the editing room – something that might explain the film’s episodic approach, as the film moves from one element of its plot to the next without any type of passion or cohesion (once Bujold departs the film, for example, that whole element of the movie simply ends).

For a film that portrays its main character as a conflicted soul who represses his emotions, it’s ironic that “Monsignor” itself is so dispassionate – yet at the same time, it’s watchable enough, mainly through Reeve’s performance and Williams’ score.

Shout!’s DVD features a good, though not great, 16:9 (1.66) DVD transfer of “Monsignor.” The film’s visuals aren’t anything to write home about to begin with, but the DVD’s transfer does little to enhance the presentation. The mono sound fails to support Williams’ music, being typical of studio productions that were the last to see a wide release without Dolby Stereo recording.

Also new from Shout! is a Fox double feature including a pair of ‘70s actioners: the violent THE LAST HARD MEN and SKY RIDERS, both starring James Coburn in a contrasting pair of roles.

In “The Last Hard Men,” Coburn plays an outlaw wanting to exact revenge for the death of his love at the hands of Charlton Heston’s man of the peace. Andrew V. McLaglen’s film is a tough, late-period western (with a deserved R rating) co-starring Barbara Hershey as Heston’s daughter (whom Coburn abducts) and featuring a fine, though not overly memorable, Jerry Goldsmith score.

“Sky Riders,” meanwhile, finds Coburn as the ex-husband of Susannah York, who’s kidnapped along with her children from second husband Robert Culp. Culp then hires Coburn and his team of sky-gliders to save the day in a brief, 90-minute programmer produced by Sandy Howard and co-written by Howard’s “A Man Called Horse” writer Jack DeWitt. Lalo Schifrin’s score and Greg MacGillivray’s aerial photography are the standout elements in a film that’s been presented here – along with “The Last Hard Men” – in 16:9 (1.85) transfers that are at least superior to “Monsignor.”

On the animation front, Shout! has a pair of new offerings on-tap:

THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN: Season 2 DVD (5 hours, 1991; Shout!): Steven Spielberg’s CGI animated adaptation of the Herge comic strip performed only moderately well at the U.S. box-office, which was no surprise given the lack of familiarity from most domestic viewers. With the film due out on home video next month, Shout! has wisely decided to release Season 2 of the 1991-93 series “The Adventures of Tintin” as a DVD tie-in. This double-disc set includes 13 more episodes from the Nelvana-animated, Canadian/French series’ sophomore season (“The Shooting Star,” “The Broken Ear” parts 1 and 2, “King Ottokar’s Sceptre” parts 1 and 2, “Tintin in Tibet” parts 1 and 2, “Tintin and the Picaros” parts 1 and 2, “Land of Black Gold” parts 1 and 2, and “Flight 714" parts 1 and 2). The transfers are fine given the scope of the animation and stereo soundtracks grace each episode.

TRANSFORMERS PRIME: Season 1 Blu-Ray (106 mins., 2011; Shout!): Screenwriters Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci helped develop this new animated TV series featuring the popular Hasbro characters. Colorfully rendered with CGI, the series – which aired last year on the Hub channel – finds the Autobots again going up against the Deceptions, but with the help from a trio of young kids – and a special government agent (voiced by Ernie Hudson) – who aid them in their battle.

Though naturally aimed at youngsters, “Transformers Prime” is candy-coated, good-looking entertainment for Transformers fans as well, and Shout!’s Blu-Ray package includes dynamic 1080p transfers that ought to dazzle viewers in HD. 5.1 audio tracks and a number of extras complete the package, including commentaries, a Making Of special, toy featurette, Season 2 preview, and – in the Limited Edition box-set – a copy of the “Transformers Prime” 96-page graphic novel.

New From Lionsgate

One of several Miramax releases that found filmmakers and studio execs clashing was John Frankenheimer's last directorial outing, the 2000 action-thriller REINDEER GAMES (**½, 124 mins., R) starring Ben Affleck as a guy, just out of prison, who ends up as part of an improbable casino heist masterminded by psycho Gary Sinise and sister Charlize Theron.

Ehren Kruger's script is filled with lots of plot holes and, alternately, a few funny lines, but it's Frankenheimer's taut, assured direction that keeps you watching, along with the performances and snowy winter setting. This is probably best viewed as a Christmas-time thriller, but short of that, “Reindeer Games” would make for a decent programmer on a hot summer night in July or August. It's flawed, but entertaining nevertheless.

Alas, “Reindeer Games” was a box-office flop, and wasn’t helped by the studio's decision to delay the movie's Christmas '99 release to February 2000, in order to do re-shoots and tighten up the movie's pacing. This meant the studio softened the movie a great deal in the editing room, where the film's two-hour plus running time was hacked down to 104 minutes.

The Director’s Cut version of the film represents, in Frankenheimer's words, a hybrid of the theatrical cut with scenes from his original director's version. With some 20 minutes of new footage and scene extensions, “Reindeer Games” is indeed edgier and more cohesive than the theatrical cut, especially when you contrast the movie to its "theatrical cut scene" counterparts, here included (along with a sole featurette and Frankenheimer’s commentary) in the supplemental section for comparison's sake.

Unfortunately for the film’s fans, “Reindeer Games”’ Blu-Ray release from Lionsgate is a major disappointment. The AVC encoded 1080p transfer rarely displays any kind of HD detail and looks fuzzy and ill-defined, almost as if it’s been upscaled from standard-def. The DTS MA sound (offering a fine Alan Silvestri score) fares better, but the sub-par picture quality makes for an overall visual appearance barely a tad better than DVD.

At least the film fares a tiny bit better visually than another troubled Miramax title, 54 (**, 100 mins., 1998, R), Mark Christopher’s chronicle of the Studio 54 disco club that was subjugated to dozens of edits by Harvey and Bob Weinstein, who axed over 45 minutes out of Christopher’s original version. (The Blu-Ray, like the DVD before it, includes a slightly longer version of the film than what ended up originally playing in theaters).

While the film itself – starring Ryan Phillippe as a young man who works his way into the club, presided over by a heavily made-up Mike Myers – was a misfire, the Blu-Ray adds insult to injury with one of the flat-out worst transfers I’ve seen in the medium. The AVC encoded transfer has clearly been upscaled from a standard-definition source, showing no HD detail and even a few “jaggies” we used to see in standard-def! The DTS MA sound is fine, but “54"’s transfer ranks with some of the worst in the format (i.e. Universal’s first “Out of Africa” and “Spartacus,” plus Studio Canal’s overseas, upscaled “Escape From New York”).


NEW FROM History Channel/A&E/NewVideo: Just in time for the re-release of James Cameron’s “Titanic” in 3-D comes the two-disc set TITANIC: THE COMPLETE STORY, featuring a trio of History Channel documentaries: “Death of a Dream” is a straightforward account of the ship’s sinking while “The Legend Lives On” also includes a look at the discovery of the Titanic in the ‘80s (which I firmly recall hearing about from my cousin, who was listening to a marine radio at the time and knew about it days before it was publicly announced).  “Titanic’s Achielles Heel,” meanwhile, uses CGI imagery to detail a fatal design flaw in the signature vessel of the White Star line...HISTORY OF THE WORLD IN TWO HOURS is actually an 88-minute History Channel special from writer-director Douglas J. Cohen, who amusingly tries to cram the creation of the earth and development of ancient civilizations into a package that also connects them with our daily lives. History’s DVD includes a stereo soundtrack and widescreen transfer.

NEXT TIME: More of the latest reviews! Until then, don't forget to drop in on the official Aisle Seat Message Boards and direct any emails to our email address. Cheers everyone!

Copyright 1997-2012 All Reviews, Site and Design by Andre Dursin