Aisle Seat March Mania


Johnny Depp has proven to be one of the few actors working today who can take a variety of roles and successfully embody each and every one of the diverse characters he plays.

Whether it’s a drug czar in “Blow,” or a veritable Captain of the Seven Seas in “Pirates of the Caribbean,”or Ichabod Crane in “Sleepy Hollow,”Depp dives into his various portrayals and, unlike most of today’s stars, never comes across as merely playing himself.

Depp’s eloquent, beautifully restrained portrayal of “Peter Pan” playwright J.M. Barrie is yet another gem in his canon, and this week audiences at home get a chance to savor the tenderness of last year’s superb FINDING NEVERLAND (***½, 2004, 101 mins., PG; Buena Vista; Aisle Seat DVD Pick of the Week).

A lost soul whose wife (Radha Mitchell) is a stuffy socialite who can’t relate to her husband’s creative streak, Barrie’s world changes when he strikes a relationship with four father-less boys of widow Kate Winslet. Finding in them a vibrancy that stirs his writing, Barrie begins his creation of “Pan” at the same time his relationship with his wife falls apart and metropolitan London stirs rumors of his involvement with Winslet and her children.

Beautifully photographed by Roberto Schaefer, designed by Gemma Jackson and scored by Jan A.P. Kaczmarek, “Finding Neverland” is a lovely film less about how “Peter Pan” was made than about Barrie and the children whom he essentially adopted as his own. David Magee’s script, based on a play by Allan Knee and “inspired” by true events, paints an introspective picture of a man, his creative process, and the happiness he ultimately finds not through his stagnant marriage but rather in a group of children.

The film, directed by Marc Foster, has an enormous amount of moving sequences and a touching ending that will have you reaching for the Kleenex, but fortunately not in a sappy melodramatic sense. “Finding Neverland” garners genuine emotion through the performances of its cast, particularly Depp, who’s great here, and Julie Christie, as Winslet’s domineering, though ultimately sympathetic mother, who wants the best for her family and believes only she can provide it.

“Finding Neverland” is a film that touches upon a wealth of subjects, from the death of a loved one to the birth of the creative process and the joy of human relationships. Barrie embraced the joy, sadness, and vitality of life in his work, something that the film captures magnificently in what was easily one of the finest pictures of last year.

Miramax’s DVD, out this week, includes a gorgeous 2.35 widescreen transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound. Kaczmarek’s score is perfect, offering an equal dose of whimsy and sheer emotion, though the sound mix is sometimes a bit pinched, making the dialogue sometimes difficult to hear.

Special features include commentary with the filmmakers, a few deleted secenes and several minutes of outtakes, plus two Making Of featurettes and a “On The Red Carpet” premiere night segment. Highly recommended!

Another film from last year that received acclaim, particularly for its Oscar-nominated central performance, was BEING JULIA (***, 2004, 104 mins., R; Sony), which also makes its debut on DVD this week.

Annette Bening offers a delicious performance as turn-of-the-century diva Julia Lambert, a successful stage actress who becomes fatigued with her daily grind. Despite having a devoted husband managing her career (Jeremy Irons), Julia strikes up a relationship with a young American (Shaun Evans) who has quite a fondness for the London stage star, leading to an affair. Soon, though, Julia tires of her young charge and faces a challenge from upstart ingenue Lucy Punch, who’s seeking a role in Julia’s new play.

Ronald Harwood based his script for “Being Julia” on W. Somerset Magham’s novel “Theatre,” and Istvan Szabo’s direction results in a light, entertaining, intentionally theatrical experience filled with great performances. Bening relishes her role with aplomb, while Irons, Bruce Greenwood, Juliet Stevenson, Sheila McCarthy, Miriam Margoyles and Michael Gambon (as Bening’s deceased director, who appears as an apparition) offer strong support.

Sony’s DVD includes a great commentary track with Bening, Irons and Szabo, who discuss filming the picture on location in both Budapest (for its interiors) and London (exterior work), and the challenge of adapting Maugham’s work.

Several deleted scenes, a standard Making Of featurette, an outstanding 1.85 widescreen transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack round out the disc. Visually, Lajos Koltai’s warm, vibrant cinematography fits the movie perfectly, and Mychael Danna’s low-key score lends an able assist.

“Being Julia” isn’t a cold, clinical Merchant-Ivory drama but rather a frothy good time with a great cast. Recommended!

Also New on DVD

ISLANDS IN THE STREAM (**1/2, 1977). 104 mins., PG, Paramount, available March 29th. DVD FEATURES: 2.35 Widescreen, 2.0 Dolby Digital sound.

Jerry Goldsmith’s beautiful score and Fred Koenekamp’s cinematography are the highlights of Franklin J. Schaffner’s uneven 1977 adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s final novel.

George C. Scott plays an artist estranged from his wife and children in the Caribbean during WWII. His sons later pay a visit to Scott’s secluded, beautiful coastal home, leading “Thomas Hudson” to re-examine his commitment to family and one of his ex-wives (Claire Bloom), as well as attempt to help a group of refugees and allude the Cuban Coast Guard.

Denne Bart Petitclerc’s script admirably attempts to capture Hemingway’s prose, though the result is a somewhat fragmented, disjointed film that never quite reaches the heights of its aspirations. The final third is particularly odd, failing to match the movie’s most eloquent passages in its opening hour.

Nevertheless, “Islands in the Stream” is certainly worth a view for Scott’s performance and the aesthetic pleasures Schaffner’s film offers: Goldsmith’s score swells like the sea itself, offering a beautiful pallet of themes, and Koenekamp’s Panavision lensing of the picture’s locales results in a movie that improves on repeat viewing.

Paramount’s long-awaited DVD offers a crisp, good-looking 2.35 transfer in the movie’s full anamorphic aspect ratio. The print looks to be in generally healthy condition, though it’s disappointing that the movie’s weak theatrical soundtrack wasn’t overhauled for the DVD. The 2-channel mono track doesn’t pack much of a presence, failing to do justice to Goldsmith’s magnificent music.

CRIMSON RIVERS 2: ANGELS OF THE APOCALYPSE (**½, 2003). 99 mins., 2004, R, available March 29th. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: English subtitled with Parisian and English language tracks; Deleted Scene; Making Of featurette; 5 Behind-the-Scenes featurettes; 2.35 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

Routine, though reasonably entertaining, follow-up to the superior “Crimson Rivers” brings back Jean Reno, here reprising his role as tough Paris cop Inspector Niemans.

This time out, Niemans is paired with a young new detective (Benoit Magimel) as they track down a mysterious, secluded monastery, solve a group of murders with a decidedly religious bent, and find out that bad-guy Christopher Lee is planning to take over the world in the process.

Less serial-killer procedural than a fantastical end-of-the-world tale crossed up with a typical cop-buddy flick, “Angels of the Apocalypse” was, like its predecessor, written by Luc Besson. Unlike its predecessor, though, the sequel has none of the creepy atmosphere and stylish direction that made the original an international hit, something that could be placed in the lap of director Olivier Dahan. The film is often routine and uninspired, despite a game effort from Reno and Lee, who walks into the movie as if he’s The Big English Actor In A French Movie, complete with a tongue-in-cheek introduction and Colin Towns music that sounds as if you’re watching a Hammer film!

Though nowhere near as satisfying as the original, “Angels of the Apolcaypse” still works adequately enough if you dial down your expectations and enjoy it as a one-shot viewing experience.

Sony’s DVD, out next week, offers a strong 2.35 transfer with the original French 5.1 track (English subtitled) or a separate, badly dubbed English language track. Unlike the previous “Crimson Rivers” American DVD, the English subtitles are based on the actual French dialogue and aren’t a basic transcription of the dubbed track.

Extras include a strip-bar sequence that was deleted from the film, a standard Making Of featurette and five shorter Behind the Scenes segments, all subtitled in English.

THE PROFESSIONALS (***, 1966). 117 mins., PG-13, Sony, available April 5th. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: New Featurettes: “The Professionals: A Classic,” “Burt Lancaster: A Portrait,” and “Memories from The Professionals”; 2.35 Widescreen, New 5.1 Dolby Digital and 3.0 sound.

Richard Brooks’ robust western-adventure may not be held in the same high esteem among some viewers as Peckinpah’s “The Wild Bunch,” yet “The Professionals” is great entertainment that finally gets its due in Columbia’s impressive new Special Edition DVD package.

Due out on April 5th, the fully-restored film looks smashing in Columbia’s new widescreen transfer, which also includes an all-new remixed 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack, which does full justice to Maurice Jarre’s strong score. The disc also includes the original 3-channel stereo soundtrack (encoded as Dolby Digital 3.0) along with three brand-new featurettes from veteran DVD producer Laurent Bouzereau.

Offering fresh interviews with authors and surviving cast members like Claudia Cardinale, the three featurettes (“The Professionals: A Classic,” “Burt Lancaster: A Portrait”, and “Memories From The Professionals”) offer a terrific overview of the picture’s production and success, and its growing reputation among cinephiles.

As far as the film goes, Brooks’ movies have held up well over the years and “The Professionals” is no exception. This tale of a group of mercenaries (Burt Lancaster, Lee Marvin, Robert Ryan and Woody Strode) who are recruited by a wealthy oil mogul (Ralph Bellamy) to track down his missing wife (Claudia Cardinale) south of the border is a nice bridge between Hollywood’s westerns of the Golden Age and the stylized violence and “realism” served up by Peckinpah and Leone overseas.

RIDING GIANTS (***, 2004). 101 mins., PG-13, Sony. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Commentary by Stacy Peralta and Paul Crowder; Commentary by Greg Noll, Jeff Clark, Laird Hamilton and Sam George; Deleted Scenes; Making Of featurette; Fuel TV special; 1.85 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

Documentary filmmaker Stacy Peralta teamed up with Surfer Magazine editor Sam George in 2003 to produce a visual history of big-wave surfing. The result was the acclaimed “Riding Giants,” a highly entertaining effort that has its own distinct rhyme and rhythm from other surfing documentaries like “The Endless Summer” and “Step Into Liquid.”

Peralta’s filmmaking technique is stylish but not overdone, colorfully chronicling the origins of surfing in Hawaii to the breakout mania of the sport in the days of “Gidget.” However, as surfing legend Greg Noll points out, those “Beach Party” flicks were bogus renditions of the genuine surfer lifestyle, which Peralta examines through vintage clips, breathtaking new cinematography, and lengthy interviews. Among the subjects are Noll, Jeff Clark and Laird Hamilton, who currently embodies the sport to a new generation of fans, plus Gerry Lopez and even John Milius, who produced the terrific 1978 surfing epic “Big Wednesday” (Basil Poledouris’ soundtrack CD still available, incidentally, from our FSM store ***BOB LINK TO OUR SCREEN ARCHIVES PAGE).

Peralta does an exceptional job incorporating history with spectacular surfing footage and a discussion on the introspective side of one of our most “soulful” sports. “Riding Giants,” then, is a great deal of fun for surfers and novices alike, and Sony’s DVD Special Edition provides a splendid package on a number of levels.

The 1.85 transfer is exceptionally good, and the 5.1 Dolby Digital sound is vibrant, but where the disc really shines is in its supplements. Commentary from Peralta and editor Paul Crowder dissects their filmmaking process, while those seeking a more history-oriented discussion can find that in another commentary with Greg Noll, Jeff Clark, Laird Hamilton and Sam George. A 20-minute Making Of provides a look at the production while a Fuel TV “Blue Carpet” special offers a more promotional 20-minute segment. A full slate of deleted scenes rounds out a fantastic disc packed with jaw-dropping stories and shots of surfers holding their own against the gigantic, blue fury of Mother Nature. Strongly recommended!

STAND BY ME: DELUXE EDITION (***½, 1986). 90 mins., R, Sony. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Rob Reiner Commentary, Making Of featurette, Music Video, Isolated Score; 1.85 Widescreen, 2.0 Dolby Digital sound.

Still one of the very best adaptations of a Stephen King work, Columbia’s new “Deluxe Edition” packaging of Rob Reiner’s 1986 “Stand By Me”offers a reprise of the studio’s superb 2002 Special Edition DVD, along with the popular Atlantic soundtrack CD and a new 32-page booklet.

I’ve always been a big fan of Reiner’s film, which Raynold Gideon and Bruce A. Evans adapted from King’s novella “The Body.” The coming-of-age ‘50s tale about a group of friends (River Phoenix, Will Whteaton, Corey Feldman, and Jerry O’Connell) who go looking for the body of a missing neighborhood teen is funny, touching, and an ideal examination of a boy’s journey into manhood. Reiner was able to capture superb performances out of his young ensemble, punctuated by equally strong work by other young leads like Kiefer Sutherland (terrifying as the film’s heavy) and John Cusack (in flashbacks as Wheaton’s older brother). Narrating the later-imitated film is Richard Dreyfuss, who came in after Reiner wanted to re-shoot scenes involving the original narrator, and also following a variety of actors who unsuccessfully tested for voice-over work. The resulting film is a memorable, entertaining and endlessly repeatable viewing experience (at only 90 minutes “Stand By Me” never wears out its welcome).

Columbia’s 2002 Special Edition DVD included “Walking the Tracks,” a then-brand new documentary on the making of the picture, incorporating interviews with Reiner, Dreyfuss, Wheaton, O’Connell, Feldman and Sutherland (a few months prior to his breakout, career-reviving role on “24"). They speak about the tragic death of fellow star River Phoenix and naturally offer their vivid recollections of making “Stand By Me.” Reiner also contributes an informative commentary track, while a 2.0 Dolby Stereo track includes Jack Nitzsche’s low-key, effective score and a music video of Ben E. King’s classic title tune rounds out the disc. The 1.85 transfer and 2.0 Dolby Surround tracks are both fine.

New to this “Deluxe Edition” release is a full-color booklet offering photos and brief bios of the cast and filmmakers from the original press-kit, along with a brief “2005 post-script” for each. The original soundtrack CD – comprised only of eight ‘50s pop hits – is also included with new packaging on its exterior, housed within the DVD case.

BATMAN AND ROBIN: THE COMPLETE MOVIE SERIAL (1949). 261 mins., Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. DVD FEATURES: Original black-and-white full-screen, Dolby Digital mono.

With “Batman Begins” poised to be one of the big summer movies of 2005, it’s no surprise that we’ll soon be a seeing a plethora of vintage Dark Knight releases popping up prior to its release.

Case in point is this highly entertaining 1949 serial starring Robert Lowery as the Caped Crusader and John Duncan as Robin – the first-ever screen appearance of the DC Comics heroes, out this week on DVD for the first time from Sony.

As a serial, this Columbia production offers decent production value and looks as good as any you’ll find on DVD. Batman’s costume may look a bit ragged and the Batmobile appears to approach mind-altering speeds of perhaps 35-45 m.p.h., but viewers will still be able to enjoy the late ‘40s fun of seeing Batman & Robin chase down a nefarious bad guy (The Wizard) who wants to use his magnetic gizmo to take control of all Gotham City automobiles. (No, it doesn’t sound like the end of the world, but back then it sure was close!). Even Vicky Vale (Jane Adams) is in on the action, trying to court Bruce Wayne and uncover the true identity of Batman at the same time.

Sony’s two-disc DVD set includes all 15 episodes of “Batman and Robin,” each in extremely good condition. If you own any old-time movie serials on DVD, you’re likely aware that most look godawful since they fell through the cracks and into the public domain. Not so with “Batman and Robin,” which remains a Columbia property and looks as vibrant as any serial you’ll see on DVD. The mono sound is fine and the colorful packaging also satisfying, managing to be stylish and yet in keeping with the movie’s serial roots. Recommended!

Capsule Round Up

FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX (**½, 2004, 117 mins., PG-13; Fox): Box-office disappointment from last Christmas attempted to update the old Jimmy Stewart vehicle for today’s generation. The resulting film is an inoffensive, forgettable action vehicle with Dennis Quaid, Miranda Otto, Hugh Laurie, and Giovanni Ribisi stranded in the middle of the Mongolian desert after their plane goes down. The film is predictable but, fortunately, less schizophrenically directed than helmer John Moore’s last outing (the obnoxious “Behind Enemy Lines”), and the performances are strong. Two thumbs down, however, for the movie’s tired use of old pop tunes, which are used to perk up Marco Beltrami’s unmemorable score. Fox’s DVD offers a strong 2.35 transfer with both DTS and Dolby Digital soundtracks, along with commentary, a few deleted/extended scenes, and Making Of featurettes. No classic, but an agreeable enough time-killer just the same.

GET SHORTY: Collector’s Edition (***, 1995, 105 mins., R; MGM): Special Edition re-packaging of the 1995 Elmore Leonard adaptation offers new supplements and bonus features, plus a free ticket to the current (and lamentably inferior) sequel “Be Cool.” Barry Sonnenfeld’s stylish and highly entertaining ensemble piece, a funny look at movie-making and the mob, offers spirited performances from John Travolta (continuing his career resurgence after “Pulp Fiction”), Gene Hackman (as a downtrodden director), Rene Russo, Danny DeVito, Dennis Farina and James Gandolfini. MGM’s two-disc Special Edition offers commentary from Sonnenfeld, three featurettes plus the deleted “Graveyard Scene,” outtakes, a party reel, a Bravo Making Of segment, a look at “Be Cool,” a remastered high-definition transfer and both 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital sound.

BRIDGET JONES: THE EDGE OF REASON (**, 2005, 108 mins., R; Universal): The second time around isn’t the charm for Helen Fielding’s British heroine in this forgettable sequel. Renee Zellweger gives her all again as the pudgy reporter, once again conflicted between lawyer-boyfriend Colin Firth and playboy Hugh Grant. The script, credited to four different scribes (including Fielding and Richard Curtis), is a rambling wreck of romantic passages, slapstick comedy and drama, and needless to say doesn’t work nearly as well as its predecessor. What’s more, Grant’s not on screen nearly enough here to off-set the disjointed script, though Adrian Biddle’s cinematography and Beeban Kidron’s direction both give the movie a colorful, glossy sheen. Universal’s DVD includes an alternate opening and several deleted scenes, including a lengthy, fully shot and scored seven-minute segment that explains the uneven tone of the film’s second half. Additional featurettes round out the package, which offers a superb 2.40 transfer with bouncy 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, containing an endless cornucopia of pop tunes and score by Harry Gregson-Williams.

NEXT WEEK: CLOSER debuts on DVD, plus more reviews and comments. Don't forget to say Aloha on the Message Boards, direct any emails to the link above and we'll catch you then. Cheers!