3/6/07 Edition -- The AISLE SEAT BLOG Now Online!

Aisle Seat March Madness!
Plus: The Aisle Seat Begins Blogging!
Spring is nearly here, fellow readers, and to celebrate we’re kicking off March Madness with the introduction of our Aisle Seat Blog -- which you can now find at dursin.blogspot.com  -- or via the link under the banner.

March typically brings with it a good array of big-ticket new titles, and while our wrap-up of the latest releases follows below, the Aisle Seat Blog will include up-to-date release information as it comes into our offices as well as additional musings and thoughts of the day.

Join us here -- and there -- as things begin to heat up at last at the movies and on DVD as well!

Fox March: New Releases, Catalog Titles & More!

It’s a good month for Fox catalog titles as several new entries join the studio’s “Cinema Classics” line.

Mark Rydell’s CINDERELLA LIBERTY (***, 1973, 116 mins., R; Fox) is a flavorful character study of a sailor (James Caan) who falls for a troubled call girl (Marsha Mason) while on an extended "Liberty" pass.

Darryl Ponicsan adapted his novel for this 1973 Fox production, which Rydell vividly shot in Panavision on authentic Seattle, Washington locales. “Cinderella Liberty” is dated in some ways, particularly in its now-improbable ending, but the performances of Caan, Mason, and Kirk Calloway as Mason’s 11-year-old son are terrific and the infectious John Williams soundtrack -- punctuated by vocals from lyricist Paul Williams and harmonica by Toots Thielemans, whom Williams would later collaborate so memorably with on “The Sugarland Express” -- is one of the film’s chief assets.

Fox’s DVD includes a dynamite, spotless 16:9 (2.35) transfer with stereo and mono 2.0 soundtracks and a good array of supplements. Included among the latter are a new commentary from Rydell, a vintage on-set promo reel, the theatrical trailer, and an isolated score track (in mono) that's erroneously labeled as a music/FX track on the back cover.

Fox went into the summer of ‘77 thinking THE OTHER SIDE OF MIDNIGHT (**, 166 mins., R; Fox) would be its top ticket, relegating a little movie named “Star Wars” to secondary status on the studio’s promotional radar. What they got instead was a glossy bad movie that has attained a certain level of affection among “Golden Turkey” fans -- an adaptation of Sydney Sheldon’s novel by screenwriters Herman Raucher (“The Winds of War”) and Daniel Taradash, following a tawdry WWII-era triangle between pilot John Beck (terrible), a French femme fatale (Marie-France Pisier), and Beck’s American wife (Susan Sarandon).

Aside from Michel Legrand’s dreamy, beautiful score (CD re-issue, anyone?), there’s not much going on in “The Other Side of Midnight”: the movie’s plastic, 1.85 framed cinematography betrays its expensive budget, while director Charles Jarrott does little to enhance the already DOA performances by two of its three leads (at least Sarandon survived to act another day).

Still, bad movie aficionados will soak up this long-overdue (?) DVD edition of the film, which includes a sturdy 16:9 (1.85) transfer, stereo and mono soundtracks, and a Laurent Bouzereau commentary, which includes interviews with Jarrott, Sheldon, and producer Frank Yablans. The original trailer is also on-hand.  

Also new from Fox this week:

JOHN AND MARY (**½, 92 mins., 1969, PG; Fox): So-so late ‘60s romantic drama charts the relationship between Dustin Hoffman and Mia Farrow, who meet at a singles bar and then dissect what it all means the next day in Peter Yates’ good-looking widescreen feature. Fox’s DVD includes a superb 16:9 (2.35) transfer, 2.0 stereo and mono sound, and photo galleries.

MICHAEL SHAYNE MYSTERIES, Volume One (Four-Film Set, Fox): Lloyd Nolan starred as Brett Halliday’s detective in a series of early ‘40s noir thrillers for Fox. Volume One sports “Michael Shayne, Private Detective”; “The Man Who Wouldn’t Die”; “Sleepers West”; and “Blue, White and Perfect,” all restored with new featurettes that should please Golden Age mystery fans.

THE ERNEST HEMINGWAY FILM COLLECTION (Five-Film Set, Fox): Another top-notch Golden Age retrospective from Fox finds the studio anthologizing their various adaptations of Hemingway novels: “Adventures of a Young Man,” “A Farewell to Arms,” “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” “The Sun Also Rises,” and “Under My Skin.” Various bonus features are also on-hand, including commentary tracks (on “Kilimanjaro,” “Young Man,” and “Under My Skin”) and new featurettes with historians and producers alike.     

REVENGE OF THE NERDS: The Atomic Wedgie Collection (Four-Film Set, Fox): The recent remake might have been cancelled by the studio, but “Nerds” fans ought to love this terrific box-set highlighted by the new, “Panty Raid” edition of the original “Nerds” (complete with deleted scenes, commentary and a 35-minute documentary).    Also on-hand: a hideous, videotaped 1991 Fox pilot with Rob “Mr. Belvedere” Stone and Robbie Rist (aka Cousin Oliver from “The Brady Bunch”), plus the various “Nerd” sequels: the terrible 1987 “Nerds in Paradise” (also known as the only time my mom walked my friends and I out of a movie!), and the amiable 1992 and ‘94 Fox TV-movies “Nerds III” and “IV,” which were scripted by the original’s writers, Steve Zacharias and Jeff Buhai. Good fun for all nostalgic ‘80s teen movie fans!

THE FULL MONTY: 2-Disc Fully Exposed Edition (**½, 92 mins., 1997, R; Fox): I found the popular British comedy to be a bit overrated, but fans ought to enjoy this feature-packed, double-disc set that includes commentaries, deleted scenes, a full slate of documentary featurettes, and even the original, unexpurgated British audio track. 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital tracks are on-hand along with a new 16:9 transfer.

THE PRETENDER Movie Edition (2-Film Set, 182 mins., Fox): The cult-favorite NBC series finished up with a pair of 2001 TV movies, here presented on DVD in their original (full-screen/widescreen, respectively) aspect ratios with 2.0 Dolby Digital stereo sound. A must for “Pretender” fans.

CHRISTY: The Complete Series (1994-95, 907 mins., Fox): Nicely produced, period family series with Kellie Martin and Tyne Daly comes to DVD in a four-disc set from Fox. No extras are on-hand.

STARGATE ATLANTIS: Season Two (2005-06, 872 mins., Fox): Season Two of the popular cable series spin-off sports commentary on every episode, 1.78 widescreen transfers, 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks, photo galleries and Making Of featurettes.

GARFIELD & FRIENDS: AN ODE TO ODIE (120 mins., Fox): Several episodes of the entertaining “Garfield & Friends” series are compiled in this Odie-centric, single disc compilation from Fox. Cute but only for “Garfield” fans who haven’t splurged for Fox’s individual series box-sets.

New From Paramount

Four major new TV on DVD box sets highlight Paramount’s March slate of DVD releases.

Top of the list for fans of classic TV are The Complete First Season of HAWAII FIVE-0 (1968-69, 21 hrs.) and the Complete Second Season of THE WILD WILD WEST (1966-67, 24 hrs.).

The latter boasts the Robert Conrad-Ross Martin western-fantasy’s second season of 28 full-color episodes on seven discs, with mostly-spotless transfers and clear mono soundtracks. Even if the box lacks the superlative extras that the series’ first DVD release offered (making that set one of the all-time finest TV-on-DVD releases), fans ought to be highly satisfied with Paramount’s sophomore effort regardless.

Making its debut on DVD is the first season of the long-long-long running action-crime drama “Hawaii Five-0,” which debuted on CBS in the fall of 1968. Jack Lord starred as the irrepressible Steve McGarrett, who’s joined by “Dan-O” Williams (James MacArthur) on the beat as they tracked down local Hawaiian criminals as well as the nefarious mastermind “Wo Fat.”

With its Morton Stevens soundtrack, colorful locales and taut action, “Hawaii Five-O” quickly established a formula that would carry it all the way through its final season in 1980 -- making it one of TV’s longest-running series in the process. This first season of the program offers a feature-length pilot movie (with Nancy Kwan and Leslie Nielsen) plus 23 other entertaining episodes, presented here in crisp, warm transfers courtesy of Paramount. The set isn’t packed with supplements but does offer “Emme’s Island Moments: Memories of Hawaii Five-O,” a 1996 local Hawaiian TV special which includes Emme Tomimbang and MacArthur reminiscing about the series. Highly recommended to all “Five-0" addicts!

Also making its inaugural appearance on DVD is the relatively short-lived but certainly fondly-remembered ABC comedy BOSOM BUDDIES (1980-81, 8 hrs., Paramount), which boasted Tom Hanks and future “Newhart” star Peter Scolari as a pair of young professionals, tossed out of their condemned apartment, who find a new place to live -- in a women’s hotel, necessitating some very “Some Like It Hot” shenanigans!

While “Bosom Buddies” only ran for two seasons, the series has remained in the public eye due to various cable airings and the very appearance of Hanks, here fine-tuning his comedic skills in a somewhat pedestrian but at least amiable series which co-starred Wendie Jo Sperber and Donna Dixon.

Paramount’s three-disc set includes all 19 first-season episodes of “Bosom Buddies,” including the banged-up pilot (shot on film) as well as its subsequent episodes, which were recorded on video tape. The image quality does vary and some music was changed for the DVD -- including the theme song, which was originally Billy Joel’s “My Life” during its initial network run. Not wanting to pay Joel’s surely-exorbitant fees, the theme was switched to an original Stephanie Mills song written by the series’ composers, Dan Foliart and Howard Pearl, during its USA network run, and that theme has been retained here. However, it’s possible there are other edits during the episodes, as a disclaimer on the back jacket indicates “some music has been changed and some episodes may be edited from their original network versions.”

There’s certainly nothing edited in the Second Season of the acclaimed Showtime series SLEEPER CELL (2006, 445 mins.), which continues the adventures of FBI undercover agent Darwyn (Michael Ealy), sent to infiltrate a terrorist cell lead by an extremist portrayed effectively by “Mummy” star Oded Fehr. Season two of “Sleeper Cell” offers three featurettes and cast bios, as well as 16:9 transfers and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks. If you enjoyed the series’ first season, it goes without saying that viewers will be compelled to follow the story throughout the program’s second slate of eight episodes.

Finally, we round out Paramount’s new releases with the COMEDY CENTRAL ROAST OF WILLIAM SHATNER (80 mins., 2006), which carts out the usual suspects (Andy Dick, Kevin Pollak, Fred Willard) with “Star Trek” vets (Nichelle Nichols, George Takei) for a pleasing send-up of “The Shat.”

Now that Shatner has taken himself less seriously, some of the ribbing isn’t as funny as it might have been 10, even 20 years ago, but fans ought to enjoy some of the comedic nuggets, and Pollak’s Shatner impersonation remains the strongest I’ve ever seen. Paramount’s DVD runs 20 minutes longer than the broadcast version and boasts a disclaimer that music has been altered for its video release. 

Criterion March

One of my first laserdisc review assignments (back when I was in college) was analyzing Criterion’s presentation of the Kon Ichikawa Japanese cinema classic THE BURMESE HARP (****, 1956, 116 mins.).

This moving, understated tale of a Japanese soldier in WWII who masquerades as a monk following his troop’s surrender to the British is beautifully shot by Ichikawa, tracing his protagonist’s spiritual transformation into the very embodiment of religious enlightenment that he initially only disguises himself as.

Now on DVD, Criterion has improved upon their initial laser release by offering a high-definition, restored digital (full-frame transfer) with new subtitles; video interviews with Ichikawa and star Rentaro Mikuni; the original trailer; and an essay from historian Tony Rayns.

If you’re looking to familiarize yourself with Japanese cinema “The Burmese Harp” is a splendid place to start and is still one of my favorite foreign films, which Criterion has magnificently preserved here on DVD.

Also new from the Collection this month is Ichikawa’s FIRES ON THE PLAIN (***½, 1959, 104 mins.), which serves as a fascinating companion piece to “The Burmese Harp,” charting a Japanese soldier trying to survive the hell of war in a foreign Philippine jungle.

More graphic in its portrayal of the horrors of warfare, “Fires on the Plain” is a grizzly yet compelling film, spectacularly filmed by Ichikawa, this time in full widescreen (2.35). The movie is certainly more violent than “The Burmese Harp” but is redemptive in its own way, and Criterion’s DVD edition celebrates another milestone in Japanese cinema by including a video introduction from historian Donald Richie; a video piece with Ichikawa and actor Mickey Curtis; and an essay from critic Chuck Stephens.

Finally Criterion has tapped into one of filmmaker Jules Dassin’s most acclaimed works, THE NAKED CITY (***½, 1948, 96 mins.), to round out their slate of March releases.

This famous noir thriller follows detective Barry Fitzgerald as he probes the homicide of a model; the story may be relatively basic but the execution on the part of Dassin is anything but, with “The Naked City” using its flavorful NYC backdrops to paint a portrait of a metropolis at the same time it tells an atmospheric narrative years ahead of its time.

Criterion’s DVD includes commentary from writer Malvin Wald; an analysis of the film’s locations by author James Sanders; the trailer; and a restored, crisp new transfer. Highly recommended!

New Releases From Universal

STEVE MARTIN: The Wild And Crazy Comedy Collection (3-Film Set; Universal): Universal’s low-cost compilation DVDs have always been an appealing treat for movie buffs (the “Airport,” “Abbott & Costello” and “American Graffiti” anthologies among them), and this new, double-disc set offers a trio of Steve Martin’s earliest starring vehicles for the studio: director Carl Reiner’s 1979 favorite “The Jerk” plus their fun 1982 collaboration “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid,” scored by Miklos Rozsa, as well as the 1984 box-office disappointment “The Lonely Guy,” with music by Jerry Goldsmith. “The Jerk” is presented in its recent “26th Anniversary Edition” release (with a 16:9 transfer and slim supplements), but Martin-philes will be excited to learn that “Dead Men” and “Lonely Guy” have been exclusively remastered for this set. Both titles (previously available in non-anamorphic DVDs) look nifty in new 16:9 enhanced transfers, while extras include the original trailers. Those upgrades alone make this set worth the while for Martin fanatics.

THE RETURN (**½, 86 mins., 2006, PG-13; Rogue/Universal): Sarah Michelle Gellar didn’t exactly stretch her acting chops in this low-key semi-supernatural thriller, but surprisingly, “The Return” is a good deal more effective than its tepid commercial response would indicate. Gellar plays a lonely young woman who returns home to her rural Texas town, only to find herself living out the existence of someone else. Director Asif Kapadia and writer Adam Sussman have fashioned a moody, slow-moving film that’s more of a mystery than a horror film, leading to a few shocks and a pleasingly ambiguous finale. Universal’s DVD offers up some deleted scenes, a Making Of featurette, and an alternate ending that strays too far in a direction the finished film only hints at. The 16:9 (2.35) transfer is excellent and the effective score by Dario Marianelli is likewise a cut-above the norm for this sort of film.

LET’S GO TO PRISON (**, 90 mins., 2006, Unrated; Universal): Bob Odenkirk’s wacky comedy is rough around the edges but manages to score enough intermittent laughs to make it worth a rental (especially if you’ve got a free one). Dax Shepard plays a recently-released ex-con who wants revenge on the judge who started his life of jail time; Will Arnett is the judge’s son, whom Shepard manages to frame, sending him to prison along with Shepard himself. Red Sox co-owner Tom Werner produced this nutty comedy, which co-stars Chi McBride as a Chuck Mangione-loving inmate who enjoys making Merlot out of “toilet wine.” Universal’s DVD includes both an unrated version and the movie’s R-rated theatrical cut, plus deleted scenes and a terrible alternate ending. The 16:9 (1.85) transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack are both acceptable, and be sure to check out the feature on the movie’s score by Alan Elliott, which offers a top-notch R&B ensemble performing the bluesy soundtrack.

MAN OF THE YEAR (**, 2006, 115 mins., PG-13; Universal): As a talk show host who opts to put his money where his mouth is and run for the Presidency, Robin Williams manages to score a few chuckles in “Man of the Year,” director Barry Levinson’s bizarre meditation on talk radio, modern politics and the media. Laura Linney, Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Walken and Lewis Black lend able support, but the film is wildly uneven, particularly in its final third where it takes an utterly absurd turn into the thriller genre! Universal’s DVD includes a pair of Making Of featurettes, a 16:9 (2.35) transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.    

Also New On DVD

PETER PAN: 2-Disc Platinum Edition (***½, 1953, 77 mins., Disney): One of Walt’s bona-fide ‘50s classics, “Peter Pan” is back on DVD in a full-blown restored edition packed with special features.

More than just a remastered transfer is on-hand here, as Disney performed what they’re calling a painstaking restoration of the 1953 animated feature; the result is an exceptionally clear, crisp image backed with an all-new 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack that enhances the film’s audio (purists can still select the original theatrical soundtrack, which has likewise been restored).

For extras, this DVD is on-par with previous Disney Limited “Platinum” sets: an alternate opening is shown in storyboard form, while deleted scenes (including “The Pirate Song”), commentary by Roy Disney, a new documentary (“You Can Fly”), interactive games for kids and archival comments from Walt himself, reflecting on the production, make for a must-have release for all Disney fans.

DECOYS: THE SECOND SEDUCTION (*½, 2007, 94 mins., R; Sony): Disappointing follow-up to the 2004 small-screen genre effort is sadly a cheapjack affair. Cory Sevier is back, having magically survived the twist ending of the original, only to find that more extraterrestrial menace -- in the form of buxom college girls -- continues to lurk all around him. The first “Decoys” was a bouncy, well-produced B-movie, but this sequel is desperation city all the way, from its meager production values to the pedestrian script. Even fans of the original will be disappointed. Sony’s DVD, out this week, includes 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, a 16:9 (1.85) transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

EDDIE MURPHY: DELIRIOUS (70 mins., 1983, Entertainment Studios/Starz): Eddie Murphy was near the height of his popularity when he filmed this raunchy, exuberant concert film in Washington, D.C. during the summer of ‘83. Riffing on loads of politically incorrect subjects, Murphy is hysterical and so alive here that you can only feel a bit of disappointment that so much of his career went off-track just a few years later. The Starz Home Entertainment DVD includes backstage footage and a new interview with Murphy, making this a fine presentation for one of the best stand-up concerts you’ll ever see.

JUSTICE LEAGE UNLIMITED: Season 2 (2003, 299 mins.)
BATMAN BEYOND: Season 3 (2001, 273 mins.)
BABY LOONEY TUNES: Puddle Olympics (2006, 88 mins.)
LOONATICS UNLEASHED: Season 1 (2006, 271 mins., Warner)

A new batch of Warner animated releases are headed your way this month on DVD.

“Justice League Unlimited” and “Batman Beyond” both finish up their series’ runs on DVD, respectively, with the second season of the JLU (which would be back for another year, but with a new roster of characters and different talent behind the scenes) and the third year of the futuristic Dark Knight series making their way onto disc March 20th.

Special features include a wealth of extras on JLU, from Mark Hamill and the show’s creative personnel discussing Hamill’s character and story arc; a music-only track for the final episode, “Destroyer”; and a discussion by series writers, producers and directors on their favorite moments. The widescreen transfers (non-anamorphic widescreen) are just fine.

“Batman Beyond,” meanwhile, offers a panel discussion of the series’ final year from its creative talent, plus “favorite moment” retrospectives and comments from voice actor Will Friedle. The full-screen transfers are also perfectly acceptable.

Last but not least are a pair of “New Wave” Looney Tunes-centric releases for younger viewers: the toddler-friendly “Baby Looney Tunes,” which includes a handful of episodes from the series and sing-along-songs, and the bizarre, futuristic “Loonatics Unleashed,” which traces the descendants of the original Looney Tunes gang in the year 2772, who end up nabbing super-powers and take on criminals voiced by the likes of Tim Curry, Michael Clark Duncan and Florence Henderson (!). Innocuous and strange, but I suppose kids too young for the other Warner super-hero cartoons might enjoy it.

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