3/8/11 Edition Twitter: THEAISLESEATCOM
March Madness Edition

The Warner Archive continues to mine the vaults of WB’s vast library, with an overdue DVD edition of Blake Edwards’ 1971 western WILD ROVERS (***, 137 mins., GP) highlighting their latest releases.

Coming off the commercial failure of his Julie Andrews-Rock Hudson period musical-romance “Darling Lili,” Edwards decided to make a western that was a clear change of pace from his past projects. His original screenplay follows aging cowhand William Holden and his friend, the younger and less experienced Ryan O’Neal, as they try and build a better life for themselves beyond working on Karl Malden’s family ranch. Their decision, to rob a local bank, comes out of boredom for their day-to-day existence as much as necessity.

Philip Lathrop’s gorgeous scope cinematography and Edwards’ patented use of Panavision are on full display throughout “Wild Rovers,” which boasts a fine if mostly underutilized supporting cast (Joe Don Baker and Tom Skerritt as Malden’s sons, Victor French as the town sheriff) and a stirring, marvelous – and also economical – score by Jerry Goldsmith.

It’s a film with many positive elements, yet time has not entirely been kind to the picture. MGM initially deemed the film overlong and too depressing, and ordered substantial cuts to Edwards’ original version (the director’s issues with the studio were later the thrust of his 1981 satire “S.O.B.”). Turner restored Edwards’ 137 minute version back in the ‘80s for laserdisc, yet a DVD never surfaced until this manufactured-on-demand Warner Archives release, which presents the original cut of the film, in 16:9 widescreen and 2.0 stereo sound, complete with Goldsmith’s Overture, Entr’acte and Exit music.

While I certainly don’t condone MGM’s drastic measures in taking “Wild Rovers” to the cutting room floor, one can detect their issues with Edwards’ original version. The movie is uneven and overlong, held afloat by the visuals, scoring and the fine performances of the two leads. Ultimately, despite its occasionally grand and lyrical passages – with Edwards’ script populated with mostly likeable and sympathetic characters, as well as a glorious horsebreaking sequence – the film turns into one of those narcissistic “‘70s movies” in its second half, punctuated by a predictable downer ending. As Roger Ebert wrote in his original review at the time, “too many recent movies have been depending on the death of their heroes to pull them through. It used to be daring to kill your hero. Now it's an act of artistic originality to let him live.”

Subsequently, “Wild Rovers” is ultimately an odd and not altogether satisfying blend of an old-time western with Peckinpah-like sensibilities, yet has enough positive attributes to counterbalance at least some of the sour aftertaste the picture eventually leaves behind.

The Warner Archive disc hasn’t been “remastered” yet still looks very good in its 16:9 enhancement, seemingly drawn from the same source materials as its prior ‘80s reconstruction (some sections of the film, presumably the previously-excised portions, are a bit more banged up than others). The 2.0 stereo sound is surprisingly robust at times, offering a few directional effects and a satisfying enough sound stage for Goldsmith’s score. The original trailer is also included.

New on Blu-Ray

127 HOURS Blu-Ray (***, 94 mins., 2010, PG-13; Fox): A taut and effective chronicle of climber Aron Ralston’s harrowing real-life story.

James Franco stars as Ralston in Danny Boyle’s superbly rendered film, following the young outdoorsman as he becomes trapped in a Utah canyon with nobody to save him, the days that followed and the ultimate, drastic decision he makes that saves his life.
Franco, nominated for an Oscar along with the movie itself, is excellent here in a convincing turn as Ralston, while Boyle ensures that the film’s claustrophobic settings don’t become overwhelming by keeping the film’s running time at an economic clip. Further dramatic enhancement comes through A R Rahman’s score, vivid cinematography and a script by Boyle and Simon Beaufoy that cinematically renders Ralston’s story in a manner that’s surprising at every turn, even if the outcome is pre-ordained.

Fox’s Blu-Ray boasts a perfectly detailed AVC encoded transfer, nicely engineered DTS MA soundtrack, and extras including an insightful look at Ralston’s true story, deleted scenes, commentary from the filmmakers, and a behind-the-scenes featurette. The disc also includes a digital copy and BD Live content.

LOVE & OTHER DRUGS Blu-Ray (**½, 112 mins., 2010, R; Fox): Not-bad romantic-dramaedy gets most of its mileage out of the chemistry between Jake Gyllenhaal as a Pfizer salesman and Anne Hathaway as a young woman being treated for early Parkinsons whom he shares an immediate attraction with.
Edward Zwick’s first “intimate relationship” movie since “About Last Night” back in the ‘80s is well crafted and performed by a superb cast (Oliver Platt and Hank Azaria lead the supporting roster), but there’s not a lot of urgency to the drama, and it ends up going exactly where you’d expect it to. Zwick and his “Thirtysomething” collaborator Marshall Herskovitz co-wrote the script with Charles Randolph, who adapted a non-fiction chronicle of romantic relationships in the ‘90s by Jamie Reidy.

Fox’s Blu-Ray disc looks and sounds just fine, the film having been well shot by Steven Rosenblum in scope and scored by James Newton Howard. Extras include mostly fluffy featurettes, deleted scenes, and a digital copy for portable media players.

BURLESQUE Blu-Ray/DVD (**, 119 mins., 2010, PG-13; Sony): Dopey musical drama finds Christina Aguilera as a smalltown girl (of course) who moves to the big city (of course) to pursue her career as a performer at a nightclub that’s seen better days and (of course) is about to close unless they find a star...guess who!

Steven Antin wrote and directed this dumb, predictable excuse for a number of song-and-dance sequences with Aguilera and Cher (as the cliched club owner-veteran who’s seen it all) mixing it up to a bubblegum soundtrack. It’s unclear what the motivation behind this mediocre Screen Gems release even was, since the “Chicago” audience wouldn’t find this more contemporary outing to be of interest, while younger audiences could care less about Cher or the movie’s too-good-for-the-material supporting cast (Peter Gallagher, Stanley Tucci, Kristen Bell, and a brief turn from Alan Cumming).

Sony’s Blu-Ray looks great and boasts a loud, throbbing DTS Master soundtrack, while extra features include six extended song numbers, a blooper reel, Antin’s commentary, and an alternate opening, along with six BD exclusive behind-the-scenes featurettes and a copy of the DVD.

EXCALIBUR Blu-Ray (***½, 141 mins., 1981, R; Warner): John Boorman's career is alternately filled with flops like “Exorcist II” and classics like “Deliverance,” but he really hit his stride with this fanciful 1981 retelling of the Arthurian legend, adapted by Rospo Pallenberg from Malory's "Le Morte Darthur" with Boorman collaborating on the screenplay.

In addition to a script that contains all the staple images of the story (Arthur pulling the sword from the stone, the appearance of the Lady in the Lake, and the surreal Quest for the Grail), “Excalibur” sports an excellent cast, from Helen Mirren's sexy Morgana le Fay to Nicol Williamson's eccentric Merlin, with early performances from Liam Neeson, Gabriel Byrne, and Patrick Stewart among others. Nigel Terry's Arthur and Cherie Lunghi's Guenevere are the weakest links in the cast, but both are serviceable enough so that one has an emotional connection to the characters at the heart of the tale.

Alex Thomson's cinematography is outstanding but its softness has given every video release of the film issues over the years. From the use of filters to a wide display of the color spectrum -- masterfully utilized by Thomson and Boorman in their cinematic visualization of the classic story – past video (VHS, laser and DVD) editions have failed to fully reproduce the texture of Thomson’s visuals, and even the high-def HD-DVD Warner released at the format’s outset was plagued with issues.

I’m not sure what Warner Home Video did for their Blu-Ray release but it looks as if they’ve tweaked the HD-DVD a bit because there does seem to be more appreciable detail and accurate fleshtones in the Blu-Ray release. The disc sports an AVC encoded transfer as opposed to the HD-DVD’s VC-1 encode, and while the picture is still inherently soft, the framing still seems too tight and there’s a jitter in the image at times, it nevertheless seems to boast more fine detail and satisfying colors. I don’t have the HD-DVD with me at the moment to do an A/B comparison, but I think this transfer, short of a full-blown restoration, is likely to be the best we’re going to see “Excalibur” outside of a theater, and it’s certainly an upgrade over the older DVD edition.

Trevor Jones's score, meanwhile, has been a favorite of many listeners, even though Boorman supplemented the soundtrack with ample doses of classical and operatic works (including Carmina Burana, which has been utilized to death in countless movie trailers ever since). Warner's DTS Master soundtrack, much like the prior HD-DVD release, originates from an early Dolby Stereo mix of the film (reportedly, the movie was only released to theaters in mono), and while the dynamic range is improved on past incarnations, it isn't as enveloping as one would expect from a 5.1 track. Considering the age of the soundtrack, however, it's nevertheless perfectly adequate, with enough ambiance to nicely compliment the visuals.

Extras are reprieved from prior releases, meaning there’s just the older audio commentary by director Boorman included (which will try your patience if you listen to him speak straight through), and an effective theatrical trailer as well.

48 HRS. Blu-Ray (***½, 96 mins., 1982, R; Paramount): Walter Hill’s crackerjack 1982 action thriller is still one of the defining genre films of the ‘80s, even if it spawned so many “buddy film” imitators that followed that it’s impossible to count them all.

Certainly few of them offer the dynamic between tough cop Nick Nolte and streetwise Eddie Murphy, the duo after a pair of cop-killers and cons on the lam (James Remar, Sonny Landham). Hill’s action sequences are crisp, the dialogue right on target (courtesy of the script, credited to Roger Spottiswoofe, Hill, Larry Gross and Steven E. De Souza), while a marvelous score by James Horner accompanies each pulsating moment. “48 Hrs.” has a sense of urgency and vibrancy that few of its fellow genre counterparts offer – ingredients that were both missing when the inevitable, disappointing sequel “Another 48 Hrs.” followed in 1990.

I commend Paramount for releasing “48 Hrs.” on Blu-Ray, yet the presentation is sadly lacking: the AVC encoded 1080p transfer has a hazy, processed look to it, not unlike many of the studio’s BD catalog efforts. The Dolby TrueHD audio fares a bit better, but the transfer is one of those cases where it’s better than DVD but not a whole lot more.

THE WALKING DEAD Season 1 Blu-Ray (292 mins., 2010; Anchor Bay): Frank Darabont co-produced this AMC cable adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s graphic novel that depicts yet another zombie apocalypse and the efforts of one small-town sheriff’s deputy to find his wife and son in rural Georgia.

Bolstered by big ratings, “The Walking Dead” garnered a fair share of attention upon its initial broadcast last year, though as well-crafted as the series is, I found it both slow-going and not particularly involving. All the old “zombie” stand-bys are here, with various sequences having been borrowed from other chronicles of the walking dead, and the characters aren’t especially interesting either. That said, genre fans are likely to groove on this in spite of its familiarity, and the make-up effects by Greg Nicotero and crew are quite gory, especially for basic cable.

Anchor Bay’s Blu-Ray set is a double-disc edition offering all six episodes of the series in AVC encoded 1080p transfers with Dolby TrueHD soundtracks. Ample extras include a half-hour Making Of, plus a number of shorter featurettes.

EVERY DAY Blu-Ray (93 mins., 2010, R; Image): “Nip/Tuck” producer-writer Richard Levine’s character drama stars Liev Schrieber as a TV writer working for an obnoxious boss (Eddie Izzard) and who starts to fall for a co-worker (Carla Gugino) despite the fact that he’s married to Helen Hunt. All the performances, from Schrieber to Hunt and Gugino and Brian Dennehy as Hunt’s father, are fine in this agreeable enough indie which Image brings to Blu-Ray this March in a 1080p transfer with DTS Master Audio sound and extras including cast interviews, a trailer and deleted scenes.

THE NEXT THREE DAYS Blu-Ray and DVD (**½, 133 mins., 2010, PG-13; Lionsgate): Box-office underachiever stars Russell Crowe as a Pittsburgh college professor whose wife (Elizabeth Banks) is accused of murder and, after failing to battle the system legally, hooks up with an ex-con (Liam Neeson) in a desperate attempt at breaking her out of prison.

Paul Haggis’ remake of the 2007 French thriller “Pour Elle” has a terrific cast, with Crowe, Banks and Neeson being supported by the likes of Olivia Wilde and Brian Dennehy, but Haggis ultimately is never able to make up his mind whether “The Next Three Days” is an action movie, a suspense-thriller, or a domestic drama. While certainly watchable, the movie ends up being a hodgepodge of each and less than the sum of its parts, despite top-flight tech attributes throughout (Danny Elfman’s score, cinematography by Stephane Fontaine, etc.).

Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray edition includes both deleted and extended scenes, making of featurettes and commentary, along with a digital copy and DVD version of the movie. The AVC encoded 1080p transfer and DTS Master Audio soundtrack are both excellent.   

MICHAEL JORDAN - TO THE MAX Blu-Ray (46 mins., 2009; Lionsgate): Imax feature spotlights the NBA great with on-court footage and retrospective interviews. The visuals and John Debney’s score likely were more impressive (naturally) in the large-format scale of an Imax theater, yet hoop fans and Jordan boosters ought to enjoy this Lionsgate Blu-Ray which offers a solid 1080p transfer and DTS Master Audio soundtrack, both doing as much justice as they can to the original Imax presentation. Extras include commentaries and a featurette.

JONAH - A VEGGIETALES MOVIE (***, 83 mins., 2002, G; Lionsgate)
THE MIRACLE MAKER - THE STORY OF JESUS (***½, 91 mins., 2000; Lionsgate): A pair of faith-based family features both receive the high-def treatment from Lionsgate this month, and each comes strongly recommended.

That especially holds true for “The Miracle Maker,” a superb “Claymation”/animated rendition of the Christ tale told from a kids’ perspective. A mostly-British production was first broadcast in the U.S. on ABC, this is a visually striking, offbeat retelling that blends claymation (produced in Russia) with hand-drawn visuals (done in the UK), a top-notch vocal cast (Ralph Fiennes, Alfred Molina, Julie Christie, Ian Holm among them) and a lovely score by Anne Dudley.

Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray release is an HD reprieve of their 2007 DVD Special Edition, and much like “The Last Unicorn” which I covered in my prior column, the AVC encoded 1080p transfer does not disappoint. Fine detail is on-hand thanks to a DNR-free transfer, while DTS Master Audio sound beautifully reproduces Dudley’s superlative score. Extras include commentary, an informative making of doc, trailer and a DVD copy.

Also new from Lionsgate is the enjoyable “Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie,” which arrives on Blu-Ray offering all of its most recent special features (three commentaries, behind-the-scenes featurettes, outtakes, trailers), a colorful AVC encoded 1080p transfer, DTS Master Audio sound, and a standard DVD copy for good measure.

New From Shout! Factory

The first CGI animated kids series, REBOOT (aprx. 10 hours, 1994, Shout!) turned the heads of many when it first aired in the mid ‘90s on ABC. It wasn’t just kids that were enthralled with this colorful series that basically served as an updated, superior version of “Tron,” following the adventures of Guardian Bob and his friends in a computer world dubbed Mainframe that’s forever being attacked by the villainous Megabyte and Hexadecimal. The stories are engaging enough for adults as well as kids, but it was really the cool, unique visuals that set the program apart from its Saturday morning competition, serving as a prelude of sorts for the type of animation now commonplace in kid-TV today.

A cult following backed “Reboot” over the years since it left the airwaves, and those fans ought to be tickled by Shout! Factory’s terrific DVD box-set, which offers all 23 episodes from the program’s first and second seasons. Full-screen transfers and stereo soundtracks adorn the four-disc set, along with a full plate of audio commentaries from production personnel.

Out later this month from Shout! is a DVD of CAPONE, a poorly-received 1975 Fox release produced by Roger Corman, that offers Ben Gazzara in an appropriately tough-as-nails performance as the legendary mobster in a standard-issue biopic spruced up by a good amount of violence and supporting turns from vets like Garry Guardino, John Casavetes, Susan Blakely and a young Sylvester Stallone.

Shout’s DVD includes a 16:9 transfer, mono soundtrack, trailers, and an informative commentary from director Steve Carver.

New on DVD   

A BOY NAMED CHARLIE BROWN/SNOOPY COME HOME Double Feature DVD (CBS/Paramount): Double feature DVD package couples the previously-released, first two Peanuts theatrical features.

Charles M. Schulz’s Peanuts gang had exploded into the popular consciousness by the time his beloved characters hit theaters in 1969. A BOY NAMED CHARLIE BROWN (***½, 86 mins.) marked the debut of the Peanuts clan on the big-screen, in what would be the first of four features starring “Good O’l” Charlie Brown, Snoopy and friends.

All of the principal talent behind the CBS TV specials worked on the movie, from director Bill Melendez to producer Lee Mendelson, with Schulz -- of course -- authoring the script, which here follows Charlie Brown from baseball season to participating in a spelling bee with a chance to show that he’s not just an ordinary boy with ordinary problems (and lots of bad luck).

With the exception of occasional splashes of late ‘60s psychedelic colors, “A Boy Named Charlie Brown” very much feels like an extension of the Peanuts TV specials -- which is to say it’s thoroughly charming and holds up beautifully today. Vince Guaraldi’s trademark score was orchestrated by John Scott Trotter (as were most of Guaraldi’s scores for the TV specials), and was also joined in the movie by several songs from songwriter Rod McKuen. Though some viewers -- kids in particular -- might find McKuen’s title song to be a bit sappy, it’s a lovely, mellow tune that poignantly opens and closes the film, underscored in the latter by footage of the animators who worked so diligently on the production.

Paramount’s “A Boy Named Charlie Brown” DVD includes its original 86-minute theatrical version. Previous CBS/Fox VHS and laserdisc issues contained an abbreviated, 79-minute cut that was apparently trimmed for television, but Paramount finally rectified the situation by including the original version of the film on DVD, here presented with its seven restored minutes intact (the “new” footage is comprised of two full sequences and a myriad of trims to other scenes).

The print utilized here, however, is not in the greatest shape: there’s dirt and numerous inconsistencies evident throughout, more detectable here than in previous video releases in fact. The good news, at least, is that the color and contrast of the print is highly satisfying, while the remixed 5.1 Dolby Digital and 2.0 Dolby Stereo soundtracks do full justice to Guaraldi and McKuen’s musical offerings.

Regrettably, the 1.85 transfer (16:9 enhanced) Paramount included on the DVD also appears to be marred by over-matting: in comparison with earlier video and television versions, the “widescreen” frame tends to clip the top portion of the image, robbing some of the animation’s various background details (such as a picture hanging on the wall in Charlie Brown’s home at the beginning of the film).

The success of “A Boy Named Charlie Brown” resulted in a follow-up film, SNOOPY, COME HOME (***, 80 mins., 1972, G), which also marked the introduction of Snoopy’s loveable feathered friend Woodstock into the Peanuts canon.

The Sherman brothers also migrated from Disney to work with Schulz, Mendelson and Melendez for this second Peanuts feature, which offers some undeniably sad moments when Snoopy leaves Charlie Brown to return to his former owner: a sick young girl currently in the hospital, who writes to the dog she had to give up when her family moved away.

“Snoopy Come Home” is downright depressing in places, with often sappy songs by the Shermans and perhaps a few too many tearful goodbyes for its own good. The lack of Vince Guaraldi’s music, in concert with some of the songs, may have some lamenting the absence of Rod McKuen as well. The movie doesn’t have the light, beautifully balanced tone of “A Boy Named Charlie Brown,” but it’s certainly an entertaining effort with numerous highlights for kids and Peanuts fans...it’s just not up to the level of its predecessor.

Paramount’s DVD transfer again feels a bit cramped in 1.85 (16:9) widescreen, but the print utilized here is in much healthier condition, with strong colors and an absence of dirt or other issues in the transfer. The sound is only in standard 2.0 Dolby Surround, but it functions just fine, making the duo a must-have -- in spite of their somewhat questionable framing -- for Peanuts fans of all ages.

SIREN DVD (***, 80 mins., 2010, R; Lionsgate): Surprisingly watchable, genuinely sexy supernatural British indie finds Eoin Macken, Anna Skellern and Anthony Jabre as a trio of sea-going vacationers who run across Tereza Srbova on a remote island. Something is clearly amiss from her behavior, and as Skellern becomes enchanted with the mysterious girl, her male counterparts begin to suffer from hallucinations and paranoia.

Andrew Hull’s good-looking film leaves a lot open to interpretation, and even though he borrows liberally from films like “Dead Calm” and “The Hunger” (whose ending is basically lifted here), “Siren” is one of those surprising films you come across every now and then. From its Maurice Binder-like opening credits to the gorgeous presence of Skellern and Srbova, “Siren” is 80 minutes of good-looking nonsense that’s a cut above the norm for this type of thing (it certainly isn’t just another cut-rate Lionsgate horror release either).

Lionsgate’s DVD includes several minutes of deleted scenes, a 16:9 (2.35) transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack.

DR. WHO - THE ARK DVD (100 mins., 1966, BBC):
DR. WHO - THE SEEDS OF DOOM DVD (144 mins., 1976, BBC): Dr. Who fans will certainly be interested in BBC Home Video’s latest Special Edition DVD packages of the long-running series’ vintage episodes.

“The Ark” stars William Hartnell as the good Doctor, who comes across a spaceship carrying the last remnants of humanity, only to have the Tardis infect some of them with the common cold. BBC’s B&W transfer of this 1966 program looks as satisfying as the source material allows, with extras including commentary; featurettes on H.G. Wells’ influence on the series as well as a look at Hammersmith’s Riverside Studios, where many Dr. Who ‘60s shows were filmed; production notes, PDF materials, a photo gallery and more.

Tom Baker takes up the reigns in the 1976 story arc “The Seeds of Doom,” with Dr. Who and Sarah Jane fighting off deadly Krynoids, who have been discovered buried deep in the arctic ice. Commentary from Baker and other production personnel, plus segments on Geoffrey Burgon’s music score (including a full isolated score track), a 37-minute Making Of, behind-the-scenes segments and more round out another exemplary release for Dr. Who buffs.

APOCALYPSE - WORLD WAR II DVD (318 Mins., Entertainment One): Daniel Costelle and Isabelle Clarke’s French TV documentary recounts WWII through six parts of unflinching, uncensored footage, most of which has been colorized for this production, which initially aired in the U.S. on the Smithsonian channel. Entertainment One’s three-disc DVD offers the complete series, which is something of a mix between the recent (and superior) “WWII in HD” History Channel series and a shortened version of “The World at War.” The 16:9 transfers are fine, and extras include two hours of unseen footage and a behind-the-scenes featurette.

LEAVING DVD (86 mins., IFC): Weak domestic drama with Kristin Scott Thomas as a housewife who finds herself drawn to a Spanish builder whom her husband hired to fix up their garage. Passions spill over in this blah French release, which IFC brings to DVD in  a 16:9 transfer with 5.1 French audio and English subtitles.

THE CAPTURE OF THE GREEN RIVER KILLER DVD (180 mins., 2008; Lifetime/NewVideo): Absorbing mini-series recounts the true-life Green River Killer murders that plagued Washington for nearly two decades, and in particular Sheriff David Reichert’s dogged pursuit of the murderer.

This 2008 Lifetime mini-series is easily one of the best original movies I’ve seen on the network – well-written, well-performed (Tom Cavanagh stars as Reichert, with able support turned in from Sharon Lawrence, Currie Graham, and James Marsters as notorious killer Ted Bundy), and assuredly directed by Norma Bailey. The DVD edition hits stores later this month, offering a fine 16:9 transfer and 2.0 stereo soundtrack. Recommended.

HIGHWAY TO HEAVEN SEASON 1 DVD (20 hrs., A&E/NewVideo): Bargain-priced, affordable repackaging of the first season of Michael Landon’s popular ‘80s tearjerking series, a long-running NBC hit that still makes for fine family viewing. Nothing fancy in this A&E package: just full-screen transfers, a nice documentary on Landon, outtakes and text bios, with the episodes spread across seven discs.        

GANGLAND Final Season Blu-Ray (aprx. 12 hours, History/NewVideo): Seventh and final season of the History Channel series chronicles gang life in Ohio, Arizona, New Jersey and South Dakota. Also on-hand is a 75th episode retrospective show, hosted by Ice-T and Snoop Dog, that revisits past characters on the program. NewVideo’s Blu-Ray disc includes the show’s final 15 episodes in 1080i transfers with DTS 2.0 Master stereo sound.

NEXT TIME: Even more March video madness! 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 1997-2011 All Reviews, Site and Design by Andre Dursin