April Assault Edition!
Lions Gate, MGM
Plus: CHOMPS, THE WOODSMAN and More!
April is typically a quiet month for new movies and DVD releases
the calm before the storm of May, when Hollywood unleashes the annual
barrage of major studio productions competing for your hard-earned
This year, May couldn’t come quickly enough, since 2005 to
yielded numerous flops and few blockbuster performers –
keeping with what was a disappointing
2004 at the movies. While we can only hope that things turn around
(between Episode III and “War of the Worlds”
optimistic), the DVD format continues to turn out one quality release
after another, from small independent films to vintage titles and
deluxe editions of recent releases.
New offerings this week include titles from Sony, Lions Gate, MGM and
more, from Hanna-Barbera’s live-action theatrical debut (and
to recent independent films with stars including Kevin Bacon, Robin
Williams, Lauren Graham, and Jim Caviezel and others.
(**½, 2004). 87 mins., R, Sony. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES:
Commentary by Nicole Kassell; Deleted/Extended Scenes; Making Of
featurette; 1.85 Widescreen, 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital sound.
Kevin Bacon’s superb, restrained performance is the standout
element in Nicole Kassell’s adaptation of Steven
As a former child molester recently released from prison,
character struggles to find solace in his new job and meaning in a
relationship with co-worker Kyra Sedgwick. His best friend is also his
brother-in-law (Benjamin Bratt), who comes to visit him in spite of his
wife – Bacon’s own sister – who still
can’t come to terms with her
“The Woodsman” is a low-key film that, at times,
plays like an R-rated
“Lifetime Movie of the Week.” Bacon’s
character struggles with his
relationships and also the fact that he’s living next to a
school, which could either lead him on the path to temptation or
possibly redemption. It’s a great showcase for Bacon, but
simplistic element to the story (scripted by Fechter and Kassell) that
doesn’t feel quite right. Some of the supporting characters
(like Eve as a pushy co-worker and Mos Def as a police detective leery
of Bacon’s presence in the community), making the project a
character piece that’s quickly forgotten once its 87 minutes
Sony’s DVD, out this week, includes commentary from Kassell
deleted/extended scenes, one of which definitely would have pushed the
movie into veritable “Afterschool Special”
territory. A very brief
“Getting it Made” featurette is included alongside
a superb 1.85
transfer and one of the best soundtracks you’ll ever hear in
like this. Nathan Larson’s moody score is complimented by a
stereophonic sound design, on-hand in both DTS and Dolby Digital
A FANTASY MADE REAL (2005). 100 mins., PG, Sony. DVD FEATURES: Behind
the Scenes featurette; 1.78 Widescreen, 2.0 Dolby Surround.
British-made, ersatz documentary attempts to do for dragons what the
BBC’s superb “Walking With Dinosaurs” did
for our prehistoric pals.
Though this Animal Planet/Discovery co-production lacks the technical
polish of the “Walking With...” efforts (with a
needless “modern day”
paleontologist supposedly uncovering dragon remains), kids should enjoy
this fanciful look at what the world may have been like had dragons
Ian Holm narrates the 100-minute presentation (which reportedly was cut
considerably for its American TV airings last month), which is chock
full of superb special effects by Framestore CFC, showing the digitized
dragons first feeding on a tyranosaurus and later fighting for their
lives during medieval times. Justin Hardy directed Charlie
concept, which is easily better than recent theatrical duds like
of Fire,” at least giving the dragons more time in the
Sony’s DVD includes a somewhat disappointing 1.78 widescreen
Perhaps because I enjoyed the “Walking With
Dinosaurs” series so much
(with its outstanding DVD quality), my expectations were set too high
here. Nevertheless, the DVD transfer is surprisingly soft and grainy at
times, though this could well be a result of the production’s
lack of budget. A Making Of featurette is included on the supplementary
From Lions Gate
(**, 2004). 91 mins., PG-13, Lions Gate. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Making
Of and additional featurettes; Deleted Scenes; Commentary; 2.35
Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.
Uneven but well-performed sci-fi tale stars Robin Williams as a
“cutter” in the not-too-distant future.
Williams’ job is to assembly
the memories of newly deceased individuals via an implanted memory chip
which “captures” their lives from start till end.
entails editing out the controversial elements – something
a problem when Williams’ latest assignment has him compiling
life of a lawyer associated with the company that produces the chip.
Omar Naim’s short (barely over 90 minutes) film is a
predictable tale of where technology could lead us, and the
performances of Williams as a man haunted both by his past and lack of
identity -- as well as Caviezel as the renegade wanting to take the
corporation down -- are right on the mark. If only the rest of
Final Cut” was as focused: the finished product is often
with several poor supporting performances, most notably a miscast Mira
Sorvino as the blonde bombshell who captivates Williams’
incestuous subplot adds a grimy element that compounds the
derivative aspects, offsetting the strong work provided by the leads.
Lions Gate’s DVD includes a razor-sharp 2.35 transfer (the
erroneously lists 1.85) with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound. Like the movie,
Brian Tyler’s score is a mixed bag: the opening titles sound
like Danny Elfman for comfort, though later passages work well when
meshed with the drama. Extra features include Naim’s
deleted scenes, storyboards, and several Making Of featurettes.
(**½, 2004). 109 mins., R, Lions Gate. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES:
Commentary; Featurettes; 1.85 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.
Billy Crudup plays a 17th century actor renowned for his stage
portrayals of women; Claire Dances is his dresser and companion who
ultimately takes over for him when the King opts to eliminate his edict
that only males can play females.
Richard Eyre’s period piece/character study boasts a strong
cast (Rupert Everett, Tom Wilkinson, Ben Chaplin), yet this Robert
DeNiro-produced adaptation of Jeffrey Hatcher’s stage play
the author) comes off as a claustrophobic, small-scale piece without
the lush trappings of a typical Merchant-Ivory film. The performances
of Crudup and Danes are both praiseworthy, yet the movie never really
takes hold of the viewer.
Lions Gate’s DVD offers a colorful 16:9 enhanced transfer
commentary from director Eyre, several vignettes/featurettes on the
making of the film, and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound. The surprisingly
ineffective score was penned by George Fenton, boasting some jarring
“contemporary” passages atypical of the composer.
(2004, 172 mins., Lions Gate):
Entertaining Sci-Fi Channel mini-series follows the adventures of a
young wizard (Shawn Ashmore) as he attempts to restore peace to the
gorgeous, besieged fantasy world of Earthsea. Kristin Kreuk
(“Smallville”), Isabella Rossellini and Danny
Glover co-star. Having
never read Ursula K. LeGuin’s novel, I can’t attest
to the faithfulness
of Rob Lieberman’s production (fans were angered by it), but
on its own
terms this “Lord of the Rings”-inspired effort from
Hallmark Entertainment is a good deal of fun for genre buffs. The 1.85
transfer is crisp, Jeff Rona’s score packs a potent punch in
5.1 audio, and a Making Of featurette round out the disc.
of the Shelved High School Movies
SHE WANTS (**, 2001). 97 mins., PG-13, Lions Gate. DVD FEATURES: 1.85
Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, Trailer.
Long-shelved teen comedy produced by Germany’s Constantin
Piper Perabo as a French exchange student who throws a few wrenches
into the plans of Texas high school queen Jane McGregor.
Originally titled “Slap Her...She’s
French,” this colorful but only
occasionally funny effort gets appealing performances out of McGregor
as the bitchy Texan who changes her ways only after Perabo’s
demure French girl takes over her world, including her high school
clique and wacky family. Unfortunately, the Lamar
King script fails to take off and exploit the scenario as effectively
as it might have: the movie has the requisite vomiting and gross-out
gags of its genre, though with the kind of PG-13
“edge” that “Heathers”
hinted at back in the late ‘80s. Obviously, “She
Gets What She Wants”
isn’t nearly as effective as that 1988 cult classic, but
interesting attempt at doing something different than the norm, even if
it’s only partially successful.
Lions Gate’s DVD includes the theatrical trailer (which ran
as memory serves), plus a colorful 1.85 widescreen transfer and 5.1
Dolby Digital sound, sporting an okay score by David Michael Frank.
VALLEY HIGH (*, 2000). 84 mins., R, Universal. DVD FEATURES: Deleted
Scenes; 1.85 Widescreen, 2.0 Dolby Surround stereo.
This flimsy excuse for a high school black comedy was actually shot all
the way back in 1999 – hence the on-screen appearances of
and ex-teen star Jonathan Brandis, who have since passed away, not to
mention “The Bubble Factory,” the ill-fated
production group originated
by Sid Sheinberg that likewise kicked the bucket several years ago.
Julie Benz, Monica Keena, and Nicole Bilderback play a trio of hapless,
mindless high schoolers who opt to knock out the foreign exchange
student who infiltrates their clique. Murder, mayhem, and an uneasy mix
of gags and gore ensue in this weird adaptation of Paul
novel “A Fate Totally Worse Than Death.”
Universal’s DVD includes a couple of minutes of deleted
oddly no chapter menu functions and nothing else outside of a basic
1.85 transfer with 2.0 Surround sound.
13 (*½, 2004). 78 mins., R, MGM. DVD FEATURES: 1.85
Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.
One of those small indie movies that give indie movies a bad name, this
78-minute “comedy” from director Chris Hall is a
torturous affair that
can’t even be saved by the presence of “Gilmore
Girls” star Lauren
Brad Hunt plays one of the least appealing romantic comedy leads in
recent memory as a down-on-his-luck guy whose childhood sweetheart
(Graham) is about to move away for good. Undaunted by his lack of
grace, manners, and appealing personality, Hunt tries to win her back
by asking all 12 of his ex-girlfriends whether he was “any
not, all the while pal Harland Williams helps out.
“Lucky 13" may run less than 80 minutes but it feels like
hours: the Hall-Ari Schlossberg script is tepid and the whole movie
simply feels “off.” Maybe it’s because of
Hunt’s performance (Williams
would have been a more convincing romantic lead), maybe it’s
that the movie feels like it was shot in a couple of days, or perhaps
it’s just plain bad, “Lucky 13" is a charmless
effort hardly even worth
considering as a rental.
MGM’s DVD has no special features, just an okay 1.85
widescreen transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.
(**½, 1979). 91 mins., PG (though labeled as the G version),
FEATURES: Full-Screen Transfer, Dolby Digital mono.
Hanna-Barbera made their first and only foray into the world of
live-action theatrical films with C.H.O.M.P.S., the wacky tale of a
young engineer (“Land of the Lost” star Wesley
Eure) who creates for
his boss (Conrad Bain) a robotic dog that they believe will
revolutionize the home security industry. Valerie Bertinelli plays
Bain’s daughter, while Red Buttons and Chuck McCann are the
duo up to
no good in Hanna-Barbera’s bid for big-screen success.
Of course, teaming with Samuel Z. Arkoff’s
Pictures couldn’t have been much of a help, but C.H.O.M.P.S.,
today, still provides mindless fun for younger viewers, albeit one with
a major caveat: though advertised as the G-rated version,
MGM’s DVD of
C.H.O.M.P.S. (available Tuesday) is actually the unedited PG-rated
While ordinarily that’s good news for buffs, it comes as bad
parents, because there was some alarming and needless profanity in the
original version of C.H.O.M.P.S. that was later edited out of the film.
Here, however, the few four-letter words are intact, including a
totally gratuitous obscenity spoken by C.H.O.M.P.S.’
right before the credits roll! Thus, if you have kids, be aware of the
foul language and proceed accordingly.
MGM’s DVD is in full-screen but appears perfectly composed
chances are that the movie (directed by Don Chaffey of “One
Years B.C.” fame) was filmed full-frame and matted for
release, so unless you’re a 16:9 TV owner, I doubt there will
complaints. The mono sound is a bit coarse but works fine, sporting an
appropriately bombastic score by none other than Hanna-Barbera vet Hoyt
Curtin. The original trailer rounds out the disc.
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