CLOVERFIELD Stomps on DVD Andy Reviews Abrams' Monster (S)Mash Plus: THE ADAMS CHRONICLES and More!
With the lavish “John Adams” mini-series still airing on
HBO, now is the ideal time to flash back to another major critical
television event: PBS’ 1976-77 production of THE ADAMS CHRONICLES.
Newly presented on DVD by Acorn Media, this 13-episode mini-series
garnered numerous awards and still ranks as the highest-rated series in
the history of PBS. Each hour-long episode traces the Adams family from
John Adams as a young country lawyer through his time as Congressman,
diplomat, Minister to Great Britain, and finally President.
Adams’ life story is captured through the first six episodes,
with George Grizzard giving a superb performance as Adams and Kathryn Walker likewise
effective as his stalwart wife Abigail. Their relationship is warm,
believable and nicely under-played, in contrast to other portrayals of
the duo in similar adaptations.
Episodes 7-10 chronicle John Quincy Adams, in his journey from the
Presidency to Congress, in equally fine work turned in by David Birney
and later William Daniels, who so memorably essayed his
character’s father in the stage and screen adaptations of the
Sherman Edwards-Peter Stone musical “1776.” The final three
episodes examine Charles Francis Adams, minister to Great Britain, as
well as historian Henry Adams and Charles Francis Adams II, who
spearheaded the national expansion of the Union Pacific Railroad.
“The Adams Chronicles” may look dated with its videotaped
appearance, yet the strength of the writing is so eloquent -- scenes
naturally flow into one another, with perfect narrative transitions to
important historical and personal events -- and the performances so
effective that the show’s technical limitations are quickly
Acorn’s marvelous four-disc DVD package includes 12 pages of
notes from Adams authorities C. James Taylor and Neil Horstman, lending
some additional historical perspective to the show, while a full
time-line is also available for handy reference.
In all, this is a highly recommended package perfect for all history enthusiasts and viewers of all ages, for that matter. Coming Next Week on DVD
J.J. Abrams said that when we went to Japan some time ago with his
young son, he saw Godzilla merchandise all over the place. Abrams was
struck by the Big G’s presence throughout his native land, and
wondered where “our” Godzilla was in the good o’l
That notion formed the concept of CLOVERFIELD (**½, 84 mins., 2008, PG-13; Paramount),
this past winter’s box-office hit that finds New York City under
attack from a giant behemoth, as seen through the lens of a hand-held
camcorder being operated by one of the Big Apple’s residents
trying -- along with his buddies -- to get away from the beast.
No matter that Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin captured a bit of this
same feeling in their 1998 “Godzilla” (indeed, some of this
movie’s more evocative shots of the creature running amok bear
more than a passing resemblance to that much-ballyhooed 1998 box-office
disappointment) -- Abrams, writer Drew Goddard and director Matt Reeves
(both veterans of Abrams’ stable) have fashioned a film that
lives up to its billing as “Godzilla meets the ‘Blair Witch
Project’”, at least to some degree.
“Cloverfield” opens with a group of nameless faces
congregating at an apartment party. In what is easily the film’s
weakest stretch, Reeves and Goddard try to establish their limp set of
lead characters in nearly interminable sequences that feel like a
poorly-shot WB soap opera. You never care about any of these
twentysomething protagonists, their relationships and current dating
status (who dumped and slept with who, etc.). It’s all routine
and less than interesting, with all of these early bits feeling like
the filmmakers were just killing time getting to “the good
When it does, “Cloverfield” functions much like any other
giant monster movie: the big lug cuts a path of destruction throughout
the Big Apple, before shaking loose a group of tiny offspring that look
like a cross between “Alien” face-huggers and a smaller
version of the central creature. Buildings are leveled, bodies are
stockpiled, and what military figures the core group of characters
encounter have less information than you’d anticipate.
There’s nothing groundbreaking about “Cloverfield” in
terms of its thrills or special effects, though what it makes it unique
is how it portrays the creature’s arrival. The shaky, hand-held
camera barely stays level for long, and some 70+ minutes of this
approach tends to go a long way. Watching the film at home may make the
effect less potent than it was in theaters (where there were countless
reports of audiences feeling ill), but it still could prove to be a
turn-off for some viewers.
That disclaimer aside, “Cloverfield” is really just an
old-fashioned monster mash, and its effects (from Double Negative and
Phil Tippett’s Studio) are effective enough to provide satisfying
entertainment for sci-fi/fantasy aficionados. Had the human element of
the movie worked at all, Abrams and his group would’ve had
something special here, but the weak and unappealing characters come
across more as types than real people. Hopefully these aspects will be
corrected in a sequel, which is, reportedly (and unsurprisingly),
already in the works.
Paramount’s “Cloverfield” DVD will be available next
week and comes complete with several (non-creature) deleted scenes, a
pair of slightly different alternate endings, outtakes, a 30-minute
Making Of, some shorter featurettes, and commentary from director Matt
Reeves. Shot on digital video, the 16:9 (1.85) transfer looks ideal on
DVD, while a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack comes alive when called upon.
Sharp-eyed viewers will note an intriguing blip in the background
during the picture’s final shot, as well as some garbled static
(that could well provide the basis for Part 2) at the tail end of the
Though the picture doesn’t offer an original score, Abrams staple
Michael Giacchino did write a marvelous Akira Ikafube tribute --
“Roar (Cloverfield Overture)” -- that runs throughout the
end credits and is worth the wait to sit through. Should
“Cloverfield 2" utilize a more straightforward dramatic approach,
one would hope that Giacchino will be along for the ride. New From Criterion
A number of classic children’s films grace the Criterion
Collection’s offerings this month, as well as a Spanish language
favorite from Juan Antonio Bardem.
A pair of short films from French filmmaker Albert Lamorisse are first
on the list, including Lamorisse’s classic 1956 work THE RED BALLOON (34 mins.) and an earlier, 1953 black-and-white effort WHITE MANE (40 mins.).
Though bereft of any extras, “The Red Balloon” is priced at
an especially attractive $15 from Criterion, allowing viewers an
economic opportunity to savor this marvelous, dreamy story of a young
boy’s relationship with a balloon he comes across in Paris and
bonding with it as if it were a loyal pet. Little dialogue is ever
spoken, and the redemptive ending is simply glorious, a sensational bit
of filmmaking on the part of Lamorisse.
Countless school-children around the world (yours truly included) have
been subjected to “The Red Balloon” at some point in their
young lives, but unlike most teacher-mandated classroom movies, the
picture leaves a positive imprint on most anyone who sees it.
Lamorisse’s enchanting point-of-view, playful innocence and
magical conclusion make it a spellbinding and unique piece that
translates perfectly to children of any nationality.
Criterion’s DVD of “The Red Balloon” sports a
brand-new, restored full-screen transfer that looks, obviously, far
better than the film-strip I saw of the picture as a child. A recent
theatrical trailer rounds out the disc.
More extras are available on “White Mane,” a more somber
but equally compelling 1953 work from Lamorisse about a young boy in
the south of France who discovers, and is able to tame, a wild
stallion. Just as in “The Red Balloon,” exterior forces
eventually cross their path, culminating in a harsher but equally
Criterion’s DVD of this beautifully filmed, 40-minute piece
includes new English narration from Peter Strauss, re-done subtitles, a
recent theatrical trailer and a fully restored black-and-white transfer
that looks exceptionally fresh.
Both discs are about $10 or thereabouts from Amazon and come highly recommended for viewers of all ages. Bravo!
Another award-winning children’s film, PADDLE TO THE SEA (1966, 28 mins.) is also due out shortly from Criterion.
Holling C. Holling’s Caldecott-winning children’s book
(first published in 1941) remains in print and has enchanted many a
generation of young readers. Bill Mason directed this live-action,
half-hour 1966 adaptation of the story for the National Film Board of
Canada, capturing the evocative story of a boy’s tiny,
wood-carved canoe as it travels from Ontario through all five Great
Lakes, eventually reaching the Atlantic Ocean.
Simple, yet beautifully told, “Paddle to the Sea” is
another gem Criterion has beautifully brought to DVD this month, in a
simple, low-priced package that belongs on the shelf of viewers with
young children, seeking something more sophisticated and satisfying
than the usual Disney Channel fare.
Finally from the Collection this month is Juan Antonio Bardem’s DEATH OF A CYCLIST (88 mins., 1955),
the director’s internationally acclaimed study of a university
professor and his mistress who suffer the consequences after hitting a
biker and running from the scene.
Criterion’s DVD also includes “Calle Bardem,” a 2005
documentary on the filmmaker’s life and times, along with a
good-looking new black-and-white transfer, improved English subtitle
translation and extensive booklet notes. Recommended!
Also New On DVD & Blu-Ray
SHARKWATER (***, 89 mins., 2006, PG; Warner): Excellent documentary from biologist-filmmaker Rob Stewart makes a fervent plea to end the slaughter of sharks.
Utilizing gorgeous underwater photography as well as vintage media
stories about the “terrors of the deep” from decades past,
this compelling, beautifully filmed documentary turns the tables on
popular misconceptions about sharks -- informing viewers of their
vitality and necessary role in our ocean’s eco-system -- and how
brutal international hunting outside of American waters, and
specifically in Asia, has critically diminished their populace.
It’s a superb, informative, and heart-wrenching piece that ought
to be must-viewing for all lovers of sharks and the sea, with
Warner’s Blu-Ray disc offering a sterling 1080p transfer with
Dolby Digital 5.1 sound (the regular DVD’s 16:9 transfer
isn’t shabby either). Extras include a trailer, TV spots, a
Making Of special, a Naval Training film, and a virtual underwater
gallery. Also New From Paramount
LAVERNE AND SHIRLEY: Season 4 (1978-79, 23 Episodes; CBS/Paramount) MELROSE PLACE: Season 4 (1995-96, 32 Episodes; CBS/Paramount): CBS Home Video’s latest DVD releases highlight a pair of fourth-season efforts.
“Laverne and Shirley,” the long-running “Happy
Days” spin-off, reached its apex as the #1 series on TV during
its 1978-79 season – a distinction it would hold for the final
time before a major drop-off would occur the following year.
Season Four finds the girls continuing to work at the Shotz Brewery
and, of course, getting into all sorts of trouble; the shenanigans are
predictable but by this point “L&S” was a finely-tuned
machine that delivered the goods to its fans. Regrettably those fans
would begin to jump ship in Season 5, which found its heroines
abandoning their Milwaukee homes for permanent relocation on the West
Paramount’s DVD set offers all of “L&S”’ 23
fourth-season episodes in solid full-screen transfers and with mono
Fox’s long-running night-time soaper, “Melrose
Place,” is also back on DVD in a Season 4 package that spotlights
the series basically at its best, with crazy-ridiculous plot lines,
loads of romance, sex and suspense, and the occasional unintentional
laugh as well. This 1995-96 season was one of the few I recall viewing
basically in its entirety during my college years (you needed to kill
some time after all), and Paramount’s DVD captures it in
reasonably good-looking transfers and stereo soundtracks.
Recommended viewing for fans of either series!
A SHOT AT LOVE WITH TILA TEQULA: Season 1 (424 mins., 2007; MTV/Paramount):
The trashy “cyber hottie” finds herself in the middle of a
competition between 16 heterosexual guys and 16 homosexual girls. If
this is your cup of tea, by all means enjoy Paramount’s box-set
of the MTV series’ first season with numerous extended and
deleted scenes and loads of “uncensored” footage.
HOW SHE MOVE (91 mins., 2008, PG-13; Paramount):
Urban drama about a young African-American girl who returns to
“the hood” and has to win a dance contest in order to get
her life back on track. A throbbing soundtrack and a few extras (Making
Of featurettes, the trailer) grace Paramount’s DVD, which
includes a fine 16:9 transfer and 5.1 sound mix.
THE BIG GAY SKETCH SHOW: Season 1 (131 mins., 2007) and Season 2 (174 mins., 2008; Paramount):
The Logo Channel (Viacom’s gay entertainment channel) brings you
this nutty comic assortment of sketches with special guests including
Chastity Bono, Amanda Bearse, Paul Vogt, Elaine Stritch, Christine
Ebersole and Rosie O’Donnell among others. While the plain Season
1 set is light on extras, the double-disc Season 2 edition includes
bonus sketches, Making Of content, and the spin-off special “The
Big Straight Sketch Show.” NEXT
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