Seat Mid-April Report
LIL ABNER on DVD
Plus: AMITYVILLE HORROR Returns, EXORCIST IV News, and More!
You’ve got to hand it to Hollywood yet again. In this day and
age of political correctness, even a mindless horror remake like THE
AMITYVILLE HORROR (** of four)
can’t go unaltered by the P.C. police.
More on that in a moment. First off, MGM and Dimension Films teamed up
with Michael Bay to produce this slick, competent, but surprisingly
bland re-do of the 1979 American-International box-office hit.
Based on the supposed true story of the Lutz family (whose tale
inspired Jay Anson’s book and various reports of a hoax in
years), Ryan Reynolds and Melissa George play the recently married
couple who pack up – along with George’s children
– for the quaint Long
Island community of Amityville and that infamous house where evil
No sooner do the Lutzes move in than all kinds of weird shenanigans
take place: dad Reynolds begins to exhibit a whole new personality; a
dead little girl walks the halls and speaks to the Lutz’s
daughter; doors and windows mysteriously open and close; and the fact
that the family that previously occupied the house were slaughtered by
their eldest son begins to creep into the parents’
you think just MAYBE the sweet deal they got on their home was too good
to be true?
Slickly shot in scope and adequately packaged by director Andrew
Douglas, the new AMITYVILLE HORROR presents a more potent visual
package than its blandly-directed -- though more effectively low-key --
predecessor. Reynolds and George both manage to give good performances
despite a sometimes thinly-drawn script, and even the young actors
playing their children aren’t overly affected.
There’s even one
especially effective set piece set on top of the Amityville home, where
the Lutz daughter attempts to jump off the roof.
Unfortunately, the new AMITYVILLE suffers from some of the same
ailments as the original movie: namely, the direct influence that can
be felt from other, better genre films. Here, you’ve got not
sense of deja vu provided by the original and “The
Exorcist,” but also
“The Ring” (the dead little girl who
can’t help but cause trouble),
“What Lies Beneath” (look out for the bathtub!),
“The Shining” (dad
goes more ballistic in this rendition),
“Poltergeist” (an angelic young
blond girl flirting with the supernatural), and even “Jeepers
(a mysteriously clad, shadowy figure wearing a fedora who may be at the
center of the haunting).
That latter aspect also ties in with the movie’s most
element: the addition of a “cause” for the haunting
P.C. As described by Dr. Hans Holzer in his original investigation, the
Amityville house in question was built on an Indian burial ground, and
the haunting itself was allegedly caused by an angry Indian Chief
simply mad at those living in the abode above him.
Apparently it’s not P.C. to have that as the center of the
the producers here have pulled a “Poltergeist II”
and concocted the
tale of a Christian missionary who TORTURED Native Americans, and how
HIS anger is the root of all the evil (chalk it up as yet another blow
against organized religion in movies). Predictably, though, none of
this is really developed, though a brief appearance by the
Creeper-looking like bad guy could leave the door open for future
Not that the altered denouement of the movie is the only problem: a
senseless subplot involving an oversexed babysitter (about as
believable as 28-year-old George having three kids, including a
15-year-old) is a needless addition, while the climax fizzles out right
when it seems to be building up a head of steam. And why is it that
only one of the slain DeFeo family – their youngest daughter
– is still
trapped in the house, while the others are apparently out having a
smoke? (Naturally these are the sorts of questions not worth asking in
a movie of this sort, but when you’re as bored as I was while
the film, they do cross your mind!).
Though not a complete misfire, “The Amityville
Horror” fails to take
advantage of a great opportunity to make an effective modern haunted
house tale. More often than not the movie is simply dull, regurgitating
cliches and scenes from other movies, and stumbling when it tries to
differentiate itself from the pack. Sometimes competent isn’t
Seat DVD Pick of the Week
ABNER (***½, 1959). 113 mins., Paramount. DVD FEATURES: 16:9
Widescreen, 2.0 Dolby Digital mono.
The delightful Broadway musical gets a gorgeous presentation on DVD
courtesy of Paramount.
You needn’t be familiar with the residents of Dogpatch,
to enjoy the wonderful songs by Gene de Paul and Johnny Mercer, the
engaging performances and candy-coated colors of the Panama-Frank
production (“stagy” in the best sense of the word).
frame is captured perfectly in Paramount’s DVD, while the
soundtrack is remarkably crisp and pungent – one of the best
two-channel tracks you’ll ever hear on DVD.
Norman Panama and Melvin Frank were a Hollywood tandem who made their
Broadway debut with “Lil Abner” in 1956. After a
successful run, the
duo brought their production to the screen three years later almost
completely intact from its original source.
The plot finds Abner, Daisy Mae, and the entire Dogpatch gang wrapped
up with a mad scientist, the government, nuclear tests, and the usual
backwoods shenanigans one would expect to find in Al Capp’s
mostly an excuse for a lot of unabashedly silly goings-on and a bevy of
wonderful songs by de Paul and Mercer, including the opening
Typical Day,” the splendid duet “I’m Past
My Prime,” and the lovely
ballad “Namely You.”
What makes LIL ABNER, the movie, so much fun is its faithfulness to its
source: not only does the movie replicate its original staging and
choreography, most of the original Broadway cast returned as well,
including big Peter Palmer as Abner and Stubby Kaye as
(who sings the rousing “Jubilation T. Cornpone”),
with Edie Adams
replaced by the lovely Leslie Parrish as Daisy Mae.
It’s a sweet treat that Paramount has brought home
beautifully on disc.
The 16:9 enhanced widescreen transfer is splendid, and the mono track,
as I mentioned earlier, is superlative. Though the DVD does not boast
any extras, this is a perfect presentation of a movie that’s
of my favorite musicals. Highly recommended!
Bob Newhart Show: The Complete First Season (1972-73). Fox.
Jeffersons: The Complete Third Season (1976-77). Sony.
Before he ran Vermont’s Stratford Inn, Bob Newhart starred as
shrink Dr. Bob Hartley in CBS’ long-running series, which
– due to
perpetual re-runs – has virtually never left the broadcast
Season one of THE BOB NEWHART SHOW
kicked off on a Saturday night in September, 1972, a time slot it would
occupy for virtually the following six years. Newhart’s good
doc put up
with a cavalcade of crazies at work, from patients like Jack
Elliot to secretary Carol Kester (Marcia Wallace), his dentist pal
Peter Bonerz and pilot-neighbor Howard Borden (Bill Daily). Rounding
out the ensemble and a primary element to the series’
Suzanne Pleshette’s perfectly pitched performance as
understanding wife Emily – a splendid compliment to
wry humor. Interestingly, comedian Lorenzo Music not only co-created
the series, but co-penned the series’ memorable instrumental
with his wife Henrietta.
Fox’s three-disc DVD set features the entire, uncut first
“The Bob Newhart Show” with good-looking
full-screen transfers and
clear mono sound.
Just a short time after Newhart scored a major hit that ran for the
balance of the ‘70s, CBS launched another show that had an
tenure on the air: The Jeffersons, with Sherman Hemsley and Isabel
Sanford as the upwardly-mobile African-American couple who struck it
rich and moved to the East Side of Manhattan.
Unlike many of Norman Lear’s sitcoms of the era, THE JEFFERSONS
boasted fewer episodes that were dominated by social issues,
concentrating instead on making its audience laugh. Based on that
focus, The Jeffersons was able to transcend its roots as a spin-off of
All in the Family and became one of TV’s all-time classic
running for over a decade in prime time. Even now, the show remains
hysterically funny, with potent one-liners and topical humor perfectly
balanced by a great cast.
Following a gap between the first and second season sets, Sony has
issued the complete third season box set of The Jeffersons sporting all
24 episodes, satisfying full-screen transfers and brief episode
synopsis. Even better, just like Newhart, the episodes are their
full-length, uncut broadcast versions, and not the truncated edits sent
out in syndicated re-runs.
& Friends Vol. 3 (Fox): The
Aisle Seat admits to having a soft spot for the televised adventures of
Jim Davis’ lazy feline, who starred in a handful of
and this fondly-remembered Saturday morning cartoon series. Paired with
episodes from Davis’ defunct strip U.S. Acres, these amusing
episodes of Garfield & Friends look right at home on DVD, with
passable transfers and colorful packaging. Fans can also look out for a
host of compilation DVDs from Fox, the latest of which –
Fantasies – will be out later next month.
New On DVD
DAGGERS (***, 2004). 119 mins., PG-13, Sony. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES:
Commentary by Zhang Yimou and Ziyi Zhang; 45-Minute Making Of
Featurette; Music Video; Visual FX Featurette; 2.35 Widescreen, 5.1
Dolby Digital (Chinese with English subtitles or English dubbed).
Zhang Yimou’s exquisitely filmed action epic is set in 9th
China and revolves around the relationship between Jin (Takeshi
Kaneshiro), a government agent, and the blind dancer (Zhang Ziyi, who
also appeared in “Crouching Tiger” and
“Hero”) he’s investigating for
her possible connection with a revolutionary movement. The two fall in
love while Jin has to answer to his fellow officer, Leo (Andy Lau), who
forms the other part of the triangle in Yimou’s script, which
co-authored by Li Feng and Wang Bin.
After “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and
“Hero,” it seemed that
American audiences had seen enough of the new wave of “kung
from overseas. Granted, “House of Flying Daggers”
has a thinly-drawn
story, a leisurely pace, and a predictable tragic outcome –
all, perhaps, why the movie didn’t catch fire at the
its predecessors. Nevertheless, fans of the genre will find the
cinematography and fight sequences here to be nothing short of
spellbinding. The wide spectrum of colors in Zhao Xiaoding’s
photography alone makes this a more compelling experience than
even if it’s more successful on a visual level than a
Sony’s DVD, available this week, looks fantastic in 16:9
boasts an effective 5.1 Chinese Dolby Digital soundtrack (a far less
satisfying English dubbed version is also included), with optional
English subtitles. Extras include a subtitled commentary with director
Yimou and star Zhang, plus a 45-minute Making Of featurette, a visual
FX featurette, storyboards, photo galleries, and a music video of
“Lovers,” the movie’s eloquent ballad
performed by Kathleen Battle.
(**, 2004, 131 mins., PG-13; Sony):
James L. Brooks’ comic-drama misfire stars Adam Sandler as a
father whose wife (Tea Leoni) suffers a mental breakdown. At the same
time, they welcome in a sexy housekeeper (Paz Vega) with a young
daughter, resulting in a clash of cultures and relationships. Sandler
gives a nicely modulated performance, but Leoni is all over the map in
a strange, rambling performance that just doesn’t ring true.
Brooks’ script, which offers a trite, TV sitcom-like view of
characters and their interaction with one another. A disappointment
both with critics and at the box-office,
“Spanglish” has been given a
solid presentation on DVD courtesy of Sony. The 1.85 transfer is
superb, the 5.1 Dolby Digital sound is just fine for this kind of film,
and extra features abound, including Brooks’ commentary,
scenes (which might have helped explain some of Leoni’s
personality), casting audition tapes, an HBO First Look special and
As discussed on the Aisle Seat Message Boards,
Paul Schrader’s EXORCIST IV (title tentative) is supposed to
theatrical release of some kind on May 20th via Morgan Creek/Warner
Bros. How wide the distribution will be is anybody’s guess,
Schrader has at least spilled the beans about the movie’s
which predictably had to be compiled on a shoestring budget. Here are a
few comments from the director, taken from a
Stellan Skarsgard website:
was allowed to complete my
Exorcist, but only at minimal expense. To put the score together I had
to be creative and call up some favors. The music editor and I were
able to remix an hour of the Renny Harlin/Trevor Rabin score and adapt
it to my film. The Rabin score, however, did not contain a 'theme' cue.
For this I turned to Angelo Badalamenti (with whom I've done four
films) who provided fifteen minutes of music gratis. The Rabin remix
wore thin, particularly during the final twenty minutes of the film.
For this I turned to some friends in the heavy metal group Dog Fashion
Disco. They scored the last reel and we were able to go back through
the film and integrate some of the musical elements. In addition they
wrote and performed a song, 'Satan's March,' for the tail credits."
Sounds intriguing, if not downright bizarre! Don’t forget to
the Aisle Seat Message Boards to discuss the movie, plus the latest DVD
deals and theatrical releases!
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