Aisle Seat Opening Day Edition

Reviews From BROTHER BEAR to WILD THINGS Unrated
Plus: The Mail Bag Strikes Back!
By Andy Dursin

Spring training is finally over and opening day has arrived -- a godsend for many sports fans who have had to live on the NCAA hoops tournament over the last month to sustain our entertainment interest. It also means college hockey's national championship weekend, the "Frozen Four," is just days away.

So, this weekend, instead of spinning a few DVDs, I'll be at Boston's FleetCenter where my alma matter, Boston College, will take on Maine, and Denver will clash with Minnesota-Duluth in a battle of WCHA titans.

If you're wondering why I'm bringing this up -- well, I admit I'm a college hockey addict (I covered games for years on US College Hockey Online), and sometimes even the Laserphile has to leave his lair to appreciate the finer things in life (what? You didn't think I only reviewed DVDs, did you??).

The good news is that with the arrival of Spring also come a parade of big new releases over the next few weeks. Rest assured the Aisle Seat will be covering them in our usual no-frills style -- below follows a calendar of upcoming titles, a bevy of new release reviews, and a full-fledged Mail Bag for your reading pleasure!

April Release Calendar

This Week
Cheaper by the Dozen (2003)
Freaks and Geeks
Half-A-Sixpence (reviewed below)
Little Prince (reviewed below)
Meet Me in St. Louis
Pink Panther Collection

April 13
Ginger Snaps 2
Kill Bill Vol. 1

April 20
Haunted Mansion
High Wind in Jamaica
League of Their Own: Special Edition (reviewed next Aisle Seat)
Master and Commander
Wild Things (reviewed below)
Wild Things 2 (reviewed below)

April 27
Big Fish
Love Actually
Stuck On You
Universal Monster "Legacy" Box Set Re-Issues

New on DVD

BROTHER BEAR (**1/2, 2003). 85 minutes, G, Disney. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: 2.35 Widescreen, "Family Friendly" 1.66 Widescreen; 5.1 Dolby Digital, DTS sound; deleted scenes; outtakes; deleted song; music video; interactive games.

Fantastical tale of a young Indian who is magically transformed into a bear and befriends an orphaned cub is beautifully animated but just a little too silly for anyone over the age of 10.

This latest Disney feature failed to strike box-office gold, despite the presence of talents who found previous success in animation like co-screenwriter Tab Murphy ("Beauty and the Beast") and songwriter Phil Collins ("Tarzan"), who penned a handful of bouncy tunes along with score composer Mark Mancina. The movie is cute but the whole notion of combining talking, cuddly animals -- including a pair of moose voiced by Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis -- with a rugged wilderness setting and a fable-like story don't really mesh in the finished product. Still, young children ought to enjoy the movie just the same -- it's just disappointing that Disney failed to find material that couldn't equally appeal to adults like so many of their films have in the past.

Disney's Special Edition DVD offers a pair of widescreen presentations: the 1.66 "family friendly" widescreen is an acceptable alternative to pan-and-scan (at least it will placate 16:9 TV owners who'd just assume watch full-frame), while the original 2.35 widescreen dimensions are preserved on the second disc. Intriguingly, Disney exhibited the film in 1.85 for the first 20 minutes before the lead character's transformation -- once he wakes up with paws, the movie expands to more colorful 2.35 scope dimensions. Both the transfer and the 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital soundtracks are exceptionally good, as you might anticipate from a Disney DVD.

Special features include deleted scenes including a discarded Collins song; featurettes including a segment on Mancina's scoring; interactive games for kids, and a music video.

THE SINGING DETECTIVE (**, 2003). 108 minutes, R, Paramount. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: 1.85 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, commentary by director Keith Gordon.

Disappointing filming of Dennis Potter's semi-autobiographical tale (previously brought to TV in an acclaimed 1986 British mini-series) stars Robert Downey, Jr. as a bed-ridden novelist whose mind bounces between his hospital surroundings and a fantasy world inspired by one of his potboilers.

The latter sports Downey as a detective, his "real life wife" Robin Wright Penn as a cheating spouse, Carla Gugino as his mother, and Adrien Brody and Jon Polito as hoods on his trail. The former includes Katie Holmes as a nurse and Mel Gibson as Downey's not-very-understanding shrink, who tries to help his patient on the road to recovery both mentally and physically.

Keith Gordon directed this odd and unsatisfying mix of pulp fiction spoof, psychological drama, and fantasy-musical, which was scripted by Potter from his original material, prior to his death in 1994. Having never seen the original mini-series, I can only gather that Potter's story didn't survive the translation to feature-length, since the movie is overly quirky and disjointed, being too abbreviated to develop its myriad moods and styles. The tight direction and claustrophobic cinematography make for a film that's not aesthetically pleasing, either, in spite of an excellent cast, some of whom struggle with the material. Chief among those is Downey, whose one-note, sarcastic performance -- even when it's supposed to be introspective -- fails to make us care about his character's painful predicament.

Paramount's DVD offers a fine 1.85 transfer with a 5.1 Dolby Digital track that's heavy on '50s pop tunes. The lone supplement is a decent commentary track from director Gordon, who discusses changes made in his film following a Sundance screening and prior to the film's limited theatrical run.

SOMETHING'S GOTTA GIVE (***, 2003). 128 mins., PG-13, Columbia. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Commentary by Nancy Meyers, Diane Keaton and the producer; commentary with Meyers and Jack Nicholson; deleted scene; 1.85 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

Entertaining, well-performed romantic comedy serves up Jack Nicholson in the kind of role that you've come to expect from the actor: an older guy still fixated on young women. Jack's hip-hop record label producer travels to the Hamptons home of girlfriend Amanda Peet's playwright mom (Diane Keaton), where Nicholson has a heart attack on his first night in camp. Keaton reluctantly nurses Jack back to health, and the two strike up a chemistry that has Nicholson falling for an older woman just as Keaton discovers a newfound relationship with a younger doctor (Keanu Reeves).

Nancy Meyers' last film was the winning star comedy "What Woman Want," and while "Something's Gotta Give" is not quite as fresh or amusing, it's still an engaging vehicle that enables Nicholson and Keaton to give charming performances. Their interplay is incisive and appealing, and the supporting cast -- including Peet, Reeves, Frances McDormand, Jon Favreau and Paul Michael Glaser -- all lend able support to a predictable but warm movie that won plenty of critical kudos (if not boffo box-office) last winter.

Columbia's DVD offers a superb 1.85 widescreen transfer. The movie is well-shot and has the look of a class production, though I grew tired of Hans Zimmer's score (which was a last-minute replacement for an Alan Silvestri soundtrack). The 5.1 sound is fine, and supplements include a pair of commentary tracks by Meyers -- one with Diane Keaton and the movie's producer, another with Meyers and Nicholson. One deleted scene, of Jack performing karaoke, is included along with bonus trailers.

Also New From Columbia

Trashy, mean spirited, yet all in good fun, John McNaughton's WILD THINGS (***, 115 mins., Unrated; Columbia TriStar; available April 20) has remained a cult favorite since its original release. One would anticipate that, as time passes, its mix of young stars (Neve Campbell, Denise Richards), '80s leading men (Matt Dillon, Kevin Bacon), and veterans like Bill Murray and Robert Wagner will continue to make the movie a particular favorite among viewers, not to mention the movie's quirky humor and widescreen cinematography.

Columbia's original DVD of "Wild Things" boasted a group commentary track and a few deleted scenes, several of which have been incorporated into the studio's remastered "Unrated" edition. This expanded cut runs nearly seven minutes longer than the theatrical version, and while it restores a bit of fleeting nudity and sexual content, it's not quite as racy as you might have anticipated it being.

Nevertheless, fans should enjoy the new DVD, even if it no longer includes the commentary, and offers little in the way of a visual upgrade. The 2.35 (16:9 enhanced) transfer is good, but suffers from some occasional "jitters" in the print that have been visible in every video version (full-screen and widescreen) previously released of the movie. It's not a major distraction by any means, but some may be a bit disappointed that they haven't been corrected for the new release. The 5.1 sound is fairly potent, and some have reported that it's an improvement on the earlier disc.

On the same day that "Wild Things" Unrated is unleashed, Columbia will also issue the needless, in-name-only follow-up WILD THINGS 2 (*1/2, 95 mins., 2004; R).

This ridiculous, campy drama knows it's a trashy B-movie, especially since all of its participants -- including director Jack Perez -- have a hard time containing their laughter when describing it in the DVD's "Making Of" featurette. It's too bad that the filmmakers weren't able to translate their enthusiasm for the material over to the finished product, which recycles the white-trash/new-money/faked-death/high-school-sucks plot from the original but in a cliched, pale imitation that has all the markings of a made-for-video project.

The stars aren't very appealing and the settings are predictably minimal in "Wild Things 2," which might be worth a look for viewers accustomed to staying up for Cinemax "After Dark" productions (a high school staple for some of us!) and not expecting much more.

Columbia's DVD includes a fine 1.85 transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound. Extras include the before-mentioned Making Of featurette, which is rather entertaining, plus bonus trailers.

SHE'S OUT OF CONTROL (**1/2, 1989, available April 13). 94 mins., PG; Columbia TriStar. DVD FEATURES: 1.85 Widescreen, 2.0 Dolby Surround.

If you're looking for a late '80s comedy tailor-made to generate some nostalgia (especially if you started high school back in those days), you could do a lot worse than checking out this amiable Tony Danza comedy. Yes, you read correctly: the "Who's The Boss?" star didn't turn out a whole lot of features during his run on the popular ABC sitcom, yet his one contribution to the teen movie genre is a semi-classic of its kind.

Danza stars a hapless radio station executive whose nerdy daughter (Ami Dolenz, daughter of Monkees headman Micky Dolenz) is given a make-over by his new fiancee (Catherine Hicks). Within minutes, Danza's life is turned upside down as a gaggle of would-be suitors -- including future "Friend" Matthew Perry -- arrive to court the new high school queen.

There have been several genre films about overbearing dads over-protecting their daughters, from David Niven's hideous turn in "The Impossible Years" (still worth a look on Turner Classic Movies) to Bob Crane's unforgettable performance in the Disney dud "Superdad." "She's Out of Control" is a fluffy, predictable, sitcom-like movie to be sure, but it's also fairly good-natured and superior to either of those before-mentioned films. Danza has a good time and supporting roles are turned in by the likes of Wallace Shawn and even Robbie Rist, better known as "Cousin Oliver" on "The Brady Bunch."

Columbia's DVD offers a solid 1.85 widescreen transfer and basic Dolby Surround soundtrack.

Obscure Musicals

Paramount is releasing a pair of titles from their back catalog this week that musical aficionados will find of interest -- particularly since both have remained relatively obscure items since their original releases.

First up is THE LITTLE PRINCE (**, 1974; 88 mins., G), the downright weird Lerner and Loewe adaptation of Antoine de Saint-Exupery's bestselling children's novel. You know you're in for quite a time when the movie opens up with a Bond-like credits montage (imagine my non-surprise when Maurice Binder's name turns up seconds into the movie), and from then on, Stanley Donen's poorly-received film never gets any more conventional (or satisfying).

It's an uncomfortable blend of a standard Hollywood musical and the kind of "realism" that filmmakers attempted to inject in later-day musicals, hoping to off-set the "old- fashioned" conventions of the genre. Donen shot the movie partially on-location in Tunisia, in settings that will have you scrambling to spot C-3PO and R2-D2 on the distant horizon, and the stark contrast between the movie's "fantasy" world and the realism of the surroundings is one of the film's many problems.

It turns out that George Lucas's characters (who would walk the same terrain just a few years later during the filming of "Star Wars") wouldn't have been out of place in "The Little Prince," which attempts to chronicle the relationship between a boy from a distant asteroid (Steven Warner) and a pilot stranded in the desert (Richard Kiley). The two sing gentle though forgettable songs (especially considering their Lerner & Loewe heritage), but it all falls apart once Donen decides to spend 15 minutes shooting the entire film through a distorted lens. Later, Gene Wilder shows up as a fox and Bob Fosse does a Vegas-like dance as a snake in a barren landscape (see, I told you it's bizarre!), before it mercifully ends short of the 90 minute mark.

"The Little Prince" was a flop in its day, and watching the movie now, it's easy to see why. The abstract story doesn't translate well to the big screen, and Donen's uneasy grasp of the material makes for a movie that will confuse (and possibly disturb) kids at the same time it will bore adults. That said, it's still a fascinating curiosity piece for musical fans, and Paramount's DVD offers a colorful, strong 1.85 transfer that deftly captures Christopher Challis' cinematography. The Dolby Surround sound is just as good, with the track packing a strong stereophonic punch.

Far more entertaining -- despite being as poorly received in some circles -- is George Sidney's filming of the popular '60s Broadway/London show HALF-A-SIXPENCE (***, 145 mins., 1967), starring Tommy Steele as a clerk who improbably inherits a fortune but finds that life among the wealthy doesn't ensure happiness.

This charming and decidedly old-fashioned adaptation was scripted by Beverley Cross (who also wrote the stage version) from H.G. Wells' "Kipps." Cross and producer Charles H. Schneer are obviously best remembered for the many fantasy films they made with Ray Harryhausen, yet this romantic, pleasant (if overlong) film is proof that they understood the conventions of the stage show and were able to translate it faithfully (and properly) to the big screen. Steele is fun, the songs are pleasant, and Sidney's direction keeps everything moving along at a leisurely clip -- add in scenic settings and fine Panavision cinematography (rendered properly in 2.35 on Paramount's DVD), and you've got a satisfying musical that seems to have been the victim of decaying viewer interest at the time of its initial release.

That's the only reason I can think of as to why "Half-A-Sixpence" has been rarely shown over the years. Hopefully Paramount's disc -- which offers a fine 16:9 enhanced transfer and equally potent Dolby Surround sound -- will expose this under-rated production to a new audience on DVD.

Aisle Seat Mail Bag

From Bruce Marshall:

The main reason I bought a flat screen 20 inch television and a DVD player was to watch TV shows on DVD (I never watch over the air). So, what happens? First, they start releasing dvd's of show that were BROADCAST full-screen 1:33 in letterbox format (X- FILES, ALIAS, DEAD ZONE, CSI etc.). Bad enough, but they were framed so that they would play in either format.
Now, believe it or not, shows from the 1970's are being released 1:78!! This means that the tops and bottoms of 1:33 shows are being chopped off!!

KUNG-FU came out today. I was going to get it when I saw on the box "released in a Matted Format preserving the original aspect ratio"!!!
Maybe the box is wrong and they did not really perform this butchery. Check it out if you can.

Bruce, indeed they did perform the butchery. I never received a review copy (or requested one for that matter -- why bother?), but by all accounts Warner did this to placate 16:9 TV owners who don't like seeing black borders on 4:3 formatted content.

I agree it's absurd and ludicrous and a terrible practice -- but it's one Warner has done before on titles like the TV mini-series of THE BOURNE IDENTITY, V: THE FINAL BATTLE, and STEPHEN KING'S IT.

I remember getting into arguments with people who defended those 1.85 aspect ratios with claims of "oh, it must be 1.85 because it was shot that way for European theatrical release." I mean, REALLY -- how many three, four, six hour AMERICAN mini-series were actually shot in 1.85 just so there could be an abbreviated overseas theatrical release? I'll give you the original "V" and "Salem's Lot," but that excuse just doesn't hold up on vintage shows like "Kung Fu."

From Ron Pulliam:

I was fortunate enough to have been living in Italy when BROTHER SUN, SISTER MOON was released, and I saw it with Riz Ortolani's wonderful score.

I have also seen the U.S. version in which Ortolani's score was stripped away and Donovan's songs inserted. The Ken Thorne "sweeteners" you alluded to are there, as well, but many of them are actually portions of Ortolani's score, although he gets zero credits.

Thanks Ron for the tip. Does anyone know if the movie is available anywhere in the world with Ortolani's original score intact?

From Roman Deppe:

Hi Andy,

Good commentary on LOONEY TUNES, though for the reason you criticized it, I [still] love Joe Dante (in fact he is one of my favorite directors -- Mrs. Deagle's demise is maybe my most favorite scene in a movie ever). I agree though that GREMLINS 2 should have concentrated a little more on suspense, though when Phoebe Cates tells the story about Lincoln's Birthday I think that's one of the funniest in-jokes ever.

Too bad that LOONEY TUNES didn't get a commentary track or at least a pop-up-thing, which could point out all the in-jokes. Often times I was the only one laughing about all the B-movie references or that Roger Corman is the new director of BATMAN 5.

It's just funny, that you criticize LOONEY TUNES for having too much story, as in recent years movies tend to have no story or very little. I know what you mean, but shouldn't we all thankful for a movie with a story, even if it is too much?

Besides all the in-jokes, there was in the end only the GREMLINS music which I didn't get -- was it used for a joke? Maybe, but why? I didnt see any reference to GREMLINS in that scene and just wondered why the theme was playing there? Do you have any explanation???

Roman, I believe the GREMLINS reference is because the car that Brendan Fraser uncovers in that scene is a Gremlin -- .a little bit before my time, but that's my best explanation for the reference. As far as GREMLINS 2 goes, don't get me wrong, I still love the movie -- and the Lincoln's Birthday scene WAS uproarious.

From Steve Lehti:

Hey Andy --

Though I liked the movie more than you did, I can't say you were far off the mark on your LOONEY TUNES review (though you have to admit it was lightyears beyond the bore that was SPACE JAM!), except your comments on the score: "a full-blown quote from Jerry Goldsmith's "Gremlins" score (which sadly is substantially more memorable than anything else in his score from this film)."

Couldn't disagree with you more on this! I find this to be among Goldsmith's more interesting, creative and entertaining scores in years. The CD is a delight -- just wish it had been longer!

From Marty McKee:
Hi, Andy!
You know I love your column, but I had to point out that John Vernon is not in the STARSKY & HUTCH pilot, but Michael Conrad is. You're right that the first season is pretty good, although the show became much sillier and less interesting as it went on.
My apologies to Mr. Conrad and thanks for the correction, Marty!


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