5/23/06 Edition

    Memorial Day Marathon!
Andy Covers the Latest DVDs for the Holiday Weekend
From THE DIRTY DOZEN to BLOODRAYNE and Vintage Titles, 30 New Discs Reviewed

Memorial Day functions as the unofficial opening of summer and this weekend ought to be an exciting one for movie buffs -- whether you’re looking to take in something at the multiplex (and so far Hollywood has a pair of definite disappointments in “Da Vinci Code” and “Poseidon,” box-office results on the former notwithstanding) or track down a new title on DVD.

This week marks The Aisle Seat’s biggest round-up yet of new DVD titles, including fresh Special Editions of old favorites like “The Dirty Dozen,” vintage titles from Fox premiering on disc for the first time, and a plethora of recent movies (“The Producers,” “Winter Passing,” “Bloodrayne”) that will try their luck at capturing a larger audience on video. Speaking of which, I wish everyone a happy and safe holiday weekend, and if you can’t find at least one title of interest in this list, by all means drop a line and I'll try and steer you in the right direction!

New From Warner Home Video

THE DIRTY DOZEN: Two Disc Special Edition (***½, 1967). 149 mins., Not Rated, Warner. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Commentary; 1985 Made-for-TV sequel; Malking Of documentaries; Vintage Featurettes; 16:9 (1.85) Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

Robert Aldrich’s “The Dirty Dozen” was a hit for a myriad of reasons, particularly in how the director was able to infuse a WWII action-adventure with an attitude that matched the increasingly turbulent decade of the 1960s. In place of the squeaky-clean soldiers and heroes unrelenting in their patriotism that populated so many of its predecessors were ex-convicts, psychos and underdogs recruited by the American military (including Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine) to help win The Great War at any cost.

The offbeat characters and equally colorful casting (Charles Bronson, Jim Brown, John Cassavetes, Donald Sutherland, Trini Lopez, Telly Savalas among them) combined to make “The Dirty Dozen” a box-office and critical success that also helped establish a whole genre of underdogs-against-the-establishment films for decades to follow.

MGM’s old “Dirty Dozen” DVD sported a grainy 4:3 widescreen transfer which has been improved somewhat in Warner’s excellent new Special Edition set. The transfer is newly enhanced for 16:9 TVs, but the print still shows its age in many places and is alternately soft or dirty at various points throughout -- perhaps a result of how the movie was shot? Either way, at least it’s enhanced for widescreen TVs, and the 5.1 Dolby Digital sound is surprisingly effective, offering a surprisingly robust stage for the movie’s Oscar-winning sound effects and “DeVol’s” workmanlike score.

New supplements include a pair of documentaries, one of which recounts “The Making of The Dirty Dozen” (offering new interviews with Borgnine, Sutherland, Lopez and others), while the movie’s possible historical origins are examined in “The Filthy Thirteen: Real Stories From Behind the Lines.” A new introduction by Borgnine and a fascinating group commentary track -- moderated by David J. Schow -- sheds further light on the production, revealing numerous, tasty trivia tidbits buffs will savor (like how Frank Sinatra convinced Lopez to drop out of the movie during production).

In addition to the trailer and a pair of vintage featurettes (“Operation Dirty Dozen,” which introduces Marvin in a Swingin’ Sixties England, and the recruitment documentary “Marine Corps Combat Leadership Skills”), there’s also the high-rated 1985 TV sequel, "Dirty Dozen: The Next Mission,” with Marvin, Borgnine, and Richard Jaeckel reprising their original roles. The full-screen transfer is fine (though the weak mono sound gives the impression that it was recorded in World War II itself), and the movie is a satisfying small-screen action effort that was later followed by two additional sequels with Borgnine and Telly Savalas (likewise out this week on DVD in a two-disc Sony set I reviewed a couple of columns ago).

DUMA (**½, 2005, 100 mins., PG; Warner): Carroll Ballard has directed many outstanding films dealing with animals and the forces of nature, from “The Black Stallion” and “Never Cry Wolf” to “Fly Away Home.” Ballard’s latest, “Duma,” was basically deserted by Warner Bros., who opted to release his new film in only a handful of markets before sending it straight to video. The movie, while far from Ballard’s best, is still a worthwhile and well-made adventure -- perfect for families -- about a 12-year-old South African boy (Alexander Michaeltos) who opts to return the abandoned cheetah he’s raised to the wild. Vivid cinematography helps sell the story, though the movie lacks the poetry of Ballard’s better films and the pleasant, albeit cliched John Debney-George Acogny score too often favors wailing vocals by Ayub Ogada. Warner’s great-looking DVD includes a gorgeous 16:9 transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound; a few minutes of deleted scenes; and the original trailer. Recommended viewing, especially if you have kids.

Recent Films Debuting on DVD

THE PRODUCERS (**½, 2005). 135 mins., PG-13, Universal. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Deleted Scenes; Outtakes; Commentary; Analysis of a Scene featurette; 16:9 (2.40) Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

Mel Brooks’ musicalization of “The Producers” was a massive smash and record-setting Tony winner, but director Susan Stroman’s misguided decision to capture every nuance from her stage production on-screen results in a shrill, bombastic movie that manages to work only if you’re a fan of the show itself.

Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick re-create their roles as Max Biaylstock and Leo Bloom here, but while their performances on-stage were aimed at capturing the attention of the last row of the theater, in “The Producers” -- the movie -- both seem so over-the-top that they make Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder seem positively restrained by comparison. Meanwhile, Brooks and Thomas Meehan’s script adheres closely to the stage version, unsurprisingly, with Lane and Broderick trying to build the perfect flop with the help of secretary Uma Thurman (refreshingly good in Teri Garr’s ‘68 movie role) and Will Ferrell’s Nazi-loving leading man, not to mention director Gary Beach and his uber-happy assistant Roger Bart, both reprising their Broadway roles.

Part of the problem with “The Producers” -- the movie musical -- is that there’s little reason for it to exist in the first place. Brooks’ original film was perfect in so many ways, and his musicalization was just an outlet for his story to appear live, on stage, with additional music for theater-goers to enjoy. I’ve seen the show and enjoyed it a great deal (some of Brooks’ songs are terrific, others a bit repetitive), but in translating “The Producers” back to the big screen, most of what made the show charming becomes excessive and grating instead. None of the performances have been modulated at all for the movie, while the staging and set pieces are often clumsily executed. Even more significantly, “The Producers” already exists on-film (and quite splendidly at that), a fact which this larger, longer and more flamboyantly performed rendition can’t ever shake off.

Stroman took jabs from critics for the movie’s failure (she had never directed a film before), and this does appear to be an instance where her inexperience was the primary reason for the picture’s shortcomings. A more seasoned filmmaker could have found a way to open up the musical numbers more cinematically, while toning down the shtick and making the larger-than-life characters likewise come down to earth just a little.

As it stands, “The Producers” is loud, messy, and a must-avoid for musical-theater haters, though just enough of what made the stage production fun -- namely, Brooks’ breezy songs and his irresistible original story -- do shine through enough to make it a modest recommendation for Brooks and Broadway buffs.

Universal’s DVD offers an excellent 16:9 transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound. Numerous deleted scenes, including the wisely-cut “King of Broadway” opening number for Bialystock, are on-hand here (the latter with live, on-set audio, in fact), along with a gag reel and an “Analysis of a Scene” featurette. Stroman also contributes the first audio commentary I’ve ever heard that comes off like an award acceptance speech (she reads from a script...the whole way through!).

BLOODRAYNE (*½, 2005). 99 mins., Unrated, Visual Entertainment. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Commentary; Dinner with Uwe featurette; Making Of CGI Footage, Storyboards; Trailer; 16:9 (2.35) Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital and DTS sound; “Bloodrayne 2" PC DVD game.

There’s always been room for bad genre movies. From Roger Corman’s threadbare drive-in features to the days of the Full Moon empire, it seems sci-fi/horror fans have willingly embraced inferior fare, provided they offer the requisite elements most viewers want to see: scantily clad, attractive women, a bit of blood and guts, and a few monsters sprinkled into the mix. It’s a formula Hammer established nearly a half-century ago and one that Uwe Boll embraces to absurd heights in his latest video-game cinematic adaptation, “Bloodrayne.”

Boll’s previous genre efforts -- “The House of the Dead” and the unbelievably godawful “Alone in the Dark” -- managed to make enough ancillary money for the German filmmaker to continue his dream of turning horror games into films. The good news, or at least moderately positive news, is that Boll’s “Bloodrayne” is easily his most watchable effort yet, even if it’s still uproariously funny in places.

Most of the credit goes to the presence of luscious Kristanna Loken, who after “Terminator 3" has been saddled playing heroines in genre leftovers like this and the recent “Dragonworld” mini-series. Still, Loken is a prime physical specimen, and her bust gets a good workout in a film that finds Ben Kingsley, Billy Zane, Michael Madsen and -- yes -- even Meatloaf wearing wigs so ridiculous that you can’t help but laugh the second they appear on-screen. Even Michelle Rodriguez gets to try her hand at a faux-Euro accent, which also provides guffaws in a film about a half-human, half-vampire warrior (Loken) who ends up fighting her evil undead father (Kingsley) with the help of some good guys (Madsen and Rodriguez). The wacked-out cast also includes Geraldine Chaplin and Udo Kier (though that’s nothing compared to the list of stars in Boll’s next film, “In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale,” which offers Jason Statham, Leelee Sobieski, Ray Liotta, Claire Forlani, Matthew Lillard, Loken again...plus Burt Reynolds!).

Maybe it’s because Boll seems to be a decent enough guy that people continue working with him despite how bad his movies are. Whatever the case may be, “Bloodrayne” is deliriously poor to the point of being entertaining for aficionados of C-grade horror fare, Loken, or just being able to see Michael Madsen running around in a wig that almost looks like it’s moving on its own at times. You’ve been warned (or encouraged, depending on your point of view!).

Visual Entertainment’s Special Edition DVD includes an unrated cut of the movie along with commentary from Boll and Loken, a CGI “Making Of” and storyboards, the original trailer, and an oddball 50-minute (!) “Dinner with Uwe” conversation with the director espousing his views on the filmmaking process. The 16:9 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital/DTS soundtracks are both as good as can be anticipated given the bland cinematic trappings, while the complete “Bloodrayne 2" PC game is included on a separate DVD.

WINTER PASSING (**1/2, 2005, 99 mins., R; Fox): Zooey Deschanel is terrific in this leisurely paced, somewhat depressing character drama from first-time feature helmer Adam Rapp. As a NYC book editor who heads to her Michigan home to retrieve the lost love letters between her late mother and reclusive author-father (Ed Harris), Deschanel single-handedly lifts “Winter Passing” from an R-rated Lifetime movie into a recommended story of one young woman’s maturation and understanding of her past -- however painful it may be. The supporting casting of her father’s two roommates is somewhat more erratic -- Amelia Warner is fine as a grad student but Will Ferrell straddles the fence between pathos and comedy uncomfortably and to decidedly mixed results. Fox’s DVD includes a Making Of featurette, 16:9 (1.85) and full-screen transfers, and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

New From Fox: Special Editions and Box Sets Galore

KINGDOM OF HEAVEN: Director’s Cut (**½, 194 mins., 2005, R; Fox): Ridley Scott’s beautiful-looking but listless “Kingdom of Heaven” has been resurrected and improved, somewhat, by additional footage that here extends its length to some 194 minutes. A lengthy subplot involving female lead Eva Green’s off-spring clarifies (and greatly enhances) her role, yet the picture is still overlong and marred by a limp performance from star Orlando Bloom --- it’s tough to get emotionally involved in a journey like “Kingdom of Heaven” and have a weakling as your leading protagonist (and one who is constantly upstaged by a veteran supporting cast comprised of Jeremy Irons, Liam Neeson, David Thewlis and Brendan Gleeson, not to mention an unbilled Edward Norton). Fox’s sensational four-disc box set, though, does offer the restored cut (complete with an Overture, Intermission and Entr’Acte from Harry Gregson-Williams’ unmemorable score) with 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital sound and as many extras as you might anticipate: commentary; a 6-part documentary that encompasses discs three and four; nearly 30 minutes of additional deleted scenes and a full marketing section. There’s little mention of the music here (no surprise since tracked Goldsmith music had to be brought in from “The 13th Warrior” to spice up the soundtrack), but the documentary materials overall are in line with past Scott Special Edition releases (clocking in at about 3 hours for all the materials between the third and fourth discs). This “Kingdom of Heaven” is a feast for the eyes and -- the film itself notwithstanding -- one of the year’s finest DVD box sets to date (not to mention that it’s a veritable steal at its price point, which is under $20 at most venues).

NAPOLEON DYNAMITE: Vote For Pedro Edition (***, 2004, 94 mins., PG; Fox): The cult hit is back on DVD in a new two-disc edition reprising the contents of its first release (commentary, deleted scenes) and adding more extras, including even more alternate and excised sequences; a newly recorded cast commentary with Tina Majorino, Jon Gries, Efren Ramirez, and Aaron Ruell; audition clips; and the new featurette “On Location: Napoleon Dynamite.” The 16:9 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound are both on-par with its predecessor, making this a nice (but not essential) upgrade for “Napoleon” fans.

THE BOONDOCK SAINTS: Special Edition (**½, 1999, 108 mins., R; Fox): Writer-director Troy Duffy might have created quite a bad rep for himself with his antics behind the scenes of “The Boondock Saints,” his 1999 debut feature, but it seems Duffy may have the last laugh: this tale of Bostonian crime and retribution has indeed become something of a cult favorite since its initial release, and a sequel is slated to begin shooting soon. Fox’s limited-edition Steelbook packaging is just one of the selling points of their new double-disc Special Edition -- commentary from Duffy, star Billy Connolly, deleted scenes, outtakes and a printable script make for a decent but not overwhelming supplemental package, while the 16:9 full-screen and widescreen transfers are both top-notch (ditto for the 5.1 Dolby Digital EX sound). Recommended viewing for aficionados of “action-crime noir,” with Duffy one-upping Tarantino in the violence and energy department at times.

GARFIELD: The Movie Collector’s Edition (**½, 2004, 80 mins., PG; Fox): Another double dip, this time for the moderately enjoyable and surprisingly successful 2004 feature film adaptation of Jim Davis’ beloved comic feline (which took nearly $200 million when factoring worldwide markets). This new “Collector’s Edition” DVD release offers 17 deleted scenes, commentary, interactive games, numerous featurettes on how the film was produced, a music video, and even a behind-the-scenes history of Davis’ strip. The 16:9 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound are both top-notch in this set, which is perfect for kids and ideally timed to coincide with the release of “Garfield 2" in mid-June.

TRISTAN & ISOLDE (**, 125 mins., 2006, PG-13; Fox): The latest period adventure from director Kevin Reynolds is decidedly inferior to the filmmaker’s superb adaptation of “The Count of Monte Cristo.” Here, James Franco and Sophia Myles play the ill-fated lovers in writer Dean Georgaris’ version of the tale -- one that producer Ridley Scott initially intended to direct himself in a futuristic (!) setting back in the ‘80s. I’m guessing Georgaris’ script wasn’t part of Scott’s original intentions, since it makes for a rather glum (and dreary looking) film that’s fairly lifeless, energized only by Rufus Sewell’s supporting performance as a warlord trying to unite English tribes after the fall of Rome. Sewell’s role is a step up from the usual heavy-handed villainy one would anticipate finding in a film of this nature, but “Tristan & Isolde” is mostly a disappointment otherwise. Fox’s DVD includes a strong 16:9 (1.85) transfer, 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital sound, and supplements including commentary from Georgaris; another track sporting comments from producers Jim Lemley and Anne Lai; a Making Of featurette; two music videos; trailers; and numerous still galleries.

BOSTON LEGAL: Complete Season 1 (2004-05, 17 Episodes, 726 mins.; Fox): David E. Kelley’s spin-off of “The Practice” is a superior, often off-the-cuff legal drama enhanced by supercharged performances from James Spader and William Shatner, essaying attorneys at one of Beantown’s most esteemed law firms. Fox’s five-disc DVD box set includes all 17 episodes of “Boston Legal” in 1.78 widescreen transfers and 2.0 Dolby Surround stereo. The series looks great and also includes additional deleted scenes (from the pilot) and a pair of featurettes examining the genesis of the show. “Boston Legal” is irreverent and uproarious at times, in addition to displaying some heavy-handed writing and a varying tone -- all issues inherent with Kelley’s past series. That said, the mixture is more satisfying here than in any of the creator’s recent output, lifted by tongue-in-cheek subplots, occasional moments of self-parody, and Spader and Shatner being nothing short of a blast to watch (as are co-stars Rene Auberjonis, Monica Potter and Rhona Mitra). Highly recommended!

Fox Vintage: Westerns and More

THE SEVEN-UPS (**½, 1973, 103 mins., PG; Fox): Follow-up of sorts to “The French Connection” reunites most of the production personnel from that Oscar-winning smash -- producer Philip D’Antoni (who also served as director here), composer Don Ellis, and stars Roy Scheider and Tony LoBianco -- and sports a story authored by detective Sonny Grosso himself. The results are an entertaining, albeit somewhat routine, police procedural about a group of hardened NYC detectives trying to take down a pair of thugs (including a young Richard Lynch) who begin to kidnap mob bosses around the Big Apple. Authentic atmosphere and a dynamite car chase help sell “The Seven-Ups,” along with the dependable cast, though the Albert Ruben-Alexander Jacobs script isn’t on the level of its “French Connection” peers. Fox’s single-disc DVD includes both 16:9 (1.85) and full-screen transfers with both 2.0 stereo and mono sound, plus a vintage behind-the-scenes featurette. Having watched “The Seven-Ups” on Fox Movie Channel in the past, there’s no question the remastered transfers on-display here are in far better condition and come highly recommended for buffs.

100 RIFLES (**½, 1969, 109 mins., PG; Fox): Standard-issue western does offer a solid Jerry Goldsmith score and Raquel Welch at her finest in Tom Gries’ tale of an Indian named Yaqui Joe (Burt Reynolds) who ultimately teams up with an American lawman (Jim Brown) to prevent a massacre of his native people. Fox’s DVD offers a satisfying 16:9 (1.85) transfer with 2.0 stereo and mono sound, plus photo galleries of production stills, behind-the-scenes shots, and one-sheet posters.

THE CULPEPPER CATTLE CO. (**½, 1972, 92 Mins., PG; Fox): “Revisionist” western from director Dick Richards doesn’t go nearly as far as Peckinpah did with his body of work in the genre, but “The Culpepper Cattle Co.” is nevertheless an intriguing, briskly-paced tale of a teenage boy (Gary Grimes) who finds out life on the trail isn’t all it’s cracked up to be after saddling up with a group of cowboys. Authentic-looking but not nearly as effective as Peckinpah in establishing a poetic feel, “The Culpepper Cattle Co.” has become a cult favorite over the years and fans should enjoy Fox’s DVD, which offers both 16:9 (1.85) and full-screen transfers plus photo galleries. The soundtrack, which offers tracked music from Jerry Goldsmith’s “Flim Flam Man” score and original cues from Tom Scott, is featured in both 2.0 stereo and mono mixes.

YELLOW SKY (***, 1949, 98 mins., Fox): Exciting William Wellman western offers Gregory Peck as a bank robber on the lam who, along with his cohorts, stumbles upon a small, isolated town where an old man and his granddaughter (Anne Baxter) are mining gold. Excellent cinematography from Joseph Macdonald, a fine score by Alfred Newman, and a creepy, villainous turn from Richard Widmark make “Yellow Sky” a must-view for western fans. Fox’s DVD offers a full-screen transfer with multiple still galleries and 2.0 stereo and mono sound.

THESE THOUSAND HILLS (**½, 1958, 96 mins., Fox): Richard Fleischer directed this good-looking, well-acted Cinemascope western with a terrific cast (Don Murray, Richard Egan, Patricia Owens, Lee Remick, Albert Dekker, Royal Dano and Jean Willes among others), but also a melodramatic story that doesn’t quite follow through on its initial promise. Still, Leigh Harline’s superb score and Charles G. Clarke’s Cinemascope photography are enough to make this a recommended title for genre fans. Fox’s DVD includes both 16:9 (2.35) widescreen and full-screen transfers, in addition to 2.0 stereo and mono sound.

THE PROUD ONES (***, 1956, 94 mins., Fox): Entertaining Cinemascope western with Robert Ryan, Jeffrey Hunter, and Virginia Mayo receives a nice presentation on DVD from Fox, with 16:9 (2.35) widescreen and full-screen transfers that showcase Lucien Ballard’s cinematography and 4.0 Dolby Digital sound offering a score by Lionel Newman.

MURDER, INC. (**½, 1960, 103 mins., Fox): Seldom-screened gangster film from directors Burt Balaban and Stuart Rosenberg is noteworthy for Peter Falk’s excellent, Oscar-nominated early performance. The film itself is a hodgepodge of real history (about post-prohibition gangs in NYC in the ‘30s) and Hollywood fiction, and isn’t entirely satisfying, yet fans may enjoy seeing Falk, Henry Morgan, Stuart Whitman and May Britt at work in this 1960 Fox release, which also includes stark black-and-white, widescreen photography by Gayne Rescher and an appropriately dramatic score by Frank DeVol. Fox’s DVD includes a 16:9 (2.35) transfer and both 2.0 stereo and mono soundtracks.

COMPULSION (***½, 1959, 103 mins., Fox): Richard Fleischer’s acclaimed Cinemascope production of the Leopold-Loeb murder trial offers Orson Welles in the Clarence Darrow-patterned role of the attorney representing representing the two Chicago teenagers (Bradford Dillman, Dean Stockwell) on trial for committing “the perfect crime.” The Cinemascope photography of William C. Mellor, Lionel Newman’s score, and the performances of the cast hold “Compulsion” up today as one of the better courtroom thrillers of the ‘50s. Fox’s DVD includes a terrific 16:9 (2.35) transfer and 4.0 Dolby Surround stereo sound.

More Vintage Titles, Newly Released on DVD

EARTHQUAKE (**½, 1974, 123 mins., PG; Universal): The ‘70s disaster favorite pales in comparison to Irwin Allen’s better efforts, but it’s still satisfying, campy fare by today’s standards, what with Charlton Heston and George Kennedy trying to hold down L.A. from its most catastrophic quake yet. Universal’s new DVD sports a remastered 16:9 transfer that’s a huge improvement from the old, out-of-print Goodtimes disc, though the robust 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack shakes a lot more than the original 3.1 “Sensurround” track, which is included here only for prosperity’s sake. The picture and sound are so superior to its predecessor, in fact, that it makes overlooking the DVD’s disappointing total lack of extras a bit easier to swallow.

KATE & ALLIE: Season One (2 hrs., 22 mins; 1984, Universal): One of TV’s more mature sitcoms with female protagonists, this engaging ‘80s series with Jane Curtin and Susan Saint James as single mothers to kids Ari Meyers, Allison Smith and Frederick Koehler won strong ratings and critical acclaim during its five-year run on CBS. Universal’s complete Season One DVD set, though, is a bit of a disappointment since it only includes six episodes (not even 150 minutes of running time) from the show’s debut as a mid-season replacement, and yet it’s priced nearly as high as most other TV-on-DVD box sets. Fans may want to hold out for an upcoming Canadian DVD release, which is slated to include both the first and second seasons of the show in a more reasonably-priced edition next month.

MODERN ROMANCE (***, 1981, 94 mins., R; Sony): One of Albert Brooks’ funniest features, “Modern Romance” is a ribald look at the star-director’s relationship with a gorgeous bank executive (the ever-underrated Kathryn Harrold) through its numerous highs and lows. The sequence in which Brooks attempts to survive his most recent break-up by turning on the radio -- only to hear one sad adult-contemporary tune after another -- remains one of my all-time favorites! Sony’s new DVD of this 1981 Columbia release sports only a good-looking 16:9 transfer, but that ought to be enough to give this under-rated comedy a fresh viewing on disc.

Jerry Bruckheimer Unrated DVD Editions

ENEMY OF THE STATE: Extended Unrated Edition (***, 1998). 140 mins., Buena Vista. DVD FEATURES: Deleted Scenes; Making Of featurettes; 16:9 (2.35) Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

CON AIR: Extended Unrated Edition (**½, 1998). 122 mins., Buena Vista. DVD FEATURES: 16:9 (2.35) Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

CRIMSON TIDE: Extended Unrated Edition (***, 1995). 123 mins., Buena Vista. DVD FEATURES: 16:9 (2.35) Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound; Deleted Scenes; Two Making OF featurettes.

You've got to give Tony Scott credit. At least when he directs a Jerry Bruckheimer production, there's a bit of substance brought to the stylish production sheen the producer's name carries with it. Not a whole lot, mind you, but just enough so that you know there's a workable plot to the empty cinematic calories you'll be consuming.

In Scott’s 1998 effort ENEMY OF THE STATE, Will Smith makes for a perfect everyman as a Washington lawyer given the footage of a U.S. senator's murder by an old Georgetown pal (Jason Lee) before he's run over. Soon after, Smith is fired from his job, his credit cards are gone, his wife doesn't believe him, and a group of government meanies -- led by senator Jon Voight -- want Smith erased from the system, and keep tabs on the innocent man by means of an elaborate network of surveillance equipment, from simple bugs to satellite imagery. Before long, Smith hooks up with underground investigator Gene Hackman to try and turn the tables on his pursuers.

Smith and Hackman are both good in this entertaining release, and the supporting cast includes all sorts of familiar faces in engaging roles -- Tom Sizemore, Jason Robards, Jake Busey, Gabriel Bryne, even Lisa Bonet from "The Cosby Show." David Marconi's script is pretty much standard-issue (I think we can now lay to rest the requisite "discovering the dead friend's body" sequence from all movies), but Scott's film moves along at a brisk clip and while it's never engaging on any other level than a pleasing diversion, at least it provides that with a minimum of pretension.

Buena Vista’s new Unrated edition restores some seven minutes of footage and presents a strong 16:9 transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound. Other extras offer more deleted sequences, two Making Of featurettes and the original trailer.

Issued in conjunction with the new DVD of “Enemy of the State” are two other “Extended, Unrated” editions of other Bruckheimer box-office hits CON AIR and CRIMSON TIDE.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen any of these films so I can’t tell you about the specific changes, except that die-hard fans will be the ones who will appreciate the not-quite 10 minutes of added sequences to both movies.

Tony Scott’s “Crimson Tide” in particular holds even more rewards than it did upon its 1995 release, with a supporting cast of familiar faces (who would gain later success) including James Gandolfini, Viggo Mortensen, and Steve Zahn among others. Quentin Tarantino’s much-lauded, uncredited script contributions tend to stick out like a sore thumb (I didn’t buy the Silver Surfer references 11 years ago, and they’re just as inappropriate now), but the movie is exciting popcorn-munching entertainment with Buena Vista’s DVD including a new 16:9 transfer, 5.1 sound, two brief featurettes, and a few additional deleted scenes.

Last and least among the trio is “Con Air,” a ridiculous, overly slick action vehicle for Nic Cage, John Cusack and John Malkovich to cash big checks and fly around in slo-mo to the bombastic Trevor Rabin-Mark Mancina score, which often resembles the kind of music you hear in a Bud Lite commercial. Still, this 1998 hit is fun for action fans, who will appreciate Buena Vista’s new 16:9 transfer and 5.1 sound -- but not the total absence of supplemental content (not even the trailers have been ported over from the previous disc!).

Also New From Buena Vista

HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL (2006, 98 mins., G, Disney): One of the year’s highest-rated cable programs, and one of The Disney Channel’s top-rated programs ever, “High School Musical” is a fun, feel-good “tweenage” musical from master choreographer/director Kenny Ortega. The bubble-gum (albeit popular) soundtrack aside, “High School Musical” is an upbeat look at a jock (Zac Efron) and a brain (Vannessa Anne Hudgens) who secretly go behind the backs of their respective cliques to star in their high school’s new musical. Romance blossoms along with a handful of musical numbers, which turned this little cable film into a phenomenon among its age group earlier this year. Disney’s DVD offers both a standard full-screen version of the movie along with a sing-along rendition with karaoke subtitles; music videos; a behind-the-scenes featurette; and Ortega himself demonstrating some of his film’s more popular moves.

GROWING UP WITH WINNIE THE POOH: Love & Friendship and It’s Playtime With Winnie The Pooh (2006, 55-59 mins. Each; Disney): Single-disc, hour-long DVDs for young children include episodes from Pooh and the gang’s Disney Channel ‘90s series with additional bonus features for little ones.

New Masters of Horror

A pair of entries in the cable-DVD anthology series have been recently released by Anchor Bay.

Don Coscarelli’s INCIDENT ON AND OFF A MOUNTAIN ROAD is easily one of the best stories told in the series, with Bree Turner as a woman who turns the tables on a mountain killer dubbed Moonface who pursues her after her car breaks down out in the middle of nowhere. In fact, the whole episode develops into an interesting metaphor with a woman trying to build herself back following a damaging relationship. Coscarelli’s well-directed and interesting tale -- adapted by the director with Stephen Romano from a Joe R. Lansdale short story -- offers the requisite gore with a multi-layered story that offers fresh twists on a familiar premise.

Director Mick Garris’ CHOCOLATE, meanwhile, is a misfired “Masters of Horror” entry, with Henry Thomas (yes, THAT Henry Thomas from “E.T.”) as a young man who develops an intense, highly unusual psychological bond with a gorgeous woman (Lucie Laurier). Garris also scripted from his own short story and recruited many of his cohorts from various Stephen King projects (including composer Nicholas Pike) to collaborate with him here, but the story is heavy-handed and ultimately unsatisfying.

Both Anchor Bay DVDs offer excellent 16:9 (1.85) widescreen presentations with commentaries and all sorts of extensive behind-the-scenes content on both discs. Strongly recommended for horror addicts and a general step up from the previous round of “Masters of Horror” entries, especially in the case of Coscarelli’s effort.

NEXT TIME: DAZED AND CONFUSED, Criterion style! Don't forget to drop in on the official Aisle Seat Message Boards, direct any emails to the link above and we'll catch you then. Cheers everyone!

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