5/27/08 Edition -- The AISLE SEAT BLOG Is Also Live

Memorial Day Edition
RAMBO & WWII Classics Hit Blu-Ray
Plus: INDIANA JONES Returns!

The one nagging thought I had running through my mind while watching INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL was that they waited almost 20 years to produce it, and this is what they came up with?!?

This belated entry in a series that seemed as if it concluded its final chapter with “Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade” in 1989 ranks as one of the most disposable films in director Steven Spielberg’s canon; a lightly entertaining but forgettable fantasy with a script nearly completely devoid of interesting characters, wit or innovation.

Yes, Harrison Ford still fits comfortably into his iconic role as an older Indy coerced into helping a group of nefarious Russians search for an ancient relic that possesses a supernatural power. Soon after fleeing from villainess Cate Blanchett (one of many thankless roles in David Koepp’s uninteresting and one-dimensional script), Indy meets up with a young greaser (Shia LaBeouf) who needs his help finding a lost archeologist (John Hurt) and his kidnapped mom -- who turns out to be none other than Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) herself.

Indy and Mutt head off on their trail to Peru, and uncover what the Russians had been seeking all along: a crystal skull that enables those who peer into its eyes to gain psychic abilities. Blanchett and her minions want it for global conquest; Indy wants to return it to its rightful place in the Amazon, and also uncover just who -- or what -- created it.

David Koepp has never been one of my favorite screenwriters, having penned the original “Jurassic Park” as well as two of the weakest films of Spielberg’s career -- the recent “War of the Worlds” and the unforgivable travesty that was “The Lost World.” Koepp can now make it a trio of missteps thanks to this thoroughly uninspired narrative, which overdoses on plot exposition (the mid-section of the picture is crushingly dull, bogged down in endless babble about the skull and its power) and fails to give its terrific cast much to do; Ford is as amiable as ever but even he seems a little ill at ease with some of the leaden dialogue, which doesn’t exactly crackle the way Lawrence Kasdan, Jeffrey Boam or even Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz’s work did in this film’s far superior predecessors.

The over-the-top Blanchett, meanwhile, is completely non-threatening as the heavy, vamping it up but failing to be sexy or appealing in any real regard, while Jim Broadbent is completely wasted as Indy’s university colleague (a statute of the late Denholm Elliott appears in one amusing bit) and Ray Winestone serves as the Indy series’ equivalent of Kevin J. O’Connor in “The Mummy” (right down to the same fate of his character!). LaBeouf exhibits some decent chemistry with Ford but the movie, ultimately, doesn’t give either of them a chance to really shine. And as far as Allen goes, she basically gets about five total minutes of dialogue time -- something that will come as a massive letdown for series fans.

Recalling the sluggish pacing of “The Lost World” (I cringe even writing that statement), little in Spielberg’s direction clicks either: would-be comedic moments fall flat, while action scenes tend to exhibit a “been there, done that” feel at every turn. There’s no tension or suspense in the movie, to the degree where you never feel that there are any crucial stakes in its outcome. Meanwhile, a wild jungle chase is the only set-piece where “Indy IV” really comes to life, with effective cross-cutting and action choreography reminding you that, yes, you’re really watching an actual “Indiana Jones” film and not just the Cannon version of “King Solomon’s Mines.” However, even that sequence’s impact is undercut by an infusion of CGI, an element -- heavily used in the movie, as it turns out -- that seems in stark contrast with the prior films in the series (as does Janusz Kaminski’s overly stylized cinematography, which does no favors for the picture either. It’s amazing how claustrophobic and unappealing this movie looks, the bulk of it all too obviously having been shot on soundstages).

The picture also greatly misses Sean Connery’s warmth and humor as Indy’s dad -- so much that it’s unsurprising the few times “Indy IV” manages to strike an emotional chord is in its pair of direct references to Indy’s late father (Connery was contacted to appear in the film but ultimately passed on it -- a wise maneuver in hindsight, particularly considering how well the third movie turned out).

“Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” is a movie I wanted to like, as I grew up on the originals throughout the ‘80s and, like many individuals my age, still consider them to be some of my all-time personal favorites. This isn’t a bad film, by any means, but it does not seem to have been a necessary one. In the end, it commits the worst sin of all: it’s completely forgettable. Five minutes after the film was over I struggled to recall the specifics of the plot or individual sequences in it, feeling as if the series truly finished with the ride off into the sunset at the end of “The Last Crusade.” Everything about this entry, ultimately, screams too little, too late. (**½, 124 mins., PG-13).

New on Blu-Ray

Whenever you think of big-time summer blockbusters, the name Rambo instantly comes to mind. After all, Sylvester Stallone's Vietnam vet/super-hero single-handedly ignited the whole run of gargantuan '80s action films with “Rambo: First Blood Part II,” which became a mega-blockbuster in 1985 and set the standard for many an idiotic-yet-gleefully-entertaining carnage epic that followed.

As the years have gone by, talk of resurrecting of the character came and went -- until earlier this winter, when the muscle-bound man-of-few-words returned to the screen to decent reviews and healthy, if not spectacular, box-office receipts.

In fact, even if this second leg of the Sylvester Stallone Comeback Tour isn’t as successful as "Rocky Balboa," the latest adventures of John RAMBO (***, 93 mins., 2008, R) still make for a gripping visceral ride that showcases its actor-director’s maturation as a filmmaker.

This fourth outing (which curiously shares the same title as its second installment) in the “First Blood” series finds Rambo making a living by hunting and selling cobras in Thailand until a group of American missionaries come looking for help. Needing Rambo’s boat in order to take them up river into Burma where the Karen people (many of which are Christian) are routinely slaughtered in a still on-going genocide, the missionaries (including cute Julie Benz and former “24" co-star Paul Schulze) think they’re going to make a difference. To Rambo, their naivite is surpassed only by their lack of weaponry -- and our gruff hero ends up unsurprised once the group is captured in a brutal attack that slaughters nearly the entire village they were providing relief for.

“Rambo” doesn’t offer much plot (is there ever?) but the picture works due to its gut-punching action sequences, and make no mistake, this is a violent, graphic film that -- quite unlike its second and third installments of some 20-plus years ago -- shows the consequence of said violence, as well as takes a firm stand that there are times when it is necessary. None of it has the comic book feel of “Rambo II” or III and while this new “Rambo” doesn't have the strong character development of the original “First Blood” either, it’s surprising how well the film comes together. Stallone’s performance is more in-line with the John Rambo seen in the original “First Blood,” making this feel like a natural conclusion to Ted Kotcheff’s 1982 action classic instead of a re-run of the more outlandish, bigger-budgeted comic books that its sequels turned out to be.

The film also illustrates that Stallone has progressed enormously as a filmmaker -- like “Rocky Balboa,” the actor clearly has a strong take on his lead character, and provides a realistic continuation of where its hero would be in the present day. The film moves along at an economically brisk pace and offers a succession of excellent set-pieces, as well as a brief flashback to the first movie (even with, oddly enough, the discarded footage of its alternate ending where Col. Trautman shoots Rambo!). More over, Stallone’s script (co-written with Art Monterastelli) is equally less long-winded than the prior “Rambo” films -- there are no lengthy exchanges between the missionaries and Rambo at the end, no concluding preachiness about their mission nor a lengthy thanks to Rambo for saving their skin. Instead, a few glances exchanged between the survivors says it all, and it’s perfectly handled by Stallone at every turn.

Speaking of the end, “Rambo” culminates in a wild, raucous and graphic conclusion that’s worth the price of admission for action fans, as well as a gorgeously lyrical final shot that recalls the end of the first movie, from the credits rolling on the left-hand edge of the frame to a full reprise of Jerry Goldsmith’s “It’s a Long Road.”

“Rambo” may not end up being a classic, but it’s a potent piece of filmmaking through and through -- a gritty and satisfying ride that proves Stallone’s critics wrong (again) and ought to provide the goods for action fans on DVD and Blu-Ray.

Lionsgate’s new Blu-Ray release of “Rambo” is likewise dynamite, offering a number of special features including featurettes that do a fair job of analyzing the production -- from its origins years ago to how the picture was funded (the Weinsteins eventually sold the property off, resulting in a purely “independent,” non-studio film), released and received (the filmmakers believe “Meet the Spartans” received a bump in box-office revenues from under-age kids who used that PG-13 ticket to sneak into the R-rated “Rambo” instead!).

There are comments from Brian Tyler and Stallone discussing Goldsmith’s musical legacy and how the score was conceived, talk about the actual situation in Burma, how the MPAA gave their first version of the movie an R rating (even though the filmmakers were prepared for an NC-17), a good amount of deleted scenes, and a trailer gallery with the original ads for all four “Rambo” films (note the other “Rambo” Blu-Rays are trailer-free).

Stallone also provides an insightful commentary while a picture-in-picture track (with more Stallone video commentary and behind-the-scenes footage) runs during the picture itself, presented here in a superlative AVC-encoded 1080p transfer with DTS-Master Audio sound. A second platter, meanwhile, includes a downloadable standard-def digital copy of the picture for your portable media player.
Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray edition of “Rambo” is being complimented this week by a separate, three-disc BD box-set, THE RAMBO COLLECTION, offering the first Blu-Ray high-def versions of “Rambo: First Blood Part II” and “Rambo III,” along with the original “First Blood” (which had been issued on Blu-Ray last year).

In the context of the entire series, easily the best of the bunch is Ted Kotcheff's 1982 introduction to the Rambo character, FIRST BLOOD (***½, 95 mins., 1982, R), which is lower-key and far more believable than the comic-book shenanigans that followed in its sequels. Here, Stallone plays Rambo as a disgruntled vet who drifts into a Pacific Northwest town overseen by a dictatorial sheriff (Brian Dennehy, in an excellent performance capturing both the character's antagonistic yet sometimes sympathetic traits). The two come to blows, but Rambo ultimately escapes from the sheriff's clutches and hides out in the woods, where Dennehy and company are treated to a display of Rambo's incredible survival skills and self-defense tactics.

Based on the novel by David Morrell, “First Blood” is just a dynamite action flick, backed by one of Jerry Goldsmith’s greatest scores. Stallone's Rambo isn't so much a killing machine here but a survivalist, which Dennehy's team (including a young David Caruso) learn first-hand as Rambo dismantles the authorities one by one. William Sackheim and Stallone's script is well-written and allows Stallone, Dennehy, and Richard Crenna -- as Rambo's sympathetic Army colonel -- the ability to flesh out their characters while simultaneously enabling Kotcheff to carve out some terrific action set-pieces.

“First Blood” was written in the early '70s and was originally developed for a handful of actors and directors -- from Steve McQueen to Sam Peckinpah and Sydney Pollock -- as it passed through Hollywood development hell. Finally, in the early '80s, it fell into the lap of future Carolco heads Andy Vajna and Mario Kassar, who intended for the film to star Stallone and Kirk Douglas (in the Crenna role of Col. Trautman). Promotional campaigns vigorously promoted Douglas' starring role, but after being on the set for a few days, the actor insisted on extensive script revisions and the filmmakers reluctantly showed Douglas the door.

The film's intriguing behind-the-scenes history is discussed in an excellent 2002 documentary included on the “First Blood” BD extras. Then-recent interviews with Stallone, Kotcheff, Crenna, and producers Vajna and Kassar are included, along with author David Morrell, whose excellent commentary track (one of my all-time favorites) from the previous DVD is reprieved here, along with Stallone’s commentary from a later release. Several deleted scenes including the original ending are also on-hand, plus a Blu-Ray trivia track that offers intermittent anecdotes on the film’s history.

Visually, the AVC-encoded transfer appears to have a bit of “softness” or noise-reduction in comparison with the VC-1 encoded transfer that was available on HD-DVD in international markets; generally, though, the film looks extremely satisfying, given some of the low light the picture was shot in originally. The DTS-HD sound isn’t “high res” but is likely as effective as the picture’s early ‘80s sound design will ever fare in the digital realm.

Though a favorite of action fans and a financial blockbuster, I've never been a big admirer of RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II (**½, 97 mins., 1985, R), which takes Rambo, turns him into a one-man wrecking crew, and accentuates all of the outlandish comic-book elements inherent in the material while abandoning reality altogether. The James Cameron-Stallone script (from a Kevin Jarre story) sends Rambo back to Vietnam to rescue a handful of living American POWs still interred in prison camps.

With credibility and the strong characterizations of "First Blood" thrown out the window here, “Rambo II” is a silly guilty pleasure all the way, sustained by Jack Cardiff's widescreen cinematography and another marvelous Goldsmith score. The maestro's kinetic action cues are stunning and represent some of his strongest work written during one of his most productive periods.

The movie's no-brain script notwithstanding, Rambo nevertheless became a cultural phenomenon thanks to the film, and that aspect of the character is addressed in another strong 2002 documentary with interviews with the cast and crew, which has been ported over here for the Blu-Ray release. The late George P. Cosmatos also provides a commentary that becomes a bit tedious, but will still be worth it for die-hard fans, while another optional trivia track can be accessed during the picture. The VC-1 encoded transfer, meanwhile, is solid, again appearing to have just a bit of softness to it, while the DTS Master Audio sound is effective.

The developments in Afghanistan and the world post-9/11 have given the somewhat underrated RAMBO III (**½, 102 mins., 1988, R) a reason for rediscovery.

The troubled 1988 sequel (and box-office under-achiever) has Rambo venturing into war-torn Afghanistan in a one-man attempt to find Col. Trautman, who has been captured by the Soviets. In the Stallone-Sheldon Lettich script, Rambo allies himself with Afghan freedom fighters as he tracks down and wipes out the Russians -- a story line that was already dated by the time the movie was released (with the U.S. and Russia having established a diplomatic line of communication), and is, of course, even more dated now, since the kind of freedom fighters portrayed here ended up becoming part of the Taliban regime many years later.

As purely a piece of action filmmaking, “Rambo III” is certainly no worse than its predecessor and is actually an improvement in terms of pacing. Russell Mulcahy ("Highlander") was the film's original director but was fired a few days into shooting, replaced by then-newcomer Peter MacDonald. Despite the friction behind the scenes, and some haphazard editing (which does no favors for Jerry Goldsmith's heavily-truncated score), “Rambo III” is still solid entertainment, a nice farewell (or so it seemed) to the character and an unofficial end-of-an-era for one-man-wrecking-crew, '80s action filmmaking -- a genre that would be altered, and revived, with the release of "Die Hard" a few months after the picture’s opening.

The half-hour, 2002 documentary on “Rambo III” -- thankfully carried over to Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray release -- is excellent since it not only touches upon the logistical nightmares of the film's production, but also the historical aspect of the setting, featuring interviews with historians and professors, all of whom discuss how the 1988 film relates to Afghanistan in the 21st century. One professor talks about how none of the movie's Afghan accents are realistic, while there's some enlightening discussion about how the film's Afghan protagonists would have fit into the Taliban some time later. Peter MacDonald also contributes a commentary track ported over from prior releases, though a host of deleted scenes (many of them quite interesting) have failed to make the transition from the last, “Ultimate” edition DVD package. Another trivia track rounds out the extras.

The VC-1 encoded transfer still seems to include maybe a bit too much noise reduction but is, on the whole, superior to “Rambo II” while an active DTS-MA audio track is sure to give your audio system a proper shakedown.

At just about $30 and change, this is a hugely recommended set for all Rambo fans, displaying the series in top-quality shape in HD, with only a few small omissions (trailers, the “Rambo III” cut sequences) failing to make the transition to Blu-Ray.   

New From Fox on Blu-Ray   

Originally announced a year ago, a handful of WWII films from the Fox and MGM libraries are at last headed to Blu-Ray high-definition disc, just in time for Father’s Day.

Francis Ford Coppola’s commentary provides some fascinating insights into Franklin J. Schaffner’s 1970 Oscar-winning triumph PATTON (****, 171 mins., 1970, PG), which debuts on Blu-Ray following three appearances on DVD (including a 2006 Special Edition, a two-disc, 1998 release and a stripped-down, single-disc re-issue).

Coppola penned his then-unorthodox script for the Fox biopic about General George S. Patton years before the film had been made, and a combination of powers-at-be -- including then producer David Brown and star Burt Lancaster -- shot Coppola’s screenplay down and took the later auteur off the project entirely.

It was much to Coppola’s surprise that when Schaffner eventually produced the film, most of Coppola’s screenplay remained intact -- including the now-famous, then-audacious, opening with George C. Scott’s Patton addressing his troops and the audience directly in a classic film moment. That “prologue” was initially derided by studio honchos and Lancaster as being too odd, a fact which Coppola points to today as something he was criticized for at the time, but widely celebrated later in his life.

Though writer Edmund H. North worked with Schaffner on-set, Coppola’s contribution to “Patton” was still a substantial one, giving this epic its own unique, at-times poetic feel that separates it from the hordes of standard WWII films produced over the decades. Its look into Patton’s personal make-up, his quirks and controversial decisions, its positive portrayal of his military prowess, Scott’s performance and Jerry Goldsmith’s unforgettable, seminal score place the film on a pedestal few other military films have ever matched.

Fox’s Blu-Ray disc offers a gorgeous AVC-encoded transfer that ranks among the elite when it comes to “catalog” movies in high-definition: strong colors, excellent compression and barely an artifact on-hand make for a stellar presentation all around. On the audio end, the DTS-MA audio is more than sufficient, even if there are limitations to how elaborate this remix of an early ‘70s audio track can be.

For extras, Fox has included -- from the prior DVD edition -- a sporadic but intriguing commentary and on-screen introduction from Coppola. Though there are long gaps between the filmmaker’s comments (as you may expect with a 171 minute film that he was never present on-set for), Coppola’s discussion of his script’s origins will make for fascinating listening for buffs, and the director is more than complimentary of the work of Scott, Schaffner and Goldsmith, whom he praises at various points throughout.

In addition to Coppola’s contributions, Fox has included literally the same Disc 2 from the prior DVD release in this package: a standard-definition platter offering a lengthy History Channel documentary, “Patton: A Rebel Revisited,” plus a relatively recent 45-minute special, “Patton’s Ghost Corps,” which adds interviews with veterans and lends further historical insight. The “Making of ‘Patton’” documentary and still galleries -- accompanied by Goldsmith’s full score and an audio essay -- are reprieved from the previous two-disc DVD and laserdisc editions. Needless to say this is one of Fox’s best Blu-Ray releases to date and comes highly recommended!

Tons of supplements, another superb AVC-encoded transfer, and commentaries from historian Mary Corey and director Ken Annakin provide the highlights of Fox’s Blu-Ray release of THE LONGEST DAY (***½, 178 mins., 1962).

Darryl F. Zanuck’s all-star D-Day production makes for another strong high-definition release, the AVC-encoded transfer doing a fine job enhancing the details of this Oscar-winning B&W WWII blockbuster. Due to the film’s age and nature of the cinematography this isn’t quite as overpowering a transfer as “Patton,” but it’s nevertheless crisp and highly satisfying, and again DTS-MA audio compliments the aural package.

For extras, Fox’s 50GB Blu-Ray disc includes Corey and Annakin’s commentaries, which were superb new inclusions into the prior 2005 DVD package (though Annakin’s comments are brief). As with “Patton,” Fox has included the same second disc from its previous DVD edition, offering numerous historical documentaries from the AMC Backstory profile of the film to the History Channel’s excellent “History Through The Lens: Longest Day, A Salute To Courage” documentary; a vintage 1968 “D-Day Revisited” featurette with Darryl F. Zanuck; the recently-produced “A Day To Remember” featurette with real-life survivor stories; and, last but not least, Richard Zanuck’s memories of the film. The original trailer and a still photo gallery round out the package.

Needless to say this edition ranks as an essential title for WWII buffs and a substantial upgrade on the previous standard-definition release.

Making its Blu-Ray debut following a hugely successful DVD release last year is THE SAND PEBBLES (***, 183 mins., 1966, PG-13), Robert Wise’s epic starring Steve McQueen (never better), Richard Attenborough, Richard Crenna and Candice Bergen in a story -- set in 1926 China -- that drew close parallels to the U.S.’ then-recent involvement in Vietnam but offers numerous pleasures (McQueen’s performance, its wide scope lensing and, of course, Jerry Goldsmith’s score) to counteract its somewhat clunky pacing and uneven script.

Fox’s Blu-Ray release of “The Sand Pebbles” is almost the definitive word on the film, offering an MPEG-2 transfer that falls somewhere between “Patton” and “The Longest Day” in terms of its HD presentation, but overall is spectacular when compared to any prior version of the movie you might’ve seen outside of a theater. The DTS-MA audio, meanwhile, does a fine job balancing Goldsmith’s classic score with the dialogue.

When I say this release is “almost” definitive, it’s because only the theatrical release edit (183 minutes) of the picture has been included here, while the prior DVD featured both that cut plus the premiere of the Roadshow presentation, offering 13 minutes of added footage that did appear faded in relation to the pristine quality of the theatrical print. Perhaps it’s because of the latter that the decision was made to include only the theatrical version in HD, and offer the Roadshow scenes in the supplemental section. Either way, fans of “The Sand Pebbles” may want to hang onto their Special Edition DVD versions for that reason.

Extras, culled from that superb prior release, are on-hand in abundance. An isolated score track also includes comments from Nick Redman, Jon Burlingame, and veteran screenwriter/movie buff/historian Lem Dobbs, who rightly regard Goldsmith’s score as one of his all-time finest, and intersperse Goldsmith’s music with commentary on its creation (and even fragments of a 2000 interview with the great composer). An older audio commentary featuring Robert Wise, Candice Bergen, Richard Crenna and Mako is also on-hand.

Numerous featurettes comprise a detailed “Making Of” section while a slew of vintage materials (advertising reels, radio documentaries, TV spots, trailers) and additional “side bars” (a featurette remembering McQueen among those) round out a marvelous Blu-Ray disc -- a must for all “Sand Pebbles” fans.

In addition to the three Fox BD efforts, a pair of MGM catalog titles are also making their belated Blu-Ray debuts, albeit in plain, 25GB single-layer Blu-Ray releases that offer no extras whatsoever -- even though each has been given the same “deluxe” treatment as “Patton,” “The Sand Pebbles” and “The Longest Day” on standard DVD.

It’s especially disappointing because BATTLE OF BRITAIN (**½, 132 mins., 1969, G) was recently issued on DVD in a package that enabled viewers to choose between either Ron Goodwin's score from its original theatrical release, or William Walton's original music, which was -- with the exception of the climactic "Battle In the Air" cue -- entirely discarded.

That two-disc set also offered a number of other special features -- a commentary track with director Guy Hamilton, aerial sequence director Bernard Williams and historian Paul Annett; a “Battle For The Battle of Britain” documentary, and three featurettes plus an animated photo gallery -- and none of them, sadly, have been ported over for this release.
What we’re left with is a good-looking, no-frills presentation of the picture in MPEG-2 high definition with DTS-MA sound, which is fine on its own terms (though I wouldn’t say the transfer is on the same level as the new Fox releases), just not as satisfying as might have been.

A similar scenario exists on A BRIDGE TOO FAR (**½, 175 mins., 1977, PG), Richard Attenborough’s somewhat tedious, uneven, massively produced, all-star (is there a major ‘70s actor NOT in this movie?) chronicle of the doomed Allied mission to capture German bridges known as Operation Market Garden.

MGM’s previous Special Edition DVD contained commentaries by Attenborough and screenwriter William Goldman plus a number of documentaries on its production, and just like “Battle of Britain,” none of those have been carried over to the Blu-Ray side (save for a theatrical trailer).

Instead, we get a MPEG-2 transfer on a single-layer 25GB Blu-Ray disc, which -- for a three-hour movie like this one -- means viewers are also getting a lower bit-rate transfer, while the DTS-MA audio is only stereophonic during the various explosions and John Addison’s overly cheery score. Visually the film is quite grainy as well, at its worst resembling an upconverted standard-definition DVD, thanks to source material that looks like it’s not in the greatest shape to begin with.

Also On Blu-Ray

ANGER MANAGEMENT (*½, 106 mins., 2003, PG-13; Sony): Dismal 2003 Adam Sandler comedy manages to be even worse than his prior effort "Mr. Deeds," though teaming the comedian with Jack Nicholson still proved to be a box-office hit in theaters.

As seen in the infinitely more amusing trailers, Sandler plays a nebbish who ends up being sentenced to anger management therapy after an unlikely incident on a plane. In charge of the sessions is Dr. Buddy Rydell (Nicholson), whose methods are, of course, a little unorthodox, leading Sandler to meet up with Rydell's other patients (including John Turturro and Luis Guzman), a cross-dressing hooker (the increasingly scary Woody Harrelson), and other misadventures on the way to his "recovery."

After a rough start, “Anger Management” marches on with failed gags in David Dorfman's script, only to take a somewhat dramatic turn -- like most Sandler vehicles -- in its final third. The only problem is that it's impossible to take the movie seriously, and with the movie's scattershot laughs being few and far between in the bloated 106 minute running time, there's little reason to recommend it (and especially not with Marisa Tomei being completely wasted as the female lead).

Columbia TriStar's DVD looks terrific in its AVC encoded 1080 transfer, the Dolby TrueHD audio sporting an overly zany score by Teddy Castellucci. Special features include a generic commentary track by director Peter Segal and Sandler, basically saying how much fun making the movie was (well, at least someone got something out of it!); several deleted scenes, a pair of fluffy featurettes, and the requisite gag reel.   

JUMPER (**, 88 mins., 2008, PG-13; Fox): Slick but slight youth sci-fi flick stars Hayden Christensen as a “jumper,” a teen with the ability to transport himself anywhere around the world at any time. He finds out his gift is as much a curse as it is a blessing, since “jumpers” have been around for centuries with as many villains trying to stop them as there are individuals who have the talent -- including a government agent (Samuel L. Jackson) who isn’t as friendly as he first appears. Coming off his box-office hits “The Bourne Identity” and “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” Doug Liman didn’t quite lay an egg with “Jumper,” but this only modest success is nevertheless a mild disappointment, with a skeletal narrative that plays like a movie trailer more than a fully formed picture. There’s action and effects to spare, but the film loses momentum as it moves along, and Christensen still seems to be lacking a certain “star quality” as a leading man. Fox’s Blu-Ray disc certainly looks spectacular, with a high-bit rate AVC encode and DTS-MA audio, and loads of extras, including commentary, documentaries, deleted scenes and other goodies.

New on DVD

ICONS OF ADVENTURE: 4-Film Set (Sony): Hammer fans can rejoice thanks to the upcoming release of Sony’s two-disc, four-film box set dubbed “Icons of Adventure.”

This release offers four Hammer productions that Columbia distributed back in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, including:

-“The Pirates of Blood River” (1961): Silly but good-looking pirate fun with Kerwin Mathews an ostracized Huguenot who returns to the community that banished him along with a scalawag (Christopher Lee, wearing an eye-patch of course) searching for lost loot. Oliver Reed, Desmond Llewelyn and a host of familiar Hammer stock players (Andrew Keir among others) co-star in this spectacularly ridiculous but engaging Saturday matinee effort, presented here in 16:9 (2.35) widescreen and with mono sound.

-“The Devil Ship Pirates” (1964): More entertaining, equally robust pirate yarn again stars Christopher Lee, this time as the Captain of a Spanish ship that grounds ashore on the English coast during the late 16th century. More good-looking scope cinematography, engaging performances and a decent amount of action make for a colorful time, Columbia’s presentation again containing a very satisfying 16:9 (2.35) presentation preserving the film’s original “Megascope” ratio.

-“The Stranglers of Bombay” (1960): Screenwriter David Zelag Goodman, who would later go on to write a handful of seminal ‘70s films (“Logan’s Run,” “Straw Dogs,” “Farewell My Lovely”), began his career by penning this 1960 Hammer tale of a real-life cult of religious fanatics in India who murder for pleasure. Guy Rolfe is the British captain who helps track them down in this taut Terence Fisher programmer, a rarely-seen Hammer film that’s quite atmospheric and suspenseful, not to mention a bit violent even by today’s standards. The 16:9 (2.35) transfer adds immeasurably to the entertainment.

-“Terror of the Tongs” (1961): First of what would be several Fu Manchu movies starring Christopher Lee was the only entry produced with a decent budget, having been backed by Hammer and released by Columbia. Sony’s DVD presentation here sports another fine 16:9 (1.66) transfer with mono sound.

The two-disc set includes commentaries on each film from the likes of Hammer’s Jimmy Sangster, David Zelag Goodman, Chris Barnes and others, while original trailers, various cartoon and short subjects, and other goodies make this a real treat for movie buffs, and obviously Hammer fans in particular.

CITY SLICKERS: Special Edition (***½, 114 mins., 1991, PG-13; MGM/Fox): Sterling Special Edition of the 1991 blockbuster comedy, a hilarious western spoof with Billy Crystal, Bruno Kirby and Daniel Stern heading west to break up their typical middle-age existence by playing cowboys. They end up meeting a cow named Norman and Jack Palance as “Curly” in a hilarious, spot-on performance that won him an Oscar. Fox’s new DVD edition -- the first-ever Special Edition release of the picture, surprisingly -- includes a fresh commentary with Crystal, Stern, and director Ron Underwood, plus three Making Of featurettes that revisit the production and several never-before-seen deleted scenes.

DIVA: Special Edition (117 mins., 1981, R; Lionsgate): Fully remastered edition of the early ‘80s international hit from Lionsgate offers a new 16:9 (1.66) transfer plus commentary and interviews with director Jean-Jacques Beineix, cinematographer Philippe Rousselot and others.   

THE RED VIOLIN: Special Edition (130 mins., 1998, R; Lionsgate): Francois Girard’s uneven 1998 anthology film returns to DVD in a new edition sporting commentary from Girard and writer Don McKellar, plus a featurette with composer John Corigliano and another segment on Stradivarius violins. The 16:9 (1.85) transfer and 5.1 audio are both fine, though Universal’s earlier, out-of-print disc boasted a vibrant DTS track.

New TV on DVD

Big hair, loud clothes, “new wave” music -- sound like it’s time for another trip back to the ‘80s!

Sarah Jessica Parker may be best known around the world for her role in “Sex and the City” (which hits the big screen, not coincidentally, this week), but for some of us who grew up in the ‘80s she first gained major stardom on the CBS comedy SQUARE PEGS (1982-83, 491 mins., Sony).

This high school comedy presaged the John Hughes pictures by a couple of years, coming after Amy Heckerling’s spirited “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” and helping to usher in a decade full of teen-centric tales of dating, dorks, and general unruliness.

Not that “Square Pegs” is entirely brainless: former “Saturday Night Live” writer Anne Beatts created this tale of two freshmen (Parker and Amy Linker) trying to fit into Weemawee High School and its popular clique, including trendy Tracy Nelson, her boyfriend Jon Caliri, pal Claudette Wells, and preppy Jami Gertz. Merrit Butrick (David, Kirk’s son, in “Star Trek” II and III) is also on-hand as part of the gang, while guest stars include a hilarious turn from Bill Murray, Martin Mull, and perhaps most memorably, the cult group Devo as themselves.

Sony’s DVD box-set preserves the entire run of “Square Pegs”’ lone season on the air in fine full-screen transfers and with solid mono soundtracks. The 19 shows look to be in fine shape for their age, while a slew of new interviews includes comments (mostly between 10-15 minutes each) from Parker, Linker, Beatts, Gertz, co-stars John Femia and Steven Peterman; there’s also a nice tribute to Butrick as well, who died tragically at the age of 30 from AIDS.

“Square Pegs” isn’t particularly funny but it’s at least energetic and vibrantly performed by a young cast, several of whom went onto stardom. For a blast of ‘80s nostalgia Sony’s DVD comes well worth the price.

With Alan Silvestri re-arranging John Parker’s original theme song, the NBC crime drama CHIPS (1978-79, aprx 1100 minutes; Warner) similarly became a more confident and successful series in its second year.

Ponch and Jon -- as embodied by Erik Estrada and Larry Wilcox – returned for another 22 episodes of fun in the California sun, with action, romance, tuneful, driving disco underscore, and -- once in a while -- hot highway pursuits too. Nobody ever called “Chips” realistic, but the show provided solid escapist fare week after week, a series that never demanded your full attention yet was still solidly produced and engagingly performed.

Warner’s Season 2 DVD edition of “Chips” presents its full second-season in crisp full-screen transfers, including some of my favorite episodes of the series, most notably “Neighborhood Watch,” in which a group of crazy kids take their parents’ wagon for a joyride, getting wrapped up in all kinds of trouble along the way. Nothing spells good o’l ‘70s TV than the opening of this particular episode when the tykes (including Robbie Rist, aka Cousin Oliver from “The Brady Bunch”) start cruising down the road to a throbbing disco beat...it’s pretty much “classic” for its time!

In addition to the 22 shows (which also feature the enjoyable Halloween tale “Trick or Treat” and the fan-favorite episode “Supercycle”), Warner has also included, as a bonus, “The Greatest Adventures of Chips,” the season-concluding “highlight” movie that culls together portions of various episodes. That, plus bonus interviews with Estrada, round out the package. Loads of fun!   

THE DUKES OF HAZZARD: Movie Double Feature (1997-2000, Warner): A pair of reunion movies featuring the original “Dukes” triumvirate (John Schneider, Tom Wopat, Catherine Bach), written by series creator Gy Waldron, hit DVD for the first time courtesy of Warner Home Video. The double-disc set includes both “The Dukes of Hazzard: Reunion!” and “Hazzard in Hollywood,” both presented in full-screen transfers and with Dolby Stereo sound.

BURN NOTICE: Season 1 (2007, 532 mins., Fox): USA Network spy series starring Jeffrey Donovan, with a decent sense of humor and a terrific supporting cast (Gabrielle Anwar, Sharon Gless, Bruce Campbell), hits DVD in a four-disc set, containing all 11 first-season episodes. Copious special features include commentaries on each episode, a gag reel, audition footage and other extras; the 16:9 (1.78) transfers are top-notch and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks round out the package.       

FANTASTIC FOUR: The Complete First Season (2006-07, Fox): Recent animated adaptation of the “Fantastic Four” hits DVD in a Fox box-set preserving 26 episodes from its first season – all but nine of which aired on the Cartoon Network. A bit goofier than even “FF” purists might hope (the Thing has a “4" spraypainted on his chest for crying out loud!), this is a reasonably well-executed series from what I sampled, with Fox’s DVD offering terrific 16:9 (1.78) transfers, 5.1 Dolby Digital audio tracks, commentaries from the head writer and producer, and four featurettes on its production.

NEXT TIME: DIVA, THE ODD COUPLE and More! Until then, don't forget to drop in on the official Aisle Seat Message Boards, check out the newly relaunched Aisle Seat Blog, and direct any emails to our email address.  Cheers everyone!

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