5/3/11 Edition Twitter: THEAISLESEATCOM
May Arrival Edition
Criterion's SOMETHING WILD on Blu

Equal parts road trip movie, romantic comedy, and crime thriller, Jonathan Demme’s terrific 1986 film SOMETHING WILD (***½, 113 mins., R) arrives on Blu-Ray this month as a Criterion Collection release – a fitting tribute to this richly textured, entertaining (if admittedly uneven) Orion Pictures release, which initially bombed at the box-office.

Jeff Daniels plays Charlie Driggs, a New York City yuppie businessman whose chance encounter with a free spirit named Lulu (Melanie Griffith) leads to a wild ride of sex, drinking, a visit to “Lulu”’s mother, a high school reunion and the appearance of Lulu’s estranged husband Ray (Ray Liotta), a volatile con just sprung from prison.

Every performance here hits the mark and then some: Daniels, coming off his star-making turn in Woody Allen’s “Purple Rose of Cairo,” is superb as the likeable “straight arrow” with a wild streak. Griffith, soon to hit full-blown stardom in “Working Girl,” is charismatic as the mysterious Lulu/Audrey, and Liotta, in his first film, gives one of his scary-good (and just flat out scary) turns as a psycho who becomes unhinged without a moment’s notice.

All three make E. Max Frye’s original screenplay come alive, but it’s the direction of Jonathan Demme that makes “Something Wild” an enduringly unique and energetic viewing experience. Demme had to juggle Frye’s shifting tone from offbeat romance during its initial 45 minutes to more of an uncertain thriller in its second half – a tonal change that jarred some audiences at the time, and can still leave some viewers shocked if they’re unprepared upon seeing it for the first time. Yet Demme maintains a levelheaded approach to Daniels and Griffith’s characters from the very beginning – they’re consistently embodied by the actors despite the genuine craziness that happens in the movie’s second half.

The director’s penchant for offbeat humor pays off throughout (some of the film’s best lines, we find out in the disc’s supplements, were improvised), as well as his eye for detail in the picture’s locations. Demme and long-time cinematographer Tak Fujimoto vividly capture the open road, suburban America circa 1986 as well as the big city in such a naturalistic, beautifully plain manner that the movie truly makes you feel as if you’re really there.

Demme is a director whose career has been hit-or-miss, but here, coming off the disaster of the 1984 Goldie Hawn WWII era pic “Swing Shift” (Hawn recut the film herself and had another director come in to handle extensive re-shoots), the director was coming into his prime. “Something Wild” marked the start of several films he would make at Orion (“Married to the Mob” and the Oscar-winning triumph “Silence of the Lambs” would follow), and all the elements came together to create a vibrant piece of entertainment that has aged well.

Criterion’s Blu-Ray package of “Something Wild” is highlighted by a superb AVC encoded 1080p transfer with 2.0 DTS MA stereo sound. Fujimoto and Demme’s natural visual style is enhanced by the move to high-def, while extras are limited to the trailer, a 10-minute interview with the screenwriter (who mentions the battles over the film’s violent climax) as well as a 33-minute talk with Demme. Affable, candid and filled with anecdotes, Demme rightfully calls “Something Wild” one of his best films in an excellent interview that caps off another great Criterion package.

New from the Warner Archive

A pair of vintage musical offerings join the Warner Archive this month.

Ken Russell’s THE BOY FRIEND (***, 136 mins., 1971, G) was an old-fashioned expansion of Sandy Wilson’s musical, which was a star-making vehicle for leading lady Julie Andrews when the British show made its way to Broadway in the mid ‘50s.

By the time Russell produced his film version, the movie musical was on a downward spiral – a genre that had been hit hard by expensive flops like MGM’s “Goodbye Mr. Chips,” Fox’s “Star” (with Andrews), and numerous other failures. So perhaps it was no surprise that “The Boy Friend” didn’t do all that well upon its initial release, especially in the U.S. where MGM added insult to injury by cutting Russell’s original version down to under two hours.

Warner Archive’s manufactured-on-demand edition of “The Boy Friend” offers the director’s original 136-minute cut in its full Panavision splendor, and fans should be delighted with the presentation: this dated but charming “show within a show” musical offers ample homages to Busby Berkeley, a tuneful score and Twiggy as an assistant who gets the break of a lifetime in a small stage production when leading lady Glenda Jackson suffers an injury. The movie is a bit long but musical aficionados ought to enjoy it in Warner’s good-looking 16:9 transfer, which also offers a 2.0 stereo soundtrack and an eight-minute vintage featurette.

Meanwhile, Herman’s Hermits made their screen debut in the ridiculous 1966 offering HOLD ON! (**½, 86 mins.), with the British group rocking their way through a tour of the USA that includes meetings with NASA, Shelley Fabares and Sue Ann Langdon.

It’s silly mid ‘60s fluff with bubblegum music (and a couple of chart-topping hits) that looks just fine in Warner Archives’ 16:9 (2.35) widescreen transfer, preserving the original Panavision frame.

Warner Archives also has the superior, later Hermits vehicle “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter” available for ordering.

Finally, FRANKENSTEIN JR. AND THE IMPOSSIBLES (383 mins., 1968) also joins the Warner Archives this month in a terrific two-disc set offering all 18 episodes from the Hanna-Barbera cartoon series of the late ‘60s.

The show coupled two different offerings: “Frankenstein Jr.” (voiced by Ted Cassidy) was a creation of whiz-kid scientist Budd Conroy and his father, who employed the herculean robot to take down evil doers with the simple press of a ring. “The Impossibles,” meanwhile, were a collection of super-heroes (Multi Man, Coil Man, and Fluid Man) who posed as a Beatles-esque rock group whenever they weren’t fighting crime.

The short-lived series was recycled a couple of times by Hanna-Barbera, who originally  canceled it because of pressure from parents who objected to the show’s level of violence. Naturally it’s hard to envision that now, but it generated a bit of an additional cult following for the program over the years because of it. Warner’s Archive release looks decent and is now available exclusively from the Archives webpage.

Cult, Exploitation & Assorted Horrors       

DEEP RED Blu-Ray (105/126 mins., 1975, Not Rated; Blue Underground): Blue Underground has done a favor for all fans of Dario Argento and "Spaghetti Splatter" with a fully remastered edition of the director’s 1975 “giallo” thriller, which was previously available years ago as an Anchor Bay DVD.

Though I'm not the biggest fan of Argento or Euro-horror, “Deep Red” offers plenty of interesting visual flourishes for curious horror aficionados, and certainly ranks as a "must-have" for Argento-philes.

“Profondo Russo,” which follows David Hemmings as an English jazz musician who joins up with a female journalist (Daria Nicolodi) to track down the killer of a renowned psychic, is regarded as one of Argento's most celebrated works, and it looks stunning in Blue Underground’s new 1080p transfer with DTS MA 7.1 audio. Not only that, but both the uncensored English version and its extended Italian version are offered here, along with excellent interviews including Argento, co-writer Bernardino Zapponi and Goblin, who composed the score, plus trailers, a Goblin music video, and a Daemonia music video.

FIGHTING MAD/MOVING VIOLATION DVD (90-91 mins., 1976, R-PG; Shout!)
EAT MY DUST!/GRAND THEFT AUTO DVD (88-84 mins., 1976-77, PG; Shout!): More ‘70s B-movie fun from Shout! Factory arrives this month in the form of two new double-feature DVD sets.

The latest entry in Shout’s line of Roger Corman discs, Ron Howard starred in both the 1976 Corman production “Eat My Dust!” and its follow-up, 1977's “Grand Theft Auto,” which the “Happy Days” star also directed. Both movies provide silly, nostalgic fun for those old enough to remember them, along with numerous TV veterans (“Partridge Family”’s Dave Madden, future “Trapper John MD” star Christopher Norris, along with Howard’s TV mom Marion Ross) supporting Howard as he tried to branch out from his “Happy Days” role as Ritchie Cunningham.

Numerous extras include a new interview with Ron Howard, terrific new 16:9 (1.78) widescreen transfers, commentary on “Grand Theft Auto” with Howard and Roger Corman, another new commentary on “GTA” with Rance Howard (who co-wrote the film with his son) and Joe Dante among others, older interviews with Howard conducted by Leonard Maltin, trailers, TV spots, new retrospective featurettes, and a conversation with Corman poster artist John Solie.

Also new this month from Shout! are two more car-driven ‘70s drive-in flicks, coupled in one Double Feature set. The 1976 Corman production FIGHTING MAD offers Peter Fonda as an Arkansas farmer who takes on evil land developers in a Fox release written and directed by Jonathan Demme, while another Corman effort, MOVING VIOLATION, finds Stephen McHattie and Kay Lenz being set up for a crime they didn’t commit by corrupt sheriff Lonny Chapman.

New commentaries (by Corman, Demme, Fonda and co-star Lynn Lowry on “Fighting Mad”; and Julie Corman, Roger Corman, McHattie and director Charles S. Dubin on “Moving Violation”), trailers and TV spots are on-hand for both movies along with new 16:9 (1.78) widescreen transfers and mono soundtracks.

Also New on DVD & Blu-Ray       

THE GREEN HORNET Blu-Ray/3-D Blu-Ray/DVD (**, 119 mins., 2011, PG-13; Sony): My first reaction while watching “The Green Hornet” was that at least funnyman Seth Rogen wasn’t strictly clowning his way through this long-in-development adaptation of the radio/TV/comic book masked hero of yesteryear. That relief, though, soon turned to the realization that Rogen as a “serious” super-hero wasn’t any more workable, ultimately, than the comedic approach that his casting initially suggested.

The 2011 “Green Hornet” follows Rogen as Britt Reid, the son of a newspaper publisher (Tom Wilkinson) who crusades against injustice but is also a bit of a SOB. When not-so-dear o’l dad dies suddenly, Britt finds his calling not behind the pen but rather by joining his father’s faithful servant Kato (Jay Chou, in a role originally intended for Stephen Chow) in donning super-hero attire and taking down local criminals including a Russian mobster (Christoph Waltz from “Inglorious Basterds”) wreaking havoc on Los Angeles.

Directed by Michel Gondry (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”), “The Green Hornet” is a lazy and uninspired vehicle for Rogen, who dials down his typical comedic persona so much that here he’s just boring as Britt. The talented Waltz seems to be on auto-pilot in a role that Nicolas Cage bailed out of late in pre-production (what does that tell you?), while Cameron Diaz fails to ignite any chemistry in the token female role of Britt’s unknowing research assistant.

The movie follows past incarnations of the character in its set-up, but is pretty much by-the-numbers in terms of entertainment: a couple of one-liners, a few explosions, some feeble 3-D effects, rinse and repeat is the formula Rogen and his co-writer Evan Goldberg adhere to, and while Gondry’s visual style keeps the film watchable, the film never aspires to being much more than that.

Sony’s Blu-Ray is a combo pack sporting a standard BD, 3-D BD, and DVD edition of the picture. The 3-D wasn’t well utilized in the picture to begin with so this is not a title worth purchasing on those merits alone, making the regular BD the version of choice here (the 1080p transfer and DTS MA soundtrack are both excellent). Extras include a gag reel, deleted scenes, commentary and a whole bunch of Making Of featurettes, plus BD Live functions and Sony’s interactive “Cutting Room” feature where you can piece together your own edit of selected scenes from the picture.

COUGARS, INC. Blu-Ray (82 mins., 2011, R; Lionsgate): Disposable fluff about a college student (Kyle Gallner) who decides to start up an escort service for older gals including “Cold Case” star Kathryn Morris and Denise Richards among others. Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray includes commentary, a deleted scenes, trailer gallery and a behind the scenes featurette plus a 1080p widescreen transfer and DTS MA 5.1 audio.

BLUE VALENTINE Blu-Ray (**½, 112 mins., 2010, R; Anchor Bay): Michelle Williams copped an Oscar nomination for her role as the wife of Ryan Gosling in Derek Cianfrance’s independent drama about a couple who rush into marriage and then suffer the eventual consequences several years later. Many scenes in “Blue Valentine” were apparently improvised by the actors, and there are numerous sequences of emotional power in the picture, along with some graphic sex scenes (which nearly netted the film an NC-17); it’s all well acted but so depressing that it ultimately wears you down. Anchor Bay’s Blu-Ray includes commentary from the director, deleted scenes, home movies and a Making Of featurette; the 1080p transfer is excellent as is the DTS MA 5.1 audio.

THE OTHER WOMAN Blu-Ray (**, 102 mins., 2009, R; IFC): Natalie Portman has been on quite a run of late, from winning her Oscar for “Black Swan” to starring in commercial friendly vehicles like the rom-com “No Strings Attached” and this week’s release of Marvel super-hero “Thor.” Not everything she touches, though, turns to gold, as evidenced by the box-office disaster of “Your Highness” and “The Other Woman,” a tepid 2009 indie drama with Portman as the second wife of older lawyer Scott Coen. As if losing their young daughter isn’t enough, Portman suffers more emotional friction from Coen’s ex-wife (Lisa Kudrow) and their son (Charlie Tahan), who brings up Portman’s dead child more than a few times.

Don Roos’ film, shot as “Love and other Impossible Pursuits,” is a thoroughly depressing affair, with Portman and Coen generating no chemistry together and most of the characters being totally unappealing as well.

IFC’s Blu-Ray does look nice with its 1080p transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack; the sole extra is a trailer.

BEING HUMAN Season 3 Blu-Ray (460 mins., 2010, BBC): Season three of the popular BBC series about a collection of colorful characters (two werewolves, a ghost and a vampire) recently concluded its third season, which makes its way to Blu-Ray this month in a three-disc set.  Episodes include “Lia,” “Adam’s Family,” “Type 4,” “The Pack,” “The Longest Day,” “Daddy Ghoul,” “Though the Heavens Fall” and “The Wolf-Shaped Bullet,” all presented in 1080i HD transfers with 2.0 Dolby Stereo sound. Extras include extended cast interviews, deleted scenes, and a tour of the set with star Sinead Keenan, whose character Nina finds out she’s pregnant in this entertaining third season of the program.

DR. WHO - PLANET OF THE SPIDERS DVD (150 mins., 1974, BBC)
DR. WHO - TERROR OF THE AUTONS DVD (95 mins., 1971, BBC): Two more entries in BBC’s Special Edition line of Dr. Who DVDs spotlights the Jon Pertwee era.

The 1971 arc “Terror of the Autons” finds the Doctor trapped on Earth where the Time Lord collaborates with the Nestene Consciousness to use dangerous Auton creatures to destroy the planet. “The Planet of the Spiders,” a 1974 story arc (Pertwee’s last), has the Dr. and Sarah Jane (Elizabeth Sladen, who recently passed away) battling giant spiders from an alien planet named Metebelis 3, who have tapped into the Earth’s landscape through an English Tibetan retreat.

Special features on “Planet of the Spiders” includes commentary from Sladen, Nicolas Courtney, Richard Franklin, script editor Terrance Dicks and director Barry Letts; a 37-minute profile of the production; an interview with John Kane; a retrospective on Barry Letts; an unrestored edit; film locations and more. “Terror of the Autons” includes commentary from Katy Manning, Nicolas Courtney and Barry Letts; a 33-minute documentary; PDF materials, a photo gallery and other goodies.

THE KIDS IN THE HALL COMPLETE COLLECTION DVD (aprx. 45 hrs, A&E/NewVideo): Massive 22-disc box-set offers the entire collection of episodes from “The Kids in the Hall,” including all five seasons of the sketch comedy troupe’s series. Best of all: two additional discs include “Death Comes to Town,” an exclusive double-disc DVD set that boasts over 90 minutes of original performances from the Rivoli Theater, archival footage that’s never been seen before, 10 best-of compilations from all five seasons, interviews with the cast and producer Lorne Michaels, audio commentaries, full-screen transfers, 5.1 soundtracks, cast bios, photo galleries, slideshows and other extras for series fans.   

SWAMP PEOPLE Season 1 DVD (aprx. 7 hours, 2010, A&E/NewVideo): Entertaining A&E reality series focus on the Cajuns of the Atchafalaya Swamp in Louisiana – their hardships and efforts to maintain their way of life in the modern world. “Southern Comfort” this isn’t, and “Swamp People” premiered to record-setting ratings for the History Channel last summer. History’s first season DVD set includes the show’s initial 10 episodes in 16:9 transfers with 2.0 stereo sound and additional footage on the supplemental side.

NEXT TIME: LEGEND on Blu-Ray. Until then, don't forget to drop in on the official Aisle Seat Message Boards and direct any emails to our email address. Cheers everyone!

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