Aisle Seat May Madness

By Andy Dursin

May is always a busy month for film and movie music aficionados. The summer movie season kicks off over the next few weeks with a bevy of highly-anticipated epics (from "Van Helsing" to "Troy"), and while the local multiplex will be busier than ever, so will your favorite DVD haunts where a slew of new releases will also be headed your way.

This month's Aisle Seat DVD calendar follows below, along with reviews of new titles from Columbia ("Triplets of Belleville"), Buena Vista ("Scary Movie 3," "Calendar Girls,"), Paramount ("The Molly Maguires," "My Side of the Mountain") and Fox ("Stuck On You") among others.

May DVD Release Calendar

May 4
Calendar Girls (reviewed below)
The Last Samurai
Law and Order: Season 2
Peter Pan (2003)
Triplets of Belleville (reviewed below)

May 11
300 Spartans
Easy Riders Raging Bulls
In America
Nighthawks (widescreen re-issue)
Prince Valiant (1954)
Robin Hood (w/Patrick Bergin, Uma Thurman)
Scary Movie 3 (reviewed below)

May 18
Angel Heart (Special Edition)
Miracle (reviewed below)
Walt Disney Treasures Wave 3

May 25
Bubba Ho-Tep
Great Escape: Special Edition
Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
Smallville: Season 2
Underworld: Director's Cut
Wizards (Ralph Bakshi)

Aisle Seat DVD Pick of the Week

THE TRIPLETS OF BELLEVILLE (***, 2003). 81 mins., PG-13, Columbia TriStar. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Featurettes; 1.78 Widescreen, 5.1 English and Spanish language tracks.

Sylvain Chomet's acclaimed animated film, set during the war, involves a young French boy who grows up to be a champion cyclist thanks to his uncompromising grandmother. One day, while participating in a race, "Champion" is abducted by nefarious bad guys clad in black, leading grandma and their dog Rover to undertake a rescue mission, one which leads them to New York and a trio of crazy triplets who happen to just love the cool jazz.

Chomet's stylized design and mix of hand-drawn animation and computer- generated imagery makes for an eclectic film that you can't take your eyes off. The humor is mostly gentle and Chomet takes his time building gags without the use of dialogue, enabling his main characters to distinguish themselves through physical humor and movement. For those familiar with the predictable animated efforts we see released on this side of the Atlantic, it can take a few minutes to be acclimated to the look and mood of "The Triplets of Belleville," but the end result is a unique and unforgettable movie with a moody score by Ben Charest and knockout animation.

Columbia TriStar has provided a sensational 1.78 Widescreen transfer on their DVD edition, available today. The animation looks fabulous, while the bouncy soundtrack is atmospheric in 5.1 Dolby Digital. I should mention that the movie boasts English and Spanish language tracks -- however, since there's so little dialogue in the movie, you have to wonder why Columbia didn't simply subtitle the original French track (which isn't included at all). More over, some aspects of the dialogue -- like the broadcasters covering the bike race -- are still heard in French minus subtitles in the English track, while they're dubbed in the Spanish version!

Extras include a "Making Of" featurette and a supporting short, "The Cartoon According to Director Sylvain Chomet." Chomet provides commentary for three scenes (which aren't easy to find; go to the second page of the Special Features to select them), while a music video of the movie's Oscar nominated song and trailers round out the disc.

"The Triplets of Belleville" is a different and offbeat animated feature that comes highly recommended on DVD.

Aisle Seat DVD Sneak Preview

MIRACLE (**1/2, 2004). 136 mins., PG, Disney, available May 18th. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Commentary, Making Of segments, interviews with the real "Miracle On Ice" team; 2.35 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound. Being a college hockey fanatic (and sports fan in general), I was stoked to see Disney's box-office hit "Miracle." Being one of the great American sports stories of the 20th century, the film had all the potential to be a classic: an underdog tale of overcoming the odds, a moment in sports arguably unparalleled in its raw emotion, and one of the great broadcasting calls of all-time. Unfortunately, this workmanlike, routine film is not so much about the group of college kids who rose up to beat the USSR in the 1980 Lake Placid games, but rather the man -- the late coach Herb Brooks -- who brought them there. That leaves Kurt Russell to carry the show as the uncompromising Brooks, who brings a collection of young men together with rigid practices and tactics one would think are just a little bit insane, all in an effort to beat the unbeatable Soviets and capture the Gold in Lake Placid.

It's the kind of story that should have had for a marvelous movie, but unfortunately "Miracle" isn't it. Both Eric Guggenheim's script and Gavin O'Connor's direction lack the spark to make the material come alive, compounded by what appears to have been a budget better suited for a made-for-TV film. Scenes involving Brooks and his wife (Patricia Clarkson) don't ring true, while major international events that occurred during the period -- the gas shortage, the Iranian hostage crisis -- are sloppily thrown in an effort to tell the audience that things weren't so good for us back in the late '70s. (These are many of the exact same clips used in HBO and ESPN documentaries on the team from years past -- both of which were more effective and emotional in chronicling the team than this film).

But what's most frustrating about "Miracle" is that none of the players on the team are developed at all. You get no sense of the individuals and their interactions with one another -- something even the 1981 made-for-TV film "Miracle On Ice" (with Karl Malden as Brooks) was able to do fairly well. It's a real disappointment that ends up making the Olympic team itself -- a collection of heroes, great players from both eastern and western hockey -- into a faceless crowd, one player virtually indistinguishable from the next. If someone walked into the theater without knowing who Mike Eruzione was, for example, they'd have absolutely no idea what his accomplishments were on the team after watching the film. I kept wondering who Dave Silk was supposed to be, where Davey Christian was, etc. etc.

It also doesn't help that the movie never feels "real." What separates great sports movies from the rest of the pack is authenticity, and here "Miracle" also comes up short. Films like "Rudy" and "Hoosiers" gave you a strong sense of time and place, using actual locations in an effort to realistically re-stage events. In this day and age, there should be no reason why the actual venues where the Olympic games were played weren't used -- or at least CGI mock-ups of them. Here, though, it's painfully obvious one or two rinks in British Columbia were used in place of all the real locations -- resulting in claustrophobically staged hockey scenes that give you no sense of speed or the intensity of the game itself. That the crowds contain cardboard cut-outs (and unconvincing, modern-day attired extras) is also inexcusable for a movie like this.

While Russell's performance is commendable and the movie likely satisfying for viewers who know little about the sport or the team, "Miracle" simply misses the mark on several levels. Perhaps if filmmakers with a vision for capturing a moment that meant so much to this nation were given a more workable budget to put the film together, "Miracle" could have soared. As it is, it's ironic -- for a movie that's supposed to be about teamwork -- that "Miracle" concentrates on one individual instead. That's something I doubt Herb Brooks himself would have wanted to see.

Disney's two-disc DVD edition, out on May 18th, actually does a better job capturing who the individuals on the '80 team actually were than the film itself. Interviews with Jim Craig, Mike Eruzione, and others are included, and hearing the men talk about their experiences is insightful and revealing, regardless of the segment's fluffy, ESPN-based "round table" presentation. Commentary from director O'Connor, a regulation Making Of, featurettes on the young cast and the sound design (sporting comments from composer Mark Isham), and some four minutes of outtakes are also included.

Best of all, though, is nearly a half-hour of camcorder footage of the real Herb Brooks talking to Russell and the filmmakers before shooting began. Brooks died during production in a tragic car accident, and seeing him talk extensively -- and candidly -- about the game and his team is something no sports fan should miss.

The 2.35 transfer on the movie itself is excellent and the Dolby Digital 5.1 sound effective, sporting a tedious assembly of '70s rock tracks and one of Isham's blandest original scores.

New On DVD

SCARY MOVIE 3 (*1/2, 2003). 84 mins., PG-13, Dimension. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Commentary, deleted/extended scenes, Making Of featurettes; 1.85 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

I wasn't a big fan of either of the first two "Scary Movie" films, finding them to be filled with excessive (and unfunny) bathroom humor. When "Airplane!" alumnus David Zucker was hired to helm "Scary Movie 3," I thought the prospects for the franchise's latest sequel were a bit brighter -- provided Zucker and co-writer Pat Proft brought some of the off-kilter sensibilities they did to "The Naked Gun" among other projects. Alas, despite a tamer PG-13 rating and an amusing trailer (which predictably had all of the jokes in it), this crass follow-up is nearly as devoid of successful gags as its two predecessors.

Anna Faris, the energetic lead from the first two movies, is back and once again deserving of better material, as her character is now a TV reporter investigating the appearance of crop circles on a nearby farm. That parody of "Signs" extends to minister Charlie Sheen -- who's lost all faith -- and serves as the springboard for a succession of gags involving "The Ring," "8 Mile," and other recent movies (not to mention commercial tie-ins, including the appearance of the Coors Lite twins).

"Scary Movie 3" moves at a rapid-fire clip like "Airplane!" and "The Naked Gun," but any other resemblance to those movies -- aside from the too-brief appearance of Leslie Nielsen as the President -- is purely coincidental. The desperate script plays like a PG-13 version of its predecessor's toilet humor, but time after time, the movie misses one golden opportunity after another at successfully ridiculing recent box-office hits. The cast is game -- Farris is a superb comedienne and Sheen has traveled this path before in the "Hot Shots!" movies -- but the material is so lame that a typical episode of "The Golden Girls" or "Designing Women" yields more laughs.

Dimension/Buena Vista's Special Edition DVD is solid, offering deleted scenes and an alternate ending that fans should find interesting. The requisite Making Of featurettes are OK, but the commentary is more fun (if not a bit self-congratulatory), while the 1.85 Widescreen transfer is excellent and the 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack a lot more active than your typical movie comedy.

STUCK ON YOU (**, 2003). 118 mins., PG-13, Fox. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Farrelly Brothers audio commentary; deleted/extended scenes; blooper reels; three featurettes; teaser, trailers; 2.35 Widescreen (separate full-screen version also available), 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

Martha's Vineyard conjoined twins and restaurant owners Bob (Matt Damon) and Walt Tenor (Greg Kinnear) decide to leave home and make for Hollywood. There, Walt struggles to find work and hapless Bob continues to strike out on the singles circuit. All of that, however, changes once Walt finds a job as co-star of Cher's new TV series...

Peter and Bobby Farrelly's comedy "Stuck On You" has its heart in the right place, but this is still a mostly laughless affair that's painfully overlong and impossible to take seriously (which it does at the end). Following on the duo's recent strike-outs "Me, Myself and Irene" and "Shallow Hal," this box-office disappointment is a bit more amiable -- thanks to the work of Damon and especially Kinnear -- but the movie nevertheless rolls snake eyes in the humor department, making you wonder if the Farrelly tank isn't running on empty. The set-up takes forever, the mid-section of the movie isn't interesting, and the Farrellys' endings -- which begin prior to the 90 minute mark and keep on going for nearly a half-hour -- show evidence of the duo's sometimes coarse filmmaking style. More over, are we supposed to find Cher's self-parody of her own infomercial-diva celebrity funny? At this point in time, does anyone care?

Fox's DVD offers a colorful and well-composed 2.35 Widescreen transfer (a separate full-screen version is also available). If nothing else, at least this movie looks more pleasing to the eye than the last few Farrelly efforts. The Dolby Digital soundtrack is punchy and filled with pop tunes, while extras include a predictably engaging commentary from the brothers Farrelly, a handful of deleted/extended scenes (yes, the movie could have run even longer!), Making Of featurettes, and a blooper reel, confirming that the filmmakers and actors had more fun making the movie than audiences had watching it.

WIN A DATE WITH TAD HAMILTON! (**, 2004). 97 mins., PG-13, Dreamworks. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Deleted scenes, bloopers, 2.35 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

It's the death knell for any romantic comedy when the "third wheel" character you're supposed to dislike is more appealing than the leading man whom the audience is meant to be rooting for.

That's the case in the disappointingly bland "Win a Date With Tad Hamilton!," which stars Kate Bosworth as a small-town twentysomething who wins a contest that includes a date with party-hardy movie star Tad Hamilton (Josh Duhamel). That, of course, doesn't sit well with Kate's Piggly Wiggly manager-pal Topher Grace, who secretly loves Bosworth but never had the heart to tell her. Now, he has to stand by and watch Hamilton not only forge a friendship with Bosworth but also move to their small town in an attempt at cleaning up his image.

Having never seen Topher Grace (apparently one of Ashton Kutcher's foils on "That '70s Show") before, I was dumb struck as to what his appeal is based on this performance. Grace is so thoroughly annoying and grating in this movie -- like a cross between Kutcher and a poor man's Don Knotts -- that's impossible to feel bad for his character as the more appealing Duhamel (as "the bad guy") charms his small-town sweetheart. Bosworth, meanwhile, was fine in "Blue Crush" but has little to do here but stand around and look pretty.

Director Robert Luketic helmed the original "Legally Blonde" and should have brought some of that film's writers over to do a few passes on this movie's flat-line script by Victor Levin. There's not even a whiff of dramatic tension in "Tad Hamilton" or sparks between the leads. Even worse is that there are surprisingly few laughs on-hand, something that's even more stunning when you consider Nathan Lane, Sean Hayes, and Gary Cole are all present in comedic supporting roles. Or, check that, supposedly comedic -- all three actors are wasted in a script that should have been re-written a few times before going into production. In the end, "Win a Date With Tad Hamilton!" is a nice concept that ends up as a tepid, tame comedy with little that's funny or charming about it.

Dreamworks' DVD looks terrific in 2.35 widescreen and sounds punchy in 5.1 Dolby Digital sound. Edward Shearmur has written a wide variety of scores in the last couple of years, but his unappealing work here is clearly not one of his best efforts. Extras include some 15 deleted scenes and a blooper reel.

Aisle Seat Vintage DVD

MY SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN (**1/2, 1969). 100 mins, G; Paramount. DVD FEATURES: 2.35 Widescreen transfer, Dolby Digital mono. Gorgeous widescreen cinematography dominates this so-so adaptation of Jean George's highly acclaimed novel about a city boy who loves nature and, inspired by Henry David Thoreau, decides to pack up and live in the wilderness by himself. James B. Clark's film is a nice, pleasant, and only somewhat dated film for kids, though the rather generic screenplay by Ted Sherdeman, Jane Klove, and Joanna Crawford unfortunately deviates from George's original story at several key points (including the unnecessary shooting death of our protagonist's falcon friend). The boy, played by Teddy Eccles, isn't entirely convincing, either, but Theodore Bikel's guitar- strumming '60s savant lends a steady hand.

It all adds up to a good-looking movie that could have been a classic had the script followed its source (perhaps a modern remake would handle the material more faithfully), but it's still an acceptable family film that looks terrific in Paramount's remastered DVD. The 16:9 widescreen transfer captures the entire Panavision frame, including all the scenic Canadian locales, with the majority of the picture being shot in Quebec. Wilfred Joseph's saccharine musical score (conducted by Muir Mathieson) sounds like it was recorded in a tin can -- like many movies of the time -- and is presented as best it can be in Dolby Digital mono.

Capsule Clips

THE MOLLY MAGUIRES (***, 126 mins., 1970, PG-13, Paramount): Sean Connery stars as a Pennsylvania coal miner in 1876 who's also the leader of the Molly Maguires, a coalition of workers who band together to combat injustice by their employers through any means necessary. Martin Ritt's meticulously made film, written by Walter Bernstein and based on actual events, is plodding in places but is so vividly photographed (by James Wong Howe), scored (by Henry Mancini), and performed that it keeps you watching through the slow spots. Certainly as a historical piece -- documenting (however Hollywoodized it may be) the exploitation of Irish immigrants who worked in brutal conditions -- the movie is more than worthwhile, and Paramount has done an excellent job capturing the movie on DVD: the 2.35 widescreen transfer, enhanced for 16:9, is sensational, and the newly remixed 5.1 Dolby Digital mix is surprisingly potent, giving a broader sound stage to both Mancini's outstanding score and plenty of boisterous sound effects.

CALENDAR GIRLS (**1/2, 108 mins., 2003, PG-13; Touchstone): Cute British import stars Helen Mirren and Julie Walters as two members of "The Women's Institute," who, in order to raise funds for Walters's ill husband, decide to publish a calendar with a few pin-up poses of the "real" women who comprise their local club. This female variant on "The Full Monty" is predictable and a bit overlong, but the cast makes it work and the emotional angle adds some depth to the story. Mirren, Walters, and Penelope Wilton are all terrific and Patrick Doyle's score also lends an able assist to Nigel Cole's film, which has arrived on DVD with a superb 2.35 transfer, two documentaries and deleted scenes, plus a fine 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack.

THE OSBOURNES 2 (209 mins., 2003, Miramax): The Osbournes fad may be pretty much over, but there's still something to be said for the overall entertainment value of the MTV series. Sure, on any given episode, you know Ozzy will flip out at trying to change channels, that Jack and Kelly will have growing-up pains, and Sharon will try and balance everything together, but isn't it comforting to know that some things never change? Miramax's two-disc DVD set includes the final 10 episodes of the show's second season, with both censored (recommended) and uncensored dialogue tracks, some bonus footage, Sharon and Jack commentary, and yet another Ozzy translator. Full-screen transfers and Dolby Surround tracks are both perfectly acceptable.

DRAGON LORD (94 mins., 1982, PG-13, Dimension), BORN TO DEFENSE (91 mins., 1986, R, Dimension): A pair of early Jet Li and Jackie Chan martial arts epics make their way to the USA in Dimension's new DVDs, sporting dubbed dialogue tracks and widescreen transfers. Chan's "Dragon Lord" dates from 1982 and includes a solid new 2.35 widescreen transfer, offering crisply choreographed action and a nice mix of kung fu and comedy. The fact that this version is uncut (as far as I can tell) makes its new DVD release a nice plus for fans. Jet Li not only stars in the 1986 vehicle "Born to Defense," but he also directed the film, which is dominated by long, intense one-on-one battles. The 1.85 transfer is solid, and both discs are devoid of special features.

NEXT TIME: The summer movie season begins with a wrap up of VAN HELSING, TROY, and more!


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