A Trip Into Del Toro's LABYRINTH
Plus: THE THIRD MAN Resurrected!
Blu Ray Round Up, BLOOD & CHOCOLATE and More
The DVD debuts of two of last year's most acclaimed films lead off this week's Aisle Seat.
Guillermo Del Toro’s PAN’S LABYRINTH (120 mins., 2006, R; New Line)
will be at the top of the list for most movie buffs on May 15th, when
New Line’s eagerly-awaited, double-disc DVD set arrives in stores.
Toro’s beautifully crafted dark fantasy centers on a young girl named
Ofelia (played with restraint by Ivana Baquero), who encounters a
fairy-tale world -- populated by mystical and bizarre creatures --
where she’s given three tasks in order to prove her worth to the king
of the dark kingdom. The fantastic, though, is balanced by the harsh
reality of Ofelia’s “real” world existence in war-torn, 1944 Spain,
where her pregnant and sick mother takes her into the countryside,
where her new stepfather is a vile commandant working for the fascist
“Pan’s Labyrinth” is that rare fantasy that works on
multiple levels: as a tale of a child who feels threatened and
abandoned retreating into a world that could possibly be of her own
making, or as a veritable film of the fantastic, a fairy-tale (out of
the real Grimm’s works) with good combating evil, drawing parallels to
the real world while offering its own doses of the supernatural.
found the film a little slow-moving at times, but the design, visual
effects, and cinematography combine to stamp “Pan’s Labyrinth” as Del
Toro’s strongest work to date. The movie is graphic at times,
disturbing and enchanting at others, and it’s a mix that certainly will
prove to be enthralling for those willing to take the journey on DVD
(note that this is not a film for kids, obviously).
two-disc “Platinum Series” release of “Pan’s Labyrinth” includes a
commentary and introduction from Del Toro, in addition to three
featurettes which chronicle the production. These aren’t as exhaustive
as the lengthy extras Del Toro gave us on the “Blade 2" and “Hellboy”
DVDs, but they do provide a casual overview of the film’s creation. An
additional Charlie Rose Show interview offers Del Toro alongside
Alfonso Cuaron and “Babel”’s Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, while a
“Director’s Notebook” includes additional still galleries and Del Toro
comments. Additional storyboards, multi-angle features and production
galleries round out the supplements, while the film itself is presented
in a fine 16:9 (1.85) transfer with 6.1 DTS-ES and 5.1 Dolby Digital
New Line has also recently released Todd Field’s haunting domestic drama LITTLE CHILDREN (137 mins., 2006, R)
whose previous credits include the over-rated “In the Bedroom,” focuses
again on the domestic complications of modern suburban Americans,
specifically two couples -- Kate Winslet and Gregg Edelman, Jennifer
Connelly and Patrick Wilson -- as well as a potential child predator
(Jackie Earle Haley from the “Bad News Bears” pictures) recently
released from prison, living in their quaint New England neighborhood.
“Little Children” sounds like yet another tale of suburban malaise a la
“American Beauty”and “In the Bedroom,” there’s a good reason for that,
but there’s a notable difference here: while the picture has its
melodramatic moments, it’s also funnier and somewhat less depressing
than Field’s previous work. The characters are better-rounded and more
realistic, living each day as we all do with various expectations,
small victories and disappointments. Some of the characters make better
decisions than others, and while the movie speaks of the disconnect
that can occur between couples, there’s a surprising, almost-redemptive
element to the story that makes it more worthwhile than other,
similarly-themed films we’ve seen of its kind in recent years.
go out to the performers as well as Field, who co-wrote with Tom
Perrotta (adapting his novel), with Thomas Newman’s patented
introspective score (which at times sounds like a “Desperate
Housewives” soundtrack when applied to this setting!) and Antonio
Calvache’s warm cinematography adding top-notch production values to
New Line’s DVD offers an excellent 16:9 (2.35)
transfer as well as a 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack. Regrettably, other
extras aren’t on-hand, leading one to believe a Special Edition version
may be following down the road.
New From Criterion
Carol Reed’s THE THIRD MAN
(1949, 104 mins.) doesn’t require much of an introduction for any serious film buff.
crackling noir remains one of the all-time great cinematic
achievements, with Graham Greene’s story following American novelist
Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten), who ventures to “old Vienna” to help out
a friend named Harry Lime (Orson Welles). However, when Holly arrives,
he finds out that Harry is dead, leading the novelist into a tangled
web of racketeers, stuffy British government officials, and one of
Harry’s old flames (Alida Valli) en route to deciphering the mystery of
From the striking (and then quite-atypical) zither
score by Anton Karas to the cinematography of Robert Krasker
(undoubtedly influenced by Welles’ “Citizen Kane” and “Lady From
Shanghai” triumphs), “The Third Man” is a pure cinematic feast that has
lost none of its appeal over the years.
double-disc Special Edition includes a wealth of new supplements,
including a restored transfer; an introduction from Peter Bogdanovich;
a pair of commentaries (one from Steven Soderbergh and Tony Gilroy,
another featuring historian Dana Polan); an abridged recording of
Graham’s treatment for “The Third Man”; the alternate U.S. opening; a
90-minute “Shadowing The Third Man” documentary as well as a 30-minute
Austrian TV documentary on the film (subtitled); a 1968 BBC “Omnibus”
episode on Greene; several radio specials; illustrated production
histories, trailers, and an extensive set of liner notes.
if you owned Criterion’s previous DVD edition, this is an essential
upgrade with top-notch new features that comes unquestionably
Also new from Criterion this month is a deluxe package of Kenji Mizoguchi’s haunting SANSHO THE BAILIFF (1954, 121 mins.).
mid ‘50s Japanese masterwork chronicles the tragic events that befall a
well-meaning governor who’s cast off by a feudal lord, subsequently
leading to his family being enslaved and separated en route to his
place of exile. Years later, his oldest son tries to reunite his
fragmented family, in spite of his neglect of his father’s own
Criterion’s new DVD edition includes a restored
transfer (1.33 full-frame black-and-white), commentary from Japanese
literature professor Jeffrey Angles; new video interviews with key
personnel including actress Kyoko Kagawa on the making of the film; and
a new subtitle translation. A full-length book includes an essay from
scholar Mark Le Fanu and two versions of the story on which the picture
was based. Strongly recommended for Japanese cinema enthusiasts.
New on Blu Ray from Sony
BLOOD AND CHOCOLATE (**, 98 mins., 2007, PG-13; Sony):
Bruckner continues to be one of the Aisle Seat's fave "under the radar"
actresses, though she’s at least established herself as a
leading lady in B-grade horror films like Lucky McKee’s superb
Woods” and this forgettable teen genre flick, which was released
small box-office revenues last January.
Bruckner plays a young
American woman living in Budapest who falls for graphic novel writer
Hugh Dancy. Little does Dancy know that his new lady-friend is part of
a pack of werewolves, one of whom (the dastardly Olivier Martinez)
doesn’t like humans and wolves mixing it up.
Kruger and Christopher Landon (credited with just one other project, J.
Lee Thompson’s “Ice-Cold in Alex”) adapted Annette Curtis Klaus’
popular teen novel for this watchable enough popcorn-filler, directed
with sufficient visual flair by German filmmaker Katja von Garnier. The
hideous title aside, “Blood and Chocolate” plays like a younger, PG-13
version of “Underworld” with werewolves substituting for vampires, and
an accent on romance that was intended to target a more female-skewing
demographic. It’s not particularly inspired and certainly could have
been better but I’ve seen worse, particularly recently (“The Covenant,”
Sony’s Blu Ray disc edition, available May 29th,
offers a solid enough transfer (2.35), though the movie wasn’t shot
with a large budget and has that drab, washed-out look so many modern
films do. For that very reason, “Blood and Chocolate” isn’t a title
you’ll be reaching for in terms of showing off its high-definition
assets, and even the uncompressed PCM 5.1 sound lacks the kind of pop
we’ve been hearing from HD audio tracks (the soundtrack is generic
synths and orchestra with choral wailing).
include 11 minutes of deleted scenes (in standard definition) and a
commentary with Von Garnier and Martinez. Genre fans ought to at least
give it a rental spin.
DONNIE BRASCO: Extended Cut (**½, 147 mins., 1997, R; Sony):
Disappointing 1997 vehicle from writer Paul Attanasio and director Mike
Newell has one of the rarest of things: a weak performance from Johnny
Depp, who stars as an FBI agent infiltrating the mob and becoming
overly friendly with hitman Al Pacino in the process.
the movie itself is also to blame, but Depp’s performance as a guy
attempting to balance his growing bond with the mob with his “normal”
life at home (with wife Anne Heche) doesn’t have the intensity or sense
of credibility so much of the actor’s work typically does -- you never
understand why Depp’s Joseph Pistone is motivated to do what he does,
nor do you really believe the duality in his day-to-day life.
a problem that the film can never overcome, despite an interesting
premise, a somewhat subdued performance from Pacino, and numerous other
character actors (Bruno Kirby, Michael Madsen, James Russo) adding
Certainly this Extended Version of the movie
doesn’t alter the film all that much; it adds nearly 20 minutes onto
the theatrical cut, but I didn’t feel any differently about the picture
this time than I did the first time around. Extras include two
featurettes and trailers; note that Newell’s commentary from the
“standard” DVD release hasn’t been ported over to this new edition
(which is also available on standard-definition DVD).
the HD transfer (2.35) is very strong, while the 5.1 Dolby Digital
uncompressed PCM sound is also effective enough, offering a competent,
though unmemorable, Patrick Doyle score.
STOMP THE YARD (**, 114 mins., 2007, PG-13; Sony):
Box-office sleeper hit from earlier this winter will probably be
remembered years from now the same way we look back on the Cannon
Group’s “Breakin 2: Electric Bugaloo” today.
moves were obviously the selling point of this low-budget tale of a
street dancer (Columbus Short) who heads to college, only to be courted
by two warring fraternities who want his moves for their own. Director
Sylvain White coaxes appealing enough performances from the cast, but
the script by Robert Adetuyi is so relentlessly predictable and
heavy-handed that it’s hard to take the film seriously at all.
Blu Ray disc is the first of the studio’s titles to include a Dolby
TrueHD track in addition to the studio’s customary, uncompressed 5.1
PCM audio. Visually, the HD transfer (2.35) is exceptionally vivid, and
extra features include one deleted scene, two extended dance sequences,
commentary, gag reel, and a Making Of featurette.
HAPPILY N’EVER AFTER (*½, 87 mins., 2007, PG; Lionsgate):
law of diminishing returns finally caught up with this umpeenth
variation on “Shrek,” which bombed out to minuscule box-office last
Here, Cinderella (voiced by Sarah Michelle Gellar) is
the one who has to rally a fairy-tale kingdom in order to take on her
wicked stepmother (performed by Sigourney Weaver) in a typically
cartoonish, modern “Fractured Fairy Tale” outing from Lionsgate,
Vanguard and Odyssey Entertainment.
Kids might enjoy some of
the shtick, but adults are advised to steer clear of the same tired
gags and “rude humor” made popular by the original Dreamworks monster
smash (which returns to theaters in its third installment next week),
while the animation and execution are below even last year’s so-so hit
Lionsgate’s DVD does include a beautiful HD
transfer (1.85) with DTS HD Master audio, deleted scenes, commentary,
interactive games, and three featurettes on the production. A splendid
visual package for a movie undeserving of its presentation.
New on HD-DVD
FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS: 2-Disc HD-DVD Edition (**½, 132 mins., 2006, R; Dreamworks/Paramount):
Clint Eastwood’s first half of his WWII double-bill is a somber,
slow-moving account of three “heroes of Iowa Jima” who hoisted the flag
in the indelible Joe Rosenthal/AP photograph, leading to a public
relations parade -- and numerous adjustment issues -- when they
returned home from the war.
Eastwood’s meditation on the
nature of combat, heroism and its exploitation offers some strong
sequences but it’s a long, somewhat disjointed film broken into various
segments (the war, its aftermath, and present-day sequences), capped
off by unappealing, desaturated cinematography from Tom Stern and a
lethargic score written by Eastwood himself that grows increasingly
tiresome as the film progresses.
Well-intended but nowhere
near as dramatically effective as one hoped it would be, “Flags Of Our
Fathers” was a box-office disappointment that was initially offered on
DVD in a plain, bare-bones disc from Dreamworks.
presentation has been quickly surpassed by Dreamworks’ new 2-disc
HD-DVD edition, which offers a perfectly detailed high-definition
transfer. The 5.1 Dolby Digital Plus sound is excellent, and a second
platter of special features gives added meaning to Eastwood’s film,
looking at the production of the film, the real men who inspired it,
visual effects, the trailer, and an introduction from Eastwood -- all
presented in high definition as well.
New on DVD
CREEPSHOW 3 (*, 104 mins., 2006, R; HBO):
No Stephen King, no George Romero, and not much in the way of entertainment, either.
pedestrian, made-for-video, and in-name-only “sequel” to the so-so ‘80s
horror anthologies (which presaged the eventual television resurrection
of “Tales From The Crypt”) is a lame assortment of gore-ridden stories
with mostly lightweight plots, barely connected by having characters
tied together from one sequence to another.
production house Taurus Entertainment previously produced a follow-up
to “Day of the Dead” that wasn’t well-received (to put it lightly), and
it’s a no-brainer that “Creepshow 3” will be greeted with the same
level of derision from fans. Aside from an animated opening and ending
sequence (which doesn’t amount to anything), there’s no connection here
with “Creepshow” or “Creepshow 2” (which itself was pretty awful),
while the production values -- from the performances to the settings
and cinematography -- create the impression that you’re watching an
expensive home movie. How, when or why this company was able to nab the
“Creepshow” license is shocking given how bad this disaster is across
HBO picked up the rights to “Creepshow 3” even though
the film was completed last year and allegedly had difficulty finding a
distributor (can’t imagine why!). The label’s presentation is better
than the movie deserves, with an okay 16:9 (1.85) transfer showing the
limitations of the picture’s production throughout. On the audio side,
the Chris Anderson score does little to enhance the D.O.A. stories and
direction by Ana Clavell and James Dudelson, and it’s (tellingly)
presented in 2.0 Dolby Stereo only. Bonus features includes some
behind-the-scenes interviews with production personnel. You’ve been warned!
THE SIEGE: Martial Law Edition (**½, 1998, 116 mins., R; Fox):
Special Edition package of the fairly forgettable 1998 Edward Zwick
drama about bombings in NYC and the subsequent response from the
various authorities in charge (Denzel Washington as an FBI agent,
Annette Bening as a CIA operative, Bruce Willis as an army colonel) is
noteworthy mainly for its pre-9/11 premise about a Big Apple besieged
by terrorism. The Lawrence Wright-Menno Meyjes-Edward Zwick script is
pretentious and talky, and while the performances are first-rate, this
slow-moving film (which had been bumped around the 1998 release
schedule and re-titled several times) likely wouldn’t be given a second
glance these days if it weren’t for its newfound topicality. Fox’s new
DVD edition includes three featurettes and a commentary track by Zwick
and executive producer Peter Schindler, with a superb 2.35 (16:9)
transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack on the technical end.
M*A*S*H: Goodbye, Farewell and Amen (1983, 120 mins., Fox):
Special Edition, three-disc set of the immortal last episode for the
long-running series offers ample content that will appeal to M*A*S*H
fanatics. Included among the extras are the superb A&E “Biography”
look at the production of the series; a 30th Anniversary Reunion
documentary; blooper reel; “Memories of M*A*S*H” documentary; promo
spots; cast interviews from the last day of filming; public service
announcements; an unproduced episode script, “Hawkeye on the Double”;
and a “Fan Base” featurette. Highly recommended!
THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN: Season 2 (1999-2000, 584 mins., Fox):
The second season of the fan-favorite -- but short-lived -- CBS version
of the classic film brings back Michael Biehn, Ron Perlman, and Eric
Close leading a fine ensemble cast for the final group of “Magnificent
Seven” episodes. Decent production values and the chemistry between the
actors made for a memorable series that finishes up here in Fox’s
three-disc Season 2 box set, including full-screen transfers and 2.0
Dolby Stereo soundtracks.
PORKY’S: The Ultimate Collection (Fox, available May 22nd):
Three-disc box-set of the seminal ‘80s teen comedy series offers the
new “One Size Fits All Edition” of the original (and hugely successful,
having raked in over $100 million in 1982 dollars) “Porky’s,” with a
bittersweet new commentary from director Bob Clark, who recently
perished (along with his son) in a car accident. Clark is also featured
in a featurette looking back at his creation, while the 16:9 (1.85)
transfer seems improved from the prior DVD. Also included in the set
are “Porky’s II: The Next Day” and the DVD debut of the especially bad
final installment, 1985's “Porky’s Revenge,” both of which are offered
in 16:9 (1.85) widescreen with mono sound and trailers.
SCHOOL: Life’s a Beach Edition (***, 97 mins., 1987, PG-13): Carl
Reiner's formulaic but often funny 1987 comedy returns to DVD in a new
Special Edition from Paramount.
Tailored as a starring
vehicle for Mark Harmon, "Summer School" boasts a script by "Full
House" creator Jeff Franklin and a supporting cast including Kirstie
Alley (as a fellow teacher Harmon tries to woo) and Courtney-Thorne
Smith as a surfer girl forced to attend Harmon's summer class. It
sounds like a TV sitcom, and it's structured like one, but the
execution is energetic and Reiner's direction keeps the pacing and
timing of the various gags right on target.
“Life’s a Beach Edition” DVD includes a fresh commentary track by
Reiner and Harmon that’s a good deal of fun, while two featurettes
include new interviews with Reiner, Harmon, Franklin and pretty much
everyone save for Alley and Thorne-Smith.
Visually, the disc
includes the same sunny, solid 1.85 widescreen transfer as its previous
DVD release, with a perfectly acceptable 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack.
The movie sports one of Danny Elfman's earliest scores, and while it's
not one of the composer's more memorable works, it suits the film just
fine whenever it's not competing with a myriad of typical late '80s
Overall, the DVD is a blast of nostalgic fun,
taking you back to the kinds of movie summers when small-scale comedies
like this one would be supported and released by studios (sigh).
CHAMPIONS (***, 114 mins., 1984, PG; Lionsgate):
Excellent true story about British steeplechase jockey Bob Champion
(John Hurt), who heroically fought cancer and eventually returned to
the winner’s circle with his horse Aldaniti. Sincere, top-notch
performances from Hurt, Edward Woodward (as Champion’s understanding
boss), Jan Francis and Ben Johnson add credibility to John Irvin’s
wonderfully made film, capped by a superb score by Carl Davis. It’s
great to see Lionsgate dusting off archival films like “Champions” on
DVD, and the presentation is excellent, with a sharp 16:9 (1.85)
transfer and 2.0 Dolby Stereo soundtrack. Highly recommended!
(Available May 29th)
New From Tartan
GHOST (94 mins., 2006, Not Rated; Tartan)
ARANG (98 mins., 2006, Not Rated; Tartan)
A pair of above-average South Korean chillers have recently made their way onto DVD courtesy of Tartan.
is a reasonably effective chiller in the standard Asian horror vein,
with a long-haired spirit (where have we seen that one before?)
stalking several young girls, one of whom harbors a major secret. An
interesting ending and efficient direction mark this
“Ring”/”Grudge”-influenced production as one that fans of the genre
ought to find sufficiently entertaining, if not original. Tartan’s DVD
includes cast interviews, a behind the scenes featurette, trailers,
English and Spanish subtitles, DTS sound and a 16:9 (1.85) transfer.
meanwhile, isn’t quite as satisfying, offering up another similarly
supernatural antagonist, this time calling out from the grave to a pair
of detectives. Predictable and not as well-executed as “Ghost,” though
it’s not the worst of its kind that we’ve seen of late, either.
Tartan’s DVD includes a 16:9 (1.85) transfer with DTS sound plus ample
extras, including commentary (subtitled), deleted scenes, interviews,
the original trailer and other goodies.
NEXT TIME: SPIDER-MAN 3! More reviews! 'Nuff said! Until
to drop in
on the official Aisle Seat Message
out the new Aisle
Seat Blog, and
any emails to the