June Arrival Edition
Universal's New HD-DVD Slate, Sony's Blu Rays Reviewed
Plus: LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA, 52 PICK-UP and More
June is finally here, fellow Aisle Seat
readers, and the last week has seen more interesting new developments
in the realm of high-definition DVD.
Toshiba kicked things off by dropping prices on their respective HD-DVD
players for a promotion offered at several major chains, both online
and in retail venues. The highpoint came when Amazon’s offering
of Toshiba’s fine A2 HD-DVD player hit #1 in not just DVD player
sales but all electronics altogether on Memorial Day, with the price
discounted to a highly attractive $237 shipped (with 5 free discs via a
separate promotion applied on top of it). That deal hit even
Yahoo’s front page for a short time, as it marked the lowest
entry price-point for either hi-def DVD format to date. (The promo is
still on-going, albeit now for Toshiba’s higher-end XA2 and A20
players, at Amazon, Costco, and other retailers).
This week we start off with reviews of all of Universal’s new
HD-DVD discs, along with the latest Blu Ray offerings from Sony, plus
Fox’s latest standard-definition DVDs, including the long-overdue
“Al Pacino Collection.”
New on HD-DVD
LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA: HD-DVD (***, 140 mins., 2006, R; Warner Home Video):
“Letters From Iwo Jima,” Clint Eastwood’s second half
of his WWII double-bill, is certainly a more satisfying effort than
“Flags of Our Fathers.”
Following the Japanese side in the days leading up to the fateful
battle, “Letters” was called an “art house
film” by some, but in reality, this is a more traditional war
movie than “Flags,” Eastwood’s disappointing film
chronicling the American effort in the battle (and the subsequent
aftermath for several of its participants) which under-performed at the
“Iwo Jima” certainly does take the unusual tact of showing
the losing side of the fight (at least when it’s produced by a
filmmaker originating from the “winning” country), but does
so without getting involved in the reasons behind the conflict. It
never dives into who was “right” or “wrong,” so
it is certainly not a revisionist film, even if the moments in which
American soldiers appear as the “villain” will seem quite
foreign to domestic viewers. The focus in the script by Iris Yamashita
(in collaboration with Paul Haggis) is on the individual men who fought
for their country, their drives and ambitions, and courage in the face
of certain, impending death. At the forefront of the film is Ken
Watanabe’s superb, empathetic performance as General Kuribayashi,
whose tactics prolonged the battle and gave the Japanese far more of a
fighting chance than they had otherwise.
The movie is leisurely paced and predictable (we know the individuals
who want to return home to see their families will surely never do so),
but it is superbly directed by Eastwood and well-acted by the entire
cast, speaking in their native language. The score by Kyle Eastwood and
Michael Stevens is also superior to Eastwood’s own score from its
predecessor, while Tom Stern’s desaturated cinematography tends
to work better here since this movie doesn’t recall “Saving
Private Ryan” in the same manner that portions of “Flags Of
Our Fathers” did.
Warner’s HD-DVD edition boasts a crisp and highly satisfying
1080p transfer with Dolby TrueHD and Dolby Digital Plus sound. Extras
include a fair amount of Making Of featurettes which, while not
entirely comprehensive, do give a solid overview of the production. The
original trailer, a look at the Japanese premiere, and the standard-DVD
edition (on the disc’s flip side) round out the disc. (also on
THE 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN: HD-DVD (***, 2005, 133 mins., Unrated; Universal):
box-office hit stars Steve Carrell as an electronics store employee who
has never “gone all the way.” With his co-workers stunned
by this breaking news, Carrell is quickly set up with a bevy of
potential candidates to end his virginity, but instead falls for a
divorced mom (Catherine Keener) who runs an eBay-selling service across
Director Judd Apatow co-wrote this silly but surprisingly sweet tale
(with star Carrell) of an affable guy with a few quirks who navigates
through a succession of “crazy” people before meeting
someone with hang-ups of her own -- sex just not being one of them. The
movie manages to work in the requisite raunchy laughs with a strong
amount of character development for this sort of thing, plus numerous
observations that had me in stitches (such as the Circuit City/Best
Buy-esque store broadcasting an endless stream of Michael McDonald
concert videos). The picture is a little long and isn’t
especially cinematic -- at times it almost looks like an R-rated movie
of the week -- but the comedy and performances (especially from Carrell
and Keener) make the ultimately appealing story a crowd-pleaser
that’s hard to resist.
Universal’s HD-DVD release ought to be one of the format’s
stronger sellers here in the early going of “the format
wars,” even if the VC-1 encoded, 1080p transfer (with Dolby
Digital Plus sound) can only go so far to enhancing the picture’s
modest visuals. It’s good looking and an improvement on the
traditional DVD, but nevertheless, you won’t be reaching for this
disc to show off the benefits of high definition.
The cut presented on the HD-DVD is the Unrated extended cut of the
film, offering 17 additional minutes of footage. While I found the film
a bit overlong to begin with, some of the newer scenes are quite
amusing, and after sitting through it again recently, I found it
compares favorably with the theatrical version.
The extensive supplements from the standard DVD have also been ported
over, including a commentary track with Apatow, Carrell, and other cast
members, plus deleted scenes, rehearsal footage, Comedy Central and
Cinemax featurettes, a vintage ‘70s sex education film, and a
preview for “Knocked Up,” which was produced by the same
creative team and released to widespread acclaim last weekend.
THE FRIGHTENERS: HD-DVD (**½, 1996, 123 mins., R; Universal):
A box-office flop released during the summer of ‘96, Peter
Jackson’s “The Frighteners” hits HD-DVD with all the
supplements intact from its 1998 “Signature Collection”
LaserDisc box set -- a release that once fetched over $100 (and
several hundred more if you count the Ebay auctions it went for over
the years!), at least before a Director’s Cut DVD was issued in
Jackson’s first “Hollywood” movie might be worth a
view today considering the success and acclaim the filmmaker received
for his later “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, but “The
Frighteners” isn’t particularly noteworthy by itself: this
scare-comedy starts off with few laughs and scenes that feel like
outtakes from “Ghostbusters 2,” rambles a bit with
over-the-top supporting performances (from Jeffrey Combs, Jake Busey
and Dee Wallace Stone to name a few), and then settles into a more
compelling, and serious, second half with star Michael J. Fox being
pursued by a cloaked figure that resembles The Grip Reaper itself.
Despite excellent special effects for their time, an engaging
performance from Fox, and atmospheric cinematography, “The
Frighteners” is only intermittently entertaining: the mix of
comedy and horror worked for Jackson far more effectively in
“Dead Alive,” and the filmmakers weren’t at all
helped by their attempts to go for a PG-13 rating. The movie plays like
it’s being aimed at kids (and was, in fact, shot for a PG-13),
but the MPAA found the film too intense and gave it an R regardless --
something that hurt the picture at the box-office.
Though the movie isn’t a classic, Universal ought to be commended
for issuing a HD-DVD that does full justice to the film. The 1080p
transfer isn’t eye popping but is sharp and well-detailed, with
an effective 5.1 Dolby Digital Plus soundtrack complimenting a busy
Danny Elfman score.
As far as extras go, this also one of those rare cases where the
supplements outshine the film. In 1998, Jackson packaged together a
fascinating, four-hour (!) “Making Of” documentary for
Universal’s Laserdisc box set, which also offered an extended
version of the movie itself. Coming in the final days of the Laserdisc
medium, this “Signature Collection” was produced in limited
quantities and, as such, became a prized possession of collectors over
Now, for just over $20 a pop, you can experience in high-definition
everything that the pricey, bulkier laserdisc contained: the
Director’s Cut (123 minutes) of “The Frighteners,”
along with Jackson’s original 1998 commentary from the laserdisc
release (which discusses how “King Kong” was shelved nine
years ago out of concerns for competition from “Godzilla”
and “Mighty Joe Young”), plus the four-hour documentary
that touches upon every aspect of the production. There are numerous
interviews with the cast (though few with Fox himself), special effects
artists, producer Robert Zemeckis and composer Danny Elfman among
others, in addition to outtakes and candid behind-the-scenes footage --
the kind that you rarely see in most studio-produced DVD featurettes.
It’s a sensational package presented uncut (and with detailed
chapter stops) on HD-DVD, making it an essential view for Jackson and
DRAGONHEART: HD-DVD (***, 1996, 103 mins., PG-13; Universal):
I’ve always been lukewarm on this box-office underachiever which
Universal hoped would become one of 1996's biggest hits.
Much to my surprise, this Rob Cohen-directed fantasy adventure,
scripted by Charles Edward Pogue (“The Fly,” “Kull
the Conqueror”) has aged rather well, and is helped immeasurably
on HD-DVD where Universal’s stunning, flawless high-definition
transfer improves the picture at every turn.
ILM’s effects and Sean Connery’s performance as Draco, the
last remaining fire-breathing dragon in a medieval kingdom, are the key
assets to “Dragonheart,” which stars Dennis Quaid as a
knight who teams with Draco to take down a nefarious ruler (an
engaging, dastardly turn from David Thewlis) who was once trained by
Quaid and saved as a teenager by Draco’s powers. The duo hope to
restore balance to the kingdom, save the requisite damsel in distress
(in this case, Dina Meyer, soon to complete her big one-two genre punch
in “Starship Troopers”), and preserve Draco’s legacy
as the last of his kind.
Though the story is basic, “Dragonheart” comes from a very
different and old-fashioned sensibility than most blockbusters we see
today. It’s amazing to see how much has changed in studio
filmmaking, and not for the better, over the last 11 years:
Cohen’s film is leisurely paced and offers few surprises, but
it’s refreshing to see a film that doesn’t try to overstay
its welcome, isn’t riddled with A.D.D.-editing, and doesn’t
have music in every single scene. It’s telling how in 1996 some
accused Randy Edelman of over-scoring movies, when in fact his
“Dragonheart” score (undoubtedly one of his finest, and
ultimately more popular than the movie itself) seems, if anything,
downright subtle compared to what we hear in most
“blockbusters” these days.
The film is entertaining and satisfying, and once you know the
picture’s bittersweet conclusion (one which likely didn’t
sit well with young viewers, though it is tipped off well in advance of
its arrival), it makes it easier to accept on repeat viewing. The
articulation of the dragon (courtesy of ILM’s animating of
Connery’s “performance”), meanwhile, keeps the
visuals on a high caliber even with the advances in technology since
Universal’s HD-DVD offers one of the most satisfying transfers
I’ve yet seen in the medium, aiding “Dragonheart”
immeasurably as a visual experience. David Eggby’s cinematography
seems far more colorful than drab, previous video editions indicated,
while the print looks positively pristine. The Dolby Digital Plus sound
is likewise excellent, and extras have been carried over from prior
Special Editions, including a typically excellent commentary by Rob
Cohen, a full Making Of, the trailer, and two brief deleted scenes.
Strongly recommended for HD enthusiasts, and perhaps worth another look
for those who might’ve written it off as just another silly
fantasy upon its original release as well.
LOST IN TRANSLATION: HD-DVD (***, 2003, 102 mins., R; Universal):
Sofia Coppola's ode to alienation and travelers "lost" both physically
and psychologically in a foreign land -- in this case, Tokyo, Japan --
won major critical kudos and a slew of Oscar nominations. It's
certainly a great honor for Coppola, who once was hissed off the screen
(not entirely deserved, in my opinion) for her starring role in "The
Godfather Part III," but has established herself as one of the more
unique voices working in film today.
"Lost in Translation" isn't an extraordinary movie or an example of
gripping dramatic filmmaking. It is, on the other hand, a smartly
observed "mood movie" that finds Bill Murray as an American actor
making a few million as a spokesman for a Japanese whiskey, and
Scarlett Johansson as a young wife whose rock photographer husband
(Giovanni Ribisi) leaves her to toil around the streets of Tokyo while
he's away at work.
Both Murray and Johansson find themselves in a hotel overlooking the
cityscape of Tokyo, and end up striking a friendship in a land where
they have little to connect with but each other.
It's a keenly-written travelogue and a quietly poignant, amusing movie
that gets a lot of mileage out of the realistic performances of
Johansson (nicely understated) and Murray, playing his usual droll,
dour self to fine effect. All of it is vividly photographed by Lance
Acord and nicely paced by Coppola, who gets inside the heads of her
characters but then, about midway through the movie, backs off and
loses a bit of dramatic momentum in the process. True, the movie is
obviously striving to be "real," but at what point do you stop the
pseudo-documentary approach and build drama and tension? Coppola
doesn't seem to find a comfortable balance in that regard, and the
movie fizzles out a bit as a result (the concluding scene is
Despite my reservations about the picture's second half, "Lost in
Translation" is well worth a look for its atmosphere and performances,
both of which are markedly well captured in Universal's HD-DVD. The
1080p, VC-1 encoded transfer is splendid, the Dolby Digital Plus sound
perfectly satisfying, and extras include a segment with Coppola and
Murray discussing the movie (in lieu of a commentary track), several
extended/deleted scenes, a behind-the-scenes documentary and a music
MIDNIGHT RUN: HD-DVD (***½, 127 mins., 1988, R; Universal):
Top-notch ‘80s action/buddy comedy with bounty hunter Robert
DeNiro tracking down an accountant (Charles Grodin) who just embezzled
a whole bunch of cash from the mafia and gave it to charity. Martin
Brest (“Beverly Hills Cop”) warded off studio hopes of
seeing Cher and Robin Williams (among others) cast in Grodin’s
role, and the result is a crackerjack mix of action and comedy, with a
tight script by George Gallo (“29th Street”) and a dynamite
score by Danny Elfman rounding out the fun. Universal’s HD-DVD
looks a little bit grainy at times but is certainly more pleasing than
any previous standard DVD release, with 5.1 Dolby Digital Plus sound,
the original trailer, and a vintage Making Of segment capping off the
THE RIVER: HD-DVD (***, 124 mins., 1984, PG; Universal):
of several “farm” movies produced in 1984, Mark
Rydell’s “The River” is flawed but has held up better
than some of its counterparts thanks mainly to Vilmos Zsigmond’s
outstanding cinematography and John Williams’ evocative score,
which ranges from full-scale orchestral statements (the trailer-staple
track “The Ancestral Home,” heard over the climax) to a
smaller ensemble with equally poignant themes, intertwining a jazzy,
heartfelt sound in between. Mel Gibson and Sissy Spacek essay the
couple trying to make ends meet in Robert Dillon’s script, which
is predictable at times and uneven at others, but offers enough strong
scenes and visuals to off-set some of its deficiencies.
Universal’s HD-DVD edition is highly satisfying, enhancing the
movie’s visuals and offering a robust 5.1 Dolby Digital Plus
soundtrack. Regrettably the disc is devoid of any extras.
New on Blu Ray Disc
THE MESSENGERS: Blu Ray (**½, 90 mins., 2007, PG-13; Sony):
Surprisingly watchable little supernatural chiller from Sam
Raimi’s Ghost House Pictures became a sleeper hit at the
box-office over the winter, managing to rake in over $35 million.
This U.S. debut for Asian cinema auteurs Danny and Oxide Pang
isn’t exactly the next “Poltergeist” (and reportedly
necessitated re-shoots from Mexican filmmaker Eduardo Rodriguez before
its release) but as most of these recent PG-13 supernatural chillers
have gone (from the dismal “Grudge” movies to
“Pulse,” etc.), “The Messengers” is at least
moderately entertaining and stylishly made.
Kristen Stewart is excellent as the distraught teen daughter of non-fun
couple Dylan McDermott and Penelope Ann Miller, who relocate their
family -- including a toddler son -- to a North Dakota farm hoping to
turn things around. There Stewart finds that only she and her brother
can see creepy-looking ghosts haunting their new abode. Meanwhile, John
Corbett plays a neighbor who looks like he may well have more to do
with the mysterious goings-on than just planting crops.
Well-shot by David Geddes and scored by Joe LoDuca (one of the better
scores I’ve heard in recent months, in fact), “The
Messengers” is interesting enough and refreshingly old-fashioned,
though it all falls apart in its final frames with a tepid, predictable
climax. Until then, the picture’s early scenes of spectral
spirits and empty landscapes makes for a pleasing visual package,
particularly in Sony’s new Blu Ray edition.
1080p transfer is spot-on with not a blemish to be found, while the
uncompressed 6.1 PCM sound and 5.1 Dolby Digital tracks are packed with
atmosphere. Extras include a commentary with Stewart and several Making
Of segments totaling 37 minutes.
RESCUE ME - Complete Season 3: Blu Ray (2006, 572 mins., Sony):
of cable’s top rated dramatic series is also one of its most
acclaimed, offering raunchy laughs, domestic drama and suspense in
equal measure as it follows Denis Leary and his band of firefighters
through travails in and out of their harrowing work. Sony’s Blu
Ray release of “Rescue Me”’s third season marks one
of the inaugural TV series to hit Blu Ray to date, presenting the
series in vibrant 1080p transfers with uncompressed PCM 5.1 sound as
well as traditional Dolby Digital 5.1. Numerous extras include five
featurettes, 14 deleted scenes, bloopers, a set tour, additional
behind-the-scenes segments, and a sneak preview of the show’s
fourth season. Highly recommended and hopefully the start of more
series to follow in high-definition.
CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER: Blu Ray (**½, 114 mins., 2006, R; Sony):
Zhang Yimou’s exquisitely shot Tang Dynasty epic -- centering on
the fractured relationship between the Emperor Ping (Chow Yun Fat), his
wife (Gong Li), and their inner-circle inside the royal family --
offers typically elaborate battle sequences and a plot that drags and
isn’t particularly compelling. That said, aficionados of Asian
cinema may warm to the film, which Sony has presented on Blu Ray in a
gorgeous 1080p transfer with uncompressed 6.1 PCM and Dolby Digital 5.1
sound. Visually this is a sumptuous disc and one of the better Blu Ray
transfers I’ve recently seen at that. Extras, similar to the
previous standard DVD edition, include a Making Of featurette and
footage of the movie’s L.A. premiere.
Upcoming From Criterion
Lindsay Anderson’s IF... (1969, 112 mins., Criterion)
has been analyzed as an allegory, a social satire, a movie of its time,
a commentary on conformity and youthful rebellion, and a critique of
stifling authority figures. In many ways, it is all of those things,
and yet at the same time, viewers can pull their own interpretations
from this tale of rebellion brought on by a student (Malcom McDowell)
at a British school -- something that marks the best cinema of the
‘60s and ‘70s.
Criterion’s double-disc set of “If...” arrives in a
two-disc set on June 19th and boasts an excellent array of supplements.
First off, the great Miroslav Ondricek and editor Ian Rakoff supervised
the movie’s new HD-based 16:9 transfer (1.66), resulting in an
exceptionally crisp and detailed standard-definition image. Ondricek
and Anderson utilized shifting color and black-and-white schemes to
purposefully throw viewers off-balance with the movie’s meshing
of reality and fantasy, and Criterion’s new transfer aids the
picture immeasurably in conveying its original artistic vision.
An excellent commentary track features critic/historian David Robinson
reading from prepared notes, along with comments from Malcolm McDowell,
recounting his memories of the production.
The set’s second disc includes a 2003 episode from “Cast
and Crew,” a Scottish television series, offering then-recent
interviews with McDowell, Ondricek, and others (including Stephen
Frears, who was Anderson’s assistant on the picture); a video
interview with actor Graham Crowden; and a 1954 Oscar-winning
documentary, “Thursday’s Children,” which Anderson
shot concerning deaf children.
Extensive booklet notes compliment an exceptional package for fans of this late ‘60s cinema landmark.
New From Fox & MGM
DIE HARD COLLECTION: Die Hard (***½), Die Hard 2 (***½), Die Hard With a Vengeance (**), Fox, due out June 19th.
The upcoming release of the fourth “Die Hard” film (which
will eschew numbers in favor of the spectacularly silly title
“Live Free or Die Hard”) is undoubtedly the occasion for
Fox’s new, four-DVD anthology of the original series films, with
a free voucher to the upcoming sequel and a new bonus disc on-hand .to
sweeten the package.
That’s the good news -- the bad is that the set only offers the
single-disc editions of the original “Die Hard” films,
meaning just commentaries are included on the three respective
pictures. None of “Disc 2" extras from the prior double-disc
editions (deleted scenes, featurettes, Making Of materials) are on-hand
because, well, there aren’t any second discs!
The transfers appear identical to those previous 2-disc editions as
well, meaning they’re solid (16:9) with multiple audio options
(5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital sound).
The new bonus disc offers trailers for the upcoming sequel plus two
fresh featurettes: a 40-minute retrospective on the making of
“Die Hard” with new interviews with John McTiernan, Joel
Silver, co-stars Reginald Veljohnson, William Atherton and others, as
well as a 13-minute featurette that splices together a new Renny Harlin
interview (recalling his work on “Die Hard 2") with EPK footage
of McTiernan from the release of the third movie (easily my least
favorite in the series).
Together, they provide a solid enough overview of the series (though
far from a comprehensive documentary), but minus the second-disc extras
from each of the prior two-disc editions, the release overall is
lacking. Hopefully Fox will get it right with their upcoming Blu Ray
editions of the “Die Hard” series, which are touted as
“Coming Soon” in the package.
AL PACINO COLLECTION (Fox, due June 19th):
After nearly two years of delays, Fox’s unique Al Pacino box-set
has finally seen the light of day, minus two of the films that were to
be released in conjunction with it (“Panic in Needle Park”
and “Author! Author!,” due out separately).
The four-disc anthology is highlighted by two movies which have never
been widely circulated: Pacino’s 2000 adaptation of Ira
Lewis’ play “Chinese Coffee,” co-starring Jerry
Orbach, which is a talky (as one might anticipate) and static affair
recommended only for seeing Pacino and Orbach working together; and the
1990 hour-long “The Local Stigmatic,” with Pacino acting
opposite Paul Guilfoyle. The set is capped by Pacino’s
well-regarded ensemble piece “Looking For Richard,” with
Winona Ryder, Kevin Spacey, Kevin Kline and others in a pseudo-back
stage examination of “Richard III”; and
“Babbelonia,” a conversation touching upon all facets of
Pacino’s career, from his stage roots to his few directorial
ventures and better-known studio fare.
Eschewing Pacino’s more commercial films in favor of three
“actor’s” movies (two of which have never been widely
available to the viewing public), Fox’s set is worth a casual
view for most movie-goers but a must for Pacino die-hards.
FANTASTIC FOUR: Extended Edition (**½, 125 mins., 2005, PG-13; Fox):
Though the DVD market has been deluged with extended versions of all
sorts of movies recently, Fox’s double-disc edition of the
“Fantastic Four” is one of the better
“upgrades” I’ve seen in a while. 20 minutes of
previously cut footage have been added back into the movie, making it a
bit meatier in length (still only 125 minutes), while extensive extras
include numerous commentaries, additional deleted scenes, Making Of
documentaries, multiple featurettes, and an excellent 16:9 (2.35)
transfer with 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital sound. The set is also packaged
with a free ticket (or at least $8.50 off) to the upcoming
“Fantastic Four” sequel, while the theatrical cut is also
on-hand via seamless branching.
STONE COLD (**, 1991, 92 mins., R; MGM/Fox):
Back in 1991 I attended a sneak preview of the soon-to-be-blockbuster
“City Slickers,” which was paired back in those days with
the showing of another film. This unique 2-for-1 (which we rarely see
anymore) enabled you to sit back after the preview was over and catch
another movie gratis.
Naturally, it seemed like you’d never get a decent movie on the
end of the double bill (I recall walking out once “Forest
Gump” was over since, ironically enough, “City Slickers 2"
was the free movie following it), and back in ‘91 this totally
seemed to be the case: after Billy Crystal’s comic-western hit
was over, the next flick was none other than ex-football star Brian
Bosworth’s one-and-only-starring effort, “Stone Cold.”
Not to be confused with wrestler Steve “Stone Cold” Austin,
the movie “Stone Cold” was a box-office flop that looked
like a pile of pedestrian action filmmaking. Or so I thought.
As I was preparing to watch MGM’s new DVD of “Stone
Cold,” I checked up online to see if this film has any signs of
life in terms of a cult following. As amazing as it may seem, there
truly seems to be a little bit of DEMAND for this DVD: out of print VHS
releases command a small dollar, and five-star reviews from the
movie’s fans permeate its listing on Amazon. Could I have
actually missed a good time by walking out after “City
After watching a few minutes of “Stone Cold” -- which is
out from MGM and Fox next week on DVD -- I can safely say I made the
wrong call (especially since I was 16 when the movie was
This deliriously entertaining guilty pleasure plays like one of the
last films to come from The Cannon Group: a no-holds-barred action
flick with loads of one-liners, an appropriately demented performance
from Lance Henriksen as a psycho villain, and an appropriately stiff,
one-note performance by “The Bos” as an FBI agent who
infiltrates a biker gang.
Director Craig R. Baxley knew how to make a decent B-movie back at the
time (remember the memorable Dolph Lundgren-Brian Benben semi-classic
“I Come In Peace”?), and “Stone Cold” is a
movie right up his alley. From Sylvester Levay’s patented
electronic score to the thrilling (?) courthouse climax, this is
basically B-movie heaven for action-seeking bad movie fans.
Fox and MGM’s DVD edition sports a decent 16:9 (1.85) transfer as
well as a full-screen version on dual sides of a single disc. The 2.0
stereo sound is adequate enough. No extras are included.
52 PICK UP (**½, 110 mins., 1986, R; MGM/Fox):
on DVD in the U.S., this taut and under-rated (though still flawed)
John Frankenheimer adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s novel was one
of the few bona-fide “A list” titles from The Cannon Group.
Roy Scheider plays a businessman who cheats on his wife (Ann-Margaret)
and pays the price after he’s blackmailed by a psycho (John
Glover from “Smallville”) with footage of him in bed with
another woman. Top-notch production values and fine performances from
Scheider and Glover help, but “52 Pick Up” is a little
uneven in its pacing, with lots of talk and not a whole lot of action.
Still, Leonard fans may enjoy seeing this 1986 vehicle dusted off in
MGM’s new 16:9 (1.85) transfer with 2.0 Ultra Stereo sound,
offering an okay synth score from Gary Chang.
CRIMINAL LAW (*½, 1989, 117 mins., R; MGM/Fox)
Boston criminal defense attorney Gary Oldman (boasting a
none-too-convincing American accent) finds out that his client (Kevin
Bacon) is actually guilty of the crime he’s been convicted of in
this unbelievable, unsatisfying thriller from director Martin Campbell,
featuring one of Jerry Goldsmith’s all-time least appealing
scores. MGM’s DVD sports an appropriately unimpressive 16:9
transfer that’s soft and blurry throughout; the 2.0 stereo sound
is only marginally more effective.
THE RAT PATROL: Complete Season 2 (26 Episodes, 1967-68; MGM/Fox):
and final season for the adventures of an Allied tank unit fighting
Rommel’s forces in North Africa during WWII hits DVD. Fox’s
three-disc set features the final 26 episodes of “The Rat
Patrol” in uncut, solid fullscreen transfers with 2.0 mono
soundtracks. Series fans ought to be pleased with the no-frills
package, which completes the series on DVD on last.
New From BCI Eclipse
Brentwood Home Video’s latest round of nostalgic Saturday morning fare is highlighted by the DVD debut of JASON OF STAR COMMAND (1978-79),
spin-off from the earlier Filmation series “Space Academy”
that stripped down the moralizing from its predecessor and concentrated
mostly on pure, unadulterated Saturday morning action.
“Jason” started off in 15 minute segments of the anthology
“Tarzan and the Super 7" before becoming a ratings smash,
necessitating its own half-hour block the following year. It’s
good fun for kids with decent effects for their time, and the
appearance of James Doohan in a supporting role gives the show more
novelty value alone than its predecessor ever had.
BCI’s three-disc set offers all 28 episodes of
“Jason” in healthy full-screen transfers. Extras are
bountiful, including commentaries from star Craig Littler; a half-hour
documentary on the series; demo reels; special effects featurettes; an
art gallery for a proposed animated spin-off; DVD-ROM scripts and more.
Also fresh from the Filmation vaults is HERO HIGH (1981),
a series which aired as segments of NBC’s “Kid Super Power
Hour with Shazam!” in the early ‘80s. This frothy show is
actually pretty entertaining as period Saturday morning series go, and
offers occasional cameos from fellow Filmation stars Isis and Shazam!
among others (here’s hoping BCI gives us a full
“Shazam!” set in the near future; “Isis,”
meanwhile, is due out this July).
BCI’s two-disc set includes the complete “Hero High”
in good-looking full-screen transfers with two commentaries; 20 minutes
of live-action “Kid Super Power Hour” action; DVD-ROM
materials (scripts, etc.); and various art galleries.
MISSION: MAGIC (1973)
meanwhile, predates both “Jason” and “Hero
High,” giving us a truly dated, early ‘70s nostalgia ride
as Mrs. Tickle takes her six students on various magical adventures
into the past, future, and alternate worlds. Did I mention that Rick
Springfield (!) is also along for the ride to provide a few tunes --
along with a canned laugh track?
“Mission: Magic” was a little bit before my time (and was
gone from the airwaves by the time I was old enough to watch TV), but
fans will love this enjoyable set, preserving the complete series (16
episodes) in okay transfers with numerous extras, including interviews
with Filmation’s Lou Scheimer, a half-hour documentary, image
galleries, DVD-ROM script galleries and extensive booklet notes.
Lastly BCI has issued the highly entertaining late ‘60s NBC/King Features-Hearst series COOL McCOOL (1966)
on disc in a three-disc set likewise packed with extras.
This teaming of “Batman” creator Bob Kane and comic Chuck
McCann resulted in a satisfying kids’ parody of James Bond and
the ‘60s spy craze by way of Maxwell Smart-styled humor. Pleasing
animation and colorful slim-line packaging make this one of BCI’s
best efforts to date (among many fine titles), with extras including
various commentaries and interviews with McCann, who recounts his
career in addition to his work on the series, introductions to each
episode from Cool himself; and a music video by Wally Wingert boasting
McCann’s participation to boot. Great fun!
NEXT TIME: GHOST RIDER, PRIMEVAL and more! Until
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