6/7/05 Edition

June Buena Vista DVD Round-up

Andy Reviews The Latest HELLRAISER and PROPHECY Sequels
Plus: Bruckheimer Director's Cuts, SLING BLADE, TV on DVD & More!

The majority of made-for-video sequels shoot blanks, despite often being tidy profit makers for their respective studios. Once in a while, though, a small-screen affair is produced with a little bit of ingenuity behind it, and serves as an entertaining programmer in its own right.

Two years ago, filmmaking tandem Joel Soisson and Patrick Lussier scored a hit with “Dracula II: Ascension,” the first of back-to-back sequels to their forgettable Dimension theatrical release “Dracula 2000.” “Legacy” boasted good performances for its type, an intriguing story and adequate effects. In short, it surpassed its bigger-budgeted predecessor for sheer entertainment value, in the process paving the way for next month’s overdue debut of “Dracula III: Legacy.”

Now, Soisson is back at it again -- this time singlehandedly -- with another made-for-video foray, THE PROPHECY: UPRISING (**½, 88 mins., 2005, R; Miramax/Dimension), which in many ways resembles the small-screen “Dracula” efforts.

For starters, it’s the first installment in two connected made-for-video sequels, with a completely open-ended finale serving as a trailer for the next film. Like the “Dracula” movies, it boasts its own, self-contained story line, here involving an attractive young woman (Kari Wuhrer) who has to safeguard a magical book -- the “Lexicon”-- after warring fallen angels battle over its prophecies and other supernatural powers. And, much like “Dracula II,” it’s an appreciable upgrade on the previous “Prophecy” films.

Granted, the latter may not say much, but in the realm of small-screen sequels “Prophecy: Uprising” is most definitely a cut above. Soisson has created a fun little B-movie with an interesting story line that takes the core premise from Gregory Widen’s original film and gives it its own spin. Gone is the most of the pretension and religious mumbo-jumbo (for the most part) from the other “Prophecy” films; instead, Soisson focuses on a fast-paced story that should sustain the interest of genre fans for most of its efficient 90-minute run time. The cast, including Sean Pertwee, Jason London and Doug “Pinhead” Bradley, aids in the fun, while Joe LoDuca contributes a spirited musical score.

Dimension/Miramax’s DVD offers an amusing group commentary with Soisson, Wuhrer and other cast members; a deleted scene and extended ending; a Making Of featurette; cast auditions and a still gallery. The 1.85 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound are both satisfactory.

Also out this week is the latest entry in the never-ending “Hellraiser” series, HELLRAISER: DEADER (**, 88 mins., 2004, R; Dimension/Miramax).

Stan Winston produced this average low-budget sequel, which is a marginal improvement on the last installment in the series -- though that, understandably, doesn’t say much. Kari Wuhrer (again!) stars as a reporter in Romania who uncovers those crazy, fun-loving Deadites still at work after being resurrected by a underground Bucharest group (won’t they ever learn??).

Rick Bota’s competent though forgettable offering (reportedly finished two years ago) sports only a few minutes of screen time for “Pinhead” veteran Doug Bradley, something that may disappoint die-hard fans, though fear not: the next entry in the series, “Hellworld,” is due out later this year on DVD.

Dimension’s DVD sports deleted and extended scenes with optional commentary from Bota; a pair of commenatries on the film itself; an amusing, albeit brief, gag reel; a Making Of featurette;  visual effects and make-up featurettes; storyboards and photo gallery; and a 1.85 transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

New Director’s Cuts and Special Editions From Buena Vista

A pair of Jerry Bruckheimer productions -- both critically panned box-office hits -- receive expanded “Director’s Cut” editions this week on DVD from Buena Vista, all appealingly priced (around $15 in most outlets).

Eighteen minutes of footage has been restored to 2000's GONE IN 60 SECONDS (**, 127 mins., Unrated), the mindless Nicolas Cage check-cashing venture that manages to squander a game supporting cast (Robert Duvall, Angelina Jolie) in a movie that’s never as exciting as you’d think it might be.

Cage leads a group of car thieves in a loose remake of H.B. Halicki's '70s low-budget actioner, one that managed to drum up $100 million at the domestic box-office despite receiving bad reviews. That the movie has fallen off the face of the Earth in the years since -- despite its cast -- is proof of how forgettable the picture is.

Nevertheless, the Touchstone Director’s Cut includes plenty of supplements in addition to the deleted footage that’s been restored to the DVD. Featurettes include “Zero to 60,” a script-to-screen featurette; the “Wild Rides” car stunts featurette; “The Big Chase”; “Stars on the Move”; “Action Overload,” boasting “spectacular adrenaline-pumping scenes, music video style”; “Conversations With Jerry Bruckheimer”; a music video and the original trailer. The disc’s 2.35 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound are both outstanding, but the movie runs out of gas long before it meanders to the finish line.

Piper Perabo stars as a small-town New Jersey gal who moves to NYC to strike it rich as a singer in COYOTE UGLY (**½, 107 mins., Unrated), another Bruckheimer production from that same summer of ‘00.

This inoffensive, slickly-made and sometimes entertaining "Flashdance" variant benefits from solid chemistry between the likeable Perabo and co-star Adam Garcia, plus a throbbing Trevor Horn/Diane Warren soundtrack. Unfortunately, after hooking viewers with a strong opening hour, the movie all but evaporates as it nears its badly-assembled, obviously reshot ending.

Touchstone’s DVD offers a superlative DTS soundtrack of the film, which is here extended by seven minutes of restored footage. The “Unrated Extended Cut” also boasts additional supplements including commentary with Bruckheimer, director David McNally, and “The Coyotes”; two behind-the-scenes featurettes; LeAnn Rimes’ music video for “Can’t Fight The Moonlight”; the trailer; another “Action Overload” reel; and a sparkling 2.35 widescreen transfer.

Billy Bob Thornton’s acclaimed, if not somewhat overrated, SLING BLADE (***, 148 mins., 1996, Unrated) also receives a new double-disc Director’s Cut this week as part of the Miramax “Collector’s Series.”

Some fourteen minutes of footage have been inserted back into Thornton’s adaptation of the short film “Some Call It a Sling Blade,” complimented by a new commentary track with the star-filmmaker. Disc two offers an abundance of supplements including the featurette “Mr. Thornton Goes to Hollywood” and a Bravo profile of Thornton; a roundtable discussion with Thornton, co-star Dwight Yoakam, and producer David Bushnell; a conversation between Thornton and Duvall; an interview with Thornton and composer Daniel Lanois; a Robert Duvall interview; several “On the Set” featurettes; a 1.85 widescreen transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

It’s a perfectly nice set, but the absence of the “Sling Blade” short film is a regrettable omission in an otherwise recommended release.

Finally, though not a Director’s Cut, Touchstone this week also rolls out the 15th Anniversary Edition (albeit some 18 months ahead of time!) of FATHER OF THE BRIDE (***, 1991, 105 mins., PG), Charles Shyer and Nancy Meyers’ hit remake of the ‘50s MGM classic with Spencer Tracy and Elizabeth Taylor.

Hopefully Steve Martin will find as much comedic prowess in his forthcoming “Pink Panther” re-do as he did here essaying George Banks, dad to budding bride Kimberly Williams in Shyer and Meyers’ gentle reworking of the original “Father of the Bride.” Diane Keaton makes for a perfect counterpart to Martin’s shenanigans, while Martin Short pops up in an extended cameo as a delirious wedding planner -- a role that was unfortunately expanded upon in the needless 1996 sequel “Father of the Bride Part II.”

An amusing interview with Short and Martin is the highlight of Buena Vista’s new DVD, which also includes a commentary track with Shyer and a standard Making Of, “An Invitation to ‘Father of the Bride.’” The 5.1 Dolby Digital sound and 1.85 transfer are both just fine and each superior to the film’s previous DVD edition.

Animation, TV and Family Fun

TARZAN II (72 mins., 2005, G; Disney): Disney’s latest small-screen animated sequel falls somewhere in the middle of the studio’s direct-to-video efforts in terms of overall entertainment value. Actually a prequel to the events that took place in “Tarzan,” this follow-up focuses on the juvenile adventures of Lord Greystoke as he tries to fit in with his wacky animal pals. Subsequently, one can argue this 72-minute effort actually takes the weaker aspects of the original “Tarzan” and expands them into an entire film, one that will be best appreciated by younger viewers (though, fortunately, Rosie O’Donnell didn’t return to voice Terk the Ape). The animation isn’t bad and Phil Collins provides a few new, forgettable songs to help pass the time. Disney’s DVD looks great in 1.78 widescreen and sports a fairly active 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital soundtrack. Extras include the “Backstage Disney: Bringing The Legend To Life” featurette, a Tiffany Evans music video, and several interactive games for the little ones.

BEAR IN THE BIG BLUE HOUSE: 4 Releases (Buena Vista, 72 mins. each): Jim Henson and the Disney Channel’s popular big furry guy returns to DVD with four new volumes of edu-tainment for young viewers. “Sense-Sational!,” “Storytelling With Bear,” “Visiting the Doctor With Bear” and “Early to Bed, Early to Rise” each offer three episodes (totaling 70 minutes), plus bonus sing-a-longs from the Emmy-winning children’s series.

THE BEST OF TOKYO PIG (171 mins., Buena Vista): Compilation of the popular ABC Saturday morning series at least gives you some bang for your buck: nearly three hours (!) of entertainment featuring third-grader Spencer and his buddy Sunny Pig. Imaginative and offbeat children’s programming.

SPIDER-MAN: THE VENOM SAGA (95 mins., Buena Vista): While Spidey fans continue to wonder why full season packages of the web-slinger’s acclaimed ‘90s Fox Kids series are bypassed in favor of theme-oriented DVD anthologies, Buena Vista carts out another entry in the latter this week. Sporting five episodes focusing on everyone’s favorite “modern” Spider-Man villain -- Venom -- these connected stories do show off the series at its best...which will have to do until comprehensive box sets are released. DVD extras offer Stan Lee “Soapbox” comments and episode introductions.

POWER RANGERS S.P.D.: JOINING FORCES, Volume One (107 mins., 2005): Those nutty Power Rangers are back again in this five-episode compilation from the latest incarnation of the popular, long-running kids’ series. Extras contain a “Virtual Simulator,” a featurette for kids, a full-screen transfer and 2.0 Dolby Digital surround stereo.

HOME IMPROVEMENT: The Complete Second Season (580 mins., 1992-93; Buena Vista)
TILT: The Complete First Season (419 mins., 2005; ESPN/Buena Vista).

Tim Allen and Co. were kings of TV comedy back in the mid ‘90s when “Home Improvement” graduated into a full-blown hit on the ABC airwaves. In its second season, Allen’s Tim Taylor and his clan juggled domestic drama and slapstick comedy with equal aplomb, far more effectively than the series did as it aged throughout the decade. Extras in Buena Vista’s 2nd season box set are again sparse -- a “Loose Screws” gag reel and that’s it -- but fans of the show shouldn’t complain with the set’s transfers and uncut broadcast episodes.

Available next week from Buena Vista is the complete first season of ESPN’s second dramatic series, “Tilt.” This look at the Vegas casino scene and a trio of poker players who unite to take down the reigning champ (Michael Madsen) is, on the one hand, yet another attempt to capitalize on the recent poker fad. On the other, at least the series is more entertaining and well-performed than the sports network’s prior series offering: the controversial (and short-lived) football expose “Playmakers.” Extras include outtakes, deleted scenes, auditions, an alternate season finale, snippets of the 1998 “World Series of Poker” final table (oh the memories!), 1.78 widescreen transfers and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.
NEXT TIME: THE REIVERS makes its way to DVD at last!
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