Aisle Seat June DVD Round Up

Reviews of Vintage Titles from COCOON to DAY OF THE LOCUST Plus: SCTV, BUBBA HO-TEP, EUROTRIP and more!By Andy Dursin

Plenty to get to this week, as the Aisle Seat covers a wealth of vintage catalog titles just being issued on DVD for the first time, as well as several new releases for your viewing enjoyment.

First off, the TV-on-DVD parade continues to march along with no signs whatsoever of letting up.

I recently reviewed the Shout Factory's "Freaks and Geeks" and "Jack Paar Collection" DVDs for the next "Laserphile" in Film Score Monthly. Both sets are fabulous, filled with supplemental features and extensive liner notes about each show. In short, they're two of the finest TV box-sets I've seen released in the format. Now Shout is back with two more fantastic DVD sets that anyone who grew up in the '80s -- or at least fondly recalls living through -- will want to check out.

The first of several planned "SCTV" sets, SCTV NETWORK/90, VOLUME 1 (Five discs, 1981), is being released today. The set isn't inexpensive (around $60-$70 in most outlets), but Shout has gone the extra mile, as they've done in the past, by including all sorts of supplements to make every penny worthwhile.

If you've never watched SCTV -- or happened to come across it during NBC's infrequent re-runs over the years since its broadcast in the late '70s and early '80s -- the show is a gold mine of skits and parodies that ended up having as much of an influence on comedy in general as "Saturday Night Live." Each episode is a collection of sketches, but with running characters and gags that make the show extremely satisfying for fans, while everything from TV commercials to movies and Siskel & Ebert (back in the old "Sneak Previews" days) are frequent lampoon targets. As with any program of this sort, some of the gags misfire, some totally hit the mark, and others fall somewhere in between, and yet SCTV found the bullseye more often than not, thanks to smart writing and a fantastic cast (John Candy, Eugene Levy, Joe Flaherty, Dave Thomas, Harold Ramis, Rick Moranis, Andrea Martin, and Catherine O'Hara among them).

This first box-set offers nine 90-minute episodes culled from SCTV's debut on NBC back in early June, 1981. The shows are longer than their original, 30-minute syndicated predecessors, and also sport musical guests, but at least the acts are incorporated into sketches and end up fitting into the preceding without spoiling the overall comedic atmosphere.

Shout has also included extensive supplements, from a 1999 HBO reunion hosted by Conan O'Brien, to new recollections by the cast of their days working on the show, memories of the late John Candy, audio commentaries, and terrific liner notes supplied by O'Brien, Ben Stiller, and Fred Willard among others.

Hopefully this will be the first of more box-sets to follow (the notes promise that the original syndicated shows will follow the NBC episodes).


Also newly released from Shout is the complete first season of PUNKY BREWSTER (Four discs, 1984-85), the amiable kid-sitcom that ran for years on NBC and in syndication, not to mention a Saturday morning cartoon version!

If "Punky Power!" and star Soleil Moon Frye's occasional urging for juvenile viewers to eat their lima beans ring any kind of bell with you, then by all means do yourself a favor, head down to your local DVD haunt, and pick up Shout's box-set. This four-disc edition features all 20 unedited first-season episodes, some two hours of "Punky"'s Saturday morning NBC cartoon, and a collection of special features to boot.

Included among the extras are interviews with Moon Fyre's co-stars Cherie Johnson and Ami Foster, plus creator-producer David W. Duclon and writer Barry Vigon. These new interviews will be tons of fun for fans, though the absence of Soleil herself is a bit of a disappointment (could it be that Moon Frye is trying still to distance herself from the series?). The transfers and soundtracks are all in good shape, particularly since one likely wouldn't have anticipated "Punky Brewster" making its way to DVD (or VHS for that matter!) back when the show was first broadcast.

If these two box-sets, plus Shout's other titles, are any indication, there's much to look forward to down the road from the new label. Needless to say, if you're a fan of either show, both sets come highly recommended!


Also newly on DVD sweepstakes is Paramount's third season set of CHEERS (Four discs, 1984-85), which, as I've written before, was like a fine wine as a series, getting better with age.

The third year of "Cheers" continued the on-again, off-again romance between Sam and Diane, lost "Coach" to co-star Nicholas Colasanto's death late in the year, and added Kelsey Grammer to the cast as Dr. Frasier Crane himself. Grammer would grow into the role over time, but even from the start, the introduction of the educated and witty Frasier into the cast provided an immediate contrast to the show's other characters, creating further comedic opportunities that the show's producers would develop and enhance as later seasons progressed.

While my favorite seasons of "Cheers" were yet to come (and the show ends on yet another Sam-Diane cliffhanger), season three provides a better-rounded and constantly improving series that really found its stride in '84-'85.

Paramount's four-disc box-set once again offers pristine full-frame transfers and excellent stereo soundtracks. Extras include a look back at Nicholas Colasanto, a tour of the bar (with art director Dahl Delu), and clip-compilations "Virtual Vera," "Carla's Whipping Box," and "Shrink-Warped."


Also out on DVD this week (yep, June 8th is a busy day -- keep reading below for the plethora of catalog titles debuting today) are the Complete First Season editions of '80s favorites THE A-TEAM (Four Discs, 1983) and QUANTUM LEAP (Three Discs, 1989).

The latter has been given some superb supplements courtesy of Universal, including new interviews with stars Scott Bakula and Dean Stockwell, not to mention creator-producer Donald P. Bellisario, who all reflect on the show's first season. Bakula also provides introductions to each particular episode, which include all nine episodes from the series' origin as an NBC mid-season replacement.

"Quantum Leap" always ran hot and cold with me, but that was to expected with the show's structure. Each week was a fresh new adventure for reluctant time traveler Sam Beckett, and his exploits ranged from the entertaining to the heavy-handed and sophomoric (like when he entered the body of a test monkey). Bakula and Stockwell were terrific through each and every outing, and yet there were times when the show seemed to be reaching too high and hard for its own good.

That was never the case with "The A-Team," which served up a satisfying blend of early '80s action and plenty of star charisma thanks to the unforgettable ensemble of George Peppard, Dwight Schultz, Dirk Benedict, and Mr. T (and oh yes, Melinda Culea as well, though most people seem to have forgotten about her as the years have gone by). From the fantastic bombast of Mike Post and Pete Carpenter's theme song to the driving action scenes and engaging performances (Schultz was particularly strong on the show), "The A-Team" defined prime-time TV action-adventure series in the '80s.

Subsequently, fans should rejoice over the release of the series on DVD. Universal has provided all 14 first-season episodes, uncut and in solid condition. It's so entertaining you'll be able to overlook the set's lack of special features. In a word: cool!


Aisle Seat DVD Pick of the Week

BUBBA HO-TEP (**1/2, 92 mins., R, 2003; MGM). DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Commentary by Don Coscarelli and Bruce Campbell; Commentary by "The King"; Author Joe Lansdale reads from his original story; deleted scenes; Making Of featurette; make-up, costume, and music featurette; music video, photo gallery, trailer and booklet (in "limited edition" packaging). 1.85 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

If someone were to tell you that the director of "Phantasm" made a movie about how an aging Elvis battles a soul-sucking mummy in a Texas retirement home with the help of an elderly African-American man who thinks he's JFK, you'd like expect it to be a wild, ribald ride of a horror-comedy. Add in that Bruce Campbell stars as Elvis, and you might have believed that "Bubba Ho-Tep" would be the next big independent genre smash. As it turns out, this surprisingly heartfelt and leisurely paced film is a far more serious in its intentions than many viewers would anticipate. Campbell gives a strong, restrained performance as The King, who -- as it's explained -- switched identities with an Elvis impersonator, living the remainder of his life in another man's shoes. Now disheveled and rotting away with some kind of cancerous growth on his genitals, this Elvis sees little reason to continue on, at least until a mummy shows up in his sleepy nursing home, picking off the community's residents one-by-one.

Coscarelli scripted the film from a short story by Joe Lansdale, and spends most of the film concentrating not on horror but rather its central characters. This enables Campbell to give a dialed-down, effectively modulated performance that's one of his best, while Davis fares well as a guy who simply believes he really is the slain ex- President of the United States. The two of them ultimately win you over, though there are times when you'd wish Coscarelli would speed up the pace and get on with the show. As hard as it may be to believe, "Bubba Ho-Tep" is not a movie about special effects, creatures, or action scenes. Even with its outlandish premise, Coscarelli has made a movie that's really about aging, setting things right, and bowing out gracefully. The ending is lovely, though the pace is downright sluggish at times. Audiences anticipating the next "Army of Darkness" will be in for a major shock, but "Bubba Ho-Tep" is a low- key and rewarding little film that certainly has its heart in the right place. It's definitely worth a view for genre fans, particularly if you know what to expect ahead of time. (Soundtrack fans should be on the lookout for Daniel Schweiger as a morgue attendant -- nice work, Dan!).

MGM's Special Edition DVD is loaded with special features. An extensive "Making Of" featurette is basically split into several separate segments, with much attention paid to the film's soundtrack by Brian Tyler. Tyler played every instrument himself and discusses his score in the featurette, with deleted scenes, still photo archives, and a pair of commentary tracks (one by Campbell in-character, the other with Campbell and Coscarelli talking about the movie) rounding out the disc. There's also a neat feature where author Lansdale reads from his original work. The transfer in 16:9 Widescreen is superb and the 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack peppered with the occasional surround effect.


Also New on DVD

EUROTRIP (**, 93 mins., Unrated, 2004; Dreamworks). DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Unrated edition, deleted scenes, commentary, featurette; 1.85 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

Mediocre retread of the superior Dreamworks hit "Road Trip," this teen comedy does, at least, open with a hilarious cameo by punk rocker Matt Damon (yes!), who croons a song about how he stole the girlfriend ("Smallville"'s Kristin Kreuk) out from under the film's hapless protagonist.

It's a scene that has some juice and spontaneity, but aside from a fleeting music- video appearance by David Hasselhoff, the rest of "Eurotrip" is as uninspired as its plot, where a pair of college-bound pals decide to take the summer off and travel around Europe. There are predictable run-ins with soccer hooligans (including Vinnie Jones) and a dominatrix (Lucy Lawless), trips to a nude beach and the Vatican -- though it's obvious any shots of the Vatican or London are CGI-enhanced, with the bulk of the movie being filmed in the Czech Republic. More over, the youthful leads are bland, inclduing former "Buffy" star Michelle Trachtenburg.

Dreamworks' DVD offers an Unrated Widescreen Edition that adds several instances of nudity and profanity that were deleted from the theatrical version. The 1.85 Widescreen transfer is excellent and the 5.1 Dolby Digital sound potent, with special features including a lengthy gag reel and collection of deleted scenes, an alternate ending (rightfully discarded), interviews, and commentary by the filmmakers.

"Eurotrip" isn't a terrible movie (particularly considering the current state of raunchy teen comedies), but it's certainly forgettable. Aside from a few scattered laughs, you'll have to really be in the mood to find the material entertaining.


THE COMPANY (**, 2003). 112 mins., PG-13, Columbia TriStar. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Commentary by Robert Altman and Neve Campbell; Making Of featurette; Expanded dance sequence; isolated dance sequences; 2.35 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

Neve Campbell plays a ballerina trying to make it in director Malcolm McDowell's company; James Franco essays the good-guy chef who tries to help Campbell navigate her career and personal issues in a Robert Altman film that represents a step backwards for the veteran auteur in his filmography.

Interestingly, "The Company" was less an Altman film than a pet project of Neve Campbell's that Altman was brought into direct. Campbell co-wrote the story, co- produced the film, and stars in it, and it seems as if she would have been better off bringing in a more conventional filmmaker than Altman, who concentrates on all the wrong aspects of the material. There are tedious scenes where you wonder what the point is, plot fragments that seem like they'll be developed but never are, and absolutely no flow to the movie whatsoever. It's hard to even classify the performances, since the characters are so thinly drawn.

"The Company" will be worth a look for ballet fans (there are extended sequences with the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago) and die-hard Altman devotees, but other viewers are urged to proceed with caution.

Columbia's DVD sports an excellent 2.35 widescreen transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, sporting original score by Van Dyke Parks. Extras include commentary from Campbell and Altman, a typical "Making Of" featurette, plus isolated and extended dance sequences.


ALONG CAME POLLY (**1/2, 2004). 91 mins., PG-13, Universal. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Deleted scenes, outtake reel, Making Of, director commentary, ferret featurette; 1.85 Widescreen, 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital sound.

Cute piece of romantic comedy fluff offers a few genuine laughs and a solid supporting turn from Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Ben Stiller does his usual thing as a repressed insurance salesman who ends up losing new bride Debra Messing to a tropical Scuba instructor (Hank Azaria) on their honeymoon. Upon returning to the big city, he finds former school mate Jennifer Aniston working as a waitress -- she's everything he's not, and naturally the duo click...at least until Stiller's wife comes back, wanting to reunite.

Writer-director John Hamburg was one of the writers on Stiller's "Meet the Parents," and while this silly, predictable comedy isn't nearly as consistent as that film, "Along Came Polly" is a breezy, light star vehicle for Stiller and Aniston that's perfect for summer viewing. The duo have solid chemistry together, but it's the supporting players who provide the biggest laughs, including Azaria, Alec Baldwin, and especially Hoffman, who's terrific here as a burned-out ex-child star. They're reason enough to keep you watching, and Hamburg doesn't let the movie overstay its welcome at 90 minutes.

Universal's Special Edition DVD offers deleted scenes and a blooper reel, a typical "Making Of," director commentary, and a featurette on Rodolfo, the blind ferret who provides a few gags in the film. The 1.85 transfer and 5.1 DTS/Dolby Digital sound are both excellent.
 


Fox Bargains

Without much fanfare, Fox has dug into their vaults and released a plethora of catalog titles on DVD, most looking superb and none that will burn a hole in your pocket (most can be found for around $10-$15 each).

Chief among the new releases are the DVD debuts of Ron Howard's terrific 1985 smash COCOON (***1/2, 1985, 117 mins., PG-13) and its unnecessary 1988 sequel COCOON: THE RETURN (**1/2, 1988, 116 mins., PG).

Just the other day, I was talking to a friend of mine about how certain films remain in circulation and are still the occasional center of discussion years after their original release. "Back to the Future" is a case in point -- a movie that came out of nowhere and became the breakthrough hit of the summer of '85, and continues to be an enduring fan favorite.

Trailing behind in box-office dollars, but still one of the highest-grossers of that same year, was "Cocoon." Ron Howard's gentle sci-fi fantasy garnered all kinds of critical acclaim and became a financial triumph as well (earning Don Ameche a Best Supporting Actor Oscar in the process), yet some 19 years after its original release, "Cocoon" has become something of a forgotten film. Sure, it's shown on TV from time to time, yet the fact that it's taken this long for the movie to receive a proper DVD release shows you that the movie hasn't remained in the public consciousness, despite the success of Howard as a filmmaker in the years since its debut.

That being said, I found that "Cocoon" has held up pretty well since the summer of '85. The movie benefits enormously from a cast of Hollywood veterans (Ameche, Hume Cronyn, Wilford Brimley, Jessica Tandy, Jack Gilford among them), playing residents of a Florida retirement complex who improbably find themselves rejuvenated, thanks to aliens (Brian Dennehy, Tahnee Welch) who arrive to retrieve the cocoons of their brethren deep on Atlantic Ocean floor.

Sure, some of the movie's humor is cliché (not unlike an episode of "The Golden Girls"), but the performances are still winning. Even Steve Guttenberg manages to win you over as a fishing boat captain, and James Horner's score keeps everything glued together. When the cast and Horner returned for the inevitable "Cocoon-The Return," the magic was gone, though the goodwill of the performances (sans Dennehy, who appears in a brief cameo) manage to make the sequel watchable in spite of its hackneyed script.

Fox's DVD boasts a new commentary track by Howard, plus vintage "Making Of" material, trailers and TV spots. The 1.85 transfer is colorful and warm, and a full-frame version is included on the disc's flip side. The sound is encoded as 4.1 surround (three discrete channels in the front, a mono surround track, and a subwoofer channel) and is likewise satisfying. "Cocoon: The Return" also boasts good-looking full-screen and 1.85 transfers, plus a 5.1 track and the original trailer.


Dino DeLaurentiis' "DEG Studios" catalog has apparently been bought up by Fox (or at least licensed to them), since we now have another long-overdue DVD for one of DEG's most elaborate productions.

While nobody will mistake TAI-PAN (**, 127 mins., 1986, R) for a great movie, this entertaining B-movie is nevertheless fun for bad movie buffs. Sporting terrific Jack Cardiff cinematography and a rousing score by Maurice Jarre, this sprawling yet workmanlike adaptation of the James Clavell novel was a major disappointment considering its source material. Yet, seen years later in scope for the first time in the U.S., this epic provides a good time for all of its two-plus hours, and old-time movie buffs will enjoy the old-school soundtrack and romantic tone of the film, in spite of the cliched dialogue and somewhat rickety performances (Fox's DVD trumps up the involvement of future stars Kyra Sedgwick and Janine Turner).

The best news is that Fox's DVD offers a superb 2.35 anamorphic transfer with a strong 5.1 Dolby Digital track. Recommended (and guilty as charged!).


Though also no classic, the entertaining holiday comedy TRAPPED IN PARADISE (**1/2, 108 mins., 1994, PG-13) has also been newly issued on DVD by Fox. George Gallo wrote "Midnight Run" and served as writer and director of the terrific film "29th Street" (sadly still unavailable on DVD). He followed up the latter with this bigger- budget 1994 comic caper, with Nicolas Cage, Jon Lovitz, and Dana Carvey as brothers who rob a small-town Pennsylvania bank, only to find out that the townspeople are good- hearted folk heartbroken by their deed.

Robert Folk's Christmas-flavored score is lovely, the Panavision cinematography by Clint Eastwood veteran Jack N. Green is stylish, and the supporting cast (Madchen Amick, John Ashton, Richard Jenkins) lends an able assist to the three leads. "Trapped in Paradise" was not a success upon its original release, but it's a pleasant affair made especially palatable by the excellent production and cast backing up Gallo's story, which admittedly only yields hit-or-miss laughs.

Fox's DVD sports a terrific 2.35 widescreen transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound. A worthless pan-and-scan transfer is available on the disc's flip side.


Finally, Fox has dusted off three period adventures from the vaults on DVD.

An under-rated and superb adaptation of the Robin Hood legend, John Irvin's ROBIN HOOD (***, 103 mins., 1991, PG) was once considered a rival project to Kevin Costner's "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves." However, once the Costner film clearly became a higher-profile feature, Fox opted to release its production to select European markets, and debut the movie in the U.S. on television instead.

What's curious is that, despite its ensemble cast of European actors and smaller budget, in some ways Irvin's film is more entertaining than the larger-scale "Prince of Thieves." Sam Resnick's script sets the drama during the battle between the Normans and Saxons, lending a strong historical angle to the familiar story. What's more, the cast is excellent, from Patrick Bergin's Robin to solid turns by Jurgen Prochnow, Edward Fox and Jeroen Krabbe, not to mention Uma Thurman's feisty Maid Marian. Geoffrey Burgon's score is effective and atmospheric, and the second half of the movie does get into the derring-do of yesteryear with sufficient aplomb.

Fox's DVD offers an excellent 1.85 transfer that looks better than the movie ever has before, either on television or video. What was soft and grainy in the laserdisc release looks sharper and far better composed on DVD. A recurring complaint about the film was its "muddy" cinematography, but that has been rectified by the DVD's strong transfer, making the photography seem more atmospheric than ever before. The 2.0 Dolby Surround sound, an okay theatrical trailer, and a full-frame version round out the release.


Finally, if you're more interested in true, old-fashioned Saturday Matinee epics, check out Fox's new DVDs of PRINCE VALIANT (**1/2, 100 mins., 1954) and THE 300 SPARTANS (**, 108 mins., 1962).

Robert Wagner's ridiculous wig is one of the more memorable aspects of Henry Hathaway's 1954 adaptation of the Harold Foster comic strip, with villainy provided by top-billed James Mason and love interest served up by Janet Leigh. It's Franz Waxman's rousing score, though, that makes the silly Cinemascope action worthwhile. Fox's DVD offers a 2.35 transfer (16:9 enhanced) that appears a bit grainy and soft at times, plus a 2.0 Stereo soundtrack that doesn't seem quite as vibrant as you might have anticipated it being.

"The 300 Spartans," meanwhile, has at long last arrived on DVD after several delays. The disc looks great in 2.35 widescreen (doing full justice to Geoffrey Unsworth's cinematography) and does feature a decent score by Manos Hadjidakis. I found the movie rather stiff, yet those with a fondness for these kinds of sword-and-sandal epics should enjoy the film, as well as Fox's widescreen DVD.


Paramount Round-Up

Paramount's latest collection of catalog titles, culled from the '60s, '70s, and '80s, is filled with riches for the movie buff.

Chief among the releases is the impressively mounted John Schlesinger film DAY OF THE LOCUST (**1/2, 1975, R), adapted by Waldo Salt from Nathanael West's searing look at the downside to Tinsel Town in the late '30s.

William Atherton plays an aspiring art designer trying to make it in the big leagues. Burgess Meredith is a tired old vaudeville star now struggling to make ends meet, while his daughter (Karen Black) is an aspiring actress whom Atherton tries and romance. His futile efforts to woo love her and make her into a star clash with her relationship with a cowboy (Bo Hopkins) and a plain-spoken Midwestern guy (Donald Sutherland) who Black later becomes involved with.

With that set of characters in place, Schlesinger's film becomes an acerbic examination of Hollywood's Golden Age, the losers and loners who either didn't make it (or didn't want to) in the movie business. It's a difficult film to watch in places, with the director forcing messages down your throat (this movie couldn't be any more heavy-handed at times), yet there is much in the picture to admire: Conrad Hall's Oscar-nominated cinematography is stellar, and John Barry's low-key and haunting music perfectly fits the drama.

Paramount's DVD captures both of those elements perfectly: the 1.85 transfer (16:9 enhanced) is excellent, while the 5.1 remixed Dolby Digital sound is in every way superior to the standard mono track (also included). Barry's score keeps you watching through the trials and tribulations of West's characters, though what more needs to be said about a film than future "Bad News Bears" star Jackie Earle Haley is cast as a young Shirley Temple wannabe?! (And to say nothing of his character's fate as well!).


Far more upbeat are a trio of '80s comedies also just making their debut on DVD for the first time.

RUSTLERS' RHAPSODY (***, 88 mins., 1985, PG) is a warm, winning send-up of '40s cowboy matinees from writer-director Hugh Wilson. Wilson was fresh off the success of "Police Academy" when he made this affectionate send-up (and tribute to) the Matinee idols of yesteryear, though "Rustlers' Rhapsody" ended up becoming one of several western revivals to sputter at the box-office in 1985.

Looking at the film now, "Rustlers' Rhapsody" is a fun, entertaining spoof with Tom Berenger as the Singing Cowboy, G.W. Bailey as his sidekick, Andy Griffith as the evil cattle baron, Sela Ward as his daughter, and Marilu Henner as the local saloon gal with a heart of gold. Wilson ridicules the structure of the serials and features he's parodying at the same time he shows why they were so entertaining and fun.

It's a good-natured film with a terrific score by Steve Dorff, and Paramount's DVD sweetens the pot by including a pristine 1.85 Widescreen transfer with a truly outstanding 5.1 Dolby Digital mix. The music sounds great and the movie looks even better.


Also sporting a dynamite stereo soundtrack (with another score by Steve Dorff) is the entertaining 1987 comedy BACK TO THE BEACH (**1/2, 92 mins., PG), which attempted to both satirize and update the Frankie & Annette "Beach Party" films, right down to its casting of...Frankie & Annette.

This entertaining mix of music, surf, sand, and spoof was co-written by "Star Trek IV" scribes Steve Meerson and Peter Krikes, and stars not only Frankie and Annette as the now-grown former teen heartthrobs but also cameo appearances by the likes of everyone from Dick Dale and Bob Denver to Don Adams, Pee-Wee Herman, Jerry Mathers, Tony Dow, and (yes) O.J. Simpson!

This colorful and fun spoof is well worth a look if you're an aficionado of the original American-International hits of the '60s, and features a bouncy soundtrack (with several song numbers) that's hard to get out of your head.

Paramount's DVD offers a terrific 1.85 widescreen transfer with an active 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack. Definitely recommended as summer is just a few weeks away!


Speaking of the upcoming season, I never had to participate in that annual ritual known as SUMMER SCHOOL (***, 97 mins., 1987, PG-13), but Carl Reiner's formulaic but often funny comedy should fit the bill as a substitute for actually having to attend one.

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.

Paramount's DVD offers a sunny, solid 1.85 widescreen transfer 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 rock songs.


If it's '60s comedy you're interested in, Paramount has dusted off a pair of popular films from the period: the smash hit GOODBYE, COLUMBUS (***, 101 mins., 1969, PG) and the acclaimed satire THE PRESIDENT'S ANALYST (***, 102 mins., 1967).

The latter -- Theodore J. Flicker's ribald 1967 satire about a psychiatrist (James Coburn) who learns so much about the President that foreign intelligence agencies become interested in him -- has long been a coveted title by many movie buffs. A laserdisc release issued the movie in its proper widescreen dimensions, yet the movie was "re- scored for home video" since Paramount apparently no longer held rights to several songs (Lalo Schifrin's score was unaffected).

The good news for fans is that the DVD has been fully restored with its original soundtrack intact. The bad news, at least from my perspective, is that this crazy satire has become a little bit dated, and likely isn't as funny as it might have been when first released. That said, Coburn is terrific and the movie is still well worth a viewing for fans or '60s cinema aficionados, with the 16:9 remastered DVD presentation looking superlative and the mono mix supporting the film's original soundtrack.

More conventional but a huge hit nevertheless, the enjoyable 1969 comedy-drama "Goodbye, Columbus" has also been released on disc for the first time. This entertaining character study charts the relationship between Jewish American Princess Ali McGraw and penniless librarian Richard Benjamin, their romance and class struggles once the two fall in love. Arnold Schulman adapted Philip Roth's novella, and the film is an honest, winning story with superb performances from Benjamin, McGraw, Jack Klugman and an excellent supporting cast.

Charles Fox provided the score and The Association supplied a handful of songs for "Goodbye, Columbus" (pretty much the only aspect of the movie which is dated, aside from some of the fashions), which arrives on DVD with a decent 1.85 transfer and its original mono soundtrack intact.


Last, but not least, Paramount has issued a pair of titles ideally suited for aficionados of The Brady Bunch: the 2000 made-for-TV film GROWING UP BRADY (**1/2, 88 mins., PG-13) and the 2002 small-screen effort THE BRADY BUNCH IN THE WHITE HOUSE (**, 88 mins., PG-13).

The latter is a sequel to the entertaining "Brady" big-screen movies, albeit without the energy and production values of its predecessors. It does, at least, feature Shelley Long and Gary Cole reprising their roles as the heads of the clan, but director Neal Israel is unsuccessful in trying to milk laughs out of the tired Lloyd J. Schwartz-Hope Juber script.

"Growing Up Brady," meanwhile, is a docu-drama adapted from Barry Williams's fascinating book of the same name. This "insider" view of what went on during the filming of the original show isn't nearly as much fun as reading Williams's own account, but it's a decent TV movie by most standards and should be of interest for fans.

Both discs offer colorful full-frame transfers and Dolby Surround 2.0 tracks.


In Brief

IN AMERICA (***1/2, 105 mins., 2003, PG-13; Fox): One of last year's best films, Jim Sheridan's semi-autobiographical piece chronicles the arrival of a impoverished Irish family who moves to America, their tragedies and triumphs once they arrive in Hell's Kitchen. Superb performances from Samantha Morton and Paddy Considine raise Sheridan's atmospheric, honest script to levels few other movies reached in 2003, even though some of the subplots (particularly one involving Djimon Hounsou) fail to pay off. Fox's DVD features both 1.85 Widescreen and full-screen transfers, plus Sheridan's commentary, deleted scenes and an alternate ending, and a typical "Making Of" featurette. Highly recommended!


CHASING LIBERTY (**1/2, 101 mins., 2004, PG-13; Warner): Amiable vehicle for pop songstress-actress Mandy Moore features her as President Mark Harmon's daughter, wanting to break free of her secret service-guarded life and travel through Europe. Sounds familiar, but at least Andy Cadiff's film is a good deal more entertaining than "Eurotrip," thanks to pleasant performances from Moore, Harmon, and newcomer Matthew Goode as the guy she falls for. Warner's DVD offers a pristine 2.35 Widescreen transfer with deleted scenes, blooper reel, Making Of featurettes, and commentary from Moore and Goode.


STAY HUNGRY (***, 102 mins., 1976, R; MGM): Arnold Schwarzenegger first burst onto the Hollywood studio scene thanks to his performance as (what else?) a body builder in Bob Rafelson's entertaining 1976 dramatic comedy. Jeff Bridges and Sally Field top line the film, but even some 18 years ago, you can sense Arnold's star charisma stealing the picture out from under both of them. MGM's Special Edition DVD sports commentary from Rafelson, Bridges and Field, a new introduction from Rafelson, the original trailer, and both 1.85 Widescreen and full-screen versions. Well worth checking out!


NEXT TIME: Andy's back with more new reviews (including summer movie comments!), your emails and more.



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