Two years ago, Walter Hill tweaked his
1979 cult classic “The Warriors” for a Special Edition DVD
that drew raves for its remastered transfer and sound, as well as a few
criticisms for Hill’s slight editorial changes -- namely
comic-book styled freeze-frames and a prologue that established this
controversial favorite as a futuristic, comic book updating of a Greek
Living with the alterations might have been a compromise for some, but
the aesthetic trade-off is even more tempting now thanks to
Paramount’s high definition mastering (available on HD-DVD and
Blu Ray) of THE WARRIORS (***½, 1979, 93 mins., R),
which boasts a blemish-free, outstanding new HD presentation that makes
Andrew Laszlo’s striking, stylized cinematography even more
impressive than before.
The movie -- chronicling the odyssey of a New York City gang as they
attempt to get back home to Coney Island after a “gang
conclave” among rival groups goes seriously wrong -- remains
highly entertaining, and the HD-DVD reprises all the extras from the
2005 DVD, most notably Laurent Bouzereau’s excellent documentary.
Offering new interviews with Hill, cast members James Remar, Deborah
Van Valkenburgh, composer Barry DeVorzon and others, this four-part
documentary expertly chronicles the production of this viewer fave --
which is still due for a remake in the near future (sigh).
The only disappointment is that the 10 or so minutes of added footage
seen in various broadcast TV airings aren’t present here -- nor
is the original theatrical cut. Instead, Hill mentions the alternate
introduction and why it was axed -- the kind of thing that drives a
viewer crazy (can’t we see it and make up our own minds?). For
that reason, aficionados may want to hang onto the old, original DVD
(now out of print) and their copy of the TV version for the complete
“Warriors” experience...though in terms of transfer and
sound, the HD-DVD cannot be rivaled and comes unquestionably
recommended for fans of the film.
Also new from Paramount on HD-DVD is Brian DePalma's THE UNTOUCHABLES (****, 119 mins., R, Paramount),
the 1987 box-office smash that still ranks as one of the finest films
for its director, writer David Mamet, as well as stars Kevin Costner,
Robert DeNiro, and Sean Connery, who deservedly copped an Oscar for his
role here as tough Chicago cop Jimmy Malone.
The studio’s HD transfer (also available on Blu Ray) isn’t
quite as pristine as “The Warriors” but is nevertheless a
hugely satisfying presentation, capturing Stephen H. Burum’s
sensational cinematography to a degree no standard-definition version
ever has. The Dolby Digital Plus sound is superb but the 6.1 DTS mix is
even more impressive here, layered with sonic texture and Ennio
Morricone’s rich, memorable score.
The disc is capped by Laurent Bouzereau's four-part, 2005 Making Of
featurette ("The Script, The Cast"; "Production Stories"; "Reinventing
the Genre"; "The Classic"), which includes new interviews with DePalma,
producer Art Linson, co-star Charles Martin Smith, and cinematographer
Running about an hour all told, this is a solid Making Of that examines
the production from DePalma's initial attachment to the script through
casting (Mel Gibson was interested at one point) and box-office
success. The new interviews are interspersed with vintage clips of
Costner, Connery, etc. on the set, and some revealing anecdotes are
passed along, including how Bob Hoskins was paid off after the studio
insisted on DeNiro taking the role of Al Capone. DePalma, meanwhile,
discusses working with maestro Morricone, whose score "lifted" Smith,
Costner, and Garcia out of their seats at a preview screening in New
York. The original trailer and vintage featurette ("The Men") round out
this essential HD-DVD purchase.
Coming Soon on DVD from Paramount
ZODIAC (***, 157 mins., 2007, R; Paramount):
David Fincher’s latest film is an absorbing, taut adaptation of
Robert Graysmith’s book, a chronicle of his own pursuit into
finding the Zodiac killer who claimed the lives of several Bay Area
victims in the late ‘60s.
In Fincher’s ensemble piece (adapted by James Vanderbilt from
Graysmith’s tome), Jake Gyllenhaal plays Graysmith, a cartoonist
at the San Francisco Chronicle who becomes fascinated with the case as
it plays out around him. Graysmith is essentially the viewer’s
point of reference into this period tale, as we watch the divorced
single father and editor Paul Avery (Robert Downey, Jr.) work with
their peers when the “Zodiac” instigates communications
with the paper after the killings pick up in frequency and visibility.
Meanwhile, the criminal investigation is headed by San Francisco
detective David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo), whose precinct becomes involved
after the serial killer’s final slaying occurs within the city
Opening with the vintage Paramount logo, “Zodiac” is
layered with the atmosphere of the time, from rock standards on the
soundtrack to authentic production design by Donald Graham Burt and
moody cinematography by Harris Savides. The film lacks the
overly-stylized (some would say “pretentious”) appearance
of some of Fincher’s early works, but the benefit is a more
mature and realistic work from its auteur, who concentrates not so much
on the killings or the motives or its psychological impact but rather
the investigation -- both from the police’s angle and
Graysmith’s dogged, unflinching home work, which comes into play
during the film’s second half.
The movie was criticized as not having an ending (since the
investigation itself never uncovered the killer), but it’s a
satisfying ride back into a time when police departments didn’t
have fax machines and when local -- and not national -- media could
play such a prominent role in an investigation such as they did here.
The performances are all on-target, from Gyllenhaal to Ruffalo, while
excellent support is turned in by Anthony Edwards as Ruffalo’s
partner and Brian Cox as Bay Area attorney Melvin Belli.
“Zodiac” is a film that’s hard to take your eyes off,
and Paramount’s DVD (available July 24th) includes a razor-sharp,
highly satisfying 16:9 (2.35) transfer that looks ideal, capturing
every menacing and well-composed shot of the widescreen frame. The 5.1
Dolby Digital soundtrack is likewise intelligently composed with sound
effects and David Shire’s unobtrusive (though also relatively
Extras are non-existent, but the DVD is nevertheless well worth
savoring, especially since the HD-DVD and Blu Ray versions aren’t
due out until September 18th.
PERFUME (**½, 2006, 147 mins., R; Dreamworks/Paramount):
High-class Euro adaptation of Patrick Suskind’s 1985 novel
follows the life of one Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (Ben Wishaw), a French
peasant who discovers a number of amazing fragrances...which he
concocts by murdering various women and experimenting on their remains!
Alan Rickman, Rachel Hurd-Wood, and a completely miscast Dustin Hoffman
co-star in this Bernd Eichinger production, which Eichinger wrote with
Andrew Birkin and the film’s director -- “Run, Lola,
Run” auteur Tom Tykwer -- whose visual style accentuates the
dirt and grime of 18th century France for all to see. It’s a
spellbinding film to look at, but the movie only intermittently engages
you emotionally, dragging on and then ending with a bizarre final
stanza that will only satisfy readers of Suskind’s novel.
Dreamworks’ DVD includes a superb 16:9 (2.35) transfer with 5.1
Dolby Digital sound and a Making Of featurette. Interesting enough to
warrant a viewing, and lifted immeasurably by a haunting music score
composed by Tykwer, Johnny Klimek and Reinhold Heil that’s easily
the best thing about the film.
THE RAINMAKER: Special Collector’s Edition (***, 1997, 135 mins., PG-13; Paramount):
Special Edition of the Francis Ford Coppola-lensed adaptation of John
Grisham’s novel includes deleted scenes (an alternate ending
among them), screen tests, featurettes, and an amusing commentary with
Coppola and co-star Danny DeVito. “The Rainmaker” may not
rank with Coppola’s finest or more ambitious directorial
ventures, but it’s a sturdy and well-performed tale that’s
one of the best of the numerous Grisham legal thrillers we saw in the
BEAUTY & THE BEAST: Complete Second Season (1988-89, 18 hours., Paramount):
Year two for the unlikely cult favorite TV series carries on the
relationship between attorney Catherine (Linda Hamilton) and Vincent
(Ron Perlman), the noble beast who dwells under the New York City
streets. Paramount’s DVD box-set offers the complete second
season (22 episodes) of “Beauty and the Beast” in
satisfying full-screen transfers with stereo sound. Fans should note
that there is a disclaimer for episodes that “may be
edited” from their original network broadcasts (likely for music
New From Universal on HD-DVD
Universal’s HD-DVD catalog titles this week run the gamut from
action-adventure to comedy, giving high-def owners a good variety of
choices to choose from.
DANTE’S PEAK (***, 1997, 109 mins., PG-13; Universal)
First and best of 1997's volcano disaster films closely echoes the
premise of “Jaws” (!) as scientist Pierce Brosnan and Mayor
Linda Hamilton try and save a Pacific Northwest vacation hotspot from
certain doom after various seismic events begin to occur in town,
putting residents and vacationers alike in jeopardy. Director Roger
Donaldson’s efficient genre movie sports solid special effects
and an exciting second hour as Brosnan and Hamilton try and get out of
harm’s way as quickly as possible, while Leslie Bohem’s
script punches all the requisite buttons...with a volcano in place of a
shark! Universal’s HD-DVD edition features a sharp VC-1 encoded
transfer along with 5.1 Dolby Digital Plus sound; despite some grain
here and there, this is certainly a better looking disc than most of
Universal’s HD-DVD releases from a couple of weeks ago, while
extras include commentary from Donaldson and cinematographer Dennis
Washington, a Making Of and the original trailer.
BILLY MADISON: HD-DVD (**, 1995, 90 mins., PG-13; Universal):
First solo-starring vehicle for Adam Sandler is a hit-or-miss, mostly
juvenile affair with the comic starring as an overgrown kid who’s
sent back to school in order to collect his inheritance. As silly
Sandler comedies go, this one’s a notch under “Happy
Gilmore” but still offers a few choice moments, including a
memorable gag where Sandler attempts to make things right with a
childhood acquaintance (Steve Buscemi) he used to pick on.
Universal’s HD-DVD, VC-1 encoded transfer is top-notch and the
5.1 Dolby Digital Plus sound also just fine, while extras include over
25 minutes of deleted scenes, outtakes, and commentary with director
THE WEDDING DATE: HD-DVD (*½, 2005, PG-13, 90 mins.; Universal):
Disappointing romantic comedy is an over-written, tired affair, despite
the presence of stars Debra Messing and Demot Mulroney -- both capable
of far better. Messing, from TV’s “Will and Grace,”
plays a harried exec who pays Mulroney to be her wedding date at her
sister’s London nuptials...and if you need any more plot
description than that, you’ll probably find this film from writer
Dana Fox and director Clare Kilner to be a boatload of laughs and
surprises. Everyone else -- even “date movie” aficionados
-- are likely to be let down by this forced, unappealing comedy, which
isn’t especially funny or romantic. Universal’s HD-DVD
includes a colorful, bright VC-1 encoded transfer with Dolby Digital
Plus sound. Extras include deleted scenes, an interview with Messing,
and a surprisingly tedious commentary with the actress, who’ll
need to pick better projects than this if she hopes to have any career
beyond the small screen.
THE WAR: HD-DVD (**, 1994, 126 mins., PG-13; Universal):
Heavy-handed allegory from director Jon Avnet stars Kevin Costner as a
Vietnam vet who returns home and tries to pick up the pieces of his
life, along with imparting life lessons to his young son Elijah Wood,
who’s involved with a “war” of his own with a local
group of bullies. A nice score from Thomas Newman and sincere
performances can’t quite shake a pretentious script by Kathy
McWorter with sentiment that’s often laid on thick.
Universal’s HD-DVD offers a so-so VC-1 encoded transfer with 5.1
Dolby Digital Plus sound and no extras.
New From Criterion
Three very different new films mark the latest releases from the Criterion Collection.
Billy Wilder followed his “Sunset Boulevard” triumph with the 1951 commentary ACE IN THE HOLE (***½, 111 mins.)
a scathing indictment of media over-exposure that’s perhaps even
more relevant today (through our 24-hour news channels) than it was
upon its initial release, when the film bombed in theaters and
Paramount promptly changed its title (to “The Big
Carnival”) in an effort to drum up business.
Kirk Douglas is ideal here as a gruff newsman, relegated to the quiet
media dumping grounds of Albuquerque, New Mexico when a new scoop
miraculously comes his way: a miner gets stuck in a cave, and
Douglas’ Chuck Tatum promptly gets the scoop of a lifetime
manipulating it to his advantage.
Wilder wrote this caustic, fascinating examination of The Media Circus
with Lesser Samuels and Walter Newman, and while the film has
apparently been rarely screened over the years, Criterion’s new
double disc set is cause for celebration for all Wilder buffs: a
restored transfer is on-hand along with commentary by Neil Sinyard,
while a second disc offers a 1980 documentary on Wilder, a 1984
interview with Douglas, clips of a 1986 AFI appearance with Wilder, an
audio interview with Newman, a video interview with Spike Lee, and
essays from Molly Haskell and others.
Coming on July 24th from Criterion is a new edition of Jean Cocteau and Jean-Pierre Melville’s collaboration LES ENFANTS TERRIBLES (1950, 106 mins.),
a surreal and strange adaptation of Cocteau’s own novel about an
unhealthy, wicked relationship between a sister (Nicole Stephane) and
brother (Edouard Dermithe) who play a series of odd games secluded from
the world around them, and the inevitable fate that befalls each once
they venture outside into the “real” world with others
beyond their intricate social circle.
Criterion’s single-disc edition of this offbeat, bizarre
Cocteau/Melville production includes a commentary from journalist
Gilbert Adair; interviews with Stephane and other film personnel; a
2003 video on Cocteau and Melville’s creative collaboration; the
trailer; a new 1.33 black-and-white transfer with newly translated
English subtitles; and extensive booklet notes.
Finally, the label will soon be issuing a fine presentation of Andrei Tarkovsky’s IVAN’S CHILDHOOD (95 mins., 1962),
an early work from the director who would later bring us the art-house classic “Solaris.”
Criterion’s single-disc edition of this strikingly-shot 1962 tale
of a boy’s life before and after WWII includes a restored,
full-frame black-and-white transfer; a video appreciation of Tarkovsky
and the film from author Vida T. Johnson; interviews with actor Nikolai
Burlyaev and cinematographer Vadim Yusov; and another superlative set
of essays and background materials on the picture itself.
New On DVD from Fox & MGM
Golden Age fans have plenty of reasons to celebrate this month as MGM and Fox unroll a series of Film Noir favorites.
Edward G. Robinson stars in three of the offerings: the crackling 1946 viewer favorite THE STRANGER,
co-starring Orson Welles (who also directed) and Loretta Young; Fritz Lang’s 1944 effort THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW (99 mins.),
written and produced by Nunnally Johnson and also starring Robinson,
this time as a professor who flirts with Joan Bennett and inadvertantly
commits a crime; the exciting 1952 John Payne effort KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL (99 mins.);
ands the 1955 Robinson-George Raft tale A BULLET FOR JOEY (87 mins.)
from director Lewis Allen.
Several of these films have never seen an “official” Region
1 DVD release, popping up on budget/public domain labels instead in
inferior transfers. I can’t compare these new discs with those
older, cheap presentations, but “The Stranger” looks
markedly good, with only a few sequences seeming a bit dark, and the
other transfers likewise appearing crisp and healthy. Noir fans ought
to be thrilled with each of these atmospheric, well-made suspense
offerings, which hit store shelves this week.
Also new from MGM and Fox is the HAPPY HOOKER TRILOGY,
all three of Cannon’s ‘70s exploitation comedies that are
now a whole lot less “controversial” than you might
anticipate them being.
Robin Moore and William Richert were two of the writers credited with
the script for the original “Happy Hooker,” which starred
Lynn Redgrave as Xaviera Hollander, a Dutch woman who immigrates to the
U.S. and promptly becomes the title character. Xaviera would return in
the form of Joey Heatherton in the 1977 sequel “The Happy Hooker
Goes To Washington,” co-starring George Hamilton, Ray Walston,
and David White; while the series concluded in the 1980 effort
“The Happy Hooker Goes Hollywood,” offering Martine Beswick
as Xaviera and co-stars including Adam West, Phil Silvers, Richard
Deacon, Edie Adams and Army Archerd himself.
16:9 (1.85) transfers and 2.0 English and stereo tracks grace these
silly, forgettable sex comedies, which would today nearly net closer to
a PG-13 than an R!
That’s certainly not the case with SHOWGIRLS (**, 131 mins., 1995),
Paul Verhoeven's much-maligned 1995 opus which stars Kyle MacLahlan
along with top-billed Elizabeth Berkley and Gina Gershon in a silly,
cliched story of a girl who rises to fame and fortune but finds out,
when she gets there, that she never should have bothered trying.
The first (and last?) NC-17 release from a major studio,
”Showgirls” was the movie that you had to flash your ID at
the door or else a group of zit-faced 13 year-old ushers wouldn't allow
you in. Still, for a movie that promised tons of T&A and remarkably
stupid dialogue, I found it disconcerting when the matinee I attended
was filled with women primarily over the age of 65!
Verhoeven set out to -- okay, I'm not sure what he or writer Joe
Eszterhas (who worked together on the overheated “Basic
Instinct”) were smoking when they concocted this romp, but just
the same,”Showgirls” provides a fair degree of
entertainment, even if the picture isn't ever as sexy, titillating, or
unintentionally funny as you wished it would be. More often than not,
the movie is rather routine, with Berkley -- who actually was more
appealing back on "Saved by the Bell" -- and MacLahlan both giving
terribly uninteresting performances. Only Gershon was able to parlay
this project into bigger success elsewhere (in the Wachowski Brothers'
overrated lesbian thriller “Bound”), while Robert Davi gets
a few laughs in a supporting part.
If “Showgirls” failed to deliver on its intended goods in
theaters (there are more R-rated movies with seedier sex than this
one), at least it has weathered the storm somewhat on video and is
dating a bit better now that the expectations are gone.
MGM’s new “Fully Exposed Edition” of
“Showgirls” is the third variation of the film I’ve
covered on DVD to date, and it’s basically a repackaging of the
DVD from the “VIP” box-set (the one with the shot glass and
blindfold, remember?), featuring the NC-17 rated cut of the film along
with a humorous commentary by David Schmader, video commentary and lap
dance tutorial from the World Famous Girls of “Scores,” a
featurette and trivia track. The 16:9 (2.35) transfer and 5.1 Dolby
Digital sound will surely tide fans over until the inevitable Blu Ray
HD edition comes barreling at us.
NEXT TIME: More HD reviews and the latest DVDs as well! Until
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