HEXED, TWENTY BUCKS and More Reviewed
John Wayne Classics Appear on DVD For The First Time!
Before we dive into this week’s
new releases on DVD, I just thought I’d pass along a few
Paramount’s upcoming August 2nd John Wayne releases THE
HIGH AND THE MIGHTY and ISLAND IN THE SKY.
Rarely screened over the years due to legal wrangling involving the
Wayne estate and previously unavailable on video, cinephiles should
plan on heading down to their nearest DVD dealer to pick up both films,
which have been lovingly restored in Special Edition presentations.
“The High and The Mighty” is the better of the two
pre-“Airport” disaster film/character drama
starring Wayne as a
hardened pilot who has to use his wits after his routine Honolulu-San
Fransisco flight goes haywire. Claire Trevor, Robert Stack, Phiul
Harris, Robert Newton, and Jan Sterling co-star in William
Warner Bros/Cinemascope classic, which previously hadn’t been
on video in any format.
For a movie that’s been languishing on the shelves,
“The High and the
Mighty” looks, all things considered, nothing short of
The Cinemascope aspect ratio has been reproduced for 16:9 televisions
and looks spectacular, with bold, vibrant colors and only the
occasional bit of dirt or grain in the print. Dimitri
Oscar-winning score -- marked by a glorious, memorable main theme --
also benefits from its 5.1 and 2.0 Dolby Digital remixing, offering a
superb stereophonic soundstage for one of the composer’s most
Leonard Maltin offers a brief on-camera introduction plus an
informative commentary track with William Welman, Jr. (son of the
director), Karen Sharpe, Pedro Gonzales-Gonzales and Vincent Longo
offering their perspective on the 1954 film, which at the time was
acclaimed as one of Wayne’s best. Maltin not only knows his
brings an upbeat, energetic tone to his comments, making the commentary
(and his featurettes) a pleasure to soak up and enjoy.
It’s a shame it’s taken so long for the film to be
dusted off, but fans
will be thrilled with Paramount’s DVD package, which extends
to a full
second disc of special features. “The Making of The High and
Mighty” includes numerous mini-featurettes, ranging from an
of Tiomkin’s work (including comments from composers and
like Christopher Young, Patrick Russ and Jon Burlingame) to
Story,” “Stories From The Set,”
“On Director William A. Wellman,”
“Restoring a Classic,” “A Place in Film
History,” “Ernest K. Gann:
Adventurer, Author and Artist,” “Flying in the
footage and a full range of trailers that round out the disc.
Wayne’s 1953 effort “Island in the Sky”
isn’t regarded as a classic but
it’s nevertheless an exciting, satisfying tale of a army
who crashes down in Labrador and attempts to survive in the icy
outdoors along with his crew. Lloyd Nolan, Walter Abel, James Arness,
and Andy Devine co-star, with Fess Parker in a bit part. Like
the Mighty,” “Island in the Sky” was
based on a book by Ernest K. Gann
and adapted for the screen by the author. It’s a rugged film
strong dramatic score by Hugo Friedhofer, and like “The High
Mighty,” Wayne aficionados should be more than pleased with
The transfer is generally satisfying (perhaps a bit sharp at times) in
its original full-frame B&W format, and extras again include an
introduction and commentary by Leonard Maltin, here joined by James
Lydon, Darryl Hickman, William Wellman, Jr. and Vincent Longo.
“Dooley’s Down: Making of ‘Island in the
Sky’” examines the creation of
the piece, while newsreel footage, a reprisal of the Ernest K. Gann
featurette, a look at Harry Carey, Jr.’s roles in the Wayne
movie’s “Aerial Cinematography” (saluting
the work of William Clothier)
and “Flying For Uncle Sam” round out the disc,
which also includes a
photo gallery and a clear mono soundtrack.
Needless to say, these catalog discs (which are a steal at $15 each)
will undoubtedly rank as two of the most important
“Restored” DVDs of
2005. Wayne fans should rejoice, and hope that
“Hondo” receive equally strong support from
Paramount when they make
their DVD debuts (hopefully) in the near future.
From Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
It’s always great to see major studios unearthing relatively
films and, not only giving them a second chance at life on DVD, but
also including special features like commentary tracks to boot.
Among the handful of recent Sony titles is
TWENTY BUCKS (***, 91 mins., 1993; R), an
independent movie with an A-grade cast that was actually based, in
part, on a screenplay by Endre Bohem written back in the 1930s.
son Leslie (“Taken”) reworked his
father’s central concept -- a $20
bill is passed from one owner to the next, with each owner’s
in anthology form -- for director Keva Rosenfeld and producer Karen
Murphy. The result is an entertaining little
“indie” movie produced
with a cast that was superb at the time of its release, but is even
more impressive now.
the characters who come in possession of the bill are Linda Hunt, as a
tough, streetwise homeless woman; Brendan Fraser, about to be married
to his upscale, and high maintenance, fiancee; Elisabeth Shue, as a
waitress and struggling writer; and Steve Buscemi, as a petty thief
about to be schooled in the ways of trickery by veteran Christopher
Lloyd. As with any anthology film, some of the stories are funny,
others poignant and heartbreaking, and a few more intriguing than
Rosenfeld and Murphy assembled a stellar cast of stars, many of whom
(Shue in particular) were looking to break out of Hollywood and work in
the blossoming independent cinema of the early ‘90s. The
is excellent, but there are plenty of familiar faces who also grace the
movie in small, but crucial, supporting parts: William H. Macy, David
Schwimmer, Jeremy Piven, singer Gladys Knight, Spalding Gray, David
Rasche, Matt Frewer, and Shohreh Aghdashloo (“24,”
“House of Sand and
Fog”) among them.
“Twenty Bucks” is uneven but has its heart in the
right place and
certainly comes across as one of the better unsung indie films produced
during its time. Sony’s DVD takes great advantage of the
in the digital format by including not one but two commentary tracks:
one from Rosenfeld, talking separately with Buscemi and Shue; and
another from Rosenfeld and Karen Murphy. The track with Buscemi and
Shue is particularly insightful, with Shue discussing her desire to
break out of “girlfriend” roles and Buscemi
revealing that he was
initially reluctant to take his role for fear he’d be
typecast as a
criminal (which, as he wryly points out, had already happened!).
A pair of featurettes are also included, discussing the
gestation, casting and filming on a modest budget. Interviews with
Rosenfeld, Murphy and Leslie Bohem are included in the two featurettes,
which combined run over 30 minutes. Sony’s 16:9 transfer is
as solid as
the film will look, while the 2.0 Dolby Digital sound sports a
satisfying score by David Robbins.
For its concept and cast alone, “Twenty Bucks”
comes recommended, and Sony’s supplements only sweeten the
More disjointed but entertaining nonetheless is “Sledge
Hammer” creator Alan Spencer’s HEXED
(**½, 93 mins., 1993; R),
which was sold -- and basically dismissed -- as one of several
Instinct” spoofs produced during the early ‘90s
(“So I Married An Ax
Murderer” and “Fatal Instinct” being two
of the others).
In reality, though, Spencer’s tale of a hapless hotel clerk
Gross) who gets mixed up with a supermodel (Claudia Christian) with a
taste for murder is a ribald black comedy with some occasionally
uproarious sight gags. The influence of the Coen Brothers (at least in
the film’s premise) and “Weekend at
Bernie’s” can be felt throughout
the film, which boasts one of my favorite bellylaughs from the era
(watch out for the early scene at the hotel pool) and an inspired wrap
up. In between, “Hexed” is rambling and not nearly
as effective, with a
bit too much story and not enough humor -- perhaps the result of a
crammed 30-day production schedule on a relatively minuscule budget.
The challenges involved with shooting “Hexed” are
Spencer’s hysterical and fascinating DVD commentary. If you
“Sledge Hammer” box sets, you’re
undoubtedly aware of Spencer’s amusing
commentaries, and his discussion of how the studio tried to tail
“Hexed” to suit a younger demographic (replacing
some of his Henry
Mancini and Nat King Cole soundtrack cues) is revealing and honest, not
to mention hilarious.
This is one of those rare commentaries you can’t turn off,
of the film’s flaws, so for that reason alone I highly
DVD, which also includes a few short deleted scenes, the original
trailer and Making Of promo; a solid 16:9 transfer and 2.0 Dolby
It’s unfortunate that Sony didn’t allow Spencer to
restore his original
soundtrack (the vintage, early ‘60s pop tunes were replaced
“upbeat” rock), but this is otherwise a thoroughly
Check it out for Spencer’s commentary if nothing else!
Writer-director Robert Benton followed his “Places in the
Heart” success with the extremely odd, rural ‘50s
Texas comedy-drama NADINE
(**, 1987, 83 mins., PG-13; Sony),
a movie so frivolous and forgettable that it’s a wonder the
picture was ever produced to begin with.
Kim Basinger stars as an attractive young woman who gets wrapped up in
shooting some “revealing” pics for local Texas
Stiller. After demanding that the photos be returned to her, Stiller is
then murdered, making “Nadine” a suspect. In
desperate need of help,
she turns to estranged husband Jeff Bridges, and the duo ultimately
uncover not just the truth about Stiller’s murder but also a
estate scam masterminded by local crook Rip Torn.
Benton’s cache following “Places in the
Heart” had to have been the
reason for “Nadine” going into production. The
filmmaker recruited a
talented production team (including cinematographer Nestor Almendros,
production designer Paul Sylbert and composer Howard Shore) to
compliment the star casting of Bridges and Basinger, but after watching
“Nadine,” it’s nearly impossible to
discern why all these top-grade
personnel would want to make the film in the first place
Prior to watching the DVD, I hadn’t seen
“Nadine” in a long while and
was curious if the passage of time would make the picture any more
entertaining. Unfortunately, I had the same gut reaction to it this
time out that I did years ago: what, exactly, is the point? At barely
83 minutes, this is a feather-weight flick with a plot that’s
particularly interesting, a romance that’s not especially
and comedic elements that simply aren’t funny. The look and
feel of the
movie are atmospheric, but what was the point of setting the film in
1954 when the soundtrack offers several ‘80s country-rock
completely spoil the mood?
Sony’s DVD sports a satisfying 1.85 transfer with a 2.0 Dolby
Digital mono track. No extras are included.
Last but not least among Sony’s new titles is BEULAH
LAND (1980, 281 mins., Sony),
the 1980 NBC mini-series starring Leslie Ann Warren as the head of a
plantation in the Civil War-era South.
Not as star-studded as the mammoth ABC productions of John
“North and South” novels that would follow years
later, “Beulah Land”
is a glossy, entertaining soap opera that, at times, at least seems
more sincere than the Jakes adaptations. Warren is superb and is
complimented by an excellent supporting cast, including Don Johnson,
Eddie Albert, Hope Lange, Jenny Agutter, Meredith Baxter (then Meredith
Baxter Birney), and a fetching, young Madeline Stowe.
Allyn Ferguson’s music is engaging and while the various
tribulations” from Lonnie Coleman’s books (adapted
for television by
Jacques Meunier) are predictable enough, “Belulah
Land” is stylishly
presented as TV mini-series go and offers ample entertainment --
particularly for history buffs and soap opera lovers -- over the course
of its five-hour running time.
Sony’s DVD is thankfully uncut and preserves the original
structure of “Belulah Land,” with separate opening
and end credits for
each installment. The full-screen transfers are in remarkably good
shape and the mono sound is just fine considering its time. Recommended!
Seat DVD Pick of the Week
It won’t win any Oscars and Keanu Reeves’ often
stiff performance isn’t an asset, but the supernatural
CONSTANTINE (***, 121 mins., R, 2005; Warner Bros.)
nevertheless manages to deliver a satisfying amount of glossy
entertainment for genre fans.
stars as John Constantine, our chain-smoking, sarcastic hero who
watches the battle of Good and Evil (and God Vs. The Devil) play out
between Heaven and Hell with one exception: it isn’t supposed
crossover into our plain of existence. After performing an exorcism on
a young girl (in the movie’s slam-bang opening set piece),
realizes that someone from down below is hatching a plan to bring hell
on Earth (even more than it is already). The plan could be possibly
connected to a female cop (Rachel Weisz), who tracks down Constantine
and finds out both angels and devils are everywhere -- provided you
know where to look.
Fans of the DC Comics “graphic novel” cried foul
over this big-budget
Warner Bros. release, but if you’re like me and have never
heard of the
“Hell Blazer” comic, you’re likely to be
entertained by this
surprisingly effective mix of special effects wizardry, occasional
black comedy, and religious theory.
First-time feature director Francis Lawrence, working from a script by
Kevin Brodbin and Frank Cappello, thankfully never becomes overwhelmed
with the movie’s occasionally spellbinding visual effects.
for intriguing supporting performances from the likes of Weisz, Tilda
Swinton (as Gabriel, here a fallen angel of the asexual persuasion!),
Djimon Hounsou as a sage witch doctor, and Peter Stormare, who appears
as Satan in a climax that’s thankfully a lot more restrained
Warner Home Video’s DVD is out this week and sports a
widescreen transfer with a swirling, active 5.1 Dolby Digital
soundtrack. The hodgepodge score by Brian Tyler and Klaus Badelt was
reportedly the result of Tyler’s original score being dumped
numerous sequences and worked around to accommodate several songs.
Subsequently, it doesn’t have the majestic or particularly
tone one might anticipate.
Warner’s single-disc Widescreen DVD also boasts 18 minutes of
scenes including a subplot involving Constantine’s affair
with a female
demon and an alternate ending. Optional commentary by the director is
available over the excised sequences as well.
Though only a modest box-office performer in the U.S. ($75 million
domestic), “Constantine” was a smash
internationally, grossing over
$150 million in outside markets and essentially guaranteeing a sequel
in the process. For a change, this is one franchise I
returning to, since “Constantine” delivers just
enough action and story
to compliment its visuals. Recommended!
New On DVD
Another cult favorite, John Waters’ CRY-BABY
(**½, 92 mins., 1990, Unrated; Universal)
gets the Unrated Director’s Cut treatment this week.
Waters’ 1990 film was the most expensive and elaborate studio
filmmaker would produce (in the wake of “Hairspray”
every studio wanted
a crack at it), and it’s a dizzying, colorful salute to the
B-grade, juvenile delinquent films Waters grew up on in the
Johnny Depp anchors the thread-bare plot as a greaser-rocker who falls
for squeaky-clean good girl Amy Locane. Depp angers her
friends by bringing Locane out to his posse’s
singing songs and acclimating her with his tough gal-pals (including
Traci Lords, Ricki Lake, and Susan Tyrell).
“Cry-Baby” boasts several toe-tapping musical
performed and scored, and Depp’s appealing performance helps
deal. Like many Waters films, though, “Cry-Baby” is
with not enough plot to sustain its 92-minute running time.
movie of moments that never gels into a satisfying whole, though
sure Waters fans will love Universal’s DVD.
For Universal’s DVD, the film has been expanded by seven
at least one song apparently restored and one glaring (but hilarious)
f-bomb added into the movie (hence the well-deserved
Otherwise, the movie is still an obviously PG-13 effort as mainstream
as any of Waters’ works.
Special features include additional deleted scenes (including an
alternate climax that reportedly airs when
“Cry-Baby” is shown on
broadcast TV), commentary with Waters, and an excellent, brand-new
featurette, “It Came From Baltimore,” looking back
at the production
with new comments from Waters, Depp, Amy Locane, Traci Lords, Ricki
Lake, and numerous members of Waters’ creative team. The 1.85
and 2.0 Dolby Surround sound are both satisfying.
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