The Aisle Seat's Tribute to The Fonz

Plus: CANDYMAN Special Edition, LORD JIM and More!
By Andy Dursin

An off-off-shore passing by Hurricane Alex made for several hours of solid surfing last week in Southern New England, so I didn't have time for "The Village" or "Collateral," Michael Mann's latest, which has been the recipient of excellent reviews.

I have, however, managed to check out THE BOURNE SUPREMACY (***) and CATWOMAN (**) in the last two weeks at the muliplex.

First off, "Bourne" is a solid summer thriller, though I still preferred the original film as a whole. The first half of the sequel felt recycled, offering few surprises, but a big twist midway through did mix things up a bit. Even better, the film's climactic car chase truly delivered the goods and put the movie over the top for me. Like its predecessor, "Bourne Supremacy" offers "old school" spy thrills -- a refreshing change of pace from the silly, CGI-laden effects pieces that the recent Bond films have become. I still have no idea why Julia Stiles is in either film, but maybe we'll figure out the point of her character in "The Bourne Ultimatum."

As far as "Catwoman" goes -- maybe it's because I had heard many awful things about the picture that my expectations were ridiculously low. For whatever reason, though, I found Pitof's box-office flop to be watchable and even downright entertaining in places. The ending was regrettable (aren't we beyond the point of super heroes narrating their story, running towards the camera, and telling us about the various responsibilities they have?), but the movie was colorful and nowhere near the disaster some pegged it to be. I think most of you can safely wait for a DVD release (it's virtually gone from theaters anyway), but curious viewers shouldn't miss it on the small screen.

In the meantime, some intriguing new releases -- mostly of the vintage variety -- comprise this week's Aisle Seat DVD wrap up--

Aisle Seat DVD Sneak Preview Picks of the Week

HAPPY DAYS: The Complete First Season (1974). Over 6 hours, Paramount, available August 17th.
LAVERNE & SHIRLEY: The Complete First Season (1976). Over 6 hours, Paramount, available August 17th.

Believe it or not, there was a time when "Happy Days" wasn't filmed in front of a live studio audience, when Richie Cunningham had an older brother named Chuck, and not only was the Fonz just a minor player in the adventures of the Cunningham family, but Potsie (Anson Williams) had substantially more screen time than our cool, leather- clad hero.

This is in full evidence in Paramount's release of the complete "Happy Days" First Season on DVD, available August 17th, which offers all 16 episodes from the show's initial run as an ABC midseason replacement in the winter and spring of 1974.

The early "Happy Days" shows are markedly different from the later years of the series most viewers are undoubtedly familiar with. There's more of a cinematic feel to these early episodes, and far more '50s atmosphere than what you'll see in later seasons of "Happy Days" (in fact, as a young kid who grew up watching the final years of the series, I wasn't even aware that the program was set decades before my time!). The influence of George Lucas's "American Graffiti" can also be felt in these early episodes, both from a visual and musical standpoint, with many wonderful period tunes appearing on the soundtrack.

It's an interesting contrast to a show that would soon become a landmark in TV history, since while "Happy Days" would become far more formulaic as it progressed, it also became a good deal more consistently funny than these first 16 episodes illustrate. The progression of Henry Winkler's Fonz from minor supporting player to a major character can be seen in the first season as well, with Fonzie becoming more wrapped up in the various plots as the episodes progress, though not to the degree that The Fonz became a significant star in later seasons.

Though it would have been interesting to hear comments from the show's creators about the origins of the program ("Happy Days" initially began as a semi-pilot on "Love, American Style" the preceding year), perhaps future "Happy Days" DVD sets from Paramount will discuss the series' evolution. This initial three-disc set nevertheless offers good-looking full-screen transfers of the original uncut episodes, seen without syndicated edits for the first time since their initial TV broadcasts. As a bonus, Paramount was able to secure the rights to the multitude of '50s staples on the soundtrack, so no musical alterations were necessary.

That alone should be reason for fans to check out the set, along with the complete first season of "Happy Days" spin-off LAVERNE & SHIRLEY, also available next week. This cute series starring Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams as a comical pair of pals who work in a Milwaukee brewery even surpassed the popularity of its predecessor for a time. And, unlike "Happy Days," "Laverne & Shirley" became a success right out of the gate, as a mid-season replacement series in 1976. By that time, "Happy Days" had found its niche, and co-producer Gary Marshall was able to bottle up the comic timing of his other series and translate it over to the similarly manic "L&S," albeit from a more female perspective.

Paramount's DVD set includes all 15 first season episodes of the series, in uncut episodes, all in good condition (there is a disclaimer that some music was changed for the video release, though the period atmosphere in "Laverne & Shirley" was more incidental and less vital to the series as opposed to "Happy Days"). Both box-sets include three discs contained in separate slim cases, with a brief synopsis and the original air dates listed for each episode. All in all, two highly recommended packages for two of the most successful sitcoms of all-time -- and here's hoping future box sets will be issued (with additional extras) for both shows. As the Fonz would say, "aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay!"

New This Week

THE PRINCE AND ME (**, 2004). 110 mins., PG, Paramount, available today. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Commentary by director Martha Coolidge; Making Of featurettes; 8 Deleted/Extended Scenes; Gag Reel; Trailer; 1.85 Widescreen (separate Full Screen version also available), 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

Well-meaning but poorly-scripted family movie stars Julia Stiles as a hard- working Wisconsin medical student who falls for "Eddie," an arrogant and cocky foreign student from Denmark who just happens to be the Crown Prince of the country itself. The two ultimately fall for each other, but their relationship is put in jeopardy once Eddie leaves the Land of 1,000 Lakes for Denmark, where his father's health is failing and the throne of his native land awaits.

Martha Coolidge's movies are generally well-acted and thoughtful, and "The Prince And Me" is no exception. Stiles and newcomer Luke Mably are both amiable and manage to strike up a believable chemistry in the picture, which starts off well before the wheels fall off the wagon at approximately the midway point. Most of the trouble can be attributed to the uneven screenplay (credited to Jack Amiel, Michael Begler and Katherine Fugate), which would have been more effective had it focused on just one story line -- say, Denmark's Crown Prince coming to America and falling in love -- instead of throwing in one twist and turn after another, to the point where the film's focus is thrown totally off-kilter. There's ultimately no time for the movie to breathe, while the solid supporting cast, including James Fox and Miranda Richardson as Mably's parents, are wasted in parts that should have been better defined.

"The Prince and Me" is still a decent movie for children, with little sex, violence or profanity, but its mediocre script and bloated running time ultimately put the kibosh on what could have been a charming, fairy tale romance.

Paramount's DVD looks stellar, with a colorful 1.85 Widescreen transfer, while the 5.1 Dolby Digital sound is typical for a film of this nature. A handful of deleted/extended scenes (including an alternate ending) are included, along with commentary from Coolidge and several decent "Making Of" segments, which detail the movie's production and reveal that the film was re-written close to filming, in order to incorporate some "contemporary" comedy elements, none of which work too successfully in the final cut.

CROSSROADS (**1/2, 1986). 99 mins., R, Columbia TriStar, available today. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: 1.85 Widescreen, 2.0 Dolby Surround.

Easy-going but forgettable Walter Hill offering stars Joe Seneca as a former blues guitarist -- now relegated to an NYC nursing home -- and Ralph Macchio as a Juillard student who springs him out and onto a road trip to his Mississippi home.

John Fusco's script starts off just fine, and Ry Cooder's score offers a bouncy, vibrant fusion of blues and rock 'n roll that sounds great in Dolby Surround. Seneca is excellent as bluesman Willie Brown, and Macchio -- obviously seeking a "grown up" role following the success of two "Karate Kid" movies at the time -- isn't half-bad as the street-smart kid who has a lot to learn. Alas, somewhere along the line, "Crossroads" turns into just one more routine road movie, with a tepid interlude involving Jami Gertz (a subplot presumably included just to incorporate a girl into the story) and assorted undeveloped themes (like Seneca having "sold his soul" to the devil) diminishing the film's impact. It's still a stylish journey -- atmospherically shot by John Bailey -- but ultimately a disappointing one.

Columbia's DVD of this cult favorite sports a fine 1.85 transfer, enhanced for 16:9 televisions, with a superb Dolby Surround mix of Cooder's flavorful score.

Columbia TriStar DVD Round Up

CANDYMAN: Special Edition (***, 1992). 99 mins., R, Columbia TriStar, available August 17. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Commentary from cast and crew members; New Making Of and Clive Barker featurettes; Storyboards; 1.85 Widescreen, 2.0 Dolby Surround.

Solid Special Edition re-issue of the creepy 1992 Bernard Rose thriller offers an informative commentary track with cast members Virginia Madsen, Tony Todd, and Kasi Lemmons, plus filmmaker Rose and others, offering their thoughts on the making of "Candyman." Two new featurettes are also included: a 20-minute "Making Of" entitled "Sweets to the Sweet: The Candyman Mythos," which examines Rose's attempts to bring Clive Barker's "The Forbidden" to the screen, plus a separate look at Barker's upbringing and nearly five minutes of Rose's storyboards, underscored by Philip Glass's memorable, Gothic score.

"Candyman" remains one of the top horror films of the 1990s, due to its intriguing story and setting, highlighted by Rose's distinct filmmaking style, which is not only tense and foreboding, but downright eloquent for a genre film. Madsen stars as a graduate student whose research into the urban legend of "Candyman" (the ever-menacing Todd) ends up unearthing the title character, instigating a series of grizzly murders that authorities ultimately believe are the work of Madsen herself in the process. The setting of Chicago's now-defunct Cabrini Green -- menacing in its urban decay -- lends ample atmosphere to a film that's capped off by Glass's effective, haunting score, which adds layers of moody, Gothic-tinged beauty to Rose's film.

Columbia TriStar's DVD looks satisfying with its 16:9 enhanced transfer and sounds potent in its 2.0 Dolby Stereo mix. Alas, while the supplements will be of interest for fans, the DVD falls victim to an increasingly disturbing trend, where the commentary divulges details of the movie's original ending -- yet that ending is nowhere to be found on the disc itself. Despite that disappointment, and the documentary glossing over some topics of interest (what was Rose's sequel concept that was discarded?), this is an otherwise recommended Special Edition for all "Candyman" addicts.

LORD JIM (***, 1965). 154 mins., Columbia TriStar, available August 17. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: 2.20 Anamorphic Widescreen; 3.0 Dolby Digital stereo sound.

Peter O'Toole gives an excellent performance as disgraced Merchant Marine officer who attempts to put the past behind him -- to no avail -- in Richard Brooks' fine adaptation of the Joseph Conrad novel.

With its lavish production values, sweeping Super Panavision 70 cinematography, and effective score by Bronislau Kaper, "Lord Jim" was a massive production for Columbia in the mid '60s, following the success of O'Toole's triumph in "Lawrence of Arabia." Needless to say, the film was not greeted with either the critical kudos or box- office receipts as the David Lean classic, but "Lord Jim" is certainly worthy of another look. Brooks's film is filled with superb performances, from Akim Tamiroff as the father figure who gives Jim another chance, to James Mason and Curt Jurgens as men who won't let him forget about his past, and Daliah Lavi, providing sufficient eye candy as "The Girl."

The visual trappings are enhanced by Columbia's superlative DVD presentation, due out on August 17th. While no supplements are included, the DVD offers a beautiful 2.20 widescreen transfer (enhanced for 16:9 televisions) from a print in pristine condition. Kaper's score also packs a solid punch in the disc's 3.0 Dolby Digital mix, making this far more than a routine DVD catalog title. Recommended!

THE COMPLETE GIDGET COLLECTION (*** overall for content, ** presentation, 1959-63). Columbia TriStar, Full-Screen only.

If it weren't for the cropping of the wide CinemaScope frame on the original 1959 "Gidget" (***), I'd be willing to make this three-movie, two-disc set my Aisle Seat "DVD Pick of the Week." Instead, the inexcusable panning-and-scanning of the widescreen image takes away most of the glossy beach fun that the first, and still best, "Gidget" affords. Even in full-frame, though, it's easy to enjoy the shenanigans of Sandra Dee's Southern California surfing princess, with Arthur O'Connell as her father and James Darren (the one and only Moondoggie) and Cliff Robertson as the competing objects of her affection.

The appealing Deborah Walley replaced Dee in 1961's "Gidget Goes Hawaiian" (**1/2) while Cindy Carol took the reigns in the very appealing "Gidget Goes to Rome" (***). The latter features an early "Johnny" Williams score, and concluded the series until Sally Field hit the surf and sand to greater success on TV years later.

The prints vary in terms of quality, with "Gidget Goes to Rome" looking pristine, "Gidget Goes Hawaiian" appearing soft and a bit grainy, and the original "Gidget" falling somewhere in between. Speaking of which, both "Gidget Goes Hawaiian" and "Gidget Goes to Rome" were shot in the "flat" Academy ratio, so neither suffers from being presented in full screen. Still, the original "Gidget" has been screened in scope on TCM in the past, so the lack of widescreen is inexcusable here.

It's the sole disappointment (and a big one) on a set that's otherwise ideal for late summer DVD viewing fun.

THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE (**1/2, 2001). 108 mins., R, Columbia TriStar. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: New commentary by Guillermo Del Toro; Deleted Scenes; Making Of documentary; Storyboards, conceptual art galleries; remastered 1.85 transfer, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

Guillermo Del Toro's 2001 film is as much a study of Spain in the 1930s -- specifically, the impact the Spanish Civil War had on its people -- as it is a supernatural chiller, making for an ambitious but somehow never fully satisfying mix of political allegory and the macabre.

A young boy at a school on the outskirts of the desert has both a hard time fitting in with his peers and an (understandably) difficult time in general after he's haunted by the ghost of a child his own age who suffered a tragic death in the locale.

Del Toro, working from a script he co-wrote with Antonio Trashorras and David Munoz, has crafted another slick, stylish visual package with "The Devil's Backbone." The movie has several creepy, tense moments sure to send a chill down your spine, yet like so many of the filmmaker's works -- from "Mimic" to "Hellboy" -- it ultimately collapses before the finish line. Del Toro seems to have been so intent on creating a "statement" film that he loses track of his characters and their plight, with some long- winded editorials about the War negating some of the power his film manages to contain. It's like a locomotive that stops and starts, ultimately failing to reach its destination, despite lofty ideals and good intentions.

Columbia's new Special Edition DVD offers a fresh commentary from Del Toro, a remastered 1.85 transfer (reportedly improved from the earlier "Devil's Backbone" DVD), several deleted scenes with optional commentary, a decent "Making Of" featurette, storyboards and conceptual art galleries, plus excerpts from Del Toro's notebook. The 5.1 Dolby Digital sound is excellent.

NEXT TIME: HIDALGO rides on DVD, plus Angelina Jolie tries to figure out who's TAKING LIVES (Unrated!) and more.


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