Aisle Seat AVP Edition

ALIEN VS. PREDATOR Roars into Theaters
Plus: THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, TRIUMPH Barks on DVD, and More!
By Andy Dursin

Paul W.S. Anderson will never be mistaken for a true auteur. His filmography is littered with good-looking, albeit brainless, genre flicks like "Resident Evil" and "Soldier," with the occasional bomb like "Event Horizon" sprinkled into the mix.

Still, Anderson knows how to construct a stylish looking genre flick, and his B-movie expertise makes him perfect for ALIEN VS. PREDATOR (**1/2), the long-in- development franchise team-up that opened last weekend to big box-office, despite the lack of pre-release critic screenings. That latter aspect is unsurprising, however, since a lot of critics would be predisposed to finding the movie silly and pointless to begin with.

Granted, Anderson's film IS ridiculous, but after two tepid "Alien" sequels that each nearly ended that series -- not to mention a disappointing sequel that put a near- permanent hold on the "Predator" franchise -- the dumb comic-book action of "Alien Vs. Predator" comes as a somewhat refreshing surprise.

Not that the movie's routine first half will have you on the edge of your seat, however. Anderson and Shane Salerno's premise follows a group of present day archeologists and scientists -- hired by wealthy industrialist Charles Weyland (Lance Henriksen, playing the human forefather to Bishop) -- into the Antarctic where an ancient temple has been found beneath the ice. The group, which includes environmental expert Sanaa Lathan, uncovers a strange chamber where humans were used as ritual sacrifices for...well, without divulging all of the plot, let's just say that Aliens and Predators were somehow involved in the development of human civilization and big game hunting simultaneously.

"Alien Vs. Predator" is not nearly as ambitious as "Alien 3" or "Alien: Resurrection," yet it's ultimately far more entertaining than both of those misguided flops (not to mention "Predator 2"), particularly once the film hits its midway point. When the Predators and Aliens finally meet, Anderson's movie delivers the outlandish action and effects you'd anticipate coming from the premise, and rolls its way to the finish line surprisingly well.

Up until that point, the dialogue isn't especially interesting nor the scenario full of twists, yet I enjoyed the movie's visual design and special effects. Unlike the freakish make-up seen in "Resurrection" and the overall garish look of "Alien 3," Anderson seems to have gone back to the drawing board and utilized the design of the creatures from James Cameron's superlative "Aliens," in addition to H.R. Giger's original "Alien" conceptions, in establishing the look of the movie. There are also a few fleeting nods to those initial "Alien" movies (something that ought to please fans), but for the most part, "Alien Vs. Predator" stands on its own as an efficient, if unremarkable, late summer genre offering. The special effects are excellent and the final climactic battle between the Alien Queen, the Predator, and the last human standing is good, old-fashioned fun, well-edited and choreographed, and easily the best set piece of the "Alien" series since the conclusion of Cameron's 1986 hit.

Early in the film, one of the "Wolf Man" films is seen playing on a background TV. It's a telling reference, since "Alien Vs. Predator" is not a film with much on its mind other than providing its audience with an entertainment that couples two well-established monster franchises. In its own way, it's not all that different from "Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man" or any of the later Universal Monster team-ups from the mid '40s. It's a modern-day B-movie that knows what it is and provides a reasonably entertaining time for viewers who can approach it from the mind set that the material requires. (Now, if only Anderson had known when to quit and not tossed in that last groaner of a final shot!). (PG-13, 100 mins).

Aisle Seat DVD Pick of the Week

THE BEST OF TRIUMPH, THE INSULT COMIC DOG (2004 compilation, 61 mins. with additional sketches). Lions Gate, Full-Screen, 2.0. Dolby Stereo. LATE NIGHT WITH CONAN O'BRIEN: THE 10TH ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL (2004, 63 mins. with additional footage). Lions Gate, Full-Screen, 2.0 Dolby Stereo.

Even a casual viewer of "Late Night With Conan O'Brien" is likely to be familiar with the antics of Robert Smigel's Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog. Triumph has become something of a cult icon over the years, thanks to his various exploits at the MTV Video Awards, the American Idol Hawaii auditions, the Westminster Dog show (he was kicked out of the latter two), and his controversial visit to Quebec this past spring.

Best of all, though, was Triumph's visit to "Star Wars" fans awaiting the release of "Attack of the Clones" -- a riotous 10-minute segment that's one of many included in Lion's Gate's DVD compilation, available this week. The disc includes ample amounts of uncut Triumph sketches as they aired on "Late Night," with plenty of bonus material (more sketches), fine transfers and stereo sound.

Also out from Lion's Gate is a DVD of O'Brien's 10th Anniversary Special, which was shot at the Beacon Theatre in NYC this past spring. Featuring the usual assemblage of clips, the DVD is actually more entertaining for its bonus features, which again consist of uncut sketches culled from Conan's show. Among these are the priceless "People Helping People," with O'Brien "organizing" an all-star music concert to help those in need, plus a compilation of too-brief clips from the show's recurring "Secrets!" I would have loved to see Conan and Andy Richter's early trip to the Foxwoods casino included, but hopefully another volume of Conan DVDs will rectify that omission.

Both DVDs have been nicely assembled and are a great value considering the amount of material packed onto each disc. Fans of the show -- or anyone just wanting to see Triumph's run-in with the Star Wars crowd -- should definitely check them out!

Aisle Seat DVD Sneak Previews

THE GIRL NEXT DOOR (**1/2, 2004). 109 mins., Unrated, Fox, available August 24. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: 16 Uncensored Deleted/Extended Scenes, Gag Reel, Commentary, Photo Gallery, 1.85 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

Most Hollywood movies are packaged competently, even if they're bereft of good ideas. "The Girl Next Door" is an unusual exception since it's a studio movie populated by some fresh ideas and twists, but is also marked by rambling, unfocused direction and editing.

Emile Hirsch plays your standard, smart graduating high school senior, not cool enough to belong to the "in crowd," and thus not wild and crazy enough to liberate himself from the mundane routine of studying, tests, and classes -- even if it's all coming to an end. Into his mundane existence comes the sexy, sultry Elisha Cuthbert (Kim from "24"), his next door neighbor's niece, who looks too good to be true. She's sweet, funny, and allows Hirsch to free himself from the confines of everyday teenage life*at least until Hirsch realizes she's a young porn star trying to escape her own existence, with a downright certifiable producer/ex-boyfriend (Timothy Olyphant) and plenty of baggage in tow.

"The Girl Next Door" has some funny moments and bright twists in the script credited to Stuart Blumberg, David T. Wagner, and Brent Goldberg, which allows Hirsch and Olyphant (who seems to be channeling a young Bill Paxton) to give strong performances. Cuthbert is attractive and appealing, yet part of the movie's central problem is that she's less of a person than a device to set the plot in motion: her character and relationship to Hirsch ought to be at the center of Luke Greenfield's movie, yet there are long sequences when she's not in the film and, subsequently, it's difficult to feel a connection between the two protagonists.

There are also far too many musical montages, too many false crescendos and "big" moments, especially for a film that runs on at 109 minutes. "The Girl Next Door" is reasonably entertaining, well-performed and rarely predictable, yet it could have been a classic in the teen genre had the pacing, direction and editing been tighter and more cohesive.

Fox's DVD is out on August 24th, and is being released in a couple of variants. There's the standard R rated cut, plus the Unrated Version I screened, featuring additional nudity and supplemental features. Among the extras are a handful of deleted/extended scenes (including a terrible coda that was wisely excised), gag reel, photo gallery, theatrical trailer, commentaries by Cuthbert and Hirsch, and a pair of featurettes. The 1.85 Widescreen transfer is colorful and pristine, while the 5.1 Dolby Digital sound is often effective, featuring Paul Haslinger score and a plethora of rock tracks. Most of them are cleverly used, but just like the story's plot twists, there are simply too many of them for the picture's own good.

PHYSICAL EVIDENCE (**, 1989). 99 mins., R, Columbia TriStar, available August 31st. DVD FEATURES: 1.85 Widescreen, 2.0 Dolby Surround.

Michael Crichton directed this 1989 courtroom thriller, which was intended as a sequel to "Jagged Edge" until Glenn Close vowed to have nothing to do with it. Instead, the Bill Phillips story was reworked for Theresa Russell, miscast as a lawyer defending Boston cop Burt Reynolds, on trial for the murder of a local snitch. Of course, all the evidence points to o'l Burt, but the only thing he's guilty of is a hangover and wearing that bad rug -- something that sends Russell out on a mission to not only win the case but reclaim her personal freedom, which is being severely compromised by live- in boyfriend Ted McGinley (what more do you need to say about this film than the mere fact that McGinley, co-star of "Happy Days" and "The Love Boat," has a leading role in it?).

It all culminates in a predictable, perfunctory ending, but I'll be darned if "Physical Evidence" isn't a lot of fun. The movie's Boston setting results in some scenic local shots (I admit I have soft spot for Beantown-lensed flicks since I went to college there), even though much of the film was shot in Montreal and Toronto. It also has a splendid (albeit brief) score by Henry Mancini, and some outrageously bad dialogue and performances -- particularly by Russell, who could have used the role to springboard into mainstream leading parts that never materialized.

Artisan previously released "Physical Evidence" in a poor full-frame DVD just over a year ago, and now Columbia has jumped in and easily surpassed that substandard effort with their own DVD. Presented in fully remastered 1.85 widescreen (16:9 enhanced) with a superior Dolby Surround track, the movie has never looked better. If you're looking for a little big-studio late '80s fun, then I'm guilty as charged by giving a recommendation for "Physical Evidence."

Buena Vista Capsules

DARBY O'GILL AND THE LITTLE PEOPLE (***, 1959). 91 mins., G, Buena Vista: One of Disney's more charming live-action efforts from the '50s, this pleasant Irish folk- fairy tale stars Albert Sharpe as the title protagonist, who matches up with a conniving leprechaun in a battle over a magical pot of gold. Sean Connery, meanwhile, made a big- screen splash in one of his first leading roles here, and even croons a tune in Robert Stevenson's colorful fantasy. Disney's DVD offers a splendid full-screen transfer in the movie's original 1.33 aspect ratio (despite endless message board debates online, Disney offers a written explanation in the booklet that confirms the original ratio), plus an adequate mono track. (Fans should note that the DVD contains the movie's initial soundtrack and not the "Americanized" one that modified the Irish accents to make them more comprehensible to domestic viewers). Extras include a fun interview with Connery reflecting on the movie, a featurette on the effects, and an entire, vintage Magical World of Disney episode. Highly recommended!

MICKEY, DONALD, GOOFY: THE THREE MUSKETEERS (**1/2, 2004). 68 mins., G, Buena Vista: Cute, pleasant made-for-video animated feature sports Mickey, Donald, and Goofy as the would-be defenders of Queen Minnie Mouse, who's about to be overthrown by dastardly Peg-Leg Pete. The animation is decent and the songs, adapted from classical masterworks, are good fun (Bruce Broughton provided the charming score), which should enchant kids and Disney addicts alike. Disney's DVD includes a 1.78 widescreen transfer, 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital sound, tongue-in-cheek "Making Of" featurettes and interactive sing-a-long games for kids.

ELLA ENCHANTED (**1/2, 2004). 96 mins., PG, Buena Vista, available August 24: Director Tommy O'Haver helmed the underrated teen comedy "Get Over It," showing some real energy that explains some of the appeal of his "Ella Enchanted." This silly children's fantasy is disjointed in places, but is at least colorful and amusing enough to hold the attention spans of its intended audience. Though Gail Carson Levin's much- loved book was apparently altered in this Miramax adaptation (no less than five screenwriters are credited), with some "Shrek"-like comedy thrown in, Anne Hathaway's spirited lead performance holds the movie together. Miramax's DVD sports a fine 1.85 Widescreen transfer, deleted and extended scenes, commentary from O'Haver, Hathaway, and co-star Hugh Dancy, and several featurettes.

SHAOLIN SOCCER (***, 2003). 112 mins. (Chinese version), 89 mins. (English version), PG-13, Buena Vista, available August 24: The Hong Kong smash finally arrives on DVD domestically, and in a presentation that was worth the wait for fans. While Miramax's abbreviated U.S. cut (which was barely released) is included with its dubbed Anglo dialogue, the studio obviously listened to fans and also made the original 112- minute Chinese version also available with English subtitles on the same disc. The result is a DVD that should please American aficionados of Stephen Chow's entertaining, funny romp. The 1.85 transfer on both versions is decent (the Chinese version is a bit grainier) and the 5.1 Dolby Digital sound also pungent.

HIDALGO (***, 2004). 136 mins., PG-13, Buena Vista: Rousing, deliberately old- fashioned adventure epic stars Viggo Mortensen as cowboy Frank T. Hopkins, who travels with his horse Hidalgo to the Arabian Desert, where the legendary "Ocean of Fire" race awaits. Joe Johnston's film is overlong, but John Fusco's script knows its genre, Mortensen is superb, and the special effects and action mix well throughout the course of the film. James Newton Howard also deserves kudos for his stirring score, which ranks as one of his best. Touchstone's DVD offers an adequate 2.35 Widescreen transfer with effective 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital soundtracks. Extras include a pair of featurettes on the making of the film and the history behind Hidalgo's Spanish Mustang heritage.

KILL BILL VOL. 2 (***, 2004). 137 mins., R, Buena Vista: The second half of Quentin Tarantino's epic proves to be a bit less energetic and inspired than its opening act. Still, Q-fans should savor the action, spicy dialogue and amusing performances sprinkled throughout the final half of "Kill Bill." Miramax's DVD includes one deleted scene, a standard "Making Of" featurette, DTS and Dolby Digital soundtracks, plus an excellent 2.35 widescreen transfer, all of which should suffice until the inevitable Special Edition of the full uncut "Kill Bill" is released.

BOY MEETS WORLD: The Complete First Season (1993). Apprx. 8 hrs, 45 mins., Buena Vista: Some younger viewers likely looked at "Boy Meets World" as the equivalent of "Happy Days" for those of us who grew up in the '70s and '80s. This fun, formulaic family sitcom ran for years on ABC, and Buena Vista has issued the first season (22 episodes) of the series with selected audio commentaries from the cast and crew, good looking full-screen transfers and Dolby Surround sound. Mr. Feeny (William Daniels), Topanga, and company never looked better!

THE LION KING 2: SIMBA'S PRIDE (**1/2, 1998). 81 mins., G, Buena Vista, available August 31st: The first of several made-for-video "Lion King" sequels is the best of the lot, though it still can't hold a candle to its predecessor. Disney's two-disc Special Edition DVD of the 1998 production features an all-new animated short called "One By One", plenty of supporting featurettes involving Timon and Pumbaa, interactive games geared towards younger viewers, and a Making Of featurette. The 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital sound are both excellent, as is the 1.66 Widescreen transfer.

NEXT TIME: August comes to a close with reviews of more new discs, EXORCIST: THE BEGINNING and more!


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