8/2/11 Edition Twitter: THEAISLESEATCOM


August Arrival Edition
Arrow Films Unleashes OBSESSION and THE FUNHOUSE on Blu-Ray
Plus: MARS NEEDS MOMS and More

Some great Blu-Ray discs have been premiering overseas, and many of them don’t require region-free players to enjoy, either. At the top of the recent list are Arrow Video’s tremendous Blu-Ray packages of Brian DePalma’s 1976 “Vertigo” homage OBSESSION (98 mins., PG) and Tobe Hooper’s atmospheric 1981 Universal thriller THE FUNHOUSE (94 mins., R).

“Obsession” stars Cliff Robertson as a New Orleans real estate developer whose wife and daughter are killed in a kidnapping plot; decades later, he runs into Genevieve Bujold in Paris, who’s the splitting image of his late wife. Is he going mad? Seeing double? Or is there a conspiracy plot at the center of DePalma and Paul Schrader’s screenplay?

Despite its obvious, and intentional, similarities to “Vertigo,” “Obsession” isn’t a great movie, with a somewhat icky story by Schrader and DePalma making for one of those films they could’ve only made in the ‘70s (and still netted a PG rating, no less!). Though Bujold is appealing, and John Lithgow serves up sufficiently slimy “good o’l boy” charm, Robertson’s character often registers blankly at the events going on around him – he’s certainly no Jimmy Stewart-everyman, at least – and the film’s outcome strains credibility.

That said, there’s still much to savor in DePalma’s low-budget film, which was independently produced and later picked up by Columbia Pictures (who insisted that filters be used to suggest the movie’s love sequence was a dream – and with good reason given the film’s ending). Bernard Hermann’s score is simply breathtaking – a flowing, mysterious, gorgeous work that ranks with his best – and Vilmos Zsigmond’s cinematography is likewise memorable, utilizing the full Panavision frame as so many of DePalma’s early works do. As a result of their efforts, the picture feels like a much more polished, elaborate production than it really was.

Arrow’s UK Blu-Ray offering of “Obsession” is region-free and comes highly recommended for any fan of the film. Though the disc defaults to its original mono track upon playback, you’ll want to access the full-bodied, remixed 5.1 DTS Master Audio soundtrack that spectacularly reproduces Herrmann’s brilliant score. The 1080p transfer boasts a natural (DNR-free) image, though with so much of the film’s cinematography being soft and/or filtered, there’s little surprise that the print still looks a bit dirty at times. Supplements, meanwhile, include Laurent Bouzereau’s documentary produced for Sony’s old DVD release (which include some moving anecdotes about Herrmann’s work on the film), the trailer, and a pair of early DePalma shorts, “Woton’s Wake” and “The Responsive Eye.” A reversible cover sleeve, meanwhile, houses international artwork for the film, while an extensive booklet features Schrader’s entire first draft screenplay (under the original title “Deja Vu”) with commentary from critic Brad Stevens that seems to completely misinterpret the meaning of the film’s ending.

While I can’t say that THE FUNHOUSE offers proof that Tobe Hooper directed more of “Poltergeist” than most of us credit him with, this 1981 Universal release is certainly one of his best films: a low-key, underrated little horror movie that Arrow has beautifully dusted off for a marvelous Blu-Ray release.

In Larry Block’s original screenplay, a group of teens (Elizabeth Berridge, Cooper Huckabee, Miles Chapin, and Largo Woodruff) decide to hit the local traveling carnival and live the wild life by hiding in the Funhouse after it closes down (hey, it was 1981 after all). That, of course, turns out to be a bad, bad move after one of the carny’s resident freaks (wearing a Frankenstein mask that was old school even by that era’s standards) murders one of its own and our hapless heroes give away their hiding place.

“The Funhouse” is heavier on mood and tone than it is on scares – the first half of the movie is basically just a slow burn, the film shuns supernatural happenings and the outcome is fairly predictable (put your money on the virginal heroine making it out alive!). Even so, the movie is compelling with its steady pace, attention to detail and Andrew Lazlo’s effective Panavision cinematography. Berridge – soon to replace Meg Tilly in “Amadeus” – is cute, Kevin Conway appropriately menacing in a number of roles, and John Beal’s satisfying orchestral score puts a cap on a film that’s become a cult favorite of sorts, and which makes its Blu-Ray debut in a full-fledged Special Edition from Arrow.

No less than three different commentaries are on tap here: one with make-up master Craig Reardon and filmmaker Jeffrey Reddick; another with producer Derek Power and critic Howard S. Berger; and a third with British horror experts Calum Waddell and Justin Kerswell. Each track has its strengths and each should be sufficiently engaging for “Funhouse” fans. There are also interviews with Hooper, Miles Chapin, Reardon and Mick Garris, plus a film festival Q&A with Hooper, the trailer, a fold-out poster and never-before-seen photographs from Reardon’s collection.

Visually the AVC encoded 1080p transfer is strong and even more impressive than “Obsession,” with 2.0 DTS stereo audio being particularly effective when matrixed into surround by your receiver (Dolby Pro Logic II does wonders here).

Both discs can be imported from Amazon UK (your log-in and password are the same as your US account) and are well worth tracking down regardless of your location. (Obsession: **½, The Funhouse: ***).

Also New On Blu-Ray
MARS NEEDS MOMS 3-D Blu-Ray/Blu-Ray/Digital Copy (**, 88 mins., 2011, PG; Disney): With a production budget of $150 million and some reported $60 million in marketing costs, this latest Robert Zemeckis “motion capture” misfire ended up becoming one of Hollywood’s all-time box-office flops.

In spite of that dubious distinction, this isn’t the worst movie of 2011 – just a bland, forgettable kids fantasy about a young Earth boy named Milo (performed by Seth Green but voiced by an actual child actor) who ends up being whisked away to Mars after his mother is abducted by aliens needing that human parental touch. On the Red Planet, Milo finds help from a fellow stranded Earthling (Dan Fogler; Jack Black must’ve turned them down) and sympathetic locals who look like a cross between “Planet of the Apes” simians and the cast of “Starlight Express.”

Director Simon Wells adapted Berkeley Breathed’s children’s book and tried to expand its slight story into a feature much in the same way that similar tomes “Jumanji” and “The Polar Express” had – to varying degrees of success – in the past. It’s entirely possible that young kids will enjoy the film’s brisk pace and episodic adventures, though visually, it’s a bland, dull looking film with backdrops that look like they’ve been assembled out of the Star Wars prequels and “Tron: Legacy.” What’s more, Zemeckis’ mo-capped CGI once again means we have an odd-looking mix of computer animation and human articulation with stiff characters who lack expression.

Even though it’s not much worse than “The Polar Express,” “Beowulf” and “A Christmas Carol,” the film’s complete failure to generate an audience lead to Disney canceling Zemeckis’ planned motion-captured 3-D remake of “Yellow Submarine” (say it isn’t so!). As I’ve said in the past, here’s hoping Zemeckis goes back to the land of the living from here, leaving this dark (and sure to be heavily dated) section of his filmography behind.

Disney’s 3-D Blu-Ray of “Mars Needs Moms” does include a nifty 1080p transfer that makes good use of the film’s 3-D effects; having been shot specifically for the format, the movie offers one of the better 3-D BD releases I’ve seen of late, despite its rather drab visual pallet. A regular Blu-Ray, DVD and digital copy are also included in the bundle, along with BD-exclusive extras including deleted scenes, an extended opening, a motion-capture filming comparison with commentary, other featurettes, and a DTS-MA soundtrack boasting a very Alan Silvestri-like orchestral score by John Powell.

THE NAME OF THE ROSE Blu-Ray (***, 131 mins., 1986, R; Warner): I’ve written a couple of times that Jean-Jacques Annaud’s films, much like Ridley Scott’s, gain an appreciable amount from Blu-Ray high-definition mastering, and Annaud’s 1986 adaptation of Umberto Eco’s “The Name of the Rose” is no exception.

Sean Connery gives a solid performance as a kind of “medieval Sherlock Holmes”: Brother William of Baskerville, who arrives in a 14th century Benedictine monastery in Northern Italy to investigate a series of murders. F. Murray Abraham, meanwhile, is second-billed in what amounts to little more than a cameo as the grand Inquisitor, who’s called in as the deaths pile up and the monastery hosts an important theological conference.

Annaud’s movie was a commercial failure in the U.S., returning less than half of its budget (Fox opened it on less than 200 screens in September of ‘86), though worldwide the picture did quite well, and at least ranks as one of Connery’s more satisfying starring efforts. The production is impressive, from Dante Ferretti’s sets to Toninio Delli Colli’s cinematography and a moody James Horner score, while supporting turns are filled by a top-notch cast of Michael Lonsdale, William Hickey, Ron Perlman and a young Christian Slater.

Warner’s Blu-Ray release of “The Name of the Rose,” out this week, is well detailed and does wonders for the film’s dark settings, while DTS MA 5.1 audio solidly backs Horner’s score. Extra features aren’t just a simple reprise of the earlier DVD either: Annaud’s commentary is carried over, and added here is a French commentary track Annaud made for an international release with English subtitles. A vintage documentary, the trailer (complete with Fox’s logo attached), and a photo retrospective with Annaud rounds out a fine catalog release from Warner.

Also newly released by Warner is SOLDIER (**½, 99 mins., 1998, R), the 1998 Kurt Russell box-office bomb that cost nearly $75 million and returned only a quarter of that amount.

In spite of its dismal commercial performance and obvious signs of pre-release cutting (Warners dumped it into theaters without much fanfare in the middle of October ‘98), “Soldier” is fairly watchable and even entertaining in stretches for sci-fi fans. The film stars Kurt as a mostly-silent futuristic killing machine who finds himself stranded on a remote planet, where he ultimately battles the genetically-engineered, superior “super soldiers” (including Jason Scott Lee) who hunt him down, protecting the planet’s other survivors (Connie Nielsen among them) in the process.

Russell netted some $15 million for a role that required 79 total words (11 of which, according to Wikipedia, are “sir”), and perhaps in the hands of a director other than “Resident Evil”’s Paul (W.S.) Anderson, “Soldier” might’ve been the legitimate sci-fi epic that “Blade Runner” and “Unforgiven” scribe David Webb Peoples intended when he penned the screenplay. The film starts off badly with a jumbled first third, but moderately improves as it goes along, with reasonably exciting action scenes and a decent Joel McNeely score to boot.

Warner’s Blu-Ray includes a satisfying 1080p AVC encoded transfer, DTS MA audio, and extras carried over from the old DVD including commentary and the trailer.

SOUL SURFER Blu-Ray/DVD (***½, 106 mins., 2011, PG; Sony): Teenage surfer Bethany Hamilton’s real-life rise from national champion to shark attack victim and back again is chronicled in this terrific spring sleeper which generated over $40 million at the box-office last spring – not bad at all for an independently produced “faith-based” film that’s accessible for all audiences and age groups.

Annasophia Robb is thoroughly appealing as the Hawaiian surfer girl whose determination to get back on the water after she loses her left arm makes for an inspiring drama that never becomes overly saccharine. Hamilton’s faith is obviously worn on her sleeve, but there’s no preachy stretches or anything that feels out of place, with director Sean McNamara handling both the movie’s land-based domestic drama and surfing sequences effectively. Helen Hunt and Dennis Quaid are superb as Hamilton’s understanding parents; John R. Leonetti’s cinematography captures the beautiful Hawaiian locales splendidly; and Marco Beltrami’s lovely, gorgeous score is not only one of his best, but easily one of the best scores of 2011 to date.

Sony’s Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack includes a just perfect AVC encoded 1080p transfer of the film with active DTS MA audio. Extras include deleted scenes, featurettes, an interview with Hamilton and the earlier half-hour documentary “Heart of a Soul Surfer,” which recounts Hamilton’s accident. A standard DVD edition is also included.

THE FOX AND THE HOUND/FOX AND THE HOUND 2 Blu-Ray 30th Anniversary: Disney’s charming early ‘80s feature (***, 1981, 83 mins., G; Disney) hits Blu-Ray in a good-looking double-feature pack with its later direct-to-video sequel. The AVC encoded 1080p transfer (1.66) of the original “Fox” includes a colorful, more crisper transfer than its prior 2006 DVD edition and a 5.1 DTS-MA soundtrack that’s gently rechanneled from its original 2-channel mix. Alas, the extras are on the light side, with just one featurette touching upon the movie’s unique place in the Disney canon, falling towards the end of the Ron Miller era and tapping what would be the final involvement of numerous veteran animators. At just over five minutes, though, it’s too brief and offers only quick interview fragments which seem to have been conducted some time ago.

The movie was followed by a lightweight but pleasant made-for-video continuation (2006, 69 mins., G; Disney), though “Fox and the Hound 2" is decidedly not as melancholy as the original. Solid animation and some engaging songs (along with a breezy Joel McNeely score) back the further adventures of Tod and Copper, which kids ought to enjoy (adults may miss the bittersweet tone that the original had, which is almost completely absent here). Disney’s Blu-Ray includes a perfect 1.78 AVC-ecnoded transfer with 5.1 DTS MA audio, along with a music featurette, music video, and standard-def DVD included in the package.

FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF 25th Anniversary Blu-Ray (****, 102 mins., PG-13, 1986): Note: this is a repackaging of Paramount’s prior “Bueller...Bueller...Bueller” edition Blu-Ray with a new slipcover showing a map of the film’s locations; the disc inside is identical to its prior 2009 Blu-Ray release.

The film itself obviously requires little introduction: Hughes’ seminal 1986 film offers Matthew Broderick in one of his quintessential roles as a high schooler who decides to take a day to enjoy the sights and sounds of Chicago, pair up with girlfriend Mia Sara, help his best friend (Alan Ruck) fight his disconnected parents, all the while avoiding his school principal (the marvelous Jeffrey Jones) and obnoxious sister (Jennifer Grey), each in hot pursuit. Hughes’ film has endlessly quotable lines, hilarious moments, and sensational sequences from start ‘til end.

Paramount’s original DVD contained a sporadic commentary from Hughes (which was excised from the 2006 Special Edition as well as this Blu-Ray package), but nothing in the way of Making Of material.

The Blu-Ray “Bueller...Bueller...” edition rectifies that by adding four excellent featurettes which essentially comprise an hour-long documentary: “Getting the Class Together,” “The Making of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “Who Is Ferris Bueller?” and “The World According To Ben Stein” offer fresh interviews with Matthew Broderick, Alan Ruck, Jeffrey Jones, Jennifer Grey, Ben Stein, producer Tom Jacobson, co-star Edie McClurg and other supporting players, with vintage interviews of John Hughes and Mia Sara interspersed throughout.

These featurettes offer a delightful retrospective on the production of the movie and the often improvisational nature of Hughes’ style. Consequently, it’s refreshing (and deservedly so) to see as much attention here given to the “bit parts” that made “Ferris Bueller” a classic, from McClurg and Ben Stein to Richard Edson and Kristy Swanson, as opposed to stars like Broderick, Ruck and Jones. Everyone discusses how quickly the film went into production, how fast Hughes worked on the script, and how willing the director was to let his cast take chances -- all of which paid off splendidly with a movie that remains a viewer favorite, now some two decades after its initial release (was I just out of 5th grade that long ago? Yikes!).

The Blu-Ray also offers “The Lost Tapes,” a series of videotaped 1986 interviews with the stars mostly in-character, in addition to taped footage of the dining room sequence -- noteworthy here because it contains dialogue which didn’t make it into the final cut. A photo gallery rounds out the disc, which sports a superb 1080p transfer in the film’s original Super 35 2.35 aspect ratio, as well as an active Dolby TrueHD soundtrack.

“Ferris Bueller” is one of a handful of fine John Hughes films that remain as current today as they were when initially released. Isn’t it a shame that we no longer see movies about adolescents made with not just the humor but the sincerity and energy that Hughes brought to “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”

THE PERFECT GAME Blu-Ray (**½, 117 mins., 2008, PG; Image): Well-meaning, entertaining – if occasionally syrupy – film that chronicles a group of Mexican little-leaguers who defy the odds en route to participating in the 1957 Little League World Series, “The Perfect Game” didn’t make a ton of noise in theaters but is poised to find an audience this month on home video. 

William Dear directed this underdog tale, adapted by W. William Winokur from his own book, that pushes all the requisite sports movie-buttons, and doesn’t offer much in the way of period atmosphere (some of the editing and cinematography is also distracting), yet its performances are strong (Clifton Collins Jr. as the team’s coach; Cheech Marin as their supportive priest) and Bill Conti’s flavorful score chips in a spirited assist.
Image’s Blu-Ray includes commentary from Dear, the trailer and a featurette; the 1080p AVC encoded transfer is just fine and 5.1 DTS MA audio completes the package.

HOODWINKED TOO! HOOD VS. EVIL Blu-Ray/DVD (*½, 87 mins., 2011, PG; Anchor Bay): Belated sequel to the pleasant enough 2005 animated movie fizzled out at the box-office (even with 3-D showings) and with good reason: this warmed-over kids flick is lighter on humor than its predecessor and feels awfully tired as it serves up sub-Dreamworks comedy with “Red” (Riding Hood) trying to save Hansel and Gretel from a wicked witch. All kinds of celebrity voices are on-hand, but unless you’ve got indiscriminating young viewers in your household, there’s not much reason to check out this sequel, which hits Blu-Ray on August 16th in a combo pack also featuring a standard DVD platter. The AVC encoded 1080p transfer is excellent, as is the DTS MA sound, while extras include a featurette, storyboards, and a trio of music videos.

Also New & Noteworthy       

EVERWOOD: Season 4 DVD (948 mins., 2005-06; Warner): One of the more acclaimed series that aired on the now-defunct WB network, “Everwood”’s fourth and final season wraps up the storylines involving the Abbott family, who moved to the scenic mountain town of Everwood from their urban confines at the behest of Treat Williams’ late wife.

22 episodes comprise the series’ swan song, which finds its characters choosing love, family and friendship in a satisfying cap to a solid family-drama that, though it never attained massive ratings, nevertheless cultivated a loyal fan base.

Warner’s five-disc DVD set includes 16:9 (1.78) transfers and 2.0 soundtracks. Extra features include over 40 minutes of deleted scenes, including an alternate, 10-minute finale that would’ve been likely used had the show been renewed for another year.

QUARANTINE 2: TERMINAL DVD (86 mins., 2011, R; Sony): Now here’s a pleasant surprise: a direct-to-video sequel (more of a “parallel” follow-up) to the English remake of “Rec” that’s a bit more entertaining than its predecessor.

In “Quarantine 2,” the virus that most thought was confined to an L.A. tenement ends up infecting the unknowing passengers of a red eye flight from L.A. to the east coast. This claustrophobic setting enables a similar rehash of its predecessor’s premise – with the infected turning into particularly nasty zombies – and director-writer John Pogue handles it all with sufficient tension. Make no mistake, “Quarantine 2" isn’t anything extraordinary, but given the parameters of its genre, this is a no-nonsense, effectively rendered picture that ought to satisfy horror fans.

Sony’s DVD includes a 16:9 transfer (1.85) of the film with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

NEW FROM E ONE and MPI: James Gunn’s SUPER (96 mins., 2011, R) came out at a bad time, having to follow Matthew Vaughn’s “Kick-Ass” with a similar premise of an ordinary guy (Rainn Wilson) who dons a super-hero outfit in an effort to save his ex-addict wife (Liv Tyler) from a local drug dealer (Kevin Bacon). “Super” doesn’t entirely connect with its uneven tone but it’s nevertheless a fitfully amusing, off-the-wall affair with Ellen Page co-starring as Wilson’s sidekick and appearances put in by Nathan Fillion, Michael Rooker and Linda Cardellini among others. IFC’s Blu-Ray includes a 1080p transfer and sufficient extras (deleted scenes, trailers, TV spots, commentary and featurettes) though only a 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack...“Gossip Girl”’s Connor Paolo stars as a young protégé of vampire hunter Nick Damici as they navigate across a post-apocalyptic America besieged by vampires in Jim Mickle’s indie horror effort, STAKE LAND (98 mins., 2010, R). This Dark Sky/MPI Blu-Ray offers a loaded Special Edition of “Stake Land” (multiple commentaries, Making Of materials, Toronto Film Festival premiere footage, video diaries and character prequel featurettes) but it’s a fairly pedestrian, low-budget pastiche of other, better horrors...E One’s August slate includes DVDs of Comedy Central stand-up specials JOHN PINETTE: STILL HUNGRY (90 mins., 2011) and LAVELL CRAWFORD: CAN A BROTHER GET SOME LOVE? (90 mins., 2011), each including 16:9 transfers and behind-the-scenes bonus footage.

NEXT TIME: A cinematic rundown of Summer '11 releases! Until then, don't forget to drop in on the official Aisle Seat Message Boards and direct any emails to our email address. Cheers everyone!

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