8/23/05 Edition

End Of August Mania!

Plus: The Latest TV on DVD Box Sets

It’s incredible how quickly this summer has flown by. One sure sign of September -- along with kids going back to school, college students taking over stores in place of tourists from out of state, and our local Rhode Island beaches thankfully becoming less crowded -- is the number of DVDs that begin to arrive here at our Aisle Seat offices. It’s fast becoming a rite of late summer; while DVDs are spread out leisurely during the summer months, as soon as “The Fall” arrives (even if it’s several weeks ahead of its actual beginning), everything is kicked up a notch (sorry Emeril!).

Already I’ve received a slew of new TV on DVD box sets -- a category that, not surprisingly, also comprises nearly all of my next “Laserphile” column for FSM -- but that’s far from all. Numerous new re-issues and re-packagings of previously issued, popular titles are also out there -- and in abundance as September (gasp!) arrives!

Next week I’ll have a look at Universal’s eagerly anticipated Legacy Editions of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, THE STING, and THE DEER HUNTER. In the meantime, here’s a preview of what you can expect from both new and new re-issues on DVD in the next few days...

DVD Re-Issues and Re-Packagings

THE TRANSPORTER: “SPECIAL DELIVERY EDITION” (**½, 93 mins., PG-13, 2002; Fox): Jason Statham manages to keep a straight face as an ex-military man who currently enjoys his profession as a sleek smuggler on the French Mediterranean coast. He's tough, professional, and unkind to strangers, at least until he meets his latest top-secret cargo -- a sexy young Chinese girl (Shu Qi) -- who soon manages to have Frank Martin questioning his lack of ethics.

This slick and good-looking action movie was produced and co-written by Luc Besson, which would explain the picture's explosive style and lack of narrative substance. Like "The Professional" but with the story removed, THE TRANSPORTER is an efficient action movie with a few good fights and car chases, but not a whole lot more. Still, action fans may want to peek a look and will likely enjoy what they see.

Newly re-issued to coincide with next week’s release of “Transporter 2,” Fox's DVD offers a gorgeous 2.35 transfer (kudos to photographer Pierre Morel) and a non-stop, bass-heavy 5.1 surround track, offering an OK score by Stanley Clarke. Special features include "uncut" action scenes that were trimmed to accommodate a PG-13 rating, commentary by Statham and producer Steven Chasman, a "Making Of" featurette, and the original trailer -- all of which were on the original DVD. So what’s new? A half-hour French featurette (mostly subtitled) is included along with storyboards and a look at the upcoming sequel.

PRETTY WOMAN: 15TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION (***, 125 mins., 1990, R, Touchstone): Garry Marshall’s box-office smash gets its third go-around on DVD on September 6th. While such “triple dips” are usually best left for die-hard fans of the film, thankfully this affordable re-issue (about $15 in most locales) offers enough incentives for prospective buyers.

Chief among the upgrades is a new 16:9 enhanced transfer, which marks the first anamorphic presentation of the 1990 film on DVD. Yes, it DID take a while, but the results are worth it: crisply remastered, this is a big upgrade on the previous DVD versions, at least from a visual standpoint. The movie is presented in its 125-minute “Director’s Cut,” and includes Marshall’s audio commentary, which seems to be a newly recorded track (and not merely a reprisal of the laserdisc track from the ‘90s).

Other extras include a vintage 1990 promo featurette, Natalie Cole’s “Wild Women Do” video, the original trailer, and a blooper reel. A pair of featurettes (“Live From the Wrap Party,” taken from a camcorder source, and “LA: The Pretty Woman Tour,” which includes a map of the film’s locales) round out the disc, which also contains a satisfying 5.1 Dolby Digital mix.

The film remains a romantic fairy tale, a total star vehicle for Julia Roberts and Richard Gere, and isn’t to be taken too seriously. It’s still highly entertaining, glossy romantic-comedy, and Touchstone’s DVD finally gets it right -- albeit the third time around!

TOY STORY: 10TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION (***½, 81 mins., 1995, G; Disney): Has it really been a decade since the release of Disney/Pixar’s “Toy Story”? This brilliant, and still fresh, entertainment for viewers of all ages will certainly go down as one of the most influential films of the last several decades. Its utilization of 3-D computer animation single-handedly ushered in the CGI era for modern “family films” (and virtually signaled the death knell for hand-drawn work), paving the way for the “Shreks” of the world to follow.

Still, the central story is what makes the film so captivating: there are more technically complex CGI movies being made today, but the warmth of the characters and the emotion of the original “Toy Story” remain unsurpassed in its genre, even ten years later.

Disney’s two-disc 10th Anniversary edition contains numerous supplements from the studio’s superlative (and out-of-print) “Toy Story: The Ultimate Toy Box” box set, and adds a few new wrinkles as well. The 1.77 widescreen transfer is fantastic (though you’ll have to be a stickler to see much of a difference between this and the original DVD), while the addition of a DTS soundtrack (plus a new 5.1 Dolby EX track mixed by Oscar winner Gary Rydstrom) is sure to please audiophiles. A fresh, but sadly short (only 15 minutes) “Legacy of Toy Story” documentary includes new interviews with the principal filmmakers and talent like Tom Hanks and Tim Allen, while Pixar director John Lasseter appears in a new “Filmmakers Reflect” featurette. Other extras include deleted scenes, a sneak preview of Disney/Pixar’s “Cars,” several interactive games (including the new “The Claw!”), and numerous “Easter Eggs” scattered around the set.

SWAMP THING (**½, 91 mins., 1982, PG; MGM/Sony): MGM’s initial DVD of the 1982 Avco-Embassy box-office dud “Swamp Thing” offered the unexpurgated, R-rated international version of Wes Craven’s film. Now a collector’s item -- primarily for its uncensored footage of Adrienne Barbeau’s breasts -- MGM has re-issued what they intended to release the first time around: the PG-rated U.S. theatrical version of the movie, which was never intended to include Ms. Barbeau’s considerable assets to begin with.

“Swamp Thing” is a sort-of clunky adaptation of the DC Comics protagonist, which over time turned into a trippy, adult comic book (or “graphic novel” as they say nowadays). One could see a “Swamp Thing” movie made today being a graphic and surreal affair, but back in ‘82, the property was filmed as a straight monster flick -- with too much talk and not enough action (almost certainly the result of a meager production budget). It’s not a total slog in the swamp, however: Barbeau’s performance and some hammy work from villainous Louis Jourdan do partially overcome the movie’s sluggish pace.

MGM/Sony’s new DVD seems to be a bit sharper and more satisfying than the original DVD, with both 16:9 and full-screen transfers available. The original trailer is included as the lone extra.

THE BREAKIN’ COLLECTION: Contains BREAKIN’, BREAKIN’ 2: ELECTRIC BUGALOO, and BEAT STREET (MGM/Sony): Four-disc box set from MGM and Sony celebrates the birth of hip-hop culture through three exploitation faves and a new bonus disc of extras.

It certainly doesn't get any more "80's" than Cannon's box-office hit about a would-be classical dancer (Lucinda Dickey) who joins up with a pair of street dancers (Adolfo "Shabba Doo" Quinones, Michael "Boogaloo Shrimp" Chambers) in “Breakin’,” a pleasing mix of "Flashdance" and an old Judy Garland-Mickey Rooney musical. Early appearances by the likes of Ice-T (as a club DJ) and Christopher McDonald -- chewing up the scenery even back in '84 -- add a bit of flavor to the colorful moves and grooves in Joel Silberg's movie, while the quickly-filmed BREAKIN’ 2: ELECTRIC BUGALOO offers more of the same.

BEAT STREET, meanwhile, had just a bit more ambition behind it: this 1984 Orion favorite is generally regarded as a bona-fide “hip hop” old-school classic, with a cast including Rae Dawn Chong and Guy Davis, plus music co-produced by Harry Belafonte. (Heck, even “Amadeus” Oscar-winner Patrizia Von Brandenstein handled the production design!).

MGM’s four-disc box set offers a reprisal of the previously-available “Breakin,” “Breakin’ 2" and “Beat Street” DVDs, with the latter presented in 16:9 widescreen and the former two in full-screen (open matte) presentations. Only the exterior packaging is different on the discs, making the fourth DVD the main incentive to pick up the set. “The Breakin’ DVD Collection Bonus Disc” offers trailers, a photo gallery, two documentaries (“The Culture of Hip Hop” and “The Four Elements”) and vintage breakdance/hip-hop footage making for a recommended view for all nostalgic ‘80s groove-meisters (and you know you’re out there!).

New Date Movies on DVD

A LOT LIKE LOVE (**½, 2005, 107 mins., PG-13; Touchstone): Ashton Kutcher and Amanda Peet make for an appealing couple who just can’t get it together romantically in this engaging enough romantic comedy.

Set over a six-year span, Colin Patrick Lynch’s script at times feels like a stage play, with Kutcher’s would-be internet mogul and Peet’s aspiring, slightly neurotic actress meeting in New York and then crossing paths every few years. The typical obstacles come in their path: failed relationships with other partners, dashed career goals and general bad timing among them.

The first hour of director Nigel Cole’s film works best: Kutcher is nicely dialed down from his sometimes manic screen persona, and sparks do fly between him and Peet. The duo make for a sympathetic couple that you genuinely care about, but the movie ultimately can’t come up with anything original or interesting to put in their way as it nears its stretch run.

Still, “A Lot Like Love” is a lot more entertaining than a lot of recent genre films (see “The Wedding Date” below), and is certainly worth a rental for aficionados of date movies or “chick flicks” as they call ‘em.

Touchstone’s DVD includes a satisfying 1.85 transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, sporting a pleasant soundtrack of pop songs and Thomas Newman-like underscore by Alex Wurman. Extras include several deleted scenes, a blooper reel, music video, and commentary from director Cole and producers Armyan Bernstein and Kevin Messick.

THE WEDDING DATE (*1/2, 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 wedding...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 DVD includes a colorful, bright 1.85 transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital 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.

New TV on DVD

Buena Vista has three new TV on DVD offerings on the plate this week: the Complete Series of last fall’s LIFE AS WE KNOW IT (2004, 558 mins.), the Complete Third Season of BOY MEETS WORLD (1995-96, 491 mins.) and the Complete Second Season of ONCE AND AGAIN (1999-2000, 991 mins.).

“Life As We Know It” was a short-lived, and well-intentioned, attempt at creating an “honest” teen drama, more “My So-Called Life” (or “Dawson’s Creek”) than “O.C.”-esque glossy soap. The resulting show didn’t fly: ABC yanked the series due to poor ratings in spite of decent reviews, but Buena Vista’s DVD offers the entire series (including two shows that didn’t air) with selected commentaries, deleted scenes, bloopers and satisfying full-screen transfers.

The long-running sitcom “Boy Meets World” and the critically lauded -- though often poorly-rated -- “Once and Again” are, needless to say, more well-known commodities.

The goofy, juvenile laughs of “Boy Meets World” were always balanced by a sincere attempt at developing the interaction between amiable characters with genuine heart and soul. Buena Vista’s newest box-set of the ‘90s Friday night “TGIF” staple includes the full run of 22 third-season episodes in solid full-screen transfers and Dolby Digital sound. Extras are limited to an interactive “Pop Quiz.”

“Once and Again,” meanwhile, was never (much like “thirtysomething”) a favorite of mine, but fans of the series should certainly appreciate the series’ second season arriving somewhat belatedly on DVD (the first season debuted on disc back in 2002). The box-set includes all of the drama’s 22 second-season shows in passable full-screen transfers and selected audio commentaries from the show’s creators.

Available from Fox next week, meanwhile, is the Fourth Volume of GARFIELD & FRIENDS (1991-93, 528 mins.), the highly entertaining and successful CBS Saturday morning adaptation of Jim Davis’ Garfield and “U.S. Acres” cartoon strips.

This latest three-disc box-set offers 24 episodes (culled from a two-year span) from the series, and fans will be happy to note that the transfers and soundtracks are appreciably superior on this set to Fox’s previous DVD editions. As with before, the shows offer an appealing blend of Garfield’s sarcastic shenanigans and the rural, folksy charm served up by “U.S. Acres.”
Fans should note a fifth and final volume of “Garfield & Friends” will be out before year’s end, completing the whole run of the show on DVD!

Also New on DVD

LITTLE EINSTEINS: OUR HUGE ADVENTURE (2005, 61 mins., Disney): Cute animated feature aimed at young kids is a spin-off from the bestselling “Little Einstein” toddler videos also produced by Disney. This first adventure in the “Little Einsteins” animated series (apparently a Saturday morning ABC show launching in September) follows a group of four kids and their musical ship as they absorb a festival of performing arts (and, of course, have a bit of fun in the process). Disney’s DVD is a perfect launching pad for the upcoming series and offers interactive games for kids just old enough to have graduated from the earlier “Einstein” videos.

NEXT TIME: Universal's LEGACY Editions, SAHARA and More!
Don't forget to drop in on the official Aisle Seat Message Boards, direct any emails to the link above and we'll catch you then. Cheers!


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