Tuesday, March 27, 2007

THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE (Warner Bros. 1936) Warner Home Video

A massive undertaking. A staggering achievement – words that accurately describe Michael Curtiz’s The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936); Errol Flynn’s most lavishly mounted and sumptuously produced spectacle. Ever the meticulous planner, Curtiz oversaw the production down to its last detail, using authentic postage stamps and uniforms actually worn by the 27th Dragoons in the film.


Flynn is top cast as the dashingly arrogant Maj. Geoffrey Vickers – an officer and a gentleman, but with an axe to grind. While on maneuvers, Vickers barracks are attacked by marauding cutthroats under the command of Surat Khan (C. Henry Gordon). The outpost is ravaged and British men, women and children are ruthlessly slaughtered.


Though Vickers officers, Col. Campbell (Donald Crisp) and Capt. James Randall (David Niven) encourage prudence and reserve in making their next move, the memory of those innocent deaths is ingrained, and Vickers vows a more valiant – if bloody - revenge.


Somewhat forced to concoct a subplot that would reunited Flynn with his frequent costar, Olivia de Havilland, the screenplay by Michael Jacoby and Ronald Lee inserted a rather generic lover’s triangle involving Vickers, Col. Campbell’s daughter, Elsa (de Havilland) and Vickers’ brother, Capt. Perry (Patric Knowles) – a bone of contention for no one but purist historians.


Based on the poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson, the production shot in Sonora, the High Sierras and Chatsworth, wrapping up at a then staggering cost of $1,200,000.00. Aside: although the best scene in the film is the final ‘charge’ that Vickers launches against Khan’s insurmountable forces, ironically this is the one sequence that Curtiz deferred to his second unit director – B. Reeves Eason. Nevertheless, Curtiz trademark for exemplary quality above most is evident in every frame. The film, a colossal smash when it debuted elevated Flynn to ultra-hunk status in the eyes of his adoring fans.


Warner Home Video’s DVD exhibits a stunning B&W transfer. The benefactor of considerable digital restoration (previous incarnations have looked average to down-right poor) this DVD’s grayscale has been beautifully mastered. Blacks are velvety deep and solid. Whites are generally clean. There is a minimum of grain and other age-related artifacts for a very smooth visual presentation. The audio is mono but adequately represented. Extras include Warner Night at the Movies (minus Leonard Maltin’s intros) and a litany of vintage short subjects. Highly recommended!


FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
4.5

VIDEO/AUDIO
4.5

EXTRAS
3

DIVE BOMBER (Warner Bros. 1941) Warner Home Video

Michael Curtiz’s Dive Bomber (1941) attempts to serve double duty; on one front as a sort of ‘how-to’ documentary made with the full cooperation of the Naval Air Corps, and on another, as a sloppily executed melodrama in which Errol Flynn is miscast as Lt. Douglas Lee – a surgeon who spends the bulk of the story selflessly devoted to aviation medicine

Lt. Cmdr. Joe Blake (Fred MacMurray) is, at first, a skeptic of Lee’s methodologies. He knows the real reason for Lee’s passion – that once, he botched an operation on a pilot who died on his table. However, Blake sets aside personal difference to understand Lee’s investigation of the phenomenon of pilot blackouts induced by G-force during dive bombing. In a cross between Dr. Kildare and Mrs. Miniver, Flynn becomes the Florence Nightingale of the airforce, a gifted physician whose commitment to flyers is unrequited – since Flynn never does make it into a plane himself.

The screenplay by Frank Wead and Robert Buckner periodically tosses aside this aerial scenario for maneuvers a little closer to home, with Lee falling hard for Mrs. Linda Fisher (the wooden Alexis Smith again). Theirs’ is a troubled and stultified affair that thankfully - takes a backseat to the spectacular aerial acrobatics. Dive Bomber is inconsistent entertainment at best. It’s passable Flynn, but not terribly engaging war time propaganda. Occasionally, there’s a brief sequence of daring excitement – but, on the whole, the film is a crash and burn long before anyone’s wings have been clipped.

Warner Home Video’s DVD is, in a word – atrocious! The Technicolor is grossly unbalanced throughout and severely misregistered during many sequences, resulting in a soft blurry image with very distracting halos. Flesh tones are garishly pink and pasty. Contrast levels appear weak, with blacks registering as more of a soft gray and whites as a dully gray. Worse – there is a litany of imbedded dirt, scratches and other age related anomalies that, at times, are quite distracting. The audio is mono but adequately rendered. The only extra is a brief featurette on the making of the film. Not recommended.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
3

VIDEO/AUDIO
2.5

EXTRAS
2

Saturday, March 24, 2007

THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA: Blu-ray (20th Century-Fox 2006) Fox Home Video

David Frankel’s The Devil Wears Prada (2006) is an astute, often unflattering backstage pass into the glittering glam-bam of the fashion industry; a world inhabited by shallow vixens and scheming backstabbers, unrelenting in their drive to succeed. The film stars precocious Anne Hathaway as Andy Sachs, a college graduate and aspiring journalist who interviews for an assistant’s position at ‘Runway’ Magazine.

This formidable kingdom of sketch and design is run by barracuda, Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep); a sadist whose sense of personal entitlement allows her to mistreat staff with equal contempt and disregard. Hired on a whim, as Miranda later puts it – taking a chance on the “smart, fat girl”, Andy soon realizes she has entered a lair of heightened temptations she knows absolutely nothing about. Her only guide is Emily Charlton (Emily Blunt) - an uppity senior assistant who chides Andy every chance she gets. 

Predictably, Andy repeatedly falters in her initial – and quite demanding – assignments. She confides to her live-in boyfriend, Nate (Adrian Grenier) that her days are numbered. She has repeatedly incurred Miranda’s wrath. But then the unexpected happens; a quiet mutual understanding after Andy achieves the seemingly impossible coup for Miranda of getting her snotty twins a copy of the as yet unpublished latest Harry Potter manuscript. 

Andy’s one semi-sympathetic confidant within ‘Runway’s’ hallowed halls is assistant editor, Nigel (superbly played Stanley Tucci), who is all too familiar with the scheming politics and shifting alliances that make up the back story of haute couture. However, as time wears on and patience wear thin, Andy begins to understand how much of a sacrifice is involved. The only question thereafter – is she willing to sell out for ‘the good life?’

Director Frankel is working from a brilliant screenplay, adapted from Lauren Weisberger’s best-selling novel by Aline Brosh McKenna that goes much deeper into the subculture of ‘creating beautiful images’ that will sell next year’s spring line. We are given substance with purpose, and, purpose with rich characterizations that transcend the gaudiness and glitz of make-believe. It is refreshing to see Hathaway grown into something of an actress since her Princess Diary days. I'm not a Hathaway fan, but she's engaging, appealing and very sympathetic in this part. No more could be expected.

Meryl Streep delivers a potent performance as the vial hard-edged bitch of the boardroom, but with a tinge of tragedy that considerably humanizes her frosty exterior. Though she would adopt a distinctly American accent for the role, Streep based Amanda Priestley on Vogue's British editor-in-chief Anna 'nuclear' Wintour, a force to be reckoned with in the fashion world. 

Stanley Tucci is delicious as the jaded, though clairvoyant, gay ‘spirit guide’ for Andy’s transformation from naïve girl to fashion savvy waif. The Devil Wears Prada is a great film – not simply for its performances, but because it intimately knows the world it’s trying to recreate and is able to convey the depth and weight of its subject matter – not merely extol and celebrate its superficial veneer.

Yep, here we go again. Fox Home Video stiffs us on the extras on their Blu-ray. I cannot understand the executive mentality that continues to plague Fox Blu-ray reissues of movies already available on DVD - minus their extra features. What? Like we're supposed to be soooooo grateful to have a 1080p transfer that we're willing to overlook being short changed on extras already available?!?

Ho-hum. The Devil Wears Prada is single layered and looks okay on Blu, but the quantum leap from the DVD just isn't there. Colors are robust and vibrant. Flesh tones are very natural. Contrast is ideally balanced. Blacks are velvety smooth and deep. Whites are pristine. The overall image is crisp and sharp without being digitally harsh. Fine details are evident even during the darkest scenes. Edge enhancement is briefly detected but pixelization and other anomalies do not exist.  This looks like a straight import of the same digital files used to mint the DVD rather than a tru-1080p re-scan. Can't say for sure, although I am pretty sure.  The audio is 5.1 Dolby Digital and delivers an aggressive spread. If you already own the DVD I don't endorse this repurchase. 

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
4

VIDEO/AUDIO
3.5

EXTRAS
0

THE GREEN MILE (Warner Bros. 1994) Warner Home Video

Set in 1930s prison culture, Frank Daramont’s The Green Mile (1999) is a rather vane attempt at revisiting the sustained melodramatic poignancy of The Shawshank Redemption (1994). Based on Stephen King’s novel – basically a reworking of the crucifixion with Michael Clarke Duncan’s John Coffey as the Christ figure (spiritual guide, healer, all seeing/all knowing man of God, wrongfully accused of crimes he did not commit and sentenced to death by the state), the film’s story is relayed by nursing home resident, Paul Edgecomb (Dabbs Greer).

In his youth, Edgecomb (played in flashbacks by the rather wooden Tom Hanks), was a guard in charge of death row inmates. Suffering from a bladder infection and kidney stones, Edgecomb is seemingly cured of his ailments when inmate John Coffey (Duncan), a towering, muscle-bound giant, but with the heart of a child, places his healing hands on Edgecomb’s person.
Coffey has been convicted of the rape and murder of two children.

However, as time wears on, Edgecomb begins to believe that Coffey – in addition to being innocent – may, indeed, be the contemporary embodiment of the messiah. The quiet understanding between Coffey and Edgecomb is mildly meaningful at best and escapist melodramatic at its worst. Lengthy and leaden for the most part, The Green Mile is passable entertainment.

Darabont’s direction is solid, though slightly predictable and occasionally prone to fits of cliché that weaken the overall impact of the story. The execution of Eduard Delecroix (Michael Jeter), for example, in which perverse sadist, Percy Wetmore (Doug Hutchison) deliberately forgets to wet the sponge during electrocution, is a sustained cinematic exercise in the macabre without any build up.

Warner Home Video’s new 2-disc Special Edition DVD is rather disappointing. The film is spread across both discs with an intrusive interruption about two-thirds of the way through its narrative. Colors are fully saturated, bold and vibrant. Contrast levels are nicely realized. Blacks are deep. Whites are pristine. Fine details are evident throughout.

However, there is a persistent amount of edge enhancement riddled throughout this presentation, resulting in an image that – at times – is quite unstable. Vertical and horizontal lines shimmer, and there is also a minor amount of pixelization. The audio is 5.1 Dolby Digital and delivers a fairly aggressive spread across all five channels.

Extras include a six part documentary on the making of the film that provide thorough and comprehensive coverage; an audio commentary that adds as much; additional scenes, and the film’s original theatrical trailer.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
3

VIDEO/AUDIO
3.5

EXTRAS
3.5

EVER AFTER: Blu-ray (20th Century-Fox 1998) Fox Home Video

Andy Tennant’s Ever After (1998) is a sumptuously mounted and ever so slight revision of the traditional Cinderella fable. The film stars Drew Barrymore as Danielle De Barbarac. Born to privilege, the young Danielle’s world is shattered when her father, Auguste (Jeroen Krabbe) dies of a heart attack in her arms.


Danielle’s stepmother, the jealous Baroness Rodmilla De Ghent (Angelica Huston) seizes upon the tragedy to transform Danielle into the family’s servant, waiting hand and foot on her own daughters’ every whim; the spoiled and simpering Marguerite (Megan Dodds) and infinitely more understanding, Jacqueline (Melanie Lynskey).


However, a ray of hope enters Danielle’s bitter life when she attacks the handsome Prince Henry (Dougray Scott) whom she first mistakes as a common thief. The prince must marry – and soon, such is the royal decree and wish of his parents, King Francis (Timothy West) and Queen Mary (Judy Parfitt). 


Henry seeks the counsel of trusted friend, Leonardo (Patrick Godfrey). Meanwhile, Danielle skulks away to impersonate a lady of stature. She arrives at a lavish court ball and wins Henry's heart. But the Baroness has other plans. She exposes Danielle as a fraud, incurring Henry's wrath. She then sells Danielle's bond in servitude to Pierre Le Pieu (Richard O'Brien). But Pierre gets more than he bargained for when Danielle proves herself to be a formidable enemy. 


Henry's wedding day to Princess Gabriella (Virginia Garcia) arrives. But as the groom reluctantly prepares to take his bride to the altar she weeps so terribly for another that Henry cannot help but realize once and for all that his own heart belongs to Danielle. Rushing to Pierre's foreboding castle, Henry is startled to discover Danielle already on her way home. He offers her his hand in marriage, explaining that her station in life means absolutely nothing to him and Danielle agrees to marry him.  


Ever After is a rather straight forward retelling of the Cinderella fairy tale. I can recall at the time of the film's release director Andy Tennant touted it as 'something new'. But actually, the opposite is true. Apart from the bookends that take place with the Brother's Grimm attempting to learn 'the truth' behind the Cinderella fable, the rest of the story is pretty much what we all remember from our childhoods and the 1950 Disney animated classic (minus the magical fairy godmother). That said, director Tennant is particularly engaged on this outing. What might otherwise have become a cliché ridden and predictable regurgitation of a story we know all too well, is instead refreshingly bright and spirited. 


There is just enough comedy to sustain the subtleties of romance without crushing it into romantic farce. Drew Barrymore and Dougray Scott make for a winning couple that we can truly cheer for and hope that they come together. Angelica Houston is a formidable villain, striking just the right chord of menace. In the end, Ever After proves a winsome escape from the everyday in one of the longest running ‘happily-ever-afters’ on record.


Fox Home Video gives us another Blu-ray exported from tired old digital files used to derive the original DVD. This is not a 1080p rescan but a 720p image bumped up to a 1080p signal. The results, predictably, do not live up to expectations. Yes, the image tightens up. It's sharper than the DVD and ever so slightly more bold in its color rendering. But we don't get that 'wow' and 'snap' that a true rescan would have given us. It isn't that the Blu-ray is awful - just not stellar and frankly, there is NO GOOD REASON why it should not be amazing. The audio is 5.1 DTS and nicely realized. 


FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
3.5

VIDEO/AUDIO
3

EXTRAS
0

EXTREME MEASURES (Castlerock 1996) Warner Home Video

Michael Apted’s Extreme Measures (1996) is a bone-chilling, bare-knuckled medical thriller. The film stars Hugh Grant as brilliant doctor in residence, Guy Luthan. However, Guy’s future in medicine is brought into question when he begins to investigate the sudden death of Claude Minkins (Shaun Austin-Olsen), an escapee patient who died on Guy’s watch and whose body has since mysteriously vanished.


Soon Guy begins to suspect a conspiracy is taking place right under his nose at the hospital – one in which innocent healthy patient’s are being experimented on for the purpose of stem cell research. Guy’s key suspect is noted surgeon, Dr. Lawrence Myrick (Gene Hackman), a man too readily available to provide alterior motives and theories.


Unable to quantify his suspicions, Guy engages nurse, Jodie Trammel (Sarah Jessica Parker) to access classified files. But Guy is discovered by his superior, Dr. Jeffrey Manko (Paul Guilfoyle) and placed on suspension. Soon, Guy realizes that the forces at work are not merely engaged in a cover up, but they are also plotting to have him killed.


Director Apted manages to create and sustain an ominous sense of foreboding throughout the entire film. As an audience, we are drawn into Guy’s speculations from the start and forced to consider his, and our own, growing paranoia. The screenplay by Tony Gilroy (based on the book by Michael Palmer), delivers top notch thrills – never allowing the tension to subside, but constantly evolving the narrative to its climactic showdown. Taut, compelling, and ultimately, unsettling, Extreme Measures is required viewing.


Warner Home Video’s DVD exhibits adequate image quality. The anamorphic widescreen image has been nicely rendered with rich, fully saturated colors, solidly rendered contrast levels and a considerable amount of fine detail evident throughout. Age related artifacts persist, but do not distract. A slight hint of edge enhancement also intrudes. Certain scenes appear to suffer from film grain, transferred as digital grit. The audio is 5.1 Dolby Digital and aggressively enveloping. There are NO extras. Recommended!


FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
4.5

VIDEO/AUDIO
4

EXTRAS
0

TEA WITH MUSSOLINI (G2 Productions 1999) MGM Home Video

Franco Zeffirelli’s Tea With Mussolini (1999) is a somewhat maudlin melodrama derived from Zeffirelli’s own life experiences as a boy growing up during the Second World War in Fascist Italy. An occasionally moving homage to the last days of polite association between ‘the Scorpioni’ – English women who descended on Florence with sublime misguided thoughts of absorbing its’ art and culture – and the local color, Zeffirelli’s tribute begins in earnest with a quandary over illegitimate child, Luca (Charlie Lucas as a child, Baird Wallace as a young man).

After running away from the Italian orphanage, Luca is taken in by Mary Wallace (Joan Plowright) and her cloistered gaggle of friends led by cockeyed artist, Arabella (Judi Dench) and butch excavator/archivist, Georgie Rockwell (Lily Tomlin). Lady Hester Random (Maggie Smith) frowns upon the association.

It is one thing to have a child, Hester reasons, and quite another to assume someone else’s responsibility to look after the welfare of one. Then again, Hester’s undying attachment to her late husband’s memory and all-consuming belief that Italy’s dictator (Claudio Spadaro) will honor that association, does seem to muddle her otherwise clear – if pompous - thinking.

Enter austentacious American collector, Elsa Morganthal Strauss-Armistan (Cher), whose affinity for Luca’s late mother leads her to set up a trust fund that will help look after the boy as he grows into maturity and adulthood. For a time, this eclectic bunch does live in a sort of suspended pastoral bliss – but one that is doomed to destruction with the onset of WWII.

Zeffirelli’s filmic prowess seems a tad stifled and uninspired on this outing. It is as though he required another hour of running time to properly unravel the tale, but was instead instructed into an enless montage of briefly engaging vignettes that embody much of the middle and final act of his film.

What Zeffirelli relies quite heavily on is not so much a development of narrative, but the audiences’ embracement of the actresses in their ensemble roles to propel the story onward. At least in terms of casting, Zeffirelli is most blessed. The ladies are an eclectic bunch of fascinating character studies; Cher and Maggie Smith the most fascinating and engaging; Plowright and Tomlin holding their own with what little they’ve been given to do. Baird Wallace makes a success of Luca, though he remains the only male character in the film to be delineated in anything beyond cardboard cutout. Tea With Mussolini is an interesting experiment, but one not entirely realized in the end.

MGM’s DVD is disappointing. The anamorphic widescreen image exhibits an overly soft characteristic with artifical sharpening, resulting in a considerable amount of edge enhancement. Contrast levels appear slightly lower than expected. Colors are muted to reflect a sort of sepia postcard look, but on the whole adequately represented. Flesh tones are a tad on the pasty pink side. The audio is 5.1 Dolby Digital and adequately represented for what is, primarily, a dialogue driven narrative. There are NO extras!

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
3.5

VIDEO/AUDIO
3

EXTRAS
0

THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR: Blu-ray (G2 Productions 1999) MGM Home Video

John McTiernan’s remake of The Thomas Crown Affair (1999) is a somewhat leaden excursion into what makes a millionaire businessman’s fetish for fine art tick. Crown (Pierce Brosnan) can have anything he wants. But that’s not the point. What matters more to Crown than complacency with his untold quantities of wealth is the art of the big swindle. To steal is a thrill. It’s exciting. It makes him feel alive.


After arranging to have his own painting stolen from New York’s Metropolitan Art Gallery, Crown is besought by curious speculations from police detective Michael McCann (Denis Leary) and insurance investigator, Catherine Banning (Rene Russo). McCann suspects foul play. So does Banning, but she ends her search for the truth by getting much too up close and personal with the man who may be on the cusp of indictment for insurance fraud.


Catherine and Crown begin an adulterous affair of the sweaty hot-blooded, all consuming and obsessive variety (think Fatal Attraction but without the bunny and with Brosnan as the homme fatale). Catherine's clinical investigator melts like butter as Crown ignites her senses with erotic rendezvous at some of his more 'out of the way' retreats. It's a backstage pass for Catherine - a chance to enter the world of a marginally disturbed thrill seeker who has every intention of leaving her flat and unfulfilled in the final reel. But here's the gracious whim of fate - or overwrought movie cliche (whichever you prefer). Crown has also decided that Cate's the gal for him. After seemingly disappearing forever from Catherine's life, he turns up in the seat next to her on a plane bound for the islands. 


The Thomas Crown Affair is stylish and slickly packaged entertainment...but that's about all. Visually, its a winner. Its narrative is more problematic. In the 1968 original, Steve McQueen’s Thomas Crown masterminds a bank job right under the nose of sultry insurance femme fatale, Vicki Anderson (Faye Dunaway). For McQueen’s Crown, the thrill of the heist is akin to an intellectual pursuit – how best to scoop the people who are supposed to be one step ahead of him. McQueen's Crown is full of male ego and a general contempt for humanity that ends with his dumping Vicki.


Brosnan’s Crown is a very different animal. He’s not in it for the intellectual stimulation, but for the adrenaline rush and visceral exhilaration that jolts him out of his daily boredom. McQueen’s Crown’s need for excitement is replaced in the remake with Brosnan’s Crown’s growing erotic passion for Banning and her reciprocated dependency on their sexual liaisons that compromise her position as an investigator.


What is particularly disappointing about McTiernan’s remake is how little passion there seems to be from either Brosnan or Russo in their respective roles. The chemistry is simply not there, despite McTiernan’s artfully shot seduction and sex scenes, done mostly in half shadow and varying stages of undress. In the end, what we get from this ‘affair’ is a stylish semi-complex thriller where the manipulation of sexual attachments becomes the central focus. 


If only Russo and Brosnan had been able to convince us they were hot for each other then the remake might have at least worked on this level. It doesn't. Leslie Dixon and Kurt Wimmer's screenplay gets bogged down in the cleverness of Crown's art house caper. The film shifts its focus back and forth from Catherine discovering Crown's fraud to what will happen to Catherine after Crown is done ravaging her body and her career. Tom Priestley Jr.'s edgy cinematography is a big plus for the movie - lush and enveloping, but with a sense of danger seeping from the corners of the film frame. 


MGM’s Blu-ray is impressive. We get a very clean and solid 1080p presentation. Colors pop. Fine detail abounds. Contrast levels are bang on. Film grain has been accurately reproduced. Good stuff here and quite unexpected given Fox's spotty record for mastering vintage titles in hi-def. The audio is 5.1 DTS and quite aggressive at times. Good spatial spread. Fox is up to their old tricks again. No extras on the Blu-ray but we get a DVD copy of the movie that does have an audio commentary from the director. Question: who wants to waste their time watching a standard def DVD just to hear McTiernan's thoughts on the making of the film? Enough said. Bottom line: recommended. 


FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
2.5

VIDEO/AUDIO
3.5

EXTRAS
0

UNFAITHFUL (20th Century Fox 2002) Fox Home Video

Adrian Lyne’s Unfaithful (2002) is a film that attempts to do for cheating wives what Lyne’s own Fatal Attraction (1987) did for philandering husbands; scare the hell out of them by presenting a series of dire consequences for their actions. Unfortunately, in scope, acting and overall suspense, this excursion proves once too often a visit to the same well.

The story begins inside the idyllic country home of Ed (Richard Gere) and Connie Sumner (Diane Lane). Presumably a happy home, with their son Charlie (Erik Per Sullivan) providing minor incidents and mishaps – but nothing that cannot be overcome with a little TLC - the Sumner’s certainly seem to have it all; financial success, commitment and the ability to travel and mix in the right crowd. Everything is in place except the one essential Connie needs more than anything else – passion.

It proves everything, when Connie accidentally meets struggling artist and book seller, Paul Martel (Olivier Martinez). Before long, Connie and Paul have migrated from chatting up about first editions and tenderizing bruised knees to feeling each other’s unmentionables for weekly extracurricular activity. At first, Ed suspects nothing. Gradually, he assumes the worst and decides to follow his wife into town. Consumed by rage and self pity, Ed murders Paul - then doesn’t quite know what to do with the rest of his life.

The chief problem with the screenplay by Alvin Sargent is that it entirely lacks in sympathy for Connie. As an audience, we instantly come to despise her betrayal and find her repeated cover-ups despicable, rather than an erotic release for her pent up marital tensions. If anything, the Sumner home is a ‘tension-free’ zone.

Whereas Michael Douglas’ betrayal of the perfect wife in Fatal Attraction was predicated on his instant attraction to the ‘bad girl,’ Connie’s infatuation with Paul seems school-girlish and unworthy of her as a woman. She’s not escaping the congeniality of the perfect home for something different, but merely bed-hopping for the thrill of a change of venue. In the end, Unfaithful is just that – a filmic experience that lacks fidelity to its roots as a romantic mystery/thriller.

Fox Home Video’s DVD exhibits a middle-of-the-road transfer; anamorphic widescreen with muted colors and contrast levels that are a tad lower than expected. Film grain is rather obvious at times. Blacks are often deep gray. Fine details are lost during darker scenes. Whites adopt a yellowish tint. Edge enhancement is present throughout and occasionally distracts. Pixelization is present also. The audio is 5.1 Dolby Digital and delivers a subdued sonic spread. Extras include several featurettes on the making of the film and an excerpt from ‘The Charlie Rose Show’ with Richard Gere.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
3

VIDEO/AUDIO
3.5

EXTRAS
2.5

FAR AND AWAY (Universal 1992) Universal Home Video

Ron Howard’s Far and Away (1992) is a thinly veiled vintage tableau soap opera fleshed out by several marvelous set pieces and an exhilarating final act. The film stars Tom Cruise as Joseph Donnelly: a fighting-mad Irishman who after being forced off his familial land embarks upon a quest for revenge against the land owner, Daniel Christie (Robert Prosky).

Unfortunately for Joseph, his anger is sideswiped by the sight of Daniel’s daughter, the lovely Shannon (Nicole Kidman), who is currently engaged to simpering property manager, Steven Chase (Thomas Gibson). Steven engages Joseph in a duel which he wins. However, Joseph’s spirit wins Shannon’s heart. After the destruction of the Christie family estate, Shannon and her family leave Ireland for the United States.

Joseph follows suit on the grand migration/adventure to America to stake his own claim on a better life. What the young buck soon discovers is that the streets of New York are not paved with gold as much as they reek of the stench of hard-earned sweat from men’s brows and fists. After Joseph defends himself in a boxing tournament, he is voted fisticuffs champion and embarks upon a lucrative career that once again brings him in direct confrontation with Shannon and her family.

Director Howard is rather self-indulgent with this filmic fairytale of true love conquering all. His attention to period and costumes is most commendable. But the story concocted by Bob Dolman and Howard is so cliché ridden and contrived, its central narrative is in constant danger of sinking the entire enterprise.

Ultimately, the film is little more than another chance for Cruise to preen for the camera as the ‘then’ undisputed box office king of his generation. The Oklahoma land rush that effectively concludes the narrative is a direct cheat on the opening from Cimarron (1931), but staged with enough harrowing stunt work and cinematic bravado to anesthetize the viewer into quiet admiration and minor forgetfulness for all that has gone before it.

Universal Home Video’s DVD provides an adequate anamorphic widescreen transfer. Colors are rich, bold and fully saturated. Flesh tones are a tad too pink. Contrast levels are nicely realized. Blacks are deep. Whites adopt a slight blue tint. Occasionally, film grain is more prevalently represented than was evident in the original theatrical presentation. The filmic elements were 70mm – hence, a pronounced smoothness is expected. The audio is Dolby 5.1 surround and quite aggressive across all channels. This is one of Universal’s first forays into DVD and one of their better efforts. There are NO extras!

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
3.5

VIDEO/AUDIO
3.5

EXTRAS
0

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

CHINA SEAS (MGM 1935) Warner Home Video

Tay Garnett’s China Seas (1935) is atypical Clark Gable film fodder; half adventure/half romance and with MGM’s most bankable male star firing all pistons in raw animal magnetism. Gable is Alan Gaskell, captain of a passenger ship en route to Hong Kong.

Aboard is Gaskell’s old playmate, Dolly ‘China Doll’ Portland (Jean Harlow), new flame, cultured Sybil Barclay (Rosalind Russell), spurious trade smuggler, Jamesy McArdle (Wallace Beery), disgraced 3rd Officer, Tom Davis (Lewis Stone) and good time drunkard, Charlie McCaleb (Robert Benchley) – who provides the film with its lighter bits of humorous nonsense.

At first, the passage for all is relatively smooth. Gaskell breaks off with Dolly, takes up with Sybil and makes plans to retire from being a sea captain. But Dolly is not about to surrender the only man she’s ever loved to Sybil quite so easily. Then, the storm breaks. Passengers are sent overboard during typhoon conditions and Dolly realizes that Jamesy has plotted to have the ship overthrown by marauding Chinese pirates.

China Seas is very much a formulaic picture for the studio, cut in the same vein as MGM’s other all-star spectacles; Grand Hotel (1932) and Dinner at Eight (1933). It teems with old-fashion sentiment and rather improbably charted circumstances that never seem maudlin, even if they are deliberately contrived.

Warner Home Video delivers a very good looking DVD. The B&W image sports an impeccably rendered gray scale with fine details evident throughout. Blacks are deep and solid. White are almost pristine. Occasionally, film grain is heavier than one might expect. Age related artifacts are present but do not distract. Overall, this is a pleasing visual presentation, rounded out by a nicely balanced mono audio. Extras are reduced to three vintage short subjects and the film’s theatrical trailer.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being best)
3.5

VIDEO/AUDIO
3.5

EXTRAS
2

THE CHILDREN'S HOUR (Mirisch Company 1961) MGM Home Video

William Wyler’s The Children’s Hour (1961) is a valiant remake of Lillian Hellman’s dark and brooding play that examines the fallout of ‘secrets’ and ‘lies.’ Audrey Hepburn is top cast as Karen Wright, a winsome headmistress, working diligently to be the best teacher to her pupils in a New England all-girl’s school.

Together with her best friend, Martha Dobie (Shirley MacLaine), the aspiring educators lead idyllic lives destined for the Ivy covered halls of academia – that is, until spoiled child, Mary Tilford (Karen Balkin) tells her grandmother ‘a secret’ about her two teachers…that they were ‘unnatural’. The problem; Mary’s secret is actually a lie designed to shift her grandmother’s focus away from her own poor grades and troublesome behavior.

In part due to the stringencies of the production code, the play’s references to Martha and Karen’s lesbianism are grossly muddled, and made even more unclear by the introduction of Karen’s strapping suitor, Dr. Joe Cardin (James Gardner). Mary’s grandmother, Amelia (Fay Bainter) is not about to take the allegation lightly. She has Mary taken out of the school and threatens the head mistresses with closing the facility unless Karen and Martha are fired. Their dismissal and a scandal that follows in a very public trial, shatter the town’s small-minded complacency.

Upon the film’s release, Wyler was somewhat heavily and unjustly criticized for tempering the subject matter. His concessions do in fact soften the impact and shock of the narrative. However, Wyler’s overwhelming sense of humanity – the director’s hallmark – is the film’s saving grace. As an audience we are given finely wrought performances from Hepburn and MacLaine. Our sympathy is with them from the moment the lie is spread, and we continue to feel the impact of their tragedy long after ‘the truth’ has been exposed. This is a very fine film, and one quite deserving of a second look on DVD.

MGM Home Video’s DVD exhibits middle of the road quality; a 1:66:1 widescreen presentation that is not anamorphic; sharply contrasted but with a considerable amount of grain and age related artifacts and a hint of edge enhancement and pixelization. Contrast levels have been artificially bumped up, resulting in an absence of the middle register in image tonality. The audio is mono but nicely balanced. There are NO extras.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
3.5

VIDEO/AUDIO
3

EXTRAS
0

PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES: Blu-ray (Paramount 1987) Paramount Home Video

Neal Page (Steve Martin) cannot believe his luck. Hurrying home from a business trip to be with his family on Thanksgiving, he encounters one reckless setback after another. But the worst of it is that Neal can't shake his very own ‘bad luck’ charm, Del Griffith (John Candy), a brutally lovable salesman. After befriending Del, Neal makes every attempt to ditch his loud-mouth companion, but to no avail.


Enduring fire, flood and being stranded in the middle of nowhere with someone he absolutely hates and – as time wears on – begins to suspect is the cause of all his worldly woes, Neal decides that he will abandon Del at the first possible chance – even though apart each is doomed not to reach their respective destinations.


Under anyone else’s direction the misadventures of this hilarious twosome might have degenerated into garish slapstick. Yet, what emerges from the sum total of John Hughe’s Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987) is much more the poignant buddy/buddy flick than mishmash served up from its topsy-turvy fallout. Charmingly original and masterfully directed, the film was a huge critical and financial success upon its initial release. To date, it remains the work for which Steve Martin has said he is most proud.


Paramount Home Video’s Blu-ray is a Walmart exclusive. I'm still trying to figure out the logic of that decision. What is infallible is Paramount's commitment to this transfer. It glows. We get a superb 1080p incarnation with rich, bold colors, solid contrast levels, accurately produced film grain and a lush smattering of fine details throughout. The audio is 5.1 DTS - a winner. 


Better still, Paramount has lavished us with some sparkling new extra features. Four featurettes, on the making of the film, John Hughes career, the impact of the movie and a tribute to John Candy round out our appreciation. We also get a deleted scene. The extras, it should be pointed out, are also presented in HD. This is a real class 'A' effort from Paramount. It's a wonder we don't get more like this from our good buddies on 'the mountain'.


FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
3.5

VIDEO/AUDIO
4

EXTRAS
3.5

A FEW GOOD MEN: Blu-ray (Columbia 1992) Sony Home Entertainment

In hindsight Rob Reiner’s A Few Good Men (1992) represents the last of the taut and compelling court room melodrama that were once quite popular throughout the 1980s and early 90s. Based on Aaron Sorkin's hard hitting play, itself a darkly deconstructed critique of the U.S. military complex, the film is a superior example of the court room drama. The original idea for the play came from Sorkin's sister, who was at the time defending three marines over the near death hazing of another marine at the behest of their superior officer. It's rumored that Sorkin wrote the rough outline for his play on a cocktail napkin before dashing off the prose and then launching into the play's off Broadway debut. The deal Sorkin made with executive David Brown for the film rights is rumored to have been in the six figures. Not bad for an as yet then unproven play. 


The screenplay, also by Sorkin, stays very close to the play's origins. After Private William Santiago (Michael DeLorenzo) is brutally hazed inside his barracks at Guantanamo Bay – and dies as a result of injuries sustained - his fellow marines, Lance Cpl. Harold Lawson (Wolfgang Bodison) and Pfc. Louden Downey (James Marshall) are brought to trial. Downey’s aunt has hired Cmdr. JoAnne Galloway (Demi Moore) to represent him. However, JoAnne quickly realizes that she needs additional legal council on her side.


Jo’ gets Lt. Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) assigned to the case – an error in judgment that forces Kaffee to reconsider why he became a lawyer in the first place. If it were up to Kaffee, he would never practice law. But beneath his devil-may-care attitude, Kaffee harbors a deeper concern – he just may not be cut out to serve as a trial attorney.


The defense eventually concocted by Kaffee pivots on the discovery of a ‘code red’ having been instated by military supervisor, Col. Nathan R. Jessup (Jack Nicholson) to teach Santiago a lesson. But can Jessup’s complicity in a crime be proven?


Director Rob Reiner works his magic from an exceptionally potent screenplay. Resisting the urge to ‘open up’ the play, Reiner confines almost all of the action to a few sets, culminating in a lengthy, exhilarating showdown in the courtroom. A Few Good Men is blessed with an exceptional cast, particularly Jack Nicholson's belligerent performance as the utterly vial Nathan Jessup. Nicholson is partly playing to the strengths of his own well cultivated public persona. Ditto for Tom Cruise, who relies on his squeaky clean Top Gun image and megawatt smile to sell his character as a Cruis-ian knock off. Demi Moore give an intelligent performance as the genuinely invested attorney at law who wants to see justice served. Kevin Bacon's memorable too, as prosecutor Jack Ross.    


Sony Home Entertainment’s Blu-ray delivers the goods in hi-def; robust rich colors, solid contrast levels, razor sharp fine details. This is a reference quality disc put forth when Sony was still actively in the Blu-ray race - releasing high quality transfers of their Columbia/Tristar catalogue titles.


The audio is 5.1 DTS, yielding remarkable fidelity. Extras include an informative audio commentary, brief featurette on the making of the film, bonus trailers and production notes. Highly recommended.


FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
4.5

VIDEO/AUDIO
4

EXTRAS
3.5

THE X-FILES: FIGHT THE FUTURE - Blu-ray (20th Century-Fox 1998) Fox Home Video

After five years as one of the most popular television series in the mid-1990s; The X-Files made its successful transition to the big screen with Rob Bowman’s The X-Files: Fight The Future (1998). The series had by this juncture become a runaway multi-Emmy award-winning saga – all about FBI special agent Fox Mulder (David Duchovny); a man compelled to expose the truth about extra-terrestrial life on this planet, and, the rogue elements working within a vast government conspiracy to deny him access to his abducted sister, Samantha.


Reuniting with Special Agent Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) Mulder is, on this big screen excursion, treading an extension of season four’s climactic finale. Mulder and Scully respond to a bomb threat at a government building which Mulder believes may house secret documents on alien abductees.


Special Agent Darius Michaud (Terry O’Quinn) advises his agents to pull out and evacuate the building after the bomb has been located and deliberately activated. Although Mulder complies with this direct order, he regrets his decision when a massive explosion decimates the area, reducing the complex to a gigantic cinder block of rubble.


From this uncharacteristically big scale set piece, the narrative digresses into territory familiar to X-File aficionados; Scully is stung by a bee carrying a virus that threatens her life; Mulder becomes further embroiled in the government conspiracy to deny all plausibility of the facts; the black ooze (an on-going mystery to those who regularly watch the series) infects a group of children playing in a sand lot in Arizona and this directly leads agents Mulder and Scully to the discovery of an alien spacecraft buried beneath the polar ice caps.


The TV and film’s writer/producer Chris Carter and director Bowman perform a minor miracle with this exhilarating sci-fi thriller - tying up most loose plot points from the television series without alienating film attendees who might otherwise have never watched a single episode. The X-Files Fight the Future functions as both an addendum to Season Four and its own stand alone narrative. We get chills and mystery and wild-eyed disturbing speculations that nevertheless make sense at some basic paranoiac level of ‘wanting to believe’ in creatures from outer space. 


The chemistry Duchovny and Anderson had on the small screen effortlessly translates to the expansive widescreen. And the script doesn't try to do too much. Like so many of the TV episodes in the series, this film is a spook story, told efficiently and with great restraint. It plays like a lengthier version of a series episode, yet has an intelligence and style all its own. 


Fox Home Video’s Blu-ray predictably improves in all the ways we'd expect a 1080p transfer. Colors are fully saturated and bold. Contrast levels are ideally realized. Blacks are deep and solid. Whites are pristine. Fine details are fully realized, even during the darkest scenes. The audio is 5.1 DTS and delivers an aggressive spread across all channels. Extras include a brief, though informative featurette on the making of the film, an audio commentary from Chris Carter, deleted scenes and the film’s original theatrical trailer. Recommended!


FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
4

VIDEO/AUDIO
4.5

EXTRAS
2

THE NET (Columbia 1995) Sony Home Entertainment

Though somewhat dated by today’s technological standards, Irwin Winkler’s The Net (1995) remains a heart-pounding cautionary tale about the dangers lurking just beyond our computer screens and keyboards in the virtual world of the internet. The screenplay by John Brancato and Michael Ferris is fairly disturbing, and in hindsight, illustrates a remarkable clairvoyant about where the internet has taken us since 1995. The film stars Sandra Bullock as reclusive computer programmer, Angela Bennett.


Angela works from home, but is sent a floppy disc with a glitch in the latest 'gatekeeper' internet security program manufactured by Gregg Microsystems by her colleague Dale Hessman (Ray McKinnon). Angela agrees to investigate the program and meet with Dale. Unfortunately, someone has already latched on to the fact that Dale knows too much. Dale's private plane navigation system is hacked into and Dale crashes before reaching Angela. Living alone and isolated from even her closest neighbors, Angela decides to take a Mexican holiday that turns out to be anything but relaxing.


She is befriended by Jack Devlin (Jeremy Northam), a stylish jet setter also vacationing on these sunny tropical shores…or is he? After plying Angela with a round of drinks, Jack takes her for a long walk in the secluded bushes where a prowler steals her purse. The wrinkle; the prowler has been paid by Jack to retrieve a diskette from Angela – one that he is willing to kill for.


Before Angela knows what hit her, she has become the unwitting target of a group of cyber terrorists who stalk her every move. They alter her I.D. and personal information, sell her home and belongings, and, threaten to kill her incapacitated mother (Diane Baker) unless she agrees to tell them all she knows about a security breech in their computer program. Alone and friendless, Angela confides in Dr. Alan Champion (Dennis Miller) her one time therapist and former lover who mistakenly perceives his ex's mounting hysteria as some psychological breakdown. 


After setting up Angela in a rental, Champion goes to refill his own prescription allergy medication. But Jack and his hackers have manipulated Champion's drug interaction file. He takes the wrong meds, goes into shock and has to be hospitalized. Once sedated, the hackers finish Champion off by doctoring his computerized medical records. As a result, a nurse inadvertently injects Alan with a lethal dosage of insulin. 


Angela decides to take matters into her own hands by confronting Jack and the hackers at the local computer expo. She downloads a virus into their 'gatekeeper' program, thereby undoing all of their illegal hacking, exposing the hackers to the law, and restoring her own identity in the digital world. The film ends with Angela moving back into her home with her ailing mother, determined to spend more time away from her computer and living in the real world.  


At the time of the film's release I don't think any of us realized how dependent the world would eventually become on the internet and the sharing of virtual information. In fact, I can honestly say that yours truly did not even own a computer back then or have the slightest interest in 'surfing' the net. How times have changed! 


Viewed today, Winkler’s action/drama seems even spookier, perhaps in the light of wiki-leaks and other mass hacking schemes that have proliferated since The Net's debut and have left virtually everyone of us vulnerable to having our own identities and/or banking information stolen. While some of the scenarios in The Net may have seemed a little far fetched in 1995,  nothing seems out of bounds when viewed today. The film is also noteworthy for several brilliantly staged set pieces; the best probably being Angela’s ill-fated second meet with Jack at the Santa Monica Boardwalk; a sequence that ends with a terrifying chase through several amusement park rides. Stylishly put together and with a stellar performance from Bullock, The Net is definitely worth a second look on DVD.


Sony Home Entertainment’s remastered SE DVD exhibits an improved digital transfer over their previously issued bare bones disc; anamorphic, with bold vibrant colors. Unfortunately, several sequences continue to suffer from bumped contrast levels that, at times, render the image quite pale and unrefined. Flesh tones are rather pasty throughout. Age related artifacts are present but do not distract. A hint of edge enhancement also persists. The audio is 5.1 Dolby Digital and is quite aggressive. Extras include 2 featurettes, audio commentaries and the film’s original theatrical trailer.


FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
4

VIDEO/AUDIO
3.5

EXTRAS
3.5

NARROW MARGIN (Carolco 1990) Artisan Home Entertainment

Peter Hyam’s remake of The Narrow Margin (1952); shortened to simply, Narrow Margin (1990) is a taut and exhilarating thriller set primarily aboard the claustrophobic confines of a train on route through the Canadian Rockies. The plot begins in earnest when business woman, Carol Hunnicut (Ann Archer) accepts an invitation on a blind date at the Four Seasons Hotel.

Unfortunately for Carol, her date, Michael Tarlow (J.T. Walsh) happens to be an associate of murderous Mafia kingpin, Leo Watts (Harris Yulin) who assassinates Michael without realizing that Carol is in the next room. Terrified and alone, Carol is approached by Assistant D.A. Robert Caulfield (Gene Hackman). He offers her immunity and protection. But can Rob make good on both those promises? The odds are certainly not in his favor. Every previous witness has turned up with a toe tag.

After snipers descend on Carol’s mountain top hideaway, Rob and Carol board the mountain express, besought at every turn by villainous thugs determined that neither will reach their destination in Los Angeles.

Hyam’s direction is as skillful as it is straight-forward. Working from his own screenplay, closely mirroring the original by Martin Goldsmith and Jack Leonard – but with several unexpected and most welcome updates and twists – Hyam makes the most of this harrowing journey by train. He transforms what might otherwise have been a leaden excursion into a terrifying ordeal. This is one dynamic and engaging film.

Artisan’s DVD is quite satisfying – though perhaps not stellar. Anamorphic widescreen; the image exhibits generally refined colors that are perhaps slightly dated with flesh tones that are sometimes pasty pink or garish orange. On the whole, however, contrast and shadow delineation are nicely realized. Blacks are deep and solid. Whites tend to adopt a yellow tint. Age related artifacts are present but do not distract. A hint of edge enhancement is present but not obtrusive. The audio is 2.0 Dolby Surround but quite adequate for what is essentially a dialogue driven film. Recommended.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
4

VIDEO/AUDIO
3.5

EXTRAS
0

Thursday, March 15, 2007

BULL DURHAM (Orion 1988) MGM Home Video

Ron Shelton’s Bull Durham (1988) is a rather gritty comedic gem about the low shots and high curves in minor league baseball that develop into something more on the road to the hall of fame. Shelton, once a player for the Carolina league, came well versed to this project – a rather minor though engaging film that explores the troubled relationship between an over-the-hill minor leaguer, Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) and ravenous baseball groupie, Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon).


Annie simply adores her local Durham Bulls. She’s a delicious flirt and a devious cougar, but her heart is in the right place. Annie’s chief interest in the current season’s roster is newbie Ebby Calvin Nuke Laloosh (Tim Robbins). Ebby is all force and no content. He has a great right arm but zero control. Enticed to Annie’s home under the pretext that they are going to have sex, Ebby instead finds himself bound and stripped and being read poetry. The lesson is exasperating, though instrumental in teaching him about restraint.


Meanwhile Crash (Costner) is an old flame hoping to rekindle his romance with Annie anew. He doesn’t mind her methods of persuasion, but he’s mature enough to realize that life begins after all the bats and gloves have been put back in the dugout. Growing increasingly jealous of the relationship between Ebby and Annie – especially when it appears that her tutelage is actually getting his rival to focus on his game – Crash convinces Ebby that to actually have sex with his instructor would jinx the team’s current winning streak.


Bull Durham is rather empty-headed nonsense. The Shelton screenplay is uncommonly raunchy. Sarandon’s particularly engaging as the temptress of the outfield who feels it her duty to mold young talent into her kind of sport's hero. Robbins does a good job of playing the country bumpkin who is professionally 'matured' by the final fade out. In retrospect, Costner is the disappointment; laconic, brooding and wholly unlikable – even as he is practically non-existent in the role of would-be superstar. 


MGM Home Video’s Blu-ray is a disappointment. Utilizing the same tired elements from the DVD release merely bumped up to a 1080p signal, the image is predictably weak in all the anticipated areas. Contrast levels are so-so, colors are anemic, and film grain does not translate accurately. Yes, everything tightens up due to the higher bit rate, but marginally so at best.  Fox needs to get a clue. They've been slapping out substandard transfers on Blu-ray hoping the consumer will either look the other way or perhaps not notice the difference. Note to exec's at Fox: thanks fellas...but we're not that dumb! 


The audio remains 5.1 Dolby Digital, strident and lacking in base tonality. Extras are all imports from Fox/MGM's SE DVD and include individual audio commentaries from Shelton and Costner, a brief ‘making of’ featurette, photo gallery and trailers.


FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
3.5

VIDEO/AUDIO
2.5

EXTRAS
2

TWISTER: Blu-ray (Warner Bros. 1996) Warner Home Video

Jan de Bont’s Twister (1996) is a one premise wonder – two hours into the often thoughtless and occasionally mind-numbing stupidity of a particular group of storm chasers. Nevertheless, the plot (such as it is) is more than amply sustainable. Like so many summer blockbusters that were to follow it, Twister is not a narrative movie per say (although there is something of a plot to be had); rather mere excuse for digital effects artists to show off some clever CGI. 


Michael Crichton and Anne-Marie Martin's screenplay plays it safe, distilling the science of storm chasing into a bare bones factoid info so as not to bore the audience. Instead, the bore us with a flawed lover's triangle, relying almost entirely on star personalities to carry the menial dialogue that is sandwiched between harrowing sequences of gale force destruction. The film stars Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton as separated couple, Jo and Bill Harding. Jo is a dedicated storm freak. Years before, as a child she stared into the heart of an F-4 tornado that decimated their family’s farm and took her father to the great beyond.


But now Jo is all grown up and estranged from Bill who is content to be a weather man for a local news affiliate; that is, until he needs a signature from Jo to seal the deal on their divorce decree. Bill’s urgency is predicated on his pending engagement to psychiatrist, Dr. Melissa Reeves (Jami Gertz). Melissa’s not a bad egg – a refreshing twist on the usual ‘good girl versus total bitch for the affections of one stud’ scenario.


One problem; Jo is still in love with her husband. After repeatedly avoiding signing the divorce papers, Jo manages to hook Bill into following her and her Cracker Jack team of would-be scientists into one colossal cyclone after the next. Melissa dutifully follows, but her heart isn't in it and who can blame her? Especially after a near death experience with an F-3 leaves her feeling shell-shocked and realizing that she will never truly understand Bill the way Jo does.


A subplot involves rival storm chaser, Dr. Jonas Miller (Cary Elwes). Years ago Jonas had the foresight to incur some big backing to help finance his research. But even with all his high tech gadgetry the best he can hope for is to copycat Bill's gut feelings about which way a twister will shift. The rivalry is bitter indeed, and results in Jonas inadvertently being sucked into an F-4 when he fails to heed Bill's warning. 


In the meantime, Jo's aunt Meg (Lois Smith) is in the direct path of another F-4 tornado. Unable to forewarn Meg, Jo and Bill arrive too late after the tornado has already decimated the area but manage to rescue Meg before her entire home crumbles under its own weight. Meg encourages Jo and Bill to hurry to the next major storm center and this results in a classic 'man vs. nature' scenario when Jo and Bill are forced to abandoned their truck and flee the oncoming path of a devastating F-5. The two chain themselves to a well water metal pipe and survive the deluge   with a renewed appreciation for the life they once shared together.


Twister is improbably silly good fun. The epic tornadoes are all computer generated, hurling farm machinery, tankers, people, homes and even a cow about the vast flat plains while the principles react with conviction and awe. De Bont knows how to build his dramatic tension. He cleverly starts us off with an invisible colossus; an F-2 tornado unseen at night, whetting our appetites to see and learn more as he gradually unleashes a series of nature’s terror. The storm sequences build from minor F-1 whirlwinds to a mesmerizing F-5 that tops out the finale.


The oddity of Twister is that there’s not a whole lot to recommend it and yet, it excels at entertaining us. Mid-westerners will probably wonder what all the fuss is about. After all, they can see the real thing for free every year. But for those unaccustomed to 'tornado alley' Twister delivers movie excitement without the messy post-storm clean-up.  There's enough voyeurism here to satisfy the storm chaser in us all, settling in for the night in the relative safety of our living rooms…leave the cows outside.


Warner Home Video’s Blu-ray improves in all aspects over their previously issued DVD.  Colors pop. The 1080p image excels with crystal clarity and fine details. Not much else to say except that the image will surely not disappoint. The audio is an aggressive 5.1 Dolby Digital that really gives the speakers a workout. Extras include a behind-the-scenes film documentary, a History Channel special on storm chasers, a director’s audio commentary and music video from Van Halen. Bottom line: recommended.


FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
3.5

VIDEO/AUDIO
4.5

EXTRAS
3

EMMA (Miramax 1996) Buena Vista Home Video

Douglas McGrath’s Emma (1996) is a whimsical and enchanting comedy of errors based on the adroit styling of Jane Austen’s timeless heroine. In an age of relentless affectation and congenial attention to every social detail, Emma Woodhouse (Gwenyth Paltrow) is a breath of fresh air. She’s pert, precocious and an incurable romantic.

After her governess, Mrs. Weston (Greta Scacchi) marries to a much older man, but for true love, Emma is determined to play cupid with her new ‘worthy cause,’ Harriet Smith (Toni Collette), a shy young girl who is not well off – financially speaking.

Emma’s first attempt at a romance between Harriet and Mr. Elton (Alan Cummings) is a social disaster when he falls for Emma instead. His grand – if awkwardly staged - amour, in the back of a snowy carriage, is not reciprocated. Ah me, the follies of youth.

Meanwhile, a close personal friend of the family, Mr. Knightley (Jeremy Northam) advises Emma against further matchmaking. But Emma has already moved on to her next social arrangement, attempting a clumsy union between Harriet and Frank Churchill (Ewan McGregor) that ends happily instead for one Jane Fairfax (Polly Walker).

What is most engaging about the screenplay by Douglas McGrath is that he has not mangled Austen’s delicate prose (primarily about form, behavior and social elitism set in the pastoral ‘ye old’ English countryside) yet maintains a flair for the cinematic in this otherwise quite wordy and elegantly photographed social melodrama with comedy on the side. Ably sustained by Rachel Portman’s orchestral background score, as a film Emma has timeless appeal much as the book by Austen endures. It is required viewing for anyone who wants to experience the inauspicious hilarities that coincide with falling in love.

Alliance Atlantis DVD presentation is quite abysmal and unsatisfactory. Not anamorphic, though widescreen, the image suffers from an overly soft characteristic that at times is quite blurry and out of focus. Colors are subdued. Flesh tones rarely appear natural, but instead adopt a rather garish orange or pink haze. Occasionally, edge enhancement and pixelization intrude for an image that is hardly smooth or easy on the eyes. The audio is 5.1 Dolby Digital and quite adequate for this presentation. There are NO extras.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
4

VIDEO/AUDIO
2.5

EXTRAS
0