The Beatles "A Hard Day's Night" returns
on Region 1 DVD. (See left.) Order it now!
NOW AVAILABLE IN THE U.K.:
Region 2 fans in the UK can also order it
from Amazon.co.uk. (See at right.) Get it today!
PAUL IS LIVE ON THE NEW WORLD TOUR (Liberty International Entertainment): We watched this film with mixed emotions. One reason is the presence of Linda McCartney. It's so sad to watch Linda having such a good time in this 1993 film knowing that only five years later, she'd die of cancer. The other fact is that Paul's band on the "Driving USA/Back in the US/Back in the World" tour sounds a lot better than on the "Back in the U.S." DVD than the group here. The DVD contains the same film as the original VHS release with no added footage. It does have two 5.1 sound mixes, one for speakers, the other for headphones, plus a bio and photo gallery. Maybe the most interesting thing here is that despite what critics often say about Paul, he does move on musically. He certainly did after the New World Tour. And we're the better for it.
THE MONKEES -- SEASON ONE (RHINO): They're actors. No, they're a rock group. Actors! Rock group! STOP! YOU'RE BOTH RIGHT! The Monkees started out as a bunch of actors, but they became one of the most memorable musical acts of the '60s. This six-disc set featuring 32 episodes, packed in a neat facsimile of a Monkees phonograph, shows off the TV series in its first season, when they were first four almost unknown guys picked for parts in a TV series to a group that ended up rivaling the Beatles in popularity. (By the way, a 32-episode season would be unheard of today.) The first season finds the group in generally silly, sitcom-type situations that could have been on any other show of the day. The big difference was the inclusion of several songs each week, especially the ones being promoted at the time. (Note in the first few episodes how often you hear "Last Train to Clarksville.") The final episode in the set is probably the best remembered episode, "Monkees on Tour," in which the group was shown performing live in Arizona, dispelling once and for all (well, almost) the notion they didn't play their own instruments. There are many familiar faces in the episodes, among them Stan Freberg, Julie Newmar, Vic Tayback (later of "Alice") and Rose Marie ("The Dick Van Dyke Show"). The extras include their vintage Kellogg's commercials, plus commentaries from Davy, Peter and Mike and series directors on various episodes, a 16mm version of the pilot and a memorabilia gallery. An option is available for 5.1 audio, plus there's an option to play only the music videos (they're called "romps" on the menus). Befitting the phonograph design, each disc comes packed in a sleeve resembing a Monkees 45 RPM record. This may be the best package Rhino has ever offered, a charming set to look at and a fun one that will be enjoyed for a long time. Highly recommended.
THE BEATLES ANTHOLOGY (APPLE): It was a long time coming, but this five-disc set was certainly worth the wait. There's no doubt this is the best and most complete telling of the group's story we'll ever get by the group themselves. The five DVDs contain all of the original Anthology video release (which was expanded from the original TV broadcast). Of course, what would a DVD set be without extras, and the extras here are historic: approximately an hour of unreleased footage from the jam session Ringo, George and Paul did during the making of the documentary. Not to mention the "Real Love" video that wasn't included in the original video release. It also includes Paul, George, and Ringo at Abbey Road Studios with George Martin, playing back the multi-tracks of some of their recordings and discussing techniques used during the original sessions; Paul, George, Ringo and Jeff Lynne talking about recording FAAB and "Real Love"; Paul, George, Ringo and George Martin discuss how the three Anthology double albums were compiled; the making of the "Free as a Bird" video, plus the team behind the Anthology series discuss how it was made. All of this in 5.1 Dolby. This is a must. (And it's cheaper than the video was!)
THE COMPLETE MONTEREY POP: CRITERION COLLECTION (1967): Criterion, the real class act of DVD producers, has done it again. This incredible three-disc set has four separate segments of films by D.A. Pennebaker: the original "Monterey Pop" film, separate films of sets by Jimi Hendrix and Otis Redding, and the collector's dream, outtakes from the main film. It contains audio commentaries over the Monterey, Hendrix and Redding films, interviews with some of the participants, photos, 5.1 sound mixes ... well, we could go on and on. This is one of best (and best value) sets we've yet to see, especially from Criterion, whose releases get high praise from critics and film buffs. This one is no exception. In the outtakes, you can finally see David Crosby's politically incorrect introduction to "He Was a Friend of Mine" in which he expounded his theory on the death of President Kennedy. The set also includes a thick book of liner notes which features a rare poster done by the Beatles especially for the show. A must have.
RINGO STARR AND HIS NEW ALL-STARR BAND (PIONEER): The potential for this lineup of the All-Starr Band was very exciting. Ian Hunter. Greg Lake. Howard Jones. Roger Hodgson. Sheila E. It was a more progressive lineup than one would expect from Ringo, so it appeared it would be an exciting show. As is often the case with most of the All-Starr bands, most of the talented players tended to play by the book and not let much of their spark show. The only exception to this was Sheila E., who gave the show an incredible kick and made the show so much fun (and one of the best reasons to get this video). Actually, this show, compared to other All-Starr Bands, was one of the better ones, but it would so be much better if Ringo encourage more of the performers to loosen up, like Sheila E. did. (She did such a good job she'll be on the next version this summer.) Another performer worth mentioning is Mark Rivera, now given the well-deserved title of musical director. This isn't the entire Chicago Rosemont Aug. 2001 show, but most of it. The DVD includes an eight-minute featurette and bonus interview footage. (March 2003)
GEORGE HARRISON -- THE QUIET ONE and JOHN LENNON -- THE MESSENGER (WATERFALL HOME ENTERTAINMENT): Both of these cheapie double-disc (one video, one audio) sets come from the same company that brought you "The Beatles: Big Beat Box". Neither of these are as bad as that one, but they're not great, either. The Harrison DVD disc is a well-meaning tribute with interview featuring Sir George Martin and some lesser known acquaintances of George. However, an extraordinary part of the disc is devoted to British TV news coverage of the attack on George and Olivia. While it's interesting to see that footage, especially here in the States where it wouldn't have aired extensively, its place on a tribute project is quite questionable. This is even more so true with the Lennon disc, which features much discussion of Lennon's murder. The audio discs in both sets feature soundbites by Lennon and Harrison discussing their lives. (We confess not having listened to these, but we suspect there isn't much new.) Thank goodness at least they're cheap, but we still suggest caution.
For Europe, Japan and the Middle East only: Region 2 version: "JOHN LENNON: THE MESSENGER" for Region 2 (Europe, Middle East, Japan only)
For Europe, Japan and the Middle East only: Region 2 version:"GEORGE HARRISON -- THE QUIET ONE" for Region 2 (Europe, Middle East, Japan only)
(Note: Region 2 DVDs can not be used in the U.S. unless you have a region-free player.) (March 2003)
THE EVERLY BROTHERS REUNION CONCERT (IMAGE): In 1983, the Everly Brothers buried what had been bitter feelings between them and got their harmony back, both vocally and in spirit, beginning with this concert at Royal Albert Hall. Don and Phil sing 21 songs like they'd never been apart. Beautiful.
THE DOORS SOUNDSTAGE PERFORMANCES (THIRTEEN): This disc collects some rare TV appearances by the Doors, including some filmed without an audience for the PBS series "Soundstage." Most of the performances are unreleased. The surviving Doors add some commentary, most of it superfluous. But, like the Doors' music, the performances are even more powerful today than they were when they were originally seen on TV and the music holds up incredibly well. .
HULLABALOO, VOLS. 1-4 and HULLABALOO, VOLS. 9-12 (MPI): Even though the cross mix of talent booked for it made it obvious that NBC 60s music series "Hullabaloo" was programmed by a bunch of old guys trying to create a hip program for teens, the show had a high percentage of great acts. Here's just some of the acts seen on these two DVDs in mostly live performances: The Animals, Chuck Berry, the Byrds, the Four Seasons, Martha and the Vandellas, Lesley Gore, The Mamas and the Papas, Herman's Hermits, the Moody Blues, Paul Revere and the Raiders, Nancy Sinatra, Sonny and Cher, Dusty Springfield, the Supremes, Simon and Garfunkel, the Hollies, the Shangri-Las, Freddie and the Dreamers, the Bobby Fuller Four (doing "I Fought the Law" on Vols. 1-4), the Lovin' Spoonful and the Everly Brothers. And that's not to mention the Brian Epstein-hosted London segments that featured British acts not often seen in the States. (This did not include the Beatles, who never made it to "Hullabaloo.") At any rate, these discs, like Vol. 5-8 that we reviewed previously, are lots of fun. A good percentage of the clips are kinescopes, though some of the Vol. 1-4 disc is in color. If you can get by the hokey theme and the sometimes out-of-place hosts (Michael Landon?), there's some great music here. And yes, there are a few Beatle covers mixed in, including a 1965 show with a medley of covers from "Rubber Soul" by Nancy Sinatra and the Righteous Brothers. Lots of fun.
PAUL McCARTNEY: BACK IN THE U.S. (CAPITOL): Billed as a backstage look at Paul's wildly successful 2002 U.S. tour, "Back in the U.S." both succeeds and frustrates. It's a fun film to watch, with a wealth of music, and some fun episodes with fans (many of whom have been chatting up their appearances in the movie on mailing lists and chat boards). But, lest we sound like a curmudgeon, why is the film cluttered with shots of busty young women showing off their assets? It's the music that matters, though, and there's plenty of that. There are lots of extras, including a cyberspace-only performance. Most people will be quite pleased with this. But next time, though, Paul, keep your mind on the stage.
THE AVENGERS: THE COMPLETE EMMA PEEL MEGASET (A&E): None of the other female partners John Steed (Patrick Macnee) had in "The Avengers" TV series -- Cathy Gale (Honor Blackman) or Tara King (Linda Thorson) -- ever came close to Emma Peel (Diana Rigg). Mrs. Peel had it all: She was sexy, dynamic, athletic and simply charming. This set -- 16 discs in total featuring 50 episodes -- contains every episode Mrs. Peel appeared in. The series' scripts seemed to peak with the appearance of Mrs. Peel, as many of the series' best shows are included here: "The Winged Avenger," "Who Is Who," "Escape in Time," "The House That Jack Built" and "You Have Just Been Murdered," to name a few of our favorites. Mrs. Peel helped America become the land of Avengers-mania; the series garnered big ratings for ABC when it was broadcast. The final episode included in the set, "Forget-Me-Knot," features the passing of the torch from Mrs. Peel to Tara King. You can almost see a tear in John Steed's eye; there was certainly one in the eyes of viewers. The set proves one thing without a doubt: Mrs. Peel, you're still needed.
ABBA: THE DEFINITIVE COLLECTION (UNIVERSAL): The DVD documentary on ABBA, "The Winner Takes It All," offered a narrative on the group's history with clips from the group's videos. This practically perfect disc goes a step further: A total of 35 ABBA videos are included here in remastered stereo -- all the hits and then some. The bonus clips feature a couple of rare TV performances. The menu allows users to play all the videos, just one or a random selection. A 20-page booklet with notes on the video clips is included. If you love ABBA, you'll love this.
THE BEATLES -- A HARD DAY'S NIGHT (MIRAMAX COLLECTOR'S SERIES): The last few years have certainly been a hard day's night for DVD fans of the Beatles' first film, which has gone beyond a simple "day in the life" film to its status nowadays as a classic. The previously available MPI version was taken out of print a couple of years back in advance of a scheduled theatrical re-release that ended up being delayed. (One can often find the MPI disc auctioned on eBay, often for inflated prices.) When the film finally did make it in and out of theaters last year, no DVD release was announced and word was producers were still working on it. Finally, after too long a delay, to paraphrase the Fabs in the film, it's out, but not, it would seem, without complaints about various aspects of the set. Most of the problems can be traced to the fact that Apple, who surprisingly doesn't own the rights to the film, didn't cooperate with this project. Definitely, it's their loss, because this could have been even better had they done so. It's absolutely mind-boggling that they would choose to ignore this reissue of one of the Beatles' most celebrated projects. (Notice how Paul McCartney is already touting the upcoming "Let It Be" project that they do own, but has said little about the AHDN DVD.) But let's go through it step-by-step:
First, the packaging: It looks darn good, much better than the simple MPI version. The pictures inset on the front look quite nice. Opening the inside reveals a cool fold-out display. In short, it's a class act. The DVD video image: It's a lot warmer looking than the MPI (and even last year's theatrical release) and looks the best it's ever been, especially in any home video version. And the aspect ratio has been corrected from the MPI version, another plus, though one should remember aspect ratios were different in '64 than they are today. But it's not the square version the MPI was. The movie itself: It's noticeably missing the re-release trailer, but having first seen the movie in 1964, we always felt the trailer wasn't a big deal. In other words, we don't really miss it here. The sound: The biggest grumbles about this set are in the sound mix, a 5.1 mono with bleedthrough that allows for somewhat of a surround sound effect. We really liked the stereo mix of the MPI and previous home video versions, but if the stereo wasn't available, what was the best alternative? Granted, not this one, but to our ears, this one's not awful, just unfortunate. With various adjustments on your stereo, one can tone down the bleedthrough and make it more palitable, but I doubt we'll even do that when we play it. The extras: This set takes a different approach to a "behind the scenes" look at the film than the MPI version did. MPI's consisted of a shallow documentary, "The Making of 'A Hard Day's Night,' " in which the sole redeeming quality was the "lost" clip of "You Can't Do That." (The Phil Collins factor was nice, but really, no big deal. It certainly didn't merit his hosting the MPI documentary.) Otherwise, it was worthless. The Miramax set features interviews with everyone from actors to technicians, all discussing their roles in the creation of this classic. You can view two versions of the script. The Miramax release website is contained on the DVD. And there's even more pictures and interviews on a newly created (for this release) additional website. The set contains no alternate commentaries, either by director Dick Lester (more likely) or either of the two surviving Beatles (quite unlikely). This might be the biggest minus of the set, but there's enough background info on it to keep anyone interested in the historic aspects of ADHN pleased. Finally, we've seen some negative comments about the "outtake" of the Ringo tire scene that's actually a spoof with actor David Janson. We took it as a moment of fun, hardly anything to get hung about. Navigation: Viewing it on a PC, we found the menus are hard to navigate and the click-in spots take some maneuvering. There are no such problems viewing it on a stand-alone player.
Conclusion: Overall, we're pretty happy with this disc. Maybe some of the extras don't hold up to repeat viewing, but it's the movie that counts. So buy this disc and enjoy the Beatles' best movie and one of the projects that will forever loom large in their legend. That's the key word: enjoy.That's what this movie was always all about: enjoyment.
MICHAEL NESMITH: LIVE AT THE BRITT (ANCHOR BAY) and MICHAEL NESMITH: ELEPHANT PARTS (PIONEER): It's funny how Michael Nesmith has never been one for self-promotion. It really hasn't been necessary: Not to slag his fellow Monkees, but he always was the most talented. We all knew it from the beginning. These two DVDs show the two sides of Nez. "Live at the Britt" is a stunning 1992 concert that features a wide range of his solo career songs from his First National Band album to his most recent, "Tropical Campfires" (along with a couple of Monkee tunes thrown in) and a splendid backup band that includes John Jorgenson of the Hellecasters and the late, great Red Rhodes on pedal steel. Nez calmly and quietly propels the show and the result is a wonderful live concert. The DVD doesn't have any extras, but the show doesn't need any. Besides his musical career, Nez is a video pioneer. The 1981 film "Elephant Parts" won the very first video Grammy and sparked the creation of that TV monster MTV. But that was then, this is now. "EP" definitely is showing its age these days. Almost straight out of the chute is a skit about a gay Marine that may have been a little revolutionary at the time, but looks a bit embarrassing now. On the good side, there are several of Nez's music videos included in the film, among them the brilliant "Rio." For the DVD, Nez has also recorded a commentary titled "Michael Nesmith explains it all." Fans know that with a title like that, Nez, who seems to be with tongue firmly in cheek most of the time, could take it anywhere and does. The DVD also includes some material originally cut from the original release, press clippings and a Nez discography. Once revolutionary, today "Elephant Parts" looks closer to ordinary. But it's still Nez, which makes it better than a lot of what's out there.
GOOD ROCKIN' TONIGHT: THE LEGACY OF SUN RECORDS (IMAGE): There have been many recountings of the Sun Records story over the years, but this is, by far, perhaps the best. It features Sun Records founder Sam Phillips, looking the best we've seen him in many years, telling the story of his famous Memphis label, with added segments featuring famous musicians past and present performing some of Sun's greatest hits. The big attraction, of course, is Paul McCartney recording a wonderful version of "That's All Right, Mama" with Elvis sidemen Scotty Moore and D.J. Fontana. But the film, done in widescreen format, features such stars as Jimmy Page, Mark Knopfler and Kid Rock. An all-star cast in a richly deserved salute to a landmark record label. Well worth it.
"BEATLES UNAUTHORIZED/FUN WITH THE FAB FOUR" (Goodtimes 2-sided DVD): These two Beatle videos, originally released separately, are now available together on one two-sided DVD. "Unauthorized" has footage of the Hollywood Bowl and Washington D.C. shows, while "Fun" has a real gem: the Fabs' Shakespeare parody from "Around the Beatles." Both also have Pete Best's '64 appearance on "I've Got a Secret." Pete's secret didn't stay a secret from the celebrity panel very long. (He told them he'd left the Beatles.) The footage clearly shows its age with lots of graininess present. There's been no effort to spruce it up for DVD and, as usually the case in their releases, Goodtimes tends to tamper with their footage, cutting it up and otherwise not featuring it in its original condition. But, given the price, this one may not be perfect, but it's one of the few budget releases you won't hide completely out of embarrassment. (Note: Individual DVD versions of both programs, priced individually at the same price as the two-fer, have started turning up in stores. As far as we know, they're the same program with no extras, but they'll obviously cost you extra for the added disc. Be sure to get the two-fer and avoid the single discs.)
CAVEMAN (MGM): Ringo Starr has had some unusual movie roles in his portfolio ("Candy" and "Blindman," to name two), but none is probably more unusual than this goofy 1981 comedy in which he plays Atouk, a hapless cave dweller trying to win the heart of the lovely Lana (Barbara Bach), mate to the hulking Tonda (NFL star John Matuszak). He has no dialogue in this film -- he and fellow cave dwellers talk in a grunt-like language that, curiously, you actually can pick up on as the film goes on. Ringo shows off his comic talents throughout the film, aided by Matuszak, Shelley Long, Jack Gilford (excellent), Dennis Quaid and Avery Schreiber. The cheap special effects, instead of taking away from the film, actually add to the comic tone. While this isn't a masterpiece, it's fun to watch. It was during this film that Ringo and Barbara fell in love. In a couple of scenes where Atouk and Lana flirt with each other, you can see Ringo and Barbara weren't just acting. The DVD has both widescreen and pan-and-scan versions, with no extras except for the movie trailer.
GREAT BALLS OF FIRE (MGM): Goodness, gracious! What were they thinking? This 1989 biography of Jerry Lee Lewis would have worked a lot better if the script and the actors had taken themselves a little more seriously. Dennis Quaid takes Lewis' legendary cockiness into overdrive and plays the Killer like a bumbling hick town clown bewildered by his new fame. Winona Ryder (pre-shoplifting) plays his 13-year-old bride Myra as a starstruck child who falls innocently into her marriage with Lewis. Other roles in the film include Alec Baldwin (Jimmy Swaggert, Lewis' cousin), John Doe (J.W. Brown) and Steve Allen, playing himself on a recreation of one of Jerry Lee's early and powerful TV appearances. Most of the soundtrack, except for the finale, features new versions of Lewis' songs done especially for the movie. Though Lewis was enthusiastic about the movie before its release, he denounced it later. It's easy to see why: It made him look foolish. The DVD has both widescreen and pan-and-scan versions, plus the movie trailer. Not included and sorely missing is the music video of "Great Balls of Fire" that Lewis and Quaid did to promote the movie. A "making of .." short might have helped explain this misguided film.
CARL PERKINS AND FRIENDS -- BLUE SUEDE SHOES -- A ROCKABILLY SESSION (1985) (SNAPPER MUSIC): It was conceived as a simple tribute, but this hourlong show, originally shown on cable channel Cinemax in the U.S., turned out as an affectionate gathering and a significant musical event. Perkins, according to the story, videotaped invitations to his friends, including George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton and Roseanne Cash. The band also includes Dave Edmunds, Slim Jim Phantom, Lee Rocker and Earl Slick. (Sun Records buddies Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison pay tribute to Perkins in taped segments at the beginning of the program.) The appearance of Harrison was particularly significant: He'd been laying low at the time. But the call of old friend and musical influence Perkins was enough to get him to come out of "retirement". And it was like George had never been away. He came in halfway through the party, performed "Everybody's Trying To Be My Baby," sang backup on songs the rest of the way and looked like he was having a blast. Ringo Starr was also there, making one of the very few times two former Beatles appeared and performed together in recent years. Sadly, the DVD has no extra footage. Audio is available in both 5.1 Dolby surround (which sounds a little echoey) and 2.0 Dolby stereo. The program's been long unavailable on video, so it's great to have it back in print again. No question: this is one you have to have. (July '02)
ABBA: THE WINNER TAKES IT ALL -- THE ABBA STORY (POLYGRAM): Success sometimes comes at a price and ABBA, despite its glossy harmonies, paid a big one. It's hard to believe it's been over 20 years since ABBA hit the world stage and left such an incredible impression. This DVD, featuring a program originally made for British TV, features the complete story of the group as told by the group themselves. That's no ordinary feat, since at least one of the members of the group, blonde Agnetha, once the most outgoing member of the group, is now a recluse, a byproduct of the toll that ABBA's enormous success took upon her. That fact makes watching this program particularly heartbreaking, since it's obvious there's no chance there will ever be an ABBA reunion. The DVD goes through the ups and downs, the music, the marriages of the couples, and their divorces at the height of their fame. Though the ABBA story has all the elements of a "Behind the Music" episode, the story is told with seriousness and reverance and a lack of sensationalism, thank goodness. The program has an extra 30 minutes of footage not previously broadcast, including rehearsals for the musical "Mamma Mia." The DVD probably won't convert anyone who's not an ABBA fan, but fans will enjoy the music and all the video clips included (even if they're truncated). (June 2002)
VARIOUS ARTISTS: MESSAGE TO LOVE: THE ISLE OF WIGHT FESTIVAL -- THE MOVIE (SMV): This two-hour film of the 1971 Isle of Wight rock festival boasts a nice selection of rock acts, including Jimi Hendrix (his final festival appearance), the Doors (Morrison's final concert appearance), Joan Baez, Miles Davis, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Free, Jethro Tull, Tiny Tim, Leonard Cohen, Donovan, John Sebastian, Ten Years After and The Who. But the documentary tries to be another "Woodstock," showing the conflict the organizers had trying to break even while the crowd clearly wanted a free show. The film doesn't move along as smoothly as that concert epic, and at times seems to be going nowhere. The DVD, strangely, has the two-hour film divided to two sides of the disc, when it clearly could have fitted on one side. Anglophiles will enjoy it, but we'd recommend this one with reservations. (June 2002)
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