Mel Tormé, Rob McConnell and the Boss Brass—Velvet & Brass
Having seen Mel Tormé perform at Carnegie Hall in the last few years of his life, I can vouch for his vocal virtuosity, incredible energy, infectious charm, and ability to toss off a Buddy Rich drum solo. The first of these two hybrid SACD/CD releases captures him with pianist George Shearing live at the Paul Masson Mountain Winery in 1988. On the second, a studio set recorded in 1995, he pairs off with a big band, just a year before the stroke that would end his career.
The Tormé/Shearing disc is the stronger one. It combines the spontaneity of a live performance with the intimacy of a studio recording, and an intelligent multichannel mix places Tormé's still-supple voice mostly in the center channel, where it belongs, saving the left and right channels for Shearing's piano and the surrounds for ambience and applause. Here is Tormé in all his guises: Mel the comic, joking his way through a seven-part "New York, New York Medley." Mel the scat singer, mimicking a trumpet on "The Way You Look Tonight." Mel the crooner, strutting his falsetto on the final note of "Folks Who Live on the Hill." Shearing channels Ravel in his sensitive accompaniment to "Out of This World" as this perfect pairing of minds conjures a golden melancholia.
Tormé's voice disappears from the center channel on Velvet and Brass. Despite the richness of Rob McConnell's brass in both the front and back, such hole-in-the-middle surround mixes are disappointing. This autumnal glimpse of Mel is for fans only.—Mark Fleischmann
League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (DVD, 20th Century Fox)
Based on the popular "graphic novel," League the movie squanders an intriguing concept. In an alternate reality, a team of classic literary characters is assembled in Victorian England to stave off a world war that the Fantom is plotting. Led by Allan Quatermain (Sean Connery), the crack team also includes Captain Nemo, Tom Sawyer, Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, and a disciple of the Invisible Man, who must together save Britannia.
While the characters are interesting at first blush, none are particularly deep or worthy of our concern. Once each character demonstrates his talent, the movie degenerates into a fairly typical action film, albeit one whose production design makes it very cool to look at. The DVD is up to the task of presenting that distinctive look, with the 2.35:1 anamorphic picture boasting very good detail and realistic skin tones. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, meanwhile, is exceptionally robust, with lots of low-frequency action and fully encompassing surrounds. It's a fun listen.
Extras are a mixed bag. We get two commentary tracks, with multiple cast and crew members recorded individually or in pairs, but director Steve Norrington is conspicuously absent. I found the track featuring the producers and three of the actors (none of whom is named Connery) a bit more engaging than the one that teams the talents behind the costumes, visual/make-up effects, and miniatures. There are also 12 rather dull deleted scenes, and a group of six featurettes that can be played together and total 53 minutes. Most interesting is seeing how they built—then destroyed—Venice in miniature.—Gary Frisch
Freddy vs. Jason (DVD, New Line)
Slasher-film buffs have been anticipating the onscreen match-up between Freddy and Jason for years. Unfortunately, the two horror icons did their slicing and dicing for rival studios, so it took almost 10 years for Freddy vs. Jason to become a reality. Any film with that much of a buildup is almost destined to be a disappointment, but Freddy vs. Jason is somehow better than it has any right to be. After all, it has all of the things that make slasher movies fun: lots of breasts, even more gore, and some of the most politically incorrect dialogue this side of an Eminem single.
To its credit, Freddy vs. Jason begins with an interesting twist on exactly how to get the two maniacs into the same reality. It seems Freddy's been forgotten on Elm Street, thanks to an experimental dream-depravation drug, so Freddy tricks Jason into hacking up the pot-smoking, sex-craving Elm Street kids in his place. Of course, everyone assumes Freddy is the one doing the damage, and the subsequent panic gives Freddy his powers back. Of course, Elm Street certainly isn't big enough for the both of them, so our "heroes" wage an all-out, WWF-like assault on each other during the final hectic half of the film.
The impressive two-DVD set features both a stellar 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer and a 1.33:1 version, and the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack brings every flesh slice right into your living room. Multiple extras include deleted scenes, full-length commentary, and five different featurettes. Freddy vs. Jason may not be a classic, but it does accomplish something many thought impossible: It makes two tired franchises somehow seem alive again. Maybe George Lucas and the Matrix folks should talk. . .—Gary Maxwell