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Post-Oscar Nomination Depression

by Andy Dursin

No TRUMAN SHOW? No BULWORTH? No Jim Carrey? No Bill Murray?

Then again, why should we be surprised? The Oscar nominations were announced, and once again, most of us were perplexed by the absence of several pictures and actors who were thought to be shoo-ins. Sure, the Academy Awards were always political, but in recent years, the constant lobbying and politicking by various studios has usurped the achievement that the Award represents and really turned this over-hyped event into a popularity contest for those who vote. I don't know about you, but watching Tom Hanks possibly receive his third Oscar will turn what's already a stunning Award-career into something that's downright bizarre. (Of course, I like Tom Hanks, and it's not his fault, but three Oscars for the star of TURNER & HOOCH?)

As far as music goes, I have two picks for this year's last installment of the two separate scoring Oscar categories--SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, even though it wasn't John Williams's best work (by any stretch), and SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE, because it's in the category where Anne Dudley won for THE FULL MONTY a year ago. For Best Picture, Director, and Actor, check your brain at the door and watch SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, one of the year's most overrated films (a good movie, but definitely not a great one), walk away with the prizes. For the other categories, movies that few viewers even went to see dominate the nominations, which indeed may create less interest than usual, in addition to diminishing ratings.

Then again, maybe Rob Lowe will turn up with Snow White in a musical montage, and all will be right with the world again. Sigh.


In Theaters

SHE'S ALL THAT (**): I'm an admitted fan of teenage films. You name it, whether it's one of those John Hughes-Molly Ringwald movies, or even CAN'T BUY ME LOVE, the genre has always been a favorite of mine, since there's often some truth to be found inbetween the sometimes raunchy comedic hyjinks of most teen movies. (And if you grew up in the '80s, you know it was a prime time for movies aimed at the 12-17 set).

After seeing the genre lay pretty much dormant for much of this decade, all it took was CLUELESS and SCREAM to revive the teen film in the '90s at full speed. Unfortunately, for every SCREAM there has been an I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER, and for each CLUELESS there's...well, SHE'S ALL THAT.

Calling this mindless comedy an updating of "Pygmalion" is actually giving the film more credit than it really deserves, for although it has what appears to be a "can't-miss" premise (the class outcast becomes popular by means of the class President, who undertakes the task of overseeing her make-over through a bet with a friend, but naturally falls in love with her), the execution is sadly lacking.

It's too bad, because leads Freddie Prinze, Jr. (as the Class President) and Rachael Leigh Cook (as the art-geek who he "renovates" and becomes infatuated with) are both appealing. Ultimately, and unfortunately, they spend too much time struggling to overcome the script's penchant for relying on low-brow gags and also the erratic pacing by director Robert Iscove, who never settles on a comfortable comic rhythm or romantic pitch to play out the scenario.

The movie has a few good scenes--mainly revolving around Cook's pool-cleaning father (nicely played by Kevin Pollak) and her younger brother (Kieran Culkin, Mac's little bro)--but interspersed between the insight and warmth are unlikeable characters and subplots that just sort of trickle away into nothingness. (Anna Paquin, playing Prinze's sister, has nothing to do here). I would have liked to have seen more sequences between Prinze and Cook, showing their relationship develop, and a whole lot less of Prinze's ex-girlfriend and Matthew Lilliard's "Real World" sleaze bag bad-guy, which eats up a lot of screen time and becomes very tired--and really unfunny--pretty quick.

SHE'S ALL THAT would like to be a kind of John Hughes comedy for this decade, but it lacks the heart and incisiveness that marked the Hughes pictures. This movie is too pat, too formula, and too predictable, and squanders its lead performances in a product that's unfortunately low-rent most of the way through. (PG-13, 90 mins.)


DVD Round-Up

Anchor Bay Entertainment continues their aggressive promotion of obscure, international, and even classic films on DVD. Clearly, no other company has seized the opportunity to release so many films of different genres as Anchor Bay has--in addition to horror classics, the company is diversifying its catalogue with the below releases, not to mention a handful of titles licensed from Disney (!) due out in the near future. (Among these will be the first widescreen presentation of THE BLACK HOLE, in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, due at the end of March).

In the meantime, Anchor Bay's most recent releases boast improved transfers and an eclectic collection of additions to their library. Unlike AB's earlier DVDs, each of these titles include full display timings and detectable chapter markings, making them more accessible to move around in.

The first and most significant addition to AB's catalogue is the well-regarded Gregory Peck-Jennifer Jones 1946 western DUEL IN THE SUN (***). A mammoth David O.Selznick production, this often over-the-top movie is best known for its fiery performances (Jones plays a half-breed who falls into a trap between brothers Peck and Joseph Cotton), splendid color cinematography, and best of all, a grand score by Dimitri Tiomkin. Licensed from ABC Video, Anchor Bay's DVD looks better-than-average, with some brilliant color splashes in addition to some hazy backgrounds, most likely the result of less-than-pristine source elements. The Dolby Digital mono soundtrack is sometimes out-of-synch with the picture, but is generally clean.

Moving on, Sam Peckinpah's controversial STRAW DOGS (***) remains banned in the UK (as the jacket reminds us on the front cover), but fans of the director will be pleased with Anchor Bay's DVD release. Originally issued a few years ago by Fox on laserdisc, AB's letterboxed transfer is sensational, surpassing the laser's transfer in color, clarity and contrast. How much you enjoy Peckinpah's film--about a meek college professor (Dustin Hoffman) who runs afoul of some British hooligans while visiting his wife's home village in England--is strictly a matter of taste, but the movie remains powerful despite some of its shortcomings, and the violence still potent after all these years. For technical quality, this is Anchor Bay's best looking DVD yet, and Jerry Fielding's score sounds adequate in the Dolby Digital monophonic soundtrack.

From the controversial to the almost forgotten, AB has dusted off the 1968 Sean Connery-Brrigette Bardot western SHALAKO (**), one of Connery's first projects after leaving 007 behind in YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE. This lackadasical western, which comes in both widescreen and pan-and-scan formats, stars Connery as a cowboy scout for the U.S. Army, who guards a group of European society types (including Bardot, Jack Hawkins, and even his GOLDFINGER co-star Honor Blackman) from Apaches while venturing in New Mexico during the 1880s. Based on a Louis L'Amour novel, SHALAKO is nothing special, but western fans will get a kick out of Connery's performance, not to mention the obnoxious score by Robert Farnon, which includes the requisite male chorus tune "Ballad of Shalako," complete with some of the most repetitive lyrics of any western song of the period (and that includes Dominic Frontiere's "Ballad of John Chisum"!).

Anchor Bay has also specially packaged THE EVIL DEAD (**) as a series of five collectible "picture disc" releases, although there are no additional supplements to be found on the DVD (Elite's laserdisc contained a handful of extras, including audio commentary). The non-letterboxed transfer of Sam Raimi's original Deadite gorefest is just fine, although I still prefer EVIL DEAD 2 and ARMY OF DARKNESS to this film, which plays like the former without the laughs. (Anchor Bay is planning on releasing an expanded version of ARMY OF DARKNESS this October, incidentally).

Next, we come to the 1984 sci-fi thriller IMPULSE (**) with Tim Matheson and Meg Tilly as a couple who find out that Tilly's small, pictaresque Midwestern town is harboring some deep secrets, the result of which have turned demure homemakers into homicial maniacs. Directed by Graham Baker (THE FINAL CONFLICT, ALIEN NATION), this one is a fairly entertaining thriller featuring an early performance by Bill Paxton. The non-letterboxed transfer is just fine, and Paul Chiahara's score is better than average to boot.

Finally, Anchor Bay has also released a pair of 1967 Jesus Franco films on DVD, both titles coming dubbed and offering fun for fans of obscure '60s cinema. KISS ME MONSTER [BESAME MONSTRUO] is the more entertaining of the two titles, starring Janine Reynaud and Rossana Yanni in a spy-thriller-horror-movie with an amusing soundtrack. The other picture, SUCCUBUS [GETRAEUMTE STUNDEN, aka NECRONOMICON] is a dreamy, erotic horror film also with Reynaud, as a nightclub performer who engages in simulated S&M until her dreams start pulling her over into committing murder for real. Fans of the obscure should check it out, but it's certainly an acquired taste.

We'll have reviews of Anchor Bay's Dario Argento DVDs in the next few weeks.

NEXT WEEK: The usual potpourri of opinions. Don't forget, if you're tired of the Oscar nominations and need to vent, do it here by emailing me at dursina@att.net. We'll post your comments next time!


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