Fight Club Strikes Out
Plus EXCALIBUR and HALLOWEEN 4 on DVD
An Autumnal Aisle Seat
By Andy Dursin
I'm getting backed up with the amount of DVDs we're receiving here in
the Northeast, so we'll get right into a truck-load of new releases below,
following a brief analysis of David Fincher's FIGHT CLUB.
To briefly follow up on a couple of topics we've discussed in the last
few weeks: Greame Revell is now credited with "Additional Music"
on THE INSIDER and has some tracks on Columbia's upcoming soundtrack release.
Thanks to those who wrote in about the identity of Lisa Gerrard and Pieter
Bourke, whose music apparently now comprises the bulk of the music in the
film (which Variety described as "strange" in their review last
I also received a bunch of emails about the ANGELA'S ASHES soundtrack,
which was rumored to be a "dialogue and music" concept album
on Decca. We haven't been able to confirm/deny anything except that Sony
Classical has their own soundtrack album scheduled for John Williams's
score -- which would indicate to me that there WILL be a music-only CD,
just as there has been for every Williams soundtrack since HEARTBEEPS never
appeared. In fact, I wouldn't be at all surprised if there are two albums
released from the movie. We'll have more info, of course, as it becomes
Danny Elfman's SLEEPY HOLLOW, as Lukas mentioned last Friday, is due
out on November 16th from Hollywood Records (which has been handling a
lot of Paramount soundtracks over the last year or so).
FIGHT CLUB (** of four): Never before has a director made so many flashy
movies dressed up in hip guise, grimy settings, and the ominious backdrop
of death, and had so little to say.
Following through on SEVEN and THE GAME, David Fincher's latest excursion
into the nightmarish world of modern living, FIGHT CLUB, is nothing less
than two and a half hours of excessive violence and outrage at the workaday
structure of the corporate workplace. True enough, Fincher has something
to say about how mundane our lives are and how reaching back to our primal
urges and desires brings forth suppressed emotions, but you can say it
all in the span of five minutes (or the space of this paragraph) instead
of sitting through the barrage of grizzly images Fincher conjures up from
one frame to the next in this film.
Edward Norton is a dissatisfied yuppie trying to find meaning in his
life (shades of THE GAME), and finds it in the form of Tyler Durden (Brad
Pitt), a "soap salesmen" who's actually a societal terrorist
who enjoys splicing pornographic frames into kid movies, urinating in restaurant
soup, and stealing lyposuction fat so he can create his special brew of
hand detergent. Norton and Pitt end up in a brawl and, in doing so, soon
create a secretive "Fight Club" for all other dissatisfied businesspeople
and yuppies to get out there, beat the hell out of each other, and "LIVE!"
for a change. (Whatever happened to the days of junking it all, moving
to an island in the South Pacific, and living with beautiful native women?
Somehow or other I don't think pounding another guy into submission in
the decaying basement of a fast-food restaurant is much of a progression
This ultimately leads to fascism and genuine terrorism, much to the
shock of Norton, who takes a back seat and wonders why nutcase Helena Bonham
Carter (seldom so unappealing as the film's love interest) keeps sleeping
Fincher does craft an amusing first third, primarily due to some clever
dialogue in Jim Uhls's screenplay, before it becomes apparent that FIGHT
CLUB isn't going to pay off any more satisfyingly than the director's past
cinematic work. There is a major twist that comes into play late in the
movie, but rest assured this isn't THE SIXTH SENSE -- for starters, the
movie doesn't utilize the twist well enough to be anything other than a
"oh, that's sort of cool" plot development. Indeed, a further
analysis of Norton's behavior seems to indicate a genuine homosexual undercurrent
(particularly considering the underbaked Jared Leto character), but FIGHT
CLUB never goes anywhere with it.
Instead, we get to see Meat Loaf as a former weightlifter with breasts,
a man's head shot off and fights dripping with blood, and the kinds of
ugly black/orange imagery (that Fincher staple) that that makes you feel
as if you've spent the last two hours in the gutter. If this is all that
David Fincher has to offer as a filmmaker, the act is getting old -- really
quick. (139 mins, R, ** score by The Dust Brothers)
SUPERSTAR (*1/2): I find Molly Shannon's Mary Catherine Gallagher
character from Saturday Night Live to actually be one of the funnier creations
to have originated from that uneven program in recent years, which is why
it's too bad that SUPERSTAR -- the latest feature stretched out of a SNL
sketch -- is so lame.
After a brief opening sequence establishing the clumsy Catholic school
girl's antics, SUPERSTAR quickly abandons all the manic slapstick the character
is known for and turns into a dull "be true to yourself" tale
of teen angst (with 30 year olds in the leads) as Mary Catherine struggles
to win the school's teen talent contest.
There aren't any big laughs to be found, not even a cameo by a former
SNL great. Shannon gives it her all, but she's done in (along with the
rest of the cast) by a script even more pedestrian than to be expected.
When Will Ferrell turns up as Jesus, you'll be prompted to hit the Fast
Forward button on your remote control -- except that doesn't work in a
theater (as I quickly found out). Not to worry, SUPERSTAR will soon be
banished to the shelves at your local video store, where you'll only be
gypped out of a few less bucks than you would to see it in theaters. (80
mins, PG-13, score by Michael Gore -- hey, whatever happened to that guy?).
DVD Reviews: EXCALIBUR, TEN THINGS..., and Assorted
Anchor Bay New Releases!
Warner Home Video's long-delayed release of John Boorman's EXCALIBUR
($19.95, letterboxed, ***1/2 movie, *** presentation) has finally been
released, and for fans of this 1981 fantasy, it's likely to stand as the
definitive video presentation of Boorman's acclaimed picture.
Boorman's career has been alternately filled with flops like EXORCIST
II and classics like DELIVERANCE, but he really hit his stride with this
fanciful retelling of the Arthurian legend, adapted by Rospo Pallenberg
from Malory's "Le Morte Darthur" with Boorman collaborating on
the screenplay. In addition to a script that contains all the staple images
of the story (Arthur pulling the sword from the stone, the appearance of
the Lady in the Lake, and the surreal Quest for the Grail), EXCALIBUR sports
an excellent cast, from Helen Mirren's sexy Morgana le Fay to Nicol Williamson's
eccentric Merlin, with early performances from Liam Neeson, Gabriel Byrne,
and Patrick Stewart among others. Nigel Terry's Arthur and Cherie Lunghi's
Guenevere are the weakest links in the cast, but both are serviceable enough
so that one has an emotional connection to the characters at the heart
of the tale.
Alex Thomson's cinematography is evocative and really sings on Warner's
DVD, which essentially is a superior rendering of their remastered Dolby
Digital Laserdisc from last year. The transfer is crisp and efficient and
the color spectrum -- masterfully utilized by Thomson and Boorman in their
cinematic visualization of the classic story -- is faithfully replicated
on the DVD transfer. While some print damage is apparent at times (particularly
in the film's opening set piece, where dirt speckles appear), this is,
by and large, an excellent transfer, the best EXCALIBUR has ever looked
outside of a movie theater.
Trevor Jones's score, meanwhile, has been a favorite of many listeners,
even though Boorman supplemented the soundtrack with ample doses of classical
and operatic works (including Carmina Burana, which has been utilized to
death in countless movie trailers ever since). Warner's Dolby Digital 5.1
soundtrack originates from an early Dolby Stereo mix of the film (reportedly,
the movie was only released to theaters in mono), and while the dynamic
range is improved on past incarnations, it isn't as enveloping as one would
expect from a 5.1 track. Considering the age of the soundtrack, however,
it's nevertheless perfectly adequate, with enough ambiance to nicely compliment
While Warner's originally announced this DVD as a "Special Edition,"
complete with an isolated score track, the released DVD comes up a tad
shy of being a full-fledged supplemental release. There's no music- only
track and no "Making of" featurette from Neil Jordan (shot during
the film's production), sad to say. That said, there's still an audio commentary
by director Boorman included (which will try your patience if you listen
to him speak straight through), and an effective theatrical trailer as
You get both of those extras -- and a solid transfer and soundtrack
-- all for the most reasonable $20 price tag, so kudos to Warner on delivering
a bargain package and a good presentation of a great movie.
Shifting gears entirely, we come to TEN THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU ($29.99,
*** movie, *** presentation), one of the year's more surprising comedy
Graced with infectious performances and plenty of belly laughs, this
amiable teen variation on "Taming of the Shrew" is easily the
year's best teen comedy, the lone standout in a sea of mediocre kid-pics
(you name 'em, I saw 'em, from SHE'S ALL THAT to NEVER BEEN KISSED).
Here, generally ticked off high school femme Julia Stiles ends up being
courted by outsider Heath Ledger after Joseph Gordon-Levitt finds out that
he can't date Stiles's lovely younger sister (the cute Larisa Oleynik)
until Stiles herself is taken out by a member of the opposite sex. Ledger
is recruited (i.e. compensated) by Gordon-Levitt to remedy the predicament,
at least until his own affections for Stiles get in the way and complications
The reason why this film works is simple: everything about it clicks.
Veteran TV director Gil Junger infuses a real energy in his film, and the
script by Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith nicely develops characters
while never skimping on the comedy. Gordon-Levitt and David Krumholtz are
hilarious as the brains behind the scheme, while Larry Miller turns in
an excellent character performances as the sisters' distraught father.
TEN THINGS also sports a colorful, upbeat cinematic presentation (kudos
to cinematographer Mark Irwin) and a fast pace, which attracted critics
and older viewers as well as its intended teen audience last Spring. Probably
the best of its kind since CLUELESS (ELECTION doesn't quite qualify as
a goofy teen comedy), TEN THINGS is good fun and highly recommended for
anyone inclined to partake in such a spirited and entertaining romp.
Touchstone's DVD release nicely reproduces the warm, bright cinematography
of the film in its non- anamorphic, 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The Dolby Digital
soundtrack, encoded in 5.1, has good channel separation even though this
isn't the kind of film that will give your home theater set-up a workout.
A theatrical trailer is included along with a French langauge track on
the Special Features roster.
Now, it wouldn't be October without some Halloween goodies appearing
here and there, which is why Anchor Bay has released HALLOWEEN 4: THE
RETURN OF MICHAEL MYERS (Anchor Bay, $24.95, ** movie, *** presentation)
on DVD just in time for the season. Now, I'm not a big fan of slasher movies
in general, though I admit that I have a soft spot for the HALLOWEEN series,
since I grew up watching the videos with my friend after school at this
time of year, and have a natural affection for any movie set in late October
in the first place.
To refresh your memory, HALLOWEEN 4 marked the return of the series
to the big-screen in 1988 after a five year layoff, and with its original
bad-guy to boot. HALLOWEEN II saw poor Michael (and Doc Loomis) burn up
in a hospital fire, but since HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH bombed
and producer Moustapha Akkad saw "The Shape" as a continued,
viable box-office presence, the series was resurrected just in time to
hit financial paydirt thanks to a hungry group of fans.
The first part of a three-film cycle, HALLOWEEN 4 is the best of the
later sequels, and that includes last year's more polished (but less atmospheric)
big-studio HALLOWEEN: H20. Donald Pleasance is back as the crazed Doc Loomis,
who returns to Haddonfield, Illinois once Michael -- not killed in the
fire, only badly burned (where have we heard that sequel excuse before?)
-- breaks out of prison and decides to stalk his home-town once again.
Naturally, that means idiotic teenagers being executed by The Shape,
while a subplot materializes involving the cute Ellie Cornell and her little
step-sister Jamie (Danielle Harris), an innocuous moppet related to Myers
and Jamie Lee Curtis (who appears in the form of a photograph).
Director Dwight H. Little makes the most of the low budget and crafts
a routine but nicely executed B- horror flick, which is much closer in
its evocation of mounting tension and Halloween itself than any of its
subsequent sequels. The twist ending is obvious (and was subsequently negated
by the narrative of HALLOWEEN 5), but Pleasance is fun and the movie itself
is better than you might expect.
Alan Howarth scored the movie with a creepy, brooding soundtrack (sprinkling
John Carpenter's original theme throughout) that sounds terrific in Anchor
Bay's Dolby Digital 5.1 remixed soundtrack. The DVD also sports a clear,
colorful 1.85:1 transfer and contains trailers for both this film and the
original Carpenter classic.
Of course, this movie isn't a classic, but on its own modest terms,
HALLOWEEN 4 checks out as solid seasonal entertainment, and with it being
independently funded and released, feels more "authentic" than
the last two, Dimension Films-financed productions.
By the way, Anchor Bay will be releasing HALLOWEEN 5 next year, making
the belated final installment in the trilogy -- 1995's lousy HALLOWEEN:
THE CURSE OF MICHAEL MYERS -- soon to be the only film in the series not
on DVD. The reason being is that Dimension, not Moustapha Akkad, owns the
rights to that film, which was severely re-cut after Donald Pleasance's
death, putting this string of films to an end. (I don't know why Akkad
waited six years after HALLOWEEN 5 to finish off the series, since few
could remember what happened in that movie by the time that PART VI was
From an R-rated Halloween movie to a G-rated Christmas flick (with a
few adult themes thrown in for good measure), Anchor Bay has also released
ONE MAGIC CHRISTMAS (*** movie, *** presentation, $24.95) on DVD,
getting an extremely early jump on the holiday season.
A Disney release directed by Philip Borsos and written by Thomas Meehan,
this "Wonderful Life" variant stars Mary Steenburgen as a Mom
enduring a tough holiday season when Harry Dean Stanton appears as a Guardian
Angel to try and smooth things over for her and her young daughter.
Well acted and nicely shot (by Frank Tidy), this is an intriguing movie
filled with poignancy and emotion, particularly since the film is darker
(literally and narratively) than you may expect from a Disney picture.
The characters in the movie have genuine problems and while the movie nevertheless
becomes uplifting, you have to sit through a great deal of depressing moments
to get there. Perhaps a viewing far away from the season itself is the
best time to catch ONE MAGIC CHRISTMAS (though close enough so that the
Malls at least will have changed their decorations from Halloween!).
The DVD sports a crisp Dolby Digital soundtrack and 1.85:1 remastered
transfer; Anchor Bay has added a theatrical trailer and both the letterboxed
and Full-Frame versions for good measure on the Dual Layer release.
NEXT WEEK: Halloween treats as we look at the Limited
Edition DVDs of HALLOWEEN and ARMY OF DARKNESS! Send all comments in to
firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll see you
next week. Excelsior!