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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 week).

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 available.

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).


In Theaters

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 for humankind).

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 with Pitt.

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 the visuals.

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 well.

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 hits.

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 (naturally) ensue.

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 actually released!).

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 dursina@att.net and we'll see you next week. Excelsior!


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