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The Aisle Seat Third Season Premiere

A look at five upcoming movies and a host of goodies on DVD

By Andy Dursin

Now that September has finally kicked into gear (and it sure did in the Northeast once Hurricane Floyd came barreling past us as a wind-packed tropical storm), it seems like it's the perfect time to take a look at the Fall movie season and the scores that we can look forward to hearing along with them.

This year, we're going to take a brief capsulized look at what we can expect from both movie and film music this season, with five specific movies this week and another five to come in the next Aisle Seat column.

Don't forget to scroll down for some DVD reviews and Mail Bag comments following this quick preview of the Fall to come, and remember to send all comments to dursina@att.net as we start this third year (!) of The Aisle Seat here at Film Score Monthly's internet home. Excelsior!

Five Movies (and Soundtracks) to Watch This Season, Part One

1. SLEEPY HOLLOW (Paramount, November 19th): This project intrigued me right from its development stages, and at least from seeing the trailer, it appears that Tim Burton may indeed be delivering a classic romantic-horror-fantasy, done in the style of Hammer horror with the fairy tale images of EDWARD SCISSORHANDS. The cast is terrific (Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci, Jeffrey Jones, Christopher Lee, Christopher Walken), the cinematography and settings look to hit just the right, misty October touch, and contributing the score is Danny Elfman, of course, who may turn in his Magnum Opus given the subject matter. His music promises to fall somewhere between the darkness of BATMAN, the rural folksy atmosphere of SOMMERSBY, and the fairy tale poignancy of SCISSORHANDS, and if it sounds anything like one of those three works, SLEEPY HOLLOW could be one of Elfman's best.

2. ANGELA'S ASHES (Paramount, November 26th): Frank McCourt's outstanding autobiographical novel of growing up in a poverty-stricken Irish family has been brought to the screen by director Alan Parker (EVITA, THE COMMITMENTS) with a great cast that includes Robert Carlyle and Emily Watson. Scoring the film is none other than John Williams, who could well be bringing home another Oscar if the picture and the music reach the emotional heights that McCourt's book so often achieved. Depressing at times but uplifting at others, this could be a tearjerker that captivates audiences of all persuasions this winter.

3. THE GREEN MILE (Warner Bros., December 17th): Combine Stephen King's arguably finest work with the director of THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION and a cast headlined by Tom Hanks, and you have the recipe for what could be one of the finest movies of the year. While some test audience reaction has reportedly been a bit on the disappointing side (the framing prologue and epilogue sequences, involving an older version of Hanks's character, have been problematic for the filmmakers since pre-production), there's no doubt that King's serialized story -- like SHAWSHANK with mild supernatural elements -- cries out for big-screen treatment, provided writer-director Frank Darabont doesn't overplay the more sentimental elements of the material. Thomas Newman provides the music here, which again promises to be alternately evocative and uplifting, just like the last time he worked with Darabont. Let's hope this one ranks with the roster of "good King cinematic adaptations" along with DOLORES CLAIBORNE, MISERY, and SHAWSHANK, and not the other handfuls of disappointing tripe produced from the author's works.

4. BICENTENNIAL MAN (Disney, Christmas): Robin Williams teams with director Chris Columbus again for this adaptation of an Isaac Asimov story, produced with a mammoth $120 million budget. A sci-fi comedy spanning 200 years with Williams as a robot, BICENTENNIAL MAN was originally supposed to be one of Summer 2000's big movies -- with John Williams writing the music -- until Disney decided to rush the movie in time for a Christmas opening. The change in schedule sabotaged Williams's involvement in the film (due to commitments to other projects like ANGELA'S ASHES), so the music chores now fall to James Horner, writing his final score of the Millennium. Expect heart-tugging emotion and perhaps even an original song to compliment what could be an interesting, mainstream holiday comedy, provided Columbus doesn't go overboard in heavy-handed emotions like he has in the past (remember the ending of MRS.DOUBTFIRE?).

5. END OF DAYS (Universal, November 24th): Arnold Schwarzenegger has been waiting a while to star in a supernatural thriller. He (wisely) turned down FALLEN and held off on several other projects before agreeing to appear in this Satan-comes-to-New York-to-find-a-bride horror opus, which given the favorable commercial climate of the genre these days, couldn't be opening at a better time. Peter Hyams's resurgence following the success of the formulaic but better-than-average THE RELIC comes to a head with this slick- looking occult thriller, co-starring Robin Tunney and Gabriel Bryne as Old Scratch himself. John Debney is scoring this one, and while I do not mean to put down Debney, I hope he pulls through with a score here that's not as -- well, to be frank, ordinary -- as his temp-track induced scores from other Hyams projects (RELIC, SUDDEN DEATH). Could be potent stuff to counter the effects of SCREAM 3, though the score may be a disappointment waiting to happen if it's anything like much of Debney's past work in this genre.

Fall DVD Mania: Buena Vista goodies and a score-packed New Line Special Edition

Just when you think that you have exhausted enough monetary means for the time being, along comes a full plate of DVD releases due out this Autumn that promise to captivate viewers of all persuasions.

Buena Vista has joined in the fun with a handful of new DVDs that contain trailers, Dolby Digital soundtracks, and generally crisp transfers. While the company has only intermittently dabbled into the kinds of "Collector's Edition" releases that interest die-hard movie buffs, the studio's "basic" packages are perfectly acceptable, and Disney promises to launch more extensive supplemental releases on certain titles in the future (like HALLOWEEN: H20 and SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE, which is already available internationally).

In the meantime, two of the better Disney live-action releases from the '90s have just been released on DVD, those being Joe Johnston's underrated 1991 period fantasy THE ROCKETEER (***1/2) and the amiable, Brat Pack revamp of THE THREE MUSKETEERS (***, both $29.98, letterboxed), a 1993 remake featuring Charlie Sheen, Kiefer Sutherland, Chris O'Donnell and Tim Curry.

THE ROCKETEER fared moderately well at the box-office and received generally positive notices from critics, but somehow I felt the movie should have performed better than it did: this WWII-set adaptation of Dave Stevens' comic book features flavorful period dÈcor and atmosphere, not to mention an interesting plot (involving a rocket-propelled superhero, Nazis, the mafia, and Hollywood leading men), and a terrific cast. Indeed, not only do you have Paul Sorvino on GOODFELLAS-like turf, but we also get the ravishing Jennifer Connelly as the love interest, and Timothy Dalton in one of his best performances as an Errol Flynn-like marquee star who sides with the Nazis.

Joe Johnston, who has since gone on to helm JUMANJI and OCTOBER SKY (and was recently announced as the director of JURASSIC PARK 3), did a superb job with this handsomely produced film, which also boasts ILM special effects and one of James Horner's most enjoyable scores.

THE THREE MUSKETEERS, meanwhile, was a good-natured attempt from director Stephen Herek (MR.HOLLAND'S OPUS) to make a family-friendly swashbuckler with plenty of humor and a lack of the satirical (and sometimes sarcastic) bite that Richard Lester brought to his two takes on Dumas.

As with THE ROCKETEER, the production is simply marvelous: the artistic design, cinematography (by Dean Semler), and music (by Michael Kamen) are top-notch and the performances are engaging, right down to Curry's Cardinal Richelieu and the female leads turned in by Rebecca DeMornay, Gabrielle Anwar, and Julie Delpy. Kamen's score is a rousing mix of derring-do and heroic themes, and indeed sounds more cohesive than the disjointed score he turned in on ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THEIVES a couple of years before, that terrific opening and finale notwithstanding.

Both THE ROCKETEER and THREE MUSKETEERS were shot in Panavision, and Disney's DVDs do a solid job reproducing the theatrical experience with their 2.35:1 letterboxed transfers. THE ROCKETEER appears to have been culled from the same source elements as the laserdisc, so while the colors are a bit stronger and bleed less, the image at times exhibits a little bit of shimmering on the edges. Still, it looks good, and THE THREE MUSKETEERS looks even better: again framed at 2.35:1, the elaborate look of the film has been perfectly rendered in the DVD, and indeed appears superior to the older, THX-approved laserdisc.

Both soundtracks have been given upgrades from their preceding laserdisc mixes: both DVDs feature Dolby Digital soundtracks, with THREE MUSKETEERS in full 5.1 Digital and THE ROCKETEER in a 4 channel Digital mix. If you have Dolby Digital AC-3 equipment, both soundtracks are going to sound terrific with full, three-dimensional activity. Trailers have been included on both DVDs, with THREE MUSKETEERS also containing a production featurette and the music video for the Sting/Bryan Adams/Rod Stewart forgotten hit "All For Love," which for some reason seems to be in mono.

Also newly released from Buena Vista is the direct-to-video Dimension Films release, RUSSELL MULCAHY'S TALE OF THE MUMMY (*1/2, $29.98, letterboxed), a goofy and off-the-wall exercise in silly horror that was likely rushed into production to try and beat Universal's MUMMY to the screen.

Jason Scott Lee plays a U.S. English Embassy cop investigating a series of strange murders that are linked to doctor Louise Lombard's recent pillaging of an Egyptian tomb. Turns out the London killings are due to the arrival of a mummy named Talos, whose quest for immortality was unleashed by Lombard's granddad, Christopher Lee, some decades before in a prologue that closely resembles the opening to STARGATE (this is one of those movies where every scene tends to look and feel like something you've already seen).

You have to admire a movie with plenty of over-the-top murders (Talos nails one poor bloke on a toilet in arguably the film's most disturbing sequence), ambitious CGI effects done on the cheap, and wacky performances that include Sean Pertwee as a deranged disciple, a blond Lysette Anthony (stay off the bleach, hon), and blink-and-you'll-miss-them-cameos from Michael Lerner, Honor Blackman, Shelley Duvall, and Coen Brothers regular Jon Polito.

Mulcahy, who directed and co-wrote the picture, turns in a brisk 88-minute thriller that, to give credit where it is due, does have its moments of entertaining, guilty-pleasure fun. While the movie's personnel credentials seem to indicate that it was lensed with a theatrical release in mind (the cinematography is by DOLORES CLAIBORNE's Gabriel Beristain), TALE OF THE MUMMY is the kind of mystical nonsense that you pick up with no expectations on video, down a few brews and enjoy. The last shot bears an eerie resemblance to the finale of STEPHEN KING'S STORM OF THE CENTURY -- but, like I said, it's that kind of movie, folks.

Disney's DVD here is framed in the full 2.35:1 aspect ratio and looks good, though some stock footage shots appear ragged at times. The Dolby Digital soundtrack is also quite effective and includes a competent score from Stefano Manetti.

Finally, New Line has released a "Plantinum Series Collection" DVD of James Foley's THE CORRUPTOR (**, $24.98, letterboxed with isolated score), featuring an elaborate collection of supplements.

Foley, who once directed GLENGARRY GLENN ROSS and has since been wallowing in filming well- made but obvious thrillers like FEAR, here re-teams with that film's star, Mark Wahlberg, in a tale of police corruption in New York City's Chinatown. Produced mainly, I would assume, as a vehicle for Hong Kong superstar Chow Yun-Fat, this is at least a more competent thriller than Chow's first American sojourn, the lousy REPLACEMENT KILLERS, though you really have to be a fan of this genre to appreciate THE CORRUPTOR.

More often than not the story moves at a slow pace and the inevitable questions of loyalty, betrayal, and double-crossing all arise as Foley extends his film to an unmanageable 118 minute running time. There are a few effective sequences along the way (including a crackerjack car chase), but the film just isn't as efficient and interesting as it could have been, and the characters aren't particularly appealing.

Despite the movie's at-times meandering narrative, New Line has managed to produce a fantastic DVD, which once again shows that the studio is the best when it comes to producing supplement-filled DVDs that push the boundaries of the medium.

The behind-the-scenes documentary is filled with location footage and candid interviews, which touch upon everything from the film's car chase (more explicit and longer in its international release version) to the production of the trailer and everything inbetween. Even better are the film's menu screens and additional extra features, ranging from trailers and the complete screenplay (accessible on DVD-ROM PC drives) and a terrific isolated score track.

Film music fans will be more than thrilled to learn that New Line has not only included Carter Burwell's fine score on a separate track, but have also produced a full index listing of the various score tracks in the film, allowing listeners to jump from one cue to the next. Additional comments from Burwell are included, making this one of the finest examples of presenting a full film score on a DVD we've yet seen.

The transfer looks good in the Super 35 aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and the Dolby Digital and Surround tracks are unsurprisingly elaborate.

THE CORRUPTOR may not be one of the year's best movies, but it is easily one of the best DVDs of 1999, and packed with the kinds of goodies that DVD fans hope to check out every time we pop a disc in the player. If only every film could be released this way?

Aisle Seat Mail Bag: Late Summer Laments

>From Steve Stromberg (strombates@aol.com):

    From the trailers I saw, The Astronaut's Wife looked suspiciously like a remake of "I Married a Monster from Outerspace" - a 1958 B movie I saw when I was 12. I remember liking it because it was creepy and the only special effect was when people died they'd fall to the ground and their bodies would be replaced by sand with their replicant standing their watching the process. There is a good performance by Tom Tryon, who, on his honeymoon with Nita Talbot, is stricken and does not, shall we say, perform at all on his wedding night.

    My other comment centers on The 13th Warrior--better know as "Beowulf" for those who remember that one from college. Yes, the Goldsmith score is well worth having. The movie was a frustrating experience. Diana Venora is given second billing and five lines of dialog. There was no character development for either her (the King's daughter) or the other lead female actress who is Banderas' love interest. The subplot which begins well with an evil Prince--the son of the ailing King of the village the warriors come to protect--and his antagonism towards the warriors disappears somewhere, along with the king and the rest of Venora's performance - she looks stunning by the way. It was so obviously cut in either the writing or editing process that as I watched the wonderful cinematography, well-stage battle sequences, I kept on hoping for a well-rounded and thought out movie. Alas, that was not in the cards at all. Besides, Crichton ripped off "Beowulf" in such an obvious manner I don't see why it didn't receive some credit or mention besides changing Grendel to Wendel, etc. Too bad, this could have been a good one. I enjoyed watching it and the individual set pieces such as the night attack and the decent in the cave. Go see "Bowfinger" instead.

Steve, I think that THE 13TH WARRIOR is one of those disappointing movies that continuously threatens to be better than it is. It's also frustrating because there wasn't anything wrong with the movie that another 30 minutes of character development couldn't have corrected. Too bad, and because producer Michael Chricton controls the film, there's almost no chance we'll ever see director John McTiernan's original version, which did boast a striking, more primal score by Graeme Revell that worked as well in its own way as Goldsmith's more heroic, old-fashioned effort does in the final print.

>From Bob Gutowski <Rgutowski@nycds.org>

    Saw DUDLEY DO-RIGHT this weekend, and it was vile. Neither Brendan Fraser nor the inexplicable Sarah Jessica Parker has been encouraged to play the characters of Dudley and Nell as we remember them. I imagine the makers of the film thought that it was enough to have Alfred Molina camping it up as Snidley.. Surprise! It isn't, even if Molina is pretty hysterical (though he starts out sounding like Hans Conreid (the original voice of Snidely) and then veers into a British accent). His performance works, just the same.

    However, after the Vegas-like "Kumquat Indian" dance extravaganza featuring scantily-clad braves, as memories of CAN'T STOP THE MUSIC and XANADU went whirling through my brain, I realized that the main question was, who is this movie for? (I've also never nearly fallen asleep during a climactic battle scene before, but this movie is, ahem, different.)

Bob, all I can say is, beware any movie that opens on Labor Day weekend -- particularly those from major studios that figured to fare better being released at any other point during the year. Universal must have realized a flop on their hands (at 75 minutes, no less!) and dumped the movie out asap, so it would trickle away without anyone noticing it. Their strategy, if that's what you can call it, at least worked as the movie tanked with a less than $7 million box-office take.

Let's hope their ROCKY & BULLWINKLE live-action/CGI effort (with Robert DeNiro, Jason Alexander, and Rene Russo!) fares better next summer.

NEXT WEEK: Five more Fall Movies to Watch, plus STIGMATA and STIR OF ECHOES (finally!). See you at the movies, and send all relevant takes to me at dursina@att.net in the interim. Cheers!


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