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Post-Egg Nog Aisle Seat

A Holiday Special

By Andy Dursin

Days are counting away before the new Millennium so before the computers crash, the cities tumble into the sea, and the cast of FRIENDS loses their footing in the dark, let's clean out the Aisle Seat Mail Bag with some of the most pertinent comments I've received over the last six weeks. Be warned that the following column -- following a look at Oliver Stone's latest -- contains spelling errors and other material which may be hazardous to your grammatical skills! (but you wrote them, so it's your problem!).

Have a super, safe New Year's Eve and we'll see you on the other side in 2000!


In Theaters

ANY GIVEN SUNDAY (***1/2 of four): Subtract a star if you're not a sports fan (and skip down to the Mail Bag section accordingly), since this 162-minute adrenaline-rush -- Oliver Stone's energetic, cinematic look at professional football -- manages to capture all the elements of the game: bone-crunching hits, veteran quarterbacks, younger rising stars, battle-scarred coaches, and tumultuous upper-management.

You've read a plot scenario like this before: the movie chronicles the on and off-field escapades of the Miami Sharks (the NFL wisely opted not to grant their license for this all-too realistic film), a once-champion team now fading into the twilight. The coach (Al Pacino) has seen better days, and now is faced with the prospects of using a hothead rookie (Jamie Foxx) after the veteran QB (Dennis Quaid) is hit early and often in the film's opening game sequence. To make matters worse, the owner (Cameron Diaz) wants to pack up stakes and move the team to Los Angeles, while the Sharks themselves are mired in a four-game losing streak.

It sounds hackneyed, but ANY GIVEN SUNDAY manages to not only encompass the usual "sports movie" formula of underdogs rising up against all odds, but also the controversial elements that make pro football such a constant topic of discussion in the sports world: drug abuse, medicinal cover-ups, players out of control making money beyond their wildest dreams, and succumbing to temptation at the cost of the game itself. Issues of race, sex, and merchandizing contracts are also adeptly brought up in the picture, which manages to touch upon each of these subjects without overly dwelling on any of them.

Stone's hyperkinetic filmmaking style has run colder than hot of late, but ANY GIVEN SUNDAY is easily his best movie in years: hand-held camera, use of different film stocks, pounding music (from rap and techno tracks to original music co-composed by Robbie Robertson among others), and frequent montages make this one of the shortest two-and-a-half hours you're likely to spend at the theater, even if some of the game footage is too eclectic for its own good (often times it's impossible to follow one play from start to finish without getting dizzy). Still, more often than not, the technique works.

Even better are the performances, which manage to penetrate through Stone's fast cutting and the episodic script (written by Stone and John Logan from Rob Huizenga's novel): Pacino is perfect as the embattled coach, while Diaz surprises with a fairly believable performance as the fetching young owner of the team, which her father built for success along with the current coach. Foxx, meanwhile, is terrific as the new QB who rises too quickly to fame, and Quaid believably conveys the veteran who has seen it all and knows his time is up. Additional supporting performances manage to add to the movie's depth, from real-life football greats (Lawence Taylor, Johnny Unitas, Dick Butkus, etc.) to smaller parts played by John C.McGinley (as a Jim Rome-like reporter), James Woods and Matthew Modine as the team physicians, and Stone himself as the Sharks's color commentator.

The movie moves fast, looks great, and captures the essence of the game -- and its turbulent off-field issues -- while firmly remaining a celebration of the sport itself. If you could care less about football, chances are good that you'll find the movie to be a lot of noise and nonsense. For sports aficionados, ANY GIVEN SUNDAY ranks as one of the best sports movies since RUDY, and a movie well worth seeking out if you're somehow Bowl-ed out by all the college and pro games on the tube this week. (R, 162 mins)


Aisle Seat Reader Bag

I've received a handful of emails over the last few weeks, so without further delay, here's a round-up of comments regarding recent Aisle Seat columns, and particularly my reviews of THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH (thumbs down), SLEEPY HOLLOW (thumbs up), and THE IRON GIANT (thumbs up for kids) among others?

From Thomas <thomasc@nowtranslations.com>

    I think the only thing creative about the latest Bond films is that the film's titles actually sound like what Fleming might have come up with (not counting Goldeneye, of course, which he DID come up with, but for a house, not a book/movie). Brosnan is now the right age to play Bond (he was too pretty in his Remington Steele days), but the kind of character development which Timothy Dalton insisted be brought to his films is missing in action (too MUCH action). Goldeneye wasn't bad, but things have gotten worse. My wife, knowing what a Bond fan I've been and how much the TND scores was supposed to be Barryesque, bought me the soundtrack. She asked my opinion. "Well," I said, "it's certainly loud." Frankly, when the most successful film franchise in history is too cheap to keep John Barry, the man responsible for the very "sound" of the series, on the payroll (even though Arnold has his blessings) it doesn't need my dollars. The Brosnan efforts mark the the first time I've stopped bothering to see the things in the theatre.

From Michael Contreras <mac1165@ev1.net>

    Andy, The one thing I cannot believe about the newest James Bond movie is that "the powers that be" decided to climax it on a submarine again. Did these guys not see the last Bond movie?This is one of the worst Bond movies, right there with "A View To A Kill." I even liked "Moonraker" better. At least the pacing, as you mentioned, was better. I have been less than impressed with all of Brosnan's Bonds. My favorite Bond movie: "Live and Let Die". I also liked "The Living Daylights" quite a bit. "End of Days" sucked! (Enough said.) Hang in there with your "Sleepy Hollow" review. This is one of the most beautiful movies I've ever seen. Every frame could be hung on a wall! Someone wrote that "Mars Attacks!" was Tim Burton's worst movie. I loved it! A funny, funny movie and so dead on target in its parody of 50s sci-fi movies. Who else but Tim Burton would have the guts to kill the aliens with Slim Whitman music? Burton's worst movie? No question..."Batman Returns." Speaking of music, I loved Elfman's score to "Sleepy Hollow" also, just as beautifully scary as the movie.

IRON GIANT Rebuttals

Just to clarify things, I DID like THE IRON GIANT, though I admit that I wasn't as high on it as a lot of critics and viewers were. Still, it is a movie worth seeing, particularly for kids (and if you have them at home over school vacation, you can do a lot worse than to rent it, particularly if you have access to the letterboxed DVD). Nevertheless, the movie has its staunch defenders, so here are a few comments I received back after my DVD review ran a few weeks ago?

From Randall Derchan <DSPY007@aol.com>:

    You should have seen The Iron Giant on the big screen when it came out. You may have had a different experience.

From Kyle Shold < kyles@humongous.com>

    I'm afraid that I'm going to have to disagree on several points you made concerning Warner Brother's animated feature, "The Iron Giant"

    I wholeheartedly agree that this movie is one of the best of the year. It's an exquisite throwback to the animation of the 1940's and 50's. It completely engrosses you with it's attention to detail in every shot. This is the kind of animated movie that we've all been waiting for. Watch and old Bugs Bunny cartoon and you'll see that the backgrounds in The Iron Giant are an homage to that sort of work. Even the animation rich and pure in every frame. Every movement is expertly crafted to give specific traits to each character. I work as a professional artist with animators and other artists everyday and my co-workers were in 'awe' for the entire running time. This is raw animation and story telling at it's very best.

    The detail in story telling is also amazing. The story itself is basic and archetypal, sure. But the lengths at which the film makers go to make the characters unique worth our gratitude. The scene of the robot fixing the rail road tracks is a good example of this. Each shot is crafted perfectly and because of this you get a glimpse of just what this robot is capable of on an emotional level. Even the movie that Hogarth, the lead character, is watching on TV is a triumph just in itself.

    This movie isn't just for kids, it's for everyone who built a fort in their living room out of chairs and blankets. I think everyone could benefit from the scene where Hogarth tries to explain the concept of a soul to the Robot. Like E.T., this is a movie that can enthrall everyone of all ages because it's core theme is so basic to all of us.

    I for one am tired of the crap that Disney is putting out. Tarzan was horrid. It's backgrounds were appalling because they made barely any attempt to match 3D to 2D paintings or objects. The animation was detailed but who could tell. It took Tarzan 30 frames to go from one area to another. (exaggerated but it rings true) The characters were 'Disney' formula and the story played like a music video. In short, Disney's Tarzan was an insult. I wish that more directors like Brad Bird would take a chance a create something special like "The Iron Giant."

    As for Mr. Kamen's score: Beautiful. It has been stated time and time again that there is no theme. In the opening sequence Mr. Kamen creates a mechanical / threatening motif for the Robot that, as the film proceeds, transforms (no pun) itself into a beautiful, heroic theme. This theme is brought to a climax as the Robot sacrifices himself for the greater good. I thought that Mr. Kamen's score enhanced the drama and humor of this movie immensely. unfortunately, I doubt that it will be considered for an Oscar Nomination. But that's a different story.

From David Coscina <dcoscina@hotmail.com>

    Andy, I'm sorry that you didn't enjoy The Iron Giant score by Michael Kamen. However, it is erroneous to criticize it as "unthematic and haphazard" when in fact there is quite a bit of thematic/motivic variation and development. I think the score and film build to a superb climax which encompassed a lot more dramatic weight than most live action films of late. Yes The Iron Giant is a bit flawed, but it certainly isn't a wash either. And I've seen it a few times and I'm over 30 so I wouldn't be too quick to pigeonhole this flick as a kiddie-fest. Kamen's score perhaps missed the mark with kids only for the fact that its theme wasn't a simple diatonic ditty in less than 8 bars. Then again, perhaps you should stick with a steady diet of those loveable Menken tunes; much easier to digest and none of those terrible yucky modulations or disonance. Me, I'll take Kamen any day.

To me, there are two Michael Kamens: the man who does a brilliant job on movies like BRAZIL, HIGHLANDER, and DON JUAN DeMARCO, and then the composer who writes some of the blandest, most uninteresting (to me) action music in the world, like DIE HARD and LICENCE TO KILL. Now that I've probably offended or ticked off three or four people reading this article, I will add that I think Kamen works best when he actually has a THEME incorporated in his score: you can say the Bryan Adams songs are pop piffle, and indeed they may be (though I admit to having a fondness for DON JUAN's "Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman?"), but at least they usually ground Kamen's score in a central theme which he builds the score around. Take away that theme and you end up with something like his Joel Silver scores, which have fragments of themes, but really few identifiable themes themselves (like Eric Clapton coming in for a riff on LETHAL WEAPON, which is as close as a "theme" as you'll find in most of his action scores. Ditto LICENCE TO KILL, which is very "busy" but not particularly interesting).

That said, I didn't think his music gave THE IRON GIANT the emotion or grandeur it needed to work. Think Elmer Bernstein, John Williams, even James Horner (oh no! not him!) -- THAT's what the score needed. Not an Alan Menken song score, mind you, but something that overflows with some kind of melodic invention. Kamen's music didn't click for me but obviously we have a difference of opinion on that.

People Who Like DVD?

From Sean Carpenter <SCarpenter@cpr.org>

    I just wanted to commend you for a fine job in your Part I DVD guide. Your capsule reviews especially of the animated films made cogent distinctions between audiences for Anastasia and Bartok the Magnificent without disparaging either. Speaking as the father of an 18-month old, I'm interested in exactly the dimensions you described (even though she's awfully young for anything on video, my daughter's already in love with Winnie the Pooh and Pinnochio).

    In any case, thanks for your even-handedness. I read reviews for information, not just opinion, and you consistently deliver.

    Happy holidays!

Thanks Sean, I appreciate the kind words. When I started the Aisle Seat I received many emails about the rationale for placing movie and DVD reviews on a film music website, but they've since died down (either that or such curmudgeons have stopped reading my articles entirely!). Of course, I love writing about film and video, and since it stands to reason most film MUSIC fans are MOVIE fans as well, that's why the Aisle Seat has a home here at FSM.

From Jeff Commings <jeffswim@aol.com>

    Unlike many people I don't recall seeing "Dracula," and maybe it was because I saw it in film class many, many years ago. So I didn't have much of a reference when I saw it Halloween weekend with Philip Glass' new score. As pleased as I was with his score for "Kundun" and his contribution to "The Truman Show," I should have expected this score to be pretty standard, given he only is using a string quartet. And it was, with a lot of the music being repetitious, as you said, and not really giving much depth to the picture, except in a couple of minor places. One instance is in the beginning, when Dracula's first visitor gets a paper cut and the Count yearns for a taste, only to be thwarted by a crucifix. Many moments sounded like string sections in "Kundun," and for that reason made me feel like I was listening to nothing new. While it was a good idea to add a new score, it may have been a bad choice to hire a minimalist composer.

Trivia Bits

>From JB <Bjmj2000@aol.com>

    Just a tidbit of information. You did not mention the 2 brothers who did American Pie (I can't remember their names either). I do know that they are, ironically, the grandsons of Lupita Tovar who starred in the Spanish Dracula also reviewed in your column.

Amazing, isn't it? Who would've guessed??

And with that, we'll close the book on the Aisle Seat for 1999. Have a safe New Years, and we'll see you back here on the other side. Cheers everyone!

Dursina@att.net


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