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
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
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)
From Thomas <email@example.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 <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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
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 < email@example.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 <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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
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.
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
From Jeff Commings <email@example.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.
>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