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Fall Preview 2: The Revenge

Plus: STIR OF ECHOES, Isolated Score DVD News, and Jean Rollin & Jackie Chan DVDs!

An Aisle Seat Entry by Andy Dursin

Things get going in late September as it becomes clear that, yes, not every movie coming out will be as bad as DUDLEY DOO-RIGHT and FOR LOVE OF THE GAME. Word has it that SLEEPY HOLLOW will be every bit as good as expected (one of my friends says the only reservation is how the movie will fare overseas, since the film is a colonial America horror fairy-tale), while work continues on several films before the final prints are turned in. Just this past week, for example, Arnold Schwarzenegger returned to "tweak" and re-shoot one of two endings on END OF DAYS, with the two different outcomes reportedly tied to the fate of Arnold's character.

Before we get into the next Five Movies and Scores that I think may be worth your time to seek out this Fall, I'd like to clarify something: this is a PREVIEW. I haven't seen any of these films and whenever I mention how the movie may have fared in test screenings or such, it's all unconfirmed reports (from all those "movie news" sites and such) that shouldn't be any kind of analysis on how good the movie actually is.

Last week I received some complaints about my comments on THE GREEN MILE, where I tempered the announced amazing studio test scores with a few minor rumblings about the film from people who -- again ALLEGEDLY -- had seen it. Now, I didn't think what I wrote was overly negative, and my only point in doing that was that a great studio test screening score doesn't mean much of anything when all is said and done. As one of my friends who once worked for Warner Bros. said, it sometimes can be the sign of trouble when a studio goes out of their way to boast how well their movie did in preview screenings. (Remember Columbia's CITY SLICKERS 2, said to be one of the highest scored movies in that studio's history?).

I am not saying THE GREEN MILE won't be a classic -- all we're doing in this Preview is rounding out all the bases of fact, speculation and conjecture, just like Leonard Nimoy used to do on IN SEARCH OF..., and while I didn't think my comments were overly negative in that instance, just remember that this is a Preview. Who knows how good or bad ANY of these films are going to be -- it's just fun to take a look ahead, after all. (And remember to send in your take on the Fall to me at dursina@att.net!). And with that in mind...

Fall Preview '99: Five (More) Movies and Soundtracks to Watch, Part II -- Musical Bugaloo

1. THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH (MGM, PG-13, November 19th): Some thought that David Arnold's energetic score for TOMORROW NEVER DIES was nothing more than rehashed Barry, while others -- myself included -- found it to be not just one of the most exciting 007 scores period, but also one of 1997's best scores overall. Arnold's mix of brash orchestration with techno rhythms and melodic motifs was one of the more successful elements in TND, and promises to headline this 19th Bond adventure since the producers have allowed Arnold to produce and co-write the title song, something that should have happened the first time around (K.D.Lang's "Surrender" is one of my all-time favorite Bond ballads, even if it was relegated to the end credits in TND). Here, Arnold again works with lyricist (and Bond vet) Don Black for the title song (which will be performed by -- no joke -- Garbage), and crafts his second 007 score. It's also historic in that, with THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH, Arnold becomes the first composer other than John Barry to score more than one James Bond film. Let's just hope that the most exciting part of TWINE isn't hearing the soundtrack for the first time.

2. THE MESSENGER: THE STORY OF JOAN OF ARC (Columbia, R, November 5th): Leelee Sobieski's fine TV mini-series performance from last season notwithstanding, Luc Besson's BRAVEHEART-like epic ought to be a startling visual treatment of the classic historical saga, with ex-wife Milla Jovovich starring as Joan, John Malkovich as King Charles VII, Dustin Hoffman as the Grand Iquisitor, and Faye Dunaway as Yolande D'Aragaon. Eric Serra's music fit THE FIFTH ELEMENT like a glove, though it will be interesting to hear how Serra's evocative electronic sounds will adapt to this period story. If nothing else, the visuals should be enough to make this an essential view this Autumn.

3. ANNA AND THE KING (Fox, December): The latest adaptation of "Anna and the King of Siam" (previously musicalized as THE KING AND I, of course), this expensive production pits Jodie Foster's schoolteacher against Chow Yun-Fat's King. In addition to the sure-to-be-lovely locales and capable performances is George Fenton's music score, which should be lyrical and emotional, particularly given the fine work Fenton turned in last year with EVER AFTER and DANGEROUS BEAUTY.

4. THE BEACH (Fox, R, Winter): Leonardo DiCaprio's latest big-screen offering finds him collaborating with the TRAINSPOTTING team (including director Danny Boyle) for this South Seas thriller, which has been bandied about the release schedule by Fox for the last few weeks. What interests me as much as the film is Angelo Badalamenti's score, which should be intriguing given the subject matter of the picture. Badalamenti has always been known for his eerie soundtracks from David Lynch's work, though he has also shown melodic sensitivity in everything from COUSINS to CHRISTMAS VACATION. THE BEACH, however, would seem to place him right at home with ethereal soundscapes and interesting musical textures, and could be a perfect compliment to his fine, underrated work on ARLINGTON ROAD, a lousy movie that nevertheless has one of the year's most fascinating scores.

5. BRINGING OUT THE DEAD (Paramount, R, October 22nd): We've been reading a lot of mixed opinions regarding Martin Scorsese's latest, starring Nicholas Cage as a NYC paramedic, but with a script by Paul Schrader and a terrific cast, there's hope that BRINGING OUT THE DEAD will bring Scorsese back to the level of critical kudos absent from his more recent cinematic endeavors (the sterile AGE OF INNOCENCE, excessive CASINO, and slightly underwhelming KUNDUN). Elmer Bernstein is reunited with Scorsese here to provide the music, though I hope this isn't a generic jazz-in-the-city score like Bernstein has more recently composed for A RAGE IN HARLEM and MAD DOG AND GLORY, among others.

In Theaters

STIR OF ECHOES (**1/2): Tackling similar supernatural terrain as THE SIXTH SENSE, this David Koepp scripted and directed adaptation of Richard Matheson's novel "A Stir of Echoes" has understandably drawn direct comparisons to the Bruce Willis surprise hit of 1999.

While it's never quite fair to be a movie that covers the same thematic ground as a recent predecessor that hits both box-office and critical paydirt, STIR OF ECHOES probably couldn't have arrived at a worse time in theaters, what with THE SIXTH SENSE remaining fresh in movie-goers' minds and a script that stumbles upon cliches that its counterpart wisely avoided.

Kevin Bacon gives a fairly good performance as a blue-collar everyman whose mind is opened by an unknowing psychic pal (Illeana Douglas), allowing him to receive messages from the netherworld -- and, specifically, a missing girl whose ghost appears in Bacon's house. His wife, Kathryn Erbe, can't understand the goings-on, but his little son sure can, as he himself has been directly communicating with the spirit, who appears in mirrors and seems to Have Something to Say to the living.

Koepp adeptly generates suspense in the early going of STIR OF ECHOES, using sound effects and James Newton Howard's eerie score to properly set the table for the spookfest that the picture promises. Bacon's initial "glimpses" of his newfound physic visions are jolting and effective, but right when the movie seems to be building up a head of steam, the roof caves in -- literally AND figuratively.

Indeed, the mystery of the girl's disappearance and the resolution to the film are contrived and distressingly predictable, thanks to a well-worn "ghost story" retribution angle and an overdone climax that finds Koepp indulging in silly thriller genre conventions -- the exact sort of thing that M. Night Shyamalan smartly sidestepped in THE SIXTH SENSE.

Moreover, the film's continuously dour mood and lack of humor leave a bitter taste in the mouth when it's all said and done, along with interminable CLOSE ENCOUNTERS-like scenes of Bacon tearing up his yard, and several subplots that must have been jettisoned by the director in post-production (what's with the physic cop and his underground band of inner-city pals?). It also seems apparent that there must have been more interplay between the characters, particularly the girl's surviving relatives (including her sister and mother, who appear never to be seen again) and Bacon's son, since without those elements, the movie's final shot feels unwarranted and needlessly downbeat.

STIR OF ECHOES does have its moments of power, but a little more magic and a lot more heart would have made this more than just an occasionally interesting paranormal thriller. (R, 98 mins).

DVD & Laser Update: Isolated Score News and Bargain Sales

First off: THE MATRIX indeed has an isolated score track with commentary by Don Davis, while Damon Albarn is a part of the commentary on Fox's RAVENOUS DVD. Fox's recently announced THX DVD of PATTON ($29.99) is said to include Jerry Goldsmith's isolated score, a carry-over from the laserdisc release from a couple of years ago.

If, however, you were looking forward to hearing Trevor Jones's isolated score on Warner's EXCALIBUR DVD, you'd better get ready to be disappointed, since it ain't gonna be there. (Neither is an hour-long documentary that Neil Jordan made at the time of the movie's release, which was uncovered but not included on the affordable $19.99 package). Still no official word concerning Jones's DARK CRYSTAL score, which was announced as being a part of Columbia's DVD, which has since been delayed to October 5th.

Now, if you're a laserdisc owner hungering to find bargains, you needn't look any further than the online sales going on at Ken Crane's and Laser Visions Online (an offshoot of Pioneer's LaserDisc Fan Club).

KC's is currently offering plenty of great sale items, from the out-of-print Disney Archive Box-Sets of POCAHONTAS, TOY STORY, and THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (all for $40), to recent Fox discs, including THE OMEN 25TH ANNIVERSARY (with Goldsmith's isolated score), for $10! The Limited Edition CAV JAWS LaserDisc set is also there for $30 (the CLV edition is, in fact, even more affordably priced at $20). Head on over to www.kencranes.com and click on LaserDisc Specials for complete details.

Laser Visions Online, meanwhile, has an even larger treasure-trove of goodies, including the $160 Limited Edition Signature Collection box-set of E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL for $29.99! This includes a ton of supplements, from John Williams's isolated stereo score to a terrific documentary, deleted scenes, an unused epilogue, and a copy of the disappointing "expanded" CD release (which, contrary to the jacket information, is NOT a special Gold Edition). With Spielberg's recent claims that he's going to re-edit E.T. for its next re-release (digitally removing the government agents' guns), this may be your last chance to obtain the original release version in a high-quality video standard.

Also worth checking out for FSM readers is Pioneer's video edition of MICHAEL KAMEN'S CONCERTO FOR SAXOPHONE AND ORCHESTRA, which features some 25 minutes of excellent Kamen interviews and scoring footage, along with a fairly pedestrian MTV-like presentation of the entire Concerto itself. Still, for $7.99, you can't go wrong. Their website is located at www.lvd.com and while most titles are on backorder (it takes under three weeks for them to come back in-stock), you only have to pay a one-time $4.95 shipping fee per-order.

While DVD has undoubtedly staked its claim as THE video format for the time being, many of these laserdisc releases still boast unique supplemental content that -- particularly in the Spielberg and Disney instances -- may very well not carry over to their eventual DVD editions. For buffs, this is a great opportunity to get dirt-cheap prices on some excellent lasers, and reason enough to still have a player! (And if you don't have a player, Sight & Sound is now selling reconditioned models at www.ilovelaser.com, cheap!).

DVD Reviews: Jean Rollin Horror and Jackie Chan Action

French horror filmmaker Jean Rollin's avant-garde horror films have a formidable reputation around the world with horror buffs for their surreal dreamscapes of vampires, lesbians, cannibals and other assorted creatures of the night, often dressed up with soft-core porn and the eclectic images of a Fellini film.

It's with great anticipation, then, that Image has unleashed a trio of Rollin films on DVD, those being FASCINATION, THE SHIVER OF THE VAMPIRES, and DEMONAICS (all $24.99 each, letterboxed, subtitled, mono), with each film being remastered from the best possible surviving elements. Having not seen any of these films before, I've had to leave it to the experts to judge the merits of the new transfers, but apparently they're above and beyond any video release of Rollin's films before, at least domestically: each transfer is crisp and colorful, with very few bangs and bruises visible on the print. The subtitling is unobtrusive, and given Rollin's filmmaking, there's not a lot of (significant) dialogue in these films to begin with.

THE SHIVER OF THE VAMPIRES (Le Frisson des Vampires aka Sex and the Vampire aka Vampire Thrills) is the wackiest and most enjoyable of the three, sporting a goofy score by a "young progressive rock group" named Acanthus, a Devil with a clown sidekick, a bevy of sexy ladies who frequently disrobe, one succubus, and two vampire hunters recently turned into the very creatures they're hunting. Rollin's penchant for outlandish visuals, coupled with copious amounts of T&A, is on-hand throughout, making this 1970 effort the most "accessible" of the three films here. The 1974 Rollin film DEMONIACS (Les Demoniaques aka Curse of the Living Dead) finds a group of pirates raping and murdering a pair of shipwrecked young girls, who in turn make a pact with the Devil and come back to exact their own revenge on the drunken shipmates -- though not until they've made out with the dashing demon in black. A bit on the slow side with none of the truly strange images Rollin conjured up in SHIVER OF THE VAMPIRES, you'll have to be a die-hard Rollin aficionado to truly get a kick out of this. But even DEMONIACS's slow pace pales in comparison to FASCINATION, a later Rollin opus (from 1979) that feels like a Merchant Ivory costume drama, with only small doses of T&A and a notable lack of the surrealistic sequences the director is renowned for. A couple of bourgeois vamps and a society of cannibalistic blood-drinkers are the subject for this period production, which does boast the lovely Jean- Marie Lemaire running around with a scythe. Once you get to that sequence, you can pretty much fast- forward through the rest, unless you're compelled by the drawing room drama offered by the rest of the movie.

Now, being a first-time viewer of these bizarre films, I will say I shrugged off most of Rollin's efforts with a "okay, now THAT'S weird!" reaction, but there's an expressionism inherent in Rollin's direction (even if it's simply celebrating the shapely forms of the femmes who star in his films!) that's hard not to appreciate. For Rollin fans, it probably won't get any better than this, and the excellent work Image and England's Redemption Video turned in to restore the prints and get these films out into the mainstream should also be commended. (Image has announced two other Rollin films for future DVD release). Worth a look for curious viewers.

Switching the subject to another special interest genre, Buena Vista's Dimension Films banner has released two of Jackie Chan's better Hong Kong productions on DVD, albeit in re-cut, trimmed down, Americanized versions.

OPERATION CONDOR ($29.99, Letterboxed, Dolby Digital) is universally regarded as one of Chan's best films, a RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK styled mix of kung fu action, Saturday matinee escapism, and broad comedy. The set pieces, such as the final wind tunnel battle, are breathtaking and with a larger budget than most Jackie pics, this one turns out to be the sort of entertainment you can recommend without hesitation to anyone.

The only problem came when Dimension cut the movie down by a good 20 minutes or so for its U.S. premiere, taking out a fair amount of comedy and narrative exposition along with it. Most of the time, in Jackie Chan movies, the dialogue is the LAST thing you watch the movie for, but in the case of OPERATION CONDOR (a sequel to ARMOUR OF THE GODS), the cutting hurts the movie's pacing substantially.

Dimension's DVD, however, looks and sounds quite good. The anamorphic 2.35 transfer exhibits little artificating and the digital soundtrack -- remixed in stereo for the American release (with a new, blah score composed by Stephen Endelman) -- is surprisingly elaborate. The DVD does not contain the original's cut footage as any kind of extra supplement, though fans will note that the superior, original Hong Kong version IS available from import specialists.

OPERATION CONDOR was a sequel to a 1986 Chan film, THE ARMOUR OF THE GODS, which is fun in its own goofy kind of way, even if it lacks the elaborate budget and excitement of its follow-up.

Dimension opted to pick up the original for video release and misleadingly retitle it as OPERATION CONDOR II: ARMOUR OF THE GODS (Letterboxed, $29.99, Dolby Surround), although the jacket notes do correctly refer to the film as a "prequel" to OPERATION CONDOR. Again, a new score was composed and some footage trimmed, though reportedly this U.S. edit is far closer to its original HK release version than its follow-up turned out to be.

Being an older film produced on a smaller budget, the source materials don't appear as if they are in the greatest of shape, though the transfer itself is excellent. The movie was not shot in an anamorphic process so the picture is matted at 1.85:1, and it looks crisp and colorful. The soundtrack was overhauled in Dolby Surround with another new score composed, though the re-scored music fits this film better than the work Endelman turned out on OPERATION CONDOR.

While purists will object to these packages because of their redubbed, recut alterations, most viewers will still find both pictures to be entertaining, with plenty of fun for kids in particular. The transfers are quite good, reportedly better than either film has ever looked on video (counting all the myriad HK video releases), so both come recommended, the ill-conceived trimmings by the studio notwithstanding.

NEXT WEEK: More movies, SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES to DVD, and your comments. Remember to send them off to dursina@att.net and we'll see you then. Adios!


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