Aisle Seat Baseball Opener Edition Y2K
DVD Round-Up and a Plethora of Reader Mail!
By Andy Dursin
Even though we say this seemingly every year, and despite another game
performance from host Billy Crystal, last week's Oscars (and I'm beginning
to groan just thinking of them) really had to set a new low in the history
of this program. True enough, the show didn't offer us the miracle of Rob
Lowe dancing with Snow White, although watching brother Chad weep when
wife Hilary Swank received her Oscar wasn't much of an alternative.
That was the problem this year: the program tried to be so "serious,"
not even attempt to do something that would provoke unintended laughs,
that it was merely boring. And endless. The video monitors and "techno"
soundtrack tried to create the impression that this truly was a different,
all-new, better Oscars for 2000, but sadly, it was just as inept and duller
than it ever had been before. Add Peter Coyote in a headset and you had
the recipe for disaster.
One of the celebrated films honored with a primary Oscar was BOYS
DON'T CRY (***, $34.98, Fox), which brought Swank -- best known for
starring as THE NEXT KARATE KID and a half-season's worth of 90210 as Steve
Sanders's girlfriend -- the Academy Award for Best Actress. Truth be told,
I thought there was something slightly off-putting about her acceptance
speech (she seemed more annoyed than overjoyed to receive it; perhaps it's
not in her range to weep the way past Oscar recipients Gwenyth Paltrow
and Mira Sorvino did), but to give credit where it's due, Swank is surprisingly
convincing in this chronicle of a girl that decides to dress and live as
a boy in a sleepy Nebraska down during the 1980s.
Based on the true story of Teena Brandon (or Brandon Teena), I figured
from having seen her past work that Swank would be too feminine for the
part, but solid directorial work by Kimberly Pierce and a strong performance
by the actress put the movie over. It's a difficult, tough movie to sit
through (with a script containing several inaccuracies in contrast to what
actually happened), but you have to credit all involved with handling a
controversial subject matter sensitively and smartly. The film is slow
at times but if you're not turned off by the subject matter, BOYS DON'T
CRY makes for a rewarding view.
Fox's DVD, due out April 18th, features Peirce's interesting audio commentary,
a featurette, trailer, and a few TV spots. The 1.85:1, 16:9 enhanced transfer
is good and the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is effectively rendered.
From a real-life horror story to the genre of the macabre itself, Image
has released a thrilling presentation of one of the most enjoyable early
'70s "Creature Features," HORROR EXPRESS (***, $24.98).
One of the latter teamings of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, this
Spanish-British international co-production has a terrific plot that blends
a plot scenario worthy of Irwin Allen with Hammer-esque thrills: a creature
is discovered by anthropologist Lee in Asia, and its subsequent transportation
on the Trans- Siberian railroad results in a series of murders and bizarre
occurrences that Lee and rival scientist Cushing attempt to solve. Telly
Savalas, pre-KOJAK, co-stars in this wild, woolly thriller, shot on a modest
budget but effectively handled by director Eugenio Martin.
The film is briskly paced, offers an entertaining ride and a twist-filled
script, punctuated by dependable performances by the leads and an effective
score by John Cacavas. It's silly but great fun, delivered by Image on
DVD in a presentation that's the best the movie has ever looked on video
before: the 1.66:1 transfer is crisp and colorful, with only some flaws
in the source material evident at times (speckles, dirt, etc.). However,
for anyone who sat through the movie on video or on UHF television years
ago, the transfer is as good as HORROR EXPRESS can get. The mono soundtrack
is perfectly acceptable and a music/effects track is also included as a
As Marc Walkow's insightful liner notes point out, HORROR EXPRESS was
the best of the '70s collaborations between the two stars that shot Hammer
to fame and fortune years before, and it remains a favorite for many fans
of the genre. Recommended!
Also from Image comes another B-movie staple that I vividly recall watching
on Channel 56 (WLVI Boston)'s "Creature Double Feature" during
the early '80s: THE HIDEOUS SUN DEMON (**, $24.98), a cautionary
1959 tale of scientific exploration with Robert Clarke as a physicist,
exposed to radiation, who turns into a ghoulish looking monster when triggered
by the sun!
A perfect example of the kind of wacky monster movie made famous during
the 1950s, HIDEOUS SUN DEMON was an "indie" film for its day,
directed by the star on a budget Ed Wood would have been familiar with.
Still, the laughs are certainly in place for first-time viewers, while
those old enough to remember the era (or having seen it as a child) will
look upon the movie with an appropriately glowing sense of nostalgia.
Image's DVD is full-frame and contains liner notes culled from a Clarke
biography, and while the print appears a bit banged-up, it likely never
looked clearer than it does here.
Shifting from the silly to Spielberg, more signs that the auteur is
gradually lifting his previous ban on DVD can be seen from Columbia TriStar's
recent DVD of his overproduced though entertaining 1991 fantasy HOOK
(***, $24.98), with Robin Williams as a grown-up Peter Pan, Dustin
Hoffman as the title villain, Bob Hoskins as Smee, Julia Roberts as Tinkerbell,
and Gwenyth Paltrow as a young Maggie Smith.
Noted for what may be Spielberg's last film shot in Panavision, HOOK
boasts colorful cinematography by Dean Cundey, who collaborated with Spielberg
for a time on this production and JURASSIC PARK (and even though he might
have won Oscars, I still prefer the look of Cundey's pictures to the obscure
filtering used at times by subsequent Spielberg cinematographer Janusz
Portions of the movie are great fun, but there are a lot of questionable
plot elements (the skateboarding kids feel alarmingly reminiscent of THE
GOONIES) that tend to get in the way of the entertainment. Spielberg's
early films had an atmospheric, shot-on-location feel, but HOOK, despite
its lavish sets and expansive artistic design, is too set-bound for its
own good. Perhaps this was the movie that stirred Spielberg to get back
to cinematic realism visually if not from a narrative standpoint (turns
out SCHINDLER'S LIST and SAVING PRIVATE RYAN did both), since while there
are magical passages in HOOK, this is the kind of film that might have
had more bite if it was produced earlier in the filmmaker's career.
Despite the excessiveness of the production, HOOK does boast splendid
visuals courtesy of Cundey and a wonderful score by John Williams that's
the best thing in the movie. The sequence recounting Pan's childhood is
a marvelous set-piece and Williams's score truly soars, something that
HOOK as a movie only does intermittently.
Columbia's DVD, fortunately, accentuates the positive with a beautiful,
new 2.35:1 transfer (enhanced for 16:9 televisions) that improves substantially
on the earlier letterboxed laserdisc release. The 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack
boasts plenty of dimensionality and enhances Williams's score along the
way. While not a full-fledged Special Edition, Columbia has included the
movie's original trailer (not the teaser with the original Williams "Prologue"
cue but rather temp-music cobbled together from THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK)
and cast biographies to round out the package.
Unlike some of Universal's Spielberg DVDs (notably ALWAYS), Columbia's
HOOK gives you a remastered soundtrack and picture transfer, and for aficionados
of the filmmaker like myself, it's a must- purchase despite the unevenness
of the source.
Readers on the Current State of Film Music, MISSION TO MARS and THE
SIXTH SENSE (Spoilers Way Below!)
I'd just like to let you know that I agree with you about the the
current state of soundtracks. I thought your Aisle Seat article on Mission
to Mars was right on the money about where film music has gone in the last
few years. To be honest, I was pleasantly surprised by your incisive piece
as I generally do not see eye to eye with you on films.
I haven't seen Mission to Mars, but I'm quite interested in Morricone's
score after reading what you had to say about it. I have wondered in the
past why you haven't made more mention of music in your reviews (after
all, you are a writer for Film SCORE monthly), but after your lengthy explanation,
I understood why. It gives me such joy to hear praise from a soundtrack
enthusiast about music that was written for a contemporary film rather
than a re-issue (I don't want to bitch too much about these wonderful companies
resurrecting gems like SUPERMAN, but I am concerned when there is more
excitement over 20 year old scores because the music was a helluva lot
One point I must add to why most new film scores are inferior to
the '70's scores is the over abundant use of percussion. Just look at any
action score these days- every scene has got pounding drums to hammer home
the drama. Sheesh. Then look at something like Superman, where Williams
used tons of ostinatos to generate tension and excitement. I don't want
to single out Hans Zimmer's school of film composition, but really, most
of those fellows should go easy on the drums.
If we pin-point what made most of us get into listening to soundtracks,
it was based on great melodies (Star Wars, Papillon, The Sea Hawk), intriguing
harmonies (Pelman 1,2,3, anything by Alex North), and some funky textural
things (Planet of the Apes, Alien3). Sure, rhythm has been an inegral part
of these scores too, but not necessarily performed on percussion instruments.
Look at all of Goldmsith's great cues which involved cross-rhythms, or
Williams' 70's output. The best example is the "Growing Up" cue
from SUPERMAN. A great piece of music with NO DRUMS. The horns and strings
do all the work and it kicks ass! Or listen to "Reno Ho" from
COBB where, again, the orchestra creates as much tension as anything I
can think of, AND there's a fleshed out theme to boot!
All of this gets back to what you said about how Morricone's score
seems out of place by today's standards because it has a more lyrical sound
to it. I hope that directors and/or composers get back to the predominance
of melody and harmony over this pounding drum school of film scoring. A
few years back, John Tesh declared in Keyboard Magazine: "it's not
music if there are no drums". I certainly hope film composers rail
against this moron's ideology. Otherwise we've got some dark days ahead
Thanks CP, I totally agree with your sentiments.
Meanwhile, we had plenty of reaction to my column about MISSION TO MARS
and Morricone's score (which I felt was one of his best, and you can check
out by clicking
HERE. Here's a sampling...
I think I am the only person who really enjoyed "Mission to
Mars." Yes, some of the dialogue is hokey, and the interstellar romance
between Tim Robbins and his wife were a little too contrived. But the action
never reached the possible levels of "Armageddon" or even "Apollo
13." It stayed with a human touch, especially with Ennio Morricone's
score. I personally loved the organ during the race to patch the hole in
the station. It never reached tense levels (it reminded me of "Waiting
at the Border" from his "The Untouchables" score). I'm not
a fan of Morricone's so I can't judge this score, but I think it should
rank as one of his best. Had Jerry Goldsmith or even Alan Silvestri done
this score you can bet the music would have been too intrusive. The alien
at the end was unoriginal, but other than that a great movie with action,
instead of a poor action movie, in the hands of producer Jerry Bruckheimer.
From Brian Donohue <email@example.com>
It isn't that I didn't like the score to Mission To Mars. It just
seemed to me that it was in the wrong film. Morricone has a distinctive
sound, to be sure. Unfortunately it is not one I feel is well suited to
the film. It's just that, for me anyway, Morricone's music sounds too "European."
I think the movie would have been better served by something more "Coplandesque."
It kind of reminded me of another recent film, scored by Andrea Morricone
(Ennio's son?), Liberty Heights. Not a bad movie and an ok score but as
I watched it, I kept thinking "what happened Barry (Levinson, the
director)?, couldn't you get Randy Newman?" It seems to me that it
is often the case where a score is better than the film it was written
for. Take last year's Angela's Ashes, for example. The difference in this
case is William's score did fit the film. Morricone's, however good it
may be apart from it, just doesn't. From Jeremy Moniz (firstname.lastname@example.org):
I was wondering myself when I listened to Morricone's score for
MTM why it had this unique serine sound unlike most of his work. And maybe
his constant use of the PASACAGLIA as the compositional form not applied
to this score could be it. This could be Morricone's new "breakthrough"
in scoring that might bring back originality to the music once again.....
well only if were lucky. Because in listening to this music I didn't recognize
past Morricone works and it isn't cliche. Resulting in a fresh work that
only score listeners would pick up on. I'm glad you also saw something
special in this score.
Thanks Jeremy. Other folks were kind enough to send in their comments
but due to space we'll have to run them next week, so look for more talk
about this score then.
In regards to our final letter of the week, there are SPOILERS
about THE SIXTH SENSE below, so again, do NOT
READ if you haven't seen the film!
From Dan Hobgood <email@example.com>
I wanted to reply to the reply about THE SIXTH SENSE. First of
all, this is the best picture of the year, and it is a discredit to the
Academy that James Newton Howard was not nominated. Frankly among the current
nominees, Howard's work is better. It just goes to show that even the composers
nowadays don't even recognize a good score when they hear one (And folks
wonder why scores aren't good nowadays....) The film will acheive Hitchockian
immortality in years to come, long after everyone has forgotten other Best
Picture nominees. I'll bank on it. And this film will pass the test of
time because of the film's humanity that this reply touched on. The film
is about a beautiful relationship between someone who needs help and someone
who can help. The surprise ending is not that Malcolm is a ghost himself,
but that it is Malcolm who most needed the help and that Cole was the one
who could provide him the service. Like the respondant said himself, I
could go on forever about this.... But one point--did Cole know Malcolm
was dead all along?...I don't think he did. There certainly was a point
where he seemed to (that last conversation for instance), but I think that
Cole had to figure it out much like we did. That was the purpose of the
Winter Coat. If Cole saw Malcolm at the beginning (did he?) on the way
to church, I think that Cole may just have been intimidated...or afraid
that he might see a ghost on the way to the church (if that is where he
was headed intentionally, or wherever else he was going). I just felt like
Cole was fooled as we were fooled. Gosh, I sure hope that no one who has
not seen the film read this. I do wish that each of us who has seen it
could have done so without knowing anything in advance. Then we would all
have felt fully the power of the finale's events. I'm going to listen to
the album now; it's been a while, and I love being reminded of just how
great a film THE SIXTH SENSE is.
Having just watched the DVD last night, I completely agree with all
of Dan's comments. So much was made of the movie's "twist ending"
that I think a few viewers neglected to pick up on the subtly uplifting,
lyrical message of the picture. The ending is not so much of a dark twist
as it is a celebration, a release for the Willis character, allowing him
to move on and his wife as well. The relationship between Cole and Malcolm
is eloquently handled, and I think the reason why so many people re-viewed
the picture, and why THE SIXTH SENSE will endure as a classic film, is
because the messages of the picture totally come clear on repeat viewing.
The first time around you are jarred by the ghosts and trying to figure
out the narrative puzzle. The second time, you see how touching the picture
is and the positive messages that the film imparts.
I also agree completely about Newton Howard's score, which is restrained
and exactly what the picture needed. It should have been nominated for
an Oscar at the very least, and I was even more impressed with it the second
time around. Buena Vista's DVD, by the way, includes a featurette with
Newton Howard and director M.Night Shymalan discussing the score and the
sound design, along with deleted scenes (including a wisely unused extension
of the ending) and other goodies.
NEXT WEEK: THE LIMEY on DVD, and more of your comments.
Direct all emails to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
and we'll see you next time!