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Aloha from the Aisle Seat

Reviews, Mail Bag, and PHANTOM MENACE Laserdisc Details

By Andy Dursin

Nope, I'm not on vacation, not even where it is remotely warm. However, it IS February, and seeing that Spring is just around the corner, there's no reason not to get a bit excited since the light is appearing at the end of the tunnel (yes, pitchers and batters will soon be reporting to training camp!), especially now that the annual unveiling of that network TV staple -- the Miss Teen USA competition -- has come and gone (always a sign that the mid-winter doldrums will soon be past us).

Anyway, enough of the poetic ramblings. I haven't emptied out the Mail Bag of late so without further delay, here's a brief look at a pair of new releases along with -- yes, believe it or not -- your comments from the last month of Aisle Seat columns!

New In Theaters

SCREAM 3 (***): It's not a reinvention of the wheel, or even as good as the first sequel, but you've got to hand it to Wes Craven for managing to produce some chills and thrills in this third (and surely final) go- round for his genre-revitalizing SCREAM franchise.

Neve Campbell's heroine Sydney is pretty much relegated to a secondary role here (except for the climax), allowing off-screen newlyweds David Arquette and Courtney Cox (Arquette, as if we needed ANOTHER one!) to take center stage as doofus Deputy Dewey and tabloid reporter Gail Weathers, investigating a series of killings that have taken place on the set of STAB 3, the final installment in Hollywood's crass commercialization of the Woodsboro murders.

As usual, there are the typical grab-bag of possible suspects and candidates for slayings, ranging from movie-within-a-movie stars Parker Posey (hilarious mimicking Cox's character), Matt Keeslar, Jenny McCarthy, and would-be-auteur filmmaker Scott Foley. Meanwhile, it turns out that the murders are linked back to the killing of Campbell's Mom, which culminates in another over-the-top climax and a series of revelations about the original SCREAM.

Ehren Kruger took over writing chores here from creator Kevin Williamson, and while the movie lacks that sometimes-pretentious, sometimes-hilarious snap of Williamson's prose, it nevertheless manages to generate a successful amount of one-liners and appealing characters to compliment the usual goings-on. Craven handles the situation with his usual visual flair and the repartee between Arquette and Cox is often amusing, particularly as Campbell spends the first hour almost completely off-screen and appears mainly in the last third to properly finish off the series.

SCREAM may have produced too many clones for its own good, but by itself, the three films should have a long shelf life as one of the horror genre's more durable, and enjoyable, exercises in recent memory. (R, 116 mins)

ANGELA'S ASHES (***1/2): Frank McCourt's spellbinding, award-winning account of his poverty- stricken childhood in Brooklyn and Limmerick, Ireland, is recounted in surprisingly workable cinematic fashion by director Alan Parker (THE COMMITMENTS, EVITA).

McCourt's syntax and chronicle of his youth, told in a first-person narrative, made ANGELA'S ASHES the sort of book that spelled particular trouble for a screenwriter to adapt, particularly because the translation from book-to-screen meant some of McCourt's personality and humor would almost certainly be lost in the process. Fortunately, while the movie of ANGELA'S ASHES either eliminates or condenses several of the novel's most memorable subplots, it nevertheless captures many of the book's most heartfelt passages in conveying a gritty, memorable adolescence on the streets and slums of Ireland during the '30s and '40s.

Robert Carlysle and Emily Watson both give solid performances as the parents of young Frank McCourt, who grows up watching his drunk father waste away his families' funds on a pint at the pub, and a mother struggling to raise his siblings, several of whom die at the outset of the picture.

A childhood memoir superbly, and ideally, crafted on-screen, ANGELA'S ASHES is technically blessed by top-notch work from director Parker, cinematographer Michael Seresin, production designer Geoffrey Kirkland, and especially John Williams, who creates a memorable, haunting soundtrack that stays with you long after the movie has ended. The performances are excellent across the board, particularly by the three young actors who play Frankie, while Parker's direction generates a surplus of emotion at the climax.

One could carp that the movie tries to fit too many of the book's various episodes into the film, but ANGELA'S ASHES still works just fine, and improves substantially as it goes along. If you've read the book and understand the nature of most cinematic adaptations of the printed page, chances are good that you'll find the film to be a perfect companion to the novel. For others, it's an inspiring, real-life tale beautifully told through fine performances and a flawlessly mounted production. (R, 144 mins)

Aisle Seat Mail Bag: Responses, Criticisms of the Best of 1999

Folks were kind enough to write in with their two cents on the Best & Worst of 1999, so along with those (and emails related to THE PHANTOM MENACE, GALAXY QUEST, and THOMAS CROWN), here's a round-up of recent Aisle Seat comments!

From Roman Deppe <>

    Hi Andy,

    Well, I won't go into detail of your Top Movie Listing, because in the end it is all just a matter of taste and I agree with some of your choices and totally disagree with some others (where is FIGHT CLUB? Definitely one of the most impressive and most important movies of the 90ies... in my opinion). I just wanted to comment on SIXTH SENSE which just opened here in Germany (and is quite successful).

    Well, I surely liked it and think it is worth watching, but I was surprised top hear especially from you that you think it is well written. This movie has so many plotholes that I stopped counting after halfway through. The "shocking" ending was obvious right after 5 minutes, but that's not the point (hey, James Newton Howard must have thought the same, why else had he gave it away on the Soundtrack?). The whole idea of the movie doesn't work at all: If the ghost don't know, they are dead, why do they go to the boy? It is just not possible that Malcolm lives for over a year together with his wife and doesn't realize he is dead! Why can some ghosts affect the reality and others can't? Who hurts the boy? And moreover why as the ghosts just want help? These things and a lot more make the script (which has some touching moments, I admit that) one of the worst scripts of the year. It's incredible that nobody seemed to care about that (not even you, who usually goes into things like that pretty well).

    I just wondered how you can say that the script was well written.

From Stephane Michaud <>

    Poor Andy, don't you understand EYES WIDE SHUT, as it stands, will forever be an UNFINISHED film?? The studio had no choice but to be TOO respectful about it, and kept - almost - everything. But if the director, that genius, had lived long enough to, say, trim it a bit or correct a thing or two, as he always did with his other features, the movie might have been EVEN better. I say "even" because, that being said, there were things much worse in '99 than Kubrick Going Bergman and doing an essay on the human psyche. My theory is, anyone who didn't like EWS simply does not have the MATURITY required to enjoy it (what did you expect, another MATRIX??). But perhaps you never heard of Ingmar Bergman... As for your nasty comments about the soundtrack, I think it's very demeaning for Jocelyn Pook's beautiful and hypnotic score for the picture. Can't imagine that masked ball, my favourite scene, without that ominous strain of music, and HER tracks at least make for an absolutely fascinating listen on CD.

    Oh I get it! What if I throw a couple of Lightsabers in it for good measure? Would you like it then?

    No hard feelings!

From Michael Karoly <>

    I just got through reading your "best and worst" of 1999. I wanted to throw in a couple of films that, sadly, will be overlooked by the general public and the Oscars because of their early releases. My pick for most underrated film of the year goes to Altman's COOKIE'S FORTUNE. It was the opposite of STAR WARS...purely character driven and an incredible enjoyment to watch. Charles S. Dutton gave an excellent performance, as did Ned Beatty and the entire cast. I split the best film of the year award between eXistenZ and THE RED VIOLIN. Both films came to Columbus, Ohio in the first half of 1999; I enjoyed these films visually, musically, and story-wise more than any other this year. I thought both were well directed. Like many critics, I thought THE RED VIOLIN could have lost a few of the Pope scenes and gotten rid of the political overtones at the end. However, it didn't take away from my total enjoyment of the film.

    EYES WIDE SHUT, while not perfect, was more of a victim of hype than STAR WARS. I don't think this film was a masterpiece (as some believed), but I thought it stayed within Kubrick's idiom and I enjoyed it nonetheless. The worst film of the year (for me) was STAR WARS; I was very disappointed in so many things about it. SLEEPY HOLLOW was the most visually arresting film of the year.

From Randall Derchan <>

    I usually hate best of anything's because how can there be a best of so many different kinds of films, it's all subjective. Here we go:

    1. The Mummy- best action adventure

    2. Thomas Crown Affair-coolest movie

    3. The Sixth Sense-scariest and intelligent thriller

    4. The Iron Giant- Best animated family feature and my probably my vote for best film.

    5. American Beauty - Best dramatic film

    6. World is Not Enough - Hey I liked this Bond film, Denise was lame, but I knew she would be from past films. I personally love the Brosnan stuff, especially "Goldeneye, one of the best Bond's ever. Give it another chance. It's a smarter film than most of the Bonds.

    7. Toy Story- wonderfully entertaining. Better than Tarzan which was not bad. Need to see that one again.

    8. The Red Violin

    8. Anna and the King, Notting Hill, Payback, Run get honorable mention.

    I admit I haven't seen "The Insider", "The Green Mile" or Ripley so my list could change. I hear Run Lola Run is excellent and so is Stir Of Echoes.

    Worst films were

    Star Wars Phantom Menace

    Lake Placid

    True Crime

    The Messenger

    Three Kings - I need to give that one another chance.

    I didn't hate The Matrix but I wasn't impressed with it. I can't get into Keanu. "Wild Wild West" wasn't the worst I've seen but in retrospect it was a bad remake of my favorite television show of all time so I guess it sucked. LIke all the show remakes it was directed by the wrong fan.

    There you have it - nothing in stone

From John <>

    Hi Andy!

    Glad you liked GALAXY QUEST. You know, I think the movie is even better than most people think. It takes the time to establish characters, there is actually a story in there instead of just a plot, and, wonder of wonders, you actually care about what happens! It was so damn refreshing to see a movie with such a warm heart, without cynicism and without alot of objectionable language.My God, the movie could almost have been rated G.

    This is not to say I am one of those who constantly whines and cries about the moral decay in today's cinema (although it is a concern), but I am always asking why it seems lately that a film has to be coldly cynical or reveal some sleazy undercurrent of American society to be taken seriously. GALAXY QUEST went against all that and I walked out of the theater feeling ready to take on the world.

    By the way, the phrase: "deft comic touch" seems to be in every reviewer's "reviewer cliche" book (along with "he weaves a tapestry..."). Let's find another use for the word "deft," shall we? The only time it ever turns up is in that phrase.

Gotcha John. I'll be on the lookout for a (mis)use of that cliche (and I admit it, I'm guilty!).

From Robert Knaus <

    I finally have to make my opinion known. Your mediocre review of The Thomas Crown Affair is way off. This was one of last summer's true gems, with great chemistry between Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo ( yes ), plenty of genuinely surprising twists, and sleek, assured direction by John McTiernan. I even enjoyed Bill Conti's quirky score. Sure, they could've had someone do a Barry-esque, "lush strings" score, but this would have been too "heavy" for this light and inventive romantic caper. I especially enjoyed the Nina Simone pop cue Sinnerman, which is brilliantly utilized by McTiernan over the movie's witty climax. You asked "flamenco textures...why?". I say...why not? Why use a spanish fandango in North By Northwest? The movie isn't set in Spain, right? I generally tend to agree with your opinions, but this time you really missed the bus.


    Any reason why George Lucas and Fox are so reluctant to release "Star Wars: Episode One" on DVD, along with the first trilogy? It can't be because they think it won't sell; it should definitely be a hit. Is Lucas gearig up for a second "Special Edition" or is he waiting to get the whole story on film? I don't think any Star Wars fan can wait that long.

Jeff, I think the issue with Lucas is that he wants a sweetheart deal with the release of the DVD -- basically some kind of revenue-sharing or gigantic slice of the market itself (or something of that nature). It's all about $ with Lucas, and him getting the best possible deal (funny how the "Special Edition" packages, supposedly only going to be available once in our lifetimes, are all being re-issued AGAIN this Fall on VHS, isn't it?).

When the right deal is on the table we'll see THE PHANTOM MENACE on DVD, though at this point, that probably won't be until the release of the next movie in 2002 (I don't buy this "he'll release them all at the same time once this Trilogy is finished filming" statement from Rick McCallum).

Incidentally, anyone who wants to find THE PHANTOM MENACE on laserdisc will have to splurge for the Japanese import laserdisc (THX, Dolby Digital, CLV), which will cost you about $110 here in the U.S. For information, call the folks at Sight & Sound (781-894-8633) or follow this link. Note that pre-orders need to be in by Thursday, i.e. TODAY!

BACK NEXT TIME (on Monday!)... With a handful of new DVD reviews. Until then, send all comments to me at and we'll see you in a few. Excelsior!

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