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Truly Hollow "Man"

Plus THE NAKED GUN series on DVD, the Soapbox sounds off on Luc Besson and the APES Box-Set, and more!

An Aisle Seat Entry by Andy Dursin

The summer is nearing an end, but despite a generally tepid box-office season, the multiplex will still a jolt of life over the next two weekends, when studios release a wide range of eclectic fare. What looks especially intriguing is THE CELL, with Jennifer Lopez leaping into the head of serial killer Vincent D'Onofrio. Music video auteur Tarsem makes his feature debut with this one, which looks to mix "Silence of the Lambs" with "Dreamscape," and offers costumes designed by the same folks who brought you the elaborate garb seen in "Bram Stoker's Dracula." If nothing else, the visuals look to be trippy and different, two things missing from a lot of movies that have been released this summer.


New in Theaters

HOLLOW MAN (**): Paul Verhoeven's latest excursion into sci-fi/fantasy is a slickly-made, albeit claustrophobic, retread of "The Invisible Man," with a cardboard script and dialogue ruining what attempts the film makes to be more than a special effects freakshow.

Kevin Bacon plays the title character, a cocky, arrogant scientist who decides to use himself as a human guinea pig for invisible experimentation. Soon enough the formula works, and Bacon goes batty, escaping from his lab of scientific cohorts (including Elisabeth Shue and several performers best known for their work on sitcoms, like Joey "The Single Guy" Slotnick) and generally causing minor inconveniences for an unsuspecting populace, including murder and an apparent rape.

Though several sequences are polished and the movie's fiery climax is fun if not totally derivative, HOLLOW MAN is ultimately undone by a pedestrian script, filled with poor dialogue and badly-drawn protagonists. Bacon and Shue are as good as can be expected, but the stars of the movie are the copious special effects and Verhoeven's set-pieces, which don't click anywhere near as well as they did in his last outing, the underrated and hilarious STARSHIP TROOPERS. Part of the problem is the film's look: shot mostly on one set, the movie has a closed-in feeling that only accentuates how thin the characters and dialogue are.

Jerry Goldsmith's score works just fine (ranking as one of his more effective works of late), and even though the movie isn't quite as bad as the reviews would have you believe, there's just something hollow about the lack of drama in HOLLOW MAN that no amount of technical wizardry and filmmaking can overcome. (R)

SPACE COWBOYS (***): Clint Eastwood's second special effects-driven film (following his unintentionally amusing and way-overlong 1982 hit FIREFOX), SPACE COWBOYS is two-thirds of a great movie, and Clint's best film in several years regardless.

Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones (giving another good performance after years of cashing the check), Donald Sutherland (who hasn't seemed this alive in two decades), and James Garner (appearing a bit underwhelmed) play a group of former pilots who NASA needs to fix a Russian satellite in outer space that they have lost contact with.

The interplay between the actors -- who must have had a blast making this film -- is what makes this late-summer sleeper an entertaining, even frequently hilarious ride. The sequences of the characters training provide some of the biggest laughs to be found in any film this year, while Eastwood the filmmaker paces the picture in his usual, old-fashioned manner, without resorting to quick cuts and other gimmicks that younger "hip" directors like Michael Bay use to jazz up pre-fab movie garbage like ARMAGEDDON.

So good are the first two-thirds of the film, in fact, that you just knew there would be a problem finding the right note to conclude the story on -- something that, unfortunately, turns out to be the case. Once SPACE COWBOYS reaches the great beyond, the pacing slows down, the drama turns serious, and the movie loses some of its steam. Despite some fine special effects work, the picture turns into something far less special than what preceded it.

The film could have used a more potent climax, and also a more interesting score (Lennie Niehaus's bland, often inaudible soundtrack doesn't do the drama any favors), but for most of the way SPACE COWBOYS entertains with an amiable collection of characters and a cast that does some of their best work in many years. Good fun. (PG-13)


Andy's Soapbox:

Quick takes on APES, Luc Besson Director's Cuts, and other Ramblings

The long-awaited, Limited Edition box-set of PLANET OF THE APES hits retail stores this Tuesday, featuring all five of the movies along with a special extra DVD, containing the superb AMC documentary "Behind the Planet of the Apes," hosted by the late, great Roddy McDowall. The transfers are the same, THX letterboxed prints used for Image's laserdisc releases of last year, and they're generally solid, despite not being enhanced for widescreen TVs. The first movie has an overhauled 5.1 Dolby Digital track, though it really isn't that much different than the original 2-channel track; the sequels (only available for the time being in the box-set; they are slated to be sold separately next year) look good, with ESCAPE being the only film in mono. Theatrical trailers are included on each DVD. It should be noted that only the first 100,000 copies of the set will contain the documentary disc -- so it's well worth purchasing, before they're all scooped up.

Speaking of Limited Edition DVD sets, Anchor Bay has apparently sold out of their 2- DVD package of SUPERGIRL, just a week after it store shelves! 50,000 numbered copies were produced, so if you are interested at all in the deluxe package (the only way to see the 138-minute "Director's Cut"), I wouldn't hesitate in scoring a copy. Sounds like the title has been flying off store shelves, much the way AB's previous limited-edition packages of ARMY OF DARKNESS and HALLOWEEN did last year.

Also due out this week are the premiere U.S. video presentations of Luc Besson's THE BIG BLUE and LEON (THE PROFESSIONAL), which I've taken a look at on DVD. Fans of these films will not be disappointed by the presentation Columbia TriStar has given to each film: LEON is the full International cut of the movie, featuring some 24 minutes of extra footage and a 5.1 Dolby Digital track. The extra footage generally consists of some sexually suggestive material involving Natalie Portman that U.S. censors trimmed from domestic prints, but while it adds some additional layers to the drama, it isn't all that essential to the film as a whole. THE BIG BLUE was done a greater disservice in the U.S., as 49 minutes were removed and Eric Serra's moody score was replaced with a "new agey" effort by Bill Conti. The movie has been fully restored to its original version with the Serra soundtrack, and boasts a dynamite letterboxed transfer. The movie isn't for all tastes but it was a huge worldwide hit, and the underwater cinematography is certainly sensational. Particularly intriguing is the film's U.S. theatrical trailer, which uses music from ALIENS and tries unsuccessfully to market the picture as an aquatic fantasy. Both LEON and THE BIG BLUE feature isolated score tracks, and retail for $29.96. Besson fans should not be disappointed.

In case you missed it, Universal has formally announced their Collector's Edition DVDs of SOMEWHERE IN TIME (with a remastered transfer, commentary from Jeannot Swarzc, and a documentary) and the "Director's Semi-Cut" of TOUCH OF EVIL (documentary, letterboxed transfer). Both titles will retail for $29.98, and are due out on Halloween.


New on DVD

The O.J. Simpson case seemed to shoot down the interest of THE NAKED GUN series for a while, but now that Orenthal himself has come out of his hibernation (and "Search For the Killers" fundraisers), it seems like Political Correctness has finally dropped off enough that this loopy, hilarious series from the Zucker Brothers, their "Airplane!" partner Jim Abrahams, and co-writer Pat Proft can be seen and appreciated again.

Paramount has released each one of the three films -- the original NAKED GUN (***), THE NAKED GUN 2 1/2: THE SMELL OF FEAR (***), and NAKED GUN 33 1/3: THE FINAL INSULT (**1/2, $29.98 each) -- on DVD, and perhaps unsurprisingly, the comedy has aged better than expected.

At a time when we've been deluged with obscene comedies that seem to think bodily fluid references (not jokes, just references) constitute laughs by themselves, it really shouldn't come as a shock that these three features -- spun off from the short-lived but warmly remembered 1982 summer replacement ABC series "Police Squad!" -- remain some of the best work of the filmmakers, along with Leslie Nielsen, who found a comedic niche later in his career that he's used in a handful of inferior, at-times unwatchable other spoofs (from "Spy Hard" to "Wrongly Accused.").

The original GUN, released in December of '88, is the best of the lot, although there's something to be said about the gags in 1991's follow-up, THE SMELL OF FEAR, which are even more outrageous but just as funny. With the writing chores relegated more to Pat Proft and Robert LoCash, director David Zucker relinquished his filmmaking reigns for 1994's final entry, THE FINAL INSULT, to Peter Segal, and while the last go-around leaves more of a stale taste than its predecessors, there are still more laughs to be found there (especially with its hilarious Oscar-parody climax) than in your usual run-of-the-mill Hollywood comedy. And when we're comparing it to recent summer pics like "Me Myself & Irene" and "Scary Movie," the picture feels like a Marx Brothers classic by comparison.

Paramount has gone the distance with each DVD, including fun, often hilarious commentary tracks from David Zucker, producer Robert K. Weiss, host Peter Tilden, and other participants, 1.85 enhanced widescreen transfers on each picture, and remixed 5.1 Dolby Digital tracks, accentuating the enjoyably loony scores by Ira Newborn. Theatrical trailers, which use footage shot especially for the ads, are included in each instance.

Paramount is reportedly planning DVDs of AIRPLANE! and AIRPLANE II: THE SEQUEL for December, which certainly will be two more welcome additions to the studio's DVD library. Hopefully we'll be seeing an equally fine presentation of my favorite Z-A-Z comedy -- 1984's TOP SECRET! -- sometime in the near future.

Universal's recent slate of DVD releases include a superb rendering of one of last year's forgotten epics, Ang Lee's drama RIDE WITH THE DEVIL (***, $24.98), which starred Peter-Parker-to-be Tobey Maguire, Skeet Ulrich, Jeffrey Wright (excellent in "Shaft"), and pop songmeistress Jewel in a violent but well-made account of the war between both sides on the Missouri/Kansas border during the civil war.

The film goes on a bit at 139 minutes, some of the performances leave something to be desired, and there's a tendancy for Lee and screenwriter James Schamus (adapting "Woe to Live On" by Daniel Woodrell) to hammer home comparisons between the civil war and current military conflicts, but despite all that, RIDE WITH THE DEVIL manages to entertain and overcome its inherent flaws. Frederick Elmes's eloquent cinematography (which looks great letterboxed on Universal's 2.35 transfer) and a superb, moving score by Mychael Danna are two of the chief assets here. Danna's score, which I found to be one of the best and certainly more underrated works of last year (no surprise given the movie's scant theatrical distribution), is done justice by the 5.1 Dolby Digital track included here.

The extras consist of production notes and bios, a theatrical trailer, and Jewel's music video "What's Simple is True." RIDE WITH THE DEVIL is not a great film but is certainly worth a look, and deserved far better than the fate it found at the box-office last year.

More supplements are contained on Universal's DVD of THE HURRICANE (***, $29.98), released as a special Collector's Edition package with commentary from director Norman Jewison, a handful of deleted scenes, the theatrical trailer, and a featurette on the making of the film.

A semi-biographical account of the life of Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, a boxer wrongly convicted of murder, THE HURRICANE gets enormous mileage out of Denzel Washington's rightly-praised performance as Carter, who spends years behind bars in an attempt to clear his name. The film's supporting cast is equally fine (including John Hannah, Deborah Kara Unger, Live Schireber, and Rod Steiger), and they go a long way to off-set the film's sometimes-cliched screenplay, which was grilled by critics for its numerous inaccuracies and liberties with the actual events of Carter's life (playing up the racial angle, for one).

Still, the film is well-worth seeing for Washington's performance if nothing else, and the DVD is superb in both look (1.85 enhanced transfer), sound (5.1 Dolby Digital sporting a good score by Chris Young), and the collection of extras.

Finally, MGM continues to re-issue numerous films from the back catalogues of other film companies, with sterling DVD presentations of long-time favorites THE PRINCESS BRIDE (**1/2, $24.98) and Kenneth Branagh's outstanding HENRY V (***1/2, $24.98) tops among the new releases.

Both films sport cleaned-up, enhanced 1.85 transfers, THE PRINCESS BRIDE also receiving a new Dolby Digital 5.1 track (HENRY V is in 2.0 Surround). Both pictures have never looked as good as they do here, with HENRY V's bolder colors and contrasts a vast improvement on the old CBS/Fox Widescreen laserdisc release. THE PRINCESS BRIDE also looks solid, and both films include production note-filled booklets and theatrical trailers.

As far as the films themselves go, HENRY V remains Branagh's shining cinematic moment, a brilliantly realized, marvelously acted adaptation of Shakespeare's play, powerfully scored by Patrick Doyle. THE PRINCESS BRIDE, while a cult favorite for its cast and adaptation of William Goldman's novel, has never been a particular favorite of mine (it's too soft to be an epic adventure and not funny enough to be taken as a spoof), but the many fans of the movie will almost certainly be thrilled with the picture's presentation on DVD -- even if it still sports a woefully inappropriate score by Mark Knopfler.


NEXT TIME... Can Jennifer Lopez break out of THE CELL? What new DVD developments will be in store? Will your emails be answered? Find out in next week's AISLE SEAT! (Don't forget to address all comments to me at dursina@att.net and we'll see you then. Excelsior!).


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