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Aisle Seat Winter Wonderland

New Film Reviews plus Anchor Bay DVDs

By Andy Dursin

Temperatures have been in the single digits in New England for the last week or so. We've finally had our first snowfall, and it's been so cold that going out to the cinema would be considered an almost adventurous task in the last few days.

But of course, not for this intrepid reviewer, who drove through snow, ice, and wind chills colder than the critical reaction that SUPERNOVA met with, to bring you this latest Aisle Seat column.

As always, feel free to send in your comments to me at and remember to keep it safe (and warm) out there if you're in a region that receives decidedly winter-like weather!

In Theaters

THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY (**): Superficial and generally overrated character-study/thriller suffers from an anti-hero whose motivations are never clearly spelled out in the interests of political correctness.

Matt Damon -- whose performance unfortunately suggests how much more nuance Leonardo DiCaprio might have brought to the role -- tries to render Tom Ripley as a conflicted young man who finagles his way into high society during a trip to Italy in the '50s. Recruited by the father (James Rebhorn) of a spoiled playboy (Jude Law) to bring his son home, Ripley becomes obsessed not only with the lifestyle but also the child-like Dickie Greenleaf himself, and soon immerses himself in Dickie's lifestyle before murder, tragedy, and identity crises ensue.

The main problem I had with Anthony Minghella's film is that much of the character motivation and background of Ripley is never divulged -- something that an internal dialogue likely would have provided (the movie was based on an acclaimed book), but on-screen, this element is never explained, much to the detriment of the drama. Some viewers will undoubtedly say, "it leaves it up to the viewer to figure it out," but Minghella gives you so little to go on that MR. RIPLEY turns out to be a one-dimensional affair with pretty people and locations but no dramatic fire.

Damon tries hard but generally fails to register as a complex, conflicted individual. Law, meanwhile, is over-the-top to such an extreme that you can't understand why society girl Gwenyth Paltrow would have anything to do with him. Paltrow, meanwhile, is adequate in what turns out to be a secondary role, while Cate Blanchett and Philip Seymour Hoffman are acceptable in supporting turns. However, it's not the cast that's the problem, but rather the script and the inability of the film to offer character motivations and a developed set of protagonists who we should give two hoots about.

From what I can gather, Ripley's repressed homosexuality is the key to the entire picture. It's there, it's hinted at, but yet in this day and age of politically correct portrayals, the movie stops short of telling us that Ripley IS gay (I would assume because the film doesn't want to say that homosexuals can also be psychopaths, for fear that ignorant audiences would assume that ALL gays are killers). Ultimately, it robs THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY of any dramatic motivation, because the movie never gives us a glimpse long enough into Ripley's personality and lineage to create suspense and interest in the character. I've even read an interview with Minghella where he essentially states, "what difference does it make what sexuality the killer is?", and that pretty much sums up the whole picture: it DOES matter, because that's what (at least partially) drives Ripley's character to murder. It's as if the heart of the drama has been taken out and a skeleton of a thriller remains.

In trying to skirt the issue, all Minghella does is create a movie that's all style, no substance: the scenic locales of Italy and Venice, the stylized, incessant music by Gabriel Yared, the mannered performances, and the sometimes jumbled editing all give THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY the look of class, but it's all surface. Because the picture doesn't want to tell us what is truly driving him (is it the gay issue, or his obsession with the lifestyle of the rich and famous, or is he a predatory psycho to begin with?), the movie ends up a disappointing, inert cop-out without the biting take one can only assume that a better director would have given to this material. (R, 142 mins).

GALAXY QUEST (***): Take a bit of THE LAST STARFIGHTER, mix with generous doses of STAR TREK satire, add a game cast, and you have all the makings for a light, often very funny sci-fi comedy.

Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, and Tony Shalhoub bring a deft comic touch to this engaging comedy, which should entertain both sci-fi fans, Trekkies, young kids, and genre aficionados. Industrial Light & Magic's effects are superior to the last TREK film and although David Newman's by-the- numbers score doesn't offer any surprises, GALAXY QUEST turns out to be quite a bit more fun than you might have expected from watching the trailers. (PG)

SUPERNOVA (*1/2): The Director's Guild of America apparently has no intention to retire the pseudonym "Alan Smithee," though why they deprived our favorite filmmaker of awful movies a credit on this long-delayed, troubled sci-fi effort is anybody's guess.

James Spader and Angela Bassett play two members of a deep-space medical ship called to the scene of a distress signal ignited by the son of a former Bassett flame. Meanwhile, Robin Tunney (who, after END OF DAYS and this mess, needs to get out of the genre before it sinks her entire career) hooks up with Lou Diamond Phillips (whose own film career is on CPR) before the ship finds the young man, who discovered a strange alien relic on a mining station in the far reaches of space.

To make a long description short, the movie is equal parts SPHERE, OUTLAND, LOST HORIZON, EVENT HORIZON, and ALIEN all in one, though not nearly as good as any of those individual efforts. Initially conceived as a low-budget film barely classifiable as sci-fi (the fact that the film was set in outer- space was just an afterthought in the initial screenplay), MGM continuously upped the budget on the film, adding action and turning the film into a special effects piece. Behind the scenes, they fired the original director, hired ROMPER STOMPER auteur Geoffrey Wright, and then dumped Wright for ALIEN co-producer Walter Hill once shooting commenced.

This kind of studio meddling usually spells doom for a movie, and that was the case with SUPERNOVA, which Hill -- who hasn't had a hit in years -- had his name removed from (in his place is the pseudonym "Thomas Lee") once MGM recut the movie after principal photography. Francis Ford Coppola reportedly came in and oversaw this final version of the film, which would make sense since post-production credits abound for his Zoetrope Studios company.

Ultimately, Coppola couldn't do anything to save this sinking ship, which sports adequate effects and production design, but also a herky-jerky handheld camera by Hill that makes it appear as if this is an early season episode of NYPD BLUE set in outer-space. Too bad Dennis Franz wasn't around to give citations for poor performances by the ensemble cast, though we do get ample bare-butt shots and another brief topless bit by Tunney that would fit right in with Steven Bochco's police drama.

SUPERNOVA isn't unwatchable, but it isn't much fun, either. In fact, it commits the worst kind of bad movie-making sin: it's just plain boring. (PG-13, **1/2 score by David Williams)

DVD Corner

Anchor Bay has given the DVD treatment to a handful of new releases, once again confirming that the company is second to none in releasing an eclectic and wide-ranging amount of flicks on DVD. (Next week we'll have a look at THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS, BLUE COLLAR, and THE KILLING OF SISTER GEORGE, three other new Anchor Bay releases).

The highlight of their January release schedule is undoubtedly MOONLIGHTING: THE PILOT (***, $24.98), a terrific presentation for the first episode of the beloved Cybill Shepherd-Bruce Willis private eye series from the mid '80s.

As so often happens with successful, long-running shows, what established MOONLIGHTING was a combination of strong writing and memorable characterizations, most obviously from Shepherd as Maddie Hayes, a model who ends up running a detective agency run by Bruce Willis's David Addison, the first wise-acre performance in a history of them from the actor. Glenn Gordon Caron's writing is crisp, smart, and sexy, and the pilot sets the table for the subsequent series with its comical and engaging tone. Willis and Shepherd were a terrific match and their chemistry on-screen continues to make the program an enduring one in the recent annals of TV history.

Anchor Bay has done a superb job going the extra mile with their Special Edition DVD, including 15 minutes of screen test footage (!) and a fascinating audio commentary with Willis and Glenn Gordon Caron that should be a must-listen for fans of Willis and the series (it's also the first commentary track I've ever seen with a "Warning! Adult Langauge" tag stuck to it!).

The transfer is obviously full-frame and looks great, while the mono soundtrack features a fine score by Lee Holdridge, which introduces Al Jarreau's memorable theme song over the end credits. Highly recommended.

Around the same time that "Moonlighting" was growing in popularity on the tube, Brooke Shields sought to improve her success on the big screen with the guilty pleasure BRENDA STARR (***, $24.98). Unfortunately for Brooke, this 1986 effort went unreleased for years after its initial distributor (New World) went bankrupt, finally appearing on video in 1992 after a long tenure on the shelf.

Call me a sap and a sucker for comic-strip movies, but this engaging production is a lot more fun than the bigger, bloated 1990 adaptation of DICK TRACY, even if you don't get to see Madonna singing Sondheim (which was a turn-off for many viewers, I'm sure).

Brooke has a good time running around in Bob Mackie outfits, cavorting around the globe with dashing Basil St. John (Timothy Dalton, who made this movie pre-James Bond even though the film was released after his two-picture tenure as 007 was over!) in looking for a mad scientist in the South American jungles.

Director Robert Ellis Miller doesn't treat one ounce of this bouncy, colorful production seriously, which results in a breezy good time. The supporting cast, which includes Jeffrey Tambor, Diana Scarwid, and Charles Durning, seems completely in tune with the tone, and Freddie Francis's cinematography -- along with Johnny Mandel's big-band score -- give the production a glossy sheen that fans of this kind of ridiculous, spoofy adventure will surely enjoy.

Anchor Bay's DVD looks quite good, and offers both 1.85:1 and unmatted transfers to compliment a boisterous Dolby Stereo soundtrack. No other special features are included, but what's here ought to be enough to provide a sufficient appetizer before the 2-DVD Special Edition of SUPERGIRL arrives in May (yhea baby!).

Finally, Anchor Bay has unrolled the Deluxe treatment for William Friedkin's lousy 1990 horror opus THE GUARDIAN (*1/2, $24.98).

This non-terrifying tale of a nanny who happens to be a Druid priestess (and feeds little children to her beloved tree!) is a wacky affair that's more shocking for its completely unscary tone than any shocks it may possess. Carey Lowell, in a role she's likely stricken from her resume, is the Mom, Dwier Brown (the hot thing for about six weeks after playing Costner's dad in FIELD OF DREAMS) is the Dad, but Jenny Seagrove steals the show as the slinky villainess. Alas, Friedkin's direction evokes more chuckles than creeps, despite John A.Alonzo's spooky-looking cinematography.

Anchor Bay has included a superb 1.85:1 transfer, remixed for Dolby Digital soundtrack, the original trailer, and commentary with Friedkin (!) to round out a great presentation for a movie that's not quite as much fun.

Trivia quibble: Perhaps due to Friedkin's involvement, Anchor Bay didn't include any of the deleted scenes or alternate footage found in Universal's TV edit, which Friedkin had his name removed from the credits over. That version is worth a look for anyone who enjoyed THE GUARDIAN, and still plays on the Sci-Fi Channel and USA Network from time to time.

Aisle Seat Mail Bag

>From Michael Karoly <>

    I just wanted to drop you a quick line and tell you that, for the most part, I agree with your assessment of SLEEPY HOLLOW. My only real complaint was the ending....I thought Burton perhaps could have extended the ending by 15 minutes or so, allowing more of a build-up. Instead, one moment Ichabod is in the cart going back to NY, finds out the 'Evil Eye' was not what it seemed, and suddenly puts two and two together to solve the mystery. I would have liked more suspense and uncertainty. However, that's minor compared to how blown away I was with the visuals and the 'look' of the film. The colors, the lighting, the sets....everything contributed perfectly to make the movie look eerie and foreboding. I also must agree with the sentiment that this may be Danny Elfman's best score. I think that it is, hand's down, one of the year's best scores. I remember liking it in the film, but the sound effects and dialogue mixes kind of drowned out some of his music. I was blown away by the strings in "The Chase" cue on the CD, and listening to the CD apart from the film definitely allows you to hear the layers of sound much more clearly. I appreciated his efforts much more after listening to the CD a few times. I liked this film immensly, but I still feel that ED WOOD is Burton's best. Any news on when that's being released?

    Michael, Buena Vista is continually mining their back catalog so I think it's just a matter of time before ED WOOD hits DVD (don't hold me to it, but I'd be surprised if they let a Tim Burton movie -- and a bona-fide cult classic -- languish on the shelves for too long).

>From Chris Kinsinger <>

    HAPPY 2000! Now that the future is HERE, it is time for you to shake off your learned prejudices, and march right out to see "Bicentennial Man"! You wrote: "BICENTENNIAL MAN (didn't see it but you'd have to pay me to sit through another touchy-feely Robin Williams "I'm acting!" performance)"

    Andy, when I read those words, I WAS WITH YOU, MAN! I love Robin Williams when he is being his zany, crazy self. But every time he morphs into that warm & fuzzy ball of love, I check OUT! I can't stand that maudlin expression that is aimed at manipulating us to tears. I agree with what you wrote, and I never watched "Patch Adams" because of it.

    "Bicentennial Man" is different. Very different. First of all, the film's script is faithful to Isaac Asimov's story, which is at its core, a celebration of humanity. Director Chris Columbus keeps Robin Williams reined-in tightly, and his performance is highly restrained and very effective; a rare outing for Williams! The story spans over two centuries, and the characters are well defined throughout, creating an emotionally powerful conclusion. James Horner's musical score features many small, recognizable (to the trained ear) thefts from his previous works (as usual), but all-in-all, it is a wonderful addition to the film that elevates and enhances the drama every step of the way. "Bicentennial Man's" cast is absolute perfection: Sam Neill, Oliver Platt, Wendy Crewson, Embeth Davidtz & Hallie Eisenberg are all excellent choices, and perform memorably in their roles.

    This is a great film, and I must confess that I do not understand the critical responses that I've read. Except for the fact that those wonderfully idiotic people at Disney have been selling this movie as a Robin Williams comedy (which it is not, and never intended to be!).

    See it.

NEXT WEEK: ANGELA'S ASHES, plus THE 13TH WARRIOR, ADVENTURES IN BABYSITTING (Elisabeth Shue fans rejoice!) and the Criterion edition of RUSHMORE all on DVD. Remember to send in your comments at and we'll see you next time. Excelsior!

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