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Hannibal-ized!

Plus: Aisle Seat Mid-Winter's DVD Round-Up, Part Deux

By Andy Dursin

Another February weekend has come and gone, and with it a box-office record as HANNIBAL predictably demolished the competition, grossing well over $50 million and leaving the competition (as pathetic as it was) in the dust. It's often quite amusing how movies perform financially both here and abroad, since while HANNIBAL's numbers seem to be quite accurate of the current mental state of U.S. audiences, a movie like CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON bombed in Asia, Hong Kong, and Japan.

As Variety pointed out last week, this tale from the East -- though filmed in a very Western manner by Ang Lee -- completely failed to find an audience in Asia, where audiences found the pacing too slow, the reportedly poor Mandarin accents of Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh distracting, and the fact that people flying around in fight sequences isn't anything new to local cinema there.

It will be interesting to see what happens to HANNIBAL as it opens in the rest of the world, but locally, all we know is that fried brains and music-video-affected direction are all you need to break a mid-winter's record against films like "Saving Silverman" and J. Lo's "The Wedding Planner." Summer, it seems, can't come soon enough!


New in Theaters

HANNIBAL (*1/2): Perhaps the one thing that will linger most in my memory about the boring, pointless "Hannibal" is that -- considering all the movies I ever watched on video when I was a kid (back when I tried to see the gooiest flicks I could rent from the local store) -- not the sickest of the grossest gore-epics I ever witnessed came close to matching the utter sleaze-factor of this movie's climax.

God knows how the MPAA gave this picture an R rating, but shame on director Ridley Scott, writers David Mamet and Steven Zaillian, and stars Anthony Hopkins, Julianne Moore, and Ray Liotta for taking part in what may be the lowest common denominator-slumming slice yet of so-called "mainstream" entertainment. Just when you think you couldn't get any lower than "Scary Movie" comes a film that finally enables us to see such incredible sights as a man being consumed by wild pigs and Ray Liotta's brain being fried while he sits and talks about running for Congress.

But, the objections on violence aside, HANNIBAL simply isn't very interesting to begin with. There's all style and no substance to this picture, chronicling Hannibal the Cannibal's colorful exploits in Italy (at least the scenery is nice) and Virginia a decade after "Silence of the Lambs," and directed by Scott with his typical visual gusto in the hopes that we won't notice how vacuous the entire premise of this movie is. There are no fully developed characters to care about (Moore's basically thankless role as Clarice Starling has her spending the whole movie on the sidelines until the final third), no scares or suspense. Forget "Silence of the Lambs" or "Manhunter" even existed -- this picture is almost as chilling as "The Bone Collector," and that should be quite spine-tingling indeed for MGM's hopes of a prolonged box-office bonanza (you can just feel word-of-mouth killing this movie after the first few weeks).

The first half of the picture, with Giancarlo Giannini as an Italian cop trying to bring in Hannibal and earn the juicy reward money, is appreciably more intriguing than the second, but even this opening section is rather bland. John Mathieson's cinematography, one of the film's sole virtues, tries valiantly to establish mood and atmosphere, but the action mainly consists of a conventional, mundane police procedural. Moore spends three-quarters of the film in a basement listening to taped conversations she had with Lecter (reminding us all too well of Foster's absence), while Gary Oldman's disfigured millionaire freak sends out goons of his own to knock off our favorite cannibal. It all culminates in an ending that will leave you bewildered as to what the entire point of the MPAA is -- as we have seen with many films with controversial ratings in the past, because a movie involves the likes of Anthony Hopkins and Ridley Scott, it seems as if there's some degree of free artistic license granted that doesn't apply for everyone else.

The main problem, though, is that "Hannibal" never has any sense of urgency, no real reason to exist. "The Silence of the Lambs" had a main plot (a girl kidnapped by a psycho) that established tension and ran parallel to the Hannibal element. There's no such feeling of suspense here, no characters to care about or root for. The film's script -- nowhere as witty or surprising as Ted Tally's "Lambs" or Michael Mann's "Manhunter" -- is almost entirely reliant upon a viewer's knowledge of its predecessor to establish dramatic motivation, but without Jodie Foster, there are no sparks between Clarice and Hannibal when they finally reunite. Hopkins' performance is fine but I couldn't help but thinking that the Lecter character isn't more interesting as a side dish to the kind of main narrative course that this movie completely lacks.

And as far as the ending goes, it's a tiresome, disgusting bore, an appropriate cap on a movie that never answers the question "why bother?" except for the big fat check which reportedly went out to all involved. HANNIBAL is tasteless in more ways than one. (R, 131 mins.)


Back to DVD World:

Goodies from MGM, Paramount & Universal

MGM opted to unload a series of great movies on DVD this January, and if you're a movie fan, chances are good that there were more than a few titles of interest in the wide-ranging, genre-spanning pictures the studio released in the last few weeks -- most at some of the lowest DVD prices we've yet seen from a major label as well.

In MGM's "Contemporary Classics" line come a pair of special editions for recent favorites WHEN HARRY MET SALLY (***, $24.98) and BENNY & JOON (***, $19.98), both featuring unique supplemental content and audio commentaries.

SALLYÖ features over seven minutes of deleted scenes, a "making of" documentary featuring most of the cast and crew, Harry Connick, Jr.'s "It Had to Be You" music video, commentary by Rob Reiner, and other assorted extras. The 1.85 transfer looks excellent and the 2.0 Dolby Stereo mix is perfectly fine for this particular film -- a 1989 favorite of many audiences and critics, some of whom regard it as one of the screen's most memorable comic-dramas of the last two decades. For me, I've always found the film's melancholy tone at times a bit too heavy and sentimental, but there are certainly more than a few choice moments and fans of the movie should love MGM's new DVD edition.

BENNY & JOON, a 1993 comic fable with Johnny Depp as a misfit who falls for the unbalanced Mary Stuart Masterson, boasts a collection of supplements that primarily rehash MGM's deluxe laserdisc edition from a few years ago. An audio commentary, several deleted scenes, costume and make-up tests, and the trailer comprise a solid package for a generally entertaining film featuring good performances from Masterson, Depp, Aidan Quinn, Oliver Platt, and Julianne Moore. (The only major omission on the DVD is the laserdisc's isolated mono score track, which included some alternate Rachel Portman compositions).

MGM has also included solid transfers on a batch of other films from the early '90s, including the highly entertaining THE CUTTING EDGE ($14.95, ***1/2) and UNTAMED HEART (**1/2, $19.95), the latter being Tony Bill's corny but well-performed romantic-drama with Marisa Tomei and Christian Slater. Both DVDs feature excellent 1.85 transfers superior to their original widescreen LD issues, and acceptable 2.0 Dolby Digital soundtracks. Other titles we did not receive screeners of -- but presumably include similarly superlative, remastered presentations -- include "Mystic Pizza," "The Man in the Moon," and "Love Field."

Going back to the '60s, MGM has also included the entire run of the Sidney Poitier/"Mr. Tibbs" movies in their "Contemporary Classics" line. IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT (****), THE ORGANIZATION (**1/2) and THEY CALL ME MR. TIBBS (***, $19.98 each) all look fairly sharp in their 1.85 transfers and boast decent mono soundtracks, along with theatrical trailers on each respective disc. IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT also contains an enlightening audio commentary with Norman Jewison, Rod Steiger, Lee Grant, and cinematographer Haskell Wexler touching upon the film's production and social significance. Naturally, the original film is the most substantial piece when compared to the rather routine but entertaining actioners that followed, but even the sequels are intriguing vehicles for Poitier and are worth a look.

Some classic (and not-so-classic) black exploitation epics have also found their way to DVD courtesy of MGM. "Harlem," "Black Mama, White Mama," "Friday Foster," "Slaughter," "Slaughter's Big Ripoff," "Sheba, Baby," "Black Caesar," and "Foxy" boast widescreen transfers and even a few commentary tracks among them, though perhaps the most entertaining of the '70s lot is FOXY BROWN (***, $14.98), with audio commentary and an extremely foxy Pam Grier as the title character. Also issued in this line is Keenen Ivory Wayans' highly entertaining 1988 spoof I'M GONNA GIT YOU SUCKA (***, $14.98), featuring Bernie Casey, Isaac Hayes, and Jim Brown parodying their gun-trotting ways in an often hilarious comedy that's far, far superior to any of the cinematic work Wayans has turned out since.

Lastly, MGM has also included an assortment of films from the '80s, from the gorgeous French epics "Jean de Florette" and "Manon of the Spring," to intriguing failures like the stilted Michael Apted adaptation of the bestselling book GORKY PARK (**, $24.98) and KILL ME AGAIN (**1/2, $24.98), the latter featuring then-married stars Val Kilmer and Joanne Whaley-Kilmer in director John Dahl's 1989 "film noir" wannabe. While most all of the recent MGM titles boast enhanced widescreen transfers (like "Gorky Park"), the non-anamorphic "Kill Me Again" is presented in a full-frame transfer that doesn't seem to crop anything from the sides.


Supernatural Shenanigans & Football Frolics from Paramount

It wasn't one of last year's best movies, but BLESS THE CHILD (**, $24.98) is at least more entertaining than the recent glut of supernatural-themed studio entries we've seen of late. More enjoyable than "End of Days" and far more watchable than the godawful "Lost Souls," "Bless the Child" features Kim Basinger, Jimmy Smits, and Rufus Sewell in a polished, glossy production that basically takes "The Omen," switches the identity of the young moppet to a female, adds plenty of good guys to fight the demonic ones, and comes up with an uneven but certainly well-performed ride courtesy of director Chuck Russell.

Heck, you even get cameos from Christina Ricci and Ian Holm, which has to count for something -- even if the flying FX demons sprinkled throughout the proceding were something the movie could have lived without. Although the movie seems to be lacking a certain something, you have to give some credit to a picture that tries to paint a better portrait of certain religious figures than most other films of this kind have in the past. Paramount's DVD includes a super 2.35 transfer, active 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack, trailer and TV spots, interviews with the cast and crew, and an audio commentary by Russell and FX supervisor Joel Hynek.

Paramount's other new releases include re-issues of several '70s flicks, including the Charles Bronson action classic DEATH WISH (**1/2, $29.98) in the best-looking transfer the movie has yet seen to date on video, and acclaimed football epics THE LONGEST YARD (***1/2, $29.98) and the somewhat overrated NORTH DALLAS FORTY (***, $29.98), the latter starring Nick Nolte and Mac Davis in the "Any Given Sunday" of 1979.

DEATH WISH, a controversial movie in its original release, is somewhat dated today, with Bronson's vigilante character having been worn out in numerous other action movies in the years since its original 1974 release. Still, this Dino DeLaurentiis production (co-starring a young Jeff Goldblum) does retain a fair degree of its original potency, and the 1.85 transfer is exceptionally good given the dark, other transfers of this movie that I've glimpsed on the tube from time to time.

THE LONGEST YARD was also a huge box-office hit in 1974, starring Burt Reynolds as a former pro quarterback who gets to captain a prisoners' team in the Georgia State Prison after being arrested. The ensuing battle between the prisoners and the guards culminates in a supremely memorable "big game" finale, filled with bone-crunching football action. The 1.85 transfer and mono soundtrack are both OK, though are no extras to be found.

NORTH DALLAS FORTY, a more "serious" chronicle of life in the professional football ranks, receives a 2.35 Panavision transfer that certainly makes the picture more palatable than any of its preceding, pan-and-scan video transfers. The 5.1 remixed soundtrack is decent though there aren't any extras here, either (not even a trailer). The film is a bit long but, as adapted by producer Frank Yablans and director Ted Kotcheff from Peter Gent's novel, still remains an interesting account of its subject matter, though John Scott's alternately effective or dated score is not an asset.

Finally, Paramount has polished off the "Major League" ripoff NECESSARY ROUGHNESS (**, $29.98) to coincide with the release of the above two gridiron flicks. A 1991 comedy that tries desperately to mimic the lovable-losers plot of "Major League," ROUGHNESS features Scott Bakula as an affable, beyond-his-years quarterback, Robert Loggia and Hector Elizondo as coaches, and Sinbad and Kathy Ireland as other members of a hapless college program. "Rocky" it's not, but for strictly formula execution, Stan Dragoti scores a few points for milking a few laughs out of the routine script, despite a relatively weak score by Bill Conti that tries almost too hard to stray from the traditional, rah-rah orchestral path. The 1.85 transfer and 5.1 soundtrack are both solid.


New and Noteworthy

Universal's Deluxe Collector's Edition of BRING IT ON (***, $29.98) rolls out this Tuesday, and this affable teen comedy from last August benefits enormously from a bright performance by star Kirsten Dunst and an energetic pace set by director Peyton Reed.

Writer Jessica Bendinger's script balances big laughs with the usual conventions of the teen genre, but the execution and energy level are both several notches higher than you'd typically find in a movie like this, resulting in a movie that's good fun from start to end.

The DVD includes a full slate of supplements, from audio commentary to deleted scenes, outtakes, home- camera footage of the film's memorable car-wash sequence, a music video, theatrical trailer, "Spotlight on Location" featurette and a fun "animated anecdotes" option that pops up with production notes text a la VH1's "Pop Up Video."

It's a tremendously entertaining package for one of last year's sleeper hits -- a guilty pleasure that's perfect for teens and adults alike.

A movie that didn't get a fair shake in theaters, the much-ballyhooed Sylvester Stallone remake of GET CARTER ($24.98, **1/2) also surfaces this week in a terrific DVD presentation from Warner Home Video.

A movie that tries to capture some of the essence that made the stylish, classic Michael Caine '70s version so cool, but yet add the sensibilities of a modern American action film, GET CARTER was a bomb on both sides of the Atlantic. Not screened for critics in the U.S. and barely advertised, the movie didn't have a chance to find an audience, and it's too bad since, despite its obvious flaws, there are some positives to be found here: atmospheric, rainy cinematography by Mauro Fiore that captures the essence of damp Seattle, some kinetic action sequences courtesy of director Stephen Kay, and good work by Stallone, here backed by a solid supporting cast.

Warner's DVD features an excellent 2.35 transfer, pounding 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack, trailers for this and the original '71 "Get Carter," plus seven minutes of deleted scenes (including an alternate ending), and audio commentary by the director that often roundly criticizes some of the editing-room decisions made by the producers. It's a solid package for an underrated actioner that's nowhere near as bad as its reputation would have you believe. For my GET CARTER ('71) DVD review and my original analysis of the Stallone version, click here.

Finally, Buena Vista's recent slate of DVDs includes titles as diverse as the overlong-but-good-for-the-kids 1977 musical PETE'S DRAGON (**1/2, $29.98), featuring Don Bluth's memorable title creation interacting with often far less alive human actors (including Mickey Rooney and Helen Reddy), and a deluxe presentation of last summer's box-office success COYOTE UGLY (**, $24.98).

A Jerry Bruckheimer production with Piper Perabo as a small-town New Jersey gal who moves to NYC to strike it rich as a singer, "Ugly" is an inoffensive, slickly-made and sometimes entertaining "Flashdance" variant, with Perabo and co-star Adam Garcia establishing some solid chemistry. Unfortunately, the film's plot is so weakly developed that the movie all but evaporates as it nears its badly-assembled, obviously reshot climax.

Buena Vista's DVD features an engaging audio commentary with the female stars of the film, plus featurettes, interviews, music videos, and other goodies. Several deleted scenes are included, although, alas, none of the most substantially-altered sequences are included among them (though they are referred to in the commentary). The 2.35 transfer is fine and both the 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital tracks will give your home-theater set-up a nice workout.

PETE'S DRAGON, meanwhile, sports a superb 1.66 transfer and a surprisingly crisp 5.1 Dolby Digital track, along with still-frame galleries and various featurettes that kids of all ages should enjoy.


NEXT WEEK: Your comments, plus more reviews and notes. As always, send emails to dursina@att.net and we'll see ya then. Excelsior!


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