Aisle Seat Memorial Day Edition!
WWII epics roll out on DVD, Soundtrack ramblings, and
new theatrical reviews, too!
By Andy Dursin
With enough movies and DVDs to speak of, I hadn't been paying a whole
lot of attention to the soundtrack medium of late -- though with the current
crop of big summer movies starting to appear, it's hard to resist some
of the new soundtracks that have been recently released (not to mention
promising upcoming scores like John Williams' A.I. and Danny Elfman's PLANET
OF THE APES).
I purchased Alan Silvestri's score from THE MUMMY RETURNS a couple of
weeks ago and was pleasantly surprised with his effort. This is the kind
of score Silvestri has never really had a chance to write -- a big, orchestral,
romantic adventure work with chorus -- and his soundtrack is an inspired,
energetic one with catchy motifs and some fine action writing. While I
thought Jerry Goldsmith's score for the original "Mummy" was certainly
acceptable, a lot of his frenetic action cues had a "been there, done that"
feel to them, and in that regard, I find Silvestri's score to be an improvement
by comparison. It is a shame that the film's final cue isn't on the album,
along with several other pieces from the movie's last third, but you still
get over 65 minutes of excellent underscore, along with an insanely bad
rock ballad by Live that's completely dead.
The pop music side of me felt compelled to pick up MOULIN ROUGE (okay,
I needed something to listen to while hacking away at another task at work),
and I have to admit -- if you like this kind of thing, it's a great album.
I'm sure Baz Luhrmann's film wallows in excess and hyper-editing the way
his "Romeo + Juliet" did, but I want to see it just the same, especially
after listening to the CD. This is a near-brilliant assemblage of pop tunes
from the last 25+ years, assembled in the context of a musical and often
beautifully arranged by Craig Armstrong and musical director Marius DeVries.
Nicole Kidman and especially Ewan McGregor prove that they can sing quite
well, and several tracks -- particularly McGregor's lyrical performance
of Elton John's "Your Song" -- truly come alive in their recording on the
CD. The way in which countless pop songs (from AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN's
"Up Where We Belong" and even THE LAST DRAGON's "Rhythm of the Night"!)
are incorporated into the arrangements are amazing, and the album offers
everything from operatic passages to techno versions of "Diamonds Are a
Girl's Best Friend" and total pop fluff (via Christina Aguilera and co.'s
cover of disco fave "Lady Marmalade") -- all of it worth every penny if
you're up for the trip.
Finally, we come to Hans Zimmer's PEARL HARBOR, which I just picked
up and haven't had a real good chance to completely listen to. I'll withhold
judgment until I see the finished film on Friday -- it seems to be fine
if unmemorable, much like "Gladiator," with the addition of Morricone-esque
vocals at the end -- but right off the bat, I found Faith Hill's "There
You'll Be" to be an acceptable if not completely formulaic variation on
past Diane Warren movie ballads for Jerry Bruckheimer epics (think "I Don't
Want to Miss a Thing" from "Crapageddon" or "How Do I Live" from "Con-Air").
But I enjoyed the album for the most part, and if these three albums
are any indication of the summer ahead, it should be a great one for film
music and (hopefully) the movies as well. Speaking of which...
New in Theaters
ANGEL EYES (***): If you can put aside the movie's deceptive
advertising -- which tries to sell the film as another "Sixth Sense" --
you may well find yourself surprised by this well-acted and thoughtfully
Jennifer Lopez gives another strong performance as a Chicago cop whose
life is saved by a strange man (Jim Caviezel) with a past shrouded in secrecy.
As Lopez begins to sink deeper and deeper into losing contact with her
own family, the two enter into an intimate relationship that threatens
to unravel when, haunted by the past, Caviezel has trouble reconciling
his history with their future.
Written by Gerard DiPego and directed by Luis Mandoki, ANGEL EYES is
nothing but an unabashedly melodramatic, intimate romance masquerading
in its publicity as a supernatural thriller (perhaps its producer, Franchise
Pictures, was leery of another box-office disaster like "Battlefield Earth,"
"Driven," and "Get Carter").
Lopez is convincing as the strong-willed police officer drawn to the
mysterious stranger, while Caviezel is acceptable as a good-natured guy
trying to move on with his life in the wake of a personal tragedy. The
movie is played out in predictable fashion (and even includes a montage
set to a Leanne Rimes song), but DiPego has crafted two characters who
you can't help but root for as the movie moves along.
Some creaky, saccharine speeches slow the movie down near the end, but
for most of the way ANGEL EYES is a surprisingly effective drama with good
performances, low-key direction, and solid dialogue. (R)
A KNIGHT'S TALE (***): Anyone who complains that
this medieval adventure isn't historically accurate is like saying there
wasn't enough romance in "Aliens."
Aussie Heath Ledger -- who once again shows he's more charismatic than
any of America's bland young leading men -- is a peasant who fills in for
a recently deceased noble knight during a jousting competition. Along the
way he falls for a young lady of the wealthy class, jousts for money and
the name of his father, and ends up combating the villainous Rufus Sewell
(in a wonderfully conniving performance) in a spoofy, highly enjoyable
teenage adventure dressed up as a loose -- and we're talking about loose
-- evocation of the middle ages (which will undoubtedly offend purists
and renaissance fair attendees without a sense of humor).
Writer-producer-director Brian Helgeland has produced a highly entertaining
movie filled with anachronistic rock music (the kids dance to David Bowie's
"Golden Years" and the jousting crowds stomp their feet to Queen), lots
of laughs, and a handful of fine performances. Chief among them is Paul
Bettany's supporting turn as Geoffrey Chaucer, who chronicles Ledger's
adventures and interprets the role as a stand- up comic with a gambling
problem. Only the miscasting of Hawaiian model Shannon Sossamon as Ledger's
love doesn't work -- it's hard to figure why Ledger doesn't choose plucky
blacksmith Laura Fraser over this bratty girl of nobility.
A KNIGHT'S TALE is not trying to be "First Knight," "Excalibur," or
"Robin Hood," but rather a smart AND silly youth picture that takes itself
just seriously enough so that you care about the characters, but still
don't have a problem rocking to AC/DC while watching a jousting competition
framed like a modern sporting event. It's all a lark with a lot of good-natured
humor that's perfect if you're in the mood. (PG-13)
Memorial Day DVDs
The everyone's-gotta-see-it movie of the summer -- "Pearl Harbor," of
course -- opens tomorrow, but if small-screen viewing is more in line with
your weekend BBQ-grilling, a handful of war movies have already been issued
on DVD just in time for Memorial Day.
Two films in particular will be compared with the new "Pearl Harbor,"
those being Otto Preminger's 1965 epic IN HARM'S WAY (**1/2, $24.98),
with John Wayne and Kirk Douglas leading an all-star cast, and TORA!
TORA! TORA! (***, Fox, $29.98), the 1970 chronicle of the Pearl Harbor
bombing from director Richard Fleischer, featuring a plethora of outstanding
special effects that were every bit as cutting-edge in their day as ILM's
sure-to-be-dazzling effects are now.
Both pictures are completely different in approach and technique, from
their casts and storylines to even their Panavision cinematography ("In
Harm's Way" never really comes alive in black-and-white the way "Tora"
does in color) and respective Jerry Goldsmith scores. (FSM has released
Tora score -- a limited edition not available elsewhere.)
"In Harm's Way" is more of an glitzy soap opera, with Wayne and Douglas
leading a fine cast that also includes Patricia Neal, Tom Tryon, Paula
Prentiss (also on-hand in "Catch-22"), and smaller, spot-the-star appearances
from Burgess Meredith, Henry Fonda, George Kennedy, Carroll O'Connor, Slim
Pickens, Larry Hagman, and others. Paramount's DVD features a new 2.35
transfer, featurette on the film's production, and three theatrical trailers
While "In Harm's Way" is certainly viewable given that cast, its special
effects work and historical relevancy pale in comparison to Fox's "Tora!
Tora! Tora!," which presents a less emotional, more clinical reconstruction
of what happened leading up to and during December 7th, 1941 and -- for
that very reason -- is a far more interesting piece on the whole.
Produced in conjunction with Japan's Toei Studios, the movie features
some tremendously effective miniature work -- some of the finest ever captured
on-screen -- with efficient performances and a minimum of melodrama. Larry
Forrester's script is all about the conflict and history; from its all-character
actor cast (Jason Robards, E.G. Marshall, James Whitmore, Martin Balsam,
Joseph Cotten) to the movie's meticulous reconstruction of the actual attack,
"Tora!" takes a virtual docudrama approach that has held up quite well
whereas other cinematic recreations (like "In Harm's Way") have dated in
While the movie bends over backwards perhaps too much to accommodate
an even-handed treatment for both sides (historians criticized the picture
since it never mentions the atrocities Japan committed during the war or
their aggression in China, even though both were -- obviously -- fundamental
reasons why the U.S. got involved in WWII), it's still a fine primer for
viewers wanting to learn more about the history of the actual attack.
Fox had previously released "Tora! Tora! Tora!" a couple of years ago
on DVD in a THX-approved 2.35 transfer with 4.1 Dolby Digital sound. This
"Special Edition" release uses the exact same transfer, but also adds a
20-minute historical piece on the attack and a brand-new commentary with
Richard Fleischer being interviewed by Japanese film historian Stewart
Their conversation is candid and filled with anecdotes, discussing the
various conflicts inherent in coordinating a multi-national production
and detailing the inside story on Akira Kurosawa, who signed onto direct
the Japanese half of the film but was fired after countless problems during
pre-production and inability to work with the studio once shooting began
(Fleischer also surmises that Kurosawa cast Japanese businessmen in several
key roles since he was looking for funding for his next picture). Highly
Among the other war titles newly available on DVD are both vintage classics
and more recent epics. Paramount is single-handedly responsible for several
of these releases, spotlighting generally excellent transfers on each (with
16:9 enhancement where applicable) and a few new supplements as well.
Film students, for example, may be most interested in the studio's new
package of CATCH-22 (**1/2, $24.98), Mike Nichols' 1970 adaptation
of Joseph Heller's black-comic novel, a chronicle of American WWII pilots
and the surreal, alternately hilarious and tragic circumstances involved
in battle. Nichols' film was one of the costliest productions of its day,
but despite a phenomenal cast and high expectations, met with critical
disappointment and below-expected box-office returns upon initial release
Paramount's DVD, however, may go a long way in finding a new audience
for Nichols' film. While the movie is still bizarre and occasionally suffers
from heavy-handed direction that comes off as an over-eager attempt to
be different (like many '70s films that haven't dated well), CATCH-22 remains
of interest for two principal reasons.
First, the cast is simply fascinating for its mix of established, then-current
stars (Alan Arkin, Jon Voight, Anthony Perkins, Richard Benjamin), rising
young talent (Martin Sheen, Charles Grodin), well-known veterans (Martin
Balsam, Orson Welles, Jack Gilford), character actors (Austin Pendleton,
Bob Balaban, Norman Fell), and even some effective stunt casting (including
Bob Newhart and Art "Arthur" Garfunkel). With a mix of performers like
that, it is hard to dismiss the picture, even if Buck Henry's screenplay
veers from sporadically entertaining slapstick comedy with "pop" references
(Nichols quotes 2001 when Arkin spies a sexy Italian woman) to convoluted
imagery and symbolism.
The movie also benefits enormously from David Watkin's marvelously textured
Panavision cinematography, which features a handful of supremely memorable
sequences (the bombers taking off from a crowded runway, the opening shot
of the sun rising over the main credits) that give the movie an evocative
visual backdrop that the narrative seldom matches.
Aside from featuring a solid, if unspectacular, new 2.35 transfer and
coarse Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack (the original mono is also available),
Paramount's DVD features a fascinating audio commentary with current Oscar-winning
director Steven Soderbergh watching the movie along with Nichols. It's
clear that Soderbergh is a major fan of the picture (and Nichols' body
of work), and together, the two openly discuss the movie's pros and cons,
its look, and how the most technically elaborate sequences in the picture
were achieved. This is not a dry discussion by any measure, but instead
a rare opportunity to hear a veteran filmmaker discuss his craft -- and
one of his most ballyhooed pictures -- with one of the top directors from
the new generation of Hollywood filmmakers.
Paramount's other war DVDs include the 1954 Mark Robson filming of James
Michener's THE BRIDGES AT TOKO-RI (***, $24.98) and Don Siegel's
taut, violent 1962 WWII entry HELL IS FOR HEROES (***, $24.98),
each offering their own perspective on combat.
"Bridges" is a glossy, Technicolor effort with William Holden as a WWII
vet loved by wife Grace Kelly but thrust back into the arena of combat
in Korea. Their relationship is played out against some Oscar- winning
special effects work and taut action scenes, well-rendered in Paramount's
"Hell" is leaner, meaner, shorter and perhaps every bit as entertaining,
with Clint Eastwood collaborator Siegel offering a far grittier expose
of warfare. Steve McQueen leads an army squad trying to hold the line against
a multitude of Nazis; Bobby Darin, Fess Parker, James Coburn, Nick Adams,
and Bob Newhart -- improbably making his film debut -- co-star in this
tough, stark action picture, presented in black-and-white in Paramount's
new 1.85 transfer.
Finally, Paramount has also rolled out a solid presentation of UNCOMMON
VALOR (***, $24.98), Ted Kotcheff's 1983 follow-up to "First Blood"
that, in some ways, plays like his own sequel to the original Rambo adventure.
Here, Gene Hackman plays an obsessed Colonel who goes back to Vietnam to
find out what happened to his M.I.A. son, dragging a few of his son's Marine
pals along for the ride.
This no-frills action flick, produced by John Milius and sporting an
early score by James Horner, has a solid cast (Fred Ward, Patrick Swayze,
Robert Stack) and some good action scenes, punctuated by the excellent
cinematography of Stephen H. Burum. Paramount's DVD features a fine 1.85
transfer, active 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack, though there's no theatrical
trailer to be found (unlike Paramount's other DVDs).
From Germany, a PEARL HARBOR Review!
From Roman Deppe <email@example.com>
I'm still so shocked that I saw PEARL HARBOR today, that I have
to drop you some lines. Rarely I've seen a movie which was such a waste
of money, celluloid and time of the moviegoers. It's almost unbelievable
how bad, boring, stupid and insulting this movie is (plus an annoying,
untalented Ben Affleck and a miscast Josh Harnett, but Kate Beckinsale
was at least nice).
The only good thing is that Michael Bay didn't use his machine-gun-editing
that much -- but that's almost the only good I can say about this crap.
There are about 3 shots which were really impressive (one is seen in the
trailer, where the bomb is falling down on the ship, the extension of this
scene is breathtaking), but it takes you really 90 (!) minutes until it
gets there. Until then you have to suffer through an endlessly silly, predictable
and moreover boring and unemotional love story, which tries to capture
you like TITANIC, but just pales like hell in comparison.
But even the action is lame, and moreover to make an action-fest
out of an incident like this is quite insulting, but well, Bay and Bruckheimer
know what Americans want to see, so finally the US-Army wins the battle
(has there ever been one? I thought it was just an attack) over Pearl Harbor
and finally shows the Japanese how to kick butt, when they do the same
to Tokyo. It's incredible and so insulting how these two men interpret
and show history. I wonder what Spielberg will say about this movie as
it is everything SAVING PRIVATE RYAN wasn't.
But the love story also does not work. This movie really belongs
to the stone age as it never questions anything, makes war a great adventure
worth dying for and uses a massacre to show "really cool" action sequences.
Technically the movie has its moments, but that it takes 90 minutes to
get to see them is more than a moviegoer can take...but well what do you
expect in the end from Bruckheimer and Bay?
But no doubt this movie will do great in America, it's pure Patriotism
and shows that America is not a country you should messing with. But interesting,
that, although comments are stated at the end of the movie, that America
won the war over Japan, it wasn't mentioned how... why didn't they make
a movie about that?"
It's funny, Roman, but nobody wants to offend ethnic, religious,
or cultural groups anymore... especially not when, in Disney's own words,
"20 percent of TITANIC's gross was [in Japan]." I'm surprised in PEARL
HARBOR that we even know that the Japanese were who we were fighting against!
Bottom line: Disney wants to make $$ overseas, and REAL history is not
something that political correctness, or box- office receipts, goes hand-in-hand
NEXT WEEK: How does PEARL HARBOR really stack up?
Email your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
and have a great weekend everyone!