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Aisle Seat December Insanity

The Mail Bag reveals a secret Don Davis soundtrack CD!
Plus: MEN IN BLACK II, Return to the Blue Lagoon (??), and more on DVD!

By Andy Dursin


WE INTERRUPT THIS COLUMN FOR A CD SIGNING ALERT: Creature Features in association with Intrada will be celebrating the release of their new MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET with composer Bruce Broughton signing CDs on Saturday, December 14th from 2-4 pm. Intrada will also have numerous other Broughton soundtracks on hand for signing, including SILVERADO, LOST IN SPACE, RESCUERS DOWN UNDER and THE BOY WHO COULD FLY.

Creature Features is located at 1802 West Olive Avenue in Burbank. If you're unable to attend in person, call (818) 842-9383 or fax to (818) 842-0752 to pre-order your own personalized copy. For e-mail inquiries, contact cfeatures@earthlink.net.

And now, back to Andy--


Hi everyone. Just a short column this week (for a change!) before we have our annual online DVD Holiday Buyer's Guide coming up sometime next week. This is not to be confused with the next Laserphile Holiday Buyer's Guide which will be in the forthcoming issue of FSM itself -- yes, too many discs, too little room for review!

In the meantime, we've got plenty of DVD reviews and reader comments -- with news of a tasty German import featuring an unreleased soundtrack CD by Don Davis! Read on, fellow true believers--


New On DVD

MEN IN BLACK II (**, 88 mins., 2002, PG-13; Columbia TriStar, separate Widescreen and Full-Screen Versions): Lackluster sequel to the mega-successful 1997 hit is actually over at the 79 minute mark, at which point nearly ten minutes worth of end credits roll!

Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith are back as agents Kay and Jay, this time out to stop another alien invader, who decides to take the form of a Victoria's Secret model (Lara Flynn Boyle, who stepped in for Famke Jenssen at the last minute). Also sprinkled into the mix is Rosario Dawson as a pizza parlor worker with an extraterrestrial secret, and Michael Jackson (ugh) in a cameo appearance. Predictable -- and we're talking predictable -- shenanigans ensue, including a reprisal of a tough-talking pug named Frank, strange-looking Rick Baker creations, and amiable performances by the two leads. Despite all the technical razzle dazzle, MIB II is the very essence of a commercial product, with a barebones "story" (by Robert Gordon and Barry Fanaro) that pushes all the requisite buttons but never anything more. The film's brief running time is all the evidence you need of how involved the premise is, and not even the special effects seem special -- there just isn't anything remotely interesting or fresh about this by-the-numbers sequel, which leaves one with the impression that this was a strictly "just for the money" vehicle for all the players involved.

Columbia's 2-DVD set is a predictably good-looking and extras-rich edition from the studio. As expected, the 1.85 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound are both superb, and the extras are terrific: a bizarre alternate ending, outtake reel, featurettes on Danny Elfman and other key personnel (including Baker and art director Bo Welch), special effects demonstrations and multi-angle options, segments on the make-up design and various characters, and a director commentary with "optional telestrator diagrams." What's more, there's a Will Smith music video and a segment entitled "Barry Sonnenfeld's Intergalactic Guide to Comedy," which as you may anticipate from its title is completely unfunny.
 


MR. DEEDS (*1/2, 97 mins., 2002, PG-13; Columbia TriStar, separate Widescreen and Full-Screen versions): I have to admit that I laughed more than a few times at Adam Sandler's first few forays into the world of cinematic comedy. "Billy Madison" was stupid but sporadically funny, "Happy Gilmore" was dumb but more consistently amusing, and "The Wedding Singer" was actually a highly entertaining farce that catapulted Sandler into the ranks of comedians who struck it rich at the box-office.

However, even I couldn't recommend the box-office abomination that was "Little Nicky," and Sandler's "comeback" vehicle, MR. DEEDS, is even worse -- a lame updating of the Frank Capra classic with Sandler as a small-town boy whose rich, media mogul uncle (Harve Presnell) dies in a hiking expedition, leaving behind a fortune. Naturally, the media wants in on exposing Sandler's simple-minded Longfellow Deeds, so they send out an ace TV producer (Winona Ryder) in disguise to get the scoop.

Scripted by longtime Sandler associate Tim Herlihy, MR. DEEDS attempts to reprise some of the brainless gags from earlier Sandler romps (including Steve Buscemi as a bug-eyed small-town hick) at the same time it tries to portray a "serious" love story between Deeds and the TV producer who is predictably won over by his antics. Unfortunately, the movie is rarely ever humorous enough to sustain its running time, and Ryder is so completely awful that every scene that doesn't attempt humor fails completely. Suffice to say there's no chemistry between Sandler and Ryder, who filmed this while her well-documented shoplifting saga began. Looking alternately distracted and bored, Ryder proves to be the weakest part in a dull and lifeless film, giving easily her worst performance in the process. Only John Turturro manages to raise a smile as Deeds' butler.

MR. DEEDS has been released on DVD in two separate editions: a full-screen transfer and a 1.85 Widescreen edition that looks more satisfyingly framed. The color is vibrant on both discs though there seemed to be more grain than usual in the print, strange considering that it's a new release. The 1.85 Dolby Digital sound is fine.

For Special Features, both discs feature a commentary by writer Tim Herlihy and director Steven Brill, along with a handful of deleted scenes, outtakes, several promotional featurettes, a Dave Matthews music video, and several of Deeds' "Greeting Cards," which aren't funny in the film or on their own in a DVD supplement, either.


ENOUGH (**1/2, 115 mins., 2002, PG-13; Columbia TriStar): Jennifer Lopez plays the wife of suave Billy Campbell, who ultimately turns out to be quite the psychotic, abusive spouse in Michael Apted's contrived and yet compulsively watchable thriller.

J. Lo gives a strong performance as the suffering wife, who tries to move away from Campbell, only to have him track her down -- even in her "new" life with daughter in tow. So, Lopez decides to get back at him the only way she can: by becoming an expert in self-defense.

Nicholas Kazan scripted ENOUGH, a movie that works well as a domestic abuse drama and less effectively in its final third, when Lopez turns the tables on Campbell in a contrived and predictable finale. Still, for much of the way, the movie is taut and compelling, marked by Apted's assured direction and fine ensemble performances (from Juliette Lewis, Fred Ward, and Noah Wyle among others). While the plot description may sound like "Sleeping With The Enemy" and countless TV Movies of the Week, ENOUGH is good enough to warrant a viewing.

Columbia's DVD offers a strong 2.35 transfer that captures the full aspect ratio of the Panavision frame (a pan-and-scan transfer is also available for those who dislike letterboxing -- though shame on those who do!). The 5.1 Dolby Digital sound is fine, sporting an effective enough score by David Arnold. For supplements, the disc is light: just a J. Lo music video and the original theatrical trailer are included on the extra features side.
 


RETURN TO THE BLUE LAGOON (**, 100 mins., 1991, PG-13; Columbia TriStar): In the annals of unnecessary movie sequels, this pleasant enough but pointless follow-up to the 1980 Brooke Shields hit ranks right up there.

The son (Brian Krause of TV's "Charmed") of Shields and Chris Atkins (both characters are now deceased) is rescued by a widow and her young daughter. She turns out to be none other than Milla Jovovich, years before "The Fifth Element" turned her into a Luc Besson favorite. When disease forces them all to another beautiful, secluded island paradise, we get (you guessed it!) another budding romance between young Krause and Jovovich.

Scripted by Leslie Stevens and executive produced by the original's director, Randal Kleiser, RETURN TO THE BLUE LAGOON was a strange sequel right from the outset. Like, what was up with waiting some 11 YEARS to produce this follow-up? The movie's box-office performance was non-existent and the reviews equally savage, though the film is still watchable due to its nice location filming and the reprise of Basil Poledouris' tender, romantic score. RETURN is, in actuality, a more tasteful and less explicit remake of its predecessor, making it an appropriate movie for older teens and a diverting enough piece of escapist fare.

Columbia's DVD is a low-priced, no-frills disc. The full-frame transfer seems mildly cropped on the sides (the opening credits are letterboxed ever so slightly), but it's still acceptable overall. The Dolby Stereo sound is adequate, though only bonus trailers are included for Special Features.


Aisle Seat Mail Bag

From Roman Deppe:

The thriller THE UNSAID has been recently released on DVD in Germany. A new thriller by Tom McLoughlin starring Andy Garcia and Teri Polo with music by Don Davis. What makes the DVD special, besides being only released in Germany so far and no street date announced for the USA is not only the beautiful packing and quite a lot of extras, but also a special bonus CD featuring the complete score by Don Davis. And for a change this is fantastic score by him. Davis is really strange to me, some of his scores are plain wonderful and goddamn asskicking and others are so terrible that I just wonder whether he is really capable of writing a score or are his orchestrators are doing the fine job. Anyhow, this score is a wonderful tragic score with some powerful action tunes at the end, but the music playing under the final showdown is wonderfully emotional it sent me shivers down the spine. Okay, the overall style is total Horneresque, but it is as powerful as the original.

The movie itself is on the one side a pretty been there/done that - psycho thriller about a psychiatrist who takes care of a boy who had to watch as a child how his father killed his mother. But dark secrets will be revealed, as usual.

This side of the movie is really standard fare and offers only two twists, of which the first one is really predictable right from the start and the other really disturbing and quite unpredictable.

The better side of the movie is that it is in fact more a drama about the death of the psychiatrists' son. And that part plays very well, thanks to Garcia's great acting and Davis haunting score.

All in all the movie can't decide what it wants to be and doesn't leave a lasting impression, nevertheless it was entertaining throughout, but you should be aware that it is not a thriller in the first place.

A couple of deleted scenes are included (which would have made the movie more of a stalk n'slash thing), also an audio commentary, an alternate ending, making of, easter eggs, trailers and the score CD - which is the real reason why you should buy this DVD. The whole thing comes in a beautiful two-pages-slip-cover. There really tried somebody to sell this movie!

Besides a German DTS track, there is also an English 5.1 language track.

I doubt that the score-CD will ever get released commercially as the score was recorded in LA and is almost 70 minutes long. Dunno why this could be included on a German DVD, but we should be thankful for it!

Roman, thanks much for the huge heads-up. I've been prepping a DVD Internationale column for many a moon, but sooner or later I'll get around to it.

First, though, I'll tell you this: if you're looking for a multi-region DVD player that can even handle PAL discs in NTSC, you needn't look farther than your local Toys R Us (which sells a model called the "Classic") or Best Buy (for the "Cyber Home" Progressive Scan player). Both players are insanely cheap (they should run you $69-$79) and play discs from all around the world in every region. I wouldn't use them as your "primary" player, but if you're into imports like I am and want an inexpensive solution to watching them, definitely look into either machine.

A few weeks ago we ran a letter from reader A.L. Hearn criticizing STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME for not being part of the three film "trilogy" that comprised Star Trek II, III, and IV. I received this reader response (which I completely agree with) and my apology for taking so long to run it.

From Ron Pulliam:

Mr. Hearn's take on "Star Trek IV" is amusing. It's the one "Star Trek" film the critics universally hailed and continue to point to as "the best" in the series. That, and the money it made and the fact that Leonard Rosenman was nominated for an Oscar for his score (Jerry Goldsmith's score for the first ST is the only other score in the series that got nominated).
 
He most likely considers himself a purist. After the stagnation of "Star Trek III", "Star Trek IV" offered great promise that the series would not soon die out from lack of creativity. In point of fact, we've gone a good long way on the strength of that promise, none of which has since been realized, but it kept the franchise going.
 
Mr. Hearn and all the other "Star Trek IV" critics owe that "best-in-the-series" film a great debt of gratitude.
 
It is, in point of fact, Mr. Hearn, the very best "Star Trek" movie ever made. Sorry you have no ability to appreciate it for what it is.
[I have appreciated Mr. Pulliam's letters in the past, and normally I wouldn't intrude on one of Andy's columns, but this letter got my dander up, especially for the patronizing attitude of the final paragraph. You cannot logically call Star Trek IV the best Trek film "in point of fact." Which film is best is not fact, it is merely opinion.  My own opinion is that Voyage Home is maybe the sixth best of the series -- and I haven't seen Nemesis yet -- but that too is just opinion.  And what is the factual basis presented for proclaiming Voyage Home the best? 1) "The money it made" -- I guess this means Die Another Day is the best James Bond film; 2) "the critics universally hailed it" -- is it now the critics who are the ultimate arbiters of a film's quality, the same critics who bend with the whims of the day, and whom we regularly deride for their ignorance and poor taste in film music?; and 3) Rosenman's Oscar nomination -- this from the same year where Round Midnight won best ORIGINAL score. Sorry for interrupting your column, Andy. I'll try not to let it happen again -- SB.]

Scott, you'll happy to know the Special Edition of STAR TREK IV will be released by Paramount on March 4th, just in time for all Trek fans who have no sense of humor whatsoever! Now, back to our regularly-scheduled column--

From Richard Dinman:

For some unaccountable reason, every review of the current monophonic DVD of MYSTERIOUS ISLAND fails to mention the laserdisc version, which had an astonishingly powerful STEREO track that really highlighted the great HERRMAN score. Its lazy exclusion on the dvd equals "no sale" as far as I'm concerned.
Richard, you're right on target there. Another flick that had a terrific remixed stereo soundtrack on LD was the remastered edition of George Pal's WAR OF THE WORLDS - - but Paramount's DVD was only in tinny, compressed mono. Hang onto those lasers if you have 'em, folks!

From Brian Sadler, USN:

I thought for us film composing fans, we could put our own music to the SPIDER-MAN DVD using the create your own commentary feature. I haven't tried it yet, but it would be great practice for anyone who likes to compose. That's my two cents.
Not a bad idea at all, Brian. Has anyone tried this out?


NEXT WEEK: Our annual Aisle Seat Online Buyer's Guide with THE DUELLISTS, SERPICO, and more new discs. Send all emails to dursina@att.net and we'll catch you then. One final suggestion this week: try to remain calm while in line at the mall or post office!


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