A Visit to METROPOLIS
Plus: TEXAS RANGERS, DOMESTIC DISTURBANCE, and more new
An Aisle Seat Entry
By Andy Dursin
The one good thing about movie projectors breaking down is that you
end up receiving some free passes because of it. That's what happened to
me last week when I caught a screening of the current #1 film at the box-office
-- the Ben Affleck/Samuel L. Jackson "urban thriller" CHANGING LANES.
With about 20 minutes to go in the movie, the screen went dark, the house
lights came on, along with a blaring '70s hit from Chicago over the sound
Since there are few things more jarring than that when watching a movie
at the local multiplex (aside from endlessly talking fellow movie-goers),
I am going to refrain from posting a formal viewing of the movie. However,
I will say that the film's one-note plot -- sort of an update of the mediocre
Michael Douglas movie "Falling Down" to a certain degree -- and dramatic
situations became tiresome after the first half-hour, despite solid work
from both leads. The movie also seemed to reach a satisfying ending as
well, only to ramble on to a seemingly tacked-on coda that I could have
lived without. At any rate, maybe it'll work better within the confines
of home video -- WITHOUT the film shutting down with just a few minutes
On the video front, some very interesting new releases are coming on
DVD both this and next week, so here's the Aisle Seat mid-April breakdown
of picks-and-pans for your viewing pleasure.
Aisle Seat DVD Pick Of The Week
METROPOLIS (***1/2, 109 mins., 2001, PG-13; Columbia TriStar,
$27.95): Regular Aisle Seat visitors know full well that this critic isn't
an anime aficionado, though so many readers had written to me with positive
comments about last year's epic METROPOLIS -- and, in particular, Toshiyuki
Honda's music -- that I was excited to receive Columbia's gorgeous double-disc
DVD set, which is due in stores April 23.
The movie is based on Osamu Tezuka's highly-regarded classic comic book
from the late '40s, portraying a sprawling futuristic city not unlike the
one Fritz Lang envisioned in his own "Metropolis," the silent classic from
1926. Buildings scale high into the sky, cars scuttle through the air and
on the roads, and millions of residents move about like tiny ants.
It's a quintessential science-fiction vision, and the movie -- directed
by anime vet Rintaro and written by Katsuhiro Otomo of "Akira" fame --
is an outstanding piece of animation, filled with a spectrum of colors,
evocative visual design, and fascinating characters. METROPOLIS combines
traditional anime, American sci-fi films, and even retro elements -- particularly
in Honda's jazz-influenced score -- in creating a movie that offers a feast
for the eyes and ears.
Story wise, the movie offers a somewhat convoluted plot that viewers
unfamiliar with the material may find difficult to follow: a Japanese detective
and his nephew venture into the "Ziggurat" (Metropolis' largest structure),
where the suspicious Duke Red and an insane scientist have created a machine
that could control the destiny of the entire city, one in which robots
and less fortunate humans currently live in the levels below, and shady
political figures conspire to overthrow the current government regime (by
using robots) on the levels above.
In order to power the device and ensnare control, Red needs an android
replicant of his deceased daughter: the childlike Timo, whom improbably
ends up on the run with Ken-ichi, the detective's nephew, from Duke Red's
maniacal, adopted son. For non-Japanese audiences, METROPOLIS may be the
most accessible anime produced, since it seems to have been heavily influenced
by great genre films from the West (from Lang's "Metropolis" to Ridley
Scott's "Blade Runner"). Its tale of technology run amok can be looked
at as a futuristic updating of the "Frankenstein" story, while its depiction
of humanity and morality in a technological society are more developed
and interesting than similar themes Steven Spielberg posed (but failed
to elaborate upon) in A.I. last year.
Still, the visuals are the key in METROPOLIS, with Rintaro's artwork
and design complimented by a marvelous soundtrack by Toshiyuki Honda, rightly
acclaimed as one of last year's best scores. Incorporating a lyrical main
theme for the female robot, as well as a handful of cues meant to evoke
jazz standards from the 1920's and '30s, Honda's expressive score is one
of the film's chief assets, and its striking use of popular, vintage American
songs in several scenes (especially Ray Charles' "I Can't Stop Loving You"
over its apocalyptic finale) is also noteworthy.
Columbia's double-disc DVD package of METROPOLIS is an outstanding achievement
that I would easily rank as one of the finest of 2002 so far. The 1.85
transfer is excellent and razor-sharp, capturing all of the project's detail
and color, while a full range of soundtracks are present.
While some viewers many choose the dubbed American 5.1 soundtrack so
they can concentrate on the visuals instead of reading the optional English
subtitles, they'll be missing out on the disc's most potent mix: the Japanese
5.1 DTS soundtrack, which includes the most impressive presentation of
the film's bountiful sound effects and rich soundtrack. In fact, the English
dubbed track is so muted in comparison with the original Japanese DTS mix
that they almost sound as if they've been produced for two entirely different
films. (For those without DTS, there's a 5.1 Japanese Dolby Digital mix
on-hand as well).
The supplements are contained on a separate, "mini-DVD" that's the same
size as a Nintendo Gamecube disc. There you'll find a 30-minute Japanese
documentary on the making of the film (subtitled in English), with interviews
with Rintaro and writer Katsuhiro Otomo (separate, shorter interviews with
the two individuals are included in an additional chapter). Storyboard-to-film
comparisons are also present, along with a much- appreciated history of
Tezuka's original comic. The discs are housed in a gorgeous fold-out booklet
that should prove to be a must-purchase for animation fans of any international
persuasion. Highly, highly recommended!
New Releases on DVD
TEXAS RANGERS (*1/2, 89 mins., 2001, PG-13; Dimension, $29.98):
You have to feel bad for the people who made TEXAS RANGERS.
The film was on the shelf so long that half of its teen cast were no
longer teenagers by the time the movie was unceremoniously dumped into
a few hundred screens (presumably to fulfill contractual obligations) last
Thanksgiving. By that same time, the picture -- which reportedly once ran
well over two hours -- was edited down to 80 minutes minus credits, and
both of its screenwriters (John Milius and Ehren Kruger) opted to have
their names removed from the final print.
Adding insult to injury is that TEXAS RANGERS spent eons in development
hell as one of Milius' pet projects, intended to be one of the last, great
cinematic stabs at a sprawling western saga -- things that you would be
hard-pressed to tell from watching the final product, which plays like
a Cliff Notes version of a two-minute movie trailer!
James Van Der Beek (TV's Dawson) stars as a young man whose family is
wiped out by a group of bandits (lead by Alfred Molina and Vincent Spano)
in 1875, post-Civil War Texas. Van Der Beek decides to saddle up with the
Texas Rangers -- lead by real- life figure Leander McNelly (Dylan McDermott)
-- in an effort to track down the murdering, cattle-stealing thieves across
the Mexican border, with a motley assortment of new recruits (including
Ashton Kutcher and Usher Raymond) in tow.
TEXAS RANGERS is filled with talented performers in blink-and-you'll-miss-
them supporting parts (Robert Patrick, Randy Travis, Tom Skerritt, and
even Oded Fehr from "The Mummy" in an especially worthless bit), but then
again, EVERY bit of character development here seems like it was sliced
away in the editing room. Looking for some interesting historical anecdotes
about the Rangers' mysterious Mexican liaison? Read the press notes, since
the character pops up in a couple of shots for a grand total of one minute.
How about some good, old-fashioned movie romance? Watch the trailer, because
it's the only place you'll see Rachael Leigh Cook pick between Van Der
Beek and his goofy pal Ashton Kutcher. (Cook's final scene has been laughably
cut to the point where it seems like it's been assembled by a five-year-old).
There are times when you watch a three-hour movie that feels like it's
90 minutes. On the other hand, you can often run into 90 minute movies
that feel like they're OVER three hours. TEXAS RANGERS is one of those
occasions where hack-and-slash editing stripped away not only the running
time, but also the motivations and backgrounds of characters who -- at
least in its current 89-minute form -- we never get to know. In doing so,
it only made what's left -- a tedious assortment of montages, cliches,
and brief dialogue exchanges -- completely pointless and frustrating to
watch, since there's nothing there to care about.
Regrettably, Dimension's DVD offers neither a longer cut of the movie,
nor any deleted scenes to speak of. You do get the original trailer, an
eight-minute promotional featurette, and some ten minutes worth of storyboards,
but it's nevertheless a letdown. The 2.35 transfer varies between exemplary
to downright murky, with some grainy moments popping up at times (no doubt
the result of the film having been re-edited over and over again). It also
seems as if some sequences weren't even finished in post- production, judging
from some strange night-time mattes and stock footage of coyotes. On the
audio side, the 5.1 Dolby soundtrack is also a disappointment, with hardly
any surround activity to speak of -- something especially surprising given
the subject matter at hand. (Trevor Rabin's mostly-orchestral score, however,
is surprisingly adequate given the circumstances).
If there's any good that can come from your rental or purchase of TEXAS
RANGERS on DVD, it's that any success the troubled production may have
on the small- screen could possibly result in a full-blown restoration
of the original version at some point down the road. Until that time, the
movie will be forever regarded as just another failed attempt to revive
the western genre -- and another example of how overzealous cutting in
the editing room can only make a movie even worse than it might have been.
DOMESTIC DISTURBANCE (**, 89 mins., 2001, PG-13;
Paramount, $29.98): If they gave an award for most dysfunctional movie
set, chances are good that DOMESTIC DISTURBANCE would have been the odds-on
favorite last year.
At some point during the movie's shoot in Wilmington, N.C., stars Vince
Vaughn and Steve Buscemi -- along with the film's (uncredited) screenwriter
Scott Rosenberg -- tangled with some locals in a barroom brawl that sent
Buscemi to the hospital with stab wounds and Vaughn to court after being
arrested. Vaughn was ultimately cleared of any wrong-doing, insisting that
he wasn't hitting on the girlfriend of a local resident, and the incident
went down as just another tawdry celebs-in-trouble tale that the media
ran with for a few days.
If you're wondering why I'm bringing it up in the context of this film
review, I think it might have something to do with how by-the-numbers the
film DOMESTIC DISTURBANCE is. Despite being directed by thriller specialist
Harold Becker ("Malice," "Sea Of Love," "The Onion Field"), this is a mundane
effort that barely runs 80 minutes sans credits, showing obvious signs
that each scene was shot without any nuance -- just a "get this over with"
attitude on the part of most involved.
John Travolta stars as a single dad whose ex-wife (Teri Polo) is about
to be hitched to slick, recent area transplant Vince Vaughn. This naturally
causes trouble for Travolta's teen son (Matt O'Leary), who lives with his
mother and is subject to Vaughn's erratic behavior -- particularly when
Vaughn stabs a suspicious former "business" partner (Steve Buscemi) in
the back. Hiding out in the backseat of Vaughn's SUV during the murder,
the kid soon turns into the thriller genre's version of "The Boy Who Cried
Wolf," with all the authority figures -- even Travolta -- failing to believe
the troubled adolescent's tale of terror.
Lewis Colick ("Unlawful Entry") was the credited screenwriter on the
film, with Scott Rosenberg apparently involved with rewrites -- though
of what is unclear, since the movie offers a bare minimum of character
development. Each scene is played out in a completely arbitrary manner,
atypical of Becker's past work, and while it's always watchable, DOMESTIC
DISTURBANCE is never compelling or truly suspenseful. (Buscemi's "death
scene," however, is actually pretty funny). Chalk it up as another routine
movie whose behind-the-scenes history is more interesting than the film
Paramount's DVD offers an excellent 2.35 transfer, highlighting the
Wilmington locales subbing for a southeastern New England setting. The
5.1 Dolby Digital sound is layered with a few surround effects, along with
an OK score by Mark Mancina. Supplements are highlighted by a decent commentary
discussion by the director, the trailer, storyboards, along with a handful
of deleted scenes -- though there must have been even more excised material
at some point that was either edited out of the film or the screenplay
SERENDIPITY (**, 90 mins., 2001, PG-13; Miramax,
$29.98): You know you're in trouble when a Eugene Levy cameo is the only
thing that can bring a movie to life. From the minute Peter Chelsom's would-be
frothy fantasy begins, the word contrivance -- and not serendipity -- is
the word that comes to mind as John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale meet in
the Big Apple during Christmas time. They share loving glances, sarcastic
humor, and a nice skate on the ice. They're both dating other people, but
he can sense a movie romance at work. She, however, is bound by fate --
going so far as to scribble down her name and number in a book and selling
it to a used bookshop. If Cusack can find it, then they're meant to be
together. He can't. Flash forward several years, and the two are ready
to be hitched -- and guess what happened from here? SERENDIPITY had all
the makings of a "nice" date movie (performing well during its first few
weekends at the box-office), but the big surprise is how uneven it turned
out to be. Cusack seems to be mostly going through the motions (and is
beginning to look a little long-in-the-tooth for the kind of carefree single
guy he's essaying here), and while Beckinsale is far more likable than
her cardboard part in "Pearl Harbor," she isn't given enough to do. Actually,
nobody here is given much to do. Director Chelsom -- who once directed
the great sleeper hit HEAR MY SONG -- has a penchant for offbeat humor
that crops up every now and then in a handful of misfired gags, but aside
from solid work by the always game Jeremy Piven as Cusack's best friend,
SERENDIPITY doesn't work. There's no emotional pull, no dramatic urgency,
in effect at any point in the film.
Miramax's DVD contains a nice 1.85 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack,
plus audio commentary from the director, who didn't initially think the
movie was funny enough, and added the oddly-placed gags while shooting
progressed. Several deleted scenes are included, along with a promotional
featurette, the original trailer, and a "Director's Diary," constituting
some interesting anecdotes by Chelsom that he wrote down during filming.
Unfortunately, the on-screen text is so small that most viewers will opt
to stop reading instead of developing a headache trying to flip through
ORIGINAL SIN (*1/2, 118 mins., 2000, Unrated; MGM,
$26.98): After sitting on the shelf for nearly 18 months, last August MGM
finally released Michael Cristofer's adaptation of Cornell Woolrich's novel
"Waltz Into Darkness" -- a book which had been previously filmed by Francois
Truffaut as "Mississippi Mermaid" in the late '60s.
Antonio Banderas stars as a Cuban merchant who decides to order out
for love. In this case, it's mail order bride Angelina Jolie, who arrives
at Banderas' estate with some shady questions surrounding her, like why
she doesn't look anything like the picture Antonio received in the mail.
Turns out that Jolie is involved in a scam to steal his riches, which prompts
the formerly mild-mannered Banderas to seek out the sultry, conniving seductress
before all his cash is gone.
Cristofer wrote and directed ORIGINAL SIN, the kind of movie best described
as unsatisfying. The story itself is intriguing, but the movie is so claustrophobic
-- and Banderas and Jolie's performances often inconsistent given the parameters
of their roles - - that I grew tired of the film after the first hour.
There's no real chemistry between the two stars, and the film's cramped
sets create the impression that you're stuck watching a stage play with
miscast actors. Cristofer's script also lacks a sense of humor, a disappointment
since it's clear this kind of material could have made for a biting black
comedy. Instead, ORIGINAL SIN is an overheated melodrama that takes itself
too seriously for its own good.
MGM has released two great-looking DVD presentations of ORIGINAL SIN:
the film's original R-rated cut, plus an Unrated Version featuring a couple
of extra minutes of sex and nudity. Only this version features an audio
commentary from the director, plus an animated photo gallery, the original
trailer, and Gloria Estefan's music video for the forgettable end-credit
ballad "You Can't Walk Away From Love."
Despite the movie's bland trappings, the 2.35 transfer is superb, and
Rodrigo Prieto's widescreen compositions are well-framed. The 5.1 Dolby
Digital sound is pretty good, featuring a somewhat erratic Terence Blanchard
score which can't seem to make up its mind whether to succumb to its Latin
influences or remain more closely associated with the composer's familiar
FLESH AND BONE (**, 126 mins., 1993, R; Paramount,
$24.98): Dennis Quaid plays a small-town Texas vending machine operator
who falls in love with free-spirited Meg Ryan -- only to find out that
Ryan's family was murdered in cold blood when she was a baby, and that
Quaid's con artist father (James Caan) was the perpetrator.
Gwyenth Paltrow made her first starring appearance (as Caan's latest
partner-in- crime) in FLESH AND BONE, a well-acted but slow-moving and
terminally depressing 1993 psychological thriller from writer-director
Steve Kloves ("The Fabulous Baker Boys," "Wonder Boys").
The rural landscapes are well shot by Philippe Rousselot -- and are
easily the film's strongest asset -- but the movie comes across as one
of those commercially unappealing vehicles that gets made because of the
clout of its stars. Quaid and Ryan were a hot item together back in the
early '90s, though (predictably) neither could wrestle any kind of audience
for the film.
Kloves' character shadings are interesting and the film is certainly
watchable because of the performances, but FLESH AND BONE is too sluggishly
paced and ultimately too predictable for its own good. The pre-ordained
conclusion doesn't offer any surprises, and Thomas Newman's score -- which
often consists of electronic plinks and plunks -- isn't one of his more
Still, if you're looking for a seedy tale of murder amongst family,
FLESH AND BONE is sufficiently performed and shot. Paramount's no-frills
DVD presentation does offer a superlative 1.85 transfer and an excellent
Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, which features a surprising range of audio
textures and is one of the disc's most potent features.
NEXT WEEK: One more stab at HIGHLANDER on DVD (courtesy
of Anchor Bay), the cult favorite JOE VS. THE VOLCANO, plus the usual ramblings.
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and we'll catch you then! Excelsior!