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Attack of the CLONES Review

Plus: FATAL ATTRACTION, JOE VS. THE VOLCANO, and Other New DVDs!

An Aisle Seat Entry
By Andy Dursin

Now that everyone is weighing in with their opinions of the new STAR WARS score, I thought The Aisle Seat should chime in with a somewhat dissenting view of the soundtrack.

A couple of weeks ago I first listened to John Williams' score for EPISODE II: ATTACK OF THE CLONES, and even though the score has grown on me since then, my first impressions remain: for a Williams score, this is -- unfortunately -- somewhat of a disappointment.

Now, I'm not saying it's a "bad" score by any means, but I find that this work fails to approach the level of so many classic Williams efforts -- especially his sequel scores. Not just the Indiana Jones and Star Wars follow-ups, but also scores like JAWS 2, where Williams not only reprised many of his original themes, but added an abundance of new thematic material unique to that particular project.

That element -- a staple of Williams' work -- is sorely missing from ATTACK OF THE CLONES. Yes, the maestro did compose a sweeping, almost bittersweet "Love Theme" for the film, but even after repeated listening, I would hesitate to rank it with the soaring lyricism of so many past compositions (the love theme from "Superman," Han & Leia's Theme from "Empire Strikes Back," etc.) that are regarded as classic works by the composer. While I admired how Williams composed this theme in the same idiom as "Anakin's Theme" (which itself returns only briefly on the album), I just didn't find it particularly moving. I also don't understand why anyone would equate this theme with the music from "Nixon" -- if anything, it sounds like the "Peter Pan Theme" from HOOK, strikingly so in some of the early variations on the album.

That aside, what's so surprising about the soundtrack from ATTACK OF THE CLONES is how little new thematic development there is otherwise. Yes, there are fragments of motifs here and there, but there are no new major themes present -- certainly not when compared to any of the preceding "Star Wars" scores. The action music even includes the now-infamous obnoxious electric guitar during one lengthy action cue ("Zam The Assassin"), but the bigger revelation is that many tracks simply don't translate as stand- alone music outside of its film context. The end credits offer only a reprise of the Love Theme, with no other newly-written themes present.

Of course, that doesn't mean the score isn't worth buying or listening to -- like any Williams score, it's always interesting, and the new percussive sections are fascinating. Still, I find it just a tad disappointing, given how many masterpieces Williams has given us before, time and time again. Tellingly, the most impressive passages of ATTACK OF THE CLONES come when the composer quotes his old themes -- a quick reprise of Yoda's Theme, a brief reprisal of "Duel Of The Fates," and a striking use of "The Imperial March" at the end -- but they ARE brief and are sandwiched in between borderline-nondescript tracks that (believe it or not) sounds like Williams was almost going through the motions here. It may be a more "mature" STAR WARS score, but it's also, for me, the least interesting musically.

I'm not one who believes that Williams hasn't written some outstanding music in recent years -- I thought THE PATRIOT was a vastly underrated score, and found HARRY POTTER to be one of the maestro's best works in years. Still, you have to wonder that -- between two Spielberg films, two Harry Potter pictures, and work on the Olympics, Oscars AND the concert hall -- that Williams wasn't all that motivated with ATTACK OF THE CLONES.

It's still solid film music when compared to anything else we hear today, no doubt -- but by the standards that we have used to judge dozens of the composer's past efforts, it certainly does seem to come up a bit short, lacking some of the traits that have distinguished Williams' past works in the genre. (Of course, the score needs to be seen with the film before a final judgment can be rendered, so I reserve the right to change my mind!).


In Theater Capsules

JASON X (*1/2): It sounded like a fun idea: Jason Voorhees running around on a 25th century spaceship, hacking away at teenagers every bit as idiotic as the ones in the 1980s, but this cheapjack and often tedious entry in the "Friday the 13th" series is one of those instances where all the best lines were present in the trailer. Moreover, if you're going to incorporate camp, at least go all the way with it (like Don Mancini did in his outrageous BRIDE OF CHUCKY) and don't do what director Jim Isaac did here: basically put Jason in a pedestrian "Alien" rip-off with a half-hearted attempt at self-parody. Sure, there are a couple of funny lines, but suspense-wise, the movie falls completely flat, with most of the movie shot in what seems to be one or two rooms. Even Harry Manfredini's score is a dud, performed entirely on synthesizers. JASON X may be worth a look on the small- screen for die-hard fans after downing a few brews, but stay far away from it in any other circumstance. (R)


MURDER BY NUMBERS (**1/2): Sandra Bullock gives a strong performance as a cop tracking down a pair of high schoolers who commit a random murder in Barbet Schroeder's compelling but frustratingly uneven mystery-thriller. Tony Gayton's script features strong characterizations and incisive dialogue, but despite excellent performances across the board (particularly by Ryan Gosling and Michael Pitt as the teenage culprits), the movie ultimately bites off more than it can chew, struggling to juggle multiple storylines (including one involving Bullock's up-for-parole, abusive ex-husband) and petering out at the end. At that point, the filmmakers attempt to tack on a melodramatic ending and finish with a far-too-tidy last sequence, offering few surprises. Ben Chaplin is good as Bullock's new partner, but after taking the time to develop his character, the movie all but forgets about him in the final third. Still, there are enough positives in MURDER BY NUMBERS to satisfy mystery-suspense fans, with standout performances by the cast. (R)


New On DVD

FATAL ATTRACTION (***, 119 mins., 1987, R; Paramount, $24.98)
THE TEMP (**, 96 mins., 1993, R; Paramount, $24.98)

The quintessential '80s thriller that set a standard for a stream of imitators to follow, FATAL ATTRACTION has been released in an excellent deluxe DVD edition from Paramount with a handful of terrific special features.

Adrian Lyne's film was not only a box-office blockbuster but also a social phenomenon at the time of its release. James Dearden's script -- which he adapted from his own short film -- deftly exploits the nightmarish scenario that happens to married NYC book editor Michael Douglas when he decides to spend some time with sexy, aggressive Glenn Close, whom he spies at a company party. Douglas tries in vain to end the affair, but Close keeps on coming even after he calls it off -- going so far as to stalk Douglas' family (wife Anne Archer and a little girl), and displaying just a few psychotic tendencies along the way.

Before it turns violent and a bit excessive at the end, FATAL ATTRACTION is an excellent thriller with a plot that has, admittedly, lost a bit of its potency since so many films have copied its blueprint. What keeps it fresh and compelling are the performances of its stars, from Close's creepy villainess (whose mental ailments are never disclosed) to Douglas' love-him-or-hate-him, though ultimately sympathetic, family man. Anne Archer, meanwhile, may not have made that positive an impression as Harrison Ford's wife in the Jack Ryan films, but her role in FATAL has a depth that many of her other devoted- spouse characters have lacked.

Dearden's script -- which was worked on by an uncredited Nicholas Meyer -- presses a lot of "hot button" issues involving fidelity, sex, and relationships, which director Lyne uses to enhance a formulaic story with a predictable outcome. Maurice Jarre's low-key score becomes a bit much in the final third (when its heavy-handed synths turn overly bombastic), but technically the movie is well-made and an interesting document -- and indictment -- of social and sexual relationships in the '80s. Paramount's DVD offers a fine 1.85 transfer and surprisingly active Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, along with three excellent featurettes chronicling the film's production. Featuring new interviews with Douglas, Close, Archer, Lyne, and producers Sherry Lansing and Stanley Jaffe, the principal half-hour documentary covers the film's production, while separate featurettes look at the overwhelming public response to the film, and the picture's visual scheme. While the comments are often candid and interesting, it's surprising that Dearden's original movie isn't discussed much at all, while Nicholas Meyer appears for an on-camera interview, even though he wasn't even credited on the film!

As many viewers are aware, FATAL ATTRACTION's satisfying though somewhat hackneyed resolution was actually the project's re-shot, second ending -- filmed to replace the its far subtler though highly flawed original denouement. That original ending, which was first included years ago on Paramount's letterboxed laserdisc, re-appears here, and it makes for a fascinating comparison with the final version. Paramount has also included screen tests and the original trailer, making for a superb package for a film that will be forever remembered as one of the top thrillers of the 1980s.

In the wake of FATAL ATTRACTION, we received a handful of "Mad ___ From Hell" thrillers. Instead of Glenn Close's "Mad Spurned Lover From Hell," we got everything from crazed nannies ("The Hand That Rocks The Cradle") to insane teenagers ("The Crush"), not to mention a mentally unstable office secretary -- in Tom Holland's watchable though disappointing 1993 entry THE TEMP.

Lara Flynn Boyle plays the title character, who worms her way through an office run by Faye Dunaway. Timothy Hutton, in one of many failed attempts to revive his career in the early '90s (this was released at the same time as "The Dark Half"), plays the thankless hero, who watches as Boyle dispatches with anything and anyone that stands in her way.

The cast -- which also includes Dwight Schultz, Oliver Platt, Steven Weber, and Maura Tierney -- is certainly attractive, but THE TEMP is one of those movies that seems to have severely compromised in the editing room. Holland ("Fright Night") said in interviews following the film's release that the movie was ruined by outside sources, who all but made the picture's final third almost completely incoherent. There are times when the Kevin Wade-Tom Engelman script comes alive with some amusing dialogue, but the balance between the thriller and black comedy elements was apparently thrown off-course by questionable editing decisions (beyond the filmmaker's control), making THE TEMP a curiosity item for its cast and little else.

Paramount's DVD offers a sturdy 1.85 transfer and decent Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, featuring an underrated score by Frederic Talgorn. There are no bonus features (not even the trailer) on the DVD.


INDECENT PROPOSAL (**1/2, 116 mins., 1993, R; Paramount, $24.98): At one point, this slick romantic drama from director Adrian Lyne was supposed to star Warren Beatty, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. After the movie stalled in pre-production, INDECENT PROPOSAL ended up with Robert Redford (okay), Demi Moore (a good choice at the time), and Woody Harrelson (huh?) as its leads.

Even if the original casting might have made INDECENT PROPOSAL more durable over the years (people seem to have forgotten about it completely), it didn't hurt the movie too much at the time, since despite unfavorable reviews, Lyne's film rode the crest of over-hyped controversy to a $100-million domestic gross -- not too shabby since any film starring Woody Harrelson or Demi Moore would be hard-pressed to gross half as much these days.

Woody and Demi play a happily married couple whose relationship is strained by financial difficulties. A trip to Vegas (never the cure for anyone's ills) results in the couple running into millionaire Robert Redford, who puts a proposal on the table for the two to ponder: if Demi will sleep with the millionaire for one night (and one night only), he'll give them a nice prize of $1-million. (Remember that this was years before "Who Wants To Have Sex With A Millionaire," or any other unsavory Fox weekly special).

Clearly, Lyne and producer Sherry Lansing were hoping for a repeat of the publicity that surrounded "Fatal Attraction" with INDECENT PROPOSAL, though this is really just a romantic piffle that Lyne now accurately describes as a "fairy tale" in his audio commentary. From Howard Atherton's soft-focus cinematography to John Barry's lush, lyrical score, INDECENT PROPOSAL is a cinematic soap opera with unbelievable dialogue and ridiculously overwrought dramatic situations -- but that's also still part of its appeal ten years later. Redford's just-for-the-money performance is thankfully restrained, while Moore and Harrelson are adequate as the misguided young couple (it might have been more interesting, though, if Moore had been playing opposite her then-husband, Bruce Willis). Amy Holden Jones's script, adapted from a Jack Engelhard book, didn't win any awards, but then again, it didn't have to: INDECENT PROPOSAL is a glossy melodrama that looks good, and no matter how silly it becomes at times, remains watchable throughout.

Lyne's frank though sporadic commentary track is the sole supplement on Paramount's superb-looking DVD release. The 1.85 transfer is almost-perfect while the 5.1 Dolby Digital surround mix provides a nice sound stage for Barry's easy-listening score. Recommended for romantics, Redford fans, and those aficionados of Demi Moore still waiting for her big comeback (and no, we don't count her car commercial voice- overs as constituting a career revival).


THIEF OF HEARTS (**, 99 mins., 1984, R; Paramount, $24.98): Do you remember the days when some people thought Steven Bauer was going to be the next big star? In 1984, producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer certainly thought so when they cast Bauer as the lead in this steamy and silly romantic-thriller that's a mid-'80s precursor to a Zalman King soft-core porn film.

Bauer plays a thief who breaks into the home of wealthy couple Barbara Williams and John Getz. Along with taking off with a hefty wad of cash, Bauer steals a portrait of Williams and her secret diaries, where the mousy little housewife spills all of her dirty little secrets -- which Bauer, predictably, decides to exploit as he ultimately engages her in an affair.

David Caruso and George Wendt make supporting appearances in THIEF OF HEARTS, which has all the benchmarks of being a forgotten relic from the '80s -- from Andrew Laszlo's slick cinematography to Harold Faltermeyer's electronic score, spiced up with a mix of completely unmemorable songs (including the title track by Melissa Manchester), this is the kind of movie that you would expect to find running on the SuperStation around 2am. It has some generic T&A scenes, but the most entertaining part is the overwrought melodrama in director Douglas Day Stewart's script, highlighted by often gleefully amusing dialogue. The leads are all less-than-adequate, but then again, that only enhances the fun for nostalgia buffs craving a slice of dated, mid '80s commercial filmmaking.

Paramount's DVD features an above-average (considering its age) 1.85 transfer that only occasionally suffers from some shimmering lines around various objects. The 5.1 soundtrack throbs with Faltermeyer's bass-heavy score, while 2.0 English and French mixes round out the otherwise no-frills package. (An unrated version of THIEF OF HEARTS reportedly turned up on video at some point; fans should be aware that this is the R-rated theatrical cut). Recommended if you remember the subtitle to 1984's holiday hit, "Breakin' 2."


EYE FOR AN EYE (**, 101 mins., 1996, R; Paramount, $24.98): Sally Field gives a strong performance as a woman whose teenage daughter is raped and murdered in John Schlesinger's thought-provoking but though-to-take thriller about violent crime and cold justice.

After her 17-year-old girl is killed, the police track down the murderer (Keifer Sutherland), only to see him set free when procedures aren't followed. Since the cops aren't going to do anything, Field opts to take up the matter herself, planning to kill Sutherland with the help of men she meets at a meeting for individuals who have lost children in violent crimes. Husband Ed Harris thinks Field is going too far, as does cop Joe Mantegna, but since it's the only option available, Field opts to pursue that avenue of justice.

The Amanda Silver-Rick Jaffa script (based on a novel by Erika Holzer) does, ultimately, turn into a female DEATH WISH of sorts, but the film does a fairly good job up until that point in establishing characters and the horrifying situation that they find themselves in. The questionable morality of Field's decision is never quite put under the microscope, but Scheslinger and the cast put up a decent argument that the ends do justify the means -- at least in this circumstance. Field is excellent, Harris and Mantegna add solid support, while Sutherland fits the bill as a stock movie killer (a thankless part that the actor must be happy that he's moved on from these days on "24").

Paramount's 1.85 DVD offers a solid 5.1 surround track, containing a capable James Newton Howard score. As with "The Temp" and "Thief Of Hearts," the disc is devoid of any special features.


New From Warner Home Video

JOE VERSUS THE VOLCANO (***, 102 mins., 1990, PG; Warner, $19.98): Like a lot of successful screenwriters who get their first real crack at directing their own Hollywood movie, Oscar-winner John Patrick Shanley's epic romantic-comedy JOE VERSUS THE VOLCANO turned out to be overly self-indulgent and too "out there" for many viewers. However, those who were able to buy into the film's light, fairy tale atmosphere were rewarded with a unique and engaging comic fantasy that has attracted a cult following since its original release.

Marked by colorful, surreal images and exaggerated characterizations, Shanley's certainly one-of-a-kind epic stars Tom Hanks as an average Joe who is told by doctor Robert Stack that he's suffering from a terminal "brain cloud." Eccentric millionaire Lloyd Bridges then tells Joe that he'll let him live out his remaining days in extravagance, but only if he'll jump into the middle of a volcano on a tiny, unmarked island in the middle of the South Pacific. Meg Ryan -- in one of her best performances -- plays three different women whom Joe meets during the film, each one representing the woman he most needs at that moment in his life.

For the most part, JOE VERUS THE VOLCANO is really three movies in one: the first third satirizes contemporary working conditions, the second is a rags-to-riches story, and the third -- well, it's kind of a goofy fantasy and love story with an ending that definitely comes out of left field. Despite the seemingly disparate elements, Shanley maintains a light touch throughout the movie -- this is a modern fairy tale that's not meant to be taken too seriously, with appropriate "once upon a time" and "they lived happily ever after" title cards setting the proper atmosphere for the film. The last third of the movie is the least successful element in the film, but once you've seen it, it becomes easier to digest on subsequent viewing, while the performances of the two leads are quite appealing, and the supporting cast eclectic to a tee -- what else can you say about a movie with Abe Vigoda as the king of a native island tribe? (Be on the lookout for Nathan Lane as Vigoda's top aide).

Visually, I've always admired JOE VERSUS THE VOLCANO: Bo Welch's often evocative production design and Stephen Goldblatt's widescreen cinematography are two of the movie's strongest assets. They're complimented by a marvelous score by Georges Delerue, easily one of the late composer's finest soundtracks to grace an American film. Sadly, there has never been an official release of Delerue's melodic, beautiful score, though perhaps Varese will look at this title for possible inclusion in their newly- reactivated CD Club.

Warner's DVD is not a Special Edition but does contain a few nice supplements. First off, the 2.35 transfer is generally excellent, capturing the strong primary colors of Goldblatt's cinematography. There are times when the print seems to be in less-than- pristine shape, but the DVD does the best job of any video release in reproducing the movie's visual scheme at home -- and if you aren't watching the movie in widescreen, then there's little point in sitting through it. The remixed 5.1 soundtrack is less satisfying, lacking the surround activity from the old laserdisc release (a common theme with some remixed 5.1 Warner titles), but it's still acceptable, with a weaker Dolby Surround mix also present. A brief promotional documentary, where the actors amusingly try to explain what the film is all about, is included along with the original trailer and a music video of the song "Sixteen Tons."

JOE VERSUS THE VOLCANO has been regarded as everything from a misunderstood gem to a gigantic mega-flop along the lines of other bloated star vehicles from the early '90s ("Hudson Hawk," anyone?). It IS an acquired taste, but if you manage to get in the right frame of mind, it's an offbeat and highly romantic flight of fancy that manages to maintain its charm despite its flaws. Check it out.


THIRTEEN GHOSTS (**1/2, 91 mins., 2001, R: Warner, $24.98): Joel Silver and Robert Zemeckis' post-"Tales From The Crypt" production house yielded marginal results with their remake of "The House On Haunted Hill," but their updating of William Castle's "13 Ghosts" turns out to be a great deal more fun.

Tony Shalhoub stars as a widowed father whose brother (F. Murray Abraham) leaves him an elaborate mansion out in the middle of nowhere -- complete with glass walls and, yes, a gaggle of ghosts lurking about. Shalhoub's daughter (Shannon Elizabeth) and young son follow in tow, unaware that F. Murray was conducting experiments with poltergeists, holding them in their own separate cells. Of course, a switch is soon thrown that lets all of the phantoms out, and you can guess what happens from there.

Matthew Lillard and Embeth Davidtz co-star in this sufficiently gory and spooky effort scripted by Neal Marshall Stevens and Richard D'Ovidio from Castle's original film. THIRTEEN GHOSTS doesn't completely break free from formula, but as commercial studio horror entries go, this is clearly superior stuff -- the cast has fun, the make-up effects offer some quick jolts, and the story is more compelling than it basically has any right to be. This is the kind of movie that's best viewed around Halloween, so keep it mind once next October comes around and you need some newer viewing options at your disposal.

Warner's DVD is top-flight in the way of special features. First off, their video/audio presentation is exceptional, with a flawless 1.85 transfer and effects-heavy 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack containing an okay score by John Frizzell. For extras, you get a decent commentary track by director Steve Beck and the production team; an interactive feature, "Ghost Files," which looks at each one of the film's 13 phantoms with a bit more background information; "Thirteen Ghosts Revealed," which chronicles the production of the film; the original trailer, a music video, and more.

During the commentary track, director Beck mentions that the movie's original ending was re-shot just hours after the September 11 attacks. While it would have been interesting to see the excised original conclusion, it's about the only thing missing from the strong disc that Warner has assembled here. Recommended especially for genre addicts, or those looking for their Halloween fix a few months ahead of time.


NEXT WEEK: SPIDER-MAN, baby! A review of Sam Raimi's epic, along with Stan Lee's new DVD conversation with Kevin Smith, and the animated SPIDER-MAN: THE ULTIMATE VILLAIN SHOWDOWN. Something for every Spidey fan!! Email any comments to dursina@att.net and we'll catch you then. 'Nuff said!


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