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Aisle Seat June Action

A look at DARK WATER, DIE ANOTHER DAY on DVD, and the Mail Bag on NEMESIS!

By Andy Dursin

Japanese filmmaker Hideo Nakata struck gold with his film RINGU back in 1998. The terrifying tale of a video tape that causes everyone who watches it to die within several days was a smash hit in its native country. In the U.S., "Ringu" was turned into last October's blockbuster THE RING, which in some ways surpassed Nakata's original film in terms of atmosphere and scares.

Nakata's new thriller hasn't been released yet in North America, but rest assured that DARK WATER (***) should send a chill up the spine of most genre viewers when it does.

A better movie in many respects than "Ringu," "Dark Water" stars Hitomi Kuroki as Yoshimi Matsubara, a recently divorced woman trying to start a life of her own with five- year-old daughter Ikuko in tow. The two move into an apartment building that's a bit dilapidated, though not even that can explain the constant leak coming down in their apartment's ceiling.

While Yoshimi attempts to find a job and fight off her ex-husband's attempts to gain custody over their daughter, things take a turn for the bizarre once she spies a little girl in a yellow raincoat walking about, holding a purse that appears, disappears, then re-appears again throughout the building.

"Dark Water" is leisurely paced but filled with atmosphere and genuine -- though not gory -- shocks. The dynamic soundtrack is filled with the pitter patter of constant rainfall (as well as a good, though at times overstated, score by Kenji Kawai), and Nakata milks the suspense throughout, leading to a strange, unexpected ending set nearly a decade after the fact.

Although the script -- adapted by "Ringu" author Koji Suzuki from his novel -- is predictable up until the very end, "Dark Water" is one of the sturdiest, most effective ghost stories I've seen in years. The visuals are likely to stick in your head for days afterwards, with the plight of the lead character developed enough so that you care about her and the situation she finds herself in.

What's more -- like all good genre films -- there's enough subtext to make the non- supernatural aspect of the story likewise compelling. Nakata and Suzuki touch upon issues of abandonment and childhood isolation, and how those themes tie in with not just the lead character and her daughter, but also to the ghostly girl walking about. It culminates in a climax that, again, is extremely creepy yet satisfying at the same time.

"Dark Water" was released in Japan in January, 2002, and debuted at various film festivals worldwide since then. While the movie is slated for a theatrical release in the UK next week, it's unclear whether or not the film will receive any kind of big-screen distribution in the U.S. -- or if whoever owns the rights to the picture will, like "The Ring," wait until an American remake is made before releasing the original film on video.

If you can't wait, and happen to have access to a region-free DVD player, I highly recommend tracking down the Region 3 Hong Kong DVD release, which includes English subtitles, a fine 16:9 transfer, and a vivid 5.1 DTS soundtrack. Rest assured it's worth the effort.


Aisle Seat DVD Pick of the Week

DIE ANOTHER DAY. 132 mins., 2002, PG-13, MGM. ANDY'S RATING: ***. CAST: Pierce Brosnan, Halle Berry, Toby Stephens, Rosamund Pike, Rick Yune, Judi Dench, John Cleese. COMPOSER: David Arnold. SCRIPT: Neal Purvis and Robert Wade. DIRECTOR: Lee Tamahori. DVD FEATURES: 2-disc Special Edition; two audio commentaries, behind-the-scenes documentary, multi-angle interactive features, Madonna's music video and making of, DVD-ROM features. TECHNICAL SPECS: 2.35 Widescreen, 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital sound.

It should be mandatory that a Bond movie should ALWAYS be released at an Anniversary date. It seems as if each time an Anniversary occurs -- such as with the 25th Anniversary of 007 on screen in "The Living Daylights" or the 40th Anniversary, as celebrated by DIE ANOTHER DAY -- the resulting film ends up being more energetic and entertaining than the films that preceded it.

Such is the case with DIE ANOTHER DAY, the best of the Pierce Brosnan Bond films. While that may be faint praise for some 007 fans, and despite the fact that nearly every plot point is overly familiar, DIE ANOTHER DAY is robustly entertaining and more "alive" than several of Brosnan's previous adventures.

The story, penned by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, finds Bond being jailed after knocking off a North Korean general -- or so he thinks. Flash-forward over two years later, and 007 is freed, only to learn that the general's brother (Rick Yune) is still alive and inflicting terrorist havoc around the globe. What's worse, M has stripped Bond of his license to thrill, which does prove to be only a minor problem as James quickly escapes from a government hospital in Hong Kong. Evidence quickly points to the North Korean's involvement in diamond embezzlement and a genetics clinic in Cuba, where Bond meets up with a sexy American agent (Halle Berry) in an effort to track down the missing terrorist.

Yes, a lot of DIE ANOTHER DAY plays like recycled elements from the more recent Bonds (though that's also part of the point of the film's Anniversary tie-in). Brosnan is OK but once again he has little to do in terms of dialogue and feels less like Ian Fleming's creation than the leading man in a generic action film. I'm also getting tired of Judi Dench's constant worried look as M, especially in scenes near the climax where Bond is in trouble. The movie's main title sequence is an interesting misfire, attempting to play homage to Maurice Binder while simultaneously showing 007 being tortured at the same time (and no, it doesn't work, especially not with Madonna's terrible "bump and grind" techno theme song).

That all being said, there's much to enjoy in DIE ANOTHER DAY. Unlike "The World Is Not Enough," there's an abundance of energy in terms of the performances and direction (by Lee Tamahouri) here. Brosnan seems a little more comfortable, Berry is fine in a somewhat standard heroine role (meaning she's under-utilized), while fetching newcomer Rosamund Pike and the Guy Pearce-like Toby Stephens acquit themselves nicely as 007 antagonists. The plot actually works well in comparison to recent Bond adventures (at least for two-thirds of the way), and there are some well-done stunt sequences, including an improbable but fun car chase through a melting "hotel" in Iceland. David Arnold's score doesn't mesh well on the soundtrack album, but it again works solidly in the film itself, with little of Madonna's inane title track heard outside of the credits (she does, however, put in a thankfully brief cameo as Bond's fencing instructor).

Even the slam-bang climax manages to be more interesting than usual, making DIE ANOTHER DAY a choice viewing for Bond fans of all persuasions.

MGM's Special Edition is highlighted by the "Inside 'Die Another Day'" documentary on the second disc. Split up into separate segments on various aspects of the production, this is a superb Making Of that gives you more of a "you are there" feel than most DVD documentaries. The interviews are more insightful than usual and the film clips are sparingly utilized -- you never sense that this is a fluff piece, and the program manages to touch upon how the film's set pieces were utilized without patting itself on the back like so many of these types of features. David Arnold appears to talk about his score in one segment of this fine feature, which unsurprisingly was produced by Charles de Lauzirika, responsible for some of the finest DVD supplementary sections recently produced ("Legend," "Alien").

Other extras include interactive segments with multi-angle functions, two commentary tracks (one with the interesting Tamahouri and producer Michael G. Wilson, the other with Brosnan and Rosamund Pike that's not nearly as interesting), Madonna's bizarre music video with its own Making Of segment, a spotless 2.35 transfer, and pounding 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital soundtracks.

Obviously a must-recommend for all 007 fans.


Also New On DVD

EQUILIBRIUM. 107 mins., 2002, R, Buena Vista. ANDY'S RATING: **1/2. CAST: Christian Bale, Emily Watson, Taye Diggs, Angus MacFadyen, Sean Bean, William Fichtner. COMPOSER: Klaus Badelt, "Music Services Provided By Media Ventures." WRITER-DIRECTOR: Kurt Wimmer. DVD FEATURES: Two commentary tracks, Making Of featurette. TECHNICAL SPECS: 2.35 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

Last year Dimension Films decided to grant a wide theatrical release to THEY, an unremarkable chiller "presented" by Wes Craven. At the same time, they sent a pair of far superior genre pictures -- David Twohy's "Below" (see my Aisle Seat column archive for the review) and the Jan DeBont-produced EQUILIBRIUM -- into scant distribution prior to releasing both films on video.

Now out on DVD, EQUILIBRIUM is a goofy but constantly watchable and well- performed hybrid of "Fahrenheit 451" and "The Matrix." The movie is more comfortable in the ways it mimics Ray Bradbury's classic sci-fi tale than it does the Wachowski Brothers, throwing in a variety of brainless (though vividly filmed) fight sequences in an obvious attempt to pander to the under-25 demographic that "The Matrix" especially appeals to.

In a post-WWIII future, human emotion has been outlawed, as has anything related to it. We're not talking about just books, but also paintings and -- yes -- puppy dogs. Christian Bale, giving a good performance under the circumstances, plays a "Cleric" who enforces the laws in a pseudo-Orwellian metropolis concocted by writer- director Kurt Wimmer. After he takes down his book-loving partner (Sean Bean), Bale begins to question whether or not he should continue to clamp down on the human spirit. Although the city's residents are forced to take an "anti-emotion" drug, Bale decides to opt out of the law and begins to "feel" -- especially after he meets Emily Watson, in an underwritten role as a woman sentenced to death for playing LP records. Eventually, Bale has to confront the law's chief officer (Angus MacFadyen) and join the resistance in an attempt to overthrown the government.

EQUILIBRIUM is stylishly shot by Dion Beebe and designed by Wolf Kroeger, and on those grounds alone the movie is worth a look for sci-fi fans. Wimmer was obviously influenced by the likes of Orwell and Bradbury in creating the film's post- apocalyptic story, and yet there's a whole lot of "Matrix" going on in terms of the movie's action sequences -- too much, as it turns out. Just when Wimmer introduces us to the main characters, along comes a jarring hand-to-hand combat scene guaranteed to make you wonder if you're not watching Keanu or "The Fish" flying through the air. It's a strange, odd element to the film that never seems to mesh with anything else about it -- it's almost as if the Weinstein Brothers told Wimmer "look, we'll let you make your movie. Just throw a bunch of fights in there to draw the kids." Sure, the Hong Kong styled scenes are nicely choreographed, but their presence seems to be a completely arbitrary element -- either that, or just a distraction to make you overlook the under-developed aspects of the script (particularly the whole relationship with Bale and Watson).

Nevertheless, EQUILIBRIUM has enough juice going for it to warrant a rental if nothing else. Bale is superb in one of his best lead performances to date, and it's always good to see "Braveheart" co-star MacFadyen getting work in a decent role. While undoubtedly shot on a modest budget, the film also looks accomplished, though Klaus Badelt's relentless synth score doesn't live up to the film's potential (and what's with the credit "Music Services Provided by Media Ventures"? Sounds like a game show credit or something!).

Buena Vista's DVD offers an excellent 2.35 transfer with an active 5.1 soundtrack. Despite the lack of the theatrical trailer, two commentary tracks have been included -- one with Wimmer by himself, the other with Wimmer and producer Lucas Foster -- plus a promotional featurette.


ADAPTATION. 114 mins., 2002, R, Columbia TriStar. ANDY'S RATING: ***. CAST: Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper. COMPOSER: Carter Burwell. SCRIPT: Charlie Kaufman, Donald Kaufman. DIRECTOR: Spike Jonze. DVD FEATURES: "SuperBit" Presentation, original trailer. TECHNICAL SPECS: 1.85 Widescreen, 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital sound.

Try following along with this premise: Susan Orlean writes a book called "The Orchid Thief." Charlie Kaufman, co-writer of director Spike Jonze's at-times brilliant, at- times infuriating "Being John Malkovich," is hired to adapt the movie into a feature film. Jonze, meanwhile, decides to make a movie called ADAPTATION about Kaufman adapting Orlean's book, hiring Nicolas Cage to essay Kaufman and his brother, hiring Meryl Streep to play Orlean, and going off on just a few tangents -- completely blurring the line between reality and fiction -- along the way.

ADAPTATION is a bizarre, at-times surreal film if you know anything about the supposed "reality" behind the story. Jonze has taken actual people and thrown them into a strange but ultimately satisfying comic-fantasy with serious overtones -- much like "Malkovich," there's a little bit of everything going on here. What begins as a fairly simple story of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman adapting "The Orchid Thief," about a Florida "orchid hunter" (Oscar winner Chris Cooper) in pursuit of his latest prize, becomes a story of a lonely, isolated man who meets with a lonely, isolated woman (Streep's writer), only to find that she's fallen for the subject of her novel. The movie ultimately takes some dark detours in its final third -- and turns a bit heavy-handed in the process -- though the performances constantly keep you watching. Cage is especially good in the dual role of Kaufman and his more outgoing twin brother, while Cooper and Streep are likewise superb.

Jonze's films seem to have a polarizing effect on viewers, but I enjoyed ADAPTATION more than "Malkovich," which seemed to have a drawback to match each of its brilliant moments. This is a more balanced and effective piece, complimented by strong performances, though again, it won't be for all tastes.

Columbia TriStar's DVD is -- like their DVD of "Panic Room" last year -- a Superbit-only presentation, offering a 1.85 Widescreen transfer and 5.1 DTS/Dolby Digital soundtracks at their highest possible bitrates. This allows for the most vibrant picture and sound possible on DVD, though it does limit the bonus features to a trailer. No word on whether another, supplemental-packed release will follow down the road.


THE HOT CHICK. 104 mins., 2002, PG-13, Buena Vista. ANDY'S RATING: **1/2. CAST: Rob Schneider, Rachel McAdams, Anna Farris, Matthew Laurence, Robert Davi, Adam Sandler. COMPOSER: John Debney. SCRIPT: Tom Brady and Rob Schneider. DIRECTOR: Tom Brady. DVD FEATURES: Audio commentary, deleted scenes, Making Of featurette, music video. TECHNICAL SPECS: 1.85 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

I can't in good conscience rate this latest brainless comedy from Rob Schneider any higher than **1/2 stars, though I will immediately say that if you had any inkling to watch THE HOT CHICK, you likely won't be disappointed.

Schneider stars as a would-be thief who improbably exchanges bodies with obnoxious high school senior Rachel McAdams. Yep, it's "Freaky Friday" for the 21st century, and soon Schneider's trapped little girl has to come to grips with being a man, all the while trying to participate in the cheer competition and high school prom.

The requisite gags soon are paraded out, most of which are the obvious gender- based, sexually oriented and/or bathroom jokes you'd expect to find in a Rob Schneider comedy. That being said, a lot of them are actually pretty funny, and that's all that matters in a movie like THE HOT CHICK. This isn't "Rashomon," it's a movie that celebrates trying to make you laugh, and for that reason alone, I somewhat admired this film. Schneider and director/co-writer Tom Brady (not the Patriots' Super Bowl MVP but co- author of Schneider's "The Animal") have made an energetic identity swapping vehicle that works for what it is, and somehow manages to develop a story the viewer can become marginally interested in along the way. True, at 104 minutes, the movie is a bit long, but there's enough silly material here that hits the mark enough to warrant a recommendation IF you found Schneider's best comedy "Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo" amusing (and I plead guilty on that front).

Buena Vista's fine Special Edition DVD offers plenty of deleted scenes. With the movie running as long as it does, it should be no surprise that plenty of gags were cut, though as the excised sequences show, most of them deserved to go. Commentary from the director is included, along with a music video and "Making Of" material that includes footage of executive producer Adam Sandler filming his cameo. He's funnier here than he's been in several of his recent starring vehicles, though admittedly it wouldn't take much. The 1.85 transfer is fine and the Dolby Digital soundtrack effective, sporting a better-than-average John Debney score.


EXTREME OPS. 93 mins., 2002, PG-13, Paramount. ANDY'S RATING: *1/2. CAST: Rufus Sewell, Bridgette Wilson-Sampras, Devon Sawa, Rupert Graves. COMPOSERS: Normand Corbeil, Stanislas Syrewicz. SCRIPT: Michael Zaidan. DIRECTOR: Christian Duguay. DVD FEATURES: Bonus trailers. TECHNICAL SPECS: 2.35 and full-frame transfers, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

A TV commercial producer (Sewell) recruits four Americans -- including extreme sports star Sawa and Gold Medal winning skier Wilson-Sampras -- to film a commercial high up in the Austrian Alps. There, they attempt to shoot a crazy ad for a Japanese network while attempting to dodge a group of terrorists guarding a shady individual who's escaping from being tried on charges of war crimes.

This international co-production was funded by producer Moshe Diamant (Jean Claude Van Damme's pal) and directed by Canadian filmmaker Christian Duguay, who's best known for competent B-movies like "Screamers" and "The Art of War" with Wesley Snipes. EXTREME OPS, though, doesn't offer nearly as much entertainment as some of Duguay's previous work, wasting the casting of Sewell in particular, who deserves more than to appear in this odd hybrid of extreme sports action (not unlike a would-be Willy Bogner film) and spy thriller. The latter doesn't really kick in until the final half-hour, and by that time most audiences will be tired out by the movie's one-dimensional characters. Aside from Sewell (come back to us, Rufus!), the rest of the cast seems to be going through the motions as well, with former "Final Destination" star Sawa looking pasty- faced and a bit unhealthy as the top-billed lead.

Paramount's DVD offers good-looking 2.35 and full-frame transfers, featuring some decent camera work by the movie's stunt coordinators and cinematographer Hannes Hubach, sadly diluted by below-average CGI effects. The 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack fares better, offering a heavily electronic score by Normand Corbeil and Stanislas Syrewicz. For EXTREME fans of Sewell only.


Aisle Seat Mail Bag on NEMSIS (Spoilers ahead)

From William Johnson:

I read your review with interest as I watched the movie for the first time last night. I am a huge Star Trek fan, and I even paid to see ST V. I read the script from Mr. Logan several months before the movie was release... Of course you just have to believe me since I can't "prove it", but trust me, it didn't read better on paper, the story was slow and silly. Just FYI.

Nice site, and interesting reviews. ( I mostly agree with Matrix review as well, though I think that the last 1/2 hour was pretty interesting from a story point of view -- I think that it raises some interesting questions.)

From Michael Karoly:
I don't blame Baird as much as I blame Berman -- did he try to get Frakes to direct? What really bugs me is that he wanted NEMESIS to be ST:TNG version of STII- why? In trying to emulate a past film in the series Berman failed to produce the goods (so to speak). The characters are different, and there was no real history between Shinzon and Picard as there was with Kirk and Khan- and if the Federation is going to have a war with an out of control Romulan faction in a huge doomsday device, for the love of Spock use some more ships to fight! Make it a spectacle- make it awe inspiring! Instead the battle comes across as being silly and uninspired- what a waste of a good idea. There are so many good characters in TNG- I'm glad Data and Picard had big roles, but what about Worf? What about anyone else? The planet desert scene was ok, but again- a souped-up dune buggy??? They couldn't come up with anything better than that? Finally, Berman dropped the ball (and the studio did too) in trying to make a STAR TREK film appeal to non-Trek fans -- big mistake. Didn't the other films make back their budgets? (They might not have- I'm not sure). Haven't Trek fans put up with enough? You either like STAR TREK or you don't -- I hate to be so black and white but there really is no middle ground in my experience. Trek fans have been very patient with Berman, but this film's low box-office take may have finally sent a message to Berman et al- we're tired of junk. If only the population had done the same for George Lucas after that hideous STAR WARS:TPM film -- I guess we're too late on both fronts. Too bad STAR TREK went out with a bad film, and shame on Berman for ruining a series.
From Simon St. Laurent:
Hi Andy,

I appreciate your film music comments, but just one thing: Your comment about Goldsmith's decent score for Nemesis -- you say it plays better in film than on album. I sure as heck hope so -- that's what it was written for!

From Jack Guist:
I am very disappointed with Disney and their rebate program for the DVD "Pearl Harbor". I bought the 4 disc set with the rebate on the DVD package. I have sent in the rebate for $10.00 along with the proof of purchase, the UPC, and the original sales receipt. They keep sending everything back to me telling me they need more information, but they don't tell me what else it is that they need. We have gone around with this FOUR times now. I think their Marketing service is giving me a runaround and they don't have any intentions of giving a rebate on this product. Have you had other complaints on this subject? From a very dissatisfied and disappointed customer!
Jack, I haven't heard any problems related to this promotion, so hopefully if someone out there can help you out, we'll hear from them.


NEXT TIME: The Aisle Seat's Big TV Blow-Out -- yeah, I know I promised it for this week, but going through these huge box-sets takes some time! Email me at dursina@att.net and we'll catch you then. Excelsior!


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