Aisle Seat February Madness
GODS AND GENERALS Soundtrack Review
Plus: MY BIG FAT GREEK DVD Round-Up including THE THREE
& FOUR MUSKETEERS Special Edition!
By Andy Dursin
This week marks an apparent first in the annals of soundtrack albums.
Sony Classical's release of the score from GODS AND GENERALS
-- the "Gettysburg" prequel from that film's creators -- includes not just
the score by John Frizzell and Randy Edelman, but also a bonus DVD featuring
music videos, the original trailer, and some 10 minutes of music-oriented
footage deleted from the theatrical cut!
The score itself is quite good, despite the lack of a uniform thematic
voice. One of the strongest assets in "Gettysburg" was Edelman's muscular,
memorable soundtrack. Why Edelman didn't score this picture alone is anyone's
guess, as most of the orchestral cues composed and produced by Frizzell
sound more like James Horner than anything from its predecessor. Despite
the lack of memorable themes (one of the chief assets of the "Gettysburg"
score), the result is a subtler and more reflective score than "Gettysburg,"
pensively contemplating how the American way of life at the time was contrasted
with the bloodshed of the Civil War.
Admittedly, it's hard to imagine that Edelman scoring the film alone
might not have resulted in a more cohesive work. Of the album's 17 score
cues, only three were written by Edelman himself, with two others boasting
a Frizzell/Edelman "collaboration." It might be interesting to know what
the story was with this score, but the end result -- flaws and all -- is
an unexpectedly poignant, rich score that receives a major boost through
Mark O'Connor's violin solos and Mary Fahl's lovely ballad "Going Home."
(As far as Bob Dylan's "'Cross the Green Mountain" goes, let's just say
I've never been a Dylan fan and leave it at that).
Still, at a time when most weeks go by without a lot of us even glancing
at the new release racks (let's face it, it hasn't been a good time recently
to be a fan of film music), GODS AND GENERALS comes strongly recommended.
New On DVD
Like any movie that breaks through to become a mammoth success, the
backlash against MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING did expose some of the
film's shortcomings. Sure, the script sometimes resembles a sitcom. Yes,
the WASP-ish parents of the groom (John Corbett) seem like they're from
a Twilight Zone episode, being strict comedic concoctions with no
connection to reality whatsoever. And indeed, the fact that the movie's
CBS sitcom spin-off will be aired in a couple of weeks points to the thinness
of some of the material.
All of that being said, however, the backlash didn't stop this frothy
and thoroughly charming film (***1/2, 96 mins., 2002, PG; HBO Home Video)
from becoming one of the all-time great underdog success stories in Hollywood
Nia Vardalos wrote this adaptation of her one-woman stage show, in which
he starred as a frumpy 30-ish Greek woman who discussed, among other topics,
her wacky family and ethnic traditions. In the film version, Vardalos'
family (mother Lainie Kazan, father Michael Constantine among them) has
to come to grips with her dating a regular guy (schoolteacher John Corbett)
who isn't from their homeland. Even if the shenanigans that ensue are predictable,
most of them are hysterical and the cast (which also includes a terrific
Andrea Martin and pop crooner Joey Fatone) plays it to a hilt.
While the mix of comedy and romance works splendidly (you can't imagine
a better date movie than this one), at the heart of the film is Vardalos'
warm, loving portrayal of her family and background. Here's a picture that
is unabashedly ethnic, positive, and "uncommercial" -- studios apparently
would have backed it only if Vardalos' role was played by the likes of
Julia Roberts -- and yet managed to become the highest-grossing independent
film of all-time. Not only that, but with $236 million and change pocketed
at the U.S. box-office, the picture is actually one of the highest-grossing
comedies ever made: a testament to the movie's word-of-mouth and popularity
among audiences who went back to see it again and again.
HBO's DVD, out this week, offers little in the way of supplements --
but few will complain (not me!). The 1.85 and full-frame transfers are
both colorful and clear, while the 5.1 audio is perfectly acceptable. The
movie's original score works perfectly within the confines of the story,
deftly interweaving ethnic elements into its comedic and melodic sound.
An audio commentary from Nia Vardalos, John Corbett (who will be one of
the few cast members NOT to appear in the upcoming sitcom version), and
director Joel Zwick is included, and it's an engaging, chatty track detailing
how the movie was made (many thanks go out to producer Rita Wilson and
hubby Tom Hanks).
Highly recommended, and a perfect Valentine's present for your wife,
girlfriend, or mom!
New Releases on DVD
THELMA AND LOUISE Special Edition (**1/2, 129 minutes, 1991,
R; MGM): Maybe it's just me -- and I freely admit I'm not a woman (what
a revelation, right?) -- but I've never been able to get into THELMA AND
LOUISE. I've tried several times: once when the movie came out in 1991,
then again on laserdisc a short time later.
Now MGM has released a superb two-DVD Special Edition, filled with terrific
supplements courtesy of the fine folks at Scott Free, and once more I tried,
and failed, to find what all the fuss was about this Ridley Scott-directed,
Callie Khouri-written female buddy picture.
Of course, that latter aspect had much to do about the fuss: gal pals
Thelma (Geena Davis) and Louise (Susan Sarandon) get into trouble shortly
after taking to the highway and temporarily leaving their boring lives
behind. Thelma is hit on at a club by seedy Timothy Carhart, and his subsequent
attempts to rape her and espouse the views of American white trash result
in Louise shooting him and the pair becoming a pair of outlaws pursued
by cop Harvey Keitel.
The movie looks great, the lead performances are excellent, and Hans
Zimmer's score is perfect, so what is it that I've never found captivating
about the "feminine empowerment" story of THELMA AND LOUISE? For starters,
Khouri's script -- while doing an excellent job developing the two protagonists
-- runs into a brick wall midway through the movie, and dramatically peters
out as it lumbers along to its less than satisfying (though highly memorable)
ending. I also found that the film's leisurely pace and vivid locations
of the American Southwest, while perfectly stylish, often try to hide how
simplistic the central story is. I know there are plenty of T&L fans
out there, but other than "1492" and "Someone to Watch Over Me," this is
my least favorite of Scott's films, with the filmmaker's direction sometimes
playing at odds with Khouri's character-driven script. The movie looks
and feels like an epic, and yet something grittier and more introspective
would have suited the story better -- not to mention a quicker pace.
That said, if you are a fan of THELMA AND LOUISE, this tremendously
produced DVD set is a must-buy. Supplements from the earlier DVD have been
reprised (Scott's commentary, the alternate ending), and new ones added.
Among them are nearly 30 minutes worth of deleted/extended scenes culled
from the workprint (with a great, optional subtitle track identifying the
specific additions), a new documentary, and a very good commentary track
with Sarandon, Davis, and Khouri, all three discussing together the film
and its legacy over the years. The 2.35 transfer is razor sharp and the
5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack layered with directional effects, as seemingly
all of Scott's films are.
WHO IS CLETIS TOUT? (**1/2, 92 mins., 2002, R;
Paramount): You always wonder about movies with big stars that are relegated
to the "Classics" division of their respective studios and barely get a
In the annals of these failed ventures, WHO IS CLETIS TOUT? -- not to
be confused with the horrible John Candy comedy "Who's Harry Crumb?" --
actually isn't all bad.
Chris Ver Wiel's film opens with hitman Tim Allen watching the end of
"Breakfast At Tiffany's," then promptly proceeds to an interrogation scene
where Allen ties up Christian Slater and shows him the third act of "The
Great Escape." Sure enough, if you can't make a great movie, you might
as well show scenes or make references from a real one -- a trick Ver Wiel
uses several times throughout this convoluted yet lighthearted caper film,
one that isn't quite as goofy as its marketing would lead you to believe.
The movie, which seems as if it wants to be a semi-comedic variation
on "Reservoir Dogs" and "The Usual Suspects," throws in everything from
a buried box of diamonds to a magician thief (Richard Dreyfuss), his femme
fatale daughter (Portia de Rossi), and Slater's cross-dressing neighbor
(RuPaul), with flashbacks and copious movie references to spare. It even
opens with a "flash-forward" conversation that the movie ultimately arrives
at late in the game, a la "Pulp Fiction."
All of this would work if CLETIS TOUT was actually funny, but in that
respect the film shows you why the movie was buried theatrically and basically
went straight-to- video. Ver Wiel's script just isn't funny, despite receiving
game performances from the likes of Allen and Slater, along with colorful
widescreen cinematography by Jerzy Zielinski. Also on the plus side is
Randy Edelman's tuneful, melodic score, which carries much of the drama
on its shoulders and rates as one of the composer's best works in years.
Paramount's DVD offers a 2.35 (16:9) enhanced transfer and 5.1 Dolby
Digital audio, and both are on par with the studio's typically strong DVD
WHO IS CLETIS TOUT? may be just a curiosity item for fans of the respective
actors, but it's a watchable mess made palatable by the performances and
Edelman's fine score.
THE THREE MUSKETEERS/FOUR MUSKETEERS (***1/2, 107
and 107 minutes, 1973-74, PG; Anchor Bay): Here's a DVD wrong that's been
Richard Lester's "two" films based on Alexandre Dumas' novel were previously
released on DVD, back in the early days of the format, by Fox Lorber Home
Video. To make a long story short, both transfers were blurry and banged-up,
offering a compromised 1.66 aspect ratio that cropped off the sides of
the original 1.77 frame. To make matters worse, the only "Four Musketeers"
print Fox Lorber apparently had access to was a French one, resulting in
all the credits being -- you guessed it -- in French! Although the AMC
cable broadcasts of both pictures had been properly framed in 1.77 for
years (and are owned by Warner Bros.), DVD and laserdisc fans have had
to wait a LONG while for a presentation of Lester's MUSKETEERS approximating
what audiences actually saw in theaters back in 1973 and '74.
Finally, Anchor Bay has come to the rescue with a deluxe, two-disc set
featuring THE THREE MUSKETEERS and FOUR MUSKETEERS in glorious, remastered
1.77 widescreen, along with some choice Special Features fans will love.
Lester's films represent a wonderfully balanced mix of swashbuckling action
and slapstick comedy. The cast is outstanding and remains one of the chief
assets of both pictures: Richard Chamberlain, Michael York, Oliver Reed,
and Frank Finlay are superb as the Musketeers, while appropriate menace
is served up memorably by Charlton Heston and Faye Dunaway. You also have
Raquel Welch as York's love interest, Christopher Lee as the villainous
Count de Rochefort, and comedic antics from Spike Milligan among others.
Much has been discussed about how Alexander Salkind "divided" what was
originally conceived as one long script by George MacDonald Fraser into
two separate films during post-production. The end result was an adaptation
that provides rollicking entertainment during its first half, and a somewhat
more somber and less energetic concluding portion. Either way, the movies
are best viewed in close proximity to one another, with everything being
similar outside of the film scores: Michel Legrand provided one of his
better scores for the first film, while Lalo Schifrin filled in somewhat
less memorably in the sequel.
An examination of the movies is provided in Anchor Bay's exclusive SAGA
OF THE MUSKETEERS documentary, which is split into two 25-minute segments
between the two discs. New interviews run the gamut from Michael York and
Raquel Welch to Christopher Lee and Charlton Heston, along with producer
Pierre Spengler and executive producer Ilya Salkind (who looks like he's
joined a German '80s rock band!). An overview of the production covers
the sweltering location shooting in Spain, the deaths of Oliver Reed and
Roy Kinnear, and even the controversy -- and lawsuits -- that ensued once
Salkind opted to cut the film into two halves. (No mention is made of the
belated and ill-fated "Return of the Musketeers"). It's an excellent supplement
on a disc that also includes vintage "Making Of" featurettes, Twentieth
Century-Fox's domestic trailers, radio spots, poster and still galleries,
and more. Visually, the 1.77 frame is colorful, clear, and consistently
superior to Fox Lorber's old DVD release (a full-frame version is also
included), and the mono soundtracks are in good shape. Highly recommended,
at long last!
Mail Bag '03: Laying Down The Smack
Dimitri Ntatsos sent me this email several weeks ago. I am including
his original email and my original reply for your entertainment. Though
we're now cool and have since worked out our misunderstandings, it's not
as much fun as reading the original down-and-dirty email exchange between
From Dimitri Ntatsos:
You are the personification of the book "Men are from Mars,
Women are from Venus." Not to be mean or anything, but as a college student
who is studying gender and marriage/family therapy, your reviews make perfect
sense. You're a man who is very "black and white" and very "meat and potatoes"
about things. If the man isn't the provider, then he isn't a man. If the
battle scenes aren't nearly as graphic as "Braveheart" or "Gangs of New
York," then it truly isn't this "macho man" type of movie, especially if
the man doesn't get the girl in the end.
This may well be the first email I've ever received in some six years of
The Aisle Seat that reads very much like a college term paper. Anyone want
to grade Mr. Ntatsos on his thesis?
It makes sense that you weren't too impressed with "Lord of the
Rings: The Two Towers" and more impressed with "Gangs of New York." Gangs
is a movie that clearly demonstrated how society conditioned its members
(us) to be how we are, not all of us of course. The men were fighters,
providers, and treated women as objects. It was honor, pride, hard work,
and money that made a man who he was. Gangs is the type of movie that really
relates to society's stereotypical "macho man" image; so, it makes sense
that you would appreciate this movie more. On the other hand, we have "Lord
of the Rings" which doesn't reinforce this "macho man" concept, which is
one of the reasons why people have taken such a liking to it. Here's a
movie where no man has something to prove and who doesnÇt get the girl
in the end. This movie is emotional, dark, and naked to the very fabric
of its characters' feelings and emotions. The audience is exposed to so
many things and concepts that it makes it much more interesting.
It is not my intention to be insensitive or insulting but only critical.
You are creating reviews of which millions of people who access the Internet
read, whether they are film music fans or not. Your comments regarding
Howard Shore's score are also misleading as well. I am willing to bet that
if Jerry Goldsmith, John Barry, or John Williams had written the score,
your opinion would be very different, not overlooking that much of the
above composers' music has been quite repetitive of late, too. It can be
said that comments and reviews about movies and movie scores over the years,
specifically at this site, have put fear in many composers, so much that
they don't want to do interviews. Instead, they're doing interviews with
Music from the Movies and Soundtrack, before they ceased publication, or
they're not doing any. This is a shame since it would have been unique
to have Horner interviewed by FilmScoreMonthly, maybe by Lukas Kendall?
While I am thankful for this site and its contributions, I find that I
am visiting less frequently and not purchasing your magazines as I used
to, especially when it comes to comments surrounding James Horner. I'm
sure if Horner suddenly died, your business would, well, go out of business
because there would be nothing else to talk about.
The comments and reviews at this site are making people like me
sick. I know I don't speak for everyone, but a nice change would be very
First of all, re: GANGS OF NEW YORK: the movie I tended to see was about
a PEOPLE who were oppressed -- not just women. If I don't recall, the film
clearly shows immigrant men who were drafted into the U.S. army against
their own will, not to mention how women ended up in poverty with limited
choices surrounding them (like becoming prostitutes against their will).
Sounds to me like you're the one viewing things in "black and white."
As far as your comments about LORD OF THE RINGS not being a "macho man"
film, I couldn't disagree more.
So all those battles showing Good Vs. Evil, showing mass carnage, showing
hours of effects -- they don't reinforce the "Macho Man" concept? I can't
recall the last time a movie was so "meat and potatoes." The good guys
are clearly good, the bad guys clearly bad. There are temptations lurking
amongst Frodo and friends, but despite them, we know virtually where every
character's allegiance lies (Gollum excepted). Furthermore, the trilogy
is ABOUT men "having something to prove" -- that they can carry on civilization
themselves in the wake of evil and overcome their inherent weakness!
Lastly, as another fallacy in your argument (SPOILER ALERT): there's
really only one leading female character in the series, and one of the
"main characters" certainly DOES "get the girl" in the end!
As far as Howard Shore goes, I don't care who writes a film score. If
I find it personally repetitive or obtrusive, I'm going to call it repetitive
or obtrusive regardless of who composed it. More over, I've been critical
of virtually every-other Jerry Goldsmith score he's composed in the last
10 years. I am certainly aware that John Barry has recycled his music countless
times in the last 15 years. And I'm not always on the John Williams bandwagon,
either, though if you want me to admit that I'd be more likely to listen
to a Williams soundtrack than one by Howard Shore, hell, I'd gladly state
it a thousand times over.
Finally, isn't it good to know our fine schools and universities are
now utilizing such classic texts as "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From
Venus" in the instruction of our young people? ;)
NEXT WEEK: A Special Valentine's Day edition with
reviews of BE MY VALENTINE, CHARLIE BROWN and more! Send all emails to
firstname.lastname@example.org and, until then, have
a good one.