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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 history.

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 theatrical release.

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 efforts.

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 finally righted.

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 us!

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.

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 much appreciated.

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?

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 dursina@att.net and, until then, have a good one.


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