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Arnold's Triumphant TERMINATOR Return

Plus: PHONE BOOTH, Milius' Last Stand, and the Mail Bag on 3-D

An Aisle Seat Entry
By Andy Dursin

I have to confess that, when I first heard of "Terminator 3" going ahead minus James Cameron, I wasn't looking forward to the latest installment in Arnold Schwarzenegger's sci-fi series -- despite all the effects and action it would inevitably contain.

It's been a bumpy few years for Arnie, who seems more interested these days in his political career than his motion picture choices. More over, the movie's long, drawn-out production process seemed to hint at a flick just being made for monetary purposes and little more (check out how many studio logos and companies get screen time before the flick starts!).

That aside, the surprising news is that TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES (***) offers the ideal summer popcorn movie experience: an unpretentious, fast-moving, well-oiled machine of a film that delivers constant thrills and a breakneck pace.

Sure, without Cameron's involvement, the movie doesn't have the nuances or involved characterizations that fans loved about T2 and the original movie, and yet Jonathan Mostow's film benefits from its new director's involvement in several departments.

First off, though, there's the story, which this time out is simple to explain: John Connor (a strong performance by Nick Stahl) is now in his 20's, struggling to get by on the road following the death of his mom. Connor's life is soon disrupted when a sleek, female Terminatrix (Kristanna Loken, very easy on the eyes) pops into the present from the future, out to kill Connor and the eventual leaders of his human resistance against the Machines. Naturally, another Terminator (Arnie) shows up to protect him and veterinarian Kate Brewster (Claire Danes), who plays a pivotal role in the future, post- apocalyptic world.

TERMINATOR 3 is basically just one long extended chase movie -- but who cares when it's so much fun? T3 opens with a bang and never lets up, with terrific special effects and money set-pieces interspersed with ample doses of sly humor that effectively play off scenes from its predecessors (Arnie's introduction in a local bar is hysterically funny). Arnold is back in his old form, giving deadpan, frequently amusing responses to the action in a performance that reminds you why he's still (or at least was) the king of the genre. Just as impressive are the performances of Nick Stahl (you won't miss Eddie Furlong) and especially Claire Danes, who manage to interject warmth and appeal even while the impending doom of Judgment Day is raring down on all of humanity. While the movie's focus is squarely on the action, you do come to care about Stahl and Danes' plight, and root for them through the barrage of effects.

The movie might lack Cameron's epic sweep, but at 109 minutes (including lengthy end credits), this is a leaner, faster-paced movie than T2, minus Linda Hamilton's pretentious, preachy monologues. Speaking of Hamilton, who turned down the picture, I have to say I didn't at all miss her character's whining speeches about "no fate but what we make." T3 might be a straightforward action movie instead of a groundbreaking sci-fi classic, but in its own way, it offers nearly as entertaining a ride -- like a faster-paced, almost B-movie version of T2 but still with grade-A special effects.

In the end, T3 is a blast of escapist fare, played at the perfect level by a fine cast. The "WarGames"-like ending goes off in a predictable direction to set up another sequel, but I won't be so apprehensive next time about its prospects should Stahl and Danes return along with Arnie. As for Mostow, this fits comfortably alongside his previous films ("Breakdown" and "U-571"), as an efficient, entertaining action movie that fits the bill for summer fun. A fine job, indeed. (R, 109 mins)


New on DVD

PHONE BOOTH. 81 mins., 2003, R, Fox. ANDY'S RATING: **1/2. CAST: Colin Farrell, Kiefer Sutherland, Forest Whitaker, Radha Mitchell, Katie Holmes. COMPOSER: Harry Gregson-Williams. SCRIPT: Larry Cohen. DIRECTOR: Joel Schumacher. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Commentary by the director; trailers. TECHNICAL SPECS: 2.35 Widescreen and full-screen formats, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

Obnoxious publicity man Colin Farrell (clearly NOT resembling the fine PR folks who work with the Aisle Seat each and every week) walks by a NYC phone booth and answers a ringing phone. The caller is none other than Kiefer Sutherland, who knows all about Farrell's life and extra-marital affairs, and tells Farrell that he'll kill him if he ever moves away from the booth. Soon the police -- lead by Forest Whitaker -- are on the scene, as is Farrell's wife (Radha Mitchell) and girlfriend (Katie Holmes). Sutherland's games involve Farrell speaking the truth about the superficiality of his existence and relationships to the boys in blue AND the media, while the perplexed cops suspect Farrell of murder.

It's an unlikely scenario posed by B-movie auteur Larry Cohen's script (why answer the phone in the first place?), but if you go with PHONE BOOTH, you're likely to be pulled into the picture just the same. Farrell gives a good performance in a difficult role, one that passed from Jim Carrey to Will Smith over the years before the screenplay was actually filmed. The performances of Whitaker and Sutherland (gotta love the voice) are also superb, and while there's tension to be found in the climax, ultimately the movie is so slight -- running barely 80 minutes with credits -- that it's out of your system within minutes of ending.

Director Joel Schumacher tries to jazz up the action by shooting the movie in widescreen and utilizing a varied electronic score by Harry Gregson-Williams (which the director praises in his audio commentary), which pays off for the most part. Fox's DVD offers the original 2.35 theatrical aspect ratio as well as a full-frame formatted version on the disc's flip side. The 5.1 Dolby Digital sound is layered with effects, and trailers are included for extras.

PHONE BOOTH was delayed for months for a variety of reasons (including the D.C. sniper attacks), but ultimately fared well at the box-office last spring. It's the kind of movie that's ideal for a summer rental, with effective performances and enough suspense to keep you glued while it's on.


Aisle Seat Vintage: New Releases on DVD

FEAR OF A BLACK HAT. 88 mins., 1993, R, Columbia TriStar. ANDY'S RATING: ***. CAST: Rusty Cundieff, Larry B. Scott, Mark Cristopher Lawrence. SCRIPT & DIRECTION: Rusty Cundieff. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Director commentary; 14 deleted scenes; interviews; music videos; trailers; host introduction segment. TECHNICAL SPECS: 1.85 Widescreen, Dolby Surround.

Frequently uproarious documentary spoof of rap music, starring the members of "N.W.H." -- Niggaz Wit Hats -- who bumble their way to the top of the genre with such classic hits as "My Peanuts" and "Touch My P.U.S.S.Y."

Rusty Cundieff wrote, directed, and starred in this sometimes hysterical mock- documentary, which was overshadowed at the time of its original release by the tepid Chris Rock comedy "CB4." BLACK HAT is one of those "Spinal Tap"-like exercises in grilling the contemporary music scene, in this case a trio of clueless rappers (Ice Cold, Tasty Taste, and Tone-Def) who make hapless attempts to find fame and fortune.

Cundieff's knowing parody is funny even if you haven't a clue about rap music (which I am just guessing would be most readers of this site), and the music videos alone are worth the price of a view -- especially "My Peanuts," which was just as funny the second time I backed up my DVD player to watch it.

Columbia TriStar has seized the opportunity of releasing a DVD of this cult favorite, and included all sorts of superb special features. The director contributes an informed audio commentary (he also appears with his co-stars in a new host segment), talking about the production and the film's success over the years since its release. Some 14 deleted scenes are included, along with 12 music videos and interview segments, plus the original trailers. The 1.85 transfer is fine (the material is in deliberately grainy, "documentary"-like shape), and the Dolby Stereo soundtrack is also OK.

FEAR OF A BLACK HAT is easily one of the best ersatz-documentaries I've seen, easily sustaining its 88-minute running time with knowing, pointed barbs at its genre. Well worth a look if you're looking for laughs.


LOOSE CANNONS. 93 mins., 1989 (released in 1991), R, Columbia TriStar. ANDY'S RATING: *1/2. CAST: Gene Hackman, Dan Aykroyd, Dom DeLuise, Ronny Cox, Robert Prosky, Nancy Travis, David Alan Grier. COMPOSER: Paul Zaza. SCRIPT: Richard Christian Matheson, Richard Matheson, Bob Clark. DIRECTOR: Bob Clark. TECHNICAL SPECS: 2.35 Widescreen, Dolby Surround.

In the annals of bad career moves, the 1989 cop-buddy flick "Loose Cannons" rated as one of the worst for several of its participants. And like a lot of terrible movies, the film initially sounded like it had some promise before it all turned sour.

Director Bob Clark rounded up much of the crew from his hits "A Christmas Story" and "Porky's" for this action-comedy, which brought together the talents of Gene Hackman -- then in one of his "five-movies-a-year" grooves -- and Dan Aykroyd, coming off "Dragnet" but about to enter into a disastrous phase of poor choices ("Nothing But Trouble" was soon to come).

Working from a script by veteran sci-fi/fantasy writer Richard Matheson and his son, Richard Christian Matheson, "Loose Cannons" has a potentially amusing premise: hard-nosed cop Hackman is paired with schizophrenic newbie Aykroyd, who lapses into a series of personas right during key moments in their investigations.

So far, so good, right? You have Hackman playing off his Popeye Doyle role and Aykroyd in a part filled with comedic possibilities (hey, he's Captain Kirk! Look, he's Dick Nixon!). Unfortunately, "Loose Cannons" fires blanks on every other front, including the basic premise -- that a secret porno tape starring Adolf Hitler has lead to a series of killings involving Nazis and Israeli secret service agents in the Washington, D.C. area.

It's a violent, seedy plot that gives too hard of an edge to the story, making what should be light fare into a disastrous blend of routine action (Clark has never been known for this genre) and unfunny, often tasteless comedy. Even the basis for Aykroyd's schizophrenia -- that he was tortured by Colombians following a botched drug raid -- causes a bit of unease. If this is supposed to be knee-slapping, I guess I must have missed it (along with the studio, which left this on the shelf for months before dumping it out to limited audience interest, to say the least).

Like all failed cinematic ventures, though, "Loose Cannons" isn't entirely without merit. The picture's story and mix of genres is so bungled that it's fascinating to watch talented stars like Hackman and Aykroyd flounder with material beneath them. The widescreen cinematography of Reginald Morris, meanwhile, gives the movie a good- looking visual sheen, and at least Columbia's DVD restores the wide Panavision frame, making the action as comprehensible as possible. Finally, when the movie's over, don't turn it off -- the film is capped by a godawful, blaring-beyond-all-restraint '80s rock ballad performed by Aykroyd and Katey Segal. Aaah, it doesn't get much more excessive than this, does it?

Columbia TriStar's DVD offers a perfect 2.35 transfer with a fine Dolby Surround soundtrack.


FUN WITH DICK AND JANE. 95 mins., 1977, PG, Columbia TriStar. ANDY'S RATING: **1/2. CAST: George Segal, Jane Fonda, Ed McMahon, Dick Gautier. COMPOSER: Ernest Gold. SCRIPT: David Giler, Jerry Belson, Mordecai Richler. DIRECTOR: Ted Kotcheff. TECHNICAL SPECS: 1.85 Widescreen, mono sound.

Businessman Dick (George Segal) loses his job just as he's set to put in a new pool at the family homestead. Housewife Jane (Fonda, that is) tries to get a job to help the fam pull in income while Dick searches for another job, but when a supermarket mix-up enables her to unwittingly take $2,000 of someone else's money, the duo dream up schemes of getting rich without working.

This mid '70s satire of upper-middle-class lifestyles still has some relevance today, and while Ted Kotcheff's movie sometimes resembles a TV sitcom (heck, it even has Ed McMahon in it, playing Segal's boss!), FUN WITH DICK AND JANE is an agreeable enough time killer for comedy fans. Segal and Fonda have fun in their roles and enough chemistry with one another that you're pulled through the episodic nature of the script, credited to David Giler, Jerry Belson and Mordecai Richler. Ernest Gold's score is likewise adequate in spite of a tacky '70s theme song (performed by "The Movies"), though most of the film isn't as dated as you might anticipate.

Columbia TriStar's DVD looks and sounds fine in a 1.85 transfer enhanced for 16:9 televisions. The mono soundtrack is nothing spectacular, and extras are limited to trailers for other movies.

Incidentally, there have been rumors that a remake has been planned by director Barry Sonnenfeld. Go figure!


FLIGHT OF THE INTRUDER. 114 mins., 1990, PG-13, Paramount. ANDY'S RATING: **1/2. CAST: Danny Glover, Willem Dafoe, Brad Johnson, Rosanna Arquette, Tom Sizemore, Dann Florek, Ving Rhames. COMPOSER: Basil Poledouris. SCRIPT: Robert Dillon, David Shaber from Stephen Coonts' novel. DIRECTOR: John Milius. TECHNICAL SPECS: 2.35 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

Big-budget disappointment proved to be the last gasp for filmmaker John Milius in the studio system -- an unfortunate occurrence since the admittedly flag-waving "Flight of the Intruder" isn't nearly as bad as you might have heard.

Based on Stephen Coonts' bestseller, FLIGHT takes place off Vietnam in the early '70s, where exhausted and frustrated military men continue to fight a losing war being primarily waged by bureaucratic politicians. When pilot Brad Johnson ("Always") loses his partner in a meaningless bombing raid, he becomes disillusioned to the mission of the military in the area. Commander Danny Glover feels for Johnson, but tells him there's nothing they can do -- at least not until Glover hatches a plan for Johnson and bombadeer Willem Dafoe to fly a top-secret mission using a classified stealth bomber deep behind enemy lines in Hanoi.

The cycle of Vietnam war movies had pretty much been exhausted by the time FLIGHT OF THE INTRUDER was released in early 1991, and viewers apparently weren't in the mood for a war-set buddy movie when a REAL war was taking place in the Gulf right at same time. Bad timing, to be sure, but critics also accused Milius' film as being a pro-Vietnam slice of propaganda, which isn't entirely accurate. I prefer to think of FLIGHT as a cliché-ridden, old-fashioned war movie that just happens to be set during Vietnam. The movie has all the requisite elements of the genre -- tragic losses, wacky humor, guys with crazy nicknames, girls left behind -- and serves them all up in Milius' typical gung-ho style.

It's admittedly no classic, and yet FLIGHT OF THE INTRUDER is solid entertainment for those who enjoy the genre. The special effects are solid and Basil Poledouris' superb (sadly unreleased) score adds to the drama, which is quite awkward at times (just what is the point of Rosanna Arquette being in the movie?), and becomes excessively uneven as it rolls along. Yet, the performances are all fine, and there are early appearances by the likes of Ving Rhames and Tom Sizemore on-hand for buffs.

Paramount's low-priced DVD offers an excellent 2.35 transfer from the Super 35 aspect ratio, and a rousing 5.1 soundtrack.


Aisle Seat Mail Bag: 3-D and TV on DVD Comments

Yup, I goofed in my brief mention of 3-D history in last week's JAWS 3-D review -- sorry folks! Here are a couple of emails that set the record straight:

From Peter Apruzzese:

Andy,
I enjoyed your latest column, as always.
 
You've made some factual errors about 3D movies in today's article. Here's some information about 3-D films which I hope you will incorporate into a revised version of the article.
 
You say "older, inferior 3-D method with the red-and-blue glasses". This is untrue. All of the 3D feature films produced during the heyday of 3D (1953-1954) were presented in the double-system polarized method. This involved two synchronized projectors - one projecting the left-eye image, one projecting the right-eye image - and a silver screen (which maintains the polarization of the image). There was a polarizing filter in front of the lens, and each viewer also wore a pair of polarizing glasses (looking very much like light-gray sunglasses), which made certain each eye received the correct image. When properly presented, the double-system method works perfectly. The image loses almost no brightness and the use of polarizers enables the films to have full-color (or full-tone black and white). Every feature produced in 1953-1954 used this method, from the lowly Robot Monster (in black and white) to the high-budget Kiss Me Kate.
 
The "red-blue" (or "anaglyph") method was used for a few reissues in the 1970s and for some low budget porno films, but never for a full-length Hollywood feature (it was used for films that had short 3D sequences, such as "Freddy's Dead", this may be where the confusion arises). "Field-sequential" only refers to a method of presenting 3D on video/television. It doesn't have anything to do with theatrical presentations. Since you use the term in referencing the early-80s 3D films, perhaps you confused it with the term "over-under", which is how those films were presented. The left and right eye images were printed top-and-bottom in the area of a single frame of 35m film. This was then put through a prism lens mechanism on the projector that optically combined the images and added the polarizing filters. The viewers' glasses then separated these images back into left and right-eye. While it works to a degree, it was notably inferior to the double-system technology used in the 1950s films since the brightness was more than halved and the image size on the film was so small that a large screen showed a noticeable lack of definition and sharpness.
 
Los Angeles is presenting a major 3D retrospective in September, you should try and attend some of the shows so you can see for yourself the superiority of the double-system method. www.3dfilmfest.com for information.
From Richard Bush:
Huh? Andy should do a bit of research before writing about 3D history. The 3D films of the fifties and the brief revival in the early 'eighties both used dual images with Polarizing filters. In the 'fifties this incorporated two interlocked 35mm projectors, each running a respective left or right image print, with a Polaroid filter; the Polaroid glasses worn by audience members would block one of the overlapping images, so that each eye would respectively perceive only the corresponding left or right image, producing the three dimensional illusion. In the eighties the left/right images were printed on a single strip of film and combined prismatically during projection, but it was still a Polaroid system. The latter system, in 35mm, produced a rather poor image, although in 70mm (generally only released in a single theater in big cities) the picture quality was very good.

So far as I know, the red/blue or red/green anaglyph system was never used theatrically during these two 3D cycles, and was generally used for comic books, films with brief "gimmick" 3D sequences (such as "The Mask"), or for TV broadcasts. To my knowledge the "field sequential" technology that uses alternating electronic LCD "shutters" in the glasses wasn't yet invented by the early eighties 3D revival, and to date has only been used for video presentation, and never for an actual theatrical release (and I mean the latter to be a release in a theater, not a 3D attraction at a theme park).

And yes, many of the 'fifties 3D films were presented in stereo sound as well. DVD would seem to offer a perfect medium for the field sequential technology that Andy describes; both flat and 3D versions could be offered on one disc, but I assume the DVD suits haven't grasped the marketing potential of advertising and offering a film in 3D, even if only a small audience could actually benefit.

From David Wyeth:
If these DVD companies can bring back TV shows as marginal as S.W.A.T and as mindless as Xena, why can't they bring back that well-produced, often topical show on the cusp of the 60's/70's, "The Name of the Game"? Good casts, literate scripts, and didn't Steven Spielberg direct an episode? Any news on that show. (I suppose you get this sort of letter from everyone who reads your highly informative column, hoping their particular favorite will turn up. Night Gallery? Rat Patrol? Honey West? How far down the list can we go?). Anyway, thanks for all the good work you do.
From Stuart Dunn:
Hi Andy,
You probably have more resources than I do-hence my question. In 1987-1988-there was a show on NBC called Private Eye-it was about a 50's private eye played by Michael Woods-Josh Brolin played the sidekick. It had great production values-kind of like Miami Vice. Since everything on T.V. has been coming out on DVD-do you know of anything that could happen with this show? I can't seem to locate ANY info. Most important-the music was wonderful!
From Randy Derchan:
Any word of putting the Wild, WIld, West and Man From Uncle to DVD? Also, have you heard anything about Columbia putting out the Matt Helm films on dvd?
Gentlemen, good questions all, though sadly I don't have news on any of the projects you asked about. Obviously, the more popular the program is (or was), the better chance we'll have of seeing it on DVD one day. Shows like "Wild Wild West" and especially "Man From UNCLE" would seem to be ideal choices, but we'll have to wait and see.

That being said, the cavalcade of series just keep on comin' -- highlights for September feature the complete BATTLESTAR GALACTICA collection from Universal (including the unedited pilot and a featurette on the Stu Phillips-Glen Larson soundtrack), SMALLVILLE Season One, and (gulp), the first two seasons of SAVED BY THE BELL. Alas, Columbia's planned "Best of RIPLEY'S BELIEVE IT OR NOT" is comprised of episodes from the Dean Cain-hosted TBS series, and not the old classics with Jack Palance. (Damn!)


NEXT WEEK: A look at Sean Connery in THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN and the Disney swashbuckler PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN, plus more reviews and your emails to dursina@att.net. Stay cool everyone!


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