Aisle Seat May Marvel Mania
The X-MEN and Hulk Return, and more!
Plus: DVDs from THE EMPEROR'S CLUB to TREASURE PLANET
By Andy Dursin
I'm not sure how many -- if any -- FSM readers have XM Radio, but I
thought I'd put in a few good words this week for the satellite radio service.
In addition to the superb sound quality and variety of 100+ channels
on XM, there's a specific station -- CineMagic -- that not only claims
to play genuine, honest-to-goodness film scores 24 hours a day, it actually,
Believe it or not, this XM station doesn't supply a daily dose of Whitney
Houston crooning tracks from "The Bodyguard" or repeat the main title from
"Dances With Wolves" over and over. Instead, you'll find yourself driving
along to a diet of assorted tracks only a die-hard soundtrack lover would
Just the other day, I heard -- in order -- the end titles from THE FINAL
COUNTDOWN (!!), the main title from GREMLINS, underscore from BACK TO THE
FUTURE, the finale from GONE FROM THE WIND, and "The Droid" from ALIEN.
I've heard 1941, THE OMEN, and THE ENGLISH PATIENT, and the service also
plays new scores -- including the end credits suite from X2 (reviewed below).
In a few instances you'll hear a re-recording from Silva or Varese instead
of the actual soundtrack, but you'd be surprised how most of the cues ARE
derived from the original recordings, and also how obscure -- for the mainstream
-- some of these tracks are (I kept on remarking "I can't believe they're
playing THIS!"). I have to credit my girlfriend with giving the service
a chance, since she was exclaiming about it for ages until I gave it a
listen, and was promptly converted!
If you don't have a CD player at your disposal in your car, or have
been thinking of XM Radio simply as an alternative to the junk populating
the FM airwaves these days, the inclusion of CineMagic in XM's service
should be good news for film score lovers from coast to coast.
X2: X-MEN UNITED (***): Bigger and -- mostly -- better sequel
to the 2000 smash brings back all of your favorite Marvel mutants as they
combat a villainous military man (Brian Cox) intent on starting a war between
humans and those who are "different."
Director Bryan Singer has a bigger budget at his disposal in X2, a movie
that crams an awful lot of characters and plots into its 133 minute running
time. Hugh Jackman's Wolverine, Halle Berry's Storm and Famke Jenssen's
Jean Grey are given most of the spotlight in this go-round, reluctantly
joining forces for a brief time with the evil Magneto (Ian McKellen again,
looking as if he's having a great time) as they try to advert a battle
with humankind. Meanwhile, Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart, with not
a whole lot to do here) is kidnapped by Cox for equally nefarious purposes,
and we're introduced to Nightcrawler, a blue-toned good guy perfectly played
by Alan Cumming in a role that offers a nice contrast to the other members
of the team.
It takes a while for X-MEN UNITED to get going, but once it does, the
movie provides rousing comic book entertainment. Jackman is again terrific
as the tough-as-nails Wolverine, anchoring the movie with enough star charisma
to hold the various storylines together. The action scenes are crisply
edited (kudos to John Ottman) and choreographed, and the film is remarkably
well balanced for a story that tries to juggle an awful lot of narrative
threads in the air throughout.
If there's a downside, however, it's in the script's almost incessant
set-up for future sequels. Sure, we all know there's going to be an X-MEN
III, but couldn't they just spend a little more time on telling THIS story
instead of constantly setting up the next one? Furthermore, the ending
-- without giving anything away -- is an almost blatant steal from STAR
TREK II, right down to a main character's narration and swelling orchestral
music from Ottman.
Otherwise, X2 is a fine way to start off the summer movie season a few
weeks before summer actually begins -- a popcorn movie that's a lot of
fun while it's in (constant) motion. (PG-13)
Aisle Seat DVD Picks of the Week
THE EMPEROR'S CLUB. Universal, 110 mins., 2002, PG-13. ANDY'S
RATING: ***1/2. WHO'S IN IT: Kevin Kline, Emile Hirsch, Steven Culp, Embeth
Davidtz, Rob Morrow, Edward Herrmann, Harris Yulin. COMPOSER: James Newton
Howard. SCRIPT: Neil Tolkin, based on a short story by Ethan Canin. DIRECTOR:
Buried at the box-office last Thanksgiving, this richly textured story
of ethics in and outside the classroom proves to be a showcase for Kevin
Kline, who has never been better.
Kline plays a hard-working teacher at an all boys prep school who tries
valiantly to "mold" the obnoxious son (Emile Hirsch) of a powerful U.S.
senator. That means giving him a break here or there in addition to encouraging
him to study -- a tactic that backfires on the well-meaning Kline, who
25 years later is invited to hold an academic debate rematch involving
the now-grown son and his peers.
Unlike the overly melodramatic "Dead Poets Society" (not one my favorites,
admittedly), THE EMPEROR'S CLUB examines morality and ethical sensibilities
that are easily found in the real world. Neil Tolkin's fine script doesn't
give any easy answers to the situations Kline finds himself in, whether
it's questioning himself over the problematic teenager he tries to help,
or finding out the school he loves so much would rather hire a young fundraiser
to be its new headmaster than a loyal individual who has devoted himself
to a life of teaching. Ultimately, the movie proves to be a quietly uplifting
and poignant study of ethics in the modern world, and how Kline's old-
fashioned beliefs prove to be out of place in contemporary society.
It's an element that rings true throughout THE EMPEROR'S CLUB, which
sports a sensational performance by Kline that never once goes overboard
or echoes "Goodbye, Mr. Chips"-styled sentiments. His Mr. Hundert seems
like a real person, and the performances of the juvenile cast backing him
up, especially Emile Hirsch as the troubled youth, are also excellent.
Only in the movie's underdeveloped romantic subplot (with Embeth Davidtz
as a fellow teacher) does the story fail to click -- there either should
have been more of it or it should have been excised completely.
Overall, THE EMPEROR'S CLUB is one of those little movies that didn't
make much noise in theaters but certainly deserved more kudos than it received.
It's a movie that gives you something to think about, a drama that the
viewer can relate to without insulting one's intelligence for a change.
Universal's DVD offers a strong 1.85 transfer and excellent DTS/Dolby
Digital soundtracks. James Newton Howard's lovely score is a major asset
to the drama, as is Lajos Koltai's warm cinematography. For extras, there's
a half-hour featurette on the making of the picture, in addition to a fine
commentary track by director Michael Hoffman. A handful of deleted scenes
are included, some of which should have been retained in the final cut
(with a few others that were wisely dropped).
CATCH ME IF YOU CAN. Dreamworks, 141 mins., 2002,
PG-13. ANDY'S RATING: ***1/2. WHO'S IN IT: Leonard DiCaprio, Tom Hanks,
Christopher Walken, Nathalie Baye, Martin Sheen. COMPOSER: John Williams.
SCRIPT: Jeff Nathanson. DIRECTOR: Steven Spielberg.
Playful, disarming film from Steven Spielberg was actually based on
the true exploits of Frank Abagnale, who as a teenager became part of the
FBI's Most Wanted list!
Leonardo DiCaprio is terrific as Abagnale, who fakes a series of identities
as he crisscrosses the United States as a Pan Am pilot, doctor and lawyer,
falling for a series of beautiful women along the way. Dogging him at every
turn is workaholic FBI man Tom Hanks, who predictably becomes obsessed
with the young charmer, whose exterior hides a troubled soul crushed by
the divorce of his parents (Nathalie Baye and the marvelous, Oscar-nominated
CATCH ME IF YOU CAN represents an interesting entry in the filmography
of Steven Spielberg, whose last few projects have represented a wide range
of genres and cinematic styles. While on first viewing CATCH ME IF YOU
CAN may come off as a tiny bit disappointing considering the director's
resume -- there's no big emotional payoff to the film -- the second time
around, you can appreciate its relaxed mood and charm a great deal more.
This is one of those energetic movies that seems to coast in front of your
eyes, with two strong performances from its leads (despite Hanks' meandering
accent), an engaging premise based on a true story, and an infectious score
by John Williams that you'll be humming long after the film is over. DiCaprio
is especially good at masking his character's sadness for the break up
of his parents' marriage, which constantly looms as an undercurrent to
the more escapist element of the picture.
Dreamworks' 2-disc Special Edition offers a rock-solid 1.85 transfer
and 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital soundtracks on Disc One, plus a bevy of Special
Features on Disc Two. The highlight is a multi-part documentary on the
making of the movie, including a brief segment on John Williams' score,
featuring interviews with Spielberg and the composer, who both point out
the strong, jazzy component of Williams' work. The most revealing element
of the documentary is an extensive interview with the real Frank Abagnale,
who discusses his exploits and proves to be every bit as engaging as one
would anticipate him to be. Surprisingly, some of the movie's most seemingly
"unbelievable" moments turn out to be actually true, according to Abagnale's
interview, which puts a nice cap on the whole disc. Definitely recommended.
THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES: Special Edition. Columbia
TriStar, 2001, 119 mins., PG-13. ANDY'S RATING: ***1/2. WHO'S IN IT: Richard
Gere, Laura Linney, Will Patton, Lucinda Jenney, Debra Messing, Alan Bates.
COMPOSER: Tomandandy. SCRIPT: Richard Hatem, from John A. Keel's book.
DIRECTOR: Mark Pellington.
Two-disc DVD Special Edition re-issue of last year's unnerving tale
of the supernatural, based on actual events that occurred in West Virginia
back in the '60s (as detailed in a bestselling non-fiction book by John
A. Keel). Richard Gere gives a strong performance as a reporter for the
Washington Post whose wife (Debra Messing) is critically injured in a car
crash. Before dying, she tells him that she saw a winged creature pass
in front of the vehicle, causing her to lose control. Flash forward two
years, and Gere improbably ends up in the small West Virginia town of Point
Pleasant, where most of the population are witnessing equally strange occurrences:
strange figures standing in the yard, prank phone calls, and voices that
inform some of the residents of tragedies that are about to befall.
THE MOTHMAN PRPHECIES isn't a movie about in-your-face shocks so much
as it is a creepy picture with a sustained tone and atmosphere that will
stay with you long after the final credits have rolled, with Richard Hatem's
script raising possible explanations for the events but also creating vivid
characterizations to compliment the spookiness.
This is a suspenseful, nerve-wracking mystery that confirms director
Mark Pellington as a filmmaker to be reckoned with, and Columbia's new
Special Edition DVD -- which has been available overseas for some time
-- will be worth the upgrade for fans of the movie.
Pellington's director commentary is revealing and insightful, as is
an hour-long documentary, "Day By Day: A Director's Journey," which forms
the centerpiece of the extras on the second disc. This is a better-than-average
Making Of, split into two half- hour segments, recounting Pellington's
work on the picture with lots of on-location footage. A documentary on
the Mothman itself proves to be no better or worse than your average "In
Search Of.." episode, while five inconsequential deleted scenes are culled
from a workprint. Trailers and a music video round out a fine 2-disc Special
Edition that contains the same, excellent 2.35 transfer and bass heavy
5.1 soundtrack that the preceding release contained.
The Hulk Debuts on DVD
With Ang Lee's overhaul of THE HULK due out in June, it's inevitable
that studios would be pillaging their back catalogs to find anything and
everything Hulk-related they can to release on DVD.
Universal is slated to release the Pilot episode from the successful
and beloved 1978-82 CBS-TV series rendition of THE INCREDIBLE HULK in a
few weeks, but in the meantime, Ferrigno fanatics everywhere can enjoy
Anchor Bay's fine 2-disc set of THE INCREDIBLE HULK RETURNS (1988,
94 mins.) and THE TRIAL OF THE INCREDIBLE HULK (1989, 95 mins.).
These two made-for-TV reunion films not only brought back Bill Bixby
and Lou Ferrigno in their original roles, but also garnered huge ratings
-- especially in the case of THE INCREDIBLE HULK RETURNS, which not only
was one of the highest-rated shows of its week, but also one of the top-rated
TV films of the entire season! As the package attests, both movies provide
goofy comic-book fun for Hulk devotees, though Anchor Bay chose to leave
out the third and final Hulk movie, "The Death of the Incredible Hulk,"
which isn't any great loss.
RETURNS served as much as a pilot for its supporting character -- Thor
-- as it did as a continuation of the original Hulk series, which again
finds poor old Dr. David Banner trying to find a cure for his gamma-radiation
induced transformations. Somehow or other, the Mighty Thor (Eric Kramer)
is unearthed right at the same time that Banner and his lady love (the
ever-underrated Lee Purcell) find their groove, while o'l pal Mr. McGee
(Jack Colvin) is doggedly on the trail of the Hulk (Ferrigno), who appears
just in the nick of time to mess things up for everyone. Original series
producer Nicholas Corea wrote and directed this highly entertaining 1988
TV movie, which might make little sense to folks who never watched the
old show -- but if you're one of them, what are you doing reading this
review in the first place?
The smash success of "Returns" served as the springboard for another
pair of tele-films, including 1989's THE TRIAL OF THE INCREDIBLE HULK,
which again teamed Banner/Hulk with another Marvel hero: blind attorney
Matt Murdock and his crimefighting alter-ego Daredevil. As played by '70s
teen heartthrob Rex Smith, this Daredevil isn't quite as emotionally conflicted
as Ben Affleck's recent silver-screen rendition, using his powers to take
down the Kingpin (John Rhys-Davies) in yet another story that feels a lot
like a pilot for a series that never materialized. Still, despite the courtroom
theatrics, TRIAL is a ton of fun as well, with a decent script by Gerard
DiPego ("Angel Eyes") and solid direction by Bixby himself, plus a supporting
turn from "Deepstar Six" ingenue Nancy Everhard.
Both movies feature better-than-average production values and OK scores
by Lance Rubin, who utilizes Joe Harnell's original theme a bit here and
there in each telefilm (it's too bad Harnell didn't come back to score
Anchor Bay's DVDs offer fine full-frame transfers and compressed mono
soundtracks, along with some neat extras. Disc One offers a new 17-minute
interview with Ferrigno, plus a discussion with Stan Lee, reflecting back
on the original series. More interesting for fans will be Disc Two's big
extra, "Standing Tall," a 1996 documentary on Ferrigno's life and career,
making for a revealing portrait of the star. DVD-ROM features include the
original screenplay on "Trial," plus poster and still galleries on both
features and a colorfully packaged though not especially coherent eight-page
Obviously, this set comes with a strong recommendation not to make the
Hulk angry -- so get out there and buy it!
Also New on DVD
TREASURE PLANET (**1/2, 95 mins., 2002, PG, Disney): Disney's
ill-conceived futuristic variation on "Treasure Island" was a box-office
flop for the studio last Thanksgiving, though it isn't totally devoid of
entertainment. Sure, adults and anyone familiar with Robert Louis Stevenson's
classic story may have a tough time digesting this updating of the tale
to a galaxy where pirate ships still float around the skies as if they're
on the sea, and young Jim Hawkins is a skyboarding brat who seems more
like Tony Hawk than a Saturday Matinee hero. Still, if you can make it
through the rocky first half- hour, TREASURE PLANET isn't all bad, with
a good score by James Newton Howard and the arrival of B.E.N. the robot
(voiced by Martin Short) providing sufficient entertainment in the later
stages. Disney's DVD offers a colorful 1.85 transfer with Dolby Digital
sound, along with a visual commentary from John Musker and Ron Clements,
the filmmakers of the early Menken-Ashman musicals who struggled to find
a consistent rhythm with this picture. An extended ending and alternate
prologue are included, plus assorted extras for kids and a music video
for one of John Rzeznik's two upbeat rock tracks.
THE OSBOURNES: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (230 mins.,
2002, Censored/Uncensored; Buena Vista): OK, I admit it. Jeff Bond dared
me to review this title several weeks ago, but I held off until I had actually
sat through every episode of THE OSBOURNES' first season on DVD. Now that
I have, I can finally say: yes, Jeff, we're reviewing this DVD on the website!
There, I've come clean. And I can also admit that, shockingly, I find this
MTV program utterly amusing -- not because I'm a closet fan of Ozzy Osbourne
(nope, I'm not), but rather because in the increasingly endless parade
of "reality TV" shows here in the U.S., this show stands out in providing
brainless entertainment each and every week. I mean, what IS funnier than
an aging rocker whose brain is fried from too much drugs and alcohol trying
to work his DirecTV remote control? It's surreal and just real at the same
time. Buena Vista's terrific Special Edition DVD package offers all the
episodes from the first season with the option to toggle the censored/uncensored
profanity bleeps on and off -- though unsurprisingly, the show is more
entertaining with the bleeps turned ON*after hearing f---k and s--t for
the 100th time, you may agree. Extras are bountiful in the set, including
audio commentaries, an onscreen "Ozzy Translator" (great for newbies),
bloopers, unaired footage, and even DVD-ROM games. Trust me, I haven't
gone over to "The Dark Side," and I bet even the staunchest metal-hating
curmudgeons might find this show entertaining if they gave it a chance.
Now, back to our regularly scheduled DVD column:
THE TRANSPORTER (**1/2, 92 mins., 2002, PG-13;
Fox): Jason Statham manages to keep a straight face as an ex-military man
who currently enjoys his profession as a sleek smuggler on the French Mediterranean
coast. He's tough, professional, and unkind to strangers, at least until
he meets his latest top-secret cargo -- a sexy young Chinese girl (Shu
Qi) -- who soon manages to have Frank Martin questioning his lack of ethics.
This slick and good-looking action movie was produced and co-written by
Luc Besson, which would explain the picture's explosive style and lack
of narrative substance. Like "The Professional" but with the story removed,
THE TRANSPORTER is an efficient action movie with a few good fights and
car chases, but not a whole lot more. Still, action fans may want to peek
a look and will likely enjoy what they see. Fox's DVD offers a gorgeous
2.35 transfer (kudos to photographer Pierre Morel) and non-stop, bass-heavy
5.1 surround, offering an OK score by Stanley Clarke. Special features
include "uncut" action scenes that were trimmed to accommodate a PG-13
rating, commentary by Statham and producer Steven Chasman, a "Making Of"
featurette, and the original trailer.
PSYCH-OUT (**, 89 mins., 1968) and THE TRIP (**1/2,
79 mins., 1967; MGM DVD): MGM has a slew of terrific genre releases lined
up for later on this August via their "Midnight Movies" series, including
Double Feature pairings of POLTERGEIST II & III, TROLL and TROLL 2
(gotta love that one), a Special Edition of THE HOWLING and other goodies
that horror fans should love. Until then, they'll have to be content with
this Midnight Movies hippie-dippie dip of two severely dated LSD-oriented
flicks from American-International: 1968's PSYCH-OUT, offering Susan Strasberg
as a deaf runaway who heads to Frisco to get away from it all, and THE
TRIP, which finds TV director Peter Fonda flipping out on his inaugural
trip down the path of sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll. The former was produced
by Dick Clark while the latter was directed by Roger Corman, sporting a
script by Jack Nicholson as well! Nicholson also pops up in both movies,
not to mention Bruce Dern and Dennis Hopper (in "The Trip") among others.
They're both worth a view for fans of this particular genre, though anyone
else may find their patience being severely tested, even though both pictures
clock under 90 minutes. Special features include a Corman commentary track
(yes, he DID inhale) and American Cinematographer article on "The Trip,"
plus featurettes for both movies -- with interviews including Clark and
Dern -- and more. Especially interesting is an interview with cinematographer
Allen Daviau, who discusses his lighting effects on "The Trip." The 1.85
transfers are likely as good as either film will look on video, so no complaints
Aisle Seat Mail Bag
In response to the news I ran about the ENNIO MORRICONE DVD coming
out in Japan this June:
From Thomas Mathias:
As you asked for more info, this is what I know about it.
The Japanese DVD documentary is scheduled to come out on the 6th of June,
and will be part of a 4-dvd box named "Composed Box", containing - beside
the documentary - the following 3 movies: "Sacco & Vanzetti", "Il prefetto
di ferro", and "La moglie piu bella". The box will cost 18.200 yen (plus
tax, meaning 5%). It is whispered that there will be something extra (call
it 'limited edition') for the first batch of these items. It is also sure
that the documentary will be available separately for the price of 3800
yen. The movies can also be purchased individually for the price of 4800
yen (plus tax). I have already been able to take a look at the design of
the box - as always with cds and dvds coming from Japan, it's extraordinarily
From Preston Jones:
I can't recall if we've ever had occasion to correspond
before, but I always enjoy your column. Thanks for citing our Message Board
thread today in your review of the SWIMMER DVD. I have to ask you if the
DVD imparts the information that Pollack replaced Perry's original casting
choice for the babysitter with Landgaard, because this is erroneous. All
the casting changes that DID take place are cited in our aforementioned
thread. While it is true that Pollack re-shot some of the Lancaster/Landgaard
dialogues, she was always the only one playing that role, and most of her
original footage remains intact. (Her climactic scene with Lancaster is
shot on a soundstage, whereas everything in the original version was filmed
out of doors.)
Sorry for the errata, Preston. And thanks for the clarifications and the
If the DVD states otherwise, then it needs to be corrected. Much
more importantly, it's too bad that they apparently didn't think it was
worth the trouble or expense to unearth the original scenes which were
completely recast and reshot -- primarily, of course, with Barbara Loden
-- as they would have made exceptional supplementary material. Keep up
the good work.
From Michael Karoly:
1) Any news on ED WOOD?
Hi Michael. Here's what I know:
2) Any more inside info on the ALIEN box set? I hear a lot of rumors
but I don't know which are real.
3) Any news on Warner Bros doing more back catalogue stuff, like
THE ACCIDENTAL TOURIST? (I sound like a broken record on that one, but
damn! Release it already!)
1. No news, unfortunately. Grab an inexpensive region-free player and
pick up the UK import if you have to. That's the only solution there is
at the moment if you want to see Tim Burton's film on DVD.
2. No new info from the Aisle Seat at the moment, though again, I was
told to hang on to the original ALIEN DVD since Goldsmith's isolated score
may NOT be reprised in the "Alien Legacy" package. One can only assume
the nightmare that ensued over Universal and Goldsmith sparring over THE
MUMMY, and the legal fallout that followed, may something to do with that.
3. Warner's back catalog is being tapped for a slew of great titles
in August, including Robert Wise's THE HAUNTING -- though we've been told
some of the supplements may be in jeopardy over haggling between Wise and
the studio. Aaah, lawyers!! As far as ACCIDENTAL TOURIST goes, no news
at the moment, but seeing as it's one of their most requested titles, I'm
sure it will turn up sooner or later.
From Terry Hartzell:
As a self-described soundtrack dweeb, it doesn't take much
to get me excited. You know...reading about a new soundtrack release that
has 14 more seconds of a favorite cue, etc..etc. But...my happy horn really
got a blast when I read about the upcoming DVD releases of Cinema Center
releases, not so much for the ones that are definitely being released but
some that potentially will be released. In particular, one movie that you
mentioned several times in your article, indicating that you, too, are
a fan of the movie that, for some reason, seems to be reduced to a trivia
question answer ("What movie based on a Pulitzer Prize winning William
Faulkner novel featured Steve McQueen in a rare comic role?"). For reasons
I can't fully explain, I've adopted "The Reivers" as my favorite movie.
I was influenced by my high school buddies with whom I attended a theatrical
showing of the release no less than 13 times. This was before video tape,
so seeing the same movie 13 times was an oddity, to say the least. Since
that time, I've created a "Reivers" gallery in my home, featuring eBay
treasures that include posters, lobby cards, glossies, and a John Williams/Burgess
Meredith autographed LP of the soundtrack. The most treasured aspect of
the movie, of course, is the John Williams score (To this day, I still
get bent out of shape when I hear "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head" remembering
that the extremely dated score to "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"
won the Oscar instead of "The Reivers"). Anyway -- I hope I'm not jumping
to a false assumption by claiming you as a Reivers compatriot. Thanks for
the good news.
Terry, I love the film as well, and have been looking forward to the day
when I can finally see THE REIVERS in its widescreen glory. Hopefully Paramount
will look into releasing this oft-forgotten classic.
NEXT TIME: More reviews and comments, which can
be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy
viewing and we'll catch you next time!