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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, truly does!

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 truly appreciate.

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.


In Theaters

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: Michael Hoffman.

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. Highly recommended.

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 Christopher Walken).

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 the movies).

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 booklet.

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 here, man!
 

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 neatly produced.
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.)
 
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.
Sorry for the errata, Preston. And thanks for the clarifications and the comments!

From Michael Karoly:

1) Any news on ED WOOD?
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!)
Hi Michael. Here's what I know:

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 dursina@att.net. Happy viewing and we'll catch you next time!


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