A good movie lurks BELOW
Plus: Andy reviews DAREDEVIL, ABANDON, SWIMFAN, and the
An Aisle Seat Entry
By Andy Dursin
Now that we're well into March, the doldrums of winter are finally beginning
to wear off and the promise of spring lurks just days away (for those of
us in the northeast, it's especially appreciated!).
At the movies, I finally caught up with DAREDEVIL (***) last
week, and was pleasantly surprised with what I saw.
Sure, I had heard all about how Mark Steven Johnson's live-action film
of the Marvel Comics hero was "edgy" and more "adult" than "Spider-Man"
and other comic book films -- but as we all know, it's one thing to hype
your movie as being different, and quite another to make a movie really
as edgy as it claims to be.
The good news is that "Daredevil" is that movie -- a more adult comic
book adventure that still manages to be faithful to its source. This is
a stylish and highly entertaining flick that boasts crisp action scenes
(with vibrant fight choreography by Hong Kong martial artists), solid character
development (considering the material), and even some decent performances.
Yes, believe it or not, I actually liked Ben Affleck in this role, with
the actor playing blind lawyer/super-hero Matt Murdock as actually written
in the comics, and not the smarmy, sarcastic guy that Affleck plays in
virtually every film he's made. Of course, it helps that Jennifer Garner
is easy on the eyes, and that Colin Farrell and Michael Clarke Duncan adequately
portray those classic villains, Bullseye and the Kingpin, respectively.
Johnson does a superb job mixing action, comic book adventure, and developing
the dark themes lurking under the surface to the degree where "Daredevil"
ranks as one of the best movies of its kind. The film has certainly received
mixed reaction from critics, half of whom seem simply tired out by all
the super-hero films that have been made. True, maybe if you're adverse
to these kinds of movies, you may want to bypass "Daredevil," but anyone
looking for some slick entertainment and a good time is urged to give it
Aisle Seat DVD Pick of the Week
BELOW (***, 105 mins., 2002, R; Dimension/Buena Vista): A crew
on an American sub during WWII rescues three survivors from a sunken British
ship, only to find out that their own vessel is haunted while they attempt
to flee from an enemy cruiser!
This smart, exciting ghost story/action thriller manages to deliver
on its intriguing premise penned by Darren Aronofsky, Lucas Sussman, and
director David Twohy. Perhaps it figures, then, that BELOW was cast off
by its distributor and barely released, surfacing in a few late night screenings
in various metropolitan venues before being sent to video. At a time when
so many genre films are either gory or derivative (or both), BELOW offers
a water-tight story with a few frights of the old-fashioned, "is something
in the corner of my eye?" variety rarely seen these days (the movie's R
rating notwithstanding), something that evidently lead Dimension Films
to the conclusion that the movie wasn't commercially viable enough to promote.
The film doesn't offer an abundance of stars -- Bruce Greenwood ("13
Days") plays the sub's captain, Olivia Williams ("The Sixth Sense") is
the lone female, while Matt Davis ("Legally Blonde") and Scott Foley ("Felicity")
play crew members -- but Twohy's no-nonsense, effective direction plays
off the claustrophobic trappings splendidly. The creaking sounds of the
sub and the shadowy corridors are expertly shot by Ian Wilson, while the
smart script manages to both play off well-worn sub movie cliches (especially
in how a ghostly phonograph reveals the vessel's location while hiding
from an enemy top-side) while crafting its own spooky tale of a haunting
set beneath the depths of the sea. Twohy even manages to include a few
doses of humor along the way, most notably in an amusing exchange between
crew members offering theories to explain the predicament they find themselves
Dimension's DVD offers a strong 1.85 transfer and a terrific Dolby Digital
soundtrack, which needs to be played at a high volume so you can feel every
whisper, creek, and clank in the involving sound design. Graeme Revell's
score is also effective without drawing attention to itself.
For supplements, Dimension has included an engaging commentary track
with Twohy and a few members of the cast, plus three deleted scenes, one
of which extends the film's ending (which feels a bit abbreviated in the
theatrical cut). The movie's theatrical trailer and a 15-minute featurette
round out a better-than-anticipated DVD package for a movie that deserved
better in its theatrical run.
BELOW is one of those movies that we can be thankful that we have video
for. Certainly one of the best genre films to come down the pike in a while,
this is a taut and suspenseful movie that manages to deliver the requisite
creeps and chills with a fair amount of class considering today's contemporary
horror filmmaking. Well worth a look!
SWIMFAN (**1/2, 85 mins., 2002, PG-13; Fox): Easily my candidate
for Guilty Pleasure of the Month, this surprise box-office hit offers yet
one more variation on the ages-old "Fatal Attraction" formula.
Jesse Bradford plays a high school student who has it all: a successful
swimming career, a cute girlfriend ("Roswell"'s Shiri Appleby), and the
prospects for a bright future. Unfortunately for Bradford, his life is
quickly turned upside down when new student -- and sexy seductress -- Erika
Christensen shows up. She's just one more screen villainess out to wreck
the life of a poor innocent guy, and Bradford soon follows in the tradition
of Michael Douglas and countless others before him, watching helplessly
as Christensen manages to ruin everything Bradford has going for him. Fortunately,
like Glenn Close before her, a little digging into Christensen's past assists
Bradford as he tries to turn the tables on her.
SWIMFAN isn't great cinema. It's not great storytelling, nor is it a
contender for the next 100 films to appear on the AFI List of the Best
Movies Ever Made. But, SWIMFAN is an enjoyable enough B-movie for teenagers
made palatable by the performances, particularly Christensen with her sleek
and engaging turn as an attractive young woman who just happens to be insane.
Director John Polson does a solid job crafting a visually satisfying programmer
that looks great in 2.35 widescreen, ending the movie before the 90-minute
mark so it doesn't wear out its welcome. Speaking of the finale, it's unusually
abrupt (if you were in a theater, you'd ask the projectionist if he was
missing the last reel), but apparently it could have been worse if the
movie's scripted ending was included instead.
Fox's DVD offers a terrific visual presentation (in both 2.35 and full
frame transfers), plus a throbbing Dolby Digital soundtrack offering a
score by Louis Febre with "Music Themes" by John Debney. I remember a time
back in the '90s when Debney would score films that had themes penned by
A-list composers like James Newton Howard ("Liar, Liar" comes to mind),
and I suppose it says something about the state of film scoring today that
Debney has now graduated to composing themes for movies actually scored
by someone else.
The DVD offers a chatty and fun commentary by Bradford, Christensen,
and director Polson, who seems to be quite aware he's not making Shakespeare
but a fun, fast thriller aimed at a young demographic. Some 10 deleted/alternate
scenes are included, along with a promotional featurette.
If you're up for a trashy, entertaining teen flick with attractive young
performers, SWIMFAN may just entertain if it hits you in the right mood.
ABANDON (*1/2, 98 mins., 2002, PG-13; Paramount):
Katie Holmes strikes out in another attempt to shed her good-girl image
from TV's "Dawson's Creek" in this unpleasant, interminable thriller notable
only in that it was written and directed by "Traffic" Oscar winner Stephen
Holmes plays a graduating college senior who believes that her pompous
ex- boyfriend (Charlie Hunnam) who mysteriously disappeared is back and
stalking her around campus. Troubled cop Benjamin Bratt soon walks into
the situation and finds Holmes and her friends (including star-to-be Zooey
Deschanel) to be a group of self- absorbed losers who enjoy taking a few
drugs in their spare time. Naturally, Bratt falls for Holmes even though
we all know what really happened to Hunnam, whose relationship with Holmes
is laid out in a seemingly endless series of flashbacks that attempt to
convolute the relatively obvious story Gaghan concocted here.
ABANDON is interesting principally in that it's a relentlessly cold,
dour film with a downbeat ending so showy that you get the feeling Gaghan
wanted to be patted on the back for it. Unfortunately, despite the potentially
intriguing premise, Gaghan's script is populated by boring, one-note characters
you care nothing about, with countless subplots (like Bratt's alcoholism)
that never pay off. You can also see where the movie is going miles ahead
of all the characters, who rank as the most unpleasant seen in any teen
film since "Gossip," the lamentable Kate Hudson bomb from a few years ago.
Gaghan's commentary, recorded with cinematographer Matthew Libatique,
may prove to be of interest for film students since the director details
the process of making his first feature film, but he comes off as pretentious
in detailing how the "twist" ending of his script is more satisfying and
complicated than other films like "The Sixth Sense" (sorry Stephen, but
your movie is nowhere as satisfying as Shyamalan's work).
Paramount's fine DVD offers an atmospheric 2.35 transfer and 5.1 Dolby
Digital soundtrack, containing a decent score by Clint Mansell. A handful
of deleted/extended scenes are included, along with a Making Of featurette
and the theatrical trailer.
I SPY (**, 97 mins., 2002, PG-13; Columbia TriStar):
One of last year's more financially disappointing blockbusters, this in-name-only
big-screen adaptation of the classic TV show illustrates once again that
big talent and a franchise name amount to little without a good script.
Eddie Murphy plays a boxing superstar recruited by the US government
to aid secret agent Owen Wilson on a top-secret mission: to recover a stolen
plane taken by nefarious bad guy Malcom McDowell. Along with a sexy fellow
operative (Famke Jenssen), the duo head overseas to Budapest where McDowell
leads the mismatched odd couple on a series of chases filled with special
Director Betty Thomas has made some choice comedic vehicles in her career
as a filmmaker, including the sublime "Brady Bunch Movie" back in the mid
'90s. This time out, though, Thomas seems as if she was an odd choice to
handle I-SPY, a movie with as many action scenes and F/X as there are comedic
The chemistry between Murphy and Wilson is amiable enough, but the trouble
is that the script -- credited to four different writers, no less -- gives
them little to work with. Often times, the vocal sparring between the two
isn't funny at all, and while both performers seem to be having a decent
time, there aren't any fireworks to come out of the "odd couple" pairing
between the two. Thomas' direction at least moves the picture along (at
97 minutes, there's not a whole lot of padding), but again, she seems at
odds with the picture whenever the film shifts from character interplay
to the action scenes, which come off as particularly claustrophobic and
unimpressive for a Hollywood blockbuster.
Columbia's DVD offers a sterling 1.85 transfer (a full-frame version
is also available on the disc), plus a 5.1 soundtrack containing a workman-like
score by Richard Gibbs. For extras, commentary with the filmmakers is included,
along with four featurettes on different aspects of the production, with
an accent on the technical side. I-SPY isn't a terrible film, just a bland
and average one that might be worth a look mainly for die-hard Murphy and
SNIPER 2 (91 mins., 2002, R; Columbia TriStar): It's been ten
years since the release of the original SNIPER, and while audiences haven't
exactly been crying out for a sequel, the efficient and fairly entertaining
direct-to-video follow-up SNIPER 2 should deliver the expected goods for
action fans. Tom Berenger looks a little weary reprising his role as Sgt.
Thomas Beckett, first seen leading a group of weekend war games in the
deep south. The government, though, quickly comes a-callin' for Beckett
to return to action, in an attempt to dispose of a ruthless Balkan general
currently engaged in ethnic cleansing. Beckett is subsequently teamed up
with your average death row inmate (Bokeem Woodbine) who needs to assist
the top sniper or else be thrown back in his cell, but the mission turns
out to be far more complicated than it initially seems.
My recollections of the original SNIPER, which was released in 1993,
are pretty dim: I believe I rented the laserdisc and fell asleep sometime
in the first 45 minutes. I do remember that the movie had some cool visual
effects whenever a bullet would fly through the air -- a device absent
from SNIPER 2, which seems to have been as influenced by "Enemy At the
Gates" as much as its predecessor. That's not necessarily a bad thing,
however, and B-movie expert Craig R. Baxley ("Action Jackson") keeps the
movie rolling along at a brisk pace, with some decent action scenes compensating
for the often lazy performances. Overall, SNIPER 2 is nothing spectacular,
but compared to most direct-to-video action films (especially the recent
Steven Seagal offerings), this is a clearly superior effort for its type,
and well worth it for fans of the original. Columbia TriStar's DVD offers
a crisp 1.85 transfer (a workable full-frame version is also available),
along with a 5.1 soundtrack featuring a decent score by Gary Chang. Supplements
are limited to bonus trailers.
JUST A KISS (90 mins., 2002, R; Paramount): Last
year, actor Fisher Stevens co- produced the teen hit "Swimfan" (see above),
and made his directorial debut with the barely-released indie film JUST
A KISS, which boasts a fine cast performing one of the most obnoxious scripts
in recent memory. Patrick Breen's contemporary tale of relationships chronicles
life among a group of a group of New York City thirtysomethings including
an annoying TV commercial director (Ron Eldard), his annoying girlfriend
(Kyra Sedgwick), his annoying actor-friend (Breen himself), his annoying,
afflicted ballerina-girlfriend (Marley Shelton), and an annoying waitress
(Marisa Tomei) obsessed with Breen's TV persona.
The inanity of the script, which veers from brainless comedy to melodrama
and back again, is compounded by Stevens' baffling directorial style, one
that continuously -- for no apparent reason -- segues into quick bursts
of animation. If there was a point to this, or to any of the film, I seemed
to have missed it. The cast, meanwhile, tries their hardest with the material,
but outside of a confrontation between Breen and a midget who was vying
for the part he snagged in a peanut butter commercial, there is precious
little to recommend about JUST A KISS.
Paramount's DVD looks (in 1.85 widescreen) and sounds (2.0 stereo) fine.
JUST A KISS seems to have been produced in some kind of digital video format,
since the picture occasionally looks blurry and constantly glossy, as if
it was filmed on something other than traditional film. It's just one more
distraction that fails to pay off in a very odd movie that never goes anywhere.
Aisle Seat Mail Bag
From Dan Hobgood:
Hey Andy; enjoyed your column as usual. Regarding "Superman,"
I thought Lois and Clark--especially in the first season--was a superb
re-creation/re-invention of the superhero tale. Dean Cain didn't look the
part the way Chris Reeve did, but, at least thanks to the scripts, his
portrayal was quite endearing [perhaps even just as endearing as Reeve's].
Dan, in regards to whole SUPERMAN mess, reports have it that the casting
is down to soap opera actor Matthew Bomer and Brendan Fraser, with Josh
Hartnett having (wisely?) turned it down. I am not sure what to make of
this project, which apparently lead producer Jon Peters and director Brett
Ratner to come to blows last week over the casting situation. Here's a
good idea: why not just call the whole thing off?
I've been saying it since last year's The Count of Monte Cristo:
Jim Caviezel should play Superman in any potential upcoming film. As The
Count, Caviezel was fantastic--and proved to me that he could play and
look the part of "The Man of Steel."
It's a shame Chris Reeve couldn't be thirty forever, but I think
Caviezel would be a worthy silver screen successor.
I've enjoyed the episodes of Smallville I've seen; I think filmmakers
would be wise to follow its producers' lead and call any "Superman" movie
something other than just "Superman." How about the hero's aforementioned
nickname--Man of Steel?
From Ron Fortier:
I really liked your dead-on review of THE FOUR FEATHERS.
Having seen several older versions, including a made-for-TV telling, I
was dissappointed in this big-budget remake for the reasons you stated.
Was wondering if any of the older versions are available on DVD?
Ron, unfortunately no. The classic Alexander Korda version is available
outside the U.S., but nothing domestically is available.
From Mark Hatfield:
I think I share your interest in THE KEEP, flawed movie
that it is. I went crazy trying to find the score for years; then spent
a truly ridiculous amount of money to get TD's Official Millennium Booster
package a few years ago, just to have two relevant cues (one of them is
from the sequence showing McKellan heading toward the Keep's entrance with
the artifact, and the crosses lighting sickly green as he passes). Hell,
I even went so far as to purchase a copy of the script on eBay! Some people's
kids, I know, I know.
Good points all, Mark. Paramount is doing a terrific job this year with
back catalog releases (there's a whole slate of classic westerns due out
in just a few weeks, for starters), so maybe it's not such a long shot.
And indeed, hopefully they'll track down the original ending -- which WAS
included in certain TV versions -- when the DVD is eventually released.
Michael Mann has been involved in the DVD release of several of his movies,
so if he still cares at all about THE KEEP, maybe it will happen.
I'd like to ask you to please let me know if you ever do get this
TV cut of the film. I remember at the time reading in trade magazines and
genre publications like FANGORIA, CINEFANTASTIQUE, and STARLOG that the
movie's special effects master died while the movie was in post-production.
He was British, and in the old style of Master/Apprentice, had not shared
all of his secrets, or passed along everything that he had planned to do.
This caught them in a lurch (I remember reading specifically about some
sequences that he had filmed for matting in front of black, rather than
blue, screens). The FX they were left with were not deemed suitable for
release at the time, and Paramount went ballistic after some poor test
screenings, so they hacked the thing up & dumped it with little fanfare
or promotion, on an unpromising opening weekend. I can't aver as to the
truth of most of that as I was not there; but my memory is pretty good,
and I DO remember having read all that at the time.
I was in the Army at the time, mostly overseas, and never did get
to watch much TV during the 80's, so I never knew of an alternate cut of
the film until you mentioned it. I am EXTREMELY curious, man, and would
kill for a copy. In this era of Director's Cut Special Edition Razzmatazz
DVD Release, I have often longed for someone at Paramount (I know: keep
dreaming!) to give Mann the opportunity to put together a definitive edition
-- maybe even throw in a little finishing money for digital FX. Hell, they're
going to give us some sort of Vanity Special Edition of STAR TREK V! At
the very least, they could make available one of the few horror films of
that decade of Freddy and Jason that was aiming -- despite missing -- for
NEXT WEEK: More reviews, news and your comments,
which as always can be emailed off to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a great one and see ya then!