RELOADED For One Last TREK?
Andy returns to THE MATRIX and examines NEMESIS on DVD
An Aisle Seat Entry
By Andy Dursin
The unofficial opening of the summer movie season gets earlier and earlier
each year, and with it, so do the release of several blockbuster movies.
The downside to the early arrival of hits is that there will be weeks with
fewer big-name movies out there later on this season, when "X-Men 2" and
"The Matrix Reloaded" will be closer in time to their inevitable DVD debuts
than their original release dates.
Speaking of THE MATRIX RELOADED (***), the highly anticipated
sequel from the Wachowski Brothers turns out to be a dizzying, frantic
blast of sci-fi entertainment that's lots of fun to watch despite some
glaring flaws that prevent it from being a classic.
The sequel dives right into the action as we find our heroes (Keanu
Reeves' Neo, Laurence Fishburne's Morpheus, Carrie-Ann Moss' Trinity) heading
to the subterranean city of Zion, where the last remnants of humanity are
bearing down for one last confrontation with the machines. While there
are those in the city who believe that collective might will be the only
way to defeat the tyrannical machines, leader Anthony Zerbe believes Morpheus'
claim that only Neo stands a chance of defeating the technology that enslaved
them all and threatens to do so once again.
After an effects heavy opening, this second of two Matrix sequels grinds
literally to a halt -- taking time out for a few sex scenes and an utterly
bizarre bump-and-grind sequence between thousands of Zion inhabitants that
feels just a little out of place here.
Once the talk and sex is out of the way, and our heroes head into the
Matrix, RELOADED finally comes to life. Neo meets with the Oracle again
and takes on Hugo Weaving's "bad cop" from the original -- not just one
Weaving, but hundreds of them, in one of the film's two must-see, jaw dropping
A brief encounter with a villainous program guarding the "keymaster"
(not Rick Moranis, but a man who knows the location of the source program)
enables us to get a glimpse of sexy Monica Bellucci, though her time in
the movie comes and goes a little too quickly.
On the other hand, her scenes set up the sequel's most incredible and
entertaining set piece -- a dizzying, preposterous and yet awesome car
chase on a futuristic freeway that goes on for nearly 20 minutes of dazzling
screen time. No matter what you think of the rest of the movie, this sequence
alone more than justifies the price of admission.
Speaking of the rest of RELOADED, it's good but not great -- sort of
the reaction I had to the first movie, which had a little too much exposition
inbetween its memorable effects scenes. RELOADED, though, doesn't have
enough of a story to sustain itself on that front -- the jumbled script
raises the obvious religious parallels early on, but then drops them and
any semblance of a coherent story as it moves into the Matrix. On the other
hand, who cares? The movie looks and feels like the ultimate video game
you've ever played. The non-effects scenes are just filler for the money
sequences audiences will remember long after the movie is over.
Don Davis' score works tremendously well here -- it might be even better
than the original -- and while the climactic cliffhanger is a dud (it follows
through on a subplot that's barely alluded to), THE MATRIX RELOADED provides
more unforgettable visual effects than anything you've seen since, well,
its predecessor. It's a triumph of technology that hopefully will be followed
by a worthier story in November's "Matrix Revolutions" finale. (R, 138
New on DVD
One of the most frustrating experiences as a movie buff is seeing a
mildly entertaining movie that should have been a whole lot more than it
Such is the case with STAR TREK: NEMESIS (**1/2, 116 mins., 2002,
PG-13; Paramount, on DVD today), the tenth Star Trek film and quite possibly
the final cinematic journey in the series, at least for the foreseeable
future. This latest cinematic entry in the franchise bombed at the box-office
last December, gaining the dubious distinction of being the lowest-grossing
Trek movie ever released in the process.
This came in spite of the fact that producer Rick Berman wanted this
particular picture to be The Next Generation's version of "The Wrath of
Khan": an accessible action film that would appeal to the masses, not just
hard-core TNG fans. An "outsider" -- Stuart Baird -- was recruited to helm
the picture, while "Gladiator" co-writer John Logan was tapped to provide
the screenplay. Even the budget on "Nemesis" was higher than its immediate
predecessors, with Paramount going the extra mile to supply the production
with the necessary effects budget that a few previous films in the series
Certainly the film's story is an intriguing one. Immediately after the
wedding of Riker and Troi, the Enterprise is sent to be an emissary for
the Romulan Federation, claiming to subscribe to a newfound desire to establish
peace in the galaxy. Of course, not all is what it seems to be -- especially
not after the crew finds a duplicate of Data on an isolated planet's surface,
then meets the diabolical Shinzon, leading the Romulan effort with his
own agenda and secret past. Shinzon, as we eventually find out, is a clone
of Captain Picard, and it's not peace that he's after but rather: universal
"Nemesis" is a valiant attempt at making a Star Trek movie that you
needn't be a Trekkie to fully appreciate. On paper, Logan's script does
all the right things: establishes a basic, central conflict with a principal
villain whose motives you clearly understand, gives the supporting characters
something to do (not too easy, as we know from previous Trek movies), and
plays off the strengths of Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner, the cornerstones
of the TNG series.
I can only imagine that Logan's story must have been a great read, but
something went amiss on the way to the 23rd century. NEMESIS is flat when
it ought to be thrilling, talky and dull when it should be energetic and
interesting -- it's a movie that keeps teetering on the edge of being something
MORE, but it never gets there.
Part of the problem is that, for a so-called "action" film, there's
little excitement to be found in the first hour. Aside from a clumsy ground
chase on ATVs, the movie is filled with talky exposition, establishing
the political maneuverings of the Romulans and the origin of Shinzon, who
spars with Picard in a series of conversations over his background and
The problem is that these scenes never come close to approaching the
dynamic interplay of, say, Kirk and Khan in "Star Trek II." Patrick Stewart
is, of course, wonderful as Picard here, but newcomer Tom Hardy, playing
Shinzon, doesn't prove to be his equal: his villainy is continuously cut
down by the performer's leaden delivery and lack of screen charisma. One
could sense another actor raising "Nemesis" to the dramatic level it needed
to be at in order to be successful, but Hardy resembles Vin Diesel more
than Stewart, and that's definitely not a good thing.
Part of the blame also has to go to director Stuart Baird. A terrific
film editor who has gone on to direct several unremarkable action films
("U.S. Marshals," "Executive Decision"), Baird's lethargic pacing never
feels right, and the action scenes are completely routine when they do
occur. The long battle between the Enterprise and Shinzon's vessel is so
bland that it's easily forgotten once the film is over, and the movie's
"Khan"-like sacrifice of one of its main characters is so obvious in coming
that it doesn't pack the emotional punch it should have had.
"Nemesis" is also an ugly film to look at. I'm not sure if it was cinematographer
Jeffrey Kimball's idea to use a black and green color scheme, but the movie's
drab look doesn't help matters any, either. Over-exposed lighting in the
early auto chase is also an annoyance, though the movie is at least complimented
by a decent score by Jerry Goldsmith, which plays better with the movie
than it does as a soundtrack album.
So, then, is "Nemesis" the end of the line for Star Trek films? If it
is, it's a disappointing way for the TNG cast to go out. The elements were
in place here to make a slam-bang entry, if not a finale, in the series,
but the movie's rather pedestrian execution proves to be a letdown. Still,
the picture is watchable and an improvement on the last TNG film, anchored
by another great performance by Patrick Stewart. For those reasons "Nemesis"
is a recommended view for Trek fans, especially on DVD where it contains
a plethora of special features.
Paramount's DVD offers a predictably great widescreen transfer, representing
the film's 2.35 Panavision aspect ratio, and a 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack
with bass effects that will make your shelves shake throughout.
Writer John Logan had mentioned that "Nemesis" was cut down by nearly
45 minutes on its way to the big screen, and some 20 minutes of cut footage
are screened in the Deleted Scenes section. These range from an added epilogue
to the movie, to a different introduction of Shinzon, and a nicely written
early conversation between Picard and Data. Also worth viewing is another
creepy scene between Troi and Shinzon, which further elaborates upon one
of the final cut's most effective sequences. Fans will love to see these
scenes and may be upset that they were cut, though again, I can imagine
that they read better than played on-screen, where the pacing seems too
Short featurettes, between 5-15 minutes each, examine the making of
"Nemesis," featuring conversations with Stewart, Baird, Brent Spiner, Jonathan
Frakes, and producer Rick Berman. They're mostly promotional in nature,
discussing the "different, exciting, new" slant that Baird and particularly
Logan were bringing to the project. Baird also contributes a commentary
track, which is interesting though not especially critical of the film
in any way (chances are that it was recorded before the movie was even
released), and a photo gallery rounds out the disc. (If you're looking
for the theatrical trailer, it's not here, but can be found on the Collector's
Edition of "Star Trek III.")
Aisle Seat DVD Picks of the Week
RABBIT-PROOF FENCE. 94 mins., 2002, PG, Miramax. ANDY'S RATING:
***1/2. CAST: Everlyn Sampi, Tianna Sansbury, Laura Monaghan, David Gulpilil,
Kenneth Branagh. COMPOSER: Peter Gabriel. SCRIPT: Christine Olsen from
the book by Doris Pilkington Garimara. DIRECTOR: Phillip Noyce.
Harrowing true story takes place in 1931 Australia, where Aboriginal
children of mixed racial lines were taken by the government to be trained
as servants or industrial workers. Here, three young girls -- Sampi, Sansbury,
and Monaghan -- are taken from their mother and brought to a school to
be made "fit" for white society (or at least fit for working in it), while
government bureaucrat A.O. Neville (Branagh) looks on, believing he's doing
the right thing -- however insanely misguided he was -- in tearing the
children away from their family.
Christine Olsen scripted RABBIT-PROOF FENCE from a book by Doris Pilkington
Garimara, which documented the childhood experiences of her mother and
aunts -- part of Australia's "Stolen Generation" -- as they escaped from
the school and traveled some 1,500 miles home. The movie, directed by Phillip
Noyce ("Dead Calm," "Patriot Games," "The Saint"), does a remarkable job
capturing the atmosphere of the time and place, and documenting a policy
that, shockingly, stood in effect until 1970! The film is poignant and
powerful, with a strong visceral style and sound design -- augmented by
a somber Peter Gabriel score -- enhancing the already potent narrative.
Miramax's DVD offers a strong 2.35 transfer and outstanding Dolby Digital
soundtrack, along with an excellent group commentary with Noyce, Branagh,
Olsen and Pilkington Garimara discussing the film. A documentary, "Following
the Rabbit-Proof Fence," is likewise insightful and a must-view along with
the film itself. Highly recommended.
AVENGING ANGELO. 98 mins., 2002, R, Coumbia TriStar/DEJ
Productions. ANDY'S RATING: ***. CAST: Sylvester Stallone, Madeleine Stowe,
Anthony Quinn, Raoul Bova. COMPOSER: Bill Conti. SCRIPT: Will Aldis and
Steve Mackall. DIRECTOR: Martyn Burke.
The second of two Sylvester Stallone movies that went unreleased in
North America, AVENGING ANGELO is a definite improvement on "Eye See You"
[aka "D- Tox"], even if the DVD packaging misleadingly brands this offbeat
mob comedy as just another mindless action flick.
Sly plays Frankie Delano, bodyguard to aging mob boss Angelo (Anthony
Quinn, in his final film role). When Angelo is taken down in a hit, Sly
is sent off to protect Angelo's daughter Jennifer (Madeleine Stowe), a
bitchy, annoying woman unaware of her father's true identity and suffering
through a failed marriage. Not only that, but she also reads far too many
romance novels for her own good, and tends to escape from reality at any
given chance. Naturally, Sly's wise protector has to endure her verbal
wrath at the same time that the duo try to stay one step ahead of the bad
guys, and a few romantic sparks begin to fly along the way.
Produced by former Franchise heads Elie Samaha and Andrew Stevens under
their new Dante Entertainment banner, AVENGING ANGELO is a low-key and
old- fashioned romantic comedy -- with a mob flavor, of course -- that's
being sold on DVD as a typical Stallone vehicle. Overlook the disc's packaging,
though, and you'll find a surprisingly whimsical movie that seems like
it could have been made 20 or 30 years ago, anchored by the performances
of the two stars (Sly is remarkably relaxed, while Stowe's beauty enables
you to overlook the grating elements of her character). It's also great
to see Quinn on-screen for the final time -- even with his failing health
(he died just weeks after filming), the actor gives it his all. Be sure
to watch the DVD's Making Of featurette for priceless footage of the star's
final day on the set.
If the movie's wacky sensibilities aren't enough to entertain you, AVENGING
ANGELO also boasts a marvelous score by Bill Conti that ranks as one of
the composer's finest. The sprightly main title is complimented by a lyrical
love theme and better-than- average pop tracks, adding immeasurably to
Overall, AVENGING ANGELO is easily one of the best straight-to-video,
would- be theatrical releases I've seen lately. If you can accept the movie's
fairy tale premise, and get into the spirit of Martyn Burke's film, it
may just catch you off-guard. Well worth a look.
Columbia TriStar's DVD contains a pair of theatrical trailers, Burke's
audio commentary, an interview with writers Will Aldis and Steve Mackall,
and the before- mentioned, 20-minute "Making Of" segment that's thankfully
comprised of on-set footage without much in the way of fluffy PR narration.
Although the movie does contain a fine 2.35 transfer with 5.1 Dolby
Digital sound, the DVD actually defaults to an unadvertised full-frame
transfer in 2.0 stereo, so be sure to head into the "Set Up" menu before
actually starting the movie.
Also New On DVD
FAMILY BUSINESS. 113 mins., 1989, R, Columbia TriStar. ANDY'S
RATING: **1/2. CAST: Sean Connery, Dustin Hoffman, Matthew Broderick, Rosana
DeSoto. COMPOSER: Cy Coleman. SCRIPT: Vincent Patrick, based on his novel.
DIRECTOR: Sidney Lumet.
An interesting cast makes this uneven version of Vincent Patrick's novel
worth watching, even if it's saddled with some mawkish moments and a bizarre,
Broadway- style music score by Tony winner Cy Coleman.
Dustin Hoffman's reformed gangster has a young college graduate for
a son (Matthew Broderick) but a mastermind ex-criminal (Sean Connery, believe
it or not) for a father. Connery doesn't want to spend any more time in
the big house, yet when Broderick comes calling with a request for another
big heist, it's a chance for not only Connery to pull off one more deal,
but also for Broderick to bond with his father, who has reservations about
FAMILY BUSINESS was not a box-office hit, and was generally regarded
as a major disappointment considering its high-powered star cast. Certainly
Patrick's overly melodramatic script doesn't help, but Lumet's NYC location
filming and the performances of the trio put it over the top, at least
for fans of the actors. Connery is especially good, and his scenes with
Hoffman create a rare opportunity to see the two together on-screen --
something that even, at least partially, overcomes what Leonard Maltin
called "one of the most appalling film scores" of all-time. Cy Coleman's
tuneful and yet severely misguided soundtrack is definitely an oddity,
particularly with its main theme, which sounds like an overture to a Broadway
Columbia TriStar's DVD offers an excellent 1.85 transfer with Dolby
Surround 2.0 audio. Both are in decent shape for a film from 1989, and
bonus trailers round out the disc.
FAMILY BUSINESS may be a forgotten movie these days, but despite its
obvious drawbacks, the film is worth seeing for the presence of Connery,
Hoffman, and Broderick. They may not comprise a convincing set of characters,
yet watching the three interact as actors is worth savoring for buffs --
offbeat soundtrack and all.
Aisle Seat Mail Bag
From David Jeffrey Moraza:
David, THE INNOCENTS is one of my favorite supernatural films of all-time.
I'm still hanging on to my laserdisc, but hopefully Fox will delve into
their back catalogue for another round of Halloween releases of which this
Jack Clayton classic would possibly be a part. Let's hope so, anyway!
I read [the Mail Bag entry] about seeing "The Reivers" 13 times.
I can relate, because when I was about 11 or so, I saw 'Butch Cassidy and
the Sundance Kid" probably about 10-13 times myself. It was playing along
with "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" for more weeks than I can remember
at our one - theatre small town in California in 1969. I'd have rather
have heard the score to 'The Reivers' more than I had to hear Bacharach's
('catchy') tunes. Regarding the August release of "The Haunting" , I can't
wait. I have the letterboxed laserdisc of it, but find the transfer far
too 'muddy'. Probably THE BEST ghost story on film with a knowing nod to
'The Innocents'. Any news on the release of 'The Innocents" on DVD from
NEXT TIME: TV on DVD is obviously the new big thing,
but are the latest round of DVD box sets worth your time and money? Andy
goes in search of CHEERS and CHARLIE'S ANGELS among others. Send all comments
to firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll catch
you then. 'Nuff said!