Seat Winter Horror Edition
THE GRUDGE, OPEN WATER,
ALIEN VS. PREDATOR and More New DVDs!
The best sports movies not only accurately capture the essence of the
competition at hand, but also replicate the time and place of the
events transpiring in them.
Such is the case with FRIDAY
NIGHT LIGHTS (***½, 2004, 118 mins, PG-13; Universal; Aisle Seat DVD Pick
of the Week),
an authentic, almost documentary-like look at a small Texas high
school’s season in 1988.
Based on H.G. Bissinger’s acclaimed novel, former
Peter Berg has fashioned a marvelously compelling, multi-layered and
decidedly un-Hollywood-like film that’s a must for not only
but film aficionados as well.
One of the few name actors in the film, Billy Bob Thornton gives a
strong performance as the coach of the Odessa-Permian Panthers, who
enter the ‘88 season as an overwhelming favorite to win the
state championship. This being Texas, high school football is more than
just your typical small-town gathering: the Panthers play in a stadium
some colleges would envy, while Coach Thornton makes $50,000 a year
substantial coin, especially for the era.
Despite having a talented roster of players, though, the team quickly
suffers a major loss when its fast-talking running back (Derek Luke) is
injured. The Panthers then fall into a tail spin that makes them less
than a sure thing to contend for the title, while off the gridiron, the
town is painted as a dead end avenue, a place where its glories are
often lived – if not on the playing field – then
firmly in the past.
The constant sense of desperation leads each one of the Panthers to try
and make it out of Odessa and get into college. Unfortunately, the
opportunities are limited, and with the team’s playoff
growing dimmer by the moment, so are the futures of its core players,
including the quiet quarterback (Lucas Black) with a troubled mother
and a third-string running back (Garrett Hedlund) whose father (Tim
McGraw) is an abusive drunk living squarely through his own days on the
Shot on location with bone-crunching field action, “Friday
Lights” is a superb film on many levels. Not only does Berg
co-wrote the script with David Aaron Cohen) capture the intensity and
passion of Texas high school football, but he creates a vivid portrait
of people trying to make it out of a place where those that
can’t) will never leave.
The director gets sensational performances from its cast as well,
including McGraw’s tormented father (a remarkable debut
from the country music star) and Luke’s brash running back,
it all in a devastating injury. Though we’ve seen the
in other films, the moment in which he confides to his uncle that he
doesn’t know how to do anything other than play football is
moving and real – a testament to the performances and
“Friday Night Lights” is a great sports movie, but
it’s also more than
that: its realistic sense of time and place, atmospheric music, and
strong characterizations culminate in a film that’s one of
the best of
2004. Don’t miss it.
Universal’s Special Edition DVD includes an outstanding
(produced by Jim Bacon) looking at the real 1988 Permian Panthers,
utilizing interviews with actual players and game footage; a featurette
on McGraw’s transition to the big screen; director commentary
Berg; and “Player Cam,” examining the training of
the cast members and
production of the football game sequences. A full compilment of deleted
scenes (running nearly 20 minutes) are included, several of which would
have added to the final product, whose only failing is that its pace is
sometimes overly frrenetic.
The 2.35 widescreen transfer is razor sharp, though the 5.1 Dolby
Digital sound is a disappointment: the bass rocks constantly throughout
the film, but dialogue is often difficult to hear, and the track needs
to be turned up to high levels to coax any presence out of it. Perhaps
the result of too much material being crammed on a single disc,
hopefully Universal will remaster the title at a later date with a DTS
Did The Monster Mash!
Paul W.S. Anderson will never be mistaken for a true auteur. His
filmography is littered with good-looking, albeit brainless, genre
flicks like "Resident Evil" and "Soldier," with the occasional bomb
like "Event Horizon" sprinkled into the mix.
Still, Anderson knows how to construct a stylish looking genre flick,
and his B-movie expertise made him ideal for ALIEN
VS. PREDATOR (**½, 2004, 102 mins., PG-13; Fox),
the long-in-development franchise team-up that grossed over $80 million
last summer, despite negative reviews from critics. That latter aspect
is unsurprising, however, since a lot of reviewers would be predisposed
to finding the movie silly and pointless to begin with.
Granted, Anderson's film isn’t “Alien” or
“Aliens,” but after two tepid
"Alien" sequels that each nearly ended that series -- not to mention a
disappointing sequel that put a near- permanent hold on the "Predator"
franchise -- the dumb comic-book action of "Alien Vs. Predator" comes
as a somewhat refreshing surprise.
Not that the movie's routine first half will have you on the edge of
your seat, however. Anderson and Shane Salerno's premise follows a
group of present day archeologists and scientists -- hired by wealthy
industrialist Charles Weyland (Lance Henriksen, playing the human
forefather to Bishop) -- into the Antarctic where
an ancient temple has been found beneath the ice. The group, which
includes environmental expert Sanaa Lathan, uncovers a strange chamber
where humans were used as ritual sacrifices for...well, without
divulging all of the plot, let's just say that Aliens and Predators
were somehow involved in the development of human civilization and big
game hunting simultaneously.
"Alien Vs. Predator" is not nearly as ambitious as "Alien 3" or "Alien:
Resurrection," yet it's ultimately far more entertaining than both of
those misguided flops (not to mention "Predator 2"), particularly once
the film hits its midway point. When the Predators and Aliens finally
meet, Anderson's movie delivers the outlandish action and effects you'd
anticipate coming from the premise, and rolls its way to the finish
line surprisingly well.
Up until that point, the dialogue isn't especially interesting nor the
scenario full of twists, yet I enjoyed the movie's visual design and
special effects. Unlike the freakish make-up seen in "Resurrection" and
the overall garish look of "Alien 3," Anderson seems to have gone back
to the drawing board and utilized the design of the creatures from
James Cameron's superlative "Aliens," in addition to H.R. Giger's
original "Alien" conceptions, in establishing the look of the movie.
There are also a few fleeting nods to those initial "Alien" movies
(something that ought to please fans), but for the most part, "Alien
Vs. Predator" stands on its own as an efficient, if unremarkable, late
summer genre offering. The special effects are excellent and the final
climactic battle between the Alien Queen, the Predator, and the last
human standing is good, old-fashioned fun, well-edited and
choreographed, and easily the best set piece of the "Alien" series
since the conclusion of Cameron's 1986 hit.
Early in the film, one of the "Wolf Man" films is seen playing on a
background TV. It's a telling reference, since "Alien Vs. Predator" is
not a film with much on its mind other than providing its audience with
an entertainment that couples two well-established monster franchises.
In its own way, it's not all that different from "Frankenstein Meets
the Wolf Man" or any of the later Universal Monster team-ups from the
mid '40s. It's a modern-day B-movie that knows what it is and provides
a reasonably entertaining time for viewers who can approach it from the
mind set that the material requires. (Now, if only Anderson had known
when to quit and not tossed in that last groaner of a final shot!).
Fox’s single-disc DVD is packed with extras, though nothing
substantial in the deleted scenes arena. Anderson had complained that
pre-release cuts hurt the film, yet the excised footage on-hand here
(an alternate opening and only three minutes of brief deleted
sequences) doesn’t really add to the finished product (that
opening is also available to view in conjunction with the final cut). A
20-minute Making Of featurette is included, as are a pair of audio
commentaries (one with Anderson, Lance Henriksen and Sanaa Lathan,
another with the creature effects and VFX producers). DVD-ROM content
includes a Dark Horse comic book gallery, while the 2.35 transfer is
excellent, as are the 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital soundtracks.
Fans should note that there’s a 2-disc Special Edition of
available in numerous international territories, sporting additional
deleted scenes with optional commentary (eight of which are reportedly
exclusive to that release), an HBO Making Of special, additional
featurettes, and trailers (none of which are included on the U.S.
release). Depending on your enjoyment of the picture, it may be worth
importing that release, or waiting for Fox to do an inevitable re-issue
when “Alien Vs. Predator 2" (or “Alien 5") is
Also new this week from Fox is a two-disc Special Edition of PREDATOR
2 (**, 1991, 108 mins., R),
released to coincide with the debut of “Alien Vs.
This is a substantially improved DVD edition, featuring a superior
transfer than Fox’s initial release of “Predator 2"
two years ago. The
2.35 transfer is crisper and in much better condition than the original
DVD release, while the robust 5.1 DTS mix is an upgrade over the
previous Dolby Digital 5.1 mix (also contained here).
Supplements include a pair of informative commentary tracks, one with
writers Jim and John Thomas, the other with director Stephen Hopkins
(who went on to helm most of the first season episodes of
will be of interest for buffs, with Hopkins dissecting the challenges
involved with producing the sequel and the Thomases on writing both
“Predator” films (the brothers note how
they’d like to do another
stand-alone “Predator” installment, next time with
A 35-minute featurette does a nice job providing anecdotes on the
filming, with Stan Winston offering tales of his work on the sequel,
while visual effects producer Joel Hyneck details the
picture’s FX in a
series of short segments. Another section of brief featurettes examine
the weapons constructed for the film, while a full compliment of
trailers, promotional featurettes, and even Morton Downey,
talk show segments round out the disc.
Definitely worth an upgrade for “Predator”
aficionados, with a low retail price (around $15 in most outlets) to
GRUDGE (**, 2004).
91 mins., PG-13, Columbia TriStar, available February 1st. DVD SPECIAL
FEATURES: Commentary with Sam Raimi, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ted Raimi
and others; Five-part Making Of featurette; 1.85 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby
Japanese horror continues to migrate to the U.S. with mixed results.
While the Americanized “The Ring” offered a
substantial improvement on
its source, the Sam Raimi-produced remake (actually more of a sequel)
of “Ju-On,” titled THE GRUDGE, is only a negligible
improvement on its
predecessors, which frankly weren’t all that good to begin
At least Raimi did recruit original “Ju-On”
director Takashi Shimizu to
helm “The Grudge” in his native Japan, and
subsequently, the movie does
boast the same languid pace as the original film and an atmospheric use
of cinematography and sound design. Alas, if only the plot (what little
there is of it) was as satisfying.
Sarah Michelle Gellar plays the film’s heroine: an American
living with her exchange student boyfriend (Jason Behr) in Japan. After
a fellow nurse goes missing, Gellar is sent to the home of an American
couple with an incapacitated mother, only to find the couple also
missing and the restless spirits of a murdered family hard at work.
See, in the universe of “The Grudge,” whenever
someone dies a violent
death, they haunt the location in which they died, and anyone who comes
in contact with them is doomed to meet a violent, disturbing end.
Once this set-up is established, “The Grudge” has
the same central
problem as its Japanese predecessors (which included a TV series and a
slew of sequels): namely, there’s literally nowhere else for
to go except to show the demises of its lead characters. Unlike
Ring,” there’s no real story in Shimizu’s
film (adapted by Stephen
Susco), but rather a series of flashbacks showing what happened to the
characters that triggered the event, and the deaths of the missing
individuals. In those scenes, sure enough, we get all the standard
Japanese horror devices: a restless female spirit with long dark hair
and a wide-open iris (so scary!), dripping water, creepy sound effects
and quick cutaways whenever the murders take place (at least the
Japanese understand the meaning of restraint, though there’s
version reportedly in the works for DVD).
If you’ve seen “The Ring” or other
Japanese horror films, “The Grudge”
offers no surprises, except how thin the character development and
central scenario is. Since there’s no solution to
Gellar’s plight, the
movie grows increasingly tiresome as it plods along, with the ghostly
set-pieces leading to the same resolutions and Shimizu taking his time
setting up the situations (too much time, as “The
overlong, even at 91 minutes).
At least “The Ring” had some mystery and a plot to
horrific moments. “The Grudge,” like
“Ju-On,” is a one-trick pony
that’s all about the scares and not about plot or character
development. As a result, the film comes across as a one-dimensional
thriller with a frustratingly conventional conclusion that only seems
to set us up for an endless series of sequels.
Sony’s DVD, out on February 1st, includes a fun group
Sam Raimi, his brother Ted (who also appears in the film), Gellar and
others, along with a five-part “Making Of”
documentary examining the
origins of “Ju-On,” its adaptation for American
audiences, and the
picture’s production. Another featurette includes a
explanation of fear response in film.” The 1.85 widescreen
superb and the 5.1 Dolby Digital sound includes ample uses of the
surround channels (particularly when the ghost of a young Japanese boy
pitter-patters around the room!) and an effective Christopher Young
TV on DVD
Paramount’s latest TV on DVD offerings comprise two first
long-running series, and the fourth of an all-time classic sitcom.
Richard Dean Anderson first hit the airwaves as MacGYVER
(1985-86, 1045 mins)
in the fall of 1985. This amiable, kid-friendly show traced the
adventures of Anderson’s super agent spy, a resourceful hero
whenever possible to use non-violent methods to track down the bad guys
and save the world. Accurately described as part James Bond and
part-boy scout, MacGyver’s adventures often made for
episodes with few supporting characters (Mac’s boss, Dana
Thornton, is only seen in a smattering of first season episodes, and
isn’t even billed in the front credits), and fairly
energetic, if not
routine, ‘80s TV action.
The Fonz himself, Henry Winkler, produced
“MacGyver” for ABC, which
debuted in its first season on Sunday nights at 8pm, before moving at
midseason into a Wednesday night 8pm slot. The show, however,
really take off in the ratings until it preceded “Monday
Football” in the fall of ‘86, where it would stay
for the rest of its
seven season run.
“MacGyver” isn’t as much fun as
“The A-Team”or Stephen Cannell’s other
‘80s action series, but kids should enjoy the fast pace and
stories of the series, which take often place around the world in
exotic locales (though the show was none-too-obviously shot
domestically in the U.S.A.). Like any first season,
initial run of 22 episodes (spread across six DVDs) are a little rough
around the edges, with some fluctuation in tone and in need of more
Curiously, the series pilot offers Michael Lerner as another government
bureaucrat in charge of Mac’s adventures, while Shavar Ross
from “Dif’frent Strokes”) plays...well,
I’m not sure...either a young
friend of Mac’s or his adopted son. Both Lerner and Ross were
from the series proper, though only in subsequent seasons would
Peter Thornton and other intermittent supporting roles (like Bruce
McGill’s Jack Dalton) be developed into the fabric of the
Paramount’s six disc DVD box sets includes the entire first
good-looking transfers and satisfying mono soundtracks. Randy
music is energetic and memorable (and basically got him on the map as a
film composer), even though it’s heavily synthesized. The
packaged in slim cases with episode descriptions and no extras.
The same presentation has been afforded the initial season of the
long-running, cult favorite series CHARMED
(1988-99, over 16 hrs.).
This amiable show was one of the first big hits for The WB Network,
offering three good-looking heroines – Alyssa Milano, Holly
Combs, and Shannen Doherty – who comprise a trio of
“good witches” who
fight evil each week in their native San Fransisco. Like fellow WB
series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and
“Angel,” the villains in the
series range from witches and warlocks to a Wendigo and your basic
What distinguishes “Charmed” is the basic humanity
of its core
characters, who try and be everyday people (holding down their own
jobs) while having the power to help others. Doherty’s Pru
telekentic powers; Combs’ Piper can literally freeze time;
Milano’s Phoebe can take a glimpse into the future. All three
live ordinary, twentysomething lives with dating and employment issues,
but inevitably get wrapped up in another apocalyptic predicament and
have to use their newfound abilities.
“Charmed” isn’t as smart as Joss
Whedon’s series, but it’s also not as
pretentious: it knows its audience wants an escape, and it provided it
(and still is, even now in its seventh season) with young, attractive
characters, decent effects, and a consistent sense of humor permeating
every dark and mysterious plot.
Paramount’s six disc DVD set includes all 22 first season
“Charmed,” which aired on The WB from ‘98
to ‘99 on Wednesday nights at
9pm. The transfers are in very good condition and contain adequate
Finally, from two series in their infancy to one reaching the pinnacle
of its comedic heights, Paramount this week offers the complete Fourth
Season of CHEERS
(1985-86, over 10 hours).
Now with its supporting cast in place (Kelsey Grammar’s
having been firmly established in the series, and Woody
lovable Woody making his debut),
“Cheers”’ fourth season perfects the
chemistry, strong writing, and consistent laughs that made it one of
the most successful sitcoms of all-time.
Highlights in year four include the debut of Bebe Neuwirth as
squeeze, the icy and hilarious Lilith Sternin, in the hilarious
Time Around”; the Emmy-nominated “2 Good 2 Be 4
Real,” where the gang
tries to set up Carla via a personal ad; “From Beer To
setting up the rivalry between the Cheers gang and Gary’s Old
Tap, a rival establishment in Boston; “Take My Shirt,
Sam’s Red Sox jersey being auctioned off (and nobody bidding
“The Triangle,” when Fraiser descends into the
drink and Sam and
Diane’s attempts to get him out of it (an Emmy nominated
director James Burrows); and the three-part season ender,
Bedfellows,” with guest star Kate Mulgrew as a Boston
falls for Sam, leading Diane to succumb to major jealousy.
As with the previous “Cheers” sets,
Paramount’s transfers are
excellent, and the stereo sound is likewise superior for ‘80s
Unlike the previous sets, there are no special features, which
shouldn’t be a major problem considering the set gives you 26
hilarious episodes for around or under $30 in most outlets. Highly
WATER (*1/2, 2004).
81 mins., R, Lions Gate. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Commentary, Making Of
featurette; 1.85 Widescreen, 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital sound.
Last year’s most overrated critical darling, “Open
Water” posits what
would happen to an American yuppie couple who, while on vacation, are
left for dead by their diving boat out in the middle of the open ocean.
There, the two bicker, argue, and try to place the proper blame on each
other, while a school of vicious sharks swims nearby, ready to strike
at any moment.
After successful festival screenings and a landslide of positive
reviews, I have to confess that I expected a lot more from
than your typical indie film. Unfortunately, I should have known
better: after a tedious opening 15 minutes (complete with the
most gratuitous nude scene), “Open Water” hits the
water and quickly
drowns under its own pretentiousness. Though the initial scenario keeps
you watching initially, the two lead characters become so grating that
you’d wish the sharks would just hurry up and have them for
Unfortunately, the movie takes forever to get to that moment, with
interminable scenes of the couple arguing over running late constantly,
the importance of each other’s daily grind...I kept on
“Open Water” was going to be stopping any second
for commentary by Dr.
Adding further insult to injury is the picture’s climax
– or, more
precisely, lack of one. Right when the movie seems to be building to
some kind of emotional crescendo, “Open Water” ends
with one of the
most abrupt and meaningless finales seen in any film in the last
decade. (And to think some compared this film with
Lions Gate’s Widescreen DVD contains a 16:9 enhanced transfer
condition and 6.1 DTS and Dolby Digital soundtracks. The use of music
in the film is occasionally absurd, such as when an African
chorus sings a melancholy ballad while the characters are about to be
consumed for lunch. Audio commentary, a Making Of, and trailers round
out the disc.
“Open Water” was based very loosely on a 1998
incident that occurred
off the coast of Australia, where a pair of Americans were stranded by
their tour boat. Though the couple’s bodies were never
there were no signs of any shark attacks), some locals indicated they
had faked their deaths and were seen in various places in the days
following the incident. One wonders how much more compelling a film
based on the real events might have been than “Open
CREEK (**, 2004).
mins., R, Paramount. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Commentary by director Jacob
Aaron Estes and cast members; storyboards; 1.85 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby
Well-meaning and sincerely performed drama from writer-director Jacon
Aaron Estes ultimately plays like a padded “After School
the 21st century.
Young Rory Culkin plays a grade schooler continually beaten up by a
bully at school. His brother (Trevor Morgan) decides to stand up for
his kin by staging a fake birthday party on a local creek, and inviting
“George,” the obnoxious kid responsible for the
beatings, along for the
ride. The plan is to scare the bad guy into submission, but tragedy
strikes on the river and the characters clash over how to handle the
deadly consequences of their actions.
Atmospherically shot by Sharon Meir and scored by Tomandandy,
Creek” offers strong performances from its young cast (there
speaking parts for adults in the picture) and a potent, if obvious,
The film’s central problem is that there’s little
else to “Mean Creek”
outside of its set-up: we know something bad is going to happen from
the outset, we understand that the “good”
characters will be conflicted
by their decisions and the “bad” kids will feel no
guilt for what
happened, and ultimately that the bully character isn’t so
all. I kept waiting for Estes to throw us a few curve balls, but
Creek” plays it straight and the result is an overlong film
good intentions that those old ABC “After School
Specials” did a more
effective job of conveying several decades ago. It doesn’t
Estes’ script also doesn’t feel natural, with the
spouting dialogue that feels far too mature for their age.
Paramount’s DVD looks superb in 1.85 widescreen and offers an
atmospheric 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack. Extras include a commentary
track with Estes and cast members, plus storyboards.
From Lions Gate
WINGS OF DARKNESS (**, 2004).
mins., R, Lions Gate. DVD FEATURES: 1.85 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital
It’s always good to see Michael Pare back in action. In the
made-for-video “Gargoyle,” the former
“Eddie & The Cruisers” star
plays a CIA agent in Romania where a centuries-old creature has somehow
made its way out of the catacombs of an old church to torment local
Jay Andrews’ creature feature is strictly small-screen fare,
“Gargoyle” (which debuted on the Sci-Fi Channel
late last year)
provides good, solid B-movie fun for monster lovers. The creature
effects by Artifex Studios try to evoke Harryhausen-esque memories of
old-time stop-motion FX, and the movie has a fast pace and jokey tone
that makes it endearing in spite of its shortcomings (like dull
characters and a predictable story).
Lions Gate’s DVD includes a good-looking 16:9 enhanced
transfer in the
1.85 aspect ratio, plus 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, sporting a decent
score by Neal Acree.
DECKCHAIR (**½, 2004). 100
mins., PG-13, Lions Gate. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: 1.85 Widescreen,
Commentary, Making Of featurette, Trailer; 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.
Cute Australian import stars Rhys Ifans as a wacky guy who improbably
takes off in his deck chair/balloon contraption and floats to a small
town where he falls for cute local girl Miranda Otto.
Jeff Balsmeyer’s romantic comedy tries a bit too hard to be
amusing, but Ifans and Otto’s performances are engaging and
never becomes pretentious. The score by David Donaldson, Janet Roddick
and Steve Roche is likewise pleasant and the movie never becomes
predictable, making it a nice choice for Valentine’s viewing.
Lions Gate’s DVD includes commentary from Balsmeyer and
standard “Making Of” featurette, the original
trailer, a fine 16:9
enhanced transfer (1.85 aspect ratio) and both 5.1 and 2.0 Dolby
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