Seat Pre-SITH Edition
Big May DVD
Round-Up, From TEAM AMERICA To BOOGEYMAN
Plus: RACING STRIPES, GRUDGE Director's Cut, and Andy's Vacation Blog!
I just returned from vacationing in the
Orlando, Florida area, and even
there I couldn’t escape a little bit of critiquing!
More on that in a second. First, my fiancee and I ran through
Disney, both Universal parks, Sea World, and fortunately the weather
was not only less humid and downright steamy as it was a year ago (it
was like the middle of July they told us last year), but the lines were
again nearly non-existent at every park and attraction we encountered.
The only lines were reserved for the newly-installed "Happiest
Celebration" Disney World attractions that have been imported from
other Disney parks, and opened literally while we were there. For
example, Epcot is now home to SOARIN', an import from Disneyland,
complete with Jerry Goldsmith's score and the original Imax-like film
it accompanied. It was fun, but somewhat less effective if you're
seated on the bottom tier of "gliders" like we were. At least it was
better than the godawful LIGHTS, MOTORS, ACTION! "extreme stunt show,"
an import from Disneyland Paris that's now playing at the Disney-MGM
Studios. One of the most excruciating, tedious attractions I've ever
seen at Disney World, this is sure to be overhauled as it goes along
(many -- including us -- walked out long before it actually ended).
One interesting element about our trip to Universal: they have a
"preview" area set up where they invite certain park patrons
(non-Florida residents and studio employees) to view upcoming TV
pilots. They sit you down at your own monitor, give you headphones, and
also pay you to sit through a prospective series pilot (and give brief
answers to a myriad of questions that follow).
Though there was a new sitcom they were screeening there, we
fortunately received FATHOM as the show we had to critique: a strange,
hour-long pilot about a mysterious sea creature and the handful of
characters who come in contact with it. I believe I read on
Fangoria.com that Wes Craven had a hand in producing the show, but as
there were no credits of any kind I couldn't verify it.
At any rate, the 45-minute show had one excellent set-piece where a
couple of divers, fishing off an oil refinery, meet up with the
barely-seen serpent underwater. It was effectively handled, but the
rest of the show was in need of major work: you had a single-mom
scientist who encounters the monster deep in the ocean depths (think
THE ABYSS), a teenager with an obnoxious sister who finds one of the
creature's eggs and brings it home into his aquarium (where it
hatches!), one of the before-mentioned divers who can't get the monster
out of his head after seeing it underwater and leaves his family
(shades of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS), and to round it off, a shady foreign
scientist with a thick accent who works for the government (think every
sci-fi movie you've ever seen), who basically serves as "the bad guy."
The production values were fairly high: the one sequence underwater
looked really good for TV and was quite well directed. The music seemed
to be mostly temp (one cue from JAWS even surfaced), and the ending
hinted that the monster(s) may not be coming from our own oceans but
falling from the skies above....an intriguing twist.
Needless to say FATHOM has some interesting elements, and may work OK
as a four-hour mini-series (particularly if the series follows through
on its last-minute twist). At the most, I could see NBC running it as
limited (six episode) series like their current
“Omen” creator David Seltzer.
On the downside, the program had a lot of problems: too many characters
for one, and too many cliched, predictable ones at that. The bad guy
was so heavy-handed that I suggested that I would have switched
channels if I was able. The domestic scenes involving the single-mom
character (not sure who the actress was) were absolutely grating. The
teen element actually worked better than expected, but the adult male
lead barely registered with his screen time.
Let's face it: a weekly show about the hunt for a possibly
extraterrestrial sea monster? FATHOM isn't likely to ever surface (no
pun intended) on that level. But if NBC has enough vested interest in
the show, and re-casts one of the leads (and eliminates the heavy), I
think it's possible-- though not likely -- we'll see it in some form
next year, maybe as a two-part mini-series or limited run series.
Anyway, it was a fun way to burn off 45 minutes, and we each got $15
for our trouble. Not bad at all -- I just wish I got that much for each
DVD I have to review!
Family Films, Sequels & More
The trailers looked horrible, but the surprising box-office hit RACING
STRIPES (***, 102 mins., PG, Warner Home Video)
is a good deal more entertaining than its bombastic advertising would
This colorful, nicely-mounted production utilizes the talking-animal
technique from “Babe” and applies it to a homespun
slice of Americana,
focusing on a farm-owner (Bruce Greenwood) and his daughter (Hayden
Panetitere) adopting an abandoned baby zebra. After appropriately
calling him Stripes, the little fella becomes a full-fledged member of
the farm, becoming fast friends with a wise-acre crane (voiced by Joe
Pantoliano), a wise o’l goat (Whoopi Goldberg) and a sage
Hoffman) who soon tutors Stripes (Frankie Muniz) in becoming a racing
zebra who could possibly rival Kentucky Derby contenders!
With a strong score by Mark Isham, lovely cinematography by David Eggby
and production design from Wolf Kroeger, “Racing
Stripes” is more than
your standard-issue, saccharine family film. Frederik Du
has a lot of laughs and plenty of heart to spare, with the
celebrity-voiced animals being nicely contrasted with a typical -- but
well-executed -- underdog tale that should appeal to viewers of all
ages. “Racing Stripes” doesn’t break new
ground and isn’t the next
“Black Stallion,” but it’s superior and
classy entertainment that
should entertain adults as well as kids, and for that reason alone
comes highly recommended.
Warner’s DVD looks spectacular with its strong 1.85
and offers a satisfying 5.1 Dolby Digital surround mix on the audio
side. Special features include a wisely-axed alternate ending (more of
an unnecessary epilogue), several deleted scenes, outtakes, a
commentary from director Du Chau, a featurette on the movie’s
soundtrack including interviews with Sting and Bryan Adams (thankfully
the movie isn’t littered with pop tunes), the trailer, and
interactive games aimed at kids.
Also out this week from New Line is the innocuous SON
OF THE MASK (**, 89 mins., PG)
the belated follow-up to the Jim Carrey comic-book smash from a decade
ago. This inoffensive but forgettable sequel offers superb ILM
animation and a pleasant Randy Edelman score, but not a heck of a lot
else to distinguish it.
Jamie Kennedy plays an animator whose infant son improbably becomes
attached to the same magic mask that Carrey used to help certify his
red-hot career in the original film. Traylor Howard is his wife, Alan
Cumming is the Norse god who comes looking for his creation, and Bob
Hoskins shows up in a cameo as Cumming’s father, Odin.
Colorfully shot but essentially bankrupt in the humor department (save
for some excellent animation and homages to Tex Avery and Chuck Jones
among others), “Son of the Mask” is just like
watching a live-action
cartoon. It’s no better or worse than the “Spy
Kids” sequels, but even
on its own level I couldn’t help but think a better sequel
been delivered -- even with its premise and the B-level cast.
The talented Kennedy is reduced here to playing straight man, with The
Mask effects more or less relegated to his toddler son and the family
dog. A better idea would have been for Kennedy to infuse his own brand
of humor as The Mask himself, but alas, only in a few brief minutes
late in the movie does the comedian-actor get any chance to strut his
New Line’s DVD offers a typical, exemplary widescreen
transfer in the
1.85 aspect ratio with a 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack as overly-active
as the movie itself. Special features include deleted scenes, several
Making Of featurettes, a commentary track with the filmmakers, and the
usual bells and whistles one comes to expect from a New Line
Edition” DVD package.
Director’s Cut, Boogeyman & More From Sony
You’ve got to hand it to Sam Raimi’s new
“Ghost House” Pictures label.
The Columbia-housed genre brand has already produced a pair of titles
superior to anything to come out of the “Dark Castle
group run by former “Tales From The Crypt”
producers Robert Zemeckis,
Joel Silver and Walter Hill (responsible for the putrid
and current “House of Wax” remake).
That’s not to say either “The Grudge” or
“Boogeyman” are great films,
even of a genre kind. Just that their PG-13 ratings at least mean a
lesser amount of gore and overall excess than their R-rated
counterparts, and at least an attempt at crafting a somewhat more
Coming on May 31st is Ghost House’s most recent offering, BOOGEYMAN
(**½, 2005, 89 mins., PG-13),
which scared up a respectable $46 million domestic gross in theaters
This odd, off-kilter thriller stars former “7th
Barry Watson as a tormented soul who not only saw the scary, ghostly
title creature when he was a kid, but watched his own father be dragged
and murdered in his bedroom closet by the ghoul.
Flash-forward years later, and Watson encounters the Boogeyman yet
again, shortly after the passing of his mother (a cameo by
Lucy Lawless, who’s not coincidentally married to
partner Robert Tapert). Watson is comforted by a childhood friend
(Emily Deschanel, Zooey’s sister) but tormented by memories
Boogeyman, who has apparently claimed the lives of countless young
children, one of whom (Skye McCole Bartusiak) appears to help Watson
face his childhood nemesis.
The Eric Kripke-Juliet Snowden-Stiles White script owes a bit to the
underrated “Darkness Falls,” from its effective
opening set piece
involving the lead character as a child, to its haunted protagonist
returning back home to his small town roots. Aside from the simple plot
set up, “Boogeyman” is a strange, disjointed film,
unexplored plot developments and a particularly abrupt finale. Yet, at
the same time, director Stephen Kay (who helmed the under-appreciated
“Get Carter” remake) is able to craft an engaging
old-fashioned in many respects, that doesn’t feel the need to
everything that’s going on and delivers (in spite of its lack
answers) a crazy finale that somehow works, if you’re willing
ask the obvious questions the film raises.
That may sound like a half-hearted recommendation, but
refreshingly restrained for most of the way, and despite its lack of
explanation, provides an entertaining view for genre buffs. Watson
delivers a strong performance that anchors the movie, which was shot in
New Zealand (fairly obviously, judging from the bad American accents by
most of the supporting cast),
and boasts some effectively unnerving sequences courtesy of director
Kay. The FX are likewise low-key until the wild finale, while Joe
LoDuca contributes a decent musical score (with a particularly
bombastic cue written for the movie’s climax).
Sony’s DVD offers a handful of deleted scenes plus a lengthy
ending, which seemed a bit more lyrical and might have worked better
than what was utilized instead. A multi-part Making Of featurette,
animatic mock-up footage, and visual FX progressions are also on-hand,
along with an appropriately creepy 1.85 transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital
Also newly available from Sony is a
GRUDGE (**, 98 mins., 2004, Unrated)
an American variation on director Takashi Shimizu’s Japanese
series (“Ju-On”) that serves as only a negligible
improvement on its
predecessors -- which frankly weren't all that good to begin with.
At least Ghost House did recruit Shimizu himself 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 nurse
living with her exchange student boyfriend (Jason Behr) in Japan. After
a colleague 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 the movie
to go except to show the demises of its lead characters. Unlike "The
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.
If you’re a fan of the movie, however, Sony’s new
Director’s Cut offers
an appreciable upgrade on the previous DVD, albeit with alterations in
the supplemental department.
What’s new is an extended version of the film, running 98
(seven minutes longer than the theatrical cut), plus a subtitled
Japanese commentary involving director Shimizu and other members of the
production team. There are also no less than 13 deleted scenes and a
curious alternate ending, which seems to hint at a totally different
cause for the haunting (optional commentary is on-hand for the excised
sequences as well). Two of Shimizu’s original
“Ju-On” short films are
also included, along with a pair of fun, 10-minute “Video
Sarah Michelle Gellar and co-star Kadee Strickland touring around
Japan. Storyboards, a production designer’s notebook, and a
tour of the
“Grudge House” round out the extras, which offer a
far more satisfying
package than the original DVD.
Omitted from Sony’s initial DVD package are the American
track (with Raimi and Gellar) and the longer Making Of featurette.
Otherwise, this is a superior version of the film, and worth the
purchase for “Grudge” fans.
Sony has also recently released a pair of small-screen sequels that are
better left to the bottom rung of the video store shelves that they
were manufactured for.
THE TURNING (*½, 83 mins., R, Sony)
is a bloodless ride that has nothing to do with John
“Vampires” or its initial made-for-disc sequel.
Here, American couple
Colin Egglesfield and Meredith Monroe run afoul of warring vampire
clans in Thailand, leading to as many poor kung fu sequences as cliched
genre standbys (glowing eyes! Fangs! Bela Lugosi should be so scared!).
Only the fetching Stephanie Chao (as the “good”
vampire clan leader
Song Neng) offers any perk to the preceding, which was
Marty Weiss and scored by Tim Jones. It’s also depressing to
formerly promising Monroe (of “Dawson’s
Creek” fame) reduced to
material like this, but I guess when you’re desperate, even
Turning” is better than nothing.
Sony’s DVD looks as good as the movie possibly can, with a
transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound that are particularly good
considering the movie’s meager budget.
Last but not least there’s WILD
THINGS 3: DIAMONDS IN THE ROUGH (**, 87 mins., R; Sony)
the third (for those counting at home) installment in the
line, though like “Wild Things 2,”
“Diamonds in the Rough” offers
good-looking, scantily-clad young females and otherwise no connection
with its predecessors.
Sarah Laine plays a spoiled little rich girl who stands to inherit a
fortune from her late mom. Unfortunately for her and her step-dad (Brad
Johnson, one-time rising star in Spielberg’s
“Always”), Johnson has
been set up for raping a local bad girl (Sandra McCoy), leading Laine
to pick sides in a tangled web of lies, T&A and the occasional
appearance by a legitimate actress. In the latter camp is a slumming
Dina Meyer, who plays an FBI agent who gets wrapped up in Laine and
Marginally better than “Wild Things 2,” this
delivers the promised goods to any viewer who would choose to watch it
in the first place, so it’s not a total wash (like
Sony’s DVD offers a robust 1.85 transfer with 5.1 Dolby
Both exhibit superior production values than the second film, though
“Wild Things 3" isn’t any competition for the
superior, original film
by director John McNaughton.
Seat DVD Pick of the Week
It’s gross, crass, frequently uneven, and often uproarious.
Despite its flaws, Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s TEAM
AMERICA: WORLD POLICE (***, 98 mins., 2004, Unrated; Paramount)
must have hit me at just right the moment. This modest box-office
performer deserved a better fate with audiences last fall, and
hopefully it’ll find the cult following it deserves now that
arrived on video.
Though less focused -- and therefore not as satisfying -- as the
“South Park” movie, “Team
America” nevertheless boasts a solid share of
belly laughs, especially if you’ve watched any one of Gerry
“Supermarination” shows like
Parker, Stone and Pam Brady’s script offers a ribald look at
a team of
American superfighters (with a definite Anderson look and feel) who run
up against South Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il. Kim-Jong has recruited a
handful of Hollywood stars -- from Alec Baldwin to Michael Moore and
Susan Sarandon -- to help him take over the world, which allows for
ample ribbing of celebrity liberalism.
Though taken on the surface as a direct commentary on the recent role
of the U.S. military in world affairs, “Team
America” takes as many
shots at the Hollywood left, mocking the self-righteous and misguided
tone of Sean Penn and others. Mainly, though, any target is grist for
the mill, though “Team America” isn’t so
much a political spoof as it
simply mocks big-scale Hollywood blockbusters (especially Michael
The puppeteering by the Chiodo Bros. and the team of technicians is
superb, as are the visual effects and Bill Pope’s
full scope widescreen. Even better is the movie’s hilarious
of songs, again penned by the creators alongside Marc Shaiman (whose
score for the movie was tossed out at the last minute). With sharp
lyrics that satirize various genres (including ‘80s movie
love ballads, country tunes and even the G.I. Joe theme song), the
songs help “Team America” breeze over some of its
including a longer-than-necessary running time and misfired gags.
Special kudos also go out to Harry Gregson-Williams for his hysterical
soundtrack, which basically reprises every Media Ventures cliche in the
book. Here, though, the score works wonders when set against
film’s comedic backdrop. You’ll never laugh so hard
at a vomit scene
Paramount is offering two versions of “Team
America” on DVD, including
the R-rated theatrical cut and an Unrated version that extends the
movie’s graphic (well, as graphic as you can get with
sequence by several seconds. Though the movie is already often in bad
taste, the added footage in the Unrated version puts the movie into
completely puerile territory, so I wouldn’t be surprised if
viewers stick with the R-rated version (the contents of the DVDs are
supposed to be identical otherwise).
Special features offer a handful of Making Of featurettes, heavy on the
technical detail that went into the production. It’d be easy
off “Team America” as simply a “South
Park” movie with puppets, but a
lot of work went into creating the movie’s action-figure
world, and the
attention to characterization and detail is deservedly celebrated in
the DVD’s supplements. Don’t forget that the movie
was rushed through
production on its way to theaters and it’s miraculous that
looks as good as it does.
Several short deleted/extended scenes, storyboards, a puppet test, and
a pair of trailers round out the disc, which includes a superb 2.35
widescreen transfer with an active 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack.
Recommended for Parker/Stone fans, and anyone looking for a few good
laughs -- provided you’re prepared for a few spots that drag
couple of jokes in poor taste. Otherwise, you’ll be singing
#$@! Yeah!” as if it was our alternate national anthem (and
ought to be?).
New On DVD
ON PRECINCT 13 (**, 2005, 109 Mmins., R; Rogue/Universal):
Misguided remake of John Carpenter’s 1976 cult classic. Ethan
plays a cop who reluctantly teams up with con Laurence Fishburne after
their about-to-close Precinct 13 is attacked by a gang on the outside.
Carpenter’s original script was substantially reworked here
James Demonaco, who unwisely opens up the claustrophobic tension of the
original film by adding a handful of unnecessary supporting characters,
including a crooked cop played by Gabriel Byrne. The
everything-but-the-kitchen-sink cast includes Brian Dennehy, Maria
Bello, Drea De Matteo, Ja Rule and John Leguizamo, and while viewers
unfamiliar with the original may find this
“Precinct” to be a modest
programmer, it’s but a shadow of its predecessor.
Rogue’s DVD offers a
few minutes worth of deleted scenes and a handful of behind-the-scenes
featurettes, plus a bass-heavy 5.1 DTS/Dolby Digital soundtrack and
2.40 widescreen transfer.
I’ll be posting my STAR WARS EPISODE III: REVENGE OF THE SITH
late Wednesday night right here, so check back for an update!!
WEEK: Back with more reviews, comments and more! Don't
to drop in
on the Message
any emails to the
we'll catch you