8/03/05 Edition

August DVD Assault

Plus: SLEDGE HAMMER's Alan Spencer Emails The Aisle Seat

Oliver Stone’s career continues to veer wildly off-course with last year’s mega-budget disappointment ALEXANDER (**, 167 mins., 2004, R, Warner Home Video). Stone’s biopic of the great leader of ancient Macedonia quickly went into production to avoid competition from fellow flamboyant auteur Bazz Luhrmann’s (as-of-now shelved) version, but tanked completely in the United States, necessitating a healthy run in international markets just to make up its budget and marketing costs (which it may not have accomplished still according to some sources).

Undeserving of the “Worst Movie of 2005" tag some placed on it, ALEXANDER is also far from a misunderstood epic in need of re-assessment. Stone’s movie benefits from some emotionally charged battle sequences and a majestic score by Vangelis, but shaky performances, curious casting and a disjointed dramatic structure prevent it from becoming much more than a missed opportunity.

Stone’s film paints Alexander (a miscast Colin Farrell) as a spoiled child who grows into a leader dominated by an overbearing, crazy mother with a penchant for snakes (Angelina Jolie), has sex with a wild, untamed woman (Rosario Dawson) who becomes his wife at the same time he has a close relationship with his trusty male companion Hephaistion (Jared Leto), and conquers the world one battle at a time, spreading Greek culture in the process.

Val Kilmer pops up as Alexander’s disfigured father, Christopher Plummer and Brian Blessed offer fleeting cameos, while Anthony Hopkins appears as Ptolemy in unintentionally humorous sequences that attempt to bring some sense to Stone’s dramatic structure. The movie flash-forwards, flashbacks, and generally moves through Alexander’s 33 years of existence in a fragmented, non-linear fashion that might have made sense to Stone provided he was under the influence while assembling it (which, given the director’s turbulent, well-reported exploits of late, is a definite possibility).

Stone attempted to clarify his puzzling decisions to shuffle around various elements of Alexander’s life by re-cutting ALEXANDER for DVD. Though the 175-minute original theatrical cut is available separately, Warner Home Video has indulged Stone by enabling him to “revisit” the film in a re-arranged, 167-minute Director’s Cut. I’ve only made it through portions of the theatrical version so I can’t give you a blow-by-blow account of what’s been changed, suffice to say that -- though the film has been shortened -- it’s anything BUT the “action packed” ride Warner’s advertising promises. The narrative structure remains a major problem, and Alexander’s bi-sexual identity isn’t clarified particularly in this version, either.

It’s not as if ALEXANDER is a total wash: the battle sequences are crisply edited and exciting, Rodrigo Peitro’s widescreen cinematography is excellent, and Vangelis’ score would have been gangbusters in another movie. Jolie’s casting was a mistake (you still can’t get over the fact, no matter how much make-up she wears, that she’s 11 months older than Farrell), but she certainly looks alluring as the fiesty Olympias, and Dawson brings a creepy, almost animalistic energy to her few scenes as Roxane.

Ultimately, perhaps the worst sin of Stone’s film is that it’s tedious and ultimately torturous to sit through. Stone’s “drawing room” character scenes -- which are supposed to show the Machiavellian workings of Alexander’s inner-circle, his relationship with his mother and close associates -- are lifeless and poorly-written, serving to drag down the rest of the film, which offers only intermittent pleasures when all is said and done. All told, this potential spectacle ranks as a substantial disappointment.

Warner’s Director’s Cut DVD is a double-disc set offering commentary from Stone that actually makes the process of sitting through the film’s three hours a bit more endurable. Stone comments on the making of the film and the specific changes he made in his re-cut, and at times provides more historical information than his script (co-written with Christopher Kyle and Laeta Kalogridis) divulges. Supplements contain a 90-minute Making Of split into three segments and a regrettably disappointing “Scoring ALEXANDER With Vangelis” featurette that runs a scant four minutes! The widescreen transfer is superb and the 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack satisfying.

Fans should note the documentary isn’t the same as the one contained on most international DVD versions of the film, nor are the supplements the same between the two domestic DVD versions of Stone’s opus.

New From Sony

MAN OF THE HOUSE (**½, 2005). 100 mins., PG-13, Sony. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Two Making Of featurettes; 2.40 Widescreen, Full-screen; 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

Sometimes you come across a strange project that makes you wonder how it ever got made.

Witness MAN OF THE HOUSE, an innocuous and gently entertaining comedy with Tommy Lee Jones as a gruff Texas ranger placed in charge of five University of Texas cheerleaders who witnessed a murder.

It’s bizarre to see Jones attached to a bubbly, colorful piece of escapism like this, but once you realize he also co-produced the film and apparently was instrumental in getting the project made in his native state of Texas, it’s easy to surmise why the Oscar-winner would be associated with even a ridiculous slice of eye candy like “Man of the House.”

In the Robert Ramsey-Matthew Stone-John J. McLaughlin script, Jones mixes it up with the five cute cheermeisters at the same time he attempts to keep them all away from a crooked FBI agent (Brian Van Holt) who wants nothing more than to take them out of the equation. Plus, he even finds time to romance professor Anne Archer and shop for maxi-pads at the same time.

“Man of the House” is, needless to say, a mindless diversion enhanced by appealing performances by Jones and the five young ladies (Monica Keena, Paula Garces, Christina Milian, Kelli Garner, and one-time “24" female lead Vanessa Ferlito) who just want to cheer on their Longhorns. The movie offers a blend of “Bring It On” mixed with “U.S. Marshals,” and director Stephen Herek does an excellent job capturing the authentic Austin locales, making you feel as if you’re actually on campus.

Surprisingly, all the ingredients were there in “Man of the House” for a real sleeper hit: a few laughs, a dash of romance, and an engaging mix of young and veteran actors. Alas, the finished film feels awfully disjointed, with too much set-up and a cameo by Cedric the Entertainer that not only overstays its welcome but seems like it’s out of another film altogether. More over, Herek and the writers clearly tried to develop five distinct personalities for the female leads, but much like Jones’ wooing of Archer, that development is ultimately limited to just a few fragmented moments of interest.

“Man of the House,” then, is 100 minutes of disposable entertainment with a solid cast capable of better, but it’s certainly not the worst movie of the year. Despite its flaws it’s nevertheless entertaining enough to warrant a rental if the idea of cute cheerleaders harassing Tommy Lee Jones appeals to you (and in that regard I plead guilty as charged!).

Sony’s DVD looks outstanding with its 2.40 widescreen transfer (a full-screen version is available on the same disc). The 5.1 Dolby Digital sound offers a decent blend of David Newman score and the requisite explosions and gunshots. Extras are limited to a pair of fluffy “Making Of” featurettes.

NOT ANOTHER TEEN MOVIE: Unrated Director’s Cut (***, 2001). 97 mins., R, Sony. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Making Of featurettes, Audition Footage, Music Video, “Car Ride” short film; 1.85 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

General consensus was that this raunchy, 2001 parody of teen movies was simply too gross for its own good -- a charge that could have (and should have) been leveled at any of the Farrelly Brothers' recent efforts, or the tasteless imitations that followed in the wake of "There's Something About Mary." Instead, many jumped on the bandwagon and dissed NOT ANOTHER TEEN MOVIE for its gross-out humor, when in fact this is a keenly-observed and often uproarious spoof, recommended heartily for anyone old enough to have lived through the teen movie genre of the last 20 years.

The often savvy script (credited to five writers) takes aim at all the obvious targets, from John Hughes' complete filmography (BREAKFAST CLUB, SIXTEEN CANDLES, etc.) to recent efforts like SHE'S ALL THAT and, yes, even AMERICAN PIE. While some of the immature gags misfire, many of them score a direct hit, making fun of not only the movies that initiated the contemporary teen movie cycle, but the idiotic pics that tried to mimic them. Every cliché is pointed out and skewered, with one of the film's funnier sequences being the introduction to the film's high school, where the cute girl with glasses is viewed as being more horrifying than a ringer for Quasimodo.

Along the way, director Joel Gallen keeps the movie's energy level up, and Theodore Shapiro's entertaining score recreates the mood and atmosphere of the films NOT ANOTHER TEEN MOVIE is parodying. There's even an amusing musical number thrown in for good measure, along with several excellent cameos.

Sony’s new “Unrated Director’s Cut” includes 10 minutes of added footage, some of which was included in the Deleted Scenes section on the original DVD, while other changes are comprised of new dialogue extensions and minor alterations. Unfortunately, the deleted scenes NOT restored in this longer cut aren’t included here (but ARE on the original DVD!). That’s the sort of thing that can drive a viewer crazy, since major fans of the movie are now going to have to own both versions of the DVD.

The other extras primarily rehash the prior DVD’s supplements, including a couple of easter eggs, music videos, audition footage, Gallen’s short film “Car Ride” and Making Of featurettes. Regrettably, none of the commentaries nor the trivia track are reprised from the previous DVD.

If you're not a fan of teen movies, and like your comedy clean, then NOT ANOTHER TEEN MOVIE isn’t really a movie for you. On the other hand, if you ever had to take a date to any one of these films in the last two decades and are looking for a superior spoof, this one comes highly recommended. The longer cut of the movie is superior as well, but the lack of all the deleted scenes and commentaries from the initial DVD means the supplements on this version, at least, come up a bit short.

Buena Vista Capsule Round-Up

Miramax/Dimension continues to clear out their back catalog with a handful of new DVDs this week:

CYPHER (96 mins., R, Miramax/Buena Vista): Jeremy Northam and Lucy Liu star in this thriller from Pandora Films and director Vincenzo Natali. Miramax’s DVD offers 1.85 widescreen and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

WHEN BILLIE BEAT BOBBY (88 mins., PG, 2001, Miramax/Buena Vista): Entertaining cable-film from director-writer Jane Anderson spotlights the rivalry between Bobby Riggs (Ron Silver) and Billie Jean King (Holly Hunter). Miramax’s DVD includes a bright 1.78 widescreen transfer with 2.0 Dolby Digital sound.

MOMENTUM (92 mins., R, Miramax/Buena Vista): Teri Hatcher’s billing is played up in this supernatural thriller starring Grayson McCouch and Lou Gossett, Jr. Miramax’s DVD sports a 1.85 widescreen transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

AFTER IMAGE (92 mins., R, Miramax/Buena Vista): John “Ex-Cougar” Mellencamp plays a crime scene photographer in this suspenseful enough thriller from director Robert Manganelli. Miramax’s DVD includes a 1.85 transfer, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, a Making Of featurette, Manganelli’s production notes, and a special make-up effects featurette.

Aisle Seat Mail Bag

From Alan Spencer:

Thanks for that fair assessment of "Hexed."  Due to the success of "Sledge" on DVD, I'm being goaded into doing an original work again as opposed to rewriting other people's movies.  I vowed never again to work on a small budget or abdicate creative control, but both of those are hard to come by... so I'll just do the best I can.
Alan Spencer

Don't forget to drop in on the official Aisle Seat Message Boards, direct any emails to the link above and we'll catch you then. Cheers!