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The University of Hartford

CULTURE DOGS SIT IN THE CORNER

By Kevin O'Toole and Sam Hatch

And so it has come to pass. You pleaded, nay, demanded a local radio show of popular media reviews and information assembled by the finest minds to have sat through Eyes Wide Shut without hiding our profound disappointment behind feigned wonder and awe at the name of THE Stanley Kubrick. So, here we are, Culture Dogs, every Frdiay night/Saturday morning from Midnight to three a.m., following Friday Accent on Jazz. We review movies, TV, books, music, whatever.
I am Culture Dog Kevin. Try to control yourself.
***
With the season of BIG MOVIES WITH A LOT OF MONEY BEHIND THEM coming up, we thought we'd give you a few more reasons to sit in a darkened room and put off working on your tan till winter.
You're welcome.
So, after the inevitable Episode 2 and the Spider-Guy, what else is there to look forward to?
Well, I, at the moment, like you dear reader, am forced to wait for the new cinema to come to me, here in Hartford, before I can honestly tell you what will definitely be worth your time. However, I did recently take the time to read and research various magazine and on-line sources, and I've compiled a list of possibly worthy contenders for May or June or otherwise future Culture Dogs reviews:
Green Dragon is a film about Vietnamese refugees at Camp Pendleton in California, c.1975. It won the 2001 Humanitas award, and it stars Patrick Swayze, Forest Whitaker, and Don Duong. It's directed and written by brothers Timothy Linh Bui and Tony Bui (Three Seasons). It starts in limited release on May 1st.
Woody Allen's next one is Hollywood Ending. Here Woody again writes and directs and stars as Val Waxman, a washed-up, formerly great director from the '70's and '80's, now resigned to directing commercials. When his friends arrange for him to direct a comeback feature, he temporarily loses his sight, and his director/admirers must "ghist direct" for him. Cast features Debra Messing (TV's Will & Grace), Tiffany Amber Thiessen (Beverly Hills 90210 and Woody Allen's fondest May/December dreams) and Treat Williams (who is in damn near everything). This has potential, if he doesn't Jade Scorpion on us. Starts May 3rd.
The latest Iranian cinema import also opens that day. It's Baran from veteran director Majid Majidi, and it tells the tale of a young Iranian worker falling in love with a young Afghani.
The British hit comedy, The Parole Officer , starts on May 10th. A parole officer is framed for murder and must enlist some of his former clients to steal the evidence that will clear his name. It's directed by John Duigan, the director who brought us such wacky caper films as Flirting, Wide Sargasso Sea and Sirens.
HUH???
Also filling in the space between the BIG opening weekends in May is the latest adaptation of Nick Hornby to the big screen. Unlike High Fidelity, however, the forthcoming About a Boy retains its' Britishness, with a British setting and two of its' three leads (Hugh Grant and Rachel Weisz (Toni Collette is an Aussie)). It's about a single man who poses as a dad to pickup single moms, until he meets a young boy who changes his perspective. It's adapted by Peter Hedges (What's Eating Gilbert Grape?) and features a score by Damon Gough a.k.a. Badly Drawn Boy. The soundtrack is already out on Twisted Nerve records, and it's great.
Writer/director Oliver Parker brings us some classic Oscar Wilde as he brings his nineteenth century comedy The Importance of Being Earnest to the big screen on May 17th. It has a fairly formidable cast: Rupert Everett, Colin Firth, Judi Dench and Reese Witherspoon.
On May 24th, Roman Coppola becomes the latest person to exploit his family connections with CQ, coming out in limited release. A director becomes obsessed with the star of his sci-fi fantasy epic in 1969 Paris. Among the cast is fellow Coppol-ite Jason Schwartzman (Rushmore).
Insomnia arrives on that same date to wider release because: a) it's the sophomore effort by Christopher Nolan, the director of the brilliant Memento; and b) it sports a cast full of Oscar winners (Al Pacino, Robin Williams and Hilary Swank). It's based on a previous thriller by the same name, which was a Norwegian vehicle for Stellan Skarsgård. It's a crime drama about a big city cop (Pacino) who gets entangled in a murder investigation and a shooting in a small town in Alaska. May we hope for a better Robin Williams movie than Death to Smoochy was? We could only do so. The cast also features Nicky Katt (TV's Boston Public) and Maura Tierney (TV's E.R. and a movie which flew through Hartford too damn fast, the 70's fast food restaging of Macbeth known as Scotland, PA).
Also on May 24th, in limited release is Happy Times (previously known as Xing-fu shiguang) from Yimou Zhang, the acclaimed Chinese director of Ju Dou. It's the tale of a laid-off factory worker and his relationships with a woman and her blind stepdaughter in modern urban China.
Speaking of foreign film, due sometime in May or June as well is the "director's cut" of 1988's Italian hit, Cinema Paradiso.
Before Joel Schumacher gets his much anticipated risk-taking thriller Phone Booth into theaters in November, he has to fill the seats starting on June 7th with the action comedy Bad Company (now there's an original title). Chris Rock and Anthony Hopkins star. Well, at least Joel seems to have been making his "Batman Anonymous" meetings on a regular basis, but I tell ya, with this guy, it's either Falling Down or D.C. Cab.
Cherish comes out in limited release on that date, too. It's the new feature from Finn Taylor (Sleep with the Fishes). It stars Robin Tunney (The Craft) in this comedy thriller about a woman who ends up under house arrest after being involved somehow in a murder. Apparently, in her loneliness, she turns frequently to an "all '80's" radio station. Great. Why couldn't she have gotten hooked on FM on Toast or something? I'd sooner have a soundtrack full of Richard Shindell and Slaid Cleaves than A Flock of Seagulls. Then again, maybe it will be one of those impossibly cool movie versions of an "all-80's" format, which somehow gets around Def Leppard and Mister Mister.
In limited release as well on that date will be Atanarjuat, the Fast Runner. Like Maelström, a film that recently made the rounds at Real Art Ways, it's another foreign language entry from Canada. Unlike the French speaking Maelström, it is the story of two Inuit brothers and their problems with a neighboring tribe and an evil spirit. Also unlike Maelström, no talking dead fish seem to be involved.
Also June 7th: The Tuxedo with Jackie Chan. And Jennifer Love Hewitt. AND JACKIE CHAN! Also James Brown, the Godfather of Soul. AND JACKIE FREAKIN' CHAN, MAAAANN!! Thank you.
On June 14th, Doug Liman (director of the well-received Go and Swingers) has a crack at the Robert Ludlum chestnut The Bourne Identity. It features Matt Damon and Franke Potenta (the actress at the center of the great Run Lola Run) in roles last played in the 1978 TV version by Richard Chamberlain and Jaclyn Smith.
Again: HUH????
John Woo's long delayed WWII epic Windtalkers hits on June 14th as well, with Nicholas Cage, Christian Slater and Peter Stormare in a story of two U.S. Marines assigned to protect a group of Navajo Marines who know a secret code. If you never saw those episodes of The X-Files, this will be a surprise. In fact, go check out the episodes at the end of season two and the beginning of season three for more on that concept. And while you're at it, you should check out some vintage Woo, like Hard Boiled. It's no M.I.II, but, then again, no Fred Durst…
…of course, no Tom Cruise either. June 21st, however, could bring the latest reason to appreciate his talents. Steven Spielberg is still supposedly into a darker film style, following the realities of Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan, and the dark future fantasy of A.I. Artificial Intelligence (his terribly underrated 2001 release, possibly his best fantasy offering ever). Spielberg and Cruise dabble in Philip K.Dick territory with Minority Report. This sci-fi action thriller features Cruise as a cop in a future society where criminals are weeded out psychically before they commit their crimes. Spielberg's showing with A.I. ups my anticipation of this BIG movie, as does my knowledge of uncredited script polishes by Frank Darabont (Shawshank Redemption), Gary Goldman (Big Trouble in Little China, Total Recall) and Ron Shusett (Alien, Total Recall). I'm so there. So long as he doesn't digitally add E.T. and take out all the guns.
Another kind of E.T. gets adopted by a little Hawaiian girl in the Disney animated Lilo and Stitch, due out June 21st. The catch? This little cutie is actually an interstellar fugitive.
Hmm. Evil but cute E.T.'s? Wasn't that why Spielberg produced Gremlins in the first place?
The new John Sayles movie Sunshine State opens in limited release then, too. Sayles writes and directs the story of two women (Angela Bassett and Edie Falco (HBO's The Sopranos)) who return to their North Florida coastal hometown to deal with family, business and imminent real estate developments.
Director Philip Noyce (The Bone Collector, The Saint, and, fortunately, Patriot Games and Dead Calm) releases his latest on June 21st as well. Rabbit Proof Fence is a drama about three Aboriginal girls in 1931 Australia, who, after being taken from their homes to be trained as domestics, escape and begin a journey across the Outback.
And speaking of the Outback: Crocodile Hunter: the Movie arrives June 28th to fill that theatrical niche left empty by the premature departure of Jerry Springer: Ringmaster so many years ago.
Also on June 28th in, guess what, limited release will be Pumpkin, an indie vehicle for Christian Ricci (who also produces). In this offbeat romantic comedy, Ricci plays a sorority girl who finds herself attracted to a disabled man. This little Sundance veteran also features Brenda Blethyn and Dominique Swain.
Oh, then, of course, there's the obvious:
Spider-Man opens May 3rd with every sign that Sam Raimi (Evil Dead, A Simple Plan) at the very least won't screw it up, and may finally deliver a movie worthy of one of Marvel Comics' BIG characters.
Star Wars: Episode II- Attack of the Clones arrives May 16th. Are buddy Spielberg's newly rediscovered adult fantasy sensibilities going to rub off on Lucas, as we move closer to the ominous fall of Anakin Skywalker? Let's hope so. No Jar Jar Binks or Ewoks help for a start.
May 31st (Memorial Day, don't ya know) brings another little all-American Jack Ryan spy adventure, The Sum of All Fears, with terrorists threatening nuclear destruction at the Super Bowl. Good News? Morgan Freeman joins the cast, and it's directed by Phil Alden Robinson (director of the sleeper Sydney Poitier and Robert Redford spy comedy/thriller, Sneakers). Possible bad news? Harrison ford has jetted. Meet your new Jack Ryan: Ben Affleck. May he bring at least as much competence to this role as he did to Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.
Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood comes out June 7th, helmed and written by Callie Khouri (though Life as a House writer Mark Andrus gets an "adaptation" credit). The movie adapts the best selling novels of Rebecca Wells. It features Ellen Burstyn, Fionnula Flanagan (great in last year's The Others), James Garner, Maggie Smith, Ashley Judd and…Sandra Bullock.
Good luck, Callie.
Scooby Doo… ah, let's don't and say we did.
Adam Sandler twists Frank Capra to his own ends in Mr. Deeds on June 28th. I'll be home watching Happy Gilmore, thank you very much.
Also down the road, this summer: M.I.B.2, Stuart Little 2 and Austin Powers 3. I think that's a halftime score.
Also POWERPUFF GIRLS, MAN!!! COME ON!!!
Of course, as is, unfortunately, the case with the local movie scene, I am forced to warn you that, though these movie release dates were accurate as of press time, they can, and probably will, change. Also, if a movie is scheduled for "limited release," that could translate to a date for a Hartford premiere somewhere between the stated date and never. Keep your eyes and ears open, not only for your local multiplexes, but also for the schedules for small local independent movie outlets like Trinity Cinestudio and Real Art Ways, or, if you must, check out those Boston and New York listings.
That is, if you really want to travel three hours and pay nine to ten bucks just to see a film.
Now, for more on stuff you can stay home and watch in late spring and early summer, here's my fellow Culture Dog and raconteur, Sam Hatch!

POOR TUESDAY

Woof! Culture Dog Sam here at your info-tainment service. I still have yet to figure out exactly which Dog I am, be it Alpha, Beta or perhaps even Eta. Eta Dog… Sorta reminds me of a restaurant I chanced upon whilst stationed overseas. But I jest! I've never even been overseas! And who would want to be, when there's so much nifty stuff coming to these spangled shores over the next few months?

'Of what nifty stuff dost thou speaketh, Sam?' I hear you asking. It's the kind of stuff that arrives in stores during that weekly festival I like to call Mardi Pauvre, which video zealots like myself will recognize as 'Poor Tuesday'. You see, Tuesday is when the new release video titles hit shelves in the form of those tiny little silver discs called DVDs. Of course they also arrive in the old-fangled VHS format, but if that's what you buy…well, I may have to pretend I don't know you when we're out in public. Considering the extreme likelihood that I in fact don't know you, I realize that this is a pretty weak threat on my part.

But on to the products! There's a ton of titles flooding in over the May/June period, but these are the ones that have me 'amped', as the edgy sportsfolk would say. First off is Portishead: PNYC Live at Roseland, which has been available on the aforementioned VHS format for quite some time now. But April 30th sees its first release on DVD. If you haven't been lucky enough to run across this band yet, then consider this your big chance. Portishead is a group from Portishead (natch), England who pretty much created the 'Trip Hop' genre along with Massive Attack. Think of 60's spy music, haunted torchsong vocals and hip-hop beats/scratching all squeezed comfortably together. This concert marks one of their few (if not only) appearances with a full orchestra backing them. The overall look of the video was inspired by a Miles Davis concert film - so static, arty camera angles and sepia tones abound. Pick this one up and invite some friends over. You can even play it for them if you'd like. They'll thank you later!

May's shaping up to be a great month for Digital Versatile Disc lovers. The 14th sees the release of 2-disc Special Editons for both Alejandro Amenabar's brilliant The Others and the Hughes Brothers' Jack-the-Ripper mystery From Hell. Don't admit enjoying the latter film to a certain fellow Culture Dog (who shall remain nameless), or he'll most likely tell you that it was a horrible Hollywood butchering of a great Alan Moore/Eddie Campbell graphic novel. This may or may not be the case, but my complete ignorance of both the source material and the history itself left me with the ability to dig the film on its own terms. So try it on for size and see what you think.

Time for the statistical gobbledygook. The first disc of the set will contain the film itself in an anamorphically enhanced (for those out there with 16:9 widescreen TVs) 2.35:1 aspect ratio, with running commentary from brothers Albert and Allen Hughes. On the audio front, you can choose between Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 surround tracks. The second disc is packed with twenty-three deleted scenes, an alternate ending and a handful of 'historical' and 'behind-the-scenes' featurettes.

And then there's 'the other' disc…The Others. This is simply amazing work, and one of the very best ghost stories ever put to film. The oppressively dark, candlelit cinematography sets up a beautifully limbo-like atmosphere, and all the actors involved deliver the goods - including the child actors, who can sometimes make or break the believability of a story like this. Telling you more would be…well, telling. So without ruining any surprises I shall jump onto the specs.

Another 2-disc extravaganza, the first of this package includes the film in 1.85:1 widescreen and is anamorphically enhanced for your visual enjoyment. Sadly there is no commentary track on tap, but there
are Dolby Digital and DTS tracks that are sure to raise some hackles. There's one scene in particular that uses the surround channels to great effect, so crank the volume and get ready to be creeped out. Disc two comes with a pile of featurettes, including the thirty minute 'A Look Inside "The Others"', production stills and a theatrical trailer or two.

On the following Tuesday, May 21st brings forth what has become a bit of a holy grail to both myself and countless other drooling fanboys (and fangirls). Ridley Scott's 1985 film Legend (starring Tom Cruise, Mia Sara and a wonderfully demonic Tim Curry) has had a pretty troubled past, on both film and video fronts. His original cut was screened and deemed too long, resulting in the shorter european cut released to theaters. Unfortunately, studio suits felt that the American release had to be even shorter and pretty much took it upon themselves to butcher the film. Even the score by Jerry Goldsmith was ditched, replaced in the US by a surprisingly much better score from Tangerine Dream. Over the years, fans have been forced into hunting down bootleg cassettes and Japanese laserdiscs of the euro print, not to mention the televised version containing scenes found in neither cut!

MCA/Universal eventually announced a Signature Collection laserdisc way back when those big platters were in vogue, but it has taken all of these years for the original Director's Cut to finally land on home video. So fire up those DVD players and prepare to either weep in joy or say 'This movie's not so great. What were all those dorks going on about?' And guess what? Yup, it's another one of those darned 2-disc sets chock-full of lovely video nuggets. The first disc contains the newly remastered (Goldsmith scored) Director's Cut, audio commentary from said director Ridley Scott and the usual double helping of Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 tracks. And for those that actually have an attachment to the US version, the second disc is cool enough to bring you that theatrical print for your general consumption. And what's even cooler is the isolated Tangerine Dream score track. The rest of the bytes are filled with a 'making-of' documentary, yet more missing scenes, storyboards, trailers and TV spots, DVD-ROM material and (phew!) Bryan Ferry's music video for 'Is Your Love Strong Enough?'. Keep an eye out for the David Gilmour cameo at the end.

And then… There's the juggernaut! A little-seen film entitled Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone comes riding Quidditch brooms onto shelves May 28th. Never heard of it, you say? Then you'd better pre-order a copy and see what all the fuss is about. And guess how many discs this video release has? You got it, two! The first of which contains the (commentary-less) feature film in anamorphically enhanced 2.35:1. And there's a Dolby Digital 5.1 track to boot. 'That's it?!?' you cry, 'Even that stupid 80's unicorn movie has DTS and a commentary track!' And I suppose I'd have to agree with you in your frustration. But fear not, for the second disc has the ubiquitous 'never before seen footage' (Peeves the Poltergeist perhaps?), and a ton of kid-friendly interactive pieces. Accent on the kid-friendly, for there's little else of interest to adult film fans on disc two. Sound a bit thin for a special edition? Perhaps you too smell the same 'Super-Duper Edition' in the near future that I do.

But wait, there's more! Canada, another member of our Region 1 DVD market, will be receiving the British version of the film. What's the difference? Nothing, except that it sports the proper title - Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. In every scene which said stone is mentioned, you can now hear it referred to correctly. Just think of how cool you'll be, when your friends are all gathered at your house and that alternate title comes onscreen at the beginning of the film. They'll be both confused and in awe of your video suaveness. But don't tell them about the lack of differences between versions. No, just bet that they've only seen it once or twice in the theaters and will think they're seeing more new stuff than they actually are. Then snootily inform them that they're watching the true version of the film and instantly become a card-carrying 'Video Geek'! Whattya mean that doesn't sound attractive?!!? Either way, whether you go for the import or not, be assured that an even bigger video release of this title will be lurking around a nearby corner.

And those, my friends, are the heavy hitters. Expect even more wallet-damaging titles such as Steven Spielberg's first film Duel, Christopher Nolan's Memento Special-Special Edition (remember what I said about Harry Potter? Case in point), a new Special Edition of the 70's sci-fi hippy classic Silent Running, and Cameron Crowe's remake of 'Abre Los Ojos' (also available on DVD), Vanilla Sky. And if that's not enough, the Criterion Collection will be issuing their own SE of Steven Soderberg's drug epic Traffic. Also, a new SE of David Lynch's Blue Velvet is on the plate as well as the spatula-laden UHF Special Edition, a long awaited release of the cult film from comedic auteur Weird Al Yankovic. "Supplies!"

There's plenty of TV programs arriving on DVD during May/June as well, including: Star Trek: The Next Generation (in a complete Season Two uber-boxed set), the violent marionette spectacle Captain Scarlet, Buffy the Vampire Slayer's entire second season, Stephen King's (overlong and dull) miniseries Rose Red, and a pair of MTV's The Real World discs. For animated offerings, there's John Kricfalusi's series The Ripping Friends: The World's Most Manly Men! Frankly, just about all of his post-Ren & Stimpy work frightens me, but your results may vary. More to my liking are the cable-TV potty mouths from South Park
in the Insults to Injuries collection. A fitting title, since the series is no longer being released in sequential episode order Stateside. Fans have been boycotting these releases and importing region 2 sets, which offer every season except the current one on disc and in the proper televised order. That option does require the purchase of a multi-region DVD deck, so do as your conscience (and bank account) sees fit. And that's that. So hopefully, there's something on this list that will keep you entertained for an hour or two!

Spin and enjoy!

Copyright©WWUH: May/June Program Guide, 2002

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