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THE CELL, SE7EN, DEAD MAN

Plus: Showtime's THE HUNGER on disc, overlooked releases.

By John Thonen     December 19, 2000

There's a lot to cover this week, so I'll dispense with the usual smart-ass comments and get right to it.

The major new release for the week is New Line Home Video's, The Cell. When the film opened theatrically, a handful of critics praised it as a visual masterpiece. Roger Ebert even cited it as one of the best films of the year. Most other critics panned the film as near pornography, with a particular bias against women. I can't say I agree with either camp, and I'm not even sure the film is worth the discussion to settle the issue. It's beyond me why this film even exists or why anyone should see it. After viewing the film, I was neither impressed, nor offended. I just didn't care.

For those who do care, the story is kind of a Dreamscape variation, with a woman (Jennifer Lopez) venturing into the unconscious mind of a serial killer (Vincent D'Onofrio) to try to find where his next victim is being held, so that an FBI agent (Vince Vaughn) can rescue her before the madman's automated 'killing jar' activates.

Director Tarsem Singh, a former music video whiz kid, proves himself barely capable of telling a simple story here, and pretty much incapable of developing a character. Lopez is a blank, Vaughn is irritating (as always), so only the killer emerges as a character, since we spend most of our time in his mind. As far as I can see, Singh is little different from his antagonist. The film shows the director to be a ranting, raving infantile mess, intent on inflicting his childish view on the rest of the world. He is fixated, undisciplined and arrogant. Even when working within a concept that justifies letting his visual excesses run wild for three-fourths of the film, he can't manage to exercise enough self control to let the non-mind-meld sequences in the 'real' world have a realistic feel to them. Instead, even those are full of funky angles, show-off camera moves and self-indulgent lighting. One can only hope that somewhere out there a government agent, one as obsessed as Vaughn's character in the film, is on Singh's trail and will stop him from killing my brain cells again. What a waste of celluloid.

The DVD for The Cell features a host of extras, including 'making of' sections on the film's undeniably impressive production design and effects along with a pair of commentary tracks, one from Singh and one from his production team. The most positive comment I can make about this film is that Howard Shore's music is nothing short of brilliant. On the disc, it is highlighted as a separate, isolated track. Still, I'd suggest buying a soundtrack CD and skipping the film.

New Line's The Cell may be the major new release of the week, but their unveiling of a 2 disc, Platinum Edition of Se7ven is the most exciting release of the month, and the film itself is a great example of everything that is wrong with The Cell While often visually striking, former music video director David Fincher forever put himself on the list of top directors of the '90s by emphasizing themes and characters in his serial killer story, instead of just nifty images. The subject here is that of man's constant battle against evil, against the dark side. Fincher's message, as expressed in the script by Andrew Kevin Walker, is that it is a never-ending war, one that will never be won, but should always be fought. His messenger is Morgan Freeman, whose noble, but weary, everyman persona is perfect for the film.

Seven is such a fine film that the DVD extras are almost unnecessary, but, thankfully, they are to rich an offering to pass up. Included are: a featurette on the striking credits sequence, deleted scenes, extended takes, alternate endings, animated storyboards, photos, an isolated score, and more.

Since we've been discussing cinematic artists and delicate balance between visual poetry and visual excess, it seems a good time to bring up a director who sometimes does both.

The films of Jim Jarmusch are most decidedly an acquired taste, so take my recommendation here with a grain of salt if you are not already an aficionado of his unique film canon. Dead Man from Buena Vista Home Entertainment, is ostensibly a western, but it is like no other you've ever seen. Like many other Jarmusch films, this one skewers a familiar genre and uses its conventionsor deliberately doesn't use themto tell a tale of philosophical depth and surprising spirituality. The film, which barely qualifies as genre fare, has been described as poetic and dreamlike and as a parable of living and dying. It has also been described as slow, dull and pretentious. I adhere to the more complimentary descriptions, but understand the basis for the others. Jarmusch's washed-out, black and white images can be oppressive, and the film's pace is methodical, sometimes uneven. Still, the cast (Johnny Depp, Gary Farmer, Lance Henrikson, Billy Bob Thornton, Iggy Pop, Michael Wincott, Crispin Glover, Gabriel Byrne, and many
More) is incredible and simply unforgettable. Jarmusch's themes resonate on a level most filmmakers don't even know exist. Most impressive of all is the musical score, a lone electric guitar played (with lots of haunting reverb) by Neil Young, which is indispensable to the proceedings. Like it or not, you've never seen anything quite like this film.

Cinematic artistry of a different kind is readily apparent in First Run Features presentation of Forgotten Silver. While The Blair Witch Project turned a lot of us off to mock-documentaries, the inimitable Peter Jackson ( Bad Taste ) has brought us this delightful bit of arcane movie history as an example of just how great a fake, 'true' story can be. The film, which features Jackson as himself, involves the discovery of the long lost works of Colin McKenzie, a turn of the century inventor and movie maker who, it turns out, accomplished just about every cinematic 'first' long before those generally given the credit. Aided by superb mockumentary footage of this genius from down under, and utilizing Jackson's own effects house, it all becomes quite believable. Especially when the likes of film critic Leonard Maltin, actor Sam Neill, and Miramax cofounder Harvey Weinstein come on camera to praise McKenzie.

The DVD also offers interviews with Jackson and many of his cast and crew, examples of how the special effects were accomplished, and some deleted scenes. All in all, this one is a gem.

Taking one giant step, we move away from film artistry, only to land in a big pile of schlock, offered by Independent label, MTI Home Video, who jump into the DVD fray with the release of 3 titles they previously put out on VHS. Up first is Death Mask, a no-budget, southern carnival set horror tale. The story involves a badly scared carny, who runs a 'Masks of Death' tent containing masks he carved. Despite the attentions of carny dancer Angel (a still hot Linnea Quigley), he makes a visit to a voodoo woman and ends up creating a mask that brings about violent death. The performances are uneven, with Quigley still unconvincing in any scene not taking place in a shower.

The DVD does contain a few interesting extras for aficionados of low-budget filmmaking. There's a 'making of' featurette, deleted scenes, and some bloopers that, combined with the film's limited entertainment value, make the disc worth the price of a rental.

MTI also offers Stormswept a bit of erotic horror, with the emphasis firmly on the erotic. This low-budget tale has been out on video several times since its 1995 production, and it hasn't improved with time. It's basically a ghost story set within an old southern mansion where a group of people are stranded by a fierce storm. It's all competently produced and adequately acted, and does feature several lithesome beauties, including leggy Kathleen Kinmont, Amazonian Melissa Moore and petite cutie Lorissa McComas, so this could easily be a guilty pleasure for scores of Femme Fatales readers.

Last in MTI's trio of DVDs is the documentary The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: A Family Portrait. Filled with footage from the film, interspersed with camera-nailed-to-the-floor interviews, this one is a mixed bag. The interviews, featuring most of the cast and several crewmembers, are informative and often entertaining. However, the lack of imagination in filming them, coupled with their lengthy duration, makes them pretty dull. The movie footage periodically enlivens things, but it also tends to break up the flow of the narrative. I'd recommend this to any serious fan of the original film, but those with only a casual interest may want to pass it by.

Independent supplier, York Entertainment, continues to compete with the big boys, this time by landing the rights to episodes of Showtime's The Hunger TV series. Like most anthologies, this one is pretty uneven, and there is a tendency to emphasize the erotic over the horrific, but the involvement of Ridley and Tony Scott guaranteed strong production values and drew interesting casts. These were unavailable for preview, but hopefully fans can recognize a favorite episode from the following brief descriptions. 'Bump In The Night' features four episodes, starting with one starring Lori Petty as twins. The next features Glenn Plummer as a man who meets the woman of his dreams. Next is a man who owns an antique bed with a mind of its own. The last one finds a beautiful woman facing off with a witch to save the man she loves.

Another four episodes of the show can be found in the volume titles 'Mirrors and Paranoia,' which starts with Cathy Moriarty as a woman with a bottle that grants one's wildest sexual desire. Then comes William McNamara as a man who finds his favorite erotic website is watching him too. Next, William Katt gets involved in a sexy game, and the last episode offers a lap dancer who draws her patrons into a world of pleasure and pain. The pleasure comes, presumably, while you are with the dancer; the pain comes when you check your wallet afterwards.

York's final volume is entitled 'Soul Snatcher' and begins with Anthony Michael Hall as a student of the occult whose arrival in town is followed by a series of bizarre murders. Then, David Bowie is a troubled artist visited by drifter Giovanni Ribisi. Next, the one and only Brad Douriff appears as a man with an amazing insight into others. Last, James Marshall is a man whose girlfriend begins to suspect he's responsible for a series of murders.

Buena Vista Entertainment kicks off a busy week on the anime front with their release of a film that is, only 3 years after its creation, already widely heralded as a classic, Princes Mononoke. Already available on VHS, this week's DVD release promises to garner some fan attention.

I will confess to not particularly being an anime fan. I had tried to embrace the Urotsukidoji saga, and have watched a number of episodes of various anime series, but with the exception of Akira, the style just never entranced me the way the best Disney or comparable Western animated films have done. However, since seeing Hayao Miyazaki's Prince Mononoke, I have begun to suspect that perhaps I had missed the boat. This epic tale of the balance of man and nature, of love, betrayal and honor, stunned me with its marvelous imagery and captivating story. One of the more notable aspects of the film was the casting of genuine 'actors' to provide voices for the U.S. version, rather than the 'name' performers on whom Disney often relies. Thus, we find Claire Danes, Minnie Driver, Billy Crudup and Billy Bob Thornton lending their talents.

Yes, I wouldn't mind if Miyazaki would have lightened the tone with a little humor here and there, and some of the storyline and the myriad of characters were confusing for a novice westerner like myself, but none of this detracted from the indelible impression this film made. If you are an anime fan, you've already seen this film. But if you aren't, do yourself a favor and enter a world you may have been ignoring. You won't be sorry.

More typical anime fare can be found today in Media blasters release of Demon Fighter Kocho. While unseen by me, this sounds closer to the kind of anime that turned me off, but you may feel different. Sexy astrology student Kocho and her sister Koran take on evil spirits that have invaded their university. Then, Kocho faces a new challenge. A demonic female spirit who isn't susceptible to Kocho's sleek figure and can even resist glimpses of the girls' panties. I'm sorry, I just don't get it. I like the sight of girl's undergarments as much as anybody, but for God's sake, these are cartoons!

Even more anime can be found via Right Stuff's rollout a series of videos featuring the adventures of The Irresponsible Captain Tylor, Set in the far future, this anime series deals with Justy Tyler, who is lured into military service by a commercial and then accidentally repels an alien invasion. Given his own command, who are largely as big a bunch of losers as he is, Tylor somehow manages to keep coming out on top of every situation he get in. Sounds kind of like 'Gilligan Goes to Space,' but I'll reserve judgment for now.

AWOL TITLES

I've uncovered even more unannounced and unheralded titles resting on the shelves of Hollywood Video stores. Storm Riders ( Feng Yun ) is on one of Hollywood Video's exclusive labels, Asylum, and marks the U.S. release of this recent Hong Kong epic fantasy, which has been dubbed, sometimes awkwardly, into English. While not wholly successful, the film is a noble mix of Eastern mythic action and western technical effects. This is a pretty grand production, full of costumes and large scale sets, all based on a popular comic series. The plot is often confusing and the characters frustratingly thin in development, which may be because they are trying to tell a story that took 30 issues of the comic, in a mere two hours. But the action sequences are stunning. Enhanced with optical and CGI effects, they are unlike any I've ever seen. However, great as they are, these fight scenes are almost all effects, with little in the way of actual martial arts skills on display from the cast. Fandom's 'FantAsia' expert, Craig Reid, fills us in further on the film's history here.

Twice The Fear is a horror anthology on the Urban Entertainment label. This one offers two very low-budget Twilight Zone-styled tales from writer-producer-director Kenny Blanks. Both are well produced and acted. The second story, 'The Preparation' is rather slow and a bit hard to follow, though its idea of alien invaders who exist within electrical energy in our computers, cell phones, etc. is a clever one. The first story, Manifest Intent is a little uneven as far as lighting goes, but is otherwise pretty slick and features quite a bit of action and another imaginative premise. The end credits promise a second Twice The Fear, volume and director Blanks seems to have the talent to make one worthwhile.

The final title on my AWOL: list for the week is Iron Thunder a science-fiction action tale from T-Entertainment. The film stars former Battlestar Galactica lead, Richard Hatch. Having been privy to details of the film's production, I can honestly say that, for the budget and shooting schedule, this is a solid little film with an imaginative premise and just a bit of a message. The concept is that Hatch's Colonel Nelson has become delusional while participating in an experimental military project that utilizes a direct interface between a tank pilot and his computerized war machine. Believing himself to be trapped behind enemy lines, he sets off across the desert in the title vehicle, pursued by a small team in command of the only comparable tank in existence. Nelson's encounter with a band of militia-types is a bit forced, seemingly existing only to open the story up a bit from its cramped tank interiors, but the rest of the film plays fine. The acting is solid, with Hatch giving his best performance to date; the action scenes are exciting, and the battles between the tanks are surprisingly believable. This one's worth a look, and be sure to check out my article on the film's production.

Next Week

We'll celebrate the day after Christmas with lost women, Wayne Rogers, the governor of Minnesota and the scariest movie Linda Blair ever made, outside of Roller-Boogie, and then....

We're off to the Lizardsthe really big lizard that smashes cars/If every a lizardy star there was, this lizards the one, because because, because, because, because, because/Because of the dumb, cheesy movies he's done.







































Next Week's Releases
Astro ZombiesImage Entertainment
Black Heaven 2: Legend of Space Truckin'Pioneer Entertament
CrocodileTrimark
The ExorcistWarner Home Video
Godzilla 2000Columbia TriStar Home Video
Mesa of Lost WomenImage Entertainment
Predator (DTS)Fox Home Entertainment
Race Against TimeWarner Home Video
Tenchi Universe #5: Space, Ep. 14-16Pioneer Entertainment


(Unless otherwise noted, all titles are VHS/DVD releases)

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