Ghosts of Mars – By Sean O’Connell

Fans of Roger Corman’s visionary low-budget camp, rejoice. John Carpenter (“”Escape from New York””), taking a page directly from the legendary schlock-meister’s book, has crafted a woeful sci-fi/horror stinker on a shoestring budget that foregoes rational thought and an acceptable plot simply because his story takes place on a neighboring planet in the distant future. Except Carpenter’s “”Ghosts of Mars”” would have felt dated even in the ’60s. And if he wasn’t going for homage, you have to wonder why he made this film at all.

It’s the year 2176, and the red planet of Mars is colonized and policed by Earth’s citizens. The planet exists as a denizen for criminals and gang members – kind of like Carpenter’s futuristic vision of Manhattan island, but a lot bigger.Helena (Pam Grier) leads her team of officers on a mission to the colony of Shining Canyon to pick up the vicious criminal known as “”Desolation”” Williams (Ice Cube) for transport. As expected, Helena’s group is packed to the gills with stereotypical personalities. Melanie (Natasha Henstridge) is the fiercely independent butch beauty, and Jericho (Jason Statham) the gravel-voiced pig who never stops trying to get in her jumpsuit. Two rookies tag along, though their only purpose is to point their guns and die horrible deaths when the script calls for it.The team isn’t in Shining Canyon two minutes before they realize something’s not right. They discover that the colony’s entire population has been massacred, decapitated and hung upside down by their ankles. Only the prisoners have been spared, and one of them, a doctor, can identify what’s behind the slaughter. She explains that, for reasons unknown, a harmful organism that seeps into the soil and stews has been released, and now jumps from human host to human host – carried by the wind, no less – destroying the person from the inside. The infected specimens, now zombies, dig at their own flesh and carve bizarre tribal symbols into their own bodies. The army of the diseased resemble rejects from the set of George Miller’s “”The Road Warrior”” who have joined a cult of Marilyn Manson worshipers. It’s horrific. And if that’s not enough, these beastly beings also harbor a strong desire to destroy anyone or anything they consider to be an outsider, and that includes Helena and her team. Lucky for Grier, she kicks it relatively early. Her agent must have fought hard for that stipulation in her contract. That leaves unlikely allies Henstridge and Ice Cube to blast their way out of the camp – really just an laughable set of model miniatures that look faker than Tori Spelling’s nose – and onto a train heading for safety.””Mars”” substitutes a body count for a brain, and sets it all to a numbingly cyclic techno soundtrack with music by Buckethead, Anthrax and Carpenter himself. If nothing else, it explains where those rogue party-crashers from John Hughes’ “”Weird Science”” came from. I’ve always wanted to know thatAs bad as it is, though, there’s no way “”Mars”” won’t turn a profit. Carpenter saved a spaceship full of dough by hiring third-rate talent like Henstridge, Grier and Cube. And he certainly didn’t spend a dime on special effects, sets, costumes or a screenplay. “”Mars”” feels like it was shot by teenagers on a three-day binge in Arizona. I kept looking for the silhouettes of Joel, Tom Servo and Crow from the dearly-departed “”MST3K”” to appear in the bottom right corner of the screen. Not that we need them. The film’s clunky dialogue gives us more than enough to laugh at. Grade: D-By Sean O’ConnellAug. 24, 2001

Ms. Jackson If You’re Nasty…And She Is, By Tiffany N. D’Emidio

Friday, August 17 the stage was set at the MCI Center for a music icon. The lights go out, the crowd goes wild and the curtain parts like the red sea to a barrage of photos spanning the life of her career. A buff, cut, stunningly beautiful Ms. Jackson descended from the ceiling on a round pillar that lowered to the stage followed by her dancers on similar platforms while the band emerged from behind.

The next two hours are action packed pure entertainment. Janet begins the show with songs from her new album such as “”You Ain’t Right””and

Chocolat – By Sean O’Connell

Lasse Hallstrom’s 1999 effort, “”The Cider House Rules,”” breathlessly recreated author John Irving’s eloquently drawn New England world through the eyes of a curious orphan medical apprentice with a sudden taste for living. A critical darling, “”Cider House”” earned Hallstrom a fair amount of Oscar nominations and even scored a supporting trophy for veteran actor Michael Caine. In his follow-up project, “”Chocolat,”” Hallstrom applies many of the same touches but comes away with a bland, tasteless film that features nary a hint of the magical ingredients found in the lovely “”Cider House.””

I attribute it to an extreme lack of effort, considering the director’s source material and stellar cast of acting heavyweights. Working from Robert Nelson Jacobs’ adaptation of Joanne Harris’ award-winning novel, “”Chocolat”” stars Juliette Binoche (“”The English Patient””) as single-mother Vianne who, with her daughter in tow, sets up a chocolate shop in a strictly conservative French town (as if there were such a thing). Her shop and its wares stir up all sorts of curiosity until she starts serving her irresistible chocolate treats, an act that frightens and challenges the town’s small-minded political leaders. Vianne’s mild rebellion, or capitalistic practices, links her to the town’s outcasts, namely a wife who wishes to leave her abusive husband and a grandmother (lazily played by Dame Judi Dench) who’s banned from seeing her grandson because of a long-standing quarrel she’s having with her daughter. The film suggests that a secret ingredient – a spicy Chile powder – found in Vianne’s sweets empowers these ladies to stand up to their oppressors. Funny, chocolate really only makes me feel bloated and tired. Just like this movie. Jacobs’ screenplay lacks drive, leaving the actors too much time to stand around a barren cottage of a chocolate shop and dish. Johnny Depp pops us as a drifter and potential love interest, but you just know his long-haired, free-thinking kind isn’t welcome in this corner of the world. And Dench, unfocused and ineffective in a shallow role, nears Marlon Brando territory, taking a bit part for no apparent reason and bringing a misguided eccentricity to the table. “”Chocolat”” desperately wants to be an enchanting fairy tale (or at least a Merchant Ivory film) but never unearths any redeeming qualities. Hallstrom appears afraid to completely cross the threshold and make a genuine foreign film for fear of alienating the American audiences he picked up with “”Cider House.”” As a result, his “”Chocolat”” bears the quirky characters and meandering pace you’d find in an agreeable French film, but forces an awkward romance with a deadbeat transient and a tidy conclusion that really doesn’t fit. Despite the strong cast and talented team of filmmakers, “”Chocolat”” tanks. I guess life is like the film “”Chocolat.”” You never know what you’re going to get.GRADE: DTHE EXTRASPart of Miramax’s Collector’s Series, the “”Chocolat”” DVD does offer fans of the Oscar-nominated movie a bevy of features for them to peruse when they’ve finally plowed through the film. First up is an informative “”Making Of”” featurette, as well as two shorter features on the costumes created for the film and the movie’s unique production design. The disc also features seven brief deleted scenes, though they contribute very little to the finished product. Hallstrom also sits down for a director’s commentary, though after listening to it, I still am not sure what drove him to this project. Still, there is a lot of background information provided, and that should interest anyone who liked “”Chocolat.””GRADE: BOVERALL EXPERIENCEWhile I can not fault Miramax for their efforts on the “”Chocolat”” DVD, I can not whole-heartedly recommend this film. It was very popular upon its release in 2000, and it did earn a number of Oscar nominations, including Best Director and Best Picture (though many would argue against the ballot-rallying practices of Miramax and Bob and Harvey Weinstein). Still, there is an audience for this film out there, and they will be very happy with this comprehensive disc. Those people who thoroughly enjoyed this emotionless marathon should ignore my final grade.FINAL GRADE: C-By Sean O’ConnellAug. 20, 2001

Enemy at the Gates – By Sean O’Connell

By 1942, the Nazis had plowed their way across the frozen tundra of Russia with little resistance until they reached Stalingrad. In dire need of a morale boost for his conquered native land, Russian propagandist Danilov (Joseph Fiennes) uses the power of the press to magnify the military accomplishments of Vassili Zaitsev (Jude Law), a heroically brilliant sniper.

Danilov’s writings turn Vassili into a folk legend and a symbol of hope that the defeated population rallies behind, but they also capture the attention of the German army, which dispatches its finest marksman, Major Konig (Ed Harris), to stop this rogue soldier.After a riveting, chaotic opening sequence, director Jean-Jacques Annaud’s starchy, operatic thriller excises the epic sweep of the Battle of Stalingrad in favor of a tense, steadfast cat-and-mouse game. Luckily Annaud had the good sense to cast Harris and Law as the steadfast eyes at the end of the film’s many rifle scope shots, since both actorspossess the properly steely-cold gazes that convey emotion and impact without words. The film’s irregular love triangle – involving Law, Fiennes and “”The Mummy””‘s Rachel Weisz as an eager contributor to the war effort – hardly distracts as much as you would think, though Fiennes works the hardest to bring credibility to an unnecessary subplot thatbecomes even more superfluous once Weisz joins Vassili’s hunt for Konig. Considering the compelling nature of the violent chess game played by Harris and Law, you almost wonder why “”Enemy”” bothered with subplots and supporting characters at all.GRADE: B+THE EXTRAS“”Enemy”” is a stacked disc that will delight fans interested in furthering their initial viewing experience. Surprisingly, given Annaud’s obvious affection for the film, the DVD lacks a director’s commentary. But it makes up for it with both a “”Behind the Scenes”” featurette and a collection of cast and crew interviews entitled “”Through the Crosshairs”” that investigates their motivations for recreating this infamous battle and how the stars were drawn to the project.As for the actual film, Paramount has amassed nine brief deleted scenes that expand on the film’s inherent relationships. They do add to the film, but it’s easy to see why they were excised, considering the film’s 131 minute running time. The DVD also offers the film’strailer and English subtitles. It’s a decent amount of extras, for a Paramount disc. The studio really is improving in their approach to the DVD format, and are providing interesting extras with their current titles.GRADE: BOVERALL EXPERIENCE“”Enemy at the Gates”” is a thrilling, scaled-back war effort that stand’s out in the wake of Spielberg’s oft-mentioned “”Saving Private Ryan,”” which has set the benchmark for any WWII movie that will be released in the next decade. Law and Harris, though they share little screen time together, generate genuine tension, and Annaud’s direction is appropriately grimy and disordered. It works. The DVD takes the movie one step further, and is a nice effort. Worth the money if you enjoyed the film.FINAL GRADE: B+By Sean O’ConnellAug. 20, 2001

Josie and the Pussycats – By Sean O’Connell

Josie (Rachael Lee Cook) and the Pussycats (Rosario Dawson, Tara Reid), members of an unpolished punk-rock trio, are discovered by shady music moguls (Alan Cumming, Parker Posey) and transformed into flavor-of-the-month type celebrities. But behind the girls’ meteoric rise to stardom is a conspiracy to brainwash America’s record-buying youth that stretches from the halls of the Pentagon to the studios of MTV.

The Saturday morning cartoon you grew up with gets a giddy live-action facelift. Writer/directors Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan (“”Can’t Hardly Wait””) continue to lampoon the teen population with comedic precision. Honing in on the “”TRL”” crowd – V-Jay Carson Daly even has a clever cameo – “”Josie”” does for the music industry what “”Austin Powers”” did for the spy genre. The result: an intelligent, timely spoof that wraps sincere homage and biting social commentary in a tight power-pop package. The most successful joke – in a film about consumerism, no less – comes from the endless parade of well-placed products peddling everything from Starbucks to Target and, yes, even the movie itself.GRADE: B+THE EXTRAS Universal fails to bestow a “”Limited Editor”” or “”Collector’s Edition”” title on the “”Josie”” disc, but that doesn’t mean it lacks substantial extras. In fact, “”Josie”” takes you behind the action courtesy of a Backstage Pass, triggering a lengthy production featurette which follows the film’s stars from band camp to the stage. There are also three deleted scenes that closely resemble scenes left in the final cut. I swear the one with Posey’s character is still in the final cut. Let me check. Oh, no, it’s not. But close. Kaplan and Elfont contribute a feature-length commentary, demonstrating where the film’s quirky sense of humor came from. And speaking of sense of humor, you can also chuck your Backstreet Boys CD out the window and cue up two videos from mock boy band Dujour. These clips aren’t as funny as the actual performance given by Dujour at the beginning of film, but they’re light and goofy. Can’t get the “”Josie”” song “”3 Small Words”” out of your head? Then you might as well play the video, also on the DVD, and put some images with those lyrics. Finally, the disc offers the requisite production notes, bios and a trailer. GRADE: B+ OVERALL EXPERIENCE I was pleasantly surprised with “”Josie.”” Films that try and resurrect the past for modern audiences rarely capture the elements that made the antique articles classics in the first place. But “”Josie”” finds a modern spin and cranks plenty of jokes aimed directly at the TRL crowd. It’s a great midnight snack for the brain, and a comprehensive disc that any fan will enjoy. FINAL GRADE: B+

15 Minutes – By Sean O’Connell

Robert De Niro and Edward Burns team up in director John Herzfeld’s latest, “”15 Minutes,”” as lawmen tracking down international criminals loose in Manhattan who hope to achieve a level of fame by initiating a televised crime spree. Armed with a stolen video camera and a serious grudge, two Czechoslovakian immigrants (Karel Roden, OlegTaktarov) hit the Big Apple to reclaim a stolen fortune from their one-time business partner.

Before long, the criminals take their violent ways to the streets while one of them films their every step. It’s only after they spend a few days in New York City, the media-saturated center of our country, that they realize their fastest ticket to the wealth and power they crave lies on the television, and that their brutal homemade videos can earn them their fifteen minutes of fame.Two unlikely partners, though, are following the transgressors’ path of destruction and are closing in. Jordy Warsaw (Burns), a fire inspector called to a blaze started by the Czech crooks, reluctantly teams with media-darling Eddie Fleming (De Niro), a cop who spends more time on the cover of People magazine than he does walking the beat.Buddy cop thrillers need a gimmick, and “”15 Minutes’ employs a timely one by capitalizing on our culture’s hunger for immediate news. While “”15 Minutes”” puts the power of the media into the hands of two lawbreaking thugs, it also analyzes the opposite side of the camera’s lens. An interesting subplot involving a typical tabloid reporter, personified here by Kelsey Grammer’s Maury Povich-clone Robert Hawkins, proves these information vultures are almost as responsible for the public’s interest in trash television as the people making the news. Nothing sinks an action thriller like a political or social statement, but this particular message never slows “”Minutes”” down. Herzfeld conducts Burns and De Niro through the hoops of the media circus, as well as some ferocious action sequences and a killer death scene for Bobby D, and delivers them to a satisfying, if overly-tidy conclusion. There are a lot worse way to spend the “”Minutes”” of the day.GRADE: BTHE EXTRASAnd speaking of minutes, you’re going to need plenty to fully enjoy the “”15 Minutes”” DVD, as it is presented by New Line in the studio’s impressive new Infinifilm format. Finally benefiting from everything the DVD format allows them to offer, New Line is stuffing its Infinifilm discs with a ton of extras that enhance your viewing experience. They call it “”Going beyond the movie,”” but I think instead of “”beyond,”” they should say “”deeper into”” the film, as the many features offered with the disc further explore topics brought up about the film and the movie’s subject material. The Infinifilm DVDs (the first was Kevin Costner’s “”Thirteen Days,”” and the next is Johnny Depp’s “”Blow””) start with improved menus that reflect an aspect of the film. Here, considering the tabloid nature of the film, we get a CNN-ish screen set-up with constant bulletins from Grammer’s talking head. New Line advises you watch the film in its entirety first, and I agree, as the Infinifilm can distract a first-time viewer with its wealth of information.Then, when you launch the film with Infinifilm on, you’ll be prompted at various points throughout the film to press a key and trigger an in-depth feature about the scene you’re watching. “”15 Minutes”” features rehearsals of scenes, outtakes, deleted scenes and much more. What’s most impressive is the obvious amount of time New Line puts into each disc. Up until this point, DVD extras tended to stem from the film’s original production, consisting of leftover footage or featurettes directors shot on set with the intention of putting them on future discs. The Infinifilm series actually goes out and tapes original interview footage with new subjects that are relevant to the film they’re featuring. Here, we get interviews with Jerry Springer and Povich, actual NYC cops, the director and stars of the film, and more. Aside from the Infinifilm technology, the “”Minutes”” DVD also offers two original documentaries, a trivia track that leads viewers to even more features, and a feature length commentary by Herzfeld. Anything to improve the viewer’s experience while watching the film. It’s an incredible effort provided with the audience in mind, and I commend the studio’s work.GRADE: AOVERALL EXPERIENCESo far, New Line is two for two with the Infinifilm series. They’re choosing excellent films to feature, ones that open themselves up to further analysis, and the trend probably won’t stop with “”Blow.”” But you can see why “”Little Nicky”” wasn’t a candidate for the Infinifilm series. On its own, “”15 Minutes”” is an engaging police thriller that boasts some decent chemistry between De Niro and Burns and casts two particularly wicked villains in well-written roles. Even without the Infinifilm technology supporting it, it’s worth your time. With the technology behind it, it’s indispensable.FINAL GRADE: A-

3,000 Miles to Graceland – By Sean O’Connell

The premise had promise: Five hardened criminals draped in jewel-encrusted leisure suits and sporting pork chop sideburns attempt a casino heist at the height of International Elvis Week in Las Vegas. An explosion here, a double-cross there, a few more explosions and -whoops – far too many double-crosses, has this testosterone-flavored flick rolling craps.

Recently released from prison, Michael (Kurt Russell) hooks up with his buddy, Murphy (Kevin Costner), at Nevada’s “”Last Resort”” motel. The two and their gang of misfits venture on to Las Vegas, where they plan on waltzing into the Riviera hotel during an Elvis convention and make off with a fortune in marked bills. There plan isn’t much more involved than that, though Michael does fiddle with some wires in an elevator while his partners grab the cash from the casino’s vault. It just prolongs the inevitable, namely a wicked gunfight between the crooks and a handful of security guards who couldn’t shoot a peanut butter and banana sandwich in Jungle Room of Graceland.Outside the casino, “”Graceland”” grinds slowly and steadily into a predictable, boring blend of dupes, dopes and dead-end plot twists. After “”star”” turns in “”Tango & Cash”” and a slew of John Carpenter films, Russell sure knows how to shuck and jive his way through this type of muscle-bound fare, but Costner completely mails it in as the psychotic Murph. To be fair, the laughable supporting cast gives the two macho men absolutely nothing to work with. Courtney Cox holds her own as Russell’s scheming love interest, but the rest? Christian Slater, David Arquette, Ice-T, Howie Long and Thomas Haden Church? Were the real actors on strike? Nope, just smart enough to take a pass.To no one’s surprise, director/co-writer Demian Lichtenstein mastered his trade in the music video industry – a claim to fame that’s quickly becoming a sign of incompetence as opposed to a badge of honor. A student of the worst elements of “”Natural Born Killers,”” his jittery camera movements and oily visuals resemble Oliver Stone without the imagination. This casino bomb has been dealt an 11, and still manages to bust.THE EXTRASHere’s the funny part: There are none. Pardon me, there is a trailer. But the whole film, with its quick-cuts and anorexic plot, feels like one long trailer. Clearly the studio and everyone involved with “”Graceland”” just wanted to put it out of their memories. You should follow their lead.FINAL GRADE: FBy Sean O’ConnellAug. 16, 2001

Gump Happens!!! Win Forrest Gump Special Edition DVD

THIS CONTEST IS CLOSED
Courtesy of Paramount Home Video you can be the first to own a copy of the long awaited DVD Release of “”Forrest Gump – Special Edition DVD””!

One of the most beloved and critically acclaimed films of all time, FORREST GUMP, arrives on DVD for the first time on August 28 from Paramount Home Entertainment. Loaded with more than two hours of extras, the FORREST GUMP: SPECIAL COLLECTOR

Anatomy of a Thriller – Behind The Others, by Tiffany N. D’Emidio

Acclaimed Spanish Director, Alejandro Amendabar’s “”The Others”” is a bone chilling, psychological thriller that takes you on a roller-coaster ride of emotions. The Director’s first American film is a strange tale of loss, fear, and psychological war far. The film features a talented ensemble cast which is headed by Hollywood, A-Lister, Nicole Kidman.

Kidman stars as Grace, a widow raising two ailing children who are suffering from a mysterious affliction to light. Kidman brings to the table an outstanding portrayal of a woman on the edge of sanity. Her character suffers from excruciating headaches which only subsides by forcing complete quiet through out the house at all times.

Not only did this talented Director write and direct the film, but he wrote all the music as well. We recently sat down with this hot director. Here

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