Wes Craven Presents: Dracula 2000 – By Sean O’Connell

Whether you’re excited or bored with “”Dracula 2000″” will depend solely on your reaction to the film’s simple, almost unnoticeable intro: “”Wes Craven Presents.”” Fans of the legendary horror filmmaker, though, might be disappointed by the end result, as they’re hero served predominantly as a producer and had no input to the film’s direction or script, two areas where this film needs serious guidance.

After a brief setup, “”Dracula 2000″” fast-forwards to (you guessed it) the year 2000. In London, Abraham Van Helsing (Christopher Plummer) presides over a fortune in historical relics that are attained through his partner, Simon Sheppard (Jonny Lee Miller). Van Helsing’s most prized possession is held in a safe in the basement of his headquarters,which is infiltrated by a band of thieves (led by Omar Epps) with the help of Van Helsing’s assistant, Solina (Jennifer Esposito). The only things they find, though, are bones, crucifixes and a silver coffin, which they make off with. Van Helsing, knowing what’s in the casket, pursues. It’s on a getaway flight to New Orleans that the criminals finally pry the coffin open, expecting jewels but instead unleashing the undead corpse of Count Dracula (Gerard Butler). The prince of darkness makes quick work of the thieves and continues on to the Big Easy, where he seeks out Van Helsing’s estranged daughter, Mary (Justine Waddell),who has vampire blood coursing through her veins. And on the streets on New Orleans, during Mardi Gras to boot, Van Helsing and his assistant, Simon, must confront Dracula and attempt to protect Mary from her gruesome fate.Director Patrick Lussier tries hard to drag the Dracula legend into the 21st century, injecting a techno soundtrack and flashy visuals to make it appealing to Generation X. But it’s like fitting a classical square peg into a trendy round hole. They don’t mesh. Lussier also has to overcome an insipid, lackluster screenplay, one that chooses to ignore everycliche that’s been addressed in horror films for ages. In this “”Dracula,”” characters are left alone with closed coffins and they never call for help when its opened. Mary escapes Dracula’s clutches, but she runs straight for a cemetery. And the most lethal weapon Simon can brandish is a Bible, which explodes when the pages are flipped open. Epps, Esposito and “”Star Trek”” sweetie Jeri Ryan, playing a local newswoman who’s bitten by the Count, have fun when they’re in vampire character, and the film features some killer fight sequences. But it’s just not enough to save this anemic horror shlock, which seems to have had its creativity sucked dry.GRADE: D+THE EXTRAS:As bad as the film is, the “”Dracula 2000″” DVD – released by Buena Vista Home Video – offers plenty of extras for fans to relish. There is a running feature-length commentary by Lussier, as well as deleted scenes with optional commentary. As we’ve seen recently(especially in Fox’s “”Monkeybone””), the deleted scenes improve on the final story, clearing up some misconceptions and rounding out the plot. There are also extended scenes on the DVD, which also come with commentary. Aside from the added scenes, “”Dracula 2000″” offers fans a “”Behind the Scenes”” look at the film, which interviews several members of the crew, storyboards, and audition reels for Butler, Waddell, and the young Colleen Fitzpatrick, known to pop enthusiasts as Vitamin C.GRADE: B+OVERALL EXPERIENCE:Why do the bad movies come with so much additional information? Do we need to know what makes them so bad? In “”Dracula,”” the deleted scenes add to the overall film experience, and they deserve your time. In fact, all of the extras improve the final film. Without them, you’re left with a tedious horror film, while with them, you’re left with a mediocre Saturday evening on the couch.FINAL GRADE: C

Wayne’s World / Wayne’s World 2 – By Sean O’Connell

Though the attempts are numerous, the success rate of a “”Saturday Night Live”” skit jumping to the big screen is low. “”The Blues Brothers,”” “”Superstar”” and “”Coneheads,”” off the top of my head, turned humorous four-minute sketches into 90 minute hits. How rare, then, that Mike Myers’ “”Wayne’s World”” was able to strike it rich not once but twice with his creative cable-access hero Wayne Campbell in the movie “”Wayne’s World”” and the sequel, “”Wayne’s World 2.””

When the first “”Wayne’s World”” came out in 1992, the skit was at the height of its popularity. Myers and co-star Dana Carvey, who played blonde ball of nerves Garth Algar, had made words like schwing and sphincter socially acceptable, and audiences were encouraged to “”party on.”” The loveable losers were huge on “”Saturday Night Live,”” andthe film version of the skit seemed inevitable.But unlike its predecessors, “”Wayne’s World”” manages to take the concept established on “”SNL”” and expand it. Wayne and Garth, still broadcasting from Wayne’s basement in Aurora, Ill., are approached by a sleezy TV executive (deliciously played by a then-outcastRob Lowe) to syndicate their show, all so he can reap enormous profits. All the guys want to do, though, is score with hot babes. Garth has his eye on a foxy coffee shop vixen (Donna Dixon), while Wayne is smitten with Cassandra (Tia Carrere), the lead singer of a local rock band who positively “”wails.”” Just ask, Wayne.The film milks laughs out of a number of unusual sequences that seemed odd at the time, but now seem routine given how much of Myers’ bizarre psyche we’ve been exposed to. Myers and Carvey lampoon “”Laverne & Shirley,”” single-handedly revive rock legendsQueen through a rousing Karaoke performance of the band’s “”Bohemian Rhapsody”” and present three endings to the same movie. Take that, “”Clue.””Given the success of the first film, “”Wayne’s World 2″” was blessed with a bigger budget and a modicum of credibility, which led to the casting of bigger names in smaller roles. Myers, Carvey and Carrere all return, but the villainous role is beautifully filled by Christopher Walken, here playing a sleezy record contractor who’s eager to signCassandra’s band. He drives a wedge between Wayne and Cassandra, prompting Wayne to win his girl back by putting on an enormous rock concert and luring the coolest bands to Aurora. No way. Way!Garth seems to have moved up in the world. He falls for, and lands, a babe named Honey Hornee (Kim Basinger). Uber-chick Heather Locklear, forever worshipped by the boys, also appears as herself at an Aerosmith show, and yes, the band does show up to play a few songs. More importantly, none of the first film’s twisted humor is lost in the sequel. Wayne spends the majority of the film interacting with a “”weird naked Indian”” in his dreams, the duo recruit a legendary roadie who once beat a candy store owner to death for some M&Ms, and Chris Farley shows up as the world’s most eager concert bouncer. While notas sharp as the first film, “”World 2″” still showcases some hilarious bits, all courtesy of Myers’ creativity and drawing power from the celebrity community.GRADES:Wayne’s World: BWayne’s World 2: C+THE EXTRAS: Released by Paramount on DVD, “”Wayne’s World”” 1 & 2 both offer feature-length commentaries by their respective directors (Penelope Spheeris for the original, Stephen Surjik for the sequel), and exclusive cast & crew interviews. They offer a bit more insight into the films, though a commentary track by stars Myers and Carvey could have beenfunny. Paramount’s specialty appears to be the commentary track, and they don’t disappoint here. Though aside from interactive menus and trailers, there’s not much else. GRADE: C-OVERALL EXPERIENCE:In the long line of “”SNL”” films, “”Wayne’s World”” and its sequel rise toward the head of the pack, making them worth owning. Paramount has already released several of the “”SNL”” films, including “”The Ladies Man”” (which was one of the studio’s worst) and “”Coneheads”” (one of the best). As long as the studio sticks to this type of fare, and staysclear of the likes of “”Stuart Saves His Family”” or “”It’s Pat,”” I’m content to give them my support. These movies are funny, and will make good additions to your collection.FINAL GRADE: B-

The Family Man: Collector’s Edition – By Sean O’Connell

After the frantic “”Money Talks”” and “”Rush Hour,”” many wondered what director Brett Ratner was doing taking on a Frank Capra-ish family film about a Wall Street tycoon (Nicolas Cage) given a glimpse into the life that could have been. But with the right cast and a heartwarming screenplay, the versatile Ratner proves he can survive outside of ChrisTucker’s long shadow and deliver a humorous holiday flick in “”The Family Man.””

Cage plays Jack Campbell, a wealthy businessman who’s on the verge on completing a massive financial deal. Jack is the typical scrooge. It’s Christmas, but he makes his workers stay late at the office to firm up the pact. He sleeps with beautiful women, flirts with his penthouse neighbors and splurges on the finest cars, clothes and liquors. Jack’s not completely evil – he is seen giving his doorman choice financial advice on where to invest the man’s holiday tips – he just has different priorities. That wasn’t always the case, though, and a phone message from an old girlfriend, Kate Reynolds (Tea Leoni) reminds him of his early days. Apparently back in college, Jack had an opportunity to go to London and study, but Kate asked him to stay behind with her. Jack chose London, and his life was never the same.It’s a chance encounter with a homeless man (Don Cheadle) at a convenience store one night, though, that brings Jack’s past into the present. After a brief, cryptic conversation with the man, Jack goes to sleep in his penthouse and wakes up in an alternate reality,wherein he left that flight to London years ago and stayed with Kate. The couple now lives in New Jersey, where they’re raising two children. What’s worse, Jack works at his father-in-law’s shop as a tire salesman, and the hallowed corridors of Wall Street are miles away. The only problem is that Jack has retained all of his memories, and no one believes his rantings that he’s not the father, husband and suburbanite they think he is. And the only way for Jack to get back to the life he thinks he wants is to find the value of the life he left behind.Released in a cramped Christmas season, “”Family Man”” opened small ($15M) and went on to earn a tidy but none-too-spectacular $75M. Dismissed as sappy and “”just another feel good film,”” “”Family Man”” had a hard time competing with Oscar contenders like “”Cast Away,”” “”Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”” and “”Traffic.”” It’s a shame, for “”Family Man”” really is a cute flick with fine performances from Cage, Cheadle and Jeremy Piven, playing Jack’s best friend, bowling buddy and overall partner insuburban warfare. After a string of dark brooders (“”8MM,”” “”Bringing Out the Dead””), it’s refreshing to see Cage trying his hand at goofy comedies again. He does “”frazzled”” quite well, and he turns it on for this role. And Makenzie Vega, playing the couple’s young daughter Annie who knows this man isn’t her father, sets up some gentle jokes.The rock of the cast, though, is Leoni. Turning in one of her strongest performances to date, and looking perfectly natural in either flannel pajamas or a strapless gown, Leoni subtly adds credibility to the film’s broad, irregular premise. Her Kate does what Cage’s Jack can never do – she accepts the reality of their situation without ever forgetting thedreams she and Jack had when they stood at the airport gate years before.GRADE: BTHE EXTRAS:Packaged by Universal into a “”Collector’s Edition,”” the new “”Family Man”” disc comes brimming with extras that dive deeper into the charming film. The disc features three feature-length commentaries: one with Ratner and the film’s writers, one with producer Marc Abraham (who must consider this film his baby), and one with the film’s composerDanny Elfman. There are deleted scenes, outtakes that consist of Cage and Piven giggling like school girls, a Seal music video, and a montage of the phrase “”Hi Jack!”” You’ll understand after watching the film. There’s also an informative “”Spotlight On Location”” feature that splices several interviews with Ratner and Abraham together with clips fromthe film. The disc also features a choose-your-own-fate type word game that’s time consuming, and the results are disappointing. It’s like cracking open a fortune cookie with a sappy missive. Then, for those with DVD-ROM capability, the disc offers screensavers, wallpapers, and another game. GRADE: B+OVERALL EXPERIENCE:Sweet to a fault, “”Family Man”” is a heartwarming holiday charmer, that just won’t appeal to everyone. In other words, cynics and bitter old fogies, steer clear. While it might not replace “”It’s a Wonderful Life”” or “”A Christmas Story”” as a required Christmas classic, it’s an enjoyable family comedy that showcases Tea Leoni’s ample talents, and shows that Nic Cage still has some personality, which was in doubt. The extras are plentiful, and interesting. And the audio transfer of the film is top-notch. For fans, a good purchase.FINAL GRADE: B+

Notting Hill: Ultimate Edition – By Sean O’Connell

Julia Roberts’ dissenters who claim the blockbuster actress to be overhyped and a tad overrated (a group whose thesis I happily subscribe to) might sing a different tune after viewing “”Notting Hill,”” a perfectly delightful comedy from the writer of “”Four Weddings and a Funeral.”” While Roberts can not be lauded for elevating the film, she finally finds the character she can most relate to, and it’s amusing watching the film play out.

Roberts plays world-famous film actress Anna Scott, a Hollywood star who’s as beloved as, oh say Julia Roberts. As in Julia’s real life, there’s very little Anna can do that isn’t picked up by the media and beamed into the living rooms of adoring fans.On the opposite end of the pond – or England, for the geographically challenged – is William Thacker (a frail, hilarious Hugh Grant), the owner of a small travel bookstore located in the quaint village of Notting Hill. Thacker, who wouldn’t know a box-office point from a pencil point, has his world turned upside down when a carefully disguised Scott enters his store looking for a book. Despite his clumsiness and persistentstammering, love blooms.Recognizing who Anna is, William goes to her hotel to court her with traditional methods, innocently believing flowers and personality will be enough to win the heart of a Hollywood player. Instead, in one of the film’s finest jabs, he’s caught up in a press junket, where he’s forced to make up questions about a film he’s never seen for actors he can’tidentify. It’s Grant at his most uncomfortable, and it’s delightful.But eventually William does meet Anna, and the courtship begins. More jokes are wrangled out of the glaring mismatch, and the two struggle to keep the relationship quiet for Anna’s sake. But eventually the press do find out (as they’re wont to do), and Anna breaks the relationship off out of frustration and fear. Will William be able to win back the world’s most famous actress, who happens to be just a girl, standing in front of a boy,telling him she loves him. Must you ask?The beauty of “”Notting Hill”” is its ability to travel familiar paths without ever becoming generic or cliched, at least not until the film’s final act, which involves the couple’s break-up and inevitable resolution. While Roberts and Grant are a fine pair, its Hugh who we most identify with; a pie-eyed simpleton who’s granted access behind-the-scenes for precious few moments. How does he behave? How would you? But, as in “”Weddings,”” the bulk of “”Hill””‘s laughs are reserved for the supporting players, particularly Will’s circle of friends and his roommate, Spike (Rhys Ifans). The film’s bone dry British humor bounces lively from these character actors, resulting in most of the film’s strongest scenes. Sorry, Julia.GRADE: BTHE EXTRAS: For reasons unknown, Universal chose to release “”Notting Hill”” as one of its brand new “”Ultimate Edition”” DVDs. Not to take anything away from the movie. As it stands, it probably deserves extra treatment, and its fan base would probably be interested in the film’s back story. But the studio just recently released a “”Collector’s Edition”” disc for””Hill,”” which features most of the same extras. The “”Ultimate Edition”” now spreads over two discs, which makes it feel more comprehensive. And there are a few new features on the disc, including a featurette on the film’s “”Seasonal Walk”” sequence and two music videos – one from Shania Twain, one from Elvis Costello. But the rest are holdovers from the “”Collector’s Edition,”” including arunning feature commentary, deleted scenes, music highlights (I don’t recall the music being so prevalent), and a humorous feature entitled “”Hugh Grant’s Movie Tips.”” They all reflect the jovial mod surrounding the film, suggesting that it was as much fun to make thefilm as it was to watch. The only one absent from most of the extras is Ms. Roberts. Go figure. The new “”Notting Hill”” DVD comes in Universal’s odd clear case, a tri-fold plastic setup that allows for some creative artwork, but little else. However, with the existence of a similar “”Collector’s”” version of the film, it makes you wonder if the “”Ultimate Edition”” is worth your money. GRADE: C+OVERALL EXPERIENCE:The movie “”Notting Hill”” is far more charming and entertaining than you’d expect. The leads have good chemistry and the supporting characters are hysterical, in a British sense. If you like Rowan Atkinson’s “”Mr. Bean”” (which was also written by Curtis), you’ll laugh at “”Hill.”” But for anyone who forked over cash for the previous “”Collector’s Edition,”” you should be okay with that. Other fans who waited, anticipating an “”Ultimate Edition,”” your ship has come in. FINAL GRADE: B-

“”Legally Blonde””: Pretty in Pink

“”Legally Blonde”” Pretty in PinkGrade: B1999’s underrated Election was memorable mostly for the sparkling, magnetic performance of Reese Witherspoon as Tracy Flick, a high school overachiever who pursued her goals with a manic, good-natured singlemindedness and a delicious comic edge. Now Tracy Flick comes of age–and how–in this facile, perky comedy of redemption, as Witherspoon plays sorority Pollyanna and fashion doyenne Elle Woods.

Dressed to thrill in an audacious, pastel explosion of pinks and turquoises, Elle enrolls in Harvard Law School in a bid to reclaim her social-climbing boyfriend (Luke Wilson). Instead of fulfilling the expectations of her egghead classmates by falling on her face, Elle sets the place on its ear, smashing the dumb blonde stereotype by embracing it with smarts, style and class. Much of the repartee is featherweight, especially the sorority scenes that dominate the first half-hour; “”Legally Blonde”” isn’t above cheap, sitcom-y laughs, a la “”Bridget Jones’s Diary”” or “”The Wedding Planner.”” But depth matriculates with devilishly clever handling of difficult situations, such as Elle’s novel responses to Socratic grilling by law school profs and her handling of a murder case as she defends a sorority sister, played with desperate abandon by Ali Larter of “”Final Destination.”” This should be a breakout role for La Reese; though she doesn’t trade in overt, blunt sexuality like, say, Denise Richards or Nicole Kidman-she’s a bit too generic looking and fleshy-she plays the camera like a Stradivarius, with glamor and emotion to burn. The only young actresses who could give her a run for her money are Natalie Portman, Kirsten Dunst and Julia Stiles. Also noteworthy here are Selma Blair (“”Cruel Intentions””) as a starchy brunette classmate, and Raquel Welch as a wealthy matron. Directed by Robert Luketic. Written by Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith. Running time 1:40. Rated PG-13. For Movie Reviews and Commentary, go to www.kenrosenberg.com

The Score Bores, By Ken Rosenberg

At the center of this smoothly-produced crime thriller is a world-weary safecracker and jewel thief (Robert DeNiro), who’s on the verge of marrying his tough-but-sweet ladyfriend (Angela Bassett) and retiring to a peaceful life running his Montreal jazz club, where the likes of Cassandra Wilson and Mose Allison hold forth. But he’s enticed by professional pride and the prospect of a multi-million-dollar haul into participating in one final mega-caper.

If that premise sounds like a new variation on an old theme, it should; and what ensues, relying heavily on the mechanics of sophisticated, high-tech thievery, doesn’t do much to freshen the formula. Marlon Brando plays DeNiro’s fence and longtime partner, a mountainous, half-soused mastermind who desperately needs the big score to clear up festering debts, and Edward Norton is the young Turk, a nervy, razor’s-edge, quick-thinking con artist who poses as slightly retarded to snag a job as a janitor in the Montreal Customs House, deep within the bowels of which is secreted the object of the conspirators’ desire, a priceless, jewel-encrusted 17th-century French MacGuffin–uh, royal scepter.

Finally, Something We All Can Get Behind

A small band of online consumer advocates is attempting to turn this Friday the 13th into a nightmare for exhibitors and movie studios. The activist group, calling itself WeCanDoThis.com, is spreading its message via e-mail and its Web site pleading that consumers not see a movie Friday in order to protest the high price of tickets. It’s calling the effort the National Ticket Picket. WeCanDoThis.com expected its site to be up and running by Tuesday; its online home has been at IdeaTown.com. “”Thousands and thousands visited the site in the past 24 hours,”” said spokesman Mark Jonathan Davis, and hundreds of e-mails were sent asking that recipients pass the word along to boycott movies Friday.

Drew Barrymore and Tom Green wed – Who Cares?

This time, they say it’s for real. “”Charlie’s Angels”” star Drew Barrymore formally married actor-comedian Tom Green in a small outdoor ceremony last weekend, her publicist said Tuesday. “”It was a more formal ceremony, something they wanted to do for close friends and family,”” said Eddie Michaels. “”It was a beautiful, low-key event. They wanted to keep everything as private as possible.””

The couple has routinely joked about being married on talk shows and during other public appearances in recent months. Cameron Diaz and Lucy Liu, Barrymore’s co-stars from “”Charlie’s Angels,”” attended the reception after the Saturday wedding, along with Barrymore’s mother, Jaid. Green’s parents flew in from Ottawa. Barrymore, 26, and Green, 29, were engaged in July 2000. Green said in April that they had eloped in March. It was Green’s first marriage and Barrymore’s second.

Final Fantasy Review – By Sean O’Connell

Who would have thought, after last year’s “”Battlefield Earth”” wrestled the designation of “”Worst Film Ever”” from 1987’s “”Ishtar”” that it would only hold the distinguished title for just over 14 months?

A tough act to top (or bottom), “”Earth”” massacred the traditional sci fi genre and practically buried John Travolta’s career under a pile of detestable dialogue. But that cinematic mess resembles George Lucas’ original “”Star Wars”” when compared to Hironobu Sakaguchi’s futuristic flop, “”Final Fantasy.”” Based on a popular video game series, the computer-animated “”Fantasy”” has already turned several heads with its eye-popping visual style that deftly creates palpable digital characters and lets them loose in dazzling alien worlds. Set in the year 2065, “”Fantasy”” follows Dr. Aki Ross (the voice of Ming-Na), a buff female scientist who’s plagued by recurring nightmares of a phantom invasion that decimated the Earth in 2031. Now Ross and her partner, Dr. Sid (the voice of Donald Sutherland), search the planet’s ruins for eight spirits, each of them contributing to a greater life force called “”Gaya”” that powers extraterrestrial entities. It’s on one of these recovery missions that Ross encounters Grey Edwards (the voice of Alec Baldwin), a muscle-bound acquaintance and potential love interest who tags along for the adventure. Only there is no adventure. Save for the film’s stunning visuals – and at times the film does indeed look fantastic – there is absolutely nothing else to extract from “”Final Fantasy.”” The life-like characters are artistic contradictions. Their designers go to great lengths to achieve authenticity. Characters have wrinkles, scars and facial blemishes, and Dr. Ross’ bouncy hair appears to have been recently shampooed and conditioned. But then the character’s mouths don’t match the dialogue, and the fantasy is ruined. My theory is that even digitally animated characters would hesitate to recite such pitiful dialogue, hence the glaring discrepancy. Packed with macho dialogue stolen directly from a 1980’s Stallone or Schwarzenegger vehicle, “”Fantasy”” hasn’t met a bit of bravado it didn’t cherish. It almost helps that most of the horrendous lines are uttered by the likes of James Woods and Baldwin, who’s gravely voice is tailored for such cheesy verses. All of this can be overlooked if “”Fantasy”” only made sense. It doesn’t. Approximately one hour into it, the film reaches the first of its three climaxes. This one involved our heroes escaping from what I think was a space station as the evil phantoms (who aren’t evil) plucked off the gun-totting team one by one. But Ross, Dr. Sid and Grey barely escaped, and I thought we were almost finished. We weren’t. A second, less-involving and jumbled mission began. Characters that were thought dead returned from nowhere without explanation, and the film plodded along for another excruciating 45 minutes. By this point my fantasy involved having the projector break or seeing the theater lights come back on. Neither happened. Watching “”Final Fantasy,”” you can’t help but wonder why the filmmakers spent so much time on the visuals and absoultely no time cleaning up the convoluted plot or ridiculous dialogue. Sure it’s cool that the entire film is animated, and the digital techniques look great, but was it necessary? The film does nothing extraordinary that would require it to be animated. In fact, it moves a good deal slower than any feature that uses human actors. I salivate to think what Ridley Scott or James Cameron could have done with “”Fantasy.”” The movie borrows crucial elements from Cameron classics like “”The Abyss,”” “”T2″” and “”Aliens”” anyway. Since “”Fantasy”” started as a game, it should come as no surprise that the feature length film feels like you’re watching a game. However, you’re not playing, so it’s not nearly as fun. But at least when you’re playing the game, you always have the option of turning the Playstation system off and walking away. Final Grade: D- Review by Sean O’Connell

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