Monsters, Inc.

While it’s not yet something you can set your watch by, November has become Disney’s month of choice to release their Pixar fantasies, visionary blends of cutting-edge digital animation and classic family values. “”Toy Story”” started this successful run in 1995, followed by its blockbuster sequel in 1999. We don’t exactly expect these films, but they do tend to arrive at the ideal time, providing a pleasant respite from the frantic holiday schedule.

By now, audiences know what they’re getting out of a Pixar production. The studio’s original “”Toy Story”” deftly explored the insecurities of toy cowboy Woody when challenged by the bigger, better Buzz Lightyear, while the film’s sequel went on to tailor an exciting adventure around Buzz and Woody’s unique friendship. But in their latest, “”Monsters, Inc.,”” the Pixar team allows their imaginations to soar to infinity and beyond, creating new worlds populated with amazing and imaginative beings. That world is called Monstropolis, and it’s only accessible through the closets of little children around the globe. That monsters lurk in kids’ closets is common knowledge. What we weren’t aware of was Monstropolis’ reliance on the screams of these children as a power source, and that the hideous employees of Monsters, Incorporated, were responsible for soliciting these screams on a nightly basis. Unfortunately, desensitized kids don’t scare as easily as they used to, leading to Monstropolis’ current power drought. Two monsters in particular, though, are doing their part. The sarcastic and spherical green glob Mike Waznowski (voice of Billy Crystal), and his fuzzy bear of a friend, James “”Sulley”” Sullivan (voice of John Goodman), have earned a reputation as the factory’s top scarers. The duo is well on their way to breaking the company’s all-time “”scare”” record, in fact, until one fateful evening, when Sulley stumbles upon a devious scheme hatched by a rival monster, the chameleonesque Randall Boggs (voice of Steve Buscemi). Before he knows it, Sulley lets a little girl into the monsters’ world, a fatal mistake that could dismantle Monsters, Inc. and plunge Monstropolis further into its crippling energy crisis.With each new feature, the Pixar animators vastly improve the look of their characters and the worlds they inhabit. “”Monsters, Inc.”” boasts more exotic creatures than the cantina in “”Star Wars,”” and the animators’ attention to detail, on Sulley in particular, truly amazes me. Close ups of Sulley’s purple mane reveal a shag carpet-type rug of body hair that begs to be hugged. For some reason, though, these animators can devise a contact lens that Mike wears on his giant eye, but they can’t make the film’s little girl look more human. Perhaps these guys need to spend a little more time in the real world.””Monsters Inc.”” proves the Pixar team can think outside of the box. For all of its creative concepts, though, the plot still relies too heavily on generic characterizations and Disney’s time-tested formulas. Randall bears all the qualities of a sub-standard Disney villain, cut from the cloth of an Ursula, Jafar or the bounty hunter from “”Tarzan.”” And while Mike was 75% eyeball, he never stopped being Billy Crystal, a fact both Tom Hanks and Tim Allen were able to disguise in the “”Toy Story”” films. Only Goodman’s Sulley is given the chance to grow as a character, parlaying his paternal yearnings for the stowaway girl into an endearing storyline.With a trustworthy formula and pandering comic relief, “”Monsters, Inc.”” is more a Disney flick than a Pixar production. Rank it alongside commendable family favorites like “”Tarzan,”” “”The Hunchback of Notre Dame”” or “”Aladdin.”” But the Pixar moniker led me to believe we were in for something a little more special. Hoping for “”Toy Story,”” I was disappointed, but certainly not disappointed enough to overlook the film’s obvious strengths and widespread audience appeal.Final Grade: B+By Sean O’ConnellNov. 2, 2001

Life As A House

Until director Irwin Winkler decides what he wants his latest drama “”Life as a House”” to be, I don’t think it’s quite fair to judge it. But by that rationale, it also might not be fair for him to release it, as its bound to motivate, sadden and perplex anyone who sits through it, quite possibly achieving all these emotions at the same time.

As it stands now, on a shaky foundation of mixed metaphors and powerful symbolism, “”House”” resembles a line of Hallmark cards penned by goth rocker Marilyn Manson. Because Mark Andrus’ screenplay desperately wants to be edgy in an “”American Beauty”” kind of way, it mistakenly forces teen angst, divorce, gay prostitution and adultery into an underlying “”movie of the week”” story of terminal illness and father/son bonding. It doesn’t work because it fails to commit to either track fully, so few of the emotions it illicits feel genuine.The father in question is George (Kevin Kline), a long-time divorcee and unsatisfied model builder for a successful architecture firm who learns (in the same day, no less) that he’s losing his job of 20 years and suffering from cancer. Given months to live, George commits to not one project, but two: He’s going to renovate his ramshackle waterfront home, and connect with his alienated teenage son, Sam (Hayden Christiansen), in the process.Of course, absentee father George has no grasp of Sam’s problems. An outcast both at school and at home, Sam balances a steady diet of anguish and prescription drugs and is attempting to raise some extra cash by pimping himself out to male clients, one of the film’s most uncomfortable sequences. Shame on Winkler for believing some tender moments with dear old dad set against the backdrop of a dazzling California sunset can correct such problems in a wayward teen, but “”House”” goes so far as to make that assumption.On the rare occasion that “”House”” does connect, it’s because of Kline’s tender performance. His George puts up a brave front, hiding an illness from his ex-wife (Kristen Scott Thomas), his son and himself, for that matter. But Kline can only endure so much, and he eventually buckles under the weight of the ludicrous devices Winkler tosses at him. There’s enough dysfunction here for a series of films, and too much for just one. Common knowledge suggests that any house built on an unstable surface such as this can only come crumbling down.Grade: C-By Sean O’ConnellNov. 2, 2001

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

In 1937, animator and entertainment pioneer Walt Disney risked his personal fortune on a feature-length, fully-animated fantasy, a first for that time. “”Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”” captured hearts and kick-started a legacy that has led to countless films and a lifetime of family happiness. Now, over 60 years after its theatrical debut, Disney has the technology to transport modern audiences back to 1937, to experience how “”Snow White”” must have looked back then. It’s a magical experience, just one of many to be found on the studio’s new two-disc commemorative DVD.

Working from Grimm’s fairy tale (and borrowing a healthy dose of the legendary Goldilocks fable), “”Snow White”” tells of a beautiful princess forced to flee her evil step-mother, a vain enchantress whose sole desire is to be the “”fairest”” in the land. Snow White ends up in a cabin in the woods, where she encounters seven midget diamond-herders with a penchant for whistling while they work. Even in the dwarf’s lair, though, Snow White isn’t safe from her step-mom, the Queen. The wicked temptress conjures up a disguise and tricks Snow White into tasting a poisoned apple, and the only antidote happens to be the kiss of first love. Now, has anybody seen a prince?The first of an endless string of Disney classics, “”Snow White”” contains all the ingredientsof a winsome dramatic fantasy, boasting themes of jealousy, envy, vanity, love and devotion. Mix in a musical number or two and you’ve established the winning formula Disney has relied on for decades. Sure, the music may be updated, the animation far more advanced. But “”Snow White”” proves that not a great deal has changed from “”the one that started it all”” to today’s features like “”Mulan,”” “”The Hunchback of Notre Dame,”” and “”Pocahontas.”” “”Snow White”” does harken back, though, to a time before when Disney learned how to curb its enthusiasm, resulting in a feature-length kids film that’s scary enough to frighten adults. The evil Queen ranks as Disney’s most frightful and vindictive villain, and Snow White’s journey through the woods at night would give any child nightmares. But before things get too out of hand, the dwarfs are on the scene, and Snow White has struck up a tune to ease the soul. As I said, the formula hasn’t changed too much over the years. And if it ain’t broke, why fix it?Grade: ATHE EXTRASWhether you’re a die hard DVD collector or a casual fan of the “”Snow White”” film, it’s safe to say you’ve never seen a DVD as comprehensive and creative as this. Disney’s “”Snow White”” disc spreads over two bulging DVDs and spans the time frame of 64 years, providing everything from archival L.A. premiere footage to documentaries on the film’s restoration process. Afraid you’re going to miss something along the way? Fear not, for Disney has provided you with a guide (several, to be honest).In a fairly original move, Disney has recorded hours or original programming for the sole purpose of guiding viewers through their sprawling DVD. The disc’s main host, the Magic Mirror On the Wall, walks you through various menus, and pre-recorded footage of Roy Disney and Angela Lansbury pick up the slack. The thought that must have gone into the disc in advance is mind blowing, and makes for an extremely entertaining experience.Before touching on the DVDs extras, I must comment on the restored print itself. Never before have I seen “”Snow White”” appear so radiant, so pristine and so picture perfect. The cleaned up print is a marvel, a true vision that harkens back to the original cells drawn in 1937. The film’s audio transfer may lack slightly in comparison to the visual restoration – especially when you crank up Barbara Streisand’s re-recording of the famous “”Some Day My Prince Will Come”” – but it’s a small point to harp on.Now, on to the features. Disney has outdone themselves for what they’re calling an “”immersive”” DVD. Some of the many features explore “”Snow White””‘s profound history. As mentioned, there’s archival footage of the film’s L.A. premiere, as well as audio footage of the radio premiere. A forty-minute “”Making Of”” documentary takes us back to the drawing board, so to speak, and a feature-length audio commentary is pieced togetherfrom interviews with Walt on his first full-length creation. There are also storyboard to film comparisons, deleted concepts and scenes, camera tests and tons of publicity.Other features explore the present, specifically techniques that ushered “”Snow White”” into the 21st century. Interviews with digital animators, audio specialists and more populate the DVD’s second-disc. Finally, there are various features that utilize the interactive nature of the technology, including a set top game entitled “”Dopey’s Wild Mine Ride”” (a trivia contest) and a Karaoke version of “”Heigh Ho.”” So, if you have the time, it’s off to work you go, so have fun exploring this truly magical DVD.Final Grade: A By Sean O’ConnellOct. 20, 2001

The Terminator: Special Edition

Two beings sent from the future seek out unsuspecting Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), one (Arnold Schwarzenegger) to kill her and one (Michael Biehn) to protect her. Connor learns from her human savior, Reese, that her unborn son John will grow up to lead a vital revolution against the machines in the year 2024. In an attempt to prevent John’s uprising, evil forces send a ruthless machine, the T-800 Terminator cyborg, back in time to eliminate Sarah before she can get pregnant and give birth.

Despite turns in the bodybuilding documentary “”Pumping Iron”” and two “”Conan”” vehicles, it was Schwarzenegger’s performance as the relentless Terminator that put him on the map. In comparison to today’s digital fare, director James Cameron’s futuristic thriller seems rudimentary. His visionary blend of special-effects, science-fiction and fear wasn’t truly realized until the superior “”T2: Judgement Day”” in 1991. But Cameron still injects plenty of violent action sequences, rousing chase scenes, and a horror villain-intensity and durability that makes “”Terminator”” a nail-biting affair.Grade: B+THE EXTRASMGM cleans up “”Terminator”” for this extras-laden Special Edition DVD, a decent find for collectors. Unlike other “”Terminator”” releases, Cameron get involved with this release, providing interviews for a brand-new documentary “”Other Voices,”” as well as commentary on seven “”terminated”” scenes (which are very short).In addition, MGM includes the “”Terminator: A Retrospective”” documentary previously found on the film’s laser disc release. It features interviews with Cameron, producer Gale Anne Hurd, cinematographer Adam Greenberg and special effects members of Fantasy II. Fans of the film should be happy to have any sort of input from Cameron, a talented director who’s been missing since picking up his Best Picture statuette for “”Titanic”” and sailing off into the L.A. sunset. Since he hasn’t worked a day on original material, we have to assume he’s spending his time scavenging his past works for DVD releases like this. A technical wizard, Cameron rarely gets credit for his script work. However, if you’re a fanof his words, MGM also includes the original treatment for “”Terminator,”” though by the time you scroll through the entire screenplay on your monitor, it just might be the year 2024.Final Grade: C By Peter J. HannahOct. 20, 2001

Bridget Jones’s Diary

It was only a matter of time before British columnist Helen Fielding’s cult icon Bridget Jones, a 30-ish single gal who fears she’s on the verge of spinster-dom, became the subject of a movie. And why not? Fielding’s take on the dating rituals of a smoking, drinking, gullible London dweller who sets New Year’s Resolutions to improve her love life was so accurate and amusing, audiences on either side of the “”pond”” could relate.

What fans didn’t expect was the casting of Renee Zellweger – a full-blown Yank and a Texan, to boot – in the lead. But it’s gutsy moves like that, among others, that prevents “”Bridget Jones”” from becoming another predictable, forgettable romantic comedy and turning it into a memorable event. Bridget, 32 and up to about 22 cigarettes a day, resolves to stop drinking, smoking and fantasizing about her boss, dashing publisher Daniel Carver (Hugh Grant). She even agrees to keep track of her progress in a diary, where she also muses about the state of her friends, family and social circle, which up until now consisted of turning away priggish divorcees her mother tries to set her up with, like the terse Mark Darcy (Colin Firth). Of course, the more she ignores Daniel, the more he’s attracted to her, and the two start up a bumbling affair. A pattern establishes itself in time, for Bridget’s torrid tryst with Daniel catches Mark’s eye, despite the fact that he’s attached to icy attorney Natasha (Embeth Davidtz). However, the tension between these two men – who used to be college chums – isn’t new, and Bridget learns that another woman once separated them. Will it happen again?First-time director Sharon Maguire employs various clever devices to get us inside Bridget’s head. For instance, when she’s caught in a lie by her attractive boss, curse words scroll across the bottom of the screen. But even when we’re not allowed to read Jones’s thoughts, Zellweger’s illuminated features spell out exactly what we’re thinking, helping us relate.””Diary”” also packs the exact same type of quirky British humor we’ve grown accustomed to thanks to Grant’s other pics like “”Notting Hill”” and “”Four Weddings and a Funeral.”” These comedies lead us to believe that London is crawling with smart-alecks and sharp-witted wise-acres who wash their jagged barbs down with unfiltered Camels and vodka, on the rocks. I’ve yet to go to London, but before I do, I’m going to have to sharpen my one-liners.The very idea of casting Zellweger as Jones must have sent shockwaves through the foggy countryside. Once you think about it, though, Zellweger’s distinctive traits, from the squinty smile and every-girl enthusiasm to her and healthy dose of self-doubt, make her the perfect choice to fill Bridget’s knickers. As she has in the past, Zellweger plays Bridget as a regular girl who constantly buries her shining character traits, and its this refined unawareness of self that makes her so attractive.Grade: B+THE EXTRASMiramax pads their “”Bridget Jones”” DVD with adequate extras, and fans of the film won’t be disappointed. Maguire sits down for a feature-length audio commentary, displaying a sense of humor that fits this project like a glove. There’s also an original “”Behind The Scenes”” piece that sets itself up like Bridget’s Diary, and manages to interview Maguire, Fielding and the film’s stars.Original features on the disc include a selection of Fielding’s extremely clever “”Bridget Jones”” columns as they first appeared in a London newspaper. With source material like this, it’s easy to see how screenwriters Richard Curtis and Andrew Davies were able to construct their witty script. Miramax also includes seven deleted scenes, a few of which could have remained in the short 98-minute finished film without harm. The DVD goes on to feature two songs that I couldn’t remember from the film, which is odd because the soundtrack of classic tunes like “”I’m Every Woman”” and Jamie O’Neal’s “”All By Myself”” plays such a significant part in the action. Still, the DVD offers Shelby Lynne’s generic “”Killin’ Kind,”” as well as “”Out of Reach”” by Gabrielle. Final Grade: BBy Peter J. HannahOct. 20, 2001

The Last Castle

A debate currently “”rages”” within the film critic community about whether or not the attacks of Sept. 11 should color our critiques of certain films. Critics may recommend the ridiculous humor of Ben Stiller’s “”Zoolander”” as a temporary distraction from CNN’s talking heads, but will that review stand when the film comes out on video? It

Just Bring It – Saturday Night Live

Welcome to the first installment of my daily rants, raves, and darts. There are lots of things in this world that really piss off your fearless leader and instead of keeping them bottled up. I’m just going to spew them here in this regular column. It’ll mostly be showbusiness related, but occassionally I will vent my spleen about the cable company, phone company, satellite television companies, and just crappy big business in general. But the first target of my hit parade is Saturday’s “”Saturday Night Live””.Feel free to comment on anything in this column, although I speak universal truths, it’s hard to imagine anyone disagreeing with my all knowing comments.

Did anyone catch this past Saturday’s SNL with Drew Barrymore and Macy Gray? My god that was a horrible show. It was the first time I watched SNL in over a decade and now I remember why. What happened to the days when “”SNL”” had a “”small”” but extremely talented cast that we can all “”relate”” to? Or at the very least remember their names. I watched the opening credits and there must be what 10 or 15 cast members and contributors now, none of whom I could have picked out of a line-up. The only name I recognized was Chris Kattan, and the only reason I even remotely knew who he was, was because we promoted his film “”Who Is Corky Romano””. Who the hell where all those no-talented people?Drew Barrymore’s opening monologue was mercifully short, but totally self indulgent and pitiful. “”I was scared to fly, but Rudy said be brave and come to New York. So listening to Rudy, I wanted to be brave so I came. Then when I got here, theydiscovered Anthrax in the building and I was going to go home, but then I remembered Rudy saying, be Brave, so I stayed. And you are brave to for being here. Even my husband, Tom Green, made the trip with me.”” Of course they show Tom Green with his gas mask on. Oh my god, that was sooooooooo funny, I was rolling on the floor laughing. God, can I puke now?And please, do we need to see Tom Green, everywhere Drew Barrymore goes? Yes, you two are in love and are married. So what? Who cares? Stop rubbing our noses in your “”happiness””.The only semi amusing segment in the entire program was the “”Weekend Update””, the rest of the sketches seemed to be totally self-involved “”in jokes””, like that annoying hot tub bit where they were so amused with themselves without letting the rest of the audience in on the joke. Or another totally self-involved bit about a mock television station called WUUB. I guess it was supposed to be a spoof of the WB and local UHF programming, but it was wretched and lasted way to long.And Macy Gray’s performance was HORRIBLE. It looked like she was high, and what happened to her voice? She was off key, and you could barely hear her. Being a huge fan of Drew Barrymore’s and Macy Gray, I thought this “”SNL”” couldn’t go wrong, but it did, and in every conceivable way. Huge disappointment.Awful. Wretched. Complete shit.Just Bring Itby Michelle Alexandria

Entertainment News for The Rest of Us