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August 2nd, 2007

VIDEO STORE GUY: DVD REVIEWS

by Steven Anderson

CUTTHROAT ISLAND: 4 STARS
Directed By: Renny Harlin, Written By: Robert King, Marc Norman
Starring: Matthew Modine, Geena Davis, Frank Langella, Maury Chaykin
Produced By: Renny Harlin, 124 mins, PG-13 1995

In a move that can only be described as callous, calculated brilliance, Lions Gate has re-released “Cutthroat Island,” a 1995 film about piracy, just in time to coincide with the release of the third “Pirates of the Caribbean” film.

Which isn’t to say that you don’t actually benefit from this sleazy money grab–“Cutthroat Island” was a wildly unappreciated gem from the depths of my old high school days. Captain Morgan Adams was plying the high seas and seizing booty (of all types) long, LONG, before Johnny Depp insane-minced his way across the silver screen.

Morgan and crew are out to lay hands on the treasure on Cutthroat Island (hence the title)–a seized Spanish treasure ship’s entire haul.Which is a lot. And that kind of gold sitting out in the middle of the Caribbean will call all sorts of unsavory types, from Morgan’s crazy uncle Dawg to the governor of Jamaica himself.

Okay, so let’s dispel the first query right now. No, it’s not as good as “Pirates of the Caribbean.” But then, would anything be that good? “Cutthroat Island,” meanwhile, is still a great entry in the pirate movie category, with lots of explosions, assorted swordplay, some gunplay for variety and occasional laughs and romantic bits. It’s definitely worth your time, even if it can’t stand up to Captain Jack.

MELTDOWN: DAYS OF DESTRUCTION:  3 STARS
Directed By: J.P. Howell, Written By: Rick Drew
Starring: Casper Van Dien, Vincent Gale, Stefanie Von Pfetten, Venus Terzo
Produced By: Harvey Kahn, 94 mins R 2007

Wonders never cease, folks…what I’ve got right here is a good direct-to-video Casper Van Dien disaster movie. And you can find this wonder on your video store shelves by looking for “Meltdown: Days of Destruction.”

Despite what you’re thinking, this one’s actually got a fairly new premise to it. There’s an asteroid heading toward Earth, and–hey! No! Don’t stop! There’s something new here, I promise!–and it misses the planet entirely. By now you’re a little freaked out. Misses the planet?What kind of movie is that? But–and you knew that was coming–the asteroid managed to just barely nick the Earth’s atmosphere. And this near-hit, as George Carlin might have said, managed to shift the Earth slightly out of its standard orbit…pushing it closer to the sun.Which means Earth is now slowly cooking. And the premise is actually mirrored in the movie’s pacing. It takes the planet a while to gradually fall apart, and civilization with it. Kinda like…it’s melting. Wow. Like Western Civilization as fudge ripple in a blowtorch, so goes “Meltdown: Days of Destruction”. All in all, it’s actually pretty good. Packing in a few nifty surprises and not doing anything particularly wrong elevates it just a bit above the common horde.

MACHINE:  2 STARS
Written and Directed By: Michael Lazar
Starring: Michael Lazar, Neal McDonough, Michael Madsen, James Russo
Produced By:Michael Lazar, Robert Benson, Nick Vallelonga, James Quattrochi, 88 mins R 2007

If you’re a fan of big crime dramas like “The Sopranos”, then you may be cringing at the thought of “Machine.”

You’re doing your cringing because “Machine,” at its roots, is yet another cheesy yawnfest shoot-em-up crime drama packed with lots of pointless, chest-pounding posturing that would be funny if it weren’t so sad. “Machine” sets up a pair of cons-to-be, Vic and Frank, marauding their way through the Los Angeles underground and playing both ends against the other whenever possible to make the most money they can. This works well for a while until everyone reaches the conclusion that they’re getting played for suckers and thus launch off on a battle royale that should have been a lot bigger but wasn’t. And it probably wasn’t bigger because “Machine” couldn’t afford bigger. Shot in bafflingly grainy video and arming its hoodlums with miraculously recoilless handguns, (seriously– watch their hands! They don’t MOVE!) “Machine” makes a move to redefine “low budget” for the action movie set. If that’s the kind of thing you’re okay with, then by all means, enjoy “Machine.” If not, don’t bother–go enjoy “The Sopranos” re-runs and be glad Vallelonga and crew have nothing to do with that.

TOWER OF THE FIRSTBORN: 2 STARS
Directed By: Alberto Negrin,Written By: Luigi Montefiori, Alberto Negrin
Starring: Peter Weller, Ione Skye, Ben Cross, Marco Bonini, Produced By: Arnoldo Mondadori Editore
190 mins PG-13 2006

Strap yourselves in for a long ride with “Tower of the Firstborn,” a monster three-hour epic that’ll make you wonder why you bothered clearing that big of a chunk off your calendar just to make room for a movie that really doesn’t do much with its massive run time. Three hours is a monster runtime, so you’re going to be expecting a whole lot of plot. And in that regard, “Tower of the Firstborn” will not disappoint. It’s a sweeping, monstrous epic about the librarian daughter of a missing archeologist and her hunt for her missing father. And of course this hunt will take a whole lot of time, because daddy went missing on the hunt for one of the biggest archeological finds in recorded history–the Tower of the Firstborn. No one’s a hundred percent sure just what’s in there–some believe there’s fortunes in gold, others say “a way to make the desert bloom;” I personally heard like three different guesses before we finally got in there–but whatever it is, it’s gonna be big. It had better be, for a three hour movie. And that’s where “Tower of the Firstborn” disappoints. It’s a three-plus-hour movie, but the time actually spent inside the Tower that everyone’s been chasing after amounts to just under fifteen minutes. And that puts a whole lot of pressure on the ending to tie up all the loose ends (of which you can bet are plenty in a three hour movie) and still manage to make sense.Which it most certainly does not and probably could not pull off. Don’t get me wrong–I said “sweeping monstrous epic” and I damn well meant it. It’s probably a bit of understatement on my part. But in the end, it’s just not very satisfying. So if you’ve got the patience to put up with a three hour epic that may or may not deliver the goods in the end, then “Tower of the Firstborn” is the movie you’ve been waiting for.

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