News and Commentary: December 1999

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Wednesday, 22 December 1999

booze!Farewell, for now: The lights are dimmed, the martinis are being mixed, and the staff of The DVD Journal is welcoming a brief respite from the non-stop world of DVD news. We're gonna go offline for a while so we can enjoy the holiday season with our loved ones, and maybe even watch a few movies without the need to take notes (which will be a luxury, trust us). We'll be back with all the good stuff on Jan. 3, but until then you can still enter our free DVD contest (we will announce the winner of our Easy Rider and Aquaria discs upon our return), and your humble editor will still be reading his e-mail, so feel free to send your questions or comments during our hiatus. Finally, Glenn Kenny at E-Town has posted his Year in Discs wrap-up, a commentary so keen that we think it pretty much sticks a fork in 1999.

Thanks for reading, gang — we'll see ya in 2000 (that is, if it doesn't wind up to be 1900). Go forth and spin.

— Ed.

Tuesday, 21 December 1999

Golden Globe noms announced: With Michael Mann's The Insider and Sam Mendes' American Beauty currently in the hunt for next year's Academy Award for Best Picture, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association announced yesterday their nominations for Oscar's distant cousin, the Golden Globes. Critics' circles across the country have been evenly split on these two films, but Beauty took the most Golden Globe nods at six, including Best Drama, Best Director (Mendes), Best Actor, Drama (Kevin Spacey), Best Actress, Drama (Annette Bening), Best Screenplay and Best Score, while The Insider is up for Best Picture, Best Director (Mann), Best Actor (Russell Crowe), and Best Screenplay. Here's some of the notable noms from yesterday:

    Best Motion Picture — Drama
    American Beauty
    The End of the Affair
    The Hurricane
    The Insider
    The Talented Mr. Ripley

    Best Actress In A Motion Picture — Drama
    Annette Bening, American Beauty
    Julianne Moore, The End of the Affair
    Meryl Streep, Music of the Heart
    Hilary Swank, Boys Don't Cry
    Sigourney Weaver, A Map of the World

    Best Actor In A Motion Picture — Drama
    Russell Crowe, The Insider
    Matt Damon, The Talented Mr. Ripley
    Richard Farnsworth, The Straight Story
    Kevin Spacey, American Beauty
    Denzel Washington, The Hurricane

    Best Motion Picture — Musical or Comedy
    Analyze This
    Being John Malkovich
    Man on the Moon
    Notting Hill
    Toy Story 2

    Best Actress In A Motion Picture — Musical or Comedy
    Janet Mcteer, Tumbleweeds
    Julianne Moore, An Ideal Husband
    Julia Roberts, Notting Hill
    Sharon Stone, The Muse
    Reese Witherspoon, Election

    Best Actor In A Motion Picture — Musical or Comedy
    Jim Carrey, Man on the Moon
    Robert De Niro, Analyze This
    Rupert Everett, An Ideal Husband
    Hugh Grant, Notting Hill
    Sean Penn, Sweet And Lowdown

    Best Foreign Language Film
    Aimee and Jaguar (Germany)
    All About My Mother (Spain)
    East-West (France)
    Girl on the Bridge (France)
    The Red Violin (Canada)

    Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture
    Cameron Diaz, Being John Malkovich
    Angelina Jolie, Girl, Interrupted
    Catherine Keener, Being John Malkovich
    Samantha Morton, Sweet And Lowdown
    Natalie Portman, Anywhere But Here
    Chloe Sevigny, Boys Don't Cry

    Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture
    Michael Caine, The Cider House Rules
    Tom Cruise, Magnolia
    Michael Clarke Duncan, The Green Mile
    Jude Law, The Talented Mr. Ripley
    Haley Joel Osment, The Sixth Sense

    Best Director — Motion Picture
    Norman Jewison, The Hurricane
    Neil Jordan, The End of the Affair
    Michael Mann, The Insider
    Sam Mendes, American Beauty
    Anthony Minghella, The Talented Mr. Ripley

    Best Screenplay — Motion Picture
    Alan Ball, American Beauty
    John Irving, The Cider House Rules
    Charlie Kaufman, Being John Malkovich
    Eric Roth and Michael Mann, The Insider
    M. Knight Shyamalan, The Sixth Sense

On the Street: Do our eyes deceive us, or is The Shawshank Redemption on the board this morning? Yes, it's true — Warner distributed plenty of press screeners of this highly anticipated title last week, so we can assure you that it exists, finally. Meanwhile, Universal has a pair of popular teen comedies on the street this morning with Fast Times at Ridgemont High: Collector's Edition and both the R-rated and unrated editions of American Pie, along with the latest in their "Classic Monster Collection," the 1931 Dracula, which is loaded with extras. Of note, New Line's New Rock City DVD is on the street before the VHS edition, which is a DVD first. And some of you may want to check out the new discs of Run Lola Run, American Flyers, Teaching Mrs. Tingle, and Supercop 2. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of

  • The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland
  • American Flyers
  • American Pie: Collector's Edition (Rated R)
  • American Pie: Collector's Edition (Unrated)
  • Babar: King of the Elephants
  • Besieged (delayed from 11/9)
  • Cher: Live in Concert From Las Vegas
  • Clockwatchers
  • Detroit Rock City
  • Dracula: Classic Monster Collection (released last week, ahead of schedule)
  • Ella Fitzgerald: Something to Live For
  • An Evening with Placido Domingo
  • Fast Times at Ridgemont High: Collector's Edition (released last week, ahead of schedule)
  • Heidi Fleiss: Hollywood Madam
  • Iron Maze
  • K-911
  • Masterworks of the German Horror Cinema
  • Run Lola Run
  • The Shawshank Redemption
  • The Song Remains the Same (delayed from 11/30)
  • Summer of Sam
  • Supercop 2
  • Teaching Mrs. Tingle
  • Total Eclipse
  • Trippin'
  • Voyage of the Damned (delayed from 12/7)
  • Year of the Gun

Hello, MoneypennySir 007?: The U.K.'s Daily Mail newspaper is reporting that Sean Connery could become "Sir Sean Connery" when Great Britain's traditional New Year's Honors List is announced. The erstwhile 007 stands to join the ranks of such other luminaries as Sir Alec Guiness, Sir Laurence Olivier, Sir Alfred Hitchcock, Sir John Gielgud, Sir Anthony Hopkins, and many more Brit blokes from stage and screen. However, Connery has been a wild-card in recent years amongst British politicos, primarily because of his support for an independent Scotland, and it remains to be seen if he will accept the distinction from Westminster.

And about Sir Anthony: The Hollywood Reporter has published an early report that Anthony Hopkins is set to return as Hannibal Lecter in Hannibal, the sequel to The Silence of the Lambs. Hopkins is the first of the three main figures from Lambs to seriously consider reprising his role, as director Jonathan Demme turned down the opportunity (Ridley Scott will take his place), and Jodie Foster has run hot-and-cold over the matter. However, in recent weeks Foster has emphasized that she has not ruled out a return as Clarice Starling (despite an interview with W magazine, where she criticized Thomas Harris' recent novel), but that she is merely waiting to see a final script.

— Ed.

Monday, 20 December 1999

boxcoverDisc of the Week: While Alfred Hitchcock is best-known for his American films, which had generous budgets, big Hollywood stars, and a seasoned director behind the camera, serious Hitch aficionados know that his British career — stretching roughly from 1922 to 1939 — contains a treasure trove of small cinematic gems. Hitch fans love to pore over these films, picking out the most salient evidence of his budding genius, and while the 1937 The Lady Vanishes seems to be his most popular effort from this period, it is 1935's The 39 Steps that first introduced his favorite theme: the innocent man, wrongly accused of a crime, who must expose his antagonists before the police toss him in the klink. It's a plot Hitchcock never tired of re-fashioning over and over again, appearing in such later films as Saboteur, The Wrong Man, North By Northwest, and even his penultimate work, 1972's Frenzy. All of these films have their merits (North By Northwest is certainly one of Hitch's best flicks ever), but The 39 Steps is the crown jewel of his British period. Robert Donat stars as Canadian Richard Hannay, a sometime resident of London who must flee for his life after a woman turns up dead in his flat and the coppers finger him for the crime. Following a lead that may expose his houseguest's killers, Hannay travels — by train and on foot — to Scotland, but he walks into the middle of a spy ring that is only too willing to kill interlopers. With nowhere to turn, Hannay must rely upon Pamela (Madeline Carroll), an icy blonde (yet another first in Hitchcockian lore) who thinks he's a murderer. She also can't stand him, but as they are handcuffed to each other and on the run from the spies, diplomacy eventually becomes the better part of valor. Adapted from John Buchan's popular novel by Charles Bennett and Alma Reville (that would be "Mrs. Hitchcock" to you), The 39 Steps is easily a top-ten Hitch-flick as well as a masterpiece of economy, spinning its harried plot in a variety of directions before it arrives at a breathless conclusion, and all in a mere 86 minutes. Criterion's DVD release offers a digitally restored source print in the original 1.33:1 ratio and cleaned-up audio in the original mono on a DD 1.0 track. The presentation is very enjoyable and a relief for those who have suffered too long with the various low-grade videotapes in circulation over the years. Extras on this feature-packed item include a commentary track with Hitchcock scholar Marian Keane, a 20-minute Janus Films documentary on Hitchcock's British period narrated by Douglas Fairbanks Jr., the one-hour Lux Radio production of The 39 Steps starring Robert Montgomery and Ida Lupino, original production-design drawings, and a recreation of the original press book for the film from 1935. It's enough to make Hitch fans think they've died and gone to heaven.

New York critics sound off: Michael Mann's The Insider and Sam Mendes' American Beauty are currently winning the most end-of-year critics' awards, but the New York Film Critics Circle passed over both flicks late last week when they named Mike Leigh's Topsy-Turvy the best film of 1999. The Gilbert and Sullivan biopic is currently in limited release and won't go wide until January, but the New York nod will certainly raise its profile. The Academy Award nominations are less than two months away — here's what the Big Apple pundits think about the year that was:

  • Best Film: Topsy-Turvy
  • Best Actor: Richard Farnsworth, The Straight Story
  • Best Actress: Hilary Swank, Boys Don't Cry
  • Best Supporting Actress: Catherine Keener, Being John Malkovich
  • Best Supporting Actor: John Malkovich, Being John Malkovich
  • Best Director: Mike Leigh, Topsy-Turvy
  • Best First Film: Spike Jonze, Being John Malkovich
  • Best Animated Film: South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut
  • Best Foreign Language Film: All About My Mother
  • Best Screenplay: Jim Taylor and Alexander Payne, Election
  • Best Non-Fiction: The Buena Vista Social Club
  • Best Cinematography: Freddie Francis, The Straight Story

Box Office: Columbia TriStar's Stuart Little, based on E.B. White's classic children's story, surprised Tinseltown pundits by earning $15.4 million in three days and surging past Warner's The Green Mile ($12.6 million) and Pixar/Disney's Toy Story 2 ($12.1 million) to grab the top-spot over the pre-Christmas weekend. It was only the third top-finish for Columbia TriStar this year, and Disney is still the overall champ of the holiday-season box office, owning three of the current top five. Robin Williams' Bicentennial Man didn't rack up huge numbers, but its no Jakob The Liar, as its opening weekend tally of $8.3 million is more than the comedian's previous film earned during its entire run. Buena Vista's Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo also did good business, tying Bicentennial Man for fourth place. The only other major debut of the weekend, Fox's Anna and the King, starring Jodie Foster and Chow Yun-Fat, garnered a disappointing $5.1 million, while The World is Not Enough, End of Days, Sleepy Hollow, and The Bone Collector continue their top-ten rankings after several weeks in release. However, Michael Mann's The Insider dropped off the top-ten over the weekend. Normally, we'd figure it's already being prepped for home video, but with all of the Oscar buzz surrounding the film, don't be surprised if it returns to the theaters for a brief run in February. On the limited-release circuit, Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia earned $184,000 on seven screens, while Mike Leigh's Topsy-Turvy garnered $29,891 on two.

Here's the top-grossing films at American theaters from last weekend:

    1. Stuart Little (Sony)
    $15,400,000 ($15,400,000 to date)
    2. The Green Mile (Warner)
    $12,600,000 ($36,500,000 to date)
    3. Toy Story 2 (Buena Vista)
    $12,100,000 ($156,300,000 to date)
    4. Bicentennial Man (Buena Vista)
    $8,300,000 ($8,300,000 to date)
    4. Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo (Buena Vista)
    $8,300,000 ($24,300,000 to date)
    6. Anna and the King (Fox)
    $5,100,000 ($5,100,000 to date)
    7. The World Is Not Enough (MGM/UA)
    $4,000,000 ($105,300,000 to date)
    8. Sleepy Hollow (Paramount)
    $3,000,000 ($85,900,000 to date)
    9. End of Days (Universal)
    $2,900,000 ($57,800,000 to date)
    10. The Bone Collector (Universal)
    $1,000,000 ($62,400,000 to date)
    11. Being John Malkovich (USA)
    $730,000 ($16,400,000 to date)
    12. Dogma (Lions Gate)
    625,000 ($27,400,000 to date)

On the Board: A new full review has been posted for Dick, and can be found on our Full Reviews index. New quick reviews this week include a pair of Criterion titles, The 39 Steps and Peeping Tom, along with 101 Dalmatians: Limited Issue, Caligula, Carnal Knowledge, and The General's Daughter, all of which can be accessed on the Quick Reviews index.

R.I.P.: As James Bond fans everywhere have enjoyed a great double-helping of 007 in recent months with The World Is Not Enough in theaters and a big box of DVDs now in release from MGM, it is with great sadness that we report that Desmond Llewelyn was killed in a car crash on Sunday in East Sussex, England. While several actors have portrayed Bond over the past 38 years, Llewelyn was the only person to play gadget-boffin Q, the Secret Service's master of hi-tech toys. The part had become so identified with Llewelyn over the years that he was considered irreplaceable despite the many Bond actors he sparred with, and, upon his pending retirement from the series, John Cleese was chosen as his eventual successor. Llewelyn's first 007 film was 1963's From Russia with Love, whereas his last was this year's The World Is Not Enough, and we cannot imagine anybody else delivering the line "Oh, grow up 007." The man will be missed, but always remembered. Llewelyn was 85.

— Ed.

Friday, 17 December 1999
Weekend Dispatch

Long weekend: As the holiday season bears down on us with all the subtlety of a foghorn, we're taking the day off in order to get some shopping done, read all of your reader mail, and take care of some much-needed site maintenance. But never fear — while we will be taking a break at the end of this month (the only vacation this die-hard staff gets all year), we have several new reviews on the way, including another Criterion double-feature. Until then, if you haven't found the time to enter our monthly free DVD contest, be sure to drop by our Contest Page to send us your entry, take the reader poll, and stake your claim on our copy of Easy Rider: Special Edition. And if that ain't enough for you all, we're tossing a copy of DVD International's Aquaria into the contest this month, which should make for a very special end-of-the-year prize.

See ya Monday morning.

— Ed.

Thursday, 16 December 1999

Mr. Smith goes to DVD!: We just got the specs on Columbia TriStar's upcoming Mr. Smith Goes To Washington DVD, and here's all the good stuff we can look forward to:

  • Digitally restored print "to insure the finest image and sound possible"
  • Commentary track with Frank Capra, Jr.
  • Short documentary "Frank Capra, Jr. Remembers Mr. Smith Goes To Washington"
  • Trailers for three Frank Capra films: Mr. Smith, It Happened One Night, and Lost Horizon
  • Original advertising materials
  • Cast and crew notes

This will surely be one of our most-anticipated discs of the new year, especially as it features a digital restoration. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is due on Feb. 15.

boxcover"Missing in Action" Flick of the Week: With both American Beauty, starring Kevin Spacey, and The Insider, starring Al Pacino, in the running for Best Picture nominations when the Oscar nods are announced in February, we're going to take the time this weekend to re-watch a brilliant film that stars both actors — Glengarry Glen Ross, a foul-mouthed, fantastic take on the world of shady real-estate salesmen that, regrettably, is Missing in Action on DVD. And Pacino and Spacey aren't the only headliners here — Glengarry Glen Ross features what is arguably the best all-male ensemble ever convened for a film, including Jack Lemmon, Ed Harris, Alan Arkin, and Jonathan Pryce. And we can't overlook Alec Baldwin, in a role created by scenarist David Mamet especially for the film. It is Baldwin, as one of the top associates for real estate firm Mitch & Murray, who launches the story, delivering a scathing eight-minute mission to the group of underselling, demoralized salesmen — start closing contracts or you're fired. Seething but frightened, the group takes to the rainy Chicago streets, hitting up potential time-share property buyers in person and on pay-phones, but constantly running into "bust-outs" — weak leads, provided by the company, of people who have little interest in real-estate investments. So where are the good leads? The "Glengarry" leads, recently acquired by the firm, are under the control of office manager Spacey, who has specific instructions not to distribute them to anybody but "closers." It's only a matter of time before the precious names are stolen, and that's when this unusual character-driven drama takes on the added dimension of a delicious whodunit.

Glengarry Glen Ross succeeds primarily by Mamet's well-drawn characters rather than any cinematic elements, and as it's based on Mamet's own Pulitzer Prize-winning play, such hardly comes as a surprise. Each figure has his own temperament, along with his own style. Arkin is a meek, put-upon grinder; Harris is a hothead with a persecution complex; Pacino is the master of the soft-sell; Spacey is the tight-assed company man who never gives an inch. But, among all of these lauded actors, the veteran Lemmon is the most memorable, transfixing the viewer in every scene as the has-been, old-style salesman Shelly "The Machine" Levine, and the fact that he is more than equal here to next year's potential Oscar-nominees Pacino and Spacey only makes us wish that he did more films nowadays.

As a New Line production, we might expect Glengarry Glen Ross to arrive on disc under their banner, but the VHS was released by Live, which is now Artisan, and that's where the DVD rights currently reside. Artisan expressed an interest in releasing a new DVD as far back as late 1998, but none has yet appeared on the schedule. And since the VHS edition was never released in widescreen (the film was shown theatrically in a 2.35:1 ratio), we are looking forward to a new, comprehensive digital edition, whenever it may arrive.

Quotable: "I think on Jan. 1, 2000, there will be a lot of pissed-off survivalists."

— Cyberpunk author William Gibson.

— Ed.

Wednesday, 15 December 1999

Mailbag: We get lots of reader mail here at The DVD Journal, and while we can't give everybody a personal reply, we'd like to reassure you that we read all of your comments. Here's some letters we've received over the past week:

  • Something that I have found puzzling is how studios decide what makes it to DVD. Obviously, any movies that have been made after the advent of DVD will all most likely be released in this format, but I am referring to older movies. It makes sense that studios will release older movies that have been box office and home video hits to DVD, but of the movies that haven't been "blockbuster hits," how is it determined which movie makes it to DVD? Are there certain criteria that an older movie has to meet in order to make the transfer? Does the consumer have a say in recommending what gets released on DVD?

    — Tim

    While we wish that we had the inside scoop with the studios (and trust us, we don't), talking with some people in the home-video divisions and reading their occasional quotes in the press have given us some insight into this process. Fundamentally, releasing a catalog title to DVD is a marketing decision, which involves several factors. Probably foremost among these — and particularly so with videophile DVD consumers — is the quality of materials that are available. That means evaluating source prints or other items (like previous Laserdisc transfers) to see if they are good enough for a new DVD — a product that will be ponderously analyzed and discussed by many consumers and the various DVD sites on the Web. A good example of this is Superman, which Warner reportedly has yet to release because the original film elements need some repair. Of course, these film elements might be okay for a videotape, and we all know that lots of poor-looking stock from older films can be seen on cable television all the time. But, at heart, we digital die-hards are a bunch of whiners, and the studios know that a bad-looking disc will not be well received by the DVD press, both online and in glossy videophile magazines.

    Another example of source considerations is what extra content will be available. Special editions sell very well, and if the studio knows of some "value-added content" that they can add to the DVD (which lets them tack on the "Special Edition" folio), these elements may be evaluated on their merits. In some cases, rights issues need to be sorted out. In other cases, the decision is made to create a new commentary track or "making-of" documentary. These factors can cause a DVD release to be delayed or postponed.

    Rights issues are often the reason why some films have yet to reach DVD. As we noted last week, Paramount has yet to release a Grease DVD reportedly because of some legal disputes over the soundtrack. The Maltese Falcon will arrive from Warner in February, but it was previously owned by MGM, who wasn't prepared to release it back in 1997 or early '98, when the title was under their control. Films such as The Princess Bride and Blue Velvet used to be owned by PolyGram, but MGM bought the rights in '98, and new DVDs aren't expected until sometime next year, making these popular films unusual late arrivals.

    If a less-popular title can meet the fundamental criteria of a quality source print, some value-added content (normally at least a trailer), and no legal disputes, it may be fit into the release schedule, but these films rarely are prioritized. What's more, smaller films will have to battle with blockbuster flicks for some time to come. All of the studios are aware that they have enough big titles in their vaults to keep us happy for many years yet, and therefore they have no interest in putting out their hottest stuff right away, particularly since home-video items sell best when they are first released and get all that extra publicity. Because of this, some smaller films will find their way onto the schedule while others may not.

    Is there any way to influence which films will be released? Trying to contact a studio and convince them to put your favorite film on a shiny new disc is probably an exercise in futility, especially if the title doesn't stand to make much of a profit for them. If they own it and it's ready to go, it's probably on a list somewhere, but there's very little that any of us can do about its standing. If you're curious about a particular movie, sending the studio's home-video division an e-mail may answer a few of your questions.

  • Is there a source that will give me the original aspect ratio of older films? Two DVDs that I have not bought (but would like to buy) are All Quiet on the Western Front and Battleship Potemkin. The boxes state they are in full screen. This would be fine if I could determine their original aspect ratio was 1.33:1.

    — John

    As usual, the Internet Movie Database solves the problem. Just find any title and then click on the "Technical Specs" item in the left-hand menu, where you can find the original aspect ratio along with some other details. Both Battleship Potemkin and All Quiet on the Western Front are 1.33:1 films, but people shouldn't get confused by Universal's Western Front DVD, which has their distinctive "Widescreen" folio on the box cover. The film is nothing of the sort, and (thankfully) the Universal disc is a full-frame transfer, despite the dubious advertising.

  • I feel sorry for the majority of DVD lovers, who pay full retail because they simply aren't aware of the vast amount of online resources/retailers!

    — Shaun

    You got that one right Shaun. We pre-order lots of stuff around here, and smart DVD consumers know that DVDs online are normally very affordable. In fact, most high-end Criterion titles, like their upcoming Rushmore, pre-order for less money at online retailers than what the cheapest discs cost at brick-and-mortar stores that don't offer any sort of discount from the MSRP. Buying Criterion's excellent releases for about $24 takes a lot of the sting out of the $40 sticker-shock.

    And on that note: Our pal Geoff Kleinman, webmaster at the excellent DVD Talk, let us know yesterday that the DVD chat website has completed an online survey of customer preferences when it comes to buying DVDs over the Internet, and consumers overwhelmingly said that the availability of coupons is the number-one factor that determines where they will spend their money. Several individual retailers were also rated by poll respondents, with (sponsor of The DVD Journal) voted as the preferred online shop, while was voted to have the best customer service. The full results can be read here.

    Top of the Pops: So without further ado, here's the top-selling DVDs last week from our friends at Click the links to read our reviews of these discs:

    1. Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me
    2. How the Grinch Stole Christmas
    3. The Matrix
    4. Deep Blue Sea
    5. Saving Private Ryan
    6. The Little Mermaid: Limited Issue
    7. Big Daddy
    8. South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut
    9. Caligula
    10. The Jungle Book: Limited Issue

    D.W. Griffith banished: In a move that some say has been a long time coming, the Director's Guild of America has decided to change the name of their top trophy, the D.W. Griffith Award, to a new honor yet to be determined. The change, prompted by increasing discomfort with Griffith's landmark 1915 silent epic Birth of a Nation — which heroically depicts the early days of the Ku Klux Klan in the Reconstruction South while vilifying newly freed slaves — was roundly criticized by the DGA for its "intolerable racial stereotypes," despite the fact that Griffith is widely credited (along with fellow film pioneers Eisenstein and Welles) with inventing the language of cinema that has been utilized in virtually every film since. Anybody who has seen Birth of a Nation knows that it is an anachronistic, almost ludicrous, view of American history, but the recent DGA action smacks of political correctness winning out over cinematic innovation. And while a new director has yet to be named as the DGA's paragon, it's clear that John Ford, who directed more than a few Westerns that weren't very sympathetic to Native Americans, will not be in the running.

    — Ed.

    Tuesday, 14 December 1999

    In the Works: has added several new discs to their Release Calendar, including (can it be true?) a new DVD of John Huston's 1941 The Maltese Falcon from Warner — and we won't have to wait long for it, as it is due to arrive on Feb. 1. Bogie fans can also be happy that The Big Sleep has now returned to the schedule with a date of Jan. 4, which is when the disc was first expected anyway (will this inexplicable DVD baiting never end?). Other neat additions include To Sir With Love (Feb. 1), An Affair to Remember (March 7), and How Green Was My Valley (March 7).

    Box-Office Update: It was a tight race at the box office over the Dec. 10-12 weekend between Pixar's Toy Story 2 and Warner's The Green Mile, with only $200,000 in estimated receipts separating the two films for the top spot, but finalized numbers released by Exhibitor Relations yesterday revealed that Toy Story 2 indeed won out with $18.2 million, whereas The Green Mile secured $18 million. We can only imagine how amused Tom Hanks must have been by the photo-finish.

    On the Street: It's a bit of an art-house Street Tuesday this morning, with such foreign and domestic films as Farewell My Concubine, Five Easy Pieces, Ma Vie en Rose, The House of Yes, and The Mosquito Coast on the shelves. But that doesn't mean you don't have options — not with the second wave of South Park DVDs now in release. Columbia TriStar has two romantic dramas on the board, The Way We Were: Special Edition and Against All Odds: Special Edition. We're also looking forward to getting a look at the new discs for Papillon, The Boys from Brazil, Dead Calm, Stalag 17, and The Buena Vista Social Club. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of

    • 8 Seconds
    • Against All Odds: Special Edition
    • Bizet's Carmen (delayed from 12/7)
    • Black Sunday
    • The Boys from Brazil
    • Buena Vista Social Club
    • Cooley High
    • Corrina, Corrina
    • Dead Calm
    • Deep Blue Sea (delayed from 12/7)
    • Dick
    • Donna Summer: Live and More Encore
    • The Draughtsman's Contract (delayed from 11/30)
    • Drop Dead Gorgeous
    • Extreme Measures
    • Farewell My Concubine
    • Five Easy Pieces (delayed from 11/9)
    • The General's Daughter: Special Edition
    • Hiroshima (delayed from 11/23)
    • Hoods (delayed from 12/7)
    • The House of Yes
    • Ma Vie en Rose (delayed from 11/9)
    • The Mosquito Coast
    • National Geographic: Secrets of the Titanic
    • Pacific Heights (delayed from 11/30)
    • Pal Joey (delayed from 11/9)
    • Papillon
    • Prodigal Boxer (delayed from 12/7)
    • The Red Violin
    • Ricky Martin: One Night Only
    • Running Time: Special Edition (delayed from 11/16)
    • Something to Talk About
    • South Park DVD Collection: Wave 1 (delayed from 10/12)
    • South Park DVD Collection: Wave 2 (delayed from 10/12)
    • South Park DVD: Vol. 4 (delayed from 10/12)
    • South Park DVD: Vol. 5 (delayed from 10/12)
    • South Park DVD: Vol. 6 (delayed from 10/12)
    • Stalag 17
    • Star Trek: The Original Series Vol. 5 (delayed from 11/23)
    • Star Trek: The Original Series Vol. 6 (delayed from 11/23)
    • Vampyros Lesbos (delayed from 11/23)
    • Village of Dreams
    • The Way We Were: Special Edition (delayed from 11/9)

    See ya later.

    — Ed.

    Monday, 13 December 1999

    boxcoverDisc of the Week: American pulp-novelist Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) is invited to Vienna after World War II by his old friend Harry Lime (Orson Welles), but as soon as he reaches the city he discovers that Lime died after being struck by a car a few nights earlier. Trying to learn more about the mysterious circumstances of his friend's death, Martins turns to the head of the occupying British forces, Major Calloway (Trevor Howard), only to be informed that his buddy was racketeering low-grade penicillin — a black-market activity that inflicted suffering upon hospital patients while Lime got rich. Unable to tear himself away from the city, Martins investigates even further and eventually learns that not just two men witnessed Lime's death, but three. He regards this "third man" to be the key that will restore Lime's reputation, but by that point he's in over his head. A third man may have been on that darkened city street, but Martins cannot comprehend his relevance. Perfectly plotted, lavishly photographed, and brilliantly executed, Carol Reed's 1949 The Third Man is a masterpiece of international cinema. Uniting several enormous talents on one single production — director Reed, scenarist Graham Greene, producers Alexander Korda and David O. Selznick, and actors Welles and Cotten — the film utilizes a deft, slow-burning narrative thread with several plot twists that lead up to one of the most memorable sequences in cinema history (Welles' introduction, which is both inimitable and funny), and yet the set-pieces are just as memorable as the overall experience, in particular the Ferris-wheel ride and the final chase through the cavernous Vienna sewers. Reed's expressionist stylistics (with nods to Murnau and Lang) are hyperbolically expanded to good effect, as shadowy figures seem to inhabit the city as much as people. And the decision to use Anton Karas' zither music for the score was inspired, lending the film its own distinctive sound. Criterion's new DVD release of The Third Man offers an excellent transfer from a digitally restored print that is nearly flawless and audio in Dolby 2.0 (mono), and the many features include an introduction by Peter Bogdanovich, a restoration demonstration, an abridged version of Greene's novelization treatment (read by Richard Clarke on an alternate track), the 1951 Lux Radio version of The Third Man starring Cotten, a radio episode of "The Lives of Harry Lime," written by and starring Welles, both the U.S. and U.K. introductions to the film, the U.S. theatrical trailer, production notes, a promo reel of Karas and his amazing zither, and an archival segment on the Vienna sewer system and the special police unit that patrolled it after the war. This one's an essential disc for all film buffs.

    L.A. critics hand out awards: The Los Angeles Film Critics Association announced their 1999 honorees on Saturday, with Michael Mann's The Insider grabbing the most awards, including Best Film and Best Actor for star Russell Crowe. It was the second time around for down-under-import Crowe, who was also named Best Actor last week by the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures (which named American Beauty as the best flick of the year). It's starting to look like Crowe is sure bet for a Best Actor nomination when the Oscar nods are announced in February (we think he was cheated out of the '98 Best Actor statuette for the sublime L.A. Confidential).

    Here's the rundown from L.A.:

    • Best Film: The Insider
    • Best Film, runner-up: American Beauty
    • Best Actor: Russell Crowe, The Insider
    • Best Actor, runner-up: Richard Farnsworth, The Straight Story
    • Best Actress: Hilary Swank, Boys Don't Cry
    • Best Actress, runner-up: Reese Witherspoon, Election
    • Best Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer, The Insider
    • Best Supporting Actor, runner-up: John Malkovich, Being John Malkovich
    • Best Supporting Actress: Chloe Sevigny, Boys Don't Cry
    • Best Supporting Actress, runner-up: Samantha Morton, Sweet and Lowdown
    • Best Director: Sam Mendes, American Beauty
    • Best Director, runner-up: Michael Mann, The Insider
    • Best Screenplay: Charlie Kaufman, Being John Malkovich
    • Best Screenplay, runner-up: Alan Ball, American Beauty
    • Best Foreign Film: Pedro Almodovar, All About My Mother
    • Best Documentary: Wim Wenders and Ry Cooder, The Buena Vista Social Club
    • Best Animation: The Iron Giant
    • Best Music and Score: Trey Parker and Marc Shaiman, South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut (!)
    • Best Cinematography: Dante Spinotti, The Insider

    Box Office: Pixar's Toy Story 2 (starring Tom Hanks) is the film that just keeps going (and going, and going), racking up $18.7 million over the weekend, and early estimates indicate that it may have just beat out Warner's The Green Mile (starring Tom Hanks) for the top spot, which culled $18.5 million. Hanks is doubtless happy as the weekend's $37 million man, but if you think Warner is a little disappointed, you're right — they are disputing the estimates, which won't be finalized until late Monday. The only other major debut over the weekend, Buena Vista's Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo, starring SNL alum Rob Schneider, garnered a strong $13 million to secure third place despite a thrashing from most critics. Other films from the holiday season, such as Universal's End of Days, MGM's The World Is Not Enough, and Paramount's Sleepy Hollow, still continue to draw crowds (the Bond flick will crack the $100 million mark this week), and even indie hopefuls Dogma and Being John Malkovich are still finding an audience after several weeks in release. Meanwhile, Cradle Will Rock racked up $94,000 in limited release and boasted a higher per-screen average than any film in the top ten. The Tim Robbins-directed film will go wide in the next two weeks. Here's the top-grossing films at American theaters from last weekend:

    1. Toy Story 2 (Buena Vista/Pixar)
      $18,700,000 ($140,800,000 to date)
    2. The Green Mile (Warner)
      $18,570,000 ($18,570,000 to date)
    3. Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo (Buena Vista/Touchstone)
      $13,000,000 ($13,000,000 to date)
    4. The World Is Not Enough (MGM/UA)
      $6,200,000 ($99,500,000 to date)
    5. End of Days (Universal)
      $4,700,000 ($53,200,000 to date)
    6. Sleepy Hollow (Paramount)
      $4,600,000 ($81,245,000 to date)
    7. The Bone Collector (Universal)
      $1,700,000 ($60,800,000 to date)
    8. Dogma (Lions Gate)
      $1,200,000 ($26,400,000 to date)
    9. Pokemon: The First Movie (Warner)
      $1,110,000 ($82,295,000 to date)
    10. Being John Malkovich (USA)
      $956,671 ($15,323,967 to date)
    11. The Sixth Sense (Buena Vista)
      $627,000 ($274,400,000 to date)
    12. The Insider (Buena Vista)
      $573,000 ($24,900,000 to date)

    On the Board: A new full review has been posted for Chinatown, and can be found on our Full Reviews index. New quick reviews this week include Criterion's Grand Illusion and The Third Man, as well as Shakespeare in Love: Collector's Series, Five Easy Pieces, The Way We Were: Special Edition, and Disney's Peter Pan: Limited Issue, all of which can be can be accessed on the Quick Reviews index.

    We'll be back tomorrow to let you know about this week's street discs.

    — Ed.

    Friday, 10 December 1999
    Weekend Dispatch

    Guess what's this year's hot item?: In what amounts to little more than a hike up the lofty slopes of Mt. Obvious to us DVD fans, Reuters has posted a story declaring that — NEWS FLASH! — DVD players are going to be very popular Christmas gifts. You can read the item if you want, but we can assure you that the exact same prediction came across the wires in 1998, and even in 1997, just a few months after the format's nationwide release. As for us, we're getting a little bored with DVD being the perennial "next big thing," the digital darling of the mainstream press, especially when nobody bothers to mention that VCRs are still outselling DVD players by the bushel. (Note: We found this news item, "DVDs Topping Holiday Wish Lists," just underneath the "Internet Will Define Economy of Future" headline, but just before the "President Clinton: Skirt-Chaser" story.)

    So here's the skinny: Just like last year, we're getting word that there will be severe shortages of DVD players in the shops this month. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the fervent demand for the famous decks will leave some folks with nothing but their all-too-familiar VCRs for Christmas-afternoon movie-viewing. And unlike last year's equally scarce holiday shopping season, there won't be a Divx option, when Circuit City's unpopular, now-defunct pay-to-play DVD format experienced a December sales boom after cheaper DVD decks disappeared from the shelves. Buy now or make excuses to your loved ones later.

    Word on the Street: Here's some release dates and approximate months for a few upcoming DVD titles, straight from The Digital Bits — and things are looking very good:

    • Double Jeopardy: Feb. 22
    • American Beauty: March 7
    • Eyes Wide Shut: March 7
    • Star Trek III: The Search For Spock: April 2000
    • Blue Velvet: April 2000
    • Dead Again: April 2000
    • Braveheart: May 2000 (?)
    • The Princess Bride: June 2000

    Note that none of these have yet to be confirmed by Image Entertainment's release page, nor do we have any additional details.

    boxcoverCommentary Clip: "On this shot I remember Ang (Lee) saying to me — he came thundering in — 'Hey, could you be younger...?' Ang's notes tended to be brutal, like, 'Not so old,' and 'Boring,' and things. We did a lot of physical work, because people moved very differently then. For instance, the pelvis had not yet been released. Rock-and-roll hadn't happened, so that very specific movement of the pelvis that we all do now when we're dancing, that's very sexual, that wasn't available to people. They wore these really tight corsets. We're all wearing these long corsets that sort of come down just about the hip bones, and you can't move in the same way. So you see, the way in which we hold ourselves is very important, and very much connected with dialog and the way in which people responded to each other."

    — Emma Thompson, Sense and Sensibility

    Quotable: "You can do anything now. You can do anything but replicate a human being, a natural person, and I thank God for that, because I don't think that we should ever go there, so to speak. Don't go there. I wouldn't go there. I would not be interested in doing that."

    — Steven Spielberg, on last Wednesday's
    Larry King Live.

    "I have such a great respect for Mr. Sinatra. He was so great about me doing him on 'Saturday Night Live.' He really enjoyed it. When I met him, he was so gracious. So I said to him, 'Can I call you Frank?' And he said, 'No.' True story."

    — Joe Piscopo, who is currently starring in a live
    retrospective of Frank Sinatra and his music,
    "Ring-A-Ding Tunes For Koo Koo Cats and Chicks."

    Coming Attractions: New DVD reviews are on the way, including a Jack Nicholson double-feature, Chinatown and Five Easy Pieces, a Criterion double-feature, Grand Illusion and The Third Man, and even more stuff, so be sure to check back on Monday for all the latest.

    Have a ring-a-ding weekend gang.

    — Ed.

    Thursday, 9 December 1999

    Flicks get first nods: With the announcement yesterday of The National Board of Review of Motion Pictures' 1999 film awards, the December-March awards season is now in full swing, and the many accolades that will arrive in the new few months will doubtless indicate what some of the most highly anticipated DVDs of 2000 will be. The Board's top ten films for '99 are as follows (including a few that have yet to appear in general release):

    1. American Beauty
    2. The Talented Mr. Ripley
    3. Magnolia
    4. The Insider
    5. The Straight Story
    6. Cradle Will Rock
    7. Boys Don't Cry
    8. Being John Malkovich
    9. Tumbleweeds
    10. Three Kings

    Here's the Board of Review's honorees in various film categories:

    • Best Film: American Beauty
    • Best Actor: Russell Crowe, The Insider
    • Best Actress: Janet McTeer, Tumbleweeds
    • Best Supporting Actor: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Magnolia and The Talented Mr. Ripley
    • Best Supporting Actress: Julianne Moore, An Ideal Husband, A Map of the World, Cookie's Fortune, and Magnolia
    • Best Director: Anthony Minghella, The Talented Mr. Ripley
    • Best Documentary: Buena Vista Social Club
    • Best Foreign Films: All About My Mother, Run Lola Run, East-West, Cabaret Balkan, The Emperor and the Assassin
    • Special Achievement for Filmmaking: Tim Robbins, Cradle Will Rock
    • Freedom of Expression Award: Michael Mann, The Insider
    • Career Achievement Award: Clint Eastwood

    And it ain't over yet — several more lists and honors from other critics' groups will arrive in short order, all in anticipation of next year's Academy Awards. We'll keep ya posted.

    boxcover"Missing in Action" Flick of the Week: Here's a Missing in Action flick that almost went digital, only to be disappear without a trace. When Paramount first entered the DVD market in August of 1998, one of the first titles they announced was Grease, in part because it's such a popular film, but also probably because it had just returned to the big screen a few months earlier for a brief "20th Anniversary" encore run. However, it was only a matter of weeks before Grease dropped off the release calendar, and there's been nary a squeak from the folks at Paramount Home Video on when the title will arrive, or just exactly why DVD lovers who are also fans of the film were so mercilessly teased. In fact, we have a new term for this: "DVD Baiting," which refers to the malevolent phenomena of being told that an MIA flick is about to arrive on disc, only to have the content-owner withdraw the announcement not long thereafter (cf., Miramax's Fresh, or Warner's special edition of The Big Sleep. And for that matter, where the hell is the 1954 A Star Is Born?).

    But we think Grease may be the worst case of DVD Baiting in the format's history, because we shamelessly love this brash, noisy, sugar-coated, and undeniably catchy musical, which has gained a whole new context since John Travolta's return to the Hollywood A-List after a missing-in-action decade of his own. Having enjoyed such neo-Travolta fare as Pulp Fiction, Get Shorty, Face/Off, and others, we have grown accustomed to his newfound girth, which seems to suit his current persona. But this familiarity only makes his early films that much more stunning. Travolta's enormous talent has allowed him to take on a series of interesting — at times even challenging — roles in the past six years, but in Grease the young man is positively vital, a skinny, captivating amalgam of Brylcream, leather, and testosterone. Joined by an energetic cast that includes '70s diva Olivia Newton-John, Stockard Channing, and Jeff Conaway, the ensemble tears through several numbers that are remarkable simply because not one of them is easily forgotten. "Summer Nights," "Look at Me, I'm Sandra Dee," "Greased Lightning," "Beauty School Dropout,", "You're the One that I Want," and the three songs created especially for the movie, "Grease," "Sandy," and "Hopelessly Devoted To You" — it's a catalog of classics all in one film.

    So why no Grease? The best information we have unearthed so far comes from, where Peter Bracke and crew note that there are several legal issues surrounding the rights to the soundtrack of the film and that these rights will have to be sorted out before a disc can be released. Furthermore, there was an item on the news wires a few months back about how Olivia Newton-John has entered into litigation over the amount of residuals she has received over the years, all of which means that Paramount's official stance on a potential Grease DVD is another old song we've all heard before — "There are no plans for a release at this time." Funny how that one just isn't as catchy.

    — Ed.

    Wednesday, 8 December 1999

    Mailbag: It's time to clean out some of the reader mail here at The DVD Journal:

  • I've been thinking about spending the extra money for an audio receiver with DTS decoding (the price difference is considerable). However, when I looked at the DTS website for the titles available, there were very few. The only two I would consider spending the money on would be Saving Private Ryan and The Eagles: Hell Freezes Over. Is this format that much better than Dolby Digital 5.1?

    — Bill

    When it comes to buying home-theater gear, we always recommend that you first consult your budget and buy accordingly. Here's a good example of why this is important: We can't tell you how many times we have walked away from a potential sale in a big-box retailer because the carbuncle-faced salesperson tried to "upsell" us — i.e., tell us that the $500 amp on the shelf is practically worthless, and in fact the $1,000 model is "the only way to go." Whenever you hear that, you're dealing with a dishonest salesperson who's trying to get you to air out your credit card. Of course, our stock reply to this sort of sales tactic is "If the $500 amplifier is crap, why do you offer it to you customers?"

    On the other hand, a good salesperson will start by asking you a simple question: "What are you looking to spend today?" If you say that you only want to spend $500 on an amplifier, or even $300, he or she should guide you to a model at that price-point (and some retail folks know that this sort of question is a great lead-in to a sale, since it eliminates haggling over price right away and tends to imply in a customer's mind that an agreement has already been made).

    Hence, we pose this query to you: How much are you willing to spend on a home theater amp? That's the real question, because, while DTS is a nice audio option, it isn't one of the fundamentals of the DVD experience. If you can afford it, buy it — if not, don't and upgrade later. In fact, anybody who can't afford a Dolby Digital amp should consider buying a Pro Logic amp and upgrading to DD when they can afford it. Anybody who can't afford an HT amp of any sort should plug their player right into their TV and just enjoy the convenience, quality, and durability of the DVD format.

    As for the quality of DTS in and of itself, it's all subjective. Some people prefer it, while others claim that there's too much bass in the mix. However, almost everybody agrees that it's substantially louder. But a DTS track does use more space than Dolby Digital on a DVD, which can cut into the extra content — hence, the additional "behind-the-scenes" feature on the DD edition of Saving Private Ryan, which is absent from the DTS release.

  • Will the DVD Audio format work with today's DVD players? What exactly is the 96khz or 44.1 sampling rate or something like that? I'm considering purchasing my first player (a Sony 530), which has that 96/44.1 thing. I've not been able to find a clear definition about this.

    — Kevin

    The forthcoming DVD Audio format will not work with current DVD Video players — instead, we are certain that hybrid DVD Audio/DVD Video players will appear at relatively affordable prices in the next few years. The audio definitions you ask about are a bit more technical, but the Linear PCM (Pulse Code Modulation) standard of Compact Disc utilizes 16 bits of data sampled at a rate of 44.1 kHz. However, an improved PCM standard is on board most current DVD players that samples 24 bits of data at 96 kHz, or 24/96 for short. This improved PCM standard was under consideration for the DVD Audio standard before the format was finalized, which would have made all DVD Video players with the feature DVD-A compatible. However, the DVD-A workgroup eventually adopted Meridian's "Lossless Packing" technology, an advanced six-channel system that has yet to appear in any mainstream (i.e., affordable) DVD players.

    So should you buy a 24/96 DVD Video player? Once again, it all comes down to what you can afford. However, while we await the arrival of DVD Audio (and wait even longer for the day we can afford it), there are a number of 24/96 audio titles currently available that will play in compatible DVD players (although you will also have to be sure that your amplifier will support the standard). You might want to surf some online retailers and see if any of these interest you.

    (By the way, we think the Sony 530 is a great choice.)

  • New release information needs to be fulsome. I know there are a slew of things coming out these days, but it is frustrating to see titles on one list (particularly foreign stuff) that don't appear on others. Sadly, (and you) often have the list with missing goodies. Not that we love you any less for it!

    — Bill

    That's actually our fault, Bill, since we often chop some films out of the list on the front page every Tuesday to separate the wheat from the chaff. Of course, we probably also dump some stuff that we're unfamiliar with, so from now on we will keep the entire Tuesday list from on our Release Calendar for a week after the street date.

    IMAX — for a minimum time: With Disney getting their new Fantasia 2000 ready for a four-month run in IMAX theaters starting next month (the film won't appear in the cineplexes until July), the studio has been shut out of the non-profit California Science Center — the only IMAX venue the Magic Kingdom's own hometown of Los Angeles — because the CSC didn't want to run the film exclusively and interrupt their normal fare of educational films. "We tried to be flexible, but we couldn't turn over our entire schedule to Disney," Joe DeAmicis, a spokesperson for the CSC, told the L.A. Times, also noting that there were serious questions if the animated extravaganza had any educational merit. But don't think Disney won't show F2K in L.A. — instead, they're building their own temporary IMAX theater in Tinseltown with 622 stadium seats under something resembling a tent. After the run is complete, the whole thing will come down (sort of like how all of their animated DVDs will disappear in just a matter of weeks). So much for the Mouse's financial belt-tightening that we've been hearing about lately.

    DVDs Done Dirt Cheap: has posted a new round of DVDs currently selling for 50% off, including the feature-packed Alien: 20th Anniversary Edition for $14.99 and the classic Gene Kelly musical An American in Paris for just $12.49, so don't pay retail — punch this link instead and get the goods. Here's the current rock-bottom discs:

    • Alien — $14.99
    • Practical Magic — $12.49
    • Beavis and Butt-Head Do Christmas — $12.49
    • An American in Paris — $12.49
    • 10 Things I Hate About You — $14.99
    • He Got Game — $14.99
    • Anaconda — $14.99
    • Hard Rain — $14.99
    • Dr. Seuss: How the Grinch Stole Christmas — $9.99
    • Hidden Hawaii: IMAX — $14.99

    And don't forget, DVDs at ship for less than two bucks.

    Of note: The premiere issue of Wicked magazine, an attractive glossy publication dedicated to all things in the horror-film genre, is on the newsstands now, and it includes a feature on the recent explosion of fright-flicks on DVD with comments from DVD Review editor (and helluva nice guy) Guido Henkel, horror director David Twohy, and your own humble DVD Journal front-page scribe. The magazine has been issued with two separate covers — one featuring Scream 3, the other Sleepy Hollow — and the story, written by Gina McIntyre, can be found on pp. 72-73.

    — Ed.

    Tuesday, 7 December 1999

    In the Works: Here's some new disc announcements, courtesy of Image Entertainment and

    • We finally have a firm release date of June 13 for Fox's Independence Day: Special Edition, and it will reportedly be a two-disc set. Also count on The Abyss: Special Edition (March 21), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: Special Edition (May 16), Fight Club (April 18th), and the entire first season of The X-Files in a seven-disc set (May 16). These are all several months away, but it looks like things at Fox really are getting better.
    • MGM has announced a new disc of the 1955 noir classic Night of the Hunter, starring Robert Mitchum and Shelley Winters. Also expect the 1981 thriller Eye of the Needle, with Donald Sutherland, Kate Nelligan, and Stephen MacKenna. Other stuff on the way includes Diggstown, The Package, Cooley High, Original Gangstas, Jason's Lyric, McKenzie Break, and Scorpio. Everything's due on Jan 18.
    • Warner has Spike Lee's Malcolm X in the works, but even though we would expect some special features on this one, none have been announced. Also look the 1995 Othello starring Laurence Fishburne and Kenneth Branagh, and new discs of The Goodbye Girl, Forget Paris, and Ghosts of Mississippi. All of these are due on Jan 18 as well.
    • Anchor Bay has a treat in store for Bill Murray fans with their upcoming release of the 1980 Hunter S. Thompson biopic Where The Buffalo Roam. Get it on Jan. 11.

    On the Street: The final two classic animation discs from Disney are on the street this morning, The Little Mermaid and The Jungle Book, which means those 60-day purchase windows are now ticking. However, some other discs that have been out-of-print for a while have now returned (hopefully for good), including The Graduate, Dead Man Walking, and The Usual Suspects. Buena Vista has released their Shakespeare in Love: Collector's Edition, which comes at a steeper price than most DVDs but should be worth it for fans of the film. There's also a few classics in the mix here and there, but caveat emptor, because some of them are public-domain films released with a rock-bottom price and may not be worth your money (then again, we've been pleasantly surprised by some budget releases). Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of

    • Angel and the Badman (delayed from 11/30)
    • Beat the Devil
    • Black and White (delayed from 11/9)
    • Born to Win
    • Carnal Knowledge
    • Dead Man Walking
    • Disney Animated Collection (9-DVD Set)
    • Easy Rider: Special Edition
    • Everest: IMAX: Collector's Edition (delayed from 11/9)
    • The Falcon and the Snowman
    • Friday: Special Edition
    • The Graduate
    • Inspector Gadget
    • The Jungle Book: Limited Issue
    • The Little Mermaid: Limited Issue
    • The Loss of Sexual Innocence (delayed from 11/16)
    • Madeline/Matilda (2-DVD Set) (delayed from 11/16)
    • Mickey's Once Upon A Christmas
    • No Ordinary Love (delayed from 11/30)
    • The Outlaw
    • Queen of the Stardust Ballroom (delayed from 11/30)
    • Room at the Top
    • Shakespeare in Love: Collector's Edition
    • The Snows of Kilimanjaro
    • The Spitfire Grill
    • A Star Is Born (1937)
    • Strangers in Good Company
    • The Usual Suspects

    See ya tomorrow.

    — Ed.

    Monday, 6 December 1999

    And the winner is: Mike Pielocik of Glenside, Penn., wins the free DVD of Out of Sight: Collector's Edition from our November contest. Congrats, Mike!

    Our Free DVD Contest for the month of December is up and running, and we have a copy of Columbia TriStar's Easy Rider: Special Edition up for grabs. Be sure to drop by our contest page and send us your entry, and don't forget to take our monthly DVD poll while you're there.

    DVD Audio update: Both Reuters and The Associated Press have posted stories on the recently announced delay of DVD Audio (see last Friday's update), and the details confirm what we suspected last week — with the DVD Video-busting DeCSS hack floating around out there, there's no way that content-owners in the music industry will let their property go out on DVD-A without stronger encryption technologies. DVD Video is still steaming along despite the piracy threat, but the studios most skittish about the all-digital format (i.e., Fox, Paramount, and Disney) certainly would not have begun releasing their film properties on it in 1998 with something like DeCSS in the foreseeable future. So while audiophiles are out of luck for now, we movie fans pretty much dodged a bullet. The next time you're with your DVDs, you might want to give 'em a hug.

    boxcoverDisc of the Week: Okay, you had your chance last August, and now it's been on DVD for almost two weeks, so we're telling you for the last time — if you haven't seen The Iron Giant, you're missing the cinematic event of the year. If the dismal $23 million box-office for this film tells us anything, its that the general public, awash in a world of bad movies, unfunny television, and tabloid news, is incapable of recognizing a brilliant work of art when it's put right in front of their noses — or worse, refuses to give up their time for it because they fear that, well, it's art. While some have said that Warner Brothers' misguided marketing strategy for this animated masterpiece was at fault for the low revenues, The Iron Giant got the best free publicity that any film could ever want: not one major critic hated it. In fact, virtually all of them raved about it, and in countless reviews they implored every American to put the movie at the top of their "must-see" list. Perhaps this, above all things, caused The Iron Giant to leave the big screen far too soon. Most people fear films that have a "meaning," probably because they suspect they will be too stupid to understand it (in many cases, they are probably right). So while Disney's entertaining Tarzan offered saccharine songs by Phil Collins and snared more than $170 million at the '99 summer box-office, the thoughtful Iron Giant was summarily prepared for home video release in the hopes of recovering the rest of its $48 million budget. It was an unfortunate fate for what is certainly one of the greatest animated features in history. Based on Ted Hughes' 1968 novella The Iron Man, the story concerns Hogarth Hughes, an adventurous young boy in 1957 Maine who lives with his widowed mother. Since she works long hours as a waitress in a local diner, Hogarth often spends time with only himself and his imagination, which is sent to dizzying heights when he discovers that a mysterious 100-foot robot is hiding in the forest behind his house with a big dent on his head and no clue as to what (or who) it is. After a thrilling first encounter, Hogarth and the robot become friends (Hogarth regards it as sort of an oversized pet), but when government agent Kent Mansley sniffs out the robot's trail, suspecting it to be a super-weapon from a foreign country, Hogarth must hide his immense pal in the scrap-yard of local beatnik artist Dean McCoppin until the final, inevitable confrontation. Directed by Brad Bird from a screenplay by Tim McCanlies, The Iron Giant isn't only a moving story for all ages, but it's also a refreshing change of pace from the ubiquitous Disney mold. Rather than follow Disney's lead with more and more ambitious animation (as DreamWorks has done), Baird actually harkens back to the classic years of Warner, presenting his viewers with unmistakably cartoonish figures that simply but effectively convey a wide range of emotions. And yet the production has its innovations, as the robot is a computer-generated image, while the rest of the characters are classically hand-drawn. The overall effect is so seamless that you might not suspect it if somebody hadn't told you. Warner's new disc is a very nice item (with an even better price), and it includes a 22-minute WB-TV "making-of" documentary. And yes, we're a little miffed that there's no Iron Giant action figure under the shrink-wrap, as there is with the VHS release. But we're happy with the DVD just the same.

    Box Office: Very little changed at the North American box-office over the weekend, with all of the holiday-season films holding similar spots to last week. Of course, the big blockbuster on the board is Buena Vista's Toy Story 2, which grabbed another $28.3 million over the weekend and has blasted its way to a $117.3 million overall gross in less than two weeks. MGM's The World is Not Enough, Universal's End of Days, and Paramount's Sleepy Hollow all held steady, and there were no new films in the top 10. Moreover, numbers 11 and 12 are two very familiar titles — The Sixth Sense, which is the second-largest-grossing film of this year, and The Phantom Menace, 1999's cinematic Big Kahuna, which returned for just one week in a limited run for charity.

    Here's the top-grossing films at American theaters from last weekend:

    1. Toy Story 2 (Buena Vista)
      $28,300,000 ($117,300,000 to date)
    2. The World Is Not Enough (MGM/UA)
      $10,600,000 ($90,400,000 to date)
    3. End of Days (Universal)
      $9,700,000 ($45,900,000 to date)
    4. Sleepy Hollow (Paramount)
      $9,000,000 ($72,300,000 to date)
    5. The Bone Collector (Universal)
      $3,100,000 ($58,100,000 to date)
    6. Pokemon: The First Movie (Warner)
      $2,210,000 ($80,638,000 to date)
    7. Dogma (Lions Gate)
      $2,150,000 ($24,500,000 to date)
    8. The Insider (Buena Vista)
      $1,400,000 ($23,900,000 to date)
    9. Being John Malkovich (USA)
      $1,388,018 ($13,856,647 to date)
    10. Anywhere But Here (Fox)
      $1,300,000 ($16,400,000 to date)
    11. The Phantom Menace (Fox)
      $1,175,000 ($429,000,000 to date)
    12. The Sixth Sense (Buena Vista)
      $970,000 ($273,500,000 to date)

    On the Board: A new full review has been posted for South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut, and can be found on our Full Reviews index. A new quick review has been posted for Easy Rider: Special Edition, which will be on the street tomorrow. Other new quick reviews this week include The Iron Giant, Before Sunrise, Broadcast News, and The School of Flesh. All can be accessed under the New Reviews menu here on the main page.

    We'll be back tomorrow to let you know about this week's street discs.

    — Ed.

    Friday, 3 December 1999
    Weekend Dispatch

    DVD Audio smackdown!: In a press conference yesterday, Japanese CE Corp Matsushita revealed why they had decided to postpone the launch of the DVD Audio format (see yesterday's update) — the music industry isn't very confident in the current copy-protection technology for the format. And Matsushita isn't the only manufacturer stuck in the lurch — fellow DVD-A vendors JVC and Pioneer are also expected to join the delay. Matsushita said that they only expect the postponement to last for about six months, during which a new encryption scheme will be finalized. However, some pundits think that Matsushita is being overly optimistic and that in fact the format may not even arrive in North America in time for Christmas of 2000. In the meantime, Sony's competing SACD hi-res audio format is poised to win over the early-adopter audiophile market — which should be a lot easier without competition.

    Are you thinking what we are? Apparently, the DeCSS hack has some content-owners more freaked out than we had anticipated.

    "Clockwork" could get a rewind: Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange, which is one of the late director's best-known works, hasn't been shown in the UK since 1973, where Kubrick pulled it after just one year in release, in part because of a series of headline-grabbing copycat crimes, but also because Kubrick and his family received death threats over the controversial film. But Warner is reportedly now in discussions with Kubrick's family that may lead to a return of the masterpiece to British screens, perhaps sometime next year. "The family believe it would be a fitting memorial to Stanley," an unnamed studio executive told Variety. If it works out, a theatrical run would likely precede any home video release.

    boxcoverCommentary Clip: "It was real important, with [the murder victims' family], to create a sense of warmth inside the house... I just wanted to get the feeling that there was a real sense of family in this house and a real good nature. I didn't want to treat this family in a condescending way, a judgmental way. Because really they are human beings and everyone who goes through a loss like this has such incredible feelings of violence and revenge towards the person that stole the life from them. In dealing with this script and dealing with this story, in general, it was real important to not make them the bad guy, not make it an 'us and them' situation, but in fact to treat it with the truth that's involved in it, which is that it's a very complicated, complex issue. And in order for us to really understand this issue, I feel you have to go inside of this house and understand the parents' loss and understand what they go through. And only by doing that, I think, by putting yourself in their shoes, can you truly be opposed to the death penalty. If you ignore them, if you create an enemy out of them, I don't feel you are really doing justice to the real issue, the real moral issue involved with the taking of another human life."

    — Director Tim Robbins, Dead Man Walking

    WoodyQuotable: "I'm not my persona. I don't sit at home drinking liquor with writer's block. I don't have a bad relationship with my sister. I didn't kidnap my kid. I didn't grow up in Coney Island, and my father did not work bumper cars. But people think it's true."

    — Woody Allen, in an interview with
    USA Today.

    Coming Attractions: New DVD reviews are on the way, including Easy Rider: Special Edition, South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut, and many more. We'll also announce the winner of our November contest (will you win the free DVD of Out of Sight: Collector's Edition?) and will have a new contest and reader poll up and running, so be sure to check back next week for all the latest.

    Now is the time we must crack open some cold Oregon microbrews and park our asses in the screening room. We'll see ya Monday.

    — Ed.

    Thursday, 2 December 1999

    Matsushita puts the brakes on DVD Audio: Matsushita Electric Industrial Co (i.e., Panasonic, Technics, Quasar) announced yesterday that they would postpone their launch of the DVD Audio format. The Japanese megacorp was expected to introduce the format later this month, but they only issued a terse statement yesterday indicating that things are in limbo for the time being. A press conference is forthcoming to explain the matter, but until we hear anything more, your guess is as good as ours.

    Meanwhile, back at the ranch: If things look shaky in the emerging world of DVD Audio, videophiles have nothing to worry about. The Consumer Electronics Association confirmed this week that more than 4.9 million DVD Video players have sold through to dealers since the format's launch back in April of 1997 — and that isn't just a healthy number, it's the fastest growth ever experienced by any new consumer-electronics format and four times the rate that both VCRs and Compact Disc players sold during their first few years of availability. Keys to the success include rapidly declining prices and a consumer-base that is far more high-tech savvy than previous generations. It's also hard to overlook the fact that home video is more popular than ever, with HV revenues for some films rivaling box-office receipts. Oh yeah, and the American economy is chugging along like a Santa Fe locomotive, which means that the folks who are most inclined to invest in DVD and home theater gear probably have the expendable income to do so.

    "Robocop" follow-up: Thanks to DVD Journal reader and digital die-hard Sean Carlson, who let us know yesterday that, like another one of our readers (see yesterday's update), he too had serious problems with Criterion's Robocop DVD on his RCA player (a 5220P). "On the first disc I bought, the audio commentary played back as nothing but what could best be described as white noise," Sean writes, "and the picture abruptly digitally dissolved into the color bars halfway through chapter 25." On his second disc, the title froze frequently. "On my third attempt, the same thing happened. Pissed beyond belief, I returned it to the Suncoast where all three came from, only to discover that I'd ran through their entire stock of the title."

    Sounds like a glitch to us. However, we must reiterate that our copy of Robocop: The Criterion Collection played fine on our Sony DVP-S300, so we still think that the RCA players are getting spooked.

    boxcover"Missing in Action" Flick of the Week: Although we gratefully paid out some hard-earned money this week for a copy of Paramount's Apocalypse Now (and thought it was well worth the investment), we only had one complaint about the disc — few freakin' extras. And it's not like a lot don't exist. It's well known that director Francis Ford Coppola (frequently revising the screenplay during the three-year production) shot a number of scenes that he later abandoned, including a positively surreal visit to French plantation in Vietnam, where the aristocratic residents refuse to accept that their world is crumbling around them. Would it have been that hard to add this scene and others to the disc? For whatever reason, Paramount couldn't be bothered, which means that the brilliant 1991 Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse is still the only place to find snippets from Coppola's cutting-room floor. However, Hearts of Darkness isn't comparable to a series of extras on a DVD, tossed into the mix like dessert after a meal. The documentary, shot by Coppola's wife Eleanor during the film's production at her husband's suggestion (to keep her occupied, she suspected) is perhaps the greatest film ever made about the making of a film. Coppola may have announced to the world that Apocalypse Now "isn't about Vietnam — it is Vietnam," a statement that is both egotistical and a bit silly, but Hearts of Darkness isn't about Apocalypse Now — we'd argue that it is Apocalypse Now, detailing the many missteps and mishaps that kept the Coppolas and their colleagues in the Philippines for nearly three years. Among the many fascinating revelations contained herein are that John Milius wrote the first draft of the screenplay in the late 1960s as a college student; that the original plan was to send actors and crew to Vietnam while the war was still ongoing and try to capture some of the insanity on film (a sort of Blair Witch Project in war-paint); that George Lucas was one of the first young directors to be offered the job, which he turned down; and that Coppola chose Milius's script as the first film for his fledgling Zoetrope studio because he thought he could make it very quickly and shore up the venture with some much-needed cash. Of course, it just didn't happen that way. Coppola's renting of helicopters from Philippine President Marcos — with the understanding that they could be taken away from the production at a moment's notice — was a real head-scratcher. His dismissal of Harvey Keitel from the lead role after one week of shooting should have set off some red flags. And when his replacement, Martin Sheen, suffered a heart-attack and was forced to leave the production for several weeks, Coppola veered dangerously close to a nervous breakdown. Towards the end of it all, Coppola had dumped all of his earnings from the two Godfather films into this one while the Hollywood trades were printing headlines such as "Apocalypse When?" And, after two years, he hadn't even written an ending to the screenplay. The semi-comic black-and-white photograph of the director staring at a camera with a pistol to his head pretty much said it all.

    Regrettably, Hearts of Darkness is Missing in Action from DVD, which is a shame because we had been hoping for some time that discs of both Apocalypse Now and the filmed record of its making would arrive simultaneously, giving film freaks around the world a very special street Tuesday. But even though Paramount owns the documentary, it is out-of-print on both VHS and Laserdisc. Why Paramount would let Hearts of Darkness lapse after just a few short years is beyond our comprehension, but it's obvious that a DVD will not arrive until the studio decides this one's worth another general home-video release. And don't ask us to put our Laserdisc up for one of our forthcoming contests — it just ain't gonna happen.

    — Ed.

    Wednesday, 1 December 1999

    Mailbag: Wednesday is the day we clean out the reader mail here at The DVD Journal, so let's get to it:

  • I was considering buying the Terminator 2 DVD, but after reading some customer reviews on, I learned that this DVD does not contain the director's cut as does the widescreen VHS edition of the Terminator box set. How could whoever is in the decision making process for what goes on DVDs not put the director's cut on this DVD? Would there be reasons not to put the director's cut on DVD? Have you folks heard anything about a release of the director's cut on DVD?

    One more question — have you folks experienced complaints on RCA DVD players having trouble playing Criterion discs? I bought the same Robocop Criterion disc three times and returned it each time because it would make an uncharacteristically loud "buzzing" sound while in the deck. I've made inquiries to RCA, (where I bought the discs), and Criterion, but no one had an answer for me.

    Keep up the good work. I have found the scoops on your website to be very informative.

    — Tim

    As far as Terminator 2 goes, your culprit is not any studio heads or bean-counters, but in fact J.C. himself — James Cameron — who has a well-known habit of releasing film-only editions on home video before considering special editions, to wit:

    • Exhibit A: Terminator 2, released by Artisan (then Live) on DVD after the extended T2 had arrived in a collectible VHS box set.
    • Exhibit B: The Abyss, yet to appear on DVD, but released on VHS and Laserdisc in its original theatrical cut long before the "Director's Cut" arrived.
    • Exhibit C: The Titanic DVD, which arrived with great fanfare at the end of August, but without any substantial supplements. The release was expected to become the biggest-selling disc of all time (the title currently holds the VHS record), but it was blitzed weeks later by The Matrix, which was about five bucks cheaper and loaded with value-added content. And in the midst of it all, rumors were swirling about a "special-edition" Titianic DVD that would arrive at some unspecified point in the future (based on Exhibits A and B, rumors that are far from unfounded).

    But the good news is that new discs are reportedly in the works for both The Abyss and T2 that will incorporate the "seamless branching" feature of DVD, which hasn't been utilized on any releases to date, but allows users to select between different versions of a film, with all the information contained on a single disc. Expect both extended Cameron titles to arrive sometime in Y2K.

    As for your Criterion query, that one's got us stumped. The problems that plagued the Matrix DVD were due to the extensive amount of DVD-ROM content on the disc, which wreaked havoc with older DVD players. However (and this is just off the top of our heads), Criterion has never offered any DVD-ROM content on their releases. We never heard of any major bugs with Criterion's Robocop either, which played just fine for us on our Sony. Furthermore, any "buzzing" sound probably wouldn't be the result of a DVD-ROM conflict. It's just a guess, but your problem was likely with your player.


  • I've been looking for the 1996 film, Fargo but it doesn't seem to exist (except on VHS from What's up? Has it been pulled from release? didn't show it either, but my research shows it having been released on DVD in June of '97. Thanks for any info.

    — Michael

    You've run smack-dab into last year's PolyGram/MGM/Universal switcheroo, wherein PolyGram sold their video holdings to Universal, who then sold most of the pre-1997 titles to MGM (who, at the time, was in the process of bolstering their massive film holdings and only too happy to get 'em). The majority of PolyGram's home-video product disappeared from the shelves not long thereafter, including Fargo, which is currently under MGM's control. Thankfully, MGM has already started to re-release some PolyGram titles (including one of our favorites, The Usual Suspects, which is due later this month.) As Fargo is a very popular film, we're betting a new disc will arrive within the next year.

  • Could you tell me from where your information came about the release of Rear Window back to the theaters next year? I talked to a woman at Paramount some months ago who was vaguely familiar with its restoration but had little information about when it would be done or what they were doing with it. That inquiry came in response to a Rear Window DVD I saw on eBay, which apparently is a product of Taiwan. Any help would be appreciated.

    — Richard

    A great number of Hitchcock films are scheduled to undergo restoration, as many older ones were shot on nitrate stock, which has been discovered over the years to be unstable. Perhaps best-known is Vertigo, which was lavishly restored and shown on the repertory circuit a few years back and has since arrived on a feature-packed DVD from Universal. Rear Window is also currently undergoing restoration (reportedly it is near completion), and, like Vertigo, we are expecting a new DVD, although not for some time yet. The best place to get the scoop on the ongoing efforts to preserve The Master's work is at the almighty, where Peter Bracke has posted an extensive report on the matter.

    Top of the Pops: Here's the top-selling DVDs last week from our friends at Click the links to read our reviews of these discs:

    1. Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me
    2. How the Grinch Stole Christmas
    3. The Matrix
    4. Big Daddy
    5. Saving Private Ryan
    6. L.A. Confidential
    7. Saving Private Ryan (DTS)
    8. Boogie Nights
    9. Die Hard
    10. Notting Hill

    Quotable: "Whaddya got?"

    — Marlon Brando, replying to the question "What're you
    rebelling against, Johnny?" in The Wild One.

    Still here in the great Pacific Northwest....

    — Ed.

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