Monday, 31 January 2000
And the winner is: William Smith of Chandler, Ariz., wins the free DVDs of Dead Man Walking and Fast Times at Ridgemont High from our January contest. Congrats, William!
Our Free DVD Contest for the month of February is up and running, and we have a copy of Rushmore: The Criterion Collection up for grabs. Be sure to drop by our contest page to send us your entry, and don't forget to take our monthly DVD poll while you're there.
Disc of the Week: In Rio County, Texas, some secrets are buried very deep -- including the remains of former Sheriff Charlie Wade (Kris Kristofferson), a rough-and-tumble redneck who extorted protection money from folks for years before his mysterious disappearance in 1957. Local legend held that his successor, Sheriff Buddy Deeds (Matthew McConaughey), was involved in a plot to eliminate Wade for good, but his long tenure as sheriff was a popular one, and everybody who loved him didn't want to find out just what happened those many years ago. But when a skeleton and badge are discovered buried on a old Army rifle range, Sheriff Sam Deeds (Chris Cooper), the late Sheriff Deeds' son, is the only person willing to investigate the murder, and in the process re-open old wounds that kept himself and his iconic father at odds over the years. John Sayles' 1996 masterpiece Lone Star is at once complicated and engrossing, weaving together a variety of characters and families against a tapestry of multicultural south Texas, where whites, blacks, and Latinos struggle to coexist in a world where secrets and lies foster mutual distrust. But Sayles extends his theme beyond social observations, illustrating how societal pressures have broken down family units, and particularly the relationships between parents and children. Pilar Cruz (Elizabeth Peña), a schoolteacher who had an illicit affair with the younger Deeds many years ago, is emotionally distraught over his return to the town, and she has trouble communicating with her mother (Miriam Colon), a local restaurant owner who appears to have turned her back on her Latino roots. Otis Payne (Ron Canada), who runs the local black roadhouse, is estranged from his Army officer son (Joe Morton), and thus from his grandson (Eddie Robinson), who wants to learn more about his family's history. And as Sam's investigation continues, he gradually learns things about these other families, as well as his own, in his single-minded attempt to revive the ghosts of the past, leading to a bittersweet, uplifting conclusion. Warner's new disc features a good transfer, with audio in the original 2.0 Dolby surround, and a trailer. Despite the few extras (and an awkward layer switch), we think the good street price on this one makes it a keeper.
Oops: Those of you who have been following the trials of DeCSS over the past several weeks know that the MPAA and the major Hollywood studios have done everything in their power to keep the DVD crack -- which disables copy-control encryption on DVDs -- out of the hands of everybody. But that didn't stop the MPAA's lawyers from including the entire DeCSS source code in court papers relating to a pending California lawsuit, which were public documents up until last week, when they were placed under seal by Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge William Elfving at the MPAA's request. Until that point, the code was available to the general public for two weeks, courtesy of the very people who would like to bury it.
"Everyone knew (the DeCSS document) would be placed under seal," Jeffrey Kessler, the plaintiff's lead attorney in the case, told a wire service, implying that the oversight wasn't worth mentioning. However, some legal sources have indicated that the event could harm the litigation, since -- even if it were an accident -- the defense could argue that the plaintiffs had willfully distributed what are claimed to be trade secrets.
Two DeCSS lawsuits, in California and New York, have yet to reach trial.
Box Office: Welcome to the lowest-grossing movie weekend of the year, when few studios have the nerve to release new films in the face of Superbowl Sunday and overall earnings plummet -- and especially this year, as box-office estimates issued over the weekend indicate that Destination Films' Eye of the Beholder, starring Ashley Judd and Ewan McGregor, earned the top spot with a mere $6.2 million, the lowest winning gross since Steven Seagal's Fire Down Below earned just $6 million in the late-summer doldrums of 1997. However, Eye of the Beholder was the only major debut over the weekend, and that fact, along with its female-friendly stars, gave it the best chance of effectively counter-programming The Big Game. Miramax's Down to You and New Line's Next Friday were in a neck-and-neck race for first last week, but Down to You dropped all the way to sixth, while Next Friday continued to be a strong draw, holding on to second place. Familiar faces round out the top ten, with such films as Warner's The Green Mile and Sony's Stuart Little going well beyond the century mark. With the depressed box office, Disney's Fantasia 2000, in limited release on IMAX screens across the country, nearly cracked the top ten with $2.4 million in receipts (it was held back by, of all things, Pixar's Toy Story 2). The stink-bomb award for this week goes to Buena Vista's Play It to the Bone, which went wide over the previous weekend but pulled a mere $3.4 million for ninth place. The movie's disappearance from this week's rankings comes as little surprise.
Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: What's black and white and red all over? If you check out our latest full review (on our Full Reviews index), you'll learn that it's I Am Cuba: The Milestone Collection a fascinating piece of Communist propaganda that also may be the most beautiful black-and-white film in history. New quick reviews this week include Jumanji: Collector's Edition, Blue Streak: Special Edition, Lone Star, Friday: Platinum Series, The Night Porter: The Criterion Collection, and A River Runs Through It, all of which can be found on the Quick Reviews index. Everything has been added under the New Reviews menu here on the main page as well.
We'll be back tomorrow with the rundown on this week's street discs.
Friday, 28 January 2000
Long weekend: We're taking the day off so we can catch up on our DVD viewing, but we'll be back on Monday to announce the winner of our January free DVD contest, so if you haven't found the time, this weekend will be your last chance to drop by our contest page and send us your entry. We'll have a new contest up and running Monday morning (with a recent Criterion disc up for grabs), along with new DVD reviews, the box-office report, the latest on the DeCSS brouhaha, and whatever else is fit to print. Finally, if you haven't read our in-depth interview with Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk, it can still be found here.
Have a fun weekend -- we'll see ya soon.
Thursday, 27 January 2000
In the Works: Image Entertainment posted a new round of DVD announcements yesterday. Here's the rundown:
On the Block: Back once again by popular demand! Here's the highest recent closing prices of rare and out-of-print DVDs from online auctions at eBay:
And no, that $510.00 for Little Shop of Horrors is not a typo.
Wednesday, 26 January 2000
Alleged DeCSS author charged: Just a matter of days after U.S. judges in New York and California issued preliminary injunctions against website operators who posted the DVD copy-control hack DeCSS, authorities in Norway have charged 16-year-old Jon Johansen with breaking intellectual-property laws. The teenager is believed to be the author of DeCSS, which first appeared on the Internet late last year and defeats the Content Scrambling System encryption technology of the DVD format, allowing DVD movies to be copied onto blank DVD media. And just as the MPAA and the major Hollywood studios are responsible for bringing the charges in the two pending U.S. lawsuits, the Motion Picture Association (the MPAA's international counterpart) reported Johansen and his father to the police earlier this month via a Norwegian law firm. Marie Sunde, a prosecutor in Norway's economic crime unit, confirmed to Reuters that the Johansen household was searched and that computer equipment was confiscated.
Spin back to last year, when Johansen first became aware that he might be at the center of a growing controversy and removed DeCSS from his website. "I know very well that (the studios) would not win in court, but they could make a big mess out of it," the youngster reportedly noted in a statement on the site." I simply do not have the time, nor money, to go up against these people."
He didn't know how right he was. It's starting to look pretty clear that the studios will play hardball over this one.
Damn good question, Brad. The absolute top of our list would probably be Columbia TriStar's Das Boot: The Director's Cut, which was originally a six- hour German miniseries cut down to a two-and-a-half hour theatrical film. Neither version made director Wolfgang Petersen entirely happy, so he was given the opportunity to re-cut the film at three-and-a-half hours with a booming 5.1 track. However, since Petersen created new audio sources for the film, rather than trying to improve previous ones, Das Boot probably isn't an accurate answer to your question. Just off the top of our heads, we're particularly fond of Image's DD 5.1 remix on the Dances With Wolves DVD (which is also available in a DTS version), although action films spring most to mind, including Fox's Aliens and Warner's Lethal Weapon. It's pretty hard to come up with a comprehensive answer, but we're sure a lot of you have a few favorite remixes in your collections. If so, send us your suggestions and we'll try to post a rundown of the most popular discs.
Keep up the good work.
Frankly, we have no idea about this one, because we've only done the whole coupon thing once or twice (amazingly, the little critters actually work). Furthermore, we really don't want to make any suggestions that could cause our sponsor, Reel.com, undue stress. So let's just leave it at this: There are several "pricing guide" DVD websites out there that regularly post news on recent coupons, and last we checked they had plenty of retail sponsors. If you want to try it, do it at your own risk -- but it looks to us like a lot of people are taking advantage of coupon deals wherever they find them. And in any case, buying DVDs over the Internet is virtually always cheaper than in your local shopping mall, coupons or not.
Top of the Pops: Here's the top-selling DVDs last week from our friends at Reel.com. Click the links to read our reviews of these discs:
See ya tomorrow.
Tuesday, 25 January 2000
Exclusive!: You want it, we got it. DVD Journal correspondent Dawn Taylor recently sat down with Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk to talk about the much-discussed movie based on his book, the upcoming DVD, why Edward Norton is a genius, and how the studio heads at Fox reacted to Brad Pitt's semi-nude takes. Our Internet exclusive can be found here.
California ruling on DeCSS: DeCSS, the Norwegian computer hack that circumvents copy-protection technology on DVD, has now gone zero-for-two in U.S. courts, as Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge William Elfving issued a preli minary injunction last Friday against defendants in an MPAA-brought lawsuit, despite the fact that he rejected a restraining order against the defendants in the final week of 1999. According to Judge Elfving's ruling, the defendants will have to remove the DeCSS program from their websites immediately. The decision comes on the heels of a similar preliminary injunction issued in New York on Thursday against three defendants in a nearly identical case. Electronic Freedom Foundation spokesman Tom McGuire said that the legal group will contest both the New York and California decisions. Neither lawsuit has yet to reach trial.
Box-office update: As is often the case when Sunday's box-office estimates place two films in neck-and-neck positions, last weekend's box-office actuals, released yesterday, have put New Line's Next Friday in first place with $8 million in receipts, while the projected winner, Miramax's Down to You, finished second with $7.6 million. Exhibitor Relations, who releases the estimates, said that the swing likely was due to harsh weather in the East that depressed Sunday attendance, but New Line, quite frankly, isn't having any of it. "There was no way (Miramax) could come up with $8 million," a clearly irked David Tuckerman, New Line's executive VP of distribution, said yesterday. "It's hard to be that wrong based on the numbers they were looking at, and it just seems like it was deliberate." But rival specialty studio Miramax is downplaying the event. "Our estimate was based on the best information that we had," said David Kaminow, Miramax's senior VP of marketing. "We weren't cooking any numbers." The final results gave Next Friday its second straight week in the number-one spot.
On the Street: A number of popular films are on the street this morning, including The Runaway Bride, Jumanji: Collector's Edition, and Natural Born Killers. We'll probably give these a spin, but we are looking forward to Night of the Hunter, as well as the new DVD of Cinema Paradiso, which has finally arrived since being delayed last November. And those of you who grew up watching TV in the '80s may want to check out the special edition of Moonlighting: The Pilot and have another look at Bruce Willis before he became the top man of Tinseltown. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of Reel.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 24 January 2000
Avary gets his way: As we reported last Friday, filmmaker Roger Avary, who directed Killing Zoe and co-wrote Pulp Fiction, was asking fans on his personal website (www.avary.com) to boycott the upcoming Artisan DVD of Killing Zoe because it was to be a pan- and-scan transfer and would include no supplements. Well, it didn't take long for all of you to fix this problem, as Roger informed us over the weekend in a letter to the Journal. "Support from DVD collectors was so extreme (apparently e- mail campaigns work!) that the presidents of Artisan Home Video have agreed to postpone the planned release until August so that I can prepare a new letterboxed transfer and add supplementary materials," Roger told us. "Please be sure to thank all those who helped me." In the meantime, he's also updated his personal journal at avaray.com.
Great work, gang. We couldn't be more delighted.
MPAA wins round one against DeCSS: In the first legal ruling over the DeCSS hack, which disables the Content Scrambling System encryption technology of the DVD format, Judge Lewis Kaplan of the Southern District of New York issued a temporary injunction Thursday against three defendants in a lawsuit filed last week by the major Hollywood studios. According to Judge Kaplan's ruling, the three defendants in the suit -- Shawn Reimerdes, Eric Corley (aka Emmanuel Goldstein) and Roman Kazan -- are to immediately remove the DeCSS program from their websites or face contempt-of-court charges.
"Judge Kaplan's ruling represents a great victory for creative artists, consumers and copyright owners everywhere," Motion Picture Association of America president Jack Valenti noted in a statement late last week. "I think this serves as a wake-up call to anyone who contemplates stealing intellectual property." The ruling comes under the auspices of the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which prohibits the distribution of copy-control hacks.
However, the San Francisco-based Electronic Freedom Foundation, which has been providing legal assistance to the three defendants in New York, as well as a similar case in California against more than 70 defendants, is still claiming that the DMCA has not been violated. "These cases are not about piracy or hacking," Tara Lemmey, executive director of the EFF, told Reuters last week. "They are about censorship of speech critical to science, education and innovation." Central to the defense of the alleged lawbreakers is the argument that the primary function of DeCSS is to allow DVDs to play on the Linux operating system, and that there is an exception in the DMCA that allows for such a circumvention.
In the meantime, the two pending DeCSS lawsuits are far from over. Judge Kaplan's decision in New York is only a preliminary injunction, not a verdict. Both cases have yet to reach the trial stage.
Globes 2000: The Golden Globes, determined by balloting of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, were handed out last night. A lot of people like to say that they are a forecast of March's Academy Award winners, even though it's all speculation -- and especially this year. In any case, here's the rundown from last night's ceremonies:
Shut out from the ceremonies? The Insider, Being John Malkovich, and The Straight Story, in addition to Fight Club, Three Kings, Election, and Eyes Wide Shut, all of which could be Academy Award dark-horses in several categories. The Oscar nods will be revealed next month.
Disc of the Week: Bobby Bowfinger (Steve Martin) has a problem. After years of struggling in Los Angeles as an independent filmmaker, he finally has a script that he thinks will be box-office dynamite. Never mind that it's called Chubby Rain, chronicles the story of nefarious extraterrestrials who invade Earth in raindrops, and was written by his accountant. It's the sort of thing that he knows will turn his career around. But after pushing the script on bigwig Hollywood producer Jerry Renfro (Robert Downey Jr.), Bowfinger is told that he has to secure A-list action star Kit Ramsey (Eddie Murphy) to get funding. Of course, the alien-battling actor isn't interested. In fact, when he isn't using his computer to find how many times the letter K shows up in his scripts (if the total is divisible by three, it means the KKK is backing it), he's visiting the headquarters of the quasi-religious "Mind Head" organization, who, under the supervision of leader Terry Stricter (Terence Stamp), are trying to disabuse him of his many paranoias -- among which is that he will spontaneously combust at any moment. With a cast and crew ready to work but no star, Bowfinger decides that he will have to stalk Ramsey, ambushing him with his actors in single takes in order to construct a workable film, and when that can't take care of everything, he hires Ramsey lookalike Jiff (Murphy, natch) to act as a stand-in, even though the young man resembles Ramsey but has all the charisma of a Java programmer. Written by Martin and directed by veteran Frank Oz, Bowfinger is one of the most amusing comedies we've come across in months. It's especially enjoyable to see Martin and Murphy -- who many of us have grown up with over the years -- create a fresh, original comedy in the face of newcomers (and fellow SNL veterans) like Mike Myers and Adam Sandler. Martin is always best when he portrays the bumbling buffoon who succeeds by raw optimism (first seen in The Jerk), and Murphy adds to his string of multiple- role films, such as Coming to America and The Nutty Professor, although in Bowfinger he forgoes the hammy prosthetics and creates two separate individuals with little more than his own gifts of vocal inflection and subtle body language. Heather Graham, as a Tinseltown tenderfoot determined to sleep her way to the top, earn some of the best laughs, while Christine Baranski, as a self-important stage-actress who regards film-work as slumming, mercilessly downdresses leading ladies everywhere. Universal's feature-packed DVD includes a commentary track with Oz, a "making-of" featurette, two deleted scenes, an outtake reel, production notes, cast and crew bios and filmographies, a trailer gallery, and additional supplements as DVD-ROM content. If you missed it in the theaters, it's worth a spin.
Box Office: It was a photo-finish between specialty studios Miramax and New Line, and the final numbers won't be in until Monday night, but box-office estimates indicate that Miramax's Down to You, starring Freddie Prinze Jr. and Julia Stiles, earned first place with $8.3 million, beating out New Line's Next Friday, which was last week's box-office champ, by a mere $100,000 (New Line is disputing the estimates, of course). Meanwhile, Universal's well-regarded The Hurricane is holding strong in third place with $7 million over the weekend, and Columbia TriStar's Stuart Little earned $6.5 million for fourth. Other films still doing strong business after several weeks in release are The Green Mile, Galaxy Quest, and The Talented Mr. Ripley. However, Buena Vista's Play it to the Bone only earned $3.5 million in more than 1,500 theaters, while Paramount's Angela's Ashes earned nearly as much on only 610 screens. The stinko award for the week goes to MGM's Supernova, which debuted last week with $5.7 million and was subsequently spanked out of the top ten. DVD Journal staffer Alexandra DuPont could be found last week at Ain't It Cool News, where her Supernova review caused some of us to think it might be the worst sci-fi film in history.
Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
Quotable: "Yes, it's true -- I was pre-gonged."
-- Kevin Spacey, in a pre-ceremony interview with
On the Board: New full reviews have been posted for The Birth of a Nation and Smoke Signals, and can be found on our Full Reviews index. New quick reviews this week include Rushmore: The Criterion Collection, The Wolf Man: Classic Monster Collection, An Ideal Husband, Bowfinger, and Desert Blue, and can be accessed on the Quick Reviews index. Everything has been added under the New Reviews menu here on the main page.
Tomorrow: "Fight Club" author hangs out with the Journal: There have been a lot of outstanding films released over the past several months, and we're looking forward to as many great DVDs in the near future, but few flicks have impressed us more than David Fincher's Fight Club, so it was only a matter of time before we sat down with Chuck Palahniuk, who wrote the novel Fight Club, to ask him about Hollywood, Edward Norton, Brad Pitt, and just exactly what he's planning to talk about on the Fight Club DVD commentary track. Come back tomorrow morning to read our exclusive interview -- you will only find it here.
Friday, 21 January 2000
Avary dissed!: Filmmaker Roger Avary, best known for the cult-favorite Killing Zoe, shares something with fellow auteur Paul Thomas Anderson -- he actually gives a shit about his DVDs. But Avary isn't nearly as content as the Magnolia director, who will re-issue a new Boogie Nights DVD later this year. On his fan website (www.avary.com), Avary is asking all of us digital die-hards to boycott Artisan's upcoming release of Killing Zoe. Why? "Artisan has chosen to release this DVD with the same washed-out pan-and-scan transfer that has been available since 1993 on VHS," the director writes in his own personal journal. "There will be no included supplementary materials. The DVD, in fact, will be of no greater quality than a used VHS tape you can get off of eBay for under $5 USD. A suggestion would be to boycott this release and then compose a thoughtful and polite letter to the heads of Artisan Entertainment and Artisan Home Video explaining that, while you will not purchase the current DVD, you would be eager to purchase a DVD with a proper 16:9 transfer and supplementary materials."
Normally we don't put much stock in DVD boycotts, but when the director of a film -- any film -- asks us to not buy a DVD, we figure he knows what he's talking about. Therefore, purchase the upcoming Killing Zoe at your own peril. And if you'd like to send the folks at Artisan a letter, you can find some choice e-mail links here. But please remember what Roger is asking -- keep it "thoughtful and polite." A little can go a long way.
Coming Attractions: New DVD reviews are on the way, including Bowfinger, D.W Griffith's Birth of a Nation, last year's excellent Smoke Signals, and lots more. And if you haven't entered our monthly free DVD contest (we have a Sean Penn double-feature up for grabs), be sure to visit our contest page if you get the chance, and don't forget to take our monthly DVD poll while you're there.
See ya Monday.
Thursday, 20 January 2000
Problem solved!: In response to a reader mail item we posted yesterday, we received an enormous amount of letters from readers who have been having audio problems with a few Sony DVD players. Thankfully, some of you had the answers:
Of course, if you bought the machine at Sears like I did, you should have no problem exchanging the machine until you get a machine with an acceptable firmware version. The version I have in my machine is 2.31 and I no longer have the lip synch problem.
One more piece of information: the sync issue is in no way related to how the digital signal is decoded. It is the fault of the player and the player alone, not the receiver or TV or anything else. I have tried using the coax digital, optical digital, DVD player decoding, stereo, bypassing receiver, etc.. None of these work.
Since we have a pair of Sony 300s here, we fortunately have escaped this little snafu, but we hope that everybody who wrote us can get their firmware upgraded without any problem. Thanks for all of your letters.
R.I.P.: Czech-born actress and Hollywood starlet Hedy Lamarr died yesterday at her home in Florida. Having first gained notoriety for the 1933 European film Ecstasy -- where she appeared in what is widely regarded to be the first nude scene in a serious movie -- Lamarr relocated to Tinseltown to star in such films as Samson and Delilah and Algiers. However, while her celebrity was short-lived, Lamarr made a far greater contribution to the 20th century than just a few movies. Married to weapons-dealer Fritz Mandl (the first of her eventually six husbands), she became interested enough in the munitions industry to mull over the idea of a radio-controlled torpedo, a concept that remained undeveloped when it was determined that the radio signal could easily be jammed. But on a fateful day with composer George Antheil (his tinkering on a piano served as inspiration), the pair arrived at the idea of using randomly changing radio frequencies, and they later earned a patent in June of 1941 for what is now known as "spread spectrum" technology. Thanks to transistors, and later microchips, "spread spectrum" is in use today in both satellites and cell phones, and it also provides security for top-secret military communications that skip across bandwidths in split-seconds. As far as we know, Lamarr is the only woman in history to appear in the buff on film and also hold a U.S. patent, so don't think she was just another dumb bimbo the next time you make a phone call from your car or fire up your 500-channel dish. "Any girl can be glamorous," she once said. "All you have to do is stand still and look stupid." She didn't. Lamarr was 86.
Wednesday, 19 January 2000
First, the good news -- New Line is planning to release a new Platinum Series disc of Seven this March, and it will definitely be RSDL, so those who are looking to upgrade can safely trade off their copies of the original disc. As for films like Amadeus and Goodfellas (and The Right Stuff and The Pelican Brief, to name two more), the majority of flippers that were released in 1997 and 1998 came from Warner, and, as we noted yesterday, they are not in the habit of re-issuing DVDs. Moreover, since all of the above films are catalog titles that are several years old, there probably isn't sufficient consumer demand to re-master them. And finally, while getting up and flipping a disc can be a minor pain in the ass, when DVDs first appeared the delicate skill of mastering an MPEG-2 signal had yet to be perfected by DVD authors (a number of early releases are severely hampered by digital artifacts and are less enjoyable than tapes). Since the RSDL format had yet to arrive, those flippers were the only way to insure that the discs would look good, and Goodfellas, for one, looks fantastic. So does Columbia TriStar's Das Boot, which is also a flipper. Therefore -- barring future special editions with enough extra content to warrant a new release -- we're going to do what our mothers told us and just be happy with what we have.
You and every other digital die-hard out there, Stuart. The worst offender in this regard over the past year has been Buena Vista, who, to date, have stuck it to us with special editions of Shakespeare in Love and A Bug's Life, as well as the Criterion editions of Armageddon and Rushmore, after the no-frills discs had already hit the street. However, with the announcement that two editions of Tarzan will arrive later this year, it appears that BVHE may have kicked the bait-and-switch habit. In fact, we also think that we've all been waiting for a Toy Story DVD because Pixar wants their much-rumored special edition to be available (or at least announced) before any movie-only DVD reaches the shelves.
But, regrettably, there still is no way to really figure out if a DVD will get a double-dipping, short of wetting your finger and sticking it up in the wind. Case in point: Like you, we've heard rumblings about a special edition of The Iron Giant, and it makes us none too happy (if it happens, it will be the first time to our recollection that Warner has double-dipped a title). But there must be more extra content available for The Iron Giant than what arrived on DVD last year, in particular a commentary track or two and a wealth of technical supplements. And in the case of The Iron Giant, the film tanked at the box office, unable to earn back even half of its production budget. In light of the situation, it's understandable that Warner would want to get the DVD out day-and-date with the VHS edition rather than let it languish and only consider a special edition at a later time. All this said, no special edition Iron Giant has been announced. It could happen, it may not -- but we're hoping that any feature-packed release would only be an anomaly at Warner, and not the rule.
Yikes! We're glad that this has never happened to us -- unfortunately, that also means that we can't give you a definitive answer. When confronted with this sort of problem, the first thing we would do is examine the variables. After locating a disc that you think may be prone to audio problems, try connecting your DVD player to your HT amp in every way possible. Since your DD chip is in your deck, and not the amp, you might want to see if you can alternate the digital signal with stereo output (via a different connection, if available), and then play the audio in Pro Logic. If it's solid in two-channel but not in discrete audio, you could have a problem with your DD decoder. If not, the bug could be somewhere in the playback mechanism in your deck (in either case, you will have to contact the manufacturer). However, if it seems that just a few DVDs in your collection are subject to skipping, they could be defective. That said, we've spun hundreds of DVDs here with two Sony players very similar to yours, and we've never encountered this sort of thing.
That's as far as we can take it now, so we turn it over to our readers -- if you've had problems with asynchronized audio, let us know and we'll try to post a follow-up.
Top of the Pops: Here's the top-selling DVDs last week from our friends at Reel.com. Click the links to read our reviews of these discs:
Tuesday, 18 January 2000
"Eyes" will remain closed: Despite our hopes that Warner would issue the uncut version of Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut on DVD later this year, the Hollywood Reporter is reporting that the MPAA-approved R-rated edition will arrive on disc in the United States, while the unrated edition will only be released overseas (as it was with the theatrical release). The issue may be a minor one, since the distinction is only based on a brief, digitally altered scene that does little to change the overall context of the film, but one of the great things about home video -- and especially DVD -- is that we are occasionally given the option to bypass the rating system and see a film as the creators originally envisioned it (Universal's R-rated and unrated editions of American Pie were the most recent example of this type of marketing). For now, we will hope that Warner will consider streeting an unrated special edition of Eyes Wide Shut in the future. However, releasing a film more than once on DVD (a la Disney) isn't really their style, which means that our wait could be a long one.
In the Works: Here's some new disc announcements, courtesy of Image Entertainment:
"Fight Club" gets better: The last time we checked, the commentary tracks on Fox's upcoming Fight Club are to include director David Fincher, star Brad Pitt, and mix-masters The Dust Brothers, but our sources tell us that Chuck Palahniuk, who wrote the novel Fight Club, is on his way to L.A. for a turn in the recording booth as well. Very cool.
On the Street: There's lots of stuff in the shops this morning, but we only have eyes for the new Criterion edition of Rushmore, the latest Buena Vista film to arrive under the Criterion folio. Dramas arriving this morning include Spike Lee's Malcolm X, the 1995 version of Othello starring Laurence Fishburne and Kenneth Branagh, and the little-seen but well regarded Cuban film I Am Cuba. However, comedy seems to set the tone for the day with too many discs to mention, but suffice it to say that we're looking forward to both An Ideal Husband and the special edition of Bowfinger. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of Reel.com and Image Entertainment:
See ya tomorrow.
Monday, 17 January 2000
Three named in new DeCSS lawsuit: After the Motion Picture Association of America filed a lawsuit and requested a restraining order last month in California against more than 70 individuals and websites accused of distributing the DeCSS hack, which defeats the Content Scrambling System encryption technology of the DVD format, the seven major Hollywood studios have filed an additional lawsuit in New York and Connecticut against three individuals who have allegedly posted DeCSS on the Internet, which the studios argue is a violation of the 1998 Millennium Digital Copyright Act. The three defendants named in the recent action are Shawn C. Reimerdes and Eric Corley (aka "Emmanuel Goldstein") in New York, and Jeraimee Hughes in Connecticut, according to an MPAA statement.
"This is a case of theft," MPAA president Jack Valenti said late last week in regards to the action. "The posting of the de-encryption formula is no different from making and then distributing unauthorized keys to a department store. The keys have no real purpose except to circumvent the locks that stand between the thief and the goods he or she targets." But the San Francisco-based Electronic Freedom Foundation, which has been providing legal counsel to defendants in the California case, disagrees. "This is definitely an infringement on freedom of speech," Shari Steele, the EFF's director of legal services, told Reuters in reference to last week's charges. "What has been done was totally legal. Posting of the program is legal and there are no pirated movies here."
Since 1998's Millennium Digital Copyright Act prohibits the dismantling of copyright-protection technologies, as well as selling or distributing copyright-protection hacks (with a $2,500 fine per infraction), the defendants on both coasts could be facing an uphill battle. However, the new laws have yet to be thoroughly tested in court, which means that these DVD-based lawsuits are bound to set many legal precedents. A hearing is scheduled for later this week in the California action. No scheduling information is currently available for the New York and Connecticut cases.
Disc of the Week: Because of Orson Welles' seemingly interminable battle with the Hollywood studio system, the legendary director made far too few films. Of those that he did complete, some were hacked apart by editors (The Magnificent Ambersons, Touch of Evil) and released without his approval. Others were shot in Europe (Othello, Chimes at Midnight), but on shoestring budgets that could not do justice to the director's vision. And other Welles films simply never got made at all, including The Big Brass Ring, which -- until recently -- was no more than a screenplay he developed with Oja Kodar not long before his death. Fortunately, director George Hickenlooper was interested enough in The Big Brass Ring to re-work Welles' original script (with the help of F.X. Feeney) and produce his own film for cable television, which is now in release on DVD from Columbia TriStar. And, like Welles' landmark Citizen Kane, The Big Brass Ring addresses one of his favorite themes -- the nature of power in America, how it is acquired, and how it can be abused. Missouri gubernatorial candidate Blake Pellarin (William Hurt) has gained the attention of the national press as a whiz-kid politician with an independent streak and enough charisma to send him all the way to the White House. But first he has to win the governorship of Missouri, which is a difficult race made even more complicated by an unexpected visit from his past. Orphaned as a young boy, Pellarin was raised by Sen. Kim Mennaker (Nigel Hawthorne), who had groomed the young man for politics at an early age. But Mennaker's re-entry into Pellarin's life -- starting with one simple, incriminating photograph -- soon creates a downward spiral of threats, blackmail, and distrust, as secrets from Pellarin's personal history threaten to destroy his political viability. Purposefully updated to the year 2000, Hickenlooper and Feeney's adaptation of The Big Brass Ring is both timely and a testament to the prescient vision of Welles, never examining modern-day politics as a debate over public policy or an attempt to capture the hearts and minds of voters, but simply as a high-tech game of "gotcha," with a public eager for scandals, an electronic press more than willing to provide them, and politicians who must go to greater and greater lengths to distance themselves from their past -- even if it means distancing themselves from their own humanity. Forget that The Big Brass Ring was made for the Showtime cable network, because it's got some big-screen stars, including Miranda Richardson in a great role as Pellarin's electioneering wife, Iréne Jacob as a TV reporter who must deal with the ethical implications of a breaking story, Hawthorne as the eccentric, gay Sen. Mennaker, and Hurt as Pellarin, in a performance that is equal to anything he has ever done before. And you fans of Short Cinema Journal might want to haul out Issue #2 after seeing this -- a short scene from an early version of the script is in there with Malcolm McDowell in the Mennaker role.
Box Office: The official estimates for the three-day holiday weekend won't be released until Monday night, but the early figures are in, and New Line's Next Friday, starring Ice Cube, soared to the top of the MLK weekend box office with $14.5 million in receipts. But Columbia TriStar's surprise hit Stuart Little is still going strong, adding $9.7 million to its $106.8 million gross, and grabbing second place. It was a solid weekend for debuts, with Universal's The Hurricane, starring Denzel Washington, going wide and snagging $9.1 million for third place, while Columbia TriStar's Girl, Interrupted earned $8.2 million for fourth. Familiar films are still drawing audiences as well, with The Green Mile, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Toy Story 2, and Any Given Sunday all remaining in the top ten. However, it didn't take long for Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia to fall from view -- despite drawing $6.5 million in wide release last weekend and landing in seventh place, the head-spinning, surreal epic already has fallen from the list. You had better go see it now if you don't want to wait for the DVD release this spring. We think Tom Cruise will win an Oscar for this one.
Here's the top-grossing films at American theaters from last weekend:
Crowe blackmailed? According to E! Online, a small conspiracy of individuals were recently planning to target Insider star and potential Oscar nominee Russell Crowe in a blackmail plot involving a videotape of the Aussie actor in a barroom brawl. The only problem? The coppers tapped the conspirators phones before Russell could be contacted. "It'll certainly ruin his fuckin' credibility" one of the conspirators is quoted as saying on a police tape. "I should ring CNN, shouldn't I?" Ya think so? Russell Crowe bustin' heads? Sounds like a screen test for L.A. Confidential to us.
On the Board: A new full review has been posted for Mystery Men and can be found on our Full Reviews index. New quick reviews this week include Ma Vie En Rose, Drop Dead Gorgeous, The Big Brass Ring, Fitzcarraldo, The Odessa File, and -- because we know you wanted it -- Vampyros Lesbos. All can be accessed on the Quick Reviews index, and everything has been added under the New Reviews menu here on the main page.
We'll be back tomorrow with news on this week's street discs.
Friday, 14 January 2000
Odds and ends: With the relative lack of pipe-hittin' news in the dog days of winter, we've opted to spend the better part of today on some much-needed site maintenance, but not before we tie up a few loose ends. First, New Line has confirmed that a new Boogie Nights DVD will street along with their forthcoming Magnolia disc, and that it will be an extended cut of the film, or what was loosely referred to as a "fun cut" in a recent interview with director Paul Thomas Anderson. Both discs are due sometime around May, but regrettably this means that Criterion's feature-packed Boogie Nights Laserdisc will remain on the big platter for now. Thanks also to loyal DVD Journal reader and digital die-hard Jerry Coles, who let us know that the official Rocky Horror Picture Show website (www.rockyhorror.com) is reporting that a new DVD could be on the way, and that it will likely include much of the behind-the-scenes material seen on VH-1 last Halloween (that VH-1 programming was reportedly well worth the cost of a blank tape). Finally, the Hitch-list is growing -- Universal has confirmed that The Master's 1963 classic The Birds will arrive in March.
R.I.P.: Legendary Disney animator Marc Davis died Wednesday, and if his name is not familiar, you certainly know his characters -- Tinkerbell, Cinderella, Bambi, Briar Rose (Sleeping Beauty), and Cruella de Vil were just some of the leading ladies to emerge from his fervent imagination. "We have lost one of the great giants of our industry," Disney vice-chairman Roy Disney noted yesterday. "Marc was a true Renaissance man and an amazing talent who helped define the art of animation and raise it to incredible new heights." Fortunately, some of his creations have already appeared on DVD, where they will be immortalized forever, and we eagerly look forward to all that have yet to arrive. Davis was 86.
Thursday, 13 January 2000
Roth leaves the Kingdom: Disney Studios chief Joe Roth resigned his position yesterday after nearly six years in the job so he can "pursue a more entrepreneurial, independent life," primarily by starting his own film company. During his tenure, Roth oversaw such Disney blockbusters as The Lion King, Armageddon, and last year's The Sixth Sense, which has become one of the highest-grossing films in the studio's history, and it's likely that he will continue to produce high-profile films in the future -- especially when we consider that Roth replaced Jeffrey Katzenberg in 1994, an equally successful producer who also had a string of hits for Disney before co-founding DreamWorks SKG with Steven Spielberg and David Geffen.
"Missing in Action" Flick of the Week: Yeah, we've done it. Years ago, when we were a lot younger. We stayed up until midnight, gathered our squirt-guns and toast, and headed over to Portland's Clinton Street Theater for a midnight showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. In fact, we did it a few times. Not like 200 times mind you -- the audience participation thing grew tiresome after a few outings, and by the end of the movie the urge to nod off was undeniable. But Rocky Horror was a small rite of passage many summers ago, even if we thought it was just a campy low-budget film. So imagine our surprise when we recently sat down to watch a video of Rocky Horror, which had faded into the memory, only to discover -- whaddya know -- it's a pretty catchy musical all by itself. Unfortunately, it's Missing in Action on DVD. Based on Richard O'Brien's hugely successful London stage production, the 1975 Rocky Horror Picture Show gathers together a variety of pop-culture items, including awful sci-fi, cheesy horror, rock-and-roll, sexual liberation, and a certain novel by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly. Susan Sarandon and Barry Bostwick star as Brad and Janet, newlyweds who are stranded in a storm and take refuge in a strange castle inhabited by folks from the planet of Transylvania and their leader Frank-N-Furter (Tim Curry). After Frank invites the couple to "come up to the lab and see what's on the slab" (the doctor demands a playmate, it seems), a broad bedroom farce ensues until Frank's extravagant ways lead to his eventual downfall. Of course, Rocky Horror is not a masterpiece of plotting. Rather, it's an endless rush of song-and-dance numbers that have become soundtrack favorites. Probably best known are "Dammit Janet," "Sweet Transvestite," and the signature "Time Warp." But we've become partial to less-upbeat numbers like "Don't Dream It, Be It," "I'm Going Home," and the opening tune "Science Fiction." Not that it matters -- O'Brien is such a clever songwriter and lyricist that there isn't a clunker in the bunch (it's sort of like how every song in South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut is worth a sing-along). And while it must be admitted that Sarandon is a far better actress than a singer, Tim Curry's go-for-broke performance in Rocky Horror is probably his best ever, which is saying something since it was his first film.
While currently Missing in Action on DVD, Rocky Horror was an MIA of a different sort for a long time, since Fox refused to release the film on home video for years on end (presumably to protect the consistent revenues from late-night screenings around the country). When a videotape finally arrived in the 1990s, it was heralded as an event by some Rocky Horror fans, while others thought it might lead to an eventual demise of the midnight show. Of course, such simply hasn't happened. Rocky Horror in the theater -- with props, costumed performers, and a rowdy, somewhat inebriated crowd -- is an experience that cannot be duplicated in the home, and if you've shelled out a few grand for a home-theater system, you probably wouldn't want to throw rice at it anyway. Rocky Horror is still going strong in cities all over America. What's ironic is that the many videotape editions have recently gone out of print while the film is still playing on the big screen. And until Fox gets Rocky Horror back on home video, we can forget about a new DVD.
One small question: Now that Time Warner is AOL Time Warner, how much longer will it be before we starting finding AOL's ubiquitous "free trial" discs tucked into our Warner DVD snap-cases?
Wednesday, 12 January 2000
Mailbag: Wednesday is the day we get to our reader mail here at The DVD Journal, and while we aren't able to personally respond to all of your letters, we'd like to let you know that we read everything we get. Here's some reader comments from this week:
We've said it before, but it bears repeating: While Disney's aggressive new approach to the DVD format is a welcome change, the fact that three of their original animated DVDs (Pinocchio, Mulan, and Hercules) will return in 2000 -- despite warnings that they would be placed on moratorium for several years -- has cost The Magic Kingdom the goodwill of legions of DVD consumers who have money in their pockets and fork it out every week for the best discs. And yet, despite the marketing faux pax, all of the titles in first Disney wave are generally excellent DVDs. We liked The Jungle Book the best -- the fact that it has since been earmarked as part of The Mouse's Platinum Collection takes some of the sting out of the purchase price, since it probably won't return to DVD until 2005 or later. But then again, newfound DVD cheerleader Michael Eisner could just up and say "To hell with it -- we're gonna release everything now!" With all of the Disney flip-flops in the past few months, nothing would surprise us anymore.
As for Warner, read on....
Things used to be so clear in the world of online DVD journalism. It all broke down so simple. Just one year ago it was easy to label studios such as Warner, MGM, New Line, Columbia TriStar, and Universal as the "good" vendors, while we regularly knocked around DreamWorks, Paramount, Disney, and especially Fox. It also was easy to draw a line in the sand, as the last three had ties to Divx and were only starting to come around to the open DVD format. But now Divx is dead. DreamWorks makes some of the best special-edition discs out there. Disney has taken the DVD bait like a mouse in a trap. Paramount is including things like commentaries and other features on many of their releases. And there was a changing of the guard at Fox Home Video in '99 that has led to some great DVD items, ranging from the Alien Legacy box set last year to their forthcoming Independence Day special edition this summer. We're actually saying great things about Fox all time around here, and their slew of classic war movies last November was one of our favorite DVD events of 1999.
The tide has shifted, and it's nothing less than ironic that Warner recently has left many DVD fans high and dry, since the studio virtually pioneered the DVD market with quality special-editions, low street prices, aggressive promotions, and an opposition to Divx that knew no bounds (both Warner and Columbia TriStar refused to license their product to Divx, which undoubtedly contributed to the pay-to-play format's early demise).
So why has Warner traded places with Fox over the past several months in the minds of many digital die-hards? Simple -- their multi-tiered DVD pricing structure includes a rock-bottom category of films that are being transferred to disc in pan-and-scan. It's almost as bad as releasing titles on Divx, and it's far, far worse than simply omitting an anamorphic transfer. Regrettably, Warner's pan-and-scan habit stretches all the way back to '97 and early '98, when titles such as Chariots of Fire and Purple Rain (the latter is a guilty pleasure around here) hit the shelves in 4:3. And while few videophiles care about the general dreck in Warner's current pan-and-scan crop, good films such as Fearless and The Great Santini have been lumped into the group.
We don't like it any more than you, but it's important to recognize that, in the home-video market, Warner isn't trying to be Chez Ritz -- they'd rather be McDonald's. And with a film library as massive as theirs, it's a sound marketing strategy. By offering pan-and-scan options on most of their DVD releases, Warner has been making inroads with DVD consumers who were just standing on the sidelines during the early days of the format, and their discount-rack 4:3 discs (which normally sell for a paltry ten bucks) entice even more folks to take the digital plunge. Even though most DVD fans think that Warner's bottom-tier is regressive, it's actually very pro-active, because it takes into account two things about average home-video consumers -- they don't like to pay more than ten bucks for older films, and they hate letterboxing with a real, if incomprehensible, passion. Those cheapo $10 discs are helping the DVD format leave its niche-market category and go mainstream, and while we find it regrettable that some excellent titles have found their way into the bargain basement, we're convinced that we will see more pan-and-scan-only DVDs in the next few years, not less.
But pan-and-scan is just the beginning. We also suspect that -- as it has been with VHS for several years -- studios down the road will charge a premium price for "widescreen" DVD titles or comprehensive special-editions, since videophiles will eventually constitute the minority of DVD consumers, not the majority, and the majority currently tends to buy cheap videos as an afterthought while standing in line at the supermarket. What's more, before long it's likely we'll see wholesale and retail pricing-structures, with separate release windows, to take advantage of the growing amount of DVD rentals and bring them more in line with the almighty videotape. And yet so many DVD fans have been trying to get the average American consumer to buy into the format without realizing that poor-quality discs, premium pricing, and rental windows would be the result. Frankly, we'd rather not let Joe and Jane Average into this particular sandbox. But the mainstream success of DVD is all but inevitable, at which point we can kiss our precious little niche market goodbye.
More awards: We never get tired of year-end lists around here, and today we have the 1999 awards from the Online Film Critics Society, a group of Internet-based film reviewers. Up first is the overall awards:
And here's the OFCS's top-ten list for '99:
Tuesday, 11 January 2000
P.T. Anderson speaks: It was only yesterday that we said we were salivating over the forthcoming Magnolia DVD, but now we've learned that director Paul Thomas Anderson will not do a commentary track for the disc -- and that's a shame, as his funny, free-form commentary on New Line's Boogie Nights DVD ranks among our favorites ever. But Anderson gave an interview last month to the most comprehensive website dedicated to his work, Cigarettes and Coffee (www.ptanderson.com), and he definitively said that a new track for Magnolia is not in the offing. "I just don't want to talk about (Magnolia)," Anderson says. "I'm just so proud of the movie and I think that it speaks so much for itself that I should just shut up about it." He says that at least two deleted scenes could be included, but since the film runs more than three hours "I want to keep that stuff to a minimum so it allows more room for the best possible picture and sound." Yes, that's right -- Anderson is a digital die-hard with more than 100 DVDs in his collection, and he's even thinking about releasing a new Boogie Nights disc with additional material. If it arrives, it won't be a director's cut since, according to Anderson, "the director's cut is the cut of the movie," but he's hinted that some of the deleted scenes on Criterion's Laserdisc could find their way to a future DVD release (our first question: would it come from New Line or Criterion?). Furthermore, Anderson notes that "I don't really think (the New Line edition) got transferred right the first time and I want to take another shot at it." You might bitch if you already bought the disc, but we'd never criticize a director who's as committed to his DVD product as Anderson is. And clearly he's got better eyes than we do, because we think New Line's Boogie Nights disc has an outstanding transfer.
The full Cigarettes and Coffee interview can be read here.
In the Works: Here's some new disc announcements, courtesy of Image Entertainment:
On the Street: The weeks following the holiday season are traditionally slow in the world of home video, but Criterion has a trio of new discs on the street this morning, Autumn Sonata, The Night Porter and the 1963 Lord of the Flies. Meanwhile, comedy fans have several buying options this week, including Mystery Men, Where the Buffalo Roam, Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip, Volunteers, and even (hold us back) The Extreme Adventures of Super Dave. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of Reel.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 10 January 2000
National Board reveals picks: The National Society of Film Critics, an elite group comprising only 54 film critics from around America, knocked their heads together over the weekend to come up with the cream of 1999, but they couldn't agree on a best picture and gave the award to both Spike Jonze's Being John Malkovich and Mike Leigh's Topsy-Turvy, the first tie in the group's 34-year history (The New York Film Critics Circle has already named Topsy-Turvy the year's best, while the Los Angeles Film Critics Assoc. gave Malkovich the nod). The fact that Russell Crowe won Best Actor for The Insider comes as little surprise, as the down-under import has won the award from virtually every critics' group over the past several weeks, but Reese Witherspoon's nod as Best Actress for Election was a surprise -- and one that we think was well deserved. Here's the final NSFC tally:
Disc of the Week: Tod Browning's 1931 Dracula has become one of the most iconic films of the 20th century, but when given another viewing at the dawn of a new century, it's a mixed bag, arriving between several cinematic crossroads and failing to reach the firm footing that James Whale's Frankenstein found just a few months later. Browning had built his reputation in silent films, most notably with several Lon Chaney thrillers, but Dracula, his first talkie, often plays like a silent flick, with many quiet stretches that tend to squander whatever tension has been built. Bela Lugosi, in the title role, is effectively sinister, and Dwight Frye, as Renfield, is deliciously maniacal, but the remainder of the performances are undeniably flat and melodramatic. After all, in 1931 actors had yet to really perfect the technique of performing for a camera rather than a live audience. Furthermore, Dracula is not based directly on Bram Stoker's 1897 novel but instead on a severely abridged stage-play that kept the film's running-time at the standard 75 minutes. Only Lugosi, with his subtle mannerisms and rolling accent, seemed to understand how to work in front of a lens (which is genuinely ironic, given that this was his first film and that he had pioneered the role of Dracula on the American stage). Besides Lugosi, the chief joy of viewing Dracula comes from legendary cinematographer Karl Freund's camerawork, which is full of the expressionist touches that made the Germans the most innovative filmmakers of the previous decade. Freund's initial tracking sequence -- which takes the viewer into the depths of Dracula's castle as the vampire and his minions rise from their coffins -- is spellbinding, and his many closeups of Lugosi create a marvelous pastiche of domination and fear. Fortunately, even though Dracula does not rank amongst the best of Universal's classic horror films, their new disc, part of their "Classic Monster Collection," is loaded with enough extra material to make it worth a spin. The entire original film is on board, and while it suffers from some damage and ambient noise, it's very watchable. For those of you who may find the many silent stretches off-putting, a new score by Philip Glass is included (although your humble editor found it to be more of an intrusion than an embellishment). Even more fascinating is the complete Spanish-language version of Dracula, also included here (directed by Paul Kohner and starring Carlos Villarias and Lupita Tovar). Shot at the same time and on the same sets, many folks contend that the Spanish version is slightly superior to the English-language film (you'll have to decide for yourself -- at least the source print is better). Other extras on the disc include a commentary track by film historian David J. Skal, the 35-minute documentary "The Road to Dracula," an introduction to the Spanish version with actress Tovar, a photo montage, production notes, cast and crew notes, the original theatrical trailer, and Web links. We still like Universal's Bride of Frankenstein DVD the best, but every disc we've seen in this series has been well worth it.
Box Office: Much to Columbia TriStar's delight, Stuart Little is pretty big, holding the top spot for the second week in a row at the North American box office, and for the third time since its debut last month. In addition to $11.5 million over the weekend, the talking-mouse kiddie-flick has snagged $96.5 million to date and is certain to join the $100 million club. Of course, it's no Toy Story 2, which has joined the $200 million club and is now the second-highest-grossing Disney animated film ever, passing Aladdin's $217 million but still far short of The Lion King's $301 million. Paramount's The Talented Mr. Ripley and Warner's The Green Mile and Any Given Sunday are still doing strong business -- strong enough, in fact, to hold Paul Thomas Anderson's highly anticipated Magnolia in seventh place on its first wide weekend. But then again, $6.5 million for an unconventional, sprawling film than runs more than three hours ain't so bad, and its $6,359 per-screen average was the highest of the top ten (we're already salivating over what will surely be a Platinum Collection DVD from New Line later this year). The only other film to go wide over the weekend, Universal's Snow Falling on Cedars, garnered a modest $4 million and grabbed tenth place. Meanwhile, both Fox's Anna and the King and Universal's Man on the Moon are fading fast, both just now passing the $30 million mark despite the A-list stars they offer. And how well is Fantasia 2000 doing? Its $2.7 million gross over the weekend is just pocket change to Michael Eisner, but after taking into account that only 54 IMAX venues are showing F2K, the per-screen average is an astronomical $50,000.
Here's the top-grossing films at American theaters from last weekend:
The plot thickens: Still haven't entered our monthly free DVD contest? It will be your loss, as we're adding a copy of Universal's Fast Times at Ridgemont High: Collector's Edition to this month's booty, which includes MGM's recently re-issued Dead Man Walking. Don't panic -- just visit our Contest Page to send us your entry, and don't forget to take our monthly DVD poll while you're there.
On the Board: A new full review has been posted for The Graduate: Special Edition, which can be found on our Full Reviews index. New quick reviews this week include The Shawshank Redemption, Dracula: Classic Monster Collection, The Jungle Book: Limited Issue, The Falcon and the Snowman, Farewell My Concubine, Limbo, and Pal Joey, and can be accessed on the Quick Reviews index. Everything has been added under the New Reviews menu here on the main page.
We'll be back tomorrow with the rundown on this week's street discs.
Friday, 7 January 2000
DVD makes more inroads: Thanks to the annual shopping season, we've gained a lot of new readers over the past few weeks who have written to inform us that they've just purchased a new DVD player, and we'll probably have to get used to the steady stream of inquisitive e-mail, because InfoTech, a Vermont-based media-forecasting firm, recently released a report predicting that the DVD format will enter more than 10% of U.S. households during 2000, which exceeds previous estimates from other sources indicating that the 10% mark wouldn't be reached until 2002 at the earliest. The report cites the availability of more than 7,500 DVD titles as a key to the format's rapid acceptance, as well as declining hardware prices and DVD-ROM-equipped PCs (based on our own internal polling, we think that DVD-ROM drives are propelling DVD software sales far more than anybody expected). Of course, U.S. consumers have created the bulk of the format's overall sales since its inception in 1997, but InfoTech says that Japan, Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, and France will experience their own sales booms over the next 12 months.
The tops of the '90s: In case you missed it, the Broadcast Film Critics Association named their Top Ten Films of the 1990s earlier this week, and as far as lists go, this one ain't so bad. In fact, if we could scratch Forrest Gump and replace it with Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights, we'd be willing to go along with these picks for the most part -- although we'd stick L.A. Confidential on top. But at least they're all good films. Here's the BFCA rundown:
Quotable: "Until George has time to concentrate on the DVD, we won't be releasing one."
-- A Lucasfilm spokesperson, discussing a potential
"I put the 'sin' in 'syntax', baby!"
-- Bill Gates, clad in purple velvet and surrounded
"Sometimes I am a little worried about becoming the Prince of Darkness... I'm kind of renowned for the fact that most of the characters I play have pretty large flaws. But I never gave a shit what the critics say."
-- Michael Douglas, whose recent engagement to
Coming Attractions: New DVD reviews are on the way, including The Falcon and the Snowman, the re-issue of The Graduate: Special Edition, and much more, so be sure to check back on Monday for all the latest.
Go enjoy the weekend. We'll see ya soon.
Thursday, 6 January 2000
No soup for you, geekoids: Those nifty "will they or won't they" rumors we're swirling over the past several months regarding a possible DVD release of The Phantom Menace this year, but we didn't really have anything to say about it because, well, hoping that George Lucas will release any sort of Star Wars DVD is sort of like hoping our current presidential candidates will get liquored up and go on The Jerry Springer Show. And now it's official: The VHS edition of Menace will appear in North America on April 4, but, according to Fox, no DVD will arrive in the "foreseeable future." We didn't want to sit through the movie again anyway, but your trusty editor asked our teenage intern Chip Liebowitz what he thought, and he said something like "That George Lucas is such a bastard! When will he wake up and smell the coffee and realize that DVD is the future?!? Oooh, he makes me so mad!!"
So there's your editorial comment for the day (if you really needed it).
Panasonic goes recordable: We know that a lot of you are interested in the evolving recordable DVD formats, and Matsushita/Panasonic has just released a detailed press release on their first do-it-yourself deck, the VDR-10000 (we've archived the release here). But before you get too excited, remember that these things are going to be prohibitively expensive for some time yet -- Pioneer's upcoming recordable player, announced last November, will cost an estimated $2,399.00 per unit, and blank 6-hour discs will sell for $28.79 apiece, or about 10 times the price of an ordinary videotape. Also, it appears that the Pioneer and Panasonic will use different recordable DVD media, and that's never a good thing for an emerging consumer technology. Don't chuck out that VCR just yet.
Eisner charts the course: It was just one year ago this week that Disney CEO Michael Eisner delivered his annual letter to Disney stockholders and noted that The Mouse House was "hopeful that, in the coming decade, (DVD) technology will grow to the point where we can profitably release more of our animated library titles in this format." We've never heard a more backhanded endorsement of digital video, but what a difference a year makes. Not only has Disney completely embraced DVD over the past several months, but Eisner's annual letter for 2000 outlines four major strategies to further the Magic Kingdom's profitability in the coming year, and one of them is home video and DVD. What's more, Eisner also noted that he's planning to buy his own DVD player very soon. We were sort of hoping he already had one, but at least he's planning to remedy the situation. And thank goodness player prices are dropping, because Eisner will not earn his annual bonus for fiscal 1999, due to Disney's recent profit slump (his fiscal '98 bonus was a cool $5 million). However, shareholders will let him keep his $750,000 salary for the year, which should be enough to cover one of those $199 decks.
Hey Mike, give us a call if you need help setting it up.
On the Block: Here's the highest recent closing prices of rare DVDs from online auctions at eBay:
1. Little Shop of Horrors -- $237.50
2. This Is Spinal Tap: The Criterion Collection -- $227.50
2. The Killer: The Criterion Collection -- $227.50
4. Platoon -- $157.50
5. Salo: The Criterion Collection -- $138.05
6. The 400 Blows: The Criterion Collection -- $133.81
7. Re-Animator -- $102.50
7. Army of Darkness: Limited Edition -- $102.50
9. Hard Boiled: The Criterion Collection -- $100.00
10. From Russia With Love -- $77.00
11. Moonraker -- $73.00
12. Live at Knebworth -- $72.00
13. U2: The Joshua Tree (code-free import) -- $71.50
14. A Hard Day's Night-- $66.50
15. Dr. No -- $66.00
The super-scarce Little Shop of Horrors has been the highest-priced disc on eBay for as long as we can recall, but it didn't take long for Criterion's recently discontinued Hard Boiled to reach the magical $100 mark. And by the way, that $71.50 Joshua Tree import will arrive in Region 1 from Image on March 21, and it will probably pre-order at Reel.com for around $12 in the next week or so.
Quotable: "My theory is that if you have a good movie -- no, if you have any movie -- and you put a monkey in it, it's twice as good as it would have been without a monkey."
-- Producer Chris Weitz, American Pie.
Wednesday, 5 January 2000
What is the deal? Are there any of the other formats or am I off base? I understand that 5.1 is programmed with six individual channels, but is Pro Logic ever programmed with four channels (three front and one rear) or is it always coded as 2.0 and decoded at Pro Logic?
There are many more permutations of audio on DVD than the most common ones (being 1.0, 2.0, and 5.1), and the best way to grasp the variety of audio mixes available on DVD is to start with the original audio sources that have been used theatrically. For starters, while Pro Logic is encoded as a two-channel stereo signal that "unfolds" into four channels, discrete audio sources are used to create the matrixed signal. In other words, Pro Logic doesn't magically expand a stereo signal, but rather it takes four channels (left, center, right, surround) and then combines them into a two-channel signal that can be decoded with a Pro Logic chip.
Because of this, DVD producers have some options when it comes to replicating a Pro Logic track on DVD. Most of the time, the original two-channel encoded signal is used, and cinema purists undoubtedly prefer this since it accurately replicates the original theatrical experience. However, if the original audio sources are available, a Pro Logic track can easily be converted into discrete signals via Dolby Digital, and when this happens we get DD 4.0.
While Dolby Laboratories has dominated cinema audio for the past few decades, there have been perhaps as many multichannel audio systems as there have been widescreen processes over the years, and some discs have taken advantage of the flexibility of Dolby Digital to replicate their original audio mixes with unusual permutations -- Disney's Pinocchio is in DD 4.0, whereas Lady and the Tramp is in DD 5.0. Fox's The Longest Day is also a DD 5.0 mix. In these cases, the distinction is twofold: neither uses a discrete subwoofer track (which didn't arrive until Dolby Digital was introduced theatrically in 1991), and the difference between the 4 and 5 simply denotes that one uses a monaural surround track, while the other splits it into discrete signals.
With that said, we've never seen a DD 3.0 track, although films released in the original Dolby Stereo (the first Dolby audio technology for theaters) only used left, right, and surround channels. We're guessing that any potential DD 3.0 films on DVD have been remixed into Pro Logic or better, since nobody is going to tolerate the lack of a center channel if a surround mix is on board. Furthermore, it's a rare DVD that uses a 2.1 or 4.1 mix. When an older film is brought to DVD and the decision is made to remix the audio in Dolby Digital, the most popular option by far is to simply remix it in 5.1 when possible.
Like you, we also have noticed some confusion over the new Disney collection on various DVD websites, and frankly, we can't do much to clear things up, since we're going on the same information as everybody else. As for Pinocchio, the announcement on Disney's Go Network website actually contradicts itself by claiming that the behind-the-scenes feature "A Wish Come True: The Making of Pinocchio" will be included, and yet that the disc is "Now on DVD." If such is the case, this disc is definitely not currently on the street -- despite the advertising to the contrary.
We spent some time looking for an official press release on Disney's password-protected site (which is reserved for retailers and members of the press), but to the best of our knowledge a press release is not yet available. Therefore, we're taking our best guess when we say that -- with the exception of Pixar's Toy Story -- all of the animated titles in the new collection will arrive on DVD according to the release calendar, given the Mouse's new pro-DVD stance. And a quick glance at list, which is full of re-releases (Mulan, Hercules, A Bug's Life) and second-rate titles (Pocahontas II, A Goofy Movie), reveals that there are still a few choice non-Platinum titles being held back until 2001 at the earliest, including Sleeping Beauty and Dumbo. If you ask us, Alice in Wonderland will be the only major Disney animated release this year -- but then again, we're no Mouseketeers, so what do we know.
Hooked on The Journal! Great job guys!
Thanks for your comments Kevin. At the risk of getting a lot of opinionated mail, we don't think that either connection offers a substantial improvement over the other. For what it's worth, we use an optical cable for digital audio and it's never let us down, but we're sure that there's a lot of coax users out there who are partial to their own setup. If you go with an optical connection, the only important thing to remember is not to bend the cable around any tight corners, as it transmits a photonic signal, rather than an electronic one, and your audio could suffer if the cable is compromised by curves or kinks. If it's not possible for you to connect your DVD player to your amp without taking the cable around tight corners, coax is your best bet.
Top of the Pops: Here's the top-selling DVDs last week from our friends at Reel.com. Click the links to read our reviews of these discs:
Tuesday, 4 January 2000
Disney alchemy: After being told by Disney last August that their first wave of animated DVDs would go on moratorium for several years, we were later informed that about half of them would return within 24 months. Well, two years slips by pretty quick, because Mulan is due to return on Feb. 1, followed by Pinocchio on March 7, both as part of the newly minted Gold Classic Collection (as opposed to the moratorium-heavy Platinum Collection, it would seem). What's more, it looks like the extra "making-of" featurette missing from the first Pinocchio disc, but available on the VHS, will be included in the re-issue. Since it now appears that The Mouse is going full steam ahead with their two-tiered Gold/Platinum home video strategy, it's starting to look like the hype surrounding their initial DVD releases was ill-advised. In fact, we all probably could have waited a few more months to get titles like Pinocchio, Mulan, Hercules, and others without the moratorium scare.
In any case, Disney assured everybody when they announced the Platinum Collection in November that all of their other animated features would arrive day-and-date with VHS releases from now on. Apparently that doesn't include Toy Story, which will re-appear as part of the Gold Classic Collection only on VHS next week -- although this may be because Pixar already has their own plans for the DVD release, which is rumored to arrive sometime this year. For what it's worth, here's all of the animated titles The Magic Kingdom has in store for us this year (all will appear on the first Tuesday of the month) -- we're expecting DVDs for all of these:
In the Works: Image Entertainment hasn't posted any release news since before Christmas, but we've put together a brief update (from various sources) of some discs that are currently in production:
On the Street: And since Image has not updated their DVD news page -- and the last time we dropped by Reel.com there were just a few items listed for today's street date -- we've been forced to cobble together a combined street list from the past two weeks that we hope is fairly complete. And if you think the days after Christmas and New Year's look like a DVD dumping ground of forgettable titles, you're not alone. We're only really jazzed about Columbia TriStar's It Happened One Night, although the new discs of Mickey Blue Eyes, Don't Look Back, and The Thomas Crown Affair (1999) look like they could be worth a spin. In the meantime, Twilight Zone fans can pick up the most recent installments in the DVD series. Here's this morning's notable street discs (and last Tuesday's as well), courtesy of Reel.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 3 January 2000
We're back: And, by the looks of things, you are too. We hope you had a great holiday season. We'd tell you what we did during our short vacation but we know you're barely interested, so screw that. Let's get to the DVD news.
Studios unload big guns on DeCSS: We told you it was only a matter of time, and the final week of 1999 proved us right. The DeCSS crack -- which defeats the Content Scrambling System encryption technology of the DVD format -- had the Motion Picture Association of America and their constituent studios seeing red when they learned that the small, easily downloadable program could make DVD movies easily copied onto blank DVD-ROM media. Even though there is no way to permanently remove copies of the program from the vast reaches of the Internet, the DVD Copy Control Association (CCA), a legal wing of the MPAA, filed a lawsuit last Tuesday against 72 individuals who have allegedly posted links to the crack, and the CCA says they can come up with 500 more. "The wholesale copying and distribution of copyrighted motion pictures destroys the motion picture industry's ability to protect its intellectual property," the suit notes, "and destroys the market for the computer and consumer electronics industries' DVD-based products."
Don't tell that to several defendants who wound up in a Santa Clara, Calif., courtroom on Wednesday, where CCA lawyers asked Judge William J. Elfving to impose a temporary restraining order against the DeCSS distributors. According to The Industry Standard, several would-be DVD busters in the courtroom actually distributed copies of DeCSS on CDs and on paper to anybody and everybody (one copy was given to the CCA's clearly exasperated legal team). Judge Elfving didn't go for the restraining order, but the case will go to trial on Jan. 14.
Many of the defendants in the DeCSS case have already complied with the MPAA's cease-and-desist requests, most likely because they simply can't afford to mount a legal defense. This includes Jon Johansen, the 16-year-old Norwegian who allegedly first posted the crack on his website late last year. "I know very well that they would not win in court, but they could make a big mess out of it," Johansen recently noted on his website. "I simply do not have the time, nor money, to go up against these people."
But The Electronic Frontier Foundation provided some legal services for defendants in the case last week, and it appears that there may be a sound legal argument to keep their asses out of the sling. If the defendants can establish that DeCSS was "reverse-engineered," their actions may be fully protected under U.S. law. Exempli gratia: Say you go to Taco Bell and buy a chalupa. Then you take it home to your kitchen, dissect it, replicate it, and post an accurate recipe on your website. Perfectly legal, and (in a more complicated scenario) similar to how IBM PCs were reverse-engineered in the 1980s, opening up a universe of PC clones.
If the reverse-engineering defense is used -- and it holds up -- the DVD industry will probably have no choice but to forget all about DeCSS and develop a new, stronger encryption technology for their DVDs -- which, in any case, we think they're doing already. But the studios won't drop the chalupa. "(DVD vendors) have to make a statement," intellectual property attorney Claude Stern told Reuters last week. "All those companies that have major amounts of content can't afford to have some moron hacker post something because he thinks it's cool."
Disc of the Week: Is Columbia TriStar hell-bent on emulating the lauded Criterion Collection with their DVD releases? Give their new disc of the 1934 It Happened One Night a spin and you tell us. Somewhat lesser known than It's a Wonderful Life or Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, but still among Frank Capra's best, screen legends Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert star in what has become the ultimate road movie, even after these many years. Colbert is Ellie Andrews, a famous East Coast socialite who has married playboy aviator King Westley (Jameson Thomas), a union which her father disapproves. But just after the Florida ceremony, Ellie escapes from her father's yacht and finds herself on the road, trying to return to New York with little cash and no help. As (bad) luck would have it, she meets up with unemployed scandal-rag reporter Peter Warne (Gable), who recognizes the heiress and offers his assistance -- provided that he get the scoop on the runaway bride that all of America is talking about. What follows is a hilarious, episodic journey by foot, bus, and otherwise, as the frosty Ellie and grouchy Peter bicker and fight like an old married couple ("What she needs is a guy that'd take a sock at her once a day, whether it's coming to her or not," Gable declares in those politically incorrect times). And while the conclusion is entirely predictable, It Happened One Night launched a minor movie genre that includes such successors as the '80s comedies The Sure Thing and Midnight Run. However, neither of those titles can lay claim to history, whereas It Happened One Night can in several instances: The film was the first to snag all five major Oscars (Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Screenplay), a feat only since duplicated by One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and The Silence of the Lambs; the song "The Man on the Flying Trapeze" was introduced to Americans everywhere when the film was released, on its way to becoming a timeless classic that everybody knows at least some of the words to; Gable reveals in one scene that he isn't wearing an undershirt, which caused undershirt sales to plummet not long thereafter; and in another scene Gable munches on a carrot while talking up a storm (featured on the DVD boxcover). It was remembered by animators at Warner Brothers, who later used it as the inspiration for Bugs Bunny.
Columbia TriStar's excellent DVD features a marvelous digitally remastered print transferred in the original 1.33:1 ratio, and for the most part it looks excellent, with only a few brief moments taken from lesser-quality stock. The audio is clear and easily understood, with ambient noise kept at an absolute minimum, and the extras include a commentary track and a short video retrospective with Frank Capra Jr., the 60-minute Lux Radio production of It Happened One Night (also starring Gable and Colbert), original advertising materials, trailers for It Happened One Night, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and Lost Horizon, and cast and crew notes. Looks like Criterion, smells like Criterion. However, this one's a lot cheaper than Criterion's stuff. Buy it.
And the winner is: Bill Fletcher of Clarksville, Tenn., wins the free DVDs of Easy Rider and Aquaria from our December contest. Congrats, Bill!
Our Free DVD Contest for the month of January is up and running, and we have a copy of MGM's Dead Man Walking up for grabs. Be sure to drop by our contest page to send us your entry, and don't forget to take our monthly DVD poll while you're there.
Box Office: Columbia TriStar's family-friendly Stuart Little, which fell from first place to third last week after strong debuts from Warner's Any Given Sunday and Paramount's The Talented Mr. Ripley, reclaimed the top spot over the New Year's weekend with $16 million in receipts. Warner's The Green Mile also surged again, grabbing the No. 2 spot with $13.2 million after falling to fifth last week. Meanwhile, both Any Given Sunday and Mr. Ripley remain in the top-five in their second weeks, and Buena Vista's Toy Story 2 just won't quit, snaring another $12.2 million over the weekend and passing the $200 million mark. Meanwhile, Fox's Anna and the King and Universal's Man on the Moon have yet to win over large audiences, both languishing in the lower half of the top-ten with disappointing grosses. And while such holiday fare as The World is Not Enough and Sleepy Hollow are dropping from sight with solid overall earnings (the Bond flick easily cracked $100 million), Arnold Schwarzenegger's End of Days will soon leave the cineplexes with a less-than-Ahnold-sized $60 million or so in takings. The only two debuts this week were both limited releases -- the Denzel Washington Oscar-hopeful The Hurricane earned $295,000 on 11 screens, while Disney's IMAX spectacular Fantasia 2000 earned an estimated $1 million in 46 super-sized venues across North America.
Here's the top-grossing films at American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: New full reviews have been posted for American Pie: Collector's Edition and Yellow Submarine, and can be found on our Full Reviews index. New quick reviews this week include Fast Times at Ridgemont High: Collector's Edition, Teaching Mrs. Tingle, Run Lola Run, Summer of Sam, It Happened One Night, Entrapment, Against All Odds: Special Edition, and Black & White, and can be accessed on the Quick Reviews index. Everything has been added under the New Reviews menu here on the main page.
We'll be back tomorrow with news on this week's street discs, as well as a look back at what hit the street during the final week of 1999.