Wednesday, 31 May 2000
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:
'Shit sandwich': What are we to think when we get a box in the mail from MGM that has nothing but a pair of drumsticks, some small slices of bread, a package of cold-sore ointment, a cucumber wrapped in aluminum foil, and a card with the phone number for somebody named Bobbi Flekman?
Sounds like an out-of-print DVD favorite is about to re-appear....
Tuesday, 30 May 2000
Disc of the Week: For admirers and scholars of Alfred Hitchcock, Marnie has always been troublesome. Trashed by reviewers when it first appeared in 1964, the film has since split Hitchcock critics down the middle, with many declaring that it is largely ill-conceived, overly simplistic, or just plain melodramatic. However, in recent years another group of Hitch writers perhaps unwavering in their praise of The Master, definitely more vocal see it as one of his greatest masterpieces, a film that rejects much of the literal filmmaking Hitchcock relied upon for the majority of his career and reaches back to his earliest days behind the camera, when he worked in Germany and studied under the great German Expressionists, who broke new cinematic ground during the 1920s. But, no matter what the critical consensus may be from year to year, there is a certain finality about Marnie. This was the last film to feature a true "Hitchcock blonde" in the lead. It was Hitchcock's last collaboration with legendary composer Bernard Hermann, whose florid compositions put a stamp on numerous Hitch classics. And after Marnie, Hitchcock only made four more films, and none of them had the impact his earlier work did. Good or bad, Marnie was the last important film that Hitchcock made.
Tippi Hedren stars as Marnie Edgar, a compulsive thief who has taken clerical jobs from Baltimore to Buffalo, only to bide her time for a few weeks and then loot the safe. But when she turns up in Philadelphia at Rutland Insurance, company man Mark Rutland (Sean Connery) discovers her pattern of theft, and then threatens to expose her unless she marries him. Far from a marriage of convenience, playboy Mark, who loves a challenge, sees Marnie as a sort of wild animal that he has trapped and intends to tame, while his new bride struggles with various deep-seated psychological problems including a fear of thunderstorms and sexual frigidity that indicate a traumatic event in her past. Before long, Mark becomes fascinated with Marnie's emotional dilemmas, which he intends to pinpoint and perhaps cure.
While not as satisfying as other psychological dramas such as Vertigo and Psycho, Marnie is an important element of later Hitchcock films, sharing thematic traits with many of them (To Catch a Thief essays the sexual power of crime; Vertigo is about a man obsessed with making over a woman into a perfect image; Psycho is also about theft, and it deals with a secretive parent-child relationship that transforms the identity of a grown child years after a traumatic event). As opposed to much of Hitchcock's earlier films, which (with rare exceptions) relied on traditional storylines, his output from the mid-50s until 1964 dealt with a variety of psycho-sexual issues (and, in the case of The Birds, suggested a sort of collective or meta-psychology). Nonetheless, Marnie is a weaker entry in this decade-long arc. The performances from Hedren and Connery are solid and never strike a false note, but it's one thing to make a film with psychological underpinnings and quite another to make one that deals specifically with psychotherapy. For drama to function, the complex must always be reduced to the simple while maintaining suspension of disbelief, but there is something about Marnie's trauma that is irreducible, and the attempt towards the end of the film to codify Marnie's predicament, to simply reveal a childhood event and thus wrap up her damaged personality with a bright red bow, strains all credulity. Where Marnie is the most valuable is in many individual scenes, where Hitch shows off his ideas of "pure cinema" in small vignettes, with thoughtful editing, fluid camera work, and careful selection of colors. Hermann's score is as lovely as any he ever made, and Edith Head, as usual, provided Hitchcock with the wardrobe, which always flattered his leading ladies.
Universal's new Marnie: Collector's Edition DVD features a clean transfer from a good source print, which has a varying quality but overall is very colorful and pleasant, and audio is in the original mono (DD 2.0). Features include the 60-minute retrospective documentary "The Trouble With Marnie," featuring comments from Hedren, actress Diane Baker, screenwriter Jay Presson Allen, Patricia Hitchcock O'Connell, and others; an 11-minute running still-gallery with Hermann's score; Hitchcock's original, witty theatrical trailer; production notes; and cast-and-crew bios and filmographies. Anybody interested in the works of Alfred Hitchcock should have a look at Marnie, and serious Hitch-fans will want to add this DVD to their collections. Marnie: Collector's Edition is on the street this morning.
Box Office: For Tom Cruise, the mission to conquer the Memorial Day weekend box office was more than possible, as the Cruise-produced M:I-2 roared into the North American cineplexes, racking up $71.8 million from Friday to Monday, $57.8 million during the traditional Friday-through-Sunday period (the best this year by far), and scraping the century mark in just six days, with a $92.8 million overall gross since last Wednesday. A guaranteed blockbuster with the star power of Cruise and directing chops of John Woo, M:I-2 was the second-best opener over any Memorial Day weekend, only losing out to The Lost World, which earned $90.2 million in 1997. The film also outperformed its predecessor, Mission: Impossible, which earned $56.8 million over its first four days in 1996. "It's a better movie than the first one," Paramount's Wayne Lewellen, president of distribution, told Reuters (i.e., you don't need a secret decoder ring to understand the plot).
With M:I-2 being one the summer season's biggest sluggers, few studios had the nerve to debut a new film opposite Cruise, Woo & Co. So leave it to Buena Vista and Jackie Chan, who debuted Shanghai Noon with $19.5 million for third place not bad, but not nearly good enough to dislodge Dinosaur, which garnered $33.5 million and should join M:1-2 in breaking the century mark by next weekend. Still going strong in continuing release are three films from DreamWorks Gladiator, which now has a $127.2 million haul, Road Trip, which is shaping up to be a surprise hit, and Woody Allen's Small Time Crooks, which actually earned slightly more over its second weekend than its first (always an encouraging sign for a small film). Of course, if you are wondering why Warner's Battlefield Earth isn't on this week's list, it's because the film only mustered $1 million over the holiday weekend, and the overall gross for John Travolta's sci(entology)-fi is running out of steam with barely more than $20 million. How bad is bad? The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas has done better business. Ouch.
Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend (all numbers for the four-day period Friday through Monday):
On the Street: It's a short street list this morning, as happens sometimes after a holiday weekend, but Universal has a few new discs on the street, including Man on the Moon, Marnie: Collector's Edition, and the delayed Conan the Barbarian: Collector's Edition. Stay tuned for next week, when Fox's Fight Club hits the shelves. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of Reel.com and Image Entertainment:
On the Board: D. K. Holm has posted a new full review of Warner's Seven Days in May, which can be found on our Full Reviews index. New quick reviews from the staff this week include Sleepy Hollow, The Firm, No Way Out, Marnie: Collector's Edition, Murphy's Romance, Journey to the Center of the Earth, and Dark Harbor, and can be accessed on the Quick Reviews index. Everything has been added under the New Reviews menu here on the main page as well.
See ya tomorrow.
Thursday, 25 May 2000
On the Block: Criterion titles continue to ride high at eBay, where the out-of-print Salo was the top-trader over the past few weeks with a whopping $348.00 as the highest closing bid. Criterion's The Killer lagged behind by nearly $100.00, but it was still good enough to grab second place on our current list. As happens now and then, hard-to-find DVD demo discs scored well, with the THX EX Demo garnering $207.50, and the DTS Demo No. 2 earning $127.50. Yet some auctions only cause us to wonder are people really hardcore about first editions, or do they just not know that some DVDs have returned to the shelves, or will soon? The first edition of Little Shop of Horrors grabbed a top close of $158.00, even though the only difference between it and the second edition is an alternate ending. Meanwhile, Platoon earned $187.50, even though it will return via MGM in the next few months (we have heard that the original commentary track by Oliver Stone may not be on the MGM reissue, but still...). If we're going to presume that ignorance is driving some of these bids into the stratosphere, no better evidence can be found than the slew of auctions over the past few weeks for Fox's seven-DVD set of The X-Files: Season One where we noticed a top bid of $150.00 and many other auctions well above a Ben Franklin (as the set is neither rare nor out of print, it is not listed below). Are people unaware that $150.00 is the current SRP from Fox for the set? Or that it sells much cheaper at most retailers? (We've seen it sport a $99.00 price tag at two brick-and-mortar shops recently.) Perhaps most interesting over the past few weeks was a $98.25 close for Fight Club: Special Edition, which is not due from Fox until June 6. A high price just to get the two-disc set a few weeks early for sure, but the auction also included the nifty media-only press kit from Fox, which features check discs, press materials, and slides, and all wrapped with twine in a brown paper bag with the "Fight Club" logo stamped on it. Collectable indeed ours is staying put for now.
Here's the highest recent closing prices of rare and out-of-print DVDs from online auctions at eBay:
Commentary Clips: "The problem I had here was that Butch features a relationship between the two guys. (Robert) Redford was a complete unknown, and (Paul) Newman was at the height of his popularity. I wanted to use the first scene to give an introduction to Redford, to give him a little weight, to give him some stature as a player. I don't know of any picture that starts with a long close-up of an unknown. Redford came into the picture when I finished reading the script, and I thought Redford would make a great Sundance. But nobody agreed with me. The people who were in charge at Fox were appalled when I said I wanted Redford to play Sundance. They said he was a playboy, and (Steve) McQueen said that he would play either part, either Butch or Sundance. I called him on it and I said 'Okay, you play Sundance.' And he balked and took himself out of the picture. That left the way clear for Redford, who I didn't know, who'd I'd only met once, but there was a quality about him, a laid-back quality that was just right for Sundance. I called Redford and told him to hang on, if he wanted to play the part I'd do my damnedest to get him the role. So he was sitting there in the wings waiting to be called, and they decided to give the part to Warren Beatty. Beatty also turned it down and there was a big fight. I had to call (Newman). Paul didn't know Redford either, but I had to call him and ask him to use his muscle to get Redford on the picture."
Director George Roy Hill,
"I remember when we were trying to pick music for (the bicycle scene) in the editing of the film, that George (Roy Hill) was never really satisfied with that scene until we got the song from The Graduate the Simon and Garfunkel "59th Street Bridge" I think it was and he actually edited the film to that music. And so we had this pastiche of little bits of music and classics that George had put together when he ran the picture for the first time for (composer) Burt Bacharach. And it was so eclectic that I think it sort of freed Bacharach up to do something more modern in the scoring of the picture that what he might otherwise have done."
Associate Producer Robert Crawford,
Quotable: "My 86-year-old mother still can't figure out how to program her current VCR. However, she does know how to use a telephone. Message to manufacturers: Deliver on your promises and make these cockamamie contraptions easier to use."
ZD-Net columnist Charles Cooper, examining
"I've been wanting to (play a fireman) for 20 years. I didn't know about special effects, and tried to make my own fire in a building, but my government wouldn't let me. I saw Backdraft and realized that is what I want."
Jackie Chan, discussing the one movie role
"I feel very blessed and privileged to work as I do and to make the kind of money I make. Be it supporting or lead role, that doesn't really affect me. And most of the time in films, the lead role is not the best-written role or the most interesting. If God wants George Clooney to call me and say, 'Ving, read this script,' and it's a good script, and they say, 'Ving, we'll get you at least $2 million,' Ving is no fool."
Popular supporting actor Ving Rhames, in a
"So farewell then The Liz and Hugh Show. How we'll miss those flamboyant extravaganzas and public appearances of togetherness even though we suspected all along it was a bit of a sham."
UK Daily Mirror columnist Sue Carroll,
"He was the greatest actor and his life was exactly the history of the British theater in the last century. Twenty years ago people said he looked more fragile than Laurence Olivier and Ralph Richardson. But he has had the last laugh by outlasting the competition."
British theater writer Ned Sherrin, after
Coming Attractions: We'll be taking next Monday off to observe Memorial Day, but the entire staff will be back on duty Tuesday morning with an extra-large update, including new DVD reviews, the holiday box-office report, the Tuesday street list, and whatever else is fit to print. In the meantime, if you haven't entered our monthly free DVD contest for your chance to score a copy of Field of Dreams: Collector's Edition, 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 Tuesday. Enjoy your extended weekend.
Wednesday, 24 May 2000
Heads up gang, because there are actually three different Men in Black DVDs on the way, all due on Sept. 5. Both Dolby Digital and DTS versions will be available in the one-disc permutations, which will also include a commentary by director Barry Sonnefeld and star Tommy Lee Jones, looks at the character animation and the tunnel sequence (both with multi-angle content), two "making-of" shorts, five deleted scenes, production stills, storyboards, conceptual artwork, a storyboard-to-film comparison, Will Smith's "Men in Black" music video, and the usual assortment of trailers and notes. And yes, all that is the cheaper single-disc edition. That second disc on the "Limited Edition" will have the documentary "Creatures: Concept to Completion," a commentary with the director of the "Creature and Special Effects" team, a look at the "Edgar Bug" fight sequence with multi-angle content, a feature that will allow users to program sequences in a virtual editing room, and even more stills, storyboards, and conceptual art. We're not sure if the "Limited Edition" really is only going to be available for a limited time (last we checked, Saving Private Ryan is a limited edition, and it's still for sale), but serious fans probably will want to fork out the bucks for it. And, given Columbia TriStar's excellent track record of releasing quality DVDs, pre-ordering from Reel.com or other online retailers probably is a safe bet.
Well, we certainly don't have any preview PlayStation2 from Sony here, so we're just going to mix some experience and common-sense. First, Sony really is not a company that is known for making second-rate consumer electronics, and we've gone through enough Sony A/V gear here at The DVD Journal to swear by the lauded manufacturer (and we're not getting paid to say this we just really like Sony stuff). Therefore, we will be very surprised if the North American PlayStation2 is not an above-average DVD player, as it will utilize at lot of the research and development that Sony has dumped into the DVD format over the past several years.
That said, your question is an "either/or" proposition. We're telling everybody who doesn't have DVD player but wants one, and is also interested in the value-add that the PS2 provides with the next generation of video gaming, to fork out the $299 for the gadget. But most of these folks are DVD-curious, not digital die-hards. If you're serious about watching DVDs, building a personal library, and perhaps plugging in to a full-fledged home theater down the road, the stand-alone DVD players are still the only way to go, as they will have the best array of features, and probably a more solid construction. Sony put a lot of effort into the PS2, but while a great deal of it is technological, some of it is also cost-oriented (after all, the price-point of any given gaming system can make or break it). In particular, Sony was a pioneer of the dual optical pickup, which means that many of their DVD players have two dedicated lasers, designed to individually handle DVD and CD playback. The dual pickup can be nice (single DVD pickups don't handle blue-green CD-Rs very well, for example), but the PlayStation2 will only have a single pickup. Sony is claiming that it's a vastly improved device that will handle both media formats, but overall manufacturing costs still were a factor. This and other issues may cause you to buy a dedicated player.
You can identify them ergonomically, for starters do you "push down," or do you "lift here"? The clasp is the key to the two most-popular versions of DVD keep-cases, with the Amaray having that smooth push-down clasp, which frees a disc from its enclosure by just the slightest touch (and it also has that nifty yin-yang shape, appropriately identifying the need for the proper Feng Shui in DVD packaging). As some of our readers suggested last week, the Alpha is a bit more secure than the Amaray, and probably less prone to delivering rattlers, but it also tends to freak people out now and then. After all, how comfortable do you feel about inserting your index finger into the "lift here" space above the DVD and they prying your prized possession off the tight circular clasp? Of course, the Alpha is designed to release before any DVD could actually break (and those of you who have ever tried to break a CD or DVD in two know how difficult the job is), but still, yanking a DVD from its enclosure has always struck us as something our mothers would tell us not to do, had DVDs been around in the '70s. Actually, we think Alphas are the best way to ship DVDs but we think Amarays are the best way to store them once they have survived the parcel post.
Still don't know which are which? Here's the foolproof method. Look on the inside of the case's spine. If it's an Amaray, the Amaray logo will be embossed vertically on the bottom right. If it's not there, look under the circular DVD enclosure and to the extreme right, where the embossed Alpha logo can be found on their cases.
Hey, our wager is with DVD Journal reader Ed Purcell, not the whole goddam world. And trust us, a gloating e-mail was duly fired off to him after the Blazers slaughtered Shaq & Co. by 29 points in front of all their Armani-wearing, cell-phone packing, A-list movie-star fans. Ed's never gonna get that Abyss: Special Edition DVD from us.
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, 23 May 2000
On the Street: The top title on the board this morning appears to be Paramount's Sleepy Hollow, which should score well on the sales charts next week. However, catalog titles dominate the street this week, including The Firm, which goes on the shelves just one day before Tom Cruise's M:I-2 hits the cineplexes. (Coincidence? We think not.) Columbia TriStar has a few notables on the board this morning as well, with both American Movie and The Guns of Navarone: Special Edition, and even the Three Stooges collection All the World's a Stooge. Documentary fans can snap up Bruce Brown's '60s surf classic The Endless Summer, and Shakespeare buffs have a real treat in store with Franco Zeferelli's 1968 Romeo and Juliet. Need we mention that Warner has finally re-released Little Shop of Horrors? It's a great DVD, so only time will tell how much longer the out-of-print first edition will remain a top-trader at eBay. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of Reel.com and Image Entertainment:
'Goodnight, sweet prince': A giant of the stage and screen, Sir John Gielgud, died yesterday at his home in England of natural causes. Gielgud who perhaps made his greatest impression on American moviegoers as the choleric Hobson, Dudley Moore's butler in Arthur (he won an Academy Award for the lightweight role) was a prominent member of a small group of actors who dominated the British stage during the middle part of this century, joined by such luminaries as Laurence Olivier, Ralph Richardson, and Peggy Ashcroft. First making his mark in the theater, his earliest film appearances included Alfred Hitchcock's 1936 Secret Agent, where he co-starred with Peter Lorre, and in recent years he was active in small UK film projects, intermittent guest appearances on BBC television shows, and the occasional feature film (we most recently saw him in the 1998 Elizabeth). Never one to consider retiring, he was most recently associated with the production of a Samuel Beckett play in London, where he was turning up for work just a few weeks ago. You can only hope to be so healthy in your old age Gielgud was 96.
Monday, 22 May 2000
Disc of the Week: When it comes to the great espionage novelists of the 20th century, the masters of the form roll off the tongue Frederick Forsythe, John Le Carré, Robert Ludlum, Jack Higgins. And, of course, Alistair MacLean, perhaps the most bankable of all intrigue writers for his brevity, crisp plotting, and tell-tale red herrings. Pick up any MacLean novel and you can expect the following: a noble, somewhat inscrutable hero is given a suicide mission. The mission involves a rescue, invasion, or escape of some sort. The work will require the cooperation of others. However, somebody on the team will be a traitor (the knowledge of a traitor will appear before the culprit is actually identified). And, of course, everything will come down to a few nail-biting final moments before the heroes prevail. Many of MacLean's books have been translated to the big screen, and while Ice Station Zebra is a ready favorite for adventure fans, 1961's The Guns of Navarone remains his most popular to date.
Directed by J. Lee Thompson, Navarone concerns 2,000 British soldiers trapped on a Greek island during World War II, where they await rescue by the British Fleet before the Nazis take action. However, in order to reach the troops the fleet must pass through a channel guarded by two massive German guns on the island of Navarone. Time is a precious commodity, forcing the government to mount a small infiltrate-and-destroy mission, led by experienced mountain-climber Keith Mallory (Gregory Peck). He is joined by a group of experts, each selected for their unique skills Greek resistance-fighter Stavros (Anthony Quinn); demolition-expert Miller (David Niven); sharpshooter Pappadimos (James Darren); knife-man Brown (Stanley Baker); and team-leader Franklin (Anthony Quayle). Once the team is assembled, the plot wastes no time. A dangerous undercover journey via fishing boat results in a catastrophic night-time landing on Navarone. The team are in shambles after the shipwreck, but they have no choice but to carry on, scaling a cliff-face and then determining how they should best infiltrate the mountain fortress. Surprises lie in wait everywhere, including harried encounters with the Nazi SS who know that Allied agents have reached the island and a pair of female resistance fighters (Irene Papas, Gia Scala), who join forces with the rag-tag Brits.
Solid fun from beginning to end, The Guns of Navarone may show its age in a few sequences here and there, but the plotting, the performances, and those evil Nazis have made it reliable entertainment for decades. Peck is the stable center of the crew, forced to make the tough decisions that could come back to haunt him. Niven, as the humanistic Miller, may be a genius when it comes to blowing things up, but he has little stomach for the realities of close-quarter warfare. And yet Quinn steals the movie from both of them as the crafty Stavros, a man who isn't merely on a mission to destroy two guns, but who has dedicated his life to killing Nazis, as he lost his wife and children to German soldiers years earlier. The trio forms both the narrative and thematic core of Navarone, driving the story forward with engaging characters and not just pyrotechnics. They simply don't make movie stars like they used to.
Columbia TriStar's new The Guns of Navarone: Special Edition is a must-have for fans of the action/adventure genre, and it features an excellent anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) from the restored print (currently at the UCLA Film and Television Archive, where the restoration was overseen by Robert Gitt). Audio is available in the original English four-channel track (in Dolby Surround) or in a new Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. The many features include a commentary by director Thompson; the 30-minute retrospective documentary "Memories of Navarone," featuring comments from Peck, Quinn, Thompson, Darren, and others; four early black-and-white featurettes from Columbia Pictures; a brief message from producer Carl Foreman, shot just after the film was released worldwide; trailers for Navarone and the Gregory Peck film Behold a Pale Horse; and cast-and-crew filmographies. The Guns of Navarone: Special Edition is on the street tomorrow morning.
Box Office: Much to nobody's surprise, Disney's $125-million animated spectacular Dinosaur debuted in the top position at the North American box office over the weekend, earning $38.6 million the best opening this year to date and banishing DreamWorks' Gladiator to second place after two weeks on top of the pre-summer heap. However, the Ridley Scott-directed toga-tale went down fighting, with $19.1 million in receipts over the weekend a remarkable sum for a film in its third weekend. Gladiator also cracked the century mark in just 17 days, and it very possibly could join the $200 million club before it's done. In contrast, Warner's sci-flop Battlefield Earth, starring John Travolta, lost two-thirds of its audience over its second weekend, tumbling from $12.3 million to $3.8 million amidst fatal word-of-mouth on the street and some of the most savage reviews to be seen in the American press since Ishtar.
No other debuts really had a chance against Dinosaur, but DreamWorks had a pair of new films over the weekend, the twentysomething comedy Road Trip, with a solid $15 million (that's more than it cost to make), and Woody Allen's Small Time Crooks, which garnered $3.8 million a marginal figure, but the best opening for a Woody film in more than 20 years (both Battlefield Earth and Small Time Crooks earned roughly the same dough, but Earth played on four times as many screens. Did we mention that Earth cost about $70 million to make? Let's just say that some folks over at Warner are having a worse Monday morning than you).
Still in continuing release are Universal's U-571, which has earned $64.4 million to date, New Line's sleeper hit Frequency, passing the $30 million mark over the weekend, and Fox's chick-flick Where The Heart Is, now starting to fade with just a $25.8 million overall gross. And it seems the Memorial Day weekend gears up earlier and earlier every year, as all eyes are on Mission: Impossible 2, which will go wide on Wednesday. As the holiday numbers won't come in until next Monday afternoon to account for the three-day weekend, M:I-2 will actually have a "debut" weekend of six days, and Tom Cruise is a good bet to come out on top.
Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: D. K. Holm has posted a new full review of the much-discussed documentary American Movie, while Steve Firstenburg is on the board with a look at SHORT 8: Vision, the latest edition of the short-film DVD series. Both have been posted on our Full Reviews index. New quick reviews this week from the staff include Little Shop of Horrors, Eye of the Beholder, The Guns of Navarone: Special Edition, The End of the Affair (1955), and King Creole, and can be accessed on the Quick Reviews index. And, as usual, everything has been added under the New Reviews menu here on the main page.
We got game: We challenged our readers in Los Angeles to square off with us over the current NBA Western Conference Finals, where the L.A. Lakers are taking on our Portland Trail Blazers, and we have selected Laker fan Ed Purcell for our wager. If L.A. wins, Ed gets our copy of The Abyss: Special Edition and the original media-only press kit from Fox. Of course, after Saturday's Hack-a-Shaq fiasco, perhaps we should start scribbling Ed's address on a Priority Mail envelope right away. But we're gonna stick it out. Hey, we really don't want to lose this DVD to a crummy Laker fan like Ed.
We'll be back tomorrow with news on this week's street discs.
Thursday, 18 May 2000
Tales of the 'Rattler': We gotta tell you that it's no fun to spend an afternoon talking with the legal division of The DVD Journal, but after getting more than few letters yesterday from readers regarding "rattlers" (see yesterday's update), including various complaints about specific retailers, our attorneys got out the big black Magic Markers and crossed off some of the specifics. Sorry about that, but a subpoena is about as appealing to us as a digital rectal exam. Nevertheless, here's some choice comments about noisy DVDs from loyal DVD Journal regulars:
By comparison, the first time we used (deleted).com was the last time. We ordered eight discs, and one of them was a rattler (Brainstorm, keep-case, newly out-of-print) and the other was a crushed snap-case item (Bonnie and Clyde). After much hassle and insistence to get the bad items back first (and a policy to pay for the return shipping ourselves and be paid back for it later the only online retailer I've ever had insist on this!), we finally got a good Brainstorm, but a sealed rattler of Bonnie and Clyde (off of its snap-case hub). After all the hassle the first time, we decided to try Bonnie and Clyde it worked okay despite a shallow scratch so we decided we weren't gonna deal with a second exchange with (deleted).com. We kept both of those.
We've also seen plenty of rattlers in stores, none of which we bought. They seem to be in keep cases, as I recall, but I couldn't tell you if they were Amary vs. Alpha. The best rattler story is the time we were in (deleted) and found a copy of Millennium, a film my wife had enjoyed but I had never seen. It was a rattler so my wife was gonna put it back, but being a former retail store manager I decided to instead give it to the lady behind the counter. I told her it was defective and demonstrated why. She put it under the counter and thanked me. It was the only copy, so we went to leave. But I turned around at the door to go back and ask her a question, and I caught her putting the rattler back on the shelf!
With the keep cases, I guess a sharp jolt can dislodge the disk. My question is, if that happens so easily, why do I have such a hard time prying the things off those little rings? And it is not just when I have been drinking.
You are generally right about the Warner snap-case. The cardboard squishes, holding the disk in place. For once, the shoddy construction pays off.
I have had a couple of bad experiences with damaged discs in Warner's cases bought through (deleted).com (New Jack City, Ladyhawke, and a few others). They came rather heavily scratched, and to this day, I'm not sure what happened to them. If I remember correctly though, they were loose in the case. So, maybe this means that one is less likely to find rattlers in snap-cases, but when they occur there is far higher probability of the disc turning up scratched.
Thanks for all the letters guys. Rattlers probably show up a lot less often than these comments indicate, but that doesn't change the fact that they tend to stick in the memory a little longer. And while complaints about various retailers' return policies are fair game, we think that, more often than not, rattlers happen in transit and are a result of poor handling (at least we'd like to think that retailers are responsible enough not to ship rattlers knowingly). Also, while the Amaray keep-case may be vulnerable during shipping (face it, that smooth push-down clasp can break off), the comments we got yesterday also indicate that the Warner snapper can also deliver a rattler now and then something we did not suspect at first.
And hey, we already have a solution to the entire problem. DVD cases are not airtight packages there is some room in there, which facilitates easy handling. But before DVDs are sealed for retailers, it would cause a few less headaches if an additional insert, perhaps of a foam material no less than a quarter-inch thick (or bubble-pack, as J.P. suggests), could be placed in the free space to hold the disc snug to the clasp. This would work both with keepers and snappers. However, it also would present an additional packaging cost, and unless retailers start sending back a bunch of damaged rattlers to vendors and wholesalers, it probably won't happen anytime soon.
And here's what we suspect is a dirty little secret rattlers aren't necessarily damaged discs, and many of them can work just fine. We wouldn't be surprised to learn that some retailers open up returned rattlers, re-secure the discs, and then shrink-wrap them again before putting 'em back in circulation. It may not sound pretty, but it makes all the sense in the world, especially if we're none the wiser (you're none the wiser when you eat a sausage either and you really don't want to see how those are made).
Commentary Clip: "We needed the 'dances with wolves' scene desperately, and eventually we had the trainer come in, and this particular angle was done by the trainer because we were having trouble with the wolf. And at one point, just as the wolf was starting to really act the way we wanted him to, the trainer ran out of the angle of the film. And I couldn't believe it, because we had finally got the wolf to do the things we wanted him to do. I went down to the trainer and I asked 'Well, what happened?' He says 'The wolf bit me.' And I said 'Well, what does than mean?' And he said 'Well, it means you're gonna have to get in there and do it.' So this angle that you see, that is me and that is the angle that I had to do, and as the wolf would come towards me I would throw meat away from him, just as he was getting close to me, and then he would chase the meat because he would go on the lowest food-chain item. And then I would run as far away from him as I could, and when he would get close to me I would throw the meat really far away (laughs). It's just how you make films."
Quotable: "There is a lot to like about Disney right now. But I think the problem is that, this time, (CEO Michael) Eisner has become a victim of his own otherwise worthy micromanaging. Eisner lives by the anecdote. He often manages that way, too. While numbers show that four million homes now stock a DVD player, he claims he wasn't wowed at the possibilities of Disney's lush film library on the digital format until he took a stroll through an electronics superstore. He assumes that what he sees we see, or in a more lucrative light, we will eventually see."
Rick Aristotle Munarriz, in a recent column at
"That's not bad for a couple of lines."
A-list movie star George Clooney, who earned a
"The movie industry doesn't yet have quite the same issues (as MP3 or Napster), primarily because bandwidth limitations make copying and trading films impractical. But the major studios which today enjoy massive revenues from videocassettes only because the courts ignored their efforts to ban the technology are determined to get out in front of the problem. They've sued Web sites carrying (DeCSS), and having won an early round in court, are now trying to bar the sites from linking to any site that houses the program. Again, the industry is trying to stop something that its customers want to do, instead of enabling it. Worse, it's trying to set a precedent that would have disastrous implications for free speech. In the long run, a legal regime that stamps out the longstanding concept of "fair use" of copyrighted material, and forces customers to break the law to do routine things that everyone wants to do, will be a disaster for all copyright creators."
Jonathan Weber, writing this week in
"I make the film, this is the film, that's the end of it. If you like it, you like it. If you don't like, you don't. I've never thought of supplementing it with anything."
Woody Allen, speaking at a student forum this
"Well, as you know, I was raised only a few blocks from here, so it feels great to be home."
Chris Rock, visiting the Cannes Film
Coming Attractions: We have another stack of DVD reviews on the way, including Columbia TriStar's American Movie, the latest edition of SHORT, and lots more, so be sure to come back on Monday morning for all the latest.
Have a great weekend, gang.
Wednesday, 17 May 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 a few reader comments from this week:
As a footnote, I thought I should mention I buy a lot of Criterion titles, and have experienced the following: Salo purchased on eBay arrived loose in case, The 39 Steps purchased from eBay arrived loose in case, Samurai I purchased from a Web retailer arrived loose in case, Blood for Dracula purchased from another Web retailer arrived twice loose in case and is now on backorder, and finally Hard Boiled purchased from brick-and-mortar retailer the last copy in stock loose in case (I assume nobody else wanted it even though it was out of print).
You know, before we got your letter Paul we thought that "rattlers" (that's what we call 'em around here) were annoying, but we didn't think this was a widespread problem. In fact, while we've had a few rattlers over time, we have only ever received one sealed DVD that was a rattler and also defective and we get a lot of DVDs through here on a weekly basis. But you bring up a few interesting points. First, we can't recall specifically if rattlers have come primarily in Amaray keepers and not Alphas or the other permutations. If they are an Amaray-specific problem, is this a drawback to what currently is our favorite DVD storage medium? Furthermore, after giving the question some serious thought over a few cold microbrews, we can't ever remember getting a rattler that was in a Warner snap-case. If our recollections are accurate, is this a distinct advantage that the paperboard-pack has over the keepers? And finally, we often notice that some of the most highly prized DVD collectibles on eBay are advertised as "sealed." As you have suggested, are a lot of these "sealed" DVDs in fact rattlers, and therefore possibly not worth the big bucks they draw at auction? Before we go bidding again, we certainly will ask the seller if the item would be suitable for entertaining a young child who likes to make noise.
Hey, we don't claim to have all the answers here if you have something to share about rattlers, send your comments to email@example.com and we'll see if we can post a few more insights on the topic.
It really has more to do with the player than the disc, but that's not the end of it. Fundamentally, the location of the layer-switch on a RSDL disc is entirely up to the DVD author(s), and while some are well done (as with the "80s" title-card on New Line's Boogie Nights DVD), others are decidedly less attractive (the awkward layer switch on Warner's L.A. Confidential, as Kevin Spacey pauses during a conversation, is a salient flaw on an otherwise brilliant release). We'll probably win few friends among DVD authors, who are dealing with constraints that we cannot imagine, but we'll scream this until we're out of oxygen put the switch on a fade-to-black, any fade-to-black near the middle of the film, and when that isn't possible, switch on a flat cut between scenes. We've been jarred by more than a few mid-scene switches, and they never fail to generate a collective group of pained moans when the DVD Journal staff has gathered in the screening room to take in a new disc.
As for the technical details of the layer-switch and if the digital jump can be done better by some DVD authors than others, we think that most layer-switches will take similar amounts of time on any given player. Where the difference often lies is in the quality of the player itself. Our pair of Sony DVP-S300 decks handle layer switches remarkably well, as do most all Sony players and others from reputable manufacturers. However, our APEX AD-600A which was purchased by us (and many other DVD fans) for reasons that have little to do with overall quality really isn't a great DVD player as far as things go. It works good enough for our purposes (it's currently hooked up to your humble editor's Mac in the office here), but layer-switches simply aren't as smooth as those on the trusted Sony in our screening room. What's more, the APEX (and probably most other "budget" DVD decks) displays a remarkable lag-time when it comes to most user-input indexing back and forth between chapters, changing audio tracks, and reverting to the main menu takes a second or two, whereas on better players these selections are normally instantaneous. We have nothing but trite words of wisdom on this one when it comes to DVD players, you normally get what you pay for. Buy from the most-reputable manufacturers when you can afford it.
A man much wiser that us once said "The quality of a product does not have as much affect on its overall success as much as how skillfully that product is marketed." It's a thought worth chewing over now and then.
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:
Bring it on: Okay gang who's gonna bet the DVD Journal editor on the upcoming Blazers/Lakers Western Conference Finals? We have a copy of The Abyss: Special Edition that we're willing to wager. Here's the deal: if you live in L.A., you're over 18, and you're a rabid Lakers fan, simply send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us why you think L.A. will kick Portland's ass over the next two weeks. We will select a potential winner by this weekend at the editor's discretion. If the Lakers win, we'll pop our Abyss check-discs (some of the first to come off the replicator) along with the press-only media kit in the mail to the unlikely winner. But if L.A. loses, the contestant will acknowledge to the world that the Lakers are a bunch of overrated nancy-boys a statement that we will publish here alongside the contestant's name. Readers in New York, Miami, Philly, and Indianapolis take notice, because we're coming for some of you next.
Tuesday, 16 May 2000
Recordable DVD smackdown!: What a wonderful time it was for consumer electronics back in the mid-1990s. When the DVD Video technology was still in its infancy, the various CE manufacturers bruised by several format wars over the previous two decades realized that it would be in their best interests to sit down at the table and negotiate a unified DVD Video standard, for without unification the shiny little discs wouldn't stand a chance against the entrenched lo-res behemoth that is VHS. Under the auspices of The DVD Video Group, the various manufacturers and content providers hammered out a standard they all could live with, and that's why we now have thousands of DVD titles currently in release and millions of DVD players in people's homes. And yet, overjoyed by the miraculous DVD format, which delivers quality feature entertainment in a handy CD-sized package, it was only a matter of time before digital die-hards asked the obvious "When are these sonsabitches gonna be recordable?"
The fact is that they've been "recordable" for quite some time. No less than seven DVD-recordable formats have gone through development, and there are currently two competing formats at this time DVD-RW and DVD-RAM. Last November, Pioneer announced the first DVD-recordable deck for home video, currently available in Japan (albeit at prohibitive prices) and based on DVD-RW. But in early January Matsushita (Panasonic/Technics) announced their own DVD-recordable deck, which would be a DVD-RAM device. And as Matsushita's deck is set to reach the street next month in Japan, it's now become clear that the brewing format war isn't going to give way on either side.
"We aim to promote DVD-RAM as the de facto industry standard in consumer DVD video recording," an unnamed Matsushita official told Reuters yesterday. "We have no plan to make it compatible with DVD-RW recorders." And in order to make sure that their new deck will be competitive with Pioneer's model, Matsushita has announced that it will go for $2,300, which is what Pioneer is currently fetching. Both gadgets are due to arrive in North America sometime later this year (where they certainly will be massacred by Sony's DVD-ready PlayStation2, which doesn't record but will sell for a nifty $299).
If this is starting to look ugly, Pioneer isn't going to take it lying down, nor do they have to last week in Tokyo, 12 electronics and media manufacturers announced the formation of the RW Products Promotion Initiative (RWPPI), and Pioneer, a member of the organization, is joined by such heavyweights as Sony, Mitsubishi, Sharp, Fuji, Hitachi, Maxell, Kenwood, Onkyo, Sanyo, TDK, and Samsung. All are committed to formulating "promotional activities for products based on the Pioneer-developed DVD-RW disc recording format," and while they are paying lip-service to alternative formats, it looks pretty clear that they expect DVD-RW to come out a winner.
The losers? Us. Even if Matsushita fails to successfully launch DVD-RAM as a home-video format, history tells us that the damage already may be done. The only two substantial home-video formats at this time VHS and DVD succeeded by near-universal cooperation from all manufacturers and content providers. But when consumers are confused by competing formats, they often decide not to invest at all. Let's face it VHS sucks. But it works, it's idiot-proof, and it's as comfortable for most people as a pair of old bedroom slippers. Tell the average Joe that there's more than one recordable DVD format available and odds are he's gonna plunk down his cash for another trusty four-pack of blank VHS tapes, along with one or two recent DVD Video releases, and be glad that he's carefree enough not to waste his time with the mumbo-jumbo. Unless things change on the recordable DVD front, we're about to get right behind him.
On the Street: Another big box of DVDs dominate the Tuesday street list this morning, MGM's The James Bond Collection: Volume 2, which includes such 007 classics as Dr. No, The Man with the Golden Gun, and The Spy Who Loved Me, along with last year's The World Is Not Enough. Meanwhile, five Criterion titles have reached the street today after some delays, and Columbia TriStar has a great double-feature with both the 1955 and 1999 versions of The End of the Affair, available separately or in a bundled set. With such a great selection of new titles, we still must point out that Fox's Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid: Special Edition is outstanding and sure to make its many fans happy. Twilight Zone collectors have two more discs to pick up this week, and Warner has re-issued a few DVDs previously under the MGM folio, including the excellent The Philadelphia Story and Seven Days in May. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of Reel.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 15 May 2000
Disc of the Week: The American western genre long a staple of both big-budget Hollywood films and matinee potboilers was fundamentally turned on its head in 1969 by two films: Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch and George Roy Hill's Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid. Both films take place in the last days of the western frontier, when transportation and technology altered the once-open landscape, and the arrival of more and more people and better law enforcement sent thieves and bank robbers south of the American border, where still-lawless Latin American countries provided an ample terrain for bigger and better jobs. And both films, which struck a chord with Vietnam-era audiences, effectively brought a halt to the idealized western, which hasn't seen the light of day since (the best neo-western, Eastwood's Unforgiven, has more to do with the The Wild Bunch than any of its predecessors). However, the decline and fall of the American western is where the similarities between The Wild Bunch and Butch Cassidy end. Peckinpah's film took on all of the trappings of the traditional western but added amoral protagonists, and it presented violence at a then-unprecedented level. Butch Cassidy, on the other hand, is sort of a lark, a carefree jaunt through outlaw territory as the titular characters banter back and forth in serio-comic fashion, always just one step ahead of the law and one step away from death.
Paul Newman and Robert Redford star as Butch and Sundance, in the waning days of their heralded criminal careers. Part of the "Hole in the Wall Gang," the pair have knocked over enough banks and trains to become local legend, always retreating to their isolated Hole in the Wall camp before the authorities can mount a serious pursuit. But when Butch decides to knock over the same train twice in one week, the president of the rail company spares no expense to mount a relentless posse, headed up by the best lawman in the west and guided by a legendary Indian tracker. Barely escaping with their lives, Butch (always full of new ideas) decides the duo should relocate to Bolivia, even though neither one of them know very much about the country. They are joined by Sundance's lover, schoolmarm Etta Place (Katharine Ross), but nobody has any idea what will be in store for them in South America.
Often regarded by critics as a mixed bag (and savaged by some very high-profile writers during its 1969 debut), Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid has still earned a loyal following over the years, and whatever missteps the film may take are easily outweighed by its strongest elements, in particular the performances by Newman and Redford (the role propelled Redford to superstardom), who casually play with scenarist William Goldman's witty, Oscar-winning script. Goldman clearly enjoyed the myth-shattering possibilities of his story, where the iconic Butch Cassidy actually prefers to flee from danger rather than stand and fight, and where the sharp-shooting Sundance is afraid of water because he can't swim. Hill lends his own small touches to the direction, and the decision to always show the "super-posse" from Butch and Sundance's point-of-view faceless, in the distance, but always just a few minutes behind gives the chase sequence an additional surge of adrenaline. Is that why the film made such an impression on moviegoers? As some have argued, does the "super-posse" represent the government, while Butch and Sundance are clever, spirited draft-dodgers? Or did audiences enjoy what may be the first buddy/action flick, where two guys, looking death in the face, can't stop bickering with each other in a petty, comical way? Or is there romance in this story after all? Are we moved by the inevitable demise of Butch and Sundance, two heroes in a world that has no more use for them? You can come to your own conclusions. For whatever reason, Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid has been a fan-favorite for 30 years and counting.
Fox's new special edition DVD of Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid features a solid anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) from a nearly pristine source print that is rich with color, while audio is available in the original mono. The many supplements include a commentary track with director Hill, lyricist Hal David, associate producer Robert Crawford, and cinematographer Conrad Hall; a 45-minute "behind-the-scenes" documentary, mostly narrated by director Hill, but with additional commentary by Newman, Redford, and others; nearly 50 minutes of interview footage taken in 1994, featuring Newman, Redford, Goldman, Ross, and songwriter Burt Bacharach; stills of various documents used to make the film, including elements of the shooting script; three trailers; and an interactive history of Butch and Sundance as DVD-ROM content. Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid: Special Edition is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: The speculation is finally over DreamWorks' Gladiator is a maxiumus hit, and not because it grossed more than $37 million last weekend, but because it earned an additional $24.3 million over its second weekend (always the make-or-break point of a movie), boosting its ten-day total to a colossal $73.3 million and certain to break the century mark during its first month in release. The Ridley Scott-directed film, starring Russell Crowe, bested four debuts over the Mother's Day weekend (earning more than all four combined), including John Travolta's Scientology sci-fi Battlefield Earth, which opened with $12.3 million an acceptable number for Warner, but underwhelming when one considers that Battlefield opened in 3,307 venues, the fifth widest opening ever. The three other debuts over the weekend Sony's Center Stage, Universal's Screwed, and Trimark's Held Up performed as expected, although Center Stage did the only notable business, tying for fourth place with $4.8 million.
Still in continuing release are Universal's sub-flick U-571, which earned $5.8 million for third place, adding to a nearly $60 million gross; and both New Line's Frequency, with $4.8 million, and Love and Basketball which has remained in the top ten for four weeks running and earned a tidy $22.3 million so far. But it is time to bid adieu to both Paramount's Rules of Engagement, which has fallen from the top ten after six weeks and $56.7 million in receipts, and Sony's 28 Days, now on its way to DVD prep after four weeks and just less than $35 million. This morning's stinko award goes to Sony's I Dreamed of Africa, starring Kim Basinger, a film that earned mixed critical reviews but was absolutely slaughtered by Gladiator and the rest of the pre-summer fare, only earning $2.5 million last weekend before dropping out of the top ten. Remember the L.A. Confidential poster, where the platinum-blonde, larger-than-life Basinger nearly obscured a miniature Russell Crowe? What a difference two years can make.
Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: D. K. Holm has posted a new review this morning of Martin Scorsese's Bringing Out the Dead, while Joe Barlow is on the board with a look at Joel Schumacher's Flawless. Both can be found on our Full Reviews index. New quick reviews from the staff this week include The End of the Affair (1999), The Myth of Fingerprints, Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid: Special Edition, Sanjuro: The Criterion Collection, The Hollywood Knights, and The Minus Man, and can be accessed 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.
Thursday, 11 May 2000
PlayStation2 on deck: We finally can stop yakking about how Sony's DVD-ready PlayStation2 gaming console already in release in Japan will arrive in America "sometime this fall," because Sony has now announced a firm North American launch date of Oct. 26. What's more, the highly anticipated console will sell for $299 a very reasonable price, considering that many DVD players currently sell for about that much, and the PlayStation2 will handle both DVD Video playback and the next generation of processor-intensive video games. And, of course, the folks over at Sony are very proud of their new gaming system, which probably will become the best selling gaming console (and DVD player) of all time before much longer. We all can remember when Francis Ford Coppola said in a press conference that Apocalypse Now "isn't about Vietnam, it is Vietnam." Perhaps taking a cue from the noted director, Sony Computer Entertainment of America President Kazuo Hirai said in a press conference yesterday that the PS2 "is not the future of video game entertainment it is the future of entertainment, period." (Just so we're all clear on that.)
With a tasty sub-$300 price tag and a new broadband network that Sony is designing for some yet-to-be determined services, there's only one safe bet when it comes to the PlayStation2 there ain't gonna be enough to go around. One million units will ship between Oct. 26 and Dec. 31, while two million more units are expected to arrive stateside during the first quarter of 2001. But according to Sony officials, pretty much the only folks who will get their hands on a PS2 in time for the holidays will be those who pre-order from dealers. In Japan, 1.8 million PS2s have sold since March, with one million units selling in the first week. It's hard to believe that a mere one million units this fall in North America will last for very long.
Commentary Clips: "(Evelyn) Ankers and Lon Chaney (Jr.) acted together in a whole bunch of horror pictures they were the Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald of Universal horrors, but they really didn't have any use for each other. The trouble started the day that Ankers was told that she was being given a new dressing room because Universal was so pleased with her work. She was thrilled, until the first day of The Wolf Man, when Lon Chaney came up to her all ticked off and he said 'So you're the girl who swiped my dressing room. You took it away from Broderick Crawford and me, and I think that's a hell of a thing to do.' Ankers didn't know what was going on, but pretty soon she found out that what Chaney and Crawford used to do was take bottles into Chaney's dressing room, get loaded, hang all the furniture up out of the way, and then just fight. (According to Ankers) the cleaning crew was treated to a sight resembling a World War II battlefield. That, unfortunately, was just the beginning. Chaney liked to come up behind her, made up as the Wolf Man, and he'd grab and scare her. And then, during the making of Son of Dracula, there was a luncheon where Chaney and Ankers' husband Richard Denning nearly got into a fist-fight. There was just always grief, and neither one of them ended up a big fan of the other let's put it that way. "
Film historian Tom Weaver,
"I should also note that (make-up legend) Jack Pierce and Lon Chaney (Jr.) did not like each other they had a mutual dislike. They both had abrasive personalities. Pierce was kind of a curmudgeon, he wasn't the easiest guy to get along with, and Chaney who liked to brawl and pick on people and act like a big kid it figures that he wouldn't like Pierce and vice-versa.... Chaney Jr. probably felt a little put-out because his dad was such a great make-up artist and he wasn't, and Pierce probably needled Chaney about that a little bit. One thing that Pierce liked to do with the Wolf Man make-up was to apply the yak hair and then singe it a little that made the ends curl a little more, it kind of gave it an 'even' look. Pierce would use a curling iron, and every so often sssttt! he'd burn the hell out of Chaney and say it was an accident. But everybody, including Chaney I'm sure, knew better. Pierce and Chaney fought all the time, and Pierce refused to make Chaney up after a while. House of Dracula is one of the movies where Pierce did not do Chaney's make-up. There are photos of Pierce working on Chaney, fiddling around with the Wolf Man make-up in House of Dracula, but those were strictly for publicity."
Quotable: "Faced with the all-powerful Hollywood majors, it seems obvious that an efficient response lies in the creation of film groups with a European dimension, which will be capable of rivaling the American industry.... American studios never cease to make cinema history. Their ability to fill cinemas around the world with people who share the same emotions is remarkable, even if we know that big cinema doesn't only mean big spectacle. This American strength should make us overcome our own weaknesses."
French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, speaking
"I don't believe in competition amongst alleged works of art. They give you a statue, and they lead you out and you go home and you have a statue, and what?"
Multiple Oscar-winner Woody Allen, discussing
"If I'm sick of me, I can only imagine how other people feel. So I think I'll probably sit (the Oscars) out next year. I mean, by the law of averages, I'm due to get hit by a bus any day now."
Kevin Spacey, pondering the perils of over-
Coming Attractions: New DVD reviews are on the way, including Fox's upcoming Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, Columbia TriStar's The Myth of Fingerprints, and lots more. And if you haven't entered our monthly free DVD contest (a copy of Universal's Field of Dreams: Collector's Edition is 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.
Wednesday, 10 May 2000
I understand that because Criterion released it instead of the regular studio/distribution company (whose release had no features) it cost more to produce, but why doesn't the first company just do all the add-ons (like New Line did with Austin Powers) and keep the price down?
You've very nearly answered your own question here Chris because Criterion is not a film studio, it has to license most of its high-profile DVD releases (such as Armageddon and Brazil) from the studios that actually own the titles (in these cases, Armageddon is owned by Buena Vista, while Columbia TriStar owns Brazil). The simple reason why Criterion has to charge more money is because the small Chicago-based company cannot operate with the same economies of scale that large studios do, especially when the chief selling point of Criterion's product is quality of presentation. Virtually every other small DVD producer sells DVDs for less money than the studios, not more, because their product is just not as good (nor is there as much widespread demand for it). But Criterion bucks the system, trying to make superior DVD products without the same resources that the major studios enjoy. And perhaps foremost amongst these resources is distribution, because the major studios can get their product into a wide variety of retail outlets (DVDs nowadays can be found in any run-of-the-mill department store with a small electronics section), but many smaller distributors don't carry a wide array of Criterion's product. Pretend you own a small home-video company, get out your calculator, and run the numbers. Obtaining a license for a small film like Sid and Nancy, getting the rights for a variety of supplements like television footage or paying out-of-pocket for a commentary track, and then trying to sell the DVD with limited distribution adds about ten bucks to the unit price. If Criterion didn't charge the premiums they do on their top-tier releases, they simply wouldn't be in business. They are a minnow in an ocean of sharks.
Alas, back when the time-tested Laserdisc format was the standard-setter in home video, Criterion was having a better time of things, especially when it came to Hollywood films. Since Laserdisc was never more than a niche item, the studios gave it scant attention, producing some lasers under their own banners, but also happy to license the rights for many titles to such laser stalwarts as Image, Pioneer, and Criterion. Up until 1997, when DVD arrived on the scene, the studios really only cared about controlling their VHS product, where the bulk of the revenue was. But DVD represented a sea-change in hi-def home video, and before long the studios started to take the format very seriously, realizing that it had potential as a mass-market success or at least that it stood to make a lot more money than Laserdiscs (fundamentally because of the far cheaper per-unit price and the overall ease-of-use factor). The bounty that Criterion enjoyed with the laser format did not translate to DVD, as the studios decided it would be in their best interests to produce their own special-edition DVDs rather than farming the job out for a license fee. And this is why we've seen great special-edition discs from such studios as Columbia TriStar, Buena Vista, New Line, Universal, and now Fox. All of them are following the high-value marketing model that Criterion established with Laserdiscs, but it simply doesn't make any sense for them to send their titles to another company. Titles that Criterion released on Laserdisc, but which may never arrive on DVD with the Criterion-owned supplements, include Boogie Nights, Taxi Driver, Seven, Citizen Kane, and many, many more. The first two have already been released as special editions on DVD from their respective studios (Boogie Nights is about to have yet another DVD edition this summer), Seven is due to arrive as a special edition in the next few months, and Warner isn't going to send their recently acquired Citizen Kane anywhere we suspect they'll make their own DVD, thank you very much.
With less licenses and the general decline of the Laserdisc format, Criterion has been forced to fall back on their bread-and-butter product for DVD, most of them films in the public domain, foreign titles, or elements of the Janus Films collection, which they have a stake in and while most all of these have already been released on Criterion lasers, they still represent some of the best that DVD has to offer and re-affirms DVD's status as a home-video format for film buffs after all, where else are we going to get such classics as The Red Shoes or Wages of Fear on DVD? Even if Criterion recently has been excluded from a lot of mainstream Hollywood titles, they still remain one of our favorite DVD producers (and Columbia TriStar, with their wide array of "Columbia Classics" and some great special editions of Frank Capra films, appears to know just what Criterion-sated DVD fans like us really want). For now, Buena Vista is the only major studio that has sent recent mainstream films to Criterion, with Armageddon, Rushmore, and the upcoming Chasing Amy. However, these and other titles currently on Criterion under license stand to go out of print eventually, as have This Is Spinal Tap, The Killer, Hard Boiled, and the rest of the Criterion stuff currently selling on eBay for a godawful amount of money. (Potentially on the block down the road are Robocop, Sid and Nancy, and yes Brazil. It could happen.)
We hope that answers some of your questions, but we're not going to claim that we hang around the Criterion offices and chat with the staff, because we don't. However, our good friend and noted digital die-hard Sean McGinnis at DVD Verdict recently stopped by Criterion for a visit. You can read his comments here.
Not a problem:
And, despite the fact that folks normally talk about there only being six DVD regions, there are in fact two more, although they really aren't geographical in nature. Region 7 is simply known as "reserved" (perhaps for internal use by DVD producers) and Region 8 is specified for "international venues," such as cruise ships, airplanes, and maybe the space shuttle.
Hey, wait a minute Philip are you proposing that people who fork out the money to create motion pictures actually own the fruits of their labor? Do you mean people who make movies are not performing some sort of public service? Are you implying that big-budget Hollywood flicks aren't funded with our tax dollars? Are you actually suggesting that the movies we get on DVD are, in fact, private property?
These are very dangerous ideas to be spreading around the Internet. You must be some sort of dope-smoking wacko.
Tuesday, 9 May 2000
On the Street: It's a thin Tuesday for new releases, but if you've already pre-ordered Fox's massive The X-Files: Season One box-set, you probably have your DVD viewing sorted out for the week. On the street from Columbia TriStar this morning are The Myth of Fingerprints and The Hollywood Knights, while Buena Vista has Next Stop, Wonderland and Mystery, Alaska, and Paramount has Martin Scorsese's latest film, Bringing Out the Dead, starring Nicolas Cage. And if you're a Mel Brooks fan (we are), you should seek out his early classic The Twelve Chairs, now in release from Image. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of Reel.com and Image Entertainment:
Back tomorrow with this week's mailbag.
Monday, 8 May 2000
Disc of the Week: The word "masterpiece" tends to get thrown around a lot by film critics, but in the case of David Lynch's 1986 Blue Velvet, it's more than warranted, as this low-budget psycho-sexual creep-out is about as disturbing as movies come, but it is still one of the most powerful, inventive films of the 1980s, rivaled only perhaps by Scorsese's Raging Bull or Gilliam's Brazil. Kyle MacLachlan stars as mild-mannered college student Jeffrey Beaumont, who returns to his small Pacific Northwest town of Lumberton after his father has suffered a stroke. However, not long after his return Jeffrey discovers a severed human ear in a field, which he promptly turns over to the police. And an honest, unpretentious young man wouldn't pursue his gruesome discovery any further than that, would he? Of course he would and according to Lynch, you would too, because you're only too happy to sit and watch as the voyeuristic Jeffrey breaks into the apartment of local nightclub singer Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini), discovers that she is the victim of a kidnapping/blackmail plot by ruthless drug dealer Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper), and then rashly makes himself a target for Frank while getting sexually involved with both the emotionally distraught Dorothy and artless teenager Sandy Williams (Laura Dern), the daughter of a local cop.
If you have to be pretty dumb to get in that sort of mess, Lynch makes an effort to point out that Jeffrey really isn't stupid (he's quite clever, actually), but he's inordinately curious, trapped in a small town with nothing to do but fight off the tempting mystery of the severed ear, a rotted appendage that like the apple in the Garden of Eden leads him down the garden path, out of his sun-soaked paradise and into a night-world of illicit sex, hazardous knowledge, and unrefined evil. And this is not an overreading, for Lynch (in his inimitable, quirky manner) goes out of his way to make sure that Jeffrey and Sandy are capable of speaking only in the most mundane fashion, with small words and clichéd phrases that underscore the essentially guileless nature of his Adam and Eve protagonists. Frank Booth is no better, for where Lynch's children fumble about for intelligent things to say, Frank can't get a single sentence out of his mouth without saying "fuck" (that most earthy of Anglo-Saxon intensifiers), and his bizarre sexual episodes with Dorothy render him less than an adolescent, but in fact infantile. Ironically, the only substantial adult in the film is Rossellini as Dorothy, (a wife and a mother, at least before Frank got ahold of her). She also is the only victim, held hostage by Frank and naively pursued by Jeffrey. And after the battle between Jeffrey and Frank reaches its inevitable, bloody conclusion, Lynch suggests that this has been Dorothy's story all along.
MGM's new DVD edition of Blue Velvet is a great item for fans of the film, with a crisp anamorphic transfer (2.20:1) that wonderfully conveys Lynch's love for widescreen composition. The source print is excellent, with strong colors and hardly any damage whatsoever. But that's all us Lynchians get for now the only extra is a 1986 trailer. With such a great source print available, it's a shame MGM couldn't give this one a chance as a special edition, perhaps with a commentary by Lynch and/or a retrospective documentary. Nevertheless, die-hard fans will still want to fork over the money, if for nothing more than the wonderful widescreen transfer and Angelo Badalamenti's haunting score. Blue Velvet is on the street now.
And on the street tomorrow: Okay X-Files fans you asked for it, and Fox said yes. The entire first season of The X-Files is on DVD Tuesday morning in a wonderful seven-disc box-set that's worth collecting (albeit at a collector's price). Each one of the 24 episodes from Season One from the Pilot episode and Deep Throat to the cliffhanger The Erlenmeyer Flask is here, and standout episodes include the mutant-chasing Squeeze and Toombs, the conspiracy-heavy E.B.E., Scully's death-row drama Beyond The Sea, the now-legendary Eve ("He's been exsanguinated!"), and one of your editor's favorite X-Files episodes ever the polar-thriller Ice. Along with the entire first season, extras on board include the short retrospective "The Truth About Season One"; interview segments with series creator Chris Carter; 11 "Behind The Truth" segments (which originally aired on F/X when the show went into syndication); original TV spots for each episode; deleted scenes from both the Pilot episode and Fallen Angel, available on-the-fly; a DVD-ROM game and additional DVD-ROM content; and if only to prove that this is a definitive collection scenes from various episodes dubbed in German, Japanese, Italian, and Spanish, as they were shown overseas. It ain't cheap, but X-Philes have no cause to complain here. Fox's X-Files: Season One box has set a very high bar for other television compilations on DVD to beat.
Box Office: It was a slice 'em and dice 'em weekend at the box-office, as DreamWorks' Gladiator chopped up the competition with a three-day gross of $32.7 million, along with a blistering $11,130 per-screen average. The Ridley Scott-directed sandal-flick, starring Russell Crowe, did better business than the following six films put together, and Universal's U-571 the champ over the past two weeks sunk in its wake with only $7.6 million. The only other debut over the weekend was Sony's I Dreamed of Africa, starring Kim Basinger (Crowe's L.A. Confidential love interest, at that), but despite Sony's apparent hopes of counter-programming Gladiator, and perhaps the NBA playoffs, the film only earned $2.5 million for the eighth spot.
Still in continuing release are New Line's Frequency, which shaped up respectably with $6.5 million in its second week; Universal's The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas, still on the board with $6.3 million, but falling fast; Sony's chick-flick Where The Heart Is, adding $5 million to $15.7 million overall; and Buena Vista's Keeping the Faith, which will crack a $30 million gross sometime this week. However, after a stellar run (and a $115.9 million gross), Universal's Erin Brockovich has now slipped from the top ten. But if you haven't seen it yet, don't worry it's bound to hang around on the second-run circuit for several more weeks before getting prepped for DVD. Ready to rumble next week against Gladiator is John Travolta's Battlefield Earth.
Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Joe Barlow has posted a new full review of Dogma, while Steve Firstenburg is on the board with a look at Being John Malkovich: Special Edition. Both can be found on our Full Reviews index. New quick reviews this week include The Last Temptation of Christ: The Criterion Collection, Blue Velvet, Galaxy Quest, On The Beach, and the The X-Files: Season One box set, and can be accessed 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 to let you know about this week's street discs.
Thursday, 4 May 2000
On the Block: As usual over at eBay, the hottest trading DVDs are from Criterion, and over the past few weeks Criterion had the three top-traders Salo, This is Spinal Tap, and The Killer while such other notables as Hard Boiled and The 400 Blows made it into our latest round of rankings. Makes sense to us, as they're all great discs, but we still can't figure out why anybody would pay more than $200 for the first edition of Warner's Little Shop of Horrors when the second edition is due to arrive on May 23, and it will only lack the alternate ending included on the first disc. Is that little snippet really worth two Benjamins? Or are some bidders unaware that the re-issue is on the way? If it's poor value for money, A Hard Day's Night is still trading below the $100 mark, which isn't a bad deal for Beatles fans with deep pockets. And a note to you cagey bidders out there $2.50 ain't a lot of dough, but we've noticed that many discs are closing just that much above century marks, as both The Killer and Little Shop had high bids of $202.50, while Live at Knebworth and the Region 2 Leon: Integral Version (the director's cut of The Professional) had top closes of $102.50. The next time we go bidding on choice collectibles, we're gonna toss in an extra three bucks for good measure.
Here's the highest recent closing prices of rare and out-of-print DVDs from online auctions at eBay: