Monday, 31 July 2000
Napster's 11th-hour reprieve: For those of you who have been spelunking a large cave since last Friday afternoon, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled before the weekend that Napster.com ordered to shut down by a preliminary injunction could stay live until the lawsuit between the Recording Industry Association of America and the file-swapping website is concluded later this year. Rejecting the comprehensive injunction handed down by Judge Marilyn Hall Patel last Wednesday, the court noted that Napster's legal team had managed to raise "substantial questions" regarding the lawsuit, questions that have kept Napster in business for now. "We think Napster is entirely compatible with the record industry," Napster CEO Hank Barry told Reuters on Friday. "We are absolutely interested in trying to reach some agreement with the plaintiffs in this case.... We think that Napster users are music's biggest fans, and we think that when people have access to more music they go out and buy more music. That's got to be good for the recording industry."
But if Napster will live to fight another day, some other file-trading websites may be getting cold feet from both the Napster suit and the MPAA's current litigation against Scour. Last week, the "CuteMX" file-swapping system was taken offline by its proprietors, GlobalSCAPE.com. "We believe this is the proper thing to do given the confusion over this technology in the market," GlobalSCAPE president Sandra Poole-Christal said in a statement. RIAA spokesperson Amy Weiss soon after said that the recording industry "applaud(s) any site that voluntarily shuts themselves down," but with the reversal of the Napster injunction, Poole-Christal has now indicated to Inside.com that the demise of CuteMX may only be a temporary one.
Disc of the Week: Fans of Hong Kong action had something to celebrate when Romeo Must Die hit the theaters last March, as the film marked the first American starring role for HK superstar Jet Li, and his second U.S. production (playing the heavy in Lethal Weapon 4, Li made the film a lot better than it had any right to be). Li's relocation to the American film industry has followed on the heels of such Asian action-flick luminaries as Jackie Chan, John Woo, Chow Yun-Fat, and Michelle Yeoh, but if Li is somewhat lesser known, he's easily among their peers. His film career in Hong Kong has spanned roughly two decades, where he's been a consistent box-office draw. And if fellow chop-sockey superstar Chan often looks to silent-film comedians like Buster Keaton for his intricately choreographed fight sequences, Jet is the inheritor of Bruce Lee. Chan may be a more popular film star (deservedly so, even), but folks who know will tell you when it comes to martial-arts action, Jet Li is among the most technically proficient ever.
Drawn very loosely from Romeo and Juliet, Li stars in Romeo Must Die as Han Sing, an imprisoned member of a Triad family that fled Hong Kong years earlier, when Han was forced to take the fall for his clan's safe escape to San Francisco. But when a turf war between Asian and black factions erupts in the Bay Area, Han's brother is mysteriously murdered. Successfully escaping from prison, Han sets off to America to find his brother's killer, unaware that he's about to uncover more about his family than he ever wanted to know. He also finds an unlikely ally in Trish (hip-hop star Aaliyah), the daughter of gangster Isaak O'Day (Delroy Lindo), who, like Han, has no love for her family's racketeering ways. Traitors seem to abound in both camps, who are trying to round up enough waterfront property for a lucrative sale to a business consortium, and as Han digs deeper into the mystery, he discovers that plenty of people would like to see him dead.
People line up to see Jet Li movies for one reason kick-ass fights. Thankfully, Romeo Must Die does not fail to deliver on this count, as Li is given several sequences to unload on multiple thugs. He's a one-man army who always prefers to hand out a beating before he's about to take one, and choice segments include a one-on-one with Russell Wong, as well as a sequence where he uses Aaliyah's arms and legs as a weapon of sorts against a female adversary ("I can't hit a girl!" he explains). And a comic scene where Jet is invited to play some American football with the brothers in the park is about as close to Jackie Chan as he gets. But even if the great action cheats a little with Matrix-style wires at points, the plot of Romeo Must Die is far from threadbare. Unavoidable circumstances force both Han and Trish to confront the true nature of their respective families, only to reluctantly accept that they are rotten at the core. When Han first challenges his father over his brother's death, the scene, delivered entirely in Chinese, could have been lifted from an HK film. "I don't want to lose another son," the father confesses after the heated argument. At another moment, Han finds a deflated basketball in his brother's closet a ball they clung to as boys when lost at sea, swimming for their lives towards shore, and it is this object that Han clutches at his brother's elaborate funeral. Such understated moments give Romeo Must Die an attractive dramatic dimension, and not one many would expect from an as-advertised action flick.
Warner's packed DVD edition of Romeo Must Die features a solid anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with booming audio in DD 5.1. Extras include four behind-the-scenes features, eight more shorts on various action sequences, an "HBO First Look" featurette, both U.S. and international trailers, the Aaliyah music videos "Try Again" and "Come Back in One Piece," a behind-the-scenes short on one of the videos, and cast-and-crew notes. Romeo Must Die hits the street tomorrow.
Box Office: Last week '80s box-office megastar Harrison Ford proved he still has the juice, as DreamWorks' What Lies Beneath opened with a solid $31 million. And now '80s megastar Eddie Murphy has put his stamp on the year 2000 with Nutty Professor II: The Klumps, trouncing all competition at the box office over the weekend with a $42.7 million debut, one of the best this summer. The new Universal film in which Murphy plays several prosthetically enhanced characters also marks the best debut of any Murphy film in his up-and-down career. Yet Nutty Professor II wasn't the only film to go wide over the weekend, it was just the, er... widest. Destination's kid-flick Thomas and the Magic Railroad took in $4.2 million, but it wasn't enough to challenge Warner's Pokemon franchise, as the latest installment cleaned up $6.3 million over its second weekend on the way to some tasty toy and tie-in profits.
Still in continuing release, What Lies Beneath hauled in $22 million, showing solid audience retention during its second week, but Fox's X-Men has been dropping like a stone since a monster opening weekend. While the popular superhero film is already at $121.8 million overall, the receipts have been falling by around 50% every weekend, which means it might not hit the $175 million mark (although a sequel is assured at this point). Warner's The Perfect Storm is still going strong with $157.6 million, Dimension's Scary Movie is at $131.9 million, and Sony's The Patriot has now crossed the century at $101.4 million. But bad news for Sony's Loser, which had an underwhelming debut last week and only earned $2.7 million over the past three days (everybody make up your own joke on the title), placing it at $12 million overall and ready to get kicked off the chart by next week.
Plenty of films are ready to go wide next weekend, including the thriller Hollow Man, Clint Eastwood's Space Cowboys, and the barmaid booty-movie Coyote Ugly. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Dawn Taylor has posted a new review of Woody Allen's Manhattan, now on the street from MGM, which can be found on our Full Reviews index. New quick reviews from the staff this week include Space Jam: Special Edition, What Planet Are You From?, Brief Encounter: The Criterion Collection, Romeo Must Die, Whatever It Takes: Special Edition, and Where's Marlowe?, 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'll be back tomorrow with the rundown on this week's street discs.
Thursday, 27 July 2000
Napster smackdown!: In what could be a harbinger of things to come in the MPAA's current lawsuit against Scour.net, U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel has ordered Napster.com to cease operations by Friday afternoon. Part of of a lawsuit brought against Napster by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) in December, Judge Patel's preliminary injuction, if upheld at the trial's end, could have far-reaching implications on intellectual-property laws, as well as how the law can distinguish between the free flow of "information" on the Internet as opposed to the free flow of copyrighted materials. In her ruling, Judge Patel described Napster as "wholesale infringing" against the rights of copyright holders, an opinion welcomed by the RIAA. "Radio, TV, cable TV all these businesses get clearances before they use copyrighted material," RIAA attorney Carey Ramos said after the ruling. "Napster doesn't want to have to do that. It's too much effort. It requires them to work before they become Internet billionaires."
As the case is headed for trial, the RIAA has posted a $5 million bond to ensure that Napster could recoup financial losses from Judge Patel's injunction and Napster certainly plans to soldier on. "We will keep fighting for Napster and for your right to share music over the Internet," Napster creator Shawn Fanning said in a video statement to the site's users. But Lars Ulrich of the band Metallica who has been among Napster's most vociferous opponents was ready with a retort. "Sharing is such a warm, cuddly, friendly word," he said yesterday. "(Napster) is not sharing, it's duplicating."
The current lawsuit by the MPAA against Scour, which is also a file-trading website, is based on many of the same arguments that the RIAA used against Napster, so at this point the smart money is not betting on Scour (the RIAA has also joined the MPAA in the new suit). We're not saying that it will be quietly settled out of court but then again, if it was we wouldn't be all that surprised.
DeCSS trial wrapping up: In other legal news, the MPAA's lawsuit against DeCSS distributor Eric Corley concluded testimony yesterday, so a ruling should arrive in August. And according to reports, it's possible that Corley's free-speech defense could get him off the hook. "I really find what Professor Touretzky had to say today extremely persuasive and educational about computer code," U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan told the court, referring to testimony from Carnegie Mellon University computer science professor David Touretzky, who said that limitations placed on the open distribution of computer code like the DVD-cracking DeCSS would have a profound effect on the research community as a whole. Keep it tuned here.
Commentary Clip: "After Matthew (Perry) closes that glass door (to the deck of Bruce Willis's house), in that take he shuts it in a very funny, petulant way, and runs off. We discovered that gave us a problem at our first screening, when he crashes into the door later. It wasn't funny, because the audience had seen him shut the door. Now because we cut away before (the door is closed) they laugh tremendously when he crashes into (it).... I think that was the sixth take of Matthew crashing into the door. He was really game. We did it again and again until we got a take where he stands up and came through the door and nonsense words came out of his mouth because he was concussed. All the takes were funny, but that was the funniest."
Director Jonathan Lynn,
Quotable: "As far as its opening, God bless the fans. What's interesting is that a lot of women and people of all ages and all demographics seem to be responding to it. I think it's a nice surprise for a movie based on a comic. As far as the key to its success, I think it's taking the 'X-Men' comic book universe seriously, treating it like a science fiction film based on this amazing world, not just making a 'comic book movie,' and taking the characters seriously but also having some fun."
X-Men director Bryan Singer, who has indicated
"My comment to John Stossel is that before he reports on a story he needs to get his facts straight. There is nothing fraudulent in the movie. What he said was irresponsible. And if he's going to insist that chromium doesn't make people sick I want him to put the chromium where his mouth is. I'm not kidding around. He can get his children around him and drink chromium-laced water."
Erin Brockovich, lashing out at ABC-TV "20/20"
"I think the best I can do at this point is admit who I am and what my age is and look for ways to be useful. That's my highest ambition, to be useful."
Harrison Ford, who returned to the top of the box-office
"I take it personally as a sign that maybe I'm not supposed to write my biography, maybe the past is supposed to stay buried."
Kim Novak, who lost all work she had done on an autobiography
"Here we go again, bashing the entertainment industry for all the ills in the world."
Disney CEO Michael Eisner, when it was suggested at an
"One of the brilliant things about Tapster is that there's only one song to choose from."
Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest), discussing the new
Coming Attractions: We have lots of new DVD reviews on the way, and we'll do our best to stay on top of the Napster fallout and any forthcoming DeCSS news, so be sure to come back Monday morning for all the latest. Have a great weekend.
Wednesday, 26 July 2000
While there's no hard-and-fast rule as to why DVDs come in varying price-ranges, in some instances your guess is right if a studio expects a DVD to be a huge seller, the price can be cheaper, not more expensive. Case in point: The Sixth Sense. While Disney/Buena Vista frequently offers DVDs around $30 SRP (street prices are usually five bucks cheaper), Sense arrived at $25 and sold for $19.99 at most brick-and-mortar retailers. Aware that interest in the DVD would be high, that five-finger discount helped launch Sense into the stratosphere, where it is now one of the top-selling DVDs ever.
But of course, this hasn't always been the case with the DVD market The Sixth Sense represented a change in philosophy for Buena Vista, as Disney's first wave of classic animation DVDs in late 1999 all came with a whopping $39.99 SRP (and scant extras), which probably contributed to some slow sales before all of the SRPs were dropped by six bucks or so (in fact, those "Limited Editions" seemed to be everywhere for a while, and only now do they seem to actually be going out of stock, if not gone altogether yet). However, the upcoming release of both Toy Story films on DVD shows that Disney is sticking with a low-price strategy for some top titles. The bare-bones two-DVD set has a knockout $40 SRP, and the "Ultimate Toy Box" will go for an agreeable $70 or less for three DVDs total figure a standard 20% retailer discount from $70 and it should street at $56, or $18.66 per disc, and online pre-orders will be even cheaper. (Do we really need to explain standard discounts to anybody? If you're paying the SRP, you're depriving a village somewhere of an idiot.)
But for the most part, the studios independently decide what they think will be the best prices for their DVDs, which is why there is such a variance. Warner, MGM, and New Line are well known for offering good titles, even special editions, around $20 street, like the top-selling The Matrix. Warner also has flirted with many $15 and $10 (street) titles over the past year or so (such as The Shawshank Redemption), and MGM's new The Princess Bride can be found for $15 in a lot of shops. Universal has been partial to a $26.98 SRP for a long time now, and even their great Collector's Editions (such as the upcoming Jurassic Park and The Lost World) currently sell at this price-point. Columbia TriStar who releases more commentary tracks than any other vendor seems to have settled on a $24.98 SRP on most everything by now, and they also are very good about dropping their prices after a DVD has been in release for a while, usually to a $21.96 SRP. And while Fox was long reviled for high-priced, feature-thin discs, they now seem to be set on $29.98 - $34.98 SRPs for special editions (either one- or two-disc sets respectively) and $24.98 SRPs for the rest.
As for Office Space, it's a Fox DVD, released back in August of 1999, and it still has a $34.98 SRP (around $28 street), rather than the lower $24.98 SRP of equivalent Fox releases today. We're hoping that it gets a reprice soon, but for now all we can do is be glad that the days of $35 bare-bones discs are behind us.
You'll get nothing and like it.
I don't mean to pick on The Patriot or this theater, because this seems to be the norm nowadays. On the other hand, I would say that virtually all of the DVDs I own several hundred are better than the presentations I see theater. Keep up the good work in letting the rest of us know how reviewed DVDs look and sound.
You are a man after our own heart, Thomas. Actually, truth be told, the staff here seems pretty evenly divided between regular moviegoers and folks who avoid movie-houses like the plague. Your humble editor is in the latter camp, often because there are just too many new DVDs to watch every week, but also because watching movies in modern cineplexes always raises the same question: How good is the DVD going to look? Because they always look better than first-run movies. A recent outing by some Journal staffers to see X-Men was pleasant enough, but it seemed like the audio was cranked up far too high (never a problem in a home-theater environment), and the reel-changes were pretty distracting. We'll spare you the story about the two toddlers who wound up sitting in front of us and fidgeting for 90 minutes, but two more things added to our distress supposedly "bargain" movie tickets here in Portland are now $5.25 (they were $3.25 just a year or two ago), and one tub of popcorn and a large soda costs the same amount of money it would cost to stuff two people at the Burger King next door. The whole affair for two costs around $20, which happens to be the price of many new DVDs, so your (famously stingy) editor probably won't be returning to the theaters until the next round of Oscar hopefuls begin to arrive in the late fall.
And this isn't kvetching the free market must set the price, and if the theater chains can get away with highway robbery, God bless America. It's just astounding that moviegoers are willing to shell out perhaps $35-40 for a family of four to sit in a big brick box and watch a filthy, low-lit print of a movie when a quality DVD will be on the street five or six months later. Don't even get us started on how every idiot there can't even shut his hole during the film and let everybody in the immediate vicinity enjoy it without an alternate commentary track. (Okay that's kvetching.)
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, 25 July 2000
On the Street: Get in line for the fourth DVD edition of Army of Darkness, the "Director's Cut," which is now available from Anchor Bay (and reportedly is the second disc in the previous Limited Edition). But if you already have enough copies of AOD in your collection, a few of this morning's other offerings might be better. Columbia TriStar has both The Secret of Roan Inish and Steel Magnolias on the shelves today (both with commentary tracks), while Warner has double-dipped Space Jam as a special edition with a variety of extra features (it's still full-frame though). And for fans of Leonardo DiCaprio or Danny Boyle, Fox is hoping that their new SE of last year's The Beach will make up for some lost box-office. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of Reel.com and Image Entertainment:
And about the latest 'Army of Darkness': Is Anchor Bay's latest Sam Raimi DVD a limited edition, as was the two-disc Army of Darkness? Or, as some readers insisted to us, is it an unlimited pressing? Thanks to DVD Journal reader and digital-die hard Chris Nordeen, who dropped us a note yesterday. "You mentioned that some folks have said that the Army of Darkness: Director's Cut might be an unlimited print instead of the 40,000 previously stated. Well, I just received my copy today, and on the back it is numbered 22849/40000. So pass the word it is limited."
There ya go.
Monday, 24 July 2000
Scour.net slammed by MPAA!: The gloves are off. And things could get ugly.
In a surprise move last Friday, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), along with the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the National Music Publishers Association (NMPA), lodged a lawsuit against Scour.net, claiming that the file-trading website is facilitating the transfer of copyrighted materials, and in particular major motion pictures. Much like Napster.com currently under fire from the RIAA Scour doesn't maintain any illegal materials on their website, but instead connects people who are looking to trade files. And, like Napster, Scour insists that they are operating within the law. "We're very surprised about this morning's MPAA and RIAA lawsuit," Scour president Dan Rodrigues noted in a statement released Friday. "Scour has always positioned itself as a cooperative, responsible and legally compliant partner within the entertainment community."
Don't go telling that to Jack Valenti, the MPAA president and the industry's fiercest piracy watchdog. "This lawsuit is about stealing," he said during a press conference. "Technology may make stealing easier, but it doesn't make it right." Valenti also noted that, while he personally was logged on to Scour, bootleg copies of The Perfect Storm, Gladiator, and Mission: Impossible 2 were available to download (not DVD-quality copies of course, but his point was made). "What Scour is doing is aiding and abetting stealing on the part of others who may not understand that they are stealing," he said. Stuck in the middle? Hollywood super-agent Michael Ovitz, long a Tinseltown insider who also has invested in Scour (and who probably isn't taking any phone calls this morning).
Since Scour is a file-trading website, a variety of video sources can be available at any time (we're betting most copies of The Perfect Storm and other summer movies are cheapo videocam captures in MPEG-1). But that nasty DeCSS has reared its head as well, as files based on the underground DivX format (not the defunct Circuit City product) are believed to be ripped from DVDs using the DeCSS hack, which allows DVD Video data to run on "unauthorized" players. And just for the record, don't write us asking where to download DivX. 1) We don't know. 2) We wouldn't tell you anyway.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch: The first week of the DeCSS trial wrapped up in New York on Friday, and the lead counsel for the major studios, Leon Gold, unloaded on defendant Eric Corley, accusing him of distributing DeCSS via his popular website not from an "open-source" ideology, but simply to facilitate video piracy. Corley's response? "I don't even have a DVD player," he said. "I'm rather put off by the whole technology by now." In an interview with Inside.com last week, Corley elaborated on his decision to post DeCSS on the Web. "(The studios) are asking for things that we don't consider part of traditional copyright, and they are saying something that we've never heard before about controlling (DVD players)," he told Inside. "Someday we could end up with a Sony DVD player that only plays Sony DVDs. I don't want to see that."
(Note to Corley: We've already seen something like that. It was called Betamax and it died. We also saw something recently from Circuit City called Divx, a bright idea that cost the company more than $100 million in losses when it choked. Consumer-unfriendly products tend to dig their own graves.)
Disc of the Week: John Sayles is arguably the finest storyteller in independent American cinema, and his 1994 film The Secret of Roan Inish, his most popular movie to date, is both a lovingly told tale and a tribute to the magic of storytelling. The film is based on a childhood favorite of Sayles' long-time partner Maggie Renzi, a 1957 novella titled "The Secret of the Ron Mor Skerry," by Rosalie K. Fry. In the director's commentary, Sayles says that when Renzi found a copy of the story at a used-book sale for a quarter, she brought it to him and insisted that it would make a wonderful film. "So I always say that we bought the rights to the book for 25 cents," the director now notes. The novella is set in Scotland, but Sayles changed the film's locale to the west coast of Ireland, where he felt more informed about the folklore.
Roan Inish is the lyrical tale of Fiona (Jeni Courtney), a motherless 10-year-old who is sent to live with her grandparents (Mick Lally and Eileen Colgan) on the west coast of Ireland. From their seaside cottage, Fiona can see Roan Inish, the island where she was born and where her family lived for generations. Her imagination is spurred by her relative's stories of her missing baby brother who was swept out to sea as the family departed the island and her heritage as a descendant of a "selkie," a creature that is half-seal and half woman. Fiona thus becomes intrigued by Roan Inish and the fate of her brother, who she believes is still alive and living with the seals.
The atmosphere of supernatural elements so common to Celtic myth is beautifully realized in The Secret of Roan Inish, and Sayles imbues seagulls, seals, and the ocean itself with intelligence and magical properties. That this film touched so many people and reached such a wide audience during its initial release is testament to its strength as with most of Sayles' pictures, the beauty and complexity of the story defy standard Hollywood marketing techniques. Seen through the eyes of Fiona, the film wanders back and forth between the everyday chores and rituals of the characters' daily life, the splendor of the landscape, and the vivid, magical tales spun by her grandfather and her "daft" cousin, Tadhg (John Lynch). Cinematographer Haskell Wexler provides some of his best work here, enveloping us in the fog, the dank beauty of the sea, and the rich, rocky green Irish coast. It is a place where magic is still possible, allowing the viewer to suspend enough to disbelief to fully identify with a 10-year-old heroine. A simple, traditional Irish score by Mason Daring adds another layer of atmosphere, creating a background of melancholy tinged with hope. Moreover, the performances are all impeccable, and young Jeni Courtney is a particular standout, providing a simple, honest performance free of any kid-actor pretensions (not a professional actress, Courtney was cast after her mother saw the casting director discussing the upcoming production on television).
Columbia TriStar's new DVD release of The Secret of Roan Inish offers a pristine transfer with excellent, rich audio in the original Dolby 2.0 Surround and either anamorphic widescreen (1:85:1) or standard full-screen format, and the disc also features theatrical trailers and a marvelous commentary track by director John Sayles. The commentary track is so good, in fact, that its worth watching the entire film a second time while listening to his detailed, scene-appropriate remarks on the technical aspects, the actors, and the background of the film, as well as his personal perceptions of the production. In fact, the single best reason to buy or rent Roan Inish on DVD is Sayles' track, which is as entertaining, informative, and as thoroughly engaging as the film itself. The Secret of Roan Inish arrives on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: Everybody in Hollywood was talking about X-Men last week, but don't count ol' Indy out yet. Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer soared to the top of the weekend box office in DreamWorks' What Lies Beneath, garnering $30.1 million and putting Fox's X-Men in second place. However, with a $54.5 million opening weekend, X-Men had nowhere to go but down anyway, and $23.7 million over its second weekend has the film knocking on the century mark after only 10 days in release, possibly on its way to $175 million or better overall (repeat viewership will determine what kind of legs the film actually has). Also debuting this weekend were Warner's animated Pokemon The Movie 2000, which had the 10-and-under set flocking to the cineplexes to the tune of $21.5 million, and Sony's teen comedy Loser, which failed to impress with just $6.1 million.
Still in continuing release are Dimension's Scary Movie, still going strong with $116.3 million, Warner's The Perfect Storm at $145.2 million, and Sony's The Patriot, now at $93.3 million. But off the charts this week are three early-summer blockbusters Mission: Impossible 2, Shaft, and Gone in 60 Seconds, all headed for the second-run circuit and some growing speculation on potential DVD release dates. In the meantime, Eddie Murphy's The Nutty Professor 2: The Klumps goes wide (and very flatulent) this Friday.
Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: D.K. Holm has posted a new review of Fox's The Beach: Special Edition, while Dawn Taylor is on the board this morning with Warner's My Dog Skip. Both can be found on our Full Reviews index. New quick reviews from the staff this week include Jackie Chan's Gorgeous, Steel Magnolias: Special Edition, Next Friday: Platinum Series, Angela's Ashes, The Secret of Roan Inish, and The Audrey Hepburn Story, 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, 20 July 2000
(Editor's Note: The news team has taken the day off for a staff retreat, but DVD Journal intern Chip Liewbowitz, 19, offered to take care of today's news update. For some reason he has asked to be known as dVd-WIzrD, not Chip. In any event, the staff will be back on Monday with new DVD reviews and all the rest. See you then.)
XMEN ROCKS! Okay, The dVD-WIzrD is here to talk to you! I know this isn't about DVD, but so did you see XMEN yet. I have to say that I went to see it and I think it is the best movie ever. It's just TOTALLY cool! I know that the movie doesnt have all the orignal XMEN in it, but I totally dig WOLVERENE anyway and he was really cool to watch when he flipped of CYCLOPS and then called him a dickhead! HE KICKED ASS! I know that Brian Signer made USUAL SUSPECTS which a lot of people like but I think XMEN is way better. It just sucks you in and then you know that you are watching a great movie!! so anyway if you havent gone to see it yet you really should because it is great! I am totally going to buy the DVD when it comes out because it truly will be one of the best ever!!!!
STAR TREK 2 MOVIE Oh yeah, before I forget my boss wants me to talk about the new STARTREK 2 WRATH OF KAN DVD. Anyway here is what he told me.
So that is what I am supposed to tell you. There is a movie movie and there is a TV movie. The DVD is the movie movie. I think WRATH OF KHAN is a really good movie to, it really rocks, so lets hope that we get a special edition from paramont!!!<
MY FAVORITE DVDS Because the dVd-WIzrD is running the site today I thought I would share with you what I think are my favorite DVDS ever. First, I really like FIGHT CLUB because it has Edward Norton and Brad Pitt and Edward Norton is probably the best actor alive!! I remember seing him in PRIMALE FEAR when he was two people who were very different, and he has been in a lot of movies where he has played a laywer and a gambler and even a nazi guy in AMERICAN HISTORY X who hates minorites but then learns to love everybody for who they are. That was his best one. and in FIGHT CLUB he is with Brad Pitt who was really good in SEVEN which was also directed by David Fincher who directed FIGHT CLUB. So that DVD is one of my favortes.
I really like CLINT EASTWOOD and there are so many of his movies on DVD now. There is going to be a special editon of IN THE LINE OF FIRE coming soon, and that movie is one of his best because he has to fight JOHN MALKOVICH who is trying to kill BILL CLINTON. I saw the movie about the real JOHN MALKOVICH with JON CUSAK and CAMERON DIAZ but I really like him better when hes playing a role and not just himself. So IN THE LINE OF FIRE is a great movie and I really am looking forward to a new DVD. I also like CLINT EASTWOOD in UNFORGIVEN where he is a tough gunfighter-type guy and in DIRTY HARRY where he is a tough police officer who always gets his man! I like all of his DVDS.
Did you see the DVD of GHOST BUSTERS. That definatly is one of my favorites because it has a commentary track where you can actually see the people who are talking. Its just like MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER where they are in the front of the movie theater and you can see them talking. And the movie is very funny of course because it has BILL MURRAY and DAN AKROYD and that other guy with the glasses and the black guy all fight ghosts in a very funny way! They are all very funny and so are the ghosts, so this is truly a classic DVD!!
ABOUT ME Because I am writing today you probably are asking yourself "who is the dVd-WIzrD." Well, I work at The DVD Journal as an intern, and mostly I just do stuff around the office after my classes like making sure that everybody has stuff they need like the mail and things. I also check the fax macine when I get to the office and hand stuff out to people and I send out faxes too and I mail DVDS to people who win contests here. And I get to watch lots of DVDS and even borrow some to take home. We get DVDS earlier than the stores so sometimes I get one that's out before "street" (that means when its in the stores) and I take it home to show it to my girlfriend which is really cool. I have been going to college although I dont have a "major" right now. I really am hoping to get promoting here and then work full time as a movie reviewer because that seems like a cool job. Anyway I just wanted to tell you about myself, and I want to hear about you too. You can email me at <firstname.lastname@example.org and maybe we can talk to each other about movies and DVDS. I am really looking forward to hearing from you!!!
THE DECSS TRIAL I was reading on the internet this week about the trial in NEW YORK about the DECSS which allows movies on DVD to be taken from the DVD and then sent across the internet to other people so they dont have to pay for the DVD. I know that they are a lot of opinions about this but I feel I should say that stealing is wrong in my opinion. Its not good when people walk into a store and then leave with a DVD and not paying for it and its also not good when people send DVDS to other people over the internet because that means we all will have to pay more for DVDS and they are very expensive as it is. I hope that the judge removes all of the DECSS on the internet right away because I dont want to pay more for DVDS. If the DECSS is removed from the internet then it will just go away and we dont have to worry about their not being any DVDS anymore.
Anyway, thats just my opinion but I wanted to say it. See you soon!!
Wednesday, 19 July 2000
Mailbag: Got mail? We do. Sometimes the reader mail here at The DVD Journal gets a little overwhelming, and while we aren't able to personally respond to every one of your letters, we'd like to let you know that read all of the comments to the news team here and do our level best to write back when possible. Here's a few reader remarks from this week:
I and many other Jaws fans were very disappointed with the hack-job of Universal's "25th Anniversary" DVD release, which features a butchered soundtrack with new (and deleted!) sounds. As you have noted, Universal just regurgitated the 20th Anniversary documentary from the Signature Collection Laserdisc, but they left a lot of it behind. This is a low blow from Universal, who hyped up this release only for it to turn out to be trash. I, among many others, refuse to buy the DVD because of the new sound mix, which really changes the feel of the movie more that one would think. For instance, when the shark blows up at the end, they added an entirely new explosion and you can hear glass shattering. Its ridiculous! There are also random deleted sounds, such as when Brody cocks the rifle on the deck of the sinking Orca at the end. When he cocks it, there is nothing!
Jaws won an Academy Award for Best Sound in 1975, and the new mix is an insult to the people that worked on it. So over at www.jawsmovie.com we have a Jaws petition for people out there that really care. All you have to do is type your name and e-mail address to help out. We have over 150 signatures at the moment, as it was just introduced this week. Is there anyway you could help promote this? A link in a column or your support would be priceless. It takes about 10 seconds to sign it. Other DVD petitions have worked in the past, and there is nothing to lose, no matter what happens.
We like your letter Brett, so here's your plug the petition to get a new Jaws DVD from Universal can be found at www.jawsmovie.com, so everybody who wants to drop by can just punch the link. We hope that all of the signatures find their way to Universal in due order.
And now we're gonna disagree with you. Not about the petition (even though regular readers of the Journal know that we are primarily a DVD news and reviews publication and that we don't advocate petitions). Instead, we really can't agree that Universal's new Jaws: Anniversary Collector's Edition is so awful that it's not worth owning. Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. Beyond the fact that the original documentary was cut down to one hour and there is no original soundtrack on board (two fair points that we noted in our review last week), the whole damn thing is really outstanding, and whatever deficiencies that may reside in the new 5.1 sound mixes are offset by a gloriously wide soundstage throughout the movie, which simply blows away the original mono track in a home theater environment. Truth be told, some months ago we pulled out the Jaws Laserdisc and threw it in the Pioneer on a lazy Sunday afternoon, and while that LD looked pretty nice, the video on the DVD edition is superior by far. Besides the full-length version of the documentary, most of the supplements from the expanded LD edition are on board Universal's new DVD. There are no side breaks. And it streets for less than $30 at most retailers. After some debate, we decided not to put it on our Top 25 list (where we really expected it to wind up), primarily because of the audio issues. But that was the only thing we could deduct from this excellent disc, which we gladly awarded four stars.
As for your petition, if enough people sign it we think it could have positive results, although not in the way that you might think. We hate the be the bearer of bad news, but there will not be any new Jaws DVD for some time to come. For the most part, the only DVDs getting retrofitted at this time are early releases from '97 and '98 that did not have any substantial supplements (viz., New Line's long-awaited Seven: Platinum Edition, which apparently will arrive when they're goddam good and ready). Jaws, on the other hand, is a full-fledged special edition that represents a substantial investment by Universal, both in terms of production and marketing costs. And since an estimated 400,000 copies have already sold through to consumers (with more than 1 million pre-ordered by dealers), Universal simply is not going to antagonize DVD fans by saying "Oops scratch that cash you just forked over for Jaws, because a better version is on the way." And nobody at Universal is re-thinking 400,000 units sold in the first week of release. Jaws: Anniversary Collector's Edition is as chopped-and-canned as a fresh net of tuna.
Instead, it would be nice if your petition could emphasize to Universal that DVD fans are cinema purists at heart, and we always will want the option to hear films with their original soundtracks intact. Ask for a new Jaws if you must, but if Universal gets the message that we really do miss that mono soundtrack, perhaps you can help ensure that this sort of oversight will not happen with future Universal films on DVD. Good luck to you.
"Since the (DeCSS) hack appeared, authorized DVD software has appeared for the Linux OS, but it was too little too late."
This is a somewhat incorrect statement, as there are no software decoders available. The only solution available requires expensive hardware, which makes it useless for laptops and hardly on par with the powerful DVD software available for Windows. The main difference here is that the majority of boxes do not need a hardware based DVD solution, as a Pentium II-500 should be adequate for software rendering of DVD. Also, the current support (from Creative Labs) is sub-standard and provides no features like DVD navigation. In essence, you can watch a DVD movie, but not do anything as far as special options, angles, etc. I believe that Linux users would buy a proprietary software DVD solution, like WinDVD, or Software Cinemaster, given the chance, but we haven't been given the option.
Thanks for the notes Aubin (and thanks for proving to everybody that we don't use the Linux OS here at the Journal). Obviously, we didn't have the details nailed down, but we are aware that DVD playback was available for Linux just a couple of months after DeCSS hit the Internet, which is about as ironic as recent DVD news gets. The fundamental complaint from DeCSS advocates in late 1999 was that they couldn't watch DVDs on their Linux-based systems because no playback system was available. Enter some very clever European hackers, who bypassed the Content Scrambling System of DVD to achieve what the MPAA regards as "unauthorized" playback. Then enter the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, a complicated (and untested) set of laws that may or may not wind up determining that DeCSS is a violation of intellectual-property rights. And with the Creative Labs hardware, suddenly nobody's talking about Linux anymore.
At this point, while it would be nice if Linux lovers could get the same sort of DVD performance PC and Mac users get, it really is for the free market to decide what will be available for Linux, which simply isn't as common as the Windows "monopoly" (and Mac users have been bitching about software support for at least a decade now). The DeCSS debate has left the realm of operating systems, and instead it is a very serious question about what rights people have with their own physical property. If you decide to buy a DVD and use it as a beer coaster, that's not its intended use, but it's legal. If we buy a DVD player and then find some way to install a DVD-ROM burner in it, that's legal too. For the most part, the law says that consumers are allowed to modify products after they have purchased them. Where DeCSS becomes a different story is that the hack allows movies on DVD to be "ripped" off the disc, and then potentially traded across the Internet, which is why the MPAA is so up in arms about it (in fact, in the opening day of DeCSS testimony, MPAA lawyers played some of Sleepless in Seattle in the court on a notebook PC a version of the film taken from the DVD and then traded electronically). We think the final outcome of the DeCSS case will be the most important DVD news story of this year, if not one of the most significant legal decisions ever made about intellectual-property rights.
We haven't found the time to check the new Stark Trek II: The Wrath of Khan DVD against our VHS copy Jonathan, but we did dig that dusty old tape out last night and found an interesting detail the running time on the tape is 113 minutes, whereas the DVD runs 112 minutes. Since none of us here are die-hard Trek fans, we can't recall the scenes that you note above, but if anything is missing from the Paramount disc, it cannot be more than a minute at most, and therefore would have nothing do with disc-space issues. So here's where the rest of the gang comes in if you are aware of any missing moments from the new Khan DVD, drop us a line at email@example.com and we'll try to sort things out for everybody.
Even though the DVD format has been with us a scant few years, tracing the history of Army of Darkness on disc can be a bit troublesome, so here's our best shot: At this point there are three AOD discs. Universal released a bare-bones version, while Anchor Bay has streeted both one- and two-disc sets. The single-DVD version of AOD from Anchor Bay includes a deleted ending, whereas their Army of Darkness: Limited Edition includes the full theatrical version on Disc One, while Disc Two has an "alternate cut" and a commentary with director Sam Raimi and star Bruce Campbell. This two-disc set is what currently trades for upwards of $100 on eBay, as only 30,000 copies were pressed. And now that we have all of that worked out, Anchor Bay's upcoming Army of Darkness: Director's Cut reportedly will be the "alternate cut" on Disc Two of the Limited Edition, which probably means that folks can buy the current one-disc AOD from Anchor Bay along with the new release and pretty much have out-of-print version. Also, while we received information that the new AOD will be limited to 40,000 copies, a few people have written to tell us that such is not the case, and in fact that it will be unlimited. In any event, since you already have the valuable Limited Edition, it doesn't look like you will have any reason to get the fourth Army of Darkness. Consider that very good news for your wallet.
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:
Bye for now.
Tuesday, 18 July 2000
DeCSS trial gets underway: A lawsuit filed by the MPAA against notable Internet denizen Eric Corley (who operates the anti-establishment 2600.com) over the DeCSS hack had its first round of courtroom testimony yesterday, in a case that will have far-reaching legal implications, not only concerning DVD Video but various intellectual-property laws outlined in the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act. DeCSS which disables the Content Scrambling System technology designed to allow DVDs to only play on authorized players first appeared last year when many users of the open-source Linux operating system were frustrated by the lack of DVD Video support on their computers. Since the hack appeared, authorized DVD software has now appeared for the Linux OS, but it was too little, too late, as the major Hollywood studios lodged lawsuits in New York and California against various individuals associated with posting DeCSS on the Internet, claiming that the hack allows their DVD content to be easily pirated. The various defense tactics in the case so far have primarily revolved around "reverse-engineering" clauses in the DMCA, as well as free speech issues. And as far as the outspoken Corley is concerned, he'll stand up for the First Amendment anytime, anywhere.
"This case is about 'fair use' of information," Corley noted in a recent interview. "It's about freedom of speech. It's about the right of a computer user to play with technology in any way they like, without then facing charges." He also appeared unfazed about any potential outcome of the trial. "Even if they succeed against us, there are 1,001 who will take our place." If it sounds like Corley is doing his best impression of Henry V on St. Crispian's Day, lawyers for the MPAA have been far more sedate, noting that movies on DVD simply never would have appeared in 1997 if they thought their Content Scrambling System could be defeated (an argument many detractors probably will scoff at). "We are trying to show that DeCSS can easily be used to descramble films and that they can be easily loaded on the Internet," Charles Simms, an MPAA attorney, said yesterday in court, while MPAA attorney Leon Gold told reporters during a recess that "Trading copies has started and it's going to rapidly accelerate because we don't have the protective devices" to stop it.
No matter where you come down on the matter, one thing is clear the top brass in the major studios are looking very, very closely at the Internet and how faster and faster connections, in addition to "ripping" movies from DVDs, will impact the home-video industry. What's more, Disney CEO Michael Eisner is already on record saying that Snow White will not appear on DVD (presumably with most other top-tier Disney titles) until the Internet threat can be properly addressed. "If there is no protection," Eisner recently testified before Congress, "(Snow White) which is one of the backbones of our company is gone forever."
On the Street: Call this morning a no-brainer The Princess Bride has finally arrived from MGM, and while the disc has no supplements to speak of, it's a pleasant item for fans of the film. MGM also has Kenneth Branagh's Henry V on the shelves today, while new discs from Criterion include two W.C. Fields classics, The Bank Dick and Six Short Films. Both Angela's Ashes and Where's Marlowe? are here from Paramount, and comedy fans can look for Warner's new The Whole Nine Yards or Columbia TriStar's What Planet Are You From?. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of Reel.com and Image Entertainment:
See ya later.
Monday, 17 July 2000
DVD rentals on the move: Not too long ago, it used to be a total pain in the ass just to go into a video store and ask if they rent DVDs, only to have the kid behind the counter look at you and ask "What's DVD?" Of course, those days are long behind us, and now the format is about to take another step forward in the rental market, as Hollywood Video has announced that they will open their first DVD-only rental outlet in an upscale suburb of Portland, Ore. "We'll follow consumer acceptance, but we're going to try to be pioneers and lead the march," Bruce Giesbrecht, Hollywood's vice-president for development told The Oregonian late last week. "DVDs aren't just for the gadget guy anymore."
While the death of VHS is a very long ways away, Hollywood's latest rental innovation is a harbinger of the future, particularly one where DVDs could become the standard rental format for movies and videotapes could be relegated to cheap home-recording purposes. Among the shiny little disc's appeals for renters are its cheaper manufacturing costs, smaller stocking space, and greater durability at least in the fact that there is no tape to twist or break. With Hollywood Video second only to Blockbuster Video in the U.S. rental business planning to create outlets that actively court the DVD consumer, more folks could decide to take the DVD plunge sooner than they might have. And perhaps the best thing about a DVD-only video shop is that you'll never see a sign anywhere exhorting "Be kind please rewind." If the Portland outlet is a success, don't be surprised to see a DVD-only Hollywood Video in your town soon.
Disc of the Week: It was in 1989 that most folks first heard the name Kenneth Branagh. The 29-year-old actor was well-known in theater circles, having built a strong reputation in the UK in both Shakespearean productions and modern plays, but his only film role to that point had been in High Season. Thus, it was almost with a clap of thunder that Henry V arrived, both on the American art-house circuit and in a much-ballyhooed screening on PBS, a television channel not given to showing first-run theatrical films. Film critics practically fell over each other praising Branagh, declaring him to be "the next Olivier" and heaping adulation on Henry V's strong cast and exhaustive battle scenes. The film certainly stands as one of the most remarkable directorial debuts of the past 20 years, and while it made Branagh an international star, perhaps the only drawback for Branagh is that Henry V is too good. One could argue that Branagh has yet to direct a better film, even though he has made several more very good ones.
Among all Shakespearean history plays, Henry V is a good choice for translating to film, in part because of its rather straightforward story, which keeps its focus almost entirely upon the young king and rarely drifts into awkward subplots. Drawn from both The Holinshed Chronicles and earlier stage productions, Shakespeare's play concerns the former Prince Hal, who in the Henry IV plays was given to carousing with Sir John Falstaff and other reprobates in the bawdy ale-houses of England. But upon his ascension to the throne, Henry abandons his juvenile ways, determined to be a thoughtful, resolute king who will do honor to his crown and country. When drawn into a dispute with France, Henry is informed by his highest advisors that he in fact has the rightful claim to the French throne (as all of the Plantagenet monarchs may have, due to the marriage of Edward II and Isabella of France in the early 1300s), and when a French diplomat delivers a cheeky insult from rival Dauphin to the king in his own court, Henry decides to invade France.
Shakespeare's story has often been a popular one with audiences throughout the ages, not in part because it is among his most patriotic. Henry's military adventure had great appeal to Elizabethan audiences (it was first performed in 1599), who took pride in their nationality at the height of the English Renaissance. Similarly, Laurence Olivier undertook his 1944 film (now on DVD from Criterion) during the last months of World War II, where it was a blatant appeal to national chauvinism at a time of great sacrifice. But thanks to modern filmmaking, Branagh's Henry V is at least equal to Olivier's production, opting less for theatrical flourishes and instead for a gritty realism. The Bard's dialogue remains largely intact here, and the splendid cast is well up to the mark in every regard, but there is something incomparable about Branagh's delivery of the famous "St. Crispian's Day" speech when it is issued to his battle-weary troops in the French countryside, as King and soldiers alike are covered in sweat, blood, and earth. Likewise, the battle scenes (and particularly the Battle of Agincourt, the film's centerpiece) have an epic scope but never lose touch with their essential nature men sworn to make war on each other, and fighting to the death on a brutal, unforgiving field.
MGM's new DVD of Henry V is sure to please fans of Kenneth Branagh's work, although it offers nothing in the way of supplements to attract curious viewers who have never seen it. The transfer is solid, in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1), and the audio is very rich, despite only being available in the original Dolby 2.0 Surround. But besides a trailer, that's it. Furthermore, Shakespearean films always should have English subtitles, which can help the viewer get through an initial viewing, and is always nice to queue up just to enjoy the language. Such has not been included here, although the closed-captioning in English is an acceptable substitute. Drawbacks noted, your humble editor has selfishly tucked this title away in his personal DVD stash, and it comes highly reccomended to admirers of everything Shakespeare. Henry V is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: The recent resignation of Fox Filmed Entertainment CEO Bill Mechanic over such recent box-office flops as The Beach, Fight Club, and Anna and the King may have been a tad early, as Fox's X-Men went wide last weekend and took in $57.5 million, the fourth-largest three-day opening in history and the second-best opening of 2000 (Paramount's Mission: Impossible 2 beat it by a hair last May with $57.9 million, while only The Lost World and The Phantom Menace have done better than either). In addition to virtually guaranteeing that X-Men will be a box-office smash, the massive opening also means that there probably will be a huge special-edition Fox DVD (which we have been counting on anyway), at least one sequel should be a fait accompli, and major motion pictures based on comic books aren't as dead and buried as many pundits had thought. X-Men had a lot of Internet hype surrounding it over the past several months, but while everybody could expect die-hard fanboys to show up on opening weekend, the superhero flick has received largely positive reviews from the mainstream press, and it's likely the box-office will get a boost from repeat viewership, putting the film in contention with M:I-2 as the best performing movie of the year (M:I-2 has fallen from the top 10, but it is well past the $200 million mark).
And yet, if X-Men is good news for Fox and the fanboys, Dimension's low-budget Scary Movie is the biggest surprise of the season, taking in $26.1 million over its second weekend and getting a boost to $89 million overall (a product of the raunchy Wayans Brothers, Scary Movie only cost $19 million, which means that it could wind up with the highest cost-to-earnings ratio of any major release in 2000). Still doing strong business in continuing release are such usual suspects as Warner's The Perfect Storm ($128.9 million), Sony's The Patriot (still short of the century at $83.2 million), DreamWorks' Chicken Run (with a pleasing $76.9 million), and Buena Vista's Gone in Sixty Seconds (at $91 million but fading fast). Now on the second-run circuit and probably already in DVD prep is DreamWorks' Gladiator, which has now surpassed the $175 million mark. We're expecting a choice disc with this one.
Opening this Friday across America is DreamWorks' murder mystery What Lies Beneath, starring Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: D.K. Holm has taken a look at Universal's The Hurricane: Collector's Edition, while Dawn Taylor has a new review of everybody's favorite Rob Reiner movie, The Princess Bride, on the street tomorrow from MGM. Meanwhile, our DVD archivist Joe Barlow has posted an expanded review of one of the best DVDs ever Universal's Vertigo. All can be found on our Full Reviews index. New quick reviews from the staff this week include Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, The Whole Nine Yards, Henry V (1989), and Searching for Bobby Fischer, 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 news on this week's street discs.
Thursday, 13 July 2000
On the Block: It's rare when a DVD up for auction at eBay passes the $500 mark, but somebody sure wanted the rare THX DVD Demo Disc pretty bad, as it recently closed for $560.00 to top our latest round of DVD auction rankings. Along with the THX Demo, a Sony demo disc from 1997 also crossed the board in recent days and closed at a healthy $108.50, and it was the first time we had seen this title. However, as usual Criterion continues to dominate the chart with four out-of-print titles in the top five, and the top auction for The Killer flirted with the $300.00 mark after 12 bids. Despite second editions in release or on the way, both Platoon and Little Shop of Horrors still made the list, although it should be noted that Little Shop has lost much of its value, falling below $100 for the first time since we've been tracking it. Newcomers include the adolescent drama Kids, with Chloe Sevigny, and the samurai movie Chushingura, starring Toshiro Mifune. No first edition of Criterion's Seven Samurai this time around though, which means that it's trading for under $65.00 which is not a bad price for serious Criterion collectors.
Here's the highest recent closing prices of rare and out-of-print DVDs from online auctions at eBay:
Commentary Clip: "The theme of Mike Church trying to give up smoking (is) ironic because at that stage I did not smoke and found it impossible to smoke at all as an individual, and scenes that were in the film where I actually smoked during my struggle to give up had to be cut because I simply couldn't do it convincingly. The sad, horrible truth is that sometime later I now do smoke, but I'm hoping that in watching the film again I shall see the scene later on with Andy Garcia (who has a tracheotomy) and give up instantly."
Quotable: "Surround for movies has been around in some form since the early 1950s, so surround has become an intrinsic part of film audio. Music, on the other hand, just seems more naturally suited to stereo. I was thinking about that while I was sitting in Carnegie Hall a few weeks ago, listening to Maria Schneider conducting the Gil Evans' arrangements of Porgy and Bess and Sketches of Spain. As I took the experience in, I flashed on the surround aspect of the sound. I clearly heard the orchestra in front of me. Yes, I was aware of the sound filling this great old hall, but unless I shifted my auditory attention to the sides and rear, I was completely unaware of the 'surround.' I could hear the spaciousness of the sound, but the ambient aspects are a minor part of the presentation. First-rate stereo recordings can already project a huge three-dimensional soundfield one that delivers, if not a complete reproduction of the original event, a satisfying substitute. What more does surround bring to the party? Not much."
Golden-eared columnist Steve Guttenberg, discussing the
"When I first saw (Scary Movie), it was an early print, and I thought, 'Oh, certainly some of this material is going to be excised to get that R rating.' From what I'm reading, all that stuff that I saw in the early cut is still in. I'm surprised, because it's pretty over-the-top."
Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracking
Coming Attractions: We have plenty more DVD reviews on the way, including The Hurricane: Collector's Edition, The Whole Nine Yards, and others, so we hope to see you back here on Monday morning. Spin some good ones, and have a great weekend.
Wednesday, 12 July 2000
Criterion booty: Thanks to our good friend Geoff Kleinman at DVD Talk for this bit of info: The next wave of Criterion spine numbers has been revealed, and while they don't shed much light on such rumored titles as Spartacus, Trainspotting, or The Rock (and indeed, suggest that these discs may still be a ways off), our suspicions that Gimme Shelter will be a Criterion release have now been confirmed. For those of you who are unclear about Criterion spine numbers, every Criterion DVD has a specific number, normally not determined by the disc's release date, but instead assigned when it is planned for production (for example, Criterion's Grand Illusion disc has spine number 1, even though production issues delayed it for almost two years). Here's the latest group:
Many of these have been discussed as potential Criterion titles for some time, such as Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing, but we still aren't sure what to make of the Beastie Boys Video Anthology (then again, we still aren't sure why the entertaining-but-sophomoric Armageddon arrived under the Criterion folio either). But, as we noted above, there aren't release dates for these titles (except for the first two, due on Aug. 15), just an indication that they will be released by Criterion on DVD, and probably over the next year at the very most.
There's no surefire way to know which DVDs will be going to be out of print Jason, but often there are signs. The key is to look at who owns a particular film compared to who is marketing it on DVD. For the sake of example, let's look at your two releases: Brazil: The Criterion Collection and Fight Club. While Criterion (in cooperation with Janus Films and Home Vision Cinema) shares the rights to the Janus Films collection, which constitutes a lot of their releases, they also license a great deal of them, and every last Criterion title that is under license is subject to having that license run out. This doesn't mean that it will happen, just that it could. Last we checked, Brazil is a Universal film, and Universal even released a bare-bones Brazil DVD before Criterion got permission to transfer their five-Laserdisc box to the current three-DVD set. For the past several years Universal has been very good to Criterion in regards to Brazil (they certainly are sharing in the mammoth DVD box's financial success), and it's possible that the Criterion Brazil will never go out of print at all. But our point is that it could.
Fight Club, on the other hand, is both a Fox film and a Fox DVD. Barring an unforeseen catastrophe, the disc will not go out of print unless it is re-released as an expanded DVD by the studio in the future (and as far as this extras-packed disc goes, such ain't likely). The marketing is completely vertical, as is the case with the majority of DVDs in release nowadays. Instead, keep your eyes out for those persnickety contract arrangements, such as with John Woo's The Killer and Hard Boiled. Both are stellar Criterion DVDs, but Fox Lorber licensed them to Criterion and as all digital die-hards know, those licenses have run out because Fox Lorber now has their own DVDs in the works. In a similar vein, Criterion's This Is Spinal Tap! was licensed via PolyGram, but when PolyGram sold their holdings to Universal in 1998, who then sold the bulk of them to MGM, it was The Lion who wound up with Tap. They didn't renew the disc for Criterion and now have their own special edition on the way.
Which brings us to a final point in addition to looking for films that are released on DVD under license, also watch out for big Tinseltown deals that affect film libraries. A complicated scenario in early 1999 send a great portion of MGM's film library to Warner (including the massive Turner holdings), which is why so many MGM discs fell out of print and are now in the process of being re-released by Warner. The whole PolyGram/Universal/MGM switcheroo also saw the bulk of PolyGram DVDs go out of print, and they are now re-arriving from MGM. But none of these are as disastrous as a Criterion title going out of print, since Criterion often creates their own feature supplements for their DVDs, as they did on their acclaimed lasers. When a Criterion title goes OOP, normally it's because the film will re-appear on disc from another provider. However, those choice extras fall by the wayside. Spinal Tap will-reappear from MGM, but Criterion's two commentary tracks will not.
The Motion Picture Association of America isn't just the self-regulated ratings body and political lobbying organization for the Hollywood film industry, it is also tasked with protecting the studios' interests when it comes to home video, and in addition to their substantial anti-piracy campaign, they also keep an eye out for videotapes and DVDs that are being sold before street-dates, which is a serious no-no. You can drop by www.mpaa.org to learn more about the organization, and while we don't know exactly who you should call about street-date busters, the MPAA maintains 1-800-NO-COPYS (1-800-662-6797) as a toll-free line to report video pirates. You might want to give that a call and see if somebody can point you in the right direction, or you can e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with your query.
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:
We'll be back tomorrow with our latest round of eBay rankings. See ya.
Tuesday, 11 July 2000
On the Street: There's lots of good stuff to blow your money on today, in particular Universal's Jaws: Anniversary Collector's Edition, which basically is a rehash of the previous Laserdisc box-set, but well worth the cost of admission. Universal also has last year's controversial The Hurricane, starring Denzel Washington, out as a Collector's Edition, while Columbia TriStar has both Pedro Almodovar's All About My Mother and Otto Preminger's Anatomy of a Murder on disc. And for you Trek fans, Paramount has a triple-whammy in store with two more discs from the original TV series and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of Reel.com and Image Entertainment:
And if you're planning to get that 'Jaws' disc: While it's a shame that Universal's otherwise excellent Jaws DVD lacks an isolated track for John Williams' landmark score, there's no need for outrage: The problem's easily remedied if you have a few extra bucks in your pocket, because day-and-date with today's DVD release (or July 18 in Europe), you can go to your local record store and buy the brand-new Jaws: Anniversary Collector's Edition soundtrack CD. This digitally remastered edition of the soundtrack contains 20 minutes of never-before released music and film-music geeks will no doubt froth over the fact that it utilizes the original movie cues, as opposed to the studio re-recordings composer John Williams prepared for segments of the original '75 soundtrack release. (In this sense, the new CD actually stands as a companion piece to the original score album, showcasing Williams' penchant for re-sequencing and -recording his film music to make it more "saleable" to mainstream record buyers.)
But that's all arcane purist gobbledygook. What makes this score significant is that it along with Williams' 1977 compositions for Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind marked a turning point in American film music, bringing unprecedented popular and critical attention to the form. Williams, having risen from the trenches of composing for television, was entering a decade of peak creativity that would produce some of cinema's most stick-in-your-craw melodies (including Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Empire Strikes Back, and whether you want it in your craw or not E.T.). With Jaws, the composer's genius was to marry a simple two-note structure (which Spielberg, upon first hearing, thought was a joke) with sophisticated arrangements that run the gamut from classical to bombastic to discordant. Some staff favorites include the stately but comical suite for the montage of tourists on the beach; the jaunty, wildly overblown heroic music that turns abruptly eerie as the Orca crew realizes its prey will not be an easy catch; the playful and occasionally distressing reworkings of old sea shanties; and, finally, the End Titles music, which manages the rare feat of sounding soothing while sort of failing to soothe the listener at all.
Another, perhaps equally crucial bit of genius was knowing when not to compose any music whatsoever. Quoting from Williams' own liner notes on the new CD: "There were many opportunities in the movie to advertise the shark with music, but also others, such as the scene where kids have put on a fake fin to scare people, where we don't have any music. Here, the audience experiences a sense of absence, because we've conditioned them to expect the predator only when they hear its theme. Then we go a step further for the scenes with the Orca where we know the shark is there but his attacks come out of silence, to create further surprise." Unlike many of today's tuneless and/or relentlessly overbearing film composers, Williams circa 1975 seemed to understand in the case of Jaws, at any rate that his work was married inextricably to the filmmaker's mission, and he fully realized his role as collaborator, dancing with the editor to give the film's themes and melodrama just the right amount of punctuation.
We're done for now, but lots more information on the new Jaws CD including links to online reviews and Williams' complete liner notes can be found at the excellent John Williams Central fansite.
Monday, 10 July 2000
'American Beauty' has a date: We've been getting so many letters from readers asking when DreamWorks' American Beauty would be released on DVD that we actually added it to our Missing in Action list, even though we normally do not add titles that are still in the process of getting to home video. But DreamWorks informed us late last week that American Beauty will arrive as a special "Awards Edition" DVD on Oct. 24, with lots of supplements, so it looks like the wait will be worth it. Extras on board the disc will include both Dolby Digital and DTS audio tracks; a commentary track with director Sam Mendes and scenarist Alan Ball; a storyboard sequence with commentary by director Mendes and director of photography Conrad L. Hall; a featurette entitled "The Making of American Beauty"; production notes; two trailers; cast and crew bios; and a movie-to-screenplay comparison feature available as DVD-ROM content. The SRP is $26.99, but the disc will be available for much cheaper online, so get your pre-orders in now.
Disc of the Week: Not until Cliffhanger did someone come up with an opening scene as chilling, gripping, and downright fun as the sequence that opens Steven Spielberg's Jaws. Both films begin with the demise of a helpless, innocent girl, and it's a bold, almost cruel way to start a film. But it works, even if it perhaps can cause folks to think the movie is just an above-average action thriller (based on Peter Benchley's best-selling novel, the $10-12 million dollar Jaws was released in 1975 after a long and troubled shoot, but it went on to become for a time the top-grossing picture in the history of movies). Rather, Jaws is one of the truly great movies about the American experience, in its way really more like Citizen Kane, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and North by Northwest than its nearest relatives in the summer-movie genre.
Jaws's stripped down, subplotless narrative should be well known to most readers. After a series of escalating shark attacks that compromise the economy of the small New England resort island of Amity during the summer holidays, Chief Brody (Roy Scheider), a former New Yorker, hires a fishing captain named Quint (Robert Shaw) to kill the great white responsible for the attacks. Along for the ride is Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), a scientist with a special interest in sharks. After a long cat-and-mouse game, the trio face the monster alone on an empty sea for a final confrontation.
Jaws has been showered with praise over the years for its sharp screenplay and cinematic expertise, but why is Jaws one of the great American films? From the first seconds, Spielberg commands the audience. They do his bidding. At his command they laugh, they scream, they cry. But even more important, from the first few frames, the educated viewer knows that he is in the hands of a master, a director who exerts the superhuman command that the medium demands from its best practitioners. Jaws also proved that the young Spielberg, in his short career so far at that point, already was a true student of cinema without being particularly flashy about his learning. Echoes of Hitchcock and Lang enhance the film. But besides the sheer technical accomplishment and Bill Butler's beautiful photography, the film presents a consistent moral viewpoint that is deeply moving. Far from being one of those typical movies in which the hero must "face his fear," Brody the aquaphobe who never goes on the water ends up being the only sane person on Amity able to slay the dragon. He is protecting a whole community, and one that doesn't fully appreciate his dedication. At the same time, Brody is the embodiment of the family as a haven of solidity in a hazardous world. Jaws is a paean to the sanctity of mature adult married intimacy.
Universal's new Jaws: Anniversary Collector's Edition disc takes a great film and gives it a good if only slightly lacking home on DVD. Though the visual component of the disc is excellent, with rich colors and great blacks and nary a scratch, the audio component leaves something to be desired. John Williams' score benefits the most from the new Dolby Digital 5.1 mix (DTS is also available on a separate edition), but the dialogue can sound raw, like static at times. And we think Universal should have included both an isolated score track of Williams' music as well as the original 1975 Dolby Stereo track so that the purists and oldies can still have their original Jaws. This version of Jaws comes in a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer on a single-sided, dual-layered disc. It's only in English, but it has English and French subtitles. Again, like the laser box-set from which this release is derived, the disc has three trailers, the making of documentary made for the laser disc, but here reduced to one hour, nine deleted or unused/unfinished scenes, two outtake sequences, production notes, thorough storyboard and photo galleries, a brief trivia game, and some text-only shark information. But despite the few defects noted above, Jaws is a great film, and the first of Spielberg's finest catalog movies to find their way to DVD, which is in itself a cause for celebration. This highly-anticipated disc is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: In what probably will wind up as one of the biggest box-office surprises of the year, Dimension's low-budget Scary Movie opened against the likes of Warner's The Perfect Storm and Sony's The Patriot and handily took the top spot with a $42.5 million gross the second-highest opening of 2000. As Scary Movie only cost $19 million to make, the Wayans Brothers' horror spoof needn't worry about any second-week falloff, having doubled their money while Storm and Patriot are still trying to reach break-even territory (in fact, the entire budget for Scary Movie wasn't even close to Mel Gibson's $25 million paycheck). The weekend's other debut, Disney's The Kid starring Bruce Willis, managed to earn $12.5 million amidst mixed reviews, but it wasn't enough to overtake Storm, which cracked the century mark in just 10 days, or Patriot, now at $65.5 million.
Still in continuing release, Fox has two comedies doing strong business with Big Momma's House breaking the century at $104 million while Me, Myself, and Irene has earned $68 million. Aardman/DreamWorks has plenty to crow about, as Chicken Run has racked up $63.3 million. Meanwhile, Samuel L. Jackson is all smiles as Warner's Shaft is now at $62 million. Not such good news for Universal however, as The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle only scraped out $4 million over its second weekend and could fade before it reaches $20 million overall. Leaving the cineplexes but on the way to home video prep is Buena Vista's Dinosaur, which should be given a stellar DVD treatment after a $130 million-plus box-office.
The summer ain't over yet, and all of you mutants know that only one film will go wide next weekend Fox's X-Men. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Dawn Taylor has posted a new review of Pedro Almodovar's All About My Mother, while D.K. Holm has the last word on this week's Jaws: Anniversary Collector's Edition both can be found on our Full Reviews index. Meanwhile, new quick reviews from the staff this week include Chasing Amy: The Criterion Collection, Anatomy of a Murder, MacKenna's Gold, and the Discovery Channel documentary Raising the Mammoth, and can be accessed on the Quick Reviews index. As usual, 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, 6 July 2000
Mechanic unloads: We've had more than a few things to say recently about the departure of Bill Mechanic from Fox Filmed Entertainment, but now the man has given his final word. In an interview with Inside.com, Mechanic stopped playing nice-nice about his exit from the studio's top job, and even went so far as to call News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch (who reigns over everything Fox) "mean-spirited," noting that the poor box-office for Fight Club was a serious point of contention between the two before the fruitless Anna and the King sealed his fate. The whole shebang can be read here. We'll kick off this week's "Quotables" with a choice snippet from the Inside.com interview.
Quotable: "Here's what no one has understood. My job in running the studio is twofold make movies and make money. An oxymoron? No, there are ways. No one film should matter if things work overall. I wouldn't split rights because I knew one hit bails me out or a movie can have more than one life if you retain all rights. While the new production revenues were off this year (ending June 30) we did a bunch of things to bring up our revenues video sales, pay TV deals, etc. so that 1999 (all sources of revenues including new productions) was off only slightly from the Titanic years. The company is spinning the Titan A.E., Anna and the King and Fight Club impact to be greater than it is. The three best years in the 83-year history of the company are 1997, 1998 and 1999 that is the ultimate judge of performance in running the company. And the other years I was there were Fox's sixth and seventh best years. There just is too much focus on individual films."
Former Fox Filmed Entertainment CEO Bill Mechanic,
"I'm just sinking further into my depression sessions. Sometimes I'm just dead, living in a fucking warehouse. I'm ready to get out.... All these years, my favorite thing to do in life was to be laughing until the tears welled up. Now I've found that humor is something as valuable as an Aqua-Lung is to divers."
Actor Robert Downey Jr., serving a three-year prison
"It's one of the proudest days of my life. It means a great deal for it to happen in Scotland."
Sir Sean Connery, who was knighted yesterday by
"We are not going to consider a Chicken Run II. The studio's next movie will be an Aardman version of the Aesop Fable The Tortoise and the Hare a Tortoise and the Hare meets Spinal Tap.... (Various) productions will occupy us for at least the next five years. There is of course pressure for a Chicken Run sequel, but right now it would be impossible."
Aardman Animation spokesperson Arthur Sheriff,
"I have just lost someone I've loved as a brother, as my closest friend and a remarkable human being. We have also lost one of the best damn actors we'll ever see."
Jack Lemmon, on the passing of Walter Matthau, 79.
Coming Attractions: New DVD reviews are on the way, including Otto Preminger's classic Anatomy of a Murder, Pedro Almodovar's All About My Mother, and (hang on to your bad hat, Harry) Jaws: Anniversary Collector's Edition. Be sure to stop by next Monday morning for all the latest.
Have a great weekend.
Wednesday, 5 July 2000
And the winner is: David Galloway of Pickens, South Carolina, wins the free Sleepy Hollow DVD from our June contest. Congrats, David!
Our totally free DVD contest for the month of July is up and running, and we have a copy of Universal's Out of Africa: Collector's Edition 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.
On the Street: As Tuesday was a holiday, several new DVDs are arriving on the shelves this morning, and this week is definitely one for Woody Allen fans, as seven new titles are now in release from MGM, including Manhattan, Stardust Memories, Bananas, and others. Meanwhile, Disney has more of their Gold Classic Collection now officially in release (although we have already seen these discs on retailers shelves), and notable entries include Alice in Wonderland and Robin Hood. Merchant-Ivory buffs can look for the new DVD of A Room With a View, now on the street from Image, and Scream 3 has arrived from Buena Vista as a special edition. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of Reel.com and Image Entertainment:
Box Office: The holiday weekend box-office saw two super-hyped films go head to head, but the battle was not nearly as close as some expected as Warner's The Perfect Storm eclipsed Sony's The Patriot, earning nearly twice as many viewers with $41.7 million compared to Patriot's $21.7 million by Sunday (five-day estimates running through last night put Storm at a whopping $64 million, whereas Patriot now has $35.2 million). The only other debut, Universal's The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, had an underwhelming opening with just $6.6 million over the three-day period ($11 million over five days), which was not enough to overtake either DreamWorks' Chicken Run or Fox's Me, Myself, and Irene. Summer-season heavyweights round out the rest of the list, with Gladiator, Gone in Sixty Seconds and Dinosaur still charting, and Paramount's Mission: Impossible 2 is poised to crack the $200 million mark any day now. Falling by the wayside (and casting more doubts about the viability of big-budget Hollywood animation) is Fox's Titan A.E., which cost around $80 million to produce but didn't reach $20 million in receipts. However, Buena Vista's chop-sockey comedy Shanghai Noon has exited the charts much stronger, with a $50 million-plus gross.
Is it almost the weekend already? Yep, and on schedule for debut this Friday are The Kid, starring Bruce Willis, and Scary Movie, the latest comedy from the Wayans Brothers. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend (Friday through Sunday):
On the Board: D.K. Holm has posted an in-depth review of Fox's Independence Day: Five Star Collection, while Dawn Taylor has a look at the cult favorite Harold and Maude, now on disc from Paramount. Meanwhile, Joe Barlow went digging through the closet over the long weekend and came out with expanded reviews of Criterion's Walkabout and Seven Samurai. All can be found on our Full Reviews index. New quick reviews this week from the staff include Dead Again, A Room With a View, Hanging Up, and Lethal Weapon 3, 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.