Thursday, 31 August 2000
On the Block: Our latest round of eBay DVD rankings are in, and while there are few changes in the highest closers, Criterion's The 400 Blows showed a surge over the past few weeks, coming very near the $150.00 mark after a heated 24-bid auction. Criterion's first edition of Seven Samurai also surged, going to $107.50 after 26 bids, even though a restoration demo is the only thing missing from the second edition, which seems to indicate that everything Criterion is hot lately simply because it's Criterion. Compare that to the first edition of Platoon, which, unlike the current re-issue, has a commentary track with Oliver Stone and a behind-the-scenes documentary on board. For a lot of DVD fans, that's the sort of content worth having, but the Live/Artisan disc had a top-close of $76.50 and barely made our top 15. Along with Pier Paolo Pasolini's top-trading Salo, two more out-of-print Pasolini discs are on the board this time around, The Gospel According to St. Matthew and The Canterbury Tales, and new to our rankings is a Region 2 edition of David Lynch's Dune, reportedly a three-hour cut. Meanwhile, it doesn't happen often but there was a bonafide auction for the complete Criterion Collection on DVD, titles 1 through 77 including all of the rare stuff. After 42 bids, the final close was $2,567.57. We hope the winner got insurance on the shipping.
Here's the highest recent closing prices of rare and out-of-print DVDs from online auctions at eBay:
Bargain-basement Wednesday: Everybody's looking for the best deals on new DVDs, and DVD Journal reader Joe Dimattia of Nashua, N.H., told us he found one yesterday. "I thought I would just let you know that Braveheart at Best Buy is selling for $9.99!" he wrote. "The sign says $15.99, but it rings up as $9.99!" For real? It certainly caused us some bewilderment, but a quick visit to our local Best Buy clarified things a bit, as we were told in fact there were some, er, computer issues yesterday, and in fact Braveheart was selling for $9.99 for several hours before it was corrected. But it's now ringing up correctly at $15.99, so those of you who happened to score your copies for a ten-spot got lucky very lucky.
Commentary Clips: "One of the things that tormented us, as the filmmakers of this movie, was we had to deliver this gorgeous Mediterranean world, this beautiful world of southern Italy, and we could never get Italy to turn beautiful the weather was laughing at us constantly and we could never get a decent day's sunshine, and so we went out on these boat scenes God knows how many times just trying to get a moment of sun. We would divide the scenes up, often into words, and go out and get two or three words and then it would start to rain and we would have to go back in again. And it was a nightmare shooting on this boat this is a tiny boat. There's a whole crew behind the heads of these actors, or in front of them now, swinging around and hanging off the edge. It's very, very difficult to shoot a movie on water. I don't recommend it to anybody."
Director Anthony Minghella,
"Our main issue was that we were doing a political campaign, and everything else that happened in the film were just a series of stories that supported a bunch of characters. And the assassination, of course the word 'assassination' doesn't come to mind unless the word 'politics' is connected to it. Many years later, when John Lennon was assassinated, I got a call immediately from The Washington Post and they said, 'Do you feel responsible for John Lennon's death?' And I said, 'In what way?' They said, 'Well, in your film, you set up what we've come to think of political assassinations of a celebrity.' And I said, 'I don't think you should blame me for the assassination I think you should blame yourself for not listening to my warning.' "
Director Robert Altman,
Quotable: "Look, I love the movies. I love music. But there is still too much violence, too much sex, too much incivility in entertainment, which makes it very difficult for parents, who are working so hard to give their kids values and discipline, to do so.... I'm going to keep saying that to (the entertainment industry) and appealing to them to draw a line. And I can assure you... a Gore-Lieberman administration will be concerned about what government can do within appropriate constitutional limits to improve the moral future of America."
Democratic vice-presidential nominee Joe Lieberman, in
"No more Hollywood money for Al Gore. I'm a writer who likes pushing the envelope, and Joe Lieberman frightens me. Let's make Joe Lieberman accountable for his rhetoric. Not a penny more until he 'clarifies' his position to the satisfaction of our creative freedom."
Screenwriter Joe Eszterhas, in an open letter to be published
Coming Attractions: Like many other folks here in the States, we'll be enjoying the super-sized Labor Day weekend, but we will return next Tuesday with plenty more new DVD reviews, including Boogie Nights: Double Platinum Edition and the entire Planet of the Apes box set. This also will be the last weekend to enter this month's totally free DVD contest for a copy of Galaxy Quest, so be sure to visit our contest page if you haven't yet, and don't forget to take our monthly DVD poll while you're there.
Enjoy the holiday. See ya Tuesday.
Wednesday, 30 August 2000
And on, and on, and on really, that's just a sample of what we've been getting over the past week. Aug. 29 has been the most schizo street date in recent memory, with some stuff arriving very early while other titles are hard to find, and sometimes we feel just as much at a loss as our readers. But hey, we're here to give you the info, so your editor dispatched DVD Journal intern Chip Liebowitz to three suburban brick-and-mortar retailers here in Portland, Ore., yesterday afternoon to see just how consistent DVD shipping has been this week. Trusty Chip, pen and notepad in hand, visited two large "big-box" retailers, both major national chains, as well as the electronics section of a department store that sells DVDs at competitive prices. We can say that Braveheart for one is not only in stock everywhere, it's selling as a loss-leader, as low as $15.99, and everybody appears to have piles of them. Terminator 2: Ultimate Edition was also at all three shops, but it appeared in limited supply, possibly because of production underruns that forced Artisan to release a limited two-disc version just to meet the expected demand (none of these were apparent yesterday). Nonetheless, Chip had no trouble finding T2, and even for $19.99 at one retailer. The toughest discs to find were North by Northwest and Boogie Nights: Double Platinum Edition. Two of our three sample stores did not have either, and one salesperson told Chip that they weren't even on their release calendar (and this was at, ahem, a very large electronics chain). After visiting all three locations, Chip found exactly one copy of Boogie Nights and one of North by Northwest for sale, and neither at a substantial discount. But those probably will be snapped up by tomorrow afternoon, leaving consumers in our part of town SOL for the time being.
For those who can't find them, we only have two theories on North By Northwest and Boogie Nights as for the Hitchcock film, it is conceivable that retailers simply didn't expect it to be a big seller (it is a catalog title, after all) and thus the in-store stock at many retailers ran out in the first hours of Aug. 29. As for Boogie Nights, New Line had to take a sharp detour a few weeks ago when they failed to get the rights to the John Holmes documentary Exhausted, which appears to have caused some delays. In both cases, all we can say is to give it a little more time and these titles should be consistently available on the street. We also know that some folks have already received their copy of North By Northwest from Amazon, so online retail is always a good option. As a rule, they ship it when they get it you just have to get in line.
Adios amigo. Avoid "shoddy" websites like The New York Times and all the rest who gave Titus a rave, as we did. The glib Entertainment Weekly didn't care for the film, so you might take out a subscription.
Here's another question we get quite a bit, so it's always good to set the record straight from time to time, especially for new DVD fans. If you are dealing with an audio synchronization issue during DVD playback, in almost every instance the problem is with your player, not the disc you are attempting to enjoy. First and foremost, new DVDs from the major studios have to go through a substantial quality-check process, and it's unlikely that any disc that consistently failed to perform correctly would ever reach the street. However, often there are issues with the firmware in DVD players, and the best-known example of this recently was a group of Sony decks that required firmware upgrades in order to avoid the audio problems you describe. In any case, your best bet is to 1) Take the DVD in question to the retailer where you purchased it (or your player) and ask a salesperson to demo it on a machine. If it works fine (it probably will), then 2) contact the manufacturer of your DVD player to see if a firmware upgrade is necessary or on the way, or if there are any outstanding bug reports. Even better, if you purchased your player recently and have discovered this sort of problem, a reputable retailer should be willing to replace it with a different model, particularly if it falls in the normal 30- to 90-day grace-period for new purchases. As always, keep the manual and warranty for your player filed away someplace where you can find it, along with any extra service coverage you may have purchased, and don't lose your receipt. Without it you could be dead in the water, especially when attempting a return.
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, 29 August 2000
On the Street: Is it because Skynet becomes sentient on Aug. 29 in Terminator 2 that all these great DVDs are on the street today? For whatever reason, Fat Tuesday is here, which means your DVD budget is about to take a beating, if it hasn't already from pre-orders. Up first is the second edition of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, the "Ultimate Edition" from Artisan, and if folks think it bears some similarity to Fox's excellent Abyss: SE, it's because a lot of the same folks were behind both releases. But even though we're betting the new T2 will be the top-seller by week's end, we still have nothing but praise for Warner's North By Northwest, which rivals many of Universal's Hitch-discs both in terms of quality and features, and there's a double-dose of Cary Grant on the board this morning with the classic black comedy Arsenic and Old Lace as well. Those who have been pleading for more than two years to get Braveheart on disc can now get the Paramount release, which offers a pleasant anamorphic transfer and a commentary from director Mel Gibson. Meanwhile, fans of Paul Thomas Anderson can snap-up his much-discussed Magnolia from New Line, which includes a video production diary, or the second edition of Boogie Nights, which has a new transfer and a few more supplements than the original pressing in a two-disc set (hence, the original 1998 disc is now pretty much obsolete). Fox has music-lovers singing with their two-disc The Sound of Music, which is certain to please the film's most ardent admirers, and Universal has gone nuts with four new additions to their "Classic Monster Collection" The Invisible Man, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Phantom of the Opera, and Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein. Also, we also have an unusual Friday release this week, as Any Given Sunday: Director's Cut will arrive from Warner on Sept. 1. Did we forget anything? Probably, but the street-list is never far behind. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of Reel.com and Image Entertainment:
PTA's message to us: There's been a lot of discussion about the new Boogie Nights: Double Platinum Series release, particularly as several parts of it never came off. When Paul Thomas Anderson first mulled over the idea of a new Boogie DVD last year, he indicated that he might want to include a longer cut. But that didn't come to fruition. Many features on the Criterion Laserdisc were also slated for the new disc (including the boxcover art), but the 30-minute excerpt of the John Holmes documentary Exhausted was pulled at the last minute over rights issues (it did wind up on a number of check-discs, but that's it). That said, we wanted to share PTA's comments to DVD fans, as they're on the back of the new Boogie box:
The Man has spoken.
Monday, 28 August 2000
Disc of the Week: Sometimes Alfred Hitchcock could get away with murder. After all, directors past and present are often criticized for their repetitiveness, their inability to create new, interesting films, content rather to fall back on the same genres and plot structures as if they are admitting movies are merely consumer products rather than works of art. But Hitchcock arguably was the greatest practitioner in the history of cinema despite these ready faults. After all, he only utilized one genre, the suspense-thriller; he was renowned for working on a one-film-per-year schedule that ran like clockwork for nearly 50 years; and he often returned to his favorite yarn over and over again the innocent man, accused of a crime and on the run from the authorities, who must prove his innocence before the bad guys whack him unawares. Even more telling is a quick comparison between Hitch's 1935 The 39 Steps perhaps the crown jewel of his British period and 1959's crowd-pleasing North By Northwest, as both concern a handsome, carefree bachelor who is caught up in a web of conspiracy. In both films, the initial crime involves a murder by knife, and the circumstantial evidence is damning. Pursing fragments of clues, the hero ducks out of town, taking a cross-country journey by train with uncertain goals. On the train, the hero meets a statuesque blonde who may or may not be an ally to his cause. Eventually the hero meets the head of the conspiracy and determines (or is informed) that valuable government secrets are being taking out of the country. And when it appears all hope is lost, a final confrontation at a very public place (The London Palladium, Mt. Rushmore) brings the story to an abrupt close. Need more? The sleeping car that Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint share on the 20th Century Limited in North By Northwest is number 3901. If another director did it, it would be considered an homage. The hubris of Alfred Hitchcock is that North By Northwest is both a re-working of one of his most successful films and an homage to himself at the same time.
But everyone is quite willing to overlook a shameless remake when it's good, and North By Northwest is more than that it's one of the best films from the Hitchcockian oeuvre, and as such that makes it one of the best American films of the past 100 years (#40, according to the AFI list). Cary Grant stars as Roger Thornhill, a Manhattan advertising executive who is mistaken for a government agent by a ring of spies. Hustled off to a remote house outside the city, he meets James Mason, a charming, soft-spoken man who would be very likable if he didn't want to kill his guest. After a harried escape from his captors (via some drunk driving), Thornhill tracks his nefarious host to the United Nations, but a sudden murder has him on the run to Chicago, meeting the beautiful Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint) on the overnight train. But soon he's attacked by a cropduster in an Illinois cornfield, and it's only when he follows more clues to South Dakota that he finally learns why he's been marked for death. There's a neat Frank Lloyd Wright house that serves as Bad Guy HQ, a cliffhanger to end them all on Mt. Rushmore, and then a train goes into a tunnel in a manner that would make Freud blush. The End.
Of course, nobody can say that it's easy to make an entertaining action-adventure, but what has always elevated Hitchcock's liveliest tales beyond such fare as the James Bond films, cop-buddy pictures, or even The Matrix, is the careful, detailed touches that flesh out the story, often in humorous terms. Many writers could fashion an espionage ring and even a Wrong Man scenario, but Hitch and screenwriter Ernest Lehman take special delight in the first part of North By Northwest to make Thornhill's sole ally his disapproving mother (Jessie Royce Landis), who thinks her son is making up stories about evil henchmen in order to escape a drunk-driving charge. Hitch and Lehman also are willing to slow up the story at points for the sake of humor, in particular Grant's amusing drunk scene at the police precinct ("Let me see your tongue," a doctor instructs Grant. "You'd better stand back," he mumbles), and a later sequence between Grant and Saint offers the world-famous Hitchcock embrace, as the camera pans around an impassioned couple (or in this case, they pivot for it). Small clues and leitmotifs turn up everywhere, as when Grant shows his monogrammed matchbook to Saint, which simply says "R.O.T." "What's the 'O' stand for?" she asks. "Nothing," he says. But for all his innocence, the meanings are several, as Thornhill has become a nobody, a stranger with nebulous identity on the run in strange lands. It is scenes like these that define a Hitchcock masterpiece, which finds its greatest moments not only in the movie-poster set-pieces, but also in the small bits of comedy and dialogue that reveal, or betray, the essential humanity of his protagonists.
Warner's new DVD edition of North By Northwest is a definitive item, with a restored print that is free of defects and a marvelous anamorphic transfer (1.85:1). Audio is in a new DD 5.1 mix, and also on board is the 40-minute documentary "Destination Hitchcock: The Making of North By Northwest," hosted by Saint; a commentary by scenarist Lehman (that is informative, if a little sparse); both the theatrical trailer and the traditionally droll Hitchcock teaser, as well as a 60-second TV spot (all three anamorphic); a stills gallery; and Bernard Hermann's unmistakable score on a isolated track. If you've already put such great special edition DVDs as Vertigo, Psycho, and The Birds in your collection, North By Northwest deserves a place alongside them. It's on the street tomorrow morning.
Box Office: Any opening weekend is a good one for a film when it earns its money back in three days and that's exactly what Universal's cheerleader comedy Bring It On did, earning $17.4 million and immediately turning a profit on a $10 million budget. Wesley Snipes also had a good opening in Warner's The Art of War, snagging $11.2 million for second, but all was not well for Buena Vista's The Crew, as the old-timer-crooks comedy starring Richard Dreyfuss and Burt Reynolds only took in $4.1 million, barely clawing its way to seventh place. It was a slow weekend at the box-office as well, with just $75.7 million in tickets for the top 12 films way, way down from the peak weeks of early summer.
Still in continuing release, Warner's Space Cowboys has Clint & Co. flying high with a $63.8 million gross after one month and relatively steady attendance over every weekend, while New Line's The Cell has survived several negative reviews to build a $33.7 million gross in just 10 days. But there are only two films on our dirty dozen this week that are over the century DreamWorks' What Lies Beneath and Universal's The Nutty Professor and with such Indian summer fare as The Replacements, Coyote Ugly, and Autumn in New York heading for the exits, we may not see another true blockbuster until the Oscar hopefuls start to arrive.
Fans of everything Highlander can look forward to Miramax's Highlander: Endgame this Friday, while Destination will release the romantic comedy Whipped starring Amanda Peet. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Greg Dorr has posted a new review of Magnolia: Platinum Series, while D.K. Holm is on the board this morning with Any Given Sunday: Director's Cut both can be found on our Full Reviews index. New quick reviews this week from the staff include Braveheart, Terminator 2: Judgment Day: Ultimate Edition, North By Northwest, Cat Ballou, The Big Kahuna, Brian's Song, I Dreamed of Africa, and The Next Best Thing, 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.
We'll be back tomorrow with news on this week's street discs.
Thursday, 24 August 2000
A second round of Stone: After noticing that there will be a new special edition of Oliver Stone's Born on the Fourth of July released by Universal on Oct. 31, some of the more clever members of our news team went digging into some back copies of Variety, and all we can say is get ready to junk all of your old Oliver Stone discs. A news item several weeks ago (that did not appear on the Web, it seems) notes that a multi-studio collaboration will result in a huge DVD set of nearly all of Stone's movies. According to Variety, right now Stone is recording no less than 10 commentary tracks for the project, and supervising hours of supplemental material. Conspiracy buffs will be especially excited with the new JFK, as Stone is taking the 206-minute "director's cut" version of the movie and adding yet another 45 minutes of deleted scenes as well as 190 minutes of documentary and interview footage on the second of the two-disc set. Further, an "Oliver Stone Gift Set" reportedly will be coordinated by Warner, as was the Stanley Kubrick Collection, a joint release between Warner, MGM, and Columbia TriStar. Also in the works is a further DVD, Oliver Stone's America, directed by Charles Kiselyak, who specializes in DVD documentaries. Keep it tuned here.
Criterion watch: Okay, it's not like we're firing off a starting gun or anything, but it now appears that Sid and Nancy, recently acquired by MGM, will appear on DVD from the studio towards the end of the year. What does this mean for the 1998 Criterion DVD edition? Maybe nothing it's still in the shops now, under a license from New Line. But MGM famously chose not to extend Criterion's license for This Is Spinal Tap when they picked it up from PolyGram/Universal, opting to release their own disc instead. Of course, Sid and Nancy could be an entirely different case. Then again, if you like the movie you just might want to snap up a copy this weekend.
Commentary Clip: "Jonathan Demme asked me this: How would I see the first scene (with Hannibal Lecter)? Demme's a remarkable director and a very nice man to work with. He is very open and flexible and has no ego problem about ideas that you might suggest. Jonathan said, 'How would you like to be seen? Would you like to be lying on the bed, or sitting on a chair? Writing, or drawing, or reading?' I said, 'I'd like to be seen standing upright, at attention, in the middle of the cell.' And he took that in for a moment and said, 'OK, well, let's have a look at it.' And they did a camera rehearsal, on camera, with a video monitor there which you could see. And his reaction was one of, 'Yeah! Yeah!' ... The first time the audience sees him and Jodie Foster sees him is from her point of view, with him looking straight back at her. Now, that is terrifying in my consciousness so I wanted them to see a very nice, charming, erudite, smiling man saying 'Good morning.' Which would be terrifying ... There's something peculiarly attractive about power. Erotically attractive about power. And I think that's what Hannibal Lecter has. He has power... I was thinking of a sequel if it will ever be done, I don't know and I think of something that came out of the drive, my drive across America, of this dark limousine, Lecter driving in the night through these darkened cities. America. Just prowling, a black limousine, playing Bach, the interior just so.... Those of you who are watching this movie, pleasant dreams. Bye."
Quotable: "There is little room for doubting that broad dissemination of DeCSS threatens ultimately to injure or destroy (the) plaintiffs' ability to distribute copyrighted products on DVDs and, for that matter, their ability to sell their products to the home video market in other forums.... (It is necessary to create) a climate of appropriate respect for intellectual-property rights in an age in which the excitement of ready access to untold quantities of information has blurred in some minds the fact that taking what is not yours... is stealing."
Judge Lewis Kaplan, in his 91-page ruling last week
"This is what we expected. I'd like to be in the U.S. Supreme Court by February. This is a case that has to go to the Supreme Court. If the judge's decision is allowed to stand, it will cripple the free exchange of information on the Internet. It also impedes and frustrates the development of new technology and software."
Attorney Martin Garbus, who unsuccessfully defended
"In a lot of ways the entertainment industry is not seeing the forest for the trees. If you take a step back, it's easy to see that there's a huge opportunity here. Why not sit down and try and figure out a way to make it work? But history has shown that the entertainment industry reacts very predictably to any type of new reproductive technology. The same thing happened with the copy machine, the VCR, the audiocassette recorder, the Diamond Rio. Whenever something new comes out, the entertainment industry argues that they're going to suffer. But every time, their businesses end up becoming bigger businesses as a result of these new platforms."
Scour.net president Dan Rodrigues, in an interview
"If you don't (do big-budget films), first of all, you make no money and you can't afford your own rent. Second of all, this business is not that forgiving. Unless you appear in a movie once in a while that is a box-office hit, you're out of the picture. And you don't even get the parts you want anymore in the smaller films."
X-Men star Famke Janssen, who also noted in a
"It was sunstroke, that makes you a little dizzy. No drugs. She was in a convertible and ran out of gas. So she was in the sun too long."
Film producer Mark Burg, speaking with Reuters
"She proceeded to tell me that she was God and was going to take everyone back to heaven with her in some sort of spaceship."
An excerpt from a sheriff deputy's report, according
Coming Attractions: We have new stuff coming in every day, and plenty of new DVD reviews will be here Monday, including Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia, Oliver Stone's Any Given Sunday, and more, so be sure to come back for all the latest.
Have a great weekend gang and stay out of the sun.
Wednesday, 23 August 2000
Criterion's Salo, which has been a top-trader on eBay for many, many months, wasn't necessarily "short-printed," i.e. as a limited edition, but there weren't a whole lot of them pressed compared to the more high-profile Armageddon or The Silence of the Lambs. Our best information is that Pier Paolo Pasolini's brutal, controversial Salo was released by Criterion under license from Water Bearer, and that license ran out when the rights to the film went (reverted?) to an Italian distributor, which also happened recently to director Pasolini's Arabian Nights and The Decameron, now out of print from Image. As such, that means that Salo could easily re-appear on DVD in Region 1, perhaps under a new license, and as that's the case we think the $400-plus auctions closing on eBay are just a little short of insane. But Criterion knows how to sell the sizzle with the steak, and by numbering all of their DVD releases they make it possible for those who have deep pockets to long for a "complete" Criterion Collection. We're guessing that Salo runs so high because it did not have a wide pressing and relatively few DVD consumers bought it when it was on the street, and thus the demand from Criterion completists is outstripping supply. Then again, maybe some people pay the big bucks for Salo because they really want to watch it over and over again but that's a thought too horrible to even contemplate.
Wow, talk about a trip in the way-back machine. We had totally forgot this, but indeed there was a time when DVDs could be really hard to find when they first came out case in point, L.A. Confidential, released in April of 1998 and in stock at most retailers for about 48 hours until a second pressing arrived about two weeks later. There were other instances like this in '97 and early '98, but we recall this really had more to do with a limited number of DVD replicating facilities, which could not meet the unexpected growth of the DVD market. Nevertheless, it didn't take long for the industry to catch on and more DVD replicators to go online, and for the past two years or so we can't recall too many hard-to-find street discs.
As for a "VHS Killer," we've noted before that there really is no such thing at this time, and only an easy-to-use, affordable, and recordable DVD format could ever stand a chance of displacing VHS's dominance in most American households, and those factors still seem to be a ways off. Besides, who cares about VHS anymore? Sure, back in '98 it was the enemy, but we were still waiting for 1 million DVD players to sell-through to consumers. With DVD's survival assured, we say viva la VHS! let everybody enjoy their crappy, lo-res tapes, as long as we DVD consumers can continue to expect nice special editions with all the doo-dahs. Keep the pan-and-scan stuff off our collectables.
Okay, sorry to digress Sony's PlayStation2 is expected to arrive in North America on Oct. 26 with an SRP of $299, and while only 1 million units will be in the initial shipment, a few more million are sure to sell by the second quarter of 2001. It's possible that one million new PS2 consumers (assuming all of them won't have a DVD player, which ain't likely) could put a strain on DVD software stocks, but the studios nowadays tend to ship far in advance of expected sales, occasionally sending out as many as 1 million discs to retailers (cf. Titanic, The Matrix, Erin Brockovich) when only a fraction of them will sell-through in the first two weeks. Besides, we have a better idea everybody who gets their first DVD player is hardly what we'd call a "discriminating consumer," and they often will buy just about anything in order to have another DVD (we all remember those days, don't we?). If brick-and-mortar retailers tighten their belts sometime around late October, they could stock nothing but The Avengers for $29.98 and make a killing. They could sell Virus for $34.95 and put a few needy kids through college while they're at it.
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, 22 August 2000
'The Patriot' is coming: We just got the details on Columbia TriStar's forthcoming The Patriot: Special Edition, and it's going to be packed. While the film was considered a mid-range performer over the summer season with $110 million overall (somewhat short of the $150 mil range the bigger summer hits have enjoyed), CTHV has moved the street date up a few weeks from an expected November release to late October. And they've filled this one full of good stuff, including:
It's starting to look like the fourth-quarter of this year will be one of the busiest in recent memory, and The Patriot will be kicking off the holiday buying season. Pre-orders should be at most online retailers right now The Patriot: Special Edition lands on Oct 24.
On the Street: We're betting many of you already have your pre-orders in for the big Aug. 29 street Tuesday, so if you're nearly broke, don't worry this week's street list is rather thin by comparison. Some delayed Criterion titles are now reported to be available, including Good Morning, Variety Lights, and W.C. Fields: 6 Short Films, while collectors of everything cool will want to seek out Anchor Bay's limited edition of Repo Man. There's no contest for our favorite disc this week, as Barry Blaustein's Beyond the Mat, now out from Universal, is one of the most surprising documentaries we've seen in a while. And for those of you who missed them the first time around, four MGM discs are now in re-release from Warner, including Westworld and Logan's Run. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of Reel.com and Image Entertainment:
Bye for now.
Monday, 21 August 2000
DeCSS drop-kicked by New York judge: In the first clear-cut legal decision on DVD media and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, New York District Judge Lewis Kaplan has ruled that 2600.com publisher Eric Corley cannot publish, nor link to, the DeCSS hack on his website, and that he does not have a right to do so under the First Amendment, the basis of Corley's defense. "Computer code is not purely expressive any more than the assassination of a political figure is purely a political statement," Judge Kaplan wrote in his legal opinion released last Thursday. The decision came as a surprise to many legal pundits, since during the final days of testimony last month Judge Kaplan indicated from the bench that he might find for Corley based on free-speech arguments for the defense.
DeCSS, created by unidentified European programmers, first arrived on the Internet in late 1999 and was designed to defeat the Content Scrambling System (CSS) encryption technology of DVD, in part to allow DVDs to play on "unauthorized" players, and in particular the Linux operating system, an open-source variant of Unix. However, the hack also allows DVD Video content to be "ripped" from the disc and then translated to other digital formats, including an underground format called DivX, which is an unauthorized, downloadable variant of the Microsoft-developed MP4. It didn't take long for the Motion Picture Association of America to request a restraining order against Corley and two other defendants for posting the hack, which Judge Kaplan granted in January. The other two defendants settled out of court, but noted underground publisher Corley, 40, vowed to soldier on.
"I don't know how much more sweeping a decision could be," MPAA president Jack Valenti said in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter late last week. "I think the judge's decision in the Napster case and this case is going to have an influence for all (similar) cases to come along. Taking what is not yours is stealing, and this will send a message to all these venture capitalists that before you pour millions into any Web site remotely involved with stealing, you'd better read these decisions." But Martin Garbus, Corley's attorney, said in a statement "Judge Kaplan's decision, if allowed to stand... would cripple the free exchange of information on the Internet. It would, in interfering with free linking, stop one of the greatest hopes for the Internet."
Meanwhile, a second DeCSS lawsuit is still in pre-trial mode in California, and while it also deals with distributing the pesky little hack, it is being brought by the DVD Copy Control Association, a legal wing of the MPAA, and has less to do with free speech and more with trade-secret laws. Meanwhile, the Corley verdict in New York already appears to have a one-way ticket to an appellate court, where the case likely will be heard again.
Disc of the Week: Good documentaries are not about likable subjects, they are about interesting subjects, and Barry Blaustein's Beyond the Mat picks a dandy professional wrestling. "I love the pageantry, the athleticism, even the incredibly cheesy acting," Blaustein notes in the introduction. "I look at wrestling as theater at its most base." Like soap operas, pro wrestling thrives on long story arcs, deeply held rivalries, and betrayals that simmer for months or years until they are punctuated by dramatic showdowns. Like the pornography industry, wrestling is often discredited by the mainstream press, despite the fact that it makes a whole lot of money and has a sizable fan-base. But above all, pro wrestling is about the show, the spectacle of it all, and at its loudest and brashest it is effortlessly watchable entertainment. And even though much of pro wrestling is "fake" (the top leagues employ writers, composers, costumers, et. al.), some of wrestling is pretty real. The business arrangements, the friendships, and some of the rivalries are real. The injuries and often the blood are real. And the men who put on the Spandex and do battle in our modern theater of pain are very real, as real as you or your friends or the people you work with on a daily basis. Beyond the Mat is about these men.
While an expansive documentary, Beyond the Mat focuses primarily on three wrestlers, all who are at different stages in their career. Squared-circle veteran Terry Funk was a headliner for decades, and he still attracts top billing at most venues, but in his 50s his knees have almost given out and his family is pushing him towards retirement. Mick Foley another veteran who has wrestled under several personas but perhaps is best known as the World Wrestling Federation's leather-masked "Mankind" is a family man with a wife and two young children, and while he loves wrestling and the security it provides his family, he knows he won't do it forever. Jake "The Snake" Roberts, a top-billed wrestler in the '80s, is found by Blaustein on a regional circuit in the midwest, where he still makes a living on the canvas but has been battling with substance abuse for years and can no more keep himself in top physical shape than he can form meaningful relationships with his parents or his daughter, neither of whom he visits very often. Other subjects also find their way in front of Blaustein's camera, including Vince McMahon, the head of the billion-dollar WWF, a man who commands respect by both enthusiastic charm and a ruthless iron fist; Chyna, the top female WWF wrestler, who claims that she's a very feminine woman at heart, despite having the build of an NFL linebacker; and a wrestling school in California, which fields two students to an audition for the WWF, the wrestling equivalent of Major League Baseball.
If, as Blaustein claims, the sole purpose of making Beyond the Mat was to put a human face on pro wrestling, then it's hard to find fault with the final product. The best documentaries seek to shine a light on often-obscured subjects, and so much attention is paid to Blaustein's past and present heroes that the viewer will eventually feel they know them as people they have met in person. The noble Funk is adored by both his family and his fans, but his dilapidated shape does not wind up on the cutting-room floor rather, we see his awkward gait as he walks across uneven ground, propelling himself from night to night on knees that cause him chronic pain. The lumbering, affable Foley who comes across as one of the WWF's oddest headliners with his bizarro mask and slipshod necktie is actually the sort of guy you'd like to have as a neighbor, always with a big smile on his face and happy for his good fortune, and most telling is when Blaustein shows him footage of his children during a brutal match, as they break down in tears and must be taken away by their mother from their ringside seats. Re-playing the footage for Foley at his home, Blaustein achieves a documentary moment akin to Gimme Shelter, when Mick Jagger is shown the footage of Meredith Hunter being stabbed to death at Altamont. Despite Foley's commitment to his career, there is no question where his priorities lie when he's struck nearly speechless before uttering "I don't feel like a very good dad right now." Most troubling is Roberts, who has a taste for the camera and is willing to share his personal demons. But when a reunion meeting with his daughter goes awry, Blaustein finds him in a hotel room, stoned on crack and talking about the darkest corners of his life. It's impossible to watch Beyond the Mat and forget these oft-punished, self-punished men any time soon.
Universal's new DVD of Beyond the Mat: Unrated Director's Cut comes in a clean full-frame transfer with Dolby 2.0 audio. Extra features include a commentary by Blaustein, a partial commentary by Foley, and a partial commentary with Blaustein and Funk, as well as a trailer and notes. The shorter MPAA-rated version is also available, and while the "unrated" edition has some additional footage, none of it looks to be of the NC-17 variety. Frankly, whatever additional stuff Blaustein threw in for the home-video release was just icing on the cake, as his remarkable documentary never fails to entertain and transfix the viewer at every surprising turn. Beyond the Mat hits the street tomorrow.
Box Office: Being the dog-days of summer, we aren't expecting to see many more $40 million openings for a while, but New Line's The Cell did solid business at the weekend box-office, earning $17.2 million in three days and running away from the competition. The psychological thriller about a serial killer who drowns women and, uh, other stuff, has earned a good deal of buzz for its graphic nature, but next week will reveal if it has any traction. And traction is what Warner's Space Cowboys officially has, opening in the top three two weeks ago, then going head-to-head with Sony's Hollow Man last week, and now holding strong in third place with $9.9 million (the critically reviled Hollow Man, on the other hand, plummeted from first to eighth place in just seven days). Two more debuts arrived over the weekend Paramount's The Original Kings of Comedy, Spike Lee's ode to classic stand-up comics, had a remarkable $11.7 million bow to earn second place, while Sony's Godzilla 2000 couldn't crack the top ten, earning just $4.6 million.
Still in continuing release, DreamWorks' What Lies Beneath has powered its way to a $123.7 million gross, while Universal's Nutty Professor II: The Klumps has passed the century with $104.4 million. However, Hollow Man is quickly losing steam with just $61.7 million overall. Meanwhile, two titans of the summertime are now off our dirty dozen Warner's The Perfect Storm, which easily cleared $170 million, and Dimension's Scary Movie, which may break $150 million before leaving the second-run circuit. A sequel for Scary Movie is all but confirmed at this point, and if such won't happen for A Perfect Storm, at least we can expect the new DVD in November.
Wesley Snipes is back on the big screen this Friday in Warner's action-thriller The Art of War, while Kirsten Dunst can be seen in Universal's cheerleader comedy Bring it On. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Dawn Taylor has posted a special sneak preview of Fox's two-disc The Sound of Music: Five Star Collection, which will be on the street Aug. 29 her write-up can be found on our Full Reviews index. Meanwhile, new quick reviews this week include Planet of the Apes, Six Degrees of Separation, Beyond the Mat: Unrated Director's Cut, Farinelli, Runaway, and the Kino Noir releases The Long Night and Strange Impersonation. All can be accessed on the Quick Reviews index, and everything has been added under the New Reviews menu here on the main page.
We'll be back tomorrow with the rundown on this week's street discs.
Thursday, 17 August 2000
-- LATE NEWS FLASH! --
Out of the office: Hey gang, your humble editor has taken the day off for a brief trip out of town, and as DVD news has been a little thin lately, the rest of the team is already back in the screening room going over some new discs. In the meantime, Warner has asked us to give you the details about an upcoming online chat with some of the folks in Three Kings, and Columbia TriStar only has one message for all of us lately Men in Black is on the way (if you have a fast connection, punch that link for some fun).
Have you managed yet to drop by DVD Tracker to start an online list of your DVD collection? We're big fans of the Tracker here, which offers an easy way to stay on top of your discs, let other people know what's in your stack, and even help you remember which deadbeats haven't returned your loaners (in fact, your editor's sizeable personal stash is on DVD Tracker, so how's that for an unbiased endorsement?). Meanwhile, if you haven't entered our monthly free DVD contest, 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. We'll be back on Monday with a new round of reviews, the box-office wrap-up, and any new developments on the DVD legal fronts. See ya then, and have a great weekend.
Wednesday, 16 August 2000
Well, to begin with, a senitype is simply a film cel, and in deluxe sets such as the top-tier Jurassic Park / Lost World box, it's taken from a print of the film, so it's an original film element of sorts and figure the math on how little material this takes: Modern films run at 24 frames per second, or 1,440 frames per minute. A two-hour film contains 172,800 frames of film. If Universal sold that many units of the JP deluxe box (an optimistic number, to be sure), only one complete print of either film would have to be sacrificed for the job. As to why the studios have recently taken to describing these "collectible" items as senitypes rather than film cels is beyond us, but it must make sense to the marketing people. Perhaps "senitype" tested better in the focus-groups.
As for if the deluxe edition of Jurassic Park / Lost World is worth the premium to Spielberg fans, we have to call it a toss-up. As far as box-sets go, at least this one actually has something of value in the kit besides the DVDs, as many folks don't have the soundtracks and may want them. But soundtrack collectors are a curious breed, and as fanatical as they come (our own Alexandra DuPont buys more movie soundtracks than any other type of CD), so it would seem most people interested in the soundtracks already own them by now. Really, if you want to save some bucks, don't feel like you're missing out. We think most of these large boxes full of knick-knacks really aren't for DVD fans anyway, but instead are aimed at gift-giving purchases everybody would rather wrap a big box of something rather than a little DVD to hand out at a birthday party or on Christmas morning, and we suspect that a good number of these boxes are bought with other people in mind.
Actually, there are a few original features made for DVD, most notably the documentaries on Universal's "Classic Monster Collection" discs, all running around 45 minutes and created by film historian and documentarian David J. Skal for Universal's recent horror reprisals. Universal also has done well with the original feature-length documentaries on their Hitchcock series, and we think the 60-minute "Shaking the Cage" on Easy Rider was straight-to-DVD as well. We get downright giddy when stuff like this shows up on disc, because a lot of these original documentaries are very entertaining, insightful, and largely up-to-date. And when feature-length docs are not DVD originals, they often are culled from previous Laserdisc releases (most notably and notoriously of late was the Jaws documentary, chopped down to one hour from a longer running time on LD). In this case they still are original docs, at least in terms that they were created specifically for home-video release.
But it seems what you are referring to Ian are the notoriously dull "featurettes" on a great many DVD releases, and you're right, they aren't developed for the DVD demographic (after all, we are a persnickety bunch who can tell red meat from tofu). All featurettes and their ilk are just commercials, or rather infomercials, originally sent out not by the studios' home-video divisions but instead their PR depts., normally a month or so in advance of a film's theatrical debut to be shown during dead time on cable TV or other insomniac territory, or even abridged for some entertainment "news" shows. And since these items mainly attempt to plug a film rather than plumb its depths, it's rare when they are notable at all can anybody get excited about hearing that such-and-such actor was "a real professional," or that another actor had always wanted to work with a particular director, who is "a genius"? There may not be any worse remote-tapping stuff, and the fact is that most actors really aren't interesting people without a script (or even with a script, actually), so we often just glance over featurettes on DVD before jettisoning them from our memory. However, it's important to draw a distinction between featurettes and feature-length documentaries, because the latter often are the best value-adds on a disc. We say that Universal currently does the best job with these, and the 90-minute doc on Psycho: Collector's Edition is one of our personal favorites.
Er... damn good question. And before we get into this too far, we should note that the Macrovision company, not the MPAA, normally takes the lead when trying to protect their own product, as they did recently with eBay and the Apex player, which no longer trades on the site.
In any case, our squinty-eyed lawyers have asked us to let everybody know that the editorial team here are not lawyers, and nothing even like lawyers, and in no way qualified to dispense legal opinions (and even now they're still squinting as we write). We're just going to guess by tracing over events. First, when it was discovered in late 1999 that the Apex player had a secret "loopholes" menu that could disable Macrovision and region-coding, it was reported that Macrovision and the MPAA visited with Apex Digital in California (let's assume it was a nice, friendly visit). We also understand that they visited with Circuit City, the only U.S. retailer that carries the Chinese-manufactured player (we think Future Shop sells it in Canada). Note "visited," not "sued," because there was no lawsuit, and perhaps there couldn't have been. But in any case the issue was resolved privately between all of the parties, and the Apex player continues to sell to this day at Circuit City, albeit with the "loopholes" menu disabled.
Similarly, it was Macrovision who asked eBay to cancel all Apex auctions on their popular website (not "sued"), which they did voluntarily, in accordance with their own guidelines on copyrighted materials. Did eBay have to cancel the auctions? Again, we are not lawyers, so we don't know. But they agreed to do it without a lawsuit, nor hint of a lawsuit.
So why is it so easy to get a code-free, Macrovision-free DVD player from an online retailer? Dare we suggest that selling these items is not illegal? If it were, they probably wouldn't exist (does anybody want to wave a red flag in front of the MPAA's attorneys lately?). To us, it appears that whatever motivations Apex Digital and eBay had in complying with the MPAA and Macrovision do not exist with small online outfits. To our knowledge, nobody's been threatened with legal action for selling a code-free, Macrovision-free DVD player, and certainly there are no jump-suited goons rounding up the pre-2000 Apex decks from our homes. Everybody can come to their own conclusions as to why Apex Digital and eBay have decided to stay in the good graces of the home-video industry. For both companies, it was an internal decision.
Shoddy answer? We did our best, but if you have a better theory, you know what to do firstname.lastname@example.org.
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, 15 August 2000
On the Street: Everybody's getting ready for the big Aug. 29 street date and all the great stuff due then, but today nearly rivals it, making this August one of the toughest months ever on the DVD budget. Fox has both Titus: Special Edition and The Planet of the Apes in the shops, along with Planet of the Apes: The Evolution, a six-disc set covering the entire series. Meanwhile, Columbia TriStar has gone a long way to satisfy Luc Besson collectors with both The Big Blue and Leon: The Professional in expanded cuts, Paramount has the archetypal western Shane and Robert Altman's Nashville on the street, and Universal is on the board with their new special edition of Erin Brockovich. But don't overlook Criterion Laurence Olivier's 1948 Hamlet and the classic Pygmalion are now in release under their folio. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of Reel.com and Image Entertainment:
Catch ya tomorrow.
Monday, 14 August 2000
Disc of the Week: If you're going to film a Shakespearean work, the bloody, brutal Titus Andronicus is one ballsy choice. After all, it is considered by some critics to be Shakespeare's worst play. It also was his first tragedy, and only his fifth work for the stage, which is to say that the master had not yet completely mastered the form. While believed a popular work in Shakespeare's era, it was only produced three times in the 19th century, and a 1923 performance at the Old Vic resulted in uncontrolled laughter from the audience; the play would not be performed again in England until 1955. Samuel Johnson wrote that "The barbarity of the spectacles, and the general massacre which are here exhibited, can scarcely be conceived tolerable to any audience." Fellow critic J.C. Maxwell noted "(Shakespeare) has a sense of the play as a whole, and a sense of the individual episode. It is principally in bringing the two into relation that he is still deficient." For noted Broadway director Julie Taymor, mounting a modern stage production of Titus Andronicus, and then undertaking a cinematic rendition, flies in the face of all common sense. Why not just make another version of Hamlet? (Everybody else does.) Or one of the other "safe" tragedies, like Lear, or Macbeth. Why not the popular Jacobean-era romance The Tempest, also filmed a few times in recent years?
To Taymor's (enormous) credit, Titus Andronicus was the play she was bent on, and where others have failed over the years, her epic Titus succeeds wonderfully and for several reasons. Anthony Hopkins stars as Titus Andronicus, a heroic, aging Roman general who returns to Rome after defeating the Goths. In his possession are the Goth Queen Tamora (Jessica Lange) and her four sons, but Titus lost 22 of his sons in battle, and thus a sacrifice must be made. As Tamora's eldest son is led away for ritual slaughter, the Queen vows revenge on the Roman military leader who has brought her so much suffering. And soon her opportunity comes, as the sons of the late Roman Emperor decadent Saturninus (Alan Cumming) and noble Bassianus (James Frain) are vying for the throne. Titus has the adoration of the people, and even could declare himself Emperor if he so wished, but he gives his support to Saturninus, who then says he will take Titus' daughter Lavinia (Laura Fraser) as his bride, even though she is betrothed to Bassianus. It is when Bassianus and Lavinia steal away in the night that Saturninus takes the Goth Queen as his bride, and her revenge plot is set into motion when her two sons capture, rape, and horrifically mutilate Lavinia while framing two of Titus' sons for the murder of Bassianus. The crafty old Titus then begins to plan his own revenge against Tamora and her offspring.
For those who are not familiar with Shakespeare's play, the critics throughout the ages have largely been correct. Titus Andronicus is an incredibly violent tragedy, and it doesn't have the humanistic dimensions that transform and uplift such later works as Romeo and Juliet or Lear. But Taymor does not shy away from the material rather, she embraces it fully. As an early tragedy, Titus Andronicus resembles the tragic masters of Shakespeare's past rather than his own mature work, Greek dramatists like Sophocles and Aeschlyus, whose tragedies did little to expand on human character but instead tried to convey immense suffering at the hands of indifferent gods. When Titus, wailing on the ground, declares "Let my tears staunch the earth's dry appetite / My sons' sweet blood will make it shame and blush," that's Shakespeare, but it's also Sophocles, whose famous tragic protagonists such as Oedipus would freely offer everything to the gods if it would only end their pain. By playing it straight and not apologizing for the material, Taymor succeeds by reaching back to early Shakespeare and the earliest recorded days of tragedy, and asking her actors to play the roles as such. All of the performances in Titus are solid particularly Hopkins, who has shied away from the Bard in recent years the more violent scenes are fittingly graphic and probably would send the nearest politician over the edge were it not Shakespeare (and thus sacrosanct), and the much-discussed art-direction wins Taymor bonus points, for again she takes an enormous risk, combining Roman and contemporary clothing, sets, vehicles, and weapons, not concerned with deciding just when Titus takes place, but instead content to let her free-form concept of "blended time" rule every scene. It would be pretentious were it not for the fact that it works.
Fox's new two-disc special edition of Titus features a solid anamorphic transfer (2.25:1) and audio in either DD 5.1 or Dolby 2.0 Surround. Features include a commentary by Taymor, a second commentary track with Hopkins and actor Harry J. Lennix (the only actor who also was in the stage production), a 50-minute "making-of" documentary, a 34-minute question-and-answer session with Taymor at Columbia University, a gallery of costume sketches, a brief segment on the special effects with supervisor Kyle Cooper, two articles from American Cinematographer magazine, and six trailers and TV spots. If you're a Shakespeare buff, you'll want to have this one in your collection Titus: Special Edition is on the street tomorrow.
Addendum: A new Fox DVD promo is on board Titus: Special Edition, which touts all of the extra features DVD has to offer film freaks like ourselves. What a difference a year makes, as it was not long ago that Fox couldn't be bothered with supplemental features. Now they are pimping everything they have with the tagline "Fox DVD: Get Into It." And for you Wolverine nutsacks, the new Fox promo offers the first glimpse of X-Men on disc. We're expecting the full package in November.
Box Office: It was a photo-finish at the weekend box-office, as Sony's Hollow Man and Warner's Space Cowboys both reaped an estimated $13.1 million (final numbers will not be released until Monday night). And while it was good news for Clint Eastwood and his old-guys-in-space yarn, gaining some traction after getting bested last week by Paul Verhoeven's Hollow Man, both films were popular enough to keep new arrivals out of the top positions. MGM's Autumn in New York had a surprisingly strong opening at $11.5 million, which was good enough for third, considering that the studio would not screen the film for critics last week (normally a sign that it's a stinker), while Warner's gridiron comedy The Replacements had a disappointing fourth-place opening with $11.1 million, despite the star power of Keanu Reeves and Gene Hackman and a fresh football season on the way.
In continuing release, Universal's Nutty Professor II: The Klumps is still doing strong business and has $94.1 million after three weeks, and while DreamWorks' What Lies Beneath is starting to lag, it has cleared the century with ease at $112.1 million. However, Buena Vista's barmaid-booty movie Coyote Ugly is falling fast with just $34.2 million so far. Dropping off the charts this week is Sony's The Patriot, which should clear $110 million before leaving the second-run circuit the DVD is now expected in October.
The big green lizard was good enough for a summer film a couple years ago, so he's coming back for more Godzilla 2000 opens this Friday. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Call it auteur week Dawn Taylor has posted a new review of Robert Altman's Nashville, D.K. Holm is on the board with Luc Besson's Leon: The Professional (Expanded International Version), and Greg Dorr has a look at Roman Polanski's The Ninth Gate all can be found on our Full Reviews index. New quick reviews this week include Erin Brockovich, The Big Blue: Director's Cut, Titus: Special Edition, Shane, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, and Bananas, 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, 10 August 2000
'Bridge on the River Kwai' due in November!: The death of Alec Guinness last weekend caused us to reflect on the actor's legendary film career, and just how few of his films are not yet available on DVD. And while we are still waiting for The Lavender Hill Mob and Lawrence of Arabia, Columbia TriStar has now announced that David Lean's 1957 The Bridge on the River Kwai will arrive this fall, and in both limited and unlimited editions. The single-DVD version (SRP $24.95) will have just a few supplements (a trailer gallery and cast-notes), although it will feature a digitally restored anamorphic widescreen transfer and audio in Dolby 2.0 or a new DD 5.1 mix. However, the two-disc limited edition (SRP $39.95) will have all the features of the cheaper disc as well as four behind-the-scenes documentaries ("The Making of The Bridge on the River Kwai," the featurette "The Rise and Fall of a Jungle Giant," a short film narrated by William Holden, and a discussion with filmmaker John Milius), a photo montage of original advertising materials, a 12-page booklet based on the original souvenir book, and additional DVD-ROM content (a trivia game, maps and military strategy, and a screensaver). Both editions are due on Nov. 7, and pre-orders at online retailers should be up within a couple of days at the most.
On the Block: Our latest round of DVD auction rankings at eBay are in, and there hasn't been much of a shakeup in the highest positions. Criterion's Salo continues to be the most sought-after DVD on earth, easily breaking the $400 mark and leaving the competition behind. The Criterion editions of John Woo's The Killer and Hard Boiled made the top five as well, even though we are expecting new DVDs before the end of the year (albeit without Criterion's supplements). But if those two films are still holding steady, fans of Spinal Tap may want to consider hunting down a few auctions for the Criterion edition, as MGM's forthcoming disc has caused prices to plummet what used to be a consistent top-three trader on our list this time around drops to number eight, and those $250-plus high closes may be a thing of the past, as the most recent top bid was $132.50 (which means many more Spinal Tap auctions are finishing well below a crisp Benjamin). Two occasional notables surged recently, with the limited edition of John Carpenter's Halloween going for an asking price of $150.00 and the first edition of Criterion's Seven Samurai breaking the century (and them some) at $137.50 after 29 bids. Finally, Pier Paolo Pasolini may start to become something of a regular on our charts. The director of the controversial Salo also directed Arabian Nights and The Decameron the two Image DVDs recently went out of print and are now building momentum on the auction boards.
Here's the highest recent closing prices of rare and out-of-print DVDs from online auctions at eBay:
Quotable: "From the point of view of the music lover, (Napster) can only be viewed as an exciting new development in the history of music. And fortunately for (the music lover), there does not seem to be anything the old record companies can do about preventing this evolution from happening.... Young people... need to be educated about how the record companies have exploited artists and abused their rights for so long and about the fact that online distribution is turning into a new medium which might enable artists to put an end to this exploitation."
The artist formerly known as Prince (who is now calling
"He was a great character actor, the best we've ever had I think. It was a job to him, and how he worked at it. He was meticulous."
Sir John Mills, speaking of the late Sir Alec Guinness,
"Hugh Grant is fantastic in bed. He always has been."
Elizabeth Hurley, after Jane magazine went forward
"I could survive all right, but I wouldn't be interested in going out there and being a part of a show like that. It seems to me that just voting people off doesn't really have anything to do with real abilities."
Clint Eastwood, discussing CBS-TV's "Survivor" in a
"I'd have killed them all in a week, and that would have been the end of that."
Clint's Space Cowboys co-star James Garner, also
"I can't believe I barfed in Harrison Ford's helicopter."
Sarah George, 20, who was airlifted by Harrison Ford
Coming Attractions: New DVD reviews are on the way, including Fox's new two-disc edition of Titus and a double-feature of Luc Besson films. Also, final legal briefs have been filed in the New York DeCSS trial, so stay tuned a verdict could arrive at any time.
See ya Monday. Enjoy the weekend.
Wednesday, 9 August 2000
Studios duking it out for DVD dates: While the total box-office for this summer will probably fall short of 1999's record-breaking year (led by the $430 million The Phantom Menace), there have been several more notable films to arrive in the high season of 2000, which means that all of the major home-video divisions in L.A. are jockeying to get the best fourth-quarter release dates. And as there are only so many Tuesdays between Halloween and Christmas, some unusual moves are already in the works. In particular, Columbia TriStar has earmarked The Patriot for an October release, giving it plenty of breathing room before November, which will see the arrival of The Perfect Storm, Gladiator, Mission: Impossible 2, Chicken Run, X-Men, and others. Due to follow in December are Gone in Sixty Seconds, Nutty Professor II: The Klumps, and Shanghai Noon, and while some specific dates are being bandied about, chances are that some of them will change before the release schedule is solidified.
But now the good news: Disney has finally wised up. When you put the disc in and it goes directly to the annoying trailer section, they have now enabled you to use the menu button to skip the trailers. As a matter of fact, they even went so far as to put a note up saying you could skip the trailers! But if you did that, and if you just threw away all the paperwork inside the case, you will have missed the fact that Fantasia 2000 is coming to DVD on Sept. 26! I have been to many DVD websites and nobody has this announced. So apparently Disney has been keeping this under wraps? Well, there's a trailer for Fantasia 2000 on the Buzz Lightyear DVD, and it does say it will be DVD, not just VHS. And if you look at the points coupon in the case, you'll see it printed there as well. I don't know why nobody has this on their sites, but I am thrilled that they're releasing it. I figure with two concrete announcements like this, it is a firm release date! No mention of features, but I can't imagine they would do anything less than widescreen and 5.1. Anything else would be icing on the cake. A "making-of" would be nice, and since the film is so short, there's plenty of room on the disc.
Actually, the Fantasia 2000 DVD news arrived in recent days, although the street date we have is Nov. 14, not Sept. 26. Therefore, if you have some promotional materials from Disney that say Sept. 26, it's a typo or the date simply was changed after the promo was printed. In any case, yes, it's pretty much confirmed that Fantasia 2000 will be a DVD item before the year is out.
But even more interesting (and perplexing) is a recent report by Widescreen Review claiming that the original 1940 Fantasia is also expected on Nov. 14. We have not heard anything at all from Disney on this one, nor has there been a press release, but WR received a demo disc of F2K from The Mouse House, so it appears their information is coming from the official source. According to WR, the original Fantasia will arrive on Nov. 14 (SRP $29.99), and the THX-certified disc will feature Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 tracks (no original soundtrack?), along with two commentary tracks. There also will be a three-disc Fantasia Anthology (SRP $69.99) with a third disc of supplemental materials, due on Nov. 14 as well.
Assuming the above information is correct (and we're figuring that WR got their info from reliable authorities), the upcoming DVD release of the original Fantasia is a head-scratcher on several levels. Regular readers of this website may recall our attempt to track down an Asian DVD of Fantasia to learn if it was licensed by Disney or a bootleg (we eventually decided it was a bootleg), and in fact Disney has had Fantasia under lock-and-key for some time. Our Laserdisc copy sports a neat little sticker declaring "The Final Release of this Original Masterpiece!" and we have been under the impression that Fantasia had gone the way of Song of the South out-of-print forever (if for different reasons). When Fantasia was not included in Disney's Platinum Collection of ten animated films scheduled to go on rotated 10-year moratoriums, we figured it was another nail in the coffin. After all, Disney certainly wouldn't lump Fantasia in with their Gold Classic Collection, would they? Forcing it to share the same folio as Pochohantas II and A Goofy Movie? What's more, Disney CEO Michael Eisner recently indicated that Disney's "Platinum" DVDs could remain on hold indefinitely, or at least until acceptable copy-protection technologies would assure the company that their digital content couldn't be pirated with impunity. He even cited Snow White scheduled to be their first Platinum DVD in 2001 as a flagship item for the company. If that's the case, isn't Fantasia just as much a signature movie for The Mouse House? Why hold back on the Platinum titles but push the original Fantasia to be out on DVD in just three months time, when two DVD copy-protection lawsuits have yet to reach a verdict? Are we the only people wondering what is going on at Mouse HQ?
As for the introductory materials on Disney's DVDs, it is good to hear that they are abandoning the practice of trying to force trailers and such on their consumers, who have paid some hard-earned bucks to buy a movie on home-video, not watch commercial television. However, just how Gestapo-like the previous Disney trailers have been remains a player-to-player issue Sony DVD players have always been able to skip the promos with a tap of the index button, whereas many other players prohibit it. Hopefully all DVD players are now able to skip directly to the movie (or menu, as it may be) on Buena Vista releases.
Okay, your editor is getting a headache. That's what happens sometimes when we try to keep up with the Magic Kingdom's home-video policies, so we'll drop it for now. And before we go wandering in search of some Excedrin, if anybody else out there has the promo materials from Disney that say Fantasia 2000 has a street date of Sept. 26, as Anthony has, please drop us a line. Actually, everybody with any information whatsoever on the Fantasia moratorium or the upcoming DVD is invited to send us letters on this topic. We're all ears.
Tuesday, 8 August 2000
On the Street: Okay, we know things have been thin lately (we feel your pain people), but we promise that the next few weeks are going to see some of the best DVDs ever to hit the street. In the meantime, a few notables this morning include two special editions from Columbia TriStar, Brian's Song and Cat Ballou, while Anchor Bay has released their Supergirl DVDs (limited and unlimited versions), and Buena Vista is on the board with this year's Reindeer Games. This week's big standout for us? The Rutles, now in release from Rhino. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of Reel.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 7 August 2000
And the winner is: Igor Gavrilovic of Belleville, N.J., wins the free Out of Africa: Collector's Edition DVD from our July contest. Congrats, Igor!
Our totally free DVD contest for the month of August is up and running, and we have a copy of DreamWorks' Galaxy Quest up for grabs. Be sure to drop by our contest page to send us your entry, and don't forget to take our monthly DVD poll while you're there.
Disc of the Week: Of all the complaints we hear nowadays about modern movies (dull characters, audience-tested plots, too much dependence on special effects), one of our favorites is the death of the screen couple. Sure, A-list Hollywood stars often are thrown together for individual projects Sandra Bullock and Ben Affleck, Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze, Michelle Pfeiffer and Harrison Ford but it's rare when enough chemistry comes out of these to create a running series of films. In fact, the only real stab at a modern screen couple lately has been Richard Gere and Julia Roberts, who, based on the success of Pretty Woman, reunited in 1999 for Runaway Bride. But that barely counts. The great screen couples of cinema belong to the past, in a world where Humphrey Bogart is always having a drink with Lauren Bacall, where Cary Grant is giving Ingrid Bergman his best drop-dead-gorgeous grin. And there can be no doubt that the greatest ever were real-life couple Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy.
Hepburn and Tracy's film career together spanned 25 years, from 1942's Woman of the Year to the 1967 Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?, and included such notables as Desk Set, Without Love, and Pat and Mike. Perhaps their most popular collaboration was in 1949, in George Cukor's witty battle of the sexes Adam's Rib. Hepburn and Tracy star as husband-and-wife lawyers Amanda and Adam Bonner, she a defense attorney, he an Assistant D.A. Their carefree life is sustained by a good income and many sophisticated friends, but when betrayed wife Doris Attinger (Judy Holliday) shoots her husband Warren Attinger (Tom Ewell) after catching him with bimbo Beryl Caighn (Jean Hagen), Adam is assigned to prosecute her. It's bothersome enough, as he doesn't want the seedy case, but what's worse is that Amanda sees a double-standard in the law, where a man would be forgiven for protecting his family from a homewrecker but a woman could barely get a fair trial under the same circumstances. Armed with a fierce legal education and an even fiercer temperament in the courtroom, Amanda takes Doris 's case, which places her opposite her rational-minded, often grumpy hubby.
Adam's Rib is among the smartest comedies from Hollywood's golden age, and it is made smarter with a script by Garson Kanin and Ruth Gordon, a well-regarded writing team who were married themselves. Cukor, who previously directed Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story, is at the top of his form here, and with a strong cast he often relies on them to carry the film without any help from behind the camera (watch the initial interview between Hepburn and Holliday it's a perfectly timed bit of comedy, and all done in just one take). The supporting cast is a particular treat, as they all went on to star in some classic Hollywood comedies in their own right (Holliday in Born Yesterday, Ewell in The Seven-Year Itch, Hagen in Singin' in the Rain), and David Wayne as singing neighbor Kip Lurie gets in some very funny lines, even when he's battling Hepburn and Tracy for screen-time.
Warner's DVD edition of Adam's Rib, previously released by MGM, features a strong transfer in the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, and the black-and-white print is very clean and has good low-contrast details. Audio is in the original mono (as Dolby Digital 1.0), and the original theatrical trailer is on board. Worth a spot in every film buff's DVD library, Adam's Rib is on the street now.
Box Office: Three heavily hyped films went head-to-head at the weekend box-office and Kevin Bacon came out a winner in Sony's Hollow Man, the latest film from mad Dutchman Paul Verhoeven, which earned $26.8 million. Warner's Space Cowboys, directed by Clint Eastwood, and Buena Vista's Coyote Ugly, produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, had solid openings as well, but neither were strong enough to bump off Eddie Murphy and Universal's Nutty Professor II: The Klumps, which had a sharp drop-off from last weekend's stunning $42 million opening, but still captured second place (we'd also like to note that reviews for Space Cowboys have been largely positive, while the vacuous, slickly marketed Coyote Ugly has received numerous critical thrashings).
Still in continuing release, Warner's The Perfect Storm is now at $165.4 million, Dimension's Scary Movie has passed $140 million (not bad for a $19 million movie), Fox's X-Men is adding to the sequel's budget, earning $135.6 million after its first month, and DreamWorks' What Lies Beneath is still drawing crowds with $95.2 million. But falling off the dirty dozen are DreamWorks' Chicken Run and Fox's Me, Myself and Irene, both which finished just short of the $100 million mark. For Chicken Run and the Aardman animation studios, that's good news for Jim Carrey, it's well under his batting average.
Keanu Reeves and Gene Hackman take the field this weekend with the football comedy The Replacements. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Alexandra DuPont has posted a new review of Woody Allen's Stardust Memories, while D.K. Holm went back into the archives and came out with a fresh look at The Silence of the Lambs: The Criterion Collection both can be found on our Full Reviews index. New quick reviews from the staff this week include the out-of-print (but trading on eBay) A Hard Day's Night, Adam's Rib, Drowning Mona, Communion, and Thick as Thieves, 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.
Adieu: It is with great sadness that we note the passing of Sir Alec Guinness, who died Saturday in England. The cause of death was not announced by a spokesperson for the King Edward VII Hospital in West Sussex, just outside of London, and the news was not made public until early Monday morning (Sunday evening in North America). Most movie fans think of Guinness as Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars saga, but he was no stranger to blockbusters, having roles in David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia, Dr. Zhivago, and The Bridge on the River Kwai. Other silver-screen successes included several Ealing Studios productions, such as The Lavender Hill Mob, The Man in the White Suit, The Ladykillers, and the celebrated Kind Hearts and Coronets, in which Guinness had eight speaking roles (and all of these films rank on the British Film Institute Top 100, by the way).
But the theater was always Guinness's first love, and the Star Wars phenomenon eventually took its toll, as the actor made it publicly known that he wanted to have the Kenobi character killed off so he wouldn't have to appear in any more Star Wars movies. "I just couldn't go on speaking those bloody awful, banal lines," he said in an interview with Talk magazine last September. "I'd had enough of the mumbo jumbo." He also said that he never read any of his Star Wars fan mail, and instead threw all of it in the trash, claiming "I shrivel up every time someone mentions Star Wars to me." He may not always have loved fame, but movie and theater fans around the world loved him, and he will be missed. Guiness was 86. He is survived by his wife Merula and son Matthew.
Alec and Merula were married for 62 years.
Thursday, 3 August 2000
DeCSS t-shirts under fire: And we thought high school was the only place somebody could get in trouble for wearing an inappropriate t-shirt. In a surprise move Tuesday (and one that's worth a snicker), the DVD Copy Control Association has charged CopyLeft, a gearhead clothing retailer, with violating the law by selling a shirt displaying the DeCSS source code, adding the company to a long list of defendants in a forthcoming DeCSS trial in California. While similar to the current Motion Picture Association of America trial against 2600.com publisher Eric Corley in New York, the California case has been brought by the DVD CCA, a legal wing of the MPAA, and it concerns violations of trade secrets rather than a violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which Corley is charged with. But that's splitting fine legal hairs and as far as CopyLeft founder Steve Blood is concerned, it's all lame anyway.
"We've been marketing this (t-shirt) since last January," Blood told ZDNet News. "It seems a bit late." Electronic Frontier Foundation attorney Robin Gross noted that "If you can put it on a T-shirt, it's speech. To enjoin the T-shirts as a circumvention device is ludicrous." And while it's clear how the EFF plans to handle this one, we have to disagree if you distribute a trade secret electronically or on paper, that can be illegal in many circumstances. A white cotton garment worn about the torso is not a legally immune form of media. The real question is if the posting of DeCSS has violated industry trade secrets, and we think that will be for several courts and about three or four years of appeals to decide.
Subtitles vs. closed-captioning: We received several comments yesterday regarding the question of subtitles on the Cats DVD (see yesterday's letters segment), but the most definitive came from DVD Journal reader David Williams it's information worth repeating:
David confirmed our suspicions, and while it's great to know that subtitles are available on many DVDs in more than one format, everybody should be aware that a DVD with subtitles on the disc is decoded via the DVD player. However, traditional closed-captioning, while included on many DVDs, is not a function of the DVD player per se, but rather of the closed-captioning decoder in most TVs. Therefore, if you want to watch a DVD with subtitles, but the disc only has closed-captioning available, drop that DVD remote and look for your TV remote (something we had to do recently when we wanted to watch MGM's recent Henry V disc and not miss a word of the Bard's script). It's an easy mistake, but easily fixed as well.
Quotable: "Our copyright laws must provide adequate incentive for copyright holders to distribute their works. Therefore, the new president and Congress must ensure that our copyright laws reflect the need to protect intellectual property in the broadband age.... Content creators must be permitted to take appropriate steps, such as watermarks, digital labels and other copyright protection measures, to safeguard digital content. Content owners like News Corp. are developing copyright labels to protect our content. The law must clearly and explicitly recognize our right to do so."
News Corp. president and chief operating officer Peter Chernin,
"There is no doubt that users are illegally copying music, but the record companies should be careful about what they ask for. Their shortsighted desire to shut down the popular Napster music site will make it nearly impossible for them to control the online trading of music. With Napster, there is a credible company with experienced management and a 20 million user captive audience in one manageable place. With Napster potentially shut down, the record companies have no one to negotiate with as distributed trading architectures like Gnuttela have no management team, facilities or place of business."
Stephen Bradley, a fellow at technology and media consulting
"Napster doesn't even have a business plan. There's really nothing they could offer us in settlement talks except a mailing list of people who want free music."
A recording industry official, speaking with Reuters
"He's served a year, and he should have been out in February. This is a sad tale."
Attorney Ross Nabatoff, arguing last week for Robert
"I do not take showers. As a result of seeing (Psycho) edited, or put together, it left such an indelible impression on my mind that I cannot take a shower. And that is the truth."
Janet Leigh, who made a promotional appearance at
Coming Attractions: We have plenty of new DVD reviews on the way, including more from MGM's Woody Allen Collection. And if you haven't entered our monthly free DVD contest, this will be your last weekend to visit our contest page for your chance to win a copy of Out of Africa: Collector's Edition. We'll be back next week with our latest disc write-ups, the box-office report, and we'll have a new DVD contest and reader poll up and running as well.
See ya Monday.
Wednesday, 2 August 2000
We've discussed this topic before, but as more and more people are just now investing in DVD and turning to the Internet for information, it bears going over again from time to time. There are always two things to consider when buying discs overseas video standards and DVD region coding. The three major TV standards worldwide are NTSC, PAL, and SECAM, and on this count Japanese DVDs will work fine here, since both North America and Japan use the NTSC standard. However, European countries predominantly use PAL or SECAM, so a special DVD player that can convert between video formats is necessary for European DVDs to work in the U.S. and Canada (we think the current Apex players still have PAL to NTSC conversion, even though the "loopholes" menu was removed earlier this year). But even if you have an NTSC-formatted DVD from Japan, it still will be a Region 2 disc, and therefore will not operate on most DVD players purchased in the States. Thus, you will have to get a code-free player before you can enjoy any Japanese DVDs here (DVD City, who has a small banner on the left side of our front page, stocks several code-free decks, as do many other online retailers).
As for what DVDs to get in Japan, how much they cost, etc., we certainly aren't an authority on this sort of thing, but our pal Ted Miller maintains a personal DVD gallery online, including several Region 2 titles he has purchased on his many trips to Japan. It looks like Ted's gallery isn't fully functional with Netscape, so be sure to use Internet Explorer when you visit.
Here's another letter we seem to be getting a lot lately, so we'll offer our best information to date on what is a highly anticipated title while the Platinum Edition of Seven was first announced for release in March of 2000, it was subsequently kicked back to summer 2000, and now it doesn't have a street date at all. It could become available around the holidays or in early 2001, and the release reportedly has been upgraded to New Line's new "Double Platinum" series (i.e., a two-disc set). As Seven: Double Platinum Edition clearly has gone through a few upgrades in the planning stages, the feature-set still is not finalized (and New Line does not list it under the "Coming Soon" section of their website), but it's possible that some of the materials on Criterion's Seven laserdisc could be included, depending on how rights shake out. The Criterion LD, now out-of-print, has a commentary with director David Fincher, actors Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt, screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker, production designer Arthur Max, and makeup specialist Rob Bottin; a visual essay and commentary by Bottin; deleted scenes, outtakes, and dailies; crime-scene photographs, production-design sketches, and storyboards; a study of the opening credit sequence with designer Kyle Cooper; the killer's photographs with notes by photographer Melodie McDaniel; the killer's diaries; hundreds of stills and conceptual artwork; and a trailer and eight TV spots.
New Line's forthcoming Boogie Nights: Double Platinum Edition will be a near duplicate of Criterion's Boogie Nights LD, but this is because Paul Thomas Anderson actually owns all of the extras, including the comic-book boxcover art. As such, it's possible that some of the items on the Seven laserdisc belong to New Line or David Fincher, and therefore could wind up on the DVD (in the case of Criterion's Spinal Tap LD and DVD, for what it's worth, Criterion owns their two commentaries, while the deleted scenes and trailers will re-appear on the MGM special edition). And the studios nowadays take great pride in their DVD product, especially marquee items like Seven. Therefore, no matter what the final features, we're fairly confident that New Line's revamped Seven will be just as comprehensive as Criterion's LD, if not more so. And it certainly won't be a flipper like the original.
As for an Aug. 29 release date, that's absolutely incorrect. Both New Line's Magnolia: Platinum Edition and Boogie Nights: Double Platinum Edition DVDs are due on that date, which may be the cause of some confusion.
We can do one better than that, Kevin while we don't have a copy of Cats handy, we'll put this one to our readers. If any of you have a copy of Cats and can confirm that your disc has working subtitles, closed-captioning, or both, drop us a line at email@example.com and we'll let Kevin know right away.
Tuesday, 1 August 2000
On the Street: August is one of the times of year (along with January) when new DVD releases start to get thin, but there are a few good discs to look out for this morning. Tops in our book is Warner's Romeo Must Die, which features some extensive behind-the-scenes material, while Warner Music has the 1968 Elvis Comeback Special on the street as well. Meanwhile, MGM has re-issued PolyGram's out-of-print Misery for fans of Rob Reiner and Stephen King, Disney has added The Rescuers Down Under to their Gold Classic Collection, along with the previous releases of A Bug's Life (movie-only) and Hercules, and Columbia TriStar's new DVD of Whatever It Takes is sure to satisfy fans of romantic teen comedies. And for those of you who just love to get your hands on something unusual, Image has The Complete Superman Cartoons in the shops today. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of Reel.com and Image Entertainment:
Bye for now.