Thursday, 28 September 2000
PlayStation2 smackdown!: Been drooling over the prospect of a new Sony PlayStation2 next to your TV come Oct. 26? Get in line now. The new PS2 which likely will become the most successful consumer-electronics gadget of all time with a new generation of video-gaming technology and CD/DVD playback (and for just $299.00) has already become a major hit in Japan, where it sold 980,000 units in its first three days on the street last March. But the various hardware problems that kept Japanese consumers waiting for weeks to pick up backorders has now affected North America, as Sony announced yesterday that the original 1 million units due in October has been slashed to 500,000. Sony would not specify which hardware components are holding up manufacturing, but it appears they will do their best to keep PS2s available through the holiday season with an additional 100,000 units shipped every week, 1.3 million by Christmas, and a total of 3 million sold through to North American dealers by March 31, 2001. Over at Sony spin-control, chief operating officer Kaz Hirai noted that the company "will be able to supply a flow of products, instead of a huge initial spike," as if it's a good thing that half a million gaming nuts won't have their new DVD-ready deck on the street date. If Japanese sales figures are anything to go by, it's likely the initial 500,000 will disappear virtually overnight (if they aren't already allocated to pre-orders), and it only took Japanese consumers about a week to snap up the 1.3 million units due to gradually arrive on these shores by December. In other words, scratch that PS2 off your last-minute shopping list.
Commentary Clips: "I had no idea why we had gone to Mt. Rushmore. Why was everybody congregating at Mt. Rushmore? And I devised the idea of a ranch being nearby, which was (the villains') headquarters. But I didn't know why they were all there, and we're coming to the last act of the picture. I found myself in the second week of having not written a single page, and actors are on salary and I'm in a panic. I called Hitch on the phone and said 'Hitch, we're in trouble.' He said 'I'll be right down' he didn't want the trouble in his office, so he brought it to mine. (laughs) And we sat facing each other, and I told him my dilemma: I didn't know why we were at Mt. Rushmore, and I didn't know what the last act was. And he said 'Ernie, I'll tell you what we'll do, we'll hire a mystery novelist, we'll get some famous mystery novelist and we'll have him or her sit in with us and kick ideas around.' And I said 'Ah jeez, what will we tell them upstairs? I'm supposed to be writing this picture.' And said 'We'll tell them I wasn't enough help to you' which I thought was wonderful of him 'We'll say I just couldn't come through for you.' And I said 'No, that's no good.' By then it was 6:30 and he said 'We'd better go back to my office,' so we went to his office and we just sat there, talking about different mystery novelists, and I suddenly heard myself saying 'She takes a gun out of her purse and shoots him.' Where did that come from? The right brain.... And believe it or not, that gave me the whole final act, right then and there (talking with Hitchcock) the right brain had been working."
Screenwriter Ernest Lehman,
"Okay, this is The Big Set-Piece. Copious planning. Logistical nightmare. Took six weeks to shoot with nine cameras and 2,000 extras. We storyboarded it, we had a kind of Bible of sorts to work from, and we followed it, but we got a lot of bonus stuff. Believe me, a lot of stuff occurred to us on the day that we shot. The actual Battle of Stirling wasn't like this, it was a different kind of battle altogether. (William) Wallace did indeed defeat a superior force, but not in this way. However, it wasn't as cinematically compelling as I think what we devised. It's interesting, this scene with the opposing force coming over the hill and showing their might wasn't in the storyboards, and it was like we almost finished the sequence and I said 'Oh my God, we have to film this!' So we kind of like knocked all of this 'arrival' off in a day, where (the English arrive) and the guys can react to them. It's one of those oversights, you think 'My God, we need it. We need these guys to see what's coming their way and be really kind of awed by it over-awed by it.' I'm glad we remembered it."
Quotable: "Half the business called Hollywood is sleaze. (Joe) Lieberman is absolutely right. He's one of the few politicians who's willing to stand up and say that. A lot of what we do has very little to do with art. It has to do with sleaze and gratuitous sex and unnecessary violence."
Actor Martin Sheen, speaking at a recent political fund-raiser.
"I was very sorry to hear of the passing of Bryan Smith. The death of a 43-year-old man can only be termed untimely."
Author Stephen King, in a statement released after Bryan
"The way I work is that I cut the movie together, I look at it and figure out what's missing. At that point, it's more about how the movie flows together rather than how the script flows together. I'm acknowledging more and more that a script and a movie are two different things."
George Lucas, who is now headed into post-production as
Coming Attractions: The DVDs never stop, and we have lots of new reviews on the way, including Orson Welles' The Lady From Shanghai, the original Get Carter with Michael Caine, and plenty more. This also will be the last weekend to enter this month's totally free DVD contest for your chance to win a copy of Erin Brockovich, 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.
See ya Monday.
Wednesday, 27 September 2000
Thanks for your letter Evan. As for Greg Dorr's less-than-glowing review of American Beauty, we really think it speaks for itself, and your editor certainly isn't going to rehash it, defend it, or otherwise. I also am not fond of discussing our site's formatting in a open forum, mostly because once we go down that road then suddenly it's an invitation for everybody to have a better idea about everything, and the mail really piles up. If you can write better reviews than we do, or create a better DVD website, then more power to you. Send us your URL so we can add it to our links page.
With that out of the way, we do want to point out that, despite your apparent inferences to the contrary, we here at The DVD Journal actually do review movies, not just DVDs. We review movies because we love them, and everybody here had a substantial personal collection of Laserdiscs, videos, and cheap stuff taped off late-night cable years before DVD was just a good idea in some lab. We also review movies because a lot of people (including your editor) catch most new films for the first time at home, and thus want to know if something is worth a rental. Likewise, many readers want to hear about good movies they may be unaware of, be it foreign stuff, dusty old classics, or new things that came and went in the theaters without gaining much attention. Of course, this is simply one philosophy when it comes to writing reviews, and there are several excellent places on the Web to read about new DVDs, all who follow their own news and review guidelines and have various overall strengths The Digital Bits has the best gossip; DVDFile.com is a massive resource of information; DVD Review has great in-depth feature stories. We try to focus on daily stats and reader mail, and our reviews have an academic skew to them because we're all journalists who wasted a lot of time in film school. Ideally, everybody should include several DVD websites in their reading habits and take the best that each has to offer, and there's no reason not to start your own if you would like to add your voice to the mix. When you add all the sites up, we think there are a lot of people doing a good job of keeping DVD consumers informed on the Web.
"Also note that early discs were released with the subtitled locations ("Opening Night Party, Los Angeles, CA," etc.) missing from the print, while others reportedly could not turn off the French subtitles. Apparently MGM yanked those copies and fixed the problem, because a recent screening of a disc purchased on the street was just fine."
"Also note that early discs were released with the subtitled locations ("Opening Night Party, Los Angeles, CA," etc.) missing from the print, while others reportedly could not turn off the French subtitles. Apparently MGM yanked those copies and fixed the problem, because a recent screening of a disc purchased on the street was just fine."
It should be noted that, regarding the subtitled locations (and identification of speakers) in Tap, the original captions have not been restored, but instead cheap video burns have replaced them; this wouldn't be quite so bad if not for the fact that, in almost every instance, the burned-in captions go below the widescreen matte, drawing attention to the fact that they are not part of the original film. This may seem a small thing to quibble about, but for Tap fans it is an incredibly cheap substitute for the original version of the film, and just one more reason to acquire the Criterion disc, if you don't already have it. I recently got one for $100 on eBay and, considering the extremely entertaining and informative commentaries, the presence of the "pilot", and the original subtitles, I felt it was money very well spent. Why MGM chose to "cheap out" on this point is beyond me, and makes me wonder if these "video burn" subtitles are a quick-fix on something that was just a complete screw-up in the transfer process.
We're going to lean on our good friend Glenn at DVD Savant, because he addressed this issue recently on his site, and his knowledge of the movie and home-video industry really is second-to-none. Without a doubt, the absence of the documentary-style subtitles on MGM's new This Is Spinal Tap DVD was a huge oversight that almost reached consumers before a last-minute correction, which involved the digital subtitling you mention. But it wasn't the case that somebody simply "left out" the subtitles, because original prints of Tap don't have any at all, due to the realities of foreign distribution. On the versions of Tap most of us have seen in the theaters, on video, and on Criterion's DVD, the subtitles have been burned in for English-speaking audiences. For overseas audiences, different subtitles for the entire print were created. Therefore, MGM actually transferred a more pristine, more original print than Criterion used. Nevertheless, many digital die-hards have complained about the slapped-on subtitles, and truth be told, your editor is inclined to agree. While the new Tap is a great disc, and there is no reason not to buy it, those "original" (so to speak) subtitles give the out-of-print Criterion release even more cachet, which is only boosted by Criterion's two commentaries and the original 20-minute Tap short, which may never appear on DVD again.
Wow Jeff, feeling a little grumpy today? You have some good points regarding the unique Men in Black: Limited Edition packaging, but we're not sure you're 100% correct on everything. Certainly, the case is reinforced paperboard, which ain't everybody's cup of tea. But the additional sheet under the shrinkwrap (designed to offer standard back-of-the-box info, as the MiB case itself is matte black) can be removed without damaging the case or at least we had no problems with our copy, since the sheet isn't really glued on as much as it's stuck on with small bits of rubber-cement type adhesive. Therefore, removing the sheet and then rubbing away the adhesive with your fingers should not do any harm at all to your prized collectable. Also, while the clasps in this new box are awfully secure, there are grooves around the seat so you can pry the disc out with little problem and yes, like the Alpha keep-case and its "lift here" divot, you will bend the disc very, very slightly. But really, you can't break it. In fact, if anybody gets the willies from prying discs out of tight enclosures, we have a perfect solution for your bend-o-phobia get any cheap CD-R you don't care about (or spend a buck on a new one) and try to break it. Try. If you do this, consider wearing eye-protection and a long-sleeved shirt, because it will shatter after considerable force is applied. Snapping a couple of CD-Rs has totally assured us that we could never break a DVD by just removing it from a case.
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, 26 September 2000
On the Street: Everybody relax the street-list is so thin this week you actually may have the budget to back up and buy some stuff you missed during August. But for those who insist their DVDs be as fresh as a net of fish, New Line has an impressive Platinum Series release of Final Destination in the shops, while Universal has released The Flintstones: Via Rock Vegas and Buena Vista has a big Scream box-set available (just don't scream when you see the price). Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of Reel.com and Image Entertainment:
We'll be back tomorrow with this week's mailbag it appears somebody has dropped us a line to let us know that WE SUCK.
Monday, 25 September 2000
Disc of the Week: John Cusack is the king of inner turmoil. So good in fact that romantic frustration, nagging doubt, and self-loathing have started to define his career. Of course, Cusack has played it straight in such films as Eight Men Out and Fat Man and Little Boy, and he even signed on with Bruckheimer & Co. for Con Air. But honestly, when you hear the name John Cusack, do you immediately think "Oh yeah, he was in City Hall with Al Pacino"? No, you and everybody else remembers films like The Sure Thing, Say Anything, and Grosse Point Blank, all which examine how hard love is to find, retain, or recapture. For the better part of two decades John Cusack been a minor emblem of the young men in his generation, and 2000 adds another classic film to the list, High Fidelity which certainly is one of the best films of the year and bound to become a landmark for Cusack fans.
Based on the popular novel by Nick Hornby (which takes place in London), Cusack stars as Rob Gordon, a thirtysomething owner of a dingy Chicago record store that specializes in hard-to-find vinyl rarities, which means that, in a Compact Disc era, it mostly attracts a clientele of young men who are obsessed with collecting scarce first issues or expensive Japanese imports of their favorite bands. As the hobby of vinyl collecting is filled with unlimited bits of knowledge and trivia, Rob often likes to play a reductionist game with his love for music: naming "top-fives" of just about everything such as top five side-ones, track-ones and he also uses the top-five system as a way to catalog his life (indeed, his record collection is filed away not alphabetically or chronologically but "autobiographically"). Thus, as High Fidelity begins, we find Rob breaking up with his current girlfriend Laura (Iben Hjejle), causing him to launch into his list of all-time top-five ugly breakups, insisting to himself that Laura simply does not make the list ("If you wanted to mess me up, you should have got to me sooner!" he yells after her). In his record store the next day, Rob is still dealing with the loss of Laura while being annoyed by his employees and fellow vinyl collectors Dick (Todd Louiso) and Barry (a very funny Jack Black). Trying to learn why his love life always crashes and burns in stupefying humiliation, Rob decides to hunt down his top-five breakups (including Catherine Zeta-Jones and Lili Taylor), while trying to shake the ghost of Laura not an easy task, as he learns she is now dating a ponytailed mediation counselor (Tim Robbins) who reeks of patchouli and incense.
While the sun has not set on John Cusack by a long shot, one suspects that High Fidelity is his best film to date, which is saying something. But when stacked against Rob Reiner's teen comedy The Sure Thing or the dark-comic Grosse Point Blank, High Fidelity simply has deeper, more human dimensions while still delivering an enormous amount of laugh-out-loud moments. While only four years after Grosse Point Blank, Cusack looks and come across almost ten years older, abandoning a lot of the boyish charm that has sustained his career for a world-weary, chain-smoking solipsism. Cusack also handles one of the tougher chores of the film deftly, as much of the story simply has to be conveyed by him directly to the viewers in various monologues (a necessary conceit in order to get some of Hornby's original material into the screenplay). A lesser actor could lose the audience over such a tactic, but Cusack's Rob Gordon manages to remain entirely sympathetic while revealing that, ultimately, he's an enormously self-centered asshole. And as is the case with Cusack's more recent films, he surrounds himself with a strong supporting cast Robbins has a plum part as the smug, over-the-hill hippie who stole Rob's girl, while Black is a kinetic force of comedy, able to take the smallest moment and find something funny with just his delivery, a gesture, or a facial expression.
Buena Vista's new DVD edition of High Fidelity is not the massive special-edition fans of the film have been hoping for, but it's still is worth owning. Along with a solid anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) and audio in Dolby Digital 5.1, there is a gallery of nine deleted scenes, which it must be noted are far better than the cutting-room-floor stuff we get on most discs nowadays. Each scene has something of value to it, and most are downright hilarious. Two feature cameos from Beverly D'Angelo and Harold Ramis, who are not in the final film, and one gets the impression that the majority of these were not cut because they "didn't work," but simply to improve the film's overall pacing. Also included are 12 interview segments with Cusack and director Stephen Frears (including behind-the-scenes footage), each about three to four minutes long, and while informative, Buena Vista could have improved this by offering one title with chapters for each selection, which would create a behind-the-scenes feature more than 30 minutes in length. But despite a few drawbacks (no isolated score, no commentary), High Fidelity will be a romantic comedy to watch again and again in the years to come, making the DVD a nice addition to anybody's obsessive collection. It's on the street now.
Box Office: While showing some improvement over last weekend's numbers, the North American box office is still in the mid-season slumps so weak, in fact, that a 27-year-old horror movie that everybody's already seen actually landed in second place. Turns out it really wasn't that much of a gamble for Warner to put The Exorcist back in the theaters (with a few new scenes), as the film earned $8.5 million since Friday and was bested only by Sony's Urban Legend: Final Cut, which earned the top spot with $8.8 million (and any number-one less than $10 million is nothing to brag about). Taking third was another newcomer, DreamWorks' Almost Famous, which went wide last Friday and has drawn crowds based on both the reputation of Jerry McGuire director Cameron Crowe and a stack of Oscar-hyping reviews. But struggling into the top ten was Fox Searchlight's Woman on Top, the latest entry in the "magic realism" genre, which has suffered from more than a few critical barbs.
Still in continuing release, it looks like DreamWorks' What Lies Beneath will join the $150 million club before leaving the theaters, while Universal has plenty to crow about with Bring it On, which has weathered the box-office doldrums to remain in the top five for five weeks running. Falling much faster are Universal's The Watcher and Warner's Bait (neither, it appears, will do remarkable overall business).
Disney's sounding the opening of their fall movie season this Friday with Remember the Titans, starring Denzel Washington and Will Patton, while fans of This Is Spinal Tap and Waiting for Guffman will want to look for Christopher Guest's latest mockumentary, Best in Show. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Greg Dorr has posted a special sneak preview of DreamWorks' American Beauty: The Awards Edition, which is due to arrive on Oct. 24, while D.K. Holm recently spun New Line's Final Destination: Platinum Series and Betsy Bozdech has a look at A Map of the World all can be found on our Full Reviews index. Meanwhhile, new quick reviews this week include Mission to Mars, High Fidelity, Me Myself I, and the Fox double-feature of The Fly and Return of the Fly. All can be accessed on the Quick Reviews index, and 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, 21 September 2000
On the Block: We just got our latest round of DVD auction rankings at eBay, and as happens sometimes, there's an odd statistical blip. Criterion's out-of-print Hard Boiled, while a desirable disc, has never been a major trader on our list, in part because it was on the street for some time, and thus a ready supply of auctions on eBay normally keeps high closes under $100.00. But there was a Hard Boiled auction in recent days that closed for $385.00 on a single bid, tying the title for first place, even though the next-highest winning auction for HB closed at a more down-to-earth $82.00. Also scoring $385.00 was the 1997 THX Theatrical Trailers DVD, distributed exclusively at the 1997 Consumer Electronics Show, and of which reportedly less than 1,000 are in existence. Both the THX disc and Hard Boiled knocked top-spot regular Salo: The Criterion Collection down to third this time around, even though it had a top auction of $374.00 in recent weeks. Another THX disc also found its way into the top five, the THX Surround EX Demo DVD, earning $174.55 after 20 bids, while the value of A Hard Day's Night keeps climbing, now to a fab $158.50 winner. Note that, despite the arrival of MGM's Spinal Tap in the stores this month, Criterion's OOP disc still has cachet, easily clearing the century mark. And it doesn't happen often, but somebody auctioned off the prized Fight Club DVD with Fox's legendary brown-bag-tied-with-string press kit, which went to one happy DVD fan for $89.99. Perhaps a sign of things to come, Criterion's Dead Ringers is now drawing high bids, even though technically it is still in print (but some retail sites, including Amazon.com, have the title available on special order only). Finally, also new to the list this week is Aardman's Wallace and Gromit: The First Three Adventures, recently out of print from BBC Video via Fox. Count on the closes for this one to steadily creep higher until a new disc is announced.
Here's the highest recent closing prices of rare and out-of-print DVDs from online auctions at eBay:
Commentary Clips: "One thing that you get used to, it's very bizarre I used to be uncomfortable around people who were bleeding. (But) I got so used to people bleeding, and I would have normal conversations with people and blood would be spurting out of them. And I just took it as 'Well, that's who they are.' It's sort of a Monty Python-esqe feeling, that you'd be talking to people and blood would be spurting out, and you'd act like it's perfectly normal. And I would always tell my crews, I'd say 'You're gonna see a lot of blood don't worry. Just act like it is normal.' Because for these guys it is normal it's like going to work."
Director Barry Blaustein,
"Here's the 'Hell in the Cell,' probably the match I'm more known for than anything. Right here, I had just gone down twice (after falling from the top of the cage on to the timekeeper's table) and (wrestler) The Undertaker looked at me and said 'We gotta go home,' I guess which means we gotta end the match. And I somehow convinced him I could go on, and it took about another minute or so for the cobwebs in my head to clear, and we ended up going on for another eight minutes or so. I think when people talk about it being such a great match it's just that it was probably the most emotional match I've ever taken part in, or maybe that there's ever been. It's certainly not the best match.... Here's the one (where I fell from the top of the cage to the mat). Yeah, that's the only time in 15 years I've actually been knocked unconscious I'm not talking about one of those WWF 'Referee goes down, he's unconscious' this is a real consciousness-loss, (it) left me and I didn't remember anything for about two minutes. All I remember is (wrestler) Terry Funk ended up coming in, I guess to buy me some time, and he was choked-slammed, and when he was his sneakers came off. And when I came to there was a pair of sneakers in the ring. And I didn't know why. That's a scary thing, not knowing what had happened in my life. But then again I had a girlfriend who used to black out when she drank, so she probably had a lot of moments in her life that she doesn't remember."
Wrestler Mick Foley, aka "Mankind,"
Quotable: "A report came out by the Federal Trade Commission about how movies rated inappropriate for children are being aggressively marketed to children. That's wrong and it has to stop.... The killers at Columbine said in their videotape, 'This is going to be just like that video game Doom,' which they had become obsessed with. If we broadcast throughout our society material which children are simply incapable of processing and dealing with, we should not be surprised if some of them respond to it in ways that are unhealthy."
Vice-President Al Gore, in a speech this week at the National
"When you call a friend and tell them to vote for freedom first, your words will echo in the spirit of Patrick Henry and Thomas Paine. They won our freedom with bullets so we could defend our freedom with ballots."
National Rifle Association President Charlton Heston, speaking
"Alec is the biggest moralist that I know. He stands completely behind what he says. I can very well imagine that Alec makes good on his threat. And then I'd probably have to go too."
Kim Basinger, regarding her husband Alec Baldwin's alleged
"I'm lucky. I could have been dead. I could have been (confined) to a wheelchair, but I'm not. I'm gonna make a full recovery. The Force is with me."
Liam Neeson, discussing his recent motorcycle crash on
Coming Attractions: New DVD reviews are on the way, including our special sneak preview of DreamWorks' American Beauty, New Line's huge Platinum Series Final Destination, and many more, so be sure to check back on Monday for all the write-ups, the box-office report, and any breaking news.
Have a great weekend, gang.
Wednesday, 20 September 2000
Mailbag: Wednesday is the day we get to our reader mail here at The DVD Journal, and while we aren't able to personally respond to all of your letters, we'd like to let you know that we read everything we get. Here's a few reader comments from this week:
Sharp reading Les, and we think you have a valuable bit of nit-picking too. But we can pick a nit just as good as anybody, so we're going to disagree not with your argument, but the terms of it. In DVD reviews, when we use the term "anamorphic," in virtually every instance we are talking about the telecine transfer, not the original film stock. And in terms of film stock, you are entirely correct. The majority of films today are shot on variants of the 1.37:1-ratio 35mm format (which, in full-frame, translates with negligible difference to standard 1.33:1 television screens). But most films today are presented theatrically in a widescreen format, most commonly in either 1.85:1 or 2.35:1. As you note, 2.35:1 films (such as L.A. Confidential) are created with anamorphic lenses, which compress the image horizontally for subsequent expansion during projection. On the other hand, 1.85:1 films (such as Out of Sight) are shot full-frame and then have the top and bottom areas (outside what is sometimes called the "safety" area) of the print eliminated for theatrical viewing.
However, the term "anamorphic" is not exclusive to film lenses, even though we may think of them most often. Any image that is anamorphic (from the Greek ana, "on" or "at the rate of," and morphe, "shape" or "form") simply has disparate image magnifications along at least two linear paths (for film stock, the perpendicular horizontal and vertical axes). And in this case, DVD producers are entirely correct to use the term "anamorphic" to describe telecine transfers that are enhanced for widescreen TVs, whether they be 1.85:1 (slightly larger than the 1.78:1 standard of widescreen televisions) or full-on 2.35:1, which still creates a letterbox effect on widescreen sets, if substantially reduced compared to 1.33:1 screens. All anybody has to do to prove the fact is set a DVD player to 16:9 out and then watch a disc like Out of Sight on a standard TV. The image indeed is compressed horizontally, and thus anamorphic. The distinction you draw is that Out of Sight never was created anamorphically for theatrical release. But that does not mean it can't be anamorphic when it is enhanced for widescreen televisions on DVD which it is.
We too have noticed this new practice from Universal, and we have not noticed any other vendor employing the three-tab sealing system. We aren't entirely sure why they have adopted this practice, but it's reasonable to presume it's to prevent the keep-case from opening even when a top-seal is present (which can be done quite easily). In any case, the additional seals certainly aren't there to prevent rattlers, since discs are more than capable of popping off their clasps while still shrinkwrapped. As of this point, nobody has yet to present a solution to rattlers, which we think is more pressing than keeping the DVD case firmly closed (and we'll say it again a piece of thick, biodegradable corrugated cardboard inserted into every DVD shipped will hold a disc in place until the consumer removes it. Anybody listening?)
This has to do with the way the disc is formatted by the DVD author(s), which can allow various audio tracks to be shuffled "on the fly" via the remote's audio key, or limit the user to changing them in the menu. Like you, we prefer on-the-fly audio shifting, which is available on most DVDs. In fact, at this point in time the chief offender in this practice is Universal, who it seems from day one has disabled the remote's audio key a small drawback to some otherwise great discs from an above-average DVD producer. However, we've complained before, and as you probably can guess from the previous letter, we suspect nobody is listening. All we want to know is if there are any Universal DVDs in existence that allow on-the-fly audio shifts. We can't think of any. If any of you have a better memory than we do, let us know.
We're glad you enjoyed your MGM encounter Terrence, but we want to warn everybody that your mileage will vary when contacting folks in the home-video industry. Nonetheless, when somebody has something nice to say about a studio, we like to spread the sunshine around. You wouldn't believe how grumpy you DVD fans can be sometimes and we have the e-mail to prove 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, 19 September 2000
Nov. 21 just got very, very crowded: Along with a few new disc announcements we noted last week, and even more today (see below), two huge summer films are headed for DVD this holiday season, and both on Nov. 21, which is now threatening to make the big Aug. 29 street date look a little tame by comparison. First up is Fox's special edition of X-Men the film that proved comic-book movies didn't have to suck and the cut on the new disc will run 120 minutes, adding nearly half an hour of new material to the film that was deleted for the theatrical release. Also on board will be additional extra scenes, included separately or in the 120-minute version "on the fly" (as in Fox's X-Files TV discs), Hugh Jackman's screen test, a featurette, excerpts of director Bryan Singer on "The Charlie Rose Show," a look at the animatics behind the film, and 170 stills. Meanwhile, our friends at DVD Review are reporting that DreamWorks will release Gladiator on Nov. 21 as an SE as well, with audio in Dolby Digital 5.1 EX, a commentary track (with Ridley Scott, we're guessing), deleted scenes, and many more features. Get your pre-orders in now if you'd like to save some bucks come Thanksgiving weekend.
On the Street: It's a street Tuesday for dyed-in-the-wool cinema buffs as there's nary an action flick in sight on this morning's list, which instead is dominated by both Hollywood classics and modern dramas. Of particular note is Stephen Frears' High Fidelity from Buena Vista, Paramount is having a Stephen King week with The Dead Zone and Pet Semetary, and Warner has a whole range of things from Hollywood's golden age (some MGM reissues, some not), and in particular the long-awaited A Star is Born: Special Edition. Due to some delays, Criterion also has a slew of stuff in the shops this week, including Laurence Olivier's Hamlet, Brian De Palma's Sisters, and the oft-requested Kwaidan. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of Reel.com and Image Entertainment:
And for those of you keeping score: Got some credit cards? Then get ready for a pounding in November. According to our tally, on Nov. 7 we can expect Paramount's Mission: Impossible 2, Buena Vista's The Straight Story, and Titan A.E. and The X-Files: The Complete Second Season from Fox. That's followed on Nov. 14 by Criterion's Do the Right Thing, Warner's The Perfect Storm, and Disney's three-disc Fantasia Anthology. Then, on Nov. 21 we will see DreamWorks' Gladiator and Chicken Run, Fox's X-Men, MGM's Escape From New York, and two classics from Columbia TriStar, His Girl Friday and the two-disc Bridge on the River Kwai.
We knew there was a reason Thanksgiving comes with a four-day weekend.
Monday, 18 September 2000
Disc of the Week: How tightly wrapped up is Stephen King with his many novels and the movies that are based on them? The prolific author might downplay any coincidences, but consider this: King's 1979 The Dead Zone (and the 1983 film by David Cronenberg) tells the story of a schoolteacher who is horrifyingly mangled in a freak car accident, only to wake up a shell of his former physical self, but with supernatural powers. In particular, he can see into the future, and it's suggested that perhaps he even foresaw the catastrophic crash. Years later, in 1999, King himself was hit by a runaway van, injured so badly that multiple surgeries and extensive physical therapy were the only way he could return to a normal lifestyle. In writing The Dead Zone, did King perhaps unwittingly peer into his own future? Of course, you say, it's a coincidence. Don't be silly. And our more rational selves tend to look at "A" and then look at "B" and see nothing there. Yet many of us are King fans, loyal followers of a clever tale-teller who loves nothing more than to find out how short the distance between two points actually may be.
Christopher Walken stars in The Dead Zone as Johnny Smith, an English teacher with an unassuming, small-town life. Engaged to the pretty Sarah Bracknell (Brooke Adams), Johnny intends to marry her one day, but when he slams his car into a runaway truck on a stormy night, he loses five years of his life to a coma. When he awakens, his severe muscular atrophy requires constant care and therapy; he no longer has any sort of teaching career; and Sarah has moved on, married to another man and the mother of a small child. And then bad becomes much worse, because before long Johnny also discovers he has the power of second sight all he has to do is touch the hand of another human being and he is able to travel through time, glancing into their past or looking into their future. His first preternatural act saves the life of a small girl trapped in a burning home. He also proves his powers to his doctor (Herbert Lom) by locating his long-lost mother. The local sheriff (Tom Skerritt) even has Johnny assist solving a difficult murder case. But soon Johnny, while tutoring a withdrawn boy, comes into contact with third-party presidential candidate Greg Stillson (a scenery-chewing Martin Sheen), where he discovers not only the fate of one man, but the fate of nations.
The works of Stephen King are no strangers to box-office success, and everything from straightforward dramas (Stand By Me, The Shawshank Redemption, Apt Pupil) to flat-out creepers (The Shining, Carrie, Misery) usually finds an audience. But The Dead Zone must rank among the better King-based films, and this despite the guiding hand of the "Baron of Blood" Cronenberg a guy still remembered for the 1981 Scanners, in which people's heads memorably explode. But The Dead Zone bears little resemblance to Cronenberg-fare like Scanners or The Fly, sticking very much with what makes King the best, most successful writer of popular fiction. While people may think of him as a "horror" novelist, he actually is much more concerned with the supernatural horror simply is one of the potential results of his supernatural investigations. And as The Dead Zone is not a bloody affair, Cronenberg reels in some of his more sensationalist instincts, putting the creepy, methodical nature of King's story at center stage. Could anybody but Christopher Walken play the confused, erratic Johnny? After one viewing, it's impossible to consider another actor in the part, and supporting work from Skerritt, Sheen, Adams, and Colleen Dewhurst round out the tale nicely. If you haven't seen it, don't go into this one expecting a turn-out-the-lights slasher.
Paramount's new DVD edition of The Dead Zone features a solid anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) from a good source print that is colorful and only showing a little flecking. Audio is available in the original Dolby 2.0 Surround or a new DD 5.1 mix (which Michael Kamen's score benefits from). Extras are thin (just a trailer), but we'll take it anyway. The Dead Zone is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: A lot of debut films have had trouble making an impression on moviegoers over the past several weeks, and last weekend was no different as Warner's action-comedy Bait the only new film to go wide couldn't push Universal's critically-lambasted The Watcher out of the top spot, which it now claims for the second week in a row. Adding insult to injury, last weekend was one of the weakest in recent memory, with The Watcher only needing $5.7 million to lead the pack (the lowest #1 this year), while Bait lost the photo-finish by an estimated $200,000. Two more debuts arrived in the past three days as well, and they did good business in limited release Buena Vista's Duets ($2 million on 581 screens) and DreamWorks' Almost Famous (a stunning $2.3 million on 131 screens, or $17,557 per theater). Count on the latter Cameron Crowe's recounting of his days as a teenage journalist to earn the big bucks when it goes wide this weekend, and the many glowing reviews so far means it could become the first serious Oscar contender of the season.
In continuing release, Universal's Bring it On proves it has legs, moving past the $50 million mark, while Warner's Space Cowboys has cleared $80 million. Impressive, but not nearly as much as Miramax's Scary Movie which got some second wind at the box-office and now has joined the elite $150 million club. Out the door soon after it arrived? Christopher McQuarrie's The Way of the Gun, which barely notched the top ten last week before disappearing without a trace.
In addition to the wide release of Almost Famous this Friday, two art-house films will arrive on our shores Lars Von Trier's Dancer in the Dark starring Icelandic diva Bjork, and Fina Torres' Woman on Top with Penélope Cruz. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Dawn Taylor has the final word for us on MGM's re-issue of This Is Spinal Tap (including the lowdown on some widely reported disc errors), while D.K. Holm has posted a look at the unrated version of American Psycho both can be found on our Full Reviews index. Meanwhile, new quick reviews this week include Phantom of the Opera: Classic Monster Collection, The Dead Zone, and a trio from women directors Betty Thomas's 28 Days: Special Edition, Anjelica Huston's Agnes Browne, and Joan Chen's Xiu Xiu the Sent Down Girl. All can be accessed on the Quick Reviews index, and everything has been added under the New Reviews menu here on the main page.
We'll be back tomorrow with news on this week's street discs.
Thursday, 14 September 2000
T2 now arriving in Canada: After posting a letter yesterday from one of our Canadian readers about his difficulty in finding a copy of Terminator 2: Ultimate Edition, it wasn't long before we got a pile of e-mail from digital die-hards north of the border, all of whom also have been looking for the elusive disc (please note all prices are in Canadian dollars):
Thanks Pascal, and thanks to everybody who wrote to us. We got so many letters that we almost could have put together a statistical chart of locations and availablity, but in general it looks like Canadian retailers were struck by the Terminator 2: Ultimate Edition shortfall, when Artisan simply couldn't get enough DVD-18 pressings on the street by Aug. 29 and had to manufacture a separate two-DVD set just to meet what turned out to be overwhelming demand. And while it does appear there was a widespread shortage of at least a week, it's clear that the T2 shipments are catching up. The retailer mentioned most often by our Canadian friends was Future Shop, who also have a website (www.futureshop.ca) for those who would like to have their stuff shipped domenstically. And of course, if anybody is still having problems getting their goods, all of the major U.S. retail sites we've visited claim they are shipping T2 without delay.
Commentary Clip: "You've all seen the film, so you know this momentous (barroom) fight scene is coming up, and I think an interesting aspect of this that may not occur to us as we watch it nearly 50 years after it was shot, is Shane was shot in a three-strip Technicolor process where three rolls of film were going parallel through the camera and then later combined to make color, and these were huge cameras, so every shot in this scene was made with that big three-strip Technicolor camera there were no hand-held cameras as we see now in these scenes. And somebody was doing a little analysis of this scene and (how) this scene is seen through the eyes of the boy, and there are I'm told 19 cuts of little Joey during this fight, which is so much the idea of the film, that it's seen through the eyes of the little boy."
George Stevens Jr.,
Quotable: "(I would support) appropriate action to protect our children. I am calling on the (entertainment) industry to immediately stop marketing adult and violent entertainment to children and voluntarily restrict the way they advertise and market it. This is an outrage and it must stop."
Hillary Rodham Clinton, regarding a Federal Trade Commission
"Our members have the right to express themselves and to tell a story the way they see it as artists. The audience can accept or reject that, but government or other entities have no right to suppress that expression. They can criticize it and that's certainly fair. But they don't have a right to attempt to block its distribution."
Cheryl Rhoden, assistant executive director of the Writer's Guild
"(The story of Almost Famous) all happened, in slightly different order and sometimes in exactly the way it's portrayed, which probably made it a little tough on these amazing actors, because they knew they not only had to please me but please the memory. But it all happened and it wasn't a spoof or a parody, it's sort of a tribute to the people we knew back then."
Writer/director Cameron Crowe, whose semi-autobiographical
"My mom made me read Dickens and Ralph Ellison and Zora Neale Hurston when I was 13. When I was in college, she would send me back my letters, correcting my grammar in red ink. She gave me high standards, telling me 90 percent wasn't good enough. I had to be twice as good as my white classmates."
Spike Lee, in an interview with The New York Post.
"I'm just so grateful that I was able to use my name because when I was a young kid, and you were going into acting, you weren't supposed to have a vowel at the end of your name. In the old days, I was going to call myself Sonny Scott. That's the truth. It was just a natural thing that you'd have to change your last name."
Al Pacino, speaking at this week's Toronto Film Festival.
Coming Attractions: We have plenty of new DVD reviews on the way, including the re-tooled This Is Spinal Tap and the controversial American Psycho. And 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.
Enjoy the weekend see ya Monday.
Wednesday, 13 September 2000
I'd totally appreciate your feedback. I'm so bummed about the whole thing.
No need to replace your disc as we noted in our review of Terminator 2: Ultimate Edition (going off an insert in the T2 keep-case), the new Artisan release is a complicated disc with seamless branching and advanced supplements, and it is not reliable in all DVD players. As with previous problems that plagued Warner's The Matrix, some players will choke on various parts of the disc, which really comes down to two things how old your player is, and how little you paid for it. Either can be a factor, and nothing illustrates this more clearly than our head-to-head review of the title on both a Sony DVP-S300 and an APEX AD-600A (which is your model). The APEX had a handful of problems, especially when it came to the film's playback, as we discovered it had a nasty habit of looping back one chapter right before the layer-switch, thus placing that chapter on a continuous loop (a chapter that, indeed, utilized seamless branching). However, our Sony 300 played through the whole thing like a champ. Rack this one up to quality of manufacturer and price paid Sony makes some of the best DVD decks in the business, whereas the APEX (notable for being an inexpensive code-free, Macrovision-free player it its 1999 incarnations) is a Chinese-manufactured deck marketed in North America by Apex Digital of California, and sold primarily at Circuit City for less than $200. And please note that we got our APEX in late 1999, when its cachet was on the rise our first Sony 300 (we have two) was purchased in early 1998. So while a newer player generally will perform better with complex DVDs, the budget stuff doesn't always cut it, even if you just bought it yesterday.
And just to be fair to the folks at Apex Digital, for less than $200 the APEX 600 isn't such a bad player. Granted, the remote is pretty clunky, with small, tightly-spaced buttons, and it's a little noisier than its pricier competitors, but it does have DTS on board, handles MP3 playback, and also has two microphone inputs for karaoke not a bad deal, especially for those who would like a secondary player but want to save a few bucks. We still depend on our Sony-equipped screening room for DVD reviews, but the office APEX is installed on your editor's aging Mac, where it's used frequently for quick reference or simply to listen to commentary tracks during working hours. While it doesn't have the 1,000 batting average of our stalwart Sonys (which have handled literally hundreds of discs and never choked once), the APEX 600 generally has been a reliable desktop companion.
We don't have one of those, but we think the Pioneer 626 is an earlier model, and thus could fault over T2's more advanced features. In fact, we've been getting a lot of letters this week about T2, so we'll open the floor to everybody if your player is choking on the new T2, tell us about it at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hopefully we can post a follow-up soon.
Well, we got our copy from the good people at Artisan, but (as we noted last week) T2 was on many retailers' shelves on Aug. 29, when it streeted. It's also available at all the usual retail sites (Amazon, Express, Buy, etc.), and we really have no idea why you've been told it isn't available in Canada. So here's a request to our Region 1 friends to the north if you have purchased the new T2 on the street in Canada, tell us where and we'll spread the word.
Top of the Pops: Here's the top-selling DVDs last week from our friends at Reel.com. Click the links to read our reviews of these discs:
See ya tomorrow.
Tuesday, 12 September 2000
'Girl Friday' to the rescue: Face it sometimes bad things happen to good movies, especially when some really good ones happen to fall in the public domain when their copyrights lapse (or accidentally are not renewed). Exhibit A: Stanley Donen's witty 1963 Charade, starring Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn, and on the street from just about every budget video distributor with godawful transfers before Criterion released a definitive version. That was cause for a big sigh of relief, particularly since the best DVD producers often won't release public-domain films even if they have materials on hand due to the numerous budget discs, which can undercut their market. But now Columbia TriStar is about to smack down another public-domain DVD offender, as they will release a definitive His Girl Friday starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, and perhaps the greatest screwball comedy ever despite the fact that several cheapo versions can be found in just about every nickel-and-dime grocery store in America. We've already told you smart folks to avoid the current releases of His Girl Friday, which unanimously are from bad prints and have rotten audio tracks, in anticipation of the CTHV release (trust us, you'd rather keep your eight bucks). And we're glad to note that Columbia has come through with a near-definitive version, with a commentary by film critic and author Todd McCarthy, no less than four featurettes, vintage advertising, and notes. We're betting the audio and video will be much improved as well, hopefully taken from materials straight out of the Columbia vaults and with some digital improvements. We know that most of you are looking forward to the biggest stuff this fall, such as The Perfect Storm and Mission: Impossible 2, but His Girl Friday has shot to the top of our list. It's due on Nov. 21.
On the Street: Everybody take a breath the fat street weeks over the past month are starting to slow down, and we have a thin one this morning (bad news for DVD junkies, good news for their credit cards). It's Spinal Tap Tuesday, and that's the only de rigeur purchase on the board today, as MGM's new disc makes a good effort to replace Criterion's long out-of-print edition, with a new commentary track from the band (in character) and the numerous deleted scenes found on the Criterion release. Fans of Wim Wenders can snap up Faraway, So Close!, on the street today from Columbia TriStar, with a commentary by Wenders, while Buena Vista has their huge special edition of Mission to Mars on the shelves, and fans of Martin Scorsese may want to look for his Personal Journey through American Movies. But if the arrival of fall and the imminent holiday season has your inner young'un craving some classic Peanuts TV specials, Paramount has a box-set out today (although they can't truly be complete without the introductory swirling "SPECIAL" logo and pounding drums on CBS when these used to air oh, the simple joys of youth).
Back tomorrow with the mailbag some folks are pretty grumpy about the new Terminator 2 it seems.
Monday, 11 September 2000
Disc of the Week: With the arrival of Barry Sonnenfeld's inventive Men in Black on DVD, we can finally look back on the previous decade of high-season blockbusters and come to one conclusion unlike Godzilla or Independence Day or Deep Impact or the rest of the big-budget bunch those few summers ago, Men in Black manages to be effortlessly watchable, popcorn-munching entertainment without insulting anybody's intelligence. Being a comedy, the viewer isn't forced to labor over the numerous plot holes (nor should we) that made Godzilla such a head-slapping heap; like Armageddon, there is a race to save the planet from imminent destruction, but this part of the story is actually underplayed; and Men in Black wins on the charisma-count as well, with Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith's ceaseless verbal sparring. This sort of big-budget film doesn't come along often enough, and that's a shame.
Jones stars in Men in Black as "K," a veteran agent of the clandestine "MiB" alien-monitoring agency, a group that has the dual purpose of controlling all alien residents on Earth (it's just like Casablanca, K notes, "but no Nazis") while ensuring that the Homo Sapien natives of our inconsequential planet have no inkling that extraterrestrials live in their midst. But, like any organization, people come and people go, so from time to time MiB must recruit "the best of the best of the best" in this case greenhorn agent "J" (Smith), an NYPD cop who joins the elite black-clad ranks based on the fact that he ran down a panicked Cephalopoid on foot (not an easy thing to do, we are assured). But just as soon as J is issued his Armani single-breasted suit, sunglasses, and funky wristwatch, a mass exodus of aliens from Earth indicate something is rotten in the state of New York a "bug" kills and inhabits the empty corpse of a farmer (Vincent D'Onofrio), using the rapidly decaying disguise to hunt down an extraterrestrial dignitary and capture a valuable artifact. Thus, stonefaced K and wiseass J undertake a manhunt (or bug-hunt), joined along the way by a coroner (Linda Fiorentino) who may know too much, as well as a mysterious cat who holds the keys to a universe.
Columbia TriStar's new Men in Black: Limited Edition features an excellent anamorphic transfer from a flawless source print with audio in DD 5.1 or Dolby 2.0 Surround, and features on the two-disc Limited Edition set include a "visual commentary" with Sonnenfeld and Jones (in MST3K style with silhouettes), a "technical commentary" with Sonnenfeld, creature designer Rick Baker, and some folks from Industrial Light and Magic, a "visual effects scene deconstruction" demonstrating the tunnel sequence and the Edgar Bug final fight sequence from concept to completion with five angles (use your remote to shuffle through them or let them run sequentially), both with optional technical commentary, five alternate scenes, a 23-minute "behind-the-scenes" short, a six-minute featurette, "character animation studies," featuring storyboard materials and conceptual art, three photo galleries, theatrical trailers, the Will Smith "Men in Black" music video, cast and crew notes, and a "scene editing workshop," which allows the user to edit three brief moments in the film from various shot selections. Men in Black is also availble as an unlimited "Collector's Series" DVD, although it does not include the technical commentary, the Edgar Bug scene deconstruction, the editing workshop, and some conceptual art features, so serious fans will want to get the Limited Edition right away we have no idea how much longer it will be available.
Box Office: Not one film managed to break the $10 million mark at the box office last weekend, but when Keanu Reeves is on the marquee, somebody somewhere will buy tickets, which helped Universal's thriller The Watcher grab $9.1 million to secure the top spot (and this despite several rotten reviews and Reeves' well-known disavowal of the serial-killer flick). USA's Nurse Betty, directed by Neil LaBute and starring Renee Zellweger, had a promising opening with $7.3 million, but Artisan's The Way of the Gun, directed by Usual Suspects screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie, stumbled into ninth place with $2.2 million.
Still in continuing release, DreamWorks' What Lies Beneath, with silver-screen veterans Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer, was the breakout hit of the late summer, and it's still going strong with $142 million overall after two solid months in the top ten. More recent releases like Universal's Bring it On and New Line's The Cell are now hovering around the $50 million mark, although it appears Warner's The Art of War, starring Wesley Snipes, will fall short of that number. But we must hand out a stinko award to Destination's Whipped, which was trashed by critics and virtually ignored by moviegoers last week, never reaching our dirty dozen. We'll give a runner-up nod to Miramax's Highlander: Endgame, which is rapidly tumbling off the charts, on its way to a video-store shelf near you.
Warner hopes to lure movie fans back to the cineplexes this Friday with the action-comedy Bait, directed by Antoine Fuqua and starring Jamie Foxx, while DreamWorks will release Cameron Crowe's semi-autobiographical Almost Famous. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Dawn Taylor has posted a review of Wim Wenders' Palme d'Or winner Faraway So, Close!, while D. K. Holm had some fun revisiting The Fly and The Fly II their write-ups can be found on our Full Reviews index. Meanwhle, new quick reviews this week include The Invisible Man: Classic Monster Collection, Men in Black: Limited Edition, Mary Reilly, and Arsenic and Old Lace, 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, 7 September 2000
'E.T.' will *69 back to the big screen: Among the most requested films that have yet to reach DVD is Steven Spielberg's E.T.: The Extraterrestrial, and with Spielberg's official announcement earlier this year that he has embraced the digital format, fans have been hoping a release date would arrive soon from Universal. Alas, the news on E.T. is good for movie fans, but not so hot for digital die-hards, as Universal and Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment have announced that the coming-of-age classic will return to theaters in March of 2002. "E.T. is my most personal film, and my greatest gratification has been to see how the film and E.T. became so loved all over the world," Spielberg said in a statement. "Even though E.T. has achieved this special place in our lives, I always wanted to give audiences another chance to experience it as they first did in theaters, seeing it again, or for the first time seeing it with their own families. I also wanted to enhance that experience with advances in technology and some new footage." (We suspect that final line was scribbled in by George Lucas.)
So when are we going to get a DVD of E.T.? We probably can rule out any release before the re-worked film hits the theaters, so the high-rollers on our staff are putting their money on July of 2002. But Christmas of 2002 ain't a bad bet either. No need to fuss we'd rather see Schindler's List next year anyway.
Commentary Clip: "A lot of the structure and shot selection and the rhythm (for a scene and for a movie) has to come from the music. We kind of planned the scene (in Alfred Molina's house) like a musical, because you know that music is going to be playing. And I would just sort of listen to the music over and over again, and so would Alfred Molina. And I just said, 'Look, you want to know how to do this scene? Listen to the music. Know the fucking music, because you know the music makes all the difference, 'cause that's how I'm gonna be planning shots. Then we're gonna be in synch on how you're gonna play this, and how to do this.' But the funny thing is that when it came to 'Jessie's Girl' we did the same thing, but I only really planned half the sequence (with) 'Jessie's Girl,' because it was supposed to be half as long. But it ended on this shot of Mark when he just kind of blanks out. That was just something that happened. And the wonderful thing is that David Ansen (of Newsweek magazine) came up to me one time and Ansen is wonderful and he asked, 'Did you hold that shot on Mark because you wanted to get to the point in the music where it fits what's happening when the shoot-out happens? Is that why you had to hold that shot so long?' And I said, 'No, it's just a funny thing. We planned the whole fucking sequence out to the music, but I only planned it out to half of 'Jessie's Girl,' because I know we'd be out of the house by that point. But it turns out that when we kept 'Jessie's Girl' over this shot it got to this wonderful bridge in the song for the whole shoot-out thing.' I don't know if I explained that well, but there was this massive fucking serendipity and coincidence of laying music into the whole movie, which I just couldn't have fucking planned. I mean, I'm good at planning the shots out, but not this fucking good. This was weird."
Director Paul Thomas Anderson,
Quotable: "If George Bush is elected president, I'm leaving for France.... I don't think show-business personalities should get involved (in politics) publicly and show their feelings because that ends up working against them. That's why I stay discreet about these questions in America. But, no matter what, it would be a catastrophe for the whole world if George Bush is elected."
Director Robert Altman, speaking to Reuters while visiting
"I thought it was a great idea to lampoon ourselves. But when I finally saw the scene, that line felt inappropriate."
Miramax chief Harvey Weinstein, commenting on why the
"Jazz is a precise prism through which so much of American history can be seen race, two world wars, a great depression, sex. The simplest, most crowd-pleasing aspects of today's popular music has fast-food aspects. To sit down and nourish ourselves in the best way at a meal, you can't help but find jazz."
Filmmaker Ken Burns, whose 10-part documentary Jazz
"I've briefly given (my fans) a grace period before moving on in my assessment of humankind. As a writer, I still continue to want to examine, pretty ruthlessly, the way people behave."
Writer/director Neil LaBute, who is following up his bleak
Coming Attractions: New DVD reviews are on the way, including the limited edition two-disc Men in Black and many more, so be sure to return on Monday for the latest write-ups, the box-office report, and all the rest. Have a great weekend.
Wednesday, 6 September 2000
'Storm' on the horizon: You don't have to tell Warner Bros. that one of the biggest films of the summer season ($170 million ain't bad) demands a special-edition DVD, and Wolfgang Petersen's The Perfect Storm will come fully rigged. The dual-layered disc will feature an anamorphic transfer and Dolby Digital 5.1 EX audio, and extras will include three commentary tracks with Petersen, Perfect Storm author Sebastian Junger, and visual-effects supervisor Stefen Fangmeier, two featurettes, a segment with composer James Horner, a conceptual art gallery with commentary by Petersen, production stills, and storyboard galleries. DVD-ROM fans will also find links to the Perfect Storm website, a gallery of downloadable mini-documentaries on the film's special effects, a theatrical trailer sampler, and a multi-player Internet game, in addition to a future DVD-ROM-based Web-event with cast-and-crew chat (similar to the Matrix Webcasts). Pre-orders should be live now at most online retailers The Perfect Storm arrives on Nov. 14 and should street for around $20.
Top of the Pops: The Aug. 29 rankings are in 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, 5 September 2000
And the winner is: Caesar Lastimosa of St. Louis, Missouri, wins the free Galaxy Quest DVD from our August contest. Congrats, Caesar !
Our totally free DVD contest for the month of September is up and running, and we have a copy of Universal's Erin Brockovich up for grabs. Be sure to drop by our contest page to send us your entry, and don't forget to take our monthly DVD poll while you're there.
Disc of the Week: In the realm of Universal horror films, the 1930s were the heyday, when such indelible classics as Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Mummy put their stamp on a generation's movie-going experiences. The 1940s, while less significant and littered with ill-conceived sequels, saw the arrival of The Wolf Man. But there was only one true star of Universal B-films in the 1950s "Gill-Man," better known as The Creature from the Black Lagoon. This late entry in classic Hollywood horror tells the story of a group of adventurers who journey to a remote location on the Amazon River when an inexplicable fossil indicates a mysterious, unclassified species may be discovered. Adventurers David Reed (Richard Carlson) and Mark Williams (Richard Denning) head up the expedition, even though their personalities threaten to send the entire voyage downriver. Oceanographer David believes that science can lead to greater truths about man and nature; Richard, on the other hand, sees the big river with a big-game-hunter mentality. And when their boat and crew is stranded in the legendary Black Lagoon, and Gill-Man makes his presence known by ceaselessly attacking the interlopers, the two headstrong men find themselves battling each other as much as their half-man, half-fish foe. It doesn't help matters that Gill-Man has taking a King Kong liking to David's girlfriend Kay (Julie Adams).
For those who have not seen it, Creature from the Black Lagoon, while immensely popular in 1954, today plays more like "Mystery Science Theater 3000" fodder. Both Carlson and Denning appear to be recent graduates of the William Holden school for Movie Drama; Adams, the sort of pretty girl who was perfect for '50s B-film schlock, typifies the "make-horrified-face, pause, scream-your-lungs-out" acting/reacting that was always good for a paycheck. By today's CGI standards, the famous Gill-Man costume is exactly what it appears to be in all of its Godzilla-like glory a man in a rubber suit. And the studio-imposed score, a pastiche of musical genres, demands that the shrill Creature theme be intoned every time Gill-Man appears, which happens so often that you almost want to take a chainsaw to your amp.
Nonetheless, Creature from the Black Lagoon is an enormously important movie, one that's worth watching. Originally filmed in 3-D, the black-and-white compositions work well on home video, and the story raises philosophical questions which still have a place in contemporary films. When Adams, unaware that Gill-Man lives in the lagoon, tosses a cigarette butt into the water, only to have the camera pan to the submerged creature, the viewer can only wonder how justified the watery beast is when he later attacks the boat. In order to flush out the monster, the crew also dumps poison in the lagoon, killing all of the fish. Again, who is the more monstrous? In fact, it would seem that every major Hollywood director has seen Creature, and perhaps several times. Adams' famous bathing-beauty swim in the lagoon, as the creature observes from below, suggests the opening and several other passages from Spielberg's Jaws. Her suit, which was very revealing by the day's standards, suggests the same female vulnerability that had an unsuspecting Sigourney Weaver strip down to her undies before the final attack in Alien. The popular Predator in some ways is a remake of Creature, with a group of harried humans doing battle in the jungle with an inexplicably bloodthirsty foe. And Cameron's The Abyss reaches back to Creature for its most salient theme when a foreign species is discovered in the deep, should it be observed, captured, or simply exterminated? In its way, Creature from the Black Lagoon is one of the most influential films of its era, which ain't bad for a film that isn't always that good.
Along with a pleasant transfer from a good print (1.33:1) and clear audio in the original mono (DD 2.0), Universal's new Creature from the Black Lagoon, part of their "Classic Monster Collection," features the 40-minute documentary "Return to the Black Lagoon" hosted by film historian David J. Skal, an informative, funny commentary track by film historian Tom Weaver (in his rapid-fire delivery, also heard on The Wolf Man), an 11-minute gallery of stills and publicity materials with the original score, three trailers, and production notes, along with cast-and-crew bios and filmographies. It's on the street now.
Box Office: Stick a fork in it the summer season is done. After all, if Memorial Day weekend is one of the biggest of the year, the Labor Day weekend is one of the most lackluster, and debuts such as Highlander: Endgame and Whipped hardly affected the current box-office rankings. Miramax's new Highlander flick, the fourth of the series, struggled through poor reviews and back-to-school shopping to earn $6.4 million over the four-day period, but it was only good enough for fifth. And if a few bad reviews were out there for Highlander, they certainly didn't compare to the widespread critical thrashing of Destination's "comedy" Whipped, starring Amanda Peet, which were among the most unanimous and severe in recent memory so bad that the film's $2.7 million four-day opening gross wasn't good enough to crack our dirty dozen. Not in the top twelve either but doing a little better is Fine Line's Saving Grace, a British comedy starring Brenda Blethyn that went wide over the weekend to nearly 1,000 screens, grossing $2.9 million and building word-of-mouth support, in addition to positive reviews.
But the top films overall remain the current crop of usual suspects, as Universal's cheerleader comedy Bring It On retained the top spot for the second week in a row, getting a boost to $37 million overall, while New Line's The Cell is also doing decent late-summer business with a $46.4 million gross. Warner's Space Cowboys gets good marks for consistency, remaining in the top five for the fifth week in a row, bearing down on $75 million to date. But stumbling out of the gate is Buena Vista's The Crew, which only garnered $3.6 million over its second weekend and could have a hard time breaking the $20 million mark.
Labor Day's gone, the Oscar season is officially underway, and next week sees two indie directors return to the cineplexes with Neil Labute's Nurse Betty and Christopher McQuarrie's The Way of the Gun. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend (Friday through Monday):
On the Street: And we thought last week was busy. Call Sept. 5 "Splatter Day," because there's a lot of good stuff on the shelves, including a limited edition of Halloween 5 from Anchor Bay, The Amityville Horror, via MGM, and a brace of Fly double features from Fox. Also out today from Fox is the much-anticipated Edward Scissorhands: 10th Anniversary Edition, as well as a double-feature of Fantastic Voyage and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. Meanwhile, Columbia TriStar is offering a two-disc limited edition of Men in Black, Universal has released the "unrated" edition of last year's American Psycho, and Anchor Bay has the NC-17 cut of Scandal on the street. Got deep pockets? Today is the day you can get Ken Burns' entire Baseball miniseries in a 10-DVD set but it will cost you. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of Reel.com and Image Entertainment:
On the Board: Alexandra DuPont has gone the extra mile for us this week, as she locked herself in the screening room and sat through the entire Planet of the Apes: The Evolution box set her take on the Apes saga can be found on our Full Reviews index, along with D.K. Holm's review of Boogie Nights: Platinum Series and Betsy Bozdech's write-up of SHORT 9: Trust. Meanwhile, new quick reviews from the staff this week include Killing Zoe, Creature from the Black Lagoon: Classic Monster Collection, Girl, and Mifune, 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.