Tuesday, 31 October 2000
On the Street: Just a short update today, but there are plenty of good discs available this morning, including New Line's comprehensive Frequency: Platinum Series and Columbia TriStar's Fail-Safe: Special Edition both engrossing films, and with a good amount of supplements that make them worth the purchase price. Meanwhile, Universal has a trio of interesting discs out today, including the "restored" version of Orson Welles' Touch of Evil, a Collector's Edition of Somewhere in Time, and a re-issue of Born on the Fourth of July with a commentary by Oliver Stone, part of an ongoing project by the director to record DVD commentaries for all of his films. But serious Monty Python fans are about to take a shot in the wallet the 14-disc Monty Python's Flying Circus Collection, with more than 24 hours of original television episodes, is out now from A&E. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of Reel.com and Image Entertainment:
Back tomorrow with the mailbag and our response to what has become the most-asked question in the history of our reader mail.
Monday, 30 October 2000
Disc of the Week: It seems not that long ago that film fans were debating the merits of two asteroid-hurtling-towards-Earth movies, but in 1964 moviegoers faced an equally odd situation, as Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove and Sidney Lumet's Fail-Safe arrived within months of each other, and if the tenor of each film can be set aside for a moment, they have remarkably similar plots. What's more, both films were released by Columbia Pictures (to the detriment of Fail-Safe in fact, which debuted after Strangelove and had a weaker box-office). Why the similarities? As it turns out, Kubrick relied on a novel called Red Alert by Peter George for his source material, while Fail-Safe was directly adapted from the 1962 best-seller by Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler. Not long after that novel appeared and the film project got underway, Kubrick and Columbia sued the publishers of Fail-Safe for plagiarism. The suit eventually was settled out of court, and part of the settlement was that Columbia would release Fail-Safe theatrically. Since then, Strangelove has become one of the most critically acclaimed films in history, and arguably the screen's greatest comedy. But while also critically and popularly received, Fail-Safe has always lived in Strangelove's shadow after all, we've all seen the black-comic gags in the War Room in Kubrick's version of events, making it difficult to view Fail-Safe from a fresh vantage point. That's unfortunate, because Fail-Safe is undoubtedly the finest Cold War thriller ever made, an important cautionary tale about nations, politicians, soldiers, and machines all teetering on the brink of self-extermination.
Fail-Safe begins rather ingeniously with a U.S. Congressman who deals with military appropriations being given a tour of a high-tech command-and-control installation, where complex instruments and wall-sized screens monitor military activity around the world, always ready to send the American armed forces to heightened alert over the slightest anomaly of data. In the meantime, the Joint Chiefs of Staff debate nuclear policy at the Pentagon, joined by hawkish academic Groeteschele (Walter Matthau), a civilian advisor who hates communism and believes that a nuclear war can be won opinions that usually place him in conflict with the rational-minded Gen. Black (Dan O'Herlihy). But when a technical glitch sends a USAF bomber past its "fail-safe" point and on a mission to destroy Moscow, the President (Henry Fonda) retreats to his bunker under the White House, joined only by an interpreter (Larry Hagman). Working the phones between Washington and Moscow, the President keeps the Soviet premier informed of the bomber's progress into Soviet airspace, hoping to avert a retaliatory strike and nuclear holocaust.
The brilliance of Fail-Safe can be distilled into a few separate elements. The methodical Lumet does a fine job of underplaying a lot of the camera-work, fully aware that the script has more than enough punch to carry the film. As such, there are just a few spare locations the Pentagon, the President's bunker, the bomber's cockpit where Lumet exploits the dramatic potential with tense long-takes (an extended two-shot of Fonda and Hagman is memorable) and a seemingly endless series of close-ups that ratchet up the tension that much more. The stark black-and-white photography, masterfully handled by cinematographer Gerald Hirschfeld, plays with light and shadow, often going for high-contrast compositions. And with that sort of aesthetic, Fail-Safe is almost a pure actor's movie, a film that completely depends on the performers, and particularly their vocal skills. Fonda is so compelling as the President, with his mix of midwestern common sense and raw determination, that Lumet recalls "Everybody in the United States would have voted for Henry Fonda for president if he had ever decided to run." Hagman is given the most challenging role as the President's interpreter Buck, and in fact he has three things to do at once convey the language he hears on the phone, try to relate the mood and tone of his subjects, and contain his own rising tension during the nuclear crisis. But perhaps best of all is Matthau as Groeteschele, a chilling turn that came before he established himself as one of America's foremost film comedians. The scene when he declares, in a calm manner, that if New York is annihilated it would need to be excavated for corporate records, because "our economy depends on it," is a small, shattering moment.
Columbia TriStar's new Fail-Safe: Special Edition is a quality DVD release that will not disappoint those who have seen the film, nor those who plan to give it a spin for the first time. The anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) is solid, from a reliable source print that has a high-grain quality, but which only enhances the film, and clear, crisp audio is in the original mono (DD 2.0). Features include a commentary track by director Lumet, who talks about everything from his actors to film adaptations; the original short "Fail-Safe Revisited," featuring interviews with Lumet, actor O'Herlihy, blacklisted screenwriter Walter Bernstein, and George Clooney, who produced a live-television Fail-Safe in 2000; the original trailer; and cast notes. Fail-Safe: Special Edition hits ground-zero tomorrow morning.
Box Office: It's starting to look like the comedy duo of De Niro & Stiller are indomitable after four weeks in release, Universal's Meet The Parents has held the number-one spot at the North American box office, and the film also has now surpassed $100 million from its lofty perch. Of course, not everything in October was blockbuster material, but among films to challenge Parents and come up short were the Oscar-hopeful Pay it Forward and the Sly Stallone vehicle Get Carter, who are now joined by Artisan's Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, which everybody figured would knock off Parents the weekend before Halloween. Such was not to be, as Blair Witch 2 earned $13.1 million compared to Parents' $15.1 million over the past three days. Other new arrivals included New Line's The Little Vampire, which took $5.5 million for sixth, and Paramount's Lucky Numbers, a surprise disappointment with a $4.6 million debut, as it stars John Travolta and Lisa Kudrow.
Still in continuing release, Buena Vista's Remember the Titans has $87.7 million overall and is certain to clear the century mark before it's done, while Warner's Exorcist re-release has been good for $37.2 million, and Fox's Bedazzled managed to hang on during its third weekend, now standing at $24 million to date. But a host of films dropped off this week's dirty dozen with underwhelming grosses, including Dr. T and the Women, Almost Famous, and The Ladies Man, all certain to appear at a DVD retailer near you before much longer.
Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz, and Lucy Liu head into chop-sockey territory this Friday with the super-hyped Charlie's Angels, while fans of Robert Redford can look for his latest, The Legend of Bagger Vance, starring Matt Damon and Will Smith. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Alexandra DuPont has posted our special sneak preview of Fox's X-Men (click here) DVD, due to arrive on Nov. 21, while D.K. Holm has a look at the new Donnie Brasco: Special Edition, and Kerry Fall spent several days going through the massive Toy Story: Ultimate Toy Box all can be found on our Full Reviews index. Meanwhile, new quick reviews this week include U-571: Collector's Edition, Frequency: Platinum Series, Fail-Safe: Special Edition, King of New York, Center Stage: Special Edition, Rudy: Special Edition, and Picking Up the Pieces. You can find all of them on our Quick Reviews index, or hit the links under our New Reviews menu here on the main page.
We'll be back tomorrow to let you know about this week's street discs.
Thursday, 26 October 2000
PlayStation2 on the launch pad: For those of you not paying attention, Sony's DVD-ready PlayStation2 arrives in North America this morning, after a somewhat torturous journey that began last March in Japan, and while Japanese consumers snapped up 1 million players in just a few days last spring, that first of month of release was marred by a few technical glitches and back-orders, and it was even discovered early models could be modified as code-free DVD players. Such events notwithstanding, it was an overall success, and Sony was on record at the time that the PS2 would arrive in North America in the fall, eventually settling on today as a launch date. However, while they initially planned for 1 million units to be in the hands of retailers this morning, that figure was recently slashed to 500,000 due to a manufacturing shortfall of an important component (which Sony still has not identified). And with millions of gaming fans hoping to get their hands on the hot gadget, and spin a few DVDs as well, your odds of getting a new deck right away unless you have a pre-order handy are slim to none. Most retailers reportedly will have around 50 units in stock today, which are expected to sell in a matter of minutes particularly as some folks are not above camping out to bring home the goods (note however that Toys R Us will not stock any at all). After the first 500,000 decks disappear, which may have already happened by the time you read this, Sony will follow up with an additional 100,000 units per week, every week, until the end of the year. So if you plan to have a PS2 under the Christmas tree, your best bet is to drop by a retailer this weekend and get a rain-check. We're guessing rain-checks will keep the new PlayStations off the shelves for at least a few more weeks. And if you have deep pockets and want to be sure you get a player fairly quickly, eBay has been happy to tell anyone who will listen that there are around 100 auctions for brand-new PS2s on their site.
Patricia: "Wonderful, and he hadn't acted before, or since, and was a model. And for me, he's so sympathetic and vulnerable, and I think he's wonderful in it."
Richard: "Well I think he's wonderful. Antique dealer now. Of course, in those days you couldn't get an actor who had a build. And of course today everybody's pumping iron they're all pumping iron. In those days everyone wanted to look 'done in,' y'know, like they wanted to look like they had been drinking with Peter O'Toole... that was part of the gig."
Richard O'Brien and Patricia Quinn,
Quotable: "Guardians of good are very nimble-footed. They leap from generation to generation. They believe that they and they alone are righteous enough to tell people how to conduct your lives."
MPAA chairman Jack Valenti, speaking this week at the
"I read it and thought, 'This is the worst piece of junk I've ever seen.' I showed it to my wife and she agreed with me. I called my agent at the time and told him to thank them very much, but I wasn't interested. I thought they should get Harvey Korman to play the part (of Capt. Oveur)."
Peter Graves, discussing the eternally popular Airplane!,
"I've made a lot of crap and a lot of money, which means I can afford to be artistic now."
Michael Caine, in a recent interview with Reuters.
Coming Attractions: New DVD reviews are on the way, including our special sneak-preview of Fox's upcoming X-Men, the special edition re-issue of Donnie Brasco, and more. And if you haven't entered our monthly free DVD contest, be sure to visit our contest page if you get the chance (we have a copy of The Dead Zone up for grabs), and don't forget to take our monthly DVD poll while you're there.
See ya Monday.
Wednesday, 25 October 2000
That's a whole bunch of questions to fire at us Tim, so we'll put on our batting helmets and start swinging. Any DVD player that has been modified to subvert region-coding technology has altered firmware, and it's never done by the manufacturer of the deck, but instead by a third party, often working on behalf of a vendor. When a player has been modified, folks usually say it's been "chipped." And, as those who have read about the new Region Coding Enhancement know all to well, there are two kinds of chipped players code-free (which RCE freezes out) and region-switchable (apparently RCE-immune at this time). You can get code-free or code-switchable players from many online retailers (don't we have a little banner for somebody on the left-hand side of this page?), and at this time they appear to be totally legal, or at least they are in terms of traditional legal protections for reverse-engineering. However, we should note that the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act may contain provisions against region-code subversion, so we have no idea if chipped players would hold up in a U.S. court, or if they'll be around forever.
Some DVD players can switch between the NTSC video format (the common standard in North America) and both SECAM and PAL (which are used throughout much of the world), and if you plan to get non-Region 1 discs from Europe, you need to be sure that your player can change video resolutions to handle this. However, Region 2 discs from Japan normally are NTSC, which means a code-free player will work fine by itself. And yes, the 1999-vintage APEX AD-600A (super-hard to find since eBay canceled all auctions) switches between NTSC and PAL, in addition to being Macrovision-free, code-free, and region-switchable.
As for getting technical details on Region 2 discs, we rely on several UK websites for good info in our native tongue, including The R2 Project, DVD Debate, DVD News UK, DVD Times, DVD Reviewer, and others. Digital die-hards overseas are working just as hard to deliver the news as many DVD websites are here in North America, so anybody planning to order discs from Europe should spend some time with these online sources beforehand.
Quick answer: At this time there is no colorized version of Casablanca on DVD, nor does there appear to be one on VHS, although it may have existed at one time, since the rights to Casablanca recently shifted from MGM to Warner, who now controls the home-video releases. Longer story: The colorization technology has never had much to do with theatrical films or home video, and in fact everything to do with television, where aimless viewers scanning through channels often tend to skip over black-and-white movies, no matter how classic they may be, settling on innocuous cooking shows or unusual sporting events or other late-night programming provided they're in color. Colorization gained momentum in the '80s mostly because of Ted Turner, who happened to own both a 24-hour cable-TV empire and a substantial film library (primarily acquired from MGM), and thus colorization was seen as a way to make the Turner holdings more TV-friendly. Of course, this met with fierce opposition from well-known members of the film industry, who feared that colorization would cause many of the black-and-white classics to be lost forever, and the strident reaction to colorization is one of the reasons why Congress established the National Film Preservation Board and the National Film Registry in 1988, inducting 25 films every year to be maintained by the Library of Congress for posterity (and what a difference a decade makes Turner was long the bane of cinephiles everywhere, but his recently established Turner Classic Movies now appeals to the very demographic he once alienated).
As for a colorized Casablanca or any other film on DVD, there's no reason to believe any such thing will arrive in the near future. In fact, we can only think of one colorized film on DVD (Pride of the Yankees, from HBO), but that's just off the top of our heads and we're sure some of you will send us letters today to remind us of a few others. There's no financial incentive for studios to release colorized films on DVD, as the market-base tends to be cinema purists who wouldn't just save their money, they'd complain to no end (can you imagine what would happen if The Magnificent Ambersons was only available on disc in colorized form? We shudder to even think about the consumer backlash.) Perhaps when DVD attracts more mainstream consumers down the road we will see colorized films on disc, but then again, it's not so easy to find colorized films on bargain-basement videotapes most classics on retailers' shelves are in black-and-white, as they should be. We tend to think that colorization has come and gone and may never regain whatever popularity it had and it never had much of a foothold in home video anyway.
No need for voodoo Jeff just a calculator. Of course, a "complete" set of Criterion Collection DVDs is always growing, as Criterion puts out a few new titles every month, but the forthcoming Beastie Boys Video Anthology will feature Criterion's spine-number 100, and while Criterion discs don't always come out in order, let's just presume for the sake of argument that there will be 100 Criterion releases in existence by Dec. 31, 2000. While hard to find at most brick-and-mortar retailers, the vast majority of Criterion's discs are available from online retailers. Once again we are going to go for even numbers for the sake of argument, but Criterion normally releases DVDs at two price-points, $29.95 and $39.95. Since we don't have the time to check just how many of each exist, let's figure an average retail price of $35.00 per disc, and also figure 93 DVDs can be ordered from online retailers. That's $3,255.00, but if we deduct a minimum 15% online discount for everything, the total becomes $2,766.75. Not done yet, because there are seven out-of-print Criterion collectibles, including the first edition of Seven Samurai (a must-have for any genuine "complete" Criterion set). Some hot Criterions can go for $250.00 or more at eBay, but once again we will figure a mean number for acquiring an OOP Criterion at auction, this time $125.00, or $875.00 to get all seven rare discs as fast as possible. Your grand total is $3,641.75, plus your time spent ordering discs and bidding at auction.
Sounds like a lot? It does to us, but then again some guys drop $50,000 on a manhood-enhancing Porsche Boxster. Have fun.
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, 24 October 2000
On the Street: Two heavy-hitting discs are on the street this morning, Paramount's The Patriot: Special Edition and DreamWorks' American Beauty: Awards Edition, and both have a generous amount of supplements. But if you're looking for comedy, look no further than Paramount's Airplane! and Airplane 2: The Sequel, now on DVD after much clamoring from fans. And the folks from Paramount ain't done yet, as the new Tucker: The Man and His Dream features the first full-length commentary track from director Francis Ford Coppola. Meanwhile, Universal has a double-dose of suspense on the shelves with the sci-fi thriller Pitch Black (available in an unrated edition) and the subwoofer-friendly submarine drama U-571. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of Reel.com and Image Entertainment:
That's it for now especially as Fox's X-Men special edition just showed up and you couldn't get the staff out of the screening room with a canister of tear-gas. We'll be checking out the extra sequences not in the theatrical version, as well as all of the bonus features (Hugh Jackman's screen test!), so keep it tuned here.
Monday, 23 October 2000
Some 'Toy Story' discs f%#ked up!: Heads-up those of you who forked out the bucks for Disney's three-disc Toy Story: Ultimate Toy Box last week according to several reports, some of the discs contain what Disney is describing as a duplication error, namely that on the Toy Story 2 disc, part of the John Cusack comedy High Fidelity wound up in the mix, and with a few earthy, Anglo-Saxon F-words to boot. Beyond that, the third disc reportedly has other technical errors, and in some cases will not play at all. The DVDs were duped by Technicolor, who in a statement noted "the problem exists only in a small percentage of the three-disc DVD packages and is limited to a specific isolated region of the United States." And of course, a recall is underway. Some folks may complain, but we digital die-hards have seen this thing before, so all we can say in Disney's defense is, hey s#%t happens.
Disc of the Week: Beware dream projects. They almost always go awry. In the movie business, dream projects tend to gestate for many years, thanks to the exigencies of movie financing. And an idea that seems cool in the early '50s (like Samuel Fuller's The Big Red One) suddenly takes on a moldy, shopworn mien when the project finally makes it to the screen in the '80s. Beware, but also be sympathetic. For not all dream projects suffer from mothball odor. Francis Ford Coppola's Tucker: The Man and His Dream may not be in the top tier of great Coppola films such as The Godfather Parts I and II or Apocalypse Now, but it is not as bad as the jackal press indicated when it was first released in 1988 (the film went on to make some $19 million). Tucker is not Jack. It's a three-star movie on a level with other second-tier Coppola projects such as The Outsiders and Rumblefish. However, Paramount's DVD release, with its fine audio commentary by Coppola and its hard-to-find extras, make this a four-star disc.
The eponymous hero of the film is Preston Tucker (Jeff Bridges). Just as World War II is winding down, Tucker a man who worked at one time or another for almost all the American auto companies, and who had designed the Tucker Turret for Air Corps bombers decides to design his own car, one that both goes fast, but also in which safety comes first. Tucker adds disc-brakes, seat-belts, pop-out windows, and a rear engine ("where it should be" he says) to his dream car. With the help of his large family led by wife Vera (Joan Allen), and the financial advice of Abe Karetz (a fictional character, played by Martin Landau in a career-revivifying turn), Tucker attracts publicity, investment bankers, and a huge warehouse in Illinois. But soon things go awry. Tucker basically signed over ownership of his car and company to his board of directors, but they begin to veto design imperatives from his corps of designers (Frederic Forrest, Elias Koteas). The dispute eventually snowballs into a federal prosecution of Tucker, instigated silently by a Michigan senator (Lloyd Bridges) in the pocket of the "Big Three," America's major car manufacturers based in Detroit.
Does Tucker win or lose? Well, how many Tuckers do you see on the road these days? In the end, only 50 Tucker automobiles were manufactured. But to Coppola, Tucker is the winner. He can dream. He can inspire creativity in others. He can hold people together. And he fights the good fight against conventional minds and bureaucratic mediocrity. In fact, Tucker sounds an awful lot like a movie director or at least a director like Coppola. It was much commented in reviews at the time that Tucker is something of a stand-in for Coppola, and the director almost admits to this in his commentary on this disc. Coppola had been trying to get this project together even before he made The Godfather, and there is little doubt that the director identified with the car visionary. In fact, his identification is so complete that he glorifies Tucker at the expense of strict realism (thus a business executive is a supercilious creep, framed and posed out of a silent movie to embody corporate evil). Coppola took promotional auto films of the '40s and '50s as his visual and audio model, so Tucker has a bright look and stirring sound, thanks to a clever score by Joe Jackson, and for the most part Coppola's strategy works. The film has the verve and energy of a musical without the singing and dancing. And Tucker is well acted by a huge cast viewers seeing it again will be pleasantly surprised to catch actors such as Christian Slater, Joan Allen, and Jay O. Sanders in early roles, and Dean Stockwell in a cameo as Howard Hughes.
A Laserdisc edition of Tucker with a transfer approved by cinematographer Vittorio Storaro was released in 1991, and it appears Paramount's new DVD transfer bears close relation not a bad thing, because the disc hosts a beautiful version of the film, capturing the photographer's autumnal hues and golden light in anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1). Along with solid 5.1 audio in Dolby Digital (and an additional Dolby 2.0 Surround track), the disc is notable for its three key supplements. There's an audio commentary by Coppola (his first full-length effort on DVD), in which the director tracks the career of the film, talks about his and his father's relationship with the Tucker automobile (the director owns two) and comments on Tucker as a creative force dealing with the unimaginative. Coppola little addresses the technical side of Tucker, though he does point out various tricks such as faked split-screen shots actually created in the same frame on the set. It's a good commentary, and it's good to hear Coppola expound for the length of the film on the art of cinema. Coppola also provides an audio commentary on the rarely seen promotional film, Tucker The Man and His Car from 1948. Though scratched and faded, this 15-minute short made by the Tucker corporation shows how much Coppola based his film on actual events. In his additonal commentary on this promo, the director reveals how he became interested in Tucker and describes the long process of mounting the film. Finally, there is a short "making-of" featurette called Under the Hood: Making Tucker, drawn from various interviews at the time with Coppola, the cast, and producer George Lucas, but which had never before been gathered together making it an unusually rare feature. Tucker: The Man and His Dream is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: The entertainment media has been hyping Warner's Pay it Forward as one of the biggest Oscar contenders of the season, and with Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt, and Haley Joel Osment topping the bill, it isn't hard to see why. But if film critics and moviegoers are anything to go by, Forward isn't going anywhere it earned just $10.2 million over its first weekend, and it was largely panned in the press as an overbearing, manipulative tear-jerker (but don't rule it out entirely the treacly Forrest Gump won a Best Picture statuette, after all). Remaining in the top spot for the third week running was Universal's Meet the Parents, now on track to clear an estimated $130 million, while Fox's Bedazzled, starring Brendan Fraser and Elizabeth Hurley, took second with $13.7 million. The best-reviewed movie of the weekend (by far) was Miramax's The Legend of Drunken Master, the latest Jackie Chan film to get a refurbishment for North American release, but it wound up in fifth with just $3.7 million.
Still in continuing release, Buena Vista's Remember the Titans is now at $77.4 million, but many other films are rapidly losing momentum The Contender, Lost Souls, The Ladies Man, and Dr. T and the Women all had sub-$4 million weekends in just their second week. And already on the scrap-heap is Warner's Get Carter, which will finish just short of $15 million although the Stallone name may give it a boost overseas.
Two more high-profile movies will go up against Meet the Parents this Friday Lucky Numbers, starring John Travolta and Lisa Kudrow, and Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 from Artisan. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: D.K. Holm has posted our special sneak preview of Warner's feature-packed The Perfect Storm, which is due on Nov. 14, while Dawn Taylor has a new look at Fox's Edward Scissorhands: 10th Anniversary Edition and Greg Dorr has reviews this morning of The Omen: Special Edition and Bob Roberts: Special Edition. All can be found on our Full Reviews index. New quick reviews this week from the team include Jerry Lewis's 1963 The Nutty Professor, Love and Basketball: Platinum Series, Keeping the Faith, Tucker: The Man and His Dream, and The Eagle Has Landed, and can be accessed on the Quick Reviews index. Fans of speed-dialing can find everything 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, 19 October 2000
More than 10 million served: We normally don't post a lot of news about DVD hardware sales here, and pretty much stopped doing so when it became obvious in mid-1999 that the DVD Video format was certain to be a success with consumers. Since the death of Divx, sales of players have continued to rise at a rapid pace, and we've been happy for it, but also happy to spend more of our time on software reviews, new disc announcements, and your letters. But it should be noted that the Consumer Electronics Association, which tracks hardware sales for DVD manufacturers, announced this week that more than 10 million DVD players have now shipped to dealers, and with the holiday-shopping season it's expected as many as four million more will arrive in the shops by year's end. "DVD is nearing the consumer electronics milestone of 10 percent market penetration," Emiel N. Petrone, chairman of the nonprofit DVD Entertainment Group said in a statement. "And with the introduction of DVD-based game consoles, we anticipate this mass market acceptance to continue to sky-rocket." And to think it wasn't so long ago that we were waiting for just one million players to sell.
Commentary Clips: "I'm not really interested in what people have done before it's totally instinct to me. I mean, patently if you've got stars coming in, that's your upper echelon. Obviously I'm consulted on that level, (but) there isn't a 'casting' to meet them, where you could meet the person and see if you're going to get on. But all the other roles, it's totally to do with instinct, so I like to see a lot of actors. You smell good actors if you like actors, you know. And of course, the way they look you've got the biggest repertory company in the world, so each character can be clearly defined immediately when they walk on the screen by the way they look. And I think it's a bit like being a painter in that sense the actors are your pigments. The character is stated in a way you could never do in a script. They walk on and they fill the clothes immediately. And when that person walks into the audition, I never ask them to read, ever. I just sit and talk, y'know, sometimes for a long, long time. And that's it, and it's the most exciting process of the lot. In America they get terribly nervous about this, the producer does, when you don't ask them to read, you don't do tests. (laughs) It seems to me completely irrelevant, actually. Y'know, I'm paid for my instincts, and unfortunately producers in some occasions then try to remove my instinct. But you can say 'Why did you employ me?' And that's what they're paying you for. They don't recognize that, of course."
Director Mike Hodges,
"I wanted to make this movie because at that time British gangster movies always assumed that gangsters British gangsters were stupid, silly, or funny, and I knew from my background (laughs) that they were none of those three, all of the above was wrong. One guy I know who was a professional assassin came up to me in a club, and he said 'I thought Carter was a load of crap.' So I said, 'Oh really? Why?' He said 'No family. Michael, you've got to remember that we've all got families and problems, just like everyone else.' I said, 'Well he wasn't in London. He was a Londoner, he went to Newcastle.' And I said 'For starters, he had family. His brother was dead for chrissakes. That's why he was there.' So he said, 'Oh well I never thought of it that way. Y'know, what I'm talking about, y'know, the kids have got chicken pox and all that. That's what my life is like.' "
Quotable: "Joe Lieberman and I gave (the Hollywood studios) six months to clean up their act, and if they don't do it, we're going to ask for tougher authority in the hands of the (Federal Trade Commission) on the false and deceptive advertising. I'll tell you this: I want to do something about this respect the First Amendment but I will do something to help you raise your kids without that garbage."
Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore, in this week's third
"If you can't market it, you won't write it and you won't make it. If you really want to protect the children, you need to protect their First Amendment rights. If you don't, you're mortgaging in so many ways what those who preceded you built.... Hollywood has always been the last bastion of protecting First Amendment rights. Stand up for what you believe in. You can't give an inch."
World Wrestling Federation CEO Vince McMahon, speaking
"I felt that reading The Contender was like hearkening back to the work that I used to do before scripts got really fucking terrible. People ask 'Why don't you do another Prick Up Your Ears?' and I say 'Because they are not making those kind of movies.' The rare thing happens when you read a script and you can go, 'Ahhh, a good story, a good character.' "
The Contender star Gary Oldman, in the November issue of
"The bottom line is that I feel really good about (a sequel). Here I was taking big chances, breaking a new genre. The book stood for something classic and this (sequel) hopefully will too.... My whole career has been based on trying something new. If I don't try something new, I worry."
John Travolta, who revealed yesterday that he's planning
Coming Attractions: New DVD reviews are on the way, including a special sneak preview of Warner's The Perfect Storm, so we'll see ya Monday morning with our latest disc roundup and more. Have a great weekend.
Wednesday, 18 October 2000
Mailbag: Wednesday is the day we clean out the reader mail here at The DVD Journal, and the new Region Code Enhancement on Warner and Columbia TriStar DVDs has been a hot topic this week, especially with our international readers, so let's start with letter from New Zealand:
While on holiday in the U.S. earlier this year, the selection of films available on DVD absolutely staggered me. At a guess, 10% - 15% of titles available in the U.S. are available in New Zealand. And the films available here are of dubious quality. We have no Criterion Collection, or New Line Platinum releases. All the boxes are labeled prominently with "DELUXE WIDESCREEN PRESENTATION" across the top. Aficionados of the format have been heard to exclaim "big freakin' deal." And the packaging of the films are, by and large, pretty damn boring.
Extras are a big pull for me. I enjoy absorbing all I can about a film I like, which is why DVDs like The Matrix, The Abyss: SE and Fight Club were a real drawcard. The Region 1 releases of these films are stunning, in terms of their content and scope (you probably already know this!).
Compare to the Region 4 releases:
Frankly, the lack of choice and extras is a bit of an insult.
There are some exceptions the original release of Shakespeare in Love had commentaries and TV spots to eternity, while South Park: Bigger Longer and Uncut has a music video (a notable absence from the Region 1 release). So, to put it briefly, WHV can do what they like with their DVDs, and I won't get that annoyed, so long as they can guarantee the Region 4 (or wherever) releases will be an adequate reflection of their 'oeuvre', and will be accompanied by the same amount of extras as the Region 1 releases. Until then, I'll keep buying Region 1 DVDs (which, thankfully, I should still be able to play) and ignoring the Region 4 releases.
Thanks for the letter David. Compared to a lot of the reader mail we've received over the past week regarding the new RCE protection (most of which has excoriated Warner to no end), we tend to agree with you in general. As we noted last week, nobody has to like RCE, but there's no point in fussing and fighting because region-coding is very much in all the studios' financial interests, and they are going to do what they deem necessary to protect their profits. We simply are consumers, and we don't have any "rights" to their products (as some folks have suggested to us lately) rather, we vote with our money, which is a pretty good way of letting the DVD producers know what we want. Here in Region 1, the overall prices on many DVDs have come down over the past year, and most discs are re-priced a few months after their initial release to attract additional sales. In fact, there was a time when a few studios, especially Buena Vista, put outrageous $34.95 or higher SRPs on some discs, which didn't go over well. Buena Vista also put "forced" previews on some high-profile releases (such as The Sixth Sense), but this also met with consumer dissatisfaction. Fox used to be a big offender in the high-prices, no-features category, but they have managed over the past year to generally deliver great products (Fight Club, The Abyss, Rocky Horror) at reasonable costs. In the much-improved category, Paramount is starting to release more special editions (even if they won't call them that on the packaging), particularly with commentary tracks, and DVD stalwarts Columbia TriStar, New Line, Universal, and WHV are doing what they have done since 1997 delivering great features, anamorphic transfers, and decent prices. Frankly, while you may have cause to complain in Region 4, we think that any Region 1 DVD fans who bitch about the state of things here in North America should read your letter for a reality-check. We get the best stuff, and we get it first.
Unfortunately, the only solution to the situation you describe in Region 4 (or other regions outside of North America) is for DVD to build a substantial fan-base that has both cinephile tastes and consumer clout, and then make it known by your buying patterns what's worth your money. And yes, this also includes having a region-switchable player and buying Region 1 discs. If the studios notice that their own Region 1 discs are outselling bare-bones DVDs in other regions, and if they are determined to keep the DVD regions intact, one of the best ways to do it is via market forces. Equivalent DVDs in all regions (provided they come from the same studio) won't necessarily stop the export of discs from Region 1 that potentially compete with theatrical films in other parts of the world, but it can stem the flow, especially for folks who would rather buy something conveniently in their own country rather than dealing with international purchases. And for films that are no longer in theaters anywhere (like Dark City and Starship Troopers), equivalent releases will ensure that DVDs remain in their own regions. After all, it's not like DVD fans around the world enjoy paying for international shipping.
Yes it is Dave if you have your DVD player hooked up to your TV via your VCR. This is because of Macrovision, a copy-deterrence technology that interferes with the video signal in order to prevent clean copies of commercial DVDs or videotapes from being duplicated on tape. And actually, your letter set us off on an interesting experiment, because we were under the assumption that the Macrovision in most VCRs was interfering with the signal. But, thanks to our handy 1999-vintage APEX AD-600A DVD player (which allows the user to disable Macrovision, naughty thing), we sourced a DVD signal to a television via a VCR's line-input and discovered that the DVD player itself interferes with the signal, not the recorder so there's no point in looking for a new VCR.
In any case, you will need to make sure that your DVD player and your VCR are not connected in your current setup. The easiest way to do this is to hook your VCR up via the coaxial input on your TV, while running the DVD player through the RCA cable inputs for video and both left and right audio (normally red, white, and yellow inputs). Even better, if you have a few bucks get a home-theater amp that offers various source inputs and a single "monitor" line out, which is the common foundation of all home-theater systems. And while it's not too hard to drop $800 or more on a new Dolby Digital/DTS amp, inexpensive Pro Logic amps can be had for less than $200 and are a great way to start down the road to becoming a bona fide home-theater junkie.
Sounds like a good question to fire at a presidential candidate in last night's debate, Jacob. But in this case we'll have to make do (and we won't make up stories or try anything "subliminable" on ya). First, we have to point out that we don't "think" Criterion's Sid and Nancy is out-of-print, but rather on Oct. 3 we reported it listed as discontinued in Image Entertainment 's DVD database. Since then, Amazon.com has run out of stock and reports that Criterion "is currently not producing this DVD edition," and Criterion recently updated their own disc database (if not their website's front page news summary), acknowledging that Sid and Nancy now is "a rare collector's item."
As for all of the OOP Criterion stuff, you pretty much have the current list Salo, This Is Spinal Tap, Hard Boiled, The Killer, The 400 Blows and Sid and Nancy are goners, as is the first edition of Seven Samurai and its restoration documentary. And you also have heard the same rumors we have The Silence of the Lambs and Robocop may go out of print down the road. When we can't say, but we did find out this week (from a source we'd rather not reveal at the moment) that production has started on a new special edition DVD of Silence of the Lambs by a different vendor. So yes, we make a point of tracking out-of-print Criterion discs, and we announce what we know when we get info from a reliable source or two. Judging by our e-mail, many Journal regulars snapped up last-minute copies of Hard Boiled and Sid and Nancy after reading here about the titles' impending demise.
We hope we've earned your vote this November.
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, 17 October 2000
On the Street: Today is the final big-ass Bond day, as MGM has now released their third wave of 007 special editions, completing their entire Bond library on DVD. Meanwhile, fun for the whole family (or just for animation fans) is on board Buena Vista's Toy Story/Toy Story 2: The Ultimate Toy Box, a three-DVD set loaded with good stuff from the folks at Pixar. Still have money left over after those two boxes? After some delay, Ken Burns' epic documentary Baseball apparently has finally reached retailers, and it's big enough to break a bank account or two. Those of you who are more frugal still have some solid options this morning, with Artisan's delayed Bob Roberts: Special Edition arriving just weeks before Election Day, while Columbia TriStar's new Legends of the Fall: Special Edition has plenty of extras for fans of the film. In the meantime, we'll be checking out some "Old Black Magic" with the original Buddy Love in Jerry Lewis' 1963 The Nutty Professor, on the street now from Paramount. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of Reel.com and Image Entertainment:
Back tomorrow with the mailbag.
Monday, 16 October 2000
Disc of the Week: While countless rock-and-roll acts over the past several decades have managed to tour, get a record contract, make a few music videos, and even make money, very few of them can be accurately described as historical or cultural touchstones. Certainly there's Elvis Presley, who became the first rock-and-roll sensation with a mix of traditional country music and Delta blues, and The Beatles proved that pop music could become transcendent in the recording studio, freed from the practicalities of live performances. But if there are just a handful of other rock acts that changed history, one cannot overlook the mercurial Sex Pistols, who burst onto the pop scene in 1976, by some accounts only performed live 50 times, released a handful of singles and one album, and then broke up after just 26 months. But when it was over, the pop-culture landscape was undeniably different. Perhaps more serious academic essays and books have been written about the Sex Pistols than any other band, and three motion pictures have addressed the Pistols phenomenon Julien Temple's 1980 The Great Rock and Roll Swindle, Lech Kowalski's verité 1980 documentary D.O.A.: A Right of Passage, and Alex Cox's 1986 dramatic film Sid and Nancy. With the arrival of Julien Temple's The Filth and the Fury in 2000, that number is now four, and Temple not only has come up with a vivid tale about these punk icons, but one of the best and smartest documentaries ever assembled about pop music.
While popularly considered to be a band of outsiders who wouldn't play by the rules of the rock establishment, the story behind The Sex Pistols (for those who aren't familiar with it) is surprisingly common, and not much different than The Beatles, if much more compressed. Like the Fab Four, the band never would have existed without some clever and ambitious management (for the Beatles it was Liverpool shopkeeper Brian Epstein, while the Pistols were backed by London shopkeeper Malcolm McLaren). Money was often a source tension in both groups, who rarely had a clear accounting of their earnings and never retained as much as they should have. Both groups split up over a debate over the future management of the band. And of course, women became a part of the story. John and Paul may have gone their separate ways with Yoko and Linda for the Pistols, it was Nancy Spungeon who latched on to bassist Sid Vicious, earning the enmity of his bandmates in the process.
If it all sounds like a glorified episode of VH-1's maudlin "Behind the Music," Temple's The Filth and the Fury tells a rather thoughtful story, and in a non-manipulative way. Rather than impose a narrative voice on the film, all of the surviving Pistols (Johnny Rotten, Steve Jones, Paul Cook, and original bassist Glen Matlock) are interviewed, and their comments form the narrative drive of the story, even when they conflict with each other. Temple's clever framing device (the current-day Pistols are never seen either, only shown in backlit silhouettes) acknowledges that a lot has already been said, hashed over, and debated about this influential group. History is an interpretive act, fluid by nature and rarely straightforward. Answers often are hard to come by (who quit the band first, Johnny or Steve?), and The Filth and the Fury wisely avoids the pitfalls of definitive storytelling. Temple also uses a wide array of footage for the film, ranging from his first Pistols outing Rock and Roll Swindle (a vanity project for McLaren rather than a serious documentary), the ultra-rare D.O.A. (unavailable on home video for many years now), and an eclectic blend of television shows, advertising, Laurence Olivier's Richard III, and the popular British slapstick comics who Rotten claims inspired him more than any rock-and-roll stars.
New Line's new DVD edition of The Filth and the Fury offers a great film in its own right, but those who intend to own a copy will enjoy two supplements a commentary with director Temple (who discusses his unusual methodology behind the project), and the 36-minute documentary "Un-Defining Punk," featuring several interviews with notable members of the London, New York, and L.A. punk scenes in the '70s and '80s. The Filth and the Fury is on the street now.
Box Office: Four new films went wide over the weekend, but none could displace Universal's Meet the Parents, which held the top spot for the second week in a row with $21.3 million amidst largely positive reviews, and the Robert De Niro/Ben Stiller comedy is now on track to easily break $100 million before it's done. Also drawing crowds was Buena Vista's football drama Remember the Titans, with $13.5 million over its third weekend and $64.6 million so far. In their wake were four new offerings (all R-rated) New Line's Lost Souls, with $8.4 million, Paramount's SNL spinoff The Ladies Man, with $5.7 million, DreamWorks' The Contender, which garnered $5.5 million (but had some strong reviews for Joan Allen's performance), and Robert Altman's Dr. T. and the Women, earning Artisan $5.2 million. Warner's Best in Show, the latest mockumentary from Christopher Guest, expanded to more screens and took $2.3 million over its first wide weekend.
Still in continuing release, Warner's see-it-again The Exorcist is now over the $30 million mark, but their new Get Carter with Sly Stallone is falling fast, with just $11.5 million after 10 days and some scathing reviews. DreamWorks also had a bumpy week, with Contender star and conservative-leaning Gary Oldman dissing the DreamWorks front office for allegedly re-cutting the movie to smear Republicans during this election season (DreamWorks has denied the allegations), while the studio and Cameron Crowe apparently are on the outs over Almost Famous, which has only earned $26.8 million after five weeks with a $60 million budget, the critically acclaimed film could wind up in the red unless it gets a boost at Oscar-time.
The Oscar-buzz is all over Pay it Forward, starring Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt, and Haley Joel Osment, which arrives in the theaters this Friday, along with the comedy Bedazzled, with Brendan Fraser and Elizabeth Hurley. And Jackie Chan fans can look for his 1993 The Legend of Drunken Master, which is getting a theatrical release in North America. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Betsy Bozdech has posted our special sneak preview of Columbia TriStar's The Patriot: Special Edition, which is on the street Oct. 24, while D.K. Holm has taken a fresh look at the new Legends of the Fall: Special Edition, which adds several supplements to the previous bare-bones disc. Both can be found on our Full Reviews index. New quick reviews from the team this week include From Dusk Till Dawn: Collector's Edition, Shanghai Noon, Rules of Engagement, The Filth and the Fury, and Damn the Defiant! , and can be accessed on the Quick Reviews index. Everything has been added under the New Reviews menu here on the main page as well.
We'll be back tomorrow with news on this week's street discs.
Thursday, 12 October 2000
On the Block: Sure, MGM has released This Is Spinal Tap on DVD with some new supplements, but Criterion's out-of-print disc hasn't lost any of its value to DVD fans, earning a top close of $250.00 in our latest round of DVD auction rankings from eBay, and that was after a heated 40-bid auction. But it seems demo DVDs have the highest value recently, and the ultra-rare THX Theatrical Trailers earned the number-one spot this time around with a $455.00 hammer-price placing the normally top-trading Salo: The Criterion Collection a distant second and the THX Surround EX demo-disc ranked high as well with a $207.50 top close. New to our list is Columbia TriStar's The Boondock Saints, which recently joined the out-of-print ranks, while the value of such first editions as Little Shop of Horrors, Seven Samurai: The Criterion Collection, and Platoon continue to slip. And if you don't love the Pet Shop Boys, at least somebody does a code-free live concert DVD released in Hong Kong fetched $91.00 for one happy seller. Here's the highest recent closing prices of rare and out-of-print DVDs from online auctions at eBay:
Commentary Clips: "Universal briefly considered shooting Creature from the Black Lagoon in Eastmancolor, and of all the Universal sci-fi films of the '50s, this is the one that really would have benefited from color I think the Creature would have been dynamite in color. In fact, if the colorization fad hadn't died out, and if they finally could have gotten it right, I would have had no objection whatsoever to seeing Creature colorized. When I told (producer) Bill Alland that Creature and Tarantula and some of his other features would have been great in color, he said exactly the same thing that he would love to see Creature colorized, he said it would look fabulous in color. But I guess the expense of shooting Creature in color worried Universal. In color and 3-D, they projected Creature would wind up costing them $750,000, so pardon the pun they scaled Creature down, made it in black-and-white 3-D, which they figured would cost them $650,000."
Film historian Tom Weaver,
"Gloria Stuart has given many interviews regarding her reactions to playing the scenes in (The Invisible Man) with Claude Rains. She found him rather distant, self-absorbed, and prone to upstaging her in front of the camera, but (director James) Whale intervened. All in all, she did not find working with Claude to be an enjoyable experience. Actor Peter Lorre told the story of an amusing joke played on Claude while they were filming Casablanca: 'Claude was constantly studying, making sure he had each line letter-perfect. One day we wrote a scene that had nothing to do with the script and asked all the actors to memorize it, except Claude of course. When he came in the next day and saw us rehearsing the scene, he was frantic. He called me aside and said "Peter, something terrible has happened to me I can't remember a single line." We all broke up, and he wasn't even mad, just relieved that his memory wasn't failing.' "
Film historian Rudy Behlmer,
Quotable: "The Digital Millennium Copyright Act was used by the Motion Pictures Association of America to successfully stop 2600 Magazine from publishing information about the flawed DVD content protection scheme. The information about the scheme, which a programmer uncovered by reverse engineering, was now contraband. It was illegal under the DMCA. Think about that. There are now black boxes, whether in hardware or software, that are illegal to peek inside. You can pay for it and use it, but you are not allowed to open up the hood. You cannot look to see if the box violates your privacy or has a security vulnerability that puts you at risk. Companies that make hardware and software products love this property and are going to build their products so that they fall under the protection of the DMCA.... This is a future that is scary to me. One of the notions that was born out of the Enlightenment is that at the core of human nature lies the need to inquire about the world around us. As we move our discourse and society into the digital realm it will be a tragedy to lose this fundamental freedom which has served us so well."
Weld Pond, manager of research and development with the
"You don't want to take your DVD player and try to mount it on your (car's) dashboard. When you have music these days, people's expectation is being fostered toward portability that's what the digital age brings. And if (DVD Audio) doesn't have that element, it makes it more of a niche product."
P.J. McNealy, business analyst for Gartner Research, on
"I found myself in a hotel lobby in London a few months ago thinking, all of a sudden, 'So this is what it feels like to be the Scarlet Woman. Oh! I'm having that experience now!'.... My marriage and the dissolution of my marriage...well, the real reasons for it will always be speculation, because I'll never talk about what went down, and neither will Dennis. We both behaved very honorably in our marriage and in our breakup. He never cheated on me. I can't believe they're saying that about him. The guy is an honorable man. And the reasons we broke up have nothing to do with another person. My marriage was broken nobody else broke it up. That's true. I know it to be true, and Dennis knows it to be true. What anybody else thinks, I have no control over."
Meg Ryan, regarding her much-publicized split with hubby
"My speech is rated PG suitable for most ages, but parents are cautioned that it may not be appropriate for very young children due to some fairly strong hyperbole."
Disney chairman Michael Eisner, before delivering a speech
Coming Attractions: We have a stack of new DVDs in the screening room, and more reviews are on the way, including the revamped Legends of the Fall: Special Edition. In the meantime, if you haven't entered our monthly free DVD contest (a copy of The Dead Zone is up for grabs), be sure to visit our contest page if you get the chance, and don't forget to take our monthly DVD poll while you're there.
See ya Monday.
Wednesday, 11 October 2000
Mailbag: Got mail? We do lots of it, and while we aren't able to personally respond to all of your letters, we'd like to let you know that we read everything we get. Here's some reader comments from this week:
(Pardon us while we put on our flame-retardant suits....)
Thanks for your letter, Peter we received many notes yesterday from readers in the U.S. and abroad expressing similar sentiments about the "Region Code Enhancement" protection on new Warner and Columbia TriStar DVDs (see yesterday's update). However, we beg to differ with you on a few points. First, we think WHV and CTHV know exactly what they are doing with RCE protection. You don't have to like it, and DVDs fans have always been sore about region-coding, since it means that various DVD titles from different parts of the globe are difficult to play across the six geographical DVD regions. But the major Hollywood studios were very, very insistent that region-coding technology be part of the DVD Video format from the get-go in order to protect the international distribution of their first-run films from cannibalization by DVD purchases from Region 1 where most feature films arrive on disc when the same title is still working its way through theatrical circuits in other countries. Another reason why the studios prefer region-coding is because one company doesn't always have the worldwide rights to a motion picture, particularly when an expensive film is funded by two studios (cf. Titanic, paid for by Paramount and Fox as part of the production deal, Paramount got the North American home-video rights, Fox got everywhere else). When two studios own the same film in different parts of the world, it's more than possible that one will release a special-edition DVD, while the other will not. And when that happens, the studio with the inferior product does not want to lose revenue to a competing disc from a different region. Again, you don't have to like it, but the folks with the movies have every intention of ensuring that the very-desirable DVD format does not chip away at their established revenue streams.
Of course (and we already hear some of you screaming at us), there are instances when studios release a film on a region-coded DVD when it is no longer in the theaters anywhere and they own the worldwide rights. Exhibit A: The Shawshank Redemption, released by Warner in Region 2 (albeit pan-and-scan) long before the highly anticipated Region 1 disc arrived in North America. Why not just make everything Region 0 and be done with it? Nice in theory, and consumer-friendly to a degree, but the rights to films easily can be chopped up between different parts of the world, and just because Warner owns something worldwide doesn't mean they won't sell the European rights to Shawshank and maybe 300 other catalog titles to another company in the future. If that happens, the Region 2 disc can go out-of-print, replaced by a new Region 2 disc from the new rights-holder, while the Region 1 disc will not have to be re-pressed, since it was coded for Region 1 at the outset.
Okay, now we know everybody is screaming at us. Why are we defending region-coding? We're not, really, because it is a major pain in the ass for movie buffs who want to build a DVD collection from different parts of the world (us included). But it's better to at least see where the studios are coming from on this rather than compare them to a communist or fascist regime, or talk about going to "war." Free exchange of information may sound like an attractive argument, but it does not apply, since the studios actually own all of their movies and we don't. These are the rules, and all that DVD consumers could do about it was buy reverse-engineered players from third-party vendors for code-free playback. And when the studios couldn't do anything about code-free decks, Warner and Columbia TriStar beefed up the region-coding. If this is a game of chess, consider that their most recent move.
The good news for code-free fans that is that RCE reportedly only affects players that are set to override region-codes, but the enhancement can't detect "region-switchable" players, which have grown in popularity around the world and became the gold standard about 48 hours ago (the versatile APEX AD-600A is both code-free and switchable, and thus immune to RCE entirely). Buy a region-switchable player. Or boycott DVD. Or talk with a lawyer and reverse-engineer anything you care to buy (and hope the MPAA's lawyers don't throw the Digital Millennium Copyright Act at you if they find you). All of those things currently are within DVD consumers' rights studio-endorsed code-free DVD ain't.
While we have an APEX AD-600A here in the office (which we bought strictly for its code-free features), and we've run a lot of discs through it without any serious problems, we don't really spend a lot of time with the online APEX community, so we can't give a definitive response to your comments. Some Universal and Buena Vista discs may choke on the code-free setting, but we don't think this has to do with any sort of RCE technology, per se. In fact, we tested two very recent DVDs from Universal and Buena Vista on the APEX last night, and they loaded fine in code-free mode. As far as we know, only Warner and Columbia TriStar are putting RCE on new releases, although other studios certainly will join their ranks.
And it must be noted that, at this point, here in North America the whole RCE thing is very academic. If the Warner Home Video memo posted by DVD Debate is anything to go by, RCE will be applied like a tourniquet to the regular flow of Region 1 discs headed overseas RCE on Region 2 discs (as an example) may not be applied for some time. But technology's cheap, and it's likely that it will happen eventually. Does anybody really think Warner's Region 2 Eyes Wide Shut would have been released without RCE were it available at the time?
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, 10 October 2000
Region-codes tightened: In a move that likely will have far greater repercussions on digital die-hards outside of North America than here in Region 1, the British-based DVD website DVD Debate is reporting that Warner Brothers is tinkering with the region-code technology of the DVD format with something called "Regional Code Enhancement." In particular, RCE tightens up some of the loopholes that are allowing Region 1 discs to play on code-free players in other regions by preventing these discs from operating unless the player clearly identifies itself as Region 1 and unmodified. DVD Debate quotes from an internal memo reportedly distributed at Warner that states, in part, "WHV will start applying the RCE to discs scheduled for release in the U.S. market beginning in late October. The program has two objectives. (1) Discourage the export of region 1 discs to other regions and (2) discourage the sale of DVD video hardware that has been modified to 'region free.' WHV Sales personnel should immediately begin to communicate this program to key retailers in their respective territories."
Is it true? Ahem....
Our APEX AD-600A says yes, it is, because the new RCE technology has rendered at least one new disc of ours inoperable when the APEX is set to code-free (it works fine when we set the player back to Region 1).
Scratch "code-free" from your vocabulary. Add "pre-RCE discs." You folks overseas might want to put a shot of whiskey in your morning coffee while you're at it, too.
On the Street: There's just one mammoth release in the shops today, as Universal has finally delivered Jurassic Park and The Lost World as special-edition discs, and we can tell you that fans of the films won't be disappointed with the supplements on board. The only problem is deciding just how you'd like to get these straightforward Dolby Digital versions, DTS audio with a few less extras, the cheaper two-disc box, or even a huge collector's set with the soundtrack CDs can all be had for varying prices. Meanwhile, there's a double-dose of Jackie Chan out today, as Buena Vista has released this year's Shanghai Noon while Columbia TriStar has dug out a nice print of the 1989 Miracles. But keep it tuned here punk rockers, because Julien Temple's Sex Pistols documentary The Filth and the Fury is out now from New Line it's a disc we're looking forward to spinning later this week. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of Reel.com and Image Entertainment:
Bye for now.
Monday, 9 October 2000
Disc of the Week: Where would Brian De Palma be without Alfred Hitchcock? Forget that oft-asked question. Where would De Palma be without Abel Gance? After all, while De Palma stood a great deal of his early film career on the shoulders of the esteemed Hitch and his flair for stylish suspense, such cannot explain his fascination with the split-screen technique, which Hitchcock (and virtually all cineastes of his generation) ignored completely. Enter Gance, a pioneering French filmmaker whose monumental 1927 Napoleon was filmed in something called "Polyvision," one of the first widescreen processes (invented by Gance himself), which employed three separate cameras. When the process was used for panoramic effect, massive battle scenes in Napoleon sprung to life in an ultra-wide aspect ratio. But with a battery of three cameras to play with, Gance also enjoyed creating triptych effects, blending a simultaneous montage of separate images that broadened the scope of any given scene. Some film fans may tend to discredit De Palma for drawing as much from Hitchcock as he has during his hit-and-miss career, but we are glad he has been a proponent of the split-screen, a technically challenging component of cinema that almost died with Gance before its resurrection in the 1960s and total exploitation by De Palma a few years later. And one of the best places to see De Palma's technical genius is in his 1973 Sisters.
Margot Kidder stars in Sisters as Danielle Breton, a French Canadian model living in New York, where she's pursuing an acting career. On one job (a funny and appropriate game show about peeping toms) she meets the handsome Philip (Lisle Wilson), and their first date leads to his spending the night at her apartment. In the morning Philip learns that Danielle has a twin sister, Dominique, and that it is the ladies' birthday. But upon returning to the apartment with a birthday cake, the erratic Dominique (who is visiting from a local asylum) disposes of her sister's new boyfriend via the business end of a butcher's knife. Enter investigative reporter Grace Collier (Jennifer Salt), who saw the murder from her window across the courtyard. After persuading the cops to investigate, she is convinced that Danielle has a twin sister. What she doesn't suspect is that the girls were born as Siamese twins, and surgically separated only recently.
De Palma's Sisters was a popular suspense-horror upon its release, and it even had some hyperbolic studio advertising (which insisted there would be a "shock recovery" period for audiences after the film). And while it never matches the greatest films from the Hitchcockian oeuvre, it has become more and more significant over the years as De Palma has made increasingly erratic films (yes, the guy who did the brilliant Blow Out also directed Mission to Mars). Sisters, with its blend of classic suspense, '70s horror, and a relentless focus on mutants and freaks of nature, is a film designed to make you very, very uncomfortable, despite the everyday nature of the lead actors. Kidder, who may be laying on that French Canadian accent a bit thick, nonetheless makes for a credible lead with her airy, superficial quality, and Salt is relentless as the no-nonsense muckraker. Charles Durning has a few fun scenes as a private gumshoe, but only William Finley, as Danielle's ex-husband Emil, is an obvious creep. Toss in an unmistakable score by Hitchcock collaborator Bernard Hermann and those awesome split-screen sequences, and Sisters is unmistakably one of the best products from De Palma's career to date.
Long out of print on home video, Criterion's new DVD edition of Sisters returns the film to the small screen with a lot of upside. In addition to the clean widescreen transfer (anamorphic 1.85:1) from a very good source print, extra features include a textual 1973 interview with De Palma on making the film, his 1973 Village Voice essay "Murder by Moog: Scoring the Chill," which discusses his collaboration with Herrmann, a 1966 Life magazine article on Siamese twins in the Soviet Union, which served as De Palma's inspiration, a digital press-book from 1973 (with all of the sensationalistic advertising), and a few hundred stills, including behind-the-scenes shots and more advertising materials. Sisters: The Criterion Collection is on the street now.
Box Office: Two A-list Hollywood actors battled for the top-spot at the box office last weekend, and Robert De Niro came out a winner with Universal's Meet the Parents, which garnered $29.1 million over three days and was the highest opening gross of De Niro's long career. However, Warner's Get Carter, starring Sly Stallone in a remake of the British gangland classic, failed to impress audiences with a meager $6.7 million bow, and the fact that Warner did not preview the movie for critics indicates that it did not score high with test audiences (and the folks behind the new Get Carter? Franchise Pictures, who also produced this year's surefire Razzie winner Battlefield Earth.) Also new over the weekend was Fox's Digimon: The Movie, a bit of Japanese animation aimed at the peanut butter-and-jelly demographic, which took in $4.1 million. Meanwhile, Darren Aronofsky's new Requiem for a Dream which did not earn a R rating from the MPAA from its first cut played as an unrated film at two New York venues amidst tight security to keep out minors (it earned $72,000 over the weekend), and we're betting this unrated version will eventually arrive on DVD.
Still in continuing release, Buena Vista's Remember the Titans had a good second weekend and boosted its ten-day overall to $42.6 million, while the folks at Warner can't help but be happy that the revamped Exorcist has been good for $24.1 million so far. And while it hasn't turned into a breakout hit, DreamWorks' Almost Famous Cameron Crowe's semi-autobiographical tale of youth, love, and rock-and-roll is now at $24.1 million after three weeks in wide release. But falling off our dirty dozen and soon to be found on a DVD shelf near you is Warner's Bait, which will finish with around $14 million to its credit.
Oscar-winning cinematographer Janusz Kaminski (Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan) takes the director's chair for the first time this Friday in Lost Souls, starring Winona Ryder, while Robert Altman fans can check out his latest effort, Dr. T and the Women, with Richard Gere and a bevy of leading ladies. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: DVD Journal staffer Alexandra DuPont, doing double duty for us and our friends at Ain't It Cool News, has pored over Universal's new Jurassic Park and The Lost World Collector's Editions on the street tomorrow and she says Spielberg fans have no reason to complain. Her comprehensive review (click here) is on our Full Reviews index. Meanwhile, new quick reviews from the staff this week include the two-disc Rocky Horror Picture Show: 25th Anniversary Edition, Laurence Olivier's Hamlet: The Criterion Collection, Jackie Chan's 1989 Miracles, Sisters: The Criterion Collection, Bossa Nova, and Joe Gould's Secret. All 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.
R.I.P.: Film fans are mourning the loss of actor Richard Farnsworth, who died over the weekend in an apparent suicide at his home in New Mexico. Farnsworth who most recently gained attention in David Lynch's The Straight Story and became the oldest leading actor to be nominated for an Academy Award started his lengthy film career at 16 as a stuntman, working on such films as Gunga Din, The Wild One, Spartacus, and many westerns, and the skilled equestrian spent 40 years in the trade and was the co-founder of the Stuntmen's Association in 1961 before earning acting roles in later films, including The Grey Fox, The Natural, and Misery. Farnsworth's recent Oscar nomination was his second, as he was also nominated for the 1978 Comes a Horseman, his first major film role a surprise to many, as he was nearly 60 before gaining public recognition. Even more surprising to film fans was that he had already appeared uncredited in numerous motion pictures, even doubling on-screen for such matinee idols as Gary Cooper and Roy Rogers in popular westerns. Diagnosed with terminal bone cancer a few years ago, Farnsworth reportedly filmed The Straight Story while struggling with the chronic pain of his illness. He was 80.
Thursday, 5 October 2000
Added dimensions: We had an unusual amount of reader response yesterday regarding our weekly mailbag. Thanks to everybody who wrote in here's a few follow-ups:
On another point, two years ago there was some talk over here in England of processing 2-D movies into a form of 3-D by digitally separating the foreground and background by a few microseconds. Casablanca in 3-D anyone? Also, about ten years ago Fort Ti, which starred George Montgomery, was shown complete in 3-D on UK network television, and the glasses were distributed with our television guides. The 3-D effect worked reasonably well, although as with nearly all 3-D movies (even in the cinema) the picture appears diminished and is like watching a toy theatre with cardboard cut-outs.
When films are shown on broadcast TV or DVD, there can only be one image, so the film is double printed with both left and right eye displayed thru a red/green filter. This is the same systems that are used in 3-D comic books. But in films, it not only plays havoc with the color, but the image becomes darker. It certainly is not a true representation of how the film originally looked.
Living in New York, I have been fortunate enough to have access to a film revival house (Film Forum in NYC) that cares enough to occasionally show a 3-D film in the original double-system format. Just saw House of Wax a few weeks ago, and it looked spectacular. But with current technology there is no way to inexpensively duplicate that effect on DVD.
Thanks for the notes guys clearly we had overlooked Rhino's Comin' at Ya!, and in fact had never even heard of it before now. We also had forgotten that one of the Nightmare on Elm Street DVDs in the New Line box-set came with a 3-D segment and stereoscopic glasses, whch a few alert readers pointed out to us. But from all the letters we received, these two were the only 3-D discs that were mentioned.
It also looks like Dark City: Platinum Series may be the only DVD commentary Roger Ebert has recorded to date:
Dark City is the only DVD I know of in which Roger Ebert has recorded a commentary. However, every other year at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Ebert does a three-day (about 8 hours total), shot-by-shot workshop on a film that replicates the feeling of a commentary, and with the audience able to pause, ask questions and comment. In the past he's done films including Vertigo, Citizen Kane, and The Third Man. On this Oct. 27 - 29 he'll be doing The Birds. Attending these changed my opinion of him and made him more than Pulitzer-worthy in my book.
Thanks Daniel. While we did think Ebert went a little overboard on his glowing review of Dark City (which may look great, but doesn't hang together all that well), we've always thought of him as a valuable critic, and one who (with the late Gene Siskel) understood that film criticism could be a form of popular entertainment in and of itself. In fact, we tend to think that all of the movie and DVD review websites on the Internet owe a greater debt to Siskel & Ebert than to anybody who wrote for Rolling Stone or The New Yorker. We also know that Ebert is a dedicated film historian who has earned a lot of respect via his sheer enthusiasm for cinema, so we envy anybody who will be able to visit Charlottesville later this month for his Birds retrospective.
Commentary Clips: "Claude Rains grew up in extreme poverty in London, 'born on the wrong side of the River Thames' he would tell his daughter Jessica. The theater provided his way out. The famous actor-manager Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree paid for young Wally Waynes to take speech lessons, giving the lisping cockney boy one year to lose the accent he did. The velvety husk of his voice was inadvertent, the result Rains claimed of being gassed in World War I. That voice was his most notable asset Rains was the kind of actor one would pay big money to hear recite the Manhattan phone book.
"Following his appearance in The Invisible Man, Rains built himself into the consummate dramatic character actor, making his home at Warner Brothers with such remarkable work as The Adventures of Robin Hood, Mr. Skeffington, and The Sea Hawk. (At Warner Brothers) Rains was much in demand for outside pictures, such as Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Notorious.... Rains had completed Casablanca just prior to Phantom and his contract was up at Warners when he took Phantom as a freelance. March 15, 1943, the day after shooting wrapped, he signed a new two-year, four-picture deal with Warner Brothers. When Phantom became a money-machine for Universal they were desperate for a sequel, but Rains said no. He much preferred Mr. Skeffington and Passage to Marseille than more horror films. Rains loathed the Hollywood life and made his home in the Pennsylvania farm country, and later New Hampshire. Claude endured Hollywood for the five weeks it took him to make a picture, then raced home to the farm back east his daughter Jessica remembers a childhood of milking cows and gathering eggs."
Film historian Scott MacQueen,
"Amazing but true Bela Lugosi almost did not get the part (of Dracula) in (Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein). Lugosi had masterfully created the role of Dracula on Broadway in 1927, toured in it, won immortality in Universal's 1931 screen version such was his total identification with the role that he would wear one of his Dracula capes to the grave in 1956. But at this point (in 1948) he had only played Dracula on screen in the 1931 film. He played an actor posing as a vampire in MGM's 1935 Mark of the Vampire, and had played a genuine bloodsucker who for studio copyright reasons was not named Dracula in Columbia's 1944 The Return of the Vampire. Meanwhile for Universal Lon Chaney had played 'Count Alucard' Dracula spelled backwards in Son of Dracula in 1943, then John Carradine had inherited the role of Dracula, playing the vampire in House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula.
"Now comes Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein Chaney was already playing the Wolf Man, Carradine was in New York acting on Broadway, so you'd think that Lugosi was a shoo-in for Dracula. Not so. A September 1947 studio memo mentioned classical actor Ian Keith to play Dracula in this film this was a bizarre irony, as Keith had been Lugosi's main competition in 1930, when Universal was casting the original Dracula. One unverified story claims Universal International didn't offer Bela the part because they thought he was dead. At any rate, Bela needed work at this point very badly. In October of 1947 Bela, on the east coast, had written a polite but very desperate letter to his agent in Hollywood. He mentions it's been close to two years since the agent has secured him a job, that he was very deep in debt, and wrote 'I had to borrow money on my last collateral to escape from Hollywood and try to cash in on my popularity and box-office value in the east. I need a job very badly, and I am just human when I say that I do not mind who helps me to get my bread and butter.' (A former agent) named Don Marlowe claimed he stormed the office of Universal International virtually on the eve of shooting and shamed the president into giving Lugosi the part. 'You owe this part to Lugosi he is Dracula,' Marlowe claimed he said. True? Well, Lugosi's contract is dated January 16, 1948 20 days before shooting started."
Film historian Gregory W. Mank,
Coming Attractions: As always, we have plenty of new DVD reviews in the works including a sneak peek at a couple of dinosaur movies by Steven Spielberg that seem to be getting a lot of attention so we'll see you Monday with the latest write-ups, the box-office showdown, and more. Have a great weekend.
Wednesday, 4 October 2000
Cool indeed. There is no technical reason why 3-D films cannot be presented on DVD, and in fact, there already is at least one bit of 3-D material on disc DVD International's Mars: The Red Planet, a collection of documentary footage on Mars, including a panoramic, stereoscopic image of the planet's surface so you can see all of the details in stark relief. DVD International also was good enough to toss paper 'n' plastic glasses into the keep-case, although just one pair, so it's not going to wow everybody at once (and let it be known that, while some staff members thought this feature was very groovy, your editor couldn't see a damn thing until he was looking down a bottle of Excedrin).
However, our hopes are not high for a lot of 3-D feature films arriving on DVD, and for a few reasons. First, the film would have to be transferred and mastered from two separate prints, which is an expensive process. Also, there's the manufacturing costs of providing the glasses, which no matter how cheap still add to the per-unit cost of a disc. What's more, unless a few pair are tossed into the case there will be no group-viewing (yet more costs), and there's no way to efficiently replace them if they are lost or inadvertently become the plaything of a small child or family pet. And 3-D really never was more than a gimmick, a technology that never contributed anything to the language of cinema, which means it's not essential for most classic films. All that noted, we like your idea of providing 2-D and 3-D transfers for films that were released theatrically in 3-D, since a lot of DVD's appeal is historical in nature. As film fans, DVD consumers always demand films in the original aspect ratios, from the best-quality materials available, and with clean, original audio mixes. Certainly we would like to see all the 3-D curiosities of years past, and perhaps we would pay a little more for DVDs that offered this sort of extra content. But the studios have already had opportunities to do this particularly with Universal's comprehensive Creature from the Black Lagoon and largely have avoided it so far. Perhaps we will get lucky down the road. After all, Hitchcock's Dial 'M' for Murder isn't out yet, and we'd love to see that in the original 3-D, even if Hitchcock reportedly hated it.
There's nothing wrong with 38 DVDs in your collection, Thom, as long as they are 38 well-chosen discs. In fact, your editor has a rather small collection as well. While there is no way to really know the average buying habits of DVD fans worldwide, a good way to peek into other collections is at DVD Tracker (which regrettably is no longer a free service), and folks in discussion groups such as DVD Talk occasionally will announce the size of their, er... shelves. Unfortunately, as so often happens in the 18-54 male consumer demographic, bigger tends to mean better, which is why some people like to talk about their 400-plus collections. Truth be told, your editor has somewhere around 150 discs in his personal stash at this time, which wouldn't be nearly that large were it not for the nature of this job. In fact, a fun mental game to play is to wonder how many DVDs you would own if money were no object. The only condition is that they have to be very good, like they were worth the money they cost (so money is an object, in an abstract way). Perhaps 150 discs is all that's worth collecting right now, since most movies are worth watching once, but far less are really worth a spot in a personal collection for every Fight Club there's dozens of forgettable releases. Or maybe 150 is a little low. Perhaps there's 200 or 250 DVDs out there that really deserve to be part of a thoughful collection. Of course, folks who have more money to spend on DVDs tend to have less discriminating tastes. But the point is, if you have 38 DVDs and they are the absolute best 38 in your mind, pound for pound your collection must be outstanding.
Actually, like you Christal the only DVD commentary track by Roger Ebert that we can think of offhand is New Line's Dark City: Platinum Series, but we wouldn't be surprised if he's done more. However, if that's the case we haven't gotten around to spinning them. So everybody help us out let us know if there are any more Roger Ebert commentary tracks at email@example.com and we'll try to get the info to Christal. (Hey, it's either this or call Mr. Ebert's receptionist insisting that the very important DVD Journal is on the phone with a question. -click-)
Thanks much for your comments Ken. We always try to do our best, and ultimately we want to let people know about great films that are on DVD, be they old, new, or virtually forgotten. But as far as Friday updates, the realities of a weekly schedule forced us to adopt the Monday through Thursday format, with Friday being a day off for your editor in order to take care of a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff here. In particular, that day off is good for sleeping at the desk, or yelling at the support-staff in the office for returning from Starbucks with nonfat grande lattes that have too much foam. It's also a good time to make sure that our intern Chip Liebowitz gets the news team's cars washed and picks up everyone's dry-cleaning. Often, later in the day, your editor tends to drink too much and threaten people with their jobs before retiring to the screening room with a bottle of gin and a copy of Pink Floyd: The Wall until passing out. So as you can see, there's a lot of work that goes into presenting you the latest in DVD news and reviews unfortunately, there simply is no substitute for quality.
Tuesday, 3 October 2000
FLASH! Is Criterion's 'Sid and Nancy' out of print?: Ever since we learned that MGM would be releasing a movie-only DVD of Alex Cox's 1986 Sid and Nancy, we've been on the death watch. After all, the title was released on DVD in 1998 by Criterion under license from New Line, and now that MGM has the rights it was a good bet that Criterion's disc would fall by the wayside (as if the loss of Criterion's Spinal Tap wasn't evidence enough on the matter). So heads up Criterion hasn't updated their website on this, and many online retailers are still selling Criterion's Sid and Nancy with no warnings of its apparently limited supply, but Image Entertainment is now listing the Criterion disc (catalog #CC1540DVD) as discontinued. Gone. Nada. Fuggedaboudit.
Additionally, while MGM will release a new version of Sid and Nancy on Dec. 19, it will not have the Criterion supplements, nor even a new round of stuff, as their revamped Spinal Tap did instead, it will be bare-bones. Meanwhile, Criterion's supplements include a commentary track with actors Gary Oldman and Chloe Webb, screenwriter Abbe Wool, documentary filmmaker Lech Kowalski, British filmmaker Julien Temple, pop-culture historian Greil Marcus, and musician Eliot Kidd. Also on board is the behind-the-scenes doc "England's Glory," interview footage with Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungeon from Kowalski's D.O.A.: A Right of Passage (a punk-rock documentary so rare it's not on DVD and impossible to find on video anymore), a notorious appearance by the Sex Pistols on a British talk show, and a rare telephone interview with Vicious. Sid and Nancy was one of our favorite Criterion discs from the early days (spine #20), and it still ranks among their best. Nobody knows if it will be days or weeks before the current supply runs out, and perhaps Criterion will clarify the disc's status before long. So maybe it's safe for you digital die-hards to wait and see. Or maybe not.
On the Street: There's plenty of good stuff to choose from this week, including such classics as Get Carter, out from Warner, Rosemary's Baby, which is a nice package from Paramount, Criterion's Sisters, and The Lady From Shanghai, part of the "Columbia Classics" series. Other notables include the long-awaited From Dusk To Dawn and The Brothers McMullen. And yes, Hard Boiled and The Killer have returned to DVD, this time from Fox Lorber (who didn't renew their licenses to Criterion), but the feature-sets are very different from the original DVDs. Finally, Fox kept us in "antici... pation" for some time, but The Rocky Horror Picture Show is out of the closet and on the street now. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of Reel.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 2 October 2000
And the winner is: Tansal Arnas of New York, NY, wins the free Erin Brockovich DVD from our September contest. Congrats, Tansal!
Our totally free DVD contest for the month of October is up and running, and we have a copy of Paramount's The Dead Zone 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: And you thought the English were polite. After all, we've spent decades watching lavish filmed versions of Shakespearean productions, along with a slew of quirky "Brit-coms" in recent years like The Full Monty and Waking Ned Devine. But fans of Anglo-flicks know that Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino don't have a monopoly on gangster movies, as the UK has produced some of the best in recent memory, including John Mackenzie's brilliant 1979 The Long Good Friday and Jonathan Ritchie's head-spinning Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. But perhaps the best ever is 1971's Get Carter, directed by Mike Hodges, which takes up a theme as old as Sophocles what is one to do when the expectations of employers or society conflict with an innate loyalty to one's own family?
Michael Caine stars in Get Carter as Jack Carter, a brutal London mob lieutenant who returns to his hometown of Newcastle in the north of England to attend his brother's funeral, who died a sudden and unexpected death, ostensibly due to drunk driving. But even before he takes the train north, Carter suspects that his brother has been murdered a suspicion his employers would rather he abandon, as they have ties to the Newcastle syndicate. Undeterred by both his own bosses and the Newcastle underworld, Carter starts poking around the city, determined to find out who is responsible for his brother's murder, but before long he learns that his inquiries are not welcome, primarily because of a secret business arrangement that Carter can't even begin to suspect. But when the truth comes out, as it eventually must, Carter's launches a one-man mob war, and one that bears little resemblance to his life as a professional killer. Blinded with rage over what he sees as a familial betrayal, in Newcastle Carter is no more concerned about the consequences of his actions than he is for the several dead bodies that mark his trail.
Unflinchingly brutal at times, especially in the final half-hour, Get Carter is a film that can't possibly offer up a tidy ending, keeping the viewer watching until the bitter, unpredictable end. It's also one of Michael Caine's best performances, showcasing the actor as a younger man capable of both cold-blooded calculation and unconstrained violence a far cry from the roles that Caine has undertaken since his transition to the American film industry (like the equally talented Gene Hackman, Caine is notorious for doing anything for a paycheck). Hodges, in his first feature film, plays on a lot of the cultural and class discrepancies between North and South, with Carter leaving his posh Mob headquarters in London's East End where gangsters such as the legendary Kray Brothers were known for cultivating a sophisticated air around their underworld activities with tailored suits, expensive liquors, and flashy cars. Newcastle, by contrast, is perfectly captured in all of its post-'60s harshness, a coal and shipping town where government-built tower-blocks rise above the mean streets of dilapidated, 19th-century terraced homes where the weekly laundry hangs to dry over back alleys, and toilets are in backyard outhouses. As much as Get Carter is a story of gangland revenge, it is also a document of Great Britain's economic transition at the time, with post-industrial wealth (legal and otherwise) starting to transform London and the southern counties in ways the north had yet to experience.
Warner's new DVD edition of Get Carter will please fans of the film, with a solid anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) from a fairly clean source print and audio in the original mono (DD 1.0). Features on board include a lively commentary with director Hodges, interspersed with comments from Caine and director of photography Wolfgang Suschitzky, Roy Budd's score on an isolated track, the international trailer, and a filmed short with Budd performing the memorable theme tune. Get Carter hits the street tomorrow morning.
Box Office: What's this? A new movie in North American theaters that opened with more than $10 million? Actually, Buena Vista's Remember the Titans, starring Denzel Washington, did far better, clearing $21.2 million in just three days and rescuing the box-office from a month-long slump, and it also was the strongest opening ever for Washington. But even if the new football drama is a sign of better films to come this fall, people still lined up to see Warner's re-vamped The Exorcist, which showed little drop-off from last week with $7.1 million, which was good enough for second place. The only other new film besides Titans to arrive over the weekend was Destination's Beautiful, starring Minnie Driver and directed by Sally Field, but it failed to impress with just $1.4 million, barely squeaking into the top ten.
In continuing release, Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous is still doing well with nearly $18 million over three weeks, while Sony's Urban Legends: Final Cut fell from first last week to fourth, now at $15 million overall. Give credit to DreamWorks' What Lies Beneath, which has taken advantage of the late-summer doldrums to stay in theaters for nearly three months (and notching up a $150 million gross in the process), while other summer die-hards like Warner's Space Cowboys ($87 million) and Universal's Bring It On ($59.6 million) have kept the studio bean-counters smiling. But now on its way to the second-run circuit (and DVD prep) is New Line's The Cell, which will finish in the $60 million neighborhood.
Look for box-office receipts to grow even more this Friday, with the new comedy Meet the Parents, starring Robert De Niro and Ben Stiller, and the Sly Stallone remake of Get Carter. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: D.K. Holm did double-duty in the screening room over the weekend, turning in new write-ups of Orson Welles' The Lady From Shanghai and Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby, while Dawn Taylor has a look at Jim Jarmusch's Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai and Betsy Bozdech spun James Toback's race-relations drama Black and White all can be found on our Full Reviews index. Meanwhile, new quick reviews from the team this week include the classic 1945 potboiler Detour, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, Get Carter, Waking the Dead, and The Color of Paradise. All can be accessed on the Quick Reviews index, and as usual everything has been added under the New Reviews menu here on the main page.
We'll be back tomorrow to let you know about this week's street discs.