Thursday, 30 November 2000
Gone fishin': Your editor and the news team are on a staff retreat for the weekend, so this brief intro is being sent back to DVD Journal HQ in Portland via the company PowerBook. We're already previewing some new DVDs, but somebody has to handle today's news update, so 19-year-old Journal intern Chip Liebowitz has volunteered for the job as he's the only person in the office. Chip prefers to be known as "DVD wIzARd" for some reason, but in any case we turn today's front page over to him. We'll be back in the office by Monday for all the latest reviews, the box-office report, and more. See ya then. Ed.
OK I'M BACK The DvD WiZaRd is live on the dvd journal.! So anyway this is just my second time writing the news update but I really enjoyed all of your letters from my first time and I sure have alot to talk about. First, this isnt really about DVD but I broke up with my girlfriend, which sucks because we used to watch new DVDS together all the time and now I just watch DVDS by myself. So maybe I'll get another girlfriend I dont know. I mean I really liked Jennifer but she was always bugging me, you know saying that I didnt have any direction or ambition and I'm like hey I can hear all of that from my dad or my boss at work I dont need to hear it from my own damm girlfriend. And get this just a week or two ago she said 'whats the big deal about DVDS anyway its just movies" or something like that, and I'm like OK I sure dont' need a girlfriend whose going to totally de value everything thats important to me. So we broke up.
OK, before I forget my boss wants me to take care of a few things. Heres what he wrote me on the e mail.....
So I'm supposed to include the new EBAY numbers today, so I'll just paste them in right here. These are the biggest selling DVDs on EBAY over the past few weeks!
Heres what I think about this whole EBAY thing. I think its a really good idea. I mean you can go to a website and find somebody who wants to sell something and then you can buy it directly from them and you dont have to pay the website anything because its free. this is a really good idea and it seems like ebay is catching on. I hope it will be around for a long long time to come!!!
MY DVD COLLECTION Because I'm updating the page today I thought I would share with you my dvd collection because i've been working real hard to add more stuff to it. okay so I dont have a lot but dvds are expensive and i'm still going to college, but anyway here is my dvd collection.
*Armagedon (not the criterion one the other one)
OK, thats all I have because I get most of my dvds used or on EBAY and I can only afford so many and these were the ones I got for less than ten dollars. right now on my "wish list" (thats what alot of dvd fans call their lists of things to buy) is Gladiator and Perfect Storm, both of which I should have in the next couple months, especially if my paretnts give me Gladiator for christmas like I asked them to. I can tell you that next month this site is going to give away a Perfect storm movie poster singed by the director Wolfgang Peterson. But I cant have it because I work here and so I can t win contests. I think thats lame but what can you do.
If my mom is reading this today hi mom its me Charles doing the news today!
My boss still wont let me review DVDS for the website so i'm stuck here really in the afternoons after my classes just taking phone messages and handing out the mail and faxes and stuff, but i write alot of dvd reviews in my spare time so heres one of them. this isnt a new review its kind of old but I did review US MARSHALS a while ago.
US MARSALS DVD REVIEW! By the DVD wIzARd! Okay, if you havent seen US MARSHALS then you totally have to check this one out! Do you remember THE FUGITIVE with Harison Ford and Tommy Le Jones well US MARSHALS is a sequal to that movie and Tommy lee jones is the "US marshall" in it. But this time he isn t chasing harison hes chasing SAMUAL L JACKSON who is very cool in this movie. The government thinks Samual L Jackson is totally guilty of a crime but hes really innocent but tommy lee jones and his friends chase him anyway. But then they find out hes a hard man to catch! Hes super fast and even jumps off a building in one of the best stunts ever! Also helping tommy lee Jones is ROBERT DOWNY JUNIOR who is also a US MARSHALL. I guess hes been in jail lately and I read this week he s in trouble again. Anyway, in this movie he is very good. And Tommy Lee Jones totally rocks the house! You have to see this movie if you havent yet. The DVD is really good too, its from Warner and there are a lot of them on EBAY for some reason so theyre not that expensive.
DVD CASES Alot of people seem to argue about DVD cases and if we should have keep cases or snapcases. Personally I think its just important that DVDs come in cases, and I dont mind if they are "keepers' or "snapers" as they say. I think its good that DVDS comes in cases and that everybody is doing the right thing by selling them that way.
OK, thats all I have for today. I think they will let me do more news updates because I spent a lot of time on this one and I talked about a lot of stuff. The DVD wIzARd likes getting e mail from fans so you can always reach the wIzARd at >email@example.com. I hope you all have a fine weekend!!!!
The DVD wIzARd!!!!!!!
Wednesday, 29 November 2000
Mailbag: Wednesday is the day we get to our reader mail here at The DVD Journal, and while we aren't able to personally respond to all of your letters, we'd like to let you know that we read everything we get. Here's a couple of reader comments from this week:
Short answer yes. But not right away, and certainly not all at once.
Of Alfred Hitchcock's 53-film oeuvre, Universal has the rights to 14 of them, and as you note, four are now on DVD as "Collector's Editions" Psycho, Vertigo, The Birds, and Marnie. Next up on the DVD slate should be Rear Window, lavishly restored over the past few years, and which had a brief run on the repertory circuit in 1999. We're expecting the Universal CE sometime in the first or second quarter of 2001. As for the rest in the Universal vault, the studio is restoring all of the prints (an expensive and time-consuming process), so it's obvious we won't see any additional DVDs until it's decided the prints are disc-worthy. Our pal Peter Bracke over at the almighty DVDFile.com reported last year that some of these restorations already are complete, and three more we think could arrive before long from Universal, perhaps next year, are The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956 version), Rope, and The Trouble With Harry, and we wouldn't be surprised if Universal releases some or all of these on disc when Rear Window arrives, perhaps even in a box-set to keep the marketing folks happy. Universal has also released four episodes of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" on DVD (all directed by Hitch himself), although these are only available in a current box-set with Psycho and Vertigo, so don't be surprised if another AHP collection arrives in the same fashion, bundled with Rear Window and a couple other theatrical titles (of more than 350 episodes of the long-running CBS television series, Hitch directed 17, so there's still enough to fill a few more discs).
So what's left over at Universal? Saboteur, Shadow of a Doubt, Torn Curtain, Topaz, Frenzy, and Family Plot, and we don't think Universal has any firm release plans for these at this time. But the entire Universal Hitchcock collection (including the four TV shows on DVD) is currently on VHS, with the lone exception of Rear Window, so they can be had for home viewing, albeit on tape only.
But even though Universal controls a lot of Hitchcock films, including many of his later ones, Hitch's storied career means that the rights to his films have been spread around several studios. Warner has come up with definitive DVD editions of North by Northwest and Strangers on a Train, while Anchor Bay released the four Hitch titles they own on disc in Sept. of 1999: Notorious, The Paradine Case, Rebecca, and Spellbound. And even Image has dug up two Hitch rarities for DVD, the 1944 shorts Bon Voyage and Aventure Malgache, which he directed as part of the war effort. Also, since all of Hitchcock's 28 British films (up to the 1939 Jamaica Inn) are in the public domain, most of them have been released on DVD under several different folios. It should be noted that Criterion's The 39 Steps and The Lady Vanishes are outstanding, but of the remainder The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934 version), Secret Agent, Sabotage, Young and Innocent, et. al. it's hit or miss from the various budget vendors. We've been partial to the quality of the Delta/LaserLight editions, but the Madacy versions are watchable, and dirt cheap.
Nevertheless, there's still a lot of Hitchcock films MIA on DVD, so here's our best stab at the remaining titles we have not mentioned: MGM does not own any Hitchcock properties (the only Hitch film made for MGM, North by Northwest, went to Warner last year), and Paramount has just one (To Catch a Thief), as does Fox (Lifeboat). That leaves just one giant from Hollywood's studio age Warner. And yes, they've been holding out on us Hitch buffs. In the Warner vaults, but not on DVD, are Dial M For Murder, Suspicion, Foreign Correspondent, The Wrong Man, I Confess, Stage Fright, and Mr. and Mrs. Smith, all on VHS at this time from the WB, so let's hope they got enough good feedback from DVD fans on their North By Northwest disc to give a few more Hitch films extra-special treatment before much longer.
Finally, there are a few Hitch titles that are nowhere on the DVD radar. The 1949 Under Capricorn, starring Ingrid Bergman and Joseph Cotten, has been out of print on VHS for some time, and while it was co-produced by Warner and Hitchcock's own Transatlantic Pictures, it doesn't appear that Warner has the home-video rights. Your guess is as good as ours, but the only other film Hitch made under the Transatlantic/Warner arrangement was Rope, and that's owned by Universal. Of the pre-1940 British films, only Juno and the Paycock and Champagne are on VHS but not DVD, while Waltzes From Vienna, Downhill, the very early The Pleasure Garden, and the unfinished Number Thirteen are not on home video at all. And only a few stills remain of the young director-for-hire's third silent film, The Mountain Eagle, which is lost forever. However, many of these are considered largely unimportant by Hitchcock scholars, and we'd only be interested in getting Under Capricorn on disc.
Hope we didn't forget anything. Figure in Hitch's 28 pre-1940 British movies that are in the public domain, and we think that's all 53 films. Hopefully the amount of these available on disc will grow before much longer.
The Image Entertainment DVD database was reporting The Battle Over Citizen Kane to be delayed with no new street date, but as we noted last week our screener from WGBH didn't appear to have any technical problems, so we were perplexed. We have not heard from any readers who have scored a copy at this time, and both Express.com and DVDEmpire.com don't appear to be stocking it. However, at Amazon.com and Buy.com, it's currently on back-order. So it appears it's available, if in name only. Don't buy that VHS just yet.
Top of the Pops: Here's the top-selling DVDs last week from our friends at Reel.com. Click the links to read our reviews of these discs:
See ya tomorrow.
Tuesday, 28 November 2000
'A DVD will rise': Every month that passes sees more North American consumers armed with DVD players and expendable income which means that the DVD sales records keep rising. Last year Paramount's Titanic was the first DVD to ship one million units to retailers, while The Matrix saw a million consumer sell-throughs in a matter of weeks. But there are millions more DVD fans out there this year, and last Tuesday was one of the biggest DVD street weeks of the year, so it comes as little surprise that DreamWorks' two-disc Gladiator: Signature Selection topped the pack with an astounding 3.4 million units shipped to retailers and 1.8 million sold to consumers in five days. And with those numbers, the Gladiator set may be in short supply at some outlets in the weeks to come. "We are working to keep up with the tremendous consumer demand for Gladiator on DVD," Kelly Sooter, head of domestic video for DreamWorks, noted in a press release. "However we are literally getting new orders by the minute, and available manufacturing capacity between now and Christmas is limited." (DreamWorks' Chicken Run wasn't chicken feed either, with one million units shipped to retailers in the first week.)
Meanwhile, over at Fox they're crowing about last week's X-Men home-video launch, which generated around $50 million from both rentals and sales of DVDs and VHS tapes (unlike the Gladiator VHS, the X-Men video was priced for consumer retail upon release, which is why Prof. Xavier and friends earned more overall bucks than Russell Crowe). Moreover, when compared with theatrical revenues during the same period, X-Men on home video was the second most popular film in America during Thanksgiving. Fox shipped 1.8 million DVD units of X-Men, but had to immediately follow it up with another 500,000 to meet initial demands, and the studio is estimating that a healthy one million already have sold to consumers.
But in the battle over publicity and paparazzi, DreamWorks will make a splash with a special Gladiator DVD event this Thursday night, hosting an exclusive 1,100 folks at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills for a screening of the film and a follow up Q&A session with director Ridley Scott. If you didn't get an invite, the event will be shown on CountingDown.com.
On the Street: Last week's Street Tuesday was such a treat that we never had high hopes for today, so those of you who would like to give your bank account a breather probably can do so. Then again, if you're an X-Files completist, Fox's seven-disc The X-Files: Season 2 is hefty enough to swallow a weekly DVD budget and then some. Martin Lawrence fans are bound to enjoy Fox's Big Momma's House: Special Edition, while The Replacements with Keanu Reeves and Gene Hackman is out from Warner. However, our sleeper disc of the week has to be Trimark's Fever Pitch, based on Nick Hornby's novel, which means fans of the recent High Fidelity might want to give it a spin. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of Reel.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 27 November 2000
Disc of the Week: Imagine, for a moment, that it's 1951 and you sit down in your local movie house to enjoy Elia Kazan's film of the Tennessee Williams play A Streetcar Named Desire. The actor playing the lead character of Stanley Kowalski is a young man named Marlon Brando, in only his second film. As you experience this new talent's tour de force performance so physical and charismatic that he practically leaps right off the screen into your lap there's a voice in your head that keeps getting louder and louder, asking, "Just who the hell is that guy, anyway?!" Such was the response many folks had back in 1992 when they first saw Russell Crowe in Romper Stomper. Crowe already had a handful of Australian film credits up to then, but this was the first time most in the U.S. had seen him, and it was the sort of break-out role that launches a career: at the 1993 Seattle International Film Festival, Crowe won the Best Actor award for his work in Romper Stomper and another film he made that same year, Hammers over the Anvil. He also won Best Actor awards from the Film Critics' Circle of Australia and the Variety Club Heart Awards. It made Russell Crowe a movie star.
Written and directed by Geoffrey Wright, Romper Stomper is a simple, brutal film about the final days of a group of neo-Nazi Melbourne skinheads. Hando (Crowe) and his band are obsessed with immigrants from Southeast Asia, who they see buying up local businesses and in their view taking over their country. On the dole, living in abandoned buildings, they take out their powerlessness and frustrations on Southeast Asians they turn on in the streets, using bats, fists and knives to release their unfocused anger. When Gabe (Jacqueline McKenzie), a disturbed, rich, epileptic girl hooks up with Hando, she catches the eye of Hando's slightly-more-sensitive best mate, Davey (Daniel Pollock). With the skinheads getting sloppier and less focused, and the dynamic between Davey and Hando changing, the film examines not only the reasoning (if you can call it that) behind neo-Nazi behavior, but also the themes of loyalty and friendship.
Romper Stomper has drawn a lot of comparisons to A Clockwork Orange, mostly because of a violent opening scene in a train station and Crowe's droog-like costuming. But the comparison ends there. Where A Clockwork Orange is an elegant, complicated film by a master filmmaker, Romper Stomper is stark, straightforward and almost documentary in nature. Shot on Super 16 in six weeks, the movie's raw, indie feel lends more substance to the story than if the film had better production values it allows us to feel as if we're really peeking in on these young people's lives. Which is where Romper Stomper really works. It's not an especially complicated film, but the questions it brings up in the viewer are remarkable. The protagonists are truly horrible people, living like amoral animals and emerging from their den only to wreak violence on the innocent. But by bringing us into their lives in such an intimate fashion and showing us their fears and their sense of family, the audience starts to actually sympathize with them. That's disturbing, in that it brings up questions of one's own values, that it's so easy to sympathize with them. Some critics criticized Wright's supposed ambivalence in offering no strong moral position in the film; actually, that's the film's greatest strength. The characters in Romper Stomper are despicable people who do despicable things there's no need to beat the audience over the head with an additional lesson that "Racial Hatred is a Bad Thing." We get it, in spades. That we know that their actions are evil, and yet we see their humanity as well, is precisely why Romper Stomper is so very powerful.
Fox's new two-disc Romper Stomper: Special Edition comes with a solid anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with audio in Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1, and the film has a gorgeously re-mastered picture (although in some ways the restoration compromises the grittier feel of the original Super 16 print). Features include a commentary with director Wright and an isolated score on the first disc, while Disc Two includes the original theatrical trailer; snippets from print reviews; cast and crew notes; interview segments with Wright; 1992 interview sound bites from Wright, Crowe, McKenzie, and actor Tony Lee; a "facts and photos" section with stills and trivia; and a demonstration of how the film was restored for this release. Romper Stomper: Special Edition is on the street now.
Box Office: The long Thanksgiving holiday weekend was good for many movies, but none more so than Universal's The Grinch, which followed up its $55 million debut last weekend with another $52.4 million from Friday to Sunday, $73.8 million over the five-day holiday period, and a 10-day total of $137.4 million. The only film that did comparable business this year was Paramount's Mission: Impossible 2, but we're betting The Grinch will overtake the Cruise/Woo summer flick as the top grosser of 2000. Going up against Jim Carrey and Universal were two films from Buena Vista that were the weekend's only debuts, including M. Night Shyamalan's Unbreakable starring Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson, which had a solid (if not stratospheric) opening with $31.5 million over the past three days and a five-day total of $47.2 million, while the live-action 102 Dalmatians with Glenn Close was good for $20.4 million since Friday and $26.8 million overall.
Still in continuing release, Sony's Charlie's Angels has cleared the century with $109.2 million, while Universal's Meet the Parents will likely hurdle $150 million by next weekend. And on the kiddie front, Paramount's Rugrats in Paris barely had a drop-off in its second week with $47.8 million to date. However, the news is not so good for some traditional Hollywood heavyweights Sony's The 6th Day starring Arnold Schwarzenegger is slipping with $25.2 million in the bank, while New Line's Little Nicky with Adam Sandler has racked up just $33.9 million. And file this one under "lost in space" Warner's $70 million Red Planet is already off the dirty dozen and on the way to second-run theaters, where it likely will close with less than $20 to its credit (i.e., don't expect any more Mars movies for a while).
With December already upon us, everybody in Tinseltown is asking one question: "Where are the Oscar movies?" And don't expect this weekend to change that growing query, as the only new film on the slate isn't new at all Miramax's limited theatrical re-release of A Hard Day's Night. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters during the five-day Thanksgiving weekend:
On the Board: Our man D.K. Holm spent a lot of time over the weekend with New Line's forthcoming two-disc Se7en: Platinum Series, due on Dec. 19, while Kerry Fall has posted a new review of Gimme Shelter: The Criterion Collection and Dawn Taylor is on the board with Fox's Romper Stomper: Special Edition. Meanwhile, new quick reviews from the team this week include Somewhere in Time: Collector's Edition, The X-Files: Season Two, Malice, Kids, and Fever Pitch. It's all under the New Reviews menu here on the left side of the main page, or drop by our Full Reviews and Quick Reviews pages for hundreds more DVD write-ups.
We'll be back tomorrow with news on this week's street discs.
Wednesday, 22 November 2000
Mailbag: Please return your seats to their original upright positions. Fasten all safety belts. And make sure that all personal possessions are safely secured, because it's time for the mail dump weighty opinions from DVD Journal readers around the world sent to our high-tech HQ, and presented with minimal comments from your own humble editor. Let's go:
I'm not a huge fan of the Beastie Boys, but I have to admit (although I haven't seen for myself as the disk has not yet been distributed in Canada), that a lot of the content on the Anthology disc sounds intriguing. I wouldn't expect that DVD Journal would editorialise to the extent of belittling a DVD because they don't like a band or a type of music, so what gives? In my opinion, the Armageddon SE DVD, is a darker mark on Criterion's DVD Catalogue that the Beastie Boys' Anthology. In fact in some ways I think the Beastie Boys disk fits the Criterion bill better than something as mainstream as Armageddon.
(P.S. You guys do a great job. Keep up the good work. I find you to be one of the best if not the best DVD site.)
But do you have dimples?
Have we ever mentioned that our own Ms. Dupont who moonlights frequently on Ain't It Cool News and at Portland's alternative weekly Willamette Week receives several marriage proposals every month from avid fans? We're glad to have her on our team, along with Dawn Taylor, Betsy Bozdech, and Kerry Fall. At Journal headquarters, the DVD-spinnin' chix rule.
Dawn Taylor noted as much in her review of SHORT 10: Chaos, which is still a pretty good release despite the awkward advertising.
By the way, I intend to keep buying DTS discs from the States until such times as I cannot get them to play, or the Australian distributors wake up to themselves.
And both sites are based in Portland, Ore. It's gotta be the beer.
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:
That's it for now. We'll be back on Monday with a sneak preview of New Line's Seven: Platinum Edition, the box-office showdown, and all the latest. Have a great Thanksgiving weekend gang.
Tuesday, 21 November 2000
On the Street: There are just two big Street Tuesdays in 2000 last Aug. 29 and today, so get out that credit card. We're sure just about everybody will want a copy of Fox's X-Men, even though it's clear that Bryan Singer will supervise a much larger special edition at some point in the future. Summer-film action is also available from two DreamWorks titles, Gladiator: Signature Selection and Chicken Run, two excellent discs we enjoyed over the weekend. Collectors of classics have a pair of big ones on the street today from Columbia TriStar with David Lean's 1957 The Bridge on the River Kwai, available in both bare-bones and "Limited Edition" versions, and Howard Hawks' 1940 His Girl Friday, restored to the best condition it's ever been on home video. You Oliver Stone fans who don't plan to buy that big box in January can look for Wall Street from Fox, and MGM's Escape from New York offers a nice transfer of a sci-fi favorite. But if you're looking for something unusual, check out Fox's two-disc Romper Stomper: Special Edition, a 1992 film starring Russell Crowe, whose intense performance as a brutal Australian skinhead has Future Movie Star written all over it. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of Reel.com and Image Entertainment:
Back tomorrow with a lot of reader mail.
Monday, 20 November 2000
Disc of the Week: Because His Girl Friday is a public domain film (it was originally produced by Columbia in 1940, but their rights have lapsed), there are several versions of the movie on home video, both on videotape and DVD. And as we're enormous fans of this classic Howard Hawks comedy, we've seen most of them over the years, always willing to shell out another six or eight bucks to see if one of the budget vendors has come up with a decent transfer. Alas, that's never been the case virtually all DVD editions simply are sourced from previous videotapes, with overly soft pictures, shimmering transfers, rotten prints, and audio so drowned in ambient noise that some parts can be unintelligible. We knew all along that Columbia TriStar must have access to better materials, but we also feared they would never release a restored His Girl Friday on disc, particularly as they'd have to market a more-expensive DVD edition against cheaper knock-offs that uninformed consumers would buy on price alone. Thankfully, we were dead wrong His Girl Friday is now on DVD from Columbia, and take a close look at that boxcover, because that's the only DVD version you should consider adding to your collection.
Largely considered among the greatest screwball comedies of all time, His Girl Friday actually appeared on film before Howard Hawks made his version, as the story is taken from Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur's stage play and 1931 talkie The Front Page about a dueling editor and reporter at a busy New York daily. Here, Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell portray Walter Burns and Hildegard "Hildy" Johnson, who are not quite the original duo in The Front Page, but recast as a divorced husband and wife. In Hawks' update (re-written by Charles Lederer), Hildy has returned to the paper after a four-month absence, but only to inform the scurrilous Walter that she's engaged to re-marry, and this time she's playing it safe rather than get roped into another working marriage with a tireless newsman, she's planning to wed Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy), a meek insurance salesman from upstate Albany. Walter will not openly admit that he's stung by Hildy's impending nuptials, but when he learns she and Bruce are to marry the next day, he quickly devises a plan to break up the engagement, convincing Hildy to interview a death-row convict scheduled for hanging. But the simple assignment soon is complicated by a prison break, and Walter and Hildy's involvement threatens to land the ex-lovers behind bars.
Why was Hawks determined to remake The Front Page, already a popular script in its own right? Now a famous bit of Hollywood legend, Hawks, attending a party, was arguing about the importance of dialogue in films, and to prove his point he began reading from The Front Page, which he regarded as having some of the wittiest examples of modern dialogue and banter. But as he was reading the part of Walter, he needed a Hildegard, which as it happened was read by a female guest. And Hawks suddenly decided the play would be better with a female Hildy. Columbia green-lighted the project with Grant and Russell in the leads, and while banter was what Hawks was looking for, His Girl Friday must have exceeded even his expectations. Shooting on a tight schedule, a great deal of the dialogue was improvised by the cast, particularly Grant (as gifted a comedian as he ever was a matinee idol), who drops both his given name (Archie Leach) and Ralph Bellamy's in two of the film's wittier asides. And when the shameless Walter and enraged Hildy aren't delivering acrimonious speeches at the speed of a tongue-twister, they often talk directly over each other a lot. It was a technique Hawks' didn't fully exploit in his previous screwball Bringing Up Baby (with Grant and Katherine Hepburn), but the gamble paid off so well that every scene in His Girl Friday is amusing the first time you hear it, and also worth repeated viewings to find out what barbed asides you probably missed.
Columbia TriStar's DVD edition of His Girl Friday looks and sounds excellent. In fact, the entire transfer is flat-out definitive. Utilizing the original 35mm (full-frame 1.33:1) nitrate negative, now stored at the Library of Congress, Sony and the UCLA Film and Television Archive have delivered a print that has excellent low-contrast details and only some collateral flecking, which is perfectly acceptable for a film of this age. Audio is excellent as well, with barely a trace of ambient noise under the clear, crisp soundtrack (in DD 2.0 mono here). Quite simply, it's a revelation. Features on the disc warrant the added price over the public-domain DVDs as well, including a commentary with film critic Todd McCarthy (who's so full of info it seems he could have been on the set for the film), four new featurettes on Grant, Russell, Hawks, and the production of His Girl Friday that are informative and refreshingly free of product-pitching, talent files, a gallery of original advertising materials, and trailers for His Girl Friday (watch for alternate takes), Born Yesterday, It Happened One Night, and Pal Joey. Tomorrow is a big street day for DVD, but if we could only have one disc this week, we'd take this one. We've waited long enough.
Box Office: If you're a kid or even just a kid at heart last weekend's pre-Thanksgiving debuts were tailor-made just for you, as Universal's The Grinch, starring Jim Carrey, dominated the box-office with a $55.1 million three-day blast, followed by Paramount's Rugrats in Paris, which took second place with $23 million. For Carrey, Universal, and director Ron Howard, The Grinch was good news, as it was the second-best opening of the year (behind Mission: Impossible 2), and the fifth-largest opening ever. There were two other debuts over the weekend, Sony's The 6th Day starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Miramax's Bounce with Ben Affleck and Gwyneth Paltrow, but neither were strong enough to overtake Sony's Charlie's Angels, still jiggly in its third week with $93.6 overall.
Also in continuing release, both Meet the Parents and Remember the Titans are well past the century, but things look thin for everybody else. New Line's Little Nicky had a weak opening last weekend at least by Adam Sandler's standards and it's starting to lose momentum with just $26.5 million to date, while Fox's Men of Honor with Robert De Niro and Cuba Gooding Jr. is returning nearly identical numbers. And if that's merely disappointing, the returns for Warner's Red Planet are sure to cast a cloud over some Monday-morning meetings, as the $70 million picture only earned $2.7 million over its second weekend, and currently stands at $13.4 million so far which puts the Val Kilmer sci-fi in Battlefield Earth territory.
The Grinch and The Rugrats will be joined by more family-fare this Wednesday when Disney's live-action 102 Dalmatians arrives in cineplexes, while those of you looking for something for grown-ups can check out Unbreakable with Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: D.K. Holm gave Chicken Run a spin over the weekend, while Greg Dorr has posted a new review of Gladiator: Signature Series, and Dawn Taylor is on the board with the special edition of Anna and the King all can be found on our Full Reviews index. Meanwhile, new quick reviews from the team this week include The Bridge on the River Kwai: Limited Edition, Escape From New York, Big Momma's House: Special Edition, His Girl Friday, and Running Free, and can be accessed on the Quick Reviews index. Or skip the indexes and get the latest by checking out our New Reviews menu here on the left-hand side of the main page, which always links to all of our reviews from the past month.
We'll be back tomorrow with the rundown on this week's street discs.
Thursday, 16 November 2000
Criterion talkback: Yesterday we shared a letter from a reader who thought The Criterion Collection was vastly overrated. Well, it was only a matter of time before plenty of other readers rushed to Criterion's defense and one digital die-hard even took us to task for our comments yesterday. Here's a couple of follow-ups:
Look, I love T2. And Gladiator. But these are films that the major studios are going to spend loads of money to put out there for us. What major studio is going to release a film like A Taste of Cherry? Nobody. And I'd bet a film like The Discrete Charm of the Bourgeoisie is on lots of people's top 50 or so films of all time. Who else puts out films like this? They have L'Avventura slated for release in the near future. This will be a cleaned up, fabulous-looking anamorphic transfer (with a commentary track) of a film that I would put without question in my all-time top 10. Lots of people have probably never heard of this film. Which, by the way, is totally cool. I've got no beef with anybody's taste. But Fox is not going to do an SE of L'Avventura. I'm happy to pay $40 for it (well, $30 online).
We certainly didn't set out to criticize Criterion yesterday, but at the same time we are willing to say two things we think are fairly reasonable statements: 1) The earlier Criterion titles were largely popular ones, and on the whole Criterion's output is becoming more eclectic. That can be great for movie fans who are always looking for an unusual treat, but don't expect anything like The Killer, Hard Boiled, Walkabout, The Seventh Seal, This Is Spinal Tap, and The Silence of the Lambs arriving like pretty maids all in a row. Those are Criterion spine numbers 8 13, and we don't think Criterion's spine numbers 108 113 will have as much popular appeal. Secondly, there have been questionable items from the first 100 Criterion discs. We actually agreed with Steve yesterday that the Andy Warhol films aren't really that "important," nor are they very good. Criterion's Armageddon was a nice SE, but it had them moving into mainstream-studio territory rather than defending their own world-cinema turf. And we're still scratching our heads over The Beastie Boys DVD Video Anthology. In the meantime, we'll take comfort in such titles as L'avventura, The Lady Eve, and Gimme Shelter, and we're sure our friends at Criterion will continue to crank out important DVDs for a long time to come.
Thanks for both of your letters, and to everybody else who wrote in yesterday. We read a lot of valuable comments from Criterion fans, but unfortunately we will have to close this thread for now.
Commentary Clip: "My concern was to try to make a Sex Pistols art film in the spirit of, what I took to be the spirit of, the band, y'know. And we'd done it before, before The (Great) Rock and Roll Swindle, y'know, we did tape off TV, re-film their appearances on TV, and cut them up, and show them before gigs, actually, so it was a kind of cut-up technique that we did have back then that I've also used here. It does go back to the essence of the group in a way, I mean even John (Rotten)'s lyrics you can have two completely different voices colliding in his songs, it's a very interesting ripped-up technique.... We did have access to a number of VHS tapes that I'd recorded at the time as well, because the Pistols were one of the first groups of people I knew to have this magic box from Japan the video recorder, the videocassette. It was a real 'thing' in the mid-'70s to have one of those, and we were recording their appearances on TV, but I obviously had it in my flat and recorded loads of movies off TV, and embedded in those movies were the kind of flotsam and jetsam of the time the detritus of chat shows, weather forecasts, news reports, comedy shows.... It was a nightmare for my wife, who was the producer. She would come in at the end of the night and look at the wine bottles, and then see what we'd actually stuck in (the film), all this stuff where we didn't even know where it came from, it was just from an old VHS. And she had to, like, track it down and find out what it was, and then try to persuade them to be in a Sex Pistols film, which some of these old comedians were like 'No way,' y'know. 'I can't be associated with that lot.' "
Director Julien Temple,
Quotable: "Those of you who see parallels between region enforcement, the MPAA's attack on DeCSS, or the RIAA's offensive against MP3, are not mistaken. As technology progresses and the potential for cool new media gadgetry increases, it seems that real innovation is being stifled with great vigor by those industrial and legislative alike too short-sighted to embrace it. Instead, they to seem want everything to remain the way it is, rather than coming up with potentially even more lucrative ways of selling their media. But instead of looking at ways to make Napster work, like Bertelsmann is apparently doing, the RIAA would rather see it dead. The entertainment industry has an phenomenally poor technology track record. It keeps trying to do the least amount of work possible and then proceeds to act indignant when it makes yet another poor technology choice. In the case of the profoundly flawed encryption scheme used in DVDs, this industry in the form of the MPAA then prefers to use its considerable war chest to litigate against a Norwegian teenager rather than spending its money trying to develop a system that suits its needs as well as consumers'."
Consumer electronics journalist Stephan Somogyi, in a
"He's still in denial about (his drinking problem). You have got to be in a program. I did not make up the rules about that."
"West Wing" star Martin Sheen on George W. Bush, whom
"They're both just boring, stupid guys, so I don't think it's gonna matter."
South Park co-creator Matt Stone, on George W. Bush
Coming Attractions: Next week will be one of the biggest DVD release weeks of the year, and we have puh-lenty of new DVD reviews on the way, including Gladiator, The Bridge on the River Kwai, Chicken Run, and more. And if you haven't entered our totally free DVD contest for a copy of Mission: Impossible 2, 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 have a great weekend.
Wednesday, 15 November 2000
Has anybody really listened to Criterion's audio commentaries? A sure cure for insomnia, if you ask me (I dare you to stay awake for their commentary on The Seventh Seal. I dare anybody.) And what about the travesty they released that they called W.C. Fields: Six Shorts? Only slightly better than Madacy (can you say "grain" kiddies?) And The Bank Dick wasn't much better (no frills, too!). And now they are releasing the '50s schlock B-movie Fiend Without a Face for $40? What are they going to include this time proper hygiene habits and a history of New Jersey? Am I the only one who think these guys are nuts? And don't even get me started on the Brazil special-do-whopper three-piece pile of shiny silver coasters. No audio commentary by the director, no deleted scenes, and most of the second disc was small text that was difficult to navigate through. And the third disc was the version of the movie that the director never wanted us to see! The video wasn't much better than the Universal version. And for the "quality films" Criterion has released uh, have you seen the Andy Warhol films? If these are classics then The Hideous Sun Demon should have won an Academy Award for best costume design.
I have sold most of my Criterion "collection" on eBay, made a fortune, and I use the money to buy Image, Fox, Universal, Columbia or anybody else's discs. Criterion may have been number one in the LDE (Laser Disc Era) but they are the bottom of the DVD barrel in my book.
Thanks for your comments Steve we're sure that sound we heard was you zipping up your flame-retardant suit as you wrote your letter. But, as often happens in our letters feature, we're going to have to disagree with you if not with some specific points that you make, then at least with your general argument, which we will extrapolate as the postulate "Criterion sucks." Criterion doesn't hit every ball out of the park, and they've had their share of stumbles, but what DVD vendor hasn't? Taken as a whole, they are far from the suckdom you ascribe them.
Criterion (or to be more accurate, The Criterion Collection, published by Voyager Home Video) may release some arcane titles here and there, but they have been a vanguard of home video because they have held the front-lines on special-edition content, both in their previous Laserdisc releases and now their DVDs. This has been the case since mid-1998, when Criterion got out of the DVD gate with their Seven Samurai, which included a scholarly commentary by historian Michael Jeck and a brief restoration documentary. This was a valuable addition to any DVD library at the time, coming in the midst of a lot of bare-bones catalog titles from the studios and just a few noteworthy special editions (such as Contact and Boogie Nights), and Samurai was swiftly followed by an amazing string of Criterion releases that established them as the best DVD producer on earth The Lady Vanishes, The 400 Blows, Beauty and the Beast, A Night to Remember, The Killer, Hard Boiled, Walkabout, The Seventh Seal, This Is Spinal Tap, The Silence of the Lambs, Sid and Nancy all of these early releases offered commentaries and other features, and all were important films, rather than the latest slam-bang woofer-fest.
However, since the halcyon days of '98 and '99, we have read a few grumblings about Criterion's releases in our mailbag for some reason they just don't seem to create the same sort of excitement they used to. And we agree that's currently the case. But then again, it's clear Criterion intended to front-load their DVD releases with some of the best stuff they had, all sourced from previous Laserdisc editions and with titles that advertised themselves. Compare Criterion spine numbers 1 through 20 with some recent announcements Good Morning, Alexander Nevsky, Written on the Wind, and The Discrete Charm of the Bourgeoisie don't have the wide popularity of Yojimbo, Diabolique, or The Red Shoes. And a lot of those early discs have gone out of print (or soon will it's now clear that MGM will release their own special edition of The Silence of the Lambs within the next year). But when we look on the Criterion horizon, we still see absolute gems, such as Do the Right Thing and The Lady Eve. We also see films that we want to know more about, since we're always willing to be surprised. And without Criterion's commitment to foreign films (they co-own the rights to the Janus Films collection), there would be even less international classics on the street, and they probably wouldn't look as good as they do now.
In the meantime, virtually all of the studios have played catch-up to Criterion, some very successfully (who can't be overwhelmed by the Criterion-esque Fight Club or The Abyss from Fox, or all of the Warner, Columbia, and New Line special editions in circulation?) But you're not going to get us out of Criterion's cheering section anytime soon, even with the odd disc here and there (The freakin' Beastie Boys?), some questionable transfers (Sanjuro), and prices that reflect the fact that small companies can't achieve the same economies of scale that the major studios enjoy. And as for Criterion's Brazil, are you sure you saw the right DVD set? Brazil most certainly does have a feature-length (and witty) commentary by director Terry Gilliam on the first disc, the second disc has a lot more on it than "small text that was difficult to navigate through" (like 90 minutes of documentary materials), and the version of the film on the third disc is there with Gilliam's blessings, as he wanted his viewers to understand how even minor edits can radically alter the meaning of any film, and that folks who run movie studios aren't necessarily qualified to make artistic judgment-calls (and this comes with a second commentary, by film historian David Morgan). If you've sold off your Criterion Collection, we hope you've made a few bucks, but Brazil is the last DVD title we'd let out of the office.
Thanks for reading so closely and also for digging out one of our biggest pet peeves in the history of movies. For those who have not seen our brief review of Warner's A Clockwork Orange DVD, after duly noting that the film is a Kubrickian masterpiece, your humble editor (who wrote this review) simply couldn't resist a dig at Warner, who proudly announced that every last bit of the Stanley Kubrick Collection was approved by the director. Really? Because we've always wondered how a film called A Clockwork Orange could have advertising proclaiming it Clockwork Orange, which is neither the title of Kubrick's film nor Anthony Burgess's source novel. Frankly, it's annoying.
So perhaps we weren't looking closely enough at the boxcover, where there appears to be a sort of stylized letter "A" (or is it an upside-down "V"?), from wherein the brutal Alex wields his dagger. Then again, maybe we missed this alleged "A" for a reason, because now the name of the film, according to the boxcover art, is A Stanley Kubrick's Clockwork Orange. Remove the artwork of Alex as has been done on the DVD itself inside the case and the film announces itself as Stanley Kubrick's Clockwork Orange once again, sloppy and downright incorrect.
Now, before everybody starts sending us e-mail accusing us of being a bunch of Kubrick-nutsacks, we should say we're already aware of our obsession with minutiae. And we also know that this particular bit of branding for the film is nothing new, but in fact is based on the original theatrical one-sheet (which has since appeared on about a thousand different posters for sale in every head-shop in America). We always think original one-sheets make the best DVD cover-art, but we'll never like this artwork very much. Imagine if all the advertising in the world for Kubrick's prior film said 2001, and then, just below it Space Odyssey. It's that irritating.
In any case, if any of you folks think we have this one dead-wrong, you know where to find us. If you have any info we don't, we're willing to be enlightened on this matter.
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, 14 November 2000
On the Street: As if that big Toy Story box wasn't enough for everybody, Buena Vista has followed it up in a matter of weeks with their new three-disc Fantasia Anthology, on the street this morning and a must-have for animation fans. But we're betting the top-seller will be Warner's The Perfect Storm, with its three commentary tracks and other features. The classic Annie Get Your Gun is also out now from Warner with various supplements, and it appears Criterion's The Blob and Gimme Shelter are out today as well (but Criterion dates are always subject to change at the last minute). And if you've been collecting those Twilight Zone discs, two more are on the shelves this week. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of Reel.com and Image Entertainment:
Back tomorrow with more stuff.
Monday, 13 November 2000
Disc of the Week: By all accounts, Orson Welles was a prodigy like no other. And this was despite a difficult childhood. Welles lost both of his parents while still a teenager, but his talent was soon recognized as a student, where he excelled in the theater. Ambitious, perhaps even beyond his own remarkable talent, he arrived in New York, barely out of adolescence, and became an overnight sensation by producing an all-black version of Macbeth at Harlem's Lafayette Theater (set in Haiti, the production was nicknamed the "Voodoo" Macbeth), which was funded with Depression-era WPA dollars. Before long Welles established his own company, the Mercury Theater, and while he became a popular radio performer (he was the voice of "The Shadow," amongst innumerable others), he produced a version of Julius Caesar with the famous columns of light that Albert Speer used to make Hitler's Nuremberg rally world-famous. As with his Macbeth, the play was not without controversy, but both his theater reputation and the Mercury's infamous radio production of H.G. Welles' The War of the Worlds (done in a news format, the broadcast set off a national panic) had Hollywood calling. RKO brought the 24-year-old Welles to California in 1940 with the best contract in town full control over his films and approval of the final cuts. The contract was the envy of every director in the movie colony even David O. Selznick didn't grant Alfred Hitchcock, recently arrived from England, such power.
Welles originally wanted his first film to be an adaptation of Joseph Conrad's novella Heart of Darkness, but before long he was drawn to a script by Herman Mankiewicz that was loosely based on the life of William Randolph Hearst, the most powerful newspaper publisher in America. Hearst, then in his late '70s, ruled his empire with an iron fist, and he also had dabbled in politics (he tried unsuccessfully to run for president) and movies. But the newspaper business was his forte and first love something he decided on as a young man when he took over a struggling San Francisco daily that his father, a wealthy mining magnate, owned but didn't give a second thought. Sensational stories drove circulation, and Hearst's desire to both create news and control public opinion made him one of the most feared men in the country. However, late in life Hearst became a recluse on his massive California ranch, San Simeon, where he lived with Hollywood starlet Marion Davies. It was at San Simeon where Mankiewicz met Hearst, and where he whiled away many weekends with Hollywood's celebrity class. And it was at San Simeon where Mankiewicz first came up with Citizen Kane. When Orson Welles decided it was to be his first RKO picture, two men of enormous means, and even more enormous egos, were set on a collision course in what has become one of the most fabled stories in Hollywood lore.
The Battle over Citizen Kane, a 1996 documentary by Michael Epstein and Thomas Lennon, chronicles the lives of Hearst and Welles, and their headlong rush to conflict, and while it does nothing innovative in the time-tested documentary format, it tells its two-hour story with great skill and economy, in the best tradition of PBS documentaries. In fact, while Citizen Kane has yet to appear on DVD in Region 1, The Battle over Citizen Kane offers the first glimpse of segments from the film on disc, including the famous opening sequence and whisper of "Rosebud," the photograph of Kane's journalists that comes to life via a near-flawless dissolve, and Kane's destruction of his wife's bedroom towards the end of the film. But it's still a far cry from the whole thing, and when Kane appears on disc in North America, The Battle over Citizen Kane will be as invaluable a companion as Hearts of Darkness is to Apocalypse Now. Epstein and Lennon unfold their story with a generous amount of background information, leading up to the script for the still-unfinished Kane finding its way into the Hearst empire, and Hearst's one-man (or one-newspaper-empire) war against Welles and RKO, as Hearst papers refused to accept RKO advertising and theaters around America were pressured into not exhibiting Kane (Welles, ever the vainglorious optimist, suggested RKO should show the film in tents, confident people would still pay to see it, but his young career had been permanently derailed). In addition to an enormous amount of archive sources, both still photos and filmed materials, interview subjects in The Battle over Citizen Kane include Kane editor Robert Wise, Welles's colleague and confidante Peter Bogdonavich, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., journalist Jimmy Breslin, and Welles himself, who in a remarkable interview late in his life admits "I would have been more successful if I'd have left movies immediately (after Citizen Kane). I have wasted the greater part of my life looking for money and trying to get along, trying to make my work from this terribly expensive paint-box, which is a movie. And I've spent too much energy on things that have nothing to do with making movies. It's about 2% movie-making and 98% hustling. It's no way to spend a life."
The new DVD edition of The Battle over Citizen Kane, distributed by PBS-TV affiliate WGBH in Boston, has little in the way of features, which is often the case with documentaries on disc. An Orson Welles filmography is on board, as is a weblink to the official website. The film is also presented in the original PBS format, as part of "The American Experience" historical series, and an introduction is provided by historian David McCullough. The Battle over Citizen Kane is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: Don't knock the chick chop-sockey Sony's Charlie's Angels remains atop the box-office heap after its second weekend with $25 million in the past three days, and it held off some notable premieres, including New Line's Little Nicky, which with Adam Sandler on the marquee was poised to take Angels down. Instead, the film drew $18.1 million and debuted in second place (bad news for Sandler, whose previous The Waterboy and Big Daddy had roughly $40 million openings). Fox's naval drama Men of Honor, with Cuba Gooding Jr. and Robert De Niro, also did good, if not stellar, business, earning $14.1 million, while Warner's yet-another-Mars-movie Red Planet with Val Kilmer stumbled out of the gate with $9 million, and that's never good with a $70 million budget on the line.
Still in continuing release, Universal's Meet the Parents and Buena Vista's Remember the Titans are starting to slip, but both have cleared the century, while Charlie's Angels will undoubtedly break $100 million as well by December. On the other end of the spectrum, DreamWorks' The Legend of Bagger Vance will have to hustle if it hopes to bag $40 million, while Fox's Bedazzled has earned just $34.6 million after four weeks, and Warner's critically-flayed Pay it Forward hasn't cleared $30 million yet. And pucker up to kiss these two goodbye DreamWorks' The Contender is off the dirty dozen and probably won't clear $20 million, while Paramount's Lucky Numbers, with John Travolta and Lisa Kudrow, is headed for the cheap theaters with less than $10 million in the piggy bank.
Those Angels are still kicking, but this Friday sees two Hollywood heavyweights return to the cineplexes Jim Carrey in Ron Howard's The Grinch and Arnold Schwarzenegger in Roger Spottiswoode's The Sixth Day. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Dawn Taylor has posted a new review of SHORT 10: Chaos, which includes George Lucas's 15-minute student film "Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB," while Alexandra DuPont has taken a look at Fox's Titan A.E. and D.K. Holm has a new review of Born on the Fourth of July: Special Edition, with a new commentary by Oliver Stone all can be found on our Full Reviews index. Meanwhile, new quick reviews this week include Annie Get Your Gun: Special Edition, Talk Radio, The Battle over Citizen Kane, and Mumford, and can be accessed on the Quick Reviews index. And as usual, everything has been added under the New Reviews menu here on the main page.
We'll be back tomorrow with news on this week's street discs.
Thursday, 9 November 2000
X-Men redux: Don't say we didn't warn you. In news that has the DVD Internet community abuzz, director Bryan Singer revealed in an interview this week in the New York Post that work is already underway on a two-disc X-Men DVD edition with a wide array of supplements, even though a one-disc edition will arrive from Fox on Nov. 21. "20th Century Fox has committed to doing a second X-Men DVD," Singer revealed, "in which I would use a slightly longer version, including two new scenes which I'd like to shoot, a commentary track, and at least a dozen outtakes. I would also include hundreds of hours of video-camera footage of the shooting of X-Men, chronicling the experience, which was inspired by Heart(s) of Darkness, the documentary about the making of Apocalypse Now."
Is Singer talking out of school? Probably. While it's not unusual for studios to double-dip DVDs, it's likely that Fox had no plans to announce the X-Men follow-up prior to the first disc's release. And while we couldn't get anybody to go on the record with us, our own Alexandra DuPont noted that she had heard rumors of the two-disc X-Men in our DVD sneak preview (the lack of a "special edition" folio on this month's release was a dead giveaway to us as well). Now that Singer is on record, it's all a fait accompli, and hardly a surprise, as the initial disc lacks a director's cut and commentary tracks, something we had been expecting from Singer & Co. all along.
And of course, the question on everyone's mind is "Why?" Why not just release X-Men: Special Edition this November? Put bluntly, time and market-windows. All of the big summer films are due to street on DVD in time for the crucial Thanksgiving-to-Christmas shopping season, and not having an X-Men disc on the shelves would be costly for Fox, particularly as a later DVD would not be day-and-date with the VHS edition, and thus lose a lot of momentum from the marketing campaign. And as Singer clearly has ambitious plans for the SE, it would have been next-to-impossible to produce the whole thing in a matter of months. So we will have a first-edition of X-Men, like it or not.
Pissed? You have every right to be, and nobody is forcing you to buy the first edition. We think it's pretty good in its own right, if not the best of recent Fox DVDs. And also bear in mind that we have no idea when X-Men: Special Edition will arrive it's obviously in the early planning stages, and a release could be a year from now or more. In the meantime, an X-Men DVD with a solid anamorphic transfer and a small array of supplements will be out this month, and it's worth a rental at the very least.
Commentary Clip: "Now here you see one of the last, or the last communication with the Andrea Gail, between the Andrea Gail and the Hannah Boden, Linda Greenlaw and the Hannah Boden. They're reporting their position. They're heading right into the storm, and there's not much they can do about it. The boat disappeared without a mayday, with no call for help, so the fishermen in Gloucester think that she must have gone down very, very suddenly. Either that, or she lost her antennas. A breaking wave covering a boat like that can rip the antennas right off the mast and there's not much you can do about it. There's silence out there after the last communication, which was, 'She's coming on, boys, she's coming on strong.' That's Billy Tyne referring to the storm hitting him, issuing a warning to the rest of the fleet. After that, there's no communication, and it may be because they lost their antenna or their radios, and they just could not communicate."
Author Sebastian Junger,
Quotable: "I certainly cannot (see Internet distribution of movies). Music is different you may hear a song 20, 30, 40 times in a couple of weeks. Many people play them over and over just before I picked up your phone I was exercising and listening to a Barbara Streisand CD I've heard 20 times. But you don't watch a movie 20 times. Who wants to go to a theater to see a movie they've just seen, unless you're a child going to a Disney release four or five times in a row?"
MPAA Chairman Jack Valenti, in a recent interview in
"I understand it's not the easiest movie to sell. It's not a movie that lends itself to an easy TV spot or trailer where a large section of the audience will go, 'Yeah, an action movie,' or oh, 'Yeah, a teen comedy.' This one is more complicated than that."
Director Curtis Hanson, whose critically acclaimed but
"I've enjoyed my time here. It's a very, very fine country."
Pierce Brosnan, revealing last week in the UK Sunday
"I think it's hot that a woman can say, 'You know what, I can kick ass. I can save the day, but at the end of it all, I still want to be a woman, and I still want to have love and excitement.' "
Cameron Diaz, offering some profound insights into her
Coming Attractions: New DVD reviews are on the way, along with our box-office roundup and everything else that's fit to print, so we'll see you back here Monday (and hopefully by then we'll know who our next president will be). Have a great weekend.
Wednesday, 8 November 2000
On the Street: There's no lack of decent discs to pick from this week, including the retooled Donnie Brasco: Special Edition from Columbia TriStar, who also have released a nice edition of the classic noir flick Gilda. But we're sure most folks will be lining up for Paramount's packed Mission: Impossible 2, which has some demo-quality action sequences. Buena Vista finally has The Straight Story in release, starring the late Richard Farnsworth, while Fox has their ambitious Titan A.E. on the street with several supplements. Looking for something unusual? How about Criterion's Beastie Boys Video Anthology? Even better to us is the latest edition of SHORT, which features George Lucas's original 15-minute Electronic Labyrinth THX 1138, which he made as a film student at USC. Here's this week's notable street discs, courtesy of Reel.com and Image Entertainment:
Tuesday, 7 November 2000
Make today count: We're happy to spend every day of the year watching and writing about DVDs, at least when it's not an election day. But just as election laws of a bygone era forced drinking establishments to close, today we must bar the doors of this DVD paradise, urging everybody to go out and vote for the candidates of your choice. We'll be watching election returns in the screening room tonight, but never fear we'll be back tomorrow morning with new disc announcements and a look at this week's street discs.
Monday, 6 November 2000
And the winner is: Kevin M. Devine of Daly City, Calif., wins the free Dead Zone DVD from our October contest. Congrats, Kevin!
Our totally free DVD contest for the month of November is up and running, and we have a copy of Paramount's Mission Impossible 2 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: After the success of 1996's Mission: Impossible, it would seem standard-bearer Tom Cruise was soon interested in building a franchise with the popular '60s TV series, revivified as summer-blockbuster material. The first film had several good things going for it, including director Brian De Palma, screenwriter Robert Towne (Chinatown), and actors Jon Voight and Ving Rhames. With Mission: Impossible 2, Towne and Rhames returned, but Cruise's ringer in the batting lineup was none other than Hong Kong action-master John Woo. Why? You can ask Cruise (if you can get through his publicist), but frankly, what actor hasn't seen Chow Yun Fat in such Woo masterpieces as The Killer and Hard Boiled and not felt a little envious of Chow and the way Woo's unique stylistics elevate his screen persona? Who doesn't want to do the horizontal leap with two guns blazing and stuff blowing up like it's the Fourth of July? In fact, the decision to build M:I-2 around Woo's action sequences was such a driving force of the production that Towne, when brought in for the initial script work, found he had to create a story around several set-pieces already underway. Thus, the writer settled in part on Hitchcock's 1947 Notorious for his source material. And while not an entirely successful adaptation (er, the Hitchcock film is better by far), it did give the script less in the way of plot twists that left some viewers of the first M:I a little dumbfounded. Make no mistake M:I-2 is a lean machine of summer movies (the highest grosser of 2000), and it's best served with large bowls of popcorn.
Cruise reprises his 1996 role as Ethan Hunt, secret agent for the just-as-secret IMF, who is tasked this time around with locating rogue agent Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott), who is involved in a plot to infect the world's population with a deadly virus. Agency head Swanbeck (Anthony Hopkins, in a cameo role) tells Hunt he can have any two agents on his mission, but he also must recruit petty-thief Nyah Nordoff-Hall (tasty crumpet Thandie Newton), who once dated Ambrose and can be used to gain his confidence. The team eventually locates Ambrose in Australia, but an operation to destroy the virus goes awry, leading to a series of final confrontations, including several wrecked cars and motorcycles, and a few nifty fights.
Upon release in early 2000, plenty of folks derided the threadbare plot of M:I-2, and for the most part they were right. If the first film had a head-spinning quality that alienated some viewers, its successor barely rose to the level of a James Bond film, and a rather pedestrian one at that. But (if we may take exception), these critics were also sort of missing the point. Woo's Face-Off is a deeply goofy movie on a basic level, but it became a crowd-pleaser because of its swift pacing, over-the-top acting by John Travolta and Nicolas Cage, and those amazing stunts. There's little in a way of notable performances in M:I-2, but it has everything Woo fans can expect from him nowadays, including a palm-sweating opening as Cruise rock-climbs at Moab, a blistering car chase with Cruise and Newton, a tense sequence (reminiscent of the first M:I) as Cruise breaks into a high-security laboratory, and a final 20 minutes of non-stop action, including an extensive motorcycle chase. All bear the inimitable mark of Woo, who may still be looking for that first masterpiece in the American film industry, but still has managed to come up with a handful of good additions to his catalog.
With Tom Cruise on the box-cover and a $215 million box-office in North America, any DVD release of Mission: Impossible 2 should be packed, and Paramount has come up with the goods. In addition to a crystal-clear anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) and audio in booming DD 5.1, features on the disc include a commentary from Woo, "Behind the Mission," a 15-minute behind-the-scenes short, "Impossible Shots," a look at 11 sequences and stunts and how they were created, a five-minute featurette on the stunt-work, a brief alternate title sequence, and the music video "I Disappear" by Metallica. Best of all? "Mission Improbable," the M:I-2 parody from the 2000 MTV Movie Awards featuring Ben Stiller as "Tom Crooze," Cruise's insufferable stunt-double and Hollywood hanger-on. Mission: Impossible 2 is on the street tomorrow morning.
Box Office: Some folks may have been looking for new-age female empowerment, others nothing more than some old-fashioned jiggle in any event, Sony's Charlie's Angels dominated the weekend box-office with an impressive $40.5 million bow, unseating Universal's Meet the Parents after a month-long run at the top of the charts. Reviews for this latest rerun-TV-to-big-screen effort have been mixed to positive as well, largely describing the film as tongue-in-cheek fun (but has anybody besides us seen the endless array of bubbly interviews with Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz, and Lucy Liu? Could there be three more annoying people on the planet?) The only other major debut from last weekend, DreamWorks' The Legend of Bagger Vance paled by comparison to Angels with just $12 million, even with Robert Redford behind the camera and Tinseltown it-boys Matt Damon and Will Smith in the starring roles (alas, the critics have not been kind to this one).
Still in continuing release, Meet the Parents has racked up Universal's bank account to the tune of $116.9 million so far, while Buena Vista's Remember The Titans is poised to break the century at $96.8 million. But no other current films besides those two and Charlie's Angels are on the blockbuster track, and such recent releases as Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, Lucky Numbers, and Bedazzled will have relatively modest finishes, while New Line's Lost Souls is already off our dirty dozen and will close south of $20 million.
Those Angels may not rule the box-office for long new releases this weekend include the naval drama Men of Honor with Robert De Niro and Cuba Gooding Jr., Red Planet starring Val Kilmer, and Adam Sandler's Little Nicky. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: D.K. Holm has posted a new review of Universal's Touch of Evil: Collector's Edition, while Greg Dorr is on the board this morning with Fox's Wall Street both can be found on our Full Reviews index. Meanwhile, new quick reviews from the team this week include the 1946 Gilda starring Rita Hayworth, Pitch Black: Unrated Version, Mission: Impossible 2, Up at the Villa, and two Criterion titles, Henry V and Oliver Twist. All can be accessed on the Quick Reviews index, or get it fast under the New Reviews menu here on the main page.
Thursday, 2 November 2000
On the Block: Our latest round of DVD auction rankings at eBay are in, and the out-of-print A Hard Day's Night inexplicably surged to the top of the chart with a $537.00 close after a heated 44-bid session. The special-edition disc, sourced from a recent print restoration, has consistently been on our charts since it went out of print from MPI (Miramax reportedly now has the rights), but it normally trades under the $100.00 mark, and we couldn't figure out why this recent auction was so popular, besides the fact that the disc was sealed. Suffice it to say that many other Hard Day's Night auctions were closing for less than a Ben Franklin. Meanwhile, Criterion's Salo is still riding the wave, this time with a top close of $350.00 after 23 bids, while other Criterion titles such as The Killer, The 400 Blows, and the rest of the gang made the chart, as usual. But this time they were joined by Criterion's recently OOP Sid and Nancy, which had a high close of $66.00, barely squeaking in. Demo discs continue to have appeal as well, with the 1997 THX Theatrical Trailers DVD drawing a $310.00 hammer-price, and the 1999 THX Surround EX disc was good for $125.00. And fans of Canadian art-rockers Rush, take notice a Region 2 version of Exit Stage Left, with live performances from the Toronto trio, crossed the board with a $66.50 close.
Here's the highest recent closing prices of rare and out-of-print DVDs from online auctions at eBay:
Commentary Clips: "You know, it's interesting when you go back and look at a scene that you've cut out of a picture. It's not as if the scene had no merit, or that it's not interesting in its own regard. It's just that you have to remember that it may not have been serving its own purpose in the larger context. This (scene of the three brothers in World War I) was another "letter (scene)," and it described a great deal more about the relationship between Tristan and Samuel, and Tristan and Alfred, but indeed when I looked at it in the picture as a whole, I felt that some of that was already accomplished by the picture. For the sake of some interesting detail and some elaboration of character, it was slowing down the story. And the thing that I most remember about putting this movie together was how important it was that the story just keep perking forward in the manner of the book, actually. It was always imagined to be a tale told. You know, it's not for nothing that we begin with One Stab telling the story. We always felt "this happened," and then "this happened," and then "this happened." I wanted to attempt the feel of someone telling the story."
Director Edward Zwick,
Quotable Election Edition: "Has everyone lost their fucking minds? Doesn't anybody remember the illustrious Reagan-Bush years when people had no money and no jobs? What has happened to people's memories? It's like they have Alzheimer's or something..... I don't like Bush. I don't trust him. I don't like his record. He's stupid. He's lazy. Some woman said to me she was voting for him because she liked his dad, and I said, 'Good, because that's what you're getting.' If somebody's claim to fame is that they signed a law so that you can carry a gun to church oh, give me a break.... If you're black in this country, if you're a woman in this country, if you are any minority in this country at all, what could possibly possess you to vote Republican? If you think the president is an ass, fine after four years you can vote him out. But the Supreme Court that's 30 years! The Jerry Falwells of this world will be right in your back pocket. You won't have one fucking right left."
Cher, who apparently is not voting for the GOP ticket this year.
"Vote freedom first. Vote George Bush. Everything else is a distant and forgettable second place... Al Gore, if elected, would have the power to hammer your gun rights right into oblivion. Instead of fighting redcoats, we are now fighting blue blood elitists. Anyone who tells you otherwise is engaged in a smear campaign."
NRA president and noted Republican Charlton Heston.
"Contrary to what people think, Hollywood is a relatively young and affluent community. Like most young affluent communities there are a lot of people who are fiscal conservatives but socially more liberal. I think there is a tremendous number of people who would have supported (John) McCain but who won't support George W. I think the perception of Hollywood as a liberal town is just simply wrong.... I do think the career liberals... are working hard for Gore, but I don't think they're behaving with a great passion. Bill Clinton was brilliant in actually befriending so many of the power players in Hollywood, not just the stars. It wasn't just the Lincoln bedroom, it was his extraordinarily persuasive personality. You don't find power players in Hollywood saying, 'Boy I talked to Al Gore last night ... great guy.' "
Daily Variety Editor Peter Bart, in a recent column.
Coming Attractions: We have a fresh batch of DVD reviews on the way, including Universal's Touch of Evil and Paramount's Mission: Impossible 2. This also will be the last weekend to enter this month's totally free DVD contest for a copy of The Dead Zone, so be sure to visit our contest page if you haven't yet, and don't forget to take our monthly DVD poll while you're there.
See ya Monday, gang.
Wednesday, 1 November 2000
Thanks for the letter Chris, which over the past year or so has become the most-asked question in our mailbag. You are not alone in your query, but we put your note on the board because it's short and sweet. It may be the biggest bitch from the DVD crowd, which has a pretty good track-record of bitching (and we have the e-mail to prove it). So we're going to do our best to explain a few things about "bare-bones" discs, and hopefully dispel (and perhaps sustain) some conspiracy theories out there.
There are basically two major types of "bare-bones" DVDs all the early stuff from '97 and '98, which had precious few extra features, and discs currently released as bare-bones, which with notable exceptions are second-tier catalog titles or recent films that did lackluster business at the box-office. The first group are the ones we get the most letters about, and mostly from folks who are new to the format, and thus aren't always sure when the discs first hit the street. Batman arrived from Warner on Aug. 23, 1997, right around the time that DVD Video was leaving the test-markets and headed for national distribution. Pulp Fiction streeted from Buena Vista on May 19, 1998, when the Mouse House still had one big toe in the DVD pool. These two popular films, along with seemingly countless others, arrived bare-bones for a couple of reasons. First, the primary goal of DVD producers in '97 and '98 especially Warner and Columbia TriStar was to get as many titles in the market as fast as possible, in order for the format to achieve a sort of "escape velocity" and become sustainable. Many of us remember those early days when the question of DVD's survival was a real one, and one of the most important things at the time was to assure new consumers that there were plenty of titles available in the new digital format good titles at that. It's easy to be underwhelmed by these early releases we still look at All The President's Men, Amadeus, and many others with a wistful glance, wishing there was more on the platter. But we understand that films like All the President's Men and Amadeus had to come out right away, lest consumers think they couldn't start building a decent collection from the get-go.
So why no features on these? Time and cost. Add features and the studios would have delayed many early DVDs when they could be shrink-wrapped and on the shelves in a matter of weeks. Add features and the cost also goes up, which studios didn't want to do before a market-base became viable, or before DVD consumer preferences had been clearly identified (yes, it turns out we really do want extras). And while Warner, CTHV, and others led the initial DVD push, vendors such as Buena Vista, Fox, and Paramount stood by the sidelines during '97 and much of '98, partly because of DIVX, which they supported, but also because they wanted to see where DVD Video was going before making a sizeable investment in the format (Warner and CTHV, with their corporate links to hardware vendors, had a much bigger stake in the early days, and Warner at the time had control of MGM's home-video output). As such, why should Buena Vista release Pulp Fiction, one of their first discs, as a huge special edition? Certainly, they could have at least tacked on the deleted scenes found on the "Collector's" VHS version, but (for whatever reason) they just burned a transfer and got the product on the street. It made sense to them at the time. Meanwhile, Warner SEs like Contact and L.A. Confidential, along with New Line's original Boogie Nights, started to make an impact on the market. By '99 almost everybody got the SE bug, and previous DVD holdout Fox got into the two-disc packages more aggressively than anybody. Now, in 2000, every big summer blockbuster will arrive in SE form, as have many recent Oscar nominees and winners, including American Beauty, Magnolia, and Being John Malkovich.
And so we warned you, early this year, right on this very website the year 2000 marks the arrival of DVD re-issues. As Boogie Nights, while an excellent disc, was an early arrival, it wasn't surprising that Paul Thomas Anderson wanted to supervise a new disc, which incorporated a lot of the material on the Criterion Laserdisc. Seven arrived so early from New Line that it was a dreaded "flipper," so we're getting a new two-disc set on Dec. 19, again incorporating stuff from the Criterion release. Artisan delivered a top-seller recently with their Terminator 2: Ultimate Edition, even though the first DVD was pretty good in its own right. Columbia TriStar has revisited Donnie Brasco, among many others in their DVD catalog. Oliver Stone is re-releasing just about everything in his oeuvre with commentary tracks. And so on. There are 10 million DVD players in North America today, whereas in '97 nobody knew when one million would sell. Hence, there's more than ten times the potential revenue from a single DVD release. That means more people can be hired to create special editions, more time can be spent on packaging and navigation, more people can be corralled into the commentary booth. Special editions are more common today because it's financially sound for studios to make the added investment in their DVD products. It's as simple as that.
But a small, frustrating group of bare-bones releases are more recent, and more troubling. Paramount's Titanic wasn't even on the street before rumors of a planned special edition were all over the Internet. The hugely popular The Princess Bride arrived from MGM with little more than the movie. In these and many other instances, the releases are subject to market-windows, when it has been determined (by whatever bean-counters who decide these things) that a DVD should be released sooner, rather than later. The Titanic disc was already bobbing in the wake of the best-selling VHS edition when it arrived last year, and while we have no idea why some SE supplements weren't put together for the much-ballyhooed release, it was decided it had to be available for the fourth quarter of '99, come hell, high water, or sinking ship. Fans dutifully lined up and bought it, but overall sales paled in comparison to Warner's packed (and cheaper) Matrix disc. We've already heard rumors of a Princess Bride SE, but MGM (again, we don't know why) wanted a disc on the street this year. It all depends on the well-paid marketing folks to make a decision should the studio wait to make a big SE and a bigger splash, or should they go bare-bones right away and then follow up with an SE later? Unfortunately, the latter happens more often than we'd like, although it's clear DVD consumers and their persnickety ways are keeping some top-tier stuff (The Godfather, Citizen Kane, Rear Window, Superman) in cold storage until there are enough quality source materials and supplements on hand to warrant a DVD rollout that will survive our scrutiny.
And now some of you must ask "Why can't all those early DVDs be released as special editions now?" They could, and some of them are. But that's a lot of DVDs. We suspect as far as many of the studios are concerned, those titles are on the street and can be left alone for a while. It's not like the suits aren't aware that double-dipping discs tends to antagonize their consumers, and more consumer interest will build if those early bare-bones releases are allowed to languish for a little while longer. Additionally, the bulk of the studios' efforts are spent promoting new films on home video, and very rarely does a catalog title get a substantial promo budget (Universal's recent Jaws DVD and VHS re-release was an exception to the rule, as is New Line's Seven). Will there be a Batman special edition someday? Without a doubt Tim Burton has already recorded commentaries for Edward Scissorhands and Sleepy Hollow. Pulp Fiction? We wouldn't be surprised if it arrives under a Criterion folio, actually, as have other Disney/Miramax/Buena Vista properties. Amadeus? Flat-out inevitable. Titanic? The Right Stuff? All The President's Men? Yes, yes, yes.
When? If we knew that we'd own the Internet.
Our mothers always warned us, especially around Halloween, to be careful about taking candy from strangers. Many years later, we now can add our own bit of wisdom to that caveat be careful when people give you advice on DVDs, home theater, or consumer electronics in general. And especially if you don't know them from Adam. The fact is that, while there are "gold" DVDs, they certainly aren't new, they simply are dual-layered, which means that they have a gold hue on the recorded side (single-layered discs are silver in color). And while dual-layered discs arrived a little while after the original single-layered DVDs, they always have been part of the DVD Video standard, which means that all players should be able to handle them. Whoever you spoke to at that rental shop barely knew anything about DVDs, and (if we can be generous) perhaps he was a little confused. Sadly, bad information is as plentiful as it is free, and we often find our eavesdropping ears tickled when we overhear sales-pitches at some of the larger retailers that, in this era of low unemployment, often have to hire salespeople with little or no experience. Ever heard of Super Pro Logic? Neither have we, at least until we heard some guy with a friendly name-tag mention it as a feature on a home-theater amp. Anybody tell you that you can easily record your DVDs to videotape? We've heard that one too, even though the omnipresent Macrovision renders VHS-duping worthless.
Whatever error you had with your rental was associated with either the disc or your player, but not with the dual-layer format. Try another "gold" DVD and tell us if it works.
Back with more tomorrow.