Wednesday, 20 December 2000
The lights are dimmed: And another year has drawn to a close, which means DVD Journal staffers are off for a much-deserved break. Not that anybody around here gets to stop watching DVDs, because that review stack just grows and grows. But we'll be away until Tuesday, Jan. 2, and we hope you enjoy your holiday season in our absence. Before departing for his vacation, our own D. K. Holm has posted a review of the VideoHound DVD Guide (click here), a great stocking-stuffer for friends and family who will be getting new DVD players this year. And don't forget, we still have a Perfect Storm DVD and a full-sized movie poster signed by director Wolfgang Petersen up for grabs, so be sure to drop by our monthly contest page to send us your entry if you haven't yet.
The only thing left for now is the mail-dump, letters sent from DVD Journal readers around the world to our high-tech HQ, and presented with minimal comments from your editor:
We second that "bullshit." But we also think those "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" discs will arrive individually or in their own box sometime down the road, so no sane person should be buying duplicate DVDs to get 'em.
By "adult" we presume you mean "mature" and not "porno," but in any case we haven't heard about this one, and we'd appreciate additional comments from readers who have purchased this title.
You'll get nothing and like it.
When the staff left for a retreat last month and our intern 19-year-old Chip Liebowitz (aka, "The DvD wIzARd") took over the news update for a day, our mailbag was flooded with reader feedback:
We also recently discussed various storage options for DVD, which generated several reader suggestions:
Prompting the inevitable reader question "Are there any gay wrestling DVDs? And if so, are they 16x9?"
Top of the Pops: Here's the top-selling DVDs for seasonal shoppers last week, thanks to our friends at Reel.com. Click the links to read our reviews of these discs:
Tuesday, 19 December 2000
On the Street: Do you not know what today is? Have you been hiding under a rock? New Line's two-disc, long-awaited, super-awesome Se7en: Platinum Series is now available for cash-money (no mega-popular DVD website necessary), and we cannot shower enough praise on this remarkable release. But after you've bought that little Christmas gift for yourself or a loved one, you can also keep an eye out for New Line's inventive The Cell: Platinum Series and the charming Brit-com Saving Grace. DreamWorks has a pair on the shelves with the popular Road Trip and Woody Allen's Small Time Crooks, while we enjoyed re-visiting David Mamet's House of Games, on the street now from MGM. Anime fans can pick up the delayed Princess Mononoke from Buena Vista, and if Se7en doesn't dampen your holiday spirit too much, check out Sofia Coppola's The Virgin Suicides, which has been given a worthy DVD presentation from Paramount. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of Reel.com and Image Entertainment:
We're buried in reader mail back tomorrow to empty the bag.
Monday, 18 December 2000
'Traffic,' 'Tiger' are tops: The National Board of Review kicked off the annual awards season this month by naming Quills the best picture of 2000, and now the New York Film Critics Circle and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association have joined the fray. Quills was overlooked by both camps, but the National Board's second-best film, Steven Soderbergh's Traffic, was tops in New York, and Soderbergh also picked up the nod for Best Director in the Big Apple, while Traffic co-star Benicio Del Toro earned Best Supporting Actor honors. Meanwhile, Tom Hanks was declared Best Actor for the upcoming Cast Away. Unsurprisingly, small independent films were also singled out (it's practically a point of honor for critics' groups), and in New York Laura Linney earned the Best Actress Award for You Can Count on Me (which was also judged as Best Screenplay for Kenneth Lonergan), while Marcia Gay Harden was determined Best Supporting Actress for Pollack.
Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon only earned Best Cinematography honors from the New York Circle, but the film was all the rage in SoCal, as the Los Angeles Film Critics Association named it Best Picture, and Lee was the runner up for Best Director as well (behind surprise! Steven Soderbergh). Also getting traction out of Tinseltown was Curtis Hanson's much-adored, little-seen Wonderboys, which earned Michael Douglas the Best Actor Award and was the runner-up for Best Picture. Julia Roberts an Oscar front-runner at this point was judged Best Actress for Soderbergh's Erin Brockovich, but You Can Count on Me wasn't overlooked on the West Coast, earning Laura Linney the runner-up slot for Best Actress and another Best Screenplay nod for Kenneth Lonergan. On both coasts, Yi Yi (A One and a Two) was Best Foreign Film (Crouching Tiger earned the spot from the National Board), and Chicken Run was declared the Best Animated Film of the year (did anybody even need to vote?). Here's the final rundown from New York and L.A.:
The New York Film Critics Circle
The Los Angeles Film Critics Association
This year has been regarded as an unusually weak one for quality films, and with just days to go before the Dec. 31 Academy Awards deadline, it looks certain that some of the these pictures will show up on Oscar night in March. Which ones? Consult your local bookie.
Disc of the Week: O pity those who are near to fame but are not themselves famous. Almost famous, perhaps. But what torture life must be for them, so near greatness but unable to drink from the cup. The Antonio Salieries of the world must instead swallow the bitter bile of their own jealousy. But it doesn't have to be that way. It's possible that those close to fame can learn from their betters, or even find their own way. This is what Sofia Coppola seems to have done in preparing her marvelous directorial debut, The Virgin Suicides. You remember Sofia, don't you? Daughter of Francis Ford, the internationally acclaimed director of The Godfather. The little girl who has made cameos in his films. We have all grown up with her. Then, the debutante made a disastrous appearance in her dad's The Godfather Part III, when Winona Ryder dropped out. Sofia submerged after that, only to appear with a full plate: a marriage to auteur du jour Spike Jonze (née Adam Spiegel, heir to the retail fortune) and with her own movie under her belt, a self-scripted adaptation of Jeffrey Eugenides's The Virgin Suicides. And not only is it a credible writing and directing debut, it is one of the best recent films about teenagers in a spate of endless and mostly indistinguishable teen comedies, a type of movie that is really a demographic rather than a genre.
The Virgin Suicides is about the Lisbon sisters and the boys who love them. Set in Wisconsin around 1975, Eugenides's book was distinguished for being a novel narrated by a group, a collective pronoun, instead of a single person. Young Coppola has adopted the notion of the narrator, but here confined the voice to the more conventional, but easier to handle, single person (the unseen Giovanni Ribisi). He is one of many (unnamed) neighborhood admirers of the mysterious, close-knit Lisbon sisters. Their dad (James Woods) is the math teacher at their school. Mom (Kathleen Turner) is a rather fragile and religious housewife. The girls are a little difficult to tell apart upon a first viewing (which is part of the point), but they consist of the exotically named Lux (a randy Kirsten Dunst), Cecilia (Hanna R. Hall), Bonnie (Chelse Swain), Mary (A.J. Cook) and Therese (Leslie Hayman). After her first unsuccessful attempt at suicide, Cecilia's attending doctor minimizes her angst. "You're not even old enough to know how hard life gets," he tells her. "Obviously, you've never been a 13-year-old girl," is her reply, and the movie endorses her inwardness and mysterious dissatisfaction with the world. The narrator and his friends stand by helplessly as the girls lose one sister and continue on as a distinct unit at school supporting one another; and they continue to observe from afar as the school stud the wonderfully named Trip Fontaine (Josh Hartnett) seduces Lux and abandons her to public humiliation. Her mother's response is to ground all the sisters. Then one mysterious night, when the boys seem to finally receive outreach from the isolated sisters, something truly dismal happens, something that remains mysterious for the rest of the boys' lives and within the movie itself.
Coppola, with the help of cinematographer Edward Lachman's lush images, creates a fever-dream of adolescent near-perfection. The girls are captured as if in a Sally Mann photograph, forever young and mysterious, and fantasy moments are inserted in a landscape that has the surface beauty but the inner rottenness of an early David Lynch film, where nothing is what it seems, and nothing is truly understandable. The acting is superb throughout Dunst does particularly well with a difficult (and for her very different) part, and Hartnett does a splendid job of capturing a high school's typical cool dude of the era: super-thin, aviator glasses, long hair over a lanky body that he moves in an odd, swaying rhythm, like Jim Morrison about to growl out the next verse. But these surfaces beauties don't mask how genuinely disturbing this movie is. Watching it, viewers will hope that the girls don't kill themselves, and will feel deeply for those who do. It's almost too real, too important a topic to be addressed in a mere movie, and among the many finely calibrated sequences is an early one when Cecilia at a party thrown in her honor to cheer her up is appalled at the superficiality of those around her and quietly retires upstairs for the last time.
Paramount has done a great job on the presentation and a moderately good job on the supplements for their DVD edition with a clean anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) that captures the soft, misty, dream-like quality of Lachman's photography. Audio is in Dolby Digital 5.1, but extras are modest. They include a 20-minute "making-of" featurette shot by Coppola's mother Eleanor which is, by the way, terribly and inconsistently photographed, and which makes the film sound like a family affair, what with Sofia Coppola's dad on the set and various cousins and brothers hired as cast or crew. Also on hand are the theatrical trailer, the music video "Playground Love" by Air, and a brief gallery of photos. The Virgin Suicides is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: The weekend box-office revealed that moviegoers still want Mel Gibson after all these years, as Paramount's What Women Want soared to the top of the heap with a $34.4 million debut Gibson's best ever and the highest opening for a December film in history. The romantic comedy easily displaced Universal's The Grinch, which had held the pole position for the past four weeks, but with $212.9 million to date Jim Carrey remains one of the most bankable stars in Tinseltown. Two other debut films easily cleared the top five, but the $14 million opening for Fox's Dude, Where's My Car? came as a surprise to many industry observers (the stoner comedy was not previewed for critics always a bad sign), and equally perplexing was the modest $10 million debut of Disney's The Emperor's New Groove, a traditional mix of animation and music that many expected to do better out of the gate, especially during the family-friendly holiday season.
Still in continuing release, The Grinch is only the second film this year to break $200 million and join the all-time top 30 list (along with last summer's Mission: Impossible 2), but some recent arrivals are showing steep declines, including Sony's Vertical Limit, which mustered just $9 million last weekend after a solid $16 million opening, Warner's Proof of Life, which may top out around $30 million, and New Line's Dungeons and Dragons, rapidly losing steam with barely $10 million overall. Meanwhile, Universal's popular Meet the Parents has departed the top ten with $159 million to its credit, but how popular is Sony's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon? Parents scraped up $1.2 million over the past three days at 1,394 venues Tiger blasted its way to $1.1 million on just 31 screens.
The A-list headliners return in force this Friday, as Cast Away starring Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock's Miss Congeniality, and The Family Man with Nicolas Cage all hit the cineplexes. Hang on for Traffic and Crouching Tiger though they won't go wide until Jan. 12. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Hey, where did everybody go? Well, a lot of staff are getting ready for our holiday break, but die-hard Greg Dorr has posted a fresh look at David Mamet's House of Games. Meanwhile other new write-ups from the team this morning include the unrated Road Trip, Criterion's The Harder They Come, Loser, Scary Movie, The Odd Couple, Gettysburg , Children of a Lesser God, The Virgin Suicides, and Small Time Crooks. It's all under the New Reviews menu on the left-hand side of the front page here, and hundreds more DVD write-ups for your holiday-shopping plans can be found on our Full Reviews and Quick Reviews pages.
Back tomorrow with the street discs.
Thursday, 14 December 2000
Coming Attractions: We're headed back to the screening room for another round of fresh DVD reviews, including DreamWorks' Road Trip, David Mamet's House of Games from MGM, and more, so we'll be back Monday with the box-office showdown and all the rest. See ya then.
David Fincher: "The preview screening had the original ending with the gunshot and then it went to black. And I told the guys from NRG, I said, 'You know, let the audience sit in the dark for a second and then bring the lights up slowly. Give them ten seconds, let them know the movie is over, to decompress.' But it's gunshot, lights up immediately, and they're passing out cards 'What is your favorite character?' 'What is your favorite moment in the movie?' And I'm standing at the back of the theater and these three women come by, and one says to the other one, 'The people who made that movie should be killed.' They all looked like first-grade teachers or something.... The recruiting form (for the test screening) said, 'Would you like to see a movie starring Brad Pitt from Legends of the Fall, and Morgan Freeman,' and then in parentheticals, '(Driving Miss Daisy).' I don't know what the fuck they thought they were gonna see. But I'm telling you, from the reaction of the people in there, they were bristling. They couldn't have been more offended. You couldn't molest an audience more than to promise Legends of the Fall and Driving Miss Daisy, and then unleash this movie on them. I mean, they'd just been gang-raped. Those movies are upstanding Hollywood nobility."
Pitt: "That's always been my argument with the marketers. Don't lie. Don't lie to (the public). But it's about money."
Fincher: "No, you know what there's something that informs it, but it's about another thing. There's a weird pathology in marketing departments. They honestly believe, to the core of my being I believe this..."
Pitt: "Go. Go."
Fincher: "...they believe that it's their job to save it. They really do. That's their contribution. You know, 'These guys went off and they did the best that they could do, and have made this thing the chances are nobody wants to see.' Cause it's not smart, if you are the head of a marketing department at a major studio, to look at a movie and go, 'That fucking movie is great, man,' you know, 'If it gets fucked up now, it can only be me. I'll be the one to blame.' You know, it's like they gotta look at it and go, 'I don't know, I'll see what I can do.' "
Pitt: "No, I think that's true, to validate... "
Fincher: "But if you start with that supposition, if that's the thing that's your task of marketing a movie to begin with, then everything that follows is a covering the downside. Instead of talking about how a movie is different, they cover the downside.... "
Pitt: "But I still think they are mainly answering to money on the line. It's not being creative "
Pitt: "And it's selling, 'cause money's on the line. 'We can't be risky. This is a risky film. We can't be risky with how we put our product out there. We know this has worked before, so we gotta suck 'em in. If we can suck 'em in, on whatever pretense, then we've done our job.' "
Fincher: "But if you start, you gotta look at the whole system "
Pitt: "The pathology."
Fincher: "A guy sits there, we present a movie, our cut, and it's got fingerprints on it, and fucking hairs in the gate, and the fucking projector stops at one point and the sound, right? And they sit there and invariably I've never heard a marketing guy say, 'Fuck, what a great movie! That's a home run. We can't miss with that.' They always say, 'I don't know. I don't know. I don't know if they want this....' And so then it just becomes protecting the downside."
David Fincher and Brad Pitt,
Se7en is on the street next Tuesday.
Wednesday, 13 December 2000
Er, not a whole lot and especially if you're using out-of-print Laserdiscs as a barometer. Fundamentally, the value of any home-video title that's OOP (DVD, LD, or otherwise) is based on its prospects for being re-issued down the road. Therefore, rare Japanese Song of the South lasers on eBay can run into the hundreds of dollars, as Disney never released the controversial film on home-video at all in the U.S., and in our current cultural climate they have no plans to do so. Furthermore, while Song of the South has been considered a fairly "safe" release in overseas markets (places where consumers would be less sensitive towards a jolly musical about post-slavery America), Disney reportedly is now pulling the title in Europe and elsewhere not least in part, we suspect, because it's so much easier in our Internet age for folks to buy just about anything from any part of the world. Along the same lines, the first volume of Warner's Golden Age of Looney Tunes Laserdisc series contained the controversial wartime 'toon "Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips," wherein Bugs lands on a South Pacific island and bamboozles several Japanese soldiers. After many complaints about its borderline-racist content (um, Bugs calls one of the soldiers "slant-eyes," among other things), later pressings of this volume eliminated the "Nips" cartoon. Again, odds of this short returning to home video or ever arriving on DVD are somewhere between none and less than that. The set regularly trades for $100 and up on eBay, and it probably will retain its value among collectors for a long time.
Other high-trading lasers out there include Fox's 1981 release of The Beatles' Let it Be, the "Collector's Edition" of Close Encounters, The Godfather Trilogy, the extended cut of David Lynch's Dune, some of the nicer Star Wars Trilogy sets (we think there's at least two or three floating around), and many more. But all of these films (yes, even Star Wars) will appear on DVD eventually, if not next week. Therefore, their value is time-sensitive Criterion's Citizen Kane laser can be worth $100 or more on eBay, but the day Warner announces their own Kane DVD that Criterion disc will be worth quite a bit less. Not too long ago we saw an LD collection of Space 1999 episodes clear $200, just before A&E announced they would release a DVD series. And while one would think that extra features on a laser but not on DVD of the same film would sustain bid prices, such is not always the case. One of our favorite Laserdiscs around here is Criterion's 2001, which includes several interesting supplements, such as interview footage with Arthur C. Clarke and a technical deconstruction of the final "Beyond the Infinite" sequence. The feature-set is far better than what's on the Warner (previously MGM) DVD, but Criterion's three-platter 2001 often can be snapped up for less than $40. We think Criterion items like this are a pretty good deal.
If you want to capitalize on the value of your out-of-print DVDs at auction, do your best to sell high and by that we mean unload the OOP stuff that's sure to return. A lot of Criterion DVDs have supplements that will never re-appear, so it's good to hold on to those, even if the price dips after another DVD is issued. But Warner's Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is getting strong bids and it's no everlasting gobstopper, as Warner pulled that first, bare-bones edition to make way for an upcoming Wonka SE, probably in 2001. Also, we've seen some reasonably high bids for the Fox DVD of Aardman's Wallace and Gromit: The First Three Adventures, even though it's certain to re-appear on disc from Warner before much longer, especially after the success of Chicken Run (Warner already has a VHS on the street). Several Pasolini films, including Criterion's Salo and two more titles from Image, recently had their rights transferred, but there's no reason why they won't turn up again in Region 1 from another vendor with a new license.
Our rule of thumb is simple: Bare-bones? High bidding? Cash it in. Let somebody else enjoy that $80 feature-free Rocky IV when the Rocky SEs start rolling in.
Yow! Hang on, Conor. For us, if we know a studio is prepping a big DVD of a popular title, the last thing we want to hear from them is "We're going to rush it on the street as fast as possible." As the legendary Orson Welles insisted (albeit when his film career was in the tank), "We will sell no wine before it's time," and we always hope the discs we buy are completely definitive. (Note to the folks at Columbia who are prepping Lawrence of Arabia: Take a couple more months if you think you need it. Really.)
Rushing highly anticipated DVDs to market often means trouble. Exhibit A: Warner got on the bad side of a lot of DVD fans last year when they hustled their Stanley Kubrick Collection into the shops with some weak transfers and barely any supplements, which has only caused them to start pre-production on another round of Kubrick discs. Frankly, since a lot of us laid out some serious dosh for these, we'd rather the WB would have waited another year and done it right the first time there's plenty of other new DVDs coming out every week to hold our attention. And Warner is doing the right thing to keep Superman off DVD for the time being, as they've acknowledged the film needs some restoration before it's disc-worthy. Regarding Blade Runner, the only thing we have to say is that we want the new SE to include both the original with voice-over narration and Ridley Scott's final cut. Films come with their own histories, and DVDs are the best way to record them for posterity. (Exhibit B: Criterion's Brazil, with its director-approved and studio-imposed versions, as well as Warner's double-cuts of The Big Sleep and Strangers on a Train.)
As for Gladiator, we liked it, just as we've enjoyed a lot of the big summer movies on DVD this year (X-Men, The Perfect Storm, U-571, et. al.) But none of these, including Gladiator, made our five-star Top 25 list, because none of them offered in your editor's entirely subjective analysis a strong enough DVD combo of a great movie and great supplements. In fact, only Warner's North By Northwest and New Line's Se7en: Platinum Series (which is due on Dec. 19) have managed to earn a spot there in the past several months.
It's flat-out inevitable that the six-hour Dune miniseries that recently ran on the Sci-Fi Channel will appear on DVD (unless somebody really doesn't want the money, that is), but we have not heard any possible release dates yet. However, for those of you who can't get enough of the new Dune (DVD Journal staffers who watched it found it far superior to David Lynch's theatrical release), the Sci-Fi website is currently hawking a Secrets of Dune book and DVD package with behind-the-scenes goodies (a lot of which, mind you, could very well wind up on the full DVD release).
Top of the Pops: Here's the top-selling DVDs last week from our friends at Reel.com. Click the links to read our reviews of these discs:
See ya tomorrow.
Tuesday, 12 December 2000
On the Street: Paramount has a huge catalog dump of some popular titles today, including Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation, An Officer and a Gentleman, The Odd Couple, and Children of a Lesser God, in addition to the arrival of this year's Shaft with Samuel L. Jackson. Columbia TriStar's far more low-key, but we enjoyed watching three Asian titles they now have out, Takeshi Kitano's Kikujiro, Zhang Yang's Shower, and Yimou Zhang's Shanghai Triad. DreamWorks has one for the whole family (or maybe not) with a special edition of The Road to El Dorado, and fans of Batman can look for Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, now here from Warner after some delay. But if you're a big Kitano fan, two more of his films are in release this morning from Image, Kids Return and Scene at the Sea. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of Reel.com and Image Entertainment:
Bye for now.
Monday, 11 December 2000
National Board calls its shots: After what largely has been considered a lackluster year in cinema, the annual movie awards are starting to roll in, starting with the National Board of Review, who announced their favorites for 2000 late last week. Heading up their list for the best movie of the past 12 months is Philip Kaufman's Quills, starring Geoffrey Rush as the Marquis de Sade, while Steven Soderbergh won a spot on the film list for his forthcoming Traffic, due on Dec. 22, as well as the nod for best director for both Traffic and Erin Brockovich. Joaquin Phoenix also got multiple honors, as he won Best Supporting Actor for three films, and two of them (Quills, Gladiator) earned top-ten spots. But several films that are considered Oscar contenders were overlooked entirely, including such upcoming releases as Castaway starring Tom Hanks, and the Coen Brothers' O Brother, Where Art Thou?. The news was good for Ang Lee though critics have been falling all over themselves to praise Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which currently is running in limited release in New York, and which also earned the Board's nod for Best Foreign Film.
How much of a barometer is the National Board (or other critics' circles) when it comes to predicting Oscars? It all depends on the year. In 1999, American Beauty dominated several lists on it's way to a clutch of Oscars, although in 1998 the National Board gave its endorsement to Gods and Monsters, which had a disappointing awards night. Here's the finally tally from the Board for 2000:
Best Actor: Javier Bardem, Before Night Falls
Excellence in Filmmaking: American Psycho, Best in Show, Chuck and Buck, Girlfight, Hamlet, Nurse Betty, Requiem for a Dream, Shower, Snatch, Two Family House.
As usual, we'll be keeping track of all movie awards up through Oscar night this March, so keep it tuned here.
Disc of the Week: When it comes to films, there's nothing like a good sucker movie. Which is to say it's no Citizen Kane, you may not want to admit to a lot of people you enjoy it, but when such a movie turns up on late-night cable you find yourself setting down the remote and settling in to enjoy an old favorite, comforted as if it were a tattered pair of bedroom slippers. Everybody has their own guilty pleasures, but a popular one around here is Taylor Hackford's 1982 An Officer and a Gentleman. It was only Hackford's second film, but upon its release in 1982 the picture earned an astonishing $130 million at the U.S. box-office, a figure that would be a stellar by today's standards, and made more remarkable when one considers both inflation and cheaper ticket prices back then meant a $50 million film was a confirmed blockbuster. An Officer and a Gentleman also made itself known at the Oscars the next year as Louis Gossett Jr. snagged a statuette for his noteworthy performance, and the film has gone on over the years to earn $55 million in home-video revenue and that's before the release of the DVD. Somebody besides us sure likes this movie.
Richard Gere stars in An Officer and a Gentleman as Zack Mayo, the son of a Navy lifer (Robert Loggia), who suffered the loss of his mother at an early age and never bonded with his reckless, macho father. Thus, after graduating college and with no firm prospects, Zack decides to become an officer candidate at Port Townsend, Wash., in the hopes of becoming a Navy pilot. But the odds are against him, something his sardonic father is quick to point out, saying "You're not exactly officer material" to his son before he leaves for his 13 weeks of basic training. And while non-constructive, the elder Mayo is right Zack is a loner. He's distant, deceitful, and incapable of putting his life in other people's hands. But if such traits don't make him an ideal Navy officer, it at least ensures he won't fall prey to the "Puget debs," local girls who frequent the base hoping to catch an officer for a husband. Inevitably, Zack and roommate Sid (David Keith) hook up with two debs, Paula (Debra Winger) and Lynette (Lisa Blount), but it's hard to know what will be the greater obstacle the ageless lures of women or their hard-assed drill instructor Sgt. Foley (Gossett), whose sole mission is to find the weakness of each candidate and eliminate them from the program.
Screenwriter Douglas Day Stewart who originally wrote An Officer and a Gentleman for John Travolta based his script on his own experiences in the Navy, and even though he wound up working with relative newcomer Hackford, the Paramount execs (among others) overseeing the high-profile project were Don Simpson, Michael Eisner, and Jeffrey Katzenberg three Hollywood heavyweights who understand how formula can lead to huge box-office returns. Such formula is why Officer will never rank among the classics (and how many great films came out of the '80s anyway?), but even if Stewart stumbles over some melodramatic clichés, the film as a whole succeeds in individual sequences, thanks to solid performances. The sun still hasn't set on Richard Gere, but his intensity in this early effort demonstrates his skill at dramatic range, as it has in later projects with good scripts (in particular the excellent Primal Fear). Keith, as the earnest, naive Sid, is a perfect thematic foil to his moody roommate, and Stewart's contrapuntal story arcs and conflicts (Zack and Paula, Zack and Foley, Sid and Lynette, etc.), keep everything moving at an acceptably brisk pace. But of course, it is Lou Gossett who made Officer memorable with his stoic turn as the unforgiving Sgt. Foley, and it's fair to say this would have been an entirely different movie without his presence and doubtless not nearly as successful.
Paramount's new DVD release of An Officer and a Gentleman has a pleasant anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) from a very good source print that retains much of its original color and has barely any collateral damage it's a substantial improvement over the transfers often used for all those late-night cable screenings. Regrettably, audio is only a mono track, but it's 2.0, very clear, and not that disappointing for a film that relies little on spatial effects. And the chief feature on board is a great one a commentary by Hackford, who observes details from scene to scene but also offers a wealth of behind-the-scenes stories on the 1981 location shoot in Washington State. We like directors who can't shut up in the recording booth and Hackford's one of them, even talking briefly about the reported troubles between Gere and Winger on the set, and his own working relationship with Winger, whom he tactfully describes as "a very difficult human being." An Officer and a Gentleman is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: Three new films went up against Universal's The Grinch over the weekend, but all came up short as Ron Howard's holiday outing earned $18.5 million over the past three days and pushed its one-month total to $195.5 million, ensuring that it will become the top-grossing movie of 2000. In contention but failing to snag the top spot The Grinch has held for the past four weeks was Sony's mountain-climbing thriller Vertical Limit, which earned $16 million amidst mixed reviews, while Warner's Proof of Life with Russell Crowe and Meg Ryan garnered $10.4 million over its debut weekend and if the critics are anything to go by, it won't be a Oscar contender in March. Also opening was New Line's Dungeons and Dragons, which stumbled out of the gate with $7 million and more than a few critical lashings, but New Line claimed they did well with their target audience of 8- to 15-year-old boys.
In continuing release, Universal is cleaning up the end of 2000 with both The Grinch and Meet the Parents, as both have held the top spot for four weeks in their respective runs, and Parents is now at $157.1 overall. Sony's Charlie's Angels is losing steam but has an impressive to-date ($119.3 million + jigglies = sequel), and Buena Vista's Unbreakable has done good if not quite Sixth Sense business, with $77.4 million so far. But off the top ten are New Line's Little Nicky and Sony's The 6th Day, both which will have disappointing finishes considering Adam Sandler and Arnold Schwarzenegger were on the marquees.
And thus another round of films are set to take on The Grinch this Friday, including Disney's animated The Emperor's New Groove, the Mel Gibson comedy What Women Want, and Fox's Dude, Where's My Car? Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Alexandra DuPont has taken a look at Paramount's Shaft with the awesome Sam Jackson, while Greg Dorr has posted a new review of The Exorcist: The Version You've Never Seen and D.K. Holm is on the board with Takeshi Kitano's Kikujuro. Meanwhile, new quick reviews from the staff this week include The Road to El Dorado: Special Edition, Saving Grace, An Officer and a Gentleman, Annie, and the Asian films Shower and Shanghai Triad. It's all under the New Reviews menu on the left-hand side of this page, while hundreds more DVD write-ups can be found on our Full Reviews and Quick Reviews pages.
Back tomorrow with the rundown on this week's street discs.
Thursday, 7 December 2000
And the beat goes on: The stack of new DVDs does nothing but rise as the weekend grows nearer, and we're already back in the screening room going over a lot of new releases, including several upcoming titles from Paramount and Columbia TriStar. We'll be back on Monday with a new round of stuff. Meanwhile, if you haven't entered our totally free DVD contest for a copy of The Perfect Storm and a full-sized movie poster signed by Wolfgang Petersen, be sure to visit our contest page if you get the chance.
Commentary Clips: "Every scene that Michael (Douglas) was in had an enormous amount of dialogue, which he had never experienced before. So we had a bit of a problem here. Michael refers to it more than I do, but I don't see it as a big thing, it was just that, in Michael's terminology, I came out to his trailer and said, "What's wrong, Michael?," you know, "have you ever acted before?" That's what he said (I said). I don't know if I ever said something like that, but I meant that 'You're keeping this too surface. I want you to go deeper. This is not "Streets of San Francisco" anymore. I want to you to really dig a little bit more.'
And Michael, the first three days, was not on text, which was a terrible disaster. Pacino pointed that out to me, because if you're not on text, if you don't know your script, you are always going to struggle for the words. That means you cut down the time and the concentration of inner thought, which is what you need. So Michael, I thought, was hurting himself by struggling for the words. Because he didn't have them. And who am I to blame him? He had huge monologues. But they were rhythmic, they had a rhythm, like a Mamet play. So I wanted him to hit it. So I got pissed off. And you know, he much criticized me in the ensuing years for that, but goddammit it woke him up. I'm telling you he was so different the next few days. And not much need be said except he won the Academy Award, and it was never destined. He was, in a sense, the second actor, the second male of the film."
"And now it starts. Here's Lefty. He's heard (Donnie Brasco)'s a jeweler. Al (Pacino) chose these glasses. They are a wonderful expression of the character, he's kind of a crazy wasp. He's very very brilliant at choosing the clothes for the character, this little no-account guy who thinks he's a big deal.... "Fugazy" is a completely invented word. Everybody thought that it was real, kind of real mob-speak. It's not at all it's the name of a limo service in New York. It's a con, righteous con."
Director Mike Newell,
"The 'two guns' idea came from a western, you know, like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid or John Wayne's films, y'know. Even in some gangster films they are also using two guns. So while I was making a Hong Kong film called A Better Tomorrow, I came to scene where the hero character enters into a restaurant and there were 15 guys in the room. And I was thinking 'One gun is not enough to bring down 15 guys.' And then I was thinking 'Oh, how about two guns?' That was the first big gun battle of a movie for me, so I asked the props guy (to) demonstrate how to use two guns, and I said I'd like two guns to be like a machine gun, you know, I like the continuous firing, and also have some kind of a musical drumbeat feeling. And then the guy came out there with two guns pow-pow-pow-pow that was interesting. I gave two guns to my hero and he goes into the room and shoots 15 guys, and then he also placed another two guns outside in the corridor, and so he empties two guns and he grabs another two, you know."
Quotable: "There are a number of significant legal limitations, including substantial and unsettled constitutional questions, to effective law enforcement. Instead, the most prompt and viable option might be for continued encouragement by Congress of further, needed reforms.... If additional self-regulatory efforts are not forthcoming, then we believe that the Congress should consider whether there are narrowly tailored legislative actions that could encourage more robust self-regulatory initiatives."
Federal Trade Commission chairman Robert Pitofsky, in a recent
"Imagine my surprise to be informed this morning by the BBC's Web site and other press, that I have only weeks to live. I should, I imagine, let my doctor know this as when I saw him last week he thought things were much better.... I suppose my imminent death will sell papers, while my positive and life-affirming work is of no interest to anyone."
Dudley Moore, who was reported to be at death's door in a
"We should form a group of fellow actors, first of all to keep him from going to prison what good would that do? And then, to give him the medical help he obviously needs."
Merv Griffin on Robert Downey Jr., who was arrested on
"There was a lot of humanity in the first one that was lacking in the second one. I can understand that to a certain extent... People probably want more violence now and so on."
Director Gordon Parks, discussing both his original 1971
"I think that the film Clueless was very deep. I think it was deep in the way that it was very light. I think lightness has to come from a very deep place if it's true lightness."
Alicia Silverstone, who won this year's "Foot in Mouth"
See ya Monday.
Wednesday, 6 December 2000
Mailbag: It's that time of the year, the holiday shopping season, when folks start thinking about buying their first DVD player and then send us letters. We always love getting mail, but it's simply impossible to write everybody back, especially when so many new readers are asking us what DVD player to buy. All we will say is "We like Sony" beyond that, it's every shopper for themselves. In the meantime, let's dig into this week's mailbag:
We can't agree entirely with your sentiments Chris, but we'll get into that in a bit. First, the answer to your questions is simple in general, only Buena Vista DVDs regularly include trailers and other product pitches prior to the feature title, and by saying Buena Vista we mean to include the animated "Disney DVD" line, Touchstone Pictures, Hollywood Pictures, and Miramax. Therefore, if you don't want to get stung by trailers, see if any of the above are on the spine of the DVD case.
Beyond Buena Vista, the rest of the major DVD producers normally do not include trailers before DVDs, but each has its own whys and wherefores of loading up a disc. Most notably, Warner and a good many Universal DVDs default directly to the feature title, skipping the menu screen entirely, and Warner has consistently maintained this proclivity. Virtually everybody else defaults to the menu screen, if after a few formalities. Also, Universal has a promo spot for their DVD line on many discs (you know, the one with the drums), and while some of their titles omit this, a variation on the promo was created for the second wave of their "Classic Monster Collection" released earlier this year. The current Hitchcock discs from Universal do not have the promo, but we'll see how long that lasts we'll bet green American money that the next Hitch wave in March will see another variation on the spot.
Did somebody at Fox look at that Universal promo and get excited? Got us all we know is that Fox now has a new pre-menu promo ("Fox DVD: Get Into It!"), a shill for such features as "Cutting-edge 3-D menus!" But both the Fox and Universal spots can be skipped with a tap of the index button, which wasn't always the case with Buena Vista, for not only have they been partial to pre-feature trailers, but their March 2000 release of The Sixth Sense had five trailers that most DVD players could not forcibly skip (although our Sony DVP-S300, a 1998 model, had no problems indexing forward). This practice continued for a few more months, but The Mouse House finally relented and went back to optional trailers. Just don't ask them to stop including them altogether they're not about to do anything of the sort.
But as we've noted, most DVD producers default to the menu in short order. Paramount, Fox, and several others generally lead off with copyright warnings, Columbia TriStar has a standard splash-screen and a new one for their "Columbia Classics" line, New Line has a generic splash with their logo and theme music, and we really wish MGM would turn down the volume on their "MGM DVD" splash that lion is louder than the depth-charge sequence in U-571. As far as trends go, we don't see things changing too much, but we think with more and more DVD consumers out there, the studios have added incentive to include things like the Universal and Fox promos to push their product-lines, and we wouldn't be surprised if everybody got into the five-second splash screens. Repetitive branding is a key element of marketing, and marketing drives everything.
But for us, as long as we can skip through trailers (even the ten minutes worth on The Sixth Sense), we aren't about to let a few annoying details come between us and movies we love. We still toss in that Sixth Sense disc from time to time (remote at the ready), and the two trailers front-loaded on The Insider are a pittance compared to enjoying one of our favorite films from 1999. It would be a shame if you didn't add The Insider to your collection because of such a minor detail.
As a final point, we've been noting over the past year or more that the only difference between the numerous MGM-Warner DVD swaps (the result of a complicated home-video deal between the two studios in early 1999) is that the discs are now on the street in Warner's snap-case rather than the keep-case MGM uses. However, it also appears that most of these discs now default to the feature title, as is Warner's habit, while the MGM discs default to the menu. If it matters to anybody, it might be one more reason to look for those out-of-print MGM editions on eBay. Personally, we prefer going to the menu first, since loading up a DVD doesn't always mean we're ready to hit "play."
Actually, your editor had been dealing with similar storage issues as you apparently are, and a nearby office-supply store contained a pretty good solution. Figure that the majority of space from a DVD collection is taken up by packaging, and that the packaging (be it snap-cases or keep-cases) is the most easily replaceable, interchangeable part of the equation. Fifty DVDs in standard cases take up roughly 30 inches of shelf-space, and folks who are bearing down on 200 or so choice collectibles must clear ten feet of shelving to load them all spine-out for easy access. Three four-foot wide bookshelves will easily do the trick for a collection of that size, but in the absence of filing Chapter 11 bankruptcy, DVD collections tend to grow like moss on a wet rock. And before long a lot of people find that their DVD collections are competing for household space with CDs, old videotapes, Laserdiscs, and books, books, books. What is a media junkie to do?
Your editor for one after some deliberation abandoned cases entirely some time ago. It wasn't a hard decision, either, when forced to choose between carefree apartment-living or a 30-year mortgage on a house. A standard three-ring binder with 2" capacity (which in fact occupies just under 3" of shelf-space) makes for a sturdy DVD receptacle, sans cases which really are shipping/retail containers and little more. Covers and booklets can be easily removed from keep-cases, whereas the paperboard shell of a snap-case actually snaps out just lift the two flaps on the back and separate. Many different types of clear plastic sleeves are made for three-ring binders, but the sturdier the better here, and top-sealing is a good idea. Keep-case materials will seal entirely inside a standard 8.5 x 11" sleeve, paperboard shells extend just slightly. For the discs themselves, CaseLogic manufactures a durable eight-disc sleeve for three-ring binders, and if one sleeve for discs follows eight sleeves of packaging, 48 DVDs fit nicely in one (very heavy) notebook. That roughly 30 inches of shelf-space is now a mere three, and a small retainer of keep-cases and snap-cases (say ten each) ensures any disc can be reassembled for loaning to a friend or selling on eBay. Just a few titles need to stay on the shelf, mainly those with special slip-case/digipak cases, such as Fight Club, Se7en, and X-Men.
Radical? Works here, and this DVD editor/collector is not going back to old-school disc storage. Inventory is a snap by maintaining a list (fun to do in its own right), either as a spreadsheet document or on one of the DVD inventory sites online, and a hard-copy can be stored with the notebooks. Concerned about having too much of a good thing? Trying to restrain your slavish consumerism? No need, and God Bless America because of it.
But this is just one idea, and we're open to discussions. If any of you have unconventional solutions to reining in your swelling DVD collection, let us know and we'll pass it on.
See ya tomorrow.
Tuesday, 5 December 2000
On the Street: Some street weeks are thin this one's just a middleweight. But at least that makes it easy to figure out what's worth the bucks. Up first is Warner's long-awaited Gettysburg, which is sure to satisfy Civil War buffs. Criterion has released The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie after some delay, and Columbia TriStar has two indie films out, the rave-party Groove and quirky detective yarn Trixie. If you're collecting classic westerns, MGM has a special edition of The Alamo for you, and the summer movies continue to arrive on DVD with Universal's The Nutty Professor II: The Klumps and Buena Vista's Gone in 60 Seconds. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of Reel.com and Image Entertainment:
Back tomorrow to go through all that reader mail.
Monday, 4 December 2000
And the winner is: Mark Nelson of Martinez, Calif., wins the free Mission: Impossible 2 DVD from our November contest. Congrats, Mark!
Our totally free DVD contest for the month of December is up and running, and we have a copy of Warner's The Perfect Storm up for grabs. But wait, there's more! We also have a full-sized movie poster for the film, signed by director Wolfgang Petersen, that we're throwing in as well. It's the end of the year and everything must go, so be sure to drop by our contest page to send us your entry.
Somebody spank us: Yes, after we meticulously researched every Alfred Hitchcock film in existence last Wednesday in order to determine who owns the rights and their respective DVD prospects, Universal surprised us (and everybody really) late last week by announcing that they will release their remaining ten Hitchcock titles on disc this March 6, and all as "Collector's Editions." So much for talking to marketing professionals (we'd be better off with tarot cards), because we really didn't think any studio would blow a wad of ten choice special editions on one day, rather than release them in waves. But we're happy to be dead wrong on this one just don't expect Spielberg films to appear like this. This March we will see Family Plot, Frenzy, The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956 version), Rear Window, Rope, Saboteur, Shadow of a Doubt, Topaz, Torn Curtain, and The Trouble With Harry all street under Universal folios after some costly print restorations. And while we can cross Universal off the list, hopefully Warner will follow suit before much longer with their substantial Hitchcock catalog. We're not letting the folks at Paramount and Fox off the hook either with just one title each (To Catch a Thief, Lifeboat) in the vaults, how hard can it be to get those Hitch-discs on the street?
Disc of the Week: Among the giants of contemporary American filmmakers, perhaps none can match Martin Scorsese for his commitment to film preservation. He fell in love with the movies at an early age, and while he considered entering the priesthood as a young man, the allure of cinema was too great. A flurry of cinematic masterpieces since that fateful choice (Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, et. al.) secured his place in the pantheon of American cineastes, but Scorsese has always been concerned about filmmakers throughout time, and not merely his own career. As film preservation has been one of his life's passions, he serves as the co-chair of the National Center for Film and Video Preservation at the American Film Institute. He also co-founded The Film Foundation (with Woody Allen, Francis Ford Coppola, Stanley Kubrick, George Lucas, Sydney Pollack, Robert Redford, and Steven Spielberg), a private organization that funds restoration projects, including Kubrick's Spartacus, early Edison shorts, and the films of Akira Kurosawa. And with such a passion for the history of cinema, it's not surprising that the British Film Institute approached Scorsese to oversee a documentary for British television. The result was the four-hour A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese through American Movies, which originally aired on Britain's Channel 4 and subsequently on American Movie Classics in the U.S. It also was issued in North America on VHS and Laserdisc, but only recently has it become available on DVD.
Scorsese's Personal Journey is a virtual film school in a DVD case, if an unusual one. Rather than simply start with the earliest of American films, say The Great Train Robbery, and then work his way through The Jazz Singer, Citizen Kane, and on towards 2001, the director (along with collaborator Michael Henry Wilson) has an almost stream-of-consciousness progression, choosing various topics that relate to the director's role in Hollywood history. He begins by examining "The Director's Dilemma," asking how an auteur can be committed to both his art and his producers at the same time. Various possibilities are presented, because Scorsese really does think that Hollywood has produced some of the greatest artists of the 20th century, and on his journey he looks at the role of narrative and the function of genre, specifically with westerns, gangster films, and musicals. Looking at specific directors, he assigns three categories to the most noteworthy. "The Illusionists" to Scorsese are the technical masters, pioneers such as Griffith and Murnau, who developed editing techniques and paved the way for such later innovations as sound and color. "The Smugglers" are the seditionists of film, arriving mostly in the 1950s, filmmakers such as Douglas Sirk, Samuel Fuller, and Vincente Minelli, who concealed subversive messages in mainstream American movies of the day. Perhaps Scorsese's favorite group is the last, "The Iconoclasts," those filmmakers who worked in open defiance of social mores Chaplin, Von Stroheim, Welles, Kazan, and a later generation headed by Kubrick, Penn, and Peckinpah.
That Scorsese's vision of Hollywood is entirely centered on directors cannot be denied, but this is his "personal journey" after all (he even admits that there's really no way he can be objective with such a personal topic). And even though most major films of the century come under his scrutiny, Scorsese makes an effort to point out that he didn't want to survey what he sees as the "culturally correct" titles rather, everything covered is something he viewed, either as a young boy or a budding independent filmmaker, that had some sort of impact on him. Kubrick's 2001 is acknowledged as technical masterpiece, but Scorsese spends far more time with Lolita and Barry Lyndon, two films with trenchant sexual themes that indicated where Hollywood was headed after the dismantling of the Production Code (something Kubrick helped bring about). Far less notable films come under his eye as well, movies he admits may not be all that great on the whole, but which contain flashes of brilliance, brief sequences that forced him to recognize the power of cinematic language. The whole affair is done in a low-key manner, with Scorsese occasionally addressing the audience on camera, but mostly in voice-over with a seemingly endless supply of clips, all in remarkably good condition with letterboxed aspect ratios to preserve the filmmakers' original visions.
At four hours, Scorsese's Personal Journey doesn't need any DVD extras it's packed to the rafters as it is, in a two-disc edition from Miramax. A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese through American Movies is on the street now get it and watch it on a rainy Sunday afternoon.
Box Office: If you were looking for a new film to see over the weekend, you probably were out of luck. With many Americans dropping all of their expendable income in shopping malls across the country, Hollywood took the weekend off, which means there was little change in the overall film rankings except that everybody added to their totals. And none more so than Universal's The Grinch. If (like many critics) you can't stand this Ron Howard/Jim Carrey collaboration, you'll be glad to know that it now has earned $172 million, and that it most certainly will be the top grosser of 2000 and one of the top 25 of all time (on the "not adjusted for inflation" list, at least). Other recent releases also held their spots, with Buena Vista's Unbreakable now at $66.7 million and 102 Dalmatians at $36.5 million, while Sony's Charlie's Angels has been good for $115.6 million to date.
But fresh films are headed for the cineplexes this Friday they may not knock off The Grinch, but they're sure to win attention. Look for Warner's Proof of Life, directed by Taylor Hackford and starring Russell Crowe and Meg Ryan, Sony's high-altitude thriller Vertical Limit with Chris O'Donnell, and New Line's Dungeons and Dragons. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: D.K. Holm has posted a special sneak preview of Paramount's The Conversation, due on Dec. 12, while Joe Barlow has checked out New Line's forthcoming The Cell: Platinum Series, expected on Dec. 19. In the meantime, new quick reviews from the team this week include The Straight Story, The Replacements, Groove: Special Edition, Body Shots, and Trixie. It's all under the New Reviews menu on the left-hand side of the page, while even more DVD write-ups can be found on our Full Reviews and Quick Reviews pages.
We'll be back tomorrow to let you know about this week's street discs.