Wednesday, 28 February 2001
Keep up the great work. Your site is the reason I don't attempt one of my own.
Thanks Rob, but buyers beware we don't recommend people buy bootleg DVDs, as they often have varying qualities and usually cost more than standard-issue discs. We'll be waiting until June to get our copy of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
We stand by our personal-computer analogy there's little reason to by a new Macintosh G4 if you're hoping it will be the absolute last, best Mac ever made. As long as companies can improve and re-market their products they will, and that includes DVDs. Just about everything will be re-issued eventually, so we all should relax and buy what's we think is worth the bucks today. Otherwise we'd never buy anything and where's the fun in that?
Here's two more spins on the same topic:
Since I don't think anyone believes they should give the extra money to the record company if they sell the item, I'm sure it's easy to see why we consumers are owed nothing. You deserve a product that works until you run it over with your car. Now, I can't say I see any high returns for first pressing of Boogie Nights, but the Kubrick stuff should age well. The first pressings were how he intended them to look, even if his judgment in regards to ratios and such was a bit eccentric.
(By the way, the evil staff at Disney didn't lie about your Laserdisc of Fantasia. That version is not exactly what was released on DVD. Although the racist and sexual parts are still edited or censored, the DVD contains the original introductions that were used in the roadshow version of the film, and a few extra seconds here and there. Personally, I hope they re-release the other version the one you have as well. It's a bit odd seeing a human between songs. Plus, I'm still not sure which Pink Floyd album goes along with this new version.)
Thanks Chad we decided to look into the "racist and sexual" elements of Fantasia you describe, and as usual the Internet Movie Database has the dirt.
Hey everybody's happy! And so are we.
Well, I'll tell you the logic. Believe it or not, a lot of DVD enthusiasts, such as myself, aren't rich. I have myself about 150 discs, all hand picked to be feature-packed (such as Fight Club, Se7en, or Boogie Nights) or just plain great movies (Fargo, The Shawshank Redemption). So, when I hear about Robocop, one of my fav flicks, going out of print, I go snag me one. Why didn't I get it earlier? Simple: price. DVD is one expensive hobby. I probably have well into $2,000+ in my home theater system and DVDs. Criterion normally puts their money where their mouth is, but $34.99 for a DVD is pretty high-dollar to me. While I love the feature-packed goodness of Criterion, I can't really afford them all the time.
To show you the flipside, I did buy Criterion's The Silence of the Lambs last summer, long before it was ever rumored to go OOP. I'm glad I did. I'm also glad I got Robocop, the last copy in the store I got it from. You'll hear no condescending from me about running out buying soon to be out of print discs, because I feel there is no shame in it for the collector and fan who tries to get what he wants while not breaking the bank.
Thanks guys and just to remind everybody, The Silence of the Lambs and Robocop will re-appear from MGM, probably this year, although they won't have the same features as the Criterion editions.
Er, no unless that Region 2 disc says "The Criterion Collection" across the top, eBay bidders and Criterion collectors won't really care.
To Catch a Thief is the only Hitchcock film in Paramount's catalog, and there's no release info at this time.
Is there a delicate way to put it? Wilder will be 95 this June and hasn't directed a film since 1981 (Buddy Buddy). We'd love to get him on DVD, but frankly, we're not expecting any commentaries from this giant of the Golden Age.
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, 27 February 2001
'Apocalypse' again: Don't throw out your Apocalypse Now DVD yet just be ready to own another one by Christmas. In a move of either sheer genius or total lunacy, Francis Ford Coppola announced yesterday that he is creating a new version of his 1979 Vietnam masterpiece that will run three hours, 17 minutes 53 minutes longer than the original to premiere at the Cannes Film Festival this May, and he also is looking for a U.S. distributor to back a new theatrical run in America. And while we're not necessarily jazzed to park our asses in a crummy movie theater for an entire afternoon to see a "director's cut" of a movie we've seen two dozen times before (director's cuts pretty much are for DVDs by default, we say), Coppola claimed yesterday that he hasn't merely integrated some deleted scenes into the current film (scenes that can be found on the out-of-print Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse), but that he has included both new footage and re-worked some of the existing stuff, which means this will be a new take on Apocalypse by the film's director something that has a great deal of appeal to Coppola and George Lucas, two name two cineastes, but often scorned and derided by movie fans (do we even have to go into the whole Star Wars "special edition" debacles?)
So maybe it will be worth it, a whole new Apocalypse more mind-bending than the original. Or maybe it will be slightly re-cut and littered with scenes that should have remained in the Avid suite. Maybe when Willard unloads his service automatic on the Vietnamese woman she'll shoot first to make him seem less "bloodthirsty." We have no idea.
But we do know that there will be a new DVD. You can bet your last tab of acid on it.
On the Street: What? Do we complain about double-dipping? Never. Well, at least we don't complain when we get such great DVDs as Dr. Strangelove: Special Edition and In the Line of Fire: Special Edition, both on the street today from Columbia TriStar and replacing their bare-bones predecessors. Also out today is 1966's Alfie starring Michael Caine and the Terms of Endearment sequel The Evening Star from Paramount (Endearment, originally due today, has been delayed to April 10), while Anchor Bay has a trio of Agatha Christie mysteries up for grabs. But if heady sci-fi/fantasy is what you're all about, keep your eyes open for the 1936 H.G. Wells classic Things to Come from Image, as well as 1988's The Navigator: A Time Travel Adventure from Hen's Tooth. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of Reel.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 26 February 2001
Disc of the Week: Clint Eastwood has earned those lines on his face. The actor/director needs no introduction, first gaining fame on American television and the Spaghetti Westerns of Sergio Leone, and his career is now in its sixth decade. But fans of Clint also know that he hasn't always chosen the best projects for his inimitable screen-presence, and for every Dirty Harry there has been a Bronco Billy; for every Outlaw Josey Wales an Every Which Way You Can. Which is why Eastwood's transformation into one of Hollywood's elder statesmen in the '90s was so surprising and so welcome. Perhaps it started with 1988's Bird, the lauded Charlie Parker biopic directed by Eastwood that seemed to have no connection to anything he had ever done before, including the fact that he directed but did not appear in the film. The 1990 White Hunter, Black Heart was another keynote, this time with Eastwood abandoning his urban-tough persona to portray a John Huston-like director in Africa. Whatever the reason, the "phone-it-in" projects started to disappear from Eastwood's schedule, as he abandoned "Dirty" Harry Callahan with 1988's The Dead Pool, schlock comedy with 1989's Pink Cadillac, and trite cop-buddy movies with 1990's The Rookie (co-starring Charlie Sheen). Everything for Eastwood changed in the '90s, as he focused completely on starring in (and often directing) films about middle-aged men, who may be placed in unusual circumstances, but still have to cope with all of the things that go along with being, well old. Eastwood's revitalization was confirmed with the Oscar-winning Unforgiven in 1992, and since that time his films have been serious projects with both thematic and cinematic ambitions. Not all have been wildly successful with audiences or critics (A Perfect World, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil), but even these have their merits and Sondra Locke is nowhere in sight. And among the best from what eventually could be known as Eastwood's "Mature Period" is 1993's In the Line of Fire, directed by the masterful Wolfgang Petersen.
Eastwood stars in this well-crafted thriller as Secret Service Agent Frank Horrigan, the only active agent who was on John Kennedy's security detail in Dallas on that fateful day in November 1963. Never fully recovering from a broken marriage and living modestly in a Washington D.C. apartment (he doesn't even own a car), Horrigan has spent his recent years undercover busting counterfeiters, which is one of the Service's less-glamorous duties. It is when a mysterious assassin known only as "Booth" (John Malkovich), aware of Horrigan's history, decides to clue the elder agent in on his plans to kill the current president that Horrigan requests re-assignment to protect the commander-in-chief. But the new assignment is one thing solid information is harder to come by, as the meditative Booth only tells Frank (and the Secret Service eavesdroppers) what he wants them to know. Booth also knows how best to get into Horrigan's head, taunting him with the grave of another assassinated president, which sets Horrigan not only at odds with his clandestine antagonist, but much of the Secret Service as well.
In the Line of Fire was the first film to be made in co-operation with the U.S. Secret Service, a low-profile agency that conceals the identity of its many undercover agents and would rather the public didn't get too much of a glimpse of their inner workings. But the producers convinced the Secret Service brass to have technical advisors on the set throughout shooting to ensure that all of the details are as accurate as possible, from the way a security detail operates to how agents use their radios, and even the fact that every president has a unique code-name (in this case, "Traveler"). But the backdrop only bolsters what would be a fine film in other circumstances. Petersen, best-known previously for the epic Das Boot, has since built a reputation for big-budget action/suspense films, and several set-pieces here drive the story forward. But there are also small, personal moments that elevate the film beyond its genre, primarily with Eastwood as the grim-yet-sympathetic central figure. As Horrigan, Eastwood alters his voice into a sandpaper rasp, almost as if his breath will last no longer than his Secret Service career. Joining him is Rene Russo, who is used to good effect despite the fact that she's drop-dead gorgeous, her clothing is that of a genuine female secret service agent (high heels and short skirts are not allowed), and even though she's Horrigan's de facto love interest, the subplot always remains firmly in the background. But at length In the Line of Fire becomes Malkovich's movie his sociopathic, but far from insane, assassin would have been wrecked by a lesser actor, one who would try to find ways to make the villain more "scary." Booth is scary, but in a way that always bubbles under the surface, always one step ahead of his foes and rarely losing his cool, even in the tensest of circumstances. Malkovich may have more talent than any Hollywood action picture would require, but In the Line of Fire still contains one of his best screen appearances.
Columbia TriStar's second DVD release of In the Line of Fire offers a solid anamorphic transfer and audio in Dolby Digital 5.1, and it improves upon the early bare-bones disc with several supplements, including a commentary from director Petersen, five deleted scenes (Horrigan's brief, funny anecdote about guarding Fidel Castro on a U.S. visit should have been in the final cut), and four short documentaries on the Secret Service, their involvement in making the film, anti-counterfeiting techniques, and some trick-shots in the picture that you may have missed. In the Line of Fire: Special Edition is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: No new films have been able to displace the blockbuster Hannibal from the top spot at the box office over the past couple of weeks, and last weekend was particularly dismal for recent arrivals as Warner's 3000 Miles to Graceland, starring Kevin Costner and Kurt Russell, only managed to open in fourth place with a $7.1 million bow. Even worse was Fox's comedy Monekybone, which earned just $2.6 million and didn't crack the top ten ("The research had told us it was coming,'' Fox distribution chief Bruce Snyder told Reuters regarding the Brendan Fraser flop). Both films also were poorly received by critics.
And with debuts like that, it's little wonder that the box-office chart changed little since last week, with the top three films remaining firmly in place, and Hannibal has reached $128.5 million in just 17 days. Fox's Cast Away currently has the highest cume with $221.1 million, but the rest of the Oscar crop is still doing well, with Sony's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon at $81.6 million, USA's Traffic at $86.1 million, and Miramax's Chocolat at $40 million and counting. But off the charts is Buena Vista's O Brother, Where Art Thou, a film that pleased many Coen Brothers fans but never found a popular audience, finishing below $30 million after a ten-week run.
Box-office megastars Julia Roberts and Brad Pitt go up against Hannibal this weekend in the romantic comedy The Mexican. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Dawn Taylor has posted our special sneak-preview of Ben-Hur, which is due to street from Warner on March 13, while Mark Bourne had a look at Columbia TriStar's new Dr. Strangelove: Special Edition. Meanwhile, additional reviews from the team this week include The Watcher, Lost Souls, Wonderland, In the Line of Fire: Special Edition, The Mighty Quinn, and The Right Temptation. It's all under the New Reviews menu here on the left-hand side of the front page, or use the handy search engine just above it to browse through all of the DVD reviews on the site (er, there's a lot).
Back tomorrow with the rundown on this week's street discs.
Thursday, 22 February 2001
Coming Attractions: We're off to spin more discs, and new DVD reviews are on the way including the re-issue of Dr. Strangelove, and even a little something called Ben-Hur. See ya Monday.
Commentary Clip: Lord: "Here we're seeing the whole set (of the 'prison camp' farm). This was a big deal because that whole set, with the landscape behind it, was probably as much as 50 feet square a very large set indeed. And we only set up quite a long time after we started shooting the film.... The big landscape, the whole farm, was built much later, just because it was such a big build and we didn't have enough studio space for it."
Park: "I remember when we first came up with the idea, as soon as we told anybody about the idea 'It's an escape movie with chickens' people always laughed, and you could tell what was in their heads, it was all these things from The Great Escape, Stalag 17 all the really clever things that prisoners do, they became kind of obligatory, along with Ginger in the coal bunker. No apologies really, it was Steve McQueen in the cooler, and the 'Cooler King.' "
Lord: "When we storyboarded and scripted and designed (the title sequence), I remember we edited it all, for our own sake, to the famous theme music from The Great Escape. And that helped us set it to us, and to everyone else. And that became a real tyranny, because we got to love the Great Escape music, and its rhythms, and its pace, and everything it said we were totally stuck with it. And it was then immensely difficult for us, and I think particularly for the composers, to get away from that music, because we had all got so used to it."
Directors Peter Lord and Nick Park,
Quotable: "I think there are guarantees for getting nominations. You have to take the most tragic Hallmark card, adapt it into a screenplay, bawl your eyes out constantly, and do a bunch of clichéd turns and bing, you're in. I don't want to demean anybody. People are out there doing great work, and they get nominated and they win these awards based on the work that they've done and its great for someone to be recognized for their work. But this whole award thing is really weird, really weird. When I did Donnie Brasco, I thought (Al) Pacino was as good or greater than he'd ever been. I was blown away by his performance, his subtleties, and his work in general. And he didn't get an Academy Award nomination. I just couldn't imagine."
Johnny Depp, contemplating the Oscars in the March
"Freed from the burden of actually having to show up to a job every day, (unemployed writers) look to the occasional strike to round out their social calendar, to catch up with old friends on the picket line. And since all writers crave excuses for not writing, what better excuse for being unproductive than a strike? Writing? Not me. I'm honoring my brother and sister scribes! I'm taking part in the labor movement! Lazy? Untalented? Nope. Just committed to social justice. Rarely has sitting on your ass outside the studio gates, carrying a picket sign while eating a ham sandwich, ever seemed so glamorous."
Television scripter Rob Long (Cheers), analyzing
"I have a big life here. When I'm off the hook with the schedules, I have to come home. I can't sustain myself through the course of the year without filling up on home.... The end of her prior relationship had nothing to do with me. Meg is a beautiful and courageous woman. I grieve the loss of her companionship, but I haven't lost her friendship."
Russell Crowe, revealing to the Melbourne Herald
"The goal for this Miramax deal is to create movies that don't suck."
Robert Siegel, editor-in-chief of the online weekly
"A motion picture has a strange chemistry that you can't explain. How do you explain how every once in a while an absolute conclave of idiots will come together and make a film that's just wonderful, while a group of talented people will turn out something that's nothing? Maybe it just depends on the roll of the dice."
Director Stanley Kramer, as quoted in The New York
Wednesday, 21 February 2001
We're here to feel your pain, Mark. Not necessarily agree with you, but we will feel the pain. Let's see, we have a couple different DVD releases of Boogie Nights from New Line, a second edition of Dr. Strangelove from Columbia TriStar, two different versions of The X-Files: Fight the Future from Fox, a whole mess of different Oliver Stone DVDs from Warner and others.... and just to top it off, we paid out some serious money a couple of years ago for a Laserdisc of Fantasia because we thought it was out-of-print forever (it sports a sticker with the words "The Final Release of this Original Masterpiece!"), only to have Disney street a packed Fantasia DVD box-set last year.
We have all of this extra stuff lying around here, it ain't pretty, and we don't think it's going to get any better. But we will accept responsibility for it, because even though the movie studios crank out retreads year after year, we are the idiots who buy everything they're selling. Smokers can sue tobacco companies for millions of dollars, drug-addicts can blame their dealers, and there's probably a few drunks out there who think Budweiser is reason why they can't show up to work on time. But we are willing to stand up and tell the group (and you know who you are): We are The DVD Journal, and we have a DVD problem. A serious problem.
Yes, we want the best the best of everything, as soon as possible. Your editor, for one, happens to be a loyal Macintosh user, and every few years or so blows about $3,000 for a new Mac setup. Not cheap, but that's the price of being a bleeding-edge Mac addict. But where is the logic of blaming Apple Computer for improving their products after the fact? If The DVD Journal buys a couple new G4s that run 450 MHz, and then Apple releases a new G4 that goes 733 MHz, are we owed money? Do they owe us an upgrade price? No, because this train keeps going into the future, and when we buy a ticket, it's just for one stop on the line. We don't own part of Apple, we don't own any proprietary rights to the technology we own a hunk of silicon, plastic and steel held together with a few screws, and maybe also a warranty if things go wrong. And if we don't want to be tied down to the technology, we will start leasing our equipment, like a lot of companies do.
Of course, the same applies to DVDs. Consumers do not have any "personal rights" (by which you clearly mean proprietary rights) to the content of a DVD, any more than somebody who burns crap-looking copies of Star Wars on VCD and then dumps them on eBay has proprietary rights to the films of George Lucas. We all own little circular slabs of plastic with some data encoded on it, along with a case and maybe a booklet. In this instance, you have a copy of 2001. There are many like it, but that one is yours, and just because a lot of us are frustrated because Warner is doing their Kubrick Collection the right way this year, that doesn't mean any of us are owed rebates, refunds, or otherwise. We reviewed the first Stanley Kubrick Collection almost two years ago and ran down point-by-point which DVDs were worth the bucks and which weren't. We also didn't recommend that anybody buy the entire box, because the full collection was not worth the money (the transfer of Barry Lyndon, for example, was so shaky that the previous VHS release looked better). Folks who dropped the $100 and change should have consulted the many DVD sites on the Internet, and those informed consumers who stayed away can now be glad they did, because it looks like this new Kubrick Collection while not ideal will offer several improvements, and new 5.1 mixes come as little surprise. It's those who buy everything without knowing if they will be satisfied that have nobody to blame but themselves.
And if anybody's starting a support group, we'll bring the black coffee. (Perhaps we can join up with the support group for folks who bought $50,000 sport-utility vehicles but think the price of gasoline is totally outrageous.)
The word from Warner HQ is thus:
It's the word "exclusively" that doesn't sound so good to us, because that means it's pretty clear Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures will only be in the expensive DVD set. What's more, unlike the extra disc in Warner's Oliver Stone Collection (the less-than-riveting Oliver Stone's America), it looks like the new Kubrick doc will be a serious piece of filmmaking. And while we'll reserve our judgment on the new Kubrick box until we see it, it should be noted that many members of the DVD Journal staff are fairly content with some of the current Kubrick discs, in particular 2o01 and A Clockwork Orange, while the new Dr. Strangelove only has new features, not a new transfer of the film itself. Therefore there's little cause to buy eight new DVDs, but probably many good reasons to snap up Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures on its own merits.
But while the outlook is dim, we can't say what will happen eventually. The new doc is meant to be the carrot that gets consumers to buy the whole box rather than individual discs one at a time. And for folks who don't have any Kubrick discs, it might not be a bad carrot. But perhaps a down the road, Warner will see fit to sell that ninth disc to the rest of us.
Well Fred, let it be known that we don't hand out five-star ratings like Bill Clinton hands out presidential pardons in other words, there's actually a deliberative process, and more than one person is involved. The most common way that a disc gets the coveted "big five" is that the disc's reviewer (in this case, Ms. DuPont) tells your humble DVD Journal editor that we may have a top-tier item on our hands. Then the editor will spin the disc, and if he agrees, the disc gets five stars. In the case of Criterion's Do the Right Thing, Alexandra (like you) thought it deserved our highest accolade, and your editor upgraded it to five stars yesterday. It's also joined The Editor's Top 25, moving in at #15.
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, 20 February 2001
On the Street: One DVD stands high above the rest this morning Criterion's two-disc Do The Right Thing, which is the best package we've seen so far this year. Columbia TriStar has an interesting pair out as well, with Jackie Chan is The Prisoner and Thirty Two Short Films about Glenn Gould, while new from Universal are the British drama Wonderland and last year's The Watcher with James Spader and Keanu Reeves. Fans of Oliver Stone who couldn't get their hands on Warner's box-set can now get the two-disc The Doors: Special Edition from Artisan. And for those of you who collect silent titles, three from Kino today It, Broken Blossoms, and Sadie Thompson are quality releases that won't disappoint. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of Reel.com and Image Entertainment:
Back tomorrow with more stuff.
Monday, 19 February 2001
Disc of the Week: The thing to know going in about Jackie Chan is The Prisoner is that the title's a bit of a misnomer. Indeed, Jackie Chan is in the film, and yes, he's a prisoner. But a more accurate title for this 1990 outing (known, among other things, as Island of Fire when first released) would be Jackie Chan and Samo Hung along with Tony Leung and also Andy Lau and Jimmy Wang Yu Are The Prisoners. Since Chan is the only one of the lot who actually has a high-profile movie career on these shores, it's little surprise that Columbia TriStar put his name and face on the DVD boxcover, but it's a shame that a lot of folks will spin the disc with the wrong expectations, hoping for another Supercop or First Strike. The Prisoner is worth it for fans of HK cinema, but not as a traditional Chan-flick. Instead, it features some HK all-stars in an ensemble piece, a saga of cops, corruption, and incarceration, complete with several action sequences and a stylish shoot-'em-up finale more reminiscent of John Woo than Bruce Lee.
Andy (Leung) is a Hong Kong cop with a choice mission from the police commissioner get busted, go inside a local prison, and then uncover the corrupt officials who are suspected to run the joint. Not a hard task at first, as a brief bar-fight sends Andy to the clink. But once there he forms an affinity for a few prisoners, including John (Hung), a gregarious felon who has a reputation for escaping (he tries to see his son once a year, and the young lad has no idea his dad's a con). Returning to the general population after an extended stay in solitary is notorious gangster Lucas (Yu), while a pool-shark who accidentally killed a mob lieutenant (Chan) arrives for the first time, which means he has a price on his head and no lack of enemies who would love to plant a shiv between his shoulders. These men along with the mob boss (Lau) who wants Chan dead all have separate agendas, which sometimes fit with each other, but often do not. Still, they share a common enemy, the prison superintendent (Ko Chuen Hsuing), who sees prisoners as expendable human beings, and often will use them for his own purposes.
While not the best that Hong Kong cinema has offered over the past 20 years (and certainly not in league with The Killer, Once Upon a Time in China, or the more popular Chan vehicles), there is a lot to enjoy in The Prisoner, in particular the leading actors, who all come from different backgrounds in the HK film industry. Chan, arguably the most successful Asian film star since Bruce Lee, is given a few choice hand-to-hand sequences, including an extended knife-fight where he shows off his stuff, but fans of the burly Samo Hung currently of the TV series Martial Law, and one of Asia's most beloved celebrities will enjoy the fact that he gets much more screen-time than Chan, with whom he often collaborates (and plays second-fiddle). Tony Leung got his break in Asian television, moving on to dramatic films roles, notably in Wong Kar-Wai's Happy Together and Chunking Express. Andy Lau is famous not only as an actor, but a pop star, and Jimmy Wang Yu built his career in the early days of Kung Fu movies today he is one of Hong Kong's most veteran film actors. It's not unusual for such stars to share the screen in major HK pictures what's unusual is that this sort of genre item has been given a high-profile DVD treatment in North America from a major studio, and as such it's bound to have Jackie Chan fans seeking out more titles from his collaborators here.
But even though The Prisoner has been given better treatment than one should expect, it should be noted that the chief drawback of Columbia TriStar's new DVD is that there is no original Chinese-language track, with an English dub in its place (a French dub is available as well). Nonetheless, the English dub while full of the amusing moments that always make these tracks unintentionally funny is largely better than the type originating from Hong Kong, performed mostly by American actors who read with American inflections (not that they're great actors to begin with, but still...). The source print, which is of good quality, is presented in anamorphic 1.85:1, and the audio has been generously re-mixed to Dolby Digital 5.1, with Dolby 2.0 Surround available in English and French. Also included is a commentary track from martial arts expert/film director Phillip Rhee (of The Best of the Best film series), who has an unbounded enthusiasm for all of the actors here, and Hong Kong cinema as a whole. Jackie Chan is The Prisoner is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: The first film to chew its way past the century mark at North American theaters this year was none other than MGM's Hannibal, and it only need 10 days to do it, grossing $30 million in its second weekend to push its cume to nearly $104 million and it's nowhere near done yet. Suffering at the hands of the Silence of the Lambs sequel are all films that dare to cross Dr. Hannibal Lecter's path, and in particular this week's debuts. Chris Rock had a notable opening with Paramount's Heaven Can Wait remake Down to Earth, which counter-programmed Hannibal to the tune of $17.5 million, while Disney's Recess: School's Out and Warner's Sweet November just cleared $10 million apiece.
Still in continuing release, Fox's Cast Away is now climbing the ranks of the top 30 grossing films of all time (not adjusted for inflation) with a $216.6 million total, but it was outclassed over the weekend by Best Picture nominees Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Traffic, whose weekend totals surged thanks to the Oscar noms. And Chocolat, a surprise Best Picture contender, trailed just behind Cast Away on the chart, gaining plenty of new viewers as well. But in the "tanking badly" category is Saving Silverman, dropping to tenth place in just its second week.
Going up against Hannibal this Friday will be the comedies 3000 Miles to Graceland starring Kevin Costner, Kurt Russell, and Christian Slater, and Monkeybone with Brendan Fraser and Bridget Fonda. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: The lovely Ms. Alexandra DuPont has spun the two-disc Do The Right Thing: The Criterion Collection, while Mark Bourne recently looked at Thirty-Two Short Films about Glenn Gould and Greg Dorr sampled Dr. T and the Women. All three have posted new reviews, while additional write-ups from the staff include the remake of Get Carter, Harvey, Urban Legends: Final Cut, Jackie Chan is The Prisoner, Beautiful, Battle Beyond the Stars, and three silent classics, Broken Blossoms, It, and Sadie Thompson. It's all under the New Reviews menu here on the left-hand-side of the front page, while many, many more DVD write-ups can be located on our Full Reviews and Quick Reviews pages.
We'll be back tomorrow to let you know about this week's street discs.
Thursday, 15 February 2001
Kubrick redux: Those of you who consider yourself major Stanley Kubrick fans can get excited. But if you hate studios that double-dip their DVD releases, you may be a little irked. (We're in both camps, so we're terribly conflicted this morning). After many months of preparation, Warner has confirmed that they will re-release the entire Stanley Kubrick Collection this June 12, nearly two years after the first edition. That's right the whole shebang, new and improved.
Fans who snapped up the first Kubrick DVD box released just after the director's death in 1999, but before Eyes Wide Shut arrived on home video were largely disappointed with the effort, which was slapped together mostly from previous Laserdisc transfers, and some of the titles were released in a cropped full-frame ratio. There also were a scant amount of extras, which meant that the seven-disc box didn't carry as much appeal as other collections released around the same time (such as Fox's Alien series).
According to Warner, the "repackaged" box (SRP $199.92) will feature all-new digital transfers and soundtracks. Two new items will be added to the set as well Eyes Wide Shut, and Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures, a two-hour 20-minute documentary supervised by Kubrick's widow Christiane and narrated by Tom Cruise, which will debut this weekend at the Berlin Film Festival. Getting new Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes will be 2001: A Space Odyssey, Barry Lyndon, A Clockwork Orange, Full Metal Jacket, and The Shining, while Lolita will be a new widescreen version. Meanwhile, Dr. Strangelove will be the new special edition from Columbia TriStar, which is due to street from CTHE on Feb. 27.
As for Eyes Wide Shut, now added to the box, it appears it will be the same DVD already in circulation, with the interview segments, trailer, and TV spots. It will not be the NC-17 cut that's currently available from WHV in Region 2. It also will be the same full-frame transfer, not the 1.85:1 ratio of the theatrical release. And for those of you who were hoping for a commentary from Tom and Nicole, well....
Quotable: "George W. Bush is like a bad comic working the crowd, a moron, if you'll pardon the expression.... Your life is over as soon as you say you want to occupy the Oval Office. We elect an institution, the family of the guy, his entourage. He has to be someone with enormous ego who fancies he'll have an impact on history."
The never-shy Martin Sheen, in an interview
"The writers want power. They don't want to be invited (to the set) they want it mandated. They want to change how movies are made. We're talking about a jihad here. This is an ancient holy war to them. And speaking as an active member of the (Director's Guild of America), I'll do everything necessary to protect directors' creative rights. Everything necessary."
John Carpenter, quoted in Entertainment Weekly
"A lot of people in the Academy, let's face it, they're actors. They know the lay of the land. And there's a part of them that enjoys balancing those bigger movies like Gladiator with smaller movies, like ours."
Willem Dafoe, telling The New York Times why he
"I have patience. Some actors can't bear it, you know? But if you're gonna sign up for this, you're playing a guy who's had his face removed, you know once you sign up there's gonna be makeup involved.''
Gary Oldman, on enduring five hours a day in the
Coming Attractions: We're off to spin another new round of DVDs, so we'll see you Monday with all the latest. In the meantime, if you haven't entered our totally free DVD contest for a copy of the seven-disc Cosmos: Collector's Edition, be sure to visit our contest page if you get the chance, and don't forget to take our monthly DVD poll while you're there.
Enjoy the weekend.
Wednesday, 14 February 2001
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:
As for eBay, when I checked last week there were none up for auction. And only two copies were listed in the past auctions. Compare this to any other Criterion or DVD title. Someone usually is trying to sell/dump every title in existence, but Unbearable is not to be found without some work.
Welcome to the 100-yard dash.
As we noted last month, three Criterion DVDs from the Orion catalog are about to go out of print (The Silence of the Lambs, Robocop, The Unbearable Lightness of Being), as MGM has acquired the rights and at some point down the road will release their own DVD editions. Our reporting on this was fairly straightforward we found that Silence was listed as out of print on Amazon.com, and then Robocop not long thereafter. Criterion then told us that the licenses for the films were scheduled to expire on March 30. We also reported that The Unbearable Lightness of Being was part of the Orion package, and thus also due to expire at the end of March, although we stressed that it was still available on Amazon. Well, the very day that we mentioned Unbearable Lightness was on the way out, Amazon posted their boilerplate OOP notice on the title (we're not taking credit for anything, mind you that's just what happened). In the meantime, auction prices at eBay for Silence and Robocop inched upwards, and sealed copies started to clear the $39.95 SRP it seems some folks just didn't want to play the online-retail game, where orders often are accepted but sometimes don't ship.
And also since we first started discussing the Orion/Criterion DVDs, we've been getting many, many e-mails on a daily basis with such comments as "Hey! Amazon is selling Silence of the Lambs again!" Or "I ordered Robocop from such-and-such and then was told I wouldn't get it." Our two readers today are a representative (and valuable) sample of our mailbag in recent weeks. And all we can say to everybody is that we don't know where these DVDs are available, or how long they will last.
The fact is that Amazon had The Silence of the Lambs listed as OOP for a couple weeks before it was placed on shipping status again. Why? We don't know for sure, but it stands to reason (as many of you have guessed) that Amazon simply obtained more copies. It's no secret that there's no central Amazon.com warehouse somewhere near an airport that holds a finite amount of product. Rather, Amazon (and many online retailers) rely on several different vendors to fulfill orders of books, music, DVDs, etc. If somebody gets their hands on a box of scarce Criterion DVDs (and who knows how it all fits together), then Amazon can say they are shipping the product again. Until it's gone, that is and when that happens folks who ordered late are notified that there's just not enough to go around.
Some folks have asked us if Criterion decided to do a last-minute pressing of their Orion titles before their licenses expire, and while we don't have any idea if that's the case, we don't think it's likely. Silence may be back on Amazon for now (where it has been the top-selling DVD for the past several days), but Robocop is still very scarce (it has returned to Amazon just intermittently, but we don't know of any e-tailer at the moment that has it in stock). Perhaps Silence was re-pressed but not Robocop? If that's the case, then why has The Unbearable Lightness of Being returned to shipping status on Amazon? Wouldn't the more-popular Robocop move to the front of the queue?
With growing consumer demand for the Orion/Criterion DVDs and networks of suppliers feeding retailers day to day (and even hour to hour), this is the free market at its most unpredictable. We encourage anybody who wants to get any (or all) of these DVDs to try an online retailer first and see what happens. But the waters of eBay are much calmer, providing a world-wide snapshot at any given moment of a DVD's true market value. Most stuff can be found on eBay without much bother as well (although getting a good price is another matter). We did a quick check last night and, unlike recent weeks, The Unbearable Lightness of Being is trading notably (if modestly) on eBay, with a high recent close of $49.99, just ten bucks above the SRP. Sealed copies of Robocop are doing a little better, topping out around $55, while Silence has high closes of $60 or so at the most.
Of course, it's early days yet, so these numbers should all increase over the next six months to a year. But even then they'll be a far cry from the $300 and better hammer-prices for Criterion's Salo, and for one simple reason not a lot of people bought Salo when it was in print, but completists must have one to truly have a "complete" Criterion Collection. It's all supply and demand again. As of yesterday there were 102 active auctions on eBay for Criterion's The Silence of the Lambs. Criterion's Salo? Just three are up for grabs. And by that measure, The Unbearable Lightness of Being should increase the most in value over the next several months, as it did not sell as widely as Silence of the Lambs or Robocop. The total Unbearable Lightness of Being auctions yesterday on eBay were just four we're not expecting 100 new auctions to flood in tomorrow.
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, 13 February 2001
Academy Award nods: Here's the rundown this morning from sunny L.A.:
Leading the way was Gladiator with 12 overall nominations, while Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon earned 10.
On the Street: Universal has a pair of delayed discs on the shelves this morning, Bring it On: Collector's Edition and The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, while Fox has a pair of double-feature comedies out now, Revenge of the Nerds / Revenge of the Nerds II and Porky's / Porky's II. Those of you who enjoyed the NBA All-Star game last weekend (including a brief halftime appearance by Michael Jordan) will want to look for the excellent IMAX feature Michael Jordan to the Max, which is just 45 minutes long but still packs an impressive punch (complete with a bullet-time dunking MJ). And Frank Capra fans won't want to overlook the classic 1941 Meet John Doe, starring Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck, and now on the street from Image it should improve on the many budget DVDs out there. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of Reel.com and Image Entertainment:
We're outta here.
Monday, 12 February 2001
Disc of the Week: Of all Hollywood's great directors, one yet to receive full DVD representation while arguably deserving it the most is Billy Wilder. Versions of The Front Page and Double Indemnity exist, but the first is presented in a cropped full frame format with bad color and sound, and the second has no extras and an uneven source print. That leaves the vast catalog of Wilder's 46 films as writer and/or director ready and waiting to be plundered. DVD editions of The Fortune Cookie and Some Like it Hot are now in the works from MGM, but Universal leads the way with the publication of The Lost Weekend, Wilder's award winning 1945 film about alcoholism, which garnered four Oscars, including the statuette for best picture.
The Lost Weekend begins much like Psycho, another movie about a man with secrets. A roving camera drifting high over the city isolates one small window. Inside is Don Birnam (Ray Milland), a heavy-drinking failed writer who is preparing to leave for the countryside, where he will dry out under the supervision of his brother Wick (Phillip Terry, one of Joan Crawford's husbands). Also on hand is Birnam's girlfriend, Helen St. James (Jane Wyman, the first Mrs. Ronald Reagan). But Birnam contrives to ditch his overseers and embarks on the weekend of the title, in which Birnam alternately pontificates and tells his life story to bartender Nat (Howard da Silva) in the neighborhood bar, runs out of both booze and money, and embarks on the famous trek up Manhattan's Third Avenue, lugging his typewriter and searching for a pawn shop, any pawn shop, that might be open on a Saturday that turns out to be Yom Kippur. Falling down a flight of stairs, Birnam ends up in "Hangover Plaza," the alcoholic ward of Bellevue Hospital, where he is lectured by a contemptuous male nurse (Frank Faylen). He escapes, only to engage in a petty robbery, endure a terrible hallucination, and finally lose all hope, leading him to prepare to commit suicide. Remarkably sticking with him through all this is Helen, who believes that Birnam really can salvage his self-respect and his life from out of the bottom of a bottle.
Wilder's fourth film as a director, The Lost Weekend is based on the novel by Charles R. Jackson. Wilder wrote the screenplay with his then partner, the patrician Charles Brackett, who also served as producer. Wilder wanted to make his film as realistic and unsentimental as possible. Birnam is in many ways a typical Wilder hero, a louse and hustler. He isn't a nice or cute drunk; at one point, he pimps himself to a hooker (actress Doris Dowling, with whom Wilder was having an affair at the time) for ten bucks, then ridicules her when he has weaseled the money out of her. Wilder was just coming off of a momentary partnership writing Double Indemnity with mystery novelist Raymond Chandler, who was an alcoholic, so Wilder had some closely observed detail to serve his art. Though Birnam lives in a low-rent part of town, he's an arty guy, with frequent visits to the opera on his agenda. Thus, Wilder and Brackett show alcoholism attacking its victims without care for their social standing or aspirations. Composer Miklos Rosza contrasts his lush musical score with the use of the electronic instrument the theremin, which gives Birnam's cravings a fearful edge. But The Lost Weekend is not a humorless Stanley Kramer-style social-protest document. How could it be with Wilder directing? There is also a great deal of wit and verbal swordplay in the film, the kind of slangy dialogue that captures the American voice at a certain point in time.
The Lost Weekend is a great movie that transcends its, so-to-speak, chamber drama limitations, and one almost feels ungrateful for thinking that Universal has not exploited the potential of their DVD release. The new disc features a clean transfer of the film in full-frame (1.33:1), one that fully captures cinematographer John F. Seitz's documentary-style black-and-white photography and his superb close-ups. Sadly, the source print shows some wear and dirt, and the image also flickers subtly. The Dolby Digital sound is in the original mono, and it's clear. Extras are minimal, especially considering that Wilder is still alive and could (theoretically) do an audio commentary, or that there are several critics who are experts on the director. But those who admire the film (as we do) will appreciate the new DVD, even with its scant theatrical trailer, brief sketch of the film's production history, and cast notes. The Lost Weekend is on the street now.
Box Office: Wash it down with a nice Chianti to nobody's surprise, MGM's Hannibal was the top-grossing film of the weekend, speeding its way to a $58 million three-day haul, more than a few terrible reviews, and a clutch of box-office records as well. If estimates hold up, Hannibal will be the third-highest dollar-value opening weekend in film history, besting last year's Mission: Impossible 2 ($57.9 million) and taking its place behind The Phantom Menace ($64.8 million) and The Lost World ($72 million). Hannibal also was the highest opening ever for an R-rated film (beating out last year's Scary Movie, which had a $41 million bow), the highest non-summer opening, and the best opening ever for MGM. The only other wide debut of the weekend was Sony's Saving Silverman, starring Steve Zahn and Jack Black, but even though it earned third place it had a fraction of Hannibal's audience with $7.4 million.
But Hannibal earned more than the rest of the top ten put together, and films still in continuing release had modest weekends. Nevertheless, Sony's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon brought its total to $60 million (a record cume for a foreign-language film in North America), while The Wedding Planner stands at $38 million in its third week. Paramount's Save the Last Dance is now just starting to fade, but with nearly $75 million it's well past its budget. And Steven Soderbergh's Traffic may not finish with Erin Brockovich numbers, but its already at $71 million, and we're sure tomorrow's Oscar nominations will give it an extra boost.
Down to Earth starring Chris Rock and Sweet November with Keanu Reeves and Charlize Theron will go wide next weekend which means we think Hannibal will continue to chew up the box office, bad reviews or otherwise. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Our own Alexandra DuPont did double-duty over the weekend with a special sneak-preview of Meet the Parents: Collector's Edition and Woman on Top, while Joe Barlow has posted a look at The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle. Additional reviews from the team this week include the double-features Revenge of the Nerds / Revenge of the Nerds 2 and Porky's / Porky's 2, Alain Resnais' La Guerre est Finie, Michael Jordan to the Max, The Lost Weekend, Pete's Dragon: Gold Classic Collection, and Cutaway. Everything's posted under the New Reviews menu here on the front page, while hundreds more DVD write-ups are on our Full Reviews and Quick Reviews indices.
Back tomorrow with the Oscar nominations, as well as a look at this week's street discs.
Thursday, 8 February 2001
On the Block: Our latest round of top DVD auctions at eBay is in, but don't expect to see such scarce Criterion titles as The Silence of the Lambs and Robocop on the chart just yet it's way too early. However, it is Oscar season, which means that a few Academy screeners have earned high bids, including Quills, Requiem for a Dream, and O Brother, Where Art Thou? (sort of silly, the amounts people pay for DVDs that will be available for street prices in just a few more months, but that's eBay). The top traders are still our usual suspects, such as the ultra-rare 1997 THX Theatrical Trailers demo disc, as well as Criterion's Salo and The Killer, and Pier Paolo Pasolini's The Decameron and The Canterbury Tales also continue to draw bids. But climbing sharply in recent weeks is the two-disc Japanese release of David Lynch's Dune as a director's cut, which has cleared $200 for the first time. And if you're looking for something too cool for words, the Region 3 limited-edition release of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, with two porcelain tea trays in a gift box, looks tasty enough to eat.
Here's the highest recent closing prices of rare and out-of-print DVDs from online auctions at eBay:
Commentary Clip: "The line 'He'd kill us if he had the chance,' many people ask me about it. It was, of course, totally the intention to have that line be repeated many times: 'He'd kill us if he had the chance'; 'He'd kill us if he had the chance.' And you were meant to hear it in different inflections or with different emphasis, depending on what you knew about the story. Many people have asked me if in fact there were two different readings. Well, you know the answer. You have the film. You can go and listen. Perhaps we were too cautious about the point. For a long time the reading was more one reading, but it took different inflections from the situation. We may have helped it along a little bit; Walter (Murch, the sound editor) may have done something."
Francis Ford Coppola,
Quotable: "I saw in the last 10 years that I'm getting much more pleasure out of (helping people) than making money and making movies. And it's increasing my desire to do that. It can lead and will lead, probably to some political office. I haven't really said this is the time. But, you know, the bottom line is if (California Gov. Gray) Davis goes on the way he is then eventually there will be a vacuum in a year and I could.... I just leave it open. If he doesn't keep his promises on all those issues energy, environment, schools, health care then you've got to say, OK, there's room for someone else."
Arnold Schwarzenegger, a noted Republican, telling Los
"However much they may have loved each other, the mix began to look wrong. I think their decision to make Eyes Wide Shut together was playing with fire. It was a very bizarre film, about jealousy and sexual obsession and I think it spilled over into their real lives."
An unidentified Hollywood agent, talking to This is
"As I get in the cab, someone says, 'Want to know how to stop the spread of AIDS? Give it to MGM to distribute.' Hollywood people are so cruel."
Screenwriter/director Bruce Wagner in his Sundance
Wednesday, 7 February 2001
Well, $60 or $70 for a DVD set like Cosmos would be a screaming deal Mark, but we think it still offers very good value for the money. To begin with, unlike recent TV productions on DVD, Cosmos required an extensive amount of restoration, as told to us last month by Steve Wyskocil at Still In Motion, the video company that restored and remastered the series for a new home-video release. Unlike box-sets of current TV shows, there were no fresh telecine masters available, so the entire 13 hours had to be painstakingly reconstructed from hundreds of different elements mostly 20-year old videotapes all which had to be evaluated and compiled into the best presentation possible. That represented many months of work work that doesn't have to go into a Sopranos release, and there was an additional audio-mastering process that translated the entire Cosmos series into stunning Dolby Digital 5.1, with Carl Sagan's narration locked on the center channel and the remaining music and spatial effects distributed throughout the soundstage. Compare that to the X-Files boxes, which offer audio in the original, broadcast-friendly Dolby 2.0 Surround rather than discrete 5.1. And little extras have been added throughout the set, including a "science update" subtitle track, as well as a music-and-effects track. Fox's X-Files series has similar little features ("on-the-fly" deleted scenes, for example), but we certainly wouldn't expect Cosmos to be less expensive than either X-Files box currently in release.
In the case of Cosmos, it's not much different than the relatively higher prices of Criterion DVDs, and folks who hope to buy these sorts of specialty items should count on shouldering the cost of a restored, high-quality product. We get letters all the time about such Criterion titles as The Third Man, The 39 Steps, and other special editions, asking if they really are worth $40, or even $32-$35 with online discounts. We say yes. Were it not for Criterion, nobody would get these films out on DVD looking (and sounding) as great as they do, and they'd probably look a lot worse for wear in the hands of budget vendors (or even some of the major studios who still can't manage to clean up some of their catalog titles). If DVD fans claim (as they often do) that there's no room for DVD producers to cut costs when it comes to prepping their products for DVD release, and if they scream bloody murder when an important classic is badly mishandled (which we've done from time to time), then no serious DVD consumer should be expecting steep discounts for the best products especially those that are so hard to deliver on DVD in the first place. We agree that nobody in their right mind need pay more than $12 tops for a bare-bones Burt Reynolds comedy, and even that's pushing it. But Criterion's digitally restored Seven Samurai is a different breed of film altogether, and it's never looked better than on their disc. We'd pay $35 for it all over again if we had to.
But that's just our high-minded take on things the black-and-white numbers show that the seven-disc Cosmos, while pricey, is not that much more expensive than comparable DVD sets. The four-disc The Sopranos: The Complete First Season has an SRP of $99.98, with Amazon.com asking $74.98, or about $18.75 per disc. Both the first and second seasons of The X-Files have list prices of $149.98 each, with Amazon asking $119.98, or $17.14 per disc in the seven-DVD box. You are correct that Cosmos is the most expensive of all, with an SRP of $169.95 for seven discs (the packaging is nearly identical to the X-Files boxes in fact), but Amazon is asking $127.46 for the set, or $18.20 per DVD. That's a competitive price, and cheaper per unit than The Sopranos. If sold individually, nobody would complain about two episodes of Cosmos on a $20 disc, and Amazon sells the entire series for less than that. Additionally, before the DVD release, out-of-print Cosmos VHS tapes with two episodes apiece were going for well more than twenty bucks a pop on eBay. Videotapes. And the hammer-prices for OOP Laserdiscs were unreal, sometimes more than $1,000 for a complete set.
Yet some will inevitably note (as you have) that those X-Files boxes, with four episodes per disc, run more than twice the length of Cosmos for less price. If that's the criteria to go by, so be it. We still say Cosmos was the best thing to happen on DVD last year, and with a price not much higher than an X-Files box, there's little cause to complain.
Zounds! Everybody in New York who manages to swing by J&R and get a copy (if there are any left), please drop us a line and let us know if you're successful.
See ya tomorrow.
Tuesday, 6 February 2001
On the Street: We have another catalog dump today from MGM, and among the rabble is a gem or two, including The Emerald Forest. But Universal has a pair of classics that should be at the top of everyone's shopping list, Harvey and The Lost Weekend. If you couldn't afford Warner's Oliver Stone Collection, the JFK: Special Edition two-disc set is now available separately. And for those of you who keep an eye out for foreign titles, Image's La Guerre Est Finie, directed by Alain Resnais and featuring the film debut of Genevieve Bujold, should be a treat. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of Reel.com and Image Entertainment:
Bye for now.
Monday, 5 February 2001
And the winner is: Steve Iverson of Lawrenceville, Georgia, wins the free The Birds: Collector's Edition DVD from our January contest. Congrats, Steve!
Our totally free DVD contest for the month of February is up and running, and we have a box of the seven-disc Cosmos: Collector's Edition up for grabs (mad, mad props to our friends at Cosmos Studios and CarlSagan.com for this one). 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: "Dr. Hannibal Lecter lay on his cot asleep, his head propped on a pillow against the wall. Alexandre Dumas' Le Grand Dictionnaire de Cuisine was open on his chest. Graham had stared through the bars for about five seconds when Lecter opened his eyes and said, 'That's the same atrocious aftershave you wore in court.' " With these words, Thomas Harris first introduced Hannibal Lecter to the world in his novel Red Dragon, published by Putnam in 1981. Purchased by producer Dino De Laurentiis, the book eventually fell into the hands of Michael Mann, previously known mostly for his work on television shows such as Starsky and Hutch, Vega$, and later the '80s TV staple Miami Vice. His forays into film had produced mixed results the 1981 Thief, a superb, grim little existential thriller, and 1983's The Keep, a mystical war film, impressed only film buffs. The same fate befell 1986's Manhunter, as Mann's stylish film adaptation of Harris's book was retitled (due to the fact that the De Laurentiis-produced The Year of the Dragon had flopped the year before). Harris, a Mississippi-born former AP journalist, had himself published only one previous novel, Black Sunday, which was later adapted into the movie that along with King Kong famously felled the Mann chain of movie theaters. How curious that another Mann was deeply involved in his next book. Red Dragon was Harris's first excursion into the realm of the nascent serial-killer genre that he, as a novelist, was later to almost single-handedly embody, and films made from his first two serial killer novels also justly served as the gold standard by which all others in this indiscriminate genre should be judged. The Oscar winning The Silence of the Lambs, among other things, made a popular anti-hero out of Lecter, played by Anthony Hopkins. That film was such a critical and popular success that a sequel was inevitable, for both novelist and filmmakers. De Laurentiis, who has near-proprietary control over the Lecter character, bought the rights to Hannibal, with the Ridley Scott sequel arriving very soon at a theater near you.
But Brian Cox was the first Hannibal. In Manhunter (and with his name spelled Lecktor), he plays a relatively small if significant role, much like the one Hopkins performed in Silence an anti-Sherlock Holmes, consulted in his sparse jail cell rather than in the cozy Victorian environs of a sitting room. Will Graham (William L. Petersen) is the FBI agent needing him first; he is brought out of retirement by Jack Crawford (Dennis Farina this time around) to help find "The Tooth Fairy," a serial killer who slaughters entire families every full moon. Graham was a victim of Lecktor, and the man who arrested him. In Manhunter, Lecktor is presented much as he is in Silence, and in fact some of the dialogue between Graham and Lecktor is the same as between Clarice Starling and Lecter, and in both instances the imprisoned killer knows more than he is telling (but then, so do the cops). Through a series of clever deductions, as well as Graham's ability to put himself in the mind of others, he tracks down The Tooth Fairy, who is about to murder a blind woman he is attracted to (Joan Allen, in an early role).
Manhunter is a moody, psychologically dense film that, probably because audiences thought the style got in the way of the story, only grossed $8.62 million in the United States. The script, credited to Mann, is a superb distillation of a strong source novel, with Mann only altering Harris's bittersweet ending. It is a perfectly plotted movie, and it's rich in great dialogue (Graham: "I know that I'm not smarter than you." Lecktor: "Then how did you catch me?" "You had disadvantages." "What disadvantages?" "You're insane."). And as is to be expected from the creator of Miami Vice, Manhunter has a terrific pop score, with music ranging from Kitaro to Iron Butterfly (Trivia note: two actors who appear in both Manhunter and The Silence of the Lambs are Frankie Faison, who plays Lt. Fisk in Manhunter and the great Barney in Silence, while Dan Butler plays an FBI fingerprint expert in the former and a flirtatious entomologist in the latter.).
Anchor Bay has done a marvelous job with its new limited-edition DVD release of Manhunter, along with an unlimited version (which is identical to the first disc of this set). It features a beautiful anamorphic transfer of the theatrical version (2.35:1) on Disc One that fully captures cinematographer Dante Spinotti's exquisite experiments in solid colors. Audio is in THX-mastered Dolby Digital 5.1 and Chace Digital Stereo. On the second disc, Anchor Bay has provided the "director's cut" of the film, which is a couple of minutes longer and has a different opening credit sequence (titles over the image), and a few extra scenes, such as one between Will Graham and the first version of Dr. Chilton, and a scene where Graham visits the family that was targeted next by The Tooth Fairy. A blend of the TV broadcasts and other versions, this version of the film has been available, but it's good to have it paired with the theatrical version, even though the transfer is a little on the fuzzy side and the sound isn't great. Back on Disc One, extras include two featurettes: "The Manhunter Look," a 10-minute interview with Dante Spinotti, and "Inside Manhunter," a retrospective "making-of" featurette. Also on board is the effective trailer (in 2.35:1), lengthy and detailed talent files on Mann, Petersen, Cox, and Tom Noonan, and a THX Optimode test. The limited-edition box also comes with a promotional miniature file folder like the one Graham carries around, with photos from the movie and other information. With a print-run of 100,000 numbered copies, Manhunter: Limited Edition is on the street now.
Box Office: It was another successful week for Jennifer Lopez and Matthew McConahey as Sony's The Wedding Planner was at the top of the box-office for the second weekend in a row with a modest $11 million, just holding off Warner's new slasher-horror Valentine, which earned second place with $10.1 million. Meanwhile, Universal's romantic comedy Head over Heels starring Freddie Prinze Jr. and Monica Potter had a weak debut with just $5 million. It was a generally poor three-day period, with the top dozen earning a combined $73.8 million, albeit during a traditionally weak film season. That won't bring down Lopez (or "J.Lo," as her marketing people are insisting she pretentiously be known), who also holds the top spot on the record charts with her titular second album, making her the only person in history to be atop the film and record rankings at the same time. (And yes, we managed to use the term "titular" in regard to Jennifer Lopez mature, aren't we?)
Still in continuing release, Fox's Cast Away has cleared $200 million and certainly will add more to its cume when the Academy Award nominations are announced later this month, while Paramount's Save the Last Dance has earned a creditable $69 million, and USA's Traffic is just shy of $65 million. Sony's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon continues to draw steady audiences as well, with $53.5 million to date remarkable for a foreign-language film in North American release, and it inevitably will best Roberto Benigni's Life is Beautiful, the current record holder with $58 million on these shores. Meanwhile, Miramax's Chocolat had its first wide weekend, expanding to 1173 screens and a $22.6 million total. Off the chart is Paramount's What Women Want, but the $170 million finish has confirmed Mel Gibson's A-list status. Don't expect such rich rewards for New Line's Sugar and Spice the larcenous cheerleader comedy is tanking badly, falling from the top ten in its second week and with barely $10 million to its credit.
We don't think there's any doubt what will be atop the box-office heap next Monday, as Ridley Scott's Hannibal goes wide this Friday, precisely ten years after the theatrical debut of The Silence of the Lambs those of you with the new Manhunter DVD and Criterion's scarce Silence of the Lambs disc are set for a chilling triple-header. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: We have extended looks at two new Criterion titles this morning, as Damon Houx has posted a review of Black Narcissus and Mark Bourne is on the board with Fiend Without a Face. Meanwhile, Dawn Taylor spun the two-disc Glory: Special Edition and Alexandra DuPont has a look at Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser. New staff reviews this week include another Criterion title, Double Suicide, along with Round Midnight, Prelude to a Kiss, Whipped , Truck Turner, Manhunter: Limited Edition, Where the Money Is, and The Second Jungle Book. It's all under the New Reviews menu here on the left-hand side of the front page. Or visit our Full Reviews and Quick Reviews indices for many more reviews, past and present.
We'll be back tomorrow with the rundown on this week's street discs.
Thursday, 1 February 2001
Coming Attractions: Another weekend means another round of new DVDs, and more reviews are on the way from the team, including three new Criterion titles, more jazz DVDs from Warner, and that two-disc edition of Glory. This also will be the last weekend to enter this month's totally free DVD contest for a copy of The Birds: Collector's Edition, so be sure to visit our contest page if you haven't yet. We'll have a new contest up and running on Monday we'll see ya then.
Commentary Clips: "Here we come into a beautifully designed fight scene (in an outdoor market). (A) reason why these films are so popular around the world with action fans is that the action sequences relate to the film, and also have usually several layers of meaning beyond just simply empty movement. One of the big problems in American films even the American films that use martial arts, or the British films for that matter, English-speaking films if you look at the script for an American action film, when you get to the sequence that has the action in it, it says 'ACTION SCENE' and they don't go into descriptions, they wait until they get onto the set, and then they make it up when they're on the set. And as such it can be pretty much just taken bodily out of the film without affecting the film in any way. In Hong Kong films, the action almost is always related to character or plot, and in this case there's another good example these signs (in the market) probably all have meaning, and as he's hitting each one or leaping on each one it probably makes ironic counterpoint to what is going on on-screen. And even if it doesn't, the use of the signs anybody who's ever been in Hong Kong knows that the signs just cover the streets is very clever, and it amuses the audience seeing how the signs are being used. So it makes the scene even more emotionally involving, which is something you almost never see in American action films the action is almost never emotionally involving. So you don't really rock with it, you just sit there and let it wash over you. You don't really move and twist and get involved.
"Interestingly enough (director) Tsui Hark wanted to bring a new level to the action in this film by making it a little more realistic. It's still outlandish, but the sound effects aren't outlandish. This is one of the first movies where they don't have that incredible swishing noise whenever anyone moves this is my impersonation of a kung fu artist waving hello: 'Pfu-pfu-pfu-pfu-pfu' because you hear the little movement of the hands, and also when they hit each other, when they're doing the blocks somebody raises their arm and somebody hits the arm it always sounds like wood hitting wood, or steel hitting wood, or steel hitting steel. Here it sounds a little more like bone and sinew and muscle and flesh hitting flesh, which is very helpful to the reality of the film, because this is actually quite an epic."
Martial arts expert Ric Meyers,
"Here's the most famous scene in the movie, the one that everybody quotes.... And I've often told the story, but when we were shooting this, this was something that Meg (Ryan) said she could do to fake an orgasm, and we'd do it in an incongruous place.... When we went to shoot it, Meg at first was very tentative. She was nervous about doing it, obviously, in front of all the extras and the crew and everything. And I said to her after her first take, I said to her, 'You know, Meg, in order for this to work, you're going have to really work into this. It's only going to be funny if you really go after it full-force.' So we did it a second time, and again she was kind of timid, and I said, 'Look, let me show you what I mean and what has to happen.' And I sat down opposite Billy and started acting out this wild orgasm. Billy said it was like having a date with Sebastian Cabot. And as I was, you know, getting my orgasm, he said it was like, you know, watching Victor Buono eat Thai food, I was sweating so much. And I realized it was so embarrassing for me, because after I finished I realized I had had this orgasm in front of my mother, who was sitting right there. But it ultimately got Meg revved up, and you can see what she does here. She performs it beautifully. And then my mother, of course, has the final line. That line was written by Billy Crystal. And I told my mother, 'If that line doesn't get a laugh, as big a laugh as the rest of the scene, which I think it will, we may have to cut it.' And she said, 'Don't worry, as long as I can spend the day with you, I'm happy.' But when she delivered the line she did it perfectly, and it was the biggest laugh in the entire film, and probably the biggest laugh of any film I've ever done. So at least my mother can never say I never gave her anything."
Quotable: "Let's face it, with the studios rushing to get films finished before the summer strike deadlines, there's likely to be some terrible shit around in cinemas come the fall. It's a perfect opportunity for a couple of decent British films to make a breakthrough."
An unidentified British film producer, speaking to London's
"I was thinking, 'Here I am. I've made some of the most horrific films, and now I'm in the White House. Someone said I should have brought a Scream mask and have someone jump out in it, but that would have been the last time we would have been invited over."
Wes Craven, who (via his Miramax connections) filmed Bill
"I'm a crazy visionary and a guy who's filled with faith. We're going for number one at the box office. We want to be number one.... At the end of the day, it's a good film. We like to view ourselves not as Christian filmmakers but as filmmakers who happen to be Christian."
Producer Paul Lalonde, whose evangelical film Left Behind
And before we go: DVD Journal senior writer (and screening-room slacker) Joe Barlow has just completed his first book, 100 Nights in the Dark: A Collection of Contemporary Film Reviews and Essays (ISBN: 0-595-16391-2), which hit store shelves earlier this week. Here's mad props to Joe we're glad to see he's doing something with himself besides writing for some half-assed DVD site like this one.