Thursday, 29 March 2001
Coming Attractions: We're already putting the finishing touches on some big fat DVD reviews (like Lawrence of Arabia and Cleopatra), so be sure to drop by Monday morning for all the latest. This also will be the last weekend to enter this month's totally free DVD contest for a copy of the Oliver Stone Collection 10-pack, so drop by our contest page if you haven't yet and don't forget to take our monthly DVD poll while you're there. We'll announce the winner Monday (will it be you?) and have a new contest up and running. Have a great weekend.
Quotable Oscar edition: "I have to admit that Academy Awards night is a good show and quite funny in spots, although I'll admire you if you can laugh at all of it. If you can go past those awful idiot faces on the bleachers outside the theater without a sense of the collapse of the human intelligence; if you can stand the hailstorm of flash bulbs popping at the poor patient actors who, like kings and queens, have never the right to look bored; if you can glance out over this gathered assemblage of what is supposed to be the elite of Hollywood and say to yourself without a sinking feeling, 'In these hands lie the destinies of the only original art the modern world has conceived'; if you can laugh, and you probably will, at the cast-off jokes from the comedians on the stage, stuff that wasn't good enough to use on their radio shows; if you can stand the fake sentimentality and the platitudes of the officials and the mincing elocution of the glamour queens (you ought to hear them with four martinis down the hatch); if you can do all these things with grace and pleasure, and not have a wild and forsaken horror at the thought that most of these people actually take this shoddy performance seriously; and if you can then go out into the night to see half the police force of Los Angeles gathered to protect the golden ones from the mob in the free seats but not from that awful moaning sound they give out, like destiny whistling through a hollow shell; if you can do all these things and still feel next morning that the picture business is worth the attention of one single intelligent, artistic mind, then in the picture business you certainly belong."
Mystery writer Raymond Chandler in his 1946 essay
"It may sound mad, or cold, or downright blasphemous to claim that Julia Roberts is not sexy. Any well-briefed attorney could proffer evidence to the contrary.... (But) the essence of Roberts' appeal notably old-fashioned, if you think about it is that she is more lovable than desirable, and that, even when love is off the menu, she cannot not be liked. There is no more flattering illusion in movies, none that we prefer to hear over and over again: here is a goddess, and she wants to be your friend."
Film critic Anthony Lane, predicting an Oscar for
"Steve Martin wanted his initial outing as Oscar's ringmaster to be 'classical.' Maybe next year he'll do some wild and crazy things. But this time, he told me he wanted to do it this way his way. The writers suggested he use several different props, but he nixed 'em. He was even asked to play banjo in a trio with Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman. No! But he did OK."
Daily Variety columnist Army Archerd.
"I appeal to all film critics and feature writers to remember that a film begins with a screenplay."
Screenwriter Ernest Lehman, while accepting a special
"You know, I watch a movie like Cast Away and I want to, like, commit hara-kiri."
Filmmaker Julian Schnabel during a Q&A session in
Battlefield Earth producer Elie Samaha, after his
Kelly Preston, speaking to Barbara Walters (with hubbie
"The (Oscar) producers don't realize that we love to complain about the show, but we don't want it to change. We want long and wacky acceptance speeches! Weird tributes to obscure talents! ('The Foley Artist: Our Ears to the Cinema!') Hymns to Tibet! Honorary Oscars to directors who named names!"
Salon.com arts & entertainment editor Bill Wyman.
Wednesday, 28 March 2001
Mailbag: The time has come once again for the mail dump letters sent from DVD Journal readers around the world to our high-tech HQ, and presented with minimal comments from your humble editor. Let's go:
Actually, May 22, May 29, and June 5 all look packed: Big Trouble in Little China: SE, Shadow of the Vampire, The Bridges of Toko-Ri, The Seven Year Itch, Traffic, Some Like It Hot: SE, L'avventura: Criterion, All the King's Men, Catch-22, Bus Stop, In Harm's Way, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, The Fugitive: SE, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Salvador: SE, Big Deal on Madonna Street: Criterion, Hope and Glory, Requiem for a Dream, Close Encounters: SE, The Sons of Katie Elder, The Madness of King George all of those platters will hit the street in the space of just 15 days. Whew!
Sorry Dan last we heard the lovely Alexandra DuPont was making out in the back of some dingy L.A. bar with your best friend.
We'll second that.
A recent discussion on feature-filled vs. bare-bones DVDs generated quite a bit of reader feedback:
A couple of months ago you were singing a different tune when you said: "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.)"
Personally, I tend to almost exclusively buy releases with special features. Not only am I a huge sucker for commentary tracks, but a feature-packed release is also an indication that the studio has invested care in the release, suggesting that it won't get any better than that. The point of only purchasing feature-filled DVDs is that it's the closest we'll get to a guarantee that the release will indeed be completely definitive. Obviously, the only real power I have over these matters as a consumer is to primarily purchase really good releases of the films I like. If everybody did the same I'm pretty sure we'd see a significant increase in DVD standard. For you see, even though producing a solid transfer and a nice set of special features may be expensive for the studio, they are getting their money back. It may cut slightly into their profits, but I'm all for cutting profits in order to benefit the consumer. I am however willing to bet that in many cases the studios are making more money from their special editions than their bare-bones releases. When I own all the special feature editions of the films I like, then, and only then, will I start purchasing bare-bones releases. I'm hoping that'll never happen.
We want studios to take the necessary time to prepare a special edition when it's obvious that one will be undertaken. But for many catalog titles, particularly in MGM's massive holdings, quality special features may not be readily available, and therefore we're willing to take a disc as long as the source materials are clean and the presentation is historically accurate. We don't see that as a contradiction necessarily, although we admit it's a tad pragmatic and vague. What should be emphasized is that MGM is releasing their back titles faster than any other studio, and that makes us pretty damn giddy.
As for "siding" with the studios against the consumer, we hear this sort of rhetoric from time to time, and we don't accept it. DVD producers are selling us products we want to buy a lot of them. That makes them our business partners, not our enemies. Quality products will continue to arrive every week as long as we, the consumers, let our vendors know what we're willing to buy and more importantly, what we're willing to overlook. And for us, we're willing to buy a lot of what MGM currently is selling.
I don't think everyone agrees with Joseph, except maybe from one specific angle. If documentaries and commentaries exist prior to the creation of the DVD, why wouldn't they be included? Why not release The Frighteners with all of its Laserdisc supplements? Why edit an hour out of the documentary on Jaws? For example, I can't imagine being as satisfied with 12 Monkeys if it didn't include the entertaining documentary The Hamster Factor.
But let's also not forget that these existing materials are sometimes owned by someone other than the studio producing the DVD, so that can prevent them from appearing. Take the exclusion of the documentary from the second release of Boogie Nights as an example would have been a great addition, but they couldn't work it out.
But the problems with creating new material for everything involve more than just than the gigantic additional costs. Let's be honest most commentaries are very mediocre. There are several that are very entertaining, like Kevin Smith's, Steven Soderbergh's, and the truly wacky interplay between Paul Verhoeven and Ed Neumeier on the Starship Troopers DVD but most aren't worth listening to more than once, if that much.
So we should really demand quality instead of quantity for supplements. Will I replace my copy of The Frighteners with a Collector's Edition should it one day appear? Yeah, I probably would. Universal put out three movies I would love to own, and released them as Collector's Editions. But I don't own the fully-loaded (and loaded with some great stuff!) discs of Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, Tremors, and Field of Dreams. I just don't want to lay out my money for movies that deserve and perhaps will one day get much better transfers and sound mixes. If those movies are re-released looking and sounding like Universal's 12 Monkeys or the spectacular Apollo 13 discs, then I'll buy them. That's because it's the movie that I'm going to watch over and over again. I'm not knocking people who value the supplements over the movie, but for me, it's always going to come back to the quality and care taken in presenting the feature presentation on DVD.
From my point of view, many of the extras coming out right now are a waste of time. My compulsive personality compels me to go through most of them but I must say I rarely enjoy it. I have discs with up to four different commentary tracks. By the time you've seen a movie five times, well, you're getting sick of it. One of the extras on the first "The Prisoner" DVD shows a file cabinet being opened and shut repeatedly. Well, that's a pretty lousy extra, but it just shows how much pressure there is to a pack a disc.
As a collector of classic jazz, I've faced a similar problem with alternate takes. Many CDs will include up to six repeats of the same song, and usually the differences are minimal, but you've got to listen to them all to make sure. I'll admit, it's an indication that thought and care went into the product, and the compulsive collector in me does like "having it all." At least I know I won't be tempted to buy the next reissue with "new previously unreleased tracks."
A really well done extra feature is exhilarating. I by no means want to discourage them where they make sense. For example, watching the extras on Criterion's Brazil is like going to film school. I finally understand why most Hollywood movies are so bad. The very things I value in film are the exact things the studios generally strip out, or prevent from being made in the first place, to give their product the broadest possible appeal. Its very expensive to make a movie, and I understand that from the business perspective one wants the greatest possible return on investment.
In the end, as you point out, there's a balance to be struck. Right now, unfortunately, many excellent films are languishing in the vaults. I can only hope that this isn't because most of the time and energy is going into producing extra features of dubious value for more commercial films.
And you pointed out that commentaries and "making of" features are indeed expensive and time consuming. No doubt they are, which makes me wonder: DVD is quickly becoming known as the "movie lovers" format, due to its excellent presentation, sound, and extras. Doesn't it make more sense to put the money into a well-loved catalog title rather than a piece of garbage straight out of the theaters? I mean, honestly, does anyone really believe that a commentary track, making of features, and special effects tests are going to help recoup the losses on Battlefield Earth? Save the money and put it towards a title that will make devotees salivate, and I guarantee we'll all be happier in the end.
We indicated recently that we suspected Mr. Wilder, who is 95, may never record a commentary, but several readers spanked us on the topic, insisting that he may be elderly, but he's still sharp as a tack. If we were wrong, we'll gladly be so.
DVDs are both a great pleasure and an invaluable learning tool for students of film. It's a joy to hear filmmakers discussing their work, to see behind-the-scenes footage and gain insight into the creative process. In the end, though, it is the film itself that enlightens and informs and is really the only thing I'm "owed" for my money. I love hearing commentaries by great artists, but I don't hold it against Woody Allen one bit because he won't include anything other than his work on a disc. He's an artist whose work I thoroughly enjoy and it's his choice to let his work stand on its own. Would I love to see outtakes from Bananas? Hell, yes. Do I own the film and will I repeatedly watch it anyway? Hell, yes, and I'm tickled to do so.
Now, my take on things may be partially a function of my own time frame. I was a movie fanatic before VCRs made their debut in the marketplace, so my initial exposure to films was television and subsequently theaters. Finding a favorite old movie playing in an obscure theater was a great thrill, and the search became akin to a treasure hunt. There were no video stores yet and we simply did not have the option of picking up a sought after movie and bringing it home that night to watch. One of my favorite memories from college is when a group of us discovered that The Godfather was playing in a theater way out on the tip of Long Island about three hours by car. The next show started in a little over two hours and we made the instant decision to attempt to see it, with the understanding that we would not watch the movie if we missed the opening scene. I drove, and an agreement was reached that we would split any speeding tickets incurred. We reached our seats in the middle of Bonasera's opening monologue (and my driving record remained miraculously clean). The experience was sweeter than words can adequately convey, and there wasn't a "making-of" documentary anywhere in sight that night.
Understand, I'm not advocating a return to the "good old days", nor lamenting how "you kids just don't understand how I had to climb 10 flights of stairs in the freezing cold for the privilege of watching scratchy prints of silent two-reelers." Far from it; believe me, no one enjoys this boom better than I do. The only real material dream my best friend and I ever indulged in was the thought of one day owning a film library. And that is exactly what has now come to pass, though in a way that we were never visionary enough to foresee.
What I am saying is that it's good to regain some lost perspective. In the end, given limited disposable income I welcome the dissemination of the studios' catalogue films in inexpensive, bare-bones editions. The affordability of these titles enables me to include far more in my collection. Any extras I get are icing on the cake. I've said this elsewhere and it's worth repeating here: I would never trade my Criterion film-only edition of Diabolique for the feature-laden edition of the modern abomination of The Haunting. I would, of course, have welcomed with open arms any extras relating to Clouzot's classic, but I'm so utterly thrilled to have the film in my home and available for viewing at my leisure that I find it simply impossible to complain about. In the end, though it might not be as exhilarating without the high-speed antics on the Southern State Parkway, the treasure is there at my disposal.
And it's worth remembering what a privilege that is.
Thanks Philip your letter says more than we could ever say on this topic.
Once we started talking about U.S. vs. Canadian DVD releases earlier this month, informative letters from informed readers followed for several days:
The disc also has both English and French languages in 2.0 Dolby stereo, as well as a widescreen transfer (1.85:1). This disc streeted on Feb. 13, 2001. MGM, under their "Avant-Garde Cinema" logo, is streeting The Adjuster in the USA on April 10, 2001, but this version features only a trailer as supplementary material. I have also noticed the two releases have different box cover art.
Quick point of clarification Brian unlike in some other countries, there are no government censors here in the U.S., just the studio-funded MPAA and the studios' own guidelines. Two seconds of Trainspotting were cut to earn an R-rating (according to IMDb.com), and there was some overdubbing during the first 20 minutes. In any event, these decisions were taken by Disney/Miramax who could have released the film unaltered and not a body of censors.
A good question and probably worth a few more reader responses at least.
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 March 2001
On the Street: Think DVD is just for boys? Not today Columbia TriStar has a pair of discs loaded with girl power on the street, the ass-kickin' Charlie's Angels and indie drama Girlfight. Meanwhile, Fox has a trio of sci-fi flicks from the vaults out today Enemy Mine, Alien Nation, and Zardoz although we're not sure if we want to call these "classics." Sci-fi is also on the street from Warner, who have released Red Planet, while parents will want to hunt down Paramount's The Rugrats in Paris for the kids. And anybody who's a fan of Brit-coms (like us) will want to find the first two seasons of Jeeves and Wooster, now digital from A&E. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of Reel.com and Image Entertainment:
Back tomorrow with all that reader mail.
Monday, 26 March 2001
It was a balanced ceremony, with the awards spread among several films Gladiator led the way with five, while Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Traffic garnered four apiece. The Best Picture award for Gladiator was expected, being the sort of big-budget epic that Academy voters favor, and Julia Roberts' win as Best Actress was the surest bet of the entire evening. However, Russell Crowe's victory as Best Actor for Gladiator seemed to take him by surprise (beating out Tom Hanks' demanding performance in Cast Away surprised us), but it can be seen as an acknowledgment by the Academy that he was previously overlooked for excellent turns in L. A. Confidential and The Insider. And finally, nobody was more pleased than your own DVD Journal news team when Stephen Soderbergh won Best Director for Traffic oddsmakers had the filmmaker out of the running, being nominated for two films in one year (Traffic, Erin Brockovich), but Soderbergh arguably is the best American filmmaker working today, and the statuette was more than warranted.
Kudos to Steve Martin for his dry wit, which kept the proceedings fresh (best Martin line: "Be sure to stay until the end of the program because we're going to vote somebody out of show business.") As for Bob Dylan's performance of "Things Have Changed," was it us or was he channeling the spirit of Vincent Price? The only thing missing was a flashlight stuck under his chin. Spooky.
Disc of the Week: Making a film about sports can be a tricky proposition. Too many sports movies rely on the overwrought "against all odds" approach to filmmaking evident in films like the Rocky series, or a movie as recent as The Replacements. Most sports films also tend to skim over the issues of mental fortitude and emotional character neccesitites of the skilled athlete favoring instead a dominant physicality and an upbeat "win one for the Gipper" attitude that builds to the inevitable big-game ending. The more subtle approach to the genre, however one that uses sports as a metaphor to create a backdrop for human drama places greater emphasis on the complexities and interior make-up of the individual viewed within a sports environment. Inspired by films like John Huston's Fat City and Robert Wise's The Set-Up, writer/director Karyn Kusama wanted to explore the nature of human emotions and their subtext in her sports film Girlfight, one of the best-kept secrets of 2000 and a film festival favorite. Kusama's goal was to make a coming-of-age film using the environment of boxing from a real-life perspective, taking pains, as she states, "to avoid creating a narrative in which there was a clear-cut ending or any triumph that was larger than life." To give the film a fresh approach, Kusama uses a gender-reversal slant on the traditionally male sports-film genre by creating a female protagonist who strives to compete in the very masculine world of inner-city boxing.
Girlfight stars newcomer Michelle Rodriguez as Diana Guzman, a Brooklyn high school girl with an attitude, a hot temper, and flashes of violent behavior. Diana lives with her abusive father Sandro (Paul Calderon) and her soft-spoken brother Tiny (Ray Santiago) in a traditional macho Latino household. The tension in their claustrophobic projects' apartment is palpable, with a lack of the feminine influence that disappeared with Diana's mother's death. Sandro pays for Tiny to take boxing lessons at the local gym, expecting his son to display the masculine traits Sandro so highly values. From Diana, Sandro expects little beyond obedience and obsequiousness. That these children are a disappointment to their father is obvious in their own version of role reversal, Tiny is a gentle, passive, art-loving boy while Diana seethes with resentment and pent-up aggression. Diana also is a budding modern young woman, completely beyond the understanding of her narrow-minded father, who quips "Would it kill you to wear a skirt once in a while?" But when Diana visits the gym where her brother trains, something inside her shifts here is a world where physical aggression is encouraged and can be controlled. She persuades Tiny's trainer Hector (Jaime Tirelli) to train her as well, and before long she transforms herself into a powerful, self-confident boxer. The gym becomes her home and Hector a surrogate father, someone who gives her the support and encouragement Sandro is unable to offer. A fellow boxer, Adrian (Santiago Douglas), becomes her boyfriend, and the two offer each other solace from the stark reality of their poverty-stricken surroundings. When Diana and Adrian face their final opponents for an amateur competition, they must put their inner resolve as well as their relationship to the test.
The plot outline of Girlfight could make a potential viewer think it is no different than other "underdog makes good" sports films. But Girlfight is a knockout on several levels, starting with a remarkable performance by Rodriguez, whose powerful screen presence is breathtaking. Rodriguez gives Diana a silent and tangible depth making her someone from whom a direct look or a sideways glance speaks more forcefully than pages of dialogue. In fact, much of the film was pared down from the script when it became evident that Rodriquez could say so much in very little screen time. The simplicity and completely natural cadence and tone of the film's sparse dialogue also adds to the movie's believability, as well as the authentic sets and locations that lend the film a documentary feel. The fight scenes are gritty and beautiful as well as realistic. Most notably, the superb camera work by cinematographer Patrick Cady, with its rich color saturation and exquisite attention to detail, makes the film a visual feast. Girlfight is beautifully rendered, satisfying cinema that never takes the easy way out. Anger, love, yearning, desire Kusama articulately and self-confidently presents these emotions with respect for both her characters and her audience. She also permeates her film with genuine emotional muscle, elevating it beyond sports-film clichés. It's not very often that films this small are this outstanding.
Columbia TriStar's new DVD release of Girlfight offers an anamorphic widescreen transfer (1.85:1) with crystal-clear images of the film's intense color schemes and rich atmospheric detail both essential to the remarkable quality of the film while the digitally mastered Dolby Digital 5.1 audio conveys Theodore Shapiro's very precise and moving soundtrack. In her intelligent and informative audio commentary, Kusama recounts the challenges of the indie filmmaking process, the constant need to clarify and simplify scenes and images, and the pain of letting go while keeping true to her vision of "finding a new way of looking at women in film." Fans will also want to spin the included "making-of" featurette. Girlfight is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: Steven Seagal and DMX were atop the box-office heap just a week ago, but this week they've been booted and by a couple of girls, no less. MGM's Heartbreakers, starring Jennifer Love Hewitt and Sigourney Weaver as a conniving pair of mother-and-daughter swindlers, opened in first place at North American theaters over the weekend, earning $12.3 million and mixed reviews. But arriving more impressively, and on just half as many screens as Heartbreakers, was Sony's The Brothers, which snagged second place with $10.7 million, more mixed reviews, but a quartet of leading men (Bill Bellamy, Morris Chestnut, D.L. Hughley, Shemar Moore) that attracted women filmgoers. Also going wide was the Farrelly Brothers' Say It Isn't So, starring Heather Graham and Chris Klein, which stumbled out of the gate with just $3.1 million the critics were overwhelmingly negative as well.
The Oscar contenders were still drawing crowds in anticipation of last night's awards USA's Traffic stands at $107.6 million, Sony's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon has $106.2 million, and Miramax's Chocolat now has $60.6 million. Paramount's Enemy at the Gates showed a respectable second week, and now is at $26.2 million, while DreamWorks' The Mexican has scored $57.7 million after its first month. And get ready for Hannibal, because it's off the charts and we're expecting a special-edition DVD that roughly $160 million finish ain't fava beans, after all.
There's something new for everybody this Friday, as the espionage flick The Tailor of Panama (starring Pierce Brosnan, Geoffrey Rush, and Jamie Lee Curtis) the romantic comedy Someone Like You (Hugh Jackman shirtless! Ashley Judd in her skivvies!), and Robert Rodriguez's Spy Kids all go wide. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Greg Dorr has posted a new review of Lars Von Trier's Dancer in the Dark, out now from New Line, while Alexandra DuPont spun Alien Nation and Betsy Bozdech looked at The Ice Storm. Meanwhile, new staff reviews include Charlie's Angels, Red Planet, Enemy Mine, The Bishop's Wife, Grand Canyon, The Tao of Steve, Girlfight, Criterion's Mona Lisa and Coup de Torchon, and yes! the legendary Zardoz. It's all under the New Reviews menu here on the front page, along with everything else we've seen in the past month. Or use the Search Engine (right above it) to dig through our entire DVD reviews database.
Back tomorrow with the street discs.
Thursday, 22 March 2001
On the Block: It's time once again for the weird and the wacky the top-trading DVDs on eBay, rare and out-of-print stuff that some folks with deep pockets will pay a lot of money for, and regaining the top spot this time around is the time-tested Salo: The Criterion Collection, which crossed the board for $350.00 after one bid (a "buy it now" auction where the first bidder matched the asking price, closing the sale immediately). The previous top-trader, the ultra-rare 1997 THX Theatrical Trailers demo DVD, dropped to third place with a high close of $221.49, while another popular demo, 1999's THX Surround EX disc, cleared $114.01 for one lucky bidder (or make that lucky seller if you like). Rare Criterion titles continue to strong business, including The Killer, This Is Spinal Tap, and The 400 Blows, while the first edition of Criterion's Seven Samurai surged, earning $152.50 the highest hammer-price we've seen for it in recent memory. Surprisingly there were not as many Academy screeners among the top traders as we expected (then again, they'll all be on DVD in three months), but Universal's "For Your Consideration" screener of Billy Elliot fetched $177.50. And a few folks have asked us to be sure not to describe the Region 2 Japanese release of David Lynch's Dune as a "director's cut," since Lynch had no participation in this longer version. We have no control over how eBay sellers describe their items, but for now on we'll call it an "extended version" this time around the hammer-price went as high as $127.50.
Here's the highest recent closing prices of rare and out-of-print DVDs from online auctions at eBay:
Quotable: "The climactic scene in Hannibal is a dream don't listen to all those prissy critics who dissed it.... There are many memorable effects in Ridley Scott's Hannibal; the miasmal mist over Verger's Muskrat Farm, the grain of wood inside Lecter's grandfather clock set against the ribbed pattern of the metal pendulum, the velvety sky enriching the lustrous blues of cop-car cherries crossing a bridge in funereal procession, the final image of the film, an iris shot of Lecter's red eye. But out of all the virtuoso moments, it's that dinner scene that sticks with you. Why? It's the one that plays for keeps."
Film critic Tim Appelo, writing in The Nation.
" 'Republican' comes in the dictionary just after 'reptile' and just above 'repugnant'.... I looked up 'Democrat'. It's of the people, by the people, for the people."
Recent political observations from Julia Roberts, who also
"In general, a rule to apply to the Academy's acting awards is that the members like to see the acting. Subtle doesn't win. Hers (in Erin Brockovich) is a big brassy performance, a hugely attractive performance."
Time magazine film critic Richard Shickel, explaining
"A more interesting aspect of what I do is when I get turned down, which is like 90 percent of the time. I don't care about what I don't get. I care about what I get. And sometimes when I get turned down for a part, I go, 'God bless. I don't have to deal with it.' Because my process means a lot of excavating. It's work."
Oscar contender Benicio del Toro, in the April issue of
" 'I am inspired by dangerous art,' (Tim) Robbins wrote in his introduction to the published screenplay for Cradle Will Rock. He probably sees his conspiracy-mongering as a politically combustible probing of the hidden depths of our political headlines and history. But doesn't conspiracy-mindedness, as a style of political thought, represent very nearly the opposite? What are political conspiracy theories, after all, if not rationalizations for defeat and failure? When a self-evidently just cause ends in defeat, how can such failure be explained, except in terms of secret plots? Conspiracy-mongering is a style that belongs to the politically marginalized and impotent, not the politically dangerous."
Daniel Wattenberg, contemplating the inconsistencies
"I believe there are so many tales to be told from our side, around our region, up in China and locations that we know better and stories that we can tell better. I would not think that I would pack up my bags and go over (to America)."
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon star Michelle Yeoh,
Coming Attractions: A fresh group of DVD reviews are on the way from the team, including some new Criterion titles and much, much more. See ya Monday.
Wednesday, 21 March 2001
Thanks for letting me vent. I know everyone must have the same bitch as me but it felt good to get it off my chest.
Well, maybe everyone doesn't agree with you Joseph, but a lot of DVD fans so, and probably the majority of them. Back in the early days (and it's odd to think of DVD as having an "early days"), the extra features were just about the most impressive thing on DVD, the sort of thing to queue up for friends (after showing off the crisp video and 5.1 audio) to emphatically prove just how cool DVD is, how much more it offers over videotapes. Laserdisc collectors who were becoming DVD converts already knew about the "value-add" proposition of the shiny little discs, but consumers who used to buy overpriced widescreen movies on VHS were the easiest to impress. The picture, the gorgeous surround sound, the commentary track there was no going back.
The problem, as we see it, is that four years later we all have some conditioned expectations regarding new DVD releases, which are based on the three improvements of video, audio, and supplements. These were the three items that caused us (and just about everybody else) to start investing in the format, and it's easy to get a bit knee-jerk about the whole thing. After all, DVD fans demand clean widescreen (preferably anamorphic) transfers of films in their original aspect ratios, as well as audio in the original format or sensibly, accurately rendered in a Dolby Digital variant. And that's not such a hard thing to do on the studios' side of things when they have source materials that are ready to transfer to a new DVD, skilled DVD authors ensure that we get awesome transfers on most all new releases. In fact, the technical qualities of new DVDs nowadays are far better than they were three or four years ago, and significant MPEG-2 errors seem to be a thing of the past with the major vendors.
But if it's reasonable for us to expect that every DVD should come with an artifact-free widescreen (usually anamorphic) transfer and perfectly rendered audio, is it then reasonable for us to expect that every DVD come with a commentary, a new documentary made explicitly for the disc, and various other goodies? Is it reasonable to ask that everything in a keep-case be a full-fledged special edition?
Actually, no. That's mildly insane.
These features, while welcome additions to any DVD, simply are far more costly and time-consuming than a quality bare-bones release in fact, any studio's production budget for a proper special edition will be exponentially higher than a movie-only disc. Many more people have to be hired (starting with a producer), who need to assemble extra materials, contact the film's principals to see if they are willing (or available) to participate in creating the supplements, and then coordinate the whole thing into a final package. That final package will require much more authoring and testing than a bare-bones disc, and in order to capitalize on the investment the marketing department has to develop a promotional campaign, which is just one more outlay of time and money. For the sake of argument, figure "Acme Studios" releases an average of 15 DVDs per month, three of which are special editions of some sort. Acme has substantial film holdings, much of it dating from the 1930s onwards, and also produces new theatrical films every year. The easiest films to release as special-edition discs will be the most recent, as most people associated with the project will still be living, and some might be contractually obligated to participate on the DVD as part of the overall movie contract. Easy enough, right?
Unfortunately, that's the tip of the iceberg the vast majority of Acme Studios' holdings are catalog titles, where it can be more difficult to get folks to record commentaries (fer Chrissakes, Charlton Heston only did his for Ben-Hur because Warner paid him to do it), and other extra materials, such as deleted scenes, can be hard to come by. Commentaries by themselves are much more than one or two people watching a video monitor and talking for a couple of hours. They can be time-consuming, requiring several "takes" (yes, it isn't always totally spontaneous), and they are edited together into a relatively seamless narrative talk is not always cheap. A professional video editor who must dig through hours and hours of material for a new documentary doesn't create a minor masterpiece in a day either (just ask our pal DVD Savant over at DVD Talk, who's one of the best in the business). So should any studio who wants to make some money off their holdings decide to sit on the whole thing? Would we rather that Universal held back their Day of the Jackal disc until they could get Frederick Forsythe out of retirement to record a track (and good luck there)? No way. It's a film your humble editor watches at least once a year, and DVD is the only way to go. That 1998 release is still a damn good disc.
Which brings up a distressing point any new DVD release that isn't as packed to the rafters as Fight Club will be deemed by many DVD fans as a total, abject failure. MGM has come under the most scrutiny for this recently as they will street hundreds of new discs this year, with massive waves of catalog titles arriving every other week. We admit that we were a little nervous when we first heard of MGM's 2001 marketing plan, as were a lot of other industry watchers. But our concern wasn't about bare-bones discs per se, but rather collateral issues attached to so many new DVDs: 1) Will the quality suffer? And 2) Will MGM develop fewer special editions, or even stop releasing them altogether? If we painted MGM in a bad light late last year (and we might have), we officially apologize, because we've grown to love their discs these past few months. Yes, those bare-bones discs.
Bear with us. There are two sides to the irrational demands of DVD consumers, and they are oft-repeated: We want big fat bloated DVDs with every last thing on them so that when we're done we feel like we just ate an entire chocolate cake and couldn't eat another bite, and we want everything now. Unfortunately, those two things will happen the same time we somehow figure out how to provide California with unlimited, environmentally clean power. Either you can have the quality, or you can have the quantity, but you can't get both. And while we enjoy a fat SE as much as the next digital die-hard, there actually is a part of us that's about five years old and wants everything now. Enter MGM, who it seems could single-handedly keep us busy all year. In recent weeks we've seen Birdman of Alcatraz, 12 Angry Men, The Bishop's Wife, Elmer Gantry, The Abominable Dr. Phibes, and The Fortune Cookie, and the MGM lineup in the next few months will be a knockout for film fans The Magnificent Seven, Some Like It Hot, The Apartment, The Misfits, The Fall of the House of Usher, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, King of Hearts, The Pit and the Pendulum, Fellini Satyricon, Fellini's Roma, The Barefoot Contessa, Kiss Me Deadly, and another round of Woody Allen films. Some of these will arrive as special editions (we're especially looking forward to Some Like It Hot) but we'll take the rest as they are all we ask are the cleanest possible source-prints and historically accurate, technically solid transfers.
Somehow we have gotten away from movie collecting here in DVD land browse any DVD-based message-board on the Internet and it's not hard to realize that this has become supplement collecting, as if the film itself is of no more value than the boxcover art and the real attraction is a commentary track, or a documentary, or a gallery of storyboards. Those are all well and good, but nobody here will sniff at MGM's bare-bones The Apartment when it arrives, as it's one of Billy Wilder's best films and something worth seeing again and again. If we get a special edition of The Apartment in November, believe us, we'll bitch we believe that all studios should agree that putting a new DVD on the market is an implied contract that a newer version will not arrive for at least two or three years. If we get an Apartment: Special Edition in 2004, we'll consider buying it again, but only if it's worth it. But when it comes to MGM's film holdings, we are talking about 4,000 films it's the largest proprietary collection in the world, and it appears that the powers-that-be at MGM would like to see every last reel on disc. At their current, mostly bare-bones rate, it would take 100 years. If they released everything as a special edition with a commentary and a new documentary, it could be more like a thousand.
And at any rate, there won't be a lot of room for double-dipping.
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 March 2001
On the Street: The last couple of weeks have seen some heavy street Tuesdays, so we're a bit relieved this one is so, well... ordinary. Actually, it's a bit thin, but sci-fi fans can snag Artisan's two-disc Dune miniseries, while Buena Vista has new releases of Remember the Titans, The Crow: Special Edition, two Toy Story discs (movie-only this time), and two more additions to the "Gold Classic Collection," Bedknobs and Broomsticks and The Sword and the Stone. New Line's Dancer in the Dark will be snapped up right away by fans of Lars von Trier and/or Björk; however, some of us are more inclined to spin Support Your Local Sheriff and Support Your Local Gunfighter, out now from MGM. And while DVD fans everywhere patiently await the arrival of Lawrence of Arabia (due on April 3), Columbia TriStar whets the appetite with David Lean's A Passage to India. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of Reel.com and Image Entertainment:
Back tomorrow with more stuff.
Monday, 19 March 2001
Disc of the Week: It took a series of events to transform Cambodia in the space of a few years from a sleepy French colony in southeast Asia to a land of wholesale genocide, but none of it would have happened without Soloth Sar. A Cambodian graduate student who studied in Paris in the 1950s and came under the spell of Marxist-Leninism, Soloth failed to get his Ph.D., but it didn't matter. He returned to his homeland with a few like-minded comrades, and then fled into the jungle in 1963. Changing his name to Pol Pot, the communist revolutionary might have been little more than a footnote in Cambodian history that is, were there not American troops waging a brutal, largely unsuccessful "police action" in neighboring Vietnam. It was inevitable that the Vietnam conflict would spill over into Cambodia, as the Vietcong rebels used camps just over the border as safe havens. That led to the secret bombing of Cambodia by the U.S. military, starting in 1969. It also led to the displacement of Cambodia's head of state, Prince Sihanouk, with American sympathizer Lon Nol. And after innumerable civilian casualties in Cambodia (including the bombing of Neak Luong and the death of 137 residents), many Cambodians looked to Pol Pot's growing "Khmer Rouge" movement for salvation. But they were unaware of where the Khmer Rouge would lead them, or their country.
Roland Joffé's 1984 The Killing Fields is a remarkable cinematic account of the Khmer Rouge and their Cambodian revolution of 1975, and it's one of the most harrowing films ever made about the horrors of war. But it's not an abstract account of events, a history lesson to be absorbed by the viewer for moral edification. Rather, The Killing Fields is the story of two men from two different cultures and the friendship that binds them. Based on New York Times reporter Sydney Schanberg's account "The Death and Life of Dith Pran," the story picks up with the inadvertent bombing of Neak Luong in 1973 and the American military's attempt to cover it up. Denied information or access by the military, Schanberg (played by Sam Waterston) and his Cambodian interpreter/guide Pran (Dr. Haing S. Ngor) secretly make their way to the bombsite, where the casualties are made plain. It is two years later that American troops complete their withdrawal from Vietnam, but the Cambodian government has been weakened by internal corruption and wavering support from the Americans, leading to the capture of the nation's capital, Phnom Penh, by the Khmer Rouge. What follows is one of the most stunning, unreal, insane events of the 20th century guided by Pol Pot's mission to create a pure agrarian communist state, Phnom Penh and all other cites are completely evacuated and every Cambodian is sent into labor camps, where they grow rice and are indoctrinated with communist theory. Anybody suspected to be a traitor is executed (and it is estimated that three million of Cambodia's seven million citizens were murdered between 1975 and 1979 nearly half). Schanberg and Pran initially take refuge in the French embassy, but when an attempt to create a fake passport for Pran fails, he is taken by the Khmer Rouge and forced into a camp. Schanberg returns safely to New York, but he refuses to stop looking for Pran, who he hopes will someday escape his captors.
After director Joffé was first given the script for The Killing Fields by producer David Puttnam, he wrote Puttnam a letter explaining that, no matter who would direct the film, it must first be recognized as a "love story." This bit of advice reportedly impressed Puttnam so much that he gave Joffé the job, even though he had never directed a feature film before. It's also why The Killing Fields is one of the best films from the 1980s, for had it merely been about politics, mass genocide, or a daring bid for freedom, it would have been lesser for it the brutal subject matter (sometimes conveyed graphically, at other times psychologically) might have been too much for audiences to bear without the core relationship between Schanberg and Pran and its optimistic theme. The film itself, although utilizing many small locations, takes on an epic scope, and the two sequences at the film's center the abandonment of the American embassy and the evacuation of Phnom Penh soon after fly at a rapid pace. Joffé says he wasn't merely interested in the realities of war, but the confusion of war as well, and he often minimizes cross-cutting in tense sequences, offering a verité approach to the events. Additional accuracy comes from three sources: Schanberg, who was one of the few westerners to witness the evacuation of Phnom Penh; Pran, who lived under the Khmer Rouge, all the time concealing his true identity as an English-speaking journalist; and Ngor, who plays Pran in the film, but also lived in a Khmer Rouge camp for three years before escaping to Thailand and practicing medicine again, this time at refugee camps on the border. Ngor famously won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance. He survived the Khmer Rouge and Cambodia's "killing fields"; ironically, he was murdered in 1996 in Los Angeles by gang members, who attacked him not for political reasons, but merely to steal a locket. Ngor had worn the locket for many years it contained a photo of his late wife, and he swore he would never lose it.
Warner's DVD of The Killing Fields has had a handful of tentative release dates dating back to 1999, but if this new release is anything to go by, it was worth the wait. The source print is remarkably clean, with strong colors that capture cinematographer Chris Menges' southeast Asian landscapes (shot in Thailand), while the anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) is rock-solid. Also on board is a lively commentary track from director Joffé, who fills the entire two hours and 20 minutes with insights not only into drama, films, and filmmaking, but also the history of Cambodia and its unique culture. The Killing Fields is on the street now.
Box Office: And we all thought Steven Seagal had become the David Cassidy of action stars. Not so Mr. Seagal was number one with a bullet at American theaters over the weekend, as Warner's Exit Wounds debuted with $19 million. It is Seagal's first major film in almost four years (since 1997's Fire Down Below), and his first box-office breakthrough since Under Siege back in 1992. Having rapper DMX on board, along with producer Joel Silver (Lethal Weapon) helped the effort, which handily beat out Paramount's Enemy at the Gates, the only other debut over the weekend, which opened with $13.6 million, although on 1,300 less screens than Exit Wounds Paramount will boost Enemy at the Gates by 500 screens next weekend, which could earn it the top spot. Reviews for Enemy at the Gates (starring Jude Law and Joseph Fiennes, and directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud) have been positive, while critics have been far less kind to Exit Wounds.
It was one year ago last week that Erin Brockovich arrived in theaters, and this past weekend saw director Steven Soderbergh rack up his second $100 million-plus film in a year's time USA's Traffic now stands at $102.4 million, and Soderbergh has been nominated as Best Director for both films as well (which, er, is probably why he won't win). Fellow Oscar-nominee Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon has also crossed the century with $100.3 million for Sony, while Miramax's Chocolat has put away $55.8 million to date. Still doing good business is MGM's Hannibal with a $157 million cume, while DreamWorks' The Mexican is shaping up as a modest success, clearing $50 million in its third week. But dropping sharply is New Line's 15 Minutes, which lost 59% of its opening weekend gross, bagging just $4.4 million in its second week.
The Farrelly brothers dish out more lowbrow hijinks this Friday with the new comedy Say It Isn't So starring Heather Graham and Chris Klein, while Jennifer Love-Hewitt, Sigourney Weaver, and Gene Hackman go for laughs in Heartbreakers. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Our own Mark Bourne has posted an exhaustive look at Image's new three-disc The Origins of Film, while Greg Dorr spun one of his personal favorites, Barry Levinson's Avalon. Other new reviews from the team this week include Almost Famous, Reversal of Fortune, A Passage to India, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, Elmer Gantry, Bedazzled, Cruel Intentions 2, The Fortune Cookie, and Dr. Phibes Rises Again!. It's all under the New Reviews menu here on the front page, while our entire catalog of reviews can be browsed with our handy search engine.
We'll be back tomorrow to let you know about this week's street discs.
Thursday, 15 March 2001
Coming Attractions: New DVD reviews are on the way, including looks at Image's three-disc The Origins of Film, DreamWorks' Almost Famous, and many, many more. And if you haven't entered our totally free DVD contest for the Oliver Stone Collection 10-pack, be sure to visit our contest page if you get the chance, and don't forget to take our monthly DVD poll while you're there. See ya Monday.
Commentary Clip: Steve Kempf: "You had three nervous cats here during this series (against the Indiana Pacers) the (Chicago) Bulls came pretty close to elimination. The drama that builds up during this series and the movie is not fictional drama. Everybody in Chicago was pretty nervous, and with this film being shot at the moment, you can imagine how nervous we were."
Jim Stern: "Well not only that, but we had been shooting this film before we had any deals in place with Michael (Jordan) or the NBA. So we were under the fear that if the Bulls lost and in Game 7 they were down by several points with about five minutes left that we would not have a movie, and we had all that footage, which was not inexpensive."
Steve Kempf: "Some of the most expensive home videos ever to be made, potentially."
Jim Stern: "Exactly, exactly. On the other hand we would have watched it I guess but not really, because they lost and who would have wanted to see them lose?"
Don Kempf: "IMAX film costs about $1,000 a second, just for the film itself, and the cameras shoot about six feet per second, so you're talking about a fairly expensive endeavor here."
Jim Stern: "Right, and that brings up a really great point, which is that the difficulty in shooting this movie is because you have to change film mags so often you're always under the threat that you're not going to get a great moment, like the one you're seeing right now, because one of the cameramen can always run out of film at the wrong time. So we had three cameras running per game, we had to try and stagger the shooting so that we always had somebody capturing the important moments, and fortunately for us we did not miss anything in the entire playoff run."
Filmmakers Steve Kempf, Don Kempf, and Jim Stern,
Quotable: "I meet a lot of kids coming to me who are smart, a lot smarter than I was at their age. Now they're out of college, they know movies and they would like to get into screenwriting. And there have been enough people who have succeeded, so you know the goal is there. But what they don't have is they don't have any stories, in a sense, because they haven't done anything. They haven't lived, in a way... most of them have not been the subjects of terrible deprivation. They have good teeth, they don't have peptic ulcers that no one's taken care of, they're not going blind with glaucoma, their mothers aren't drug addicts where they're beaten up by boyfriends. There's a whole series of wonderful material that they've happily not had to endure. So my suggestion to a lot of them is, if you've got the time, go and (get a job) and keep notes. It doesn't matter what you do... if you could get a job as a reporter somewhere in the Midwest, it doesn't matter where it is, you don't have to work for the Times, you're not going to be a journalist. What you are going to be is someone in the street finding out what happens."
Goodfellas scenarist Nicholas Pileggi in the March Creative
Charlton Heston, revealing in a press conference earlier this
"They talked about opening the film in October, then Thanksgiving, then Christmas, then Martin Luther King's birthday, then spring break, then Presidents' weekend, then the weekend after.... A week and a half before the movie was supposed to come out, the ads were disappearing.... If you do your best (to market a movie) and it bombs, go ahead, blame the film. But this is crazy. I mean, is this (film) worse than Get Carter or See Spot Run?"
An anonymous filmmaker attached to Henry Selick's
"And if by some chance the one genuinely great movie to have been nominated this year runs away with the big prizes, it may just be the wake-up call that Hollywood needs. When the world's finest filmmakers are coming after your audience, it may not be such a smart idea to shut your industry down."
Salman Rushdie, advocating Crouching Tiger, Hidden
Wednesday, 14 March 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:
No way Steve studios definitely want you to pre-order. Or at least some e-tailers do, because it's all the same to the distributing studio of any DVD they get their wholesale price and the e-tailer has to eat the discount as a "loss-leader" to attract consumers. Those pre-order discounts don't come from studios any more than the many online coupons of days gone by, and how long pre-order discounts will remain or how steep they'll be remains to be seen. Reel.com got out of DVD retail last year (having Buy.com fulfill all of their DVD orders) because, as one of the most aggressive pre-order/coupon/discount sites on the Internet, they (or rather, parent company Hollywood Video) reportedly could not achieve profitability with the pricing models. Discount e-tailer Express.com filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy on March 7, another casualty of Internet retail. Some staff members at The DVD Journal (including your humble editor) have relied on Buy.com for discount DVDs, but the company is at risk of being delisted from the NASDAQ, according to Reuters. Of course, a lot of this simply has to do with the current economic climate, which is scouring out dot-coms right and left, and discount DVDs often can be found at Best Buy and other brick-and-mortar retailers in the few first days after they street.
But as far as studio pricing goes, they all set a Suggested Retail Price when a DVD is initially announced based on their own pricing guidelines, and (with rare exceptions when circumstances change) the corresponding wholesale price is fixed right through the initial release. It is only a few months later that individual discs will be evaluated for a re-price, and it all makes perfect sense if we look at different DVD consumer profiles. For the many who regularly visit DVD websites such as this one or inhabit DVD message boards like DVD Talk and The Home Theater Forum, a substantial part of being a DVD fan is getting new discs on the first day they are released. It's one of the small hallmarks that have transformed the DVD culture over these past few years from videophile pursuit to something more akin to collecting comic books, but facts are facts. A lot of DVD fans apparently have deep pockets (or hefty credit cards) and buy several DVDs every street Tuesday, and God Bless America for it, because that only encourages the studios to release more, and better, discs. But there still are more careful consumers out there, or those who simply don't spend all their money on new DVDs, and these folks often will pass up most discs when they first street, waiting for the right time or opportunity to add a select few on their wish list to the collection. What better to motivate the stingy DVD consumer than a tasty price-drop?
Price drops can happen at any time for any DVD, but we've noticed it can happen as soon as four months after street, and most commonly for catalog titles. Recent drops for notable discs include Columbia TriStar's Legends of the Fall: Special Edition and the single-disc Men in Black, from $29.95 to $19.95, Fox's X-Men, The Full Monty, Raising Arizona, and Young Frankenstein from $29.98 to $22.98, Universal's Psycho and Vertigo from $34.98 to $29.98 (to bring them in line with all the recent Hitchcock discs), while in May USA will drop Being John Malkovich, Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, and Topsy Turvy from $24.95 to $19.95. To get an idea of street prices at a decent brick-and-mortar retailer, just subtract five bucks (always a reasonable expectation for a street price), and many of these fall to $15.
Which (if you'll indulge us and our calculator) begs comparison to online pre-order discounts. Let's take the 30% pre-order discount offered at Amazon.com and many other e-tailers as a baseline pre-ordering X-Men last November would have cost you about $20.96, compared to the $17.24 it's currently fetching on Amazon, or $15 (and no shipping charges) at our local Best Buy last weekend. Universal's excellent Vertigo pre-ordered for about $24.49 when it first came out. It's now $23.99 at Amazon not much difference as the SRP is less, but so is the discount. But essentially, that only means the original pre-order price is now a firm price, and it probably will stay put unless Universal decides to do another round of price drops down the road. Additionally, in the past we've seen some e-tailers restore the 30% pre-order discount to a re-priced DVD (at least Reel.com did), so subtract that from Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels this May and it could be as low as $13.97 for the serious bargain-hunter.
As with just about everything in the marketplace, DVD pricing is little more than a reflection of what the market will bear. If you absolutely had to have Ben-Hur and knew what you were doing, you probably pre-ordered it somewhere to get the best deal, and to be the first person on your block to have it. If Ben-Hur sounds like a nice DVD for your collection but not a "must-have," there probably will be a price-drop later this year to renew your attention. But of course, we're only talking about folks who are savvy enough to pre-order online, or patient enough to wait for a re-price. There is a third group of consumers out there who amazing but true pay the full SRP at specialty retailers like Suncoast, Sam Goody, or others. We know they buy them because, in our experience, these shopping-mall retailers offer most of their DVDs at full retail, with only the occasional loss-leader, and they are still in business. That means people actually walked in and paid thirty bucks for X-Men last Christmas, and apparently a lot of them. If we could somehow reach these folks, it's likely we'd do our best to enlighten then.
Then again, as the proverb says, a fool and his money....
Thanks Marcus we suspected as much, but sometimes it's hard to know just who's behind any particular auction on eBay, and especially those from Hong Kong, an international hotbed of video piracy. We also should point out that the massive amount of Crouching Tiger DVDs on eBay (more than 550 at last count) are almost entirely for a "code-free" version of some sort or another, which obviously would be a bootleg. And even while some claim to be the "official" release, there's really no way to know what will arrive at your door (if anything), and little chance of getting a refund. As is almost always the case with sketchy DVDs, we'll be waiting until June 5 for the Region 1 Crouching Tiger, arriving from the very reliable Columbia TriStar. Plenty of new discs will street between now and then to hold our attention.
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, 13 March 2001
On the Street: If your wallet didn't take a pounding from Universal's new Hitchcock discs, it may this week. It seems there's just way too much for one DVD budget to swallow, but it's pretty hard to miss Warner's huge special edition of Ben-Hur, which we found to be a superb disc, and Warner has two other long-awaited dramas out today, The Killing Fields and Reversal of Fortune. Paramount's got our attention as well with the new Wonder Boys disc, while DreamWorks has released Almost Famous (although beware of a second disc to follow), and catalog dramas from Fox include The Ice Storm and Grand Canyon. Criterion has a trio this morning with Coup de Torchon, Mona Lisa, and The Rock. Fans of Barry Levinson need look no further than Avalon. Fans of Jackie Chan, The Legend of Drunken Master. Fans of Peter Greenaway, The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover . But we're always up for a good documentary, and there's a couple out this week, The Discovery Channel's Land of the Mammoth and Image's three-disc The Origins of Film.
Monday, 12 March 2001
Disc of the Week: All eyes were on director Curtis Hanson after his superb crime noir hit, 1997's L.A. Confidential. Would he be able to follow that huge success with another one, or would he become yet another Hollywood one-hit wonder? Fortunately, 2000's Wonder Boys was wonderful enough to answer the question, as it's every bit as well crafted and acted as L.A. Confidential and it's a film that's as charming and funny as its predecessor was dark and grim, which says a lot about the range of Hanson's gifts. What's more, Wonder Boys shows us similar truths about Michael Douglas, whose deft, understated performance here may be the best in his long career. And it's good to see Robert Downey Jr. prove yet again (remember Chaplin?) that he really is one of our finest actors and much more than troubled headline fodder. Tobey Maguire delivers a performance so memorable that you may not think about the long list of historical Hollywood suicides without smiling. Add Francis McDormand, Rip Torn (who could be the same character he played in Men in Black), Katie Holmes as Douglas' willing student, Marilyn Monroe's jacket, one unfinished 2,000-page novel, a dead dog in the trunk, a transvestite who plays tuba, and a stolen car that really belongs to a guy not named Vernon Hardapple, and you have that rare and precious thing an intelligent, heartfelt comedy ... with a dead-on accurate academic setting ... about writers and writing ... that works every bit as well as L.A. Confidential worked as a crime noir masterpiece.
There are at least two "wonder boys" in this film. The chief one is our narrator, Grady Tripp (Douglas). Grady is a university writing professor having a hard weekend. We meet him just after his third wife has left him. His girlfriend, Sara (McDormand), informs him that she's pregnant. Sara's husband is Grady's boss. Her blind dog hates Grady. Seven years ago Grady wrote a novel that made him famous but he's been unable to finish its follow-up. His editor, Terry Crabtree (Downey Jr.), has come to town expecting to read Grady's next success. It's the university's annual Wordfest literary event and the smug, pretentious, and very successful writer, "Q" (Torn), is the guest speaker. To top that off, Grady smokes too much pot, has black-out spells, and finds his life intertwining with that of his most promising student, James Leer (Maguire). James is the other "wonder boy" who captures our attention here. Just as Grady is a once-was, James is a soon-to-be genius author. Trouble is, he's also darkly morose, evasive, and a compulsive liar. Other than Grady, the only person who gives James the time of day is fellow brilliant student Hannah Green (Holmes), who's Grady's boarder and, apparently, would like to be more. At a party at the home of Sara and her husband (Richard Thomas), Grady and James begin to connect beyond the teacher-student level. Grady sneaks James to their hosts' upstairs room, where a secret closet holds Sara's husband's most prized possession the jacket Marilyn Monroe wore on her wedding day to Joe DiMaggio. Now, things would be fine if the dog didn't attack Grady, prompting James to pull a gun and shoot the dog right there on the carpet. And that's within the first half-hour. These components start the snowball rolling, and by the end of the weekend Grady has to deal with the avalanche they trigger. Either everything in his life must change as a result, or else Grady is going to end up like Kevin Spacey in American Beauty a less wise, less observant, and less true "slice of life."
Because Wonder Boys is skillfully driven by its characters and their realism rather than by a cookie-cutter plot or action sequences, Hanson and screenwriter Steve Kloves (The Fabulous Baker Boys) avoid the easy comedy clichés that would have destroyed everything after the set-up. There are a dozen places in Wonder Boys where any lesser movie would have turned right because "that's what's expected." Instead it turns left, shifts gears, and takes side streets we don't know are there until we're on our way through them. Somehow Hanson packs it all in without succumbing to the easy road of "wackiness," yet he also manages to maintain a brisk forward momentum as wildly disparate events somehow lock together like Lego blocks toward a (bravely upbeat) conclusion that resolves and works without feeling contrived or forced. This is a film about more than superficial events or witty dialogue. It's about finding the right inspiration and making the right choices. Hanson and Kloves, it's abundantly clear, made a lot of right choices. Funny, touching, and refreshingly beyond the ordinary, this is one of the best movies of 2000, and one of the best smart comedies of the past 10 years. (It's also based on a novel of the same name by one of the best new writers to hit the scene in a decade, Michael Chabon.) Wonder Boys currently is nominated for three Academy Awards: Best Writing (Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published), Best Editing, and Best Song (Bob Dylan's original-for-the-movie "Things Have Changed"). The screenplay nomination was an easy call to make. But the fact that Douglas is not up for Best Actor is just plain wrong.
Paramount's new Wonder Boys DVD offers a splendid anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) transfer with audio in Dolby Digital 5.0. Unfortunately, there's no commentary track from Hanson (nor was there on Warner's L.A. Confidential disc), but as on L.A. Confidential, there's an interactive "location map" of Pittsburgh with Hanson's commentary vignettes. Also on board is an interview featurette with Hanson, Douglas, McDormand, and Maguire, a feature called "The Songs of Wonder Boys" with commentaries by Hanson, and the "Things Have Changed" music video by Bob Dylan. Wonder Boys is on the street tomorrow.
(Editor's Note: Everybody will be talking about this for the next several days, so let's put it to rest the first thing you see when playing Paramount's Wonder Boys DVD is a note that this edition has been "edited for content." IMDb.com notes "In the theatrical version Tobey Maguire mistakenly refers to Alan Ladd's death as a suicide. After complaints from Ladd's family, Paramount has announced that the offending line will be modified in all future releases of the film, including home video." Paramount has told us that this is the only change in the home-video version of Wonder Boys an unnoticeable edit that does not materially affect the film itself.)
Box Office: Robert De Niro returned to cineplex marquees across America over the weekend, but New Line's cop flick 15 Minutes failed to displace DreamWorks The Mexican, which held on to the pole position for the second week in a row. Critics have not been kind to the Julia Roberts/Brad Pitt romantic comedy, but it earned $12.1 million over the past three days, pushing its overall total to $38.3 million. The pundits weren't kind to 15 Minutes either, which debuted with a disappointing $10.4 million. The only other new arrival was Miramax's teen comedy Get Over It, starring Kirsten Dunst, which had a modest opening with just $4.4 million.
Those Oscar contenders still remain firmly in the top ten, which is where we think they'll stay until April. Traffic stands at $97 million, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon at $94 million, and Chocolat has now crossed the $50 million mark. But out the door is Fox's Sweet November with a $22 million finish, while Warner's 3000 Miles to Graceland has gotten the bump with a mere $13 million in the bank. But it's nothing but smiles at Sony The Wedding Planner will finish above $55 million.
Jean-Jacques Annaud's Battle of Stalingrad drama Enemy at the Gates, starring Jude Law, Ed Harris, and Joseph Fiennes, hits the theaters this Friday, along with the latest Steven Segal action flick, Exit Wounds. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Greg Dorr has posted a new review of DreamWorks' The Contender, but besides that it's all Hitchcock today D.K. Holm spun the restored Rear Window, Mark Bourne has a look at the experimental Rope, and Dawn Taylor examines one of The Master's later works, Torn Curtain. Also new from the staff are reviews of The Trouble With Harry, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Shadow of a Doubt, Family Plot, Saboteur, Frenzy, and Topaz. It's all under the New Reviews menu here on the front page, or use the handy search engine right above it to scan through all the reviews on the site.
Back tomorrow with the big rundown of this week's street discs.
Thursday, 8 March 2001
News from the north: After our discussion yesterday on the many DVDs released under license in Canada via Alliance/Atlantis Home Entertainment, some Canadian readers decided to get in touch to add a few more details. Here's a second dip in the mailbag:
But the problems of getting DVDs in Canada pale in comparison with the problems of getting certain DVDs in the Province of Quebec. The province has been slow in embracing the format. This seems odd, as the constant headache of having to stock both French and English versions was to be relieved by DVD's multi-language capacity. However, language-specific distribution rights (where a local company has the rights to the French dubbed version while the original distributor retains rights to the English version) have made certain films practically impossible to release on DVD: How do you split the sales?
Then we have the "sticker law" by which every video in Quebec is issued a label ensuring it's not a pirated copy and has the appropriate age-rating for the territory. In order to be distributed, a film must apply for one of these. There is a fee for registering the title as well as for every sticker issued. The cost and hassle of getting that vignette is insignificant for a major release (which can absorb the fee and spread it over thousands of copies) but a genuine pain for more obscure titles (which have to spread these costs over a lesser amount of copies sometimes making the video too overpriced to bother). In addition, the provincial government wants to extend the "dubbing law" which requires movies to be available with a French language track in order to be screened in Quebec to be extended to DVDs as well. While this would not affect any Hollywood blockbusters, it would make a lot of independent, cult, and classic films virtually unavailable on "Planet Quebec."
Thanks for your letter Jean clearly DVD consumers in the U.S. have it a lot better than folks in Quebec. But, as is the case with all DVD releases in North America, any U.S. release can be ordered and shipped to Canada from a U.S. retailer, and everything is Region 1. Unfortunately for Canadians, this option always comes with a higher price.
Thanks for the notes guys an extra deleted scene on Good Will Hunting may not be a good reason for everybody to replace the Buena Vista DVD, but folks with widescreen TVs will want to snap up that anamorphic transfer. As for eXistenZ, we missed that SE altogether, but a quick visit to eBay last night reveals it's going for less than $25. If ya gotta have it, that's the place to go.
Quotable: "Whisper campaigns, sometimes spilling over into the media, have been building against several major (Academy Award) contenders. When criticism was aimed at a documentary on the DVD release of Gladiator in Britain, with several London newspapers complaining about the inclusion of scenes of a stampede at a British sports stadium in a section on blood sports, publicists supporting its Oscar rivals made sure that the news spread through Hollywood rapidly. Similarly, a number of people began to complain and to write that Steven Soderbergh's drug film Traffic was not as powerful as Traffik, the British television mini-series that inspired it but was little seen in the United States. Rivals to Traffic made sure that word was spread, too."
New York Times entertainment reporter Rick Lyman
"The studio system's going to blow wide open at some point because they've had one of the greatest scams going on forever. I'm not going to break it wide open here, but the money they pay us is almost shut-up money. They really make their money on this catalog of movies. I mean, they have so many bombs, why aren't studios going out of business?"
Brad Pitt, speaking cryptically about the implications of
"You cannot emphasize enough the amount of damage that the strike would do to the production industry in this country. I am talking about personal devastation for people who can't afford to go two months without a paycheck, as well as a flight of intellectual know-how from which I am not sure the industry will ever recover."
Bob Solomon, senior VP of the post-production company
"Essentially, what I have found is this: hardcore DVD freaks are the most whiny, finicky, and unbearably anal-retentive bunch of crybabies that I have ever encountered. Speaking as a present or former member of a wide variety of geek subcultures (including but not limited to comic book collectors, Star Wars fanatics, Macintosh aficionados, import CD connoisseurs, and Anna Nicole Smith worshipers), I can authoritatively pass judgment that DVD freaks have got 'em all beat for sheer irrational geekness. Hell, I'll even go out on a limb and say they're crazier than people who collect Beanie Babies and Hummel figurines. Now that's saying something."
D. Trull, in an extensive essay on the DVD consumer
"DVD owners have to whine to get what they want. You want a re-issue of a title that's now abandoned? You have to ask. You have to plead. You have to bitch and moan and be the ultimate squeaky wheel until you get what you want. Case in point: Princess Mononoke. Now, if you have the least bit of interest in DVD and are, in fact, reading this at all I'm positive you know full well the uproar caused by this DVD release. Why was there such an uproar? Well, put simply, Disney decided to be lazy. They wanted to put the original Japanese soundtrack in 2.0 Stereo, but mix the English dubbing in 5.1 Dolby Digital, leaving those who love original language tracks out to dry. So the DVD community at large spoke up. And boy, did we. We DVD 'freaks' (as Trull wonderfully branded us) banded together and got exactly what we wanted.... Whining, as it were, is the most important part of being a DVD aficionado, freak, geek, whatever. Without it, we are nothing."
Evan Erwin, in a response to Mr. Trull published on
Coming Attractions: We've done nothing but watch Hitchcock movies all week, so count on a slew of new reviews this Monday. Have a great weekend.
Wednesday, 7 March 2001
Mailbag: Being a bunch of complaining Americans, it's easy for us at The DVD Journal to forget that DVD is a worldwide phenonmenon. That is, until foreigners write us to complain about DVDs in their part of the world. Here's this week's mailbag, international-style:
I now have an ever-growing list of DVDs that I know for a fact are available right now in the USA, but have yet to see here. I appreciate that on a retail level it would be nearly impossible to stock every DVD that is available anywhere, but you would think that if I can obtain a DVD from the USA, then it should be possible for a DVD retailer here to order it for me (it isn't). The main reasons I don't just order them online is the high cost of shipping, the exchange rate, and the hope that they will eventually be available here (I have patience). Have any of your other readers mentioned this at all?
Thanks for your letter Martin. Have any of our readers mentioned the disparities between some Canadian and U.S. DVDs? Er, lots and our mailbag has been filled over the past couple of weeks with comments from our Canadian readers regarding the DVD release of The Straight Story, folks so angry they're about to beat somebody over the head with a hockey stick, because indeed, the common-stock Canadian disc is full-frame and not the 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer found here in the U.S.
But as is nearly always the case when discrepancies arise between U.S. and Canadian DVDs of the same title, the source is a production license granted to Alliance/Atlantis Home Entertainment, Canada's largest video-distribution firm. Alliance has agreements with New Line and Artisan, but a handful of their many Buena Vista titles have earned the most attention, for reasons both good and bad. Digital die-hards who have been around for a while will remember the brouhaha that erupted between BV and Alliance in mid-1999 when Alliance released special-editions of Pulp Fiction and Trainspotting (both with deleted scenes) when Buena Vista's U.S. versions were about as bare-bones as it gets. The terms of the Alliance licenses (according to their own legal fine print) dictate that the majority of their discs are not to be sold outside of Canada, which is a fairly straightforward non-compete agreement that can be expected in this kind of international home-video arrangement. However it's pretty clear the licenses for Pulp Fiction and Trainspotting didn't preclude Alliance from producing superior DVDs, and from there it's just a hop, skip, and jump over the border Yanks down south started getting the Alliance discs from vendors who would ship 'em, or from that pesky eBay (the bane of all corporations who hope to control the international flow of their products). Our information almost two years ago was that Buena Vista was none too happy with the situation, but Canadian retailers still sell Alliance's Pulp Fiction and Trainspotting (although it appears they aren't supposed to ship them to the States), and Dutch auctions on eBay offer as many as 50 copies at a time to anybody with a valid credit card which is precisely how we got these for the DVD Journal library. So much for not selling the discs outside of Canada.
But since 1999, we are not aware of Alliance upstaging Buena Vista with any new DVD releases, and it's fair to guess that additional language may have been added to the distribution agreements preventing any upgrades beyond the U.S. editions. Then again, Alliance has released SEs of Good Will Hunting and Shakespeare in Love that are identical to Miramax's "Collector's Series" discs, so it was mighty decent for BV to send those extra materials along. However, as for The Straight Story, clearly there is no clause preventing Alliance from downgrading a disc, which has been done here. Why? Somebody in Canada might want to contact Alliance and ask them, or even better, tell them that you won't be buying the Canadian release until it's equivalent to Buena Vista's anamorphic disc. Our best guess is that, since this minor masterpiece from David Lynch is frequently (and hastily) categorized as a "family film," complete with a G-rating and "Walt Disney" branding, somebody decided letterboxing was a bad idea. And if that's the case, they need to think again.
It doesn't appear so the specs on the Region 2 release, which arrived on Feb. 26 in Europe, say it includes a look at the opening sequence, deleted scenes, extended takes, alternate endings, production design info, stills, filmographies, John Doe's notebooks, all the promo stuff, and the documentary on video mastering. In fact, the only difference we're aware of is that it hasn't been released by New Line, but by Entertainment in Video (a subsidiary of New Line or simply a licensee). And the boxcover art is different it's no "Platinum Series" as we have here in Region 1. But besides those small details, we all have the same DVD release in North America, Europe, and ostensibly most Asian countries. And that's the way we like it, so here's hoping this excellent package will soon be available in every corner of the globe.
We have defended region-coding in the past, and we continue to do so despite some vociferous arguments from our readers. For new films, the reason is both simple and economically justifiable a new movie arriving on DVD in North America often has yet to open theatrically in other parts of the world, and if the Region 1 DVD is readily functional overseas it will eat into theatrical profits. We do not condemn anybody for making a buck, and thus we don't condemn movie studios who are looking to get a return on their investment, even if we're talking about millions of bucks. The people who create the films we love have to be given the opportunity to send a film through its normal theatrical cycle before it arrives on home video everywhere, which is why the studios asked for region-coding when DVD was created and without region-coding, DVD may never have happened at all.
Another reason for region-coding is less apparent, but still justifiable, as the rights to films are not necessarily owned by the same studio in every region, and with the many expensive co-productions that are commonplace today, it's not unusual for one financing studio to have the North American home-video rights while the other has them internationally. Region-coding ensures studios will have control of their respective regions, and that they can even sell their rights to any region at a later time. We don't have to like it, but any studio putting up half of a $100 million production budget will expect it.
That said, when a studio wholly owns the worldwide rights to a catalog title that is no longer in theaters, and when they claim that they want to limit international shipments of DVDs, the solution is very simple, and soundly based in the free market make the DVDs identical in every region. We hope the Region 2 release of Seven and the Canadian editions of Good Will Hunting and Shakespeare in Love are the shape of things to come. We also hope Alliance will see how they've excluded many of their consumers with their release of The Straight Story a new anamorphic transfer will do a lot to keep some Canadian dollars in Canada.
Bye for now.
Tuesday, 6 March 2001
On the Street: It's easy to get dragged in two directions this morning, as Universal has their long-awaited Hitchcock releases out now including Rear Window: Collector's Edition, The Trouble With Harry, The Man Who Knew Too Much, and seven others while MGM's catalog titles include such classics as Birdman of Alcatraz, 12 Angry Men, The Bishop's Wife, and the two-disc The Greatest Story Ever Told. But if moldy old movies just aren't your style, Hitchcock or otherwise, don't miss Universal's new Meet the Parents: Collector's Edition for some very, er... contemporary humor. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of Reel.com and Image Entertainment:
Those Hitchcock discs won't stop spinning in the screening room all week count on some new write-ups from the team next Monday morning.
Monday, 5 March 2001
And the winner is: Thom Verratti of Crofton, Maryland, wins the free Cosmos DVD set from our February contest. Congrats, Thom! Several thousand people this morning hate your guts, but screw 'em enjoy that Cosmos box anyway.
Our totally free DVD contest for the month of March is up and running, and we have a copy of Warner's 11-disc Oliver Stone Collection up for grabs. Be sure to drop by our contest page to send us your entry, and don't forget to take our monthly DVD poll while you're there.
Disc of the Week: Frank Capra first arrived on the fringes of the thriving American film industry in the 1920s, well before talkies appeared. He directed his final film in 1961 (A Pocketful of Miracles), but lived in retirement for another 30 years until his death in 1991. The man who directed It's a Wonderful Life in many respects lived a long and charmed one, but it's curious that his most popular films arrived in a radically short space of time. It's a Wonderful Life debuted in 1946, after Capra had finished five years of shooting the Why We Fight documentaries for the Allied war effort, but the majority of his notable films came just before the Second World War. And as such, most use the Great Depression as a backdrop, if not an overt theme the multi-Oscar-winning It Happened One Night (1934), Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), You Can't Take It With You (1938), and Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (1939), amongst others, all came in a rush, only for Capra's career to take a sharp turn in the '40s and then go into a steady, regrettable decline. American movie attendance was never higher than during the Great Depression as audiences flocked to movie theaters to escape the dreariness of their daily lives, but perhaps what made Capra so unusual was how he worked against expectations. While most moviegoers were looking for an inexpensive bit of escapism, Capra brought the outside world into the movie theater, making it very clear that the Depression was going on right now, albeit with a relentless optimism about the American people and the future of the nation a nation that soon would be dragged into another costly world war, but which also would enjoy unprecedented prosperity just a few years later.
Meet John Doe, shot in 1940, was the last of Capra's depression-era films, exploring the popular frustrations of the decade more overtly than any other. Barbara Stanwyck stars as newspaper columnist Ann Mitchell, who is laid off when her paper is bought out by a new owner (it seems corporate downsizing is nothing new), but she manages to work her way back into the job when, as a stunt for her final column, she prints a bogus letter from one "John Doe," a man who plans to commit suicide by jumping off City Hall to protest the world's injustices. But when the letter creates a storm of controversy and editor Henry Connell (James Gleason) doesn't know what to make of it, Ann convinces him they should hire a real person to portray John Doe and then use him to drive circulation straight through the holidays. John Willoughby (Gary Cooper), a former bush-league baseball pitcher with a bum shoulder and no job prospects is recruited to play the part, but he comes with a flesh-and-blood conscience his fellow hobo "The Colonel" (Walter Brennan), who is perhaps the only person in America since Huck Finn to believe abject poverty is a pretty good deal. "John Doe" quickly becomes a celebrity, but John Willoughby can't possibly know what competing political forces are at work behind the scenes nor can he know who is plotting to expose the scheme, or why.
Along with being the film that would close Capra's most successful decade, Meet John Doe was one of the last he would do with longtime collaborator Robert Riskin, who penned the majority of Capra's films up to that point. Some have seen Riskin's tale as a Christ allegory (which, if true, isn't all that clear), but there are direct parallels to the political climate of the age, and particularly in Europe. Capra is most frequently described as a "populist" director, but Meet John Doe illustrates that populism the unification of common people for a common purpose is a double-edged sword, something that can bring people together in a country that's dealing with economic hardship, or blind them with fascist loyalty to a leader or a hero, one who promises to lead them from suffering (as Hitler was doing at that very moment in Germany). In Meet John Doe, the same motivations that caused the Weimar Republic to embrace National Socialism are what drives the "average" American to John Doe, and then eventually to turn on him at the first hint of betrayal. According to Capra and Riskin, the national malaise of the time might not necessarily have to do with a lack of community (although that can feed into it), but instead a lack of self-worth among common people, which leads them to embrace the reluctant Doe an out-of-work schlub with not much in the way of self-confidence either.
As Meet John Doe is a film in the public domain, several versions exist on DVD from a number of "budget" vendors, all with varying degrees of quality (and some are not very good all). Fortunately Image Entertainment, working with the Hal Roach Studios Trust, has delivered a new transfer to DVD from restored materials, and the overall result is excellent. The disc comes bare-bones (so bare-bones in fact that the single menu screen offers nothing more than chapter selection), but the source print is in very good shape with strong low-contrast details and only minor collateral damage (and some extra wear and tear around reel changes), while the audio is crisp and fully intelligible in the original mono. A great many Frank Capra films are already on DVD in particular the excellent restored packages from Columbia TriStar and those who are collecting Capra on disc should not hesitate to add this edition to their personal libraries. Image's Meet John Doe is on the street now.
Box Office: MGM's blockbuster Hannibal scored the trifecta in February with three weeks atop the box-office rankings, but all things must end. And this case Hannibal's defeat comes at the hands of Julia Roberts and Brad Pitt, as DreamWorks' The Mexican had a $20.3 million bow over the weekend, overcoming some mixed reviews to do twice as much business as any other film. Hannibal nearly held on to second place, but another new arrival, Warner's See Spot Run, edged out Dr. Lecter by just $100,000. Reviews for the new comedy starring David Arquette were generally poor, but it likely will make up its $15 million budget.
Still in continuing release, Hannibal has chomped its way to a $142.8 million cume in just one month, while three Oscar contenders USA's Traffic, Sony's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and Miramax's Choclolat are still in the pack, and both Traffic and Crouching Tiger are poised to break $100 million by Oscar week. Chris Rock is doing well with Down to Earth claiming $44.1 million after its third weekend, but Warner's 3000 Miles to Graceland is dropping like a ten-pound rhinestone with just $12 million to its credit. And finally out of the top ten after a solid 11 weeks is Fox's Cast Away, which is on its way to the second-run circuit (and DVD prep) with $223.8 million and counting.
Robert De Niro is back on the big screen this Friday in New Line's action/comedy 15 Minutes, co-starring Edward Burns. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Our own Alexandra DuPont has posted a special sneak-preview of Artisan's two-disc Dune, which recently aired on the Sci-Fi Channel, while Mark Bourne recently looked at the H.G. Wells futurama Things to Come and the Vincent Price classic The Abominable Dr. Phibes. Other new write-ups from the team this week include The Greatest Story Ever Told, The Birdman of Alcatraz, Clerks: The Animated Series Uncensored, Alfie, Lilies of the Field, Meet John Doe, The Evening Star, Yours, Mine, and Ours, and The Broken Hearts Club. It's all fresh under the New Reviews menu here on the front page, or use the handy search engine to dig through our massive DVD reviews database.
We'll be back tomorrow to let you know about this week's street discs.
Thursday, 1 March 2001
On the Block: Our most-recent round of DVD auction rankings at eBay is in, and while such collectibles as the 1997 THX Theatrical Trailers demo DVD and Criterion's Salo and The Killer continue to dominate the chart, other discs are on the rise in particular Anchor Bay's out-of-print two-disc Army of Darkness: Limited Edition, which had a top close of $227.50 in recent weeks, far beyond its previous high mark of $150 and change. Also surging and in fact returning to the chart after a long absence is the Live at Knebworth DVD, released by Image Entertainment for just a short time before falling out of print, and a heated 18-bid auction resulted in a $224.72 hammer-price for the rarity. The two-disc Japanese release of David Lynch's Dune: Director's Cut continues to break $100 with ease, and Warner's OOP Willy Wonka is drawing lots of bids at least until the upcoming special edition is announced. And yes, there are four films by Pier Paolo Pasolini on the board today: Criterion's Salo and Image's The Arabian Nights, The Canterbury Tales, and The Decameron.
Here's the highest recent closing prices of rare and out-of-print DVDs from online auctions at eBay:
Quotable: "Despite defendants' efforts to pitch this case as a classic story of the gadfly press, and to cast themselves in the role of the protagonist reporter who seeks only to convey truthful information to the public, this lawsuit is really about computer hackers and the tools of digital piracy."
U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White, writing a U.S. Department
"New York City is the entertainment capital of the world, and yet average New Yorkers and their families can no longer afford to go to the movies."
New York City Council speaker Peter F. Vallone,
"There's not enough action in it it's boring."
Paul Lau, a 30-year-old Hong Kong moviegoer,
"The late Stanley Kramer was our least favorite director of all the Stanleys, but we are sad to see him go before recording four-and-a-half hours of boring commentary for the DVD of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World."
Rolling Stone columnists Jason Cohen and
"I'm a moviegoer, not a moviemaker."
Bill Clinton, revealing to Daily Variety that he has
Coming Attractions: A whole lot of new DVD reviews are on the way, so we'll see you on Monday morning with the latest. In the meantime, this will be the last weekend to enter this month's totally free DVD contest for a copy of Cosmos: Collector's Edition, so be sure to visit our contest page if you haven't yet. We'll announce the incredibly lucky winner next week (will it be you?), and we'll have another DVD contest up and running as well. And finally, Criterion's Peter Becker sat for an interview recently on National Public Radio, which can be heard here.
Have a great weekend.