Monday, 30 April 2001
Disc of the Week: Among the most infamous of dates in Hollywood history is November 24, 1947. On that day the Association of Motion Picture Producers which included such heavyweights as Harry Cohn, Samuel Goldwyn, Albert Warner, Louis B. Mayer, and 46 other studio executives succumbed to pressure from the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) and blacklisted members of the film industry who refused to testify before Congress on their alleged "communist" sympathies. Among the first to go were Dalton Trumbo, Ring Lardner Jr., and Edward Dymtryk, but the HUAC scourge continued unabated until 1951, at which point 324 people had been denied work on any and all American film projects. Among these was Connecticut-born Jules Dassin, who helmed a series of minor noir and proto-realism masterpieces in the '40s, including Brute Force, The Naked City, and Night and the City. But by 1949 Dassin was persona non grata. Out of work, making very little money selling stories to producer Darryl F. Zanuck, he relocated to Europe, where his attachment to several productions forced his dismissal the blacklist's influence had spread beyond America's borders. Dassin would not direct another film for five years. And yet, were it not for the blacklist, it's likely we never would have seen 1955's Rififi, the godfather of all heist flicks and Dassin's most famous creation.
Originally released as Du rififi chez les hommes (roughly translated as "Trouble among men"), Rififi concerns aging career-criminal Tony le Stéphanois (Jean Servais), who's just been released from prison after a five-year stretch and looks it. Haggard and run-down, few of his former colleagues will have anything to do with him except for his former protégé Jo the Swede (Carl Möhner), for whom Tony took the rap five years earlier to keep the younger family man out of the joint. Jo, along with his Italian friend Mario (Robert Manuel), plan to steal some valuable jewels from a streetside display window in a smash-and-grab robbery, but it seems Tony is too old for such stunts or perhaps he senses that he's running out of time. He agrees to join the duo, but only if they forget about the display window and go for the big money. And that means getting inside the jeweler's shop and busting open the safe. A fourth criminal, expert safecracker Cesar le Milanais (director Dassin, credited as "Perlo Vita"), is brought in from Italy and the men soon set about the work of defeating the modern alarm system, looting the safe, and plotting their escape. Scientific precision and plenty of ingenuity are the keys to success but what the men cannot predict is what will happen after the robbery. Inevitably something slips, then somebody talks. And when a rival gang starts working over the thieves for the loot, Tony finds he must convince Jo that the only way to win is to fight back just as dirty, and twice as hard.
Central to Rififi's fame is the heist sequence. For 33 minutes fully one-fourth of the film's running time Dassin portrays the robbery in near-total silence, and while we may already know what some items are for (a suitcase full of ordinary tools), others only become apparent when put into use (after all, why would jewel thieves need an umbrella?). Imitated many, many times since, the sequence was developed by Dassin as a way to cinematically distance himself from the source novel by Auguste le Breton, which Dassin says horrified him with its ultra-violent, racist depiction of the French underworld. In Dassin's script (with dialogue by le Breton), Rififi is a perfect gangster film, depicting a Paris of thieves, hookers, and two-bit hoods, but with a code of honor that sets Tony apart from the rest. Aside from the title tune (performed in the L'age D'or nightclub by Magali Noël), the word "rififi" is not said by any character, but the "rough and tumble" song reflects Tony's core philosophy the idea that justice, or retribution, must be swift and severe as a matter of survival. When Tony, just out of prison, learns that his lover Mado (Marie Sabouret) has taken up with a local mobster, he beats her mercilessly. Discovering which jewel thief ratted out the team, Tony feels sorry for the guy but not enough to forgive him. Mado warns him not to pursue the rival gang. "You'll all die, one by one," she warns him. "The whole rotten bunch of you." But for Tony, "rififi" is the only option, leading to one of the most poetic and beautifully rendered climaxes of all films noir.
Criterion's new DVD release of Rififi features a clean transfer in the original full-frame ratio (1.33:1) and monaural audio, all from a restored print that recently made a splash in several repertory theaters (also available are a dubbed English track and English subtitles). Supplements are generous, and include an extensive video interview with director Dassin who talks at length about the blacklist production notes, a still gallery, and the original theatrical trailer, dubbed in English. Rififi: The Criterion Collection is on the street now.
Box Office: It's wasn't the most competitive weekend at the box office, but Warner's racecar-flick Driven, starring Sylvester Stallone and directed by Renny Harlin, took the pole position with a modest $13.1 million opening, which still was more than enough to beat the competition. Still hanging in there is Miramax's Bridget Jones's Diary, last week's winner, which dropped to second place with $7.5 million. Meanwhile, the lackluster debut films keep arriving in waves the weekend saw New Line's oft-delayed Town & Country (starring Warren Beatty and reportedly costing $90 million) belly-flop into fifth place with just $3 million and change, while Sony's The Forsaken scraped up an even $3 mil. But neither tanked worse than USA's mega-hyped Liv Tyler vehicle One Night at McCool's, which played on more than 1,800 screens but couldn't break into the top ten, with just $2 million in business over the past three days.
In continuing release, Miramax's Spy Kids will soon cross the century, and it now stands at $93.6 million after five weeks. Paramount's Along Came a Spider has been good for $54.7 million, and New Line's Blow has been steady on the charts, clearing $40 million after its first month. But sinking fast is Fox's Freddy Got Fingered, earning just $11.3 million after two weekends. And somebody clean out the catbox, because our stinko award goes to Universal's Josie and the Pussycats magazine covers and relentless marketing couldn't keep the teenybopper chick-flick on the charts for more than two weeks and just $13 million in kitty litter.
It's no secret what will land atop the box-office chart this weekend, as Universal's The Mummy Returns goes wide on Friday. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Mark Bourne has posted an in-depth look at a silent classic, 1925's dinosaur adventure The Lost World, while Alexandra DuPont revisited The Mummy: Ultimate Edition and D.K. Holm spun the two-disc The Sorrow and the Pity. New quick reviews from the staff this week include Little Nicky: Platinum Series, Space Cowboys, Postcards from the Edge, Rififi: The Criterion Collection, Rocky: Special Edition, Tigerland, and enough romance to last a lifetime with Ghost, Ice Castles, and Love Story (yes, we watched all three and survived). Everything's been added to the New Reviews menu here on the front page you can find even more DVD reviews with our handy search engine right above it.
We'll be back tomorrow with news on this week's street discs.
Thursday, 26 April 2001
Coming Attractions: Dear God, does it ever stop? Nope every day finds new DVDs in the screening room, and we're off to spin such recent arrivals as Space Cowboys, Little Nicky, and many more. In the meantime, if you haven't entered our totally free DVD contest for a copy of Wonder Boys, 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. Have a great weekend, gang.
Commentary Clips: "When I was very young, my brother had a book about a little girl who went out into the forest and gave everything away she had which was a stupid thing to do, as you know. It was book especially my father hated very much. And she was called 'The Golden Heart,' this girl. And all through my childhood my father has referred to this as being, you know, so stupid. And every time everybody said, 'Oh, you can have the biggest cake,' he would say, 'Oh, you're The Golden Heart!', you know, and would ridiculize it in a way, you know, so you would never forget it. Then when you get older and you think it's maybe interesting to you, and, alas, a little bit wasn't so stupid. So I've based these three films (Breaking the Waves, The Idiots, Dancer in the Dark) on this character of The Golden Heart. It's not really a book, it's something that you paint in, you know. I think it's from some old fairy tale, or remade of an old fairy tale or whatever. I remember that in the copy I had the last page was missing. And now I saw that in the last page she was kind of rewarded by God and had a Prince and a lot of money and stuff. That I didn't know. That's maybe why the film ends as it does."
* * *
"(Björk and I) have never been completely in synch, but that was never the intention, because, of course, when you choose somebody that should give something to your product, then of course you pick somebody that is good and that has their own ideas about it. Otherwise why should you choose somebody to work with if she or he has your ideas? That you don't want. The problem was that we had a lot of discussions beforehand about submission, you know submitting to the project. I think it's a little bit like this, if you have actors who submit completely, because then you can work. It's like jumping out of an airplane when you're skydiving or whatever, you have to kind of submit to the air. Then you can work with it.... It was torturing her, there was no question about it. It was terrible for her, terrible. I think that the only way you can go into this as an actor is to trust the director."
* * *
"Casting is a terrible, terrible thing. It's like, you know, like being 15 years (old) again, you know, going to a dance, getting rejected all the time. Also because the actors they know that this is when they really have control, before they say 'Yes.' It's terrible.... I would work with anybody who would work with me. But unfortunately, when you come down to it, nobody really wants to."
Director Lars Von Trier,
Quotable: "It often seems to me that the director is the most redundant person on a set. The technical people are very clever and they often don't need me. Likewise, the actors will generally give good performances without the director. There's something going on that's much harder to grasp which is what I try to do. And of course those bits aren't technical. It's really to do with the content, the overall thought, the sensibility of the film. That's quite exhausting enough so you end up just doing that."
Director Stephen Frears, interviewed in the book
"My first big movie was Much Ado About Nothing in 1993, directed by Kenneth Branagh. I was still at Oxford, studying French and Russian, and it was a full-out tortured time. When I was cast, I didn't know who Keanu Reeves was, and he was my love interest in the film. He turned out to be lovely, but I was just a little pile of angst. That's all changed. I dropped out of Oxford, and now I only speak Russian with the woman who gives me a bikini wax. See what Hollywood does to you?"
Pearl Harbor star Kate Beckinsale talking about
Pearl Harbor director Michael Bay on his
"I have to be selfless at this point ... and take care of those things. The movie projects came together (and) I have to keep up my end of the deal. It's not like it could have gone this way or that."
Arnold Schwarzenegger, telling the Los Angeles Times
"I don't think most consumers are prepared to watch something in letterbox on a 13-inch TV screen."
Fox Entertainment president Gail Berman telling
"Half of Hollywood is eating bad and having bad sex, and that's why they're making bad movies."
Film producer Andras Hamori.
Wednesday, 25 April 2001
We dunno is he going to add 53 minutes to The Godfather as well? Actually, it's more likely that we'll get the Godfather DVDs, and then he'll pad the original films out with deleted scenes before Paramount hawks a second DVD release, maybe in 2004 or something. (And does anybody besides us recall the big VHS set The Godfather: The Complete Epic 1902-1958, re-edited chronologically? It's OOP on tape, but does anybody want to bet us we won't see that on DVD eventually?)
That's an awfully good question, James....
(Your humble editor could not resist asking "Dignan" if he was enrolled in an anger-management course. He was kind enough to reply.)
Y'know, it's the small things that make the job worthwhile.
Top of the Pops: Here's the top-selling DVDs last week from our friends at Ken Crane's DVDPlanet.com. Click the links to read our reviews of these discs:
Tuesday, 24 April 2001
On the Street: It's a big Criterion street day, with five titles reportedly available this morning Rififi, Mon Oncle, M. Hulot's Holiday, the three-disc Eisenstein: The Sound Years, and of course, Spartacus. Universal has a big set out today as well, The Mummy: Ultimate Edition, which revisits their previous, immensely popular Collector's Edition from September of 1999. MGM's re-issue of Rocky is bound to win them some fans, although the fact that the four sequels are only available in a box set probably won't. Out from New Line is Adam Sandler's Little Nicky, and Paramount has both Ghost and Love Story up for grabs. Meanwhile, Columbia TriStar's eclectic lineup is full of treats, including Finding Forrester, The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T, and Princess Caraboo, while the Oscar-winning documentary One Day in September is one of the best things we've spun lately. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Back tomorrow with all that mail.
Monday, 23 April 2001
Disc of the Week: For West Germany, the 1972 Munich Olympics represented a new beginning. Still recovering from the Second World War with its legacy of Nazism and the near-wholesale destruction of the country's infrastructure the XXth Olympiad showcased a West Germany reborn from the ashes of the Third Reich, a vastly different nation than the one that had warped the 1936 Olympics into Nazi propaganda. "Serenity" and "Peace" were the themes the Germans offered the world in 1972, to such an extent that police were not allowed in the Olympic Village, only unarmed security guards in powder-blue suits. American swimmer Mark Spitz earned a record seven gold medals; Soviet gymnast Olga Korbut enchanted the world, earning three golds in the process; and the U.S. basketball team lost their first Olympic event ever, falling to the U.S.S.R. in a close game with a controversial conclusion (in protest of the officiating, the U.S. refused to accept the silver medal). And yet the 1972 Olympiad is doomed to have its sporting achievements relegated to the footnotes of history instead, Munich marks the birthplace of modern terrorism.
Director Kevin Macdonald's 1999 documentary One Day in September chronicles the events of Sept. 5, 1972, as a group of eight Palestinian terrorists entered the Olympic Village in the pre-dawn hours and rapidly overtook the building housing the Israeli Olympic team. Nine hostages were taken at gunpoint, while two who attempted to resist were shot and killed on the spot. By the time the sun had risen, West German authorities found themselves negotiating with "Black September," an inscrutable band of political radicals. Their lone spokesman "Issa," with his pith helmet, sunglasses, and shoe-polish-blackened face demanded the release of more than 200 Arab prisoners in Israel and elsewhere by 12 noon. Negotiators were able to convince him to delay the deadline, but it soon was apparent that neither the Israeli government nor the terrorists would back down. After further negotiations, Black September arranged for the transfer of themselves and their hostages to the Munich airport via helicopter, where they demanded a fully fueled jet that would fly them to a friendly country. But what transpired at the airport, after darkness had settled over the city, remains one of the most controversial events in modern German history.
As a documentary, One Day in September is well worth its 90-minute running time for anybody with an interest in 20th century history, and especially the history of Israel with narration by Michael Douglas, director Macdonald fills his story with archival footage and interviews in a compelling manner that effectively conveys information and also creates a great deal of tension as the day unfolds. But as strong as it is in cinematic terms, where One Day in September really scores its points is with some old-fashioned gumshoe journalism that would put the folks at "60 Minutes" to shame. After Sept. 5, 1972, the Israeli government vowed to retaliate against Black September, and the three surviving members (formerly in German custody, but escaped to Algeria) were targeted for assassination. Only one has survived to this day Jamal al-Gashey whom Macdonald amazingly was able to contact and, after extensive negotiations, interview for six hours. With his face concealed, the terrorist provides the first-ever comments from a member of Black September on what happened inside the Israeli athletes' residence that day (al-Gashey remains in hiding in Africa, having survived several attempts on his life). Also confirmed for the first time by Macdonald is that an airliner hijacking and subsequent release of the three Black September terrorists from German prison was in fact staged by the German government in the hopes of preventing future terrorist attacks in their country. The allegation was not without controversy One Day in September was denied a screening at the Berlin Film Festival in 1999; however, Macdonald (whose grandfather was the legendary Emeric Pressburger) went on to earn an Academy Award for Best Documentary.
Columbia TriStar's new DVD release of One Day in September features a clean anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with audio in the original Dolby 2.0 Surround. Features are thin (three trailers for related films and production notes) and additional details from Macdonald or producer Arthur Cohn, in either a production short or commentary track, would have been welcome. However, the lack of extras is no reason to skip this film (and an excellent interview with Macdonald can be found at Director's World). One Day in September is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: It's all smiles at Miramax this morning, as the romantic comedy Bridget Jones's Diary added more than 600 screens over its second weekend and climbed into the top position helped in part by positive reviews and a couple of unimpressive debuts. Miramax also claimed second place over the weekend with the popular Spy Kids, which slipped from the top spot (which it held for the past three weeks) but has an $86 million cume to date. And as with last week, new arrivals failed to break into the top spot, with Paramount's comedy/Subaru commercial Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles earning $8 million and Fox's Freddy Got Fingered drawing $7.2 million (both films were widely panned by critics).
Besides Spy Kids, no films in continuing release are on the verge of breaking the magic $100 million mark, with Paramount's Along Came a Spider at $47.1 million after three weeks and Enemy at the Gates at $46.4 million. MGM's Heartbreakers is slipping off the chart with $37.4 million to date, but that's far from disappointing compared to Universal's Josie and the Pussycats the super-hyped chick flick had a poor debut last weekend and is in danger of disappearing altogether with just $11.6 million in the kitty.
This Friday finds Sylvester Stallone back on the big screen in the new Renny Harlin racecar flick Driven, Liv Tyler and pals can be seen in One Night at McCool's, and this year's much-praised Australian comedy The Dish is slated for wide release. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: D.K. Holm has taken a look at Synapse's new release of Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will: Special Edition; on the other end of the DVD spectrum, Alexandra DuPont spun Spaceman, the low-budget first film from Scott Dikkers (the guy behind our favorite website, The Onion). New staff reviews this week include Finding Forrester, Bamboozled: Platinum Series, Princess Caraboo, Nine Months, The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T, Attila, My Life, One Day in September, For the Boys, and the interactive Point of View. It's all fresh under the New Reviews menu here on the front page, while more than 1,000 DVD write-ups can be found using our handy search engine.
Back tomorrow with the street discs.
Thursday, 19 April 2001
Coming Attractions: We've gone back to the screening room for another round of new DVDs, and upcoming reviews include Finding Forrester, Triumph of the Will, and lots more. We'll see ya Monday.
Commentary Clips: "It's particularly interesting to talk to journalists. I spent a lot of time talking to journalists (while) making this film. Sydney Schanberg for instance played by Sam Waterston, and really well-played by Sam Waterston was a remarkable character really. Very honest, very warm-hearted. Not without a good streak of arrogance. I think Sydney would be the first to say that he had a toughness to his intellect that didn't earn him friends, in many ways. I think it earned Sydney a tremendous amount of respect, but I think Sydney was always seen as an oddball. I think lot of the journalists surrounding Sydney saw him as too serious. I think they felt that he took The New York Times too seriously. I think they felt The New York Times took itself too seriously. And yet, I think they all realized that, very quickly, they were working to be a voice for this country.
"I think all the journalists who were in Cambodia fell in love with Cambodia, in the way that curiously you would with a friend. I think they began to realize that there was no one to speak for Cambodia. Cambodia was the side-show in the Vietnamese War I mean, how many of you watching this film, when you think of the Vietnamese War actually think of Cambodia? Well I suppose more people do now because we made this film. But certainly, at the time, if you mentioned the word 'Cambodia' people didn't know what you were talking about. So for that group of journalists who were there who in the main were young, in the main were very committed, many of whom were left-wing, in some respects had sympathies with the North (Vietnamese) I think, in some respects I think they all felt that they were speaking on behalf of a country that was being ignored. And a lot of that explains the kind of passionate involvement that they had for the country. Whenever I spoke to people about Cambodia even when I spoke to CIA agents and I spoke to military officers and Marines and to people who had been there I was extraordinarily struck by the love that they all felt for that country. I think most Americans who spent time in Cambodia really felt themselves part of the country, really felt that this in a way became their kind of home."
Director Roland Joffé,
"It was just, kind of... weird. I remember the first day of shooting, and we had an amazing cook, and we're eating in the place where they, like, made license plates in this, like, rusty decrepit place eating steak and lobster, all right, this amazing food, in this place where, where men were just like taken to the lowest of their existence, and uh, it's just a real irony."
Director Michael Bay,
"I think the film looks great, I think they did a great job. When I saw the film I was pretty shocked that it worked so well 'cause they shot so much. I said 'How are they ever going to cut this stuff?' you know? I mean they'd shoot you head on, they'd shoot you from underneath, they'd shoot you right and left, they'd shoot you from above, they'd shoot you on the move, I mean they'd shoot you with the camera still, they'd shoot you with the camera moving, it was just you know, (Michael Bay) loves the camera."
Quotable: "The last few years in scouting have deeply saddened me to see the Boy Scouts of America actively and publicly participating in discrimination. It's a real shame... Once scouting fully opens its doors to all who desire the same experience that so fully enriched me as a young person, I will be happy to reconsider a role on the advisory board."
Steven Spielberg, resigning his advisory board
"Oh, that Louis B. Mayer. He created more communists than Karl Marx."
Screenwriter Albert Hackett, quoted in Nancy
Warner Home Video president Warren Lieberfarb
"DVD sales will never replace rentals. If Warner lowers the price (of a DVD), that will be the best news I have heard in a long time. We can lower our price somewhat to the renter and our margins will improve."
Blockbuster head honcho John Antioco, responding
"The purpose of making films is to encourage revolution. If that fails, your fallback positions are that you have made art or money."
Director Alex Cox, interviewed in the recent,
Wednesday, 18 April 2001
You and a lot of other DVD fans Kevin William Friedkin's 1985 To Live and Die in L.A. is an oft-requested title around here, and the good news is that a DVD appears inevitable. There's a good chance it will be a special edition as well.
The Vestron Video VHS edition of To Live and Die in L.A. is out of print, and has been so for some time. Fans can easily get a copy on eBay, where they close anywhere from $7.50 to $30.00, depending on condition. A Laserdisc was also released in 1986 by Image, and while that fetches a few more bucks at auction (up to $75.00 or so), the 1.33:1 pan-and-scan transfer means it ain't definitive and in fact, we don't think there has ever been a widescreen home-video release of To Live and Die in L.A., at least not in the U.S. (Just so you know, it was shown theatrically at 1.85:1).
To Live and Die in L.A. was produced by New Century Productions, with the 1985 theatrical distribution handled by MGM/UA and the home video rights going to the now-defunct Vestron. Vestron went bankrupt in the early '90s, sending their video holdings to (follow the bouncing ball) Credit Lyonnaise. PolyGram Filmed Entertainment bought a portion of the Vestron library in 1997, and Artisan (then Live) obtained a share around the same time. In 1999 PolyGram sold their holdings to Universal, who proceeded to sell the majority to MGM in what amounted to a three-way deal.
Okay that's more than anybody wanted to know (and we're sure we glossed over some of the finer details). But essentially that leaves MGM and Artisan and quite a few Artisan titles have found their way to MGM recently (including Platoon) due to a transfer of rights. Our best information is that To Live and Die in L.A. is currently under MGM's control. Such Vestron titles as The Abominable Dr. Phibes and The Amityville Horror have already been released on DVD by the studio, while the Vestron property The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension was slated to be released early this year, but has since been delayed until a special edition can be put together.
Those familiar with MGM and their DVD marketing plan know that they aren't shy about going digital a few hundred of their films are slated to be released on DVD this year alone, and with the largest proprietary film library in the world (more than 4,000 titles) it seems likely that they will keep up the pace well into the foreseeable future. Of course, this means that they have been releasing a lot of catalog titles sans features a boon to some, annoying to others which puts To Live and Die in L.A. on the DVD radar by default. On the other hand, if Artisan does control the film, it seems likely that they will release a DVD as soon as possible (although we suspect that, if Artisan had the film, we'd have a DVD by now).
In any event, we are guessing (and this is just guessing) that To Live and Die in L.A. will be something special, primarily because William Friedkin has had an active role in some recent DVD releases, with commentaries on both Exorcist special editions as well as the Rules of Engagement disc. Reportedly, he also publicly commented in 1999 that he would have some sort of involvement with To Live and Die in L.A., whenever it should arrive. But at this time Mr. Friedkin is shooting The Hunted with Tommy Lee Jones and Benicio Del Toro (and not far from DVD Journal headquarters in Portland, Ore., in fact), and his involvement with that eventual DVD seems assured. Will he fit a To Live and Die in L.A. disc into his schedule before much longer? Or will MGM just put out a bare-bones version? Or are we totally off-base and Artisan in fact owns this former Vestron release?
Actually, we have better question: What's up with Fox's French Connection DVD? We had been expecting an announcement for the first or second quarter of this year, but that window is rapidly closing. Fox could be waiting for Friedkin to record a French Connection track if that's the case, a special edition of To Live and Die in L.A. could take that much longer.
Top of the Pops: Here's the top-selling DVDs last week from our friends at Ken Crane's DVDPlanet.com. Click the links to read our reviews of these discs:
Bye for now.
Tuesday, 17 April 2001
On the Street: This week's catalog dump comes courtesy of Fox, who have several female-oriented favorites on DVD for the first time, including The Truth about Cats and Dogs, Working Girl, and 9 to 5, while Warner hopes to make a big splash with their new Space Cowboys disc. Universal's Billy Elliot is bound to earn some fans, as will Spike Lee's much-discussed Bamboozled, out today from New Line. And for those looking to round out a comprehensive DVD collection, Leni Riefenstahl's 1934 Triumph of the Will has arrived from Synapse after some delay. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Back tomorrow with the mailbag.
Monday, 16 April 2001
Disc of the Week: Of the many labor disputes that have disrupted Great Britain in the 20th century, among the most vitriolic was the National Union of Mineworkers strike of 1984. A response to the government's proposed closure of several coal pits considered to be "unprofitable," the miners' walkout put thousands of men on the picket lines, while those who dared to cross them faced threats and intimidation. The pit closures had the greatest effect in the northern counties of England, where coal was plentiful and the primary industry of many towns and cities. At that time, as in generations before, mining was both a dangerous trade and an emblem of manhood thankless work that offered little pay, while some miners paid for the electricity-producing coal with their lives. And it seems that the north of England itself has always been synonymous with traditional masculinity pubs don't get much more proud and working-class than in Manchester, Newcastle, or Durham, and the football fans are as zealous as they come.
All of which is why County Durham is such a perfect setting for Billy Elliot, Stephen Daldry's captivating film about one young boy and his refusal to be constrained by the traditions that surround him. Jamie Bell stars in the film as the title character, an 11-year-old lad (in 1984) who lives with his father Jackie (Gary Lewis) and older brother Tony (Jamie Draven), both Durham coal miners. Billy's mother died in recent years, and his grandmother who also lives with the family is growing senile. And since Jackie and Tony are caught up in the miners' strike picketing their local pit while awaiting word on the strike's progress the imaginative Billy spends a lot of time by himself. In order to give Billy some direction, the out-of-work Jackie manages to gather together 50 pence a week to pay for boxing lessons, although it is soon apparent that the scrawny, introspective youth has no talent (or desire) for the sport. But as the strike has taxed the resources of the town, the local ballet class taught by the brusque, chain-smoking Mrs. Wilkinson (Julie Walters) is forced to relocate to the boxing gymnasium. If the rest of the boys are mildly put out, Billy is somewhat intrigued by the class (which he can only hear), and before long he secretly joins as its sole male student. Soon Mrs. Wilkinson takes a keen interest in her new charge, whom she eventually thinks is talented enough to audition for the Royal Ballet Academy in London. But it's hard to keep a secret in a small town, and before long Billy's father demands that his son stop attending the class immediately. After all, boys do not learn ballet and especially not in Durham.
On first viewing, it's tempting to dismiss Billy Elliot as a shameless bit of feel-good filmmaking indeed, the overall arc of the plot is fairly predictable, and many of the supporting characters border on boilerplate stereotypes, in particular the temperamental, intransigent father and the equally hard-nosed dance instructor. And the tale itself has been told and re-told many times over (gifted young dreamer must overcome social- and class-prejudices to achieve a lofty goal). One need only spin the DVDs of October Sky and Girlfight for similarly uplifting stories, and Billy Elliot contains echoes of the wildly popular The Full Monty as well, with that film's working-class northern men and their ludicrous strip-tease ambitions. But the reason why Billy Elliot ultimately is so hard to dismiss is because, despite the formula, it's so damn appealing. Extraordinarily so, in fact. Daldry a veteran of many London stage productions, but directing his first film (for which he earned an Oscar nod) displays both a visual flair and a keen ability to capture human drama. And that drama comes from a solid script (written by Lee Hall), that goes in a few unexpected directions. While it would be easy (and tempting) to write Billy Elliot as a dance film, with a talented young man mastering his craft, a lot of the fine details of ballet are overlooked altogether. Billy Elliot is not about dancing per se it's about the struggle of nonconformity, and the invaluable support of a family unit in any endeavor. Indeed, when Billy's hot-headed brother Tony the family's most vocal critic of "poofs" and ballet dancers is the last to join Billy's cause, he notes in his grudging, laconic way "Dad's right mam would have let you do it." Opposing the ballet may uphold a contrived code masculinity but Tony also notices that he has undermined his own family in the process. It's a theme that the film's poignant coda, set years in the future, marvelously underscores.
Universal's new DVD edition of Billy Elliot features a crisp anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with audio in Dolby Digital 5.1. Features include "Billy Elliot: Breaking Free," a 22-minute promotional documentary with comments from all of the film's principals, production notes, and the theatrical trailer, while a look at the script and a photo gallery are on board as DVD-ROM content. Billy Elliot is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: Another weekend brought us another round of new movies, but none could knock Miramax's Spy Kids from the top spot, which it has held for the third week in a row, earning $12.8 million in the past three days and $68.6 million in just three weeks. Also in continuing release, Paramount's Along Came a Spider held the number-two spot for the second week marking the Easter weekend's new arrivals as among the most lackluster of this year. Miramax's Bridget Jones's Diary scored many positive reviews but garnered only $10.8 million for third place, while Sony's Joe Dirt earned $8.2 million, Fox Searchlight's Kingdom Come was good for $7.5 million, and Universal's super-hyped, critically skewered Josie and the Pussycats had the worst debut, even though it appeared to have the largest marketing budget the tasty trio with long tails and ears for hats brought just $5.2 million through the door (mostly from girls under 17).
Still in continuing release, Sony's Heartbreakers has cleared $34.4 million in its first month, while New Line's Blow is nearing $26 million and Fox's Someone Like You is fading with $22.2 million. Warner's Exit Wounds has left the charts, but with nearly $50 million it hasn't hurt Steven Seagal's career. However, Sony's Tomcats was neutered by filmgoers with a $12 million finish. Even worse? Buena Vista's time-travel comedy Just Visiting starring Jean Reno and Christina Applegate, which failed to crack the top ten last weekend (earning a mere $2.3 million), has since sunk without a trace.
The quality movies just keep coming out of Tinseltown, as Paul Hogan returns to cineplexes this weekend in Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles, along with the new Tom Green comedy Freddie Got Fingered. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Mark Bourne has posted an in-depth look at Warner's long-awaited Superman: The Movie, due on May 1, while D.K. Holm spun the unusual restoration effort Sergei Eisenstein: Mexican Fantasy. New reviews from the rest of the team this week include The Legend of Drunken Master, Norma Rae, The Truth about Cats and Dogs, Gummo, Working Girl, 9 to 5, Billy Elliot, and Second Skin. It's all under the New Reviews menu here on the main page you can find even more good stuff with our handy search engine right above it.
We'll be back tomorrow with news on this week's street discs.
Thursday, 12 April 2001
On the Block: Our most recent round of DVD auction rankings from eBay finds Criterion's Salo and The Killer in the top two positions no surprise there, but Anchor Bay's long out-of-print two-disc Army of Darkness: Limited Edition surged over the past few weeks, making its way to third place with a top close of $213.20. Demo discs didn't generate as much activity as they have in past rankings, with the ultra-rare 1997 THX Theatrical Trailers DVD nowhere in sight; the 1999 THX Surround EX demo saw its best finish at $169.00. Other Criterion regulars such as This is Spinal Tap and The 400 Blows continue to make the chart, but arriving for the very first time in the top 15 is Criterion's Sid and Nancy, with one sealed copy bringing a $159.50 hammer-price impressive, as the disc went out of print just last October. Meanwhile, you know and we know that new DVDs of A Hard Day's Night and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory will arrive eventually, but that hasn't prevented some fierce bidding from the ill-informed or certifiably demented, with both discs easily clearing three figures and then some. But if that's odd, get this the Canadian DVD edition of Dancer in the Dark which looks to us to be identical to the U.S. edition snagged $102.50. More eBay-mania? Or are we missing something?
Here's the highest recent closing prices of rare and out-of-print DVDs from online auctions at eBay:
Quotable: We were silly and young and drunken and jumping up and down and making complete clowns of ourselves. I did quite enjoy the days when one went for a beer at one's local bar in Paris and woke up in Corsica. (Richard) Harris woke up in Marseilles once. A little while ago, Richard and I were at a rugby match together, and he said, 'Ah, Jesus, I miss wakin' up in f---in' places that you'd never knew you had been to. I used to love going to the shop to buy a packet of cigarettes and not coming back for a month.' Two old codgers trying to watch a rugby match and stay sober!"
Lawrence of Arabia star Peter O'Toole, discussing
Richard Benjamin on directing Peter O'Toole in My
"Kevin Costner is a great actor, and a good and thoughtful man. But I'm tired of this vision of the world where they are always the good guys fighting to save world harmony. History has shown us that is not true."
Unidentified Cuban filmgoer, after viewing the recent
"It depends how much people want to hold out their peckers."
Family Law executive producer Paul Haggis, telling
Coming Attractions: New DVD reviews are on the way, including yes! Superman: The Movie. In the meantime, if you haven't entered our totally free DVD contest for a copy of Wonder Boys, 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. We'll be back with all the latest Monday morning.
Wednesday, 11 April 2001
There are actually three vendors who have been attached to Glengarry Glen Ross Lawrence New Line, Artisan, and Pioneer. New Line originally produced the 1992 film, but Artisan (then doing business as Live) obtained the home-video rights. However, GGR was one of several films that Live licensed out to Pioneer for a Laserdisc release (in 1994), when such LD stalwarts as Pioneer, Criterion, and Image gobbled up a lot of licenses for the big platters. Artisan also released their own VHS edition and two LDs one letterbox, one pan-and-scan, and both in 1993. The videotape is a common-stock item still available today; all three lasers are irrevocably out of print.
If that sounds sort of complicated, we're afraid it really doesn't get much better. The most recent chatter we've heard is that Artisan isn't sitting on any potential Glengarry Glen Ross DVD just to annoy David Mamet fans really, they'd love to get something out there, and they said as much way back in 1998. But some reports (unconfirmed by us at this time) indicate there may be a disagreement between Artisan and Pioneer over a) who actually has the rights to a new DVD release, or b) getting the supplements on the Pioneer laser ported over to DVD. And those supplements aren't bad Pioneer's LD features two commentary tracks, one with Jack Lemmon, the other with director James Foley. The Laserdisc also offered the complete GGR screenplay in the sleeve a tasty item to be sure, but one not likely to re-appear in a keep-case.
For those who really must have a DVD, there is a Region 2 release from March of last year, licensed to Cinema Club home video (presumably by Artisan), but it's safe to avoid. Prices for the PAL-formatted import on eBay, while not astronomical, are still too high for what's on board: a full-frame transfer and no supplements. By all accounts, the North American videotape is just as good for folks who want to own a personal copy of the film until any DVD arrives. For now the Pioneer laser, with a 2.35:1 letterboxed transfer and commentaries, is the definitive item. And for folks with LD decks, it's also not too expensive, normally closing for around $30 on eBay.
(Then again, this is Glengarry Glen Ross. Isn't putting in the videotape and lying back for two hours, eyes closed and soaking in Mamet's torrential, profane dialogue, good enough for anybody?)
It seems we may have attempted a reply to a similar query many moons ago (it's hard to recall), but we are not aware of any comprehensive website anywhere that tracks the differences between Laserdisc and DVD releases, although that would be pretty damn nice. Right now only the Internet Movie Database has anything approaching this, with "Laserdisc details" and "DVD details" selections in their left-hand navigation on individual movie titles. However, we've noticed it's not always up-to-date, and sometimes important information (such as supplemental materials) is pretty vague, if not overlooked completely. The best way to go when researching if you should buy a current DVD or an out-of-print DVD/Laserdisc is eBay. This can be time-consuming, as it's up to each individual seller to detail their auction items, but the more seasoned and reliable of them will be sure to note all of the features on any release. Again, not completely precise but taking the time to look over several auctions for a particular title, even if it takes a few visits, should give you a pretty good idea of what's on board anything.
You asked for it Russell well, you and about 200 other people who have noticed that some pretty good DVDs get dumped off the Top 25 now and then. So we've added some "Honorable Mention" links at the bottom of the page to highlight even more awesome discs, just to make sure they aren't overlooked by discriminating DVD consumers. Thanks for the input.
Top of the Pops: Here's the top-selling DVDs last week from our new friends at Ken Crane's DVDPlanet.com. Click the links to read our reviews of these discs:
Tuesday, 10 April 2001
On the Street: Plenty of catalog picks are out today, but Paramount has captured our attention and that's not hard to do with three Audrey Hepburn films now on disc: Sabrina, Funny Face, and Paris When It Sizzles. MGM also has several back titles out this morning, including Fellini's Roma and Satyricon, Pedro Almodovar's Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, and the classic King of Hearts. New from Fox is Men of Honor: Special Edition, while Image has the documentary Sergei Eisenstein: Mexican Fantasy up for grabs. And if you collect silent films (we do), look for Kino's two volumes of Arbuckle and Keaton: The Original Comique/Paramount Shorts 1917-1920. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of Reel.com and Image Entertainment:
See ya tomorrow.
Monday, 9 April 2001
Disc of the Week: Some Hollywood films, especially those that involve the collaboration of several distinct talents and egos, can be considered happy accidents. In the case of 1954's Sabrina one of the most beloved films from Hollywood's golden age it's a wonder that it was ever completed at all. Director Billy Wilder, having finished Stalag 17, was uncertain what his next project would be until he settled on Samuel Taylor's popular Broadway play Sabrina Fair. Before long, 24-year-old Audrey Hepburn was attached to the project, fresh off her Oscar-winning debut in Roman Holiday. William Holden and Cary Grant were signed to play the two leading men, but just days before shooting Grant inexplicably backed out, forcing Wilder to find a replacement and only a handful of men in Hollywood had Grant's maturity and appeal. Fortunately, Humphrey Bogart signed on (for a then-astronomical $200,000), but Bogie was at odds with everybody almost as soon as the cameras started rolling (he had nothing nice to say about his co-stars, and before the film was completed Bogart reportedly told a journalist that it was "a crock of shit"). Wilder who preferred to have a collaborator on screenplays began working with Taylor to adapt his Sabrina Fair, but the playwright soon quit in exasperation over Wilder's ceaseless re-writes; Ernest Lehman was brought in to take Taylor's place, but he suffered a nervous breakdown and had to leave the production. The legendary Edith Head was to handle Hepburn's wardrobe, but she was brushed aside (by Audrey herself) for the continental elegance of Hubert de Givenchy, which left Hollywood's top designer none too happy and created all sort of problems for Paramount. And it was a poorly kept secret that the married Holden and the much-younger Hepburn were spending quality time with each other off-camera.
What a joy it is, then, that Sabrina transcended so many of the least attractive things about Hollywood egos, arguments, budgets, personalities and delivers the greatest thing any glittery studio production can offer: Two hours of movie magic with three charismatic leads in a modern Cinderella story. Hepburn stars in Sabrina in the title role, the daughter of Thomas Fairchild (John Williams), chauffeur to the wealthy Larrabee family, with its industrious elder son Linus (Bogart) and his younger sibling, the playboy David (Holden). Sabrina has been in love with the handsome David since she was a young girl, but she herself is barely noticed by anybody at the massive Larrabee mansion she's just the shy chauffeur's daughter who would sooner hide from adults than speak to them. But, upon reaching adulthood, Sabrina is sent by her father to Paris to attend a cooking school. She returns to the Larrabee household two years later, but with an air of sophistication that nobody expected especially David, who cannot even recognize her when he meets her at the train station. David falls for Sabrina almost immediately, which doesn't go over well with the family. The familial patriarch (Walter Hampden) insists that it's entirely improper for his son to be cavorting with a servant's daughter; the more practical Linus, however, has already arranged that David marry the daughter of another wealthy family in order to close a $20 million merger.
Fans of Audrey Hepburn can be grateful that Sabrina was completed, despite complications, as it helped to solidify her status as both an actress and a film personality indeed, by the end of 1954 she had become America's sweetheart, and such a description could not be applied to many other leading ladies of the day. The model female at the moment was Marilyn Monroe, the platinum blonde with giggles and curves, and many B-actresses, such as Mamie Van Doren and Jayne Mansfield, capitalized on the Monroe mystique. But the slender Audrey, as Wilder and others noticed, could be just as alluring as a blonde bombshell, although her appeal was vastly different than Monroe's. Instead of selling sex, she toyed with contradictions: Hepburn was sexy, but also physically slight, and not busty like most other actresses; she could appear sophisticated and worldly, and yet never lose her essential innocence; and while clearly of European stock (with her throaty, rich English accent), there was something about her that seemed quintessentially American spirited, resolute, and fiercely independent. Cast alongside the burly Holden and cynical Bogart in Sabrina, Hepburn effortlessly plays off both character types Holden's David Larrabee is a scoundrel and fun to flirt with, but the now-sophisticated Sabrina can see him for what he is and play along (informed of his engagement, she notes that "he's not married yet.") Bogart's Linus Larrabee is a throwback to the insular, apathetic Rick Blaine in Casablanca, and when he begins courting Sabrina to get her away from David, Hepburn's sentimentality has echoes of Ingrid Bergman's a dozen years before. Both faces of Sabrina are completely believable because she like Hepburn is a beautiful puzzle. For women, Hepburn has become one of Hollywood's most appealing icons, particularly for her complexity and her freedom. For men, she represents something at once immediate and unobtainable, the goddess and the girl next door. And while she had the range to star in such films as The Nun's Story and My Fair Lady, it is her winsome turns in Sabrina, Roman Holiday, and the evergreen Breakfast at Tiffany's that will always define the Hepburn charm.
Paramount's new DVD release of Sabrina features a clean transfer (in the original 1.33:1) from a black-and-white source-print that has excellent low-contrast details, with only some flecking occurring in the first couple of reels. Audio is in the original mono (DD 2.0), and is crisp and clear. Also on board the disc is an 11-minute short on the making of Sabrina although the fluffy doc mostly glosses over all of the on-set tension and a gallery of production and publicity stills. Sabrina is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: A comedy, two adult dramas, and even a kid's film went up against Dimension's Spy Kids over the weekend, but none could displace Robert Rodriguez's family-friendly adventure from the top spot at the box-office, where it remains for the second week in a row, earning $17.8 million over the past three days and $49 million overall. Paramount's Along Came a Spider, starring Morgan Freeman, nearly beat out Spy Kids with $17.1 million, while New Line's drug-dealing Blow with Johnny Depp garnered $12.4 million. It's hard to go wrong with a Pokemon film, and Warner's Pokemon 3: The Movie was good for $9.2 million. But comedies don't always play as well, and Buena Vista's Just Visiting, with Jean Reno and Christina Applegate, collected just $2.3 million in wide release, failing to crack the top ten.
The remaining films in continuing release are only doing modest business, as MGM's Heartbreakers stands at $30 million after three weeks, while Fox's romantic comedy Someone Like You earned just $5.5 million in its second frame, garnering $18 million in 10 days. Paramount's Enemy at the Gates has received some positive reviews, and it's currently shy of $40 million after one month. But off the charts are USA's Traffic, which will finish around $115 million, and Miramax's Chocolat, with a $65 million-plus cume. Safe to miss? Sony's Tomcats, which has fallen to tenth place with a mere $11 million. Impossible to ignore? The noir mystery Memento, which was almost universally adored by critics last weekend, opening in limited release. Expect it to be one of the most-discussed films of the year.
And some of you might want to seek out the head-spinning Memento, as it appears this weekend will bring us another round of formula fare from Tinseltown Bridget Jones's Diary with Renee Zellweger, the comedy Joe Dirt, and the 90-minute soda-pop commercial Josie and the Pussycats all go wide. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Kerry Fall has posted a look at Paramount's new Terms of Endearment disc, while Mark Bourne went digging through the archives and came out with a comprehensive review of a sci-fi classic, Forbidden Planet. New reviews from the team this week include Men of Honor: Special Edition, The Legend of Bagger Vance, The Crow: Collector's Series, Funny Face, Paris When it Sizzles, Sabrina, The Residents: Icky Flix, and the horror double-feature Cherry Falls and Terror Tract. It's all under the New Reviews menu here on the main page lots more DVD reviews can be found with our handy search engine as well.
Back tomorrow with this week's street discs.
Thursday, 5 April 2001
Back at ya: DVD Journal reader Jacob Sager Weinstein writes: "I wanted to let you guys know how much I enjoyed the Raymond Chandler quote you posted about the Oscars last week. I'm late in telling you that, incidentally, because I wanted to track down the following quote, since I thought, just for balance, you'd like to see what one representative of Hollywood had to say about Chandler."
Thanks Jacob. Here's the rest of this week's chatter:
Quotable: "So why were only 100,000 households using (video on demand) in 2000? Turns out, the digital shelves are pretty bare. With no proven revenue model, Hollywood isn't signing many content deals with VOD pioneers because the movie industry thinks VOD threatens its traditional revenue streams. In particular, studios worry that VOD will cannibalize the $12.5 billion in revenues they receive from videocassette and megaprofitable DVD rentals.... Truth is, VOD does shake up a comfortable status quo. For example, about 15% of Blockbuster's revenues come from rental-return late fees. VOD eliminates late fees since access to the movie automatically ends after a certain amount of time."
BusinessWeek Online columnist Jane Black, after the
"Though it was a privilege to work with a process that hadn't changed substantially since the days of Stroheim or Griffith, it was also a drag. Everything took too long. Screenwriter Rudy Wurlitzer once said the process of filmmaking usually comes down to waiting. You're waiting for an answer on your script, waiting for a producer, waiting for an actress. Even when you get the money you're still waiting for the setup or the rain to stop. The corollary of waiting is, of course, supposed to be the meeting; except Wurlitzer pointed out that the meeting is widely misunderstood as an end to waiting when more often than not, it's merely a formal device for announcing a further postponement."
British director/novelist Chris Petit, on why he switched
"I understand that people are interested but it's my life my personal life. It's my job as a mother to protect my children and to protect their privacy. It's very difficult seeing your life being dragged through the newspapers and the tabloids and your children being dragged through it."
Nicole Kidman, explaining to the Sydney Morning Herald
"How easy do you think it is to find someone you can share 14 years of in-jokes with? Not easy. And I don't know that I will."
Hugh Grant, discussing his separation from Elizabeth Hurley
"I didn't want any guns or violence. I wanted it to be action/adventure for kids. A guy told me his son loved Desperado. I said, How old is your son? He said, six. Fuck, he shouldn't be watching that! I can't make movies like that anymore. You don't feel like it's your responsibility, because I never had the intention for kids to watch that. But the reality is they do. Even in The Faculty, I didn't want to gore it up. I had everybody alive at the end."
A reformed Robert Rodriguez in the March/April issue
Coming Attractions: Lots of new DVD reviews are on the way, so we'll see ya Monday with all the latest spins, the box-office report, and everything else. Enjoy the weekend.
Wednesday, 4 April 2001
Thanks for your letter Tom because of you, we're about to get into a sticky wicket.
It's hard to be more profitable than The Beatles. In fact, besides Elvis Presley, no pop recording act has been so aggressively marketed post mortem. Serious collectors of everything Beatles have a lot more than the original dozen or so Beatles albums/CDs to contend with there's the different U.K. and U.S. albums, along with others worldwide, and a host of re-issues, re-masters, bootleg tapes, and anthology collections. There's the "Red" and "Blue" collections, several "Beatles Tapes" volumes, three "Beatles Anthology" titles on CD (not to mention the home video), "Past Masters" (two volumes there), three sets of interviews called "Quote Unquote" and we're just scratching the surface, because a lot of other Beatles CD releases have gone out-of-print for various reasons.
So with a scenario like that with so many titles being released and re-released, and with the active participation of the "Threetles" Paul, George, and Ringo (along with Yoko) in new Fab Four products every year how do we explain the enormous gaping hole that is Let It Be? Not the CD, mind you that's for sale everywhere but the 1970 documentary, which was meant to be co-marketed with the original album. The music can be had for a common retail price, but rare out-of-print video items fetch pretty prices on eBay. What gives?
Our first suspicion was that there were rights issues associated with the film, normally the reason why anything is out of print for any length of time. Let It Be was originally created by the Beatles' own production company, AppleCorps, with the distribution handled by United Artists (reportedly the result of a prior deal swung by Beatles' manager Brian Epstein long before anybody thought of home-video revenue). United Artists subsequently released Let It Be on home video in 1981 on tape in VHS and Betamax, and on Laserdisc via a license to Magnetic Video. All of these versions were mono, and thus largely inferior to the actual Let It Be studio recordings. Along with these, various other permutations of Let It Be float around eBay as well, including duped V-CDs and (apparently bootleg) tapes that feature "extra footage." It also appears that EMI may have released their own legitimate VHS of Let It Be, but outside of the UA releases, we can't confirm that any other versions are bona fide. As it turns out, the surviving Beatles purchased back the rights to Let It Be from United Artists in recent years, and our understanding is that they own the film outright. They could release it at any time even on DVD and there were several rumors that it would re-appear during 2000, the 30th anniversary of the film's release. Alas, instead Beatles fans were treated to the Beatles Anthology book and the CD release of "1", which stormed record charts worldwide during last year's holiday shopping season. No Let It Be, and a lot more of what's already been.
As a further twist in this long and winding road, the long out-of-print video and laser editions of Let It Be are prized by Beatles collectors the tapes trade between $60 $90, and good LDs can close for as high as $300. However, they are not ideal by any stretch. Let It Be was originally shot on 16mm partially due to the "Get Back" ethos of the album being recorded, partially due to budgeting, and perhaps partially due to the fact that the documentary was originally to air on television. When the decision was made to release the film theatrically, the print was blown up from 16mm to 35mm, making this final print gritty and sometimes troublesome. Furthermore, the 1981 transfer to home video was not done with the sort of precision and care that we expect on quality DVD releases nowadays it was pretty much ported in the most convenient fashion and quickly forgotten.
Some Beatles fans, at least when they let their guards down, also will admit that the Let It Be documentary isn't a great film in its own right it's just a compelling document of an enormously popular rock band consumed by egos and infighting. As a documentary, it has a slap-dash quality the songs aren't always edited together properly, voices sometimes don't match the video and only the final "rooftop concert," which turned out to be the band's final public performance, really delivers something special, something that reminds us why the Liverpudlian mop-tops were so charming just six years earlier (but, again, that's just the opinion of some Beatleologists).
Because of these issues, many Beatles obsessives have discussed the possibilities of an improved or extended cut of Let It Be, since hours and hours of raw footage were shot for the project. One rumor (that we can't confirm) is that the Beatles actually restored the entire film as long ago as 1992; some restored footage did appear in the Beatles Anthology, but that's all the public has seen so far. Other fans have speculated on an improved Let It Be that would be called Get Back, the original title of the album/film, and the title of a gray-market CD of the Let It Be album sans Phil Spector's "Wall of Sound" post-production (and, without veteran producer George Martin at the helm, there's all sorts of ways these recordings theoretically could be produced).
Are The Beatles waiting to spring Let It Be on us when the time is right? Will there be an extended cut? Can we expect all sorts of deleted footage? The DVD to end all Beatles DVDs?
It's hard to come up with definitive answers, and we already know that by even talking about the Beatles today we are going to get lots of feedback bluntly put, Beatles fans know their shit, and certainly a lot better than us (so send in those pesky, detailed letters). Our conclusion is that Let It Be is being held back by the Beatles themselves for one or more reasons. Perhaps it's simply due to time-related issues, with all of the surviving members involved in various projects. However, the most common conclusion on Web-based Beatles discussion boards is that George Harrison would rather the film not be put out, at least not in its 1970 cut. This theory has merit: Harrison probably has been the surviving Beatle most willing to distance himself from his mop-top past, or at least not feel the need to make a buck off everything; he's known as a consummate professional, and the hodge-podge of the early Let It Be sessions reportedly were so ill-planned that he quit the band briefly; and he openly feuded with McCartney, even on camera, as the entire project threatened to become Paul's and Paul's alone. If we don't see Let It Be on VHS/DVD in the next few years, somebody possibly George would rather let it go.
But we think such a scenario is unlikely. For all of its faults, Let It Be is far more important in the annals of Beatleology than all of the second-tier items on CD today. And if a re-release of the Beatles greatest hits can sell more than Britney and Eminem, there's no lack of consumer dollars waiting to get this unique, unusual account of Fab Four in their final days. If it happens, expect any return of Let It Be on home video to arrive with maximum publicity.
Right you are Marcus. We had absolutely no idea that this feature was on board the Alliance Trainspotting until we followed your instructions (we put the side with the lesser amount of factory etching face-down in the deck) and our Sony player started churning out train sounds. We also noted that it was playing in CD format, not DVD, and so you are right again Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 is not the first DVD + CD hybrid. It's also not nearly as great of a film as Trainspotting, and even if Criterion gets around to releasing their own SE of the film, we'll probably hang on to the Alliance disc for fun.
Top of the Pops: Here's the top-selling DVDs last week from our friends at Reel.com. Click the links to read our reviews of these discs:
Tuesday, 3 April 2001
On the Street: It's not quite like Neo deciding to eat the red pill or the blue pill, but you do have alternatives today the excellent, moving Lawrence of Arabia: Limited Edition, out now from Columbia TriStar, or the bloated, vacuous Cleopatra: Five Star Edition, on the street from Fox (note that both have excellent documentaries on board). Additional catalog stuff from Columbia includes The Natural, True Believer, and even Krull, while DreamWorks has released Robert Redford's The Legend of Bagger Vance, and USA has a choice special edition of Neil LaBute's Nurse Betty. And it's hard to overlook several new releases from Warner, in particular Being There and The World According to Garp. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of Reel.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 2 April 2001
And the winner is: Jon Danziger of South Nyack, N.Y., wins the free Oliver Stone Collection 10-pack from our March contest. Congrats, Jon!
Our totally free DVD contest for the month of April is up and running, and we have a copy of Paramount's Wonder Boys 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: When former playwright Neil LaBute released his debut film In the Company of Men, it was apparent this writer/director was not afraid to present humanity in ways that made audiences squirm. In fact, in just a short time LaBute has fashioned an indelible body of work exposing the painful humor of our flawed natures. The controversial In the Company of Men a tale of two men and their deceptive manipulation of a beautiful deaf woman sparked heated discussions about gender, relationships, and ethics. LaBute's follow-up film, the misogynistic relationship-bashing Your Friends and Neighbors was an even more brutal and cynical look at human interaction. Interestingly, LaBute describes both these films as comedies. Not necessarily your typical Hollywood romantic comedy, where laughter is generated in sit-com style, but, as LaBute explains, laughter that derives from "something that's socially observant and willing to be true to itself, true to its subject." In his third film, Nurse Betty, LaBute finds the perfect blend of paradoxical comedy, unlikely romance, and social irony. The story, beautifully written and filled with clever dialogue by John C. Richards and James Flamberg, is chock full of the kind of twisted characters LaBute has built a reputation depicting.
Nurse Betty stars Renee Zellweger as Betty Sizemore, a small-town Kansas waitress, a passionate fan of the soap opera A Reason to Love, and the wife of philandering, dumb-cracker, used-car salesman Del (Aaron Eckhart). Morgan Freeman is Charlie, the philosophical hitman with a heart of gold, and Chris Rock co-stars as Wesley, his foul-mouthed and trigger-happy partner. When Del double-crosses Charlie in a drug deal, Charlie and Wesley murder Del in an act of extremely gruesome violence, unaware that Betty is witnessing the murder from another room where she is quietly watching her soap. The shock sends Betty into a psychological tailspin that pushes her into an altered state and on the road to Los Angeles in search of Dr. David Ravell the fictional doctor on A Reason to Live (played by the creepy yet charming Greg Kinnear). Betty believes Dr. Ravell is real and that she is his long-lost love. Following closely behind Betty on her cross-country trek are Charlie and Wesley they need to off Betty because she can identify them as murderers, and they need to reclaim the drugs stored, unbeknownst to Betty, in the trunk of her Buick. Charlie a strong, mature, and an ethical killer who "never took out anyone who didn't have it coming," begins to revere and then love Betty as he builds a profile of her life, creating conflicting feelings that lead him to question his life as a "garbageman of the human condition." Charlie has created in Betty an image to satisfy his own needs, just as Betty has substituted the selfless Dr. Ravell for her cad of a husband.
Nurse Betty requires careful viewing. The turbulent plot with shootouts, car crashes, and stolen drugs is simply a ruse (which, apparently, many viewers at the initial screening at Cannes were unable to see past). The real story lies in the complicated, multi-layered characterizations and the thought-provoking ideas about fantasy, romance, and self-need. The story asks us to examine our emotional selves What makes us feel satisfied? What, if anything, do we really need from each other? Charlie and Betty are in love with people they have never met, and their fantasies serve as projections of their desires just like in a soap opera. As different as these two characters are on the outside, their inner lives are on a parallel course. Making such complicated characters believable necessitates a high caliber of acting talent, and LaBute has assembled a cast that is more than up to the challenge. Zellweger gives Betty a sweetness and naiveté that is believable without being corny. (As Charlie explains, Betty has a "Doris Day thing going on.") Eckhart, though his onscreen time is short, is perfectly cast as the epitome of the mindless, bigoted nincompoop. But it is Freeman who does the finest work here in what is a tricky character portrayal. Freeman, who is always riveting, gives one of the best performances of his career, and host of excellent supporting characters makes the film even more exceptional, including Crispin Glover as the small-town reporter, Pruitt Taylor Vince as the local lawman, Allison Janney as the ruthless soap writer/producer, and Tia Texada as Betty's wacky L.A. roommate.
USA Films' new DVD release of Nurse Betty offers a solid anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with audio in Dolby Digital 5.1. A nice selection of both informative and funny extras are on board as well, including two audio commentary tracks one with LaBute and cast members Zellweger, Rock, Freeman, and Kinnear; a second with LaBute and the producers, composer, director of photography, and costume designer. Most fun are nine episodes of A Reason to Love, acted with true soap-opera earnestness. Nurse Betty is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: Dimension's family-friendly Spy Kids, written and directed by Robert Rodriguez, soared to the top of the box-office chart with a $27 million opening the best of Rodriguez's career and nearly tripling its nearest competitor, Fox's romantic comedy Someone Like You, which debuted with a more modest $10.3 million. Both films were good enough to dislodge last week's winner, MGM's Heartbreakers, which fell to third place, while Sony's new comedy Tomcats opened no higher than fourth, with $6.5 million. Also new, but in limited release, was Sony's thriller The Tailor of Panama, collecting $2 million from less than 200 screens.
Still in continuing release, DreamWorks' The Mexican has cleared $50 million, Warner's Exit Wounds is performing well with $41.1 million after three weekends, while Paramount's Enemy at the Gates is shaping up as a modest success with $34.1 million in its third frame. And multiple-Oscar winners Traffic and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon continued to sell tickets, retaining top-ten standings months after they debuted.
Several new films arrive this Friday, including Blow starring Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz, Along Came a Spider with Morgan Freeman, the time-travel comedy Just Visiting starring Jean Reno, and Texas Rangers, with Ashton Kutcher, Dylan Mcdermott, James Van Der Beek, Randy Travis, and Robert Patrick. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: We've been working overtime in the screening room, and D.K. Holm has posted a new review of the two-disc Lawrence of Arabia: Limited Edition, while the inimitable Alexandra DuPont looked at the four-hour (plus extras) three-disc Cleopatra, and Greg Dorr is on the board with one of our personal favorites, The Natural. Meanwhile, new reviews from the team include The 6th Day, The Rock: The Criterion Collection, Support Your Local Sheriff, Nurse Betty, True Believer, Land of the Mammoth: The Discovery Channel, and Krull . Everything's been added to the New Reviews menu here on the front page; the search engine right above leads to more than 1,000 additional DVD write-ups.
We'll be back tomorrow to let you know about this week's street discs.