Thursday, 31 May 2001
On the Block: Our latest round of DVD auction rankings at eBay are in, and Criterion titles continue to lead the pack, with Salo clearing $410.00, while The Killer had a high close of $351.00 and The 400 Blows was good for $226.00. Those THX demo DVDs are also regular top-traders, with the 1997 THX Theatrical Trailers disc earning one lucky seller $305.00, while the more recent (and somewhat less rare) 1999 THX Surround EX demo fetched $122.50. But we can't recall a month where eBay bidders took a bigger pounding on the DVD front re-releases for Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Wallace & Gromit: The First Three Adventures, and Rock 'n' Roll High School have all been announced, but not after some folks paid out way too much money for the first editions. Don't say we didn't warn you.
Here's the highest recent closing prices of rare and out-of-print DVDs from online auctions at eBay:
Quotable: "Our objective was to get Mr. Downey in rehabilitation rather than jail. After six months of legal endeavors, we achieved our goal in obtaining a plan calling for rehabilitation rather than incarceration.''
Attorney Daniel Brookman, in a statement issued
"I noticed the (restaurant) manager approaching our table, all trembling. He suddenly tore off his shirt, and he had a Wolverine tattoo all over his back and chest. He told me that meeting me had made his millennium and I think he meant it, because he was bathed in sweat."
Hugh Jackman, discussing the effects of being
"My constituency has changed from drooling teenage boys to drooling four-year-olds."
Jamie Lee Curtis, on her newfound career as a
"I do the movies just for myself, like an institutionalized person who basket-weaves. Busy fingers are happy fingers. I don't care about the films. I don't care if they're flushed down the toilet after I die."
Woody Allen, speaking recently at the New York
Coming Attractions: Several new DVD reviews are on the way, including MGM's second series of Woody Allen films and a trio of Criterion titles. This also will be the last weekend to enter this month's totally free DVD contest for a box-set of The X-Files: Season 3, so be sure to visit our contest page if you haven't yet, and don't forget to take our monthly DVD poll while you're there. We'll be back Monday to announce the winner, and we'll have a new contest up and running as well.
Have a great weekend.
Wednesday, 30 May 2001
On the Street: We've fallen in love all over again with Norma Jean not hard to do, what with Fox's six-disc Marilyn Monroe: The Diamond Collection, which is on the street this week to commemorate what would have been the actress's 75th birthday on Friday. Columbia TriStar has quite a bit of catalog product out today as well, not least of which being the two-disc Close Encounters of the Third Kind: The Collector's Edition, but we're also fond of A Few Good Men: SE, The Celluloid Closet: SE, Once Upon a Time in China 2, and especially Tootsie. It's hard to overlook USA's Traffic this week, as it's one of Steven Soderbergh's finest films to date, and even though the disc feels a little thin on extras (SS participates in a commentary on Paramount's recent Catch-22 but not here?) it's still worth the price of admission. But those of you who like to catch up on what you might have missed in the theater will want to look for E. Elias Merhige's Shadow of the Vampire packed with features and out now from Universal. Here's this week's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Tuesday, 29 May 2001
Disc of the Week: In 1922 German filmmaker F.W. Murnau released Nosferatu: a Symphony of Horror, his not-entirely-legal take on Bram Stoker's Dracula. With Nosferatu, Murnau sought to create the shining example of the realistic vampire movie. He did more than that he created a masterpiece, a work of art that three generations later still appeals as one of the finest silent films and one of the greatest vampire features in cinematic history. That much is well known. What's also known is that the actor who played Count Orlock, the vampire, was a mysterious fellow who went by the possibly pseudonymous moniker "Max Schreck." His depiction of the bestial vampire is one of the icons of horror cinema. What is not widely known is one important fact: In his obsessive passion to make a realistic vampire movie, Murnau made a Faustian bargain with a real vampire, a centuries-old being thirsty for human blood. "Max Schreck" was, in fact, the ultimate Method actor, a vampire playing an actor playing a vampire although because he had been a vampire for a lot longer than he'd been a movie star, certain complications arose as Murnau's crew started disappearing. Indeed, few in Murnau's company survived to see the film's final edit. But this was Art, and Art is worth dying for. Murnau demanded that his work transcend mere temporal limitations and outlive us all. He got his wish. And as for "Max Schreck" ... man, what a performance!
By turns humorous and darkly perverse, that's the alternate-history premise behind Shadow of the Vampire, starring John Malkovich as Murnau and Willem Dafoe in an Oscar-nominated performance as Schreck. However one classifies this movie Comic noir? Surreal fantasy? Roman á fang? it's hard to deny that it has some of the strangest notions and arresting imagery to hit the screen in some time. There's not a bad performance in view, and two are definite stand-outs. Malkovich is splendid as Murnau: director, artiste, drug addict, and pain-is-pleasure kinky-sex impresario. Even when his accent is inconsistent, with this role Malkovich found a vessel in which to pour his familiar intensity and eccentricities, especially as Murnau slips ever closer into all-consuming madness. However, the most laudable performance is Willem Dafoe's. Through layers of make-up that transformed him into the rat-faced, undead Schreck, he delivers a nuanced turn that leaves us hungry for more about his character (so to speak). His Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination was well-earned, though likely doomed for being in such a perverse, non-mainstream film as this. Shadow of the Vampire is technically impressive as well. It succeeds in its striking design and evocation of 1921 Europe at the birth of cinema artistry. The period detail and ambiance are remarkable, and the intercutting between the scenes from the real Nosferatu and this movie-within-a-movie effectively strengthen the all-important illusion of reality. Despite a few flaws, Shadow of the Vampire is well-crafted and artistically expressive; director E. Elias Merhige is a devoted appreciator of Murnau's body of work, and this movie is his quirky tribute to the master (in fact, we get a clear sense in this DVD's commentary track that Merhige may just be the reincarnation of Murnau).
Who was Shadow of the Vampire made for? Knowledge of the source material is certainly not required to enjoy the film, though the more one knows about the real Nosferatu, both onscreen and behind the scenes, the more one can appreciate Merhige's achievement. That this ostensible "art house" movie got as wide an audience as it did is an achievement by itself, and it probably helped to have producer Nicolas Cage take such a liking to Steven Katz's script that he made Shadow the first release of his new production house, Saturn Films. Cage had already been attracted to Merhige's supremely dark hallucinogenic fantasia Begotten and selected him to direct he could hardly have found a better fit between director and material. But does Shadow of the Vampire succeed as a good story well told? Mostly. At just 93 minutes long, its pacing is at times slow-moving. The story is choppy and there's a strong sense that the final theatrical print is actually three-quarters of a longer, stronger movie. There seem to be at least two or three sequences missing, such as a scene explaining Schreck's immediate familiarity with Murnau's lead actress (and bait) Greta Schroeder (Catherine McCormack). Why does he call her "glorious child" in that way? A pebble in this script's shoe is the fact that by the closing credits there's too much we still don't know. All the lead characters would benefit from further, er, fleshing out. As a result, the almost surreally horrific climax comes this close to tipping the whole thing over the top into abrupt absurdity. It balances that edge, teeters a bit, and manages to stay on the right side of the line barely. Whether or not the whole is as satisfying as its parts, one thing is certain about Shadow of the Vampire: The campfire conversation between Schreck and two of Murnau's men is one of the finest scenes you're likely to see anywhere, and is one of the great scenes in all of vampire cinema.
Universal's new DVD edition of Shadow of the Vampire delivers a superb print with excellent definition and contrast, a must for a film that spends almost all of its time in dark rooms and subdued lighting. The anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) is solid, and the audio is equally fine in either DTS or Dolby Digital 5.1 (this isn't a movie that lends itself to fill-your-head 5.1 gimmickry, so its use is tastefully restrained, thus all the more effective when employed). Extra features include a scene-by-scene commentary from director Merhige (which is erudite and thought-provoking); a six-minute behind-the-scenes featurette; short interviews with Dafoe, Merhige, and Nicolas Cage; a vampire make-up photo montage; a production scrapbook photo montage; Shadow's theatrical trailer and the trailer for Merhige's Begotten ("makes Eraserhead look like Ernest Saves Christmas"); production notes; and talent files. Shadow of the Vampire is on the street this morning.
Box Office: To nobody's surprise, Buena Vista's Pearl Harbor soared to the top of the Memorial Day Weekend box-office with a blistering $75.1 million in just four days, bolstered by both a 3,200+ screen debut and enough hype to sink a battleship. It was the second-largest four-day opening in history, bested only by Steven Spielberg's The Lost World, which cleared $90 million during the Memorial Day weekend of 1997. Also getting a boost from the holiday was DreamWorks' Shrek, which opened in first place last weekend and added $54 million over the past four days, boosting its total to $110.7 million. Shrek's audience held steady during its second frame, thanks in large part to positive reviews and word-of-mouth. As for Pearl Harbor, only time will tell. Its $75 million opening virtually guarantees that the film will make back its estimated $140 million budget, but critics derided it mercilessly for (among other things) its length, clichéd love triangle, and wooden dialogue. (From Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer? Say it ain't so!)
In continuing release, Universal's The Mummy Returns is still packing 'em in and now has cleared $170.7 million in just one month, Sony's A Knight's Tale stands at $44.5 million, but Warner's Angel Eyes pales by comparison to the summer heavyweights, with a modest $18.5 million to its credit. And in the thick of it all is Newmarket's noir-thriller Memento, which continues to add screens, earn fans, and climb the charts, improving to eighth place over the Memorial Day weekend with $14.4 million overall thanks in part to the fact that everybody who sees it has to see it twice.
Moulin Rouge, starring Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor, opens this weekend, while Martin Lawrence and Danny DeVito go for laughs in What's the Worst That Can Happen? Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Our own D.K. Holm hung around the holiday weekend, and he's posted new reviews of Steven Soderbergh's Traffic and the miniseries QB VII, while Betsy Bozdech spun the revamped A Few Good Men and Mark Bourne had a look at the documentary The Celluloid Closet: Special Edition. Plenty of new stuff from the team today as well, including the entire "Diamond Collection" of Marilyn Monroe films Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, How to Marry a Millionaire, There's No Business Like Show Business, Bus Stop, The Seven Year Itch, and Marilyn Monroe: The Final Days as well as Tootsie, Rio Bravo, Once Upon a Time in China 2, Uncommon Valor, The Bridges at Toko-Ri, The Emperor's New Groove, Shadow of the Vampire, The Beast, Stargate SG-1: Season One, Unlawful Entry, and the rest of the Superman films Superman II, Superman III, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. Everything has been added under the New Reviews menu here on the main page use our handy search engine right above it to find lots more.
Cheap seats: The documentary Marilyn Monroe: The Final Days is only available on DVD in Fox's "Diamond Collection" box-set, but if you want to save a few bucks (and see Marilyn's famous skinny-dipping scene in the reconstructed Something's Got to Give), note that it will air this Friday, June 1, on American Movie Classics as part of their all-day tribute to Monroe on what would have been her 75th birthday. Check your cable or satellite listings for times.
Wednesday, 23 May 2001
Coming Attractions: The lights are already dim at DVD Journal HQ as the staff is off to enjoy a well-deserved holiday break. But the new DVD reviews still keep coming, and we'll be posting looks at Fox's new Marilyn Monroe series, along with a little film by Steven Soderbergh called Traffic. While we're gone, if you haven't entered our totally free DVD contest for a box-set of X-Files: Season 3, be sure to visit our contest page if you get the chance. Have a fun holiday we're back next Tuesday morning.
Quotable: "We know there are some people who will leave the movie and want to fight World War II all over again. There will always be people who continue to see us as foreigners, as the enemy. There will always be people who point their finger at us because they are upset with the actions of foreign nations such as Japan and China.... We're not protesting the movie. We would just like to voice our concern over the potential backlash that can come from a movie like this. My biggest fear is that we would see some violence from the movie ... with people having a very chauvinistic, xenophobic response and acting out what they were feeling."
John Tateishi, national director of the Japanese
"I can't know what Stanley knew. I can't be who Stanley was, and I'll never be who Stanley might have been. But I can tell a really great story, and it's too good a story to let it collect dust in Stanley's archive."
Steven Spielberg, on the weight of carrying on
"I haven't up until now and I'm not going to. It's really private. I wouldn't respect somebody if I saw them on TV talking about all their kind of personal stuff, so I'm really holding back. There's more than myself involved, there's more than Tom involved. There's Isabella and Connor and then there's our extended families, and I am really just saying no."
Nicole Kidman, who still refuses to spill the beans
"Corny comedy, incredible drama, and then suddenly, a musical number. Everyone was riveted. I remember thinking, 'Could you make this work with an audience in the West?'"
Baz Luhrmann, director of Moulin Rouge,
"It's my homage to the feel-good movie of the year, maybe one of the feel-good movies of all time."
Todd Solondz at the Cannes Film Festival,
"I am a huge fan of Alfred Hitchcock, and it's an honor to be a part of the history of his filmmaking."
Dimension Films co-chairman Bob Weinstein,
Tuesday, 22 May 2001
Criterion heads for cable: If you get Sundance Channel from your cable or satellite provider, heads up starting Thursday, June 7, The Criterion Collection will launch a 13-week film series on the cable network featuring several titles already on DVD under the Criterion folio, and a few more that are on the way. Here's the TV rundown for "Sundance Channel Presents Classic World Cinema from The Criterion Collection" (all screenings start at 9 p.m.):
If that isn't enough, each screening will be preceded by a half-hour installment of Sundance Channel's "Conversations in World Cinema." We like to think of ourselves as pretty serious DVD fans here, but we're tempted to fire up the VCR for some of these and particularly for the discs we've missed.
It also would be a good opportunity to see if the VCR is still functioning....
On the Street: It's one of the biggest street Tuesdays in recent memory, with so much good stuff out today that your credit card probably will take a pounding. Our favorite is a pure Hollywood classic, MGM's special edition of Billy Wilder's Some Like It Hot, while Criterion has two more discs from legendary directors, Akira Kurosawa's Hidden Fortress and Jacques Tati's Playtime. Paramount has a dose of classic war films in time for Father's Day, including Hell is for Heroes, The Bridges at Toko-Ri, In Harm's Way, and Catch-22, which features a commentary with director Mike Nichols and Steven Soderbergh. Action titles from Fox today include Big Trouble in Little China: Special Edition, Point Break, and Chain Reaction, while Columbia TriStar has two mountain-climbing adventures, Vertical Limit: Special Edition and Into Thin Air: Death on Everest, and Universal has released Jaws 2. But if all that action is too much for you, we highly recommend two stirring dramas Julian Schnabel's Before Night Falls and Darren Aronofsky's Requiem for a Dream. The DVDs (from New Line and Artisan, respectively) are worth it for fans. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Bye for now.
Monday, 21 May 2001
'Superman' slapped with a suit!: We love the fact that Warner has released the entire Superman series on disc, as do most DVD fans but the verdict is far from unanimous. In a $20 million lawsuit filed late last week, Pueblo Film Licensing who represents the interests of late Superman producer Alexander Salkind claims that Warner Brothers and DC Comics have violated previous legal agreements that allegedly prevent them from releasing Superman III and Superman IV on DVD, the Internet, or any new medium, as such violates "their creative integrity." The suit also claims that the two films were "re-edited and altered in a manner that would violate the Superman Picture Contracts and (the defendants have) done so unlawfully using materials owned by plaintiff."
Frivolous? Don't ask us it's in the hands of a California court, and Warner has not commented on the suit. Furthermore, we aren't clear why it appears only the third and fourth Superman films are named, but not Superman: The Movie and Superman II (although the details may be in the fine print of legal agreements at the time). It may amount to nothing but at least the first two films, by far the more popular of the quartet, appear to have escaped legal scrutiny.
Disc of the Week: American artist Julian Schnabel whose formidable paintings played a major role in a resurgence of the figurative art form in the 1970s and 1980s conquered the art world before he was 30. Schnabel has gone on to become one of the most financially successful artists of his era and a painter of considerable international fame with works displayed in such prestigious places as the Whitney Museum, London's Tate Gallery, and the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum. Looking to expand his artistic palette, Schnabel turned to film directing in the mid-1990s, and his singular talent has made the world of movies a richer place. His first film, Basquiat (1996), portrayed the life of Jean-Michel Basquiat, the homeless New York graffiti artist who experienced a brief encounter with fame before descending into drugs and madness. Schnabel's fascination with tortured artists those out of step with their time and environment continues with his second film, Before Night Falls, a recounting of the life of Cuban poet and novelist Rienaldo Arenas. Censored in Cuba, Arenas smuggled out his manuscripts to other countries for publication and become a critically acclaimed writer throughout the rest of the world. Working with screenwriters Cunningham O'Keefe and Lazaro Gomez Carriles and using Arenas' posthumously published memoirs and bits and pieces of his loosely autobiographical novels, Schnabel creates a masterpiece of cinematic expression that merges beauty, color, and exceptional acting.
Before Night Falls begins with a surreal depiction of Arenas' years lived in extreme indigence in a rural Cuban backwater that he describes as a "childhood of absolute poverty and absolute freedom." When a teacher tells Reinaldo's father that his son has a gift for poetry, the father is incensed and driven to violence. The family later moves to the city, where the teenage Reinaldo is stirred by the excitement of Castro's revolution and runs away to join the rebels. Eventually making his way to Havana, Arenas awakens both sexually, with initially timid and then more aggressive homosexual encounters, and artistically, when his first novel is published. Schnabel vividly simulates hedonistic Havana and this idyllic time of freedom in Arenas' life a time of sexual exploration and intellectual discovery. But Castro soon declares that there is no room in his revolution for "antisocial elements," including homosexuals and outspoken artists. As a friend tells Arenas, "People who make art are dangerous to any dictatorship. They create beauty and beauty is the enemy. Artists are counterrevolutionaries." Arenas is jailed on a trumped-up charge but continues to write, and he even manages to smuggle a manuscript out of the prison with the unique services of the transvestite Bon Bon, played with exquisite flair by Johnny Depp (Depp has an additional cameo in the film as Lt. Victor, a sadistic, sexually enigmatic military officer). Once released from prison, Arenas takes advantage of the Castro-sanctioned exodus of those deemed unfit to be Cubans. He goes to New York where he lives for the next ten years until his slow decline from AIDS causes him to commit suicide in 1990.
Using a free-floating, sometimes phantasmagoric style, Schnabel bypasses the usual conventions of the biopic in Before Night Falls by opting to paint Arenas' life in broad strokes, almost as it if were a dream the poet himself might have had of his own life. Never delving too deep, the film refrains from examination or judgment, instead offering a visualization of Arenas through feelings, colors, and textures that allow the viewer to draw his own conclusions. Schnabel chooses his actors carefully, and the choice of Spanish actor Javier Bardem (usually known for his macho roles in films like Jamon, Jamon) is a stroke of genius. Bardem plays Arenas with great thoughtfulness as he portrays Arenas' growth from timid and uncertain writer to committed artist and revolutionary. Bardem received a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his work, and although he didn't win, it was the best screen performance of 2000. The supporting cast is equally impressive and includes French actor Olivier Martinez (sometimes billed as "the French Brad Pitt") as Carriles Arenas' friend and one of the movie's co-writers while Andrea Di Stephano portrays Pepe Malas. Depp effortlessly plays his two very diverse small parts, and watch for the almost unrecognizable Sean Penn in another cameo role.
New Line's DVD release of Before Night Falls offers a letterbox widescreen transfer (1.85:1) that does justice to the saturated hues and sweeping colors of cinematographers Xavier Perez Grobet and Guillermo Rosas, who worked to create a film with "texture you can touch." The exquisite and evocative original music by Laurie Andersen, Lou Reed, and Carter Burwell is crystal clear in Dolby Digital 5.1. Supplements include an audio commentary with Schnabel, Bardem, Carriles, Grobet, and Burwell, which presents a fascinating look into Schnabel's creative process, as well as insights about Arenas from his friend Carriles and intelligent and provocative information from these cast and crew members. Schnabel comments on his desire to tell the history of Cuba through the eyes of Arenas as "a witness and participant in this moment in Cuban history." Three very short documentary features are also included a behind-the-scenes home movie by Schnabel's daughter Lola shows the fun and excitement the crew enjoyed during the making of the movie and catches some lighter moments; "Little Notes on Painting" is an in-studio interview with Schnabel where he shows and describes some of his paintings; and "Improper Conduct," excerpts from a 1983 interview with Arenas, offers a glimpse at the real man and shows how closely Bardem came to resemble the artist. Before Night Falls is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: DreamWorks' animated feature Shrek displaced The Mummy Returns from the top spot at the box office over the weekend, and emphatically so it was the largest opening ever for the studio, and the second largest debut for any animated film (Toy Story 2 earned more than $57 million after its opening frame in 1999). By comparison, the weekend's only other major new arrival, Warner's Angel Eyes starring Jennifer Lopez, was a disappointment, clearing just $9.5 million for fourth place and failing to better last week's top performers The Mummy Returns and A Knight's Tale, which finished in second and third respectively. (Shrek enjoyed overwhelmingly positive reviews; on Angel Eyes, the critics were mixed.)
In continuing release, Universal's The Mummy Returns is blasting its way towards the double-century with $146.5 million after just three weeks, while Miramax's Bridget Jones's Diary has cleared $56.6 million, and New Line's Blow will cross $50 million at any time. Things haven't gone so well for Warner's Driven, as the Renny Harlin/Sly Stallone racecar flick has done less than $30 million in its first month and is falling fast. But the pre-summer doldrums have favored Newmarket's indie sensation Memento, which remains in the top ten for another week despite playing on less than 500 screens nationwide it now has $12 million to its credit after 10 weeks.
Memorial Day is on the way, which means just one new film will open nationwide this Friday Pearl Harbor. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Alexandra DuPont has posted a detailed look at Columbia TriStar's Close Encounters of the Third Kind: The Collector's Edition, due on May 29, while Mark Bourne spun MGM's new Some Like It Hot: Special Edition, Greg Dorr tackled Artisan's Requiem for a Dream, and D.K. Holm looked at Paramount's Catch-22. New stuff from the team this time around includes Vertical Limit: Special Edition, City Slickers, In Harm's Way, Point Break, Twelve O'Clock High, Mon Oncle Antoine, Chain Reaction, Before Night Falls, Jaws 2, Blame it on Rio, Hell Is for Heroes, and Buffalo Bill and the Indians. It's all been added under the New Reviews menu here on the front page, while our entire DVD database can be scanned with our handy search engine.
We'll be back tomorrow to let you know about this week's street discs.
Thursday, 17 May 2001
Coming Attractions: New DVD reviews are on the way, including Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Some Like it Hot, and lots more. In the meantime, if you haven't entered our totally free DVD contest for a box-set of The X-Files: Season 3, 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 Clips: (On "Timmy Hilnigger" jeans:) "A couple weeks ago I just dropped my daughter off at school I'm on the corner of 63rd and Central Park West and Tommy Hilfiger comes up to me. [throaty voice] 'Spike, I want you to know I've done so much for black people. Ohh-hh, Spike, how could you do this? I've been giving money at the Martin Luther King fund and every summer I send ghetto black kids to camp.' I was waiting (for him) to say 'Spike I'm blacker than you.' I said 'Tommy, you were not the only one singled out, this is satire, and would you be just as upset if this was a Saturday Night Live skit?' Y'know, he turned around and walked down the block and went on his business. It really amazed me. People thought I was attacking Jesus Christ himself. 'How could you say that about Tommy? Tommy Hilfiger?' Well one of the reasons I did it is because the word Hilfiger it was so easy to turn Hilfiger into Hilnigger."
* * *
"I've known of Savion (Glover)'s genius for a long time.... (I've) always tried to think about how I could incorporate his immense talent in a film, and I wrote this role specifically for Savion. And people have asked me how did I know he can act. Anybody who can express themselves through dance, I feel they can act, because acting is about expressing yourself. I was very confident that Savion could do what needed to be done. Same thing with Tommy Davidson y'know, he's a comic, but at the same time I felt he had the qualities to pull off the role."
* * *
"Someone had given me a pamphlet, and it came from the turn of the century... and it was how to put on a minstrel show. And so these are the actual directions (on how to apply blackface). I knew for sure that I wanted to include that in this film. Blackface, back in the day, they burnt cork. And we see this scene the application of the blackface several times throughout the film, and you see the effect it starts to take from the beginning to the end. And Tommy and Savion told me they told everybody this that this was a dehumanizing thing to do, that they felt a part of their souls being taken away every time they had to 'blacken up.' And this is just a little bitty film it made us all think about the greats like (vaudevillian) Burt Williams, who had to do that their entire careers."
Quotable: "Hollywood is moving to the position of 'If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.' This strategy will fail, and movies will move on into obscurity, a future entertainment category subsidized by taxes and private charity and viewed by a select audience, much like opera and ballet today."
Bob Schwabach, a syndicated computer columnist,
"The studio doesn't want us to call it a musical. It's thought to be bad for business."
Director Baz Luhrmann on Fox's marketing
"As for the Indianapolis speech, I'd collected quite a mélange of materials: (Howard) Sackler's version, two or three drafts that I'd written, notes from various people, and (John) Millius's suggestions over the phone. The upshot was that I gave all these materials to Robert Shaw so he could look them over. Then one night when we were eating dinner very close to when the scene was going to be shot Shaw stopped by, which he rarely did, and after dinner he said, 'I think I've got that speech licked.' Then he took out a piece of paper and proceeded to read the speech almost exactly as it appears in the movie ... So it was Robert Shaw who put that speech together, organized it and performed it for us after dinner. Then he performed it exactly the same way on the set, two days running: one day with the other actors, when he was sober, and the next day with the same actors, when he was drunk."
Jaws scenarist Carl Gottlieb, on the creation
"A lot of people think ambition or success and they think dollars. My ambition is all in my head. I'm on a f---ing journey. I'm on a walkabout. It's about collecting wisdom of emotions and heart and self and understanding. Being absolutely comfortable with your body and life and the earth, sun, and moon being the only truths. That's what my success is, getting underneath that."
A Knight's Tale's Heath Ledger on fame,
"It's difficult to find a good movie in America. The old guys that had an interest in film are gone. The heads of studios are 35. They don't know anything about literature. It's predictable stuff they're turning out. I don't want just to be thrilled by a film. I want to toss something around my head for a few days afterwards. I want to be surprised, awed, moved."
Nick Nolte, speaking this week at the Cannes
"It's a love letter to stories he was raised on, about me, George Lucas, and the rest of us, a pastiche of his childhood memories. And a lot of it is true. My kids were raised on the sets. I never hesitated to take them out of school, and if you need a kid for a scene, it's always easier to use one of your own."
Francis Ford Coppola, also at Cannes, on his
Wednesday, 16 May 2001
Hi Christopher. Seven Samurai, a 1954 film by Akira Kurosawa, runs 203 minutes. And we sure wish we could end our reply there, because really it's 203 minutes.
But, as most digital die-hards know, the first Criterion DVD edition of Seven Samurai, issued on 5 August 1998, was recalled and replaced by a second DVD on 1 March 1999. At issue was a film-restoration feature that demonstrated how the video and audio elements had been mastered for the DVD presentation, which Toho Films, the owner and licensor of Seven Samurai, objected to. It seems that Criterion had permission to release the title in its entirety, but they were not allowed to present segments out of context of the film proper. That, and a few apparent quibbles over region-coding (or lack thereof) and subtitles that could be switched off, caused Criterion to pull the disc briefly before the re-issue hit the street.
The snafu: Criterion's second release of Seven Samurai is listed at 207 minutes, even though the official running time of the film, in its longest cut, has always been 203 minutes. We'd love to simply pull out that second disc and see what's up, but believe or not we don't have one just the first edition. Nevertheless, our info is that additional overture and exit music was added to the second edition, just a few minutes worth, which kicked it out to 207 minutes (but whatever the change, it's subtle enough that most people have overlooked it, including us). Criterion's website and virtually all online retail sites also list the new DVD at 207 minutes, despite the fact that the Internet Movie Database is very firm on the 203-minute theatrical cut. This 203-minute time comes in handy for DVD collectors by the way, as there's a lot of concern over buying a 100% genuine first edition of Seven Samurai, along with all sorts of discussion on what fine print to look for on the back of the box. Items such as the location of the UPC code and a "Region 1" logo are frequently mentioned as reliable provenance, but all you need to look for is "203 minutes" the 203's are the real McCoy.
Complicating the scenario further (and don't we love it when that happens), Seven Samurai was seriously trimmed to 141 minutes when first released in the U.S. and Europe, although we don't know if this cut has ever appeared on home video (Criterion's 1989 Laserdisc release was you guessed it 203 minutes). A Region 2 DVD released by the British Film Institute clocks in at 190 minutes. Butchery? Maybe, but we've heard that this actually has to do with PAL conversion and that the entire film is on board it just runs a bit faster (but, not having that particular DVD handy either, we can't confirm it).
More trivia? Michael Jeck's much-praised commentary wasn't recorded in 1998 for the DVD, but instead first appeared on the 1989 Criterion CAV laser it's more than twice as old as the DVD format itself, but timeless in its thorough scholarship. Also, Seven Samurai was the first DVD released by Criterion, who were still in the Laserdisc business in '98. That being the case, consider yourself chronically obsessed with all things DVD if you know why it being the first release it sports Criterion spine #2.
We actually haven't noticed too many auctions for the Alfred Hitchcock Presents discs on eBay Tim (they tend to close a little too low for our regular rankings), but we're not surprised Alfred Hitchcock personally directed 17 episodes of the long-running CBS-TV series, and the 16 episodes put on DVD by Universal are de rigueur items for Hitchcock completists. Unfortunately, the bad news is that if auctions for individual discs are going for $40 and up, that's just all the more reason for collectors to consider buying one or more of Universal's four Hitchcock collections. After all, the AHP discs were produced merely to create interest in the Universal boxes big closes on eBay may be just the sort of buzz to keep them where they are for now.
(As for that 17th Hitchcock television episode, in 1961 Alfred Hitchcock Presents was expanded and recast by CBS as The Alfred Hitchcock Hour for its final season, and Hitch directed the one-hour courtroom drama "I Saw the Whole Thing," starring John Forsythe. As far as we can tell, this item is not on home video anywhere.)
Ms. DuPont will get nothing and like it.
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, 15 May 2001
On the Street: It's a quiet street Tuesday this morning, although just a brief lull before the May 22 June 5 stretch of premium releases. Nevertheless, Fox has our attention today with a quartet of classic war films The Sand Pebbles, Twelve O'Clock High, Von Ryan's Express, and the re-issued Tora! Tora! Tora!: Special Edition. Columbia TriStar also has a highly praised war film out today with Kevin Reynolds' 1988 Soviet tank drama The Beast, while Warner's Best of Show will be snapped up by fans of Christopher Guest (and maybe if enough sell we'll actually get Waiting for Guffman before much longer cough, cough). Here's this morning's brief but notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
See ya tomorrow.
Monday, 14 May 2001
Disc of the Week: In 1926, China was in turmoil. Shaking off centuries of dynastic rule, the nation had endured many brutal wars and rebellions in the previous century, including the Boxer Rebellion of 1900, before the revolutionary Sun Yat-sen became the first leader of the Republic of China in 1911, ending 2,000 years of monarchy. But despite his goal of creating a Chinese society that would uphold his Three Principles of nationalism, democracy, and socialism, competing political forces were in place. Though small at the time, Mao Zedong established the Communist Party of China in 1921, and the unstable political landscape left warlords in control of several regions. After Sun's death in 1925, his protégé Chaing Kai-shek pursued the nationalist cause, primarily via military force. And in the midst of it all, Western powers in China not for any political designs per se but rather the vast opportunities for commerce and influence were omnipresent, be it in the form of trading companies, Christian missionaries, or naval gunboats. Amidst the growing sense of Chinese nationalism, they had long outstayed their welcome.
Robert Wise's 1966 The Sand Pebbles, based on the novel by Richard McKenna, surveys the men of one gunboat, the U.S.S. San Pablo, as it patrols Chinese waters to represent and defend American interests during this tumultuous era. Steve McQueen stars as naval engineer Jake Holman, a sailor who has served on seven boats in his nine-year career a record that will get the attention of any commanding officer, and especially the no-nonsense skipper of the San Pablo, Capt. Collins (Richard Crenna). But despite his reputation for trouble, Jake's only goal is honest work for an honest wage. "On a small ship, you haven't got any of that military crap," Jake tells American missionary Shirley Eckert (Candace Bergen) on his journey to join the San Pablo. "They leave you alone." But the San Pablo, it turns out, is as complicated as a naval vessel can come the ship is manned by "coolies," Chinese nationals who earn a meager living serving the needs of the boat and its crew, and Jake immediately takes issue with the unprofessional way the engine room is managed. As a result, he has an uneasy relationship with the Chinese hands and the American crew alike, but one sailor, Frenchy (Richard Attenborough), becomes fast friends with Jake, as the pair often find themselves at odds with their surroundings particularly when Jake promotes an out-of-favor Chinese hand, Po-han (Mako), to run the engine room, and later when Frenchy falls in love with Maily (Emmanuelle Arsan), a Chinese prostitute. With open revolt in China and the demands it makes on the crew of the San Pablo, matters for the both of them only get worse, particularly as they consider fashioning new lives and destinies for themselves as civilians, and not sailors.
A sprawling film that retains the episodic qualities of the source novel, The Sand Pebbles remains immensely watchable during its three-hour running time thanks to a remarkably subdued performance from McQueen it's certainly the best of his career, and the only one for which he earned an Oscar nomination. A great deal of McQueen's famous screen persona comes through in the part, but he also finds small ways to illustrate Jake's uncomplicated view of himself and his life, with his rural accent and clipped speech patterns, and while he's capable of dramatic outbursts, in his scenes with Candace Bergen he's practically a timid teenager struggling for things to say. It's a dynamic turn, and one that shows McQueen was a far better actor than his "King of Cool" reputation let on. Bergen herself was only 19 when shooting began on The Sand Pebbles, but she offers a mature performance as the young missionary who falls for Jake, while Richard Attenborough comes up with a convincing American patter as the chivalrous sailor with a soft spot for damsels in distress (the project also reunited McQueen and Attenborough four years after The Great Escape). Helmed by director Wise (The Sound of Music, West Side Story), The Sand Pebbles was one of the most expensive films undertaken by Fox at the time, shot on location in Taiwan and Hong Kong over eight months, and with a genuine steam-powered gunboat that cost $250,000 alone. But Wise didn't waste his resources the film is filled with panoramic vistas of the southeast Asian landscape, and several urban locations were extensively made over to resemble 1926 Peking. The result was nine Oscar nominations, and Wise later remarked that it was the favorite film of his career although, in part, simply because the shoot was so enormously complex. "I suppose having suffered through months and months and months of shooting on it," he told an interviewer, "and the weather problems and everything else that went into it, makes a more memorable experience than the others."
Fox's new DVD edition of The Sand Pebbles offers a solid anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) from a clean and colorful source print that's showing very little wear for its age. It is presented in its "roadshow" format, with an Overture and Intermission, although this 182-minute cut falls short of the 196-minute version first screened in 1966 (the additional 14 minutes is lost, possibly forever according to some sources). Audio is available in a new Dolby Digital 4.0 mix, as well as Dolby 2.0 Stereo. Supplements include a feature-length commentary with director Wise, Bergen, Mako, and others; two audio documentaries, "Changsha Bund and the Streets of Taipei" and "A Ship Called San Pablo" (video sources for both apparently have been lost); three radio spots; a still gallery; and the original theatrical trailer. The Sand Pebbles is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: To the surprise of hardly anybody, Universal's The Mummy Returns is still the 800-pound gorilla of the American box-office, remaining atop the chart for the second week in a row as it added another $32.2 million in the past three days and boosted its overall total to $116.5 million in just ten days (ch-ching!). Landing in the number-two spot was the weekend's only new arrival, Sony's A Knight's Tale starring Heath Ledger, which garnered a respectable $17 million and could turn out to be the sleeper hit of the summer season (and just so we all know these are summer films, they're doing big business while earning some snide reviews from the critics sounds like summer to us).
Films in continuing release hardly matter this time around The Mummy Returns and A Knight's Tale were responsible for nearly three-fourths of the weekend box-office, with everything else on the fast-track to DVD prep (no film below the top two earned better than $4.5 million). Miramax's Spy Kids has cleared $100 million to date, while their Bridget Jones's Diary is now over $50 million. The late-spring doldrums have allowed such fare as Blow, Along Came a Spider, and Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles remain on the chart longer than we expected, but gaining screens (and fans) are Newmarket's Memento and Sony's The Tailor of Panama, both cracking the top ten after several weeks in limited release. But off the charts is one of the most remarkable flops in recent memory New Line's Town and Country, an oft-rewritten "comedy" starring Warren Beatty and reportedly costing between $80 90 million due to production overruns, has bailed out after three weeks and around $6 million in revenue.
Next weekend sees the arrival of Angel Eyes starring Jennifer Lopez, along with the animated Shrek, featuring the voices of Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, and John Lithgow. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Alexandra DuPont has posted a lengthy deconstruction of Fox's two-disc Big Trouble in Little China: Special Edition, due on May 22, while Greg Dorr looked at Mississippi Burning and D.K. Holm spun the revised Tora! Tora! Tora!: Special Edition. Meanwhile, new reviews from the team this week include Von Ryan's Express, M. Hulot's Holiday: The Criterion Collection, Mon Oncle: The Criterion Collection, Antitrust, The Sand Pebbles, The Horse Soldiers, and The Pope of Greenwich Village. Everything's been added under the New Reviews menu here on the front page, while our search engine leads to more than 1,000 DVD write-ups.
Back tomorrow with this week's street discs.
Thursday, 10 May 2001
'Exhausted' goes digital: Many of you may recall that New Line's second DVD release of Boogie Nights: Platinum Series wasn't as definitive as hoped a mix of the Criterion Laserdisc edition and New Line's first DVD release, the only thing missing was the 30-minute segment of the John Holmes documentary Exhausted with audio commentary from Paul Thomas Anderson. In fact, early check-discs for the two-disc Boogie Nights contained the supplement, but the documentary soon vanished without a trace and just a few vague comments about "rights" issues.
But now comes word from Exhausted producer Julia St. Vincent that a new DVD version of the entire film will arrive on June 4 (however, PTA's amusing commentary on the non-hardcore elements of the film is still only to be found on the OOP Criterion laser). She also has a few choice comments on the Exhausted/New Line fallout on her website. No editorial from us, or at least not on this sort of legal dispute. But St. Vincent's website is an interesting read for Boogie Nights fans, and those who don't mind viewing adult materials may find the Exhausted disc to be a valauble companion piece to PTA's porn-industry epic.
Quotable: "It's happening whether anybody likes it or not. I have some friends, like Marty (Scorsese) and Steven (Spielberg), and they're not going to change over. They love film. I think Jim Cameron and Francis (Ford Coppola) changed over. It's like the beginning of color. Some still wanted to use black and white, and that's great. It's an addition to what's already existing."
George Lucas on the transition from film stock
"I can tell you that (the issues facing the negotiators) were all very difficult. There were no pins that fell on their own. We had to bowl them all over."
Michael Mahern, secretary-treasurer of the
"I'm willing to take large sums of money to vote for your film. I will choose the film whose producer gives me the largest amount of money."
A tongue-in-cheek Terry Gilliam, who is on the
"A chase is very difficult to film. In many ways, it's a tapestry. You have to see the whole thing in your head. It's all done without sound. The sound is added later, so you have to see it all, and hear it all and then you have to bring it off in a way that people aren't going to get hurt or injured. There's only a handful that have worked, and most of them are in silent films."
William Friedkin, on the set of his chase film
"It will be interesting to see if they can pull this puppy off. They can't really have McNuggets with kamikaze sauce."
Chris Pula, former president of marketing for
"Someone said to me, 'You can't have this kind of music (David Bowie, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, and Rare Earth) in this kind of movie.' So I said, 'What kind of music would you have?' 'An orchestral score,' they said. To which I said, 'The instruments in an orchestra didn't exist in 1370; there were no cellos, no violins, no brass section. So why is it O.K. to be 300 years too early but not 600 years too early?'"
Director Brian Helgeland on the unusual music
"His voice is, um, I was, um well, he's a great guitar player."
Wyclef Jean, producer of Steven Seagal's new
Coming Attractions: That stack of new DVDs never stops piling up, and new reviews on the way include Big Trouble in Little China, the re-issued Tora! Tora! Tora!, and more. We'll see ya Monday.
Wednesday, 9 May 2001
While we can't possibly vouch for the integrity of any eBay seller, it's likely that the majority of auctions for George Stevens' 1956 Giant on DVD are bona fide. Yes, a Giant DVD exists, and it's not a bootleg. Warner released a fat special edition a DVD-18 in fact sometime within the last year. The disc is based in part on the February 1999 Laserdisc edition from Warner (the third and final LD of Giant to be produced), which featured the 202-minute cut from the 1996 "40th Anniversary" restoration, and also on the laser is an introduction by George Stevens Jr., the making-of documentary "Memories of Giant," and two featurettes. The Region 1 DVD release adds a lot more to the mix, with all of the above and interviews with cast members, a segment with composer Dimitri Tiomkin, newsreels, original promotional footage, and four theatrical trailers. Sounds like a nice package, actually.
Of course, a lot of folks are unaware of this Giant DVD as Warner decided for whatever reason to distribute it only to Canadian retailers, and it was on sale in Canada for several months at a very reasonable price, less than $20 U.S. And, as noted, we are talking about a Region 1 DVD no need for a code-free deck or PAL conversion. We're sort of sorry we missed it, because just as mysteriously as it arrived Warner's Giant was pulled in February or March of this year from Canadian retailers. What's more, by some accounts this was not simply a case of the disc being allowed to run out of stock, but that it was actually recalled, and anybody who had an outstanding order at a Canadian online retailer was simply notified that the disc was no longer available. This was done with so little warning, and less solid information, that some folks figured that the disc was merely in short supply and Canadian sellers would be re-stocking the title soon. But as of this time, we cannot find any Canadian e-tailer who has the disc in stock and ready to ship. And as for Stateside e-tailers, it's pretty much as if the disc never existed at all.
All of which prompts many, many questions. First, why was such a nice special edition of Giant produced by Warner but only distributed in Canada? Anybody's guess is as good as another it makes no sense to us. Was Canada being used as some sort of test-market in this case? If so, why would a straightforward DVD release like Giant need a test-market?
Secondly, after getting the product out there, why recall the disc? Again, we don't have a firm answer at this point, but we have heard it suggested that Warner somehow lost the rights to Giant. However, we aren't aware of any recent scenario under which Warner would lose the rights to the film. What's more, VHS editions of Giant are still for sale in both the U.S. and Canada no recall, no deep-six, nada. The property is still Warner's to do with as they please.
Our only conclusion at this time is that the Giant DVD disappeared in Canada because Warner plans to revisit the product. We certainly can see a scenario where a revised Giant: Special Edition will arrive in the U.S., and in order to keep the package consistent throughout Region 1 Warner wanted to get the Canadian edition off the market as quickly as possible. Therefore, while you can get a Giant DVD on eBay, we are not recommending that anybody buy it, especially for inflated prices. We're convinced that its OOP status is not a death-knell, but merely a sign of better things to come.
Good Lord The Breakfast Club: Ultimate Edition! Two discs! Funny behind-the-scenes stories! Another hour of impromptu group therapy! We shudder at the mere thought of it.
In any event, there's no word yet from Universal on their several John Hughes properties previously licensed to Image but now back at UHV. The Breakfast Club has always been a Universal release and is still available bare-bones. Among re-releases we can expect sometime in the future from Universal are Sixteen Candles and Weird Science, likely with improved transfers and supplements of some sort. In the meantime, other Image titles that are currently OOP while Universal ponders new editions are Midnight Run, Double Indemnity, and the Marx Brothers classics Duck Soup, Animal Crackers, and Horse Feathers. We say don't pay too much money on the OOP versions at this time there's no telling what's around the corner (perhaps even a funny anecdote or two about Molly Ringwald's underpants).
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, 8 May 2001
On the Street: We have another MGM catalog dump today with a diverse set of titles ranging from the westerns The Magnificent Seven, Buffalo Bill and the Indians, and The Horse Soldiers, to dramas such as Eight Men Out and Mississippi Burning, and even popular comedies like City Slickers and Throw Momma from the Train. Paramount has the Mel Gibson/Helen Hunt comedy What Women Want on the street, while Columbia TriStar has released Billy Bob Thornton's All the Pretty Horses, although not in the much-discussed director's cut (at least on this first edition). We're looking forward to Criterion's The Scarlet Empress, while Fox is sure to gain attention with the arrival of Quills. And all of you X-philes have another big box of discs to pick up The X-Files: The Complete Third Season is out now. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 7 May 2001
And the winner is: Enrique Gomez of Austin, Texas, wins the free Wonder Boys DVD from our April contest. Congrats, Enrique!
Our totally free DVD contest for the month of May is up and running, and we have Fox's The X-Files: Season Three up for grabs the whole enchilada. 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: Usually, remaking a classic film is an exercise best left alone, and for every truly remarkable movie in world cinema there are a handful of imitators, and just as many disappointing sequels. But when John Sturges decided to translate Akira Kurosawa's 1954 Seven Samurai to the American West, he actually hit paydirt. His 1960 The Magnificent Seven was not an instant box-office success in the U.S., but it played very well in overseas markets so much so that it eventually earned renewed screenings in America and gained a following that has continued to this day. But among its earliest fans was non other than Kurosawa, who, after seeing the film for the first time, sent Sturges a ceremonial samurai sword as a token of appreciation. Surprising? Not really Kurosawa's career blossomed in the postwar Japanese film industry, starting with his 1950 Rashomon, and he readily admitted he was a great admirer of American westerns, and in particular the films of John Ford. The Magnificent Seven began one of the most famous cultural exchanges in world cinema westerns that inspired samurai films would once again become westerns, illustrating not only the universal qualities of cinema, but the worldwide appeal of archetypal drama as well.
Yul Brynner stars in The Magnificent Seven as Chris Adams, a gunfighter adrift in the American southwest with a great deal of ability but little sense of purpose. However, when members of a small Mexican village cross the border looking for protection from a group of bandits led by the menacing Calvera (Eli Wallach) Adams agrees to round up a group of men to defend the farming community. And as it turns out, there's a few gunslingers around with little going for them but spare time including the hard-nosed Vin (Steve McQueen), quiet Bernardo (Charles Bronson), knife-expert and sharpshooter Britt (James Coburn), outlaw-on-the-run Lee (Robert Vaughn), and mercenary Harry Luck (Brad Dexter). One young man Adams had rejected, Chico (Horst Buchholz), decides to tag along, eventually earning acceptance from the group. But the greatest trouble lies ahead, as their number is only seven and Calvera has 40 armed men with horses at his disposal. And as the bandito needs to loot the village's harvest to feed his men for the winter, he will not turn away without a fight.
A common response whenever The Magnificent Seven is mentioned is that it's not nearly as great of a film as Seven Samurai, which must be admitted. Trimmed down from Kurosawa's nearly three-and-a-half hour running-time to a little over two, and with two supporting characters melded into one, it retains a great deal of Seven Samurai's themes, if not its epic scope. Put simply, watching The Magnificent Seven is not an excuse to overlook Seven Samurai (but then again, is there any valid excuse not to see one of the greatest films in history?) Nonetheless, The Magnificent Seven, while unable to stand completely on its own merits, does have several things to recommend it, in particular the performances. Brynner famous at the time for his role on stage and screen in The King and I offers a subdued, complex turn as the team's leader, rarely letting any setback ruffle his icy exterior. Most of the remaining cast (in particular McQueen, Bronson, and Coburn) had gained some attention working in television westerns, but none had yet to become major box-office stars The Magnificent Seven is an enjoyable opportunity to see these actors just prior to when they would become leading men in their own right. But most interesting is the place that The Magnificent Seven holds in the Hollywood Western genre. Prior to 1960, the majority of American westerns dealt with iconographic conflicts forces of good aligned against forces of evil, with honorable men fighting the good fight and winning (cf. the paragon of classic westerns, Shane). But by the mid-'50s, the western began to turn inward, and films from such directors as Anthony Mann surveyed inner dramas as much as external conflicts. The Magnificent Seven, with its scofflaws-turned-heroes, formed a cinematic turning point that led to such later fare as the Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns, Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch, and Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven. Always a reflection of contemporary American society, the nature of western heroes had come under scrutiny, often in films that refused to draw clear lines between heroes and villains. Indeed, in one of the final scenes in The Magnificent Seven, the malicious Calvera makes a pragmatic appeal to reason, asking Adams why he has chosen to fight with little chance of survival and less profit. Typical of the western heroes who would follow in the '60s and beyond, Adams has no answer an existential wanderer freed from all social codes of conduct, he's not entirely sure himself. Discovering a personal set of values has become his journey across the western frontier.
MGM's new DVD edition of The Magnificent Seven: Special Edition offers a clean anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with audio in either the original mono (a nice touch) or a new Dolby Digital 5.1 mix (from which Elmer Bernstein's famous score benefits nicely). Features include an informative commentary track with James Coburn, Eli Wallach, producer Walter Mirisch, and assistant director Robert Relyea; the 46-minute documentary "Guns for Hire: The Making of the Magnificent Seven," with comments from most of the film's principals, including archival segments with Yul Brynner; two theatrical trailers; and several still galleries filled with promotional photos and behind-the-scenes shots. The Magnificent Seven: Special Edition hits the street tomorrow it belongs in every film buff's personal collection.
Box Office: The early-summer box-office season took off like a rocket over the weekend, as Universal's The Mummy Returns earned a stratospheric $70.1 million in just three days. It was the largest opening for a film on a non-holiday weekend, besting The Phantom Menace's $64.8 million in 1999. A string of unimpressive films over the past several weeks, combined with the fact that nobody wanted to open against The Mummy Returns, left the field wide-open for a blistering debut. The only picture considered to be possible competition was Warner's Sly Stallone vehicle Driven, but the film took a pummeling in its second frame, earning just $6 million good enough for second place, but less than one-tenth of the Mummy's box-office.
In continuing release, Miramax's Spy Kids, stands at $98.5 million, while their Bridget Jones's Diary is shaping up well with a $44.7 cume. Paramount's Along Came a Spider has survived this last month's doldrums and cleared $60 million, while New Line's Blow has been another box-office survivor, with $44.2 million in five weeks. But looking ugly are USA's One Night at McCool's and New Line's Town and Country both are plummeting into early DVD prep with approximately $5 million each.
The Mummy Returns will have its first taste of competition this weekend as the Chaucer-inspired A Knight's Tale, starring Heath Ledger, goes wide. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Alexandra DuPont spent the better part of last week digging through Criterion's two-disc Spartacus, while Dawn Taylor has posted a look at Fox's Quills, starring Geoffrey Rush and Kate Winslet. New reviews from the team this week include All The Pretty Horses, What Women Want, The X-Files: Season Three, Sunshine, The Magnificent Seven: Special Edition, Threesome, Suspect, The Substitute 4: Failure Is Not an Option, and the charming coming-of-age comedy Just Looking. Everything's been added under the New Reviews menu here on the left-hand side of the front page, and even more reviews can be found with our handy search engine.
We'll be back tomorrow to let you know about this week's street discs.
Thursday, 3 May 2001
On the Block: Our latest round of DVD auction rankings at eBay are in, and the ultra-rare THX Theatrical Trailers demo disc has moved to the head of the class this time around with a $565.00 close, far outpacing the runner-up (and frequent top-trader), Criterion's Salo, which went as high as $310.00 in recent weeks. The usual suspects from Criterion continue to draw the big-time bidding, in particular The Killer and The 400 Blows, but their OOP This is Spinal Tap failed to make our chart for the first time in recent memory perhaps the MGM re-issue is finally making a dent. Oddities crossing the board lately include a rare retail-store demo of the video for Madonna's "Music" (the one that played on the telescreen at this year's Grammys), which garnered $168.50 after 25 bids. Even stranger is the $123.50 hammer-price for a code-free edition of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, the 1978 film starring Peter Frampton and The Bee Gees (we couldn't figure out if this was a bootleg or not). Meanwhile, Fab Four fanatics managed to boost the MPI edition of A Hard Day's Night even higher, to $150.00. And that's not a typo in the chart either that particular auction received a shattering 116 bids.
Here's the highest recent closing prices of rare and out-of-print DVDs from online auctions at eBay:
Quotable: "There is not a germ of truth to this vicious, self- promoting story. While (Tom) Cruise thoroughly respects others rights to follow their own sexual preference, he is not a homosexual and had no relationship of any kind with Kyle Bradford and does not even know him."
Excerpt from a $100 million lawsuit filed this
"When I was prepping Pearl Harbor, I told Dan Sasaki at Panavision, 'I need a weird point-of-view lens.' He told me about a lens he'd been developing for (cinematographer) Amy Vincent for a project that never came together. Although it wasn't finished, we put it together, and I flipped. He built me two of them, a 40mm and a 100mm. They had severe chromatic aberrations and a score of other 'defects.' Everything that you try to get a lens not to have, these lenses had in spades! They ended up being incredibly gorgeous, and we used them all the time for POVs once the attack happened."
Photographer John Schwartzman, telling
"The sensation is actually... it's sheer terror. It really is. I won't be brave about it. It isn't, like, 'Oh, yes, I'm thinking about Hawaii and running with the bulls in Spain.' You're not thinking that. You're going, 'Oh, my God, I am really a coward.' "
Sylvester Stallone, discussing his high-speed
"The worst misconception is that stars are driven by such hard work. A sitcom star works 25 weeks a year. The last time I counted, I think there were 52 weeks in a year. Stars want people to feel sorry for them. The big excuse of pressure is nonsense. What pressure does Matt Perry have?"
A former television producer, speaking
"You either love Hollywood or you hate it. It's a question of age. It's a question of generation. It's practically a question of physiology. You either love it or it fills you with horror from the moment you land, from your first step onto its streets."
French poet Blaise Cendras, in his book
Coming Attractions: New DVD reviews are on the way, including Spartacus: The Criterion Collection, All the Pretty Horses, and plenty more. This also will be the last weekend to enter this month's totally free DVD contest for a copy of Wonder Boys, so be sure to visit our contest page if you haven't yet, and don't forget to take our monthly DVD poll while you're there. We'll be back Monday to announce the winner, and we'll have a new contest up and running as well.
Enjoy the weekend we'll see ya soon.
Wednesday, 2 May 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 questions from this week:
Thanks for the heads-up Eric. We also recently noticed that Universal's "Collector's Edition" DVD of Scarface has been quietly deep-sixed and if you ask a lot of DVD fans, they'll tell you it's about time. While Brian De Palma's 1983 Scarface ranks among his better films, the DVD edition is sorely lacking. Released in March of '98, it's one of the few Universal discs to appear with letterboxing but without an anamorphic transfer, and the audio is in the original Dolby 2.0 Surround. Of course, for presentation-purists such may be fine and have no doubt, the Scarface DVD has its defenders but the MPEG-2 transfer is shaky as well. All told, the disc doesn't have the same sort of A/V sparkle we get nowadays on well-packaged DVDs of far inferior films. By now, a Scarface re-issue probably is overdue.
Universal has not made any official announcement on a new Scarface DVD at this time, or at least not on their secure press-only website. And since the rights to Scarface have not changed hands and Universal still owns the film, let's work on the basic (and obvious) conclusion that a re-issue is in development. There are two things we can be certain of: 1) It will be anamorphic, as the virtually identical Region 2 Scarface: Collector's Edition, just released in Europe this past January, actually has a new anamorphic transfer; 2) The audio will be in a Dolby Digital 5.1 (or better) mix, and DTS may also be on board. A fairly safe third presumption is that there will additional supplements, as the chief extras on the OOP disc are a 50-minute documentary and deleted scenes. Tacking on some new things (such as a De Palma and/or Oliver Stone commentary) would convince even more consumers to upgrade.
A strong candidate for a revamped Scarface package is Universal's new "Ultimate Edition" line The Mummy: Ultimate Edition is the first title to appear in the two-disc series, and upcoming arrivals (all retreads) include Notting Hill, Meet Joe Black, and Patch Adams (all on July 17). Because these Ultimate Editions all concern previously issued Universal DVDs with value-added features, Scarface seems a likely selection as well. Then again, Universal hasn't placed the original Mummy: Collector's Edtion on moratorium, nor any of the other Ultimate titles announced at this point. Don't get us wrong we'd love it if Patch Adams went OOP forever. But putting a disc on moratorium before releasing an Ultimate Edition is not part of Universal's modus operandi at the moment. The loss of Scarface appears to be a special case.
If we don't get a Scarface: Ultimate Edition, it's possible that we'll get a re-issued Collector's Edition disc. But if the marketing isn't distinct from the previous release it won't make as big of a splash it seems it must somehow be packaged differently. Your suggestion of a "20th Anniversary" release has a lot of appeal the only problem is that Scarface was released theatrically in December of 1983, which means any sort of "Anniversary" package would arrive at least two years from now. Would any studio bury a re-issue for that long?
Our answer to that question is: Maybe. Like it or not, there's a lot of value in hype. Warner pulled their Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory disc last year to make way for an upcoming SE, and even though it's obvious that patient DVD fans will be able to snap up the re-issue for less than $20 someday, perhaps even this year, top closes on eBay for the original DVD have soared well beyond $100 in recent months. All Warner had to do was pull their bare-bones disc and then keep relatively quiet for Willy Wonka to achieve the status of "collectable DVD," although there's nothing very special about the disc at all. In the same vein, Miramax's delay of A Hard Day's Night on DVD has the original MPI edition riding high on eBay and DVD-loving Beatlemaniacs all in a tizzy. Miramax simply may be taking some extra time to add additional features (why let MPI get the better of them?), but the delay of A Hard Day's Night has doubled the anticipation just the same. Can anybody doubt that it will be the top-selling disc the week it arrives? Or that the longer the wait, the greater the sales?
We hate to say it, but a two-year moratorium on Scarface is not out of the question, and it seems to us that the longer Universal stays mum on the issue, the more likely it is that we'll be in for a deliciously long wait. But if that's not the case, then we're guessing that Scarface will arrive as an "Ultimate Edition" disc, and probably within the next 12 months.
Our handy search engine, on the left-hand side of the front page here, will scan all DVD reviews for movie titles, keywords (such as actors' names), and pretty much anything else in the DVD review database. That also includes our staff writers just type in "Alexandra DuPont" and away you go.
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, 1 May 2001
On the Street: It's a thin street Tuesday this week then again, what's not to like when Warner's long-awaited Superman: The Movie is now on the shelves (along with the three sequels and a big box-set)? It appears that a lot of other studios decided to get out of the Man of Steel's way this morning, although Buena Vista has released their two-disc Emperor's New Groove: The Ultimate Groove SE, while Columbia TriStar has a pair of catalog titles up for grabs, Postcards from the Edge and Ice Castles. But if The Bard's your bag, the 1984 British TV production of King Lear, starring Lawrence Olivier, is now available from Kultur. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Planning to buy that Superman DVD in L.A.?: Then be sure to drop by the world-famous Dave's Video tonight (12144 Ventura Blvd. in Studio City) between 7 - 8 p.m., where director Richard Donner will be signing copies but please note that you will have to purchase that Superman disc from Dave's for the privilege. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to charity.