Tuesday, 31 July 2001
On the Street: The summer doldrums are still upon us, but plenty of great DVDs will start arriving in early September, so now's the time to start saving for such titles as The Godfather, Memento, The French Connection, Citizen Kane, Doctor Zhivago, and all the rest. As for this week, Universal has both the unrated and R-rated versions of American Pie: Ultimate Edition on the shelves, in addition to the recent romantic comedy Head Over Heels, while Columbia TriStar's Hanover Street offers one of the more entertaining commentary tracks we've heard in a while. Here's this morning's thin list of notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Bye for now.
Monday, 30 July 2001
Disc of the Week: Unless you pay close attention to the credits of certain TV productions and an assortment of non-blockbuster movies, it's possible that you've never heard of Robert Townsend. If so, that's a shame, because this versatile actor-director-writer-producer is one of the most appealing talents to hit the screen, big or small, since the 1980s. His credits as director, writer, and/or actor include 1991's terrific The Five Heartbeats, about a struggling singing group facing the casual racism of the 1960s, and 1987's Eddie Murphy Raw, for which he was director and co-writer. What's also a shame is that Townsend hasn't (yet) achieved the star status he deserves, at least if his first feature film, 1987's Hollywood Shuffle, is any indication of where he should be on that glittery road by now. Hollywood Shuffle, a small yet well-polished movie poking a finger at the limited, stereotypical roles black actors have to face time and again, remains after more than a decade the film Townsend is most known and respected for. Now, having one's "best work" at the beginning of one's career may beg comparisons to Orson Welles, but that's a small comfort. So new audiences, as well as the possibility of renewed attention and appreciation toward Townsend, are some of the good things about MGM's DVD release of Hollywood Shuffle (distributed, oddly, under their "Avant-Garde Cinema" series).
The making of this movie is one of those fabled Hollywood success stories. Here's Townsend, a young black actor with only a handful of small acting roles on his résumé at the time, putting together a funny, pointed comedy inspired by his experiences trying to make it in Hollywood without losing his soul or his dignity. What's more, he succeeded in directing, writing, and starring in a movie that looks a lot more expensive that its budget a mere $100,000, a big chunk of that scraped out of Townsend's credit cards: wardrobe on his Saks Fifth Avenue card, catering on the Montgomery Wards, film stock on the VISA, and so on. Because film stock is so expensive, Townsend told his actors, "there's only going to be one take," and he was able to forego the required-but-expensive L.A. filming permits by dressing his crew in UCLA T-shirts so that they could pretend to be students learning how to film in the field. By splicing together leftovers from earlier short films he had appeared in, he managed some free film stock that he seamlessly incorporated into his new production. When money ran out, he worked as a touring stand-up comic, which meant that his 17 shooting days were spread over two years. Of course, all of this would be forgettable trivia had Hollywood Shuffle not turned out as good as it is and if Townsend hadn't shown his chops as a fine actor and director with such solid range on display here.
The script of Hollywood Shuffle is credited to Townsend and co-stars Dom Irrera and Keenen Ivory Wayans. Townsend plays Bobby Tayor, who goes from audition to audition with ambition and the confidence that he'll soon get his big break, the lead role in a "gang from da hood" movie. We first see him in front of his bathroom mirror practicing his big death scene (later, the star of a UPN-like sitcom "Batty Boy ... half bat, half soul brother, but together he adds up to big laughs" tells him that a good script is any script where his character doesn't die). Like Walter Mitty, Bobby daydreams himself into screen roles that spoof such conventions as Bogart-like gumshoes, Indiana Jones adventures, Rambo war movies, and cheesy horror flicks. One of the best bits is a commercial for the first "Black Acting School," with classes (taught by white instructors) in Jive Talk 101, TV Pimps and Epic Slaves, and other pigeonholing stereotypes, some of which are closed to light-skinned black actors who aren't "black enough." There's a laugh-out-loud funny parody of Siskel and Ebert, "Sneakin' in the Movies," starring homeboys Speed and Tyrone. Rather than making another Kentucky Fried Movie sketch comedy clone, Townsend attached his vignettes to the framing story of Bobby's quest for a role where his talent can shine. He yearns for liberation from his demeaning make-do job at the Winky Dinky Dog hot dog stand, and is determined to show his girlfriend and family that he's not just wasting his time or becoming part of the problem Townsend is illuminating. Of course, it isn't easy. A white director tells Bobby to act "more black," you know "stick your ass out and bug the eyes." A casting call is looking only for an "Eddie Murphy-type," so Bobby has to compete against a roomful of lookalikes mimicking Murphy's Saturday Night Live characters. A number of familiar faces appear along the way. Among them are the then-unknown Wayans brothers, Keenen Ivory and Damon. One of the most endearing acting turns is Bobby's wise and loving grandmother played by Helen Martin, whose first screen role was at the age of six in 1915. In the end Bobby is forced to make a choice between career and dignity, and to Townsend it's a choice that should never have to exist in the first place.
Hollywood Shuffle's new life on DVD deserves at least a commentary track by Townsend, but MGM's release is, sadly, a bare-bones affair. The only bonus is the original theatrical trailer. The good news is that the print and transfer are very good and the audio, while only monaural Dolby Digital 2.0, is clear and clean. Hollywood Shuffle is on the street now.
Box Office: Damn dirty apes dominated the North American box office over the weekend as Fox's Planet of the Apes blasted its way to a $69.5 million opening the second-best three-day bow ever in raw dollars, surpassed only by The Lost World's $72.1 million in 1997. With no other new films going wide, Tim Burton's reworking of the 1968 sci-fi classic was certain to come out on top, but critics were decidedly mixed on the film's merits (as expected, some drubbed it mercilessly). It remains to be seen if Apes can overtake Shrek's $255 million gross, but it appears Fox picked the right film and the right weekend to stake its summer tentpole. And at least one sequel is all but assured.
In continuing release, there was little change on the chart with most films dropping a spot or two. Universal's Jurassic Park III is well past the century in just 10 days with $124.8 million, while Sony's American Sweethearts has paled in comparison, scoring roughly $60 million in the same period. Also over the century after six weeks is Fox's Doctor Dolittle 2, and MGM has found a surprise hit with the Reese Witherspoon comedy Legally Blonde, which now stands at $59.8 million. However, things have not gone so well for Steven Spielberg's highly-touted A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, which is off the list and now headed for the second run circuit with less than $80 million after just five weeks.
Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker return this Friday in Rush Hour 2, while Angelina Jolie and Antonio Banderas steam up the screen in the thriller Original Sin. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Greg Dorr has posted a look at Universal's revamped American Pie: Ultimate Edition, while new stuff from the rest of the team this week includes Paint Your Wagon, The Brothers, Hanover Street, The Gift, Hollywood Shuffle, and Christiane F. It's all under the New Reviews menu here on the front page or use our search engine to rewind into some DVD reviews from weeks past.
Back tomorrow with this week's street discs.
Thursday, 26 July 2001
'Creatures' talkback: Thanks to our pal Jean Guerin, who was kind enough to send us a few additional comments from Canada on the status of Peter Jackson's 1994 Heavenly Creatures (see yesterday's update). Knowing Jackson and actually appearing in the film makes Jean far more of an authority than us piddling little DVD fans:
The Miramax re-edit is preferred by Peter simply because of the flow. He did end up hiring that editor for The Frighteners. However, there are quite a few elements both Peter and Fran [Walsh] regret losing in the film. (Fran told me the cuts "emasculated" the script.) Given the diplomatic nature of Peter (or some non-disclosure agreement), he didn't make a fuss publicly about it. He does allude to it in Forgotten Silver by having Harvey "Scissorhands" Wienstein arrogantly declare that Colin MacKenzie would be pleased with the shortened version of his epic.
The Alliance disc was reissued last June in Canada. The only difference is in the packaging. Kate [Winslet]'s name has been added on top. The transfer is from their pan-and-scan master. It is an absolutely shameless handling of a great film.
A "seamless branching" version would be impossible since the nine-minute difference is more than straight cuts. The film was really re-edited (that's the part Peter likes, as it does flow better). The murder scene is longer (and harder to watch) with the most impressive omission of the New Zealand version being just two seconds long a quick full-color shot in the final moments.
If there were to be a Criterion edition of Heavenly Creatures, it would benefit from including the full New Zealand cut. The video from New Zealand is full-frame, but an open matte the film was shot in Super 35. There was also a lot of behind-the-scenes material shot for this film. Also, Peter and Fran amassed a lot of archival material about the real case, which would make for amazing extras.
The tag line "From the Director of Lord of the Rings" should give Heavenly Creatures the appeal necessary to go ahead with such an endeavour. I certainly hope so. But we might have to wait until Peter is done with Lord of the Rings to do this. He simply loves Laserdiscs and DVDs and wants to do it. In the meantime, Universal should just go ahead and edit their amazing Frighteners Laserdisc on DVD, complete with the incredible four-hour "making-of" documentary.
E. Jean Guerin
Thanks for the info Jean, and the on-set photo it sounds like there's potential for a really impressive Heavenly Creatures disc, whenever Buena Vista/Miramax gets around to it. We appreciate your taking the time to get in touch (and for those of you who are unsure who Jean played in Creatures, it was none other than Orson Welles).
On the Block: Our latest round of DVD auction rankings at eBay is in, and while the usual Criterion titles dominate the chart, those Universal Hitchcock TV discs are still drawing bids, including a monstrous $299.99 close for all four volumes. Criterion's This is Spinal Tap also surged, with a top hammer-price of $308.77, despite the MGM re-issue that's been available for some time now, while Hard Boiled saw fierce action with 42 bids driving up the $142.50 best close. And is A&E's Pride and Prejudice about to be re-issued? We've heard rumors, but in any case it's unlikely we'd pay $130.00 for the 1995 miniseries. Here's the highest recent closing prices of rare and out-of-print DVDs from online auctions at eBay:
Quotable: "Due to changes in market conditions, we are reassessing our VHS revenue-sharing agreements with the studios and may allow one or more of them to lapse as they come up for renewal. It may make sense to acquire the product in other ways.''
Viacom-owned Blockbuster Video chairman John
"If I went to a meeting and someone said, 'Go make a summer blockbuster,' I'd go 'OK' and then walk out of the room and say 'What the hell is that?' What is a summer blockbuster? By all critics' accounts, it's a big stupid movie that everybody hates but everybody goes see. I don't know how to go about doing that.''
Planet of the Apes director Tim Burton,
"I don't know 750 maybe? It's tough to remember. You can still be likable under a thousand, right?"
Hugh Jackman, publicly pondering how many
"I am on a mission tonight for one reason... (I) heard Julia Roberts is single. I have a pen and paper, and I am leaving with some digits."
Actor Jerry O'Connell, at the premiere of
"I'm here for the crime of the century."
David Spade, speaking to reporters before entering
Coming Attractions: We have more DVD reviews on the way, including American Pie: Ultimate Edition and more drop by Monday morning for all the latest. In the meantime, if you haven't entered our totally free DVD contest for a copy of The Woody Allen Collection: Vol. 2, be sure to visit our contest page if you get the chance this one's still up for grabs.
Have a great weekend.
Wednesday, 25 July 2001
There are actually three existing DVDs of Peter Jackson's 1994 Heavenly Creatures Nils, but none seem to be worth the bother. The Canadian version you refer to has been released by Alliance Atlantis under license from Buena Vista, and as it has a "budget" price-point, it's easily found on Canadian retail sites for less than $15, and even cheaper on eBay. We've found two different release dates for this title, February 2000 and June 2001, but they appear identical, with a full-frame (1.33:1) transfer and no supplements. As Heavenly Creatures is a 2.35:1 film, such cropping is entirely unacceptable.
Two additional discs have been released in Region 2. A German version is also 1.33:1 and only offers dubbed German audio. Far better is a French version that offers an anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer and both French and English audio (see inset) but unfortunately, the digital French subtitles cannot be disabled when the English track is selected. If that sounds silly to you, it does to us too, but it's likely this was part of the licensing agreement to make the disc less appealing to Region 1 audiences (we note for the record that the forced subtitles theoretically could be overridden by disabling a DVD player's "User Prohibition" function in the firmware, but mileage will vary and we do not recommend it). Also, both the German and French DVDs of Heavenly Creatures are PAL format, rather than North America's NTSC. If you're a North American resident, you will need a DVD player that is code-free or region-switchable, and that can convert the PAL signal.
As for running times, both the Canadian and French DVD releases of Heavenly Creatures clock in at 99 minutes, which was the theatrical time in the U.S., Canada, and Australia. However, the German DVD runs for 104 minutes, which is just shy of the 108 minutes that Heavenly Creatures enjoyed theatrically in New Zealand. But that 104 minutes is for a pan-and-scan disc, so nothing is really ideal. Unless you have a Laserdisc player, that is Miramax's May 1995 LD offers a 2.35:1 transfer with English audio, in the 99 minute cut, and we'd get our hands on that before looking at any of the above DVDs. (We are unaware of Heavenly Creatures ever being released on widescreen VHS.)
Of course, this is all in the hands of Buena Vista/Miramax, and as with virtually all movies particularly recent ones a Region 1 DVD release will happen eventually, although maybe not this year. As for Criterion, it's certainly possible that they will have the opportunity to develop a Heavenly Creatures disc under their folio, as Buena Vista has partnered with the specialty producer for past discs (our favorite of them being Rushmore). But will a new release from either Buena Vista or Criterion offer the 108-minute cut? On that we're skeptical, as Peter Jackson reportedly prefers the 99-minute version. Seamless branching is possible, but we would not be surprised if the additional nine minutes is tacked on as deleted scenes.
I have had to replace keep-cases on several occasions in the past and have had no problem finding replacements. Just pull the slick out of the old case, put it into the new one, and badda-bing, badda-boom good as new! But how does one replace a snapper case? Do you know of a source for the plastic portion of the case? I have tried e-mailing Warner and the on-line store where I bought it on several occasions with no response. Any help would be much appreciated. I know that I can't be the only person in the world with this problem, can I?
Unfortunately, this is a query that comes up from time to time. When we posed the question last year on how to get replacement keep-cases online, our readers sent in plenty of links (the thread can be found here). However, while it's not hard to find replacement keepers, with many manufacturers creating their own versions based on the standard Amaray, it appears that the fundamental snap-case design is very much owned by Warner hence, it's harder to find (and we've never seen a knock-off).
We were aware of one online site that sold snap-shells, but they no longer do so. Thus, your options are:
As a footnote, specialty music vendor Rykodisc has released several special-edition CDs now out-of-print from such artists as David Bowie and Elvis Costello, all in distinctive green-hued jewel cases. Like the Warner snapper, the design is proprietary, and finding mint replacements for Ryko jewel-cases is nearly impossible. (Or at least it's been a sore task for your editor, who was once told in hushed tones by a Ryko insider "Uh, I can't get those... they're shipped directly to the plant.")
Thanks for the heads-up Dave we note that both the Arch Allies and Live Plus DVDs were released by BMG, but with little in the way of additional content this sounds like another case of double-dipping. What's more, a corresponding Live Plus CD was released this week (with the same cover artwork), so we're sure even more REO fans will be disappointed with the repackaging.
(And aren't you the lucky fellow today Dave your letter has won you a totally free DVD copy of Monkeybone: Special Edition and a Monkeybone stuffed toy! Wow! That's too exciting for words!)
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 July 2001
On the Street: Anime fans have been waiting for a long time, and now Akira is on the shelves from Pioneer, in both movie-only and a limited special-edition versions. We found Columbia TriStar's Pollock: Special Edition to be an impressive spin, while Paramount has a trio of catalog classics out today Hatari!, Paint Your Wagon, and The Shootist. Also watch for several of MGM's "Avant Garde" and "World Cinema" discs bare-bones, but at good prices including Hollywood Shuffle, La Cage aux Folles, The Wild Child, Marat/Sade, and Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 23 July 2001
Disc of the Week: Here's the movie credited for inaugurating the Italian branch of a too-often dismissed phenomenon in genre cinema EuroHorror, a realm separate from the traditional American Universal movies or the British Hammer school. Peaking in the 1960s and early '70s, Italian, French, Spanish, and occasionally German low-budget studios churned out one opus after another, rarely seen in this country outside of drive-ins, late-night Elvira-style TV shows, and the lower shelves of your typical video store. Many are beloved now, if at all, chiefly for their kitschy camp qualities. Some, though, have earned a serious post-mortem respect for their well-honed or atmospheric direction or push-the-envelope content that was unlike anything being made in the U.S. at the time. The Orson Welles of this sub-genre was versatile Italian director-cameraman-writer-editor Mario Bava, who gave us well known mini-classics such as Black Sunday (aka The Mask of Satan) and the anthology Black Sabbath (Boris Karloff's only vampire role). For I Vampiri, Bava took over directing duties from Riccardo Freda, who stormed off the set after a tussle with his producers two days before the end of the 12-day shooting schedule. Bava discarded or recrafted Freda's troubled work, and today aficionados declare that I Vampiri displays the beginnings of the skill and inventiveness that would make Bava one of the genre's most renowned directors.
Filmed in 1956, I Vampiri ("The Vampires") represents the rather quiet starting pistol of Italian horror cinema. Of course, as a genre descriptor, "horror" has always been a broad brush. I Vampiri isn't so much a horror movie as it is a suspense thriller with science-fiction elements. And if you're a genre fan or a channel-surfing night-owl, it's possible that you've seen one of the bastardized video versions of I Vampiri under a different title. Never released in the U.S. in its original form until now, I Vampiri was heavily re-cut in 1960 for American distribution. It was padded with unfortunate new "spicy" footage featuring future "Munsters" star Al Lewis and released as The Devil's Commandment. Another version, reportedly containing nudity, went under the title Lust of a Vampire. As stated in the thorough liner notes (by film historian and Bava scholar Tim Lucas) accompanying this Image Entertainment DVD release, these patchwork versions are abominations that give no indication of the craftsmanship apparent in I Vampiri. And sure enough, there's genuine craft exhibited here. Indeed, with its crisp pacing, proficient (albeit uneven) camera work, and efficient storytelling, there are things here that some bigger-budget directors today could learn from.
The story is by no means complex, so a synopsis risks giving too much away. Let's just say that when a serial killer known in the press only as the Vampire leaves young women's bodies turning up all over Paris, reporter Pierre Lantin (Dario Michaelis) is determined to get the scoop of his career. Typically, Lantin is something of a loose cannon and his persistent investigations serve only to annoy the police and infuriate his boss, who takes him off the case. Like a test-run for Kolchak the Night Stalker, Lantin is undaunted. By the last reel he discovers the connection between the beautiful Giselle (Gianna Maria Canale), whose aunt is the ancient and reclusive Duchess Du Grand, and the disappearance of the young women all of whom happen to share the same blood type. Add a creepy castle complete with cobwebs and hidden rooms with skeletons, a mad scientist's laboratory, a drug addict who kidnaps for his next fix, a means of everlasting youth that has a rather, um, draining effect on young women, and an unrequited love that spans two generations, and we get an effective little mood piece that's less Dracula and more "Dr. Frankenstein Meets Countess Bathory." I Vampiri wastes no time getting to its story and maintains a brisk pace from start to finish, so there's plenty packed into its 78-minute running time. Because I Vampiri's "vampire" elements happen almost entirely off-screen and there's no conventional "monster" to speak of, as a kick-off of EuroHorror cinema it's pretty sedate stuff given Bava's later work and the more visceral Hammer films that began their successful retooling of the genre the following year. But the reason behind the killings is a fantastical one, and I Vampiri does its job well as an above-average prelude to a school of genre cinema that has earned its place in the hearts of devotees.
This new entry from Image's "Mario Bava Collection" offers a splendid B&W image that's clean and sharp in anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1 CinemaScope). The audio is clear Dolby Digital monaural. Supplements include a Mario Bava bio and filmography, a Freda filmography, a posters and stills gallery (including shots from the mutated U.S. version), and, best of the bunch, trailers for other releases from Image's Bava series an ensemble of trippy period pieces that will leave you agog at shots of Joseph Cotton, Telly Savalas, Elke Sommer, John Saxon, Boris Karloff, and other familiar faces earning the rent in deliciously bizarre Spaghetti Horror features. I Vampiri is on the street now.
Box Office: As it turns out, Julia Roberts' megawatt smile isn't the most powerful force in Hollywood Universal's Jurassic Park III blasted to the top of the weekend box office with $50.3 million over the past three days and an $80.9 million haul since its Wednesday debut. Those ferocious dinos held off Roberts and America's Sweethearts, which still did good enough to earn $31 million in its opening frame. Reviews for JP3 were mixed-to-positive, with most of the positive being focused on the special effects. Critics were much more mixed on Sweethearts, but it opened very strong compared to similar romantic comedies in years past.
In continuing release, MGM's Legally Blonde slipped from first to third with $43.4 million in 10 days, while holding down fourth place is Paramount's The Score with a $37.1 million cume. Warner's Cats and Dogs is shaping up to be a surprise hit, as it has snagged $72.3 million after three weeks that's better than Dimension's much-anticipated Scary Movie, which has garnered $61.7 million over the same period. And now is when we bid goodbye to Lara Croft, as Paramount's Tomb Raider is off the charts and on its way to DVD prep after an estimated $125 million finish.
Is Fox's new Planet of the Apes done yet? Despite some last-minute changes, it appears Tim Burton's follow-up to the sci-fi classic will go wide this Friday, giving Jurassic Park III a run for the money. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Dawn Taylor has posted a sneak preview of Columbia TriStar's Pollock: Special Edition, while Greg Dorr recently spun Elite's Re-Animator: SE, now back in circulation. New stuff from the rest of the team this morning includes Hatari!, Sugar and Spice, La Cage aux Folles, V: The Original Miniseries, The Shootist, Things You Can Tell Just By Looking at Her, I Vampiri, Spanish Judges, and Ryder, P.I.. It's all under the New Reviews menu here on the front-page, while our handy search engine leads to more than 1,000 DVD critiques.
We'll be back tomorrow with the rundown on this week's street discs.
Thursday, 19 July 2001
Coming Attractions: We're already digging into a new round of DVDs, and we'll be posting reviews of Pollock, the re-issued Re-Animator: Special Edition, and much more on Monday morning. See ya then.
Commentary Clip: "This was my first experience of shooting a movie in a trance. Partly because it was so huge, and the (assistant directors) took over a lot. And you'd get up in the morning and they'd stop you driving onto the base, and paint your car khaki, literally. Somebody would go spritz and put you in a khaki jumpsuit, and you'd say, 'What are you doing?', and they'd say, 'Schmuck, we're doing the shot from the air today.' Stuff like that. And so I sort of gave up on the physical stuff, and let them do it. It was all planned (anyway). And I got in the kind of trance that I now trust, but it really worried me at the time. And I also knew, all the time, that something was wrong. That there were no 'moments.' .... I felt from first to last , and now, that it's not my kind of movie. I always thought that: This is not my kind of movie. Because it is not about interpersonal things. At all. There are none. There is no subtext, there is no underneath, when the underneath is what draws me, it's why I make movies. The things people don't say. There are no things people don't say in this. This is something else. And in some ways, because of that, I always felt a little at sea."
Director Mike Nichols,
Quotable: "Why the different ratings systems for movies, TV, music and video games? Let me count the ways. Some 650 movies are rated each year. There are 2,000 hours/day of TV programming (and) the equivalent of 1,000 movies every day! The music industry produces 40,000 releases each year. The video industry published approximately 1,300 computer and video games in 2000. Who would be able to blend all these disparate and creatively different visual images into a single system?.... These are all voluntary ratings systems. The Supreme Court has made it unvaryingly clear that creative material comes under the canopy of the First Amendment. This means the government cannot intrude or intervene in these creative areas, nor can the president or the Congress command a regulatory agency to involve itself in any rating enterprise."
MPAA President Jack Valenti, rejecting a proposal
"If Hollywood movie executives could script real life as well as the silver-screen variety, the cinema-going summer would be looking about a lot different right now. There would still be queues snaking around the block for Pearl Harbor, almost two months after its US release, as audiences saw the war-torn romance for the fourth or fifth time. Steven Spielberg's beyond-the-grave science fiction collaboration with Stanley Kubrick, A.I., would have been greeted as a masterly meeting of cinematic minds. Others would be rushing to Lara Croft: Tomb Raider for the action sequences and Angelina Jolie's curves. Finally, Evolution, with David Duchovny and Julianne Moore, would be the hit comedy of the season. As it is, every one of these films has tanked at the box office, or at least performed far short of the expectations fostered by the lavish production costs.... The only summer success has been Shrek, the animated children's film from DreamWorks. Otherwise, it has been one disaster after another, and the reason boils down to one word: quality."
Film critic Andrew Gumbel, writing in London's
"I've been a New York acting rat for the last 10 years, and there's no way you can say Marlon Brando and De Niro are going to be in a film (without me accepting). You just have to tell me where to show up.... The first time we were actually all three together I definitely had to take a little breath and shake it off. But I think in that take Marlon poured water down his front and Bob flubbed his lines, so it was good. It humanizes them pretty quickly."
Edward Norton, currently co-starring with Robert
"I don't have anything to prove to myself about it any more... I just didn't have it this year. I've given it up before. I can't do it every year. I'd go out of my mind. If I feel like it and they still want me, I guess I would do it at some point, but it's not the thing that I just have to do every year."
Billy Crystal, telling the New York Post that
"Denis was terrified of taking his clothes off during the love scene. When the camera rolled for that particular sequence, Liz was very professional and disrobed but Denis wouldn't even take his shirt off. I was like, 'Denis, what's the problem?', but he was adamant that he was keeping his shirt on. Apparently his body got a bad write-up in a review for his last film."
Director Tom DiCillo, revealing that Denis Leary
Wednesday, 18 July 2001
Well, crap we'll try to sort this one out today, but we'd like to say up front that our response probably will be far from definitive. If anybody has anything to add, please just drop us a line.
Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1927) concerns a futuristic city in the year 2026 where the people are divided into leisure and working classes, with the underground working class enslaved to the machinery of the city. The film was a perfect project for Lang, who trained as an architect, and he was assisted by cinematographer Karl Fruend, who later would become a noted director in his own right. Filmed for UFA (Universum-Film-Aktiengesellschaft), Metropolis would be Lang's last major silent film, coming after such successes as Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler (Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler) (1922) and just prior to the child-killer drama M (1931), starring Peter Lorre. Without question, it is regarded as one of the most important films of the silent age, as well as a precursor to much of our modern-day science-fiction films. (As a footnote, Metropolis was Adolf Hitler's favorite film, and Lang was asked to oversee the German film industry after the Nazis came to power half-Jewish, the director sensibly relocated to Hollywood instead.)
Fundamentally, any acceptable version of Metropolis on DVD turns on a simple question which version? IMDb.com lists 12 different cuts of the film with various sequences and running times, ranging from the three-and-a-half hour German premiere edition (now lost), to the first U.S. release (chopped by Paramount to 159 minutes), to the 87-minute restoration from 1984 with tinting and a controversial score by Georgio Moroder, to the Madacy DVD release, apparently first constructed in 1996 and running 115 minutes (and note that running times don't always count for much Metropolis, like many silent films, can be viewed at varying speeds with little indication to the amount of actual content).
It appears that you purchased the Metropolis DVD released by Madacy Entertainment in June of 1998, and the bane of many Metropolis-loving DVD fans. The complaints we have heard about this release are similar to yours a poor, VHS-quality transfer (or worse), an erratic score, and an incorrectly framed picture. In fact, some folks have told us that they've never been able to even sit through the entire thing. But as it's Metropolis, and it often can be found for less than $10 at just about anyplace that sells DVDs, it appears this title has done pretty good business on the boxcover alone. Of course, it doesn't hurt that Madacy's Metropolis DVD is the only one widely in print at this time. Of note:
So there's plenty of ways to watch Metropolis at home. But the DVD releases have been largely disappointing. Like you, we're still waiting. And, as we've had an eye out for Metropolis for a long, long time, we think we can say that there has never been one acceptable home-video release of Lang's original film, DVD or otherwise.
However, while the outlook for Metropolis on DVD is unclear, the film itself is far from lost. A few restorations have occurred over the years, but in 1995 Enno Patalas of the Munich FilmMuseum completed a new restoration of Lang's masterpiece, a 128-minute cut using all known film elements at the time. The 1995 restoration had been the gold standard for some time, but just this year an even more impressive restoration was completed by a team of German film archivists led by Martin Koerber at the Deutsche Kinemathek, who reconstructed a 145-minute cut. This version which actually is digitally restored debuted at the Berlin Film Festival this past February, where it impressed just about everybody. A great deal of these recent restorations were made possible by the reunification of Germany, which gave the restorers access to additional materials in East Germany (in fact, the East German Staatliches Filmarchiv had already done its own Metropolis reconstruction in 1969). Deutsche Kinemathek is currently touring the film internationally, and we've heard from some folks who attended a screening at this year's San Francisco International Film Festival that, indeed, it is a sight to behold.
As for a DVD, there is no official announcement of the 2001 Metropolis restoration at this time, and apparently it's in the hands of the Deutsche Kinemathek. But (file under RUMOR, folks) we have heard that they are planning to release a DVD, possibly after the touring exhibition is completed. And a DVD release of some sort would make sense, allowing the film to be seen by Lang admirers everywhere, and helping to recoup some of the restoration expenses. We would be surprised if it didn't happen and we'd be happy to lend out our Red Phone to Criterion HQ if necessary, since we think Criterion is the only DVD vendor who can be 100% trusted with this title.
But aside from these notes, we're sorry we can't be more authoritative on this topic it's Metropolis after all, and entire books have been written on the tortured history of this one unusual film. Hopefully some DVD Journal regulars will drop us a line today and fill in more details.
Tuesday, 17 July 2001
On the Street: Seasoned digital die-hards knows what the summer brings street lists thinner than a short stack of tortillas, and it doesn't look like the pickings will improve until September, when the studios figure folks will be in the mood to spend more time indoors. So everybody can salivate over the Release Calendar in the meantime Universal has a trio of two-disc "Ultimate Editions" out today, Meet Joe Black, Notting Hill, and Patch Adams, all rehashes of previous "Collector's Edition" discs in spiffy transparent cases. But not to be overlooked are a pair of new DVDs from Universal, The Family Man and the excellent The Caveman's Valentine. Paramount has an unusual pair out today with Mommie Dearest and Sam Raimi's The Gift, while fresh from Columbia TriStar are Once Upon a Time in China 3 and alternate versions of the recent comedy Saving Silverman. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Bye for now.
Monday, 16 July 2001
Disc of the Week: When Samuel L. Jackson read George Dawes Green's 1994 Edgar Award-winning novel The Caveman's Valentine, he immediately set the wheels in motion to turn it into a film. Jackson was intrigued by the unusual hero of Green's mystery novel, Romulus Ledbetter, a schizophrenic man who lives in an outcropping of rocks in New York's Central Park. Ledbetter is far removed from the usual stoic private dick of the genre a Juilliard-trained pianist, he once had a brilliant career ahead of him, a loving wife, and a child on the way. But the pressure of impending fame, compounded by his mental illness, brought on Rom's "brain typhoons" fits of madness focusing on his imagined archenemy "Stuyvescent," who lives in the Chrysler Building and reads his thoughts using "Y rays." It's obvious why Jackson took to the character (the role would be a showcase for any actor) but also to the story, through which Jackson said "We see that he's not a throwaway person at all, but someone with strong ties to his daughter and flashes of musical genius." To direct the picture, Jackson signed up Kasi Lemmons, with whom he'd previously worked on her first feature film, Eve's Bayou. A remarkable debut, that film made liberal use of magical imagery and flashback to tell the story of a Louisiana family in 1962, filtered through the memory of a 10-year-old girl. "Kasi had the right kind of sensibility to make this kind of material work," Jackson said.
The off-beat whodunit follows the filthy, dreadlocked Rom, dubbed "the Caveman" by his fellow urban street-dwellers, after he finds a dead body frozen in the tree outside his cave. The police dismiss the incident as a transient freezing to death; Rom is given reason to believe it was murder, and at first he believes it was the work of the evil Stuyvescent a "valentine" left outside his home to taunt him. Genuine clues begin to surface, leading Rom to famed photographer David Leppenraub (Colm Feore), whose work features images of torture and crucifixion. He enlists the help of his police-officer daughter, Lulu (Aunjanue Ellis), but she knows better than anyone how little she can trust her deranged father's version of reality. As Rom investigates further, he finds himself in genuine danger because, after all, even paranoids can have real enemies. As we follow Rom's investigation, we get glimpses into his world, where Stuyvescent's green rays color his perceptions, his estranged wife appears to guide him as a muse, and his brain becomes filled with dancing "moth seraphim" who die when he throws a fit, only to create cocoons and be reborn each morning.
"This was a very, very difficult film to get made," Lemmons told reporters at the time of the movie's release. "I mean, I was working on this project for four years, and we were actively looking for a green light for three of them ... I guess it was because people took one look at (the screenplay) and thought, you know, it's this arty thriller/character piece about an African American, schizophrenic homeless person. People would tell us, 'Look, don't bring me this!'" Once made, the film unfortunately failed to find an audience, probably for the very reasons Lemmons cited. But Jackson is extraordinary as Rom, a wounded, shuffling bear of a man with possibly irreparable mental illness. To Jackson's and Lemmons' credit, they remain true to the Romulus Ledbetter of the novel; he's not some cinematic "crazy man" who magically gets better by film's end through the love of his family and the resolution of the story. No, Rom is flat-out insane, and Jackson's ability to make him both dynamic and sympathetic is a marvel. Lemmons handles the material beautifully, using brilliant light and gorgeous set pieces (the dancing "moth seraphim" who live in Rom's skull, for example, are shimmering, muscular athletes with huge, feathered wings at once beautiful, powerful and threatening) as well as varying types of film stock to take us into Rom's head. The film's only weaknesses come from Green's screenplay, and they're the same weaknesses that plague his novel. Like many books of this genre, the story suffers from far too much dependence on coincidence Rom gets into Leppenraub's home because he just happens to see a photo of a guy with Leppenraub that he happened to go to college with, who just happens to be going to a party at Leppenraub's that very night but like the novel, the screenplay is skillfully written, and the resolution entirely unexpected. All things considered, the mechanics of the mystery are beside the point, anyway. With Lemmons' imagery and Jackson's amazing performance at its center, The Caveman's Valentine is a beautiful gem of a film that deserves to be seen.
Universal's new DVD release offers a gorgeous anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with crisp, rich Dolby 5.1 audio. And the sound is an especially important element in this film Rom frequently hears whispered voices just out of range of his (and our) understanding, and the soundtrack by Terence Blanchard is incredible, criss-crossing jazz and classical piano to not just create mood, but to take us into Rom's Juilliard-trained head. The commentary track by Lemmons and editor Terilyn Shropshire doesn't offer much of note, beyond learning that Lemmons sister is a nurse who works with the mentally ill, and helped Jackson refine his portrayal. The deleted scenes are of interest, though, all watchable, and all understandable as to why they were cut although the exclusion of one lengthy, multi-scene segment about two-thirds through the film does cause some confusion in the finished product as to how, precisely, Jackson returns from Connecticut to downtown New York City without any obvious means of transportation (watch the deleted scenes and you'll know). The Caveman's Valentine is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: The battle at the box-office turned up a surprise winner over the weekend, as MGM's Legally Blonde, starring Reese Witherspoon, held off all challengers to claim the top spot with a $20.4 million bow. Not bad, considering that Paramount's The Score earned $19 million in its opening frame, and it stars Robert De Niro, Edward Norton, and Marlon Brando. Sony's Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within earned a lot of attention since its debut last Wednesday for its state-of-the-art special effects, but the eye-popping reality of the all-digital film wasn't enough to lead the pack it opened in fourth place with a disappointing $11.5 million over the past three days.
In continuing release, Warner's Cats and Dogs has shown some staying power, holding third place on the chart and a $58.9 million cume after 10 days, while Dimension's Scary Movie 2 has garnered $52.9 million, and Universal's sleeper hit The Fast and the Furious is well past the century with $115.4 million after one month. Hitting the skids is Warner's A.I., dropping to ninth place after just three weeks and $70 million its credit. And say goodbye to Shrek, Pearl Harbor, and Atlantis: The Lost Empire all three are headed for the second-run circuit and DVD prep (and it appears Shrek could be the highest-grossing film of the year, finishing just south of $250 million after 9 weeks).
This Wednesday sees the arrival of Jurassic Park III starring Sam Neill, William H. Macy, and Tea Leoni, while America's Sweethearts, with Julia Roberts, Billy Crystal, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and John Cusack, goes wide on Friday. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Betsy Bozdech has posted a sneak preview of Universal's revamped Notting Hill: Ultimate Edition, while new reviews from the rest of the team this week include The Family Man: Collector's Edition, Meet Joe Black: Ultimate Edition, Patch Adams: Ultimate Edition, Mommie Dearest, Down to Earth, The Caveman's Valentine, Gormenghast, and Howling 3: The Marsupials. It's all fresh under the New Reviews menu here on the front page, while our search engine leads to many, many more DVD write-ups.
Back tomorrow with this week's street discs.
Thursday, 12 July 2001
Coming Attractions: New DVD reviews are on the way, including a look at the first few "Ultimate Edition" DVDs from Universal. In the meantime, if you haven't entered our totally free DVD contest for a box-set of The Woody Allen Collection: Vol. 2, 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.
Documentary Clips: "What would certainly have been expected would be the curtains of sky parting, cumulus clouds opening up and revealing in very theatrical fashion the mothership. But somehow I felt it was much more mysterious to have the mothership come out of the ground and rise up behind Devil's Tower. And you know, a choice like that has no intellect behind it it's just an image you get in your brain, and it's agreeable to you, and you say, 'That's the picture I want to put in my movie.' It only falls apart when you start to intellectualize it, because the thing's too big. 'What'd they do dig a hole in the ground and come out of the hole?' Of course not! But it was just an image in my mind that I really wanted to get in the film, and I have really not spent a lot of time questioning those decisions."
"Steven had this idea that the UFOs were kind of trying to emulate things that they saw on Earth to make us happy or make us feel comfortable. And so one of the UFOs we built was 'Golden Arches' it looked like a McDonald's sign. It was an ellipsoidal-shaped UFO that was like one of the single arches, but when two of them flew together and kind of converged for a moment, you'd see this sort of McDonald's logo fly by. There was another logo that was kind of a trapezoid-shaped thing, and when two of them lined up, it became kind of a Chevron logo, for Standard Oil.... And there was a '76' globe a round, orange '76' sign that was never quite a '76' sign, but it was a big, orange, spherical UFO. Those, I think, were a little over the top, and were never finished and not put in the film."
Special-effects supervisor Douglas Trumbull,
Quotable: "It has come to a kind and tender-hearted end and my only regret is that it seems that in some odd form ... the media can't accept that it is tender-hearted and kind. It has to make it messy. It has to be all about me going out with George Clooney a kind, lovely man, but not my boyfriend."
Julia Roberts, discussing her recent split with
"I've been so shaken up lately that I can't even bring myself to smoke weed. It's been four days since I burned one. I mean, I'm going around tellin' everyone how I think they should live, but I'm realizing I have to start taking a good look at myself. You know, try a little introspection for a change."
Movie star / hemp advocate Woody Harrelson,
"If we have a joke in there about black people, it's about not taking yourself so seriously. If it's about gay people, don't take yourself so seriously. Women, don't take yourself seriously."
Shawn Wayans, letting everybody know up-front
"The advantage of computer- graphic actors is that they don't do any complaining."
Hironobu Sakaguchi, Japanese video-game creator
"I bet you wish I was a puppet so you could stick your hand up my ass and make me do what you want."
Marlon Brando, who (according to Time magazine)
Wednesday, 11 July 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 few reader comments from this week:
We tend to agree with you, Chris. Robert Wise may well have provided interesting and rare technical insight into Citizen Kane on the upcoming Warner DVD release, although perhaps nothing that hasn't already made it into one of the 40 books that have been written about Welles to date. However, the tracks on offer (without having heard them, of course) come across essentially as commercial decisions rather than matters of scholarship. Bogdanovich has been dining out on stories about his relationship with Welles for years, and Ebert is not a critic with any singular insight into Welles's career unlike his Chicago colleague Jonathan Rosenbaum, who edited Bogdanovich's interview book with Welles, and who over the years has said insightful and unpredictable things about Welles and his career, and who would have provided a marvelous audio track that would have surprised and amused most folks.
Furthermore, it will be interesting to compare Warner's "60th Anniversary" DVD to Criterion's out-of-print "50th Anniversary" Laserdisc set. Among other things, the Criterion LD offered a "visual essay" by Robert Carringer (who has written two books on Welles); publicity photos, sketches, and storyboards; a gallery of 200 additional images; and Hearts of Age, a hard-to-find early film by Welles. Also on the Criterion LD was an interactive documentary called "The Legacy of Citizen Kane," with comments from 35 directors, actors, and cinematographers (one story by Burt Reynolds, of all people, is particularly interesting and amusing). Warner's DVD will, of course, include the feature-length PBS documentary The Battle over Citizen Kane, a movie premiere newsreel, production photos, and RKO correspondence to Welles, but Criterion's big platters were just as appealing. All that noted, it's the crisp new DVD transfer from the restored print that we are looking forward to the most, and on that matter Warner should have Criterion beat hands-down. And when we consider that the Criterion LD set originally retailed for $150.00, we can be grateful that this new Kane won't break the bank.
We're not sure we can go along with you on this one Leonard, although our initial reaction to the Memento DVD and its limited features (due Sept. 4) was similar to yours. However, it must be said that we don't consider supplements something that ever makes or breaks a DVD purchasing a quality transfer of the film itself is always foremost in our minds, since it's the film that we will watch again and again (and with Memento, again and again and again....)
The studios know that extras always help DVD sales, and Columbia TriStar tends to release more discs with commentaries and isolated scores and such than most other vendors. We understand Nolan did not record a commentary due to scheduling conflicts, but he also told Entertainment Weekly that he doesn't want to demystify Memento. After all as those who have seen the puzzling neo-noir thriller understand the film has no real secrets, just a variety of interpretations. Were the writer/director to make his opinions known about the film and its rather open-ended, backward-told plot, he would risk giving the tale a single, finite explanation. And that wouldn't add to Memento, it would diminish it.
Let's say that Nolan decided to record a commentary, even though he naturally wanted to be tight-lipped about the film's intricate plotting. What then would be the value of the track? Location talk? "Luvvies" on how great every actor was to work with? Obviously, we're skeptical. Most commentaries nowadays suffer from too much idle chatter and not enough substance. But we're sort of afraid of Nolan adding anything more to Memento, and thus running the risk of unsettling a rather delicate balancing act. That also goes for commentaries from the lead actors. Or a "making-of" documentary. And we certainly do not want to see any deleted scenes. Such things are well and good with most DVDs, but we think this is one time when the film can be left to stand on its own.
However, there is nothing precluding Columbia TriStar from releasing a special edition of Memento down the road. And if that is to be the case, we would like to hear commentary tracks not from Nolan or any of the film's principals, but from two or three well-spoken film critics. We've turned this film upside-down plenty of times since it debuted late last year perhaps it would be fun to hear some other folks do the same.
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Regarding our recent discussion of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's 1946 A Matter of Life and Death, on DVD in Region 2 but unreleased in Region 1, we received a kind follow-up from a U.K. reader:
To which we say again we sincerely hope that Columbia TriStar is examining the possibility a DVD release of A Matter of Life and Death. And if not, then licensing it to Criterion so they may add it to their splendid series of Powell & Pressburger discs.
Tuesday, 10 July 2001
On the Street: It's the big Die Hard Tuesday this morning, with Fox's re-issues of Die Hard, Die Hard 2, and Die Hard with a Vengeance all out in attractive two disc sets or in a big "Ultimate Collection" box. We're sure a lot of folks will be snapping up copies, but not to be missed are some new Criterion titles, including Withnail and I, How to Get Ahead in Advertising, and the restored My Man Godfrey. MGM has more catalog items on the street today, led by Francis Ford Coppola's The Cotton Club, while New Line has a feature-packed disc out with their first "infinifilm" release, Thirteen Days. Meanwhile, just say "Shyea!" to Wayne's World and Wayne's World II, which have finally gone digital thanks to Paramount. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Back tomorrow with that mailbag.
Monday, 9 July 2001
Disc of the Week: Of the many historical precedents that led up to the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962, perhaps the most interesting was the Munich Conference of 1938. Aware that Adolf Hitler had aggressive designs on Czechoslovakia, the conference attended by Germany, Italy, France, and Great Britain arrived at the Munich Pact, which allowed Hitler to occupy Czechoslovakia's Sudetanland, the agreement being that the dictator would have no further military ambitions beyond Germany's borders. Umbrella-toting British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returned to Britain to utter the infamous declaration that Munich would lead to "peace in our time," but it was only a matter of months before Austria and Poland were under Nazi control, and the Munich Pact has since gone down in history as the most egregious example of political appeasement in the 20th century. Nearly 25 years later, President John F. Kennedy understood the failure of Munich all too well his father, Joseph P. Kennedy, was the U.S. ambassador to Great Britain at the time, and he supported both Chamberlain and the Munich Pact. The younger Kennedy would later write a book on the topic, Appeasement at Munich. And when the Berlin Wall was erected in 1961, students at Berlin's Free University sent the U.S. president an umbrella reminding him what happened the last time politicians failed to stand their ground.
Roger Donaldson's Thirteen Days examines one of the key events of the brief Kennedy administration, the harrowing two weeks that followed the American detection of medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missile sites under construction in Cuba, just 90 miles from American soil. The discovery came on the heels of other Cold War conflicts and events, including the launch of Sputnik in 1957 and the subsequent "space race," the Cuban Revolution of 1959 and the installation of Fidel Castro's communist government, the 1960 shootdown of Gary Powers and the U-2 spyplane over Russian territory, and the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, wherein Cuban exiles failed to re-capture Cuba, largely due to inadequate support from the United States. Taking office in 1961 (after narrowly defeating Vice-President Richard Nixon), the Cold War occupied a great deal of the Kennedy administration's attention, but nobody could have predicted the fallout of the Cuban missile sites two vast nations, armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons, rarely able to find a common understanding, and staring each other down in the middle of the ocean as a tenuous naval blockade was put into place. It didn't take long for most Americans to understand that if neither side blinked, a worldwide nuclear conflict could escalate out of control.
Thirteen Days has come under a great deal of criticism for its notable historical inaccuracies. Foremost of these is that the role of Kenneth O'Donnell (played by Kevin Costner) has been vastly inflated for dramatic effect. O'Donnell was a special assistant to the president (his relationship with the Kennedys went back to their Harvard days) and was in the White House at the time. But in reality he did not play as large of a part in the crisis as the film implies. However, it's important to assess Thirteen Days not as a work of history, but foremost as a work of cinema, which is where it excels. It is a political thriller, and like Donaldson's 1987 No Way Out (also starring Costner), it does a fine job of keeping viewers on the edge of their seats while relaying these events in broad strokes. Bruce Greenwood stars as John Kennedy, and while the actor bears little resemblance to the president, he does a remarkable job of capturing the man's essence the accent, the mannerisms, the tone of voice, all give the impression of a man who is both presidential and very human. Playing Attorney General Robert Kennedy is Steven Culp, who actually bears a striking resemblance to the younger Kennedy (and in fact it's the second time Culp has played RFK on film, the first in the 1996 TV movie Norma Jean and Marilyn). The supporting cast is likewise excellent, particularly Dylan Baker as Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, who has a small, brilliant temper-tantrum with Admiral George Anderson (Madison Mason) in a dispute over the blockade: "There will be no firing anything at any Soviet ships without my express permission!" he shouts. "And I will only issue such instructions when ordered by the president! This is language! A new vocabulary the likes of which the world has never seen! This is President Kennedy communicating with Secretary Khrushchev!" Among the most memorable scenes of Thirteen Days, the moment also underscores the film's weightiest theme the reduction of the powerful to the powerless, where the leader of a great nation finds himself forced into a conflict with the paradoxical hope of avoiding one, fully aware that the price of appeasement is too high.
New Line's Thirteen Days is the first DVD release under their "infinifilm" banner, a series of discs that offer a generous amount of extra content, along with greater interactivity as the film plays. With the infinifilm content activated, "on the fly" prompts offer the viewer access to documentary and behind-the-scenes materials, although all of the extra content is also available in the disc's various stand-alone supplements. Thirteen Days is presented in a solid anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with audio in Dolby Digital 5.1, and features include a commentary track with Costner, director Donaldson, scenarist David Self, producers Michael De Luca and Armyan Bernstein, and visual-effects supervisor Michael McAlister; a second "historical" commentary track with comments from President Kennedy, Kenneth O'Donnell, Robert McNamara, press secretary Pierre Salinger, and others; the documentary "Roots of the Cuban Missile Crisis" (48 min.); the behind-the-scenes feature "Bringing History to the Silver Screen" (11 min.); "Historical Information" as a subtitle track; brief video biographies of the historical figures featured in the film; nine deleted scenes; a multi-angle look at a composited jet flyover; cast and crew filmographies; and the theatrical trailer. An outstanding DVD package filled with fact and fiction, and hopefully something that will inspire more people to read up on the Cuban Missile Crisis, Thirteen Days: infinifilm is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: After a fierce battle between raunchy comedy and talking housepets, Warner's Cats and Dogs claimed the top spot at the holiday weekend box-office with $21.6 million over the past three days ($35.7 million since Wednesday), barely edging out the Wayans Brothers' Scary Movie 2, which garnered $21 million ($34.5 million since Wednesday). The win for Cats and Dogs was something of a surprise, but even more unexpected was the collapse of Steven Spielberg's A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, which lost more than 50% of its audience in its second week, bringing its ten-day total to $59.6 million (certainly a disappointment by Spielberg's standards). Fox's Jet Li vehicle Kiss of the Dragon, which debuted on Friday, performed within expectations, grabbing $13.6 million for fourth place.
In continuing release, Universal's The Fast and the Furious has cleared the century after three weeks and it's still going strong, while Fox's Dr. Dolittle 2 is at $71.5 million. However, fading fast in a sea of summer blockbusters are Sony's Baby Boy with $20.8 million and Buena Vista's crazy/beautiful with $11.8 million, both after two weeks.
Robert De Niro and Edward Norton team up for The Score, which opens this Friday, along with the Reese Witherspoon comedy Legally Blonde, while the sci-fi adventure Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within will go wide on Wednesday. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Alexandra DuPont has posted an enthusiastic review of Fox's revamped, two-disc Die Hard: Five Star Collection, while D.K. Holm recently looked at Criterion's release of the cult favorite Withnail and I. Fresh stuff from the rest of the team this morning includes both Die Hard 2: Die Harder: Special Edition and Die Hard with a Vengeance: Special Edition, Monkeybone: Special Edition, The Cotton Club, Billy Liar: The Criterion Collection, Wayne's World and Wayne's World II, Thirteen Days, How to Get Ahead in Advertising: The Criterion Collection, My Man Godfrey: The Criterion Collection, The Indian in the Cupboard, and Blood on the Sun. It's all linked under the New Reviews menu here on the front page use our nifty search engine to find more than 1,000 DVD write-ups.
We'll be back tomorrow to let you know about this week's street discs.
Tuesday, 3 July 2001
In the Works: We're about to wrap up our Fourth of July week, but not before we take care of a few loose ends including some new disc announcements, courtesy of Image Entertainment and DVDPlanet.com, and additional staff reports:
On the Street: If you think a lot of the studios believe you won't buy any new DVDs during this holiday week, you're right the street list is thin, but there are a few standouts, especially Columbia TriStar's excellent Snatch: Special Edition, while other Columbia titles this morning include Higher Learning, The Wedding Planner, The Last Dragon, and The Indian in the Cupboard. Fox has a series of Bruce Lee films on the street, including Return of the Dragon and Fists of Fury, while Warner is on the board with V: The Original Miniseries and the BBC miniseries Gormenghast. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Coming Attractions: We're off to enjoy time with our families and friends during this mid-summer break, but those new DVDs never stop piling up count on a preview of Fox's Die Hard: Ultimate Collection and a few more Criterion titles when we return. Have a safe and fun holiday we'll see ya next Monday.
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Commentary Clip: "I think being cast as Ensign Pulver (in Mister Roberts) was one of the biggest breaks of my life, professionally. There's no question about that. And as sometimes happens, although it sounds like a made-up Hollywood story, it's totally true it was a fluke. When I first came to Columbia, to do a picture with Judy Holliday, at the time I tested for that, it was called It Should Happen to You. George Cukor directed it. At the same time they asked me, for some unknown reason, to test for a part in The Long Gray Line that was going to be played by Tyrone Power, according to John Ford, who was the director. And that's exactly the way it ended up and the way it should have ended up, may I say. But at any rate, I did (the test), and the part aged from like 30 or 28 or something like that which was older than I was up to about 79 or 80 years old I remember, and they tested me only as the old man. Ford wouldn't even look at the test. He says 'I don't want an unknown. I'm using Tyrone Power.' And even Ford was able to tell (Columbia Pictures chairman) Harry Cohn what the hell he was going to do, and he's probably the only one who could.... Maybe Billy Wilder.
"Anyway, so (Ford) never looked at it until one day it was tacked on to the end of the rushes while he was doing the film. I had already finished my first film with Judy. Maurice Max, who was a friend of mine and an assistant editor at the studio, was in charge of running the dailies for all of the different films, and for some reason or other he tacked my test on at the end of Tyrone Power's dailies. And Ford sat there, and when the lights came up he turned to Jerry Wald, who was second-in-command at that time, and said 'Who the hell was that?' And Jerry Wald said 'Oh that's a kid, Jack Lemmon, that we got. He just finished a film with Judy Holliday. He's under contract here.' Now the next film Ford was going to do was Mister Roberts, and for some odd reason who knows what he saw, I have no idea, but here I was playing an 80-year-old Irishman, hardly Ensign Pulver he stood up and said 'I'll tell ya somethin' he's a lousy old man, but I think he'd be a very good Pulver.' When Maurice Max told me that I thought I was going to have a heart-attack.
"I walked over to the set where (Ford) was shooting, finishing up the picture with Tyrone Power, just to see what was going on and to get a look at him because I didn't know him and I didn't know what he looked like exactly. And I walked on, and an old grip in a pair of sneakers and baggy pants and a sort of ripped-up jacket, a hat pulled down and a patch over one eye, and chewing on a handkerchief walked up to me. He says 'I understand that you want to play Pulver.' And I said, 'Well, I don't know who told you, but they're sure right.' And he said 'Do you really want to be Pulver?' and I said 'Yeah.' And he said 'Spit in your hand.' And I said 'What?' And he said 'It's an Irish custom. Spit in your hand.' And he then spit in his hand, and stuck it out. So I pretended I went ptooie as if I had spit, and shook hands with him. And he said 'You're Pulver, and I'm Ford.' "
Monday, 2 July 2001
And the winner is: Tyler Olsen of Bishop, Georgia, wins the free DVD box-set of Marilyn Monroe: The Diamond Collection from our June contest. Congrats, Tyler!
Our totally free DVD contest for the month of July is up and running, and we have a copy of MGM's The Woody Allen Collection: Vol. 2 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: Melodrama might be hackneyed and overwrought, but it is the foundation of cinema, from its earliest years to our present day. And even when emotions are reduced to cheap soap-opera clichés, high-pitched conflicts are often at the heart of great films, as the characters and events have to touch the viewers in a very fundamental way to move them. Such is why directors have to believe in the pulp, even if it's ridiculous, and perhaps why American cinema has never produced a greater melodramatist than Douglas Sirk. Part of the migration of German directors from the legendary UFA studios who were fleeing Hitler's Third Reich, Sirk (neé Claus Detlef Sierck) had an early journeyman's career in Hollywood before signing with Universal and finding a niche with 1954's Magnificent Obsession, starring Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson. A huge success, the film made Sirk Hollywood's preeminent melodramatist of the 1950s a genre he continued to explore over 11 more feature films before his retirement in 1959. Utilizing a retinue of marquee actors (Jane Wyman, Rock Hudson, Robert Stack and Dorothy Malone were regulars), Sirk was known for his popular but critically reviled "women's pictures" until he was later rediscovered by the "auteurist" film critics in France, and later America. It was those writers who first discovered what makes a Sirk film more than just a glorified three-hanky weepy his bold use of mise en scéne (the director came out of the German Expressionist school of cinema) made the look and feel of a Sirk picture as important as the plot, dialogue, or acting.
But mise en scéne, schemeze en scene. Sirk's films are gripping because unlike many of his contemporaries he refused to cheapen the sentiments, keeping his stories grounded and never camp. All That Heaven Allows (1955) is one of his best efforts (and also probably the best for first-time viewers), as it effectively illustrates why Sirk became a Hollywood legend. Recently widowed Cary Scott (Jane Wyman) is lonely. Her kids are out of the house and in college, and she doesn't want to join clubs or watch television to fill her empty time. On a day when her best friend Sara (Agnes Moorehead) cancels on her for lunch, Cary asks her gardener Ron Kirby (Rock Hudson) to join her and though at first he's terse and uninterested the two connect when she asks about his trees, as he's ready to quit gardening and become a tree farmer. Cary attends a party that evening with Sara and mutual friend Harvey (Conrad Nagel), where she learns that Harvey wants to marry her, although he can't offer her much more than comforting blandness. But when Ron returns two weeks later to finish his work on the garden, the two agree to a date to see his tree farm, and subsequently fall for each other. Cary finds herself curiously moved by the younger, independent man who lives by Thoreau's Walden. As their relationship deepens and the two plan to marry they become the subject of much gossip, causing dissonance with her family members, who object to the supposed impropriety of an older, wealthy woman marrying the hired help.
Known for his striking compositions, Sirk's All That Heaven Allows offers both dense imagery and a swift narrative that is formally breathtaking. Even if the viewer knows where the story is headed (this is no drawing-room murder mystery, after all) there's an eagerness to see the story unfold. But this sort of impatience is simultaneously placated by Sirk's masterful craftsmanship each scene is to be savored. Characters that get brief screen time come to life as one gets the sense as one does when watching a great artist sketch that Sirk's short strokes give form and shape briefly without overstatement or superficiality. It's ironic (and not in a postmodern way) to consider how many recent films have investigated the sordid underbelly of the 1950s or small-town America, perhaps inspired by David Lynch's brilliant 1986 Blue Velvet (a film that owes an obvious debt to Sirk.) But Sirk was saying and showing the same things in his own time and milieu, and he was more revolutionary about it. Rock Hudson's Thoreau-quoting, anti-classist gardener has the same strains of anti-establishment revolt to be found in Fight Club's Tyler Durden. Sirk is often emulated, but those who try usually commit the mistake of creating unsympathetic leads (something Sirk never did, and something David Lynch understands). Even the more high-pitched moments in All That Heaven Allows work on an emotional level, avoiding bombast while squeezing the pain out of Jane Wyman's plight. That Sirk was a daring filmmaker is not in question. What made him so daring was his ability to create melodrama and never wink at the audience over his shoulder.
Criterion's new DVD release of All That Heaven Allows features a solid anamorphic transfer (1.77:1). The film was shot in Technicolor, so there are certain moments that look a little off through bad aging, but for the most part Russell Metty's photography is radiant. Audio is in the original mono (Dolby Digital 1.0), with optional English subtitles. Supplements include the theatrical trailer, stills and posters, and essays on six Douglas Sirk films by director Rainer Werner Fassbinder. But the main attraction is a 31-minute interview with Sirk conducted by the BBC in the late 1970s that covers his entire career. Sirk is a wonderful presence, and it's a rare opportunity to hear the man talk about his work. All That Heaven Allows is on the street now.
Box Office: In his first film since 1998's Saving Private Ryan, Steven Spielberg returned to the top of the box-office chart with A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, which had a strong $30.1 million opening albeit far from the largest this summer season (Shrek, Tomb Raider, and The Fast and the Furious all had $40 mil.+ debuts). Critics were mixed to positive on A.I., but there was little doubt that it would beat out the competition, and the weekend's other new arrivals, including Sony's Baby Boy, Buena Vista's crazy/beautiful, and Paramount's Pootie Tang, came up with modest numbers on less screens.
In continuing release, last week's top title The Fast and the Furious had a sharp drop-off, although it has earned $77.8 million for Universal in just 10 days. In similar fashion, Paramount's Lara Croft: Tomb Raider is not drawing much repeat business, but such hasn't stopped Angelina Jolie's hot pants from crossing the century after three weeks. However, things are not looking nearly as good for Buena Vista's Atlantis: The Lost World, which has a $58 million cume after three weekends in wide release that's far below Disney's batting average with animated titles. And we can say goodbye to DreamWorks' Evolution the $80 million sci-fi comedy will finish around $37 million after a few short weeks on the first-run circuit.
The Fourth of July falls on a Wednesday this year, which will see the arrival of two new movies, Scary Movie 2 and Cats and Dogs, while the latest Jet Li film, Kiss of the Dragon, goes wide on Friday. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Alexandra DuPont has posted a look at Columbia TriStar's two-disc Snatch: Special Edition, which is on the street tomorrow, while D.K. Holm sings the praises of Douglas Sirk with Criterion's Written on the Wind. New stuff from the rest of the team this week includes Unbreakable: Vista Series, The Wedding Planner, Cries and Whispers: The Criterion Collection, All That Heaven Allows: The Criterion Collection, Higher Learning, The Claim, and The Last Dragon it's all under the New Reviews menu here on the front page, where we've also added retrospective links to six Jack Lemmon films currently on DVD: The Apartment, Bell Book and Candle, The Fortune Cookie, Mr. Roberts, The Odd Couple, and Some Like It Hot.
Back tomorrow with the street discs.