Thursday, 30 August 2001
Coming Attractions: We're off to enjoy the Labor Day Weekend and one last bit of summer fun, but we'll be spinning new DVDs while we're gone, and upcoming reviews include Memento, The Princess Bride: Special Edition, a look at Universal's third wave of Classic Monsters, and plenty more. This also will be the last weekend to enter this month's totally free DVD contest for a copy of Sullivan's Travels: The Criterion Collection, 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 Tuesday to announce the winner, and we'll have a new contest up and running as well. Enjoy the weekend we'll see ya soon.
Commentary Clip: "I think people look upon an anamorphic format, which is this widescreen format, as something that's very well-suited to large, apocalyptic movies. In fact, it's a beautiful, beautiful format for close-ups, because it allows you to take a very tight close-up, throw the rest of the frame out of focus, and still see a light source as deep, on either to the right or the left side of the frame.... I am madly and passionately in love with this format, though with the aspect ratio of 2.35:1 I just think it's so beautiful. I remember I was talking to Steven Spielberg one day, and he was about to do Jurassic Park, and he told me he was going to do it in a 1.85 format. And I asked him, 'Well, Steven, why aren't you using a 2.35 format?' And he looked at me, realizing how stupid I was, and said, 'Because dinosaurs are tall.' And that's like the best answer that anybody's ever given me about anything I've ever asked."
Director Peter Hyams,
Documentary Clip: "I was trying to get Columbia to let me finish the movie the way I wanted it to be finished, but they were having big financial problems in 1977 and needed a film to come out during Christmas, and I was hoping to come out the following summer, 'cause I couldn't really make Christmas. But they kept insisting, 'You must make Christmas, because our whole company is at stake'.... So I had no choice. After the film's success, I went back to Columbia a year-and-a-half later and I said, 'Now let me finish the film the way I'd always intended to. I want to re-cut certain scenes and I want to shoot a few more sequences.' And then they said to me, 'We'll give you the money' it was about a million-and-a-half dollars to do that for the reissue 'if you show us the inside of the mothership. Give us something we can hang a campaign on.' And so I compromised, and had Richard Dreyfuss walking inside the mothership which I never should have done, because it should have always been kept a mystery, the inside of that ship."
Quotable: "If (Tom Cruise's lawyers) persist, they will get a judgment against me for $100 million. Then I file bankruptcy and it's dismissed. It's like I'm being harassed.... I don't think I ever want to see another Tom Cruise movie in my life."
Gay porn star Chad Slater, who defaulted this week
Sean Penn, speaking in Scotland about recent civil
"(I prefer being) a musician (to writing or directing), but a musician playing in small jazz clubs or alone. I do not give concerts, I come on stage and play with my friends in the band, all of whom are better musicians than me. Music has always helped my films. In The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, you can hear 'Sunrise' by Glenn Miller, an idol of my childhood, in the surprise ending. I like mixing comedy with suspense and action. I imagine myself as some sort of Bob Hope or Bing Crosby holding hands with Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney, as I have never been beautiful like Marlon Brando."
Woody Allen, discussing his latest picture at the
"I'm a movie star. Can I talk to my entertainment lawyer?"
American Pie 2 starlet Natasha Lyonne, speaking
"Nobody is ever going to see my ass besides Sarah."
Freddie Prinze Jr., who reportedly employed a
Wednesday, 29 August 2001
This may be one of those cases of Warner taking its lemons and making lemonade. While the obvious excuse may be that snap-cases don't allow two-disc sets, the more insidious side of this strategy is that Warner is selling you the second disc of your "two-disc" special edition set. Take, for argument's sake, the upcoming release of Shrek in a two-disc super special edition ("The DVD offers more than 11 hours of entertainment and features 15 minutes of all-new animated material including interactive menus created by the movie's directors," the press release says). SRP for the set is $26.99, but you can get it on the street for about $20.
Now take this 1+1 Matrix/Matrix Revisited special edition: You can get The Matrix for SRP $24.98, street about $19. You can get The Matrix Revisited for SRP $19.98, street price about $17. Total price for your two-disc Matrix special edition: SRP $44.96, or street price of $36!
Scary. Brilliant. Count me out for that Revisit....
It's hard to argue with the numbers Fred, but we should note right away that DreamWorks' $20 Minimum Advertised Price for the upcoming Shrek is definitely an unusual price attached to a very popular movie and expansive DVD set we have no doubt that the low cost of Shrek is part of a strategy to make it the best-selling DVD of all time (besting DreamWorks' own Gladiator). Thus, it's not an entirely accurate assessment of how much two platters goes for nowadays. In fact, at this time virtually all studios are keeping the price-points on their two-disc sets around thirty bucks SRP. Paramount, Universal, Buena Vista, MGM, and New Line list between $29.99 and $29.95, Columbia TriStar generally sets their two-disc price at $27.95, while Fox the trailblazer of the two-disc phenom comes in at a nice $26.98. Generally speaking, most street-prices at larger retailers fall between $22 and $26 for these products.
And on that score, you're right. Slap together Warner's two Matrix discs and the best street price is around ten bucks more and that's hardly a bargain.
So why do we like The Matrix Revisited?
To begin with, revivified DVD products are not going to go away anytime soon, probably never. In part this is because corporations like movie studios and clothing manufacturers and auto companies do a very good job of selling more of their product than consumers actually need the fashion industry keeps folks (women more than men) in new clothes all the time, and it's not unusual for Americans (men more than women) to buy a new car even though their current one works perfectly. In both cases such consumers might be in the mood to shop, or feel that it's time for "a change." Or they are attracted to some new feature or look or gadget, afraid that the march of progress is passing them by.
By the same token, Hollywood studios have pegged DVD fans as the biggest fashion victims on earth. Even though we may have perfectly good DVDs that flawlessly play movies on our average-sized televisions, it sort of chews us up to know that Paul Thomas Anderson supervised a new transfer of Boogie Nights, or that an "Ultimate Edition" of American Pie is out there. Do some of us keep our original discs? Sure. But a lot of folks upgrade if that wasn't the case, the studios probably wouldn't bother putting these revised products on the market.
A further point to make about the double-dipped, two-disc SE phenomenon (Boogie Nights, American Pie, et. al.) is that it's driven by both logistics and marketing. On the logistical side, the average window between the time a film leaves theaters and becomes available on home video is just a matter of months. Of course, the studios' home-video divisions can get a head-start on DVD production, even while the film is still being shot. But even then, it's not always so easy to crank out a definitive special edition. Often the actors, director, or other principals are already committed to other projects and can't schedule in time for a commentary track or new documentary. In the case of Paul Thomas Anderson, he didn't get the time he wanted to supervise the first transfer of Boogie Nights, hence the new transfer. Christopher Nolan told Entertainment Weekly that he wanted to record a commentary for Memento but was busy elsewhere; we suspect it was much the same for chat-happy Steven Soderbergh and Traffic. In both of those cases, the DVDs simply have to arrive on the given schedule the titles can't stay out of Blockbuster for a year or more for just to get a commentary track. But will Memento and Traffic come around again? It would not surprise us. Will they be two-disc sets? All the better, as far as the studios are concerned two platters help convince consumers that re-releases are tangible improvements.
In addition, marketing can drive a second DVD release. There was no sound reason for Universal to release the two-disc American Pie: Ultimate Edition no Internet petition, no groundswell of consumer demand. Most folks were happy with the first AP Collector's Edition. But American Pie 2 hit the cineplexes this summer, just days after American Pie: Ultimate Edition arrived. Sure, there's more stuff on the two-disc set, but a lot of that data is an additional full-frame transfer. And while we like the movie and the package, we've advised our readers who own the original American Pie: Collector's Edition to hang on to it and spend their money on a brand-new movie. (The same goes for Universal's two-disc The Mummy: Ultimate Edition, which also promo'd the high-grossing sequel).
But back to Warner Yes, add up The Matrix and The Matrix Revisited and it costs more than the average two-disc set. Furthermore, while it may have some fun supplements, it also serves as a shameless promo piece for The Matrix 2. But it would have been easy for Warner to come up with a Matrix: Ultimate Edition. You know the drill claim it's a better transfer, keep all of the original features on board, and pad out the second disc with more goodies and some less-than-subtle advertising. What makes The Matrix Revisited appealing to us at least is that we are not being asked to purchase the movie all over again. We've all paid the twenty bucks or so for a perfectly good Matrix disc. Really, it's fine. Anybody who says they can offer a substantially better transfer with current technology is smoking something. So instead of $20 for the original and $30 for the double-dipper, our total upgrade price is $17, and less if we pre-order.
Call it an "aftermarket" add-on. It's not essential, not at all. But The Matrix has been on DVD for nearly two years, and The Matrix Revisited is a welcome arrival, if for no other reason than that it reminds consumers the original Matrix disc was money well spent.(And Fred doesn't have to worry about the price of Say It Isn't So on DVD a totally free copy is on its way to him.)
Hey Greg, give your review another read you just may learn something about yourself.
Thanks for the letters guys we already knew going in that most folks made up their minds about Forrest Gump a long time ago. Of course, we think it's easily the most overrated film of the '90s, but that's just us. For fans, Paramount's new DVD is sure to be a hit.
Bye for now.
Tuesday, 28 August 2001
On the Street: It's nowhere near Halloween yet, but the end of August is when the studios start unleashing the spooky stuff, and Universal leads the way this morning with the third wave of their Classic Monster Collection, all double-feature discs, and they've thrown in Abbott and Costello Meet The Mummy for good measure. MGM has a trio of Brian De Palma spins with Carrie: Special Edition, Dressed to Kill: Special Edition, and Blow Out, in addition to late-night treats such as Killer Klowns From Outer Space: Special Edition, Scanners, and The Howling. Columbia TriStar has released an attractive SE of the 1982 Oscar-winning Gandhi, as well as Kramer vs. Kramer and a revised My Best Friend's Wedding: Special Edition, while Paramount's offerings include Forrest Gump: Special Collector's Edition and Marathon Man. Fans of the silents are sure to notice Image's new release of Fritz Lang's Dr. Mabuse The Gambler; lovers of Ken Burns can find a trio of his documentaries, Thomas Jefferson, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Lewis and Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 27 August 2001
Disc of the Week: Brian De Palma may have started his career directing comedies, but he's an unambiguous student of Alfred Hitchcock the Hitch-flick has been his modus operandi since his first hit, 1973's Sisters. But then again, alongside such notable colleagues as Martin Scorsese, George Lucas, and Steven Spielberg, De Palma was one of the first of the "film school" filmmakers directors who learned their craft from watching movies, and who made no attempt to hide their influences. Lucas has been filming under the influence of Kurosawa for much of his career, and De Palma has surveyed such predecessors as the Odessa Steps sequence from Eisenstein's Potemkin and Dassin's silent heist in Rififi. And with 1980's Dressed to Kill he pays homage to Psycho, much as in 1976's Obsession he did to Vertigo.
Angie Dickinson stars in Dressed to Kill in the Janet Leigh-esque role as Kate Miller, a lonely mother trying to deal with her frustrations because her husband doesn't take care of her (cough) needs, and while her shrink Dr. Robert Elliott (Michael Caine) tells her to address the issue with her husband, all she wants is a good shagging no questions asked. Once she gets what she needs from a man with VD (in a bravura dialogue-free sequence through an art museum) , Kate is murdered by a mysterious woman. And then the woman drops her incriminating razor-blade at the feet of Liz Blake (Nancy Allen), an uptown prostitute who's only interested in the stock market. Brought in by the police for questioning, Liz meets Kate's science-geek son Peter (Keith Gordon), who figures after eavesdropping on Dr. Elliott's interrogation that the killer must be one of the doctor's patients. Peter photographs Elliott's clientele and shows Liz his findings, but both realize that the killer is now after her, while the cops want to toss Liz in the klink unless she leads them to the killer.
Dressed to Kill's various borrowings from Psycho include (but are not limited to) the killing of the lead early in the piece, the killer's "trick" identity and subsequent explanation, and much of the music (Pino Donaggio's score has a strong Bernard Herman flavor) making it easy to dismiss De Palma as a rip-off artist better at mimicry than developing his own voice. But and this is a big but such does not acknowledge the tremendous talent it takes to do what De Palma does here, and does well. Skeptical? Compare Dressed to Kill to Gus Van Sant's 1998's remake of Psycho. Where Van Sant tried to completely copy a Hitchcockian masterwork, winding up with less-than-inspired results, De Palma employs the "riffing" of a great jazz musician. And like John Coltrane's version of My Favorite Things, De Palma never planned on a remake, but instead took a feel and a form to interpret for himself. Though heavily indebted to Hitchcock, De Palma has tricks of his own, and one must admire the craft of taking old ideas and reinventing them anew Dressed to Kill is thrilling, and at times ingenious. De Palma has a surgeon's precision at wringing optimal pleasure out of the film's most suspenseful moments, and he really understands how entertaining it is to observe people in peril.
MGM's new Dressed to Kill: Special Edition is presented in anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) in two versions: the original R-rated theatrical release, and the uncut European rendition (adding different angles and a couple more graphic seconds to the running time). The audio has been effectively remastered in Dolby Digital 5.1, but for purists the original mono soundtrack has also been included. Bonuses include a 45-minute documentary (featuring interviews with De Palma, producer George Litto, Allen, Dickinson, Gordon, Allen, and Dennis Franz, among others) and three featurettes a comparison of the R, unrated, and TV versions of the film; a look at how much trouble the film earned with the MPAA; and a retrospective by Keith Gordon (as he also did on Jaws 2). Also on board are the theatrical trailer and two still galleries covering on-set shots and promotional materials. Dressed to Kill: Special Edition hits the street tomorrow.
Box Office: Five new films went wide over the weekend, but none could top American Pie 2 and Rush Hour 2, which finished once again in first and second place. AP2 now stands at $109.6 million and is the first movie since Spy Kids to hold the top spot for three weeks in a row, while RH2 has $183.2 million and is poised to break the double-century before much longer. Among new releases, Kevin Smith's Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back opened strongest with $11.1 million, while Warner's romantic comedy Summer Catch earned $7.5 million. John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars opened poorly for Sony with $3.8 million, despite being shown at more than 2,000 locations, while Woody Allen's The Curse of the Jade Scorpion mustered up $2.5 million in less than 1,000 theaters. But faring worst of all was Buena Vista's Bubble Boy despite opening at 1,600 locations, it failed to make the chart.
In continuing release, the late-summer heavyweights Planet of the Apes and Jurassic Park III are starting to fade, while Buena Vista's The Princess Diaries is an unqualified hit for Julie Andrews and director Garry Marshall, earning $82.5 million after four weekends. Dimension's old-fashioned thriller The Others is also doing well, with $46.2 million and some good word-of-mouth support. But going into a nosedive is Universal's Captain Corelli's Mandolin, starring Nicolas Cage and Penelope Cruz, which is just shy of $14 million after two weeks. And stinko awards go to The Farrelly Brothers' Osmosis Jones, which barely cleared $10 million before its hasty exit, while American Outlaws snared $4.8 million its opening weekend and has since dropped out of sight.
Just two new films arrive this Friday the Othello-adaptation O, starring Julia Stiles and Mekhi Phifer, and the horror flick Jeepers Creepers, directed by Victor Salva. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Greg Dorr has posted his sneak-peek of Paramount's two-disc Forrest Gump: Special Collector's Edition, while Betsy Bozdech looked at Columbia TriStar's revised My Best Friend's Wedding: Special Edition, and D.K. Holm spun a George Stevens classic from Paramount, A Place in the Sun. New reviews from the rest of the staff this morning include the Brian De Palma films Carrie: Special Edition, Dressed to Kill: Special Edition, and Blow Out, as well as Gandhi, Kramer vs. Kramer, Beyond Suspicion, Killer Klowns from Outer Space, Wish Upon a Star, and the drive-in double-feature The Giant Gila Monster and The Wasp Woman. All can be found under the New Reviews menu here on the front page, while our DVD reviews database features more than 1,100 additional write-ups.
Back tomorrow with this week's street discs.
Thursday, 23 August 2001
On the Block: Our latest round of DVD auction rankings at eBay is in, and surging up the chart is a new arrival a live-performance DVD of Russell Crowe's Aussie bar-band Thirty-Odd Foot of Grunts that's simply entitled Texas and apparently is being sold at the band's gigs during their current North American tour (and yes, TOFOG is playing Portland's Roseland Theater tonight, right across the street from DVD Journal headquarters should we try to convince Crowe and his mates to drop by for a keg or two of beer?) Criterion titles continue to rank across the chart, and every month that Miramax holds on to A Hard Day's Night is another month the original MPI special edition earns triple digits, getting a top close of $152.50 this time around. Two titles returning to the chart after some absence are Pier Paolo Pasolini's The Gospel According to St. Matthew and the ultra-rare fifth disc from Fox's Alien Legacy box set. A&E's Pride and Prejudice continues to hang around, but with the re-issue on Sept. 25 we think this is the last we'll see of it. But we're not so surprised that the first edition of Warner's Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is on the upswing, with a best hammer-price of $101.13 on Aug. 6 right about the time we all learned the upcoming Willy Wonka special edition would only offer a full-frame transfer.
Here's the highest recent closing prices of rare and out-of-print DVDs from online auctions at eBay:
Coming Attractions: We're off to dig through another fresh stack of DVDs, and new reviews on the way include Forrest Gump, some new Brian De Palma spins, and much more. We'll see ya Monday have a great weekend.
Wednesday, 22 August 2001
You may be on some bad drugs Christopher, but they have not affected your memory yet. Indeed, A Clockwork Orange, when first released in the U.S. in 1971, carried an X-rating, but as most film fans know an X back then has little bearing on what X means nowadays. When Jack Valenti first took the reins of the Motion Picture Association of America in 1966, one of the first things he planned to do was retire the long-standing Production Code (also known as the Hays Code), which he regarded as barely more than censorship. He also had little choice, as films in America and around the world were starting to outgrow the Code's limitations two of the earliest pictures Valenti found himself dealing with were Mike Nichols' 1966 Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, which contained some stark language from Edward Albee's stage play (the word "screw" presented a problem), while the Michelangelo Antonioni import Blow Up, from the same year, became the first major theatrical release to contain full-frontal nudity.
By 1968 the Code was scrapped and replaced by the ratings system, which at first only had four permutations G, M, R, and X. The G- and R-ratings are still with us today, while the M rating (for Mature) was abandoned because some parents thought it was more mature than a "Restricted" film, not less. To avoid confusion, the M became GP ("General audiences, Parental guidance"). But, hardly less confusing, it became PG not long thereafter. That PG was expanded to the additional PG-13 in 1984 when Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was considered too intense for youngsters.
But unlike the original G, M, and R ratings, and all of their successors, the MPAA never copyrighted the X rating. Why? Strictly speaking, as the highest restriction there was no need to "qualify" for an X, and thus it could be self-applied by any film. Of course, its original intent was simply to denote films that would not be shown to children under 17, and a good number of pictures in the late '60s and early '70s carried the stamp of adult viewership including Straw Dogs, Carnal Knowledge, A Clockwork Orange, and most famously Midnight Cowboy, the only X-rated film to win an Oscar for Best Picture. But as the MPAA's X-rating was not copyrighted, it wasn't long before the growing porn industry adopted the label, and even expanded it to the ubiquitous "XXX." By the mid-'70s the X was a double-whammy, since most mainstream theaters would not screen X-rated Hollywood films, and X also had come to mean hardcore porn in the minds of most consumers. With the studios cutting all of their films with an eye for an R-rating at the most, the X fell by the wayside, until it was resurrected in 1990 as NC-17 ("No children under 17") for Henry and June. But the sanitized NC-17, which the MPAA copyrighted, is still feared by studios, who are aware that NC-17 titles will not be screened at the largest cineplexes, nor be available on video at renters such as Blockbuster. Indeed, Stanley Kubrick was contractually obligated to deliver 1999's Eyes Wide Shut to Warner as an R-rated film, and it was modified after his death to achieve that R-rating in the U.S.
Is the altered Eyes Wide Shut a bastardization of Kubrick's vision? It's a question that will be debated for a long time, but it is interesting to note that Eyes Wide Shut is not an exception. As you point out, A Clockwork Orange was altered to get an R-rating, and not in the '80s or later, but in 1972. Kubrick himself modified two sequences the "William Tell Overture" fast-motion orgy and the "Singin' in the Rain" rape-scene in order to get an R. The adjustments were minor and did not affect the film's running time. It was in the mid-'90s that the original sequences were restored on home video, this time with a R-rating. We have not been able to compare earlier videos to Warner's Clockwork Orange DVD (first and second editions), but our understanding is that we have the original X-rated version on disc, not the modification.
If you have Region 2 capability on your DVD player and you can afford it, there's no real reason to avoid the R2 edition of John Huston's 1951 The African Queen, released by Carlton Home Entertainment on July 16. We are told by friends in the UK that the transfer is very good in the original 1.33:1, while the audio is a remastered two-channel mono. Features include a trailer, two still galleries, and cast notes, but of greatest interest is a commentary from legendary cinematographer Jack Cardiff that's full of on-set details. If the disc did not have extra content we'd advise you hold off until Fox gets a Region 1 DVD in circulation. But it sounds like a good buy, especially if you pay a reasonable price on eBay, say no more than $25. There's no guarantee that Fox will offer North American fans an attractive special edition like this one and even if the transfer was garbage, that Cardiff track would be worth the price of admission.
Well, "Sluggo," we're sure you'll love Say It Isn't So a totally free DVD is on its way to you!
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, 21 August 2001
On the Street: If you're looking for something nice to go with your fava beans, MGM has both The Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal out today as special editions, and while we prefer the first film over its successor, we found both titles to have good extra features. This week's lineup from Columbia TriStar includes Todd Haynes' Safe and Luc Besson's Le Dernier Combat, while a lot of folks will be picking up Warner's long-awaited Waiting for Guffman and Criterion's Sullivan's Travels. And for nostalgia-trippers like us, Fox's 1966 Batman: The Movie is a treat. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 20 August 2001
Disc of the Week: Between the sublime and the ridiculous you'll find ... the sublimely ridiculous. And in that wonderfully loopy, dizzy, silly-without-shame place lies Batman: The Movie. This fizzy concoction hit the big screens in 1966, between the first and second seasons of ABC's Batman TV series' three-season run. The movie had initially been created to introduce the series to American audiences, but with one thing and another, the series was already a sure-fire hit before the movie was made. So Batman: The Movie served to keep the Bat-fans happy and hungry for more, and it successfully introduced the show to lucrative foreign markets. The series and its movie are now considered "camp classics," worthy comedies from the mold that later gave us the Zucker Brothers' Police Squad! series and Naked Gun and Airplane! movies. They are well-crafted masterworks of cheese that have for more than three decades maintained a devoted fan following. And Fox's special edition DVD is a product of that following word is that ardent fans within Fox pushed to get it produced, and it's likely that this disc, with its loving bonus features, will appeal mightily to that Baby Boomer nostalgia kick that has made cable stations such as TV Land, not to mention cinematic "updates" of TV series from the '60s and '70s, viable commercial forces. After all, for Boomers the Batman TV series was a pop-culture staple almost as much as its near-contemporary, the original Star Trek series. Sing two seconds of its theme music and you and your pals would be riffing on how cool Vincent Price was as Egghead or whether Julie Newmar or Eartha Kitt was the sexiest Catwoman ever, and just how did the Dynamic Duo change into their Bat-costumes while sliding down that Bat-pole anyway? The Batmobile was the greatest car in the world and "Holy [whatever]!" was an all-purpose exclamation. Sure, even teens or younger knew it was all silly stuff, but it was fun and colorful like a comic book should be. And like Adam West himself, this particular Batman has aged remarkably well even if we roll our eyes at it a bit more now.
Batman: The Movie was scripted by Lorenzo Semple Jr., who wrote for the TV series and later went on to share script credits on The Parallax View, Papillon, Flash Gordon, and Never Say Never Again. The plot is a TV episode blown up to triple-helping proportions. Within moments of the opening credits, philanthropic millionaire Bruce Wayne (Adam West) and his youthful ward Dick Grayson (Burt Ward) slide down the Bat-pole and, as the Caped Crusaders, speed off in the Batmobile and Batcopter to the site of the latest Bat-emergency. It seems that Commodore Schmidlapp (Reginald Denny), a British distillery tycoon and inventor, is bringing to the U.S. an invention that is purported to be of world-changing importance. The bad news is that the commodore's yacht has vanished and the culprits behind the kidnapping are no less than four of Batman's most favored fiendish foes: the Joker (Cesar Romero), the Penguin (Burgess Meredith), the Riddler (Frank Gorshin), and Catwoman (Lee Meriwether, the living embodiment of "lift and separate"). Together, these vile vultures of villainy have teamed up to become United Underworld, out to take over nothing less than the entire world with the Commodore's invention a Hoover vacuum cleaner that extracts all moisture from a human body, reducing the victim to a handful of powder.
It's the villains rather, the superb character actors who play them who add so much of the fun to Batman: The Movie. On display are some of that generation's most watchable television actors delivering lines with full-bore gusto ("We shall spring them from the Joker's jack-in-the-box, through that window, out over the sea, and into the waiting arms of the Penguin's exploding octopus!") Can the Dynamic Duo stop the fearsome foursome in time? Well, naturally, and along the way we're treated to dozens of ludicrous Bat-gadgets, all labeled in big letters, and a script supported with crisp directing (by the inventive Leslie H. Martinson). Topping it all off is wonderful Adam West, who manages to pigeon-hole his career for life with a performance so straight-faced, so deliberately arch and mannered, that one fantasizes about him teaming up with William Shatner for a Vegas lounge act. Batman: The Movie is not all perfect for instance, once the story reaches its cruising velocity it stays there a bit too long but it's still good clean fun that's both nostalgic and timeless.
Fox's new Batman: The Movie special edition DVD is a labor of love that adds a trove of goodies to the original movie. The print and transfer are excellent clean and sharp with vibrant colors and fine gradation, with almost no speckling or blemishes. It has been transferred in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio (anamorphically enhanced). The DVD's primary audio track is in Dolby 2.0 Surround, which offers a slight upgrade from the alternate monaural track. The sound is good, reasonably clear and clean, though it shows its age with some slight hiss and a limited frequency range. The new screen-specific audio commentary track with Adam West and Burt Ward is relaxed reminiscence, offering anecdotes about the making of both the series and the movie and often joking back and forth in Mystery Science Theater style. The flow isn't constant, but it's clear that the two starring actors had a good time recording the track. West and Ward are on screen in a short featurette made specially for this DVD. With self-effacing humor, they give more information about making the series and movie, their perspectives on having Batman and Robin as their day jobs, and about working with the numerous guest stars. "The Batmobile Revealed" is a mini-featurette hosted by George Barris, the Batmobile's designer and engineer, who gives us a guided tour of the now-vintage vehicle and how it came to be the most famous black sedan on the planet. "From the Vaults of Adam West" and "Behind the Scenes" are each click-through galleries of stills that deliver an extensive photo album of production designs, cast and crew candid shots, and promo images. No need to worry about catching this one at the "same Bat-time, same Bat-channel" Batman: The Movie arrives on DVD tomorrow morning.
Box Office: The past ten weeks have seen ten different films open in first place at the American box-office, but Universal's American Pie 2 has snapped the trend, becoming the first picture since Pearl Harbor to hold the top spot for two weeks in a row. After 10 days AP2 has grossed $87.6 million strong numbers for an R-rated film and its second win was helped by a few underperforming debuts. Paramount's comedy Rat Race grabbed $11.8 million over the weekend, but it was only good enough for third place, while Universal's delayed Captain Corelli's Mandolin, starring Nicolas Cage and Penelope Cruz, earned $7.1 million for sixth and Warner's American Outlaws $4.1 million for the eighth spot.
In continuing release, Rush Hour 2, Planet of the Apes, and Jurassic Park III are the biggest blockbusters, but Buena Vista's The Princess Diaries and MGM's Legally Blonde are effectively counterprogramming the late-summer spectaculars, with strong totals and less dramatic week-to-week declines. And Dimension's The Others, starring Nicole Kidman, added nearly 500 theaters over the weekend to hold fourth spot with an additional $10.8 million. But headed into the tank is Warner's Osmosis Jones, falling out of the top ten in its second week with $10.2 million a scrap of its reported $70 million budget.
Kevin Smith's Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back arrives in theaters this Friday, where it will be joined by such other new arrivals as Woody Allen's The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars, and the Disney comedy Bubble Boy. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Dawn Taylor has posted a double-feature sneak preview of MGM's Hannibal and The Silence of the Lambs, while D.K. Holm is on the board with New Line's 15 Minutes: infinifilm, and Greg Dorr looked at Columbia's Safe. New reviews from the rest of the team this week include Say It Isn't So!, Grey Gardens: The Criterion Collection, Time and Tide, The Hunter, Batman: The Movie, Le Dernier Combat, and Extreme Limits. It's all fresh under the New Reviews menu here on the front page, or use our search engine to scan our entire DVD reviews database.
We'll be back tomorrow with the rundown on this week's street discs.
Thursday, 16 August 2001
Coming Attractions: New DVD reviews are on the way, including MGM's Hannibal and The Silence of the Lambs, and more. In the meantime, if you haven't entered our totally free DVD contest for a copy of Sullivan's Travels: The Criterion Collection, be sure to visit our contest page if you get the chance, and don't forget to take our monthly DVD poll while you're there. See ya Monday.
Commentary Clip: "I have no idea why people reacted so strongly to (Liz), to the character I play. John (Schlesinger) had a very good piece of music behind my entrance, Richard Rodney Bennett. Beautiful, beautiful piece of music, just perfect. He choreographed it beautifully with the sort of bouncy sort of way that I did the walk into the city. Apart from that, what I think what I saw was a kind of charisma between my face and the screen. It's definitely very vital. There's a sort of energy in my face, and it has absolutely nothing to do with acting what so ever. It's a sort of magic thing, which is maybe what, you know, my whole career's been based on basically, which is that something happens when the camera looks at me. And I think this is true of many people who become film stars. So I think that just that might have been it, it just might have been a little fizzle, you know, (laughs) fizz! Not a fizzle, you fizzle out, but you fizz don't you, yes that's it (laughs). So I think it might have been completely non-specific and non-identifiable."
Quotable: "Over the last five to seven years the landscape of American cinemas has changed. In the past, when a big movie would open, you might think 'I won't even bother. It'll be sold out. I'd have to get there an hour early.' Now the movie's showing on five screens, so you go. You know you're going to get in. Nobody gets turned away. The result? Movies burn out quicker."
Warner Bros. film distribution executive Dan
"It's called a comedy, but we don't think it's funny to make jokes about serious diseases. I spend many hours a month getting transfusions at the hospital so I can try to stay healthy. It would make me really sad to think while I am at the hospital, lots of people are sitting in a movie theater laughing about a serious disease."
Scott McGuire, 10, in a letter to Disney Chairman
David Caruso, discussing his infamous 1994 exit
"Everyone thinks I've got this big Hollywood career now but I've only made two films in six years (in America). That's all. I did one in Chicago, then a little bit in Savannah, and all the rest were in Europe. So it's just the perception of the kind of films I've done. I love coming (to Los Angeles) and renting a house either on the beach or in the hills, and you enjoy the job and enjoy the time here, and then you go home."
Jude Law, on "going Hollywood."
"I might like working (in Los Angeles), but I'd never live there. To tell you the truth, the system makes me sick sometimes. They put actors on to A, B and C lists, according to how much money each person can make for the studio, and I just think 'How dare you do that? We're not a bunch of letters to make you money we're people.'"
Ewan McGregor, regarding the same.
Wednesday, 15 August 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:
No dispute at all Columbia TriStar owns the rights to Husbands and Wives, which is why it is not included in any of MGMs three box sets, which cover Allen's career from 1971's Bananas all the way through 1992's Shadows and Fog. Allen spent his entire film career between 1971 and 1992 with MGM/UA and Orion, but in '92 he started hopping studios. Husbands and Wives, Manhattan Murder Mystery, and Sweet and Lowdown arrived from Columbia, while Miramax released Bullets over Broadway, Mighty Aphrodite, Everyone Says I Love You, and Celebrity. Deconstructing Harry is Allen's sole New Line film, with DreamWorks handling Small Time Crooks and everything in the foreseeable future. All of the above (save Husbands and Wives) are currently on disc, but since Allen's post-'92 career is owned by a patchwork of studios, it is unlikely we will see any more box-sets similar to MGM's.
As a note, we don't think there's any sort of conspiracy or otherwise as to why Columbia TriStar is sitting on Husbands and Wives our guess is that it simply has not been slated for DVD production, just like many, many other catalog holdings. But when Husbands and Wives arrives, it will mean that every theatrical film directed by Woody Allen will be on DVD, as his 1969 Take the Money and Run is currently in release from Anchor Bay. Well, there's one more missing title 1966's What's Up Tiger Lily?, which is really a Japanese film that Allen got the rights for and then wrote new dubbed dialogue. Is it a pure Woody film along the lines of Husbands and Wives? Probably not but Anchor Bay currently has a license for it on VHS, and it could appear on DVD from the distributor before much longer.
Probably more than you'd like. When Lynch's production team first developed the Twin Peaks pilot for ABC, they got additional funding from Warner Bros., who were to distribute the project overseas. The catch? Lynch's pilot episode, as scripted, was too open-ended, so they requested that additional footage be added tie up some loose ends and make it more suitable as a "stand-alone" title. Some of the additional footage eventually made its way into the first episodes of the Twin Peaks series, while Warner released their version of the pilot on video and Laserdisc, although those are now out of print (see inset).
Meanwhile, the Peaks series proper found a home on VHS via Republic, but those rights have since transferred to Artisan. Artisan, along with Lynch, will release Season One in December. And we should be thankful, because most of the Republic VHS versions are recorded at EP speed and reportedly look worse than normal videotape. The entire series was also released on Laserdisc by Image in North America, while a Japanese LD series actually featured an extra platter with some bonus materials (mostly promotional stuff).
In any event, the original ABC-TV pilot has not appeared on home video at any time. And Peaks purists are not happy with the Warner pilot, which doesn't jibe with the series' gradual plot progression. And to make things more complicated, a common item on eBay right now is a Peaks pilot DVD from a distributor in Asia who has adopted the Republic branding. We always urge buyers to beware, but we have heard that this disc is the original ABC-TV pilot, code-free and NTSC, and that it has been transferred from a decent source. Of course, it most likely also has been released without the permission of the rights holders. Most of the sellers are from Hong Kong as well, so anybody who goes for a quick "Buy It Now" auction can assume all of the risks.
As for the North American rights to the Twin Peaks pilot, it's our understanding that Warner has a firm grip on all home-video properties, but not broadcast rights. The original ABC version reportedly aired on Bravo some time ago when the entire Peaks series ran. But a potential DVD remains another matter for the foreseeable future and as the project was the result of an entirely different financing arrangement, we think it's unlikely the pilot will ever appear on home video alongside the subsequent episodes.
Thanks for writing Jacob it's good to know that there are cool DVD fans like you out there, so keep rockin' on buddy! And hey, you've just won yourself a free DVD of Say It Isn't So! It stars Heather Graham! Yowza!
Well that sure spanks us Evan so we thought you might want to "spank" a Monkeybone DVD and a fun Monkeybone stuffed toy! You're a winner!!
Top of the Pops: Here's the top-selling action-adventure DVDs last week from our friends at Ken Crane's DVDPlanet.com. Click the links to read our reviews of these discs:
Tuesday, 14 August 2001
On the Street: Paramount leads the street list this week with the recent wartime drama Enemy at the Gates, with strong performances from Jude Law, Ed Harris, and Joseph Fiennes, while catalog titles include Funeral at Berlin, Ordinary People, A Place in the Sun, and Steve McQueen's last film, The Hunter. New from Universal is Josie and the Pussycats (which we didn't hate nearly as much as we expected to), while New Line has released their latest "infinifilm" title, 15 Minutes, and musical titles from Kino include Carnegie Hall and The Last of the Blue Devils: The Kansas City Jazz Story. But at the top of our list is the Maysles Brothers' Grey Gardens, out now from Criterion after some delay. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Back tomorrow with the mailbag.
Monday, 13 August 2001
Disc of the Week: When Michael Bay's Pearl Harbor arrived earlier this summer, the marketing folks at Buena Vista had a pretty clever way to get folks to buy tickets for the three-hour behemoth: They didn't just tease the movie, or try to pitch it they made it everybody's Patriotic Duty to see it. The U.S. Navy sent an aircraft carrier to Hawaii for the world premiere. And even after many film critics (and quite a few filmgoers) declared Pearl Harbor to be bloated, overlong, and a tad boring, it still earned back its staggering $140 million budget. This noted, consider Jean-Jacques Annaud's Enemy at the Gates, a film that debuted just a few months before Pearl Harbor, and which also happens to be fairly intelligent and entertaining. But its subject-matter (the 1942 Battle of Stalingrad) is grim. The French director is virtually unknown to Americans. The cast is mostly British. The film's central figures are Russian and German, and there are no American characters at all. And Annaud looks kindly upon the Russian people, who refuse to fall under Hitler's jackboot (although he saves a few barbed criticisms for Soviet bureaucrats). But despite the fact that Stalingrad was just as much a turning point in World War II as Pearl Harbor, Normandy, or Iwo Jima, a lot of Americans skipped over Enemy at the Gates, which cost $70 million to produce but only earned $51 million domestically. Fortunately, that $70 million is all on the screen, and the DVD release is a good opportunity for the film to be rediscovered in home theaters everywhere.
Jude Law stars in Enemy at the Gates as Sgt. Vassili Zaitsev, a young Russian who grew up in a shepherding family in the Ural Mountains, and who became a skilled marksman at his grandfather's knee, learning to shoot wolves that would prey on the flocks. But when the Nazis drive their way into Russia, reaching Stalingrad on the banks of the Volga River, Vassili is conscripted for service and it's clear that the Russian government considers their inexperienced foot-soldiers as little more than cannon-fodder. But Vassili meets Commissar Danilov (Joseph Fiennes) while hiding from German troops, and after he assassinates five Nazi officers in a matter of seconds, Danilov a Soviet political officer decides to make Vassili a hero of his wartime propaganda, getting the young man promoted to sniper duty and publishing accounts of his many kills. And soon Vassili is so successful that the Germans are forced to bring their best sharpshooter, Maj. Erwin Konig (Ed Harris), to Stalingrad in the hopes of killing the Russian.
Vassili Zaitsev was very much a real person, a rural youth who served in the Red Army. Sources vary, but he has been credited with as many as 400 kills throughout his career, and 149 in the Battle of Stalingrad alone. There also was a Commisar Danilov promoting Zaitsev as a national hero during this time. However, whether there ever was a German Maj. Konig is questionable, and while the story of the Zaitsev / Konig duel has been around for some time, most historians dismiss it as Soviet propaganda designed to boost morale. Nonetheless, the semi-mythical rivalry became Annaud's template for Enemy at the Gates (co-written with Alain Godard), and it's not hard to understand why the story has so much appeal. Be it propaganda or major motion picture, the tale effectively reduces two impersonal armies to two recognizable archetypes the heroic young warrior defending a battered, impoverished nation, and the aristocratic hunter, brought in to coldly dispatch his human prey. Annaud keeps much of the story focused on his two combatants, and while the subplots involving Joseph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz (as Zaitsev's love-interest) tend to pale by comparison, little expense was wasted to get the settings right. Annaud says he scouted locations in 18 different countries looking for a place that could be made to resemble war-torn Stalingrad. Finding nothing of use, all of the settings were built in Germany. Annaud uses this purpose-built rubble to convey his story everything from the opening sequences (illustrating the wholesale slaughter of Red Army troops by German artillery) to the military's underground bunkers to the methodical sniper missions. Law and Harris are splendid actors put to good use here, and while Law carries much of the film, it must be noted that Harris probably got the more interesting of the two roles. The supporting cast is likewise excellent, with two standouts being Bob Hoskins as a bullying little Nikita Khrushchev, and Ron Perlman as Zaitsev's wry, steel-toothed sniping instructor Lt. Koulikov, who may hate the Soviets as much as the Nazis.
Paramount's new DVD release of Enemy at the Gates features a clean anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with audio in Dolby Digital 5.1 or Dolby 2.0 Surround. Features include the 19-min. promotional featurette "Through the Crosshairs," offering plenty of film clips and comments, along with a few behind-the-scenes tidbits; "Inside Enemy at the Gates," a 15-minute collection of various cast and crew interviews (with more film clips); and the theatrical trailer. Enemy at the Gates is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: It wasn't the nearly $70 million opening weekends we've seen over the past two weeks, but Universal's American Pie 2 definitely had folks coming back for more the randy teen comedy racked up $45.1 million in its opening frame, more than enough to fend off last week's champ, Rush Hour 2, which held second place with $31.4 million (and has earned $131.8 million in just ten days). Also new was Miramax's The Others, starring Nicole Kidman, which fetched a respectable $13.6 million, although it opened no better than fourth. And is America losing its love for the Farrelly Brothers? Their latest comedy, Osmosis Jones, pulled in just $5.5 million for Warner Bros., coming in seventh.
In continuing release, Universal's Jurassic Park III has cleared $160.2 million, while Fox's Planet of the Apes is now at $148.7 million (both films should finish just short of $200 m). Garry Marshall's G-rated The Princess Diaries starring Julie Andrews is turning into a surprise hit for Disney, earning nearly $52 million in 10 days, which is on track to beat some of the studio's recent animated releases. And Miramax's Spy Kids returned as a "Special Edition" over the weekend in limited release, nearly clawing its way back into the top 10. But tanking badly is MGM's Original Sin, starring Angelina Jolie and Antonio Banderas, which has earned a mere $12.5 million after its second weekend.
Nicolas Cage and Penelope Cruz star in Captain Corelli's Mandolin, due to arrive this Friday, while the latest Jerry Zucker comedy, Rat Race, also opens nationwide. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: D.K. Holm has posted a special preview of Criterion's Sullivan's Travels, while new reviews from the rest of the team this week include Josie and the Pussycats, Ordinary People, Funeral in Berlin, Fly Away Home: Special Edition, and Tomcats. It's all fresh under the New Reviews menu here on the front page, or use our search engine to scan our entire DVD reviews database.
Back tomorrow with the street discs.
Thursday, 9 August 2001
'Wonka' talkback: We received a few letters yesterday on Warner Home Video's upcoming "30th Anniversary" edition of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, which will not include an anamorphic widescreen transfer. Here's one that sets (part of) the record straight:
Thanks for the note Michael indeed, our original information was not accurate, as it is now clear that Warner's upcoming Willy Wonka DVD will be an open-matte transfer, which means the film was not shot with anamorphic lenses, and in fact the full camera-ratio is roughly 1.33:1, the same size as our TVs. However, we do not think that the open-matte transfer is an acceptable substitute, nor a compromise. For starters, while the film was shot on standard 35mm stock, it was very much composed for the 1.85:1 frame, and very often we find that widescreen films that are presented open-matte on home-video lose a great deal of impact, with relatively "dead" areas at the top and bottom of the frames, i.e. outside of the "safety area" of the frame where the action occurs.
But even more important, an anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer would offer enormous benefits, as that narrower field of composition would enjoy increased resolution, perhaps 100 lines or so (out of 480). And anamorphic discs represent an important upgrade path for DVD consumers, since many of us will be purchasing widescreen/HDTV sets in coming years. We've been replacing our VHS and Laserdisc collections since 1997 we certainly do not want to replace our DVDs just yet.
But we're glad you think it's an acceptable compromise, and as we noted yesterday, many parents will prefer to show Willy Wonka to their young children in full-frame. We also agree that there's a little bit too much Warner bashing going on. Really, all we have to do as DVD fans is let the studio know in a calm, polite manner that we will purchase an anamorphic widescreen version of Willy Wonka, whenever such may arrive.
Can we get an "Amen" from the congregation?
Quotable: "I'm not sorry, because I didn't make the jokes at the expense of the gay community. I made jokes at the expense of two characters who neither I nor the audience have ever held up to be paragons of intellect. They're idiots."
Kevin Smith, defending his new film Jay and Silent
"I had so many basketball scripts, you wouldn't believe. I'm like, 'I'm not doing a basketball movie.'"
Chris Tucker, who did not appear in any films
"No physical fight ever occurred between us and the idea is as insulting as it is laughable. We finished the film dancing at an impromptu wrap party in high spirits and exchanged gifts and warmest goodbyes. My heart goes out to her and I am praying for her speedy recovery."
Mira Sorvino, denying a People magazine report
"I think we're professionals and you do it, you just do it. I don't know what else to say."
Tom Cruise, speaking at the premiere of ex-wife
"In the movie, we're going to turn him into a superhero who battles the enemies of the country, in this case the Chinese. We want it to look like a John Woo action movie."
Matt Stone, explaining the premise of his and Trey
Coming Attractions: New DVD reviews are on the way, including an early look at Criterion's Sullivan's Travels, Universal's Josie and the Pussycats, and more. We'll see ya on Monday.
Wednesday, 8 August 2001
I can't decide whether to be more amazed at or infuriated by this. This has got to be one of the biggest release blunders since the days when we were all cajoling studios like Disney and Fox to get on the anamorphic bandwagon. We used to wonder at the high prices ($100 or more) people were paying on eBay for the original Wonka DVD, because we all knew a newer, better release was coming. Those folks were accidentally quite prescient in this instance.
We first caught wind of this yesterday from Peter Bracke and crew at DVDFile.com, and it's one of the most disappointing things we've heard in a while the much-ballyhooed "30th Anniversary" edition of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (due Aug. 28) will offer new supplements, including a commentary and a documentary, but the transfer will be pan-and-scan and not the 1.85:1 image on the original bare-bones disc (which included 1.33:1 on the flip-side). Of course, we've had our yuks laughing at folks who were paying huge bucks on eBay for that original disc, as those who follow DVD news have been aware that an SE has been in the planning stages for a long time. But now it's our turn to eat crow we unloaded our original copy of Wonka when it appeared to command the best price. Now it's all but certain that eBay bids will rise again, and that original disc will be hard to replace.
However, while DVD fans all over the Internet are foaming at the mouth over the re-issued Wonka, we have to play devil's advocate for a moment and note that there is a method to Warner Home Video's madness. Yes, you want a widescreen transfer, and so do we, but Warner is convinced that Wonka is, at heart, a "family film," and as such it should be released in a "family-friendly" format, i.e. pan-and-scan. Even in this day in age with rapid DVD acceptance and widescreen films running all the time on cable channels like American Movie Classics and Turner Classic Movies, there are still a whole lot of folks out there who detest widescreen. We all get it, sure, but videophiles are hardly representative of the North American public at large, and for every consumer who demands widescreen, there are many more who complain about the "black bars" and "not using all the TV." Want proof? The inexpensive, tried-and-true VHS format has been with us for a few decades, and the vast majority of VHS tapes sold in the U.S. are, indeed, 1.33:1. It used to be almost impossible to rent widescreen VHS tapes anywhere (a format that has been cannibalized by DVD at this point), and it's likely you could eavesdrop at your local Blockbuster for an hour or two and never hear one patron ask "Excuse me, do you have this video in widescreen?"
As for Wonka, Warner simply believes that the majority of folks who will rent or buy this disc will prefer to see it in 1.33:1, and will not accept the black bars. Maybe they're right, maybe they're wrong but since a lot of parents will buy the DVD for their undiscriminating children, they may appreciate not having to offer a standard "Why those black bars are there" lecture to their five-year-old. You see, Timmy just wants to watch the Oompa-Loompas and sing the songs. He doesn't want to think the TV is broken. But if that's the case, why not release both widescreen and pan-and-scan versions of the film on the same disc, as on the original? It's just a guess, but it's likely the extra content got to be too much for a standard single-sided, dual-layered disc. A two-disc set then? Warner has not been strong with this format, having yet to find an acceptable two-disc version of their snap-case. DVD-18? True, Superman: The Movie came with two gold sides but again, as a "family-friendly" title, perhaps Warner was not willing to abandon Wonka's disc artwork. Dual-sided discs confuse some folks, and others find the inner-ring labeling hard to read.
It was sometime last year that your own editor was replying to a reader's comment about why it was important to proselytize the DVD format, why we DVD fans needed to convince everybody we knew to go out and buy a player and some discs. While this was true back in 1997 and '98 when DVD faced the scourge of Divx and the reluctance of some studios to adopt the format the idea nowadays that more player sales is a good thing has become a shibboleth. Your editor was even tempted to describe the year 2000 as the "Golden Age" of DVD, when its small but rabid consumer base ensured reasonable prices, quality products, widescreen transfers, and no rental windows. Why invite the average American consumer to the party?
But DVD's mainstream acceptance was all but assured with the demise of Divx, cheaper hardware, and all of the major studios releasing titles in the format. And while there have been several pan-and-scan-only "family" titles on DVD so far, Warner's revamped Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory indeed marks a turning point in how at least one studio views the DVD demographic this is the first time (to our knowledge) that a pan-and-scan-only disc is a highly-anticipated title, a DVD re-release, and packed with extra features. And Warner's bean-counters, for whatever reason, think the "I hate letterbox" crowd will be at the front of the queue to get it. We suspect that this is not an aberration, but the start of a new trend that will gradually unfold with plenty more pan-and-scan DVDs out there. Mom and Pop are buying these shiny little tchotchkes too.
Nonetheless, there is a solution, and one that we think (or at least hope) Warner Home Video will adopt sooner or later. We are not about to begrudge WHV for releasing a home-video product in a format that they think is the most advantageous to their business interests they're here to make money, and God Bless America. But DVDs are supposed to be about choice, and if we can't have a two-disc or DVD-18 version of Willy Wonka, there should be a second, widescreen version of the disc with the same supplements, which has been a common practice of Universal for some time. We'd advise anybody who is planning to write Warner or sign an online petition, rather than getting angry or losing your temper, to simply say that you will not purchase the announced Willy Wonka disc, but you certainly will buy the same title in anamorphic widescreen, whenever it is released. Those of us who love black bars on our TVs are still around, and we've got money to spend too.
Uh, you can put away that crack pipe right now, Mr. Anthony or whatever your name is. We're not just giving away Monkeybone DVDs, but cute lil' toys too! Let the hosannas ring down from heaven!
Monkeybone is a work of art. Do not shun it so.
We certainly do not mean to shun Monkeybone, the utter masterpiece of serio-comic cinema that it is. And in fact John, you've just won yourself a free Monkeybone DVD and a Monkeybone stuffed toy! Wow! That's probably the most exciting thing that's ever happened to you in your entire life!
Top of the Pops: Here's the top-selling dramatic films on DVD 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, 7 August 2001
On the Street: Yet again the street list is just ankle-deep, but there are a few items that are worth a spin, in particular Paul Schrader's Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, out now from Warner (who also have their Any Given Sunday: Special Edition on the board today). DreamWorks has a pair with The Mexican and the Barry Levinson comedy An Everlasting Piece, while new from Columbia TriStar is Time and Tide and the revamped Fly Away Home: Special Edition. And for you horror buffs, the Halloween: Extended Version DVD is fresh today from Anchor Bay. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 6 August 2001
And the winner is: Martin Erkamp of Calgary, Alberta, wins the free Woody Allen Collection: Vol. 2 DVD set from our July contest. Congrats, Martin!
Our totally free DVD contest for the month of August is up and running, and we have a copy of Criterion's Sullivan's Travels 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: Paul Schrader and the movies have never been an easy fit. He tends to take fun subjects that are naturally cinematic (massage parlors, gigolos, rock and roll, revolution) and drain the passion out of them with a flat, almost emotionless treatment. The Grand Rapids native, who was raised as a Calvinist before escaping to college in New York City and then Los Angeles, has always approached the cinema as an intellectual discipline rather than an excuse for hedonism. His one book so far is a dry but enthusiastic study of the religious themes of Ozu, Dreyer, and Bresson. Schrader is also unusual in making a successful transition from screenwriter (Taxi Driver) to director (American Gigolo, Cat People), and, almost unique in America, from movie reviewer (for the L. A. Weekly and Cinema magazine) to filmmaker. After a series of extremely personal projects, Schrader made a couple of films greeted less than enthusiastically by the public and then proceeded to concentrate on literary adaptations, one of which (Affliction) garnered numerous nominations and winning an Oscar for James Coburn. Though many of his films are very entertaining, almost no individual Schrader film is entirely satisfying, except and Schrader would agree for his 1985 masterpiece Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, about the career of the (more or less) conservative Japanese novelist who committed ritual seppuku on November 25, 1970.
Based on a screenplay by Schrader and his brother Leonard a Japan authority with whom the director apparently has since had a falling out Mishima does indeed recount the life of novelist Mishima Yukio in four chapters, entitled "Beauty," "Art," "Action," and "The Harmony of Pen and Sword." Set to passionate, cascading music by Philip Glass, the film is segmented but perfectly shuffled. There is an account of Mishima's suicide day, in which he breaks into a general's office to stage a military coup with the aid of his own private army, but ends up killing himself, then beheaded by his assistant-lover the sequence is shot in a grainy, hand-held quasi-documentary style. Then there is the trajectory of Mishima's life up to that moment, shot in black and white. Finally, there are elegant, highly stylized Reader's Digest summaries of three novels by Mishima, with costumes and sets designed by Ishioka Eiko. Schrader views the novels as autobiographical, and it gives him a chance to get into the mind of his subject. But the style and subject matter of Mishima may have been too sophisticated for American audiences. It wasn't much of a hit in America, as the $5 million movie earned $450,000, despite a special award at the Cannes Film Festival. Mishima also had several production problems: The Mishima heirs ceased cooperation after, among many other things, Schrader chose to include a scene in which Mishima dances with a man in a gay bar; and the author of a Mishima bio sued the producers.
Nevertheless, Mishima is a brilliant, engrossing, unique film. It also continues Schrader's cinematic exploration of the role of the loner in a complex society. Mishima, an Emperor-worshipping right-wing radical who deplored the decline in moral discipline and the elevation of capitalism in the postwar years, is only the flip-side of Travis Bickle, as if the self-destructive cab driver had met with a little bit of artistic success and went with it. While many young filmmakers were mimicking Hawks, Cassavetes, or Scorsese, or refashioning noir and other genres, Schrader instead showed a profound European influence, embracing the somber old masters rather than trying to be one of the hyperkinetic kids. And Mishima, in its blend of verité and minimalist artificiality, also reflected or anticipated in an up-to-date way some modern European films such as Germany's The Nasty Girl. Because of this breaking of the boundaries of conventional narrative, Mishima is the most drastic re-thinking of that old cinematic standby, the biopic, ever committed to film, and it's rather sad that Schrader's approach has never been duplicated.
By adding significant extras, Warner's new DVD release of Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters is a step beyond the Laserdisc released in July of 1998. Chief among them is Schrader's lispy commentary. Sounding like Truman Capote and seemingly having to scream over the movie's soundtrack, Schrader gives a detailed account, both financial and philosophical, of the film's genesis and making (he laments, for example, that lead actor Ogata Ken lacks the sexual ambiguity of the real Mishima). It's a superb, educational track. The anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) on this release is excellent, capturing the rich variety of John Bailey's cinematography, and in the audio portion of the disc, Schrader has been allowed to correct a great wrong: In English, the film is narrated by Roy Scheider. For the DVD, Schrader has recovered the Japanese narration recorded by Ogata Ken (both English and Japanese are in Dolby 2.0 Surround, while a mono French track is also on board). Other extras include a pleasantly unpolished 10-minute "making-of" featurette by Don Ranvaud, the original trailer (in full-frame), one very short deleted scene, brief production notes, and cast and crew information. Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters hits the street tomorrow.
Box Office: Fox's Planet of the Apes had the best opening of the summer just one week ago with a blistering $69.5 million three-day cume, but surprisingly Rush Hour 2 matched those damn dirty apes with $66.8 million in its opening frame the largest debut ever for a New Line film, the largest raw-dollar opening for any film in August, and the fourth-best opening of any film, anytime, anywhere (just behind, The Lost World, Apes, and The Mummy Returns). Also opening well was Disney's The Princess Diaries, which garnered a respectable $23.2 million and landed in third. However, MGM's Original Sin, starring Angelina Jolie and Antonio Banderas, floundered with $6.4 million, opening no better than sixth.
We all knew that colossal opening for Planet of the Apes wasn't going to last, and if the weekend's 59% drop-off sounds steep, Tim Burton's revision of the '60s classic now stands at $124.6 million anyway, and it's far from done. Universal's Jurassic Park III has been good for $146.8 million after three weekends, while Sony's America's Sweethearts has found traction, holding fifth place after three weeks and a $75.1 million cume. But off the charts is Sony's animated Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, which generated a lot of chatter with its state-of-the-art visuals but will finish with less than $35 million overall.
American Pie 2 arrives in cineplexes this Friday, where it will be joined by The Farrelly Brothers' latest comedy, Osmosis Jones, and the Nicole Kidman thriller The Others. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: New reviews from the team this week include Akira: Limited Special Edition, The Mexican, 3,000 Miles to Graceland, An Everlasting Piece, The Hotel New Hampshire, Liebestraum, and Head Over Heels all can be found under the New Reviews menu here on the front page, while our DVD reviews database now features more than 1,100 write-ups.
We'll be back tomorrow with the rundown on this week's street discs.
Thursday, 2 August 2001
Coming Attractions: New DVD reviews are on the way, including DreamWorks' The Mexican and more. This also will be the last weekend to enter this month's totally free DVD contest for a copy of The Woody Allen Collection, Vol. 2, 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. See ya then.
Commentary Clips: "I never understood how I wound up on a horse in Mexico. But I must say for John (Sturges), he was a dedicated filmmaker. He learned his craft the hard way he went up the ladder to finally becoming a director. And what I liked as an actor was that he never imposed his choice on the actor. If he liked what was done, we moved on to the next scene. If he didn't like it, he'd say 'Well let's try it again.' I asked him once, 'In every movie I see, the bandits hold up the train or rob the bank or steal things you never see what they do with the money. Can I show them what they do with the money?' And John says 'Well, yes, let's try it.' I said 'Well, I want two gold teeth, I want a red silk shirt, and I would love the best-looking saddle and horse that you can find.' He said 'You got it.' Once he said to me though, 'Why do you type while riding the horse?' I said 'What do you mean, type?' He said 'You're holding the reins with your right hand, your left hand is flopping around in the air, as though you're hitting a keyboard.' I said, "All right, I won't do that anymore.' That was John."
"It was Bobby Vaughn who laid it on me. Bobby and I had gone to school together at L.A. City College at the drama department there.... I was coming out (of a movie studio lot) after shooting something, I don't know what it was, and right across the street (I saw Vaughn). 'Hey man, how you doin', what you been doin', blah blah blah.' He said 'I'm doing The Magnificent Seven' I said 'What? Who's doing it?' He says "Steve's in it, Yul Brynner, Charlie.' I said 'Jesus, y'know, who do I have to see? Is it cast?' He says 'No I don't believe it is yet, but we have to cast it before blah blah blah.' So I told my agent, I said 'Get me an interview with John Sturges.'
"And so I did. John said, 'So, yeah, you're in the picture Jim, I don't know who you're gonna be, and one of the seven hasn't been cast yet [under his breath] we're having a little trouble with billing and money and stuff but if it hasn't been cast by 3 o'clock this afternoon, you got it.' And I said 'Really? What character is that?' He says 'That's Britt the guy with the knife.' I said 'Is that the character that's the counterpart of the greatest swordsman in Japan (in Seven Samurai)?' He said 'Yeah, that's the one.' I said 'That's the character I want to play.' And sure enough, before about 2:30 he called me up and says 'Well, come on over and pick up your knives.' [laughs] The only thing (Sturges) required me to do was at the railhead he wanted a shot of me pushing my hat up with one finger and then looking up at Bob Wilke. Y'know, that was the only gesture he required of me. And the rest of the time I took what I could take from the Japanese, y'know, Kurosawa's film, that character was a favorite of mine when I saw that film for the first time I fell in love with that character, I said 'God, why don't they write characters like that for American films?'"
Quotable: "This movie is all about sophomoric sex, but the moviemakers don't want to be associated with condoms? The irony is that these same studio execs don't seem to have any compunction about making films that glorify gratuitous sex and targeting those films to young people. They only have qualms taking and talking about responsibility."
Ansell Healthcare Inc. marketing executive Carol
"So basically, all I really wanna say is I don't know what's going on with life, and I hope all the fans are good, and I just want you to know that I'm trying to understand things in life right now, and so I really don't feel that I should be doing music right now."
A somewhat cryptic message from Mariah Carey
"You never know. I seen the president of my record company last week and people are always talking. I've met with a couple of interesting people, some hip-hop guys.... (But) I can't live my life like that. I need the discipline of making films."
Marky Mark (aka Mark Wahlberg), discussing the
"I gave up (saying) 'It's an organic part, it'll make your career.' They don't hear that no more. I told her 'You're very good with tiara hair. A lot of people do have hair, but you can do tiara hair. You're the only one.'"
Director Garry Marshall, recalling how he pitched
"We made the deal on Friday. We're talking about doing it a little bit like The Matrix."
David Hasselhoff, who apparently will star in an
Wednesday, 1 August 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 queries from this week:
Without question, the Region 2 DVD release of Steven Soderbergh's Traffic which arrived just days ago on July 23 is a better item, supplements-wise, than the Region 1 edition, and if the lightweight disc from USA Films left Soderbergh fans wanting, that R2 item only rubs salt in their wounds. Released under license by Entertainment in Video, the R2 disc sports 25 minutes of deleted scenes, another 25 minutes of cast and crew interviews (with a subtitle track denoting the interviewer's question), 15 minutes of B-roll footage (on-set videotape not meant for the film itself), production notes, and a theatrical trailer. As it stands, the Region 1 disc (released May 29) is almost entirely different, with the EPK-recycled "Inside Traffic" documentary, a photo gallery, and a collection of trailers.
We have to say that we're a bit dejected to not get the deleted scenes and B-roll footage here in Region 1, but at the same time it should be stressed that the Region 2 Traffic is still missing the most important supplement of all a commentary track from Mr. Soderbergh himself, who certainly is not averse to spending time in front of the microphone. We also found it curious that USA's Traffic DVD arrived around the same time as Paramount's Catch-22, which Soderbergh recorded a track for with director Mike Nichols a 30-year-old film he admires, but had nothing to do with. We thus are tempted to speculate (as we have previously) that Soderbergh will want to revisit Traffic on DVD to lay that track down, and the existence of more than an hour of supplements should make the title more than worthy of a bang-up special edition. That said, to the best of our knowledge, USA Films is not planning to revisit Traffic anytime soon, and any forthcoming SE probably will be a matter of Soderbergh's time and inclination.
David Lynch's first feature film, 1977's Eraserhead, has become something of a Holy Grail for DVD fans, as it seems to have been hovering on the edges of potential DVD release for some time, but as of this point there is no clear word on when it will arrive. Financed by the American Film Institute, Lynch, and a few supporters, it took Lynch five years to shoot Eraserhead on a shoestring budget, although when it was eventually picked up for theatrical distribution by Columbia TriStar it established Lynch as new voice of American independent film, leading to such later big-studio efforts as The Elephant Man and Dune although with Blue Velvet Lynch would re-establish himself as an auteur who could deliver a powerful film with a little cash.
And as Eraserhead was essentially self-financed, it is and has always been Lynch's property, at least in the United States. Columbia TriStar released both VHS and Laserdisc editions of the film back in the '80s, but only for a couple of years before they were pulled, and these early editions are rare items indeed it's unlikely your local Blockbuster will carry Eraserhead, although specialty rental shops sometimes have them (or at least those copies that have not been stolen). To our knowledge, there has not been an official home-video release of Eraserhead in the U.S. for almost 15 years, as Lynch, for his own seemingly inscrutable reasons, has not authorized one. Notably, some fuss was created a while back when Criterion let it be known that they were interested in producing an Eraserhead DVD in collaboration with Lynch, but such never happened, and it appears that release is now very unlikely.
Thus, for those who are interested in adding Eraserhead to their personal collections, there are a few options. A Region 2 DVD was released in January of this year by Universal, who it appears acquired the overseas rights at some point. For those who can convert the PAL signal (and have code-free hardware), it is superior to the original Columbia VHS and lasers, as those were 1.33:1 rather than the correct 1.85:1 ratio, which the Region 2 disc provides; it also carries a trailer and a Lynch biography. But if you want to see Eraserhead with conventional hardware, both VHS and Laserdisc editions have been released in Japan by Comstock Video (see inset), and while subtitled, they are widescreen and NTSC format. We also have seen Video-CDs of Eraserhead crop up from time to time on eBay, but its likely that these are bootlegs and we don't recommend that anybody seek them out the Japanese widescreen VHS should keep most folks happy until we get a Region 1 DVD.
But as for when that Region 1 disc materializes, it very much is in the hands of David Lynch, and it's possible that he will want to produce his own DVD independently. It's hard to say what it will look like, but there is one tempting carrot to think about the original print of Eraserhead ran 20 minutes longer than the theatrical release, trimmed by Lynch after just one screening. These deleted scenes may still exist, and if so, they might wind up on the platter.
(And you're a lucky guy today Kalen your letter has won you a free DVD of Monkeybone and a Monkeybone stuffed toy! You'd better sit down before you have a heart-attack from the excitement!)
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: