Thursday, 27 September 2001
On the Block: Our latest round of DVD auction rankings at eBay is in, and while Criterion's Salo continues to be the most sought-after disc on the planet (clearing $404.00 in recent weeks), the ultra-rare Texas DVD a live performance by Russell Crowe's bar-band Thirty Odd Foot of Grunts is raking in huge money, earning a top close of $381.99 (sold only at concerts, the release reportedly is a numbered limited-edition with several bonus features). Another music title that has surged recently is Image's long out-of-print Live at Knebworth, hauling in $172.50 for one lucky seller, but for the most part bidding has been quiet, with many "Buy It Now" options ending auctions after one bid. Even better, we've seen a few bargains floating around over the past few weeks, particularly as MPI's out-of-print A Hard Day's Night had a best hammer-price of $77.00 (roughly half of its previous top bids). And yes, Buffy fans, the Region 2 Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Two six-disc box remains a hot item, particularly as Fox has yet to release any of their Slayer-stash in Region 1. If that cheeses you off, you probably won't be happy to hear that the entire Buffy: Season 3 will street in Europe on Oct. 29.
Here's the highest recent closing prices of rare and out-of-print DVDs from online auctions at eBay:
PG-13?: After hazarding the (unwise) presumption yesterday that the first PG-13 film ever released was Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, so many DVD Journal readers chimed in that we're having a hard time getting through all the mail. But the overall consensus is surprise! we're dead wrong. Temple of Doom was the film that first caused the MPAA to consider the PG-13 rating, but most readers claim that in fact Red Dawn was the first film to be released with the PG-13 classification, while a few others suggested it was either The Flamingo Kid or Dreamscape (for what it's worth, IMDb.com says it's Red Dawn).
And while we're getting the paddle to our behind, a few readers from Canada recently wrote in to tell us that the Canadian DVD release of Memento has in fact been released by Alliance Atlantis, and not Universal, as one online retailer led us to believe. Our Canadian Memento DVD arrived yesterday (thanks, Thunder DVD!), and of course our friends to the snowy north are correct it is an Alliance Atlantis product.
Your editor regrets the errors and is already looking to shift the blame to one or more of his overworked flunkies.
Quotable: "I don't think there's been anything with this that hasn't been easy. But there's just a lot of artists. It's time consuming."
"America: A Tribute to Heroes" spokeswoman
"Historically, the last person to handle (Afghanistan) well was Genghis Khan. When they showed him the cities of what is now Afghanistan, he said, 'I see nothing but pastures for my horses.' He was relentless.... (Osama bin Laden is) a wily and dangerous opponent. But could the Afghanis have taken Iwo Jima? I don't think so."
Apocalypse Now screenwriter John Milius
"It's so easy to be cynical about a country when it is number one, but what has happened has reminded the world how much there is at stake for America for all of us and how much people truly love the United States. Everywhere I've gone, people have been profoundly affected physically and emotionally. When the tragedy first happened, everyone was in shock, but now the realization has dawned that the world has dramatically changed."
Australian director Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge)
"Michael's Jewish and she's Scottish. Together they're the world's cheapest couple."
Stand-up comic Eric Douglas, zinging his brother
For folks in sunny SoCal: It will be a busy two days at the legendary Dave's Video (12144 Ventura Blvd., Studio City), as John Landis and make-up artist Rick Baker will be signing the American Werewolf in London DVD Friday night from 7 to 9 p.m. You'll have to buy a copy at Dave's, but all proceeds will go to charity. Then on Saturday will be the 16th annual "Studio Day," where home-video reps will be available to dish a bit of dirt, and Bill Hunt of The Digital Bits will also lead a panel discussion with DVD producers. Be sure to drop by if you get the chance.
Coming Attractions: New DVD reviews are on the way, including MGM's re-issued Fiddler on the Roof: Special Edition, Heartbreakers, Along Came a Spider, and much more. This also will be the last weekend to enter this month's totally free DVD contest for a copy of The Simpsons: Season One, so be sure to visit our contest page if you haven't yet, and don't forget to take our monthly DVD poll while you're there. We'll be back Monday to announce the winner, and we'll have a new contest up and running as well.
Enjoy the weekend.
Wednesday, 26 September 2001
Mailbag: It's time for the mail dump comments from DVD Journal readers around the world sent to our high-tech HQ, and presented with minimal comments from your own humble editor. It's all tighter than a jimmy-hat, so let's put a little more bass in the mix and kick it old school:
My hard-earned $$$ will not buy anything less than a definitive version of a film; unless it's one that I love so much I would gladly hand my cash over more than once (i.e. Halloween or Star Wars).
We, the buying public, should be informed enough to know that we should not buy a product that isn't worth the price. A naked bare Apoc. Redux is an embarrassment in today's DVD market. I love this movie but I didn't buy the first edition disc, nor will I buy the new one. I will wait patiently (possibly a long time) for a definitive version. With the awesome documentary Hearts of Darkness, two excellent versions of the film, endless bonus material laying about, and a director who is not shy of commentary tracks all waiting in the vaults, so shall my $$$ wait in my vault. If more consumers would send the message that we won't buy this drivel then possibly we can expect better handling of films on DVD. With the recent absurdity of Willy Wonka not making it in widescreen without consumer demand (consider the ease of releasing both standard and widescreen on one disc even) and the Star Trek fans getting ready to double-dip with SE film discs in the works and the incredible horrible releasing of the original series sucking wallets dry, when will people just stop buying into a poor investment?
Wake up, save your money, buy the really cool discs that are out there and enjoy those that you can.
First release of a title will be a bare- (or near bare-) bones edition. This will please the rental market, which abhors the idea of one title providing a full evening's entertainment. There could very well be a rental window at that point, meaning that bare-bones edition will be priced so that only renters (and really impatient collectors) will buy them. Chances are the only real choice on the DVD would be screen format and languages.
After the title goes "cold" as a rental (say about six months), the title gets double-dipped as either "sell-through" pricing , most likely with a Special Edition, or at least some "value added features" at that point.
The recent announcement of Spy Kids being released without the extra footage added this summer clearly demonstrates how the industry is moving to ensure that DVDs gets milked for all they're worth. Once the initial wave of renting Spy Kids dies down, a Special Edition will get released with maximum "gimme" impact.
We prefer keep-cases to snap-cases, but we've never decided not to buy a DVD simply because it's in a snapper. Frankly, that has always seemed a little odd to us, since our hobby is collecting movies, not packaging. Laserdiscs come in LP-sized sleeves, and we still have a lot of those floating around here.
As a communist/socialist/eco-aware collective of men and womyn film "expressionists," we always try to achieve a consensus on all of our film reviews so that each member of our collective feels completely involved and empowered by every DVD review that appears on this site. In order to achieve this, on Thursday nights we gather in our bean-bag room, dim the lights, and work through our feelings on each and every DVD, often with an open sharing of opinions, and occasionally with some constructive primal-scream therapy. Afterwards we all have tea and hug, and then sing some songs.
Consider the folks at Fox Home Video notified.
We say it was Temple of Doom, but if we're wrong we're bound to catch a lot of heat in today's mail.
The fifth utter masterpiece of filmmaking by Woody Allen is Husbands and Wives, which also is the only Woody film not yet announced or released on DVD Columbia TriStar is still sitting on it.
Well let's think about that. Mmmm... no.
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, 25 September 2001
On the Street: For many DVD fans, this is the granddaddy of all street Tuesdays, as Warner's long-awaited Citizen Kane has arrived in a two-disc set and with a restored print that simply has to be seen to be believed. Not to be outdone, Fox has delivered a wonderful release of The French Connection with two discs, two commentaries, two in-depth documentaries, and more, while fans of "The Simpsons" can now get their hands on The Complete First Season in a four-disc box. Columbia has some frothy fun with Brian Hegeland's A Knight's Tale and a re-issued two-disc The Mask of Zorro with new supplements, while Paramount's gearing up for Halloween with Along Came a Spider, Tales from the Darkside, Pet Sematary 2, and two more Friday the 13th installments not to mention the seminal sci-fi classic When Worlds Collide. Folks who have been overbidding on eBay for A&E's previously discontinued Pride and Prejudice can relax, as it's back on the street again. And for fans of Maximum R&B, two titles from The Who are out this morning, the 1979 feature film Quadrophenia and Live at the Royal Albert Hall. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 24 September 2001
Disc of the Week: By the early 1970s, William Friedkin was a director of great promise. Getting one of his first breaks directing episodes of CBS-TV's "Alfred Hitchcock Presents," he later moved on to an early award-winning documentary, The People Versus Paul Crump, and the first major film about gay identity, 1970's The Boys in the Band. But with the arrival of the '70s, Friedkin was afraid he'd been pegged by the studios as an "art film" director, and that he'd never get his hands on an A-list project. In a 1970 lunch with Howard Hawks (as related in Peter Biskind's excellent book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls), the aging director admonished Friedkin for making a film like The Boys in the Band. "People don't want stories about somebody's problems or any of that psychological shit," he said. "What they want is action stories. Every time I make a film like that, with a lotta good guys against bad guys, it had a lotta success, if that matters to you." Friedkin was not necessarily drawn to Hawks (although he was dating his estranged daughter, Kitty), but he took the advice to heart. "I had this epiphany that what we (young directors) were doing wasn't making films to hang in the Lourve. We were making films to entertain people, and if they didn't do that first they didn't fulfill their primary purpose." If the Hawks/Friedkin meeting was a minor, almost forgettable one for the elder director, it changed everything for Friedkin without it, he says, there never would have been The French Connection (1971), a picture that ranks among the most powerful of the New Hollywood. Francis Ford Coppola, working in post-production on The Godfather, was so struck by seeing The French Connection for the first time that he reportedly lamented to an assistant editor, "I guess I failed. I took a popular, pulpy, salacious novel, and turned it into a bunch of guys sitting around in dark rooms talking."
Based on the book The French Connection by Robin Moore, and with a script by Ernest Tidyman, Friedkin's film adaptation concerns the true-life events of NYPD narcotics detectives Eddie Egan and Sonny Grosso, who in the '60s made the largest heroin bust in U.S. history at the time, smashing an international operation that imported pure white junk from Eastern countries to New York City via the French port of Marseilles. Gene Hackman plays the temperamental Det. Jimmy "Popeye" Doyle (based on Egan), who routinely collars low-life users with his partner Buddy "Cloudy" Russo (Roy Scheider, based on Grosso), in the hopes of getting them to rat out their dealers. But when Popeye and Cloudy notice a table of big spenders at a local club one night, they decide to tail one of them, Sal Boca (Tony Lo Bianco), and soon realize he's trafficking something. After they manage to connect Boca to Manhattan drug-financier Joel Weinstock (Harold Gary), a wiretap reveals a major shipment that's due to arrive in a few days from France. But it's not hard for the French organizer, Alain Charnier (Fernando Rey), to learn he's being tailed by the NYPD, and as the narcos get closer to a bust, Charnier brings in an assassin with Popeye in the crosshairs.
Perhaps no higher praise can be given to a film than to say that it made such a lasting impression that virtually every subsequent film of its genre bears its stamp of influence. Friedkin was attached to The French Connection project by producer Philip D'Antoni specifically for his experience with documentaries. In the era of the New Hollywood that marked the late '60s and early '70s, with producers increasingly handing more and more control over to individual directors, it was decided that The French Connection would be a film unlike any seen before it's regrettable, when seen today, that it seems almost too much like everything we've seen since. But its many imitators cannot lessen its importance, and while several actors were considered for the lead roles of Popeye and Cloudy, the decision to cast virtual unknowns Hackman and Scheider lended to the overall documentary-style tone. From there, Friedkin employs numerous low-cost, high-impact film techniques, including a lot of shaky hand-held camerawork and shooting essentially in natural light, in addition to the unmistakable New York locations in the depths of winter. Hackman's performance dominates the film from its opening moments working undercover in a Santa Claus costume, he thrashes a junkie for info while Cloudy holds him back in a good-cop/bad-cop routine that's lost control. And from this introductory scene moviegoers in 1971 realized that this was not just another cop film, as The French Connection was the first time police officers were depicted routinely violating not just proper procedure, but suspects' rights, utilizing intimidation, threats, and physical violence to achieve street-level results that would never wind up on official reports. Of course, such images and stories fail to disturb us today as they did in the politically turbulent '70s, and it would be pretty hard to make a cop film or TV series nowadays without the protagonist bending the law at times, or the verité' camera-work (both "Hill Street Blues" and "NYPD Blue" owe an enormous debt to Connection). But few films have matched Friedkin's cop masterpiece, and as car chases become longer, flashier, more intricate (and somewhat more boring), few can compare to Hackman's terrifying pursuit of an elevated train through the busy streets of Brooklyn, where the focus is not on the pyrotechnics, but instead the very real and immediate danger of driving 80 mph through a busy neighborhood. Like the shower scene in Psycho, once done, it can never really be imitated, or equaled.
Fox's new two-disc The French Connection: Five-Star Collection offers a solid anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) from a source-print that is grainy at times (by design), but unquestionably the best rendition to ever arrive on home video. This is not a film that's supposed to look great, but gritty, and Friedkin's intent is fully rendered here. Audio is available in a new Dolby Digital 5.1 track that improves on previous versions as well (which suffered from severe Foley exaggeration in looped elements), along with a Dolby 2.0 Surround track and French mono. Features on Disc One include a commentary track with Friedkin, a second scene-specific commentary with Hackman and Scheider, and the original theatrical trailer, while Disc Two offers the new documentary "Making the Connection: The Untold Stories," with comments from the film's principals, the BBC documentary "Poughkeepsie Shuffle," seven deleted scenes with comments from Friedkin, a still gallery, and additional trailers. The French Connection: Five-Star Collection hits the street tomorrow.
Box Office: With two major films postponed by their studios, it was up to Mariah Carey to save the American box-office over the weekend unfortunately, the bodacious songbird's acting debut was way off-key. Fox's Glitter, which has been described as a "semi-autobiographical" account of Mariah's rise to fame, was released in a modest 1,200 venues and scraped up $2.5 million, which wasn't good enough to crack the top-ten (it also was savaged by critics, earning comparisons to Showgirls and Battlefield Earth ouch!). Enter Keanu Reeves, who scored his second week at the top-spot with Hardball and its tale of inner-city little-leaguers. However, overall revenues were down for the third straight week, and the third straight lowest overall gross of the year (yes, we are talking about the box office, not the Dow).
In continuing release, Dimension's The Others, starring Nicole Kidman, has continued to earn positive word-of-mouth particularly in this current sea of vacuity now climbing into second place after seven weeks and $80.2 million in the bank. Warner's Rock Star looked like roadkill in 10th place last week, but it managed to climb to sixth place (although $15 million after three weekends is nothing to sing about). Frothy action films such as Rush Hour 2 and The Musketeer are winning audiences as well, while Universal's American Pie 2 is just starting to fade after nearly two months and $140 million.
Look for a shake-up next week, as three new films go wide Hearts in Atlantis starring Anthony Hopkins, Don't Say a Word with Michael Douglas and Famke Janssen, and the comedy Zoolander with Ben Stiller. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Alexandra DuPont has posted our sneak-preview of MGM's The Terminator: Special Edition, while Dawn Taylor surveys Fox's The Simpsons: Season One and Greg Dorr compares both the 1962 and 1991 versions of Cape Fear. New stuff from the rest of the gang this week includes Blood Simple, An American Werewolf in London: Collector's Edition, A Knight's Tale: Special Edition, Rock and Roll High School, Living it Up (La gran vida), Someone Like You, The French Connection: Five Star Collection, Halloween II, The Luzhin Defence, and Nosferatu: The Gothic Industrial Mix. 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 the street discs.
Thursday, 20 September 2001
Coming Attractions: New DVD reviews are on the way, including our sneak-peeks at Fox's The French Connection and The Simpsons: Season One. And speaking of which, if you haven't entered our totally free DVD contest for your own copy of The Simpsons: Season One, be sure to visit our contest page if you get the chance, and don't forget to take our monthly DVD poll while you're there. Have a great weekend. Go outside sometime and take a few deep breaths of fresh air while you're at it.
Quotable: "What did (the terrorists) achieve? We just got over an election that polarized our country more than anything else in decades. The country was divided in half. Naturally everyone is now united behind President Bush.... It won't do anyone any good if America hits back with exaggerated military force. I'm fully aware that there has to be a response to these attacks, but a military attack should be the final means after all other means have been exhausted. It's important to root out the causes of this hatred.''
Woody Allen, in an interview with Germany's
Jackie Chan, who was not shooting his upcoming
"I'll be up at 6 a.m., and investing by 6:32 a.m. If Asian stocks crash, I'll double it."
Courtney Love, who reportedly invested $200,000
"The televised images of the collapse of the World Trade Center towers will occupy our dreams as similar scenes in Independence Day do, only without the fictional hero coming to the rescue to salve our damaged psyches. The dirty little secret that never comes up when Congressmen and concerned adults get together to rail against violence in movies is how effective an entertainment device the action sequences in movies are. The debate about film violence is conducted without acknowledging a sad fact: violence creates genuine excitement. And the bold, sweeping inventiveness of action sequences, the one thing that American movies consistently do well, has grown over the years. The vicarious thrills deliver the kind of goose bumps that we used to experience by reading violent fairy tales. As a country, we've probably lived too long like children, listening in rapt wonderment to gruesome tales from the Brothers Grimm."
Film critic Elvis Mitchell, writing in The New
"The scale of things in movies has just gotten bigger and bigger, and the action has gotten more and more obscene. Movies have taken the old Bond prototype and just taken it as far as it can go. Maybe this is going to spell the end of the genre as real life catches up with the movies."
Anne Thompson, West Coast editor of Premiere
"You'd still make ID4. But you'd have to take all this into consideration in terms of the images you put up there. I don't think you'd have the White House blow up or do the fireball in the New York streets. But aliens attacking Earth is still a terrific idea for a movie that's escapist entertainment. In escapist fare, though, you certainly don't want to be touching on real life."
Former Fox Film Corp. chairman Bill Mechanic
"I think it's too early to talk about it. But we've always looked at movies about war and death, and it's part of life. Historically, this is no different. You don't see movies about plane crashes on airplanes, you don't see movies about earthquakes the day after earthquakes, and I don't believe at the end of the day, this will be different. It would be insensitive to release such movies now, but, down the road, if movies are to reflect life, they have to reflect the life that's out there."
An unnamed studio executive, speaking to
"Today, the only people who are asking these questions (about film violence) are the media. Nobody I've talked to is concerned right now with whether the audience is going to want more violence or less violence. We closed the office yesterday, and we canceled comedy pitches today, because no one's in the mood to pitch a comedy. The impact on Hollywood is the same as the impact on the country, which is devastating. We haven't had a chance to be provincial about it yet."
Film producer Tom Pollock
"It was an event nobody had seen before in reality. What this all really did was put in perspective what we do here. It makes everything we do seem small and unimportant."
MGM Vice Chairman Chris McGurk
"We're told they were zealots fueled by religious fervor. Religious fervor. And if you live to be a thousand years old, will that make any sense to you? Will that make any God-damned sense?"
Wednesday, 19 September 2001
We first got wind of the Canadian Memento DVD released by Alliance Atlantis Home Video not long after we posted our review of the Columbia TriStar edition here in the States. A different Canadian release came as some surprise, but then again we've previously noted all sorts of DVD anomalies from up north (for better and for worse): Trainspotting (deleted scenes not available on the U.S. disc);Pulp Fiction (deleted scenes not available on the U.S. disc); Run Lola Run, available in Canada only as a bare-bones pan-and-scan DVD; a glitchy version of Gerard Depardieu's Cyrano de Bergerac (the soundtrack is completely out of sync with the picture); Atom Egoyan's 1992 film The Adjuster with special features; a pan-and-scan version of The Straight Story; Warner's brief release of Giant in Canada before being withdrawn; and Heavenly Creatures, a pan-and-scan version of a film not yet available in the U.S.
Whenever discrepancies arise between U.S. and Canadian DVDs of the same title, often the source is a production license granted to the Canadian distributor usually Alliance/Atlantis, Canada's largest video-distribution firm. If that seems odd, bear in mind that Christopher Nolan's slow-burn noir hit was rejected by several studios until the small company Newmarket was more or less created to distribute the film. Thus, with no home-video division, Newmarket signed different DVD deals with different regional distributors. A visit to futureshop.ca confirms your report: The Canadian disc features an anamorphic transfer (2.35:1), Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, English and Spanish subtitles, a French soundtrack, theatrical trailers, and cast bios. But most important of all is a "hidden features" Easter egg (are they "hidden" if they are advertised on a merchant's website?). It isn't expanded upon at Futureshop.ca, but that's the chronological re-ordering you mention. And after seeing Memento a half-dozen times, it's a feature that has a lot of appeal to us.
As for a special edition Memento DVD from either Columbia TriStar or Alliance down the road, we tend to agree with you it's downright inevitable, although it may be a couple of years in the offing. But as we reported here in July, director Christopher Nolan cited schedule conflicts preventing him from recording a commentary. At the same time, he also told Entertainment Weekly that he didn't want to demystify Memento, and that was fine with us. With a movie as unique as Memento, perhaps it simply deserves more innovative features than the standard featurette and yack-track. A Nolan commentary could be interesting, but we'd much rather hear two or three film critics argue over the movie. Changing the chronology of events (as allowed on Alliance's release) seems de rigueur. There may even be ways for Nolan to expand the film, ways we can't imagine. But in the end we have not agreed with those who think Columbia TriStar's Memento is a poor DVD for its lack of features, as the movie is effortlessly rewatchable on its own merits. The Alliance disc appears to be a worthy companion, albeit for its one unusual feature.
Ah, but there was. After Kane trashes Susan's bedroom when she leaves him, he picks up a snow globe, presumably as another object to throw, stares at it, and says, quite sentimentally, "Rosebud." Presumably, that's what the butler saw and heard, albeit from a distance (you can see the butler in the frame when Kane turns and walks out of the room). Holm is, of course, correct that no one could have heard Kane say, "Rosebud" on his death bed, because the nurse didn't come into the room until after that same snow globe is dropped by Kane and crashes on the floor.
There is one more noted error in Kane, in the scene where the bird at Xanadu makes a shrieking noise at the start of a scene, and you can see straight through the bird's eye! I guess all of this proves that Orson Welles was not perfect, just your sort of ordinary 25-year-old genius....Now if they could just find the lost footage from The Magnificent Ambersons!
DVD Journal staffer D.K. Holm responds, delving into Kane minutiae that's not for the faint-of-heart:
And so on. The part in the URL where it says id= is the spine number of the title. I'm not sure we want to publicize this though as I don't know if they'll take it away.
What the hell let's tell the world. Actually, we've been remiss in letting our readers know that the previously long-neglected Criterion website has been replaced with a sharp new version that looks great and is very navigable. And with the linking above, it only takes a moment to access titles on the fly. Thanks Don.
Top of the Pops: Here's the top-selling Mystery/Suspense DVDs last week from our friends at Ken Crane's DVDPlanet.com. Click the links to read our reviews of these discs:
Tuesday, 18 September 2001
In the Works: The entire world came to a standstill last week, and the last thing on anybody's mind was new DVD announcements. But we do have a handful this morning, and we're sure the entire industry will be catching up over the next month. Here's the latest, courtesy of Image Entertainment and DVDPlanet.com, and additional staff reports:
On the Street: Universal has some big titles on the board this morning, including An American Werewolf in London: Special Edition, Blood Simple, and both the 1962 and 1991 versions of Cape Fear. Catalog titles from MGM include Billy Wilder's Irma la Douce, Frank Capra's A Pocketful of Miracles, King Solomon's Mines, and the ultra-big It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, while fun family entertainment can be found in Buena Vista's Spy Kids (but watch for an SE down the road). Three new Criterion titles include Closely Watched Trains, The Shop on Main Street, and The Vanishing, while Paramount has unleashed all three Crocodile Dundee films on us today. Artisan has re-issued Paul Verhoeven's Basic Instinct and Total Recall with new features and spiffy packaging, and if you're a big Cary Grant fan, look for four new Cary platters from Artisan, including Operation Petticoat and Indiscreet. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 17 September 2001
Disc of the Week: The only new DVD anyone seems interested in talking about is Memento. What with its provocative tale of a man struggling with his fleeting grasp on his own memory, it deserves due credit. But as inventive as Christopher Nolan's strikingly severed narrative is, his idea is nothing new; in fact, one of the most entertaining science fiction films to come out of a major studio in the 1990s treads remarkably similar, if more futuristic, ground: Paul Verhoeven's Total Recall.
Arnold Schwarzenegger has perhaps his most (ahem) challenging role in this 1990 thriller as Doug Quaid, an earthbound construction worker whose comfortable, ordinary married life is marred by vivid nightmares of living on Mars, the recently colonized planet upset by mutant terrorists. Although his foxy wife (Sharon Stone) tries to dissuade him from pursuing his fascination with moving to the red planet, Quaid is so compelled to follow his dreams that he pays a visit to Rekall, a high-tech entertainment firm specializing in implanting lifelike virtual memories of vacations never traveled including an option to remember the trip as a different persona, like say, a millionaire playboy or a secret agent. Without hesitation, Quaid chooses to mentally visit Mars as a secret agent, but when the machine goes haywire, so does Quaid's sense of reality and himself. Is Quaid Quaid? Or is he really a daring spy? And, if so, whose side is he on, anyway? Every time Quaid settles on a reality, a new layer is revealed and the tables are turned.
In the form of a high-speed action thriller, as adapted from a short story by Philip K. Dick, Total Recall is not nearly as intriguing or complicated as Nolan's Memento, but director Verhoeven is a skilled manipulator, pacer, and satirist, and the result is compellingly fun comic book-style material. For its well-contrived twists and turns, the film stands up well against the demands of logic, save for maybe the grand climax which, while triumphant, will surely rile the Martian Green Party. Verhoeven as he did in his preceding and superior movie Robocop (which also features a hero struggling to recall his identity) has fun with the futuristic trappings, peppering them with amusing cultural references, sly visual gimmicks, and his usual cavalier attitude toward the sanctity of human life. While some of the pre-CGI make-up effects look dated, most of the other visual effects are excellent.
Artisan's new special edition DVD (replacing the original version) comes in a round, Mars-decorated tin, and is packed with goodies, although the anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer itself is not ideal. The images occasionally lack sharpness and the source print shows wear, particularly at the final reel change. The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is fine, but it lacks the crispness of Artisan's simultaneously re-issued Basic Instinct disc. That noted, there's a good load of extra material to be found here, including a commentary by Verhoeven and Schwarzenegger, which is not illuminative of much beyond Arnold's propensity for stating the obvious. More interesting is the half-hour Imagining Total Recall featurette, which includes interviews with screenwriters Ronald Shusett and Dan O'Bannon. Other features include a few looping special effect landscapes billed as "Rekall's Virtual Vacations," the five-minute "Visions of Mars" featurette about visualizing the red planet, storyboard comparisons, conceptual art, a photo gallery, trailers, and textual supplements. Total Recall: Special Limited Edition is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: The grim days following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks saw the cancellation of concerts and sporting events around the country as some folks were looking for a bit of escapist, upbeat entertainment by the weekend, it's probably not surprising that Paramount's Hardball, starring Keanu Reeves, came in first at the box office. The film pitting Reeves with a group of inner-city little-leaguers mustered up $10.1 million, followed by Sony's thriller The Glass House, which grabbed second spot despite a slender $6.1 million opening. But with the tragedies in New York and Washington, and the traditionally weak month of September for movies, it should come as no surprise that the weekend was the weakest this year. Both Hardball and The Glass House had mixed-to-poor reviews, and most publicity was wiped out by wall-to-wall news coverage.
In continuing release, Buena Vista's The Princess Diaries has cleared $100 million an amazing feat for a G-rated live-action film. Meanwhile, Dimension's The Others is proving it has legs, retaining fourth place after six weeks and a $73.6 million gross. Late-summer blockbusters Rush Hour 2 and American Pie 2 are still hanging around, but going down like a lead zeppelin (as the phrase used to go) is Warner's Rock Star, sinking from second to tenth spot in its second week and with just $11.1 million so far.
Just one new film will go wide this Friday, the "semi-biographical" Glitter starring Mariah Carey, as both Training Day and Big Trouble have been postponed by their studios. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Our own Betsy Bozdech dropped by Skywalker Ranch not long ago to get a look at the upcoming Phantom Menace: Special Edition DVD her exclusive preview can be found here. But wait, there's more! D.K. Holm has posted our sneak preview of Warner's two-disc Citizen Kane, while Mark Bourne has looked a classic from another era, Fritz Lang's Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler, lovingly restored by Image Entertainment. New reviews from the rest of the gang this week include It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, Suspiria: Limited Edition, Irma la Douce, The Wicker Man, The French Lieutenant's Woman, Scanners, The Howling, and Shadow Magic all can be found under the New Reviews menu here on the front page, while our DVD reviews database features more than 1,200 additional write-ups.
We'll be back tomorrow with the rundown on this week's street discs.
Tuesday, 11 September 2001
Update: Due to today's events in New York City and Washington D.C., The DVD Journal will be suspending news updates until Monday, Sept. 17. Our thoughts are with those affected by this enormous tragedy, and with Americans everywhere.
Tuesday, 11 September 2001
On the Street: It's a modest street list this morning, but perhaps all the better to save up for the next couple of months. Nonetheless, Columbia TriStar has a pair of good titles out today with the restored 13 Ghosts and the excellent John Boorman/John le Carré spy thriller The Tailor of Panama. New Line's third "infinifilm" disc, Blow, offers a strong performance by Johnny Depp and numerous special features. HBO has a pair of interesting titles today, Mike Nichols' Wit and Billy Crystal's 61*. And Warner has gone all-out with three Dr. Who discs and a trio of animated Tolkien tales. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 10 September 2001
Disc of the Week: One of John Goodman's most charming performances can be found in the minor classic Matinee. Minor to film history, that is, but major to students of exploitation films, Saturday matinees, and promotional gimmicks. In Matinee, Goodman plays film producer Lawrence Woolsey, a round, confident, competent hustler with a penchant for coming up with nuclear man-monster combos ("Mant: half man, half ant!"). There was little doubt at the time of the film's 1993 release that Woolsey was inspired by the career of William Castle, gimmick wielding maestro of The Tingler and other beloved horror treats of the '50s and early '60s (though he never made Mant-style sci-fi movies). In a career that ranged from directing quickie westerns (including the 3-D Fort Ti) and one of the first films noir (When Strangers Marry) to producing Rosemary's Baby, Castle, until his death in 1977, seemed to know what epitomized high-octane, low-grade entertainment for boys. His string of horror films from Macabre (1958) to I Saw What You Did (1965) rivaled Roger Corman's in their astute understanding of what shekel-paying kids wanted from a summer's afternoon. A cross between Alfred Hitchcock and Russ Meyer, Castle made sure his imprimatur was visible on each of his films.
13 Ghosts, from 1960, like several other Castle films, is premised on a few people alone in a scary house. In this case, it's Cyrus Zorba (Donald Woods), a poor paleontologist with the Los Angeles Natural History Museum, who inherits a large shambling abode from his uncle Plato, whom he thought was dead. Plato Zorba was a scientist too, but he specialized in collecting ghosts (like the Ghostbusters, but without the nuclear storage facility). Cyrus moves into the mansion with his wife (Rosemary DeCamp), daughter Medea (Jo Morrow, of The 3 Worlds of Gulliver), and son Buck (Charles Herbert, recently graduated from The Fly). Staying on is a housekeeper with a secret, played by Margaret Hamilton of The Wizard of Oz. Soon Medea is quasi-dating the lawyer handling the estate (Martin Milner), and the rest of the family is seeing ghosts all over the place, among them a chef who found his wife in flagrante, and a lion tamer who lost his head. After three days, it becomes clear that there is more to the situation than meets the eye, or the special glasses Cyrus uses to view the specters, and Plato returns as the 12th ghost to help create the 13th.
13 Ghosts is a low-budget affair with a small cast and a limited storyline, scripted by Castle regular Robb White, who specialized in plots founded on theatrically conceived money scams. The acting is inconsistent: Woods is of the Richard Carlson-Jeff Morrow-Whit Bissell school of hesitant delivery, and Herbert is one of those ghastly big-headed kids inflicted upon us by '50s television. Milner's face seems to be powered by Claymation. The "13 ghosts" are actually bunched in groups: first two, then three, then four, then two, and so on. Clustered like that, seeing them is kind of a cheat. Nevertheless, the film can be fun if you approach it in the right spirit, and with a keen respect for Castle's promotional acumen. Castle's gimmick for 13 Ghosts was "Illusion-O," a blue-hued film process that was advertised as requiring a pair of specs called a "Ghost Viewer" to see the screen properly. As Castle explains in an opening segment, when the screen goes blue, look though the blue lens if you want to avoid the ghosts, but look through the red lens if you want to see them. This was bogus, of course. The ghosts are perfectly visible without the glasses. If, that is, the film is shown properly. With their new DVD, Columbia TriStar has righted a great wrong when the studio originally released 13 Ghosts on Laserdisc in 1995, they neglected to retain Castle's gimmick and printed the movie in full-frame black-and-white, without the color credits and without Castle's opening and closing remarks. Naturally, there was no need to supply the Ghost Viewer. On DVD, home-video fans can finally see 13 Ghosts in its entirety, with a new version of the Ghost Viewer (seemingly designed for a toddler-sized human head) tucked inside the keep-case. Today 13 Ghosts feels almost classical in its austerity, a function of what was once a vice (low budgets) slowly evolving over time into a virtue. One wishes that Castle's daughter, Terry, sought the same degree of authenticity, simplicity, and restraint in the series of Castle remakes she has initiated, beginning with House on Haunted Hill and continuing with 13 Ghosts, slated for a October 2001 release with Tony Shalhoub, Shannon Elizabeth, F. Murray Abraham, Embeth Davidtz, and a host of haunters including Big Baby Ghost, Bound Woman Ghost, 50s Teenage Boy Ghost, Little Woman Ghost, Boy with Arrow Ghost, and Headless Torso Ghost. But then, this is a cynical age its harder to find a good fright at the movies than it used to be.
The print quality of Columbia TriStar's 13 Ghosts DVD is quite good, with an anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) of Joseph Biroc's TV-style photography. The Dolby Digital monaural audio is clear, and there is also a Spanish track, with subtitles in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, and Thai. Supplements include the original theatrical trailer plus two "bonus" trailers, inserted production notes, and a seven-minute feature called "13 Ghosts: The Magic of Illusion-O" that gives a whirlwind tour of the film with testimonials from Fred Olen Ray and others. For archival completists, the flip-side offers the film without the color, Castle preface, and epilogue. 13 Ghosts hits the street tomorrow.
Box Office: The fall movie season began last weekend, but with three new arrivals that failed to generate much excitement. Universal's The Musketeer wound up in first place with $10.7 million, while Sony's comedy Two Can Play That Game, starring Vivica A. Fox and Morris Chestnut, benefited from high per-screen grosses and wound up in second with $8.3 million. But nearly dead on arrival was Warner's Rock Star, which cleared just $6.1 million (barely beating last week's winner, Jeepers Creepers) it appears not even the star-wattage of Mark Wahlberg and Jennifer Aniston could get this one out of the gate.
In continuing release, Miramax's The Others starring Nicole Kidman continues to be a late-summer surprise hit, clearing $67.6 million after five weeks and jumping ahead of both American Pie 2 and Rush Hour 2 on this week's chart. Buena Vista's The Princess Diaries is certain to break the century it's at $97.1 million to date, while Paramount's Rat Race has $43.2 million after its first month. But out the door before it really got started is Universal's Captain Corelli's Mandolin starring Nicolas Cage and Penelope Cruz, which never rose high in the charts over the past three weeks and will finish just above $20 million.
Don't count on any major releases this Friday Leelee Sobieski, Diane Lane, and Stellan Skarsgaard star in the thriller The Glass House, while Keanu Reeves coaches little league in Hardball (whoa!). Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Greg Dorr has posted a sneak preview of Artisan's Basic Instinct: Special Edition, which will street on Sept. 18, while D.K. Holm looked at the third "infinifilm" release from New Line, Blow. New spins from the rest of the team this week include three more Classic Monster double-features from Universal Dracula's Daughter/Son of Dracula, The Mummy's Hand/The Mummy's Tomb, and Son of Frankenstein/Ghost of Frankenstein along with The Tailor of Panama: Special Edition, Home for the Holidays, Salesman: The Criterion Collection, and the "fright-tastic" Count Yorga, Vampire, It! The Terror from Beyond Space, The Fury, 13 Ghosts, The Bride, and When Good Ghouls Go Bad. 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, 6 September 2001
Coming Attractions: We're headed back to the screening room already, and new reviews on the way include New Line's Blow, Columbia TriStar's The Tailor of Panama, and the rest of Universal's latest series of Classic Monsters. And we're even making time for a quick trip down to Skywalker Ranch to preview the upcoming Phantom Menace DVD. We'll see ya Monday with all the latest have a great weekend.
Quotable: "You want to know the Christians' biggest mistake? Not recognizing the neutrality of media. You don't like the movies they're showing downtown? Then make some of your own. You spend all your time preaching to the choir, it just gets incestuous. And you know what incest produces? Retards."
Christian film producer Matt Crouch (The Omega
Anne Heche, in an interview with Barbara Walters on
"I've been lost in this Star Wars world for so long. Each time I commit to it, it's three films and 10 years of my life. People ask me if I'm going to do more, and I don't think so. This is the last trilogy. There will be six movies, and that's the end of the story."
George Lucas, discussing the future of the Star
"The hard stuff is still a little bit much for me. I never listen to rock. It's a turn-off."
Former rapper Mark Wahlberg, who stars in the new
"Kael was the most brilliantly ad hoc critic of her time, and she made it possible to care about movies without feeling pompous or giddy by showing that what comes first in everyone's experience of a movie isn't the form or the idea but the sensation, and that this is just as true for moviegoers who have been taught to intellectualize their responses to art as it is for everyone else.... The manner of appreciation she invented has become the standard manner of popular culture criticism in America."
Film critic Louis Menand, writing in 1995 about
Wednesday, 5 September 2001
On the Street: Did you jot down a reminder? We imagine most folks will get their hands on Columbia TriStar's Memento this week, although there are a few other spins worth your time. The new supplements on MGM's The Princess Bride: Special Edition made us fall in love with the movie all over again, while Fox has released two Brian De Palma films, Phantom of the Paradise and The Fury, in addition to the classic creeper The Legend of Hell House. Fans of Jodie Foster will want to look for MGM's Little Man Tate and Home for the Holidays, and another Maysles Brothers documentary is out from Criterion, Salesman. And yes, Warner has finally released the first three adventures of Wallace and Gromit on DVD, which were available for just a short time from Fox a couple of years ago before the rights transferred. Here's this week's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Tuesday, 4 September 2001
And the winner is: Nils Luehrmann of Austin, Texas, wins the free Sullivan's Travels: The Criterion Collection DVD from our August contest. Congrats, Nils!
Our totally free DVD contest for the month of September is up and running, and we have a copy of Fox's The Simpsons: The Complete First Season 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: You just can't keep a good monster down or for that matter, two classic creepies coming together for the first time. Universal dominated horror films in Hollywood's earliest days, but by 1942 and The Ghost of Frankenstein, the studio had taken their Frankenstein series as far as it could go without turning it into a complete cartoon. 1941's The Wolf Man was a worthy success and gave Lon Chaney Jr. a role he could finally sink his teeth into. Sequel-mania was in full swing, and any pretense of serious regard had finally flown like a bat out of Transylvania. So with carefree abandon and a sense of what works in these films, Universal teamed up the Monster and the Wolf Man in a sequel to both The Wolf Man and the ongoing Frankenstein series.
Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man ('42) turned out to be one of the most entertaining films in the entire Universal Classic Monster series. Lawrence Talbot (Chaney), shot dead at the end of The Wolf Man, is accidentally brought back to life. Doomed by lycanthropy, Talbot seeks a cure for his condition. The Wolf Man's old gypsy woman (Maria Ouspenskaya) advises him to seek out the notebooks of the late Dr. Henry Frankenstein, an expert on life and death. And thus, at the ruins of Dr. Frankenstein's laboratory Talbot comes across the Monster (Bela Lugosi) encased in ice. He thaws the Monster, who shows him where some of his creator's diaries are hidden. Laboratory gadgets buzz and spark. The full moon rises. Things take a bad turn when the villagers discover that the Monster is free yet again. The climax literally brings the house down with a flood of Biblical proportions while the Monster and the Wolf Man are gripped in unholy battle. Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man is stylishly effective, rollicking good fun, and sports moody direction and a crackerjack screenplay from veteran writer Curt Siodmak. It only has one weak spot, and it's not small Bela Lugosi as the Monster. Too short and too recognizably Bela, he was further hampered by editing that removed all of his speaking scenes. Fortunately, Chaney fared better, and the picture works successfully as a Wolf Man sequel. And as a box-office success, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man was the beginning of things to come.
If you like two monsters in one movie, you're sure to love three. So House of Frankenstein (1944) brings back Frankenstein's Monster, the Wolf Man, and Count Dracula in one all-out Monster Mash. Boris Karloff is back this time as a mad scientist, Dr. Gustav Niemann, who escapes from prison. With faithful hunchback Daniel (J. Carroll Naish), Niemann hopes to continue the work of his idol, Dr. Frankenstein. Of course, bringing vengeance on all those responsible for sending him to prison is in the plan as well. Niemann murders a carnival master (George Zucco) and steals his identity. As it turns out, an attraction in the carnival's Chamber of Horrors is an open coffin displaying the skeletal remains of Count Dracula. Niemann revives the Count (an oddly cast John Carradine in a top hat) and commands him to dispatch one of his enemies. And then Niemann resurrects the frozen Lawrence Talbot, i.e. The Wolf Man (Chaney again). By promising to cure Talbot's lycanthropy, Niemann wins his alliance and then plots to revive the Monster (Glenn Strange). House of Frankenstein was number six in Universal's Frankenstein series, and the third each for Dracula and the Wolf Man. It's not as well-crafted as its predecessor, but there's some surreal fun to be had. And there's no such thing as a bad opportunity to catch the great Karloff in a role this meaty.
The print quality on Universal's new Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man / House of Frankenstein double-feature DVD isn't pristine, but it still lives up to the high standards evident throughout the Universal Classic Monsters series. Both look great, with some unremarkable flecks and signs of wear. The black-and-white contrast is excellent and detail is fine. Likewise, the monaural audio is very good, given the limited range inherent in the technology of the period. Both movies are in their original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, and supplements include theatrical trailers, production notes, and bios/filmographies. Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man and House of Frankenstein, along with five more new discs in the "Classic Monster Collection," are on the street now.
Box Office: If a $15.8 million opening weekend gross doesn't sound all that monumental to you, MGM is more than happy the new horror film Jeepers Creepers finished first over the Labor Day weekend, and believe it or not it was the largest raw-dollar Labor Day opening, besting The Crow: City of Angels and its $9.8 million bow in 1996. Of course, the studios do not take Labor Day very seriously, as they gear down for the traditionally weak month of September the only other new arrival was Lions Gate's O, an adaptation of Shakespeare's Othello starring Julia Stiles and Mekhi Phifer, which garnered $6.9 million.
In continuing release, the summer films are fading away as our sunlit days grow shorter. New Line's Rush Hour 2 continues to be a strong performer, holding on to second place after five weeks and nearly $200 million, while Universal's American Pie 2 has dropped behind RH2, although it now has $125.6 million. Planet of the Apes and Jurassic Park III have slipped out of the top ten, while Buena Vista's The Princess Diaries and Dimension's The Others have successfully counter-programmed the CGI blockbusters over the past month to remain on the chart. But failing to catch fire are John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars and Woody Allen's The Curse of the Jade Scorpion after slender debuts last weekend, we're sure the DVDs are already in early prep.
Arriving this Friday, Peter Hyams directs Tim Roth, Catherine Deneuve, and newcomer Justin Chambers The Musketeer, while Mark Wahlberg and Jennifer Aniston can be seen in Rock Star. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: D.K. Holm has posted his preview of Columbia TriStar's Memento, while Betsy Bozdech has a look at MGM's revamped The Princess Bride: Special Edition. New stuff from the rest of the team this morning include three of Universal's "Classic Monster Collection" double-features Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man/House of Frankenstein, The Mummy's Ghost/The Mummy's Curse, and Werewolf of London/She-Wolf of London along with Little Man Tate, Marathon Man, Joe Dirt, 1992's Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Legend of Hell House, Phantom of the Paradise, Wicked, Haunted, and Bad Seed. The "spook-tacular" spins 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.
See ya tomorrow.