Wednesday, 31 October 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. Let's put the rubber on the road with some more Godfather feedback:
I read an interview with a highly-reputable film restoration expert last year who claimed at the time that the film elements of The Godfather were in as bad a condition as those of the pre-restoration Rear Window. The studio did attempt to restore The Godfather, but instead of entrusting it to the best restoration team they could find they sent it to a lab that absolutely trashed it. The lab, who unfortunately knew nothing about how to handle antique film, reportedly applied chemicals to the film (an big fat no-no) and managed to entrap dust, dirt and all manner of debris underneath. Then, as if that wasn't enough, they dragged the negative on the floor and scratched it up like a butcher block.
How does this happen? Quite simply because the studios are run by bean-counters instead of responsible guardians of American culture and they hoodwink cinema-lovers into thinking many films have been restored when they haven't. If every studio exec was as responsible as the late Dawn Steel we would all be better off for it. When the original negative of Lawrence of Arabia was falling apart on the operating table she didn't even hesitate to order a new interpositive to be made. She didn't think about the huge chunk of money it would cost or the returns they might not get from such an investment. She made a decision to save the film based purely on its importance and we are very fortunate to still have it today.
To properly restore a film sometimes requires a major commitment of time and money. Studio execs too often make the mistake of basing the decision on potential profits from a re-release or from video sales. So what do they do? They cut costs by doing it as cheaply as possible or not at all. Often they just remaster a film and digitally clean up the transfer. Now there's certainly nothing with this (other than further damaging the film), but the public needs to be aware that even though our DVDs have terrific pictures and sound many of the original elements are rotting away in cans somewhere and badly need restoration (Ben-Hur was not restored and neither was North By Northwest). Even worse, some studios have released new transfers and claim they have been restored when they really haven't. In the case of The Godfather, the studio obviously screwed up the restoration so bad that they couldn't even make a transfer from it and had to work with unrestored elements (oh well, at least they didn't lie about it). Certainly not every film is deserving of restoration and most of them are not worth saving, but the truly great films should be treated with the same respect given to artwork or historical documents and not just as a means to a profit.
I did not buy the Godfather on DVD because I wanted to wait and see what the picture was going to be like. I also plan to hold off on Doctor Zhivago because I read that it too was hacked up by the labs. I hope the studio revisits The Godfather in the near future. It's far from my favorite film but I feel it deserves to be treated as well as films like Lawrence, Spartacus, My Fair Lady, and Vertigo. I would gladly open up my wallet and fork over big money (much more than $70) just for outstanding videos of the first two films with no extras. The studio should open its wallet and have the restoration done properly by those who know how. If it doesn't then this poor video edition may be all we have left of one of this country's greatest films.
Why did you buy a DVD player in the first place? To watch a great film in its best possible format, to see it and hear it and experience it clearly with no muddled sound or tracking problems? What type of movies really lend themselves well to a DVD presentation? A long film, that you previously had to rewind or fast-forward to get to your favorite scene? And what is the real benefit of DVD? It looks and sounds great, the image is steady, and the disc should never deteriorate like VHS does. It will stay crisp and clean and new as long as you have it and take care of it.
Well, The Godfather Collection really does live up to all that. Maybe Paramount didn't "restore" it and take every little nick and scratch out, but it does look great. And if they ever "re-do" it, it shouldn't be a big deal to re-purchase The Godfather Part I, which would be the only one you'd need to buy again. All the other films look great in this collection, and the features alone in this set are worth buying: Every film in the package has a running commentary by Francis Ford Coppola, and there are so many features that they opted for an entire separate DVD to contain them. The documentary, "The Godfather Family: A Look Inside" is unbelievable. I first saw this years ago on video, but it was tough to find, and looked bad on video. Nice to own it on DVD now. Deleted scenes: After the legendary success of the Godfather films, Francis Ford Coppola once re-edited the entire saga in chronological order, and added in many deleted scenes, including Michael finding Fabrizio in the U.S., talks between Michael and his father in the garden, Tom Hagen expressing a bit more annoyance about being "out" of the family planning, Connie and Carlo going at it (again!), and more. If you didn't happen to catch the The Godfather Saga when it originally aired, you now have the deleted scenes on this DVD to watch whenever you wish on the bonus disc. And there are more features, like awards acceptance speeches, a great short piece about the music of The Godfather, and an intimate look at Coppola's own production notebook, which he says is more important than the script. Nice to see behind the scenes of this outstanding picture.
But perhaps the main reason to buy The Godfather on DVD: It looks great on your shelf! Friends will know you are discriminating, and connected, and command respect. And then they will fear you.
Make great transfers now in the spirit of preservation these films are only going to get worse looking the longer they wait.
Sure, a restoration would have been great on the first two, but people should blame Coppola for that and not Paramount. This will apply to the bare-bones edition of Apocalypse Now Redux as well when it arrives this November.
I'm sure the same thing was said about the Stanley Kubrick Collection.
Well, not from us. In fact, in our original review of the 1999 Stanley Kubrick Collection we practically begged Warner to release a new box, and promised all would be forgiven if they would just clean up the prints and shaky transfers. We have not found Paramount's Godfather Collection to be nearly as disappointing (it's not even close, really). But in any event, Paramount is not in the habit of re-issuing DVDs that already have special features, so we will be surprised if we see another Godfather DVD set in two years the span of time that separated Warner's Kubrick boxes.
Does Francis Coppola have a short memory for actors' names? Poor eyesight? Or doesn't he care as much about these movies as someone who chooses to shell out $75 on them?
Your point Tim is perhaps one of the few that cannot be debated we double-checked our copy and the flub is there, in the text blurb that precedes the additional scene "Anthony and Pentangeli."
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This isn't as heretical as it sounds; pieces of unfinished music and literature by great artists have been finished by other hands. The big question: What director talented enough to take over for such a giant would be willing to do so? Answer: Spielberg, maybe, since he had no trouble taking the reins of A.I. with the Kubrick estate's blessing. Let's just hope that, if that happens, he does a better job than he did with A.I.....
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Jake Lloyd, from an interview on one of
I couldn't have said it better myself.
Or, of course, shop at a good online retailer many of them have been with DVD fans since the very beginning.
We agree that some DVD fans go way overboard on supplements, but DVD being "second to the actual theater experience?" At one time, maybe, but we're starting to think a properly equipped home theater and a fridge full of beer beats the local cineplex any day.
Top of the Pops: Here's the top-selling Drama DVDs last week from our friends at Ken Crane's DVDPlanet.com. Click the links to read our reviews of these discs:
Tuesday, 30 October 2001
On the Street: Take a breather you're gonna need it. November will see the arrival of several choice new DVDs, and it seems this last Tuesday of October has been set aside for many specialty titles. Universal has a slew of live-performance items, including two Andrew Lloyd Webber discs, two Michael Flatley spins, and an Ultimate Edition of Cats, while catalog titles include war films MacArthur and Midway. Columbia TriStar has no less than six Cirque du Soleil titles out today, and Home Vision has released the epic four-disc documentary Heritage: Civilization and the Jews. Of course, if you're looking for a bit of mindless fun, you'll probably be picking up Warner's Swordfish. But don't forget DreamWorks has decided to release the two-disc Shrek this Friday rather than the traditional Tuesday, and it's bound to give Fox's hot-selling Phantom Menace set a run for the money. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Back tomorrow with all that mail.
Monday, 29 October 2001
Disc of the Week: Self-mocking humor is a national pastime in Great Britain, where the class system and British eccentricities are rich fodder for ridicule. The likes of Benny Hill, the Black Adder, and those masters of mockery, Monty Python, have made a tradition of lampooning the descendants of a once-powerful British aristocracy descendants that steadfastly hold to their belief in a sense of entitlement to wealth and power. Peter Medak's 1972 farce The Ruling Class takes an irreverent and comically dark look into the corrupt world of these blue-blooded poseurs, who spend their days living off the riches of their dead relatives while fretting about their social standing. With a screenplay by Peter Barnes (from his own stage play), the film is a funny, sometimes brutal send-up of the English upper class and the fine line that can exist between acceptable eccentricity and out-and-out insanity.
Peter O'Toole heads a superb cast that features several of England's most distinguished theater actors of the time, including Alastair Sim, Arthur Lowe, Harry Andrews, and Coral Browne. As the film opens, we see the 13th Earl of Gurney (Andrews) making a patriotic speech to a group of stuffy old British gentlemen, extolling the virtues of noble England. By day the Earl is a criminal judge, but at night he likes to take to his room, don a ballet tutu, and mock-hang himself. But when he accidentally does hang himself, his hanger-on relatives quickly begin jockeying for position in an effort to secure their current lifestyle namely, living off the Earl. But the Earl has left his estate to his erratic son Jack (O'Toole), a self-committed paranoid schizophrenic living in a local sanitarium. When Jack returns to take his position as the 14th Earl of Gurney, he arrives Christ-like, with long robes and flowing hair, preaching a message of love and professing to be the one true God. Jack even brings his own giant crucifix to his new home, mounting it to hang from in times of stress, or simply using it as a place to take a nap. Of course, Jack is a self-indulgent adolescent in a man's body, but he's also someone who was never loved and who desperately seeks normalcy . But it all comes as a bit of surprise to his aunt, the Lady Claire (Browne), and uncle, Sir Charles (William Mervyn), who had hoped to gain the Earl's fortune for themselves. Faced with either ingratiating themselves to their crazy nephew or finding a way to get him locked up permanently, the ever-scheming Sir Charles cooks up a plot to get Jack married, in the hopes that the union will produce a son; then Charles will have Jack committed and take over as guardian of the infant heir. In the meantime, Jack's psychiatrist (Michael Bryant) has his own plan to cure Jack of his schizophrenia, but it soon backfires and leads to a rather unpleasant case of, er murder.
With The Ruling Class, director Medak creates organized chaos via a daring approach to the material. In his audio commentary on the DVD, he explains that using a combination of theatrical settings and movie fantasy he wanted the viewer to get a sense of Jack's mindset, which fades in and out of reality. Scenarist Barnes fleshes out each character down to the smallest of eccentricities, and his marvelous dialogue gives significance to each situation. Scenes of high drama are accompanied by outrageous hilarity, and sometimes lead into characters bursting into song and dance. But throughout, the characters remain precisely British, seemingly unaffected by the inanity of it all. O'Toole, holding center stage, is brilliant as Jack, shifting in scene after scene from lighthearted innocence to outright craziness, and eventually from overwhelming pathos to evil cunning. When asked how he knows he is God, Jack replies "The voices of Saint Francis, Socrates, General Gordon, and Timothy Leary all told me I was God. If I only knew then who I was now!"
Criterion's new Ruling Class DVD offers a longer cut of the film than normally seen in North America, with more than 30 minutes of deleted scenes as such, longtime fans will want to seek it out. Additionally, the anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) offers a generally good source print, with only a small amount of color desaturation in some exterior scenes (the English manor where the exteriors were shot is a spectacular setting, and the indoor sets are equally magnificent in their grandeur, adding a wonderful oversized quality that further illustrates the insignificance of the characters). Audio is presented in the original mono (as DD 1.0), although there is some ambient noise. And as can be expected from Criterion, the supplements are useful. A commentary with Medak, O'Toole, and Barnes offers interesting reminiscences about their experiences working on the film. Also included are some silent "home movies" Medak shot in and around the estate and in the House of Lords, no less than 200 still photos from Medak's collection, and the theatrical trailer. The Ruling Class: The Criterion Collection is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: Halloween is just around the corner, but new horror films at the American box office were beat out by Universal's K-Pax over the weekend, which earned a strong $17.5 million in its first three days for stars Kevin Spacey and Jeff Bridges. Arriving in second was Warner's remake of 13 Ghosts, generating $15.6 million for mostly teen and young-adult audiences, but debuting in the ninth spot was New Line's Bones with $2.9 million, while Miramax's romantic comedy On the Line failed to crack the top ten, garnering just $2.3 million. All of the new arrivals had mixed-to-negative reviews from the critics.
In continuing release, Fox's From Hell dropped from first to third, but has been good for $20 million so far, while Sony's Riding in Cars with Boys has similar numbers. Warner's Training Day has had a hot month, grabbing $65 million in four weeks (that's not bad for October), but DreamWorks' $55 million The Last Castle is losing ground quickly, with $3.7 million over the weekend and just $13 million in 10 days. Meanwhile, Ben Stiller's Zoolander may be gone, but not for long with a respectable $40 million finish, Paramount is sure to have a DVD on the catwalk soon.
Lots more movies go wide this weekend, including Pixar's Monsters, Inc., The One starring Jet Li, Domestic Disturbance with John Travolta and Vince Vaughn, and the drama Life as a House starring Kevin Kline, and Kristin Scott Thomas. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Mark Bourne has posted his take on Columbia's two-disc Monty Python and the Holy Grail: Special Edition, while D.K. Holm is on the board today with the Brando classic On the Waterfront. New stuff from the rest of the gang this morning includes Swordfish, Bridget Jones's Diary, He Said, She Said, The Bible, Down from the Mountain, The Ruling Class: The Criterion Collection, Hostage High, and the Z-film classic The Doll Squad. It's all under the New Reviews menu here on the front page or use our search engine to rewind into some DVD reviews from weeks past.
We'll be back tomorrow with the rundown on this week's street discs.
Thursday, 25 October 2001
Coming Attractions: We're off for another round of fresh DVDs, and new reviews on the way include Monty Python and the Holy Grail: Special Edition, On the Waterfront, and more. In the meantime, if you haven't entered our totally free DVD contest for a copy of The French Connection: Five Star 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. Enjoy the weekend we'll se ya Monday.
Quotable: "When society is trying to deal with the unimaginable, it's interesting how often it is horror films that help them cope with it. How do you survive when an unimaginable force is trying to destroy you? Seeing how people cope with something like that up on the screen helps prepare us somehow. Just as science-fiction films, I think, become a cushion for future shock, horror films become a cushion for terror shock."
Director Ernest Dickerson, whose horror film
Will Smith, in an upcoming interview with
"Well, I don't do violent films. I would not be unhappy to see a mood change in what Hollywood turns out and what the public chooses to see. I'd like scripts with a more positive message. Storylines that give people something to hope for in place of the current diet of repetitive violence and retribution. I think we all need to focus on stories that raise the barrier to a higher level of emotion."
Harrison Ford, joining the growing list of voices
"Our tracking shows that the sales velocity for Episode I is greater than Gladiator, the number-one-selling DVD of all time, and The Mummy Returns, the previous number-one-selling DVD of the year. We're doing everything possible to insure that we are not in an out-of-stock situation at retail, but given this velocity of sales, it'll be close."
Fox marketing exec Mike Dunn, after 2.2 million
"There's that weird part of me that thinks if New York got bombed again, I want to be here. I'd rather die getting bombed in a New York bombing than live some kind of shallow life somewhere else."
Alec Baldwin, who apparently isn't leaving
Wednesday, 24 October 2001
When we first heard that Citizen Kane was in the early stages of DVD production at Warner, we were apprehensive. Sure, lots of other titles will sell more units this year, including The Mummy Returns, The Phantom Menace, Shrek, and The Grinch. But big deal. Those films may have their fans, but in some ways the entire DVD experience is a fait accompli pristine source-prints, rock-solid transfers, the usual assortment of extras and Easter eggs. We'll give The Phantom Menace due credit for its remarkable documentary, but the two DVD packages that have actually gone under the microscope in the latter half of this year are Kane and The Godfather, and the message from DVD fans was simple: Handle With Care.
Fans are still split on Paramount's Godfather DVD Collection box-set, with a nice array of supplements but unrestored prints, whereas Kane has been largely more successful with critics and consumers alike the two commentary tracks, a feature-length documentary, and other supplements are pleasant, but the real star of the show is that print restoration. It's simply amazing, and for us Warner's Kane disc is something to be treasured.
But inevitably, with Citizen Kane in release and ever-hungry DVD fans looking for another fresh kill, Orson Welles' The Magnificent Ambersons starts to pop up in conversation. And with Touch of Evil and The Lady from Shanghai on DVD, the Welles MIA list is a lot shorter than it was just two years ago. We agree with just about everybody Ambersons needs to be on DVD in a comprehensive release.
Then again, thinking about The Magnificent Ambersons properly presented on DVD suddenly makes that Citizen Kane disc look like a rush-job.
Orson Welles admirers are more than familiar with the details of The Magnificent Ambersons and its ill-fated post-production. A brief synopsis: Welles' second film, Ambersons was shot right after Citizen Kane. The director was fond of Booth Tarkington's 1918 source novel, which he had already produced for the Mercury Theater on radio in 1939, but for the film version he opted not to act in front of the camera, instead providing the voice of the narrator. After filming was completed and the original cut was compiled, Welles set off for Brazil to film the semi-documentary It's All True, which was part of the war effort. In the meantime, RKO screened the original 131-minute cut of Ambersons for test audiences, who did not like its somber mood and unhappy ending. Thus, with Welles out of the country, RKO simply chopped the film down to 88 minutes; they also had editor Robert Wise shoot a new, more upbeat ending. Welles returned to America to find his film in shambles, but there was little he could do. Not long after the hasty editing, RKO had the deleted footage a total of around 50 minutes altogether destroyed for its silver content.
With Welles' critical resurgence in the 1960s and the further growth of film scholarship in general, the original test-cut of The Magnificent Ambersons has become a holy grail of film restoration (along with the massive 42-reel version of Erich von Stroheim's 1925 Greed, also missing). However, while a great deal of research has gone into Welles' original vision, it's very unlikely we will ever see a full-length Ambersons. Internal RKO records clearly indicate that the excised material was destroyed, and odds are at this late date anybody who had any version, or even a scrap, of that 50 minutes would have come forward by now. But rumors persist. Paramount purchased portions of the RKO library in 1958, and some have speculated that they have the missing footage. It's also known that a print of the 131-minute cut was sent to Welles in Brazil for his examination, and according to who you talk to, it's in a warehouse somewhere or at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. Of course, the truth is probably a lot closer to neither, and film preservationist Robert A. Harris has previously noted that nitrate stock wouldn't last for 60 years in ordinary conditions.
As it stands, the 88-minute version of The Magnificent Ambersons is all that survives as a motion picture, and this is the only version ever released on home video. Part of the Turner library, Ambersons was held by MGM for several years, but the title transferred to Warner as part of a complicated 1998 home-video deal (the same deal that sent Kane to Warner, in fact). The VHS with the Turner folio is a common-stock purchase at most online retailers, while Criterion's two-platter CAV Laserdisc (CC 1109L) is now out of print. If you would like to own Ambersons today, you don't have a lot of options.
But with Citizen Kane on the street, we're certain that Warner is considering a Magnificent Ambersons DVD, and we're hoping they will give the disc the extra treatment it deserves. A look at the Criterion LD may give us some clues as to what Ambersons would look like on DVD in addition to the 1.33:1 monaural feature film, it offers a commentary with Welles scholar Robert Carringer, a reconstruction of the missing scenes with storyboards and the shooting script, and the original Mercury Theater radio production. Much of the reconstruction was taken from a book by Carringer, The Magnificent Ambersons : A Reconstruction. Many fans have said that this Criterion LD, along with Carringer's book, is the closest we will ever get to a complete vision of Ambersons.
Of course, we're hoping that Warner got that Laserdisc and is taking notes. We think that The Magnificent Ambersons on DVD without supplements that offer some effort of reconstruction would not be worth our time, or anybody's. It would be nice if Carringer's research could be included; we're also curious to know if it's possible to integrate the radio play with stills or storyboards for the missing segments (especially the ending). Beyond that, one or two commentary tracks and a documentary seem a foregone conclusion, which could mean that The Magnificent Ambersons will take some time to produce properly.
But we're willing to be patient we certainly thought Citizen Kane was worth the wait. In the meantime, hunting down that Criterion laser on eBay could be worth the investment.
(And thanks for the letter Stephen we'll be sending you a "Fright-Filled Fox Four-Pack" of DVDs in time for Halloween, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer , The Fury, Phantom of the Paradise, and The Legend of Hell House. Zounds!)
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, 23 October 2001
On the Street: Columbia TriStar leads the pack today with a number of excellent titles, including the revamped Monty Python and the Holy Grail as well as Jabberwocky, back-to-back Oscar winners On the Waterfront and From Here to Eternity, and this year's animated Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within: Special Edition, which tends to stumble over its own plot but offers a variety of technical features in a two-disc set. Animation from a different era can be found with Disney's Dumbo, finally in release from Buena Vista, while suspense-lovers will want to look for Dominik Moll's unusual thriller With a Friend Like Harry. Being Woody Allen fans, we enjoyed revisiting Play It Again, Sam, transferred nicely by Paramount; meanwhile, Fox perhaps is looking for a, er broader audience this Tuesday with Dr. Dolittle 2 and Freddy Got Fingered. Digital die-hards in Canada can get the fully-loaded Ginger Snaps: Collector's Edition, while folks in the U.S. will have to order online for the item. And for those who have Monty Python and the Holy Grail at the top of their shopping lists, keep one eye open for Monty Python: Live!, which streets from A&E. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 22 October 2001
Disc of the Week: Pity the poor werewolf. Once upon a time he was a creature to be feared, a boogeyman of the night equal in stature to Dracula, The Mummy, and Frankenstein's monster. The very mention of his name inspired terror. A full moon was less a symbol of romance than a dire warning to "stay off the moors," for lycanthropes were afoot. But unfortunately, like his friend the vampire before him, the werewolf's reputation has become sullied in recent years. A number of mediocre-at-best cinematic offerings (including Teen Wolf, An American Werewolf in Paris, the Jack Nicholson ego-vehicle Wolf, and several other equally grievous offenders) have made the werewolf into a caricature of his former self. Whereas earlier generations once debated the best werewolf movie, the current generation is reduced to arguing over which semi-recent werewolf flick sucked the least amount of ass. (Depending on whom you ask, the consensus seems to be either An American Werewolf in London or The Howling.)
John Fawcett's Ginger Snaps, then, is a desperately needed wake-up call, a return-to-roots monster flick that manages to combine some genuine chills with the mandatory self-aware "hipness" that's come to dominate the horror genre in the wake of the Scream franchise. But unlike a lot of the "friendly to the masses" fluff masquerading as "horror" these days, Ginger Snaps, despite its cutesy title, keeps its eye squarely focused on the story's drama and characters. By doing so, Fawcett reclaims the werewolf genre for his own and in doing so, manages to transcend it. The story revolves around two teen sisters, the death-obsessed Brigitte (Emily Perkins) and her slightly more "normal" (but only just) sibling, Ginger (Katharine Isabelle). Although willingly ostracized from the cliques of beautiful people at their high school led by the annoyingly preppy Trina (Danielle Hampton) the sisters enjoy a fierce bond that goes far beyond simple love; they are kindred spirits, best friends, and connoisseurs of death (as evidenced by a morbidly hilarious school project, which we glimpse over the film's opening credits). One night, while engaging in a "payback" prank to Trina and her friends, Ginger is attacked by a large creature that appears to be a dog, but which Brigitte suspects may be something far more sinister a lycanthrope. Although badly wounded, Ginger survives, and even manages a quick recovery. In the days following the attack, she actually feels better than she ever has in her life. Oozing sexuality and a new-found confidence, Ginger and Brigitte begin to drift apart, while this "new" Ginger is embraced by the same cliques that once ostracized her. With her new status as a popular gal, who cares if Ginger's starting to change in other, more physical, ways... like those pesky patches of fur that have been sprouting up all over her body, that extra row of teeth that have suddenly appeared in her mouth, and even a pesky tail poking out from between her legs?
The themes of Ginger Snaps far exceed what one would expect to find in a film marketed to mainstream horror fans. Although there's plenty of blood and suspense to satisfy gore hounds, Ginger Snaps is, at heart, a rather sweet tale of two sisters forced to accept the changes and challenges of growing up. Fawcett admits in his commentary track on this disc that he sees the werewolf legend as a metaphor for puberty (one's body is constantly changing, sprouting hair in unusual places, etc.), and it's a stroke of genius that he and screenwriter Karen Walton decided to set the initial werewolf attack on the same day as Ginger's first menstruation, thus supplying both a motive for the attack (the werewolf's attraction to blood) and a further aspect of the puberty motif. Ginger Snaps has something to interest most film fans: fascinating characters, great make-up and special effects, some intriguing camerawork and clever direction from Fawcett (especially in the opening scenes), and a poignant, satisfying ending that intriguingly manages to leave some major plot holes unresolved... and yet doesn't make the film seem like it's advertising a sequel before the credits roll.
Columbia TriStar has given Ginger Snaps a cult smash in its native Canada a special edition presentation that longtime fans will (ahem) howl over. But there is a final plot twist while Artisan is concurrently releasing a feature-free Ginger Snaps disc in the U.S., Columbia's special edition has been produced specifically for the Canadian market, which means it's best ordered from an online Canadian DVD retailer. Beautifully presented in a flawless anamorphic transfer (unspecified, but apparently 1.85:1), this packed platter includes Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby 2.0 Surround audio tracks in English and French; a behind-the-scenes featurette; two audio commentary tracks (one from director Fawcett, one from screenwriter Walton, the latter of whom comes across as a slightly older version of the Brigitte character); footage from Perkins' and Isabelle's audition reels (dig Perkins' buzz-cut she wore a wig for the film); theatrical trailers and TV spots; a five-minute short detailing the creation of the werewolf suit/puppet; no less than 15 deleted scenes (with optional commentary from the personable Fawcett, or a second optional track from Walton); all of the photos that comprise Ginger and Brigitte's school project (a smart, welcome addition); and a staggering number of textual supplements. Sharp-eyed viewers might also locate a couple of Easter eggs, including a storyboard gallery and a tongue-in-cheek, self-depreciating featurette entitled "Being John Fawcett" (which consists of camcorder footage shot by the director during production and rehearsals, most of which involves the cast good-naturedly teasing the director about his lack of "Hollywood"-ish good looks). Ginger Snaps: Collector's Edition is on the street in Canada tomorrow.
Box Office: For Johnny Depp and the Hughes Brothers, the weekend box-office was heavenly Fox's From Hell, a 19th century Jack-the-Ripper thriller starring Depp and directed by brothers Allen and Albert, earned $11.3 million to secure the top spot on the chart. Following just behind was Sony's Riding in Cars with Boys, snagging second place for star Drew Barrymore and director Penny Marshall with $10.8 million. However, DreamWorks' The Last Castle, starring Robert Redford and James Gandolfini, debuted in fifth, with just $7.1 million. All three films received generally mixed reviews from major critics.
In continuing release, Warner's Training Day remains near the front of the pack, holding on to third place in its third weekend, and with a $57.4 million cume. MGM's Bandits had a decent second frame, garnering another $8.4 million to boost its total to $25 million in 10 days. But fading quickly is Dimension's Iron Monkey, which has slipped to 10th place with just $10.7 million so far (although that's not bad for a foreign film that was made eight years ago). And on the way to DVD prep is Miramax's The Others, which will finish above $95 million.
Kevin Spacey and Jeff Bridges team up this weekend in the new film K-PAX, while fresh thrillers for the spooky season include the remake of 13 Ghosts with Shannon Elizabeth and Tony Shalhoub, and Bones starring Snoop Dogg and Pam Grier. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Betsy Bozdech has posted her in-depth review of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within: Special Edition, while Mark Bourne looks at Criterion's double-feature witchcraft "documentary" Häxan / Witchcraft through the Ages. New reviews this week from the rest of the team include Angel Eyes, Notorious: The Criterion Collection, Freddy Got Fingered, Play It Again, Sam, Town and Country, Ginger Snaps, and Toys. 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.
Back tomorrow with the street discs.
Thursday, 18 October 2001
SMACKDOWN! Criterion's 'Charade' is history: Not long after word came that Criterion's Dead Ringers was officially declared out-of-print by the lauded DVD producer, Criterion's official website is now listing the 1963 Charade as no longer available. Normally this means that the license has expired and will not be renewed by the proprietary studio, but with Charade the matter is a bit different. The picture has always been in the public domain, as Universal and director Stanley Donen did not copyright it correctly when it was first produced which is why there are so many DVDs and videotapes on the market from "budget" distributors (no less than 22 companies have released the film on home video over the years, by our count).
Until we get official word from Criterion, early theories run thus: 1) Universal has somehow re-established a copyright for the title (which seems unlikely), 2) Universal provided the source print and other materials for Criterion's Charade, which are in fact under license, and/or 3) Universal has requested that Criterion delete the disc in anticipation of the 2002 Charade remake The Truth about Charlie, directed by Jonathan Demme and starring Mark Wahlberg. Universal does have a taste for releasing originals and remakes on DVD simultaneously including both the 1962 and 1991 Cape Fear, as well as The Day of The Jackal and The Jackal so we would not be surprised to see Universal push both Charade and Charlie day-and-date when the time comes.
But it's all speculation at this point. Criterion's Charade, with a commentary track from director Donen and screenwriter Peter Stone, a Stanley Donen retrospective, trailer, and correct aspect ratio, is still listed "in stock" at several online retailers, including DVDPlanet.com and Amazon.com at least as of Wednesday night.
'Pie' poll: Who says studios don't listen to DVD fans? Universal, who are currently prepping their American Pie 2 DVD, have established an online poll where fans can let the studio know what they'd like to see on the upcoming release. Punch it up and be heard.
Commentary Clips: "One of the most vexed issues of contemporary feminism is that of the moral status and meaning of the femme fatale figure; that is, the image of the woman fatal to man. The overwhelming majority of feminist theorists want to call the femme fatale, or vamp, a misogynist libel against woman. These are symptoms, to them, of male hatred of women, the war with women that's been going on for thousands of years. I, myself, feel that the femme fatale figure of legend, myth and modern popular culture in fact tells the truth about sexual relations. It, in fact, is about male fear of woman, not male hatred of woman. The femme fatale shows that in her supernatural kind of power that woman is ultimately unknowable, not only to man but to herself.
"Most feminists today obsessed with success in the career world don't want to think that woman has any special connection to nature by virtue of her reproductive apparatus. I myself feel that when the femme fatale is thrown out of the canon of modern popular culture we lose an enormous amount of the voltage between the sexes that made some of the great films so powerful in the studio era. The origins of the femme fatale are going all the way back really to pre-history, to the goddess cults of antiquity. We have myths like that of Medusa, whose snaky head turns men to stone; that is, paralyzes them, castrates them. We have myths of the succubus, a figure who creeps up on sleeping men and causes them to have erections and to behave in ways that go contrary to their ethical code. There are just so many examples of these images worldwide that I have to ask how they could be possibly coming from false social indoctrination."
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"The publicity about Basic Instinct had been going on for more than a year before the premiere of the movie. There were all kinds of nasty things being said about it: that it was homophobic, that it was misogynist, it portrayed both lesbians and women in a manner that treated them as sex objects, as symptoms of psychopathology, and so on. The day the film opened in Philadelphia, the media covered it very heavily because there were loud protests by gay activists out in front of the theater who carried on about how the film shows date rape and how it's a piece of perverse exploitation, on and on. Meanwhile, the local media went to interview the first audiences pouring out of the film, and there was such a contrast between the mood of the sour, prowling activists with their placards and the exhilaration and laughter of the primarily black audiences who had packed the theaters. The TV people put microphones in the audience members' faces, 'Well, what did you think of the film?' and they went, 'We loved it! It's great! It's fabulous.'
"Right there one saw the disconnect between the political agenda about this film and the actual audience response. I myself saw this film not in a downtown Philadelphia theater, but in a suburban mall, again packed, and this time with an all-white audience. Well, never have I felt more united with an audience, I think, in my film-watching career. That audience loved it. They were with that film from beginning to end. The film cast a spell from the beautiful opening music to the slam-bang ending. This is a good case, I think, of the really grotesque elitism of a certain kind of intelligentsia that pretends to speak for the people but is in fact wildly divorced from actual popular tastes."
Feminist author Camile Paglia,
Quotable: "Get out of the dumps, Hollywood! Stir yourself out of your depression. The making of motion pictures is just as important as is the production of ammunition, guns and boats. Our warring nations MUST be entertained, and you MUST furnish that entertainment."
The Hollywood Reporter, Dec. 9, 1941.
"Having spent a substantial part of my career parodying religious figures from my own Christian background, I am aghast at the notion that it could, in effect, be made illegal to imply ridicule of a religion or to lampoon religious figures. Supporters of the proposed legislation would presumably say that neither I, nor any of my colleagues in the comedy world, are its intended targets, but laws governing highly subjective or moral issues tend to drag a very fine net, and some of the most basic freedoms of speech and expression can get caught up in it. I have always believed that there should be no subject about which one cannot make jokes, religion included. Clearly, one is always constricted by contemporary mores and trends because, after all, what one seeks above all is an appreciative audience. However, how would a film like Monty Python's Life of Brian, criticised at the time of its release for being anti-Christian, be judged under the proposed law? ... For telling a good and incisive religious joke, you should be praised. For telling a bad one, you should be ridiculed and reviled. The idea that you could be prosecuted for the telling of either is quite fantastic."
Rowan Atkinson, in a letter to The Times of
"I found it very intriguing to play (a U.S. Army general), which is fairly remote from my life experience, being someone who has been at various times critical of our political system, either off-screen or on-screen. Prior to Sept. 11, there was a high degree of cynicism, especially in film criticism. There was a tendency to pooh-pooh anything that worked for the American flag or patriotism..... (This film) is about courage. It is about loyalty. It is about a kind of commitment, and it is about honor. All those words, in the cynical atmosphere prior to the 11th, tended to be kicked around.... Well, not so much anymore. It's not so funny anymore. It's not so laughable anymore."
Robert Redford, discussing his latest film,
"I hope the way we have united keeps up, and we don't let our guard down any more and that we don't ignore what's going on in the world any more, because it bit us right in the ass."
Billy Bob Thornton
Wednesday, 17 October 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 comments from this week:
Being an independent film, Mike Hodges' critically acclaimed 1998 Croupier relied on several backers and distribution firms for its production. A British picture, it was produced primarily by Channel Four Films, with additional firms throughout Europe chipping in. The British Film Institute handled the U.K. theatrical distribution, while in the U.S. it was issued theatrically by Shooting Gallery Entertainment, who holds the U.S. home video rights.
With no home-video division, Shooting Gallery turned to Image Entertainment to produce a Croupier DVD last year, but with a twist they also signed an exclusive deal with online retailer NetFlix, which has been the only place to get the DVD until very recently (NetFlix is a sponsor of The DVD Journal). To be sure, the Shooting Gallery/NetFlix deal left a lot of DVD fans cold as a variation of the traditional "rental window" that has been common in the world of VHS for some time, many folks worry that such arrangements will become more prevalent over time, chipping away at the day-and-date retail sales that DVD lovers have enjoyed since '97. However, it should be noted that the vast majority of our DVDs come from a handful of studios, who have yet to introduce rental-window exclusivity (but may in the future although that's a whole 'nother story).
As for the quality of the NetFlix Croupier DVD, it is a 1.85:1 transfer with Dolby Surround audio, but besides that it's a true loaner no extras, not even subtitles. We understand that the Shooting Gallery/NetFlix window is due to expire in the next few months, after which it seems likely that Image Entertainment will produce a full-fledged retail disc, and hopefully with a few supplements. However, we also have heard that Shooting Gallery has gone through a difficult financial patch recently, which has cast some doubt on the eventual U.S. release.
Meanwhile, back in Great Britain, Amazon.co.uk is now listing a Croupier DVD from Film Four Distributors Ltd. to be released on Nov. 19, which obviously will be a Region 2, PAL-encoded disc. It does not appear to have any supplements. And as you note, Croupier has been released in Canada by Alliance Atlantis last May 29 (see inset), but some Yanks who have ordered the disc from north of the border have been disappointed by its full-frame transfer and lack of extras as well.
And there is one final wrinkle at this time Amazon.com (yes, the U.S. site) just recently listed a Region 1 Croupier DVD with a street date of Oct. 2. At first we thought the disc would be from Image, but it's clearly listed as an import (with an import price attached), and the producer is some company named "Pid" (which sounds more like an import firm to us "P____ International Distributors"?) It's also a full-frame transfer, so it's not the Image release held by NetFlix. Is it the Alliance Atlantis item? Sounds like it how can anything be Region 1 and an import item and not be from Canada? But then again, Amazon does not carry such sought-after AA releases as Memento, Pulp Fiction, and Trainspotting, which all have unique content. Frankly, we have no idea what's up, and we're not going to drop good money on a DVD that has virtually no provenance.
But if you're in a gambling mood, be sure to let us know what you find out.
I know the USA makes some pretty bad movies. But don't you think that other countries make bad movies too? Hell yes they do! So not every foreign film is good. Criterion is a good producer of DVDs, but they are living off of their Laserdisc reputation. Honestly, I love your site, but sometimes I'd swear you people were film majors at UCLA with posters of France and Federico Fellini on your walls. Turn off the Salo and appreciate some Austin Powers, Ben Stiller, or something this side of the Atlantic and Pacific, above the Rio Grande and below the Great Lakes.
Thanks for setting us straight. We absolutely did not realize that Criterion has been "living off their Laserdisc reputation" in the high-octane world of Hollywood DVDs. Let's have a look at some of the crap they've released over the past several months: The Hidden Fortress? A film of no historical importance whatsoever. The Scarlet Empress? Ditto. Preston Sturges's The Lady Eve and Sullivan's Travels? That guy was a hack. Gimme Shelter? Who bloody cares? Spartacus? Barely counts as a Kubrick film. And it's hard to find movies nearly as boring as Rififi, Le Trou, and The Vanishing. Ya-awn.
It's true the very thought of Zoolander on DVD makes us blush like a bunch of Amish schoolgirls.
Top of the Pops: Here's the top-selling drama DVDs last week from our friends at Ken Crane's DVDPlanet.com. Click the links to read our reviews of these discs:
See ya later.
Tuesday, 16 October 2001
On the Street: The race for the best-selling DVD of 2001 is on right now, as Fox has released the much-ballyhooed Star Wars: Episode One: The Phantom Menace. We still say the movie's a mixed bag, but the supplements on this two-discer make it worth a rental at the very least (including the unconventional behind-the-scenes documentary). But Criterion is counter-programming The Force this week, convinced that some folks would rather spend their bucks on such classics as The Lady Eve, Notorious, Le Trou, and the silent witchcraft "documentary" Häxan. MGM is adding to their "Soul Cinema" line with '70s titles such as Across 110th Street, Bucktown, and Hell Up in Harlem, while Warner's Cats and Dogs: SE is loaded with features. But if none of the above works for you today, it's hard to go wrong with Fawlty Towers: The Complete Collection. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 15 October 2001
Disc of the Week: Director Jacques Becker is the French equivalent of a Sam Fuller, or a Raoul Walsh auteurs without the name recognition of Hitchcock or Spielberg among the general public, but creators of delightful, obscure gems admired by film scholars and cinema fans. Becker began his career studying under the legendary Jean Renoir, working as his assistant director from 1932's Boudu Saved from Drowning until 1938's Le Marseillaise. But by 1935 he began directing his own shorts and feature-length films, though none were to his satisfaction until 1943's Dernier Atout. Becker dabbled in French noir, landing a hit with 1953's Grisbi, and his most popular film was the 1951 romantic melodrama Casque d'Or, which has been favorably compared to his old master Renior's work. And yet like many key Fuller and Walsh films d'Or has never been released on home video in America. In fact, the majority of Becker's filmography is unavailable for home viewing. But thanks to Criterion, his final work, 1960's Le Trou ("The Hole"), is the first to receive the digital treatment. Hopefully it will not be the last.
As he awaits trial, accused criminal Claude Gaspard (Marc Michel) is transferred to a new wing in Sante prison, although the warden (André Bervil) treats him with respect, as Gaspard is a member of the bourgeois class. Assigned to a room with four tough men, the hard-timers are unsure what to make of him. It is only when he reveals his crime murdering his wife, for which he faces a 20-year stretch that the men figure Gaspard is not going anywhere soon, and thus reveal that they are planning an escape. The plan is simple, but hazardous. Digging from their cell to the prison's cellar, further tunneling will get them to a nearby sewer. As the process gets underway, Gaspard gets to know his partners the leader Manu (Philippe Leroy), the humorous Monsignor (Raymond Meunier) the bruiser Geo (Michel Constantin), and the quiet, professional Roland (Jean Keraudy). But of course, as Gaspard is a newcomer and unlikely to serve a life-sentence, suspicions remain, even as the escape project is well underway. The warden is unusually friendly with Gaspard. And it turns out that Geo has a secret of his own.
Le Trou spends most of its time laying out the intricacies of the escape, offering a richness of detail (and making it an interesting companion piece to Robert Besson's 1956 A Man Escaped). The film allows time to show the men hard at work, be they digging or hiding in the prison cellar from nearby guards, and often in protracted one-take shots. Due to the tension, and because the documentary style omits tell-tale clues, Le Trou is a superb thriller without slack; we know something will go wrong it simply has to but by laboring over each and every shot, Becker puts his viewers on seat's edge with the language of cinema itself. Exploiting the prison noir template, the director infuses it with lessons learned from assisting on Renoir's monumental Grand Illusion. The characters are never simplified, and they don't have facile reasons for being incarcerated; in fact, save Gaspard, none of them even say why they are in jail, nor do they explain why they are so anxious to get out. But with a film so utterly stripped of the clichéd prison-film padding, opting instead to focus on the break, such hamfisted expositions are best left unspoken (and perhaps they always should be). By the conclusion, the screws have been twisted so tightly that the story earns its fatalistic finale, and much like a great Walsh or Fuller film, the genre exercise shows why directors like Becker are so treasured. Ignored by the general public, they are unearthed and revered by the faithful.
Criterion's new DVD release of Le Trou presents the film in a handsome anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) transfer with audio in Dolby Digital 1.0. The only supplement is the pamphlet accompanying the disc, featuring an original article by Chris Fujiwara and excerpts from the original American press book. But as the film is excellent, and most of the principals are no longer with us, it's more than enough. Le Trou: The Criterion Collection is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: Three new films went wide over the weekend, but none could budge Warner's Training Day from the top spot, which it now holds for the second week in a row, according to studio estimates. The Denzel Washington/Ethan Hawke thriller has racked up $43.5 million in the past ten days, which means it will easily surpass its $50 million budget. Nearly reaching the top but falling just short was MGM's Bandits, starring Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton, and Cate Blanchett, which garnered $13.4 million in its first weekend. And while newcomers Corky Romano and Iron Monkey didn't break $10 million, they performed within expectations with $9.3 and $6 million respectively. Both Bandits and Iron Monkey had positive reviews, while Romano was thrashed by critics.
In continuing release, Miramax's Serendipity starring John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale found more audience in its second week, grabbing fourth place and a $26 million cume, Fox's kidnap-thriller Don't Say a Word now stands at $41.7 million, and Paramount's Zoolander with Ben Stiller is at $35.8 million overall. Doing less business are Fox's Joy Ride and Buena Vista's Max Keeble's Big Move, and on the way to DVD prep is Sony's The Glass House, which remained on the charts for a month but will finish well short of $20 million.
New films this coming Friday include The Last Castle starring Robert Redford and James Gandolfini, the Jack the Ripper thriller From Hell with Johnny Depp and Heather Graham, and Riding in Cars with Boys, starring Drew Barrymore, Brittany Murphy, and James Woods. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Alexandra DuPont has posted our definitive last word on Fox's Star Wars: Episode One: The Phantom Menace, while D.K. Holm has a sneak preview of Criterion's The Lady Eve. Meanwhile, new stuff from the rest of the gang this morning includes Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: Platinum Edition, One Night at McCool's, Airheads, The Robe, Hell up in Harlem, The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg, The Scout, When a Stranger Calls, Le Trou: The Criterion Collection, and Recording 'The Producers': A Musical Romp with Mel Brooks. 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.
We'll be back tomorrow with the rundown on this week's street discs.
Thursday, 11 October 2001
'Godfather' talkback: Digital die-hards continue to pick up their copies of The Godfather DVD Collection, and the reactions are still coming in. Here's another bit of the mailbag:
A perfect example: The newly released version of The French Connection. The same time period as the Godfather films, but therein lies the only comparison. The new print of The French Connection is a revelation sharp, crisp, detailed, with a fine degree of clarity and transparency. Fox should be applauded and commended for taking the time to improve a difficult film to begin with, while Paramount should have the guts to refund my money.
Thanks for the comments guys. We're not necessarily surprised by some of the reactions we've been getting regarding Paramount's new Godfather box, particularly with the generally excellent quality of new DVD releases nowadays. However, we still think it's a good set with acceptable source prints and some wonderful supplements. We also doubt that Paramount will be issuing another Godfather at any point in the foreseeable future, so it seems this is a debate that will last for a long time to come.
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But sometimes there's nothing to debate especially when we get something wrong:
You got us, George. While we are able to trace Dr. Mabuse from 1922 to 1972, and a little bit beyond that in "non-canonical" films, according to the Internet Movie Database the earliest Sherlock Holmes film was The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes from 1905, while both "The Royal Scandal" and "The Sign of Four" are listed as 2001 television productions. So to add to your fond memory of a single-malt on the house, we'll be sending you a "Fright-Filled Fox Four Pack" of DVDs Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992), The Fury, Phantom of the Paradise, and The Legend of Hell House. Ourselves, tonight we shall be dining on cold crow.
Quotable: "Five years ago I did a series on NBC called 'Dark Skies,' whose premise was that most of American history in the last 50 years was a lie and a cover-up by the government. That kind of premise is unthinkable now. We've moved beyond that. The truth of the matter is we're less likely to tear down the people who stand up on our behalf."
Bryce Zabel, chairman of the Academy of Television
"I'd like to do a bullet of a movie about terrorism and how it works. It could be a fascinating thriller that would really entertain people. I don't buy into this concept that all people want to see right now is Zoolander. I think we can tie movies in to the attack. Let's make a big movie about terrorism and let's do a good job of it."
Oliver Stone, speaking at a panel discussion at the
"I wanted to go home this morning and I didn't think that anyone needed to hear anything from me today. I felt so trivial and so confused and so extraordinarily lost. I've never had to do my job in a time of war and I don't know how to do my job right now and I'm learning literally in front of you and that is very humiliating and embarrassing because you just do feel trivial at a time like this."
Drew Barrymore, who broke down in tears during
"I love men, even though they're lying, cheating scumbags. I'm a very sexual person."
Gwyneth Paltrow, former steady of both Ben
Coming Attractions: New DVD reviews are on the way, not least of which being our take on The Phantom Menace. Meanwhile, if you haven't entered our totally free DVD contest for a copy of The French Connection: Five Star 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.
Have a great weekend.
Wednesday, 10 October 2001
Thanks for the notes Nick and Mark it's just a sampling of the e-mail we've been getting over the past couple of days regarding Paramount's Godfather DVD Collection. Plenty of folks have already received their sets a day or two early from online retailers, or snapped them up on the street Tuesday morning, and perhaps we shouldn't be surprised by some of the reactions. As for us, we've found the Godfather Collection to be a splendid release that has fulfilled almost all of our expectations. But DVD fans are a persnickety bunch, and it appears that some folks do not plan to buy The Godfather DVD Collection after all, despite its being one of the most-demanded releases in the format's short history.
Foremost among the concerns is the print quality, much discussed in DVD reviews and online chat forums all over the Internet. Our own Greg Dorr noted it in his DVD Journal review, and it's worth repeating if you've been awed by the colorful restorations of Singin' in the Rain and North By Northwest, or the black-and-white luster of Citizen Kane, you should adjust your expectations before viewing the new Godfather discs, particularly Parts I and II. Your own editor, watching a preview set about two weeks ago, was struck by two things: how wonderful it was to enjoy these classics on high-resolution DVD, but also how "un-DVD-like" the experience was, if you'll pardon the sloppy phrasing. With so many classics that have arrived on DVD over the past few years, often the experience of watching a new disc can be a revelation restored color, sharper prints, a new widescreen transfer, etc. Occasionally it's like watching a film for the very first time, and the reaction is uniform: "I had no idea this movie could look this good." What serious DVD fan hasn't said that now and then?
But The Godfather Parts I and II on DVD do not elicit such a reaction. The experience is less of a discovery and more akin to revisiting an old friend. The widescreen composition (1.78:1) is a modest ratio to begin with, and readily available over the years on VHS and Laserdisc. The new Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks are welcome, but never overly aggressive. And of course, the movies look like movies. There is grain, the colors are muted, and there are a few unfortunate moments of collateral speckling. Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily. While the source prints are not ideal, they still retain The Godfather films' essential character as cinema. Nobody likes flecks and blemishes (which, it should be noted, are minor here), but the overall texture of the experience is attractive not distracting and we'd wager that DVD fans who spin these discs will find themselves immersed in the cinema and the storytelling. Watching The Godfather saga on DVD is every bit as satisfying as we'd hoped.
Of course, there are some who think they should wait until The Godfather DVD Collection is reissued down the road with better source materials (or worse, think that this release is just a ploy to get fans to buy the big box twice). All we have to say is Not Likely. Paramount a studio that does not release a large amount of DVDs in the first place probably will not be reissuing titles that already have extra features. Furthermore, The Godfather DVD Collection represents a large financial investment for the studio. With a bunch of extras on that fifth disc, this will be a big seller, and it's likely Paramount will earn back their money while they continue releasing more films from their catalog that are not on DVD yet, including Once Upon a Time in the West, Sunset Boulevard, and To Catch a Thief, to name but a few. We do think it's plausible that all three Godfather titles will be released individually in the future, with that fifth disc remaining snugly in the box-set, so for folks who think the whole enchilada is too spendy (or don't want to own The Godfather Part III), there may be more purchasing options later on. But if the Godfather films are packaged individually, we'd bet Kroners to keep-cases that the transfers will remain identical.
Finally, many have noted that the packaging for The Godfather DVD Collection may look nice, but it seems a bit flimsy. We agree, and personally we would have been much happier to get all five discs in four keep-cases (with a slimline keeper for the two-disc Godfather Part II) in a paperboard slip-case. We can only guess that the overall advantages of the current packaging for Paramount were a matter of size and weight (which factor into shipping costs) and overall appearance. Those who choose to buy simply will have to handle with care.
Michal (writing from Poland)
Mark Bourne responds: While writing the Mabuse review I also wondered if James Bond has had a longer cinematic life than Mabuse. It turns out that Bond wins in terms of number of films, but Mabuse is the clear leader in duration. So far, the Mabuse series is the longest-spanning in terms of time 50 years between Fritz Lang's 1922 original and 1972's La Venganza del doctor Mabuse, and even longer when we include later films that are about Mabuse but considered "non-canonical." So "longest-spanning" in time is what I meant but I wouldn't be surprised if the Bond films eventually overtake Mabuse in that category too.
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, 9 October 2001
'Spider Woman' has legs: Digital die-hards have been wondering for some time about the status of 1985's Kiss of the Spider Woman, which has been unavailable on home video for many years and pretty much impossible to find on television. Fortunately, your own DVD Journal editor chatted with Spider Woman producer David Weisman yesterday, who reports that a Spider Woman DVD is definitely underway. The story of the film is an odyssey in itself produced by Weisman for less than $1 million, and with 14 months of budget-stressed post-production, the picture made a strong impression at the 1985 Cannes Film Festival, where star William Hurt picked up the Best Actor award. The film was then nominated for four Academy Awards in 1986, including Best Picture the first independent film to get the nod and Hurt also won the Best Actor statuette.
With no major studio at the helm, Weisman entered into home-video agreements with Island in the United States and CBS overseas only to see both companies go defunct a few years later, causing the licenses to bounce around from one film library to another (including AVCO/Embassy, PolyGram, and MGM). Spider Woman can only be found nowadays on very old videotapes on eBay, and while several studios have expressed interest in releasing a DVD, the 15-year licenses expired recently and the home-video rights have fully reverted back to Weisman. And he isn't looking to make a quick buck off the film either.
"I own this stuff lock stock and barrel what's the point of rushing it?" Weisman says, noting that he has 404 boxes of materials in storage, dating from 1985. "Everyone's in a rush to get their DVDs out, but (for Spider Woman) there's so much material." While in the early planning stages, we can expect the forthcoming Spider Woman DVD to include a new transfer from original elements (including some added scenes) and a new Dolby Digital 5.1 track, as well as dubbed tracks in several foreign languages. Weisman also says that stars William Hurt and Sonia Braga, along with director Hector Babenco, will contribute to the DVD, and we certainly can expect a commentary track from Weisman himself at the very least. Additionally, there is an original "making-of" documentary offering interview footage with the late Raul Julia, and Weisman is preparing a new documentary on novelist Manuel Puig, which he promises will offer a rare, intimate look at the writer. Five documentaries in total are planned in what will be a definitive edition.
Of course, an independent DVD release can present its challenges, but Weisman is undeterred. "There's not many movies that have had this trajectory, from Latin American novel to independent film to Broadway musical," he says. "I've decided to go for the Guiness Book of Records for DVD archival content on a film classic." No date is announced, but Weisman says he's thinking sometime in 2002. In the meantime, the architecture for the eventual DVD can be found on www.kissofthespiderwoman.com, under "Presskit."
On the Street: The DVD release that stands tallest this morning is none other than Paramount's The Godfather DVD Collection, a box featuring Francis Ford Coppola's Godfather trilogy and a bonus disc loaded with extra features. DVD message boards around the Internet are buzzing over where to get the best price, and all we can say is that if you score it for less than $70, that's not bad. But Disney is not afraid to go to the mattresses with the Corleones, offering their very first Platinum Series release, Snow White, a two-disc set with several supplements that's scheduled to be on the street for a limited time before a 10-year moratorium. And for those of you with super-spendy home theaters, Columbia TriStar has their first five Superbit titles out today, including Air Force One, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, and The Fifth Element. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 8 October 2001
Disc of the Week: Pick a title any title. Dutch director George Sluizer's 1988 The Vanishing has a perfectly fine moniker in English, as it concerns the story of a woman who disappears one sun-soaked July afternoon from a crowded rest-stop alongside a French expressway. In French, the film was released as L'homme qui voulait savoir ("The Man Who Wanted to Know"), which accurately describes her boyfriend, a man stricken by grief and anxiety in his three-year quest to learn the fate of his beloved. The film is known as Spoorloos ("Traceless") in Holland, which may at first seem to describe the sudden disappearance of the woman, but in fact describes her abductor. And yes, the criminal, traceless as he may be, is not the mystery in Sluizer's unusual film the villain is hardly hiding in the shadows, but rather plays an integral role in the overall drama. In fact, while The Vanishing is a remarkable picture in several aspects, foremost among them is that Sluizer simply understands the nature of audience expectations when it comes to thrillers and frankly, it's a lot of baggage he intends unload, right down to the final moments.
The Vanishing tells the story of Dutch couple Rex Hofman (Gene Bervoets) and Saskia Wagter (Johanna ter Steege), who holiday in France during the summer of 1984, deciding on an easygoing cycling adventure as the annual Tour de France is well underway. But on their return to Amsterdam (with their two bicycles rigged to the top of their car), they stop at a busy gas station/convenience store, where the energetic Saskia plants two stones at the base of a small tree and makes Rex swear that he will never abandon her. It is only moments later that Saskia enters the store to buy drinks and Rex never sees her leave. Concern gives way to panic, and after searching all day and through the night, Rex realizes that something terrible has happened. Despite his boundless efforts, there is no sign of Saskia or even that a crime has been committed. But years later, her kidnapper, Raymond Lemorne (Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu), is mildly surprised that his criminal act remains the object of a tireless, one-man search effort.
Moviegoers love bad guys. Maybe even better than the good guys. Sure, we have James Bond, and John McClane, and every other matinee icon who battles crime to provide us with a cathartic restoration of justice, security, and social order. But film fans enjoyed the naughty tingle of watching a baddie like Dr. Mabuse have his way before movies even had sound a tradition that has survived right up to Hannibal. Given both archetypes, Sluizer fully embraces them in The Vanishing, and on the surface it's a conventional film with a passionate hero trying to find a lost companion (an archetype readily available from Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes, and repeated innumerable times since.) But the setup is merely an excuse for Sluizer to tear it down. Certainly, we see Rex as he suffers through his inexplicable, traumatic loss but rather than focus on this aspect of the story, Sluizer reveals the villain very early in the piece and illustrates his methodical planning of the crime. What's more, the stereotypes are wonderfully interpolated. We sympathize with Rex, but are unsure what to make of his relentless campaign, as he continues to post photos of Saskia everywhere three years after her abduction, explains on television how dreams are guiding his search, and even allows his new marriage to collapse under the weight of a singular obsession. With that, how do we evaluate the sinister Raymond? He is a sociopath, but also a science professor, loyal husband, and loving father whose chief obsession is restoring a country home outside of Paris. Ultimately, The Vanishing is about Karma, cinematic and otherwise. Hollywood tells us that crime doesn't pay, that our heroes are competent and rational, that our villains are specious and never on solid ground. If predestination guides our collective film experience, it is also a concept the sociopathic Raymond rejects and when Rex and Raymond finally meet, it is not a confrontation between good and evil, but rather a contest of wills. It's also one of the most profoundly disturbing final sequences to be found in any film a European Se7en as written by Edgar Allan Poe.
Criterion's new DVD release of The Vanishing offers a strong anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with the multi-language audio (primarily Dutch and French) in monaural Dolby 1.0 and digital English subtitles. The only supplement is the French-language trailer, but after seeing the film any extras are merely superfluous. The Vanishing: The Criterion Collection is on the street now.
Box Office: Denzel Washington scored the biggest opening of his career with Warner's Training Day, which earned $24.1 million over the past three days to lead the weekend box-office. The film delayed by Warner from September for promotional reasons was also the second-biggest opening of any October picture (behind Meet the Parents) and earned several positive reviews. Also opening well was Miramax's romantic comedy Serendipity, starring John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale, which earned $14 million (and more good reviews), landing in second. However, opening somewhat weaker were Fox's thriller Joy Ride and Disney's Max Keeble's Big Move, both falling well under $10 million.
In continuing release, last week's leaders Don't Say a Word and Zoolander dropped a couple of spots each, but have managed roughly $30 million a piece over the past 10 days, while Warner's Hearts in Atlantis has slipped to seventh place with $16.8 million so far. Also dropping are Paramount's Hardball and Miramax's The Others, which have had decent runs over the past month. And Universal's American Pie 2 is now on the way to DVD prep after a stellar $142 million finish.
Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton, and Cate Blanchett team up in Barry Levinson's Bandits, which goes wide this Friday, along with the Chris Kattan comedy Corky Romano and Yuen Woo-Ping's martial-arts adventure Iron Monkey. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Greg Dorr has posted his comprehensive look at The Godfather DVD Collection, a release that is bound to earn its share of supporters and detractors. New reviews from the rest of the team this week include The Mummy Returns: Collector's Edition, the Canadian version of Memento, The John Waters Collection #3: Pink Flamingos/Female Trouble, The Shop on Main Street: The Criterion Collection, Closely Watched Trains: The Criterion Collection, Beautiful Creatures, Kingdom Come, Places in the Heart, The Forsaken, The Vanishing: The Criterion Collection, Goldwyn: The Man and His Movies, and the horror compilation Boogeymen. It's all under the New Reviews menu here on the front page or use our search engine to rewind into some DVD reviews from weeks past.
Back tomorrow with the street discs.
Thursday, 4 October 2001
Coming Attractions: New DVD reviews are on the way, including The Godfather DVD Collection and more. We'll be spinning discs all weekend see ya Monday.
Commentary Clip: Self: "Twenty-five hours of tapes were made during these ExComm (Executive Committee) sequences by the taping system within the Kennedy White House. The ExComm scenes are based upon actual meetings. There's some condensation of the arguments they were very detailed, policy-laden, people talking over each other. We used these tapes as the basis for each of these scenes. Portions I like are verbatim, others are sort of summaries of the positions of the characters."
McAlister: "The full impact of this project for me occurred in Washington D.C. when we were doing some photography, and I was sitting in a car with a man who had written a book that basically was transcriptions of those tapes that you mention, and in 85-degree weather with the windows rolled up to keep the traffic sound down, we were outside the Washington Monument listening to a conversation between Kennedy and his chief military and chief-of-staff advisors, during which they were debating the wisdom of bombing Cuba or taking some other form of action. It was quite a flashback into the past actually, essentially to be sitting in the room with these men and hear the stress in their voices."
Screenwriter David Self and visual-effects
Quotable: "I don't know if further assaults are ahead of us. But I truly believe that our law enforcement officers, our defense and intelligence communities and our leaders will rise to the challenge of making us secure, that is, if the American people don't hunker down, too frightened to fly or travel or work or be about their daily lives. That means we have surrendered. And then we will sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of courage in this land. If that happens, the noise we will hear will be triumphant whoops of joy from savages who find it wholesome to deliberately murder innocent men, women and children. We cannot allow that. We cannot cave into fear."
MPAA President Jack Valenti
"(The World Trade Center) represents capitalism. It represents freedom. It represents everything America is about. And to bring those two buildings down would bring America to its knees."
A deleted bit of dialogue in Jackie Chan's upcoming
Kevin Spacey, who sung John Lennon's "Mind
"The agency business is an interesting barometer: Dealmaking has stalled, movie start dates keep getting pushed back, and the TV business is chaotic. Many young agents who've known nothing but growth and bountiful opportunity suddenly confront a grim new world of margin calls, vanishing bonuses and shrinking expense accounts. All this goes beyond a mere reality check. 'I feel like a character caught in a Chainsaw Massacre sequel,' one 31-year-old agent told me last week."
Variety Editor-in-Chief Peter Bart
"At one stage I actually said to (director) Alejandro (Amenábar), 'I think you should ask somebody else because I just don't feel that I am going to be able to do it.' I didn't really want to go into the places where I was going to have to go in order to play the character. For a week prior to the shooting I was really reluctant to delve into it.... She was a woman who had lost her husband and was trying to take care of her children, and wanted to protect them. That was what was interesting to me."
Nicole Kidman, who nearly turned down her
Wednesday, 3 October 2001
This was before the official announcement of the Redux DVD, and of course, that was the major question during the Q&A and the b.s. session afterwards were we likely to see this film on DVD, either as part of an Apocalypse Now Redux: Special Edition or on its own?
The guys said that since the original release, Coppola has blown hot and cold over the years about Hearts of Darkness so they've been alternatively hopeful and discouraged. However, they'd attempted to contact him/Zoetrope a number of times during the whole Redux production process, and had gotten nothing but a curt "not interested" back so now they're basically just discouraged. According to the filmmakers themselves, it is not likely that we'll ever see HoD on the same disc as Apocalypse, in any form.
The licensing and ownership is somewhat complicated on this film as well, but again according to the filmmakers, our best shot as fans is to contact Paramount (who has the U.S. video rights) and pressure them to produce a separate Hearts of Darkness disc. Since Paramount needed/decided to work so closely with Zoetrope on Apocalypse Now Redux, they weren't willing to rock the boat. On the other hand, it seems as if they could easily to reissue Hearts of Darkness all on their own, without any cooperation from Zoetrope or Coppola besides, I'd rather have a commentary track from Eleanor on that one anyway! Fax and George are continuing to work on that option, and any public support would be helpful.
And in the meantime, there's always eBay and the Laserdisc....
Thanks for the scoop, Jeff. We've known all along that Paramount holds the rights to Hearts of Darkness on home video, although we have not heard as much about Coppola's opinion on the documentary. Currently it's out of print in all formats, and we've never understood why that should be the case. In any event, if anybody decides to contact Paramount to ask for a Hearts of Darkness DVD release, please remember to play nice constructive comments always work best when letting the studios know what you're willing to buy.
(And Jeff's a lucky bastard, as he's just won a "Fright-Filled Fox Four-Pack" of DVDs Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992), Phantom of the Paradise, The Legend of Hell House, and The Fury! Spooky!)
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Of note, many readers have been asking just what this whole "Superbit" thing is from Columbia TriStar. We've previously discussed the format in our news summary, but for those arriving late we have posted two press releases detailing the new discs.
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:
See ya later.
Tuesday, 2 October 2001
On the Street: MGM's big on the board this morning with a mix of special editions and bare-bones releases, including The Terminator: Special Edition, Fiddler on the Roof: Special Edition, Heartbreakers: Special Edition, and various catalog titles (but note that the feature-free Robocop will be followed by a full-blown SE at some point down the road). Universal will sell a bucketload of The Mummy Returns: Collector's Edition DVDs, although some folks are certainly looking forward to the recent Beautiful Creatures. For those who think going over the top is never far enough, New Line has released their third of their "John Waters Collection" series, including the notorious Pink Flamingos. And it's all science from Warner today, with four new space-bound IMAX titles, as well as a nifty box-set. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Bye for now.
Monday, 1 October 2001
And the winner is: David Neal of Murfreesboro, Tenn., wins the free The Simpsons: Season One box-set from our September contest. Congrats, David!
Our totally free DVD contest for the month of October is up and running, and we have a copy of Fox's The French Connection: Five Star Collection 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: There was a time in America when the railroads were everything. In the 19th century before automobiles and airplanes, international airports and Interstate highways the rails linked our states together, providing freight and passenger service from the largest cities to the smallest rural hamlets a fact known today by Amtrak travelers, who will notice major rail lines often run through the middle of small towns that no longer receive rail service of any sort. The decline of American railroads is nowhere more genuine than in the middle of New York City, although in some ways it's a lot less apparent. The Hudson River Railroad was built along the Hudson River in Manhattan in the mid-1800s, but with the island's growing population and wealth, few developers were willing to sacrifice waterfront property to the railroad tracks, or the shantytowns that sprung up beside them. In 1934, apartment buildings were constructed along the Hudson River Railroad, which was then covered by a steel structure and landscaped exterior. Nearly 40 years later, the line itself had become unprofitable for freight traffic, and only Amtrak service via Penn Station used the passageway. But when Amtrak started to lay new track in 1991, officials made a discovery that should not have surprised them, but it did more than 150 people were living in the pitch-black tunnel, having constructed an ad hoc village in the darkness, complete with rickety shacks and even electricity. Some of them had been living there for 10 years, and some even longer.
Marc Singer's award-winning documentary Dark Days concerns some of the residents of the nameless tunnel community in Manhattan, and it's not a documentary from a film-school grad looking for a sanctimonious first project. Singer a Brit living in New York first became aware of the tunnel community in the mid-1990s and found himself drawn to it, not because of any need or desire to be homeless, but simply first out of curiosity, and then camaraderie. After a few months of making friends with the affable, unconventional, and somewhat dysfunctional denizens, Singer decided he would shoot a film about their living conditions (the plan being that the money made would get everybody out of the tunnel). Among the folks we meet are Greg, a talkative homeless man who claims he first entered the tunnel to get away from the hostility he found on the street, and wound up staying for five years; Ralph, a former addict who has been clean for several years, but first wound up homeless when his wife kicked him out because of his drug use; Tommy, who left home when he could no longer get along with his family and lives with his girlfriend underground, returning bottles for money by day; and Dee, a woman who lost her two children in an accident and has turned to drugs as a means to cope.
For some, being offered the chance to watch a documentary about homeless people may sound as attractive as a college lecture on microeconomics. For those who live in larger cities, homeless people in America are simply a fact of life, and while it's easy to pay lip-service to the overall problem, few average Americans really want to know anybody who's homeless. Normal stereotypes play into this they're on drugs, we tell ourselves, or they're thieves. We figure ol' grandad maybe had it right when he called people bums because they couldn't hold a job. And above all, we don't want to assume responsibility for the problem. We've got problems of our own too, right? But what makes Dark Days so appealing is that it never addresses the social issue of homelessness in an academic manner Singer avoids the role of a social worker advocating more shelters, housing, or funding, and instead simply lets his subjects tell their stories, and thus presents them as very human, and in some ways little different than the above-ground working people they seek to avoid. Former addict Ralph is so sick of crackheads and so afraid of being around crack that he paints "NO CRACK" in foot-tall letters on the side of his shack. Tommy has several dogs, and in order to keep them under control he builds a dog kennel along the side of his hut, where he supervises their feeding to make sure all of them get enough to eat. Despite being homeless, Greg is full of energy and ideas, aware for example that he can get clean food from the trash of a local delicatessen, as they separate their food waste from other garbage ("And it's kosher," he notes). None of these folks really decry homelessness as a social issue, although they often are full of self-loathing over their current predicament. But until they can put their lives back in order, their greatest desire is solitude which is why they are so distressed by Amtrak's eventual eviction notice. "I've got three words for them," says one resident, "And it ain't 'I Love You.' It's 'Leave Us Alone.'" Inevitably, Dark Days will draw a mixture of sympathy and pity from most viewers the best documentaries always have a level of up-front, emotional engagement but perhaps even more so because none of the subjects ever asks for sympathy. They don't even ask to be understood, but after one viewing it will be hard for anybody to see a homeless person in the same nondescript way again.
Palm Pictures' new DVD release of Dark Days features a solid anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with audio in Dolby Digital 5.1. The supplements are extensive, and include a 45-minute behind-the-scenes feature "Dark Days: The Making of a True Independent," with comments from Singer, co-producer Ben Freedman, DJ Shadow (who provides the excellent score), and others; 16 additional segments not included in the film; the theatrical trailer; notes on the Hudson River tunnel; crew notes; and textual follow-ups on 12 of the film's subjects. Dark Days is on the street now.
Box Office: Hollywood has started to emerge from the annual September slump, and three debut films managed to snag the top three spots at the weekend box-office. Grabbing first place with $18 million was Fox's Don't Say a Word, starring Michael Douglas in a psychological thriller that earned heavy promotion from the studio. But it appears plenty of moviegoers were looking to laugh as well, and Paramount's Zoolander, starring Ben Stiller, was good for $15.7 million. Bringing up the rear was Warner's Hearts in Atlantis, but even Antony Hopkins' marquee appeal couldn't propel it much past $9.5 million. (Hearts in Atlantis and Zoolander had generally mixed reviews, while most critics were negative on Don't Say a Word.)
In continuing release, Paramount's Hardball managed to stay right behind the new arrivals, holding down fourth place with $26.3 million after three weekends, while Miramax's The Others remains solidly in the top-five after two months and $87 million to date. Also hanging around is Paramount's Rat Race, which is on a seven-week jaunt and currently stands at $51.4 million. On the way out the door, Disney's plenty happy with The Princess Diaries, which cleared more than $100 million. But the song is not so sweet with Warner's Rock Star, which will finish short of $20 million. And all that glitters is not gold Fox's Glitter, starring Mariah Carey, opened in 11th place last week and then dropped like a brick (and we admit that we're looking forward to the DVD just to see how bad this movie really is).
After a brief delay, Training Day starring Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke will go wide this Friday, along with the romantic comedy Serendipity starring John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale, and the thriller Joy Ride, with Steve Zahn and Paul Walker. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Greg Dorr has posted a review of MGM's re-issued Fiddler on the Roof: Special Edition, while new stuff from the rest of the gang this morning includes Heartbreakers: Special Edition, Along Came a Spider, The Mask of Zorro: Special Edition, Tales from the Darkside: The Movie, Play Misty for Me, The Night Heaven Fell, Plucking the Daisy, Dark Days, Me You Them, Startup.com, and When Worlds Collide. 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 to let you know about this week's street discs.