Thursday, 29 November 2001
On the Block: Our latest round of DVD auction rankings at eBay is in, and Criterion's Salo has returned to the top of the chart with a vengeance, earning a top close of $670.00 for a rare sealed copy after 18 bids. But still doing strong business is the Texas DVD from Russell Crowe's Aussie bar-band Thirty-Odd Foot of Grunts, which managed to snag $465.00 for one lucky seller. Criterion's Sid and Nancy is starting to earn a place as a coveted collectable, good this time around for $149.50, while other Criterion titles such as The Killer, The 400 Blows, This Is Spinal Tap, and Hard Boiled remain chart-regulars. Of note, director Pier Paolo Pasolini is behind four of today's titles, with Salo topping the list and The Arabian Nights, The Gospel According to St. Matthew, and The Canterbury Tales all out of print from Image making their presence known. And it seems that a lot of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans continue to look on eBay for all the latest stuff a Season Three box-set from Australia was good for $94.99.
Here's the highest recent closing prices of rare and out-of-print DVDs from online auctions at eBay:
Quotable: "The search was based on a financially motivated, fabricated claim by an (unnamed) individual. The police did have a search warrant, but they were voluntarily allowed into his home. They seized material from his house, including his vintage kitsch and erotic art and photography collections, which Paul has collected for over 30 years.... At the end of the day, my client will be completely vindicated. The (National Enquirer) story that my client has child pornography is false."
A spokesman for Paul Reubens (aka Pee Wee
"I challenged (Oliver) Stone to reconsider his view of the immolation of the World Trade Center as a 'revolt.' He ignored me. Later he added that this rebellion would soon be joined by the anti-globalization forces of the Seattle protesters. When he was asked by a member of the audience to comment on the applause for the September 11 massacres in Arab streets and camps, he responded that the French Revolution, too, had been greeted by popular enthusiasm.... All the learned and conscientious objections, as well as the silly and sinister ones, boil down to this: Nothing will make us fight against an evil if that fight forces us to go to the same corner as our own government."
Political commentator Christopher Hitchens, writing
Samuel L. Jackson, who reprises his role as Mace
"Why they didn't call it 'The Terminator,' I don't know. People may forget who Arnold is one of these days, but they'll always know 'The Terminator.'"
Sun Valley Resort Marketing Director Jack Sibbach,
"I hope you didn't have to pay a lot for this tidbit of information, because as far as I know I'm regular and I'm not missing anything, period. Unless, of course, you know something I don't."
Demi Moore, in an e-mail to the New York Daily
Coming Attractions: New DVD reviews are on the way, including Almost Famous Untitled: The Bootleg Cut and more. This also will be the last weekend to enter this month's totally free DVD contest for a copy of Planet of the Apes: Special Edition and Planet of the Apes: The Complete TV Series, so be sure to visit our contest page if you haven't yet, and don't forget to take our monthly DVD poll while you're there. We'll be back Monday to announce the winner, and we'll have a new contest up and running as well.
Have a great weekend.
Wednesday, 28 November 2001
Mailbag: Hey kids, it's time once again 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 go:
I can see studios bowing to the lowest common denominator in the next few years. I can see a world much like the early VHS years, where most DVD releases are pan-and-scan only. And that scares me. But I can also see a light at the end of the tunnel.
What lets me sleep at night is thinking about how pissed off the pan-and-scan people are going to be when they are eventually herded onto HDTV. That's right when they pop that Cats & Dogs disc in, they will find that instead of black bars along the top and bottom, they now get much wider gray bars along the sides. They will probably think that their HDTV is "broken", but by the time they own one they won't be able to go back. And those of us with anamorphic DVDs will sit there watching them in full HDTV glory while the pan-and-scan crew heads back out to WalMart to repurchase all their old movies that somehow went bad.
Censored: An Edy Williams line changed from "missionary position" to "customary position"; the F-word; a lesbian sequence. Not censored: A man's head rolling on the ground after beheading (the actual beheading was censored); the tied-up headless body twitching in convulsions; a handgun being placed in a sleeping woman's mouth; and blood spewing out of her mouth after the trigger is pulled.
Censored: An Edy Williams line changed from "missionary position" to "customary position"; the F-word; a lesbian sequence.
Not censored: A man's head rolling on the ground after beheading (the actual beheading was censored); the tied-up headless body twitching in convulsions; a handgun being placed in a sleeping woman's mouth; and blood spewing out of her mouth after the trigger is pulled.
What AMC has done amounts to hypocrisy. They have even censored recent showings of The Godfather. I think that people should contact American Movie Classics and tell them to quit showing censored films, period. Until they come to their senses, I will not watch AMC.
Can we get an "Amen" from the congregation?
All of the supposedly adult humor, the nudge-nudge wink-wink that we adult viewers will enjoy while the kids look passively on, was done by Saturday Night Live about two decades ago. The humor is too broad to be really funny, or else it beats you over the head, screaming HAHAHA look how funny this is.
The main message of the movie seems to be "Don't judge a book by its cover." Simple, basic, Disney. But the Prince in the film is continuously ridiculed for being short. In fact, the movie almost makes the case that the prince is bad because he is short.
The Donkey is manic and not the zany manic, but the annoying, can't-sit-still for-two-seconds, where's-the-joke manic.
Mike Meyer's ogre is not gross enough to be gross, nor is he mean enough to make his transition seem plausible. What's the message here? And what's wrong with wanting to be left alone? Does the entire forest really need to move in next door?
Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" is butchered and slaughtered, and then butchered again.
HAHAHAHAHA he has a BIG castle. God almighty, that's funny!
The one redeeming scene is the French "West Side Story" Robin Hood and his Merry Men. But it is a glimmering candle of brilliance in a storm of derivative hypocrisy.
I guess my biggest complaint is "Why-why-why no additional features??" Sure, director's commentaries take time to put together, but at least throw the public a bone or two. The Hearts of Darkness documentary wouldn't need any cleaning up and would have been an ideal extra for this DVD. For $22.49, Paramount sure made out with this bare-bones disc but next time, I'll be a bit more frugal when it comes to buying their stuff.
We agree that more could have been done to make a definitive DVD from the definitive cut of Apocalypse Now, but we hasten to add that Paramount didn't exactly request that Francis Ford Coppola not add anything to the disc. Rather, the DVD is a Zoetrope product, and we're sure Paramount would have been happy to take anything Coppola's company wanted to add to the mix. After all, they didn't throw a bucket of cold water on The Godfather and its extras.
Nothing to complain about today Michael? And you call yourself a DVD fan?
"Meesa lil' sis'a she craa-azy! Woo-oo!"
We'll get on this right away. Somebody start a memo to George Lucas....
But what do I know? I'm a guy who still likes the mono version of Jaws.
Well, technically speaking we do come to work on Fridays guys. But it's also the day we all get drunk and have a big-ass DVD marathon. We know, we know it's a hard job, but we shall persevere. We do it all for you.
Top of the Pops: Here's the top-selling Action/Adventure DVDs last week from our friends at Ken Crane's DVDPlanet.com. Click the links to read our reviews of these discs:
Tuesday, 27 November 2001
On the Street: It's a short street-list today, but that's OK we'll always take quality over quantity, and there are a few nice discs to be had this week. Columbia TriStar has released a pair of excellent foreign films, The Road Home and Divided We Fall, while catalog fare includes The Owl and the Pussycat with Barbra Streisand and George Segal. Also of note is Criterion's The Last Wave and Home Vision's Spirits of the Dead: Three Tales of the Macabre by Edgar Allan Poe, and after some delay it appears Kino's Der Blaue Engel is now street-legal. Of course, we're sure plenty of folks will be grabbing Fox's Willow: Special Edition this week as for us, Paramount's What's Eating Gilbert Grape is a welcome arrival that's been long overdue. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 26 November 2001
Disc of the Week: The road from novel to motion picture is an often perilous one, especially since the film industry considers the writer the least important part of the movie-making equation. Most filmmakers, it seems, are happy to throw the bulk of the source material out the window as soon as they've gotten their hands on the rights, using the novel's name and essential plot hook, and then discarding the rest of the story (which isn't to say that they necessarily win by traveling the other road, either witness the number of naysayers who are taking Chris Columbus to task for being too literal-minded in his adaptation of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.) However, Swedish director Lasse Hallström so far has devoted most of his English-language film career to creating respectful versions of well-written novels, including adaptations of John Irving's The Cider House Rules, Joanne Harris' Chocolat, E. Annie Proulx' The Shipping News (due later this year), and his beautiful 1993 comedy-drama What's Eating Gilbert Grape. The latter film is an interesting example of how a director can be utterly true to the events in a novel and yet create a completely different underlying feeling from the story while still making an excellent film that stands on its own merits.
Gilbert Grape (Johnny Depp) lives in the small town of Endora, Iowa with his housebound 500-pound mother, two younger sisters, and his retarded kid brother Arnie (Leonardo DiCaprio, who earned an Oscar nomination for the role.) Dad killed himself years ago by hanging himself in the basement; Gilbert has an older brother somewhere but, he says, "he escaped." Because of his family's limitations, Gilbert ends up the default caretaker for Arnie, who needs to be dressed and bathed and has a tendency to scramble up the town's water tower whenever he gets the chance. With a stoic, numbed acceptance of his destiny, Gilbert floats through a life filled with unremarkable sameness: He makes money as a delivery boy for the local grocer and is having an apathetic affair with Betty Carver (Mary Steenburgen), the wife of a local insurance salesman. The biggest news in town news that's driving his boss to distraction is the imminent arrival of a big supermarket promising such exotic innovations as a live lobster tank. "I just want to be a good person," is Gilbert's oft-repeated mantra, a justification for the quietly crushing monotony of his life as he tries to do his best by his mother, his brother, his boss, his lover, and his friends. When Becky (Juliette Lewis) comes to town on vacation with her grandmother, she's new and different and a refreshing change from the routine of life in Endora so, naturally, Gilbert falls in love with her. Their romance gives Gilbert a glimmer of hope that life offers choices and changes, and his awakening is the catalyst for change that reverberates through his small world.
Where Peter Hedges' darkly funny novel What's Eating Gilbert Grape gave readers Gilbert's story as seen through the character's wry, bored eyes, Hallström chose to make a more lyrical, languid film with an almost innocent lack of cynicism. Technically, the story is still the same Hedges wrote the screenplay, and the events of the novel are faithfully put up on the screen. But whether Hallström never read the sardonic novel (a distinct possibility) or reading the book/screenplay in his secondary language gave him a different take on the material (also a possibility), the entire feel of Gilbert Grape differs enormously from the book, which is not a bad thing. We may not relate fully to Gilbert's inner life, nor get some of Hedges's intentional humor, but Hallström's direction evokes the quiet beauty and tedium of Gilbert's unremarkable existence. However, Hallström's most notable achievement is how well he treats his secondary characters: Gilbert's mother (Darlene Cates) is a sympathetic figure rather than the butt of obvious humor. Once "the most beautiful woman in Endora," according to Gilbert, she has become an embarrassment to her children yet through their interactions we see the deep love that they have for her. Similarly, younger brother Arnie's behavior is infuriating and the task of caring for him is overwhelming, but DiCaprio's incredible performance gets across his sweetness so well that we completely understand Gilbert's devotion. The film's only off-note is Juliette Lewis, as there's a notable lack of chemistry between her and Depp (which could be either Hallström's intent or a result of her idiosyncratic performance). Gilbert Grape isn't a film for everyone, and it doesn't fall neatly into any of the usual comedy/drama/melodrama categories. But Depp shines with his usual underrated competence, and DiCaprio's star-making performance definitely makes it worth another look.
Paramount's new DVD release offers a vivid anamorphic transfer (1.85:1), and the colors of those rolling Iowa landscapes and evocative sunsets appear both crisp and saturated. Audio is available in Dolby 2.0 Surround, and English subtitles are on board. Regrettably there are no extra features besides the theatrical trailer, which seems like a missed opportunity for a such a marvelous film. But for those who like to see it at least once a year, it's a pleasant item. What's Eating Gilbert Grape is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: Three new films arrived for the Thanksgiving weekend, but none could top the one-two punch of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and Monsters Inc.. Everybody's favorite boy wizard remains at the top of the chart for a second week with $58.5 million over the past three days, and the Warner film also has snapped the five-day Thanksgiving record with $83.5 million (beating out Toy Story 2). Harry's cume now stands at a phenomenal $188 million in just ten days, and it likely will break the double-century by mid-week. Debuting in third was Universal's Spy Game with Robert Redford and Brad Pitt, which was good for $30 million since its Wednesday debut, Fox's Black Knight starring Martin Lawrence grabbed $16 million in the same period, and Buena Vista's ski-bum comedy Out Cold had a modest $6.9 million in receipts.
In continuing release, Buena Vista's Monsters, Inc. would be the toast of the holidays if everyone wasn't so wild about Harry, but we're sure the folks at Pixar aren't grumbling with $192.8 million after one month. Fox's Shallow Hal is going strong with $55 million to date, while Paramount's Domestic Disturbance and Sony's The One have cleared $40 million apiece. And on the way to DVD prep is Warner's Training Day, which will give Denzel Washington a $75 million finish.
Owen Wilson and Gene Hackman hit the theaters this Friday in Behind Enemy Lines, while Texas Rangers stars James Van Der Beek, Dylan McDermott, and Ashton Kutcher. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Alexandra DuPont has posted a sneak preview of Fox's Willow: Special Edition, while D.K. Holm recently looked at That Obscure Object of Desire: The Criterion Collection. New reviews from the rest of the gang today include Made: Special Edition, The Sopranos: Season Two, The Owl and the Pussycat, The Road Home, Pootie Tang, Divided We Fall, What's Eating Gilbert Grape, and St. Elmo's Fire. 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.
Wednesday, 21 November 2001
Dimming the lights: We're off for the holiday break, and in addition to the traditional turkey dinner and football games we'll be spinning some new DVDs, which means more reviews are on the way next week. For now we'll leave you to enjoy this Thanksgiving weekend, which celebrates our great nation, our close friends, and our good fortunes.
But, perhaps most of all, this holiday is about family.
Commentary Clips: On The Godfather: "...When Paramount Pictures saw the rushes of Marlon Brando they were very very upset. They thought that he was mumbling and that his acting wasn't good. This was really the scene where it looked like I was gonna get fired. You know, I don't even remember what it was they didn't care for, but I knew it was a sort of a rallying call. It was in the middle of the week and some of my friends said, 'They're trying to get another director to replace you.'
"Now one thing about a movie company in a little tip I'll give to all the directors out there is they'll never fire you midweek. They'll never fire you on a Wednesday. They will always wait until the weekend to fire you, because in their minds they feel that there will be able to be a transition and that the new director will come on a Monday and there'll be no loss of time. So I suggested on the Wednesday, 'Why can't I go and I'll reshoot the scene with Marlon if you don't like it. It was his first big scene, and even though he's such a great man, he's nervous about playing the role, and maybe he didn't quite have the energy that he would have. Let me go shoot it again.' And they said, 'No, no. That's all right, that's all right.' And I knew that was another sign that I was gonna be fired, because I knew they didn't like it, and if they were telling me not to go up we were just shooting downstairs, we could've just shot up there and done it again in like a day that they must've planned to let the new director do it.
"So on that Wednesday, hearing the rumors that I was going to be fired, I myself fired four of who, in my opinion, were the traitors in my midst. It was sort of like The Godfather. I fired the assistant director. I fired a number of people as a preemptory strike that Wednesday. And it threw Paramount and everyone into a total dither, because they were going to fire me that weekend and here I had gone and fired three/four people, and I went right upstairs and I re-shot the scene with Marlon Brando a second time."
* * *
"I chose to work with Nino Rota to write the score and the studio was not very comfortable with this choice. When I finally brought back the music that Maestro Rota had done and put it in the picture, the studio hated it. (Producer) Bob Evans hated the music, and he said it would never stay in. You know, he had just done a movie called Love Story in which the music was very popular, so he considered himself quite an expert on that and we were at a stalemate. I kept saying to him, 'Well, you can't take the music out. You can fire me and get another director, and then order that other director to take the music out. But you'll have to fire me to take it out' This was a total bluff. I don't know where I came up with that idea, but he seemed to accept it."
* * *
On The Godfather Part II: "I wasn't so much in that, 'Oh,' you know, 'Italian Americans are unfairly treated ' I feel that there are segments in all ethnic groups and national groups that have their geniuses and their great poets and writers, and their gangsters and dictators. So I somehow personally felt more confident about Italians. I said, 'Gee, you know, Italians are among the greatest artists, and musicians, and thinkers, and statesmen, and so many positive things, that the fact that there are some gangsters in there doesn't seem to me all that significant.'"
* * *
On The Godfather Part III: "I've always said, you know whether a man is on his way up or on his way down. I, myself, you know, in years past, could say 'Gee, you know, I clearly am so full of anxious passion to do these movies. I'm certainly on the way up.' And just as I record this, equally, I'm on the way down, because I don't have the passion for the kinds of things that you must do in movies to have them be popular today. I feel the only thing that could give me that passion is if I would be allowed to try to explore something new. But to be condemned to make the same movie over and over again.... It's sort of like Jean-Paul Sartre; it's sort of like somebody's idea of hell that you have a medium, the cinema, which maybe we've touched 8 percent of what this language is, and what it can do, and to be told by the people who own it, who make money with it, who buy jewelry for their wives with it, that, 'No, you can't, anymore, experiment with it. You can't take it into new territory. You must do the same thing over and over again.' That is a bitter, bitter pill to swallow."
* * *
"It's interesting that there are many things that my power and youth and passion and clout got me through in Godfather II, say when actors would say, 'Oh, well, I'm not doing it unless you pay me so much money, or I won't participate,' that I was able to very nimbly avoid the problems. In this third Godfather, I didn't have the power anymore, so when I said 'Oh, it has to be called The Death of Michael Corleone,' which puts the whole film in a totally different context, or if Robert Duvall told me 'Oh, well, if I'm going to be in the film I want to be paid as much as Al Pacino,' or whatever he told me, I don't even remember, but I no longer had the persuasiveness or the they didn't 'fear me,' to use a phrase from the movie so I ultimately lost Robert Duvall very late in the game. He was very pivotal to me because he was a brother, he was really from the first movie in the family and I greatly reduced the role of that lawyer. My idea was that Robert Duvall was the character who had become very close to the charities and the Vatican and who had, as a brother, brought to Michael Corleone this opportunity to work with the Vatican Bank. And when I lost that I did a very fast rewrite and tried to approach it a different way, making the character of the lawyer less a family character and more kind of like the lawyers I had met. But when you lose somebody in your family, to me it's the loss that keeps on losing. You don't lose them once; you lose them every day from then on, it's over and over, because everything is different than it would've been had you had that son or father or brother, and, in this case, losing Robert Duvall to play Tom Hagen in this new modern story was a profound loss to me and to this movie."
* * *
"You have to realize that Sophia had, by now, become a cause célèbre the publicity of a father who had put his daughter in a movie, seemingly irresponsibly. But my standpoint is that we only put Sophia in the role because the day before we were to shoot it with Winona Ryder, Winona Ryder dropped out, and there was absolutely nothing left to shoot without the character of Mary because we had been stalling, waiting for a month. The studio wanted me to close down and was, like, sending me lists of young women wonderful actresses like Madeline Stowe and other women who were the talented beautiful actresses of the day. But I very much wanted an 18-year-old, someone that I believe could be a girl like Sophia. So, pressed with the pressure from the studio to want to stop shooting for three weeks to search for a more conventional kind of actress, I just basically exercised my right to put someone in the film that I thought would be best. That decision was then vilified and became a story in itself, but it's a decision that I've never regretted, and as I watch the film here and I get to see Sophia and how real she was, just like the kind of kid she was supposed to be, I'm happy I made that decision. Although Sophia is, of course, now a woman of 29, and a successful director, it's great for me to have this record of her when she was a kid. And even though it was rough on her, and to this day, follows her, I think, very unjustly, I'm thrilled to have this great home movie that I can look at her as I remember her at that age."
Francis Ford Coppola,
Tuesday, 20 November 2001
On the Street: It's the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, and that means just about everybody has DVDs they want you to buy for your long holiday weekend, not least of which being Fox, who have gone totally bananas with both this year's Planet of the Apes: Special Edition and the 1974 Planet of the Apes: The Complete TV Series. Meanwhile, Warner has released new versions of Dirty Harry and The Outlaw Josey Wales, the complete Dirty Harry Collection, and a documentary on the man from Carmel, Out of the Shadows. Fans of Francis Ford Coppola will want to find the extended Apocalypse Now Redux, although we say it would have been nice if the director would have waited a bit and gotten some extra features on this one. However, features are not lacking on Criterion's releases of Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca and Luis Buñuel's That Obscure Object of Desire, and we understand that the Jean-Luc Godard films Breathless and Les Carabiniers have arrived from Winstar after some delay. If you're in the holiday spirit, now's the time to get Universal's The Grinch; if Dr. Who is your bag, three new titles are on the street from Anchor Bay. And MGM's current crop of "Midnite Movies" is a cheez-whiz feast with The Angry Red Planet, Empire of the Ants, War Gods of the Deep, At the Earth's Core, The People that Time Forgot, and I Bury the Living. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 19 November 2001
Disc of the Week: By the late 1930s, Alfred Hitchcock was not only the most successful filmmaker in Britain, with such popular hits as The 39 Steps and The Lady Vanishes to his credit, but he also had earned the reputation in Hollywood as the most talented of all foreign directors. As such, it was inevitable that Tinseltown came calling. Most major studios and producers had made overtures clear or implied to Hitch in the years leading up to 1939, but in the end Hitch decided to sign a contract with high-powered producer David O. Selznick (Gone With The Wind), and for a simple reason: Selznick had a lot of clout. The fact was that, while Hitch never really was fascinated with Hollywood, he had little fondness for the British film industry, with its small studios and limited production budgets, and even less regard for the elitist British press, which did not consider the cinema an art form to be taken seriously. Selznick offered Hitch a modern studio and deep pockets, in addition to high-profile projects. Believe it or not, the very first project Selznick had in mind for his new British talent was to be a Titanic movie, but eventually Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca was chosen a film that would go on to win an Oscar for Best Picture and get Hitchcock his first Best Director nomination.
Du Maurier's moody, gothic novel Rebecca has often been compared to the works of Charlotte Bronte, in particular for its investigation of feminine identity. Joan Fontaine stars in the 1940 film adaptation as the heroine (a character who never is explicitly named), a meek young girl who earns her living as a "paid companion" to a boorish American socialite (Florence Bates). But on a trip to Monte Carlo she unexpectedly crosses paths with the mysterious, abrupt Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier), a widower with a shady past. A whirlwind romance has the pair married in short order, after which they return to Maxim's English estate, Manderley a house that seems to have as much personality, and as many secrets, as the characters themselves. Maxim's bride is aware that the first Mrs. de Winter, Rebecca, died in a tragic boating accident, but what she can't be prepared for is Manderley's head housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson), a servant who joined the staff when Rebecca married Maxim, and who has become the intractable caretaker of Rebecca's memory. The conflict between the new Mrs. de Winter and Mrs. Danvers simmers nearly to the boiling point, until a shipwreck reveals hidden secrets about Rebecca's death and the secrets Maxim has been hiding all along.
Despite Rebecca's success at the Academy Awards, it was a film Hitchcock tended to downplay in interviews. "It's not really a Hitchcock picture," the director told François Truffaut many years later. "The story is old-fashioned; there was a whole school of feminine literature at the period, and though I'm not against it, the fact is that the story is lacking in humor." It's true that strains of dark comedy inform Hitch's most popular films, but Rebecca holds a greater place in the director's oeuvre than he was willing to suggest. In part, the picture is a perfect transition piece for Hitch, forming a bridge between his British and American careers with American production qualities but a predominantly English cast. Additionally, while most of the typically Hitchcockian humor is confined to the first third of the film and the bourgeoisie-American Mrs. Van Hopper, the remainder concerns one of Hitch's favorite themes the idea of how the dead can influence the living, often with chaotic or tragic results. Such ideas are not to be found in Hitch's British films, which tended to be lively adventures, but after Rebecca he would go on to make Spellbound, Vertigo, Psycho, and Marnie, all of which contain variations on Rebecca's ghostly motifs. A showcase for Laurence Olivier's austere acting style, the film also proved to be Joan Fontaine's breakout hit, and both earned Oscar nominations. However, the most unforgettable character is the foreboding Mrs. Danvers, and Judith Anderson's trance-like performance has since been embedded in Hitchcockian lore (helped in part by Hitch's decision to shoot her mostly in stasis she rarely is seen entering or leaving a room and seems to glide on air when she walks). And Rebecca's fans may have included none other than Orson Welles, who played Maxim de Winter on radio in 1938. In a matter of months the young director was shooting his first film, Citizen Kane, which also concerns an investigation of the dead, a desolate old mansion, and how one's deepest secrets can be concealed or cleansed by fire.
Criterion's new two-disc DVD release of Rebecca replaces the previous Anchor Bay disc, and with several improvements. Anchor Bay's disc is a bare-bones affair, but far from worthless, as the source-print is pleasant and the audio is clear in monaural DD 2.0. However, Criterion's transfer offers a new digital restoration, and some of the collateral wear found on Anchor Bay's disc (particularly around reel-changes) has been cleaned up, while audio is placed firmly in the center-channel as DD 1.0 this version probably looks and sounds as good as the original film on opening night. The wide array of supplements includes a commentary by Hitchcock/Selznick scholar Leonard J. Leff (recorded for the 1990 Laserdisc) as well as an isolated music and effects track on Disc One, while Disc Two features a vast array of notes and still photos on the production process; three complete radio broadcasts featuring Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater, Ronald Coleman and Ida Lupino, and Olivier and Vivian Leigh; original screen-tests with actresses Fontaine, Vivian Leigh, Anne Baxter, Loretta Young, and Margaret Sullavan; costume tests with Fontaine; correspondence between Hitch, Selznick, and the Hays Office; additional memos from Selznick; a look at the creation of Rebecca's distinctive handwriting; the script for a deleted scene; an audio excerpt from Hitchcock's Truffaut interviews; audio interviews with Fontaine and Judith Anderson; the re-issue trailer; publicity materials; and footage from the 1940 Academy Awards (Hitch mercilessly upstages Fontaine for the camera). And if that's not enough, an enclosed 22-page booklet features liner notes by Hitchcock scholar Robin Wood. Rebecca: The Criterion Collection is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: To nobody's surprise, Warner's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone left moviegoers spellbound over the pre-Thanksgiving weekend, racking up a record-smashing $93.5 million in just three days and leaving the rest of the pack far behind (the remaining films in the top ten put together only earned approximately two-thirds of Harry's gross). Among the many records to fall were the previous three-day debut held by The Lost World ($72.1 million), the best opening in any November, the best-ever opening for a Warner film, and pretty much all other benchmarks including the widest break in history, with 3,672 locations and a whopping 8,200 screens. It's unknown if Harry will rack up Titanic-sized numbers in North America and abroad, but it's certain to become one of the top-grossing films of all time. The film earned mixed-to-positive critical reviews, but excellent feedback in the moviegoer polls indicates it could do a lot of repeat business.
Only one film dared to counter-program Harry Potter, Lions Gate's hip-hop comedy The Wash, which opened in eighth place with $3 million. In continuing release, Buena Vista's Monsters, Inc. is the other monster hit of November, now standing at $156.7 million after three weeks, while Fox's Shallow Hal has cracked $40 million in its second frame. But all other titles are slipping away with modest numbers, failing to break $10 million over the weekend, and off the chart is Sony's Riding in Cars with Boys, which will finish just above $30 million far short of its $47 million budget.
Headed to theaters this Wednesday for the long holiday weekend are Spy Game with Robert Redford and Brad Pitt, as well as the Martin Lawrence comedy Black Knight. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Damon Houx has posted his take on Fox's Planet of the Apes: Special Edition, Betsy Bozdech recently looked at Warner's Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory: Special Edition, and Alexandra DuPont actually dug through nearly 14 hours of bad '70s TV to review Planet of the Apes: The Complete TV Series (hey she volunteered to do it). Meanwhile, new stuff from the rest of the team this morning includes The Grinch: Collector's Edition, America's Sweethearts, The Matrix Revisited, Osmosis Jones, Strange Invaders, The Dogs of War, Rebecca: The Criterion Collection, The X-Files: Season Four, and Barbie in the Nutcracker. 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, 15 November 2001
Coming Attractions: We have plenty of new DVD reviews on the way, including Planet of the Apes, The Matrix Revisited, and more. Meanwhile, if you haven't entered our totally free DVD contest for a copy of Fox's Planet of the Apes, 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.
Quotable: "There was no mention of content. That was not the subject. Content was off the table. Directors, writers, producers, studios will determine the kind of pictures they choose to make and the compelling stories they want to tell."
MPAA chief Jack Valenti, speaking to the press
"It was easy to do and it was fun. We just wanted to do something. I think the people that we talked to on the phone thought that all the money was going to charity. My guess would be that if 90 percent was going to the people and 10 percent to administration no one would complain. If it was 80/20 some would complain, but around 70/30 is a bit much. In the future I won't be doing these until I know all the money is going to the people."
Kurt Russell, expressing disappointment over
Steve Martin, who was Stanley Kubrick's original
"I know he won't believe it, but I truly think that Jack Black is a really sexy guy. Guys never want to believe this, but a sense of humor truly is sexy to women."
Gwyneth Paltrow on her Shallow Hal co-star.
"I'd heard these horrendous, and actually quite amusing, stories about how some directors wanted to adapt the book, like changing the locale to a Hollywood high school.... (But) to destroy the foundation of this world and the characters would alienate our audience."
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone director
Wednesday, 14 November 2001
The answer is "C," Mark. No mystery meat here, that Criterion disc is code-free as are most.
Of course, being in the UK you're probably used to the region-code shuffle, as many, many Brit DVD fans have altered (or "chipped") players that will allow them to order Region 1 DVDs from U.S. online retailers and enjoy pure digital refreshment at home and often while the film has just opened in UK theaters. But it's important to note that region-coding was created not by DVD hardware manufacturers or small DVD producers, but rather the major Hollywood studios, who want to protect their overseas theatrical revenues from being cannibalized by fresh DVD releases. As such, it's very much in their business interests to slap region-coding on every new release, and by coding their older catalog titles (for films that, obviously, are not about to make £20,000 on an opening weekend at Leicester Square), the studios ensure that they can sell overseas rights to their catalog holdings while keeping the North American rights secure (or vice-versa).
Such is how it works in L.A. But Criterion the small, Chicago-based label that first made its mark in the days of Laserdisc does not produce new films for the theatrical market, and the very little revenue they earn from theatrical tickets comes from repertory tours (such as the recent showings of Gimme Shelter before the DVD arrived). It is not in Criterion's business interests to slap region-codes on anything. It is, however, in their interests to make sure every DVD fan on earth has the ability to buy their products. So, with exceptions, Criterion creates code-free discs. And in virtually every instance those exceptions are due to licensing arrangements, when Criterion releases a beefed-up version of a title held by a major studio and said studio demands region-coding be included. All Toho films on Criterion (with the exception of the original Seven Samurai pressing) are Region 1, as Toho prefers to control their video products in Japan. All Buena Vista titles, including Chasing Amy, Armageddon, and Rushmore are also R2 no-no's. However, Criterion's Brazil, under license from Universal, is code-free, so its not a hard-and-fast rule.
How can you tell for sure? If you are able to look at a copy of something you have not yet bought, see if the distinctive "1" numeral is among the tiny logos at the bottom of the back panel. If there is no Region 1 symbol and in fact no numeral at all the disc is code-free. We have not been able to find any definitive info for each and every release on Criterion's official site, but when in doubt you can always visit Usenet, a Web-based DVD board, or even eBay.com, and try to find information on specific titles.
By following these simple steps, your Shrek DVD should be in all but pristine condition (there will still be an outline/impression of where the sticker square was, but you can't help that).
Thanks Chad. We're just as miffed as you that DreamWorks dabbed rubber cement on their Shrek keep-cases, and we're sure lots of folks are wondering why buying a "collectable" two-disc set means getting a set of sticky fingers as well. For those who don't have lighter fluid to fill up their trusty Zippos, we should note that rubbing alcohol works well too, as well as some retail products designed to remove pesky adhesive residues. Also, we think the "impression" left by the sticker is actually a thin base-layer of adhesive plastic, which might be removed with extra-special care. (Or at least your humble editor found himself absent-mindedly picking at it yesterday with his fingernails, and then a razor-blade, until disturbed from his blissful reverie by members of the DVD Journal staff, who insisted he continue with the team meeting.)
Bye for now.
Tuesday, 13 November 2001
On the Street: It's a relatively quiet Tuesday on the DVD street this week, but Warner has now made amends for their original full-frame Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory SE by releasing the awaited widescreen version, although we are a bit more fond of two Warner catalog titles out today, Irving Rapper's 1942 Now, Voyager starring Bette Davis, Paul Henreid, and Claude Rains, and George Cukor's 1933 Little Women with Katherine Hepburn. Paramount aims to score big with their features-packed Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, while Columbia TriStar's romantic comedy America's Sweethearts will find its share of fans. For those looking for something unusual, Andrew Dominik's Chopper is a great (albeit violent) spin, and Home Vision has a treat for Brigitte Bardot lovers as the 1973 Don Juan (or if Don Juan Were a Woman) has gone digital. Nothing catch your eye? Don't worry, because if you have extra money to spend, Fox's seven-disc X-Files: The Complete Fourth Season will do some damage to your wallet. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 12 November 2001
Disc of the Week: One of the great thrills of cinema is that the audience gets to vicariously experience things they normally wouldn't want or get to do. From Peckinpah's dusty wild bunch to Hannibal Lecter, several of our greatest cinematic icons have dark intents something Alfred Hitchcock understood implicitly when he surveyed the dangers of voyeurism in Rear Window. As the audience (Hitch would call us "voyeurs"), we really love watching the baddies weave their web of crime and deceit. But even if we want them for us to succeed, we also want them to be punished. And that's why Andrew Dominik's Chopper (2000) is such a fascinating movie. Though at times it's disturbingly violent and grotesque (this one is not for the squeamish), it's entirely compelling because Mark Brandon "Chopper" Read is a real person, a sociopath with a gift for storytelling offering not only a fascinating portrait of a bad guy, but of a baddie who knows you like hearing his violent stories, and a baddie who may or may not be pulling your leg.
Eric Bana stars as "Chopper" Read in a story that follows the events of Read's life from 1978 to 1986, as taken from his autobiographical books (including No Tears for a Tough Guy and How to Shoot Friends and Influence People ). Beginning from his Australian prison cell in 1991 as Read watches himself being interviewed on television, the film takes a self-reflective journey through the liveliest stories of his life: In 1978, Read's in jail for kidnapping a judge in an attempt to help his drug-addled pal Jimmy (Simon Lyndon), but when he kills a tough guy to gain prison turf, Read becomes a wanted man. Fearing that he'll be killed by his fellow inmates, he's stabbed by Jimmy before earning a transfer by slicing off his own ears (the act that got him his descriptive nickname). Chopper then cuts to 1986, where Read is out of the joint and working as a rat for the cops, but also trying to re-integrate himself to life in Australia outside of prison. But, due to his prison background and his own emotional instability Read can't get along with anybody, in particular Neville Bartos (Vince Colosimo), a drug dealer whom Read shot before going to prison, and old girlfriend Tanya (Kate Beahan), who is now a prostitute. Read also is pretty sure that junked-up Jimmy, on the street and perhaps working for Neville, wants him dead. He weaves through all their worlds, and though he can be a friendly, loquacious fellow a pretty smart cookie, in fact at times he just snaps. And when "Chopper" snaps, people get hurt. Badly.
In prison and being stabbed by his best friend Jimmy, "Chopper" Read remains calm and instructs in an even tone, "If you keep stabbing me, you're going to kill me." It's these oft-kilter moments than make Chopper so fascinating despite its subject-matter as the film is entirely an account of Read's life by himself (and he's a born exaggerator if there ever was one), we can't be entirely sure how much of what's on screen is true. And yet, while we may remain unsure, we get a strong portrait of Read's manic depression, a condition that means he can stab someone repeatedly, ten seconds later apologize for it and offer legal advice, and then hours later deny that he had anything to do with it and all with equal sincerity. Read enjoys being an outlaw figure, one romanticized by popular fiction, and it is that personality that anchors the film. He seems completely divorced from himself, but simultaneously his existence is meaningless without an audience. In a way it echoes the Kris Kristofferson lyric in Taxi Driver about Travis Bickle being "Partly truth and partly fiction / A walking contradiction." But Bickle is imaginary, an invention of cinema. Read is a real person, and it is for the viewer to sort through his tall tales. If nothing else, Chopper is a calling card for star Eric Bana, who gives a breakout performance the likes of which hasn't been seen since fellow Aussie Russell Crowe appeared in Romper Stomper (1992), and it's no surprise that Bana has since been cast in high-profile Hollywood projects (including as Bruce Banner in Ang Lee's The Incredible Hulk). Dominik's direction is similar to that of Danny Boyle it's all very well lit and there's quite of bit of flash behind the camera, but such a technique only heightens our distrust of Read. With a score by Mick Harvey (of both The Birthday Party and Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds), Chopper is a journey through insanity from a guy who knows what we want to hear and who readily admits that he would "never let the truth get in the way of a good yarn."
Image Entertainment's new DVD release of Chopper is fully loaded the film is presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) with audio in DTS, Dolby Digital 5.1, and Dolby 2.0 Surround. The lack of subtitles may cause difficulty for some viewers, but on board are two commentary tracks, one by director Dominik, who is informative and has a deep understanding of his material, and the second by "Chopper" Read himself, who seems to go along with most of the events as fact. Also included are five deleted scenes, the theatrical trailer, and a 17-minute documentary on Read meeting Eric Bana and surprise telling some stories. Chopper hits the street tomorrow.
Box Office: The holiday movie season is well underway, and Buena Vista's Monsters, Inc. is gobbling up everything in sight holding the top spot for the second week in a row, the Pixar film snagged another $46.2 million over the weekend and now has a blistering 10-day total of $122.8 million. New films this weekend included Fox's Shallow Hal, starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Jack Black, which had a successful $23.2 million debut, while Warner's Heist, a new David Mamet film with Gene Hackman and Danny DeVito, had a more modest break with an even $8 million.
In continuing release, last week's debuts The One and Domestic Disturbance saw expected drop-offs, with Jet Li landing in third place with $31.9 million so far while John Travolta is in fourth with $26 million. Universal's K-PAX, starring Kevin Spacey and Jeff Bridges, has crossed $40 million, and New Line's Life as a House has entered the chart after a limited run, and now has nearly $5 million to its credit. But out the door is DreamWorks' The Last Castle, which will finish with less than $20 million after one month.
No need to guess what will be the top film this time next week Warner's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone goes wide this Friday. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: D.K. Holm has posted a special sneak-preview of Paramount's Apocalypse Now Redux, while Betsy Bozdech recently dug through DreamWorks' two-disc Shrek. New reviews from the rest of the gang today include The Remains of the Day: Special Edition, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Dumbo: 60th Anniversary Edition, Of Mice and Men (1992), Funny Girl, The Age of Innocence, Now Voyager, Le Professionnel, Anzio, Chopper, Guadalcanal Diary, Wing and a Prayer, and Replicant all can be found 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 news on this week's street discs.
Thursday, 8 November 2001
Coming Attractions: We're off to dig through a fresh stack of DVDs, and upcoming reviews include Shrek, The Remains of the Day, and lots more. Have a great weekend gang back on Monday.
Commentary Clips: "It was then, the underground movie circuit was fueled and paid for by drugs not drugs like today though, people weren't drug addicts .They were just insane from pot and LSD really. There was a war going on in the country, there was a 'us versus them' about culture, about everything. And, you know, on weekends you go to good riot in New Haven not a rave, you go to a riot. You get there they give you like gas masks, they give you stuff to put on when you got tear-gassed, and everyone was cute and everyone had sex all the time at riots. And having sex at riots is the most fun of youth, and that's why when they had all these new riots in Seattle it really touched my heart. I mean they're against world trade, and they're all wearing Nike's shoes. But still, they looked good. It's a good look."
* * *
(On the infamous final shot:) "How can I tell this story in a new way? (laughs) We just waited and waited and waited. (The dog) wouldn't go. Somebody I can't remember who, gave the dog an enema with a hair applicator and dye bottle and he sort of went right there, and Divine said 'That little thing?' And I said 'Hit it, go for it!' And he did it once.
"Later that night they all got together and Divine said 'Oh God, I'm gonna get sick from this!' And they were all smoking pot and hash and they called Hopkins hospital and Divine pretended he was a mother and said 'I have a retarded child and he just ate dog shit' and they said 'feces,' and they said 'Well, he'll be all right, but he could get the white worm, check for that.' And they all howled on in a hashish frenzy."
Quotable: "We shipped more than 15 million combined VHS and DVD units (of Shrek) and are already swamped with reorders. And we are now allocating DVD orders because we just can't make them fast enough to meet demand."
Universal Studios Home Video President Craig
George Clooney, in a letter to the Fox News
"People were less cognizant of (the impact of guns) back then in '81 or '82. Most people are not going to notice, except maybe the purists, but the heart and soul of the picture is there."
Steven Spielberg's publicist Marvin Levy, on the
"On one hand, I'm hitting my own stride now. On the other hand, I'll tell you truthfully, I'm completely bored with myself in films.... I figure I've got about five strong years, seven tops. I am still at a viable age, but I'm hitting the cusp.''
Brad Pitt, in an interview with Vanity Fair
"(Big celebrities would) go to the opening of an envelope any big occasion, they're always there. Anything for exposure. We can do without them.... What I hate about our business today is the elitism. So-called stars ride in private jets and have bodyguards and dietitians and beauticians. Tom Cruise is a midget, and he has eight bodyguards, all 6' 10", which makes him even more diminutive. It's an absolute joke. Actors are unimportant. They leave nothing behind them. Who will remember Madonna 10 years from now? Who will remember me? We're utterly unimportant."
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone star
Wednesday, 7 November 2001
Mailbag: Wednesday is the day we get to our reader mail here at The DVD Journal, and while we aren't able to personally respond to all of your letters, we'd like to let you know that we read everything we get. Here's a few reader comments from this week:
I think this shows that this debate has started to become coarse. The truth is that DVD is now becoming a mainstream medium, and the people who originally embraced it, the true videophiles, will soon be in the minority. What that means is that studios are going to start increasing their output of pan-and-scan copies of movies. And that should be alright with us, as long as they give us an alternative.
The general public is perfectly happy with how movies look on HBO and Showtime, and how they've always looked on the VHS tapes that they've bought and rented. In fact, many people I talk to actually believe that the black bars are hiding some of the picture, and though I try to educate them, the simple fact remains that they don't like all that black. These are parents with children, older people, folks with 19-and 25-inch TV sets. As DVD lovers, we insist on OAR releases, but we refuse to recognize that plenty of people out there would simply much rather have pan-and-scan.
This is not an issue of "we're right and they're wrong, so they have to learn." These preferences are personal opinions. I would much rather see the director's original vision on screen. But my sister would much rather see a larger picture fill up her screen. Who am I to say that they're wrong for that?
Moreover, there is a truth that most DVD fanatics are unwilling to speak that a properly panned and scanned 1.85:1 movie that was shot in recent times loses very little of its original picture. I've done this comparison many times with Jurassic Park, American Pie, Clerks, Running Scared, Sleepless in Seattle, etc. Now, I still would prefer the OAR, but I certainly can't quibble with someone who wants their screen filled up, at the expense of very little picture (or in the case of open-matte transfers, which adds information to the top and bottom of the screen).
We will have to accept that studios will be increasing their P&S output in the coming months and years. And that stores like Wal-Mart and the like will likely be stocking only P&S, because that's what their customers want. It may start to become a little more difficult to find the OAR copies of movies, but they will be out there the recent success of the Willy Wonka petition should keep studios honest for awhile. Even before DVD, the studios were increasing their output of widescreen VHS releases. They understand that there will always be a small but fanatic market for OAR.
Though Universal has pulled some cheesy stunts lately, theirs is the example that should be followed when it comes to mixing P&S with OAR releases they were very successful reaching the largest possible audience with the Jurassic Park and Mummy movies. The key is to maximize the number of people who can enjoy their movies on DVD however they like to watch them. I feel bad for N.G.'s niece she probably couldn't care less about OAR, but loses out on a gift because of her uncle's obsession.
Thanks for writing Chris. At this point, it's pretty clear that pan-and-scan is a reality when it comes to high-profile DVD releases especially family titles and while we agree that the format must include a pan-and-scan option in order to fully dominate home video, the idea still gives us pause. Your own editor, teaching Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness many years ago, thought it would be a great idea to show Apocalypse Now to his class of college freshmen as well. And what better excuse to finally buy a nice widescreen videotape of Apocalypse Now? But after looking all over for a widescreen tape (this was before people bought such things online, and before DVD), the only local retailer who carried a copy wanted $30.00 for it. And it was the only game in town.
Why the premium? On one hand, the tape shouldn't have cost any more than the pan-and-scan Apocalypse Now release, which was something like $18.00. It's a tape, fer chrissakes. But then we have to factor in the cost of creating a widescreen transfer, and the limited market that existed at that time for widescreen VHS consumers. The tape simply cost more because it was not a wide release and could not be profitable by volume alone.
Looking forward to the next several years of DVD, it's unlikely that widescreen transfers will disappear in fact, with educated DVD consumers and the power of volume online retail, we're pretty sure there will always be a market for those gorgeous, inky black bars. We will see some DVD producers releasing both widescreen and pan-and-scan options on the same disc, while others will opt for separate releases (as Universal has done). But what we aren't so sure about is how easy it will be to get widescreen releases on the street, especially when the letterbox-haters outnumber us. Frankly, we suspect some larger retailers are not stocking widescreen DVDs simply to avoid confusion, complaints, and product returns. And if future demographic info (as we suspect) shows that widescreen fans have deeper wallets, we can't be sure there won't be a "premium" price attached to widescreen discs, as has been done on VHS in the past.
The future is murky indeed. And quite frankly, every $125.00 DVD player sold makes it that much murkier.
As to his comment: "I can't remember how many times both tracks simply repeated the dialogue from the film as it was being said," for Ebert's commentary, the answer is zero. As to: "Was there no one from the BFI available?": Why is the BFI better than Ebert, who has presented the film with commentary at universities to much acclaim? And why the BFI? It's not a British film. As to his comment: " How about Robert Wise?": Well, he's 87 years old, so you probably have the same chance of getting him to do a commentary as you do of getting Billy Wilder (95 years old). "Or William Alland?" He died four years ago, so a commentary there is unlikely.
And as to "Was there no writer or critic who could've recorded a comprehensive and informative track to sum up the historical importance and sheer entertainment brilliance of what's been called the greatest film ever made?" Yes there was, and it was Roger Ebert. These comments by Joseph are the sort of bickering that really does no one any good. He tries to make the studios think they've failed, when in reality they've done complete justice to a film. Your own top 25 list shows the Kane DVD as the #6 DVD ever. He name drops (BFI, William Alland) without actually knowing what he's talking about. While I appreciate your printing of comments by even uninformed readers, I'd also appreciate your giving me the opportunity to clear up his errors. Thanks.
(P.S. I'll agree the Bogdanovich track was not exactly how should I put this good.)
Very passionate response Steve, but before a bunch of readers flood the mailbox, we should note that Robert Wise very much is available to record a commentary track he's already done so for Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and we've heard that we may also get a commentary from Mr. Wise on an upcoming The Day the Earth Stood Still disc. It's possible he simply wasn't available for Warner's Kane disc because of all the effort that went into Paramount's Star Trek: TMP revivification (the "Director's Edition" required much more than just a yack-track to become DVD-worthy).
In any event, we thought that Roger Ebert was a good choice for Citizen Kane, and while the track will not sizzle the ears of Kane scholars, it's bound to be useful for viewers who know little about Welles or the film's history, and thus serves as a fine introduction. Peter Bogdanovich is far to anecdotal for our tastes, and with a tandem of Kane tracks we would have enjoyed a second one from a noted authority on Welles (our favorite being Chicago-based critic Jonathan Rosenbaum).
Thanks for sending a link with the playing times, Jonas. For those who get HBO Signature and want to tape a cheapo, the documentary only available on DVD in Warner's Stanley Kubrick Collection will replay on Friday Nov. 9, Wednesday Nov. 14, and Tuesday Nov. 20.
(And lucky you Jonas, because you've just won the last of our "Fright-Filled Fox Four-Pack" of DVDs, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer , Phantom of the Paradise, The Fury, and The Legend of Hell House! And each kissed with fresh lipstick by Alexandra DuPont! Hoo boyo!)
Top of the Pops: Here's the top-selling DVDs last week from our friends at Ken Crane's DVDPlanet.com. Click the links to read our reviews of these discs:
Bye for now.
Tuesday, 6 November 2001
On the Street: Get ready Trekkies on a street Tuesday that's packed with catalog titles, Paramount is ready to gobble up more of your cash with the long-awaited Star Trek: The Motion Picture: The Director's Edition, which offers a re-cut version of the film with several improvements, large and small. Warner has the attention of DVD fans as well, with their two-disc Doctor Zhivago, not to mention Steven Spielberg's Empire of the Sun. MGM's catalog slate is led by The Woody Allen Collection: Vol. 3, which has six classics from the mid-'80s, and Columbia TriStar's lineup includes favorites like The Remains of the Day, Subway, and John Singleton's recent Baby Boy. Four new films from Fox's war chest include Guadalcanal Diary, Halls of Montezuma, Wing and a Prayer, and The Young Lions. But if you're a Sopranos fan, nothing goes better with a box of DVDs than a big Italian dinner Season Two has arrived. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Heads up: If you're in L.A. you might want to drop by The Wherehouse in Ladera Heights (5390 Centinela Ave) Wednesday night between 6-8 pm, where John Singleton will be promoting the new DVD release of Baby Boy. Odds are if you're nice you can get him to sign a copy for you.
Monday, 5 November 2001
And the winner is: Richard Brandt of Colorado Springs, Colo., wins the free French Connection: Five Star Collection DVD from our October contest. Congrats, Richard!
Our totally free DVD contest for the month of November is up and running, and we have a copy of Fox's two-disc Planet of the Apes 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: On Dec. 7th, 1941 the same day that Pearl Harbor was attacked the Japanese rounded up all the westerners living in the occupied city of Shanghai and marched them into interment camps. Although war had been raging for some time in China, English and American businessmen and their families had been allowed to remain unmolested in a walled "International Quarter" under diplomatic protection. There, they had lived a very Western life of opulence with swimming pools, limousines and servants, educating their children in exclusive schools and partying at country clubs. Author J.G. Ballard grew up in this rarefied environment, and Steven Spielberg's 1987 Empire of the Sun based on Ballard's semi-autobiographical novel recounts Ballard's experiences as a boy coming of age in a Japanese prison camp during World War II.
The film follows 11-year-old Jamie Graham (Christian Bale) after he's ripped from the arms of his parents and the upper-class English lifestyle he was born to. Lost in the stampeding crowds of people trying to flee Shanghai, Jamie wanders the streets so desperate for food that he continually tries to give himself up to Japanese soldiers. He meets up with Basie and Frank (John Malkovich, Joe Pantoliano), a pair of scavenging merchant seamen who try to sell him but they can't find any takers because Jamie's too thin and weak. The three are soon captured and sent to a prison camp, where Jamie (now using the more grown-up name "Jim"), under the tutelage of the Fagin-like Basie, quickly becomes adept at the art of survival, learning all the scams and shortcuts he needs to survive. And Jim actually thrives in the camp environment over the course of his internment, as he passes through childhood and becomes a young man, learning very hard lessons about trust and survival.
Empire of the Sun is Steven Spielberg's first great "grown-up" film, surpassing both the wide-eyed wonder of his "childhood is magical" movies and the over-the-top treacle of his previous stab at mature drama, The Color Purple. Here he somehow manages to avoid his best-known flaws, neither talking down to his audience nor tugging at heartstrings like some sort of cloying puppet-master. And it's a truly beautiful film to watch yes, Spielberg is a little obsessed with the big, glowing orb of the sun (the director's greatest weakness has always been for the painfully obvious motif), but he also offers beautiful details with Japanese Zeros at dawn, as well as the absurdity of English cathedrals and American movie posters on the streets of Shanghai. In typical Spielberg fashion, the story is very PG keeping in mind the delicate sensibilities of his audience (and the Oscar voters) Ballard's original story has been cleaned up more than a little bit, and the true horrors of prison camp life are alluded to more than they're illustrated. But it's not much of an issue, since that's not the story Spielberg's telling anyway. Along with screenwriter Tom Stoppard, he's more interested in exploring the amazing flexibility of a child's psyche: Having never seen England, Jim has no real affinity for "sides" in the war his passion is for planes, and he sees the Japanese pilots as heroes. For him the camp is not a prison, but his home and safe haven. Much as John Boorman explored in Hope and Glory (also from 1987), Spielberg allows that young boys can actually enjoy war, and that the human spirit is almost infinitely adaptable to any hardships it may have to endure. Christian Bale is amazing as Jim, growing in the role from spoiled rich kid to a haunted young man with a determined will. Malkovich gives an amiable, unmannered performance free of the tics and affectations that he's assumed in his more recent films. And Spielberg cast Empire with an eye to the story, not the box office in 1987, Malkovich had just begun to make a name for himself as an "interesting," quirky actor, and Pantoliano (The Matrix, Memento) was still most recognizable as Guido the Killer Pimp from Risky Business. Other now-recognizable faces include Miranda Richardson in an unspectacular role as a sickly Brit and Ben Stiller as an American G.I.
Warner's new DVD release of Empire of the Sun offers a brand-new anamorphic transfer in its original 1:85:1 theatrical ratio and it's a thing of beauty, with rich, saturated colors and a crisp, mostly flawless picture. The remastered Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is equally impressive, with dialogue taking the forefront in astounding clarity, and John Williams' (sparingly used, believe it or not) string-heavy score coming in heady and full. Empire runs 152 minutes, which means supplements can be found on the flip-side, including the 50-minute behind-the-scenes feature The China Odyssey: Empire of the Sun, a Film by Steven Spielberg (originally released on the Laserdisc). Narrated by Martin Sheen, the short film is a genuinely interesting look at the film's production, offering historical information, newsreel footage, scenes from the location shooting, and interview snippets with J.G. Ballard. Most interesting are the scenes of Spielberg dealing with the throngs of Chinese extras, and the segment on the one-third scale, radio-controlled airplanes that were used for the air sequences. Empire of the Sun is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: Three new films were responsible for nearly $100 million in movie-ticket sales over the weekend, ushering in the holiday film season and breaking a slump that has lasted for several weeks. Leading the way was Pixar/Disney's Monsters, Inc., which racked up a colossal $63.4 million the sixth-largest raw-dollar opening weekend ever, the best for any animated title, and the best for any Disney film. Also doing well was Sony's The One, starring Jet Li, with $20 million, while Paramount's Domestic Disturbance with John Travolta and Vince Vaughn was good for $14.5 million. Critics were nearly unanimous in praising Monsters, Inc., while The One and Domestic Disturbance were less well received (and Monsters, Inc. was not hurt by having the new Episode II trailer attached to it).
In continuing release, Sony's Riding in Cars with Boys had the smallest decline over the weekend, now standing at $25 million, while Universal's K-PAX has a $32.1 million cume and Warner's 13 Ghosts has garnered $27.7 million. But the winner of the early-autumn slump appears to be Warner's Training Day, still on the chart after five weeks and nearly $70 million in the bank. Meanwhile, Fox's Don't Say a Word is off to DVD prep after a $50 million finish.
Danny DeVito and Gene Hackman team up this Friday in David Mamet's Heist, while the Farrelly Brothers' Shallow Hal, with Gwyneth Paltrow and Jack Black, also goes wide. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Mark Bourne has posted an in-depth look at Paramount's re-vamped Star Trek: The Motion Picture: The Director's Edition, while D.K. Holm has a look at two classics, David Lean's Doctor Zhivago and Luchino Visconti's Rocco and His Brothers. In the meantime, Greg Dorr spun the entire Woody Allen Collection: Vol. Three, featuring Broadway Danny Rose, Hannah and Her Sisters, A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Radio Days, and Zelig. New swag from the rest of the team today includes Legally Blonde: Special Edition, Cats and Dogs, Subway, Halls of Montezuma, Empire of the Sun, and The Young Lions. 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, 1 November 2001
On the Block: Our latest round of DVD auction rankings at eBay is in, and for the first time in a few months Criterion's Salo has been knocked out of its regular top spot and by none other than Russell Crowe. Texas, a limited-edition live-concert DVD by Crowe's Aussie bar-band Thirty-Odd Foot of Grunts, dominates the chart with a stunning $455.99 top close, and while this particular auction was for a copy signed by Crowe himself, such is not unusual shows during the band's recent swing through North America were the only place to snag one. Also cresting was the ultra-rare THX Theatrical Trailers Demo DVD, distributed at the 1997 Consumer Electronics Show, and since reportedly less than 1,000 copies were pressed, the title tends to make a splash when one goes up for auction. Of course, the regular Criterion titles make their return, including Salo, The 400 Blows, The Killer, and This Is Spinal Tap, but don't expect to see such recently discontinued Criterion platters as Dead Ringers and Charade on the chart just yet. Meanwhile, fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer can look forward to "The Complete First Season" in Region 1 on Jan. 15, but folks in Region 2 are already up to Season Three one copy managed to get a high hammer-price of $115.00 in a quick "buy it now" auction.
Here's the highest recent closing prices of rare and out-of-print DVDs from online auctions at eBay:
Kubrick Watch: Those of you who have not purchased Warner's second release of The Stanley Kubrick Collection and get HBO Signature might want to fire up the old VCR. The documentary Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures only available on DVD in the spendy Kubrick box-set will run today in the morning or early afternoon, depending on your location. Check your local listings. (Sorry for the late notice we just found out ourselves!)
Quotable: "...Mostly the Hollywood contingent says it wants to help the Bush administration 'get out its message,' to do a better job on selling America's image abroad. Maybe then so many people around the world will stop hating us. All of which leaves me rather confused. I've always thought Hollywood, more than any other institution, did a great job of accurately projecting true American values. And that's why I suspect the world would be a safer place if we started sending those folks over there fewer, rather than more and improved, episodes of Baywatch. On the other hand, if you're among the 60 percent of the world population that has never made a phone call, or the 50 percent that gets by on less than a dollar a day, maybe 13 episodes of Married With Children dubbed into Urdu is precisely what's needed to lower the hostility level."
L.A. Weekly scribe Marc Cooper
Ben Stiller, in a letter to The New York Times,
"The very phrase (British film industry) depresses me. I don't think we've got a film industry, and never have had. We've been making bloody awful films. I've observed over the years that a lot of people go on about the 'British film industry,' and as soon as they're offered anything in Hollywood they're off. You can't see them for dust. At the moment the best writing is coming out of America. There they rewrite a sitcom five times in the week that you rehearse. Five times! And you know that hasn't happened here (in Britain)."
"Give me a break. There will only ever be one Rat Pack. It's a joke. All they are doing in the remake is a cheap impersonation of the original Rat Pack. People knew about Frank and his broads and Dean and his drinking. They knew that we partied together. With the new version, you've got five or six people who never had any association with each other off-screen."
Original Rat-Packer Joey Bishop, slamming Steven
"Gene thought it was funny, really. He's not a soft guy, he's an ex-Marine, and he can take care of himself. Really, he's a very gentle guy, but anybody can be provoked."
Dick Guttman, publicist for Gene Hackman. The
Coming Attractions: New DVD reviews are on the way, including our look at The Woody Allen Collection, Vol. 3, Paramount's revised Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and lots more. This also will be the last weekend to enter this month's totally free DVD contest for a copy of The French Connection: Five Star Collection (starring ass-whoopin' Gene Hackman), so be sure to visit our contest page if you haven't yet, and don't forget to take our monthly DVD poll while you're there. We'll be back Monday to announce the winner, and we'll have a new contest up and running as well.
Enjoy the weekend we'll see ya soon.