Tuesday, 18 December 2001
The Year in Review: We're dimming the lights at DVD Journal headquarters for our annual holiday break, but we will be back on Monday, Jan. 7 with new DVD reviews, including Buckaroo Banzai, Mad Max, Evolution, M*A*S*H, and more. Before we go, we offer our top ten DVDs of the past 12 months:
It's hard to cut that list to ten, especially as we have reviewed a few hundred DVDs this year and enjoyed so many. Among our honorable mentions must be a short stack of Criterion items, including the Preston Sturges titles Sullivan's Travels (Aug. 21) and The Lady Eve (Oct. 16), Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious (Oct. 16) and Rebecca (Nov. 20), Douglas Sirk's All That Heaven Allows (June 19), Federico Fellini's 8-1/2 (Dec. 4), and Stanley Kubrick's Spartacus (Apr. 24). Specialty distributor Image Entertainment also came through with some great silent classics, in particular the restored Nosferatu (Jan. 2), Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler (Aug. 28), and 1925's The Lost World (April 3). With turbulent events around the globe, our opportunity to revisit The Killing Fields on Warner's DVD (March 13) made us think it was one of those films that everybody should see at least once. Disney launched their Platinum Edition line with the two-disc Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (Oct. 9). Fox's French Connection (Sept. 25) kicked much ass. And it seems Steven Soderbergh is everybody's cup of tea lately it's just too bad that so few have seen The Limey (Feb. 20), as Artisan's DVD is a comprehensive package.
And we still could continue 2001 was that deep. We're sure you have your own favorites, and we're hoping 2002 will be another year that sees even more, better DVDs of all the rest of the films we're still waiting for. We've come a long way since 1997.
On the Street: It's the final noteworthy street Tuesday of the year, as the Dec. 26 list next week is dominated by MGM catalog titles. Getting a lot of attention today is Fox's Moulin Rouge, a two-disc set that reportedly is the first DVD to be produced by the film's director, and it's loaded with extra content. Also sure to move a few units are two big titles from Buena Vista, Scary Movie 2 and The Princess Diaries. Of course, we always like it when we can get some choice items from the vaults, and Columbia TriStar's releases today include Fritz Lang's noir classic The Big Heat, the Joan Crawford vehicle Queen Bee, and Neil Simon's sleuth-spoof Murder By Death. And if you're planning to get some time off during the holiday season (as we are), now's the time to dig into something super-sized, in particular Artisan's Twin Peaks: The First Season and the recent miniseries Uprising, out now from Warner. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Thanks for reading we'll see you in January.
Monday, 17 December 2001
Disc of the Week: With the arrival of inexpensive, versatile DVD technology, serious movie collectors have learned that much-coveted or obscure films that were not cost-effective for videotape release in the past are now more likely find their way onto disc. Still, it probably took the popularity of Memento to inspire Following's publication. Christopher Nolan's first film had few playdates in 1998 and only sporadic, if enthusiastic, reviews. But DVD is a perfect format for Following it's a "small" film, intellectually clever but emotionally downbeat, technically proficient but ultimately for specialized tastes. Made for $6,000 and shot in black-and-white with a budget-mindedly small cast and clandestinely shot footage, Following is a textbook "calling card" film designed to gain its maker attention in the film industry, a process that begins after the requisite panoply of festival awards. The plan seems to have worked. Following duly won the Sundance "Black and White" award (among others), writer-director Nolan went on to deliver the indie sensation Memento, and he's now shooting an American remake of Erik Skjoldbjærg's 1997 Insomnia (which, needless to say, we're looking forward to).
The fatalistic, noir-ish story of Following, simple on the surface but theoretically complex, concerns an unnamed aspiring writer in London (co-producer Jeremy Theobald) who fills his days by trailing random people, ostensibly for research. One day he is confronted by one of his subjects, who turns out to be Cobb (Alex Haw), a handsome, confident rake who presents himself as a professional burglar. Cobb invites the otherwise unengaged author to join him on his escapades, but then off the clock so to speak the "author" proceeds to shadow one of their recent victims (Lucy Russell). And there is where all plot summary must cease like Memento, Following trades on its ability to take hairpin narrative turns.
Following makes two things clear about Nolan. First, it's obvious that the young auteur favors Cornell Woolrich-style tales (or is it Nabokovian? Or DePalmian?), in which an earnest quasi-innocent is manipulated by a crueler, craftier male. Second, Nolan thus may well be the perfect director for the similarly themed Insomnia remake, which has been shot in British Columbia with Al Pacino, Robin Williams, and Hilary Swank, and is due in theaters this coming May. As in Memento, with Following Nolan "disrupts the narrative." The film begins with a suite of images that don't make sense until the conclusion, and it tells the story from three vantages simultaneously, shuffling the chronology like a deck of cards (but in a much more sophisticated manner than Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, the Godfather of narrative distortion). The "now" is the young man telling a police inspector his story. Beneath that, his relationship with Cobb and his encounters with the mysterious woman jump back and forth in time. The story is not at all difficult to follow, and on a second viewing Nolan's technique emphasizes how our futures, or our fates, are embedded in our present.
Columbia TriStar has done the sort of job on their Following DVD release that many expected for Memento, as the 71-minute movie comes on a disc loaded with extras. The grainy black-and-white photography, by Nolan himself, receives a solid full-frame transfer (1.33:1) with a Dolby 2.0 soundtrack that is more than adequate for a film recorded or dubbed on the fly (also included are English and Spanish subtitles). Supplements include a commentary track by Nolan, in which he talks in a subdued voice about the tricks of guerrilla filmmaking, heightening the intricacies of an already complicated plot filled with visual motifs while dwelling very little on the film's meaning. Also on hand is the screenplay (viewable in conjunction with the film via the multi-angle function), an alternative version of the movie presented in chronological order, trailers for Memento and Following, bios for seven cast and crew members, and DVD credits. Following is on the street now, and it's not to be missed.
Box Office: How bankable is Tom Cruise? His past seven marquee movies (going all the way back to the early '90s) have opened in first place, and now the streak is at eight Vanilla Sky, starring Cruise, Penelope Cruz, and Cameron Diaz, grabbed the top spot at the weekend box-office with $25 million. Directed by Cameron Crowe (who teamed with Cruise in 1996's Jerry McGuire), the remake of the Spanish film Abre los Ojos received massive publicity, but critics were mixed on the mind-bending plot and audience polls were negative. Also debuting was Sony's teen-movie spoof Not Another Teen Movie, which landed in third place with $13 million and will easily cover its modest $15 million budget.
In continuing release, Warner's ultra-slick Ocean's Eleven, directed by Steven Soderbergh, wound up in second place with $23 million over the weekend and a healthy $73.2 million 10-day gross. The Harry Potter juggernaut continues to abate, with a surprisingly moderate $9.9 million weekend for a film that smashed all debut records just five weeks ago, but the $253.2 million gross is no small potatoes. Fox's Behind Enemy Lines is still earning business with $38.8 million to date. But now fading are Universal's Spy Game and Fox's Black Knight and Shallow Hal. Off the charts is Warner's Heist, the David Mamet film starring Gene Hackman and Danny DeVito, which will have a $25 million finish.
The Christmas movie releases kick off Wednesday with New Line's Lord of the Rings, which is bound to do Harry Potter-sized business, while Friday releases include The Majestic starring Jim Carrey and the romantic comedy Kate & Leopold with Meg Ryan and Hugh Jackman. And then on Christmas Day comes Michael Mann's Ali, starring Will Smith. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Dawn Taylor has posted a sneak-preview of Fox's two-disc Moulin Rouge, while Greg Dorr recently dug through Artisan's four-disc Twin Peaks: The First Season, and Joe Barlow looked at Columbia TriStar's Ghosts of Mars. New stuff from the rest of the team today includes The Big Heat, Casualties of War, The Last Wave: The Criterion Collection, The Defiant Ones, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Murder By Death, Lost Continent, Summer Catch, Sahara, Following, Queen Bee, and Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey. 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.
Thursday, 13 December 2001
Coming Attractions: We're gearing up for our final review weekend of 2001, and new stuff on the way includes Moulin Rouge, Twin Peaks: Season One, and more. In the meantime, if you haven't entered our totally free DVD contest for a copy of Uprising, 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. Also, for folks in the L.A. area, Rush Hour 2 director Brett Ratner will be signing copies of the new DVD this Saturday at Dave's Video (12144 Ventura Blvd., Studio City) between 1 and 3 p.m. You'll have to buy a disc, but a portion of the sales will go to charity.
See ya Monday gang.
Quotable: "We're thrilled to see the overwhelming response to Pearl Harbor on DVD. We are proud of Pearl Harbor and the way that audiences have brought the film into their homes."
Disney Chairman Michael Eisner, after Buena Vista's
Madeline Stowe, in an interview with The Calgary
"Ted is my man. I love Ted. He knows more, particularly about the television space, which is at least a good third of this company. Ted and I have always had a wonderful relationship, and I am going to be reaching out to him, too. I'm sure that Ted is going to re-up."
Incoming AOL Time Warner CEO Richard Parson,
"I've tried to capture the feeling of Tolkien for those who have read the book. I didn't want to be a totally slavish Tolkien interpreter. It has been equally important to us that the films amaze, surprise and delight people who have never read the books..... I just made the kind of film I would have wanted to see as a 10-year-old."
Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson
"At a time when political correctness is valued over honesty, I would also like to say: Right on, motherfuckers, everyone is a winner!"
Madonna, aging and desperate for controversy,
Wednesday, 12 December 2001
Mailbag: We're already planning our holiday hiatus, which starts next week, so it's as good a time as any for the mail-dump letters sent from around the world to our high-tech HQ, and presented with minimal comments from your editor. Let's go:
With all this talk of self-indulgence and narcissism and masturbating, it's as if Fellini, in spite of making us sit and watch him wallow and flail around in all this gratuitous personal stuff, has fooled us into thinking he's made a pretty good movie out of it.
I'm not buying it. Fellini made a great film one of the greatest, in fact and in the end it's more than "a movie about the making of a movie that is, in fact, that very movie." That's the set up, of course, and it's a very witty and purposeful set up, not some moribund exercise by a frustrated grad student. Fellini wasn't just dicking around here; with exquisite focus and the absolute command of his craft, he's exploring the same theme he did time and again. Throughout the film, Guido struggles to find his humanity, his "human-ness" and also as he links arms with his company in the finale l'amore per tutti: "love for all" (the title of a Nino Rota piece for Juliet of the Spirits, but applicable here, I think, since Juliet is really just the distaff version of 8-1/2 ).
I first saw 8-1/2 around 1966 when I was 17 or 18. I took this film in like it was air. Fellini's image-making astonished me, that he could take what was obviously excruciatingly personal, fashion it into a movie, and put it out there in effect, giving it to me. Then as now, the critics were on him about the "self-indulgence" business (I don't remember anybody using "masturbatory," however), but this kind of talk made no sense to me, feeling as I did that each film he made was a gift bestowed and how are such gifts to be considered self-indulgent?
Otherwise, a nicely written, well-detailed review.
I know the DVD of the recent Homicide movie is available, but I'm puzzled by the TV show's non-appearance. A superior TV show such as Homicide, which has a small but dedicated fan base that, demographically speaking, is generally between 25-40, would seem a prime property for DVD. An ideal supplement already exists in the PBS documentary Anatomy of a Homicide.
Barry Levinson was a producer, and the show featured Ned Beatty during its first few seasons as well as remarkable guest turns by Steve Buscemi, Robin Williams, Vincent D'Nofrio, and several other marquee names. In addition, it's my understanding that the show was shot on 16mm film so it would be widescreen and could be anamorphically enhanced, theoretically providing a better experience on DVD than it did in original broadcast. Finally, NBC owns Homicide itself; seems to me that DVD royalties would be something the Peacock would be interested in.
Add to that the Law & Order crossovers and the continued viability of Det. John Munch (Richard Belzer) on L&O: SVU and I'm stumped as to why The Best Damn Show (that used to be) on Television hasn't made a bow on DVD....
The print of Last House that screened after Nightmare was in incredible condition, with vivid unfaded color and nary a splotch of grain to be seen. Wes mentioned that he gave a lot of the original elements to a friend who archived them and took excellent care. Hopefully this means that the DVD will be of equally high quality, with a clear and unblemished picture.
If only Craven's friend had been entrusted to archive the Godfather elements... *sigh*
Thanks for sending the link, Dan. Hopefully we'll get an official announcement soon.
But you know, the pain isn't so much in buying the latest super-special-deluxe release as in then owning two (or more) very similar copies of the same damn movie which don't complement each other in any way. There they are, sitting side by side, making a hollow mockery out of what should be an enjoyable hobby turned into what might be a diagnosis of obsessive-compulsive behavior.
I sold my DVD to a friend at work for $18.00, paid $23.99 (Canada). I could not stand having it in my house.
Viva Criterion, Kino, Fox Lorber, and New Yorker Video for providing some much-needed balance in the DVD marketplace.
Gee, I can hardly wait (maybe Warner will reissue the 70mm wide screen blow-up of Gone With The Wind on HDTVDVD
Oh wait, what am I saying? Raiders will never be released on DVD.
But come on this guy is easier to find than Waldo. He's introducing Criterion's The Third Man and also their Lady Eve; he's interviewing David Chase for The Sopranos; he's contributing a pretty sorry commentary to the otherwise excellent Citizen Kane package. Is he not getting out of the house enough? Can we persuade the studios to post Bogdanovich warning labels? Or perhaps we can declare 2002 a Bogdanovich-free zone?
He seems like a nice man, but perhaps you can do your share to get him to hang up his spurs, at least for a little bit.
Actually, we're still working on the details, but we're hoping that all of the news and reviews on The DVD Journal in the month of January will be presented with commentary from Peter Bogdanovich, whom your own editor once met in an elevator. Keep it tuned here!
(And congrats to the final two letter-writers, Chris and Jon, as they'll be receiving our last two copies of Jurassic Park III: Collector's Edition! And yes it's the widescreen version.)
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, 11 December 2001
On the Street: Many studios are making their last big retail push before Christmas this week, and there are plenty of new discs to choose from. In the blockbuster category, Universal's Jurassic Park III: Collector's Edition is available in both widescreen and full-frame versions, and there is a four-disc Jurassic Park Trilogy Collection out today as well (and don't panic those of you who have the first two DVDs and buy JP3 can mail in for the fourth bonus disc and the nifty slipcase). Rush Hour 2, another big summer hit, has arrived from New Line as an "infinifilm" release, while the indie flick Hedwig and the Angry Itch gets the Platinum Series treatment. The lineup from Paramount is attractive, with the long-awaited The Elephant Man, as well as Medium Cool and this year's The Score, and the last two of the Classic Trek discs are finally here (which means The Next Generation should go digital in 2002). Columbia TriStar's catalog titles are equally interesting, with Brian De Palma's Casualties of War, the 1943 war film Sahara with Humphrey Bogart, and especially 1998's Following, the first film from Memento director Christopher Nolan. But we admit that we're always partial to the classics, and it's MGM to the rescue with such great films as The Defiant Ones, Inherit the Wind, The Party, Witness for the Prosecution, and Topkapi. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 10 December 2001
Disc of the Week: When comedian Mel Brooks decided to branch out into film production, the first project for his fledgling Brooksfilms company was a surprising one a film about John Merrick, the Victorian-age "Elephant Man" documented in a semi-obscure book titled "The Elephant Man and Other Reminiscences" by Dr. Frederick Treves. The fact that the film was ever made at all is astounding: Producer Jonathan Sanger received the screenplay from his babysitter, who told him that her boyfriend had written it. He took it to Brooks, who was interested in making "serious films," and then proposed a young director named David Lynch, who had impressed Sanger with his film Eraserhead. Then Brooks, the executive producer, kept his own name off the film entirely so as to avoid giving audiences the wrong impression about what sort of movie it was. Once the wheels started rolling, Sanger says that their primary goal was "just to make a film that would play in a theater." So it was undoubtedly a delightful surprise to everyone involved when The Elephant Man turned out to not only be an astonishing film, but also a huge commercial success: It did very well in the U.S. and even broke box office records in Japan, and it was nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director.
The Elephant Man begins with classic Lynchian strokes machine sounds, smoke, and elephants, superimposed over a woman's face. The elephants attack her as she screams over and over this is the story of how the Elephant Man came to be, according to the barker at a Victorian circus sideshow. Moved by the extent of the freak's deformities, surgeon Dr. Frederick Treves (Anthony Hopkins) brings him to London Hospital to examine him. Treves soon realizes that there's more to the man, whose name is John Merrick, than he was led to believe Merrick is sensitive, kind, and intelligent, and has suffered terribly at the hands of his "owner." Treves invents reasons to keep Merrick at the hospital, but even there his charge is mistreated when an orderly sneaks in some of his drunken friends on a late-night bender. And then Merrick is kidnapped by the sideshow boss but refuses to perform, having had a taste of self-respect during his time with Treves. He's tortured and beaten until, with the help of the other sideshow performers, he escapes and makes his way back to Treves, who makes Merrick a celebrity in London society. In many ways it's merely a more comfortable version of the freakshow, however Merrick has nice clothes to wear, good food to eat, and he's treated well by the most of the people he encounters, but he still remains a freakish curiosity. In the meantime, Treves begins to question his own motives in caring for Merrick, wondering if, perhaps, he's also exploiting the Elephant Man for his own benefit.
The Elephant Man is a remarkable film, beautiful and heart-wrenching, and full of Lynchian weirdness without any of the director's self-conscious goofiness (and in that respect similar to his 1999 The Straight Story). Shot on expensive black-and-white stock, it has an old-fashioned richness that serves the story brilliantly while showcasing Lynch's deft hand with smoke, shadow, and mood. The photography by veteran cinematographer Freddie Francis is exquisite, and John Morris' poignant score evokes the necessary period atmosphere without ever feeling heavy-handed. The cast is flawless, with big-ticket British actors turning in solid, understated performances John Gielgud, Freddie Jones, and the amazing John Hurt, who manages to convey Merrick's intellect and dignity beneath a nightmare of prosthetics. But as much credit as Hurt deserves, the bravura performance here is by Hopkins. His performance as Treves is a wonder a professional, Victorian man, buttoned-up and utterly self-contained, who is moved by his first sight of Merrick so much that he can merely stand there, mouth open, as tears well up in his eyes and slowly run down his face. If the most moving thing about The Elephant Man is Merrick's acquisition of dignity, then it's due to the way that Treves has given it to him simply, honestly, and as a human being worthy of respect. When Merrick finally asks if he can be cured, Hopkins gives a slight pause and then honestly answers, "No, we can't cure you. We can care for you, but we can't cure you." Merrick's response "I thought not" is simply heartbreaking.
Paramount's new DVD of The Elephant Man offers a virtually flawless anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) the picture is gorgeous, presenting Lynch's stunning visuals at their best, and the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is pleasant. Extra features include interviews with Mel Brooks, Jonathan Sanger, makeup artist Christopher Tucker, and John Hurt, who discuss the film's production history and the painstaking process of creating the prosthetics for Hurt, while a separate feature has Tucker showing off the different pieces created for the makeup effects. Director Lynch is famous for not talking about his movies he's notably absent from the interview feature and there's no commentary track. But Lynch does make his presence known by the lack of chapter-selection, which he dislikes on DVDs of his films. The Elephant Man is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: After nearly a month at the top of the box-office chart, Warner's Harry Potter has been knocked from its lofty perch but it took a string of A-list stars to do it. Warner's Ocean's Eleven, directed by Steven Soderbergh and starring George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, and Don Cheadle, debuted in the top spot with a powerhouse $39.2 million haul, which is the largest raw-dollar opening for any December film. Potter landed in second place with $14.8 million, and the one-two combo gave Warner a winning weekend.
In continuing release, Fox's Behind Enemy Lines had a steep drop-off in its second weekend, pulling just $8.1 million for an overall gross of $31.2 million, while Universal's Spy Game is tapering, now with $51.4 million to date. However, while Buena Vista's Monsters, Inc. is fading, its $212.4 million haul has the folks at Pixar smiling. And headed for the cheap theaters this week is Sony's The One, starring Jet Li, which will finish with approx. $45 million.
Opening Friday is Vanilla Sky, directed by Cameron Crowe and starring Tom Cruise, as well as the satirical Not Another Teen Movie. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Betsy Bozdech has posted a sneak-preview of Universal's Jurassic Park III: Collector's Edition, while Greg Dorr has taken a look at an old favorite, 8-1/2, now on DVD from Criterion. New reviews from the rest of the gang this week include Rush Hour 2: infinifilm, The Score, Inherit the Wind, The Party, Medium Cool, Mixed Nuts, Don Juan (or if Don Juan Were a Woman), The Elephant Man, Witness for the Prosecution, Fritz the Cat, and the Z-grade fave The Crawling Eye. All can be found under our 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, 6 December 2001
'Board of Review' leads the way: The National Board of Review has announced its 2001 film awards, which often are regarded as a bellwether for Oscar nominees although just as often they stray wide of the mark. Leading the pack this year is Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge, which was named Best Film and earned actor Jim Broadbent the Best Supporting Actor nod. But also making a strong showing was the upcoming drama Monster's Ball, with top acting awards going to Halle Berry and Billy Bob Thornton, while Cate Blanchett took Best Supporting Actress for a trio of films.
Also garnering attention was Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings, which won Best Production Design, while director Jackson earned recognition for Special Achievement in Filmmaking. Shrek was named the Best Animated Feature, and Martin Scorsese, Jon Voight, and Steven Spielberg picked up special awards. Of particular interest, the top-ten list features Christopher Nolan's Memento, the Coen Brothers' The Man Who Wasn't There, Steven Soderbergh's Ocean's Eleven, and David Lynch's Mulholland Drive but we're sure the inclusion of A.I.: Artificial Intelligence will have its share of detractors. Here's the winners:
Best Actor: Billy Bob Thornton, Monster's Ball, The Man Who Wasn't There, Bandits
Best Animated Feature: Shrek
Directorial Debut: John Cameron Mitchell, Hedwig and the Angry Inch
William K. Everson Award for Film History: Martin Scorsese, Il Mio Viaggio in Italia
More critics' circles will be handing out their year-end awards this month and straight through Oscar night in March, and it's probably safe to say there are no clear front-runners yet.
Quotable: "I wrote (a column for The New York Times) about a sort of flash point I had, where I was standing in line, four days (after Sept. 11), in Union Station in Chicago, lugging my bags around trying to get on this train and half-hoping there was a first-class line that I could get in to, and sort of realizing, you know, that we're back to basics, everybody was just sort of fighting for space. And I had this moment of thinking, ugh, I really don't like this, it's really inconvenient what happened. It's really sad, of course. But it's rather inconvenient today. And I didn't like that impulse, and so I gave it several pages of material. And the Times kept bumping it up the ladder, and finally they said, you know, it's probably too early for something like this."
Director Neil LaBute, in an interview with Salon
"Ms. Hurley and I were not in an exclusive relationship when she became pregnant. It is her choice to be a single mother. The insinuation that I would not care about the well-being of another human being has been very hurtful to both myself and my family. If indeed I am the father, I will be an extremely involved and responsible parent."
Film producer Stephen Bing, in a statement this week
Ryan Phillipe, who will not be playing Anakin
"She knows why and she is the mother of my children, and I wish her well. I don't care of it piques people's interest. Honestly, people should mind their own damn business. And get a life of their own. My personal life isn't here to sell newspapers."
Tom Cruise, making it clear in an interview with
"The fun part about being where I am right now is that I'm in a position where I can get good scripts and get good movies made. You don't get that position for a very long time they'll take it away from you, you know."
George Clooney, who stars in Steven Soderbergh's
Coming Attractions: We're already tearing the warning stickers off new DVD cases, and fresh reviews on the way include Jurassic Park III, Rush Hour 2, and lots more. Have a great weekend we're back on Monday.
Wednesday, 5 December 2001
The special edition DVD has digitally re-mixed Philip Glass soundtrack, and each DVD sleeve personally signed by Director Godfrey Reggio. Or at least I'm told, as I don't exactly have $180.00 lying around that I'm willing to donate to the IRE....
(For those who need a Godfrey Reggio/Philip Glass DVD fix, I recommend Anima Mundi, the half-hour short they created for the World Wildlife Fund.)
Thanks for the tip Rob. For fans of unusual cinema, director Godfrey Reggio's 1983 Koyaanisqatsi is a sublime entertainment, although not necessarily an easy one to acquire. A film essentially without any plot, Koyaanisqatsi (the Hopi Indian word for "Life Out of Balance") simply observes our own Planet Earth, from majestic landscapes to urban centers, and if it sounds a little boring in premise, Ron Fricke's cinematography and Philip Glass's score are nonetheless hypnotic. In fact, while Koyaanisqatsi is hard to categorize in terms of cinema or documentary filmmaking, it has had its share of influence over the years, especially with some music-video directors.
Originally produced by the Institute for Regional Education in Santa Fe, Koyaanisqatsi has had a checkered history on home video, with videotape versions (now out of print) released by PolyGram and Pacific Arts Video, while two separate Laserdisc versions have appeared, one from Image Entertainment for North America, and a second Japanese release. Both Laserdiscs are strong traders on eBay, closing as high as $80, while VHS versions can easily clear $40 or more.
But, of course, such prices pale in comparison to the sole DVD version of Koyaanisqatsi to be had anywhere. According to the IRE, after attempts to negotiate a DVD release were exhausted, they now are planning litigation, and a special DVD is available for $180.00 (or roughly the same price as the entire Cosmos box-set). But, as you note, the IRE promises that the privately issued "Director's Premium Edition" of Koyaanisqatsi includes a remastered score, and every last disc will be signed by Godfrey Reggio.
Certainly, eBay is the place for bargain hunters. But we're encouraging everybody who is a fan of Koyaanisqatsi to consider the privately issued DVD if they can afford it. The $180.00 is tax-deductible (minus $25.00), and the contributions will assist both a new DVD release and completing the final film in the trilogy. And above all, right now it's the only game in town for DVD lovers. Considering what some folks are paying nowadays for out-of-print Criterion titles, we figure there must be a few Koyaanisqatsi fans out there with some deep digital pockets.
Indeed (as was alluded to in last week's letters), it's none other than Steven Spielberg's E.T., which is slated for theatrical re-release and a spankin' new DVD next year. While Spielberg and Co. insist that the original 1982 theatrical cut of E.T. will be preserved on the DVD as an alternate version, the upcoming "Special Edition" has been sanitized for everyone's protection. Among the changes will be FBI agents who carry walkie-talkies instead of guns. And the line where Elliot's mom tells her son Michael that he can't go out on Halloween looking like a "terrorist" now substitutes the word "hippie."
"That was a post 9/11 decision," Spielberg recently told USA Today. "It's the wrong time to bestow any virtue on terrorism." Which, if you ask us, is a pretty nice way to dump a bucket of ice-water on the whole topic for now.
Easy one, Todd Columbia TriStar holds the rights to DiCillo's 1995 Living in Oblivion, and while the VHS is easily obtained from online retailers, there is also an out-of-print Laserdisc. However, the big platter's nothing to pay a lot of money for, as the only distinct advantage it offers is a 1.85:1 letterboxed transfer. The audio is mono, as it was in the theatrical release. We'd say this one is ready to go digital.
And, for us at least, there's an extra reason why we'd like to see Living in Oblivion on a tarted-up DVD DeCillo directed Brad Pitt in the 1991 Johnny Suede (one of Pitt's first marquee roles), and it's a poorly kept secret that Oblivion's character "Chad Palomino" (played by James LeGros) is based on Pitt. With the Bradster's ascendancy to the top of the Hollywood A-List since '95, there's little doubt that DeCillo's indie comedy now has extra cachet. A commentary with DeCillo, LeGros, and perhaps stars Steve Buscemi and Catherine Keener, might be a catty affair that isn't all kiss-kiss nice-nice like so many yack-tracks nowadays. A DVD may also present a good opportunity to remix that monaural audio into a broader format. We're pretty optimistic after all, if 2001 was the year that the studios gave us all the DVDs we wanted (Citizen Kane, The Godfather, Lawrence of Arabia, et. al.), then we figure 2002 will offer studios the opportunity to dig through their catalogs and find some unusual treats.
(And we have treats today as well Christmas comes early for all three of our letter-writers, as we're sending them totally free DVD copies of Jurassic Park III: Collector's Edition! Egads!)
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, 4 December 2001
On the Street: There's plenty of new DVDs on the street today, but it will be up to you to sort out which ones are worth your money. We're fond of DreamWorks' re-issued Almost Famous Untitled: The Bootleg Cut, which features two versions of Cameron Crowe's film and a wealth of extras, while cinema buffs will want to get their hands on Criterion's long-awaited 8-1/2. MGM's round of catalog discs features such comedies as Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, while Columbia TriStar is on the board with the recent John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars and back-of-the-vault stuff like Sheena and Spacehunter. Of course, if you're a fan of Pearl Harbor, Disney has two different DVD packages for you to pick from today. As for us, we might spend the holidays with music titles like the America: A Tribute to Heroes telethon and U2's Elevation 2001: Live From Boston. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Bye for now.
Monday, 3 December 2001
And the winner is: Gregory Jepsen of Gloversville, N.Y., wins the free Planet of the Apes and Planet of the Apes TV Series DVDs from our November contest. Congrats, Gregory!
Our totally free DVD contest for the month of December is up and running, and we have a copy of Warner Home Video's Uprising miniseries 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: Action-adventure. Comedy. Suspenseful drama. Social satire. Romance. The mixed blessing inside Richard Rush's genre-breaking masterstroke The Stunt Man is that the movie is a rich quarry of all of those things, yet isn't solidly petrified in any of them. Add a bit of existential exploration and it's a thinking person's action film that defies casual description. Set in the world of movie-making itself, The Stunt Man examines the dangerously porous tissue between reality and illusion, both on the screen and within our own heads. A black comedy utilizing a "man on the run" premise, the film also explores the panic and paranoia over our inability to control our own destinies. Not surprisingly, the studios didn't know what to do with such heady stuff, and forces within "the system" were actively antagonistic to Rush's finished product. The Stunt Man is one of the most original movies of the '80s bold, stylish, and brimming with intelligent writing, performances, and direction. But because it never received the attention it deserves, it has ascended to "cult" status this being one of the rare cases in which said status is earned on the objective quality of the film's components. At the 1980 San Francisco Film Festival, François Truffaut was asked to name his favorite director. He replied, "I don't know his name, but I just saw his picture last night. It's called The Stunt Man."
The plot is merely the topmost layer of The Stunt Man's appeal. Fugitive criminal and Vietnam vet Cameron (Steve Railsback), on the run from the police and FBI, stumbles onto the set of a World War I movie in production. Causing (perhaps) the death of the leading man's stunt double, Cameron is literally descended upon by flamboyant director Eli Cross (Oscar nominee Peter O'Toole). Imperial, manipulative, possibly insane, and beloved among his crew, Cross offers Cameron a bargain worthy of a wanton Greek god he will give Cameron sanctuary and anonymity if Cameron agrees to take the place of the original stunt man. Cameron agrees, and soon he begins a physical transformation at the hands of a makeup artist, in addition to deeper transformations influenced by Cross and the picture's leading lady, Nina (Barbara Hershey), with whom Cameron quickly and naively falls in love. Cameron is bedeviled by combat-vet paranoia, questioning what is real and what is make-believe, and soon he wonders if Cross, Nina, and others are conspiring against him. Is Cross out to capture Cameron's death on film? Cameron has reason to believe so and because almost the entire story is told through his eyes and perspective, so do we.
From this axis spins a complex story about the shifting boundaries between reality and illusion, as well as the cosmic capriciousness of fate. Rush's The Stunt Man and Cross's film-within-the-film mirror each other, so even the viewers are not immune to manipulation. But perhaps more than anything, The Stunt Man is about transubstantiation and the power that wills it. Cross is deus ex machina personified. Ascending and descending on his "killer crane," he is a larger-than-life god of the filmmaking machine, dispensing reality and illusion and identity for his own purposes. If water is said to have become wine without special effects, then Cameron's utter transformation of identity is all in a day's work for Eli Cross. ("If God could do the tricks that we can do," Cross decrees, "He'd be a happy man.") And yet what makes The Stunt Man work above all its meaning is the simple fact that it's all so splendidly enjoyable. The script moves briskly, the performances (especially O'Toole's) are dead-on perfection, and Richard Rush managed a directorial feat that, perplexingly, he has not come close to matching since then. The Stunt Man rewards close attention, and when watched a second time, clever details of dialogue and camerawork reveal themselves. Another spin in the DVD player and our perceptions again are subtly shifted.
Anchor Bay's new two-disc Limited Edition DVD release of The Stunt Man is a perfect introduction for viewers who may know the film only by reputation. Disc One sports an anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) from a good print, although it's not free of some intermittent grain and unstable colors, with audio available in Dolby Digital EX, DTS ES, and Dolby 2.0 Surround, and the new mixes are an immersive experience (although the DTS mix exhibits problems of over-enthusiastic imbalance the surround field sometimes overwhelms the dialogue in the center channel). A commentary track features director Rush, stars O'Toole, Railsback, Hershey, and actors Alex Rocco, Sharon Farrell, and real-life onscreen actor/stuntman Chuck Bail. A composite of recordings, it's well edited and free of dead air. Rush reveals a great deal about the conception and production, and everyone has more than enough memories, affection, and viewing reactions to keep the track engaging. Disc One also delivers an assortment of theatrical trailers, two deleted scenes, original production and advertising art, a stills gallery, and (in DVD-ROM format) the complete screenplay with director's notes. Disc Two showcases a 114-minute behind-the-scenes documentary that has taken on a life of its own at film festivals and its own separate DVD release. The Sinister Saga of the Making of The Stunt Man is a new look at the production from its earliest stages through its torturous distribution history. Richard Rush is the enthusiastic host, a likable huckster who's not above some self-promotional rah-rah, but his first-hand account of the travails he and his movie endured offer an enlightening look at the "political science" and "black arts" that go into making a Hollywood picture. The Stunt Man: Limited Edition is on the street now.
Box Office: For the third weekend running, Warner's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone cast its spell over North American moviegoers, garnering $24 million in its third frame and pushing its current cume to a stunning $220 million. However, despite a record-smashing first two weeks, it now appears Harry will not have the legs overtake Titanic on the all-time list (at least not with Lord of the Rings on the way). Opening strongly in second place over the weekend was Fox's Behind Enemy Lines starring Owen Wilson and Gene Hackman, which earned $19.2 million. However, Miramax's Texas Rangers opened in just 400 theaters nationwide where it earned $300,000, missing the top ten by a country mile.
In continuing release, Buena Vista's Monsters, Inc. has joined the elite double-century club with $204.3 million to date. Also doing strong business is Universal's Spy Game, which stands at $46.9 million after 10 days, while Fox's Shallow Hal has cracked $60 million in one month, and Paramount's Domestic Disturbance has cleared $42.3 million to date. And heading for the exits is Universal's K-PAX, which goes to DVD prep with a cool $50 million finish for stars Kevin Spacey and Jeff Bridges.
The "Pack" is back this Friday, as George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, and Julia Roberts team up for Steven Soderbergh's Ocean's Eleven. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Greg Dorr has posted a sneak-peek at DreamWorks' two-disc (and one CD) edition of Almost Famous Untitled: The Bootleg Cut, while new stuff from the rest of the team today includes Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, Spirits of the Dead, Bad Taste: Limited Edition, 'Til There Was You, Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone, The Stunt Man: Limited Edition, Sheena, White Water Summer, and Silent Rage. It's all under our 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 to let you know about this week's street discs.