News and Commentary: February 2002

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Thursday, 28 February 2002
Weekend Dispatch

On the Block: Our latest round of DVD auction rankings at eBay is in, and new to the chart is the Canadian DVD release of George Stevens' 1956 Giant, which was available from Warner for a very brief period of time before it was inexplicably withdrawn — a rare copy was good for $182.50 after a fierce 22-bid session. Also new is a limited edition of Amelie from Region 2 that comes in a collectible tin case ($109.85), while Universal's out-of-print Scarface: Collector's Edition is climbing, despite the fact that it's a second-rate transfer that's up for replacement ($102.50). Criterion titles dominate the list as usual, with Salo ($415.00), The 400 Blows ($251.00), and The Killer ($225.00) leading the way. And for those of you who just can't stand the fact that TV series boxes are debuting overseas before they arrive in Region 1, there were two strong closes for Buffy the Vampire Slayer sets, while the new Angel: Season One in Region 2 fetched a $107.50 hammer-price.

Here's the highest recent closing prices of rare and out-of-print DVDs from online auctions at eBay:

  1. Salo: The Criterion Collection
    $415.00 (15 bids)
  2. The 400 Blows: The Criterion Collection
    $251.00 (19 bids)
  3. The Killer: The Criterion Collection
    $225.00 (2 bids)
  4. A Hard Day's Night (MPI edition)
    $200.00 (1 bid)
  5. Giant (Canadian edition)
    $182.50 (22 bids)
  6. This Is Spinal Tap: The Criterion Collection
    $129.46 (11 bids)
  7. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Four (Region 4)
    $125.00 (1 bid)
  8. Seven Samurai: The Criterion Collection (first edition)
    $115.50 (15 bids)
  9. Amelie: Collector's Edition (Region 2)
    $109.85 (1 bid)
  10. Army of Darkness: Limited Edition
    $109.01 (19 bids)
  11. Angel: Season One (Region 2)
    $107.50 (22 bids)
  12. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Two (Region 2)
    $102.50 (2 bids)
  13. Scarface: Collector's Edition
    $102.50 (17 bids)
  14. Hard Boiled: The Criterion Collection
    $102.50 (29 bids)
  15. Sid and Nancy: The Criterion Collection
    $96.05 (1 bid)

Quotable: "As a voting member of the academy, I am happy to see this work recognized. All of the artists involved are clearly most deserving of their nomination. But it doesn't mean that the problem is solved. Obviously, it's better than nothing; it's better than two nominations. But the fact is we have an inherent problem, and it goes well beyond who gets nominated. It goes to which projects get made and who gets hired."

— Television and film producer Suzanne de Passe
on the three Oscar nominations earned this year
by African American actors — for the first time
since 1972.

"To say that these nominations mean that African-Americans are now getting the recognition they deserve is to give a lot of power to people who don't have it. Three nominations means three nominations, nothing more or nothing less for black actors."

— Oscar nominee Denzel Washington

"I think we worked well together. In fact I enjoyed it so much that whenever we finished a scene I'd ask if we could do some more takes. Just for the fun of it. He's got a kind of raw energy. He's a commanding presence and takes up a lot of space. He walks into a room and you feel him. He's got that just-off-the-farm swagger; it's a very macho sort of energy that is kind of primal. Maybe that's what those women are responding to.... We went to a press conference the other day and the journalists in the front row — I could see them — they all had their personal video cameras pointed on him the whole time. One of them had this glossy fan book called 'Russell Crowe.' I mean, the journalists!"

Was in The Rocketeer

— Jennifer Connelly, talking to London's The
on sharing the screen with
Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind.

"These guys went over there with ideals and pride and desire to be the vanguard of freedoms most of us take for granted. Once they got there, they were under siege, backs to the wall. They didn't eat or drink or sleep. Basically, it became that they were fighting for each other. It's not mom or apple pie you're fighting for, it's the guy next to you.... Atrocities happen in war. It's lamentable, and there's no way to justify it. But it was the exception among the rule. Everyone in Vietnam wasn't a drug-taking, baby-fragging wacko. They were mainly men and women doing their duty."

— Mel Gibson, who stars in the new film We
Were Soldiers
, opening this weekend.

Kevin Smith signing: For our readers in the L.A. area, Kevin Smith will be at Dave's Video (12144 Ventura Blvd.) in Studio City on Saturday, March 2 from 1-3 p.m. signing copies of Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. The disc must be purchased at Dave's, with a portion of the proceeds going to a charity of Mr. Smith's choice. He also will sign one additional item. Drop by if you get the chance.

Coming Attractions: We're headed back to the screening room for another fresh stack of DVDs, and new reviews on the way include A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, Say Anything, and lots more. This also will be the last weekend to enter this month's totally free DVD contest for a copy of Ghost World, 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.

— Ed.

Wednesday, 27 February 2002

Mailbag: It's time for the mail dump — letters from DVD Journal readers around the world sent to our high-tech HQ, and presented with minimal comments from your own humble editor. It's all tighter than a jimmy-hat, so let's put a little mo bass in tha mix and kick it old-school:

  • I have been reading the assorted letters regarding aspect ratios and people's preferences for some time, and I must say I am rather astounded by some predictions. If I were to believe the opinions written by widescreen-diehards, I would be giving my "normal" TV away this very night!

    I cannot agree that "widescreen TVs will be the norm" soon. Frankly, television has done just fine for years in its standard 1.33:1 ratio, and many people I know, including myself, absolutely hate when a movie is letterboxed — it just gets too small to enjoy. Believe me, I love movies, I love film, I love going to the movie theater (well, I used to, before commercials and cell phones and loud folks took over), but no matter how many times I watch a widescreen film on DVD, I cannot help feeling more removed from the movie, because it is not filling my normal TV screen. Watch the opening of Goldeneye if you can in full-screen — you actually almost get vertigo for a second when James Bond jumps off the dam. In widescreen, it isn't nearly as effective because there is just too much blank screen. And whenever I watch a widescreen film on DVD and then go to the special features to see a trailer or clip in full-screen, I am amazed at how much fuller and bigger and just plain nicer things look.

    I may be one of the few people who will ever admit that I am totally annoyed that Ben Hur and even It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World are so damned widescreen at 2.55:1. I mean, it looks like I am viewing the film through Geordi LaForge's visor! Way too narrow. And with all the hoopla surrounding many films (like Kubrick's) about whether or not full screen gives you more or less picture than in the theater, or was it "matted" in the theater, but unmatted on DVD, it just gets crazy. And lets be frank — The Godfather should not look better on full-screen regular cable TV that it does on my new DVD version, but it does! I swear there is more picture on the full-screen format.

    Call me crazy if you like, but full-screen is always a better choice in my opinion. I can't wait to buy the new Blade Runner when it comes out — unless it is widescreen only. If that is the case, I will keep my old full-screen/widescreen double-sided disc and be happy.

    — Mike

  • I don't understand why most DVDs are widescreen only. I bought a big-screen TV so we could have a larger viewing area, not have blackness on the top and bottom, which I find very irritating. There aren't many of us that have splurged on a widescreen TV yet. I would like widescreen if I was watching on one of those new $3,000 TVs. Thanks for the chance to bitch — I feel a little better now.

    — Alan

  • I watched a movie on cable the other day and remarked, "Good film — I'd like to see it again in widescreen" as the credits rolled. My wife, who is neutral on the issue of black bars, called me a "television snob." I'm still wondering if that is a good thing — or a wake-up call that I really need to get outside more.

    — Lane

  • For all those consumers who insist on full-frame discs because they don't like the black bars, they will be the ones bitching about the gray bars on the sides of the widescreen TV they will be buying in about four years. Irony, that.

    — Clifford

  • Boo-hiss to the studios that bow to the lowest common denominator, which are the throngs of great unwashed out there who insist on having their DVDs with full-screen instead of widescreen. These folks are too stupid to understand that they are getting the picture the way it was originally intended to be shown. Relegate them to some dark corner where they have to perpetually watch Richard Simmons on a 15" black-and-white TV with a bent coat hanger for their antenna.

    — Kenneth

  • I just wanted to share with fellow DVD Journal readers a quick equation I used to determine if buying a 16:9 widescreen HDTV was worth it. Take the amount of DVD titles you own and multiply that by at least ten bucks apiece. (At last count, we got the total $2,800.) Now ask yourself, "If I'm willing to pay that much to own my favorite films in digital glory, shouldn't I pay at least half as much to present them in the best way possible?"

    Even for poor folks like me and my girlfriend, the answer was yes. Long live widescreen splendor!

    — Andy

  • Add me to the list of people disgusted by Blockbuster's refusal to rent widescreen DVDs when a pan-and-scan version is available. I'm done with them, which is too bad because they are practically right across the street from my apartment and they do maintain a good supply of PS2 games.

    — Kevin

  • boxcoverIn regards to large rental chains, I never set foot in them. I mostly buy DVDs, but when I do rent, it's at a small, friendly specialty store in my area that caters to true movie fans. I was an early adopter of Laserdisc who became an early adopter of DVD. I also jumped on the widescreen TV bandwagon quickly. I hope there will always be a place for people like me who actually appreciate a good film in its proper aspect ratio. I also hope I will still be able to collect my favorite films without having to worry about DVD rental pricing down the line. I can't tell you how hard I laughed during the "8-1/2" scene in Ghost World. But when I realize it's people like the rental clerk who are ruining one of my favorite mediums, I don't feel like laughing anymore.

    — Lance

    *          *          *

    Our recent discussion regarding some of the "best" DVD commentary tracks prompted several reader responses:

  • Enjoyed your answer about the best DVD commentaries. While I'm sure every schmoe who visits your site is bombarding you with their picks for best commentary, may I humbly submit that the interplay between director Amy Heckerling and author Cameron Crowe on Fast Times at Ridgemont High is pretty amazing. Not only are they having a great time, not only do they comment specifically on scenes and actors as they appear, but the backstory of how a bunch of completely inexperienced young people got a movie made at a major studio is simply astonishing. Whatever you thought about the movie before, you come away from the track convinced that it's an important artifact of its time — the pre-AIDS, post-feminist sliver of the '80s. It's clear that such a movie can't be made now and won't be made any time soon (and that's not just because Phoebe Cates is keeping her shirt buttoned).

    — Thom

  • Cannibal the Musical: Probably one of the more entertaining commentary tracks I have heard in a long time. Matt Stone and Trey Parker and a number of cast members sit down with a couple of bottles of single-malt scotch, a case of beer, and who knows what else. By the end they are plowed out of their skulls, but getting there was most of the fun. (The track also explained that the film was actually more historically accurate than most films about those events!)

    Elephant Parts: Michael Nesmith gives the most bizarre commentary I have ever heard on a DVD. He starts out talking about how the incredibly fake model town was real and that they actually destroyed it. He then goes off on a tangent somewhere out beyond Pluto. I am not going to even try and guess what he was on during that recording session...

    The Pit and the Pendulum: Roger Corman gives a great commentary on how the film was made, as well as stories about some of the other films made right around the same time. A must for any fan of Corman's work.

    The Usual Suspects: Another commentary that explains needed details about how the film was made (especially the "cigarette flicked in the eye" moment).

    Dark City: Roger Ebert's commentary for the film was quite good.

    — Alan

  • To be sure, you will be inundated with people letting you know what they think are great commentaries, but I had to make sure a vote was cast for any Kevin Smith DVD. I see why you didn't include them, as they often degenerate into a bunch of guys just hanging out having fun. But for any fan of the movies they are pure joy. I too enjoy very informative stuff and agree 100% with your picks, but I'll take fun and uninformative over dull and boring any day. Whenever I've got something to do around the house and just want something to listen to, dropping in some View Askew commentary always does the trick.

    — Mike


  • I thought I would put in a vote for the Maysles' film Gimme Shelter as a high-quality commentary track. I was transfixed watching this as Albert Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin discussed the production of the film — absolutely stunning. I haven't yet listened to the commentaries on Criterion's Grey Gardens and Salesman, but I eagerly await them.

    — Paul

  • Some of my personal favorites are the commentaries of John Boorman. On both Excalibur and Zardoz he tells intimate and loving tales of his work. His pride in doing special effects the old-fashioned way is well earned. His closing comment at the end of Excalibur about fans reciting the "Charm of Making" almost brings a tear to my eye. Background stories about Nicol Williamson and Helen Mirren's utter contempt for each other makes their scenes together even more fascinating. And his tale of Sean Connery's splitting a per diem for a car while driving himself to the set says so much about the days when actors salaries didn't exceed the cost of practically every film made prior to 1977.

    Sadly, neither The Emerald Forest, Hope and Glory, nor The General have commentaries. Considering some of the personal nature of the latter two and the difficulties in filming the first, I can only imagine the tales not told.

    — Charles

  • The commentary on the El Mariachi/Desperado combo disc has got to be one of the most interesting, low-fat tracks I've heard... The Mariachi side is a bit better, but both are really great.

    — Will

  • Why do so many commentaries by directors, restorationists, film scholars, critics, etc. insist on spouting a verbal synopsis of what you're actually watching on-screen? "And now we come to the scene where (the hero) meets (the love interest), and as you can see here, they have coffee." Even the slightest anecdote about the circumstances of shooting the scene is better than this crap. It's like watching old silents where the title cards recount the action that you're watching. Francis Ford Coppola, Roger Ebert, and Peter Cowie all seem guilty of this at one point or another. If it's the director, don't you think they would have more to say about a project that probably consumed every waking moment of their lives for months or even years?

    — Jeffrey

  • Ever notice how DVD commentary tracks are better the lower the budget of the film? I cannot sit through any Hollywood blockbuster movie commentary, but the commentary for a movie like Re-animator had me on the floor.

    — Jeff

  • DVDs are cool, but who has nine hours to watch extras?

    — Cheri

  • As many Harry Potter fans may know, the actual title of J.K. Rowling's first book is Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone but was changed by the American publisher to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Fortunately the Canadian publisher gave kids a little more credit and released the tome with Rowling's title. This means that the film in Canada kept the original title, and therefore there will be a Canadian Region 1 version with Philosopher's Stone on the cover. Many American collectors may want it as a unique item, but there are probably some Harry Potter purists and fans out there who would prefer to have the original. They have a choice.

    — Mike


  • I'm a big fan of your site and wanted to pass along some info that you might find interesting, as all of the Public Service Announcement type messages to the troops from celebrities lately caused me to jog a distant memory. I was a production assistant on the second season of Twin Peaks and the feature film, and I remember that during the Persian Gulf war the cast and crew filmed a greeting to the troops. This little-seen segment could be a very interesting addition to the supplements to the foreseeable Second Season DVD set (especially since Lynch doesn't do commentaries — any extras are appreciated). I thought that you could inform the proper people at Artisan of what could be a very cool supplement and snapshot of history.

    — John

    Consider the folks at Artisan notified. Thanks, John.

  • With the price of a movie ticket at $7 a person I just wait for the movie to come to DVD, check the reviews, and buy it if it is good. It's the same price as taking the wife out, and we can enjoy adult beverages in our comfortable home theater. Why go to the movie theater again?

    — Drew

  • Is it just me or is it more exciting when an older film comes out on DVD with little or no extras than a recent "Hollywood Blockbuster "packed to the gills with stuff? Why not delay these obvious pieces of garbage and get some of the older films/cult classics out on DVD at least in an edition of some sort?

    — John

    We agree John, and we should note that MGM has done an excellent job over the past year to flood the DVD market with obscure titles that would never see the light of day if they were owned by other studios (who shall remain nameless). Columbia TriStar also has done an excellent job of releasing catalog titles, as well as foreign and art-house fare. Like you, we'll take what we can get, and we're not so impressed with extra features we'll only watch once or twice at the most. Give us the classics!

  • Enid in Ghost World is probably the only character I could relate with in the 2001 film year. Like her, I always accentuate the things I hate, and the Oscar nominations are always the perfect forum to vent my frustration. I could talk about the glaring omissions in the acting categories (Where's Billy Bob Thornton? Tilda Swinton? Thora Birch? Steve Buscemi?), or even the fact that In the Bedroom was the only Best Picture nominee to make my top 10 list.

    boxcoverBut what is truly pissing me off is the fact that Moulin Rouge got eight nominations! The film is the boisterous bastard celluloid child of Jerry Bruckheimer and Ken Russell — a work of wretched directorial excess and muted emotions with art direction and loud-til-your-ears-bleed noise that drowns out plot, narrative, dialogue, and "acting." The fact that Nicole Kidman is getting a nomination for her "work" here, and got no recognition for To Die For and Eyes Wide Shut in the past, is unfortunate.

    — Nareg

  • I was pleased to see your mention of the absence of Richard Linklater's Waking Life from the Academy Awards' Best Animated Film category. While I agree that it is an appalling oversight, it is hardly surprising. Until American audiences see animated films as anything other than children's fare, they will never be taken seriously. U.S. studios should take a lesson from Japan — they produce their fair share of the unwatchable, but their best animation is the best around.

    — Ken

  • I recently saw a trailer for Episode II: Attack of the Clones and it gave me pause. Who among us is strong enough to stop this man? First, Jar Jar Binks. (Actually, first Ewoks, but the past is the past.) Now, the origin of Darth Vader as seen through the eyes of Nicholas Sparks. "Anakin, C-3P0 says you like me. Is this true?" Someone hire this man a screenwriter!

    George, baby, sweetheart... for the love of everything holy, allow someone else to write the dialogue. Someone who understands that a man who decides to give his life over to controlling the universe and destroying all those who stand in his way might have, well, a "dark side." We need to save his creation from its creator. Then again, two guys are lining up right now at a Seattle theater that might not even show the movie, so what do I know?

    I watched Phantom Menace again. It shaved a year off my life. Maybe, as one of the bazillion bonus supplements, Lucas should have included a good movie. Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, now with 3,000 hours of DVD bonus features, including Raiders of the Lost Ark. *Sigh*.

    — Thomas


  • In your Wild Strawberries review, Gregory Dorr asks the question, "Has (Ingmar) Bergman ever made a film that people actually like?" Well, I can't speak for anybody in Sweden, where he is obviously their most revered filmmaker, but speaking for myself I find it hard to imagine anyone not loving the warmth of either Smiles of Summer Night or The Magic Flute. Also, the generous wit of Wild Strawberries makes it a highly enjoyable film. Personally, I also find Fanny and Alexander a moving and wonderful experience.

    I think the question Mr. Dorr should have asked is "Has Bergman ever made a film that I would actually like?" Above he will find several suggestions.

    — Nathan

  • As an original Laserdisc fanatic, I continue to cheer the current state of the DVD industry. Don't forget everyone — any release on LD was usually priced at $35 or above, and $100 for a Criterion release (which, to my shock, was not always the best material available!) I just bought Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz for under $15 at Target. I saw Mystic Pizza on sale today at Best Buy for less than $9, as well as Heat for under $14. Entire TV seasons of The Simpsons and Buffy are on sale, with extras, and first-run movies like The Lord of the Rings are coming up for less than $30. Of course everything is available at some price, but I cannot help but be excited at all the source material on sale (not even mentioning the quality of DVD players for under $200!)

    — Mark

  • For those who buy used DVDs from rental outlets and wonder why they have security tags, let me put you in my store for a week and then you'll understand the need to efficiently and secretly tag all product. It's called shoplifting — that damn little thing done by people with no jobs, no purpose in life, and who smell bad. But hey, I guess everyone needs something to give their little rugrats for Christmas.

    — Tim

  • Why do studios make DVDs that have menu-accessible-only commentaries? I was watching Bridget Jones's Diary the other night and I wanted to hear the commentary — but I got the little hand in the corner of the screen. So I backed up to the menu, and it's the longest menu I've ever seen. I listened to the commentary for a bit, but then I started missing the actual dialogue. So I thought, "Well, maybe once you've accessed the commentary you're free to jump back and forth." Not so. I got so irritated I just turned off the TV and started drinking.

    — Neal

    We're with you on this one Neal — commentaries and subtitle tracks that cannot be accessed with a remote control "on the fly" are among our biggest pet peeves. In fact your editor was recently previewing Fox's Sexy Beast DVD and quickly discovered he had to return to the menu to activate the English subtitles with our Sony player (and Sexy Beast is a movie that pretty much requires subtitles for anybody who didn't grow up in London). A minor pain in the ass, but we did get the subtitles to switch on a Toshiba deck, so it appears this can be a hardware issue as much as an authoring one.

    boxcoverTop of the Pops: You picked 'em — here's the most-accessed reviews on The DVD Journal over the past week. Click the links to read our reviews of these discs:

    1. Hearts in Atlantis
    2. O: Special Edition
    3. Don't Say a Word
    4. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
    5. The Larry Sanders Show: Season One
    6. Bones: Platinum Series
    7. The Musketeer
    8. The Confessions of Robert Crumb
    9. Hardball
    10. Satan in High Heels


    — Ed.

    Tuesday, 26 February 2002

    In the Works: Here's some new disc announcements, courtesy of Image Entertainment and, and additional staff reports:

    • Fresh from Warner is last year's Ocean's Eleven, which will arrive in separate anamorphic widescreen and pan-and-scan versions. Features on both releases will be identical and include a commentary track with director Steven Soderbergh and scenarist Ted Griffin, a second track with stars Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, and Andy Garcia, an HBO "First Look" featurette, the behind-the-scenes doc "A Look at the Con," four trailers, and DVD-ROM extras (May 7). Also in prep is the 1981 miniseries The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which will offer deleted scenes, a "making-of" short, a tribute to author Douglas Adams, and an audio interview with Adams as well (April 30).

    • We've already warned Trekkies that Paramount is getting the entire Next Generation series out in short order, and due on May 7 is Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season #2, with a variety of behind-the-scenes goodies in a big six-disc box. And don't forget — all seven seasons will be in release by March 2003.

    • Due in April from Criterion is Jean-Pierre Melville's 1956 late noir film Bob le Flambeur, which will offer a new digital transfer and subtitles, an interview with actor Daniel Cauchy, and a trailer (April 23). Also set are two Russian films, the 1959 Ballad of a Soldier, which will feature an interview with director Grigori Chukhrai and stars Vladimir Ivashov and Zhanna Prokhorenko, and 1957's Cranes Are Flying, directed by Mikhail Kalatozov (both April 16).

    • In a bit of a surprise (to us at least), Columbia TriStar will release Michael Mann's Ali in a bone-stock version with nothing more than trailers as extra features, despite the fact that star Will Smith has earned an Oscar nomination for his performance. Does the studio lack faith in the product? We doubt it, and we wouldn't be surprised to learn that a strong feature-set couldn't be laced up on a Blockbuster Video timetable. Don't be surprised to see an Ali: Special Edition down the road — for now, the featherweight edition arrives on April 30.

    • Getting a double-dipping from Artisan is Dune: Special Edition, the Sci-Fi Channel miniseries that first aired in 2000. The new three-disc set will include a commentary with author Frank Herbert, director John Harrison, and star William Hurt, approx. 30 minutes of deleted scenes, a "science fiction round-table" documentary with Harrison, Richard Dreyfuss, Salman Rushdie, George Lucas, Alex Poryas, Ursula K. LeGuin, Michael Crichton, Charles Elachi, William Gibson, and Arthur C. Clarke, and the additional documentary "Defining Messiah," which features comments from religious scholars (June 18). Other new Artisan titles include Novocaine: Special Edition starring Steve Martin, which will offer a commentary from director David Atkins, a featurette and documentary, deleted scenes, and an isolated score, while Dracula: The Dark Prince will sport a commentary from director Joe Chappelle (both April 23).

    On the Street: It's another slender street Tuesday, but we're sure most DVD fans will find at least one new item to add to their collections. New from Columbia TriStar is Larry Sanders: The Entire First Season, which is a pleasant three-disc set for the show's ardent admirers, while Columbia also has released a pair of smaller films, the office comedy Haiku Tunnel and Jacques Rivette's theater drama Va Savior. Those who can't get enough of Kevin Smith and crew will certainly look for Buena Vista's Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, while a small film from Smith's View Askew pals is also out today, Drawing Flies. Action fans will be picking up Universal's The Musketeer, and David Lynch collectors have another disc to get with the arrival of New Line's Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. And we found New Line's Bones: Platinum Series to have a bang-up set of extra features, even if the movie did not match its full potential. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of and Image Entertainment:

    • 2000 Year Old Man: Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks
    • Bones: Platinum Series
    • Cinderella 2: Dreams Come True
    • Def Leppard: Historia/ In The Round, In Your Face
    • Def Leppard: Visualize/ Video Archive
    • Don Giovanni
    • Drawing Flies
    • Haiku Tunnel
    • Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back: Special Edition
    • Johnny Cash: The Anthology
    • Joy Enriquez: Music in High Places
    • The Larry Sanders Show: Season One (3-disc set)
    • Lush
    • Madame Butterfly
    • The Musketeer
    • Pete Townshend: Music from Lifehouse
    • Roger Ramjet: Hero of Our Nation
    • Roger Ramjet: Man of Adventure
    • Secret Agent #2
    • Secret Agent #3
    • Session 9
    • Space: 1999 Set #5: Volume 9 & 10
    • Space: 1999 Set #6: Volume 11 & 12
    • A Taste of Others
    • Tease
    • Titanic: The Complete Story
    • Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
    • Va Savoir

    — Ed.

    Monday, 25 February 2002

    boxcoverDisc of the Week: The "workplace comedy" is a tried-and-true formula that resonates on two basic levels: First, most of us work — so there's a situation that's immediately familiar on some level to a vast number of viewers. Second, most of us hate our jobs, which provides endless opportunity for humor. While workplace comedy tends to primarily dominate television sitcoms, the last few years have also seen a spate of similarly themed movies (Clockwatchers, Bartleby, Office Space, and waydowntown, to name just four), generally aimed at urban cubicle-dwellers. Most are low-budget indie films made by people who have just escaped, as they see it, from the soulless hell of working purely for the paycheck when they'd much rather be doing something creative. Like, say, make movies about how awful it is to work for a living. An audience favorite when it premiered at Sundance, Haiku Tunnel (2001) differs from others of its ilk mainly in writer/star Josh Kornbluth's genuine affection for the workplace. Kornbluth notes the fears, annoyances, idiocies and inequities in cubicle-land, but he shares them with a refreshing lack of self-conscious, Gen-X cynicism.

    Kornbluth plays a character named "Josh Kornbluth" who, he points out at the top of Haiku Tunnel, is a fictional character. The lawyer-characters he works for, he says, are nothing like the real-life lawyers he worked for when he — the real Josh Kornbluth — was a temp office worker. No, he explains, this story is all fiction, and it all takes place in a fictional place called ... San Franclisco. A wannabe-novelist, Josh claims to love being a temporary office worker. But in reality, he's depressed, lonely, incapable of committing to a relationship, and in need of some serious therapy. Which is why, when he takes a new temp assignment at the law firm of Schuyler and Mitchell ("S&M"), it's the promise of a benefits package that'll pay for his psychotherapy that sways him to accept an offer to "go perm." But as soon as he does, everything starts to crumble — his boss gives him 17 Very Important Letters to type up and mail, and the bulk of the film concerns Josh's blackly comic, passive-aggressive efforts to both fulfill and avoid that assignment.

    Kornbluth is a "monologist" and Haiku Tunnel is adapted from a piece he debuted in San Francisco in 1990 (and was later collected with two other monologues in the book "Red Diaper Baby"). The film is actually weakest when it retains the feel of a monologue; Kornbluth speaking directly into the camera really isn't all that funny. But Kornbluth (and his director, brother Jacob Kornbluth) learned a valuable lesson that other monologists like Spaulding Gray and Eric Bogosian never did: He put other people in his movie. Warren Keith is hilarious as Josh's tax-lawyer boss, capturing every bit of managerial doublespeak and distracted glad-handing with an undercurrent of shimmering evil. Harry Shearer shows up for a short scene as a corporate trainer, leading a day-long seminar on such scintillating topics as fixing a jammed copier and where the staples are kept. Most memorable is San Francisco performance artist Helen Shumaker as the spooky head secretary, Marlina D'Amore; in one of the film's funniest segments, Josh takes her up on her offer to call her at home if he has any problems — at 2 a.m., leaving a rambling, hours-long message on her voice mail, blathering about his personal life. While not as sharply honed as Mike Judge's hilarious Office Space, the brothers Kornbluth have created a darkly funny yet affectionate homage to office-workers everywhere, and a welcome addition to the genre.

    Columbia TriStar's new DVD release of Haiku Tunnel offers a lot for fans of the movie, starting with a good anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) and both Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby 2.0 Surround audio. A very charming commentary track by Josh and Jacob Kornbluth reveals the immense affection they have for the film. They have funny, "gee our movie was soooo low-budget" anecdotes for almost every scene — pointing out every single production manager/costume designer/script supervisor who stood in as an extra or said a line; discussing the use of "latex paint you have to get at a sex store" to turn Josh's boss into the Devil for a fantasy sequence; and laughing about how their lack of money meant they couldn't pay for the building they were shooting in to turn on air conditioning on the weekend: "The audience can't tell, but it was nine-hundred-thousand-million degrees Fahrenheit in that room." Outtakes and deleted scenes also are on board, including Shearer's ad libs, plus theatrical trailers and director's notes. Haiku Tunnel is on the street tomorrow.

    Box Office: Only months after perishing in a fatal plane crash, pop singer and budding movie star Aaliyah wound up at the top of the American box office with Queen of the Damned, which garnered $15.1 million for Warner. As is often the case with posthumous releases, Queen certainly attracted some curiosity-seekers, although Warner promoted the film in a straightforward manner. Also new over the weekend was Universal's Dragonfly starring Kevin Costner, which garnered $10.4 million. Reviews for Queen of the Damned were mixed-to-poor, while the supernatural Dragonfly earned negative reviews from virtually all critics.

    In continuing release, last week's winner John Q, starring Denzel Washington, managed to drop only one spot with another $12.5 million in its second frame and nearly $40 million in ten days. Disney's Peter Pan follow-up Return to Never Land is also showing some legs, slipping one place to fourth with a $27 million cume. And for those of you who predicted that the Britney Spears movie Crossroads would sink like a cobblestone in its second week were dead wrong (that includes us) — it actually took in another $7.1 million, and the $26 million gross to date virtually assures that Britney will make another movie before much longer. On Academy Award watch, New Line's Lord of the Rings now stands at $283.2 million, Universal's A Beautiful Mind is at $132.6 million, and Sony's Black Hawk Down has cleared the century with $101.4 million after nine weeks. And folks at Buena Vista have a hot one on the way to DVD prep, as Disney's Snow Dogs will finish with around $70 million for Cuba Gooding Jr. and his furry pals.

    New films arriving this Friday include We Were Soldiers starring Mel Gibson, as well as the romantic comedy 40 Days and 40 Nights. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:

    1. Queen of the Damned (Warner Bros.)
      $15,155,000 ($15,155,000 through 1 week)
    2. John Q (New Line)
      $12,525,000 ($39,855,000 through 2 weeks)
    3. Dragonfly (Universal)
      $10,400,000 ($10,400,000 through 1 week)
    4. Return to Never Land (Buena Vista)
      $9,000,000 ($27,200,000 through 2 weeks)
    5. Crossroads (Paramount)
      $7,100,000 ($26,266,000 through 2 weeks)
    6. Big Fat Liar (Universal)
      $6,700,000 ($33,600,000 through 3 weeks)
    7. A Beautiful Mind (Universal)
      $5,200,000 ($132,600,000 through 10 weeks)
    8. Hart's War (MGM)
      $4,551,000 ($13,872,000 through 2 weeks)
    9. Super Troopers (Fox Searchlight)
      $3,910,000 ($12,480,000 through 2 weeks)
    10. Collateral Damage (Warner Bros.)
      $3,730,000 ($34,476,000 through 3 weeks)
    11. Black Hawk Down (Sony/Columbia TriStar)
      $3,700,000 ($101,407,000 through 9 weeks)
    12. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (New Line)
      $3,550,000 ($283,283,000 through 10 weeks)

    On the Board: Greg Dorr has posted a sneak-preview of New Line's Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, while new stuff from the rest of the gang this week includes The Larry Sanders Show: Season One, The Musketeer, Bones: Platinum Series, Mrs. Winterbourne, Va Savoir, A Glimpse of Hell, Haiku Tunnel, and two more Broadway Theatre Archive titles, Alice in Wonderland and The Time of Your Life. It's all fresh under the New Reviews menu here on the front page, or use our search engine to scan our entire DVD reviews database.

    We'll be back tomorrow with the rundown on this week's street discs.

    — Ed.

    Thursday, 21 February 2002
    Weekend Dispatch

    Coming Attractions: New DVD reviews are on the way, including Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, The Musketeer, and more. We're back on Monday — see ya then.

    boxcoverCommentary Clips: "Coming up is a famous Hitchcock scene — (Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman) are going out to a balcony, which of course was shot in the studio with rear-projection of Rio in the background — and you'll notice a cut to a tight two-shot, then the camera moves in slowly, and for the next two minutes and 40 seconds we have a continuous take of the two lovers. Hitchcock said that he felt that they should remain in an embrace, and that we, the audience, should join them. The whole idea was based on not breaking up the romantic moment. 'I didn't want to cut it up' (Hitchcock said), 'it was an emotional thing, the movement of that camera.' The kissing, he insisted, gave the public the great privilege of embracing Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman together. It was a kind of temporary ménage a trois. (Fashion designer) Edith Head said later on 'I learned my restraint lessons very well — in what was one of the sexiest love scenes ever on screen, Bergman and Grant were totally dressed, but who remembers what they wore?' You'll also notice that there is no music during this scene. Normally, particularly at this time, there would be a love theme played beautifully in the background — but in this case Hitchcock opted to go away from the cliché and have just the faint, natural sound of the beach in the background. Hitchcock said that 'Grant and Bergman told me they felt very awkward in that scene in Notorious, particularly moving their backs to the camera towards the telephone. But I told them not to worry, it would look great on film and that's all that mattered.' However, RKO executive William Dozier remembered seeing Bergman and Hitchcock go at it with hammer and tongs for half an hour one morning. 'Very well, Hitch, we'll do it your way,' she finally said. 'It's not my way, Ingrid, it's the right way.' Well, Hitchcock knew what he wanted to see on the screen, and the most important thing to him was what was going to be up on that screen. The actor accommodated himself to the camera — not vice-versa."

    *          *          *

    "New York critic and screenwriter Frank Nugent wrote a piece for The New York Times in 1945 after he had visited the set while (the first dinner scene) was being shot. He reported:

    Hitch had had to yell "Bring on the puppets!" twice before all his players were in their places. Bergman said "Come on, direct — put your 'touch' on this scene." Well he took his place on a capstool a foot to the side of the camera, and barely a yard from Ms. Bergman. "Let's run through it," he said. Well they did, a few times. It wasn't quite right, then Bergman spoke up. "The girl's look is wrong," she said. "You have her registering too soon. I think she should do it this way," and then she showed how she wanted to do it. I waited for the explosion. Hitch normally would rather take cyanide than advice from an actress. "I think you're right," he said. The next take was perfect.

    "Hitchcock has said that he does not direct actors. 'I talk to them and explain to them what the scene is, what its purpose is, why they are doing certain things, because they relate to the story, not to the scene. The whole scene relates to the story, but that little look does this or does that for the story. I once said that actors are cattle, but that's a joke. However, actors are children, and they're temperamental, and they need to be handled gently, and sometimes slapped.' ... The reference to Hitchcock yelling on the set 'Bring on the puppets!' probably refers back to memos from (producer David O.) Selznick complaining that Hitchcock's characters were 'puppets in a melodrama' — so I'm sure Hitchcock was having some fun at that point."

    — Film historian Rudy Behlmer,
    Notorious: The Criterion Collection

    Quotable: "We are not so far away from producing (blue-laser DVDs) in mass quantities. (We intended) to end speculation on what we wanted to do with blue laser and to show a uniform face."

    — Philips Electronics executive Jan Oosterveld, on
    the recent adoption of a HDTV-DVD standard by
    nine consumer-electronics manufacturers (but
    don't expect the new format for a while yet).

    "Everyone is very sensitive about being appropriate. The studio feels her loss terribly, but they're not in the business of articulating that. And I personally believe that they were going to market the film the same way — that Aaliyah was always the biggest name in the film."

    — Director Michael Rymer, whose Queen
    of the Damned
    opens this weekend.

    "Everybody has got their own idea about what (Ali) should have been. It's not like The Insider, where people say, 'I didn't know about this.' You could ask everyone what Ali meant to them, and each person would have a specific story. That's why I don't plan to do another reality-based movie. I was supposed to direct a movie about Howard Hughes next, but now I'm not going to do it. I started to feel that the format was too imprisoning. It's like, 'In 1947, Howard Hughes goes in front of a congressional hearing.' And it can't be 1946. It can't be 1937. And I'd like to say, 'Y'know what? He crashes his plane on the way to the hearing.' But you can't do that."

    Can be held responsible for Miami Vice

    — Director Michael Mann, speaking to London's
    The Guardian

    "He should be on his third Oscar by now, and that might not be enough. I cannot absorb living in a world where I have an Oscar for best actress and Denzel (Washington) doesn't have one for best actor."

    — Julia Roberts, in a recent Newsweek interview

    "George and I have an agreement that he doesn't do pranks on me and I don't kill him."

    — Don Cheadle on his frequent co-star George
    Clooney, who is notorious for on-set practical

    — Ed.

    Wednesday, 20 February 2002

    Best of the 'Bag: It's time to hit the rewind — and look at some choice letters from DVD Journal readers that have crossed this way once before:

  • I have recently joined the DVD bandwagon and am amazed at the technology. However, I wonder if the quality of a DVD title has more to do with the studio/producer or with the company that produced the DVD. I have seen very good titles and really terrible ones. Is it a money issue or is it a conceptual issue? Dealing with artists, record labels, and general corporate nonsense in my profession, I understand the nature of producing these titles and the ultimate cost factor. However, I can't understand how some of these titles can be so terrible, so one-dimensional, so ugly. You have probably seen more DVDs than I will see in this lifetime and your input would be great.

    — Art

    Thanks for your letter, Art. Fundamentally, the quality of every DVD comes down to two items — the source material and the transfer, and they work in that order, as the studio that produces the DVD provides the source material to an authoring house, usually a service bureau that is an independent company altogether. The quality of the film's print is a fundamental component, as is the format provided to the service bureau (note that film stock is not sent to service bureaus, but instead the title is sent on industrial-grade digital videotape, the most common being D1). The studios also provide other items, such as chapter breaks, audio options, and menu designs.

    The authoring house is then entrusted with the MPEG-2 encoding process, reducing the analog signal of the videotape to a compressed digital code that removes redundant information as seamlessly as possible, and this is where we often wind up with bad transfers, especially on early DVDs from 1997 and 1998, many of which were plagued by artifacts, shimmer, and blocking. However, there has been a great deal of improvement with DVD authoring (and DVD authors) since then, and nowadays we only come across truly bad transfers with the "budget" home video companies, who often produce DVDs to sell on the street for less than $10. In fact, while Columbia TriStar has released a definitive version of the 1940 His Girl Friday, the film has been a public-domain item for several years, and we've sampled budget DVD releases with transfers unstable enough to make ordinary VHS look splendid.

    However, despite the bad transfers we've dealt with over these few years, it is always the studio, not the authoring house, that is ultimately responsible for the quality of their DVDs, as they are the ones who sign off on the product and release it to the public under their corporate flags. We suspect that bad transfers still happen now and then like they used to, but we also suspect that the studios have gotten a lot better at catching them before they hit the street. Where studios still slip up is when they release DVDs of older films from inferior source prints — or using previous sources from Laserdiscs releases — rather than taking the time and expense to create a brand-new D1 from the best material available. But again, this seems to be changing. While many DVD fans decry the fact that some of their favorite movies are still MIA, one of the reasons why some top titles have yet to go digital is because the studios are taking more time to evaluate the materials they have on hand before rushing a title into the market — and headlong into the wrath of DVD lovers.

  • Screw the Mouse, the best American animation starred the Bunny! Isn't it odd that Warner, who so strongly supports DVD, hasn't given us any Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and friends yet? When we they throw us a carrot?

    — Glenn

    boxcoverGood point Glenn, but when DVD first got off the ground it was MGM, not Warner, who actually held the bulk of the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies catalogs — as part of the Turner library, the rights reverted to Warner in a complicated 1998 library-swap with The Lion. Of course, that means Warner has had plenty of time to release a DVD series over the past few years, but until such happens head on over to eBay and search for "Golden Age of Looney Tunes" — there were five Laserdisc box sets with five platters each released by MGM some time ago (in total about 45 hours of Warner Bros. animation), all of which are now out of print and trade for around $100 per box, and occasionally above $250 for sealed items.

    MGM currently is out of the Looney Tunes business, but will Warner release similar, equally comprehensive collections on DVD? We're not holding our breath, but we're hoping to get some Warner animation classics eventually. We have one of the MGM Laserdisc boxes in our library, and we can assure you that most of these short titles are totally pristine.

    But even if classic Warner animation makes its way to DVD, the issue of MIA shorts will be far from over, as it's well known that dozens of Warner cartoons from the '30s and '40s have been voluntarily edited or withheld from the public, and specifically 11 titles singled out in 1968 by United Artists, the rights-holder at the time — it's a list that Ted Turner stood by. Among the titles are the certifiable animation classics "Coal Black and De Sebben Dwarfs" (1943) and "Tin Pan Alley Cats" (1943), as well as the Bugs Bunny short "All This and Rabbit Stew" (1941). There were rumors some time ago that Warner might allow these titles to be shown on cable — placed in their specific context — but we are unaware of such an airing ever taking place. Specialty video collectors used to be able to get bootleg versions on eBay, but it appears they are no longer easy to find on the massive auction site (the titles are still under copyright, after all). Classic Warner animation may arrive on DVD someday, but we are not expecting anybody to lift the veil of political correctness on these rarities, which may remain MIA forever.

    (The lone exception — the wartime short "Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips" (1944) was released on the first Golden Age of Looney Tunes MGM Laserdisc set, but deleted from subsequent pressings. As it was a legally produced item when first sold, it still is traded on eBay.)

    boxcoverTop of the Pops: Here's the top-selling Drama DVDs last week from our friends at Ken Crane's Click the links to read our reviews of these discs:

    1. Hearts in Atlantis
    2. Klute
    3. Wild Strawberries: The Criterion Collection
    4. Artemisia
    5. Empire of the Sun
    6. O: Special Edition
    7. The Bad and the Beautiful
    8. A Room With A View
    9. American History X
    10. Children of Paradise: The Criterion Collection

    Bye for now.

    — Ed.

    Tuesday, 19 February 2002

    In the Works: Here's some new disc announcements, courtesy of Image Entertainment and, and additional staff reports:

    • Columbia TriStar has finally pinned down a date and details for the long-awaited Jerry Maguire: Special Edition, and the two-disc set will include a commentary with writer/director Cameron Crowe and stars Tom Cruise, Rene Zellweger, and Cuba Gooding, Jr., deleted scenes with commentary from Crowe, the music video "Secret Garden" by Bruce Springsteen, the featurette "How To Be a Sports Agent" with a look at real-life sports agent Drew Rosenhaus, a commercial spot in the film with Cuba Gooding, Jr., rehearsal footage with commentary, a photo gallery, the complete script as DVD-ROM content, trailers, filmographies, and Crowe's original "Mission Statement" for the film. Also set to street is last year's spoof Not Another Teen Movie, which will include commentaries from the filmmakers and cast, no less than 18 deleted scenes, featurettes, an auditions montage, trailers, and the "unrated" version of Marilyn Manson's "Tainted Love" music video. Both titles street on April 30.

    • The recent thriller Spy Game, starring Robert Redford and Brad Pitt, will arrive from Universal on April 9 in both anamorphic and pan-and-scan editions, and on board both will be a commentary by director Tony Scott, deleted scenes, and lots more. And action fans will not want to miss the forthcoming Ultimate Fights DVD from the FlixMix series, with segments from movies such as Gladiator, Rumble in the Bronx, Blade, Scarface, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, and others, in addition to a commentary with Tsui Hark and various other goodies. It's here on April 16.

    • Fans of HBO programming have two TV boxes to look forward to, with the three-disc Oz: The Complete First Season arriving on March 19 with two commentaries and deleted scenes, while Mr. Show: The Complete First and Second Seasons will be a two-disc set on April 2, and count on it to be packed full of goodies like commentaries and extra footage. Also on the slate is the drama Shot in the Heart with Giovanni Ribisi and Elias Koteas (March 26), as well as the baseball documentaries Babe Ruth and Where Have You Gone, Joe DiMaggio? (both April 2).

    • March titles on the way from Image include Claude Chabrol's 1987 The Cry of the Owl, which will offer a commentary from French film scholar Ric Menello and a photo gallery (March 19), Alain Resnais' 1974 Stavisky with Jean Paul Belmondo and Michael Lonsdale (March 12), a restored version of 1949's Outpost in Morocco starring George Raft and Marie Windsor (March 26), and the 1971 adventure film The Light at the Edge of the World with Kirk Douglas, Yul Brynner, and Fernando Rey (March 12). Exploitation double-features from the '60s are also in prep, with such titles as Mondo Mod and The Hippie Revolt, as well as Wild Guitar and The Choppers (all March 12), and those who like that old-school sci-fi can look forward to Flash Gordon features The Deadly Ray from Mars and The Peril from Planet Mongo, both starring Buster Crabbe (March 19).

    • Just a few family releases from Buena Vista today — Angels in the Outfield, Homeward Bound 2: Lost in San Francisco, Iron Will, White Fang, and White Fang 2: Myth of the White Wolf all street on April 23 as bone-stock titles.

    • Dr. Who lovers take note — two more platters are on the way from Warner, with 1984's Doctor Who: The Caves of Androzani sporting a commentary by Peter Davidson and Nicola Bryan, while 1987's Doctor Who: Remembrance of the Daleks will have a yack-track from Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred. Both discs will materialize in this temporal dimension on April 2.

    • Street date changes include In the Mood for Love: The Criterion Collection (March 5), Domestic Disturbance (April 16), and the animated 2001 Metropolis (April 23). Meanwhile, Fox's The Boondock Saints has returned to the release schedule (May 21).

    On the Street: There's a variety of new titles on the street this week, in particular two BBC documentaries from Home Vision, The Confessions of Robert Crumb and Jackson Pollock: Love and Death on Long Island. Mainstream fare can be found with Lions Gate's O: Special Edition and Paramount's Hardball, while Fox has the thriller Don't Say a Word for grown-ups and animated titles Ferngully: The Last Rainforest, A Troll in Central Park, and Thumbelina for the kids. The 1982 Frances Farmer biopic Frances starring Jessica Lange and Sam Shepard is out from Anchor Bay, and serious film buffs will want to look for Russell Rouse's unusual The Thief, in a new DVD release from Image. And if you positively cannot wait for Fellowship of the Ring to arrive on DVD, the new National Geographic title Beyond the Movie: Lord of the Rings may hold you over for now. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of and Image Entertainment:

    • Advertising Rules!
    • The Baby Whisperer: Special Edition
    • Big Bird Cage: Special Edition
    • Bjork: Live at Cambridge
    • Bjork: Live at Shepherd's Bush Empire
    • Bjork: MTV Unplugged and Live
    • The Brian Setzer Orchestra: Live in Japan
    • Bryce and Zion National Parks
    • The Church
    • The Confessions of Robert Crumb
    • Cross Creek
    • Don't Say a Word
    • Elvis Presley: The Missing Years
    • Escape to Grizzly Mountain
    • Facing the Enemy
    • Ferngully: The Last Rainforest
    • Frances: Special Edition
    • Forbidden Sins / Human Desires
    • Gadget Trips: Mindscapes
    • Glacier National Park
    • A Glimpse of Hell
    • Grand Canyon National Park
    • Hardball
    • Hell of the Living Dead
    • Hot Pursuit
    • Intersection
    • Jackson Pollock: Love and Death on Long Island
    • Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling
    • Movies Begin: A Treasury of Early Film 1894-1913
    • National Geographic: Beyond the Movie: Lord of the Rings (delayed from Feb. 5)
    • Nothing in Common
    • O: Special Edition (2-disc set)
    • Rats: Night of Terror
    • St. Patrick's Day
    • Stagefright (1987)
    • The Thief (1952)
    • Thumbelina
    • A Tribute to Burt Bacharach and Hal David
    • A Troll in Central Park
    • Warm Texas Rain
    • Women in Cages
    • Zombie: Special Edition


    — Ed.

    Monday, 18 February 2002

    boxcoverDisc of the Week: While the term "experimental cinema" may cause most people to think of cheap black-and-white film-festival shorts that are as indulgent as they are impenetrable, in fact just about every major advance in the history of motion pictures is the result of an experiment of some kind. D.W. Griffith and Sergei Eisenstein broadened the language of cinema with such editing techniques as cross-cutting and montage. The Vitaphone sound system — famous for giving voice to The Jazz Singer (1927) — drew crowds and forced Hollywood to re-examine how movies should be made. The use of color became widespread thanks to the Technicolor system. And while widescreen films may be common today, various technologies had been tinkered with before the format took hold in the '50s. But the world of cinema is populated by artists, not scientists — and artists often will resist the march of progress just for the sake of seeing what happens. Alfred Hitchcock created Rope (1948) without visible editing. Jean-Luc Godard used a limited budget to his own advantage in Breathless (1960) by tacking scenes together and thus creating the jump-cut. Michelangelo Antonioni's Blowup (1966) abandons its own murder-mystery plot for a predominantly silent exploration of photography and perception. And recent films such as Pulp Fiction (1994) and Memento (2001) are popular examples of narrative disruption, while Memento also uses a blend of color and black-and-white stock as a dynamic narrative device.

    It's not possible to detail all of history's notable film experiments, but a short list probably would include Russell Rouse's The Thief (1952), a daring project with a popular leading actor and a Cold War plot taken from the day's headlines. The only catch was that Rouse and co-scenarist Clarence Greene had written the entire script without dialogue — nobody speaks throughout the 90-minute film. Ray Milland stars in The Thief as Dr. Allan Fields, a renowned American nuclear physicist who is collecting information for the Russians. At the film's outset we learn that Fields has a set routine to contact his Russian handler, as a series of rings on the telephone indicate he is to go to a certain location and wait for instructions, while sensitive microfilm is often passed from Fields to the Russian in the reading room of the Library of Congress. Fields is skilled at the espionage work, although it preys on his conscience and it's clear he would like to shake free of the whole business. But when a Russian courier is struck by a car and the police find he had delicate information from Fields' office, every scientist in the building is shadowed by the FBI in the hopes of finding the mole in their midst.

    With cinematic experiments such as The Thief, two questions must be asked: First, does it work? And secondly, does it have value? In the first instance, Rouse's spy drama is a carefully crafted, functional bit of filmmaking, although mostly in terms of the film's elements, while not quite as much when taken as a complete experience. Rouse and Greene's intent when writing The Thief was clear enough — since the advent of the "talkies" a scant 25 years earlier, the nature of dialogue had altered what was regarded as the "pure cinema" of the silent era, as it was much more convenient to convey spoken information rather than illustrate it visually. Indeed, the greatest masters of the sound era, such as Hitchcock and Welles, embraced sound but never were willing to break with the visual nature of the medium; Welles' Citizen Kane is primarily a visual experience, while Hitchcock was more fond of sound design than dialogue (Hitch usually hired people to write his scripts rather than do it himself). In this sense, The Thief is a throwback to the age of silents, and in a perfect setting, as Rouse's spymaster world of 1950s Washington D.C. and New York City operates in the shadows, where people live solitary lives and communicate with covert glances and signals. But while it's an entertaining film with more than its share of nail-biting segments, The Thief is more of a valuable investigation of film grammar than a moviegoing experience, primarily because dialogue — integrated properly into motion pictures — is a useful thing, and there are moments in The Thief where it's clear that people should say a word or two, but don't. At these points it's obvious that the film is hampered by its self-imposed edicts, at times stretching the bounds of realism. But all budding cineastes owe it to themselves to watch The Thief at least once, and it should be required viewing in film schools everywhere as an acrobatic display of the first rule of moviemaking: Don't say it when you can show it.

    Image Entertainment's new DVD release of The Thief offers a clean transfer in the original full-frame ratio (1.33:1), with audio in Dolby Digital 1.0. The source-print is serviceable, but collateral wear is evident. This one also is as bare-bones as it gets, since the main menu doubles as the chapter-selection display. But it's worth a spin, and serious noir collectors will want this rarity their personal libraries. The Thief is on the street tomorrow.

    Box Office: Five new films debuted over the President's Day weekend, and claiming the top spot was Denzel Washington with New Line's hostage drama John Q., which earned $20.6 million over the past three days. And perhaps we should be grateful, for were it not for John Q., Paramount's Britney Spears star-project Crossroads would have been the number-one film in America — in any event, it performed strongly with a $14.6 million bow for second place (far better than the oft-compared Mariah Carey washout Glitter, which never reached the top ten). Other new arrivals included Disney's Return to Never Land ($11.8 million), MGM's Hart's War ($8.3 million), and Fox's Super Troopers ($6.2 million). The new films received mixed reviews with the exception of Crossroads, which was jack-hammered by most critics (Ebert: "I went to Crossroads expecting a glitzy bimbofest and got the bimbos but not the fest.")

    In continuing release, eight Academy Award nominations earned Universal's A Beautiful Mind another $8.5 million with $124.7 million to date, while the 13-time nominee Lord of the Rings is still hanging around, adding $5 million to its $277.9 million cume. Last week's winner, Warner's Collateral Damage, fell to fourth with $28.5 million so far, while Black Hawk Down now has $95.4 million after two months. And on the way to DVD prep is MGM's Rollerball, which had a $9 million break last week but has now vanished from sight.

    New films opening this Friday include Dragonfly starring Kevin Costner and Queen of the Damned with Aaliyah and Stuart Townsend. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:

    1. John Q. (New Line)
      $20,600,000 ($20,600,000 through 1 week)
    2. Crossroads (Paramount)
      $14,600,000 ($14,600,000 through 1 week)
    3. Return to Never Land (Buena Vista)
      $11,800,000 ($11,800,000 through 1 week)
    4. Collateral Damage (Warner Bros.)
      $9,100,000 ($28,500,000 through 2 weeks)
    5. Big Fat Liar (Universal)
      $8,700,000 ($22,200,000 through 2 weeks)
    6. A Beautiful Mind (Universal)
      $8,500,000 ($124,700,000 through 9 weeks)
    7. Hart's War (MGM)
      $8,300,000 ($8,300,000 through 1 week)
    8. Black Hawk Down (Columbia/TriStar)
      $6,200,000 ($95,400,000 through 8 weeks)
    9. Super Troopers (Fox Searchlight)
      $6,200,000 ($6,200,000 through 1 week)
    10. Snow Dogs (Buena Vista)
      $5,800,000 ($67,200,000 through 5 weeks)

    On the Board: Betsy Bozdech has posted a sneak preview of the two-disc O: Special Edition, while D.K. Holm recently looked at the documentary The Confessions of Robert Crumb. New stuff from the rest of the gang this week includes Don't Say a Word, Hardball, Hot Pursuit, Jackson Pollock: Love and Death on Long Island, Nothing in Common, Fifth of July: Broadway Theatre Archive, The Thief, and Satan in High Heels. Everything's been added to the New Reviews menu here on the front page — you can find even more DVD reviews with our handy search engine right above it.

    Back tomorrow with this week's street discs.

    — Ed.

    Thursday, 14 February 2002
    Weekend Dispatch

    Coming Attractions: It's time to peel the plastic off some fresh DVDs, and new reviews on the way include Don't Say a Word, Hardball, and more. In the meantime, if you haven't entered our totally free DVD contest for a copy of Ghost World, 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: "Though it has rarely been the academy's style to embrace probing, difficult material, the year's events seemed to have — if anything — increased its love of the familiar. As a result, four of the five best picture nominees, even those with ostentatiously glitzy exteriors like Moulin Rouge, are conventional at their core. And, with one exception (the exceptional In the Bedroom), films that didn't fit that mold suffered in the voting. So the traditionally uplifting A Beautiful Mind was a big winner Tuesday, scoring nominations in most of the major categories, while the disquieting Black Hawk Down was something of a disappointment, failing to get a best picture nod. Since Sept. 11, Hollywood has been trying to gauge the national mood, and if academy voters reflect current tastes, everyone wants movies that go down easy."

    — Film critic Kenneth Turan, writing in The Los
    Angeles Times

    "I hate the Oscars. It all gets blown up too big. It's great to be recognized and to be nominated and get awards but the absolute reality is, about a week after the Oscars, people can't remember most of what happened. It's a little soufflé. It's a wonderful mad American thing. When it's over, it's over and nobody actually gives a damn.... I don't like (the fashion) side of it at all. I find it increasingly disturbing because really everyone who goes down the red carpet should be a model. They all want you to look like a model and you don't and you're treated as if you ought to, and it's your fault if you don't. I love people like Sissy Spacek who absolutely doesn't engage in that stuff. She always wears her hair the same and some black suit. I have great admiration for that."


    — Helen Mirren, nominated for her role in
    Gosford Park.

    "None of us get nominated if Russell Crowe didn't do the job he did in this movie. I feel everyone did a wonderful job, everyone deserves their recognition, myself included, but I must be very candid and frank with you: If the performance doesn't live up to the standards (Crowe) reached, the film is not going to be acknowledged as it was."

    — Director Ron Howard, who's A Beautiful
    earned eight Academy Award nods
    this week.

    "I always find it strange when a film is nominated and not the director. I feel particularly bad about that."

    Lord of the Rings director and Oscar nominee
    Peter Jackson, on the fact that Baz Luhrmann did
    not receive a Best Director nod for Moulin

    "There is, of course, a limit to the number of times one can take to the public stage to renounce one's country and heap scorn on its leaders — after which audiences are bound to begin heading for the exits. Indeed, (Robert) Altman might do well to ration further public pronouncements on his wish to abandon the U.S. for France, Britain, and similar political Edens. Otherwise — fearful vision — we may find him wandering the shores of Europe in perpetuity, catching at the sleeves of travelers to announce that he has decided to leave America."

    Wall Street Journal media columnist
    Dorothy Rabinowitz

    — Ed.

    Wednesday, 13 February 2002

    Mailbag: Wednesday is the day we clean out the reader mail here at The DVD Journal, and we have a follow-up on the Eraserhead DVD from ... well, have a look:

  • I'm a member of — plug the site if you can, there's lots of original content from David (we call him David; he chats pretty much every day). He's now targeting a store launch-date of February 13 for members only. Then non-members will have access starting about 10 days after that. This is all up-to-date, horse's-mouth info, but the store launch has been delayed before and may be again. In addition to other merchandise, two DVDs will be available exclusively through the store — first, a Collected Short Films of David Lynch DVD, many of which have never been released for sale in any format. This disc may be available immediately upon launch of the store, or shortly thereafter. Then, a little later, Eraserhead. No word yet on price. Both discs have been mastered and restored by David and his crew. This is Big News, but the word seems to have spread slowly.

    Other goodies announced for the store include a remastered Eraserhead soundtrack CD and "BlueBob," Lynch's first-ever CD of original music (hints of which may be found on the Mulholland Drive CD).

    — Jeremy

    *          *          *


  • Addendum: Tonight I asked David about the price for Collected Short Films and Eraserhead. He said:


    So it looks like the store goes up on the 11th to members only, and the Collected Short Films will be available on that date, at an as-yet super-secret price point.

    — Jeremy

    There's the juice folks — Eraserhead is not quite ready to go digital, but keep your eyes on for the director-approved version (and thanks to Jeremy keeping on top of this for us.)

  • I want to know what the heck is up, or not up, with a Slacker DVD. Here's the thing — now that the execrable Slackers is polluting theaters everywhere (at least for the next ten minutes), we owe it to the kids to highlight the fact that they should not confuse this piece of garbage with Linklater's unique experiment of ten years ago.

    — Thom

    boxcoverRichard Linklater's low-budget 1991 cult hit Slacker — a sprawling film concerning several young oddballs in the college town of Austin, Texas — is completely MIA from DVD, but its status is hardly a mystery. Independently produced by Linklater's Detour Film Production, the picture originally was distributed theatrically by Orion Classics, and Orion released the first VHS edition as well. However, the Orion catalog eventually found its way to MGM, and The Lion released their Slacker VHS in February of 2000. For those interested in Laserdiscs, the sole LD release came from Image in 1993, but it's bone-stock and probably not worth much with a standard 1.33:1 transfer and Dolby Surround audio.

    That leaves the ball in MGM's court, and for Linklater fans that may not be a good thing. We've praised MGM in the past for their aggressive DVD release schedule — particularly since they own a back-catalog of 4,100 films — and often we've been happy to get the classics on attractive, bare-bones DVDs (Inherit the Wind and Witness for the Prosecution have been two recent black-and-white treats from the studio). But it's also known that MGM earmarks just two or three titles a month for special-edition status, and often they are new movies. Perhaps sales of Terry Zwigoff's unusual teen film Ghost World will convince MGM that Slacker also deserves a special edition. But it's just as likely that the movie will arrive in one of the studio's catalog dumps under the "Contemporary Classics" folio.

    And not to add insult to injury, but a missing Slacker DVD can hardly compare to a massive oversight by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, who completely ignored Linklater's Waking Life — largely considered to be one of the most ambitious, thought-provoking animated films of last year — by failing to nominate it yesterday morning in the Best Animated Film category in favor of mainstream titles Shrek, Monsters, Inc., and Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius. We thought the failure of Memento to earn a Best Picture nod was Tuesday's worst blunder, but the complete omission of Waking Life may be a close second.

    boxcoverTop of the Pops: Here's the top-selling Drama DVDs last week from our friends at Ken Crane's Click the links to read our reviews of these discs:

    1. Almost Famous Untitled: The Bootleg Cut
    2. Apollo 13 (Movie-Only/DTS)
    3. Children of Paradise: The Criterion Collection
    4. Captain Corelli's Mandolin
    5. Klute
    6. Notorious: The Criterion Collection
    7. Apocalypse Now Redux
    8. Queer As Folk: The Complete First Season
    9. Wild Strawberries: The Criterion Collection
    10. Fifth of July: Broadway Theatre Archive

    See ya.

    — Ed.

    Tuesday, 12 February 2002

    Academy Award nods: Here's the rundown this morning from sunny L.A.:

    • Best Picture: A Beautiful Mind, Gosford Park, In the Bedroom, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Moulin Rouge
    • Best Actor: Russell Crowe, A Beautiful Mind; Sean Penn, I Am Sam; Will Smith, Ali; Denzel Washington, Training Day; Tom Wilkinson, In the Bedroom
    • Best Actress: Halle Berry, Monster's Ball; Judi Dench, Iris; Nicole Kidman, Moulin Rouge; Sissy Spacek, In the Bedroom; Renee Zellweger, Bridget Jones's Diary
    • Best Director: Robert Altman, Gosford Park; Ron Howard, A Beautiful Mind; Peter Jackson, Lord of the Rings; David Lynch, Mulholland Drive; Ridley Scott, Black Hawk Down
    • Best Supporting Actor: Jim Broadbent, Iris; Ethan Hawke, Training Day; Ben Kingsley, Sexy Beast; Ian McKellen, Lord of the Rings; Jon Voight, Ali
    • Best Supporting Actress: Jennifer Connelly, A Beautiful Mind; Helen Mirren, Gosford Park; Maggie Smith, Gosford Park; Marisa Tomei, In the Bedroom; Kate Winslet, Iris
    • Best Foreign Language Film: Amelie, Elling, Lagaan, No Man's Land, Son of the Bride

    Leading the way was The Lord of the Rings with 13 nominations, while A Beautiful Mind and Moulin Rouge received eight apiece.

    In the Works: It's time to look at some new disc announcements, courtesy of Image Entertainment and, and additional staff reports:

    • Heading the pack today is a new Criterion release of Steven Soderbergh's Traffic, long-rumored and now a reality thanks to a licensing deal with USA. The two-disc set improves on the original release with a trio of commentary tracks (featuring Soderbergh, screenwriter Stephen Gaghan, composer Cliff Martinez, and production staff), deleted scenes with commentary from Soderbergh and Gaghan, looks at the editing and unique film-processing techniques, outtakes, and more. Expect this one to do battle with Warner's Harry Potter DVD on May 28.

    • Due from Fox is the recent Bosnian War thriller Behind Enemy Lines starring Owen Wilson and Gene Hackman, and features include a commentary by director John Moore and editor Martin Smith, a second yack-track from producers John Davis and Wick Godfrey, a featurette, three extended scenes, the original opening and closing title sequences with commentary, and an alternate "Take Off" montage with commentary (April 23). Also on the way is last year's noir thriller The Deep End starring Tilda Swinton, which will offer a commentary from directors David Siegel and Scott McGehee, the Sundance short "The Anatomy of a Scene," a featurette, and stills (April 16). April will also see the arrival of the Martin Lawrence comedy Black Knight with separate commentaries from Lawrence and director Gil Junger, outtakes, stunt scenes, and a choreography featurette with Paula Abdul (April 16). Also watch for a retread release of Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet with a commentary from Luhrmann and crew, a director's gallery, a design gallery, interviews, two music videos, and DVD-ROM content (March 12).

    • Fox also has more Marilyn Monroe films in prep with The Diamond Collection, Volume II, a five-disc box that will include 1952's Don't Bother to Knock and Monkey Business, 1953's Niagara, the 1954 River of No Return, and 1960's Let's Make Love. Expect the limited features to include restoration demonstrations, stills, and trailers. All five discs will be available individually, while a full slipcase carries a $79.98 SRP (May 14).

    • The Coen Brothers' The Man Who Wasn't There is on the USA slate, offering such features as a commentary from Joel and Ethan (who will be joined by star Billy Bob Thornton), an interview with cinematographer Roger Deakins, deleted scenes, stills, and a featurette (April 16).

    • Martin Scorsese's 1978 The Last Waltz, featuring the farewell performance by The Band, will get the SE treatment from MGM with a new anamorphic transfer and DD 5.1 mix, a commentary by Scorsese and Robbie Robertson, a second commentary with the featured musicians, a featurette, unseen footage, memorabilia, and an eight-page booklet written by Robertson. Turn it up loud on May 7.

    • Columbia TriStar has announced a new imprint for their home-video line, "Destination Films," which is designed to highlight avant garde, foreign, and cult titles. Launching the new brand will be the 2001 anime Metropolis, a two-disc set that will include an interview with director Rintaro Katsushiro, a "making-of" featurette, two multi-angle animation comparisons, a history of the "Metropolis" comic book, and a concept-art gallery (March 12). Also in the pipe is the popular 1997 Korean espionage thriller Shiri, with a documentary and music video (April 9).

    • Coming from Elite is a new Night of the Living Dead: The Millennium Edition, which marks about the bazillionth time this 1968 George Romero thriller has been transferred to DVD. However, features on this latest incarnation include a commentary with Romero and the cast, trailers and TV spots, liner notes from Romero and Stephen King, a photo gallery, the entire shooting script, and sundry other items associated with the film and Romero's career. The classic creeper arrives again on March 12.

    On the Street: Want a thin street week? Here's one — but then again it's nice when you don't have to worry about what to pick up, because Criterion leads the way this morning with Milos Forman's Czech New Wave classics The Firemen's Ball and Loves of a Blonde, in addition to Ingmar Bergman's Wild Strawberries, and all three transfers will satisfy fans. New from Warner is last year's Hearts in Atlantis starring Anthony Hopkins, in addition to the documentary Walking with Prehistoric Beasts, while Buena Vista has double-dipped the animated Peter Pan as a new special edition. If you're up for nostalgia, three Bad News Bears films from Paramount might be the thing for you. As for us, we're more tempted by two new cult releases from Image, Giants and Toys and Satan in High Heels. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of and Image Entertainment:

    • American Legends
    • The Bad News Bears
    • The Bad News Bears Go to Japan
    • The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training
    • Black Jesus
    • Bread and Chocolate
    • Crater Lake Monster
    • Dead in the Water
    • The Firemen's Ball: The Criterion Collection
    • Fresh
    • Giants and Toys
    • The Glass Shield
    • Hearse
    • Hearts in Atlantis
    • Jo Dee Messina: The Video Collection
    • Legend 2 (a.k.a. Fong Sai Yuk 2) (1993)
    • The Legend of the Red Dragon
    • Love Come Down
    • Loves of a Blonde: The Criterion Collection
    • Mrs. Winterbourne
    • Muhammad Ali vs. Trevor Berbick: The Last Hurrah
    • Pandaemonium
    • Passport to Paris
    • Peter Pan: Special Edition
    • Ray Stevens: Comedy Video Classics
    • Satan in High Heels
    • Sawyer Brown: The Hits Live in Concert
    • Sexual Predator
    • Squeeze
    • Tim McGraw: Greatest Video Hits
    • Two Friends
    • W. Eugene Smith: Photography Made Difficult
    • Walking with Prehistoric Beasts
    • Wild Strawberries: The Criterion Collection
    • Winning London

    Bye for now.

    — Ed.

    Monday, 11 February 2002

    boxcoverDisc of the Week: Every decade seems to offer its own regional film renaissance. Film critics and art house patrons go nuts over a suddenly emerging national cinema that inevitably seems more authentic and realistic than Hollywood product. In the immediate postwar era, Italy shone. France took the world by storm in the late '50s to the early '60s. Germany dominated the '70s, and currently Iran and Denmark are the critical darlings. But in the mid '60s it was Eastern Europe that swept through the film festivals and art houses. Each country had its own identity. Broadly speaking, while Polish films were the most hard-edged politically, often using World War II as a cover for contemporary commentary, Hungary and Yugoslavia were the most advanced in terms of camera movement and narrative experimentation, and Czechoslovakia preferred lightly comic tales about the common man. At the forefront of the Czech new wave was Milos Forman.

    Not that Czech films weren't political. The Firemen's Ball (Hori, má panenko), shot in mid-1967, was banned in 1968 in its home country "for all time" by the Communist bureaucracy after it played for a few weeks near the end of Czechoslovakia's Prague Spring. That "time" ended with the fall of the Communist dictatorship in 1989. Today, it's difficult to see why The Firemen's Ball was so irritating to Party officials. After all, it only tells the simple story of a volunteer firemen's unit in a small town striving to throw a party to honor their retiring, elderly commander (Jan Stöckl), who has been diagnosed with cancer. Almost the whole movie takes place at the ball itself, and follows three narrative threads. Josef (Josef Kolb) has been placed in charge of the raffle prizes, but under his befuddled watch they start to disappear, a head cheese even pilfered by his wife (Milada Jezková). Meanwhile, the firemen are having trouble gathering candidates for a beauty contest, the embarrassed girls all fleeing to the bathroom. When a fire breaks out in the house of another elderly citizen (Frantisek Svet), thanks to snow and other impediments the firemen can only watch helplessly as the huge house burns to the ground. An attempt to cheer up the victim by arranging to have him win some of the raffle prizes backfires when it turns out that the coveted items have all disappeared.

    The Firemen's Ball is quietly hilarious in its dismantling of misguided do-gooderism. But the film's mockery of indecisive bureaucracy is more universal than a simple attack on Communist inefficiency. And Forman, with his co-screenwriters Ivan Passer and Jaroslav Papousek, take a stance of wry amusement at human foibles. Arguably Forman is the least explicitly political of all the Eastern European directors who either stayed or fled, and his later work in Hollywood with such films as Amadeus is signaled here by his interest in group behavior and the machinations of what can only be described as mid-level managers, be they firemen's committee members or the musicians attached to a king's court. Unlike the historical literary adaptations of his later Hollywood career, The Firemen's Ball is based on observed reality. Forman, Passer, and Papousek actually attended just such a ball and converted their observations into an amused meditation on human inefficiency. The tale just happens to be set in a society that put a misguided premium on efficiency. The Firemen's Ball was shot in Vrchlabi with an amateur cast, adding to the naturalism of the film (though some cast members had worked with Forman before).

    The Criterion Collection has done a marvelous job with its newly restored DVD version of The Firemen's Ball. The disc features a beautiful full frame (1.33:1) transfer of the movie, supervised by cinematographer Miroslav Ondricek. The Firemen's Ball was Forman's first color film, and his initial nervousness about the process was allayed when Ondricek arranged to purchase good color stock from the west, the investment made possible by producer Carlo Ponti, who unfortunately pulled out after he saw the finished film. According to the box, the new digital transfer was "mastered from a 35mm interpositive," from film elements housed in Czechoslovakia, the procedure observed by Ondricek. It's an impeccable, beautiful transfer, marred only by a vertical black scratch when Josef is first shown approaching the table of raffle prizes. Audio is Dolby Digital 1.0, but sounds fine. The box also announces new and improved subtitles, credited to Mark Valenta and Suzanna Halsey. Supplements include a 15-minute video interview with Forman and a four-minute account of the film's restoration, featuring a brief interview with Forman and footage of Ondricek going over the print transfer. Included is a six-page booklet with cast and credits and an essay by Village Voice movie reviewer J. Hoberman. Forman's quiet masterpiece is more than just a time capsule offering a look at a now long gone time and place, it is a poignant comedy of manners that takes on human foibles with gentle understanding. The Firemen's Ball hits the streets tomorrow.

    Box Office: Arnold Schwarzenegger returned to the top of the box-office charts over the weekend with Warner's Collateral Damage, which earned $15.1 million and gave Ah-nold his first number-one film since 1997's Batman and Robin. Also debuting strongly was Sony's Big Fat Liar starring Frankie Muniz ($11.7 m) and the MGM remake of Rollerball, directed by John McTiernan ($9 m). Both Collateral Damage and Rollerball arrived after studio postponements and were savaged by film critics, while Big Fat Liar earned mixed reviews.

    In continuing release, Sony's Black Hawk Down was knocked from the top spot on the chart after four weeks in wide release, but it's still holding steady with $8 million over the weekend and $86.7 million to date, while Buena Vista's surprise hit Snow Dogs has plenty of legs, with a $6.7 million weekend and $59.5 million cume after one month. Universal's Oscar favorite A Beautiful Mind now stands at $112.8 million, and it looks like Buena Vista's The Count of Monte Cristo is doing good word-of-mouth business with $32.2 million in three weeks of release. Off the charts is Paramount's Orange County, which will finish in the respectable $40 million neighborhood. But getting no respect at all were last week's dismal debuts, Sony's Slackers and Miramax's Birthday Girl, which had sub-$3 million breaks and already are off to DVD prep.

    New films this Friday include the Bruce Willis vehicle Hart's War, Denzel Washington and Robert Duvall in John Q, Disney's animated Return to Never Land, and — egads! — Britney Spears stab at acting in the teen drama Crossroads. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:

    1. Collateral Damage (Warner Bros.)
      $15,180,000 ($15,180,000 through 1 week)
    2. Big Fat Liar (Sony/Columbia TriStar)
      $11,700,000 ($11,700,000 through 1 week)
    3. Rollerball (MGM)
      $9,024,000 ($9,024,000 through 1 week)
    4. Black Hawk Down (Sony/Columbia TriStar)
      $8,000,000 ($86,713,000 through 7 weeks)
    5. Snow Dogs (Buena Vista)
      $6,700,000 ($59,500,000 through 4 weeks)
    6. The Count of Monte Cristo (Buena Vista)
      $6,300,000 ($32,200,000 through 3 weeks)
    7. A Beautiful Mind (Universal)
      $5,800,000 ($112,800,000 through 8 weeks)
    8. A Walk to Remember (Warner Bros.)
      $5,770,000 ($30,525,000 through 3 weeks)
    9. The Mothman Prophecies (Sony/Columbia TriStar)
      $4,900,000 ($28,032,000 through 3 weeks)
    10. I Am Sam (New Line)
      $4,525,000 ($23,749,000 through 7 weeks)
    11. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (New Line)
      $3,650,000 ($271,449,000 through 8 weeks)
    12. Monster's Ball (Lions Gate)
      $2,300,000 ($3,940,000 through 7 weeks)

    On the Board: D.K. Holm has posted a sneak preview of Criterion's Loves of a Blonde, while Greg Dorr also looks at a new Criterion title this week with Wild Strawberries. New stuff from the rest of the team includes Hearts in Atlantis, Funny Lady, Summer of '42, Legend of the Red Dragon, The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings, Shaolin Wheel of Life, Hallelujah I'm a Bum!, The Firemen's Ball: The Criterion Collection, and The Royal Family: Broadway Theatre Archive. 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.

    — Ed.

    Thursday, 7 February 2002
    Weekend Dispatch

    Coming Attractions: We're off to spin a fresh stack of DVDs, and new reviews on the way include a trio of Criterion titles and more from the Broadway Theatre Archive. We're back on Monday — see ya then.

    boxcoverCommentary Clip: "What makes a bad guy a bad guy? Was he born a bad guy? Did he hit a bunch of roadblocks on the way to becoming a bad guy that forced him, or caused him to become a bad guy? Or was he just a bad guy from the beginning? I'm really interested in human behavior and what makes people lead to their actions, and as a filmmaker you search for these types of characters. (George Jung's) life was a series of mishaps, and a series of... y'know... bad timing.... I'm not sure what made George Jung choose the things he did, but I am certain of a few things. I'm certain that he grew up in a household that was less than positive, he watched his parents fight tremendously, his mother unfortunately was medicated a lot, his dad absolutely loved his mom to the point where he would just take it on the chin whenever he could. George grew up really upset at watching his parents, who he loved very much, argue and fight all the time, and it really affected him, and it made him a loner and made him do things by himself. And he just didn't have a strong parental base growing up. So as a teenager he was really messed up, drinking a lot and getting into fights and getting into trouble, and eventually when he was old enough to leave the nest he went out on his own seeking acceptance anywhere he could. And seeking acceptance, you seek it on the wrong places, you find out. And George — no one forced him to do anything he did, but he didn't have that base underneath him, and I feel really strongly that with people to influence him positively growing up he may have turned out differently."

    — Director Ted Demme,
    Blow: infinifilm

    Quotable: "At all times, MGM maintained that it would not resolve its dispute with New Line in the absence of a substantial cash license payment by New Line at levels comparable to what the Bond films customarily command from promotional partners."

    — A statement from MGM after the studio nixed the
    title of New Line's Austin Powers: Goldmember,
    making all of the film's early promotional materials
    instant collectibles.

    "It's appalling that something like this could happen.... Oscar will never leave my house again."

    — Whoopi Goldberg, after her 1990 Oscar for Ghost
    disappeared from a UPS shipment, only to be found
    later in an airport trash bin in Ontario, Calif.

    " When I was in high school — I was 15 — I used to play tennis, and although I wasn't bad, I wasn't that great either and I had a real McEnroe problem, which didn't flow too well where I lived in the Bible belt. We had a neighborhood tournament and this guy, who was actually a friend of mine, was beating me. I let go of my racket and shouted, 'Bastard!' Then I saw my dad coming down from where all the parents were sitting. It seemed like he was walking in slow motion. I thought, 'I'm in for it now.' I was expecting him to smack the shit out of me because I was really embarrassing the family. But he just calmly said, 'Are you having fun?' I said, 'What?' So he said again, 'Are you having fun?' I replied, 'No.' And he said, 'Well, don't do it.' Then he turned around just as slowly, walked back to the stand and sat down while I finished the game. That was the best advice I ever received. "


    — Brad Pitt, in an interview with London's The

    "It's truly awful doing these love scenes, because I'm very prone to getting embarrassed. We were just sitting around for days, sort of naked. Between takes, Nicole and I would look at each other and say the most God-awful, stupid things like, 'Can you believe this weather?' 'Do you think they'll serve the good fish for lunch?'"

    — Ben Chaplin, on shooting nude scenes with Nicole
    Kidman in Birthday Girl.

    "She's the female equivalent of Battlefield Earth."

    — John Wilson of the Golden Raspberry Foundation,
    confirming that Mariah Carey is likely to earn a
    Razzie for her turn in last year's box-office bomb

    — Ed.

    Wednesday, 6 February 2002

    Mailbag: Wednesday is the day we get to our reader mail here at The DVD Journal, and while we aren't able to personally respond to all of your letters, we'd like to let you know that we read everything we get. Here's a couple of reader comments from this week:

  • It would be fun to see you guys pull together a list of the "best" commentary tracks (most entertaining, most informative, most confrontational, etc.). I've found that some movies that I like only a little (like Bound, for example) have great director's commentaries, which make them worth a rental at least.

    — Philip

    It would be a daunting task to put together a definitive list of the absolute best DVD commentaries, but a few spring to mind. One of the finest examples of the form (maybe the best ever) is Michael Jeck's track on Criterion's Seven Samurai, not only because it's scholarly and informative, but also because the track does exactly what it should — it places the film entirely in context, illuminating all sorts of details about Japanese culture and customs, and (like an annotated edition of Shakespeare) explaining important nuances about the smallest of details. Jeck manages to transform what many Western viewers initially regard as an exciting action-adventure into a subtle character-study. His comments also illustrate Akira Kurosawa's total obsession with detail — again, something easily missed by first-time viewers who are swept up in the story.

    boxcoverRoger Ebert's track on Citizen Kane is also laudable for its scholarly insights. Some have noted that the famous Chicago critic tends to fixate on action appearing directly on screen, and he rarely adopts a raconteur's approach with behind-the-scenes stories. But Ebert performs an important service — especially for those not familiar with Kane — as he points out, shot by shot, just how much effort Welles and his production team put into every single moment of screen-time. When Ebert states towards the beginning of the film that Kane has more special-effects shots than Star Wars, it's easy to be skeptical. But by the time the movie's over, it's apparent that Kane is one of the greatest special-effects films of all time, as well as a masterpiece of production design and spatial composition.

    For sheer fun, we've always been partial to Paul Thomas Anderson's commentary on Boogie Nights. Anderson recorded a track for the first New Line DVD and a separate one with cast members for the Criterion Laserdisc. When both tracks were included on the second Boogie Nights DVD from New Line, one simply paled in comparison to the other. The Criterion track (largely recorded at Anderson's home) is sometimes hard to hear, and a few cast members suffer from lack of insights. But on his own in the recording studio, Anderson simply unloads the many burdens of creating such a sprawling, difficult movie in what amounts to part liberation, part confession. He's animated, comically profane, and so full of discussion topics that he often bounces from one to the next at a rapid pace. Few commentary tracks make you wish you could hang out with the person speaking, but Paul Thomas Anderson comes across as one of the most down-to-earth people in Hollywood (even admitting in the opening moments that he learned a lot about movies from Laserdisc commentaries).

    boxcoverIn the realm of edited group commentary, one of the standouts must be on Criterion's Spartacus. Ported from the original Laserdisc, the track features Kirk Douglas, Peter Ustinov, novelist Howard Fast, producer Edward Lewis, film restorer Robert A. Harris, and designer Saul Bass. It's a Bacchanalia of big egos, full of gossip and contradictions, with Douglas energetic but even-handed, Ustinov recalling on-set rivalries (and impersonating fellow cast members), and Fast settling a few scores over how his book was translated to the screen. Some DVD fans say edited commentaries are far too lacking when it comes to interaction between speakers. In this case, it's as compelling as secret grand-jury testimony.

    Of course, there are more notable commentary tracks out there, but to be worth it they must in some way illuminate the film at hand. Edward Norton has several good insights into his character in Fight Club, while we think Steven Soderbergh (Out of Sight) and Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather) are both entertaining and informative directors. John Carpenter and Kurt Russell are a lot of fun on Big Trouble in Little China, recalling how the film went from high-profile release to box-office disaster, and we also should say that film historian Tom Weaver has contributed a few funny, rapid-fire tracks on Universal's excellent Classic Monster Collection series. If a commentary rounds out the viewing experience in any way, we're all for it, but we're less interested in idle chatter, or worse, commentaries that serve as extra entertainment. Both Criterion's and MGM's This Is Spinal Tap discs feature commentaries from the cast. Criterion's is detailed, relaxed, and low-key, and your editor will always listen to it before the MGM track, where the actors speak in character throughout the film. They're funny guys, but Spinal Tap is funny enough on its own.

  • As I desperately attempt to do anything but study for my midterms, I figure now is as good a time as any to ask you guys if you can shed some light on the status of a possible DVD release of Z. Costa-Gavras' film is definitely one of the best political thrillers, and in my mind up there with the best movies ever made. How such a cinematic masterwork has not made it out on DVD yet is beyond me (actually it's not too far beyond me, because we all know how great movies can be overlooked by the top brass, who might not know what a great movie truly is). Great plot, great acting, great cinematography and great score (I lost my thesaurus).

    — Eugene

    boxcoverCosta-Gavras' classic 1969 political thriller starring Yves Montand may not have found its way on to DVD yet, but we think this is merely a matter of time. There have been two Laserdisc releases — a full-frame CAV transfer from Image in 1989 (#ID7570AX), and a 1.66:1 CAV release from Criterion in 1997 (#342). As Z was shot in non-anamorphic 35mm, the full-frame transfer is not as offensive as a pan-and-scan hack-job, so those who find the Image LD for a good price may want to consider it. Both it and the Criterion laser can be found on eBay, but not very often.

    As for who holds the rights, it is none other than Fox Lorber/Winstar, which makes the lack of a DVD rather puzzling since the distributor released a new Z widescreen VHS in February of 2001. Considering the amount of preparation that goes into any home-video release, usually companies will achieve an economy of scale by streeting VHS and DVD editions concurrently, but this has not been the case.

    And for those who are hoping that Criterion may once again have the opportunity to release the film on our favorite shiny format, the chances are somewhere between razor-slim and nothing — the Criterion versions of John Woo's The Killer and Hard Boiled were released under license from Fox Lorber (on both LD and DVD) before the company decided to put out their own discs. It appears this one will go digital under the Fox Lorber banner — we just don't know when.

    (And thanks to both of our letter-writers today — Babylon 5 DVDs and t-shirts are in the mail.)

    boxcoverTop of the Pops: You picked 'em — here's the most-accessed reviews on The DVD Journal over the past week. Click the links to read our reviews of these discs:

    1. Tron: 20th Anniversary Edition
    2. Groundhog Day: Special Edition
    3. Rock Star
    4. Ghost World
    5. Klute
    6. Kiss of the Dragon
    7. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Complete First Season
    8. The Curse of the Jade Scorpion
    9. Children of Paradise: The Criterion Collection
    10. Breaking Away

    See ya tomorrow.

    — Ed.

    Tuesday, 5 February 2002

    In the Works: Here's some new disc announcements, courtesy of Image Entertainment and, and additional staff reports:

    • Just in are details of Warner's upcoming Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone DVD — the two-disc set will feature both anamorphic widescreen and pan-and-scan transfers, "never-before seen footage," a "360-degree" tour of Hogwarts, interviews with director Chris Columbus and producer David Heyman, featurettes, and several games for the kids. Certain to be one of the best-selling DVDs of all time, Harry is here on May 28.

    • The X-Files may be coming to an end this year after nine seasons, but Fox is still churning out the multi-disc boxes. Up next is The X-Files: The Complete Fifth Season, a six-disc package with all 20 episodes, and the transfers will be anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) for the first time in the series. Features will include a commentary by Chris Carter on "The Post-Modern Prometheus," another from John Shiban on "The Pine Bluff Variant," the 30-minute documentary "The Truth About Season Five," a 46-minute "Inside The X-Files" TV special, deleted scenes with commentary by Carter, special-effects clips with commentary, international clips, two TV spots per episode, and a DVD-ROM game. The whole enchilada streets on May 14 with a $149.98 SRP.

    • Two things for David Lynch fans today — Universal will release his latest film, Mulholland Drive, on April 9, although there will be no special features beyond an anamorphic transfer and a trailer (and don't bet on chapter-selection). And the word on the street is that Eraserhead may soon be sold through Lynch's own website ( It's a pay site that requires a broadband connection to navigate, but we are hearing that the DVD may be available for folks who do not join the site (if anybody has more details, please drop us a line).

    • Coming from MGM is this year's Golden Globe Winner for Best Foreign Language Film, the Bosnian War movie No Man's Land, with both anamorphic and full-frame transfers, DD 5.1 audio in the original Serbo-Croatian, and digital subtitles (April 9). And in May comes another stack of catalog titles from The Lion, including 1959's The Hound of the Baskervilles starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, the 1966 Khartoum with Charlton Heston, Laurence Olivier, and Richard Johnson, 1968's The Charge of the Light Brigade starring John Gielgud, 1958's I Want to Live! starring Susan Hayward, the 1957 The Pride and the Passion with Cary Grant, Frank Sinatra, and Sophia Loren, 1968's The Devil's Brigade with William Holden and Cliff Robertson, and a pre-Spartacus Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis in 1958's The Vikings. They're all on the street May 7.

    • Coming up from New Line is a Platinum Series release for last year's Life as a House starring Kevin Kline, which will feature DTS and Dolby Digital audio, an unconventional 2.10:1 anamorphic transfer, commentary with director Irwin Winkler, co-producer Rob Cowen, and scenarist Mark Andrus, two featurettes, four deleted scenes with commentary, an electronic press kit, trailers, and the screenplay as DVD-ROM content (March 26).

    • The 1994 romantic comedy Barcelona will arrive from Warner on April 2 with a yack-track from writer/ director Whit Stillman and stars Chris Eigeman and Taylor Nichols, as well as an interview with co-star Mira Sorvino, deleted scenes, and an alternate ending.

    • Thanks to Buena Vista, we get to re-experience the '80s all over again with upcoming bone-stock discs of Ruthless People, Three Men and a Baby, Three Men and a Little Lady, Turner & Hooch, Three Fugitives, and Warren Beatty's Dick Tracy. All street on April 2, and we'll be waiting with our Duran Duran cassettes and Rubik's Cubes.

    On the Street: It's that time of year when DVD fans start to wonder if some studios have quit the business. Not to worry — things will pick up as spring approaches, and there are a few choice items to get today anyway. New from MGM is the awesome Ghost World, which we think is easily one of the best films from last year, while new titles from MGM's catalog holdings include After the Fox, Cast a Giant Shadow, Girl with Green Eyes, Hallelujah I'm a Bum!, Kings Go Forth, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, and Town Without Pity. New from Warner is Alan J. Pakula's classic Klute starring Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland, while 1971's Summer of '42 is on the street as well. Columbia TriStar's out for laughs with the amusing Used Cars, in addition to Blind Date and Funny Lady, while Universal hopes Captain Corelli's Mandolin will find second life on home video. And if you're like us and think DVD means more than bright lights and subwoofers, new titles from the Broadway Theatre Archive (distributed by Image) include The Fifth of July, Fosse, The Royal Family, and The Seagull — we'll be looking at more in this series over the next several weeks. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of and Image Entertainment:

    • Absolutely Fabulous: Series #4
    • After the Fox
    • The Bad and the Beautiful
    • Blind Date
    • Blue Planet #1: Seas of Life
    • Blue Planet #2: Seas of Life
    • Captain Corelli's Mandolin
    • Cast a Giant Shadow
    • Charlotte Church: Enchantment from Cardiff, Wales
    • Control
    • Designing Woman
    • Fifth of July: Broadway Theatre Archive
    • Fosse: Broadway Theatre Archive
    • French and Saunders: At the Movies
    • French and Saunders: Gentlemen Prefer French and Saunders
    • Funny Lady
    • Ghost World
    • Girl with Green Eyes
    • Grateful Dawg
    • Hallelujah I'm a Bum!
    • Hidden Agenda
    • Kings Go Forth
    • Klute
    • Life Without Dick
    • Maze
    • The Miracle of the Cards
    • Nightmaster
    • Real Wheels: Truck Adventures
    • The Royal Family: Broadway Theatre Archive
    • Saturday Night and Sunday Morning
    • The Seagull: Broadway Theatre Archive
    • The Smokers
    • Spreading Ground
    • Summer of '42
    • A Touch of Class
    • Town Without Pity
    • Used Cars
    • Vanished


    — Ed.

    Monday, 4 February 2002

    And the winner is: Alex Kost of Chandler, Ariz., wins the free Moulin Rouge DVD from our January contest. Congrats, Alex!

    Our totally free DVD contest for the month of February is up and running, and we have a copy of MGM's Ghost World up for grabs, as well as a signed graphic novel. 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.

    boxcoverDisc of the Week: Good comedies are rare, and it's unfortunate when they don't connect at the box office, but in recent years some of the funniest movies did not find an audience until home viewing. Perhaps it's because studios don't know how to sell comedies unless they star some ex-Saturday Night Live cast member, but many revered titles actually flopped in cineplexes on initial release — Waiting for Guffman, This Is Spinal Tap, Top Secret, and The Princess Bride got lost in the box-office shuffle, found homes on VHS and cable, and only then developed cult followings. Such can be said of Robert Zemeckis' second feature film Used Cars (1980), which debuted the week after Airplane and floundered in the blockbuster's turbulence. Executive produced by Steven Spielberg and John Milius, Used Cars is the sort of razor-sharp comedy most people hope to see when they buy tickets for the latest Farrelly Brothers-inspired gross-out. But while it can be tasteless, Used Cars is so blessedly no-holds-barred that every gag pays off.

    Kurt Russell stars as Rudy Russo, a "do anything for a sale" used-car huckster who works for Luke Fuchs (Jack Warden), a kindly old man who believes a little more in honest salesmanship. Unfortunately, Luke's brother Roy Fuchs (Warden, again) doesn't, and with a competing dealership right across the street, Roy schemes to have Luke killed by causing the sickly man to have a stroke. After the untimely death, Rudy takes over the sales department — and he's promised to never allow the business to fall into the bad brother's hands. After burying his boss on the lot, Rudy keeps the death a secret between him, his extremely superstitious fellow salesman Jeff (Gerrit Graham), and the lot's mechanic Jim (Frank McRae). With Rudy in control, subtlety goes out the window in search of massive sales. After all, Rudy needs $10,000 to secure the job title he most lusts after: State Senator. But when his dead boss's daughter (Deborah Harmon) shows up, Rudy is caught in a tangle of lies — even worse, she's totally hot, and he falls for her.

    There are some monster laughs in Used Cars; if anything over his career, Zemeckis has shown that he is a cinematic master of giving the audience a great set up and a pay off — and then a second one, and a third one. Based around the shameless exploits of a bunch of used-car salesman (why hasn't anyone thought of doing this before or after?), Used Cars is the kind of film W. C. Fields would have made if he had done R-rated comedies. There is a welcome meanness and profanity to the movie; at some moments in the film the utterance of a four-letter words can elicit laughs. As the salesmen, both Graham and Russell pull out every stop to sell cars, from public nudity to pretending to kill a dog, and the audience quickly appreciates their hucksterisms, especially since we're not the rube on the buying end. Besides, anyone who's suckered by these guys deserves what they get. Zemeckis has always had an eye for supporting players, here it's a jackpot: Gerrit Graham was always a wonderful comic presence — it's a shame he didn't make more films — and his twitchy performance here is nothing short of brilliant, perfectly complemented by the comedically off-kilter McRae. And there's also David Lander and Michael McKean (aka Lenny and Squiggy), who arrive as tech wizards to set up illegally broadcast TV commercials (which are the comic highlights of the film), while Alfonso Arau, Joe Flaherty, Dub Taylor, and Al Lewis all add some funny, often outrageous bits. But at the heart of the film is Russell's perfectly pitched manic performance. As the honest liar Rudy, he beams confidence and slick cool without ever becoming sleazy. At the time Russell was just leaving his stretch of Disney movies, and he plays the part for broke, nailing the patois of the oily huckster, but with that perfectly innocent face that suggests he might have a smidge of integrity. As Zemeckis says on the DVD's audio commentary, it's a Frank Capra kind of film — except the Jimmy Stewart character has no morals.

    For fans, Used Cars thankfully has been released as a special edition in all but name. Columbia TriStar's new disc presents the film in anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) with monaural DD 2.0 audio. The chief supplement is the commentary with Zemeckis, Russell and co-writer/producer Bob Gale, where they revel in the movie's failure and seem amused that they are asked to talk about the picture at all. Also included is vintage advertising, four minutes of outtakes, a five-minute Kurt Russell radio interview, eight radio spots, bonus trailers, and filmographies. Best of the bunch: a 30-second TV spot Kurt Russell did for the actual Mesa, Ariz. car dealership featured in the film. Used Cars is on the street tomorrow.

    Box Office: In case anybody didn't notice, yesterday was Superbowl Sunday — marking a weekend that studios avoid like the plague. With only two films debuting to dismal numbers, the chart remained largely unchanged from last week, with Sony's Black Hawk Down holding the top spot for the third week in a row with a sturdy $11.5 million over the weekend and $75.5 million to date. Much further behind were Sony's new Slackers, garnering just $3 million, while Miramax's Birthday Girl starring Nicole Kidman managed $2.5 million. Neither debut cracked the top ten.

    In continuing release, Disney's Snow Dogs remains in second place, also for the third week in a row, passing $50 million and giving The Mouse House a pleasant surprise hit, while the studio's Count of Monte Cristo climbed three places in its second frame thanks to good reviews and positive word-of-mouth, with $23 million so far. And Universal's A Beautiful Mind — a heavy favorite when the Oscar nominations are announced this month — has now passed the century with a $104.6 million cume. Off the chart is another Oscar hopeful as well: Wes Anderson's The Royal Tenenbaums will finish above $40 million, surpassing the $17 million earned by his previous film, 1999's Rushmore.

    Black Hawk Down may have trouble keeping that top spot after this weekend — opening Friday are two long-delayed action films, Collateral Damage starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Rollerball with Chris Klein, Jean Reno, LL Cool J, and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:

    1. Black Hawk Down (Sony/Columbia TriStar)
      $11,500,000 ($75,500,000 through 6 weeks)
    2. Snow Dogs (Buena Vista)
      $9,900,000 ($50,800,000 through 3 weeks)
    3. The Count of Monte Cristo (Buena Vista)
      $9,000,000 ($23,600,000 through 2 weeks)
    4. A Walk to Remember (Warner Bros.)
      $8,790,000 ($23,279,000 through 2 weeks)
    5. A Beautiful Mind (Universal)
      $8,500,000 ($104,600,000 through 7 weeks)
    6. The Mothman Prophecies (Sony/Columbia TriStar)
      $7,500,000 ($21,400,000 through 2 weeks)
    7. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (New Line)
      $6,575,000 ($267,145,000 through 7 weeks)
    8. I Am Sam (New Line)
      $6,537,000 ($17,527,000 through 6 weeks)
    9. Kung Pow: Enter the Fist (Fox)
      $3,755,000 ($12,000,000 through 2 weeks)
    10. Slackers (Sony/Columbia TriStar)
      $3,000,000 ($3,000,000 through 1 week)
    11. Orange County (Paramount)
      $3,000,000 ($37,919,000 through 4 weeks)
    12. Birthday Girl (Miramax)
      $2,500,000 ($2,500,000 through 1 week)

    On the Board: Dawn Taylor has posted a sneak-preview of MGM's Ghost World, while D.K. Holm has written an extensive retrospective of Alan J. Pakula's Klute, out this week from Warner. New reviews from the rest of the gang this morning include Captain Corelli's Mandolin, Sabrina (1995), The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, After the Fox, When Strangers Appear, Blind Date, Venomous: Special Edition, Used Cars, The Seagull: Broadway Theatre Archive, and the overseas import of the Twin Peaks pilot. All can be found under the New Reviews menu here on the front page, while our DVD reviews database features more than 1,400 additional write-ups.

    Back tomorrow with the rundown on this week's street discs.

    — Ed.

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