Thursday, 28 March 2002
On the Block: Our latest round of DVD auction rankings at eBay is in, and it reveals an interesting bit of news: Godfrey Reggio's unusual 1983 documentary Koyaanisqatsi has been tied up in a legal dispute, but Reggio now reports that an agreement has been reached with MGM, and a new DVD could arrive this year. However, that also means that Reggio's privately issued disc from his own website is no longer available, and that rare item is now climbing the eBay charts with a top close of $275.00 this month. Also returning to the list after a brief absence is the limited-edition Texas from Russell Crowe's Aussie bar-band Thirty-Odd Foot of Grunts, taking $280.00 in a quick "buy it now" auction. Criterion titles continue to fill the chart as usual, but a new arrival is Beauty and the Beast, which claimed $110.00 despite the fact that it's merely on moratorium and a remastered release is expected in coming months. Fans of Amelie continue to go ga-ga over the Region 2 limited edition, which comes in a collectible tin box. And what auction list would be complete without a Region 2 TV collection? This time it's Northern Exposure: Season One, which earned a $145.42 hammer-price after 15 bids.
Here's the highest recent closing prices of rare and out-of-print DVDs from online auctions at eBay:
"Porgy and Bess" talkback: Our discussion of the long-missing 1959 Porgy and Bess yesterday prompted several reader responses with additional information:
The showing was well-attended, though pretty far from sold out. Most people were there out of either curiosity or duty. It was a rare chance to see a film they've only heard about. For the hard-core filmgoers, it was a must. We're always on the lookout for these opportunities and don't pass them up. It's hard to say how many people fit into each category, but I'm sure that those who weren't students of the college were film buffs of the first order. A large number of attendees were black. Some were students and others older adults who had no doubt seen the film years before.
There was no panel discussion or Q&A. We viewed the film, then left. No one hissed, protested, seemed outraged, made derisive comments or had any other negative reactions. We weren't embarrassed to be there, didn't give one another dirty looks, or otherwise react as if we were seeing something we shouldn't. Most people, especially those who were black, simply wanted to see what others have haughtily pronounced forbidden. It's always interesting to me that these perennial targets of racial protest, Porgy and Bess, Song of the South, Hattie McDaniel, etc., are eventually declared less objectionable by the same people who condemned them. They're soon completely reclaimed by the very community that they're supposed to be an offense to, and everyone always ends up wondering what all the fuss was about.
The fact is, Porgy and Bess is a good movie. As usual, there's nothing embarrassing, stereotypical, or degrading about any aspect of it. As an opera, the situation is pathetic and melodramatic, and no different than that of Pagliacci or Rigoletto, to name just two. It's worth noting that while the film is almost never shown, the music is routinely re-played and recorded, usually by actual opera singers. Ray Charles and Cleo Laine did a great album of it in 1976.
One of these days, we'll stop playing this bogus, infantile game. We act like the Nazis or the Soviets with their fetishistic restrictions on what are nothing more than inanimate objects that don't do anything. There's no such thing as offensive or controversial art. To paraphrase Duke Ellington, there are only two kinds good and bad.
The original stage production was not a full operatic production. It was heavily edited and done as a Broadway musical. In fact, a production of the full opera didn't happen until 1976. In that year there was a complete concert rendition (all the music, but no staging) and the Houston Grand Opera produced a phenomenal fully staged production that was recorded by RCA and played on the road for over a year. (The Met had planned to premiere Porgy and Bess but ran into financial problems with all the other Bicentennial productions it had on its slate that year and transferred its performance rights to Houston.) In the intervening years, the opera was always staged in its Broadway form or variations of it. Columbia Records did a nearly complete operatic version in the 1950s. Today, it's almost always staged complete or with minor cuts, and it's the most produced "modern" opera in the repertoire.
For those interested in Porgy and Bess and not merely the film, there's a DVD of the complete opera based on the Glyndebourne Festival Opera production of 1986 available on EMI. It's a British TV production in Dolby 2.0, and it's very well done with creative, fluid camerawork. The only thing I find disconcerting is that they used the recording made for the CD as the soundtrack and lip synced to it. This gives it a one-point opera house sound perspective throughout, even in close-ups. But you get used to it after a few minutes.
As for the racism, this is one of those situations where people want to be PC by altering history. Gershwin went to South Carolina and spent a lot of time with Heyward and the residents of Catfish Row. Yes, there was such a place. The Row had been the housing for household slaves and even in the 1930s there were a few residents who had been slaves and a great many of their children and grandchildren living there. Because slave sellers typecast Blacks from different regions of Africa as appropriate for different kinds of work, the original residents spoke a dialect of English that was almost impossible not only for Whites to understand, but also for Blacks in other parts of the city as well, thus isolating Catfish Row even more. There's no way Gershwin could have used that dialect on stage, so he used the stereotypical Negro stage dialect of his day. (Perhaps he would have done so in any case, who knows.)
The people Gershwin met and Heyward wrote about still bore the legacy of slavery. They were poorly educated, if at all, and highly superstitious, naive, and leery of dealing with the outside world. That's why Porgy is so vulnerable to Frazier's divorce mill scam and the trickery of Sportin' Life. It's also why you have a scene with the white lawyer explaining to Porgy that he's getting his friend Peter out of jail "because his folks used to belong to my folks." That sort of paternalism was common with household slaves.
In essence, Gershwin recorded what he saw and Heyward had seen. It is surely an offense to God and our society that such a situation existed, but instead of trying to sweep it under the rug we'd do far better to admire the resiliency and perseverance of the victims who, however gradually, have managed to overcome and continue to fight for true equality. As for Gershwin-Heyward, perhaps they could have done better. There have been wonderful, balanced stories about this era written and staged in modern times. But it's unfair to judge a play created in the 1930s against them. It's like complaining that the Wright Brothers didn't invent a 727 instead of a flimsy airplane. We all stand on the shoulders of the past.
Surely they could put the film on disc, with commentary by critics and supporters of the movie, a documentary about the controversy and the story's place in the history of American black culture, and donate half the proceeds to the NAACP or something. It seems to me that DVD is the ideal format for the re-release of controversial titles, as it allows the opportunity for the film to be presented in context via the supplemental materials.
There are other versions of the opera out there Trevor Nunn's 1993 version from EMI, and another which recently ran on PBS so I would think the racial aspect of Porgy and Bess isn't what's holding it up. The film has been screened in Los Angeles from time to time. It's not a bad film, but the camera doesn't move very much, and there are few close-ups of the actors' faces.
Also the music rights are said to possibly expire in 2007, which may put the music in public domain. George Gershwin died in 1937.
Thanks to everyone for getting in touch it's appreciated.
Quotable: "There was more to the racial menu of Oscar night than Whoopi's racial hamming. Take the Oscar for lifetime achievement awarded to Sidney Poitier. Here's a magnificent actor along with Orson Welles, Charles Laughton, Marlon Brando, Cary Grant, Henry Fonda and Woody Allen perhaps the finest Hollywood has seen, of any race. Yet at the Oscars, in a film of talking heads paying tribute to Mr. Poitier, we had only black actors Denzel Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Danny Glover, Cuba Gooding Jr. and others describing him as a role model, an inspiration. But surely Mr. Poitier was an inspiration not just to black actors. Could they not have had a selection of white ones too, paying homage to the great old man? I guess not, for that would have ruined the academy's thesis, which was that the time had come for Hollywood big, bad, white Hollywood to expiate its racial sins. So a Manichaean presentation of Mr. Poitier's contribution was more useful than a nuanced one, even though a sprinkling of white faces in the tribute might have made the more effective, and noble, point, that Mr. Poitier was the first black man to transcend race in Hollywood."
Tunku Varadarajan, The Wall Street Journal
"To speak of Hollywood as if there has not been change is unfair. You can question the pace of it. You can even question how long it will last. But you ought to, at first... take note of the fact that there has been change."
Honorary Oscar-winner Sidney Poitier
"Why not move up the Oscars a month? Oscar films are all in release by year's end, leaving plenty of time for academy members to see them. If the various film critic associations can pick a best picture winner by New Year's, surely Oscar voters could do it by late February. A shorter campaign would force studios to spend fewer ad dollars, put the squeeze on the growing number of pseudo-award shows and maybe bring a note of sanity to what's become an embarrassing commentary on the industry's lack of self-restraint. With the Oscars, less could be more much like the Oscar show itself. "
Patrick Goldstein, The Los Angeles Times
Oscar guest Woody Allen
"(Randy Newman lost) 16 times. What would he say on his 15th time when he lost? Was that racism? There's been a lot of talk about race.... This is an award to an actor."
Best Actor winner Denzel Washington
"One of Hollywood's most emotional and longest nights will be remembered for Halle Berry's sobbing speech after becoming the first African-American to win as Best Actress, a point she drove home over and over. As much as I appreciate Berry's sentiments, I'm sorry she felt compelled to state them to the exclusion of almost everything else. She deserved to win for her gutty performance in Monster's Ball. By focusing on the precedent of winning as a black performer, she seems to be discounting her real achievement."
Jack Mathews, The New York Daily News
"The red carpet outside the theater looked a bit like the depths of Mordor. Today's actresses are so thin their shoulders look like arthritic knuckles. Jon Voight's face-lift looked like it had a Ziploc seam for easy reopening. Ryan O'Neal looks like he's spent the last couple of decades packing rich, chocolatey nougat into his neck. And J-Lo's time is up. The Anita Bryant hairdo only confirms that her primary support and advice is coming from the most snark-infested homosexuals in the showbiz style-world. J-Lo is J-L'Over. You can't have a big ass and sarcastic hair, not in that town."
Cintra Wilson, Salon.com
Coming Attractions: New DVD reviews are on the way, including the re-releases of The Usual Suspects and Bull Durham, and lots more. This also will be the last weekend to enter this month's totally free DVD contest for a copy of Donnie Darko, 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 gang.
Wednesday, 27 March 2002
The reason you can't find 1959's Porgy and Bess on home video is because it simply does not exist anywhere. Despite being adapted from the popular musical by George Gershwin, and featuring an all-black cast of major stars (including Sidney Poitier, Dorothy Dandridge, Sammy Davis Jr., and Pearl Bailey), Porgy and Bess has traveled bumpy road that began even before the film was made.
Porgy and Bess was originally derived from the 1925 novel Porgy by DuBose Heyward, concerning a tempestuous love affair in the ramshackle surroundings of "Catfish Row" in South Carolina. The author's wife, Dorothy Kuhns Heyward, soon crafted a non-musical stage play that had a successful New York run, and then chose rising composer George Gershwin to create a musical. Gershwin's 1935 production (with lyrics by Heyward) was an ambitious success, a jazz opera with such popular tunes as "Summertime" and "I Got Plenty O' Nuttin'." Revivals were staged in 1942 and 1953, and a filmed version was almost inevitable. Producer Samuel Goldwyn procured the rights, getting director Otto Preminger who had previously helmed the all-black Carmen Jones (1954) behind the camera. Shot in the 70mm Todd-AO format with six-channel audio for $7 million, Porgy and Bess was considered a technical masterpiece when it arrived in 1959.
The only problem was that the Porgy and Bess that played in 1935 on Broadway had to go in front of a different audience in 1959, and in a different age. The Civil Rights era had begun, and most cast members were hesitant to appear in a movie with potentially negative racial stereotypes (Harry Belafonte turned down the lead outright, and Poitier only agreed to do the movie after some consideration). Porgy and Bess met with a substantial amount of protest upon theatrical release, with the NAACP and various other organizations lodging protests and threatening boycotts of Goldwyn productions. After a theatrical run and at least one television appearance, the film was quietly shelved. To our knowledge, it has never been considered for home-video release.
That said, Porgy and Bess is not completely off the radar. Various sources claim that the title is owned by the Gershwin Estate, which will not allow the picture to be shown. However, while it is well known that the Gershwin Estate did not approve of the final film (which used spoken dialogue unheard in the stage production), it has always been a Goldwyn property with an unusual hitch legally Porgy and Bess cannot be publicly screened without the permission of both the Gershwin and Heyward estates. It was only when Brooklyn College went looking for a print to screen at a 1998 Gershwin Centennial event that one was found at UCLA, and soon after all parties agreed to allow the film to be shown (reportedly, UCLA had screened the movie a few times on their campus prior to this). Since 1998, Porgy and Bess has played at a few colleges for "educational" purposes, often followed by a round-table discussion from invited scholars and guests.
As for where the rights reside, MGM purchased the Goldwyn library a few years back, and Porgy and Bess reportedly is theirs, if they choose to pursue it. But we have heard that the print shown at Brooklyn College in 1998 was in modest shape, and it will take some work to get it anywhere near DVD standards. Moreover, there is some question if MGM will even want to undertake a Porgy and Bess release, when we consider that many cultural pundits still regard the film as little more than a negative stereotyping of African Americans. It's one thing to show it on a college campus where folks can debate its merits, but quite another to sell it for a good old-fashioned profit, and as many DVD fans already know Disney has done a good job of burying the equally controversial Song of the South and its politically incorrect headaches. We'd love to see Porgy and Bess on a shiny new DVD, but we are not optimistic at the moment.
And for those who plan to go looking for bootlegs, good luck. We are not aware of any unofficial versions of Porgy and Bess on any format, in any part of the world. However, if you're in our nation's capital, you might be able to see this lost classic for free a copy is in the Library of Congress, where it can be seen by anybody who makes an appointment.
In Flight To Mars, our heroes meet a Martian woman named "Alita", presumably a reference to the unusual 1924 Russian silent film Aelita, Queen Of Mars, which looks even more bizarre (it has Soviet Futurist-style production design when they finally get to Mars.) The two films have nothing in common other than the one character name and the fact that they're both about trips to Mars. Aelita is also available on DVD from Image.
Two-color Cinecolor Popeye cartoons still turn up on Cartoon Network once in a while. A nice article on this odd color system (with example images) is at www.widescreenmuseum.com.
Thanks for the info James and the link. Time to go surfin'.
Top of the Pops: Here's the top-selling Action-Adventure DVDs last week from our friends at Ken Crane's DVDPlanet.com. Click the links to read our reviews of these discs:
Tuesday, 26 March 2002
On the Street: Criterion leads our list of "must-have" DVDs today with the long-awaited Rashomon in a restored edition, and with a few extra supplements as well. Also new this week is the latest Ray Harryhausen title from Columbia TriStar, First Men in the Moon, while Hong Kong fans doubtless will want to snap up Buena Vista's Iron Monkey, and we particularly enjoyed the DVD release of The Atomic Cafe from New Video. Universal's on the board today with K-PAX starring Kevin Spacey and Jeff Bridges, as well as Slap Shot and Slap Shot II, while Life as a House is the latest Platinum Series title from New Line, and MGM's Original Sin can be had in a steamy unrated version. There's lots of small-screen stuff out today as well, including the seven-disc Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season One, All In The Family: The Complete First Season, two Mystery Science Theater 3000 items, and Xena, Warrior Princess: Series Finale. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 25 March 2002
And the small gold bald guy goes to: Here's the rundown from last night's 74th Academy Awards:
Fellowship of the Ring and A Beautiful Mind led the way with four awards apiece, although Mind aced out its chief competition in the major categories of Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay (adapted), while Fellowship found success in the technical categories. Moulin Rouge and Black Hawk Down earned two statuettes each in technical categories as well, while going zero for five were In the Bedroom and Amelie, whose various nominees went home empty handed. Randy Newman broke a streak of 15 nods without a win with his statuette for Best Song. But the big story of the night was the top acting honors for Halle Berry and Denzel Washington, as Berry became the first African American performer to snag Best Actress, while Washington became the second black to be named Best Actor, following Sidney Poitier's 1964 win for Lilies in the Field.
As for the show itself, Whoopi Goldberg delivered plenty of clunkers (penned by Bruce Vilanch) and made the DVD Journal staff really wish Billy Crystal had not backed out this year. Perhaps Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson can co-host next year, as their intro to the Best Costume award was a small comic highlight in a sea of blandness. And nothing happens fast in Hollywood this year's ceremonies earned the dubious distinction of being the longest on record, clocking in at four hours and 17 minutes.
Disc of the Week: Kids born after the "video revolution" don't know what it was like back in the day. We're talking back when, if you wanted to see a beloved old movie, you were stuck with whatever was scheduled on the three (four with PBS) network TV channels. Weekend afternoons were your best chance to catch a nifty sci-fi or monster flick. Perhaps, back in that antediluvian age B.D. (Before Digital), you were the kind of kid who hid Famous Monsters of Filmland under the mattress, and kept model dinosaurs in his room, or hand-painted in fastidious detail those Aurora plastic model kits of the Gill Man from the Black Lagoon (with "glow-in-the-dark skin!") and the coolest the Venusian Ymir from 20 Million Miles to Earth. If you were that kind of kid, you lived and died by the hope of catching a Ray Harryhausen flick. Saturday afternoon at two o'clock was never better than when Jason and his Argonauts were kicking an army of skeletons' noncorporeal asses. Afterward, you may not remember what the plot was about or what the girl looked like other than busty and cute, but by God you recalled every detail of the giant Talos's metal-on-metal creaking when battling a boatload of Greek warriors. No way could you forget the Cyclops wrestling that dragon, or the serpentine Medusa's snake-rattle slither, or the Ymir himself grown to Kong-size taking his final defiant stand atop the Roman Coliseum. If you were that kind of kid, for years and years you remembered the work and name of pioneering special effects master Ray Harryhausen. And once a month throughout the '70s (so it seemed), local television delivered some of Harryhausen's creepiest creations the ant-like Selenites from 1964's First Men in the Moon.
The story opens with the first official lunar landing by a United Nations spaceship (this was five years before "the Eagle has landed"). On the moon's surface, the astronauts discover an English Union Jack and a scrap of paper claiming the moon for Her Majesty Queen Victoria, dated 1899. Back in London, clues lead the space agency to aged Arnold Bedford (Edward Judd), who tells the tale of his adventures on the moon with his fiancé Kate (Martha Hyer) and Professor Cavor (Lionel Jeffries) at the turn of the century. Bedford flashes us back to 1899, when he and Kate encounter his new neighbor, the eccentric scientist Cavor. After witnessing the calamitous results of Cavor's secret experiments, Bedford schemes to cash in on Cavorite a metallic paste that, when applied to any surface, "screens out" the force of gravity. It's anti-gravity paint, and Cavor is completing the Sphere, a space capsule designed to take a man to the moon. Soon all three end up becoming the first humans to trod lunar soil. The story's title comes from their adventures within the crystalline caverns of the Selentites, a rigidly stratified civilization of insectoid creatures. Cavor wants to foster peaceful relations with the natives. Bedford, however, enters with fists a-blazin', and before you can say "colonial zeal" the Earthlings are running for their lives, captured, probed... in short, they're treated like alien invaders. When Cavor reveals to the reigning Grand Lunar humans' propensity for making war, the ruler perceives a threat from Earth and decrees that the three can never leave. Of course, Bedford and Kate escape, but Cavor chooses to stay with results that decades later the U.N. astronauts discover to everyone's surprise.
There's even less H.G. Wells in this adaptation of his 1901 novel than in George Pal's cinema treatments of War of the Worlds or The Time Machine. Here again Wells' social commentary is watered down to make room for an action-adventure fantasy among monstrous baddies, in this case Harryhausen's stop-motion-animated moon creatures. Indeed, with its unblushing whimsy and Disneyesque light-as-air approach, this is the Wells adaptation that most plays as a kids' film. Jeffries, like his turn in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, played Cavor as a dotty Wodehouse caricature, all sputtery and bespectacled with waistcoat and cravat and "Blast that woman!" Most of the Selenites were played by children in rubber costumes, but when Harryhausen's "Dynamation" versions are on display you can't take your eyes off them. The gargantuan caterpillar "moon cow" is a fine roaring menace, and the Grand Lunar an eerie-voiced wonder within its wavery transparent sac. (There's even that Harryhausen signature, a walking skeleton.) Cavor's Sphere is an iron Everlasting Gobstopper evoking more the age of steam locomotives than space missions. The story takes a bit long too get going, and it's often wincingly silly, but the only real complaint here is that Harryhausen's work doesn't get more screen time. His only widescreen project, Harryhausen co-produced and fellow Wells enthusiast Nigel Neale (of the revered Quatermass films) wrote the lion's share of the screenplay. Never mind how Cavorite works or whether jumping about on the moon (with wires visible) wearing only a diving suit and no gloves is really a good idea. And smile at the modern realization that bright, level-headed Kate is the best representative of humanity within a quarter-million miles. First Men in the Moon remains a delightful B-movie charmer, a fondly remembered Boys Own Adventure that's still endearing and entertaining. (And look for Peter Finch, who took a cameo role when the original actor failed to show.)
Columbia TriStar has given First Men in the Moon, a new addition to their "Ray Harryhausen Signature Collection," a respectful DVD treatment that's sure to impress fans old and new. The print has been digitally remastered in high definition, so it looks superb with deep, true tones and colors a must for the colorful Selenite "crystal city" scenes. Returned to their original Panavision 2.35:1 image (with an anamorphic transfer), the lunar panoramas, alien caverns, and other vast set pieces can again spread out. It's beautifully clean, marred by only minor speckling and grain. Likewise, the digitally remastered Dolby Digital 4.0 audio fills the room with ambient sounds, "lunar" environmental effects, and Laurie Johnson's fine orchestral score. The highlight extra is "The Ray Harryhausen Chronicles," an hour-long 1997 documentary narrated by Leonard Nimoy. It features Harryhausen himself along with lifelong pal Ray Bradbury, George Lucas, and others in a tribute devoted to the master's life, work, inspirations, and ongoing influence. Also here are "This is Dynamation," a short made to promote the special-effects process introduced in The 7th Voyage of Sinbad; a photo gallery; and trailers for First Men as well as the 7th and Golden voyages of Sinbad. H.G. Wells' First Men in the Moon is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: All eyes were on the Oscar ceremonies this weekend, and Steven Spielberg's re-released E.T.: The Extraterrestrial has received plenty of attention but it turned out that nobody could top Wesley Snipes. New Line's Blade II debuted over the weekend with a stellar $33.1 million break, ensuring that the follow-up to 1998's Blade will be a success. But last week's winner, Fox's Ice Age, showed good legs in its second frame, adding $31 million to a blistering $88.3 million 10-day gross, which held E.T. in third place with $15.1 million. Also new was Buena Vista's comedy Sorority Boys, which opened poorly with just $4.2 million.
In continuing release, Warner's Showtime starring Robert De Niro and Eddie Murphy managed $8.2 million in its second frame and a $26.8 million 10-day gross. Falling sharper was Sony's Resident Evil, which doubtless lost viewers to Blade II and cobbled only $6.6 million over the weekend. Paramount's We Were Soldiers is now over the $60 million mark, while DreamWorks' The Time Machine is nearing $50 million. And everybody knows Oscars equals movie tickets A Beautiful Mind is bound to stay in theaters for a few more weeks, building on its $154.9 million cume. Meanwhile, Best Actor Denzel Washington is on the way to DVD prep, this time with New Line's John Q, which will finish north of $65 million.
David Fincher's latest film, Panic Room staring Jodie Foster, opens this Friday, along with Danny DeVito's Death to Smoochy starring Robin Williams and Edward Norton, The Rookie with Dennis Quaid, and the sci-fi flick Clockstoppers, directed by Jonathan Frakes. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: D.K. Holm has posted a sneak-preview of Criterion's excellent Rashomon, while new stuff from the rest of the team today includes Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season One, Original Sin (unrated version), Samurai Jack: The Premiere Movie, The Atomic Cafe, First Men in the Moon, and Cannibal Apocalypse: Special Edition. 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 street discs.
Thursday, 21 March 2002
'Time After Time' again: Thanks to DVD Journal reader Dave, who went digging around Warner's online press database and found actual DVD boxcover art for Nicholas Meyer's 1979 Time After Time starring Malcolm McDowell, Mary Steenburgen, and David Warner (see inset) a disc we suggested yesterday that the folks at Warner are likely to release this year. There are no specs or date announced, but the fact that there is a boxcover shows that the studio has not forgotten about this fan-favorite. Additionally, we received this letter yesterday from our pal Dan Duvall in L.A.:
I enjoyed a screening of Time After Time at Hollywood's Egyptian Theatre in June of 2001. Mr. McDowell was there for a Q&A session with the audience, but the biggest surprise was a "video greeting" recording just for the event by Mary Steenburgen! McDowell had actually invited her to be there in person, but she couldn't make it. Please make Warner Home Video aware that the Steenburgen greeting exists: if she's willing to release the rights, it'd make for a cool DVD supplement.
Our thanks to both Dan and Dave for the additional info.
Quotable: "This is a close and charged two-man race between two fine actors, neither of whom would win any popularity prizes in Hollywood. Will Russell Crowe make it twice in a row with A Beautiful Mind, despite his recent thuggish antics, or will Denzel Washington finally pull off the victory he failed to get for The Hurricane and Malcolm X? A lot has been made of the race issue this year: Sidney Poitier remains the only African-American actor to win the top prize. Washington has been quite vocal about not getting what he considers his due, but this could boomerang. Academy members may resent feeling pressured to vote out of political guilt. But what hurts Washington's chances more is that Training Day is considered a genre movie, and doesn't engender the passion that A Beautiful Mind has inspired. With Crowe's SAG victory, Washington once again finds himself in the position of being the front runner who sees his lead slip away."
David Ansen, Newsweek
"The problem is that everybody who can't get tickets always thinks they're the only ones not getting tickets. Even in the industry, there's the tendency to equate this event with the Super Bowl. Well, the Super Bowl has 100,000 tickets."
Academy Awards executive director Bruce Davis,
Gwyneth Paltrow, speaking to the German
"There's more (roles) for people of my age in Hollywood, I think. There's always somebody shuffling across in the background. Wheelchair parts. I'm not proud anymore. Now real wheelchair parts they're a real plus because you don't even have to learn the moves. Crikey. I could do with one now."
Oscar nominee Judi Dench
"Right now we just bought the pitch, and no script has been written, so (David Hasselhoff's) involvement or what he's gonna do is up in the air. But once we get the other cast down then we'll kind of work the script around him."
A spokesperson for Revolution Studios, confirming
Coming Attractions: The shrink-wrapped, multi-stickered DVDs just keep coming, and new reviews on the way include Criterion's Rashomon, the first Star Trek: The Next Generation box-set, and more. We're back on Monday see ya then.
Wednesday, 20 March 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:
Okay then we'll stick up for it Paul, because 1979's Time After Time is a cable-TV favorite of ours, and we think there is no better time than this year for a new DVD to arrive. As for who owns the rights, it's far from a mystery, as Warner originally produced the film and has released all home-video items up to this point. The current VHS is a common-stock item at online retailers, but with a major problem it's 1.33:1, and Time After Time was released theatrically with an anamorphic 2.35:1 projection, which means that videotape is a hatchet-job and virtually all TV presentations are as well. Fortunately, those with Laserdisc players have options, as Warner released a widescreen LD in 1994. There are no special features, but it is the only accurate item we are aware of to appear for home viewing, and it currently trades on eBay in the $35 neighborhood.
But along with a proper anamorphic transfer, we'd prefer that Warner at least investigate if some sort of special-edition disc is possible. Time After Time was scenarist Nicholas Meyer's first film as a director, just before his foray into the Star Trek theatrical franchise, and we expect he will participate in Paramount's upcoming Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan special-edition release this summer. His comments on Time After Time would be valuable. Malcolm McDowell is one of our favorite actors, and it just kills us to think that he actually starred in the re-heated "Fantasy Island" TV series a few years back (Malcolm, oh Malcolm....) At least he's popped up on DVD recently with an interview on the Britannia Hospital disc, as well as contributing to the documentary Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures. Time After Time stands as one of his few sympathetic leading-man roles, and perhaps he would be able to sit for a track as well. McDowell met his leading lady and future wife Mary Steenburgen on the set of Time After Time, and while we don't expect them to record a commentary together (they divorced in 1990), her participation would be welcome. And finally, David Warner can be heard on Criterion's Time Bandits DVD, and we would like to hear more from him on this film.
Now it's up to Warner, and there's two things the folks in home-video marketing already know (although here's a gentle reminder) the studio already has released a fantastic special edition DVD of 1960's The Time Machine starring Rod Taylor, while the inevitable DVD release of DreamWorks' 2002 The Time Machine starring Guy Pearce is on the horizon. We say the WB should strike the iron while it's hot.
Thanks for the tip Dan we went digging around and found that this DVD is readily available from French online retailers. And with multiple-language DD 5.1 tracks and a few extra features, we thought that this would be an indication of things to come from Fox in Region 1, were it not for the fact that this is actually an MGM release (see inset), as they hold the rights to The Commitments in continental Europe (but apparently not in the UK, where Fox's 4:3 DVD arrived in March 2001). So for folks who really love The Commitments and we know you're out there the Euro-disc may make a nice collectible, as long as you have equipment that can handle the PAL conversion and region-coding.
Top 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:
Tuesday, 19 March 2002
On the Street: If we had to pick just one DVD to buy today we'd be torn between two Fox's Donnie Darko showcases the potential of good independent filmmaking, while Warner's Training Day features Denzel Washington in what is sure to be one of his most memorable performances for some time to come (and he very well could get an Oscar for it this month). Buena Vista also gets our attention this morning with Baz Luhrmann's Strictly Ballroom, while other new arrivals from the Mouse House include The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Hunchback of Notre Dame 2, as well as the popular 1990 comedy The Tall Guy. Columbia TriStar's Wilde starring Stephen Fry features the comedian in a dramatic role he was born to play, Drew Barrymore's Riding in Cars with Boys is sure to win a few fans, and Neil Simon's Seems Like Old Times is a fun look back at Chevy Chase and Goldie Hawn in top form. And it seems every week has another new TV box on the shelves this time it's HBO's Oz: The Complete First Season in a three-disc set. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 18 March 2002
Disc of the Week: While the name Satan may invoke a variety of reprehensible caricatures in popular culture (a figure with horns, cloven hooves, a tail), anybody who spent time in Sunday school knows just the opposite Satan is beautiful. Dust off that leather-bound King James and have a look at Ezekiel 28, as Lucifer is condemned by God: "Thou was perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till inequity was found in thee.... Thine heart was lifted up because of thy beauty; thou hast corrupted thy wisdom by reason of thy brightness." In the history of Judeo-Christian scripture, Satan alternately has been portrayed as God's chosen prosecutor, a fallen angel who wanted to be like God, and a tempter of mankind. Dante portrayed Satan as a horrific creature. Milton considered him erudite and grand. But perhaps Goethe got it right in Faust by recognizing that the essential characteristic of Mephistopheles is not merely his abstract beauty, but rather his palpable seductiveness the devil does not approach mortals simply to shock or horrify them. Rather, he comes in disguise, and with an offer on the table. Various films have considered satanic figures over the years, going all the way back to Fritz Lang's 1922 Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler. However, few movies have tackled the theme with such vigor, and from as far out of left field, as Antoine Fuqua's Training Day (2001), which functions as both an entertaining cop thriller and a crisp religious allegory.
Ethan Hawke stars in Training Day as ambitious LAPD officer Jake Hoyt, who dreams of getting off patrol duty and becoming a detective which is possible, with the right ticket. That opportunity comes when Det. Alonzo Harris (a mercurial Denzel Washington) accepts him as a rookie on his narcotics team, a five-man undercover unit that patrols L.A.'s worst neighborhoods looking for big collars. Hoyt eagerly takes the assignment, and he's quickly willing to overlook Alonzo's unusual temperament, as the domineering cop insists that there's one set of rules for patrolmen and quite another for his elite squad. Cruising the mean streets in Alonzo's tricked-out Monte Carlo, Hoyt intends to learn the rules of the unit, but he finds some of Alonzo's decisions unsettling Alonzo encourages him to smoke some grass, and the narc is happy to let most offenders walk away from their crimes, including a pair of crackhead rapists who violate a 14-year-old schoolgirl. It's not "by the book," but Alonzo justifies every decision he makes with pragmatic responses "To protect the sheep to gotta catch the wolf, and it takes a wolf to catch a wolf," he lectures his young trainee. And after every instance Hoyt gives way, until he learns that Alonzo recently crossed the Russian mafia and needs a lot of cash to stay alive. But by that point he's already become a pawn in Alonzo's much larger scheme of things.
With a smart script from longtime Angelino David Ayer and even-handed direction by Antoine Fuqua, Training Day would be a good cop movie in most circumstances. What elevates it to something more special is Denzel Washington, who delivers one of the finest performances of his career and his credentials are nothing to sniff at. Few actors have the charisma to play Alonzo Harris, a rough-and-tumble investigator who stays alive by knowing how people react to given behaviors, and in any set of circumstances he alternately must be brutal, kind, arrogant, sensitive, terrifying, reasonable, intimidating, and introspective. But in all moments Alonzo is a seducer, aware that his various poses exist to create desired effects, and not only with the street hoodlums he confronts but also with Hoyt, a green rookie looking for street cred. With a role that requires less intensity, Ethan Hawke as Hoyt may not win as many accolades as Washington, but he actually has an equally difficult task, as he is our conduit to Alonzo's world, and he must create subtle, convincing reactions to the events that surround him. Despite helming the miserable Replacement Killers, director Fuqua atones for his sins this time around by having a clear understanding of his material, and allowing his actors to carry the load with subdued camera-work that never upstages the story. Fuqua also brings some verisimilitude to the picture by shooting on location in some of L.A.'s roughest neighborhoods and using gang members as extras, all contributing to the film's slow descent into a hell where Hoyt must decide who he is, and why he's a cop. Like David Fincher's remarkable Fight Club, Fuqua's Training Day offers an incisive story of young man's struggle to define his identity by facing his worst fear a fear that initially approaches him as a mentor, and a friend.
Warner's new DVD edition of Training Day offers a clean anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio that captures the action as well as the rap/hip-hop soundtrack. Features include a commentary with director Fuqua, who shares insights into working with his actors and how the film came to be made; a 15-min. behind-the-scenes featurette; 12 minutes of deleted scenes, all of which are worth watching thanks to Denzel's presence; music videos for "#1" by Nelly and "Got You" by Pharoae Monch; the theatrical trailer; and cast and crew notes. Training Day hits the street tomorrow.
Box Office: The three new films that arrived over the weekend claimed the top three spots on the box-office chart but the race for first place wasn't even close. Fox's animated Ice Age, featuring the voices of Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, and Denis Leary, blasted its way to a $47.8 million three-day gross, making it the best opening ever for a non-Disney animated film (beating out the previous winner, DreamWorks' Shrek). The win will lighten up some Monday-morning meetings at Fox HQ, as the studio suffered heavy losses with their previous cartoon effort, Titan AE. Landing in second place with a healthy $18.2 million was Sony's Resident Evil starring Milla Jovovich and Michelle Rodriguez, while Showtime with Robert De Niro and Eddie Murphy took in $15.3 million and third place. Reviews for Ice Age were generally positive, while critics were less kind to Resident Evil and Showtime.
In continuing release, last week's winner The Time Machine suffered a sharp drop-off, but an additional $10.9 million pushed its 10-day total above the $40 million mark, while Paramount's We Were Soldiers starring Mel Gibson now stands at $53.6 million after three weeks, and New Line's John Q is a certified hit with a $64.4 million cume. But if you've ever wondered what a commentary track from Britney Spears would sound like, note that Paramount's Crossroads is on the way to DVD prep after a $35 million theatrical tally and that ain't bubblegum.
Don't be surprised if next week's winner isn't all that new Steven Spielberg's reworked E.T.: The Extraterrestrial lands in cineplexes this Friday, along with Wesley Snipes in Blade II and the cross-dressing comedy Sorority Boys. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Mark Bourne has posted an extensive review of Fox's Donnie Darko, while Dawn Taylor recently looked at Buena Vista's Strictly Ballroom, the latest DVD from director Baz Luhrmann. New stuff from the rest of the team this week includes Riding in Cars with Boys: Special Edition, Crimes of Passion, Wilde: Special Edition, The Wash, Boxcar Bertha, Seems Like Old Times, Training Day, and The Evil That Men Do. 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.
We'll be back tomorrow to let you know about this week's street discs.
Thursday, 14 March 2002
Coming Attractions: We're off to spin another stack of fresh DVDs, and new reviews on the way include Donnie Darko, Strictly Ballroom, and lots more. In the meantime, if you haven't entered our totally free DVD contest for a copy of Donnie Darko, 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.
Commentary Clips: "The idea for the basic premise of the film came from living in the west end, as I had been for a few years really right around where the film was shot and every time I would go out the front door you'd just be absolutely swamped by pedestrians in London, it's such a crowded city, particularly in the west end. And I just became fascinated by this idea of stopping to think focus on one of these people who are around you and say 'OK, who is this person? Where is that person?' I became very interested in the involuntary protocols that everybody lives by in a city like London, where physically you are in very close proximity to absolute strangers, but you never allow yourself to connect with them in any way. You respect each other's differences in a quite peculiar way. I mean one of the examples that I wasn't able to work into the film but I've always been interested in is the way that complete strangers walking down a street as crowded Oxford Street for example will never walk at the same pace you'll always speed up or slow down a bit. You won't just fall into step with someone you don't know. And this is the kind of barrier that people erect between each other in a city like London to make life more comfortable, to preserve your individuality when you're thrust together with all these people. So that was the 'jumping-off' point for the character of the young man, this person who is incredibly lonely and yet surrounded by people the whole time, which to me is a very interesting kind of modern condition."
* * *
"(This scene) is all actually shot in my parents' house. We took a couple of different rooms and just stitched them together to give an idea of this apartment. And they have this piano there that looks great in black and white, and as with other things in the film provides a very useful reminder of the location, so the next time we come back to this location we know exactly where we are because of those kind of key props. With the story unfolding in the non-linear way that it does, it just seemed important to connect different scenes through the objects that we see, particularly because the young man is different and behaves slightly differently and looks slightly differently in these different time-lines. His physical appearance helps to clue us in to which time-line we're in, but then of course we have to work a lot harder connecting different locations through significant props and memorable details. I think we were very lucky with the locations we wound up using, that they seemed to have a little something that your eye would be drawn back to."
Director Christopher Nolan,
Quotable: "A lot of people thought after Sept. 11 the movie industry would go into the tank, that people would be umbilically connected to their electronic box in their living room and wouldn't dare leave home. For some strange, but to me not bizarre reason, the opposite happened."
MPAA President Jack Valenti, in reaction
"I've never met John Nash, but a 73-year-old man who has gone through hell and who agreed to entrust us with his life shouldn't have to go through these attacks. To take statements out of context, which were said at a time when he was a self-admitted schizophrenic, seems shameful. We never set out to sugarcoat his life, but I don't think it's a misrepresentation of that life to have concentrated on the facts that try to get the essence of his life."
Universal Studios chairman Stacey Snider,
Director and drug-legalization advocate
"I don't really have anyone to bring at the moment, so I'm looking."
Best actress nominee Nicole Kidman, who
"There was a young man from Australia
Poetry lover Russell Crowe, offering a limerick
Wednesday, 13 March 2002
Perhaps our question to you Jacob should be which DVD release of Royal Wedding did you watch although, in truth, it probably doesn't matter very much. Fans of Fred Astaire and classic MGM musicals consider 1951's Royal Wedding to be among the best of the bunch with set-pieces featuring Astaire dancing on the ceiling and with a coat rack, as well as the catchy tune "How Could You Believe Me When I Said I Loved You?" But to our regret, Royal Wedding has been a public-domain title for some time, which means anybody with a videotape copy can produce a new DVD and several folks have. By our count, at least six separate discs have appeared in Region 1 (the two most common being from Madacy and UAV). We have yet to hear of anybody who likes them the transfers are that disappointing.
However, that does not mean all hope is lost for Royal Wedding. A handful of public-domain films have found new life on DVD in recent years, in particular Charade starring Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn, which can be found on all sorts of $8 discs, but was given a definitive transfer by Criterion from the original film elements before those particular rights reverted back to Universal (and it now appears Universal will release their own Charade DVD in conjunction with the upcoming remake by Jonathan Demme, The Truth About Charlie). Howard Hawks' 1941 His Girl Friday is another common cheapo, but fans know the only way to go is with Columbia TriStar's version, which the studio gave extra loving care despite having their retail price undercut by smaller vendors. All of Alfred Hitchcock's films up to 1939 are in the public domain, but Criterion has rescued two The 39 Steps and The Lady Vanishes and may deliver more down the road under their folio, while at least two "budget" vendors, LaserLight and Whirlwind, have shipped acceptable transfers at lower prices (but be very careful in this regard, as there are plenty of sub-par Hitch transfers out there as well).
Nevertheless, most public-domain titles tend to languish on low-cost DVDs, and for a simple reason whoever actually owns the original elements, and thus could provide a quality release, often is unwilling to put a higher-priced item on the street, and in what amounts to a commodities market. And this may be true of Royal Wedding as well. The new Region 2 release you mention is from Sanctuary Digital Entertainment as part of their "Laureate Collection" folio. While it does offer a few extra features (including a commentary by Fred Astaire's daughter Ava), it does not appear to include the original MGM elements, and may in fact be another second- or third-generation transfer. Caveat emptor.
The good news is that Royal Wedding has not been gathering dust in the back of a Hollywood vault for 50 years in fact, MGM has released their own transfer of the film on VHS and Laserdisc. We have not seen these, but we would wager that they are superior to any cut-rate DVD currently on the street. The only catch is that both the VHS and LD are out of print so eBay is everyone's best bet. As part of the Turner Library, the rights to Royal Wedding passed from MGM to Warner in 1998. That means Warner owns the existing film elements, as well as MGM's telecine transfer. It will be up to them to get a superior DVD of Royal Wedding on the street and hope uneducated consumers can tell the difference.
Alan Parker's popular 1991 The Commitments arrived on DVD from Fox in November, 1999, and almost immediately upset the film's fans with a full-frame transfer. To be certain, The Commitments' original aspect ratio was 1.85:1 theatrically, which means Fox's disc is full-frame rather than a pan-and-scan hatchet job but all digital die-hards know that OAR is more than a paddle you stick in the water. The platter offers a few extras as well, including a featurette and a music video, but clearly it's far from definitive. After all, Alan Parker is not one of these directors who refuses to sit for commentary tracks.
Thus, the original Commitments DVD has gone the way of so many initial releases, and sources say that Fox currently is prepping something with more groove for the fans. But if you can't wait, the original 1.33:1 item can be found on eBay (for $60 $90, or even higher). Fox's 1992 Laserdisc is also out there, but with a 1.33:1 transfer it likely is taken from the same source as the DVD. In fact, if you want any sort of letterboxed presentation of The Commitments, apparently the only game in town is an OOP Laserdisc with 1.66:1 framing, released not in the U.S., but Germany and with German dubbing.
Tuesday, 12 March 2002
On the Street: Fox has a hot trio of new titles on the shelves this week with the British gangster drama Sexy Beast, the cross-country thriller Joy Ride, and a re-issue of Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet and all three have a variety of supplements as well. And it would be hard to think of a better recent crime movie than Sexy Beast, were it not for the fact that David Mamet's street-savvy Heist starring Gene Hackman and Danny DeVito is also on the street this morning. Criterion collectors have two new ones to get today with David Gordon Green's George Washington and Federico Fellini's Juliet of the Spirits, while those in the mood for something a bit more zany can enjoy the frothy goodness of Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson in Paramount's Zoolander. As for us, we've recently enjoyed three William Castle flicks that have gone digital thanks to Columbia TriStar Homicidal, Mr. Sardonicus, and Strait-Jacket. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 11 March 2002
Disc of the Week: In David Mamet's 1987 House of Games, the con-artist Mike (Joe Mantegna) explains to psychologist Margaret (Lindsay Crouse) the basic principle of beating the confidence game: "Don't trust nobody." It's a bit of advice Mamet fans might want to take as well aside from being known for his unique dialogue, the Chicago-based playwright is America's foremost dramatic proponent of the old-fashioned swindle. From his stage plays (American Buffalo, Glengarry Glen Ross) to his film projects (The Spanish Prisoner, House of Games, Things Change), the world of Mamet is all about sucker bets, elaborate frauds, and big scores and anybody dumb enough to get taken is just another mark. Many of Mamet's better-known screenplays concern secrets, lies, and high-stakes bluffs as well, including Wag the Dog, Ronin, and The Postman Always Rings Twice. Thus it came as no surprise that the writer/director delivered a new film in 2001 simply called Heist and while it may not add anything radically new to the Mametian oeuvre, it's a caustic little thriller that will entertain Mamet admirers and newcomers alike.
Gene Hackman stars in Heist as Joe Moore, a boat builder who also happens to be a veteran criminal, often in partnership with fellow crook Bobby Blane (Delroy Lindo). Financed by cantankerous crime boss Bergman (Danny DeVito), Moore takes down a large jeweler with Blane, expert con-man Pinky (Ricky Jay), and wife Fran (Rebecca Pidgeon), but he accidentally is caught unmasked by a security camera. Knowing he's "burnt," Moore plans to take his cut and retire in the Caribbean, but Bergman holds it over his head, insisting that he complete one final job the seizure of a gold shipment from a Swiss cargo jet. And to make sure Moore doesn't disappear before splitting the score, he insists his nephew Jimmy Silk (Sam Rockwell) join the crew. Moore agrees, but it's only a matter of time before he plans his own double-cross although he can't be entirely sure which members of his team are loyal to him and not playing their own angles.
In addition to the con-game, David Mamet fans always approach his new films anticipating the somewhat inexplicable "Mametspeak." While some folks insist that Mamet's scripts are alternately artificial or incomprehensible, his rhythmic mix of street patter, repetition, metaphor, and vulgarity is distinctive, and always yields fun surprises. Some are memorable lines ("She could talk her way out of a sunburn," Moore says of his attractive wife Fran; "Everybody needs money that's why they call it money!" insists the garrulous crime boss Bergman), while a few longer scenes erupt into high-volume Mametian marathons (an argument among the crew after they think the operation is blown is among the more memorable). But even David Mamet knows that you can't make a crime film without a big set-piece, and the renowned scenarist renders the gold theft on the Swiss jet in relative silence, letting the con-job do all of the talking and even saving a twist or two for later. However, what makes Heist a special film among Mamet's long list of credentials are two actors: Gene Hackman and Danny DeVito. Neither are from Mamet's regular stable of thespians (which includes Ricky Jay and Rebecca Pidgeon in this outing), but their presence increases the octane-rating. DeVito is a perfect choice for Bergman, spewing half-witted venom with every word. As for Hackman, he's definitely in his "A-mode" persona as the inveterate thief who's quick to temper, but never willing to show his hand until he knows he owns the score.
Warner's new DVD release of Heist features a clean anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with solid Dolby Digital 5.1 audio that showcases the energetic score by Theodore Shapiro. However, the only extras are the theatrical trailer and cast notes. And that we regret to say is downright criminal. Heist is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: He's starred in such modern classics as L.A. Confidential and Memento, and now Guy Pearce has landed atop the box-office chart DreamWorks' remake of H.G. Welles' The Time Machine debuted in first place over the weekend with $22.5 million, giving Pearce his first win in a marquee role. Also arriving over the weekend was New Line's All About the Benjamins starring Ice Cube, which garnered a respectable $10.1 million for third place. However, despite the strong openings, reviews for both The Time Machine and Benjamins were generally unenthusiastic.
In continuing release, Paramount's We Were Soldiers starring Mel Gibson managed to retain much of its audience after last week's win, dropping only one spot and adding $14.4 million to its $40.7 million 10-day total. Miramax's 40 Day and 40 Nights is also hanging around with $22.8 million so far, while the Universal comedy Big Fat Liar has had good legs over the past five weeks with a $43.3 million cume. And folks are still lining up to see Denzel New Line's John Q stands at an impressive $60 million after one month. Don't expect A Beautiful Mind or Lord of the Rings to go far until after the Academy Awards later this month. But on the way to DVD prep is Warner's Queen of the Damned, which will wind up just shy of $30 mil after three weeks.
Robert De Niro, Eddie Murphy, and Rene Russo team up this Friday in Showtime, Milla Jovovich and Michelle Rodriguez star in Resident Evil, and kids will be heading for the animated Ice Age. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Dawn Taylor has posted a look at Fox's excellent Sexy Beast, while Greg Dorr recently took a spin with the thriller Joy Ride. New stuff from the rest of the gang this week includes Zoolander, The Evil Dead: Book of the Dead Limited Edition, Eat Drink Man Woman, Juliet of the Spirits: The Criterion Collection, Frances, Strait-Jacket, George Washington: The Criterion Collection, Mr. Sardonicus, Heist, Homicidal, and Working: 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 with the rundown on this week's street discs.
Thursday, 7 March 2002
The Long Weekend: We're off for a weekend staff retreat in Hawaii, which means your own humble editor is typing this message on his PowerBook as our corporate Gulfstream, DVD One, cruises high above the Pacific Ocean. However, it also means that the only person left at DVD Journal headquarters is our 19-year-old intern Chip Liebowitz, who will be handling today's news update. We're back on Monday with a stack of new DVD reviews see ya then.
IM BACK!!! Okay, The dVD-WIzrD is here to talk to you! Ive got the juice on all the DVD info I want to talk about, but I also want to tell you a little bit about myself, hahaha. For those who have read my previus writings on THE DVD JOURNAL, you know I am going to college. Well, I definitely have decided that I want to be a film student, but the college I go to doesnt really have any sort of film school or anything (because its a community college), but I may try to go to a different college beacase film is my LIFE!!! And so are DVDS!!!!
I am no longer dating my girlfriend Samantha which is cool because we didnt always see eye to eye on stuff, like I try to watch at least 10 DVDS a week (because I can borrow them for free from here) and she didnt want to watch so many DVDs. So she was like see ya later and I said don't come crying to me when you want to see a preview copy of HARRY POTTER. Go stand in line at Blockbuster with your new loser boyfriend.
My DVD collection is growing pretty well, I now have 27 and some I am quite proud of owning! I think my favorte DVD in my collection is DIE HARD SPECIAL EDITION. I wrote a review of it but my boss here didnt put it on the websight. But here is what I wrote anyway and if I get my own sight I will be sure to include it!
DIE HARD SPECIAL EDITION DVD REVIEW By The dVD-WIzrD! OK, if you have not seen DIE HARD then you are in a time warp because it is the best action movie of ALL TIME! First of all it stars Bruce Willis, who used to be in a TV show but got his first big movie role in DIE HARD! Here he plays a New York policeman who journeys to California to fight terrorists in a really tall buiding. And boy what a fight! Allan Rickman, a German actor, plays the bad guy Han, and he gets to be in a lot of cool scenes where he calls Bruce Willis Cowboy and John Wayne and stuff and then Bruce Willis calls him eurotrash, which is really funny. But its not all jokes because there are many action scenes that are all time classics like when a helicopter crashes into the building and also when Bruce Willis jumps off the top of the building! I think this is a great date movie because I know a lot of girls who like it just as much as guys do. The DVD has a whole bunch of extras so it will take you a long time to go through all of them but they are worth it. It's part of Foxs Five Star DVD Collection, and I sure think it deserves five Stars! ***** (5 stars)
I am trying to write more DVD reveiws around here because I want to be one of the DVD writers but for now I mostly just answer the phone and go through all the mail and Fedex packages. And then every day I have to get all the new DVDS that come in and take them in to my bosses office and put them on his desk, and always in the same place or I get yelled at which is not fun. Hes like a total weirdo about his little pile of dvds.
Okay here is a rumor that I heard - THE LORD OF THE RINGS is definitly coming to DVD! I know that there has not been any announcment from Mirmax, but I have heard some writers talking in the office here and they are talking like its a totally done deal, like there is no doubt that we will have a LORD OF THE RINGS DVD sometime this year. They are totally planning on it and everything. I think that s big news, and remember you heard it hear first, ha ha.
And also I think THE LORD OF THE RINGS IS THE GREATEST MOVIE OF ALL TIME!!!! I have seen it twice now and it definitely is my favorte movie ever! It is up for a lot of awards this year and it should win them all especially Richard Harris because he was just great! I think its good to see older actors making new films like this because they are so talented.
I have not seen all of the movies that are nominated for Oscar awards this year, but I know that LORD OF THE RINGS is the best. I saw MULAN ROUGE and that one is pretty good too. I have not been to see BEAUTIFUL MIND but it stars Russell Crow and he's a good actor. I also have not seen IN MY BEDROOM because I did not know anywhere it was playing and I also havent seen GOSFORD PARK. So I think the LORD OF THE RINGS is the best movie and it should win.
I dont know as much about the acting awards and who is up for those, but if Kevin Spacey or Samual L. Jackson is nominated for anything then I always want them to win because theya re my two favorite actors!!
I told my new girlfriend Shawna that I would be writing the news to day, so hi Shawna and I will talk to you soon!
Sometimes I get really mad about things- why can't people just leave Steven Speilberg and George Lucas alone?!?! Like, what have they ever done to anybody but just give us all entertaining movies to see? These two should get an award for something every year!
You probably want to hear more DVD rumors so here is two more of them, and they are reliable rumors because I heard people talking about them at work. First, BACK TO THE FUTURE is coming to DVD. Nobody is sure when, but I guess there will be a DVD. Also, you may think that PEARL HARBOR is on DVD, but it really isnt because there will be a bigger DVD release this year and it will have like five or six DVDs in it. I think that could be the greatest DVD of all time too. So there are some more rumors for you!!
Anyway, thats all the news that I have for today and I hope that you have a very nice day. Please send your fan mail to The dVD-WIzrD if you get the chance at >Chip@dvdjournal.com and maybe I will get to write more often in the futre!
Wednesday, 6 March 2002
Bernardo Bertolucci's Italian-language 1900, starring Gerard Depardieu and Robert De Niro, arrived in North American theaters in 1977, where it challenged audiences with a four-hour running time. And believe it or not, that was the cut version. Folks in Italy had it a bit easier, as 1900 actually screened as two separate films (Novecento, Parts I and II), and these two movies put together constituted a five-hour, 11-minute jog. However, this extended cut of 1900 is hard to find on home-video anywhere.
As for who actually controls the North American home-video rights for 1900 and thus would release any foreseeable DVD it's Paramount. The studio originally produced a two-tape VHS in April 1991, but apparently this is a pan-and-scan transfer with the English dubbing heard during the theatrical run. However, the running time is an improved four hours, 15 minutes, adding roughly 12 minutes of footage to the theatrical version. Paramount also streeted a three-platter Laserdisc with similar specs, but serious LD collectors do not regard it as a quality release. If there is a glimmer of hope, Paramount actually re-issued 1900 on VHS on Jan. 29 of this year, and this new item reportedly has English subtitles. A small improvement and perhaps a hint of an upcoming DVD at some point.
But don't tell it to fans of 1900, because only the five-hour-plus version will do. At least one Japanese Laserdisc is in circulation, and reportedly it gets much closer to the correct running-time. We also have heard that some European VHS versions are close to accurate, and in 1993 a new cut was released in the U.S. Apparently this is the NC-17 version shown on Bravo, but we also have heard that this later cut actually omits one or two sequences that were in the original U.S. theatrical release, including a notorious sex scene.
Where does that leave a possible DVD? Even with the current 4:15 version on video from Paramount, a quality DVD release clearly would require a two-disc set. Unfortunately, Paramount has not done a lot of double-platters, and when they do it's for slam-dunks like Forrest Gump and The Ten Commandments. We'd like to see 1900 presented on DVD with care, but we think it's probably well under Paramount's radar at the moment. After all, it's a foreign film, it's really long, and it has subtitles. Moreover, if Paramount decided to release the NC-17 cut on DVD, it would never get past the door at Blockbuster. Expect the U.S cut if anything at all.
We do have the significant advantage over US viewers though, in that we have so many ways of getting hold of proper 16:9 broadcast content. All the terrestrial networks broadcast in both 4:3 and 16:9 and have done for some years, and a significant number of the digital channels (via terrestrial transmission, satellite DTH or cable network) do so as well. The assertion that widescreen televisions will soon outnumber those ghastly square things from last century is certainly true for the UK.
We can't speak for the habits of UK consumers Paul, but we do know one of the major issues that has been keeping 16:9 TVs from getting off the ground in the States price. At the moment, the entry-level cost of any widescreen TV at most U.S. retailers is just shy of $2,000, and it's not hard to spend as much as $3,500 $6,000 on a large HDTV rear-projection set. A quick check of a few online UK retailers reveals why widescreen TVs have done so well in Britain, with prices ranging from £350 £800. Of course, that's around $500 to $1,200 (U.S) on exchange rates, but in terms of true purchasing power it's a bit lower.
We're also surprised to see some widescreen TVs in the UK to be as small as 24", and as you note 28" to 32" is common. If there are any 24" widescreen TVs in America selling for $500 then we haven't been to a big-box retailer in a while. And no matter what the cost, the fact remains that there are tons of 4:3 televisions in the showrooms, and they are always cheaper.
The problems facing American consumers in regards to widescreen/HDTVs are several. The first is cost, as outlined above. Secondly, consumers looking to plunk down some cash for a widescreen TV invariably will learn from a handy salesperson that there's all sorts of things to know DTV, progressive scan, set-top boxes, 1080i, 720p and the average buyer is a bit of a technophobe. Ease of use sells, complicated-sounding electronics do not. And before you know it, Mom 'n' Pop are browsing the "normal" TVs, of which they've owned several in their lifetimes.
Finally and this is just a suspicion we think American consumers sort of like the big square. After all, if it ain't square, it probably ain't a TV.
Top of the Pops: Here's the top-selling Drama DVDs last week from our friends at Ken Crane's DVDPlanet.com looks like the current 35% off all Criterion titles has been good for business. Click the links to read our reviews of these discs:
See ya later.
Tuesday, 5 March 2002
On the Street: It's now officially the month of March, which means the home-video business is back at full throttle after the traditional post-Christmas slump, and sure to sell a few copies this week is DreamWorks' A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, which streets in both widescreen and full-screen versions. Also new from DreamWorks is The Last Castle starring Robert Redford and James Gandolfini, which we think deserves a second chance on DVD. Criterion offers an excellent introduction to the films of Wong Kar-wai with the two-disc In the Mood for Love, while international catalog items from MGM include Eat Drink Man Woman, Electra, Mademoiselle, and A Tale of Springtime. It's all action from Columbia TriStar this morning with Jet Li's The One: Special Edition and the re-issued The Replacement Killers: Special Edition, but if you're looking for a few frights, yet another Evil Dead release is now out from Anchor Bay. And if you passed through your formative years in the '80s (as we did), Fox fired up the way-back machine for a quartet of new discs Less Than Zero, Taps, All the Right Moves, and the brilliant Say Anything. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 4 March 2002
And the winner is: Mark Larson of San Jose, Calif., wins the free Ghost World DVD, soundtrack, and signed book from our February contest. Congrats, Mark !
Our totally free DVD contest for the month of March is up and running, and we have copies of Fox's Donnie Darko and Joyride up for grabs. Be sure to drop by our contest page to send us your entry, and don't forget to take our monthly DVD poll while you're there.
Disc of the Week: On the commentary track for Out of Sight, Steven Soderbergh talks about a "morning after" scene he nearly cut, but kept. He said his rationale for saving it was that though he knew the scene didn't advance the plot it said something about the characters, and his movie probably would be the only film that year to include a scene that showed characters who are aware of the consequences of their actions. He probably was right, and if a director made a movie solely out of these normally forgotten scenes, that would be pretty close to making a Wong Kar-wai film. Usually shot in vibrant colors, Wong Kar-wai's movies are filled with asides, moments of reflection, acknowledgments of mistakes, and digressions that make up the majority of our daily lives but very little Hollywood screen time. Yet somehow Wong, through his talents as a filmmaker, makes these moments as touching and real as they are in our own personal worlds, but yet in cinematic terms. Something of an anomaly in his home territory of Hong Kong, Wong has gained attention via the Cannes Film Festival, where he won a Best Director award for his previous film Happy Together. In the U.S., Quentin Tarantino has been one of his biggest supporters. One can only hope the director will earn even more fans, as Wong's In The Mood for Love ("Hua yang nian hua") (2000), appearing on DVD under the Criterion folio, is a delicious introduction to one of the great modern filmmakers.
Maggie Cheung stars in In The Mood for Love as Mrs. Su Li-zhen Chan, a travel agent's secretary who is looking for housing in Hong Kong in 1962. Both she and the also-married journalist Mr. Mo-wan Chow (Tony Leung) look for places to live in the same neighborhood at the same time. Eventually they end up as next-door neighbors, with their furniture delivered on the same day. The two keep crossing paths, and both begin to suspect that their spouses are carrying on affairs. As it turns out, their mates are having an affair with each other which leads the hurt, unsure Su and Mo-wan to begin a mock courtship to understand why their spouses pursued their infidelities. The two bond as they spend time together, and Su even helps Mo-wan write a samurai serial. Insisting they will not be like "them," the pair nonetheless finds themselves attracted to each other. Rumors swirl around them but even then, Su and Mo-wan don't know how to deal with their newfound emotions, or how they should act on them.
Like many of the best modern filmmakers, Wong Kar-wai understands how to use music to heighten emotions. With In the Mood for Love, he relies heavily on the Spanish language recordings of Nat King Cole (though never the song "In the Mood for Love" itself) to brilliant effect by using sections of a song as a chorus to indicate what has passed before. Time is something Wong's film is deeply aware of, and in particular how quickly it passes (there are numerous shots of clocks in the movie). For the two would-be lovers, the film draws out the moments where something almost happens, as well as their inability to fully connect as they are confined by their concerns for morality and propriety. It's a technique that places the actors and their emotions at the film's center skillfully achieved, considering that Wong usually shoots without a script. But with such strong performers as Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung, the story never falters. Leung (best known to western audiences for his portrayal of the undercover cop in John Woo's Hard Boiled) won Best Actor at Cannes for his performance here, and his ongoing partnership with Wong is similar to the collaborations of Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro the two tend to make each other's work better. In the Mood for Love was shot by Christopher Doyle and Mark Li Ping-bin and as complemented by the production design of William Chang, who also served as chief editor and costume designer the film becomes a sensual experience, with food, clothing, and textures rendered for maximum voluptuousness. But despite its gorgeous look, the movie remains a story of melancholia a reminiscence of the things that can pass through people's lives, but just out of reach.
Criterion's new two-disc DVD release of In the Mood for Love offers a gorgeous anamorphic transfer (1.66:1) with both DD 5.0 and Dolby 2.0 Surround audio, as well as digital English subtitles. In addition, there is a Dolby 2.0 stereo music-and-effects track, which seems to be a diminishing extra on DVDs. Although there is no audio commentary, on the first disc there are four cut sequences that have been edited into short films that exist parallel to the feature film as digressions, and three of these have sparse commentary from Wong Kar-wai. Also on the Disc One is the essay "The Music of 'In the Mood for Love'," which provides links to the music being discussed, and the Wong short film "Hua Yang de Nian Hua," which collects clips from older Hong Kong movies. Disc Two features the behind-the-scenes documentary "@ In the Mood for Love" (51 min.), which offers more cut footage, including parts of a dance number. Additional features include two interviews with Wong (22 min., 15 min.), the Toronto International Film Festival press conference with stars Cheung and Leung (44 min.), an essay by film scholar Gina Marchetti on the film's setting, trailers, TV spots, an electronic press kit, promotional artwork and concepts, a photo gallery, and biographies of key cast and crew. To top it off, an enclosed booklet includes the short story "Intersection," on which the film was partly based. In the Mood for Love: The Criterion Collection is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: Mel Gibson returned to the box-office charts over the weekend, landing in first place with Paramount's We Were Soldiers. Written and directed by Braveheart scribe Randall Wallace, the Vietnam War film was good for $20.2 million, proving that Americans still have an appetite for patriotic fare. Debuting in second place was Miramax's comedy 40 Days and 40 Nights, which garnered $12.5 million for star Josh Hartnett. Soldiers received mixed-to-positive reviews, while 40 Days fared a bit worse with movie critics.
In continuing release, last week's winner Queen of the Damned plunged to sixth place in its second frame, adding just $5.8 million to its $23.8 million total. Holding up better is New Line's John Q, in third place with $51 million after three weeks, while Disney's Return to Never Land has earned $35.3 million over the same stretch. Crossroads starring Britney Spears is over the $30 million mark, but rest assured the pop-tart will get nowhere near Russell Crowe territory, as A Beautiful Mind stands at $138.7 million after nearly three months. But Britney's $30 mil looks pretty good compared to MGM's Hart's War, which is already on the way to DVD prep with a disappointing $15 million finish for veteran A-lister Bruce Willis.
Guy Pearce is back on the big screen this weekend in the remake of H.G. Wells' The Time Machine, while Ving Rhames and Wesley Snipes star in the boxing film Undisputed, and Ice Cube and Mike Epps can be found in the comedy All About the Benjamins. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: D.K. Holm has posted a sneak preview of DreamWorks' A.I.: Artificial Intelligence: Special Edition, while Betsy Bozdech recently had a look at Fox's Say Anything. New reviews from the rest of the team this morning include The Last Castle, The One: Special Edition, The Replacement Killers: Special Edition, All the Right Moves, Less Than Zero, Taps, In the Mood for Love: The Criterion Collection, and the 2002 remake of The Magnificent Ambersons. 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 street discs.