Tuesday, 30 April 2002
On the Street: Columbia TriStar has two new titles on the shelves this morning with Michael Mann's Ali featuring Will Smith in an Oscar-nominated performance, while Not Another Teen Movie is a funny spoof of adolescent fare over the past several years. Fans of Jerry Maguire can now pick up Columbia's special edition as well, which includes a new video commentary. We've been impressed by the latest pair of arrivals from Criterion, as both Ballad of a Solider and The Cranes Are Flying offer a glimpse of Soviet cinema at its greatest potential. Warner has a pair of catalog titles out today with 1946's The Harvey Girls and 1953's Calamity Jane, while sci-fi fans might want to pick up The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, on disc from BBC. And there's a big TV box out today as well Friends: The Complete First Season in a five-disc set. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 29 April 2002
Disc of the Week: Forget the stereotypes of Cold War-era Soviet cinema. Forget collectivist farm tractors filmed with the same photogenic reverence given to Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca. The Criterion Collection is counteracting decades of Western decadence with simultaneous releases of 1959's Ballad of a Soldier and 1957's The Cranes are Flying, two beautiful, sophisticated, and celebrated elegies to the individual and personal experiences of Russians during World War II. Russia's fight against the Nazi war machine cost that country 20 million lives. Ballad of a Soldier takes a simple premise one young soldier's journey home to visit his mother and shapes it into a polished lens. Through that lens Ballad projects those 20 million, and at the focal point burns a simple, genuine, and non-dogmatic meditation on the incalculably tragic cost of war.
The year is 1942. Soviet forces are retreating from the Nazi armies. The last survivor of a platoon, 19-year-old Alyosha (Vladimir Ivashov) is on the run from a German armored division. Thanks as much to luck as bravery or skill, the desperate soldier single-handedly takes out two tanks. His conduct on the battlefield makes him a hero, but instead of a medal he requests the rare privilege of enough leave-time to visit his mother and repair her leaking roof. His home village is a day away at peacetime; during wartime chaos the journey will be longer. His general rewards him with six days two to get there, two to visit, two to return. Although Alyosha is in a great hurry, he does not refuse to help those in need. A boy of good nature, sensitive and honest and not yet eroded by life, he gives comfort to an embittered, legless veteran afraid to return to his wife in his present state. He delivers cakes of soap (a precious wartime gift) from a fellow soldier to his wife only to fine that she has taken up with another man. He shares his meager property with others in need, notably a young woman, Shura (Zhanna Prokhorenko), a fellow stowaway on an army freight train. Clearly a victim of recent abuse, Shura at first distrusts Alyosha to the point of almost leaping from the train speeding through the ravaged countryside. But eventually newfound trust turns to mutual tenderness, then to love. In an ideal world, the couple would be fated to journey hand in hand throughout long and happy lives together. But this isn't an ideal world, and Alyosha reaches home just in time to hug his mother and say goodbye. We are told at the outset that Alyosha is killed at the front, never to return to his mother, to Shura, or to anyone else again. Ballad of a Soldier's conclusion strikes a single, clear tone with one of the most poignant of wartime questions what if? What if Alyosha, decent and honorable and deserving of a full life, had not died in the war? What could he, and by inference some 20 million Alyoshas, have become? What could this everyday hero have contributed if he'd been allowed to fulfill his promise? Ballad doesn't answer the question. Instead it tells us that Alyosha dies a "simple Russian soldier" (a citizen of a country, not an ideology) because he never had the time or opportunity to be anything else.
Technically rich yet possessing a remarkable simplicity, this visual poem of tender human connections remains a fresh and quietly powerful experience. Ballad of a Soldier is a work of beautiful craftsmanship that, in lesser hands, could have diminished into soapy melodrama or government-stamped rhetoric. Instead, director/co-writer Grigori Chukhrai delivered a personal ode, one indeed as emotive and straight-shooting as a ballad, to his own postwar generation. He did so with then-distinctive attention to varying responses war brings out in individual people, with moments of unmistakable (and now sweetly chaste) sexual heat, and without resorting to the clichés, stilted symbols, or pompous phraseology that did so much harm to Soviet cinema. If handsome, virtuous Alyosha is an idealized emblem of the Soviet character, it's to the degree that, say, Jimmy Stewart or John Wayne personified America's images of itself. Ballad is artful without being at all inaccessible, and every element cinematography, sound, and especially the performances of the two extraordinary actors playing Alyosha and Shura is as energetic and sharply honed as any of the best Hollywood or Western European product. During the early '60s, when Kruschev supported a brief thaw in Cold War tensions, Ballad triumphantly toured the international festival circuit. It was (and is) hailed as a gem-like representative of the period's "new Soviet cinema," and for Russians it became one of their most beloved movies while also earning awards in Cannes, San Francisco, London, Tehran, and Milan before winning the Lenin Prize at home. In 1962 it was Oscar-nominated for Best Writing (Story and Screenplay) and won the British Academy Award for Best Film From Any Source. Our vantage-point several decades later allows us a broader view of Ballad's resonant theme. What might writer-director Grigori Chukhrai or the previously unknown acting students Zhanna Prokhorenko (who's as lovely and soulful as Ingrid Bergman in her prime) and Vladimir Ivashov (one of the best leading men Hollywood never had) have achieved if politics and circumstances had permitted greater artistic back-and-forth between the U.S. and Soviet film industries? There's of course no answer for that. But this release of Ballad of a Soldier hints at what might have been.
With this DVD, Criterion maintains its reputation for sterling restorations. The near-pristine 1.33:1 image occasionally displays a little grain and sometimes could use more depth of contrast, but those quibbles are more than compensated for by a gorgeous, nearly flawless black-and-white print of exquisite definition and clarity. The remastered audio only comes in center-channel mono (DD 1.0), though given that restriction you couldn't ask for better strength and clarity of sound than what's on hand here. The Russian soundtrack is supported by optional (and newly translated) digital English subtitles. The disc also sports a spirited radio interview with the director and his two lead actors, which is presented with a gallery of images from the film (14 min.). Recorded at New York's Four Seasons restaurant in 1960, this then-rare example of Soviet artists permitted to go to America promoting a work as individual "stars" offers a first-person discussion of the film's production and relevance. Criterion rounds out its handsome keep-case packaging with an informative slipsheet. Ballad of a Soldier: The Criterion Collection is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: A pair of new films arrived in North American cineplexes over the weekend, but the top two spots remained unchanged from last week Universal's The Scorpion King remains atop the charts with $17.6 million over the past three days, and breaking $60 million in just ten days. Also doing well is Paramount's Changing Lanes, which brought in $9 million this past weekend and now has $44.5 million after three weeks. Fox's romance Life or Something Like It starring Angelina Jolie and Edward Burns had an underwhelming debut, arriving in third place with $6.6 million, while New Line's horror flick Jason X kept pace with $6.5 million. Life or Something Like It received mixed-to-negative reviews, while Jason X was dismissed by most critics.
In continuing release, Warner's Murder By Numbers starring Sandra Bullock is doing disappointing business, dropping to fifth place after its second weekend and an $18.3 million gross. But holding momentum are Buena Vista's The Rookie with $60.6 million after five weeks and Fox's Ice Age with $165.7 million after seven. Sony's Panic Room is now starting to slip, but it could break $100 million before its done. But falling out of the top ten is National Lampoon's Van Wilder, which will finish just above $20 million.
Sam Raimi's long-awaited Spider Man starring Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst goes wide this Friday, as well as Woody Allen's Hollywood Ending and the gang drama Deuces Wild starring Stephen Dorff and Brad Renfro. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: D.K. Holm has posted his sneak preview of Jerry Maguire: Special Edition, while Greg Dorr recently looked at the Coen Brothers' The Man Who Wasn't There. New stuff from the rest of the gang this week includes Ali, Not Another Teen Movie: Special Edition, The Cranes Are Flying: The Criterion Collection, Novocaine: Special Edition, Cactus Flower, Ballad of a Soldier: The Criterion Collection, and the uncut version of Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker. All can be found under the New Reviews menu here on the front page, while our DVD reviews database features more than 1,500 additional write-ups.
We'll be back tomorrow to let you know about this week's street discs.
Thursday, 25 April 2002
'1984' talkback: Here's a few comments from somebody who has seen the 1956 version of 1984 (see yesterday's update), and a buying tip as well:
This is the American-released version of the film, with the more faithful Orwellian ending. My personal opinion is that it is, in fact, inferior to the Michael Radford version, though the cast is comparably excellent mainly because the score (by George Auric) is not one of Auric's best, and because its treatment of certain scenes, such as the one near the end where Winston Smith is tortured in "Room 101," is curiously abbreviated. In fact, when you compare the two you get the impression that Anderson was trying to pack a little too much into its 90-minute running time, and because of this, some major scenes lack the power of the remake. Of course, I'm also aware that back in '56, scenes of torture were generally less direct it's doubtful that Burton's expatiations to Hurt in the aforementioned scene would have been permitted 28 years earlier, and the accompanying visuals of an emaciated Hurt with a front tooth being pried from his mouth by Burton would never have passed the review boards unedited.
Thanks Paul (and as usual, everyone should buy unofficial home-video releases at their own risk.)
Quotable: "I'm not too surprised (by the witnesses). In these kinds of cases there is always somebody who comes forward. They can get a little tiresome because the first question is: 'Why didn't you call the police? Did you not call the police because you are afraid of the police? Or did you not call the police because this never happened?' I would ask them: 'If you were afraid to call the police why didn't you call the alleged victim?' What kind of person hears about a murder (plot) and doesn't do anything?....This theory looks like Dumb and Dumber. According to this theory he is conspiring with (bodyguard) Earle (Caldwell), and when that didn't work out he looks for two stuntmen, and when he can't get them he goes out and gets two guns to shoot her in public view."
Defense attorney Harland Braun, arguing
"...most Israelis and Palestinians are indistinguishable physically. The Israeli government is composed of a great number of Sephardic Jews, many of whom originate from Arab counties. The minister of defence, the minister of finance and the president of Israel are all, in fact, 'brown'. On this week's Newsweek cover, the 18-year-old female Palestinian suicide bomber and her 7-year-old female Israeli victim could easily pass for twins."
Israeli-born Natalie Portman, defending the
David Fincher, on the last-minute replacement
"I called Elisabeth Shue and she told me, 'He's a great kisser, do you get to kiss him?' It was scripted at least twice and she said, 'Throw in another.' It's really the truth. He's very sexy. I'm not surprised by that. I have sort of a thing for really, really bright men who are funny. Of course, I've got one."
Tea Leoni, on co-starring with Woody Allen
Coming Attractions: We're off to open another stack of shrink-wrapped, heavily stickered DVDs, and new reviews on the way include Ali, Jerry Maguire: Special Edition, and lots more. And if you haven't entered our totally free DVD contest for a copy of Bandits: Special Edition, 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 back on Monday.
Wednesday, 24 April 2002
Great question and this is a film we definitely think would be worth a solid DVD release. Michael Radford's 1984 (alternately titled Nineteen Eighty-Four and released, not coincidentally, in 1984) was the director's attempt to create a cinematic experience that would be as faithful as possible to the classic anti-totalitarian novel by George Orwell. The result is fascinating if flawed and it has earned several die-hard admirers over the years.
At present, Radford's 1984 is not available on home video, although this could change at any time. A British picture produced completely outside of the Hollywood studio system (financed in part by Richard Branson's Virgin media empire), the home-video rights wound up with PolyGram, who released their most-recent VHS in February 1997, while Image Entertainment put out a no-frills Laserdisc as far back as 1985. However, it appears both the videotape and LD may be open-matte 1.33:1 transfers, as 1984 was shot on straight 35mm and probably was matted at 1.85:1 theatrically. We are unaware of any home-video release with a letterboxed aspect ratio, although reportedly there is one rare Japanese laser floating around out there that may get it right.
Those of you who keep score (as we do) will know that any film from the PolyGram library that was released before 1997 currently is controlled by MGM (thanks to a back-fence swap with Universal after the PolyGram liquidation). And that's exactly where we suspect the rights to 1984 currently are with one caveat. As an independent film, it would depend on just how the licensing was done for the PolyGram home video, and while MGM may have had rights to it at one time, it's possible that they have lapsed by now (as was the case with Kiss of the Spider Woman, an MGM home-video property for a brief period but now controlled outright by producer David Weisman).
Since MGM does not make a habit of releasing too many special editions of older movies (although The Last Waltz is an encouraging sign that this may be changing), the prospect of a comprehensive 1984 DVD from The Lion is not all that promising. And that's unfortunate, because this is a film that could deliver several high-protein supplements rather than the fodder normally found on most SE discs nowadays. Director Radford has already been in the commentary booth at least once, for Buena Vista's Il Postino, and we're certain there would be no lack of topics for a 1984 track including his original intention to shoot in black-and-white, and then compromising with his financial backers with muted color photography. It was also well known at the time that he opposed the inclusion of The Eurythmics on the soundtrack, preferring to only utilize the score by composer Dominic Muldowney. The film was shot in a sort of "real time," wherein the shooting schedule was actually aligned with the days noted in Orwell's novel. The production design, while intending to be specifically representative of London in 1984, has a retro quality to it that also incorporates Orwell's vision of the future. And this was Richard Burton's last film hearing Radford's recollections of working with the acting legend would be welcome.
And that would be just the commentary. The original score by Dominic Muldowney could be restored to the film in its entirety as Radford originally intended (with the theatrical track as an alternate). That score Nineteen Eighty-Four: The Music of Oceania was released on CD in March of 1999, so it's certainly available. An additional commentary track by a scholar familiar with the life and works of George Orwell would fill out the disc nicely, hopefully striking a tone normally found only on Criterion's excellent commentaries. After all, any understanding of the film is inextricably linked with the source novel how would an Orwell expert rate the experience?
If 1984 is in MGM's hands, it would be unfortunate if they slated the title for production without at the very minimum getting Michael Radford on the phone. Until then, we can at least rest assured that the film is in good hands it recently became a permanent addition to the Sundance Institute Collection and has been shown on the Sundance Channel.
* * *
All of which brings up another film 1984 again, but the 1956 rendition. Directed by Michael Anderson (who, that same year, also helmed the Oscar-winning Around the World in Eighty Days), the black-and-white picture stars Edmond O'Brien as Winston Smith and Jan Sterling as Julia, as well as Michael Redgrave and Donald Pleasence. In comparison to Michael Radford's 1984, folks who have seen this version tend to be less enthusiastic. The only problem is that so very few people have seen it.
Yes, we're deep in MIA territory now. Produced and distributed by Columbia Pictures (with specialty producer Holiday Films), Anderson's 1984 was released theatrically in both 1956 and 1961. As far as we can tell, Columbia (i.e. Sony) currently should still have the rights. But to the best of our knowledge, there has never been a home-video release. Nada. Zilch.
The best reason we have heard for this has to do with Orwell's widow, who reportedly disapproved of the 1956 film. And because of that, it's been effectively buried, although bootleg videos probably exist, and it is seen very occasionally on college campuses. Because it has never been released on home video, we'd be surprised to hear of any recent television showings, although that is possible as well.
But if there's any chance of a DVD, there are a couple of tantalizing possibilities. First, director Anderson has done the commentary route before on the Logan's Run disc. Secondly, he shot two different conclusions to the film one that was faithful to Orwell's novel (shown in the U.S.), and a second version (for the U.K.) wherein a courageous Winston and Julia face a firing squad, defying Big Brother to the very end. Which, um, sort of has nothing to do with the book.
No wonder Orwell's widow didn't like it.
Tuesday, 23 April 2002
On the Street: It's not hard to spot the big Hollywood film on this week's street list Fox's Behind Enemy Lines starring Owen Wilson and Gene Hackman is on the shelves in a pleasant special edition, and we found it to be an entertaining action movie with an above-average cast. Also new today for anime fans is Metropolis in a two-disc set from Columbia TriStar, which was delayed for a short time due to unexpected success in theatrical venues. Steve Martin fans can grab his latest, Novocaine, out now from Artisan, while Christine Lahti's My First Mister is new from Paramount. And smoke 'em if you got 'em (or don't, because that's bad for you) Ron Mann's documentary Grass, now on DVD from Home Vision, comes with a few choice supplements and a strange, pungent odor. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 22 April 2002
Disc of the Week: While most Americans are familiar with legendary FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, who controlled the nation's federal law enforcement agency for decades under several presidents, far less have heard of Henry Anslinger. The temperamental Hoover's early career is perhaps best-defined by his crusade against illegal alcohol during the age of Prohibition (1919-1933), and in particular the gang warfare in Chicago that pitted bootlegger Al Capone against Elliot Ness and "The Untouchables." But as the Great Depression took hold across America in the 1930s, it soon became clear that Prohibition was more trouble than it was worth, leading to its Constitutional repeal and putting the bootleggers out of business. However, it's one thing to say that responsible adults should be allowed to drink in a safe, legal manner in the case of marijuana, the United States has passed a variety of prohibition laws dating back to 1914 in Texas. Anxious over the popularity of pot among immigrant workers, minorities, and the poor, the "demon weed" soon became a matter of national concern. And when the Roosevelt administration created the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, one of the primary issues of its newly minted director, Henry Anslinger, was to get all 50 states to agree to a "Uniform Narcotic Act" that would put pot-smokers behind bars. It's a legacy of prohibition that the United States still lives with today, after billions of dollars spent in law-enforcement, and the incarceration of people who ostensibly have done no harm to anyone but themselves.
Or so goes the premise of Grass (1999), a documentary by filmmaker Ron Mann. Despite its appealing title, Grass isn't really a movie about smoking pot it does not attempt to explain any benefits the drug may offer (nor its potential ills), won't tell you different ways you can smoke pot, what different varieties are available from different parts of the world, or get into shifty arguments about why farmers should be able to grow hemp. Rather, Mann dips into nearly a century of marijuana and the legislation that surrounds it, and he comes to one single conclusion widespread ignorance, class discrimination, and political pressures have caused the American government to wage an expensive, long-term, and pointless campaign against anybody who smokes grass. Furthermore, the various laws that prohibit and penalize marijuana use may claim to have a basis in science or promote public safety, but in fact they often have been passed without scientific research on the drug, and they are sustained despite medical inquiries that potentially describe marijuana as no more dangerous a social drug than alcohol. And with other drugs such as heroin and cocaine creating legitimate social problems due to addiction and the criminal activities of addicts, why has the American public resisted marijuana's decriminalization or outright legalization, diverting tax dollars to more pressing issues?
No matter what your opinion on the topic, Grass is a fun documentary, constructed in a lighthearted manner and with a great sense of humor. Narrated by notable marijuana- and hemp-advocate Woody Harrelson, Mann's film is a brilliant collage of images, sounds, and ideas, taken from a variety of archival sources a trip in the way-back machine with a kaleidoscope windshield. Many comments from government officials are heard, contrasted with a look at some celebrities who got busted for pot (Robert Mitchum, Gene Krupa), and the flourishing of open marijuana use in the 1960s and beyond. Presidents do not escape Mann's view either John Kennedy is seen giving FBN director Anslinger a special order of merit for his work; Richard Nixon makes it clear that he opposes any legalization of marijuana, even when a presidential fact-finding commission appears to support the opposite; Jimmy Carter claims to support decriminalization during his 1976 campaign, but changes course not long thereafter; and the social conservatism of the Reagan and Bush administrations ensure that pot will not be excused from the "War on Drugs." The various tools of propaganda are also recounted over the years the overriding messages to young people that smoking grass will make you homicidal, insane, hooked on heroin, a communist, or just plain lazy. And perhaps best of all are the old films designed to scare kids away from weed. A clip from Reefer Madness is here certainly, and one bit where stoned kids smash the necks off of soda bottles for a swig of pop, broken glass, and blood really gets the point across: Smoke this stuff, and you're liable to do anything.
Home Vision's new DVD release of Grass offers a solid anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with strong Dolby Digital 5.1 audio of the aggressive sound-mix. Features include an interview with director Ron Mann (10 min.), a clever alternate title sequence, the NORML guide to state-by-state marijuana laws, a gallery of 20 High Times magazine covers, and the theatrical trailer. (And find the Easter egg to hear Mann talk about a strange reaction he once had to Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon). Grass hits the street tomorrow.
Box Office: The summer movie season got started a little early over the weekend, as Universal's The Scorpion King blasted its way to a $36.2 million opening, leaving all other films in its wake. The Mummy Returns spin-off, starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, opened at more than 3,400 locations and set a new debut record for any April film. Opening well behind in third place was Warner's Murder by Numbers starring Sandra Bullock, which garnered $9.5 million a disappointing figure for the popular marquee actress. Both The Scorpion King and Murder by Numbers earned mixed-to-negative reviews from critics.
In continuing release, Paramount's Changing Lanes slipped just one spot to second place with a $32.8 million gross after 10 days, while Sony's Panic Room and Buena Vista's The Rookie have lots of momentum, earning $82.2 and $53.7 million after one month. Fox's Ice Age is the certified hit of the pre-summer with a $160 million cume. But sliding away is Fox's The Sweetest Thing starring Cameron Diaz, adding $5.2 million to its $17 million total. And off the charts is Universal's re-release of E.T.: The Extraterrestrial, which adds nearly $35 million to its original $400 million box-office tally in 1982.
Angelina Jolie and Edward Burns star in the romantic comedy Life or Something Like It, opening this Friday, while horror fans can look for the future-shock slasher Jason X. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Dawn Taylor has posted a sneak preview of the new anime title Metropolis, while Greg Dorr recently looked at one of the last great Woody Allen films, Husbands and Wives. New reviews from the rest of the team this week include Behind Enemy Lines, Highlander: The Immortal Edition, Indecent Proposal, The Deep End, My First Mister, Serendipity, Flesh and Bone, Soul Survivors, Dracula: The Dark Prince, Grass, and Antigone: Broadway Theatre Archive. It's all fresh under the New Reviews menu here on the front page, or use our search engine to scan our entire DVD reviews database.
Back tomorrow with the street discs.
Thursday, 18 April 2002
'Mulholland Dr.' Talkback: Our discussion yesterday regarding a brief edit on the Mulholland Dr. DVD prompted several reader responses. Here's a sample, including one from our initial correspondent:
Another film that falls into this category would be Robert Wise's recent re-edit of Star Trek: The Motion Picture on DVD. Many fans (including myself) consider this to be a superior version than the theatrical release, for various reasons. It's certainly a subjective decision, but as long as consumers are given a choice (which they weren't given for Eyes Wide Shut or Mulholland Dr.), there shouldn't be too much complaining.
One more thing regarding Eyes Wide Shut and Mulholland Dr. in the case of nudity being cut or obscured, whether it be by the studio or the director, it comes across as Mommy and Daddy covering up our eyes when we were 10. I'm an adult, and I can handle it, thank you very much. Worrying about a nude picture on the Internet is just about the lamest excuse for self-censorship I've heard.
I've never quite understood the moral outrage that greets filmmakers' decisions to re-edit their films. It's one thing to criticize them for making lousy artistic choices (as often seems to happen when somebody goes back to a work they made 20 years ago) but how does it become a cause for moral outrage? Films are constantly being re-written, re-shot, and re-edited right up to the moment they are released. Why do they become sacred the instant they are released? Does accepting your seven bucks force the filmmaker into a lifelong contract with you to preserve the flick forever as it is in your memory? Yeah, I think it's the wrong choice for Steven Spielberg to edit out the guns in E.T., but he has stated his intentions to include both versions of the film on the DVD. Is it really necessary to demand an investigation by the UN Commission on Human Rights?
I don't think what David Lynch did would irk me so bad if he hadn't stated his reason for not doing commentary tracks. And let's face it, if there is a director that needs commentary on their DVDs, it's David Lynch. He has said that they take away from the film, or in other words, distract the viewer. I think that's ridiculous because commentary tracks are always optional, and the viewer won't be "tainted" by their presence unless they choose to be. I have no problem with buying a bare-bones disc with no special features because it's the film I'm buying the disc for, not the blooper reel or something.
Another reason this is bothering me so much is the decision to blur that scene had nothing to do with the story. Usually when a director makes modifications on the DVD release it's changing a thematic element that they thought was missing or misinterpreted in the theatrical version. However this alteration had nothing to do with the story at all, it was a choice based on elements outside of the actual film. Even though it was for only two seconds, David Lynch took us out of that realm of film, the realm he did such a good job constructing for us.
David Lynch is one of the most gifted directors of our time and this incident has not affected the way I see him as a filmmaker in any way. This was not a case of censorship as some people have claimed; anybody that's seen the movie knows that's not the issue. Ultimately though it was more about what was implied by blurring the scene, more than what was actually being blurred.
At the risk of starting a etymological debate best read on a different sort of website, we note that in a strict interpretation "censorship" is the function of a government body or official (who would be a "censor," naturally). Similar words, such as "censure" and "census" also are associated with government functions, and extend back to the Roman Empire (although recensere is the basic Latin word for a "review" or "re-estimation" of any sort).
A small point, yes but when a government actually takes the steps to censor something, it would be nice if there remained a specific word in our language for such an extreme act.
Thanks to everyone for taking the time to write.
Quotable: "I think that if you don't pass something on, I don't know what good it is. So in the back of my mind I've been thinking, 'This is for younger generations,' for them to be able to look at this and say: 'I get it. I understand why this music was so powerful and why it's had such a tremendous influence. And why most of these people are still doing brilliant work today.'"
Robbie Robertson on Martin Scorsese's The
Ethan Hawke, in The New York Times
"I knew I wanted to transcend into film, and I knew I wanted to take my time. I wanted to take one step at a time and tread softly. Make major decisions, but in a calculated way.... The first five minutes and last five minutes (in The Mummy Returns) is based on stopping me. It was not too much and not too little, and I thought it would whet the appetite of my fans."
Dwayne Johnson, aka "The Rock," who stars
"I first played a sort of toff manager of a hotel in Pasadena. Then I got parts where I was mysterious and wise all the time; you know, how you're supposed to be if you're foreign. I went from being chubby and dear to being sort of slanty-eyed and rather nasty, and suddenly this whole new career of smoothy Nazis opened up."
Gosford Park screenwriter Julian Fellowes,
"I'm fed up with the bashing my big brother is taking. It's all Kim Basinger 'the saint' and Alec Baldwin 'the bully'. It's not fair and it's not true. Kim is a black widow spider. She's a nutcase. Kim's side always gets out there, making Alec look like the bad guy. And the Baldwins have said nothing. We've taken the high road. It's time for me to defend my big brother. Kim's a control freak. She's bipolar. She has multiple personalities. She has a lot of mental problems. She's a neurotic mess. There's some defect in her brain chemistry."
Billy Baldwin, reportedly speaking to the
Coming Attractions: New DVD reviews are on the way, including Behind Enemy Lines, the new anime Metropolis, and lots more. Have a great weekend gang back on Monday.
Wednesday, 17 April 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:
This is a topic that has generated a lot of debate on the Internet since Mulholland Dr. was released on DVD, but for those who are unaware of the controversy, the facts are these: 1) The brief "blurring" shot on Mulholland Dr. is intentional, and not a disc error; 2) It has nothing to do with Blockbuster Video; and 3) David Lynch is pretty much the guy behind the whole thing. In fact, Lynch reportedly commented in a live chat on his members-only website "We did that blurring for the DVD on purpose as we knew that pictures of Laura [Harring] would be everywhere if we didn't." Bluntly put, it's one thing for an actress to do a full-frontal nude shot in a theatrical film, and apparently quite another for it to appear on digital home video and the Internet that lies beyond it.
While the overall effect of the editing is minor and does nothing to alter the story whatsoever more than a few folks have expressed disappointment over the fact that the Mulholland Dr. DVD is not a 100% accurate reproduction of the film as shown theatrically. In fact, we've heard from several folks who claim they will not buy the DVD at all because of it. We can't go that far as our Damon Houx noted in his review, this is a film that simply becomes more interesting the more you watch it, whatever its actual artistic merits may be. We are recommending that nobody ignore the DVD because of a two-second alteration.
Nevertheless, Lynch's decision to alter Mulholland Dr. for home-viewing remains a troublesome issue. It is his film, and he certainly has the right to release it in whatever fashion he deems fit. It also is not a case of "censorship," as some have claimed, since that fundamentally involves matters of the government and the law. But it is one more example of a powerful or independent director making a post-theatrical adjustment, and potentially blemishing the historical record of cinema. In more extreme examples, directors mucking about with previous works often meet vociferous reactions. Many folks (including your own editor) have had a hard time forgiving George Lucas for changing not just the special effects, but small plot-points in his original Star Wars trilogy. Steven Spielberg's decision to tone down certain elements of E.T.: The Extraterrestrial for its theatrical re-release has also earned some derision from fans. The posthumous alteration of Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut to earn an R-rating in the U.S. has made the unaltered European DVD something of a holy grail for Kubrick aficionados.
But at the same time, there are plenty of cinematic alterations that DVD fans enjoy even when they deviate from the original theatrical release. We haven't heard too many people complain that the current Blade Runner DVD features Ridley Scott's "director's cut" and not the theatrical version with Harrison Ford's voice-over narration (although we are glad both will be on Warner's upcoming special-edition disc). Apparently most folks just think it's a better film. A lot of people enjoyed William Friedkin's The Exorcist: The Version You've Never Seen, which arguably has replaced the theatrical cut in most people's minds as the "definitive" version of the classic shocker. And Apocalypse Now Redux was widely anticipated by fans of Francis Ford Coppola, some of whom have hoarded various bootlegs of the extra material for years. To say that it's completely offensive for a director to revisit his work that such will always earn the wrath of serious cineastes is unfair, and inaccurate. Each instance must be judged on its own merits.
For us, perhaps we are not quite as bothered that a brief moment has been digitally excised from Mulholland Dr. as much as we are bothered by the manner of it. We are led to recall the post-theatrical editing of Curtis Hanson's Wonder Boys, wherein the actor Alan Ladd's name was removed from a "list" of famous suicides at the request of his family. Paramount's DVD includes a screen noting that the film has been altered from the theatrical version, but the edit is so seamless that it's entirely unnoticeable. With Mulholland Dr., the moment may be dark, and it may be brief but it looks a bit surreal, and in a film that uses surrealism as its thematic stock-in-trade. Perhaps the moment could have been edited entirely, so as to not blemish the screen and disrupt the viewing experience. We'd prefer it had been left alone. But what we have is what David Lynch wanted.
The fundamental concern remains one of precedence. The Internet has altered so many things over the past decade, and with the arrival of DVD, the entire prospect of the "tasteful nude scene" has changed. One brief bit of skin in a darkened theater for dramatic effect is no longer that, but the probability of that nude scene becoming nekkid Windows wallpaper on a 14-year-old's Dell. If that makes actors uncomfortable, we could be feeling a lot more blurry-eyed before much longer.
And if that's the case, we'd rather everybody just keep their damn clothes on.
We agree with some great Bogart films on disc (one of the most recent arrivals being Sahara from Columbia TriStar), the lack of To Have and Have Not on DVD only becomes that more apparent. Furthermore, this could make for a nice special edition, as it was the film where Bogie met and fell in love with Lauren Bacall. She contributed to the Casablanca DVD, and we'd love to hear more from her. The fact that To Have and Have Not is a Howard Hawks film, based on a novel by Ernest Hemingway, and with a screenplay by William Faulkner, should be enough to warrant a retrospective documentary as well.
For now, the matter is in Warner's hands. To Have and Have Not was part of the Turner library, and Warner picked up the rights from MGM in 1999. MGM had already released videotapes in 1990 and 1997, as well as a 1991 Laserdisc, but they are not particularly remarkable. At least we know that Warner has this one on their radar their first VHS release hit the street last January.
Tuesday, 16 April 2002
On the Street: Paramount has a mix of the old and the new on the shelves this morning, with the recent Domestic Disturbance and such popular catalog items as Fatal Attraction, The Accused, and Indecent Proposal. Meanwhile, fans of the Coen Brothers are sure to snap up their latest, USA's The Man Who Wasn't There, while the last major Woody Allen film is now on DVD from Columbia TriStar, Husbands and Wives. MGM's massive catalog dump this week includes such titles as Coming Home, Cuba, The January Man, Joe, Lenny, Nomads, and plenty more. If you're collecting Criterion discs, Bob le Flambeur is the latest arrival. If you're looking for laughs, Fox's Black Knight starring Martin Lawrence could be your thing. And if you've been dying to replace your copy of Highlander on DVD, Anchor Bay has a pair of re-releases out now. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 15 April 2002
Disc of the Week: There's a peculiarly circular method to film influence, with young American directors borrowing liberally from the toolboxes of European and Asian directors, who themselves modeled their styles on earlier American films. Such is the case with director Jean-Pierre Melville (1917-1973). Hailed as the "father of the French gangster film," Melville had a profound influence on the French New Wave directors who followed him most notably Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard and, later, on filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino and John Woo. But Melville himself had learned his craft from watching American and Japanese films of the '30s and '40s his most famous film, Le Samourai (1967), was an homage to both the samurai films of Akira Kurosawa and the Alan Ladd potboiler This Gun for Hire. In fact, Melville loved 1930s crime movies so much that he plotted an elaborate film about crooks robbing the casino at Deauville on the eve of the Grand Prix, when the safe would be bulging with millions of francs. Unfortunately, as he was writing it in mid-1950, John Huston's Asphalt Jungle hit theaters with a strikingly similar plot. "After I had seen Huston's masterpiece," Melville told writer Rui Nogueira in 1971, "I could no longer deal, either dramatically or tragically, with the preparation and execution of a robbery. So I decided to reshape my scenario completely and turn it into a light-hearted film. Bob le Flambeur is not a pure policier, but a comedy of manners." The film would go on to become not only a major influence on the noir stylings of the New Wave directors, but inspired the entire "aged gangster gets pulled back for one last job" oeuvre.
Suave, silver-haired and impeccably dressed, Bob Montagne (Roger Duchesne), known as "Bob le Flambeur" which translates roughly as "Bob the high roller" travels through Montmarte in the wee hours, shooting craps, playing poker, dropping a few francs at an off-track betting parlor, and finally collapsing at dawn on the bed in his swank bachelor pad. The dapper ex-bank robber is addicted to gambling in fact, he seems to spend his every waking moment dabbling in some game of chance, whether it's baccarat, horse-racing, or just rolling dice for drinks at one of the many bars he frequents. Bob gets rides around town from his best friend, police inspector Ledru (Guy Decomble, also memorable as the schoolteacher in Truffaut's 400 Blows) and has a neophyte sidekick, Paolo (Daniel Cauchy) a sort of Donald O'Connor-meets-Bobby Darin type who tags along learning the ropes. The morning after a typical all-night gambling jaunt, Bob's awakened by a petty criminal named Marc (Gerard Buhr) who begs Bob for money to get out of town; Marc's been running prostitutes and has beaten one of them so badly she's ended up in the hospital. Disgusted by Marc's behavior, Bob refuses to help him Marc is arrested by Ledru and agrees to become a police informant. When Bob later see Marc at a bar with a beautiful 16-year-old girl named Anne (Isabelle Corey), Bob comes to her aid and introduces her to Paolo, who falls madly in love with her. Bob's comfortable lifestyle is about to go up in flames, however one evening he loses just about everything he has in a poker game. That's when he hears about the safe at the casino at Deauville; the night before the Grand Prix, he's told, it will hold roughly 800 million francs. So Bob decides to put together a plan, make one last, desperate roll of the dice, and rob the safe at Deauville. Unfortunately, there are a few wild cards that he hasn't considered most specifically Paolo, so in love with Anne that he's forgotten one of Bob's most important lessons: "Never spill to a dame."
Though it's often referred to as a "caper" film, the planning and execution of the robbery don't come into play until quite late in the story. Bob le Flambeur is really a love letter to the art of filmmaking. The noir-ish, nocturnal cinematography by Henri Decae creates an atmosphere of innocent decadence, indulging Melville's infatuation with shadow, smoke, neon and nightlife. The tone of the film is light, even as it touches on deeper issues of loyalty and betrayal there's a mythic quality to Bob, an aging knight who lives by a code of honor that seems foreign to everyone around him. Melville's creative use of the camera to invoke mood overhead shots of Bob in his kitchen or a street-sweeper circling and re-wetting the same block and his minimal, high-contrast style both honor American film noir and presage the coming New Wave. The resulting film is an engrossing bridge between the two styles of filmmaking, and a wholly original movie about friendship, chance and the inherent weakness of human nature.
Criterion, as usual, has gone the extra mile to bring Bob le Flambeur to DVD. Presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.33:1, the high-definition digital transfer was created from a 35mm composite, fine-grain master print. The result is beautiful to look at, doing justice to Decae's gorgeous cinematography: rich grays, ebony blacks, and almost no remaining scratches or dust. The monaural soundtrack was remastered and restored the new 24-bit mono soundtrack is clean as a whistle, with no pops, hisses or crackles. A new-and-improved English subtitle translation is on board, as well as a 1961 radio interview with Melville conducted by Gideon Bachmann for his New York radio show, "Film Art," and a January 2002 interview with Daniel Cauchy, plus the theatrical trailer. Bob le Flambeur: The Criterion Collection is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: Three new films were hoping to replace Sony's Panic Room at the top of the box-office chart over the weekend, and the combined star-appeal of Ben Affleck and Samuel L. Jackson gave Paramount's Changing Lanes the win, earning a solid $17.5 million over the past three days. Also opening well was Sony's The Sweetest Thing starring Cameron Diaz and Christina Applegate, which was good for $10 million, while Lions Gate's thriller Frailty with Matthew McConaughey and Bill Paxton earned a disappointing $4.2 million. Critics were generally positive towards both Changing Lanes and Frailty, while The Sweetest Thing earned mixed-to-negative reviews.
In continuing release, David Fincher's Panic Room starring Jodie Foster is shaping up to be a solid hit, adding $11.3 million to its $74.1 million gross and holding on to second place after three weeks, while Fox's animated Ice Age also has strong legs, remaining in fourth place after five weeks and a $151.7 million tally. And good word of mouth has kept Buena Vista's The Rookie in the game as well, with a $45.4 million three-week cume. But sliding quickly towards box-office oblivion is Buena Vista's Big Trouble, which managed just $1.6 million in its second week. The news is much better for Paramount's We Were Soldiers, which is now on the way to DVD prep with a $70+ million finish.
The Scorpion King starring The Rock hits the cineplexes this Friday, along with the thriller Murder by Numbers starring Sandra Bullock and Ben Chaplin. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Greg Dorr has posted a sneak preview of Paramount's Fatal Attraction: Special Collector's Edition, while Damon Houx recently looked at Universal's Mulholland Dr.. New stuff from the rest of the gang this week includes Spy Game: Collector's Edition, Domestic Disturbance, K-PAX: Collector's Edition, Coming Home, No Man's Land, Black Knight, The Accused, The 3 Worlds of Gulliver, Desperate Hours, Cuba, The January Man, Lenny, Bob le Flambeur: The Criterion Collection, and Nomads. 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 with news on this week's street discs.
Thursday, 11 April 2002
Reader talkback: We have just a couple of quick follow-up notes from yesterday's mailbag:
Shackleton was broadcast on A&E in pan and scan, but the Region 1 DVD is anamorphic widescreen. The DVD version also contains the additional footage that A&E chose to delete from the broadcast in order to give us more advertisements. I spoke to Shackleton director Charles Sturridge in Sheffield, England last month, and he said he fought to retain the widescreen format on the Region 1 DVD.
Also, there is a Region 2 DVD of Shackleton that professes to contain 240 minutes of film compared to the 200 minutes on the Region 1 release.
Thanks to Jude and Nicholas for getting in touch. Looks like the Region 2 Raging Bull special edition is nothing to get too excited about but fans of Shackleton may want to look for that longer cut from an overseas retailer or on eBay.
Quotable: "There was 'The Penis Song.' I'm sure it'll be on the DVD. It's all in fun, but men just have a problem with women singing about their penises. I don't think the men at a test screening realized we came to praise the penis and not make fun of it. They were a little intimidated by the song, so we cut it."
Cameron Diaz, discussing a snipped musical
Director Mike Figgis, speaking to London's
"I did get all my tips from a Tracey Gold Lifetime movie on anorexia. It taught me what to do. There was also one on HBO, starring Calista Flockhart when she was really young. She was bulimic and anorexic. She'd vomit into Tupperware containers and keep them in her closet. It was so crazy to me that for some reason it was appealing."
Christini Ricci, in an interview with
"I think a lot of people probably haven't noticed. I couldn't care less. I am so sick of that character. We got sick of figuring out ways to kill him It was funny the first 38 or 40 times we did it. Then it turned into, 'Okay, how can we kill him now?'"
South Park co-creator Matt Stone,
"One of the things about Episode I (that) I was slightly disappointed by was, I thought it was... kind of flat. I think there is much more humor and there is much more color in Episode II."
Ewan McGregor, who may not like
Coming Attractions: It's time to dig into some fresh DVDs, and plenty of new reviews are on the way, including Mulholland Dr., Fatal Attraction, and more. Meanwhile, if you haven't entered our totally free DVD contest for a copy of Bandits: Special Edition, 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.
See ya Monday.
Wednesday, 10 April 2002
Along with most folks who follow DVD news and unsubstantiated rumors, we have been hearing about a planned Raging Bull: Special Edition DVD from MGM for some time now, and in fact we have been expecting an announcement this year. But until we get a press release in our hands there's very little to report except for the fact that every passing month makes the Raging Bull: 20th Anniversary Edition DVD in Region 2 (see inset) that much more appealing, and a little bit odd. After all, if MGM has the materials to put together a two-disc DVD of an American classic like Raging Bull, why would they choose to release it in foreign markets, but not here? We have our suspicions, but until they are confirmed we might as well have a gander at that 20th Anniversary set, with a 26-minute documentary ("The Bronx Bull"), a look at Jake La Motta's cabaret act, stills (as a hidden feature), the trailer, a 16-page booklet, and three postcards stuffed in the case.
Then again, more than a few R2 consumers have groused over the fact that this Raging Bull release doesn't appear to have enough extra material to warrant two discs, which may be a valid complaint. And Laserdisc collectors know that the best version of Raging Bull to ever arrive on home video is Criterion's 1991 three-platter CAV LD set, which includes a commentary from Martin Scorsese and film editor Thelma Schoonmaker, footage of the real Jake La Motta in his day, a look at the films that influenced Raging Bull (including On The Waterfront and The Quiet Man), storyboards, publicity materials, comments from Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, and the entire shooting script. Compared to MGM's "20th Anniversary" DVD, Criterion's package is tough to beat, and particularly appealing since it can close for less than $50 on eBay.
But for now we wait, and we hope the waiting means that MGM's upcoming Raging Bull: SE will be something special. The odds of any Criterion supplements re-appearing on an MGM disc are extremely unlikely (considering Spinal Tap, Robocop, and The Silence of the Lambs), and it seems probable that Martin Scorsese will want to record a new commentary, as he has done for MGM's upcoming DVD release of The Last Waltz. And we'll let you in on a little secret although the Region 2 Raging Bull: 20th Anniversary Edition is supposed to be an anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer, it reportedly is not enhanced for widescreen televisions. It's a state of affairs that has upset plenty of DVD fans in Europe, and we're confident MGM will have an anamorphic transfer on any upcoming Region 1 re-release.
Scorsese's Gangs of New York arrives in theaters at the end of this year that may be the time to watch.
A few folks have written to ask about this, which caught us by surprise. Not having seen the A&E broadcast of Shackleton, we thought it likely would be a letterboxed presentation, as the film is on DVD. But, as noted, most online retailers are listing the Shackleton DVD as 1.33:1. We dug through our back files, and the official Shackleton press release does not list an aspect ratio for the DVD. However, we suspect that the confusion has been caused by 1) erroneous information provided to retailers, or 2) the fact that the supplemental documentaries on the disc are all 1.33:1.
In any event, we are not aware of two separate Shackleton releases, and anybody who drops by their favorite retailer and gets their hands on a copy will note that the back of the box lists the feature as anamorphic 1.85:1. Shackleton is widescreen film at least on DVD.
Both retail and distribution were vocal to the manufacturers regarding this through their respective trade organizations: NAVD (National Association of Video Distributors) and VSDA (Video Software Dealers of America). Finally, the manufacturers agreed on Tuesday, which as you pointed out, is the street date for audio releases.
You also were correct about Tuesdays being slow days, and new releases drive traffic into the stores.
Thanks for getting in touch we will note for our readers that our pal Dan has been an industry "insider" for quite some time.
See ya later.
Tuesday, 9 April 2002
On the Street: It's not the shortest street list we've seen, and DVD fans doubtless will find a few things to pick up today, including Spy Game starring Robert Redford and Brad Pitt, as well as David Lynch's Mulholland Dr., both out now from Universal. Columbia TriStar has an unusual foreign title on the shelves with the Korean action blockbuster Shiri, while those looking for a little romance might pick up Serendipity starring John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale. The Bosnian No Man's Land, which won the Best Foreign Film award at this year's Oscars, has arrived on DVD from MGM. And even if you've already seen Shackleton on the A&E channel this week, be aware that the new three-disc box includes a trio of excellent documentaries. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 8 April 2002
Disc of the Week: In many ways, the most exciting and important events of human history lie in the realm of global exploration. From the earliest sailors who discovered new shipping routes between nations and continents, to the journeys to America by the Vikings and Columbus, Magellen's circumnavigation of the globe, and the Lewis and Clark expedition to the Pacific Northwest, mankind's desire to expand his knowledge of our Earth has been a series of dangerous affairs that have created heroes of almost mythic proportions. Of course, the majority of global exploration has had at its heart economic motivations developing new means of trade and commerce, or simply discovering lands (and indigenous people) to colonize and rule. But by the dawn of the 20th century the globe had few uncharted frontiers, and only one virgin continent the uninhabited Antarctica, which offered nothing in the way of economic opportunity, and thus little government support for wide-scale exploration. But there were scientific discoveries to be made, and the South Pole remained an alluring prize for those daring men who hoped to be the first to plant a boot-print upon its frozen ground. The British launched a team in 1901, led by Capt. Robert Falcon Scott, which fared poorly before an early retreat to the coast. By 1907, Ernest Shackleton (one of Scott's original team members) staged his own independent quest, which ended with a notable failure he was forced to turn back just 97 miles from the goal. Scott returned to Antarctica again in 1911, but unbeknownst to the world, Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen was en route to Antarctica as well, and his well-equipped team became the first to reach the bottom of the world. Stung by his 1907 failure, Ernest Shackleton was still determined to make a name for himself in Antarctica, and in 1914 he planned an entirely new expedition that would traverse the continent the two-year adventure remains one of the most harrowing in modern history, and can be considered the last of its kind.
Charles Sturridge's television miniseries Shackleton concerns the voyage of the Endurance, Ernest Shackleton's Antarctica-bound boat, which departed England on a voyage to Buenos Aries, where it would make final preparations for the dangerous journey south and Shackleton's crossing of Antarctica. Shackleton (Kenneth Branagh) has been making a living lecturing on Antarctica for several years, but the recent success of Amundsen as well as the tragic death of Scott in his 1911 expedition has taken him out of the limelight. A restless, ambitious man capable of raising funds and rallying men, Shackleton approaches his 1914 venture with an enthusiasm not shared by his family, although he assembles a crew of able seamen (men who acknowledge they are explorers because they are "no damn use anywhere else"). But once en route from South America to the great southern ocean, setbacks arrive. At first, the Endurance is trapped in a massive ice floe that carries the crew for months off the coast of Antarctica. Shackleton decides the best course of action is to simply make camp in the ship for winter and wait for the next spring to continue, but it is only a matter of time before the Endurance is crushed and sunk by massive pressure. Forced to journey over the floe with dogs, supplies, and three lifeboats, Shackleton and his men plan to find open water and sail to a distant whaling station, leading to a trek that would last another year, and causing the world to believe that the entire Endurance crew had likely perished.
As the 1914 Endurance expedition ranks as one of the most astonishing feats of human survival in modern history, it should come as no surprise that a dramatic rendition would present its own challenges. For writer/director Charles Sturridge, this meant capturing Shackleton's critical scenes in actual polar environments. As documented in an excellent production diary aboard this DVD set, the British film crew selected Iceland and Greenland to stand in for the Antarctic environs an expensive and daring choice, as Sturridge had three weeks to shoot in troublesome surroundings, and normally had to vary his shooting script based on the weather and the overall condition of the Greenland ice pack. But it was worth it it's hard to think of a film that captures the harsh, frozen vastness of Antarctica as well as Shackleton, creating a perfect backdrop for the extraordinary subject matter. Kenneth Branagh who bears a resemblance to the real-life Ernest Shackleton, if about 10 years older was Sturridge's original and only choice for the leading role, and Branagh's fans will enjoy his performance here. Shackleton is considered to have been a better leader of men than an actual explorer (some would say he was at his best when everything else was at its worst), and Branagh's grim determination, along with a few rousing speeches, recall the much younger actor who played Henry V with such fire in his 1989 film. As a miniseries, Shackleton also offers a welcome length, with nearly three-and-a-half hours to cover the entire story. Of course, the earliest parts of the picture cannot compare to the gripping second half, but the planning phase offers an introduction to the film's many characters, and especially to Shackleton himself a man who nearly died twice in the heart of Antarctica and wants nothing so much as to return and tempt death again.
A co-production of Britain's Channel 4 and the A&E cable network, the new three-disc Shackleton DVD release offers a wonderfully crisp anamorphic transfer of the film (1.85:1) with audio in Dolby 2.0 stereo. And in addition to the entire miniseries, presented in two parts, the third disc offers extras that are just as fascinating as the feature film itself. On board is the documentary "The Making of Shackleton" (50 min.), which is an engaging look at the film's difficult production journey to Greenland, and easily one of the best of its kind on DVD; the A&E channel's "Biography" episode on Ernest Shackleton (43 min.), which is a worthy companion to the miniseries; and best of all, the History Channel's Antarctica: A Frozen History (92 min.), which offers a lengthy look at the struggle between Shackleton, Scott, and Amundsen to conquer the south pole. Shackleton is on the street tomorrow morning.
Box Office: Jodie Foster and director David Fincher have scored another win with Sony's Panic Room, which grabbed $18.5 million over the weekend and outpaced three new arrivals. But also doing well was Fox's High Crimes starring Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd (who previously co-starred in 1997's Kiss the Girls), which was good for $15 million over the past three days. Appearing in the middle of the pack, National Lampoon's Van Wilder garnered a decent $7.5 million for Artisan. But tanking right out of the gate was Buena Vista's long-delayed Big Trouble starring Tim Allen and Rene Russo, which managed just $3.7 million in wide release. Both High Crimes and Big Trouble received mixed-to-negative reviews, while Van Wilder fared somewhat worse with critics.
In continuing release, Fox's Ice Age is shaping up to be one of the biggest films of 2002, holding on to third place after one month in release and a $141 million gross. Also showing momentum from good reviews and word-of-mouth is Buena Vista's The Rookie, which added another $11.7 million to its $35 million two-week cume. New Line's Blade II is going strong as well, with $67.1 million after three weeks, while Paramount's sci-fi Clockstoppers has bagged $22.4 million. But getting spanked off the chart is Warner's Death to Smoochy, which failed to break $5 million last weekend, adding to Robin Williams' recent string of box-office disappointments.
Ben Affleck and Samuel L. Jackson team up this Friday in Changing Lanes, while Matthew McConaughey and Bill Paxton star in the thriller Frailty, and Cameron Diaz can be seen in The Sweetest Thing. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Greg Dorr has posted a new review of MGM's Bandits: Special Edition, while D.K. Holm recently looked at Alain Resnais' Stavisky. New stuff from the rest of the gang this week includes The Net: Special Edition, Joe Versus the Volcano, Highway, 3:10 to Yuma, Shiri, Apocalypse Watch, Shackleton, Road Dogz: Special Edition, and King Lear: 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.
Back tomorrow with the street discs.
Thursday, 4 April 2002
Coming Attractions: We're off to spin a fresh stack of DVDs, and we'll have more reviews on the board Monday morning. Have a great weekend see ya soon.
Quotable: "I thought (this year) was a good show. I really enjoyed it. I would like to do it again. The problem with doing it is when you accept in December to do it in March, that's all you can think about, so you don't have a life. It's very nerve-wracking. It's something I've done a lot performing in front of people but, on the other hand, it's something you've never done. It's strange to look out at an audience of celebrities and think, 'Oh, it's my friends.'"
Steve Martin, who may host the Academy
"I wanted to (direct Ali), but Will (Smith) didn't want me to direct it. Columbia and Sony had a list and Will had a list. I met with Will and his manager. The first thing Will said was, 'So Spike, how can you expand your vision?' When he asked that I knew I was out.... Few white directors can get our stuff right. Ali didn't get it. I'm tired of other people documenting our history."
Hugh Grant, in an interview with London's
"It was something John (Lennon) was driving, and J.R.R. Tolkien still had the film rights at that stage, but he didn't like the idea of the Beatles doing it. So he killed it.... There probably would've been some good songs coming off the album."
Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson,
"His movies are a worldwide language of love, intelligence and sparkling wit. To any fan of film, or any student of how a great life is lived, all roads lead to Billy Wilder."
Cameron Crowe, who published the 1999
The DVD Journal's D.K. Holm has posted a retrospective of Wilder's life and work on his website, cinemonkey.com.
Wednesday, 3 April 2002
Actually, George Stevens' 1956 Giant is not completely absent from DVD, Dan as we've noted previously on these very pages, Warner released the film on disc in 2000, but only in Canada, where it was available for just a matter of months before the title was pulled from store shelves. At first we were led to believe that Warner had removed the title in preparation for a special-edition DVD to be released Stateside, but we now understand that there are distribution issues associated with the DVD, and it's unknown when an official release will arrive. In the meantime, that Canadian disc frequently is available on eBay, where it trades anywhere from $50 $75. And Warner very much still owns the rights to Giant, at least on videotape, as they released their most recent two-tape VHS edition in January of this year. We are hoping any remaining issues get ironed out soon so we can get a new DVD.
As for Elia Kazan's 1954 East of Eden which served as the young James Dean's breakout film it's nowhere near arriving on DVD, but apparently for different reasons. Warner's most-recent VHS edition, released in 1992 (see inset), is long out of print, as are three separate Laserdisc releases. Why? According to Warner there is a dispute over the rights, but beyond that we have not been able to dig up much info. The film originally was produced and distributed solely by Warner, and it is not subject to any recent catalog trades. And of course, there is no reason why a classic like East of Eden should be on moratorium, particularly when used videotape copies trade on eBay for $25 or higher all the time. After all, we're talking about one of the only three friggin' movies that James Dean ever starred in.
So we will admit we're half-stumped, with only one extra bit of info: A 1981 miniseries, John Steinbeck's East of Eden starring Jane Seymour, Sam Bottoms, Timothy Bottoms, and Bruce Boxleitner, was released by Anchor Bay on VHS in 1990 in a three-tape box, and this has also gone out of print. In fact, it even trades on eBay for about the same money as Warner's East of Eden tape. We suspect there is some rights issue associated with the source material (John Steinbeck's novel), and we're sure somebody will drop us a line soon to clear this up.
As for what a future East of Eden DVD should look like, the three previous Laserdiscs are instructive Warner has released pan-and-scan (1.33:1) and widescreen (2.35:1) editions on the big platter, but only one Warner laser reportedly gets the aspect ratio right. East of Eden was a CinemaScope film shot in the ultra-wide 2.55:1 ratio, which means we should expect nothing less, particularly when 2.55:1 movies tend to distort at the sides when transferred as 2.35:1. Those of you who own giant widescreen TVs will doubtless love it but good luck renting those fat black bars at Blockbuster.
Well, DVDs have to arrive in stores at some point in the week. As it stands, Tuesday is one of the slower days on a merchant's calendar, which means retail staff on Tuesday mornings (or Monday nights) normally can make time to stock shelves, as well as deal with something the industry refers to as "P.O.P" "point of purchase" displays, including counter-top racks, "floorstands," "sidekicks," and all of the other things you see or have to walk around when shopping (by design, naturally). Most new CD releases arrive on Tuesdays, and the same thing applies to video renters as well, since Tuesday is a slow day of the week that allows them to gear up for when the product really starts to move the almighty American weekend.
But occasionally there are oddball street dates, such as when the Shrek DVD arrived on a Friday last November. Why? As it was bound to be a big-seller, DreamWorks wanted to give the disc a unique street-date. However, it was no coincidence that the Shrek DVD arrived on the exact same day as Disney/Pixar's Monsters, Inc. hit the cineplexes. Clearly, DreamWorks was hoping some families would choose to stay home for their entertainment. Shrek's $20 sticker for the two-disc set probably was not a coincidence either, but another example of DVD product counter-programming a theatrical film, this time via a competitive price. After all, can anybody really take a family of four to the movies for less than twenty bucks anymore?
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 and remember, there are no pop-up ads anywhere on The DVD Journal thanks to our readers who use our links to buy new DVDs at Ken Crane's DVDPlanet.com. We intend to keep it that way.
Bye for now.
Tuesday, 2 April 2002
On the Street: Hit the rewind today's street list is dominated by catalog titles, not least of which being two fantastic re-issues from MGM, The Usual Suspects: Special Edition and Bull Durham: Special Edition, while the recent Bandits starring Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton, and Cate Blanchett is out today as well. Columbia TriStar has an unusual array of items ranging from the westerns Bite the Bullet and 3:10 to Yuma, Charles Bronson in Breakout, a re-issue of The Net starring Sandra Bullock, the B-horror She Creature, and the film that made Jackie Chan a star, Drunken Master. Buena Vista's lineup is all '80s, with such late-night cable regulars as Tin Men, Ruthless People, Three Men and a Baby, Turner & Hooch, and Warren Beatty's 1990 Dick Tracy. If you're looking for a few frights, Warner's Thirteen Ghosts might be the thing for you, although we recently enjoyed Whit Stillman's 1994 Barcelona, out today from Warner as well. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 1 April 2002
And the winner is: Kristine Hassell of Houston, Texas, wins the free Donnie Darko and Joyride DVDs from our March contest. Congrats, Kristine!
Our totally free DVD contest for the month of April is up and running, and we have a copy of MGM's Bandits: Special Edition 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: Thanks to the advent of home theaters and the blossoming of the DVD format, one of the time-honored traditions of film junkies is becoming less common the relentless search for unusual art-house films, which in years past often played in small theaters for a matter of days before disappearing into virtual oblivion. One notable art-house fan was none other than Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, who frequently would look for unexpected surprises in his hometown of San Francisco. It was in 1965 that he and two friends stumbled upon Polish director Wojciech Has' The Saragossa Manuscript at Centro Cedar Cinema in North Beach, and after that night Garcia always said that it was his favorite film, with its head-spinning blend of multiple narratives and sardonic humor. In fact, Garcia was so enamored of The Saragossa Manuscript that he offered the Pacific Film Archive the funding necessary to purchase a print of the film for their holdings, with the only caveat being that he would be allowed to watch it any time he wanted. But it was easier said than done as archivist Edith Kramer soon discovered, the entire 180-minute cut of the film was nearly impossible to locate, and it was only after a lengthy search that she discovered director Has owned the sole print in its entirety. A restoration was soon undertaken, with support coming from both Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola, leading to the film's repertory tour of the U.S. in 1999 and 2000. And with The Saragossa Manuscript now on DVD, all cinema buffs can enjoy the unlimited screening privileges that Jerry Garcia envisioned for himself.
Adapted from the novel by Jan Potocki, The Saragossa Manuscript ("Rekopis znaleziony w Saragossie") concerns a Belgian military officer, Capt. Alfons van Worden (Zbigniew Cybulski), who is determined to make his way over Spain's mountainous Sierra Modena to Madrid during the Napoleonic Wars. The horseman is accompanied by two soldiers, who warn him that the region is haunted by gypsies and devils, but the adventurous Alfons is unconcerned and plans to pass the night at a mysterious abandoned inn. However, once there he is led to a palatial cavern where two Tunisian princesses (Joanna Jedryka, Slawomir Lindner) claim he is their cousin, and that they intend to marry him. Awaking from the extended dream on a battlefield strewn with corpses, Alfons is unsure what to think of the strange encounter, and eventually he meets an elderly priest (Kazimierz Opalinski) who warns him of devilish temptations, and then introduces him to Pascheco (Franciszek Pieczka), a possessed nobleman with a ghost tale of his own. Continuing on his journey, Alfons is arrested by the Spanish Inquisition (or is he?), meets the princesses again, and then finds his way to the castle of a Spanish gentleman, where an evening of storytelling reveals the strange nature of coincidence and temptation the sort of temptation Alfons will encounter again before his journey is complete.
Upon first viewing, many will find The Saragossa Manuscript to be one of the more challenging films out there. Certainly, it's in a foreign language and the actors are unfamiliar (although popular in Poland at the time), but above all it wraps stories within stories at a relentless pace some recollections, some dreams, some frauds often abandoning the central character of Alfons van Worden for long stretches as he listens to narratives that peel back like an onion to reveal new characters and new tales. All of the stories have similar themes love, honor, loyalty, and deception among them but it's a kaleidoscope of ideas that will not necessarily make sense on first viewing. Why then have so many film fans insisted that they have been seduced by The Saragossa Manuscript the first time they saw it? The sum of its parts may be enigmatic, but each story is portrayed with such cinematic verve that it's hard to turn away. Alfons's initial seduction by the princesses is filled with comic moments, while the howling, insane Pascheco transforms into an erudite noble with his similar account at the haunted inn. Alfons's capture by the Spanish Inquisition leads to a bizarre torture scene and a rousing escape on horseback (which he barely manages with an iron hood on his head). And further nighttime narratives at the Spanish castle reveal how one cabellero finds himself in the midst of several conflicts involving the age-old dramas of lust and unrequited love. It is not necessary to deduce a meaning from The Saragossa Manuscript to enjoy it, and director Wojciech Has handles the lengthy proceedings with some stunning black-and-white cinematography that reveals a gift for spatial composition, and he makes up for a limited budget with a knack for framing events to appear much larger than they actually are. Assisted by an unconventional score from Krzysztof Penderecki (which ranges from classical to downright creepy), Has transforms small settings into vast landscapes and it's tempting to get lost in the various dreamworlds.
Image Entertainment's new DVD edition of The Saragossa Manuscript features a clean anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) of the restored black-and-white source print, and it looks marvelous, with only some small collateral flecking and vivid low-contrast detail, rivaling the appearance of many American films from the same era on DVD. The audio is in the original mono (DD 1.0), and features include stills, extensive cast and crew notes, and the wonderful score on an isolated track. The Saragossa Manuscript is on the street now.
Box Office: Jodie Foster returned to the top of the box-office chart for the first time in eight years, as Sony's Panic Room raked in $30.2 million over the Easter weekend. It was the largest debut for any Easter film, surpassing The Matrix's $27.8 million, the best-ever opening for Foster, and her first number one since 1994's Maverick. Also having a strong debut was Buena Vista's G-rated The Rookie, which garnered $15.8 million for star Dennis Quaid, while Paramount's sci-fi Clockstoppers was good for $10.1 million. However, Danny DeVito's Death to Smoochy starring Robin Williams and Edward Norton had a disappointing bow with just $4.2 million. Critics gushed over The Rookie and were generally positive about Panic Room, while Clockstoppers and Death to Smoochy had mixed-to-negative reviews.
In continuing release, Fox's Ice Age is turning into a juggernaut, holding on to second place after its third weekend and adding $18.5 million to a $117.3 million gross. Also holding on strong is New Line's Blade II starring Wesley Snipes, which slipped from first to fourth in its second frame and has amassed $54.9 million in just 10 days. Steven Spielberg's re-release of E.T: The Extraterrestrial is also doing reasonably well with $24.3 million overall, Paramount's We Were Soldiers has a $67.4 million cume, and New Line's Fellowship of the Ring has now joined the super-elite $300 million club. But on the way to DVD prep is DreamWorks' The Time Machine starring Guy Pearce, which will finish in the $50 million neighborhood.
The long-delayed Big Trouble starring Tim Allen and Rene Russo arrives in theaters this Friday, along with High Crimes starring Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd, and the campus comedy National Lampoon's Van Wilder. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Alexandra DuPont has posted her take on MGM's new The Usual Suspects: Special Edition, while Greg Dorr recently looked at Bull Durham: Special Edition, and Dawn Taylor is on the board with Romeo + Juliet: Special Edition. New reviews this week from the rest of the team include Life as House: Platinum Series, Drunken Master, Barcelona, How to Kill Your Neighbor's Dog, Breakout, The Saragossa Manuscript, and She Creature. 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.
We'll be back tomorrow with news on this week's street discs.