Thursday, 30 May 2002
On the Block: Our latest round of DVD auction rankings at eBay is in, and Russell Crowe's Aussie bar-band Thirty-Odd Foot of Grunts reclaimed the top spot this time around with the rare live-concert DVD Texas, which was good for $510.00 after seven bids, just edging out recurring favorite Salo: The Criterion Collection, which took $490.00 after a heated 23-bid session. Criterion regulars such as The Killer, The 400 Blows, and This is Spinal Tap can be found on the list as well, but surging in recent weeks was Fox's Region 1 release of Alan Parker's The Commitments, snagging $152.50 for one lucky seller. We haven't seen any demo DVDs for a while, making the return of the THX Theatrical Trailers disc somewhat notable ($137.50), and it appears that some folks will pay anything until we get a proper Region 1 release of David Lynch's Lost Highway the Region 2 release brought in $117.50 after 28 offers. Most of you know by now that Miramax's A Hard Day's Night is on the release schedule for Sept. 24, which means the MPI disc ($149.00) could start dropping like a rock. And for the truly impatient, an Academy screener of In the Bedroom earned a hammer-price of $117.50, although we're betting we'll get a retail DVD announcement before much longer.
Here's the highest recent closing prices of rare and out-of-print DVDs from online auctions at eBay:
Quotable: "We shot the movie and wanted to make a kind of smart, adult political thriller, and we made it last year. And at the time, it was just that an escapist, political thriller. And then the whole world changed, and the movie now has turned into a drama in a weird way without us having changed anything.... The book has been out there for 11 years. There's another Tom Clancy book about somebody flying an airplane into the Capitol. And I don't think anybody imagines that that was the inspiration for this previous terrorist act. It's just a reflection of a really different world that we live in now."
The Sum of All Fears star Ben Affleck on
Robin Williams, on shooting Christopher Nolan's
"I would love to reprise the Darth Vader role (in Episode III). If I am 100 percent physically able and they offer the part to someone else, I would be very disappointed.... If Christopher Lee can handle a light saber at the age of 80, then so can I."
David Prowse, 66, who hopes to don the black
"I slammed on the brakes when I saw (the movie poster). I saw it at a bus stop and I thought, 'What the hell did they do to my ass?' Plus I got all these phone calls from my girlfriends saying, 'What did they do to you? You look ridiculous.' ... They twist the art around. I didn't approve that. That's not my ass, to be honest with you. It's a computer."
Denise Richards, after getting a look at the
Coming Attractions: Another round of new DVD reviews is already underway, and we'll be back next week with a look at McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Blue Velvet: Special Edition, and more. This also will be the last weekend to enter this month's totally free DVD contest for a copy of The Last Waltz: Special Edition, so be sure to visit our contest page if you haven't yet, and don't forget to take our monthly DVD poll while you're there. We'll be back Monday to announce the winner, and we'll have a new contest up and running as well.
Have a great weekend.
Wednesday, 29 May 2002
On the Street: It may be Harry Potter week for most DVD consumers, but that doesn't mean there aren't a whole lot more new discs out there. Yes, Warner's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone has gone digital, and the two-disc set is likely to become one of the best-selling titles of all time. But many digital-die hards will also want to snap up Traffic: The Criterion Collection, a new two-disc release that's packed with supplements. Columbia TriStar has released two new "Superbit Deluxe" titles, The Patriot and Hollow Man, and the double-disc Starship Troopers has plenty of new features, while fans of World War II dramas may want to give Jan Sverák's Dark Blue World a spin. Spooky stuff from Paramount this week includes Graveyard Shift, Silver Bullet, and the classic 1948 chiller Sorry, Wrong Number. And Artisan is waving Old Glory today with the four-disc Rambo Trilogy box, while the films are also available for individual purchase. Here's this week's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Tuesday, 28 May 2002
Disc of the Week: With Hollywood dominating the worldwide movie industry, it may at times seem that Americans have cornered the market on cinematic patriotism. Certainly Steven Spielberg revitalized the World War II film genre with Saving Private Ryan, and Michael Bay's Pearl Harbor managed to win big at the international box-office with its blend of melodrama and aerial pyrotechnics. But particularly in regards to the Second World War many countries have their own heroes to honor, and their own stories to tell. Enter Czech director Jan Sverák, whose 1996 Koyla won that year's Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. It was an accolade that allowed the director to raise substantially more money for his next project, which took five years to make. Dark Blue World (2001), written by the director's actor/screenwriter father Zdenek Sverák, concerns the fate of several Czechoslovakian pilots who suddenly found themselves without a rank or air force after the Third Reich invaded their nation. The Czechoslovakian population suffered quietly under the Nazi occupation, but many pilots made the journey to Britain, where they flew for the RAF against German planes only to return home after the war to find they were not welcome by the newly formed communist government, which wasted no time putting all rogue pilots in labor camps.
Dark Blue World begins in such a labor camp, as former pilot Frantisek Sláma (Ondrej Vetch) suffers the daily brutality and deprivations of his communist captors folks who promise the only way out of the camp is a one-way trip to the local cemetery. Often visiting with the facility's doctor, a German who despises the traitors he treats, Frantisek recalls his life during the war, and the arrival of the Nazis. At the time the Czechoslovakian Air Force is flying World War I-era biplanes, and Frantisek is training a new recruit, Karel Vojtisek (Krystof Hádek), a natural stick-and-rudder man. But as the mentor and his protegé flee to England, they soon discover that the Royal Air Force considers foreign aviators to be little more than trainees. The boyish, impulsive Karel is often driven to emotional outbursts over his training, in particular the need to learn English, and the Czechoslovakian squadron is forced to ride around on bicycles with little wings attached to them in order to learn formation skills. But eventually they take to the skies and Karel is shot down over England on his second mission, where he finds refuge at the country home of young widow Susan (Tara Fitzgerald), whose husband is presumed lost at sea. Karel winds up falling in love with the older Susan, but when Frantisek meets the widow he also is enraptured, and they begin a secret love affair, both hoping the smitten Karel will never know the truth.
The most expensive film to date produced in the Czech Republic (costing $7 million) and also the most successful, Dark Blue Skies has become the country's own Saving Private Ryan, a cinematic love-letter to the courageous aviators who joined the war effort against Germany when so many others were unable to fight. But perhaps sensing this inevitability, scenarist Zdenek Sverák made a point of being sure there would be a strong story for the picture noting that he re-wrote the screenplay ten times "to cut out any hero worship." And while on the surface a traditional wartime melodrama with plenty of action sequences and a steamy love triangle, the film is tempered by its European sensibilities the performances from both Czech and British actors underplay the more theatrical elements, and the victories the pilots earn are contrasted with many failures, professional and personal. Additionally, while a great deal of digital enhancement is used to create the exciting aerial sequences, Dark Blue World delivers genuine movie magic by making it hard to spot the seams. "What you can shoot for real, shoot for real," director Jan Sverák notes in this DVD's documentary feature. "No artificial effect will be as good. It's better to shoot things at their actual size." To this end Sverák used three genuine World War II-era aircraft for principal photography, including two Spitfires that cost $10,000 per flight-hour and a bomber that did double-duty as a camera-ship. Throw in several large-scale models, a lot of blue screens, and even a bit of altered footage from the wartime classic Battle of Britain, and Dark Blue World bristles with a cinematic realism that is becoming more and more scarce in a digitally obsessed Hollywood. (Note to big-budget directors: Scale models always look more convincing than cartoon creations.) An emotional film with both heart and intelligence, Dark Blue World will please fans of the World War II genre, offering plenty of matinee entertainment, but also underscoring a simple theme: What makes someone a hero? Sverák's grim, subtle ending emphasizes that heroism comes with a price, often going unrewarded and without recognition.
Columbia TriStar's new DVD release of Dark Blue World: Special Edition features a strong anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio that blasts all channels during the aerial sequences. Features are generous and include a commentary with director Jan Sverák and producer Eric Abraham, the documentary "The Making of Dark Blue World" (33 min.), a look at the various composite visual effects (7 min.), an "Aerial Symphony" (3 min.) with the engaging score by Ondrej Soukup, and a photo montage of publicity stills and behind-the-scenes shots, accompanied by the big-band-era music from the movie. Dark Blue World: Special Edition is on the street this morning.
Box Office: Three new movies arrived over the weekend and posted solid opening grosses, but none could knock Attack of the Clones and Spider-Man from the top of the chart the latest Star Wars installment from George Lucas took in $61.2 million over the four-day weekend to push it past $200 million, while your friendly neighborhood webslinger grabbed a solid $36.5 million in its fourth weekend and now has a record-shattering $334.3 million gross. Rounding out the top five, Warner's Insomnia, starring Al Pacino and Robin Williams and directed by Christopher Nolan, had a promising start with $26.1 million, DreamWorks' animated Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron was good for $23 million, and Sony's Enough starring Jennifer Lopez scored $17.5 million in its first frame. Insomnia received overwhelmingly positive notices and most critics liked Spirit, while Enough earned mixed-to-negative reviews.
With five strong performers in theaters over the holiday weekend, moviegoers snapped up $200 million worth of tickets a new raw-dollar record. Meanwhile, in continuing release Universal's About a Boy starring Hugh Grant is doing well with strong word-of-mouth reviews, grabbing $10 million in its second weekend and a $21.9 million total, while Fox's Unfaithful with Richard Gere and Diane Lane has counter-programmed the summer blockbusters to the tune of $41.7 million so far. And Paramount's Changing Lanes remains in business after seven weekends with $64.5 million to date. In the meantime, on the way to DVD prep are Sony's Panic Room, which will finish around $95 million, and Fox's Ice Age, which racked up nearly $175 million over the past three months.
Ben Affleck and Morgan Freeman team up this Friday in the Tom Clancy adaptation The Sum of All Fears, while Eddie Griffin stars in the street-savvy spy spoof Undercover Brother. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend (all figures Friday through Monday):
On the Board: Alexandra DuPont has posted a preview of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, complete with some DVD spoilers, while D.K. Holm spent the better part of last week with the two-disc Traffic: The Criterion Collection. New reviews from the rest of the team week include First Blood: Special Edition, Rambo: First Blood Part II: Special Edition, Rambo III: Special Edition, Starship Troopers: Special Edition, Snow Dogs, Silver Bullet, Slackers, The Villain, Dark Blue World: Special Edition, and the noir classic Sorry, Wrong Number. 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, 23 May 2002
Coming Attractions: We're off to enjoy the extended Memorial Day Weekend, but we'll be spinning DVDs while we're gone and new reviews on the way include Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Traffic: The Criterion Collection, and puh-lenty more. Have a great weekend we're back next Tuesday morning.
Commentary Clips: "This was the one scene where (Robert) Redford came in and gave me a lesson on directing. He was really very good about not doing that, but I originally had him right here in this position as we dissolve into the scene, and he came up with the idea of (his character) Gen. Irwin walking from the back of the frame to the front of the frame like that, and his instruction to me or his lesson to me was that it was just simply best for the lead characters to direct the attention of the eye of the viewer to be moving, and moving into a position. What I really loved about working with Redford and a lot of people have asked me was it difficult working with a director is the fact that he is a director. And as a director he understands what a "pain-in-the-ass" actor is.... He didn't want to be that guy."
* * *
"Redford was so interesting on the set because, y'know, most actors between takes, they get on the phone or they relax Robert Redford reads the dictionary. And (laughs) that's pretty intimidating. And then he'll quiz you on words that he has just read. What he fails to understand, however, is that obviously he had just read the words so he didn't know what they meant, so I shouldn't know what they mean either."
* * *
"Now here is Steve Burton. Steve auditioned for a much smaller role, and when we saw how much he blew us away we asked him to come back to audition for the role of Capt. Peretz. And I want to fill all the supporting characters basically with unknown actors, so that they would not be a distraction to me it creates more of a reality in a film to have unknowns, and it also gives them a break, and I love to give actors breaks. So here I am bringing in Steve Burton, and he shows up in Nashville, Tenn., where this was filmed, and on the first day all of the women in Nashville are at the gate, not waiting for Bob Redford, or Jim Gandolfini, but for Steve Burton. I had absolutely no clue that Steve was a soap-opera superstar, he was on the show "General Hospital," and in fact he left "General Hospital" to do this movie. So, uh... it's my fault Steve, I'm sorry."
Director Rod Lurie,
Quotable: ""This is an attempt at art half the shit you see in goddamn Hollywood... you write about, and you write about what shit this is. This an attempt by a group of artists and I'm not including myself in this this was a labor of love. This whole story is totally fucking exaggerated."
A heated Harvey Weinstein, defending rumors
"Let me tell you, if I got great reviews but nobody showed up, I wouldn't be sitting here now. You'd be interviewing someone else.... I'm motivated by the fear of failure. That's what it is. I always think my next film's going to fall flat on its face, and I have to overcome it. I wake up every day feeling that I'm going to fail."
Hollywood mega-producer Jerry Bruckheimer,
British director Mike Leigh, who refuses to
"I will always be known as one of the Bonds. So you make peace with that and I'm very proud of it. As an actor, to go on and burst through that that is the challenge. How do you redefine yourself having taken on this mantle of a character? That one can mess with your head sometimes."
Pierce Brosnan, who says he has not ruled out
"I don't have a story for it. To just go out and do one for the sake of doing one, I have no interest in. It's not important to me. I don't need the money, and I don't need the success."
George Lucas, who is ruling out making any more
Wednesday, 22 May 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:
The one movie I wish would make it to DVD from Criterion is The Leopard from 1963 starring Burt Lancaster and Claudia Cardinale. A Visconti production begs for the Criterion treatment. I saw it at the theater in San Francisco in 1963 and have never forgotten it!
The odds of Visconti's The Leopard arriving on DVD under the Criterion folio are slim, but we do think a DVD release is possible, if not in the near future. It's not a film that necessarily will make a huge financial impact on the DVD market nowadays (being foreign, subtitled, and long), and that's a bit of a shame. For us, DVD has always been a home-video format best used for preserving classic films, but such is happening less and less with a consumer-base that has broadened substantially since 1997. Let's face it while some great DVDs are still being produced, many others have the nutritional content of a Happy Meal.
Released in 1963, Il Gattopardo ("The Leopard") has since come to be regarded as one of the greatest masterpieces from director Luchino Visconti, who along with Roberto Rosellini (Open City) and Vittorio De Sica (The Bicycle Thief) was one of the founding directors of the Italian neorealist movement, which utilized non-professional actors, location shooting, and low budgets to create powerful dramas in the wake of World War II. A liberally minded anti-fascist, many of Visconti's films are directly concerned with issues of class and social order. Set in the 1860s, The Leopard concerns Prince Fabrizio Salina (Burt Lancaster), who struggles with the rise of the bourgeoisie in Sicily, and how events threaten his social position as he tenuously supports his nephew Tancredi's (Alain Delon) marriage to the daughter of a local mayor who earned his fortune in land speculation, not inherited wealth.
Many fans of The Leopard note that it features one of Burt Lancaster's finest performances (reportedly his casting helped secure financing for the picture), but it offers several other delights as well, including a score by Nino Rota (The Godfather), marvelous cinematography by Giuseppe Rotunno, and a tour de force final banquet scene by Visconti that occupies the film's final hour. Originally produced by both Italian and French film studios, Fox picked up the distribution rights in 1963, and apparently they continue to have some rights but how much is not apparent. The Leopard was restored in 1985 to the 195-minute cut shown in the UK rather than the 165-minute U.S. version (but apparently not the 205-minute version shown in Italy), and while the film has popped up on TV from time to time, particularly in Europe, Fox has never delivered a home-video release in any format. There never was a Laserdisc (amazingly), and what appears to be an unofficial NTSC VHS edition (see inset) can be found on eBay, where it trades as high as $70. Fox may have the home-video rights in the U.S., but if so it's hard to know why they have never released a pan-and-scan videotape (at the very least) in the past 20 years.
But a DVD is available in Region 2, recently released by Italian distributor Medusa, which is a two-disc affair that should please folks who have code-free, PAL-compliant hardware. In addition to a 180-minute cut, Dolby Digital 1.0 audio, and both English and Italian subtitles, the anamorphic transfer is in 2.35:1, which is acceptable (shot in Super Technirama 70, The Leopard's most-accurate ratio would be 2.20:1, but many 35mm prints were produced with 2.35:1 framing). Extra features appear generous, including an interview with producer Goffredo Lombardo, a restoration documentary with cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno, several stills galleries, and newsreels. However, it's not clear if these items have English subtitles.
At this time, it appears that Fox still has both the theatrical distribution and television rights to The Leopard. Whether they actually have the home-video rights is another question altogether. Which prompts a further question: If Fox doesn't have the DVD rights, who does?
And how can we get them to call our friends at Criterion?
We've received several letters from readers regarding Warner's wonderful announcement to release 18 restored Charlie Chaplin classics on DVD (see Tuesday's update), and while the full details of the new discs due to start arriving in 2003 are far from pinned down, we are very optimistic about the announcement. The new titles are bound to be the most definitive versions of the films yet made, as the Chaplin family has given French production company MK2 the worldwide rights to the Chaplin Collection, and Chaplin's daughter Geraldine Chaplin noted that the new series is designed to present the films "as my father intended." MK2 is overseeing all of the digital restorations (to be done at the Bologna Cinematheque), and they also are producing all of the new DVD supplements. It appears that Warner Home Video joined the venture primarily because of their enormous distribution clout, as they can publicize the series on a wide scale and get the DVDs into most retail locations. Warner head honcho Warren Lieberfarb noted the new series "reinforces (Warner's) objectives to restore and preserve great cinematic works and aids in the education and understanding of cinema." (Is it us, or does this sound like a slight pang of guilt from a man who's about to unleash a gazillion game-packed Harry Potter DVDs on the world?)
As for replacing the out-of-print Chaplin discs from Image Entertainment, the four in their "Charlie Chaplin Boxed Set" City Lights, The Great Dictator, Modern Times, and The Gold Rush are pleasant enough, and folks who want to save a few bucks probably can hang on to them. Really, the only determining factors will be clear when we see just how much of a scrub-and-polish has been done by the Bologna Cinematheque, and then what new archival material will be added. Those who just want to have a few Chaplin films on DVD to see on the odd blue moon may find the Image titles more than acceptable, and could even get a few good used-price bargains in a year or so.
But seriously for folks who are nuts about Charlie Chaplin, the upcoming Chaplin Collection likely will be the only way to go.
Top of the Pops: You picked 'em here's the most-accessed reviews on The DVD Journal over the past week. 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 things that way.
Tuesday, 21 May 2002
On the Street: Another Tuesday brings another round of new DVDs, and sometimes too many to pick from. Columbia TriStar has released their much-anticipated Memento: Limited Edition, which offers a few new supplements that aren't always easy to find, while "Deluxe Edition" releases of Men in Black and Stuart Little have arrived to promote this summer's sequels. Universal has some sci-fi on the shelves with Silent Running and It Came from Outer Space, and were sure many folks will be snapping up the long-delayed Legend: Ultimate Edition. Fox has launched another wave of war films, this time with such titles as To The Shores of Tripoli, The Desert Rats, and A Yank in the RAF, and it appears that The Boondock Saints has finally arrived after a long postponement. Fans of Cameron Crowe and Tom Cruise will want to look for Vanilla Sky, out from Paramount, and new catalog items from Buena Vista include Chungking Express and Country Life. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 20 May 2002
Disc of the Week: In the world of cinema, all roads eventually lead to Ed Wood, the artist behind Glen or Glenda and Plan Nine From Outer Space. Dubbed the worst director of all time so often that the expression "Ed Wood bad" has become as overused as "Hitchcockian suspense," there's something special about Wood's place in Hollywood history. Not because he's awful although there's no denying he wasn't classically talented but because he represents the sordid underbelly to the American dream: the truths about our culture we dare not face. What was Wood if not the plucky underdog who made films in the face of adversity, who tried and tried like the little engine that could to break into the big leagues, to be respected and successful? And yet Wood, the anti-Horatio Alger, proved that determination will not get you as far as talent; that some things cannot be learned; that money is more important than spirit; and that (sadly enough) size does matter. Ed Wood is the man who tried his damnedest and failed again, and again, and again.
Yet because of his numerous films, Ed Wood has achieved a posthumous canonization through the numerous mentions of the badness of his efforts (from the Medved Brothers' famous book Golden Turkey to Tim Burton's 1994 biopic Ed Wood), ironically achieving his place in the pantheon of cineastes. His name-familiarity has eclipsed many of his contemporaries filmmakers like Delmer Daves, Jack Arnold, Anthony Mann, and Douglas Sirk simply haven't been as reevaluated as publicly as Wood. It's hard to be sure whether this tribute is due to spite or love (even with hardcore fans), but somehow Wood films are easier to find on DVD than those of French master Jean Renoir. Brett Thompson's 1995 documentary The Haunted World of Edward D. Wood Jr. acknowledges this fame by giving many of his collaborators a chance to talk about the man who made them infamous. Serving as a biography, the film offers an in-depth look at the filmmaker and some of his more famous pictures, although like Burton's biopic it spends little time addressing the last years of Wood's life (which were spent churning out dime-store novels, smut screenplays, and drinking until his death of a heart attack in 1978 at the age of 54). What the documentary does offer is a compelling portrait of a transvestite filmmaker who had a severe lack of talent and more than a few demons, and still was a warm and fascinating human being.
Made up of anecdotes, found footage and interviews, The Haunted World of Edward D. Wood Jr. visits most of the major living players, as well as Wood's ex-wives and girlfriends. Though the documentary opens with a homage by badly presenting a monologue from one of Wood's oldest friends and one-time collaborator Crawford John Thomas, Thompson's essay is awash in many great details and disputes about the director's life. For those who know Bride of the Monster star Loretta King only from the freaked-out version presented in the Tim Burton film, King discounts the rumors about her not drinking water (she says she didn't drink alcohol, which may have rubbed the alcoholic Wood the wrong way). Most pleasant of all the interviewees is Maila Nurmi, a.k.a. "Vampira," who tells some fabulous stories about Orson Welles, Mae West, and (of course) Wood, and the movie they made together she says she asked to be mute because she couldn't get his awful dialogue out of her mouth. The fun of it is seeing interviews with people like Wood regulars Paul Marco (best known for his reoccurring character Kelton the Cop), Dolores Fuller, and Conrad Brooks get their say, while others like Plan 9 star Gregory Walcott acknowledge that many associated with the films knew just how bad they were. Anyone who's interested in this DVD should supplement the film with Rudolph Grey's definitive study of Wood, Nightmare of Ecstasy, and though not as insightful as Terry Zwigof's documentary Crumb was into the mind of a oddball, The Haunted World of Edward D. Wood Jr. should satiate the curious, and inform those who want to know more about Wood and the people he worked with.
Image Entertainment's new DVD of The Haunted World of Edward D. Wood Jr. is a pleasant special-edition release. The film is presented in full frame (1.33:1) with monaural DD 2.0 audio. The source print looks a bit grainy, but still in fine shape. And the documentary is accompanied by a feature-length round-robin commentary with director Brett Thompson, interviewee Bela Lugosi Jr., and author Charles Phoenix, among others. This commentary continues on to the presentation of Ed Wood's first film Crossroads of Laredo (1948), which is introduced by Dolores Fuller and producer Crawford Thomas. Also included is an interview for the A&E Channel with director Thompson and Mike Gabriel, the Sci-Fi Channel's coverage of the film's premiere, home-movie footage of the "Ed Wood Reunion" at the Palm Springs Film Festival, behind-the-scenes footage from the making of the documentary, and generous still galleries covering both Ed Wood's life and the making of this film. And for fun, some of the clips are introduced by a Vampira impersonator. The Haunted World of Edward D. Wood Jr. is on the street now.
Box Office: It was no secret that the long-awaited Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones would be at the top of the weekend's box-office chart the only real question was if it would surpass Spider-Man's record-breaking $114 million opening. And while it appears The Force is still with George Lucas, Attack of the Clones fell short of Spidey, posting $86.1 million over the past three days and $116.2 million since its Thursday debut. But it was good enough to give Clones the third-highest three-day opening in history (just behind Spider-Man and Harry Potter). However, your friendly neighborhood webslinger is still doing boffo business, as Sam Raimi's superhero epic notched down to second place with $46 million over its third weekend and $286 million in just 17 days. The only film that had the guts to do battle with both Spidey and Yoda was About a Boy starring Hugh Grant, which landed in fourth place with $8.4 million. About a Boy received near-unanimous praise, and while many critics gushed over Attack of the Clones, it seemed more than a few gave it a pretty severe lashing.
Spider-Man and Star Wars combined for $132 million worth of tickets over the weekend, which meant that most films in continuing release were on the decline. Fox's Unfaithful starring Richard Gere and Diane Lane maintained a foothold in its second weekend, adding $10.3 million to its $29.8 million gross, while Sony's comedy The New Guy slipped to fifth place with a modest $17.3 million cume. Universal's The Scorpion King is still on the charts with $85 million, and Buena Vista's The Rookie has shown remarkable legs over the past two months, remaining in the top ten with $70.8 million. But off the list and hoping for second life on DVD is United Artists' gang drama Deuces Wild, which opened opposite Spider-Man and got clobbered, grossing just $5 million before its rapid demise.
Al Pacino, Hilary Swank, and Robin Williams star in Christopher Nolan's Insomnia, which opens this weekend, along with Michael Apted's thriller Enough with Jennifer Lopez, and DreamWorks' latest animated film Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. 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 Columbia TriStar's Memento: Limited Edition, while Greg Dorr recently look at Buena Vista's The Others: Collector's Edition. New reviews from the rest of the gang this week include Vanilla Sky, Sidewalks of New York, The X-Files: The Complete Fifth Season, To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday, I Want to Live!, The Day After Trinity, Cowboy, Plenty, Night of the Ghouls, The Haunted World of Edward D. Wood, Jr., and Zatoichi: The Tale of Zatoichi Continues. 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, 16 May 2002
Coming Attractions: It's time to dig into another stack of new DVDs, and reviews on the way include Memento: Limited Edition, Vanilla Sky, The Others, and more. In the meantime, if you haven't entered our totally free DVD contest for a copy of The Last Waltz: 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.
Quotable: "I never said that. It's all bullshit. Marilyn and I were lovers in 1950. We were on for a few months. We were in our 20s. There was nothing special or unique about it."
Tony Curtis, revealing in Vanity Fair that he and
"It looks like I had some kind of religious conversion and I'm suddenly out of the house but no, I'll be back in the house in a few hours and you won't have to put up with me again."
Woody Allen, appearing at the Cannes Film
Hollywood A-lister and noted Republican
"(Digital video) is an animal that everyone is still trying to figure out.... It used to be that your parents mortgaged their houses so that you could make your first film. Now all you need is one of those digital cameras, and a lot of crap gets made. I know because it gets sent to me."
Film producer Christine Vachon, speaking in
"I do not do horse races. I'm interested in making movies and telling stories and giving audiences the best possible presentation."
George Lucas, downplaying the notion that
Wednesday, 15 May 2002
You can't find a copy of Freaks on DVD anywhere Greg at least, not yet. And until it arrives, fans of old horror classics are bound to keep demanding this title be removed from MIA status, as it's easily one of the most unusual pictures ever produced by a major studio.
Freaks, as its name implies, concerns a traveling circus and the human oddities who work as sideshow attractions, including a bearded lady, Siamese twins, midgets, and even a man with no arms or legs. The circus also employs "normal" people of course, including trapeze artist Cleopatra (Olga Baclanova), who is having an affair with strongman Hercules (Henry Victor). But when dwarf Hans (Harry Earles) suddenly comes into a large inheritance, Cleopatra conspires to marry him, murder him, and run off with Hercules and the money. However, the sideshow folks tend to look out for each other they have to, after all, in a world that offers them little but cruelty and after learning of Cleopatra's plot, they craft a horrific revenge, giving Freaks a particularly grotesque finale.
The merits of Freaks have been debated since the movie's cult resurgence several decades ago, and it's a discussion that will not end soon. Certainly director Tod Browning wanted to create a film that expressed sympathy for "abnormal" people, and the film's lengthy prologue makes the point unmistakable. Browning also was a circus veteran, having been a performer before entering Hollywood's film industry in the silent era, and he was friendly with sideshow artists. However, despite the fact that Freaks wants to be something of an anti-exploitation movie, it can't help be anything but with its very real human deformities on center stage. And MGM executives certainly never tried to market the film as anything other than a moviehouse stunt with taglines such as "Can a full grown woman truly love a midget?" and "The Story of the Love Life of the Sideshow."
But if Browning and MGM were at odds over how the film should be received by the public, it made very little difference. Early test screenings went badly, and the original 90-minute cut was chopped down to a brief 64 minutes all of this excised footage is now lost. Freaks was a box-office disaster that cost the studio quite a bit of money. It wound up being banned in Britain for 30 years. And it helped bring Browning's career to an early close despite being the director of several Lon Chaney silent classics and the 1931 Dracula starring Bela Lugosi, he would only oversee four more pictures after Freaks, retiring in 1939 and passing away 23 years later.
As for the status of Freaks on home video, getting a copy is not that hard. MGM released a VHS version in 1990, and while an early Laserdisc release was something of a disappointment, a "remastered" laser arrived in 1993, which most fans consider to be the best item available. The rights to Freaks went from MGM to Warner in 1999, but that hasn't stopped some recent confusion. Last year a small DVD producer announced that they would release a Freaks disc, only to withdraw the announcement shortly thereafter (presumably they thought it was a public domain item). Fans in the UK had it a bit worse when a Region 2 Freaks DVD was actually sold on a few websites the boxcover was enticing, but the DVD was nothing more than a home-theater test disc, with music by Mannheim Steamroller. Oops.
The good news is that Warner knows Freaks will generate a lot of interest on DVD. A bit of summary info has been added to Warner's press-only website (noting "it has taken on cult status for it's campy plot and the real circus entertainers who appear in the film"), and we have heard it could be placed on the production schedule at any time.
Shine a light, wouldya?
We're afraid the best we can do at the moment is light a match. Sean Penn's 1991 The Indian Runner was placed on MGM's release schedule last year as a no-frills entry into their "Avant Garde" DVD series, but it was removed from the schedule just a few weeks before the Nov. 20 street date. Why? We have not heard anything specific, but it certainly was a last-minute thing. After all, the DVDs that currently are found on eBay (closing anywhere between $30 $40) are actual MGM discs that were produced before the change of plans, but never sold to the public.
Our first guess as to why The Indian Runner has been delayed is to accommodate features to be created at a later time, such as a commentary track. But our second guess may be better Columbia TriStar released an Indian Runner DVD in Region 2 last March (see inset), and Columbia Pictures was the film's producing studio. In the meantime, MGM's VHS version of The Indian Runner has gone out of print, which means the rights may have transferred (and as a 1991 film, 2001 would mark the end of any 10-year distribution deal).
However, one thing we do know is that The Indian Runner is not being withheld in order to arrive with The Two Towers. If Tower Records is listing the title with a Dec. 29 street-date, that's just a place-holder to indicate that no firm date has been announced. And after all, Dec. 29, 2002 is a Sunday.
Bye for now.
Tuesday, 14 May 2002
On the Street: May is always a busy month for new DVDs, and there's enough good stuff out today to do real damage to your credit cards. Fox leads the way with their second wave of Marilyn Monroe "Diamond Collection" titles, including such favorites as Niagara, Monkey Business, River of No Return, and Don't Bother to Knock, while suspense fans will enjoy the new two-disc From Hell. Buena Vista has a pair of big titles on the board as well, with a two-disc release of the thriller The Others starring Nicole Kidman, along with the surprise hit Snow Dogs starring Cuba Gooding Jr. and his canine companions. Catalog titles from Paramount today include Atlantic City, The Gambler, and The Brotherhood, while new from Columbia's vault is Requiem for a Heavyweight and Cowboy. Documentary fans will enjoy Criterion's new General Idi Amin Dada (A Self Portrait), while samurai film buffs can look for the first two Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman titles from Home Vision. And Image has a pair for Ed Wood fans this week with 1960's Night of the Ghouls and the documentary The Haunted World of Edward D. Wood, Jr.. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 13 May 2002
Disc of the Week: For a director as prolific and successful as Howard Hawks, it may seem unusual that he never achieved the mainstream celebrity of his fellow auteurs John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock, and Orson Welles, or even the same public stature as directors from a later generation, such as Stanley Kubrick and Steven Spielberg. But Hawks was never an easy director to categorize he did not have a deep sense of cinematic stylization, preferring to focus on his actors and scripts, and he refused to stay within one or two genres (as Hitchcock and Ford did, for example). A former World War I aviator, Hawks started his directing career before movies had sound, and he found early successes with such hard-boiled pictures as The Dawn Patrol (1930) with its story of Air Force pilots, and Scarface (1932), loosely based on Chicago mobster Al Capone. Other aviation films followed (Only Angels Have Wings , Air Force ), and he also directed Humphrey Bogart in two of his most famous pictures, To Have and Have Not (1944) and The Big Sleep (1946). Actually, while Hawks often is associated with the western, thanks to 1959's enduring Rio Bravo, he did not even direct his first western until 1948 with Red River (both starring John Wayne). And while all of these films indicate an American auteur of the first order, none point to a simple fact Howard Hawks practically invented the screwball comedy, starting with 1934's Twentieth Century starring Carole Lombard and moving through such Cary Grant classics as Bringing Up Baby (1938) and His Girl Friday (1940). During Hollywood's golden age, Hawks was not only one of the industry's best action directors, he also was its most sublime comedian a combination that seems unthinkable today.
Monkey Business (1952) was Hawks' last stab at screwball comedy, and while the genre was in decline by the 1950s, it is a fitting finale to a bygone matinee staple. Cary Grant stars as Barnaby Fulton, an absent-minded chemist who is working on a "fountain of youth" formula (dubbed "B-4" by his employers) that, if successful, will secure his career for life. But each experiment has resulted in failure, until Barnaby decides the formula requires heating. And after a mix-up in the laboratory (thanks to an overactive chimpanzee), Barnaby has a swig and suddenly buys a sportscar, which he speeds through the city with sexy secretary Lois (Marilyn Monroe), going roller-skating and swimming with his young date. The effect wears off before the day is done, but Barnaby's wife Edwina (Ginger Rogers) is intrigued, and thus tries the formula herself, causing her to drag her studious, note-taking husband on an impromptu second honeymoon. In the meantime, Barnaby's aging boss Oliver Oxley (Charles Coburn) is impatient to try some of the "B-4" himself, but he experiences no results while a further mix-up reduces both Barnaby and Edwina to a pair of bickering children.
One need not apologize for comedy when it's done right, it's the most impressive of all film genres. And in the case of screwball comedies, doing it right means holding very little back. Monkey Business is a perfect lark for its two leads, as Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers initially appear as a reasonable married couple (both playing the parts a bit older than their actual ages), and then have great fun dismantling the carefully staged premise with increasingly juvenile behavior. Grant a leading man who always enjoyed playing against his smoldering good looks with comic turns dons Coke-bottle glasses as the dignified Barnaby, only to get completely unhinged in a top-down roadster (with Marilyn Monroe along for the ride yowza), and all it takes is a trendy crew-cut and a pair of swimming trunks before he swan-dives (er, belly-flops) into the local pool. Rogers holds her own against the estimable Cary, and her transformation not only makes her eager to run her husband ragged on the dance floor, but also an hysterical emotional mess who suddenly finds flaws in every part of her marriage. Throw in some more potion, and Grant's urge to play cowboys and Indians with some local kids has him tromping about the neighborhood in war paint, planning to ensnare his own lawyer for a good old-fashioned scalping which isn't just funny because of that, but because it's Cary Grant doing that. Meanwhile, the splendid Charles Coburn gets in some funny asides as Barnaby's boss Oxley, and in a supporting part Marilyn Monroe plays the airless blonde receptionist to perfection (after asking the shapely secretary to find somebody to type a document, Oxley dryly explains to a puzzled Barnaby "Anybody can type.")
Fox's new DVD release of Monkey Business features a strong transfer of a restored black-and-white source print in the original full-frame ratio (1.33:1), with audio in monaural Dolby 2.0. Features include a restoration demonstration, stills, and trailers for films in the second wave of Fox's "Diamond Collection" of Marilyn Monroe films. Monkey Business and the entire Marilyn Monroe: The Diamond Collection, Vol. II, with restored prints, are on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: The question on everybody's mind as the Mother's Day weekend approached wasn't what to get dear old Mom it was how well Sony's Spider-Man would perform in its second frame after shattering all debut records. Our Spidey-senses indicated another solid weekend, and sure enough the mega-blockbuster grossed $72 million over the past three days, and its current ten-day total is a blistering $223.6 million, which means Spider-Man holds even more box-office records (highest second-week gross, fastest film to break $200 million). Two films dared to debut in the narrow space between Spider-Man and Episode II Fox's Unfaithful starring Richard Gere and Diane Lane, which counter-programmed a respectable $14.2 million, and Sony's comedy The New Guy, which was good for $9.5 million. Unfaithful earned mixed reviews, while The New Guy was zinged by most critics.
In continuing release, Universal's The Scorpion King is still enjoying the benefits of its early season debut with $80.3 million after one month, while Paramount's Changing Lanes also has done well, now with $57 million after five weeks. And while those Spider-Man numbers may be impressive, Fox's Ice Age has shown remarkable legs over the past several weeks, staying on the chart and racking up $170.8 million. But on the way to DVD prep after a spin on the second-run circuit is Woody Allen's Hollywood Ending, which likely will finish under $5 million for DreamWorks.
Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones arrives in cineplexes this Thursday, while Friday debuts include About a Boy with Hugh Grant and Rachel Weisz, and the thriller The Salton Sea starring Val Kilmer. 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 Fox's two-disc From Hell, while new reviews from the rest of the team this week include Atlantic City, Requiem for a Heavyweight, General Idi Amin Dada (A Self Portrait): The Criterion Collection, Tender Mercies, The Gambler, Zatoichi: The Tale of Zatoichi, Sweet Hearts Dance, The Brotherhood, and all five films in Fox's second wave of Marilyn Monroe "Diamond Collection" titles Niagara, Monkey Business, Don't Bother to Knock, River of No Return, and Let's Make Love. 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 the rundown on this week's street discs.
Thursday, 9 May 2002
Coming Attractions: Another fresh stack of DVDs awaits us in the screening room, and new reviews on the way include From Hell, Requiem for a Heavyweight, and a few more Fox classics starring Marilyn Monroe. Have a great weekend gang back on Monday.
Commentary Clip: "This is a very hard scene (where Jake tackles two rapists) because we're in an alleyway the whole movie takes place in one day and it was raining one day, it stopped raining, the sun was moving, clouds kept coming over, we had crackheads in the alleyway. And this was under-scheduled we actually had this scheduled for one day, which is ridiculous. And we wind up shooting it over the course of two and a half days. That was one of the hardest things about this movie, that it was supposed to take place in one day, and we couldn't control the weather obviously, and I had to work around that quite a bit. It seems like a simple scene but it's actually really complicated because the clouds kept covering it up, and it would rain when I'm on one angle and then stop when I'm the other angle. It was frustrating. Of course you have all the crackheads and everyone else screaming out of windows and doing all kinds of other things. But the actors stayed focused, these guys are great.... There was no other way to make this movie, as far as I was concerned. We had to shoot this in real locations. There's so much so much tension, there's so many incredible faces, there's a certain amount of danger in these places naturally, there's a texture you can't get anywhere else. Also for the actors, and for myself, it made them understand a little more of the world that they were portraying. It gave them a clear idea.... They needed to see children who have what we call 'the snake,' with a line running up the belly from Martin Luther King Hospital, where they've been sewed up from stray bullets, which Denzel and Ethan both saw. And they sat on the porch and had dinner with people and talked with people. They had to see gangbangers with scars, with half their arm burned up or ripped up. They had to see police constantly around. They had to see gangbangers on the street and crackheads and old ladies and children, and they had to be in it. And that's what we did. It was complicated, but it actually was an amazing experience for everybody because the texture of those locations you can't get anywhere else, and you can't cast those people you can't have the Beverly Hills gangbanger come in with a scarf on his head, so far away from the truth it's ridiculous."
Director Antoine Fuqua,
Quotable: "In the heart of hearts, at least for me, I was looking at Harry Potter thinking that was as big as one can get. How could you get in that neighborhood? But your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man came to the neighborhood and took it over."
Marvel Studios executive Avi Arad, on the
"I think the Lord will provide.... People have come up to me and given me their condolences. They said, 'Boy, talk about timing. Who wants to see a story about a good priest?' Well, who wants to see a story about a punch-drunk boxer?"
Sylvester Stallone, who will turn to the small
Episode II star Hayden Christensen, insisting
"This is a silly thing to do. There is an extremity to it that defies understanding. But it's not meant to be understood, just accepted."
Seattle resident John Guth, who has been standing
"There was recently a tabloid story that I had stabbed Billy and had to be sent to a nut-house or something. We thought that was pretty funny. I mean, if I wanted to kill him, I'd kill him."
Angelina Jolie, who is still very much married to
Wednesday, 8 May 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:
The DVD format has been somewhat kind to F.W. Murnau over the past couple of years. One of the three most influential directors of the German Expressionist school that dominated and defined the artistic development of cinema in the 1920s (the other two being Fritz Lang and Ernst Lubitsch), Murnau's first masterpiece arrived in the form of Nosferatu (1922), and subsequent German productions such as The Last Laugh (1924) and Faust (1926) got Hollywood's attention in particular William Fox, who brought Murnau to his fledgling Fox studios to commence a career in the American film industry.
The good news for DVD fans is that while many of Murnau's early silent films are considered lost his three best-known German ones have gone digital: Nosferatu in a definitive edition from Image Entertainment, and both The Last Laugh and Faust from Kino. But the director's American output has not been so fortunate. Sunrise (1927), Four Devils (1928), City Girl (1930), and his final work Tabu (1931) are all MIA on DVD. And of these, the most significant is Sunrise, which is simply one of the most important, innovative, and influential films in movie history.
Granted a substantial budget by Fox in the hopes of creating a film like no other, Sunrise was the most expensive art film ever made in its day. The story itself is simple a husband and wife (who are unnamed) live happily in the country, but the husband is tempted by a vampish woman who is visiting from the city, and before long they plot to murder the wife and run off together. The husband plans to stage a boating accident, but while he terrifies his wife, he finds that he is unable to kill her. She flees with him in pursuit, and a further journey leads to their eventual reconciliation. Certainly the plot is threadbare, but the film's entire title, Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, clearly indicates that Murnau considered it to be a poem as much as a movie. Just as Citizen Kane really isn't about a reporter writing an obituary, Sunrise is less about domestic discord and entirely about the language of cinema. Utilizing a sweeping, fluid camera, dynamic compositions, and numerous process shots, Murnau stretched the boundaries of cinema's accepted capacities at the time, and every moment of the 95-minute experience is a visual delight that remains impressive to this day.
However, Sunrise did not meet expectations at the box office. Sound was in its earliest stages in 1927, and while Fox had developed their Movietone system to match music to film prints (and won early successes with newsreels), Warner caught lightning in a bottle that same year with their Vitaphone system by including a few impromptu spoken words from Al Jolson in The Jazz Singer and creating a sensation that had moviegoers lined up for blocks. But Sunrise was duly rewarded at the first Academy Awards ceremony, where it won prizes for Best Actress (Janet Gaynor), Best Cinematography (Charles Rosher and Karl Struss), and the unusual distinction of "Best Picture, Unique and Artistic Production," an award that has not been handed out since. It was one of the first 25 films inducted into the National Film Registry in 1989.
F.W. Murnau died in 1931 in a car accident at the young age of 42, and while some critics believe his work had started to decline after Sunrise, it's hard to believe that he would not have created more masterpieces had he lived into Hollywood's golden age, with advanced technologies in color and sound. And with a handful of significant films to his credit, it is crucial that they be preserved both in print form and as home-video items that can be enjoyed by subsequent generations. In the case of Sunrise, this burden falls upon Fox, who have held the rights to the film from 1927 to this very day. Unfortunately, it is believed that no original elements survive, having been destroyed in a 1937 vault fire, which rules out a restoration of the original negative. There has never been a Fox VHS release of the title, although an out-of-print licensed version from Critic's Choice Video can be found on eBay, along with a few (ahem) unofficial releases. Sunrise intermittently has turned up on the Fox Movie Channel and American Movie Classics in recent years, which has caused numerous silent-film fans to set their VCRs on SP mode for the event. Is all hope lost for a definitive DVD?
Far from it.
Noted film restorationist David Shepard actually restored a print of Sunrise a few years ago, which was then licensed by Fox to Image Entertainment for a Laserdisc release in February 1998. And by all accounts this item offers the best version of Sunrise yet seen on home video, being far superior to anything on videotape. In addition to the correct Movietone aspect ratio of 1.2:1, included is the original Movietone score by Hugo Riesenfeld (recorded in 1927), as well as a brand-new orchestral arrangement by composer Timothy Brock on a digital track. The laser also includes approximately 10 minutes of deleted scenes saved by editor Harold Schuster and a portion of the script by Carl Mayer (which has names for the characters). Unfortunately, 1998 saw the beginning of the end of the Laserdisc format, as DVD began to gain a market-share that the expensive platters could never achieve, and the Sunrise LD was only available for a brief period before it was withdrawn.
Thus a special-edition Sunrise DVD already exists in theory as Fox should have no problem porting the Laserdisc elements to the smaller format. Of course, Fox isn't going to make Die Hard-sized numbers from a 1927 art film. But if that's the case, we're certain Image Entertainment would be happy to re-release the title under their banner.
In the meantime, a few scenes of Sunrise can be seen on DVD right now on A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese through American Movies, where the director praises the Murnau aesthetic. That's on disc from Miramax.
Thanks Stephen we've no doubt that Martin Scorsese plans to revisit most of his major films over the new few years for special-edition DVD releases, and we've been suspecting Goodfellas is high on his list. Pass the Cuervo!
Bye for now.
Tuesday, 7 May 2002
On the Street: There's no lack of new DVDs to pick from this morning, although we're sure most folks will be snagging a copy of Steven Soderbergh's popular Ocean's Eleven, out now from Warner. However, we recently enjoyed looking at MGM's special-edition release of Martin Scorsese's 1976 The Last Waltz, and catalog titles on the shelves today from MGM include The Hound of the Baskervilles, Khartoum, The Vikings, and The Charge of the Light Brigade. Buena Vista's no slouch with the catalog fare this week either, delivering new editions of such family classics as Old Yeller, The Parent Trap, Swiss Family Robinson and Pollyanna. Fans of Richard Linklater will want to check out Fox's Waking Life disc, while fans of William Shakespeare will enjoy Roman Polanski's 1971 Macbeth. And fans of Star Trek can get out their wallets The Next Generation: Season Two is here in a big six-disc box. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 6 May 2002
And the winner is: Jeffrey Marculescu of San Francisco, Calif., wins the free Bandits: Special Edition DVD from our April contest. Congrats, Jeff!
Our totally free DVD contest for the month of May is up and running, and we have a copy of MGM's The Last Waltz: 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: No literary characters have appeared on screen more often than Sherlock Holmes and Count Dracula. So in one of life's happy little synchronicities, one of the best screen Holmes teamed up with arguably the best screen Dracula in 1959, and did so in an adaptation of the most-filmed Holmes story produced by the company that revivified Dracula for the movies. Britain's Hammer Films had already made a name for itself as a maker of lurid-yet-appealing adaptations of horror and suspense classics, so its colorful The Hound of the Baskervilles was a welcome inevitability. It's the seventh cinematic version of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's best novel and the 121st Holmes film. It also was the first Holmes mystery to be shot in color. Director Terence Fisher had already teamed stars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in two films that jolted Hammer to the domination of the British horror film scene: The Horror of Dracula (1958), still widely regarded as the best Dracula film ever, and The Curse of Frankenstein (1957). Cushing was evangelical in his quest to do right by Doyle, and his Holmes is one of the greats, up there with the inestimable Basil Rathbone and Jeremy Brett for screen portrayals.
Doyle's original story began serialization in The Strand magazine in 1901 and concluded in 1902, the year in which the whole novel was published for the first time. So, by accident or design, MGM's DVD release of The Hound of the Baskervilles is something of a centenary celebration. Most of the plot's floorboards and furnishings are intact Back in the 1600s, an abandoned abbey on the property of Baskerville Hall near the Devonshire moors was the site where evil Sir Hugo Baskerville murdered a girl who refused his favors, and in turn he was killed by a gigantic spectral hound. Ever since, the Baskerville family has been cursed with the monstrous beast. Holmes (Cushing) and Watson (André Morell) are brought up to date on the legend by Dr. Mortimer (Francis DeWolff), the friend and physician of Sir Charles Baskerville. Sir Charles was the most recent resident of the hall, until he was found dead of fright at the remains of the abbey and a horrific howling has been heard in the surrounding moors. Newly arrived from South Africa to take his place in the ancestral estate is Sir Henry Baskerville (Lee). Holmes, of course, is not convinced by legends of ghostly canines, but he senses evil afoot and immediately after he warns Sir Henry against venturing to Baskerville Hall alone, his lordship is almost bitten by a tarantula deliberately placed to attack the new head of the manor. Holmes sends Watson to Devonshire with Sir Henry. From there Watson, Sir Henry, and later Holmes encounter an escaped convict, the scatterbrained local bishop (Miles Malleson) whose tarantula is missing, and Baskerville's neighbors: Stapleton (Ewen Solon) and his alluring daughter, Cecile (Marla Landi). Will Holmes solve the mystery and discover who or what is behind the murders? Well, of course, but not before someone else perishes at the hound's jaws, the blood-stained dagger used by Sir Hugo is back again, and Sir Henry discovers that a local girl beneath his station has plenty to offer his lordship.
This version of the classic tale works better as a "Hammer film" than as a Baskervilles adaptation. Holmes purists and pedants may gnash their teeth over add-ons that augment the Hammer house style a menacing tarantula, an unexplained sacrificial rite, Sir Henry's sudden love interest (although we must say that the movie is distinguished by letting Christopher Lee, of all people, kiss the girl), among other divergences and alterations. Baskervilles has always been a little over-populated with red herring characters, and this one makes no effort to be an exception. The pacing could use a boost at times, and the "hound of hell" itself is something of a letdown. Nonetheless, Peter Cushing nails the energy, arrogance, and mannerisms of the literary Holmes, and he bears a remarkable likeness to the original Strand magazine illustrations. With a Meershaum pipe in his teeth, he sports the deerstalker cap and Inverness cape that are as associated with their owner as Superman's red cape and "S" logo. Twice the film all but winks at the audience when Cushing exclaims, "Elementary, my dear Watson," a line never uttered in Doyle's stories yet which has barnacled itself onto the popular image of the Great Detective. No matter. Cushing delivers a sterling performance, and a Holmes film made strictly for Holmes purists certainly wouldn't be a Hammer production. André Morell's no-guff, dependable Dr. Watson isn't given enough to do, yet he's miles more authentic than the wuffling comic sidekick Nigel Bruce's version imprinted on the popular imagination. The cinematography is quite good but nothing flashy, and that distinctive Hammer gothic look plenty of antique tones, dark wood sets, and shadow-strewn exteriors is well used, and the set designer obviously did fastidious research into the canonical details of 221B Baker Street. Alterations aside, the Hammer Baskervilles rates well on lists of favorite Doyle adaptations, though it's usually ranked below the 1938 Hound of the Baskervilles, which initiated the long-running Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce series, and the BBC's 1968 version that again featured Peter Cushing as the Master. (In 1984 Cushing played Holmes yet again, in the telefilm The Masks of Death, and wrote about Holmes for a number of books. Lee also had his turn playing Holmes in '62.)
MGM's new DVD release of The Hound of the Baskervilles offers a solid transfer of a good print in its original 1.66:1 widescreen image. It looks fine with strong color, definition, and contrast. Some print wear is evident, but nothing to grumble about. The monaural Dolby 2.0 audio is hearty but thin, so the musical score by Hammer's court composer, James Bernard, suffers a bit without more bottom end. A pair of brand-new supplements are almost worth the sticker price by themselves. The first is a new interview with Christopher Lee (13 min.), showing him at his most gracious and warm-hearted, especially when it becomes a loving eulogy to the late Peter Cushing. Lee reveals that he and Cushing would often punctuate their friendship by making cartoon voices to one another (with Lee specializing in Yosemite Sam and Sylvester the Cat!) Pity he doesn't indulge in a demonstration after dropping that image-defying bombshell. The other extra is a two-part reading by Lee from Doyle's novel. For about 20 minutes, Lee's gorgeous resonant baritone voice delivers portions of the first and last chapters, accompanied by the original Sidney Paget illustrations. (And another synchronicity note: Peter Cushing played an almost Hammeresque villain in the original Star Wars. Twenty-five years later, in the same month of this disc's release, Christopher Lee appears as a villain in the latest addition to George Lucas' space saga, Episode II: Attack of the Clones.) The Hound of the Baskervilles is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: This week's box-office chart may have 12 films on it, but only one movie over the weekend mattered Sony's Spider-Man, which shattered all box-office records with a mammoth $114 million three-day weekend, and among the records to fall were best single day ($43.7 million on Saturday), best three-day debut, best per-theater gross ever ($31,535), and fastest movie to reach $100 million. Only two films dared to counter-program Spider-Man United Artists' gang drama Deuces Wild, which opened in seventh place with just $2.7 million, and Woody Allen's Hollywood Ending, opening in tenth with $2.2 million (which actually is par shooting for the small-budget director). Reviews were overwhelmingly enthusiastic about Spider-Man, while Hollywood Ending received mixed notices and Deuces Wild was almost unanimously blitzed by critics.
Spider-Man accounted for three-fourths of all ticket sales over the weekend, which found a lot of films in continuing release on the decline. Universal's The Scorpion King, which was dethroned from the top spot, held on to second place, adding $9.6 million to its $74.8 million total. Paramount's Changing Lanes is still in the top five as well after one month, with $5.6 million over the weekend and a $52.3 million cume. However, the Angelina Jolie romance Life or Something Like It will not wind up with Tomb Raider-sized numbers, holding an $11.2 million gross after two weeks. And off the charts is The Sweetest Thing starring Cameron Diaz, which will finish north of $20 million for Sony.
With Spider-Man on a juggernaut and Episode II arriving in just two weeks, the intrepid films arriving in theaters this Friday include Adrian Lyne's thriller Unfaithful starring Richard Gere and Diane Lane, as well as the teen comedy The New Guy. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Dawn Taylor has posted a sneak preview of MGM's The Last Waltz: Special Edition, while Greg Dorr recently looked at Fox's Waking Life, and Betsy Bozdech gave Warner's Ocean's Eleven a spin. New reviews from the rest of the team this week include Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season Two, Earth vs. The Spider (2001), The Vikings, Khartoum, The Hound of the Baskervilles, and Roman Polanski's 1971 rendition of Macbeth. 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 those street discs.
Thursday, 2 May 2002
On the Block: Our latest round of DVD auction rankings at eBay is in, and we may have a new record for the ultra-rare Salo: The Criterion Collection, as a sealed copy cleared $700.00 in a quick "Buy it Now" auction (and for what it's worth, we think that's downright nuts). Other Criterion titles continue to stay atop the chart as well, with The Killer drawing a $329.00 asking-price, and both This Is Spinal Tap and The 400 Blows clearing $200 with ease. New to the list this time around is HBO's out-of-print 1939 version of Wuthering Heights starring Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon, which drew $122.50 after a heated 24-bid auction, while David Lynch: Short Films (available via Lynch's members-only website) took $100.99, and Anchor Bay's Dawn of the Dead: The Director's Cut was good for an even $100.00. Those nifty TV sets from overseas are common high-traders as well, with Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Season Three earning $114.00 for the six-disc box. And Beatlemania is far from over in DVD-land we're still waiting for Miramax's digital release of A Hard Day's Night, while serious fans jacked up a recent auction of the out-of-print MPI disc to $149.00 after 14 bids.
Here's the highest recent closing prices of rare and out-of-print DVDs from online auctions at eBay:
Quotable: "Michael said he wanted to direct, that he liked my style and that we would complement each other as co-directors. He was the one who brought this book to me. It deals with orphans, and Michael always felt that he grew up as an orphan because, in a way, he missed out on his childhood. The boy in the book had a tough time, and Michael related a lot to that. Michael and I have similar sensibilities. We're both big kids, and we feel that when it comes to their emotions, we'd be able to draw that out for the big screen."
Director Bryan Michael Stoller, telling The Hollywood
Matt Groening, denying published reports that
"It's a conflicted place. God and the devil, good and evil, existing side by side. You take somebody like Elvis, a good old Southern boy who loves his mother and is deeply religious, but he likes to watch 12-year-olds wrestling in their panties. That's how bad that stuff can mess a person up. Luckily I was brought up Methodist, so it wasn't too hardcore, but it was there, underlying everything."
Billy Bob Thornton, on growing up in the South.
"Crawl-Man? Nah, that didn't have it. Insect-Man? I ran down the list. Mosquito-Man, Beetle-Man, Fly-Man. Then I hit on Spider-Man.... I was told in chapter and verse by my publisher that it was the worst idea he'd ever heard. 'People hate spiders,' he said. 'Teen-agers can only be sidekicks.' Then when I told him that I wanted Peter Parker to have lots of problems and worries and be unsure of himself, he said, 'It's obvious you have no conception of what a hero really is.'"
Spider-Man creator Stan Lee, whose legendary
'Re-Animator' DVD event: For our readers in the L.A. area, director Stuart Gordon and actor Jeffrey Combs will be signing the DVD release of Re-Animator: The Millennium Edition this Saturday, May 4th, between 1 and 3 p.m. at Dave's Video, 12144 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, Calif. (tel: 818-760-3472). You'll have to buy a copy from Dave's, but a percentage of every sale will be donated to charity.
Coming Attractions: We have lots of new DVD reviews on the way, including Ocean's Eleven, Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season Two, and more. This also will be the last weekend to enter this month's totally free DVD contest for a copy of Bandits: Special Edition, so be sure to visit our contest page if you haven't yet, and don't forget to take our monthly DVD poll while you're there. We'll be back Monday to announce the winner, and we'll have a new contest up and running as well.
Have a great weekend.
Wednesday, 1 May 2002
Awfully good question. While Beatty's 1981 Reds has had its share of detractors over the years, it is a late example of the Hollywood historical epic, a genre that has lost its prominence since the summer "event movie" overtook the industry in the 1980s and effectively dispensed with lengthy narratives of historical events. Reds like David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia and Dr. Zhivago illustrates a moment of time by following one man, American journalist John Reed, as he witnesses Russia's 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. The project was Beatty's most ambitious as a director, and likely remains his most personal the actor-turned-filmmaker has never been shy about his left-leaning politics, and the character of John Reed is representative of Beatty's favorite archetype the ambitious iconoclast who rattles the status quo (cf. Jay Bulworth, Bugsy Siegel, Clyde Barrow).
But a DVD release of Reds however welcome it may be remains very much an open question. As you note, Paramount owns the rights, and they have been the sole owner for the past 20 years. The film is not subject to any catalog trades or legal disputes. Paramount's two-tape VHS release is a common-stock item, while their out-of-print Laserdisc version (full-frame 1.33:1) is not a big trader on eBay, often closing for less than $20.
So why the holdup? For starters, Reds has a 3 hr. 15 min. running-time, which means it possibly could require a two-disc set if the audio is remastered and there is a commentary track (Paramount split The Godfather, Part II across two discs with such specs, and it's only five minutes longer than Reds). And as most digital die-hards know, Paramount isn't exactly ga-ga about two-disc sets, and they tend to choose them carefully. This may be an issue.
However, it has been reported that part of the delay may be due to Beatty as well, as he would likely approve any new DVD transfer of Reds, but at this point he has not done it (and the director does not have a reputation for expeditious productions of anything). We also suspect that Paramount would like Beatty to record a commentary he won a Best Director Oscar for his efforts, and it would only be fitting to get him on the record. However, we've wracked our brains and we cannot think of a single Warren Beatty commentary anywhere on DVD. Have we missed something? Such recent titles as Bugsy, Bulworth, and Love Affair have materialized without Beatty's presence, and he is not slated to appear on Warner's upcoming McCabe & Mrs. Miller release, which will sport a track from director Robert Altman and producer David Foster. Perhaps we should not be surprised to know that there is no Beatty commentary on the dreadful Town & Country, although we do find it interesting that director Peter Chelsom reportedly did record a track that was never used. Hm.
Despite our hopes to the contrary, a Reds DVD release could be a bare-bones item, whenever it arrives.
It's a bit surprising to us too, Brendan Neil Jordan is no stranger to DVD, and all of his major films currently have gone digital, including The End of the Affair, In Dreams, Michael Collins, Interview with the Vampire, High Spirits, and even Mona Lisa under the Criterion folio. (The Crying Game is available too, but the early transfer begs for a remaster.) When it comes to the Jordan oeuvre, only some of his earlier, obscure films are not on DVD, in particular The Company of Wolves (a former Vestron VHS release and likely now in the hands of MGM), The Miracle, and his 1982 Angel (titled Danny Boy in North America).
And, of course, 1997's The Butcher Boy, Jordan's tale of a disturbed youth at a boarding school who doesn't always have a firm grip on reality. The film was a Geffen/Warner co-production, and Warner currently has the home-video rights. The VHS is readily available anywhere, but that DVD never materialized. Why? In part, The Butcher Boy was a bit of an art-house film that never gained wide release in the U.S., debuting on just nine screens and grossing less than $2 million. Very few people are aware of the movie, and less have seen it. Moreover, 1997 and 1998 represented the inception of the DVD format. A small art-house film normally will get a standard DVD release nowadays, but back in '97 Warner was concentrating on early catalog titles to jump-start the format, with '98 being an important year to concentrate on market growth with such special editions as Contact and L.A. Confidential. A $2 million grosser just wasn't going to get on the schedule.
But all hope is not lost The Butcher Boy will arrive on DVD eventually, and it's possible that Jordan will want to add a few items to make it a pleasant release. And while were on the topic, we ourselves would like to ask what's the holdup with 1989's Were No Angels? Paramount has it, and while it is not Jordan's best film, it was written by David Mamet and stars Robert De Niro and Sean Penn. That one can't be far off either.
1984 is not an easy movie to sit through, but it does perfectly capture the spirit of Orwell's novel. All of the performances are excellent, especially Richard Burton's, who sadly died just days after the movie was completed. The remastered Image disc is an absolutely beautiful transfer and is one of the best-looking lasers I have ever seen (despite the low-rent cover art). The sound is mono but it does include the Eurythmics soundtrack, which I feel is essential to conveying the bleak world of 1984. Director Radford reportedly hated the soundtrack and substituted Dominic Muldowney's soundtrack in an undistinguished alternate version that I feel is best avoided.
Thanks Dave hopefully our recent discussion of 1984 will light a match under somebody at MGM. As for us, we'll be happy with both the original and alternate soundtracks when the disc eventually appears.
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 things that way.