Thursday, 27 June 2002
On the Block: Our latest round of DVD auction rankings at eBay is in, and there's a new kid on the high-priced block a promotional DVD of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode entitled "Once More, With Feeling," which was distributed in a plastic sleeve with the May 28 issue of Daily Variety. Plenty can be found on eBay, but they aren't cheap, with the highest closer going for $305.00 after 27 bids. Meanwhile, the battle for the top spot continues between our top two regular contenders, with Russell Crowe's bar-band disc Thirty-Odd Foot of Grunts: Texas claiming the honors this time around with $435.00, while Salo: The Criterion Collection took in $409.99 for one lucky seller in a quick "buy it now" auction. On the foreign front, the Region 2 Amelie collector's set snagged $149.99, and Marx Brothers fans are finding their films on DVD a lot more expensive this year after the Image Entertainment titles were discontinued (the rights have returned to Universal) the box-set containing Animal Crackers, Horse Feathers, and Duck Soup brought in $119.19. We're not done with Buffy yet either, particularly with the Region 2 release of the complete fourth season ($129.99) and the Region 4 release of Season Three ($110.00). And you know and we know that Miramax will street A Hard Day's Night on Sept. 24, but Beatlemaniacs still want that original MPI edition ($114.38). Some have even picked up the limited-edition Paul McCartney Driving Rain Tour disc as well ($127.50).
Here's the highest recent closing prices of rare and out-of-print DVDs from online auctions at eBay:
'Devil's Backbone' DVD event: For our readers in the L.A. area, director Guillermo Del Toro will be signing the Columbia TriStar DVD release of The Devil's Backbone this Saturday, June 29, 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.
Quotable: "(Revenue sharing is) in the best interest of the customer.... Copy depth was at the heart of Blockbuster's problem and the video industry's problems. We were trying to grow our business and we were trying to grow the industry as a whole."
Blockbuster Inc. chairman John Antioco, testifying
John Travolta, who recently completed Boeing
"I wanted to (direct) one 15 years ago and he didn't want me to do it. I understand why Star Wars is George's baby.... It's his cottage industry and it's his fingerprints. He knows I've got Jurassic Park and Raiders. But George has Star Wars, and I don't think he feels inclined to share any of it with me."
"It's about character, darling. I wasn't going to be a prostitute on film. I couldn't do that because it's such a stereotype about black women and sexuality.... It's about putting something out there you can be proud of 10 years later. I mean Meryl Streep won Oscars without all that."
Angela Bassett, who reportedly turned down
Coming Attractions: New DVD reviews are on the way, including Pearl Harbor: Vista Series and more. This also will be the last weekend to enter this month's totally free DVD contest for a copy of Blue Velvet: 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, 26 June 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:
Unfortunately, this is a case where no matter how much a director may like Criterion it's really up to the proprietary studio to license the film. As evidenced by Criterion's massive Brazil DVD set, Terry Gilliam is a big fan of the small outfit, and thankfully Criterion has also released Time Bandits and Monty Python's Life of Brian. The 1985 Brazil is a Universal film, and the studio has been known to send a few things Criterion's way from time to time (in particular Spartacus and a good print of Charade). Likewise, Life of Brian and Time Bandits were both produced under the Handmade Films banner in the UK, and at this time DVD releases have arrived from Criterion and Anchor Bay.
But 1989's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen was produced by Columbia Pictures, and Columbia TriStar released their own DVD back in April of 1999 with limited supplements. Is Columbia likely to license the title to Criterion, as they originally did for the Laserdisc? Unfortunately, no unlike Universal or Buena Vista, Columbia prefers to keep all of their DVD titles in-house.
Which, of course, is just another reason why serious film collectors should consider owning a Laserdisc player to round out their personal libraries. Criterion's spectacular Baron Munchausen LD set features a commentary from Gilliam, a documentary on the film's making, four deleted sequences, a look at the special effects used in the film, production sketches, costume tests, a look at the script (with storyboards), historical notes, the trailer, advertising materials, and an essay by film historian David Morgan. It currently trades on eBay for less than $60 not bad for an item that appears to be permanently out of print.
The mythical DVD "Region 0" sort of reminds us of the notorious motion-picture rating "XXX." When the MPAA first established the ratings system back in 1968, there was of course an "X" rating (along with G, M, and R back in the day), but the organization did not think they needed to copyright the X-rating, since it required no application to earn. Thus, it was only a matter of time before the burgeoning pornography industry came up with "XXX" to make their low-budget titles sound even more taboo. And such confusion eventually led the MPAA to replace the X with NC-17, which now stands as the official designation for films that cannot be seen by children under any circumstances.
The truth is that "Region 0" is little different while it is possible to create a code-free DVD, the correct designation is "Region All," meaning it can be played anywhere as opposed to the silly-sounding Region 0, which any mathematics undergraduate will tell you means the disc is null and inoperable. And yes, many bootleg producers like the sound of "Region 0," which means you probably will get a code-free disc, but one of poor quality. Normally we expect legit items to be listed as "Region All," although it's not a hard-and-fast rule. In fact, the seven-disc Cosmos set, a perfectly legitimate release from Cosmos Studios, claims it is Region 0 on the interior packaging. As usual, a little additional research will help you assess the quality of what you plan to buy.
As for "Region 8," there are in fact eight DVD Regions (in addition to "All"), but only six refer to geographic locations around the globe. Region 7 is reserved for development purposes, while Region 8 refers to DVD media that is to be played in "international venues," such as airliners and cruise ships although we've never seen one, and our discs play just fine on airplanes.
(And thanks to both of our correspondents this week copies of Blue Velvet: Special Edition are in the mail.)
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, we keep advertising to a bare minimum on The DVD Journal thanks to our readers who use our links to buy new DVDs at Ken Crane's DVDPlanet.com.
See ya later.
Tuesday, 25 June 2002
On the Street: Universal leads the way on this week's street list with special editions of two Academy Award winners Ron Howard's A Beautiful Mind and Robert Altman's Gosford Park. But coming in under the radar are a pair of Criterion classics with Anthony Asquith's sublime 1952 rendition of The Importance of Being Earnest and the 1975 anitiwar documentary Hearts and Minds. Columbia TriStar's bound to earn Guillermo Del Toro some new fans with The Devil's Backbone, while catalog releases from the studio include 20 Million Miles To Earth, Gardens of Stone, Lost Command, and Perfect. And silent-age collectors have a double-feature to get this morning with Image's Rudolf Valentino classics The Sheik / The Son of the Sheik. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 24 June 2002
Disc of the Week: Director Guillermo Del Toro is something of a journeyman. Though he started out in Mexican television during the 1980s, he began his film career as a make-up effects man, working up to his directorial debut, which came in the form of 1993's creepy Kronos. It was a solid reworking of vampire mythos, and though viewed as art-house fare, it was received well enough to land him a Hollywood assignment, which resulted in 1997's troubled production of Mimic a film that came out at a time when Hollywood didn't know how to release non-slasher horror films which led to a four-year hiatus. Returning to the director's chair in the 21st century, Del Toro has seen a flurry of work, with 2001's The Devil's Backbone ("El Espinazo del Diablo") leading to Blade 2, and he is now set to adapt the comic Hellboy for the big screen. For many young directors, shooting horror movies is a way to branch into the mainstream by making a film on the cheap (along the lines of what Sam Raimi has done). But Del Toro always has been interested in horror and the fantastical, making him one of the genre's most promising figures. And with The Devil's Backbone he draws upon a multitude of genres for his best and most rounded effort yet.
Taking place in 1939 during the Spanish Civil War, The Devil's Backbone recounts how ten-year-old Carlos (Fernado Tielve) is left at an orphanage after his parents are killed and his tutors have joined the war effort. Reluctant to accept his new home, Carlos is assigned the bed of a missing student, Santi whom many of the students fear is dead provoking the local bully Jaime (Inigo Carces) to make things hard on Carlos. But after a late night adventure to prove his mettle, Carlos sees a little boy's ghost, whom he figures must be the lost boy and who frightens him off when the ghost tells him "some of you will die." All the while, the orphanage's laborer Jacinto (Eduardo Noriega) is trying to find the school's hidden gold, which one-legged headmistress Carmen (Marisa Paredes) is holding for the revolutionaries. She takes care of the rebels, as her dead husband was a supporter, but now her home life consists of a twisted relationship with both ex-pupil Jacinto and the impotent doctor Casares (Frederico Luppi), who has spent decades nursing a crush on her. With the war nearby, things grow increasingly dangerous for the rebellion-supporting teachers, who feel it is time to leave their area. But the mystery of the dead pupil and the search for the gold must continue before anyone can leave.
W.C. Fields always joked about never working with children or animals, but he had a point: They're the least disciplined of co-stars and require the utmost patience. Thus, when a director manages to get a good, unaffected performance out of a child actor it seems like a small miracle. And yet Del Toro does so in The Devil's Backbone with an entire school of youngsters, seamlessly blending the stories of both the children and the adults with the thematic elements of youthful imagination, horror, romance, and war, all without missing a beat. Del Toro says he loves melodrama, and it shows as some of the twists and perversity of characters could easily have been found in a Douglas Sirk film. But the director's command of the story keeps all the elements in play and never over-the-top. Maybe it's because Del Toro is an avid comic book fan, and if he has learned anything from his hobby it's a sense of framing and how to create striking visuals, which keeps the story constantly involving and inventive. Working with director of photography Guillermo Navarro, The Devil's Backbone is gorgeous and surreal, with many wild ideas and imagery one of the best used is a defused bomb stuck in the middle of the orphanage's courtyard, and though it becomes a focal point of the story, the image is so potent it feels Buñuelian. However, perhaps the most interesting thing about the film is how it views the supernatural, recognizing that great evil does not come from some "other," but from inside. The story plays with the surreal, but as the tagline of the movie suggests (rather fittingly for a picture tangentially about war and strife), "The living will always be more dangerous than the dead."
Columbia TriStar's DVD release of The Devil's Backbone presents the film in a solid anamorphic transfer (1.85:1), with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio in the original Spanish and optional English subtitles. Supplements include a spoiler-ridden behind-the-scenes segment in Spanish with subtitles (13 min.) , a storyboard comparison, and trailers for this and other Sony Pictures Classics titles. But the main draw is the audio commentary by Del Toro and cinematographer Guillermo Navarro. Though their accents can be a bit unwieldy at times, they are enthused to be speaking about what Del Toro calls his best and most personal work. The Devil's Backbone hits the street tomorrow.
Box Office: The battle for the top spot at the American box-office nearly came down to a photo-finish over the weekend so close in fact that only the final numbers on Monday afternoon will confirm the winner. But according to studio estimates, Fox's Minority Report took in $36.9 million, barely edging out Disney's Lilo & Stitch with $35.8 million. If the estimates hold, Minority Report will be the ninth number-one opening for Tom Cruise. Debuting much further down the chart was Warner's basketball comedy Juwanna Man with $6 million. Both Minority Report and Lilo & Stitch received overwhelmingly positive reviews, while Juwanna Man was benched by most critics.
In continuing release, Warner's Scooby-Doo had a solid second frame, breaking the $100 million mark with just 10 days and a $24 million weekend. Also looking good is Universal's The Bourne Identity starring Matt Damon, which added $14.7 million to its $54 million gross. But struggling is MGM's Windtalkers, which earned $6.7 million over the weekend and now has a $26.7 million total. Don't expect Spider-Man or Attack of the Clones to fall off the chart just yet thanks to repeat viewers, as both are still climbing the all-time lists. And on the way to the second-run theaters (and DVD prep) is Christopher Nolan's Insomnia, which will have a respectable finish north of $60 million.
Opening this Friday is the Frank Capra remake Mr. Deeds starring Adam Sandler, along with the animated Hey Arnold! The Movie. 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 Universal's Gosford Park: Collector's Edition, while Greg Dorr also has a sneak-peek at A Beautiful Mind: Awards Edition. New reviews this week from the rest of the team include The Affair of the Necklace, The Importance of Being Earnest: The Criterion Collection (1952), 20 Million Miles To Earth, How to Make a Monster, The Devil's Backbone, and Perfect. 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, 20 June 2002
Coming Attractions: It's that time of the week, when we get ready to look at some fresh DVDs and duck out for a little behind-the-scenes site maintenance as well. But we'll be back next Monday with plenty of new reviews, including A Beautiful Mind, Gosford Park, and more. See ya then have a great weekend.
Quotable: "I take no position. People think I'm pro one or the other. I'm against violence in these matters. I'm against suicide bombers they kill innocent people. (But) the settlements they are something else. The Israelis have no business in the West Bank. The settlements have to be gotten out of the West Bank. We need a third power to patrol the area, as was done in the '70s in the confrontations between the Turks and Greeks."
Oliver Stone, who currently is completing a
Steven Spielberg, whose Minority Report starring
"I did it as an excuse to impress him to get the rights to his book. He thought Hollywood had forgotten about him."
The Bourne Identity director Doug Liman, who piloted
"The franchise is beginning.... Certainly the success of the opening exceeds our highest expectations."
Warner Bros. executive Warner Bros. Dan Fellman,
Wednesday, 19 June 2002
We've had a few readers drop us a note similar to yours over the past couple of weeks Jake, and while we don't have a crystal ball, we did ask our Magic 8-Ball if we can expect more two-disc deletions down the road. Unfortunately, we're here to report that "It Is Decidedly So."
Understanding how home-video products are sold comes down to the fundamental science of demographics. Since DVD's introduction in 1997, we've witnessed this format make at least two conspicuous shifts (and more are guaranteed to happen). For those of you who actually forked over the $500 to $1,000 to buy a DVD player back in 1997, you probably remember what great fun it was, and also what different times we were in. Warner, Universal, and Columbia were leading the way with a lot of new DVD releases, although in 1997 (much of which was limited to test-markets) the titles were a mix of new films and a lot of catalog offerings discs that, by today's standards, are not really all that great. But at the time the idea was to get as much product as possible out on the street to encourage consumer confidence that DVD would actually survive (and it's amazing to think that, indeed, that was a real concern five years ago). Early adopters snapped up the goods, which came at prices far lower than the expensive Laserdisc format. They also were letterboxed (although not always anamorphic) transfers.
But with many Laserdisc fans taking their first plunge into DVD, it was important that some early discs also offered special features, leading to such impressive 1997 and '98 titles as L.A. Confidential, Contact, Boogie Nights, and many others. This also solidified consumer confidence, and more players sold. It was in 1998 as well that Disney, Fox, and Paramount joined the DVD format with some early, overpriced, bare-bones titles not all were great, but the market had become too tempting. And with the demise of Circuit City's pay-to-play Divx format and real growth in DVD rentals at independent video stores (Blockbuster was not offering DVD at the time), our little format started to get mainstream enough to survive.
Enter Phase Two, if you will what we somewhat facetiously called The Golden Age of DVD back in 2000. Movie collectors were driving DVD sales while more ordinary consumers (often referred to as "Mom and Pop" or "Joe Six-Pack" by digital die-hards) stuck by the tried, true, and virtually foolproof VHS. Suddenly DVDs started to burst with extras, so much so that the Two-Disc Set became a marketing option (originally offered by Fox after a drastic change in the studio's marketing strategy). And of course double-discs sold very well, and nowadays are de rigueur for any full-fledged Special Edition. Of course it doesn't really matter if the extra features are any good, or even if there's enough material to warrant two discs DVD just fans like getting their hands on a pair, it seems.
And (loyal readers of this site will remember) this was when we told everybody to 1) have fun, and 2) stop telling everyone about DVD. Really. Especially your parents, your grandparents, and any technophobes who think remote controls might accidentally light something on fire.
Well, apparently a few of you didn't listen and just kept proselytizing. Unlike the groovy Laserdisc format the bastion of the bachelor pad, the hefty hi-fi that priced out the proles it looks like everybody has a DVD player now. Little kids have them. Your annoying neighbors have them. People who can't dress themselves properly and breathe exclusively through their mouths have 'em too.
Now, if you think it's great that everybody can afford a DVD player, we will join you in marveling over the wonderfully egalitarian nature of consumer electronics in America.
But if you still want lots of two-disc sets on the shelves, you may be screwed. Or worse headed for eBay.
* * *
Phase Three of DVD apparently is already upon us, and perhaps can be best gauged by the elimination of letterbox transfers on some "family titles" out there, the concurrent releases of widescreen and full-frame discs, and the difficult task of finding widescreen titles at major renters and retailers. We knew when Mom and Pop and J6P joined the party because they all complained about the same thing "I hate those black bars!" And the studios have responded. And they will continue to respond, perhaps even to the point that widescreen DVDs are sold at a higher price than full-frame (as was common during the pre-DVD days of letterboxed VHS titles).
And of course, the next bit of evidence that causal consumers are in our midst is the recent downsizing of some DVD sets. All of the Fox and Columbia titles you mention above have been on the street for a while, and as such they are due for a retail price drop. Leaving out that second disc cuts costs in lots of ways manufacturing, packaging, shipping to keep the product profitable. And note how in most cases the first disc will remain unaltered, because re-authoring the DVD as a movie-only title is simply more expensive than using the existing pressing. It's a cut-rate way to get the SRP under twenty bucks. (However, Lawrence of Arabia actually is going to get crammed on one disc, which may affect the quality of the transfer compared to the current Limited Edition with its disc-swap in the middle).
Does this mean that two-disc sets will disappear altogether? Not likely. Serious DVD collectors are the first to buy, and they have the deepest pockets. The fancy-schmancy stuff will still arrive, if at higher prices. But when a two-disc set gets busted down to one platter, it means the marketing folks figure the serious collectors have already bought it. We've had our turn and now it's everybody else's, because the studio is no longer interested in supporting an expensive two-disc set that had a good product run at one price-point, but could make even more money on a lower tier.
Dare we heft our Magic 8-Ball heavenward once again and offer another prognostication? We're surprised that the wholesale pricing-windows associated with VHS (where renters pay huge money for tapes before they are offered at a lower price at retail) have not arrived on DVD yet. They still might. But in any case, more consumers means more tiers, and we will have to find out where we best fit in. We would not be surprised to see, in coming years 1) an initial bare-bones DVD release for renters and early consumers; 2) a full-fledged multi-disc edition months later for collectors with deep pockets, which will be a limited edition; 3) a busted-down SE with just one disc from the collector's package, offered to "notion" purchasers looking for a good price. That's three tiers. Toss in one more "ultimate" collectors' item with a bunch of stuff in a big box and the original cut of the movie that you really wanted in the first place, and an ultra-cheap re-price of the original rental disc. Five tiers, at the very least.
Anything else? We actually have one more secret tier for conspiracy theorists after all, when those two-disc sets start to climb the charts on eBay and folks are paying $80 or more for Lawrence of Arabia: Limited Edition several years from now, there will once again be a viable market to return limited editions to retail. And as we know from home-video moratoriums, consumer interest can be generated merely by taking a product off the market for several years. Which leads us to ask this question: Rather than the demise of the two-disc DVD, are we looking at a series of long-term moratorium options? We'd better ask the expert:
"Signs Point to Yes."
(And thanks to Jake for writing in a Blue Velvet: Special Edition DVD is in the mail.)
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.
Tuesday, 18 June 2002
On the Street: There's a little bit of something for everybody in this week's street list if you're a fan of Jack Black you'll probably be looking for Paramount's Orange County, while Jim Carrey's latest film, The Majestic, is out from Warner. Folks looking for something a bit more serious can find Sean Penn in New Line's I Am Sam: Platinum Series, and Kevin Spacey stars in the somber Buena Vista release The Shipping News. A little too heavy for you? Then grab a few beers and have a look at MGM's Rollerball, Columbia's Snake in the Eagle's Shadow, or Artisan's re-release of the 2000 TV miniseries Dune in a three-disc set with plenty of extra features. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 17 June 2002
Disc of the Week: Martial arts star Jackie Chan started his life with the name Chan Kong-sang, and began his career at the age of seven at the China Drama Academy. He studied Kung Fu, stunts, and acrobatics under the famous Chinese Opera Master, Yu Jim-Yuen and at night, after the day's grueling lessons, he helped with the cleaning and washing up. At the Academy he was re-named Yuen Lou and joined a group of students (which also included Sammo Hung) called "The Seven Little Fortunes," putting on shows at amusement parks and fairs. With the decline in popularity of Chinese opera, the teenage Chan began working as a stuntman and Hung got him a gig with the legendary Golden Harvest film company, where he did stunt work for the Bruce Lee films Fist of Fury and Enter the Dragon. When popular director Lo Wei decided to start his own film company, he invited Chan to join him with the intent of making him into another Bruce Lee in fact, Chan's first film for the fledgling company was called New Fist of Fury, and Chan was christened with yet another new name, Shing Lung which means "become a dragon." Unfortunately, the public had no interest in a "new" Bruce Lee Wo Lei cast Chan in film after film like Shaolin Wooden Men, Killer Meteor and Magnificent Bodyguard, all of which bombed. Considered box-office poison, Chan was readily leant out by Lo Wei when producer Ng See-Yuen of Seasonal Films asked if he could borrow him for a movie or two. Pairing Chan with director Yuen Woo-Ping (now famous for his martial arts choreography on The Matrix and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) for two back-to-back films Snake in the Eagle's Shadow and Drunken Master. The collaboration kick-started both their careers as they created a refreshing, more entertaining brand of kung fu movie, blending kick-ass martial arts with slapstick comedy and consistent plotting a potent combo that would eventually help Chan cross over to the American film industry.
In Snake in the Eagle's Shadow, the 19-year-old Chan stars as Chien Fu, an orphan taken in by a kung fu school where he earns his keep doing odd jobs and by standing in as a "human punching bag" for the arrogant teachers and students. When he helps out an old beggar whom he mistakenly believes is getting a beating at the hands of some students from a rival school, he gains a valuable ally; the beggar (Yuen Hsiao Tieng) is actually the last living master of the deadly Snake Fist discipline. The master is on the lam from the rival Eagle Claw clan, who want to see him dead so that their style of kung fu will reign unchallenged. Chien Fu learns the Snake Fist techniques, but to battle the superior Eagle Claw he needs something more and so he incorporates his own Cat's Claw method and becomes the Jackie Chan fighting machine we all know and love.
Made bumper-to-bumper as it was with Drunken Master, 1978's Snake in the Eagle's Shadow follows essentially the same formula as that film in many ways Snake is a blueprint for Master, featuring a similar plot, the same actors, the same locations and, it would seem, even the same costumes. Yuen Hsiao Tieng's Snake Fist master is a dead ringer for the character he plays in Drunken Master, only with less booze involved. Following the same plot structure that would be copied oh-so-many times by a variety of Karate Kid-type American films we're treated to similar montage sequences in both films as upstart Chan takes a few on the chin as the wily old man teaches him exemplary kung fu. However, one set-piece that stands out in Snake in the Eagle's Shadow is the bizarre scene where Chan gets the idea for his new technique while watching his beloved pet cat fight with a cobra. Yes, they're both live animals it's a freaky-weird moment, and one that would never be committed to film today under any circumstances. Also of interest are two scenes where Jackie was injured during filming keep an eye out for the real gash that he gets on his arm from swordsman/preacher Roy Horan, as well Chan's missing tooth in the final scenes, the result of a kick by actor Huang Cheng-Lee. Legend has it that the anger you see on Chan's face during that final fight scene is real, as Chan thought Cheng-Lee kicked him in the face on purpose.
Columbia TriStar's new DVD release of Snake in the Eagle's Shadow offers a solid anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) and digitally mastered Dolby Digital 5.1 audio in either Cantonese or dubbed English. An array of subtitles are included, and the English text is an entertaining translation. But having seen Snake several years ago with a truly awful translation (with subtitles along the lines of "I am the greatest swordsman of Russia! You have felled into my trap!"), sad to say, the new version loses a lot of the inadvertent camp value. Snake in the Eagle's Shadow is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: The three new arrivals at North American theaters over the weekend claimed the top three spots, but it was no contest for first place Warner's Scooby Doo starring Freddie Prinze Jr., Sarah Michelle Gellar, and Matthew Lillard, gobbled up $56.4 million, making it the third-best debut in 2002 and the second-best ever for Warner (after Harry Potter). Also doing strong business was Universal's thriller The Bourne Identity starring Matt Damon, which garnered a healthy $27.5 million, while MGM's Windtalkers, starring Nicolas Cage and directed by John Woo, took in $14.5 million. Critics raved over The Bourne Identity, while Scooby and Windtalkers earned mixed-to-negative reviews.
In continuing release, Paramount's The Sum of All Fears slipped to fourth place with $13.5 million, although it now has an impressive $84.5 million gross after three weeks. Warner's The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood earned more viewers in its second frame, adding $9.8 million to its $34.9 million tally. Your friendly neighborhood webslinger has racked up a shattering $382.4 million, and Attack of the Clones now stands at $270.5 million. Meanwhile, Universal's Undercover Brother is dropping down the chart with a $31 million to date. And Sony's Enough starring Jennifer Lopez is headed for the cheap theaters with roughly $35 million.
Tom Cruise returns to the big screen this Friday in Steven Spielberg's Minority Report, while other new arrivals include the comedy Juwanna Mann and the animated adventure Lilo and Stitch. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Betsy Bozdech has posted an early look at Warner's The Majestic, while Alexandra DuPont has taken the Dune: Director's Cut Special Edition three-disc set for a spin. New stuff from the rest of the team today includes Orange County, I Am Sam: Platinum Series, Rollerball: Special Edition, Mr. Saturday Night, Inspirations, Zebrahead, The Legend of 1900, Snake in the Eagle's Shadow, and the 1957 filmed version ofOedipus Rex. Everything's been added to the New Reviews menu here on the front page you can find even more DVD reviews with our handy search engine right above it.
Back tomorrow with the street discs.
Thursday, 13 June 2002
'Extra-Terrestrial' talkback: DVD Journal readers continue to chime in on the upcoming E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial release, which arrives on Oct. 22:
While I am certainly very disappointed that Universal is offering the original version of E.T. in the Ultimate Collector's Gift Set only, I'll probably end up buying it anyway (if I find a "reasonable" price on the Internet). Regarding the ten-week window and subsequent moratorium, one thing to keep in mind is that you should not take any marketing info like that as the last word. (You pointed this out by citing the Disney cases.) Steven Spielberg himself said, in the mid-1980s, that E.T. would never be released on home video. He wanted to keep it a very special film, and it would only be seen in periodic theatrical re-releases. (And I believe that Disney had said basically the same thing about Snow White....)
What it all probably boils down to is: If you like the movie, and what's being offered to you is worth the price they're asking, go ahead and buy it. If you don't feel it's worth it, don't buy it there will be lots of places to rent it from. And always remember that there's a chance of a better and/or cheaper version further down the road. (We should be used to this with computers.)
Second of all, this should not be a surprise. Spielberg wants the "no-gun" edition of E.T. to be the definitive version. When parents run in to Wal-Mart or Blockbuster and grab an E.T. off the shelf for their kids, he wants them to grab the new version, not the version where kids are ominously threatened by federal agents (yes, I know it's ridiculous). So why would he allow the original edit to sit side-by-side on the shelf with the new version where parents and kids will indiscriminately buy the "wrong" version?
Spielberg is making a concession to the die-hard collector, but he also wants to make the original version available only to the die-hard collector, not the everyday consumer. I don't like the high price either, but I understand it and accept it. At least you get your money's worth, particularly if you buy online (three discs, a soundtrack, and a script for $52 is perfectly acceptable).
When the first release of Memento came out, I didn't buy it because I knew another, better release was probably in the works and I really wanted to view the feature in chronological order a feature that you guys well know is on the Following DVD release. I was ready to buy the recent Limited Edition until I heard that the menus were a pain to go through and that not only was the chronological feature tough to access over and over, but the features from the original DVD weren't on this set!
Because of this, I haven't bought either version, and now can only hope that there will be a better single package release with everything down the line.
The worst is when fans get pissed at Spielberg or Lucas for editing their films to be closer to their original visions. The films released on DVD may not be the theatrical versions you grew up with, but they are the true visions of the artists, and as such we have no right to choose their vision for them. Art is a very individual thing, and if films were created by committee Hollywood would be even worse off than it is.
Who are Spielberg or Lucas to edit these beloved films? They are the artists who created them and it is their decision, not ours, as to how they will be presented.
* * *
A quote we posted from British director Alex Cox regarding digital vs. 35mm projection last week also earned a few pointed comments from Journal regulars:
I've watched the aforementioned Cox films. I hated both. Jedi was stupid, but still has a repeated-viewings quality that I have never experienced in a Cox movie.
I like Citizen Kane, Casablanca, and Vertigo. But I would I love them less if they had been shot digitally? Please don't tell me that Welles, Houston, or in particular Hitchcock wouldn't employ every technological advantage available to them.
I've read that Spielberg will never go digital because the grains in the film are an active part of the moviegoing experience. This may be true. But I wonder if in reality this "love of film" trend is more about nostalgia and keeping things the ways they are.
Yes... it's wonderful that I can go to Kokomo and watch a faded, mono print of Campus Man. But does this also mean I can't throw my LP away?
This guy is an ass.
I'm not some elitist filmmaker who only sees show prints on a finely tuned projector. I'm Joe Schmo who watches dirty, fourth-generation prints at the local multiplex. Cox can take his artistic purity and cram it. Yes, I'm that mad. If I could legislate digital projection tomorrow, I would ban 35mm film projectors entirely.
Alex Cox seems to be missing the boat on something else. Though he doesn't mention it directly, I'm sure he is a champion of independent film. Are we not on the brink of a golden age of independent film where digital equipment will become so cheap that just about anyone with ambition will be able to shoot and edit a film all by themselves with nothing more than a digital camera and a PC? Great things abound. I can just imagine people like Mr. Cox fighting the advent of color photography and the development of synchronized sound. Get your head out of the sand.
Thanks to everyone for taking the time to write.
Quotable: "We played on all those things. Is Velma gay? Is Shaggy high? Are (Fred and Daphne) hooking up? All those jokes were in there, but we found at the end of the day it was more important to go the other way... and that was to be more family oriented."
Scooby Doo star Matthew Lillard, on certain
Director John Woo, discussing growing up in
"I don't think any interviewer was sitting around asking Michael Douglas why his character (in Fatal Attraction) cheated on his wife. But they ask me, 'How could you cheat on Richard Gere and leave such a happy home?' What makes men think that women are more in control of their own libidos?"
Unfaithful star Diane Lane
"They came up with this analytical toilet that would catch and evaluate what went down and automatically adjust your diet. I couldn't find a place for that."
Steven Spielberg, on a proposed script idea from
Coming Attractions: Another stack of fresh DVDs awaits us in the screening room, and new reviews on the way include Orange County, I Am Sam, and more. And if you haven't entered our totally free DVD contest for a copy of Blue Velvet: 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.
Wednesday, 12 June 2002
Well, whether Steven Spielberg and/or Universal should let E.T: The Extra-Terrestrial be available on DVD forever is one question whether they will is another, and at this point it seems certain the forthcoming E.T. DVD releases on Oct. 22 will be huge sellers thanks to their shortened shelf-lives. And of course, that has made plenty of DVD fans a bit grumpy (and filled our mailbox with general complaints on the matter).
As we noted in yesterday's update, the announced E.T. DVD promised by Steven Spielberg when the film was re-edited and reissued theatrically earlier this year will come in two flavors, a "Limited Collector's Edition" (SRP $22.95) and an "Ultimate Collector's Gift Set" (SRP $69.98). The only problem is the original 1982 cut of the film will only be on the more-expensive item, which means collectors who want that original version (with its elements restored for the 2002 re-edit) will have to eat a $47 markup. Sound crazy? Think folks will buy it?
Doesn't matter, because Universal certainly thinks the item will sell at that price. A lot of DVD fans have made it clear that only the original version of the film will do (we agree, by the way).
It's disappointing that a comprehensive DVD edition of E.T. will cost $70 that goes without saying. We were grateful that Steven Spielberg had the sensitivity to know that many of his fans would want to have the original version on disc, and its existence is more than welcome (particularly when it's apparent that the original Star Wars films will never see the light of day again in their original theatrical forms). But a key part of making sure an important bit of film history is preserved for posterity is to make it accessible. Nobody thinks DVDs should be free (at least nobody in their right mind), and if Universal wants to load up a $70 box with DVDs, a CD soundtrack, a script, and any other goodies, that sounds fine too it could make a splendid birthday or holiday gift. But to conceal a version of the film in an expensive presentation-box is simply to deny it to a lot of consumers most of whom, frankly, don't have seventy bucks for a single DVD purchase.
Or maybe you do have extra cash to burn. Even then, let's get a look at what $70 will do for your movie collection. With a good discount from an online retailer, the five-disc Godfather DVD Collection goes for about that much. Criterion's three-disc Brazil also offers two versions of a single film and plenty of behind-the-scenes supplements toss that in an Internet shopping cart and you'll still have money left for the two-disc Fight Club and all of its extra goodies. Or go the high-volume route and get a bunch of classics from MGM like Witness for the Prosecution, Inherit the Wind, Some Like It Hot, The Defiant Ones, and The Hound of the Baskervilles with online discounts, $70 could get you six or seven movie-only classics with great-looking prints. And if the idea behind movie collecting is to use your money to actually buy movies, you probably purchase inexpensive, bone-stock DVDs all the time (which is why we've always praised MGM's aggressive, affordable release calendar).
As for the E.T. DVDs only being available for 10 weeks from Oct. 22 to Dec. 31 of this year the concept of home-video moratorium is nothing new, and Disney has used it for years to keep their most popular titles fresh. After all, the only way to sell somebody a product twice is to repackage it and make it seem like it has more value. Taking the product off the shelves for several years allows it to be re-released with some fanfare, driving higher sales. And with the DVD format's potential to increase the "value-add" with every subsequent home-video incarnation (never mind if any new DVD supplements are actually worth watching), that moratorium gives the little disc a lot more oomph at the cash register.
Of course, studios can't do this with every title. Nobody will put Ernest Goes to Camp on moratorium, or Under the Cherry Moon, or Grease 2 (fine films all, we are sure). But the Mouse House has ten titles currently on a 10-year moratorium cycle, and previous VHS re-releases of their animated classics have always done good business (particularly when sold to a new generation of parents and children every few years). As perhaps the most popular family movie of all time (its theatrical gross, adjusted for inflation from 1982, is a Spidey-stompin' $619 million), E.T. is the most likely candidate to go on Universal's moratorium list. There is little we can do about it, and in a lot of ways it is expected.
(Although a brief caveat when Disney released their first nine animated DVDs from Oct. through Dec. 1999 [SRP $40 each], it was expected the "Limited Issues" would get hit with long moratoriums. Some did, including Lady and the Tramp, 101 Dalmatians, The Little Mermaid, and The Jungle Book, all of which trade strongly on eBay. But others were repackaged just months later and sold at lower prices. In other words, a moratorium lasts exactly as long or as short as a studio wants it to last.)
It's easy to get frustrated with DVD marketing strategies from time to time. But perhaps it's also important to take a look in the mirror and decide how much we, as DVD consumers, are complicit in this. We know that folks who sell DVDs want to separate us from our money that's no secret. But like burnt-out meth addicts in a town full of flophouses, we wander from one street corner to the next, looking for another dose, looking to recapture that very first time we took a hit of DVD and got a rush that we may never recapture again. As addicts, we maintain our habit, often obsessively, and with an uncritical eye. And before we know it the product gets cut down, the prices climb, and the highs are fewer and farther between. If you want a CD soundtrack and a screenplay with your E.T. on DVD, by all means drop $70 on it. Or give it to someone you love at Christmas. But anyone who pays the money just to get the original version needs to repeat after us:
"My name is _________, and I have a problem."
If you don't like the price or the product, don't buy it. Some of you may want to contact Universal to voice your displeasure, but really it's up to consumers to endorse a release strategy or a pricing structure with the money they spend. And bear in mind that, if there are enough folks out there to make E.T. a DVD success, we probably can expect more of this to come. Many of the great classics are on DVD by now, but some notable blockbusters remain MIA. Knowing that folks are clamoring for Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Back to the Future makes us shudder, because it's anybody's guess if these long-awaited titles will arrive with unwelcome pricing, grouping, or retail restrictions.
Finally, we have one more suggestion on what to do with seventy bucks a sort of 12-step program with only two steps. Go to any second-hand store in town and buy a used Laserdisc player for $50 (uncomplicated models often can be found at that price). Then bid $20 for one of the widescreen Laserdisc editions of E.T. that can be found on eBay all the time (see inset). For that $70 you now have the original version of E.T. in a quality home-video format. And you also have a new-to-you Laserdisc player, which means you can take advantage of depressed prices to snap up all sorts of great LD movies, and even collect a few rarities that may never appear on DVD at all. Your own editor recently picked up Schindler's List on Laserdisc for a few bucks, which has personally made the eventual DVD release a lot less significant.
Especially if Schindler's List costs $69.98.
(And thanks to Martin for writing a Blue Velvet: Special Edition DVD is in the mail.)
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, we keep annoying online ads to a bare minimum on The DVD Journal thanks to our readers who use our links to buy new DVDs at Ken Crane's DVDPlanet.com. You can help us keep the pop-ups down.
Bye for now.
Tuesday, 11 June 2002
On the Street: We have a modest street-list this week, but with at least a few things of interest. We suspect most folks will be getting Columbia TriStar's new Black Hawk Down, although others likely will wait until the special edition arrives down the road. For those of you who didn't catch Halle Berry in her Oscar-winning performance, Monster's Ball, co-starring Billy Bob Thornton, is on the shelves from Lions Gate. Romance fans can look for Buena Vista's Kate and Leopold, while the legendary 1933 Ecstasy starring Hedy Lamarr makes its DVD debut this week from Image. And there's no lack of small-screen choices today as well, including Fox's Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Two, two Mystery Science Theater 3000 installments from Warner, and the HBO release of Mr. Show: The Complete 1st and 2nd Seasons. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 10 June 2002
Disc of the Week: One of the problems with the modernization of the press is how it's changed the way the public looks at its heroes. From politicians to musicians, if you're not photogenic it's harder to get recognition, and if you're not personable just forget it. The public is all too aware if a talented person is labeled "difficult," and if something goes wrong in their career, the knives go out. How unfair is this that artists have to be held to both their public persona and their art? Some of the greatest artists of cinema have been jerks, womanizers, drunkards and louses and we're talking about Griffith, Chaplin, Hawks and Hitchcock. Maybe that's why pop art has become homogenized; it has to because the people who create it must be as well. And that's why one of the great pleasures in Ronald Neame's 1958 film The Horse's Mouth is seeing an artist who just doesn't care about what people think about him, and treats others only as good as he has to, to get what he wants. Based on a novel by Joyce Cary (based on the life of Dylan Thomas), the screenplay was adapted by Alec Guinness for the big screen for himself to star in, and it couldn't have found a better fit; playing Gulley Jimson, Guinness is a portrait of an artist as a royal pain in the ass.
The film begins with Jimson being released from prison, as a young boy (Mike Morgan) follows him around trying to take care of him while Jimson tells the boy to piss off. This sets the tone for Gulley, as he goes about life trouncing those who are willing to support him because they know he's a genius; the first thing Gulley does once he gets some change is prank call one of his benefactors to tell him that, if he won't support him, he'll go to his house and kill him. Living in a worn-down houseboat, Gulley works on a painting and scrounges until the barkeep (Kay Walsh) who was keeping his mail presents him with a letter offering to buy one of his older works for a large sum of money. The two go to Jimson's ex-wife, hoping she'll give him the missing 19th painting from one of his earlier periods. But while at her house, all Gulley does is try to molest her, while she politely evades their questions. The couple who sent him the letter are still interested, and Jimson ends up at their house the day before they are to leave on holiday, but he ends up getting hammered while visiting with them, passes out, and gets left in there after they leave to which he assumes they will pay him £7,000 for a painting on of their blank walls. Jimson begins work on what he thinks will be one of his great pieces as he takes advantage of their supposed generosity, while he immerses himself in his art.
Though ostensibly a comedy (and the film is quite funny), The Horse's Mouth paints a portrait of Gulley as a strange man-child, someone completely defined by his obsession: He simply lives to paint, and he can't be bothered with very much else. And for all of the on-screen portraits of artists who wring their hands because of the bane of their "artistic vision," Guinness catches one of the most important elements of all artists their spoiled, childish temperaments. Jimson lives on impulse, so he is constantly flirting with ladies and cannot think beyond his basic needs because his art has such a strong hold over him. He knows he can do little else with success and barely has any time for manners, yet people are always on the lookout for him, even if he is constantly chiding them. Perhaps they know he is after something great, but most of his abuse is directed at his sponsors, which is something rooted in a deep loathing for the privileged-but-tasteless upper class. And yet the screenplay gives a great appreciation of this inner struggle, so much so that Gulley despite his temperamental behavior is a sympathetic figure. After finishing a portrait he bemoans his inability to capture what he really wanted, and in this speech he captures the essence of the artistic process; rarely do films give a reasonable appreciation of the greatness of art, yet his words convey the beauty and struggle of a hard-fought creation. Played with a raspy bullfrog voice, Alec Guinness lives and breathes this character, and for those who only know him from his work on either David Lean pictures or George Lucas's, it's a treat to see him playing a figure free from stodginess (though any cinema-anglophile will be aware of his Ealing comedies). Director Ronald Neame appreciates that this is Guinness's show and dutifully films one of the great screen actors at his very best.
Criterion's new DVD release of The Horse's Mouth presents the film in a very colorful anamorphic widescreen transfer (1.66:1) with audio in Dolby Digital 1.0, with optional English subtitles. Though there are the more standard extras, it should be noted that (as always) the booklet that accompanies the film is excellent, featuring essays by Bruce Eder, Ian Christie, and Neame. On the disc proper is a 19-minute interview with director Neame, the American trailer, and the short "Daybreak Express," a five-minute documentary by D.A. Pennebaker that opened the original New York theatrical run of The Horse's Mouth. Also included is a three-minute video introduction by Pennebaker. The Horse's Mouth: The Criterion Collection is on the street now.
Box Office: Paramount's Tom Clancy thriller The Sum of All Fears starring Ben Affleck and Morgan Freeman remained in first place at the American box-office for the second week in a row with $18.7 million, but Warner successfully counter-programmed all of the action films out there with Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood starring Sandra Bullock and Ashley Judd, drawing a solid $16.3 million from the chick-flick crowd. However, Buena Vista's Bad Company starring Anthony Hopkins and Chris Rock got lost in the shuffle, opening in fourth place with just $10.5 million disappointing numbers for a Jerry Bruckheimer production. Critics gave Ya-Ya Sisterhood mixed-to-positive reviews, while Bad Company received mostly negative notices.
In continuing release, George Lucas's Attack of the Clones is still drawing audiences, adding $13.8 million to its $254.9 million gross, although it's clear this installment will not do better business than 1999's The Phantom Menace, which finished at $431 million domestically. However, Sony's Spider-Man is still climbing the all-time charts with $370 million, giving it the fifth-highest raw-dollar gross in history. DreamWorks' animated Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron has earned good numbers over the past three weeks with $53.8 million, while Warner's Insomnia, directed by Christopher Nolan, has done similar business with $51.7 million to date. But say goodbye to The New Guy Sony's comedy is off to DVD prep, finishing short of $30 million.
Arriving in theaters this weekend is John Woo's Windtalkers with Nicolas Cage, The Bourne Identity starring Matt Damon, and the live-action Scooby-Doo with Sarah Michelle Gellar, Freddie Prinze Jr., and Matthew Lillard. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Greg Dorr has posted a sneak-preview of Lions Gate's Monster's Ball, while Mark Bourne recently looked at the five-disc silent film extravaganza Slapstick Encyclopedia. New reviews from the rest of the team this week include Black Hawk Down, Kate and Leopold, Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Two, The Great Race, Real Genius, UHF, Skin Deep, Mission Kashmir, Hombre, The Horse's Mouth: The Criterion Collection, and the 1933 Ecstasy. It's all under our New Reviews menu here on the front page or use our search engine to rewind into some DVD reviews from weeks past.
We'll be back tomorrow to let you know about this week's street discs.
Thursday, 6 June 2002
Coming Attractions: We're off to open another stack of new DVDs, and reviews on the way include Black Hawk Down, Monster's Ball, and more. Back on Monday see ya then.
Commentary Clips: John Moore: "The difference in style between, say, (Owen) Wilson and (Gene) Hackman Owen is very good at understanding that the scene becomes what you're shooting, so that he'll adapt a lot of the dialogue, y'know, whether it's working or not, we can react to it on the day. That's one of his great strengths. Gene's approach is, y'know, you take the script and you work with that, you use the words as they're written if this scene needs changing, you do it with body language and subtlety, whereas Owen's a lot more inclined to just change the words."
Martin Smith: "It's also interesting when he gives you paragraphs or lines, he doesn't necessarily give it to you in one huge chunk you really have to mine his material, because there are gems in there, but he'll go over one sentence and then skip two and then go back to that. And it's extraordinary watching rushes, you wonder what he's doing, but it's not until you start cutting the material that you say 'My God,' he's really giving you a goldmine of material in there."
Moore: "Exactly I think a lot of the studio guys were pretty nervous with his stuff at the start, because as Martin said, he just rolled through entire takes and it was only when Martin cut it together you could see that each bit was as good as the last and you could put the whole thing together."
* * *
Moore: "A lot of the scenes were originally longer because we originally had an R-rated movie, and when it became PG-13 we had to cut I only say this now because we're coming up to one of the most gruesome scenes in the film where (Wilson) has to escape and evade by hiding in a mass grave."
Smith: "Although I'm surprised with how much we got away with in a funny way. I remember the studio being very nervous about that part I kept telling them 'We can cut this any way....'"
Moore: "The reason the ratings board didn't crucify us is that there's no gratuitous imagery in here it's all an honest depiction of a mass grave. I mean, I know that sounds gruesome and ridiculous, but this event in the movie was based on the ethnic cleansing of a village called Srebrenica in Eastern Bosnia in the mid-'90s, where 8,500 Muslims were rounded up and killed. When you have a real case like that you have to be loyal to it, and you have to be as ungratuitous as possible I think. And I think that's why the ratings board were happy to leave a lot of this stuff untouched."
Director John Moore and editor Martin Smith,
Quotable: "She's quite a trouper, I'll tell you. It was kind of like a rugby scrum out there and she got whacked from behind on back of the elbow. Her arm and elbow area kind of instantly swelled up. She wanted to stay there and continue, get this over with. And I said 'I'm not going to sit here while your arm is blowing up.' Finally I went into chambers and told the judge: 'I'm taking her to a doctor, I'm taking her right now.'"
Attorney Mark Geragos, after Winona Ryder's
"This was supposed to be amusing like a Tracy-Hepburn movie. In court by day, friends by night. What's gotten into you? We talked about this very scenario many times. I tell anyone who asks me ... that you and Jacqui are wonderful, generous people, and we're having a silly business difference of opinion."
A hand-written letter Woody Allen sent to former
Director Alex Cox, writing in London's
"I know that even if I dropped another 20 (pounds), I would still not be able to compete with the studs in the stud department. I've never had a six-pack. I've had a six-pack in me though."
Wednesday, 5 June 2002
We don't have any specific information on a North American DVD release of Jean-Pierre Jeunet's 1991 Delicatessen, but we think something is bound to turn up before much longer. After all, while Jeunet isn't exactly a household name in the U.S., his 2001 Amélie became the most popular foreign film on these shores last year as well as a surprise runaway success in France, where it outgrossed the American summer blockbusters.
Known for a somewhat bleak world-view and an inventive visual style, Jean-Pierre Jeunet began his film career in the early 1980s, directing a number of award-winning short films, many in collaboration with co-director/art director Marc Caro. The duo also collaborated on their first feature film, Delicatessen, which was a box-office and critical success with its darkly comic story of a post-apocalypse future where food is scarce, leading one Parisian butcher to make a secret business out of human flesh. Working with a larger budget, Jeunet and Caro went on to make La cité des enfants perdus ("City of Lost Children") in 1995, a dense film that earned comparisons to Terry Gilliam. However, it was only a matter of time before Hollywood came calling, leading Jeunet to direct the final installment in the Alien series, Alien Resurrection (1997), which did not win over most fans and critics (however, to be fair, the franchise clearly had run its course). Determined to make a smaller, more personal picture, Jeunet returned to France to write and direct Le fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain a film that has since made him and star Audrey Tautou the toast of international cinema.
Thankfully, Jean-Pierre Jeunet is no stranger to DVD in North America. Amélie will be a high-profile release from Buena Vista on July 16, while Columbia TriStar released City of Lost Children way back in Oct. 1999, and Fox's Alien Resurrection disc has only recently gone on moratorium. Besides his short films, the only thing missing from the Jeunet catalog is Delicatessen. The movie was produced by four separate companies (all European), and the U.S. home-video rights initially were split between Paramount and Miramax. There have been no fewer than four Laserdisc releases (that we know of), including the original Paramount LD (a full-frame 1.33:1) and a later pressing from Encore (1.85:1). There also are German and Japanese lasers out there with letterboxed transfers. And of course a videotape Miramax's VHS is in print and can be found at most online retailers.
Which leaves that new Region 2 DVD (see inset), arriving just weeks ago on April 15 from Momentum Pictures Home Entertainment. It's a PAL-encoded widescreen transfer (1.85:1) with a Dolby Digital stereo track. Supplements include a behind-the-scenes featurette, a look at some rehearsal footage, and a trailer. As you note, a commentary from Jeunet also is enclosed and it actually is subtitled in English, although the feature means you cannot view the film's subtitled dialogue when "viewing" the audio commentary.
It may sound tasty to fans of Delicatessen and the films of Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro, but we are advising folks not to rush off an international order for the Region 2 disc. Really once Amélie gets on the street, it's only a matter of time before a Delicatessen DVD follows.
Thanks for the awesome link Ken we knew that Paramount had shortlisted To Catch a Thief for DVD production, but so far we have not heard anything specific about the features. With a documentary by Laurent Bouzereau who directed Universal's Hitchcock DVD docs the upcoming Thief disc should make a nice companion to the Universal series and Warner's North By Northwest (and now if Warner would only get on the ball and release their remaining Hitchcock films....)
See ya later.
Tuesday, 4 June 2002
On the Street: Believe it or not, there's hardly a new movie in sight on this morning's street list. Catalog collectors can have a feast this week, and we're sure many will be getting MGM's Blue Velvet: Special Edition, which offers an array of new features for David Lynch fans. Paramount has four westerns on the board today, including Will Penny and Goin' South, and Warner has tossed in a couple westerns of their own, McCabe & Mrs. Miller and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. Warner also has four Blake Edwards movies on the street, most notably The Great Race and Victor/Victoria. Columbia TriStar has some spooky stuff with The Mothman Prophecies, while we recently enjoyed the World War II film A Midnight Clear. Criterion collectors can snag the latest arrival, The Horse's Mouth. And Fox has a trio of Paul Newman films on the shelves The Hustler: Special Edition, Hombre, and The Verdict. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 3 June 2002
And the winner is: Matt Severson of West Hollywood, Calif., wins the free The Last Waltz: Special Edition DVD from our May contest. Congrats, Matt!
Our totally free DVD contest for the month of June is up and running, and we have a copy of MGM's Blue Velvet: 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: As the famous line from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance says, "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend." And truer words probably could never be said about legendary pool player Minnesota Fats. Born Rudolf Wanderone Jr., Fats became the most famous player in the history of pocket billiards, thanks to some shrewd self-promotion, entertaining television appearances on "The Tonight Show" and "ABC's Wide World of Sports," and a witty banter around the table. Of course, he also was a mercurial pool artist. And like many professionals in their early days, he was a proficient "hustler" a stick-man who plays beneath his abilities to raise friendly bets in pool halls, only to unleash his A-game when high stakes are finally on the table. When Minnesota Fats died in 1996, many considered him to be the most talented pool player the game had seen which isn't exactly true. Willie Mosconi, Fats' longtime rival, beat him regularly in exhibition games, and experts often claim that Mosconi, in fact, was the best. But then again, wasn't there a character in Robert Rossen's 1961 The Hustler based on Fats? Again, not exactly. Wanderone had a few nicknames before 1961, including New York Fats, but he only adopted his famous moniker after the film became an overnight sensation. With the name, he gave pocket billiards a recognizable celebrity that the sport lacked up to that time, which says something both for his showmanship and the immense success of The Hustler. Few people knew the difference, or cared. After all, when the legend becomes fact....
Based on the novel by Walter Tevis (who has insisted all of the characters are entirely fictitious), The Hustler tells the huge-ego, hard-luck story of ace pool shark "Fast Eddie" Felson (Paul Newman), a young guy who's so good at hustling games he figures he must be the best player in the world. But there's only one way to find out travel with his manager Charlie (Myron McCormick) to New York's famous Ames Billiard Hall, where Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason) regularly plays. Fats is the best, and Eddie figures he'll seal his reputation if he can take $10,000 off the old man in straight pool. And he does almost. After several hours Eddie finds himself up more than ten large, but he won't quit betting until Fats does. And when Fats plays him into the next morning, Eddie winds up with just $200 for his efforts. Unsure how to cope with the failure, Eddie stays in New York, where he meets the beautiful Sarah Packard (Piper Laurie), a young alcoholic and part-time college student who appears to be drifting through life, just as Eddie is. The two fall in love, but it isn't long before Eddie is drawn back to pool this time by high-roller Bert Gordon (George C. Scott), who offers to finance a trip to Louisville during Derby Week so Eddie can hustle gamblers with deep pockets. Eddie accepts, and when Sarah objects he offers to take her along but nobody is aware of what Louisville holds in store for them.
For a 1961 film, The Hustler occupies an unusual place in Hollywood history. The lifting of the Hays Code and the New Hollywood aesthetic would not arrive until the end of the decade, but The Hustler seems to have more in common with a later generation of movies, particularly with its raw subject-matter (and it's interesting to note that the surprise success of this small picture helped bail Fox out of its Cleopatra debacle at a time when epic costume productions were over-financed and on the decline). Central to The Hustler are four performances from four very different actors. Paul Newman's career had already been established with such pictures as The Long Hot Summer and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and the Actors Studio-trained thespian is given latitude by director Robert Rossen to display his well-known "method" style here. In the pivotal supporting role of Minnesota Fats, Jackie Gleason is wonderfully charismatic, recalling the curt, polished exterior of actors such as Edward G. Robinson and James Cagney the perfect gentleman gangster. Piper Laurie evokes a heartwrenching pain as the troubled, withdrawn Sarah, who loves Eddie despite his pool hustling. And George C. Scott as the devious Bert Gordon brings a lot of subtle mannerisms to his intimidating part, thanks to his experience on the New York stage like Newman, The Hustler was a harbinger of more great performances to come. Throughout it all, Rossen focuses not just on the pool playing, but on the script's central themes of redemption and growth. But those poolroom scenes have a lot to do with why The Hustler is a legendary movie. Willie Mosconi served as the technical advisor, teaching Newman how to stand and shoot like a pool artist (two weeks prior to filming, Newman had never even held a pool cue). And Mosconi can be seen in the film as "Willie," the silent fellow in the Ames Billiard Hall who holds the stakes, while many close-ups of Fast Eddie's amazing shots are in fact Mosconi's hands. But watch closely, and you'll see that the camera almost never cuts away when Gleason shoots. Rossen didn't have to Jackie Gleason in fact was an accomplished hustler in his own right who could have made a living on the pool table if he wasn't an actor.
Fox's new The Hustler: Special Edition DVD release features a strong anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) of the CinemaScope film from a black-and-white source-print that's in remarkable shape. Audio comes in the original mono as well as a new Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo mix, and a French track and English and Spanish subtitles are included. The special features are a treat for fans of the film and pool buffs as well, including the documentary "The Hustler: The Inside Story" (24 min.); an edited commentary with Paul Newman, assistant director Ulu Grosbard, film critic Richard Shickel, film historian Jeff Young, and others; a look at five trick shots in the film by World Champion Trick Shot Artist Mike Massey; on-the-fly analysis of five pool matches in the film by Massey; a still gallery; trailers for this and other Paul Newman films; and a THX Optimizer. The Hustler: Special Edition is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: After two weeks at the top of the box-office chart, George Lucas's Episode II: Attack of the Clones has been dislodged by the latest Tom Clancy adaptation Paramount's The Sum of All Fears starring Ben Affleck and Morgan Freeman opened in first place with $31.2 million, while Clones dropped to second with $20.6 million over the past three days and a $232 million gross. Also new over the weekend was Universal's comedy Undercover Brother starring Eddie Griffin, which took in $12.1 million. Both The Sum of All Fears and Undercover Brother received mixed-to-positive reviews from critics.
In continuing release, the big boy on the block continues to be Sony's Spider-Man, which garnered $14.5 million over the weekend and now has a $354 million gross, becoming the fastest film to break $350 million (and by this point, Spidey pretty much owns most of the box-office records). Last week's debuts fell to the middle of the pack, with Warner's Insomnia starring Al Pacino and Robin Williams at $41.4 million, DreamWorks' animated Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron at $38.2 million, and Sony's Enough starring J.Lo. at $27.1 million. Universal's well-received About a Boy starring Hugh Grant remains on the board after three weeks and $27.8 million. And on the way to DVD prep is Paramount's Changing Lanes with Ben Affleck and Samuel L. Jackson, which will finish above $65 million.
Chris Rock and Anthony Hopkins join forces for the espionage comedy Bad Company, which opens this Friday, along with Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood starring Ellen Burstyn, Sandra Bullock, Ashley Judd, Maggie Smith, and Fionnula Flanagan. 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 Blue Velvet: Special Edition, while Greg Dorr recently looked at Warner's new McCabe & Mrs. Miller. New reviews from the rest of the gang this week include The Mothman Prophecies, A Midnight Clear, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, The Verdict, Best Seller, S.O.B., Victor/Victoria, The Hustler: Special Edition, and The Manhattan Project. 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.
Back tomorrow with the street discs.