Wednesday, 31 July 2002
In the wake of Ridley Scott's Gladiator, perhaps it's surprising that somebody hasn't capitalized on the Oscar-winner and released Anthony Mann's 1964 The Fall of the Roman Empire. After all, Gladiator is practically a remake, considering that Mann's film tells the story of a General Livius (Stephen Boyd) who enjoys the favor of Marcus Aurelius (Alec Guinness), but after the ruler's murder finds himself in a power struggle with young scion Commodus (Christopher Plummer) while falling for Aurelius's daughter Lucilla (Sophia Loren). And being a '60s historical epic, the cast also features such luminaries as James Mason, Anthony Quayle, Omar Sharif, and Mel Ferrer. Then again, Fall of the Roman Empire isn't widely considered to be a top-rate sword-and-sandal flick many critics complain that the acting's often wooden, and while some action sequences are engaging, the whole thing is a bit too long at 188 minutes.
However, there is at least one interesting thing about Fall of the Roman Empire it was filmed in Ultra Panavision, the largest cinematic widescreen format developed in Hollywood's cinema-house heyday. A competitor to such popular systems as CinemaScope and Todd AO, Ultra Panavision was created to be pretty damn big, but also to correct for some distortion problems that existed with other formats, and run at a standard 24 frames-per-second. Ben-Hur heralded its arrival in 1959 (the format was dubbed by MGM as "Camera 65," as noted in Ben-Hur's opening titles), and while 2.35:1 prints were widely shown, the big 2.76:1 anamorphic ratio was meant to display the film in all of its widescreen glory. Camera 65 achieved this by utilizing a 65mm negative with 1.25:1 anamorphic lenses to give it extra width. (And trust us, the whole shebang is an awful lot more technically complicated than we can explain in this space).
There must be at least two questions to consider before a quality DVD release of The Fall of the Roman Empire: Clocking in at over three hours, would it be best to split the film across two discs or as a DVD-18, especially considering that the studio may want to include improved audio options and a commentary track? If so, it would be a somewhat costly item to produce, particularly for a film that won't necessarily rake in Lord of the Rings-sized sales. Secondly, should the 2.76:1 ratio be employed? Purists would say yes but home-video marketers know that the American public isn't in love with letterboxing, as evidenced by all of the full-frame and pan-and-scan transfers that have arrived on DVD releases over the past two years. Warner made the bold decision to street their Ben-Hur DVD in anamorphic 2.76:1, but as a major Hollywood classic they probably would have caught some heat from DVD fans if they went with a 2.35:1 option (or a brutal pan-and-scan transfer, at that).
Unfortunately, these questions remain open matters, as there's no DVD release in sight in Region 1. But folks in Region 2 can get their hands on a PAL-encoded copy, released by Universal in October of 2000 (see inset). However, while the box claims the transfer is anamorphic 1.85:1 an extreme downsizing, even from Roman Empire's alternate CinemaScope 2.35:1 ratio we've heard reports that in fact it does not offer anamorphic enhancement. The runtime is also listed at an abridged 172 minutes. There is at least one "code-free" DVD floating around eBay from Asian shores, which means anybody buying it is taking a chance that it's an inferior bootleg transfer. There also have been two VHS releases from VCI, one as a two-tape set in SP format, and an EP single-tape re-release. These are out of print at retail, but can be found on eBay as well for reasonable money.
But for serious fans of The Fall of the Roman Empire, it should come as no surprise that the tried-and-true Laserdisc format currently presents the best options. There is at least one Japanese release in existence, but Image Entertainment delivered two sets. The first arrived in 1993, while a re-release in 1997 added Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Both offer letterboxed 2.35:1 transfers and run 182 minutes.
As for who currently controls the home-video rights to The Fall of the Roman Empire, it's inconclusive at the moment. Produced by the Rank Organisation and Samuel Bronston Productions, Paramount handled the U.S. theatrical distribution, while VCI earned the initial home-video licensing. With a Universal DVD in Region 2, it's possible the studio controls the rights in North America. Beyond that, we're simply waiting for an official DVD announcement or a knowledgeable reader to drop us a line.
Thanks for the note, Lee in general, the studios do not always announce their full-frame titles as "pan-and-scan" in their press materials, which means that we have to cross-check full-frame releases against IMDb.com's technical specs to determine the film's original aspect ratio. If the film was released in anamorphic 2.35:1, clearly it's pan-and-scan, and we always try to include that notation in our Disc Announcements and our Release Calendar. As for full-frame, we use that term to mean open-matte from a 1.85:1 film, and hopefully the distinction is clear (or at least now it is). Sometimes we may get this information wrong, but anybody who is curious about the quality of a full-frame transfer can simply check the title's original aspect ratio at IMDb.com. (We currently are listing several titles as "pan-and-scan" on our Release Calendar as well.)
Thanks Trevor looks like The Who have finally found a new vendor to release this documentary, and we're hoping Pioneer delivers a quality package.
Tuesday, 30 July 2002
On the Street: It's a modest street-list this week, but that's good news next Tuesday looks a lot busier. However, there are a few things to pick from today, and mainstream titles include Warner's Collateral Damage starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Universal's supernatural Dragonfly with Kevin Costner, and Columbia TriStar's Resident Evil with Milla Jovovich and Michelle Rodriguez. And for those who can't get enough of Keanu or Sandra, Fox has released a new two-disc set of Speed as part of their "Five Star Collection." But not to be missed are two minor classics coming in under the radar Criterion's Tokyo Olympiad, directed by Kon Ichikawa, and Image's La Terra Trema from Italian master Luchino Visconti. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 29 July 2002
Disc of the Week: Think of your favorite Summer Olympics memories, and odds are you're also thinking about videotape. After all, the Olympic Games have been televised since the birth of the small screen, with networks around the world providing wall-to-wall coverage every four years. But somewhat less known is that every Olympiad since the first modern games in 1896 has become a film the International Olympic Committee normally commissions a filmmaker to record the events for posterity. However, as a rule these projects aren't box-office sensations, and only a handful have entered the canons of cinema. Leni Riefenstahl's two-part Olympia (1938), shot during the 1936 Berlin Olympiad, is notable not only for the history behind it (she was Hitler's favorite director and had previously created 1934's Triumph of the Will), but for her skill Olympia celebrates the pinnacles of athletic achievement with the poetic language of cinema. Also notable is David Wolper's film of the 1972 Munich Olympiad, for which he commissioned eight separate directors to create eight individual accounts. But the most remarkable of all Olympic movies probably is Kon Ichikawa's Tokyo Olympiad (1965), funded by the Japanese government to herald the 1964 summer games. Ichikawa who began his career as a cartoonist and animator before helming a series of successful, acclaimed films may have been an unconventional choice for the job. He also was the second pick. Akira Kurosawa was originally chosen to direct, but artistic differences led to his dismissal (reportedly he wanted not only to direct the film, but the opening ceremony as well).
By 1964 Japan had emerged from the shadow of World War II, and while regional tensions remained (particularly with the Soviet Union), the country had gone through a remarkable rebirth. Much of the nation's infrastructure had been destroyed during the war, now replaced with modern roads, buildings and factories. American culture was widely influential, but the traditionally conservative Japanese society soon built its own profitable economy, thanks in large part to modern industry and electronics. Thus, the 1964 Olympiad was meant to re-introduce Japan to the family of nations (the country had joined the U.N. a only few years earlier), much as Germany would get their own Olympics in 1972. Ichikawa's Tokyo Olympiad acknowledges this, boldly opening with a tightly framed bright orange sun, massive and resplendent in the morning sky. But then a single jump-cut announces that this will not be a standard documentary the sun is replaced by a wrecking ball, swinging into dilapidated, condemned buildings to make way for Japan's new National Stadium. From there, Ichikawa looks at the journey of the Olympic flame from Greece to Japan, the opening ceremonies, and several events sprinting, distance-running, the pole vault, gymnastics, the shot put, weight-lifting, shooting, cycling, and the marathon, which forms the film's dramatic finale. It could be a highlight reel from any Olympiad, but it's not which is why Ichikawa was forced to re-edit the picture by the Japanese Olympic Committee after its completion. Thankfully, the entire 170-minute original survives, now on DVD from Criterion.
The Japanese Olympic Committee had a negative, and somewhat knee-jerk reaction to Tokyo Olympiad when it was first completed, but it probably should not have been much of a surprise. They had commissioned a film about a series of athletic events. Ichikawa a visionary filmmaker with a humanist bent instead made a film about athletes. With a minimum of narration (mostly just a Japanese sportscaster delivering play-by-play accounts at key moments), Ichikawa decided to use all of the tools of cinema at his disposal to record the events in cinematic terms, rather than as a journalist, historian, or documentarian. In other words, Tokyo Olympiad was just too artistic for the JOC. The film doesn't reveal which country won the most medals or which athlete took home the most hardware. For Ichikawa, such would be extraneous information. With a small army of cinematographers, high-speed stock, and powerful telephoto lenses, Tokyo Olympiad captures the competition from unusual angles examining fast-moving feet, chalk-covered hands, glances, grunts, and grimaces. At other points, Ichikawa sets his camera free, as when he records the entire women's 800m race in a single pivoting shot, and when he captures the men's long-jump in head-to-toe framing. The shot-put is an examination of how the athletes psych themselves up as much as it's about the contest itself. Boxing (featuring a young Joe Frazier) is captured in stark black-and-white with several freeze-frames. The women's hurdles spends several minutes with the runners as they go through their odd warmup rituals, but once the starting gun fires, Ichikawa kills the audio, rendering the event in poetic silence. And after a wild finish in the men's 10,000m, the final runner from Ceylon finishes a distant last, but to roaring applause. Ichikawa includes this moment, which is emblematic of the athlete's struggle. After all, most do not win they compete and they lose. In fact, the only proper profile given to any athlete in the film is to a runner from Chad, who journeys to Tokyo, is disqualified in a semifinal, and then dines alone in a cafeteria before his return to an impoverished African nation. He had no reason to be famous, but Ichikawa found his story universal, rather than heroic. Several medalists wound up on the cutting-room floor, but this modest runner did not.
Criterion's new DVD release of Tokyo Olympiad features a strong anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) of the original CinemaScope image, from a source print that is displaying some color desaturation but is largely free from damage. Audio is in the original Japanese mono, with optional English subtitles. By far, the best supplement is the commentary track by British film critic Peter Cowie, a self-described "Olympics junkie." Criterion has been lauded for their smart commentary tracks from experts, and this may be one of the greatest to date. Armed with an impressive bag full of information, Cowie delivers his commentary from prepared text with the mellifluous tones of a BBC broadcaster. In fact, it's more than a commentary it's an alternate version of the film. Tokyo Olympiad is best experienced for the first time in Ichikawa's relative silence as the events unfold. But a second spin with Cowie illuminates the stories behind the competitors with an enormous amount of history and trivia, and he never fails to remain engaging for the film's three-hour duration. Also on board is a 1992 interview with Kon Ichikawa (in Japanese with subtitles), and a 44-page booklet with an essay by George Plimpton and a scholars' symposium debating the film. Tokyo Olympiad: The Criterion Collection is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: Mike Myers left the American box office shaken and stirred after a happening weekend New Line's heavily hyped Austin Powers in Goldmember enjoyed a smashing $71.4 million three-day debut, which was more than enough to eclipse the rest of the films in the top ten combined. The shagadelic spy's nearest competition was last week's photo-finish winner, DreamWorks' Road to Perdition, which dropped to second place and added $11 million to its $65 million total. The only other new film over the weekend was Disney's The Country Bears, which had an unimpressive break in sixth place with $5.2 million. Goldmember earned mixed reviews (critics were all over the place, actually), while The Country Bears received mixed-to-negative notices.
In continuing release, Sony's Stuart Little dropped to third place in its second frame, adding $10.7 million to its $34.8 million gross, while Paramount's K-19: The Widowmaker slipped to fifth with a $25 million 10-day total. Racking up much larger numbers is Sony's Men in Black II, which now has a $173.6 million one-month cume. And Sony's Mr. Deeds starring Adam Sandler continues to draw audiences, now holding $116.1 million after five weeks. Meanwhile, Fox's Like Mike is on the way to DVD prep after clearing more than $40 million which means we'll be seeing more of Lil Bow Wow on the big screen.
Director M. Night Shyamalan returns to theaters this Friday with Signs starring Mel Gibson, while Dana Carvey can be seen in the comedy The Master of Disguise. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Alexandra DuPont has posted a sneak preview of Fox's new two-disc Speed: Five Star Collection, while Mark Bourne recently looked at DreamWorks' The Time Machine. New stuff from the rest of the team this week includes Resident Evil, Dragonfly, La Terra Trema, Tokyo Olympiad: The Criterion Collection, and Elvis: His Best Friend Remembers. It's all fresh under the New Reviews menu here on the front page, or use our search engine to scan our entire DVD reviews database.
We'll be back tomorrow with the rundown on this week's street discs.
Thursday, 25 July 2002
'Solaris' talkback: After yesterday's discussion, we have a few additional reader comments on Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris. The film is due to arrive on DVD this year from Criterion:
If you're wondering about the credentials of a professor of Drama and English with regard to film, set your mind at ease. Petrie has been working in cinema studies for a long time now, having written several books related to the subject, most notably a book on Truffaut, a book on Hungarian cinema, and another on the European emigre directors in Hollywood during the 1920s. His main credential for the Solaris project stems from the book on Tarkovsky that he co-authored, The Films of Andrei Tarkovsky: A Visual Fugue, published in 1994.
Hope this whets your anticipation for the Criterion DVD....
Criterion tells us that work on the upcoming Criterion Edition of Solaris is coming along quite well. They have conducted interviews with four major personalities: Natalia Bondarchuk, Mikhail Romadin, Eduard Artemyev and Vadim Yusov, all of which, we are told, turned out to be very enlightening interviews. The upcoming Criterion Collection Solaris DVD will contain some other intriguing extras: namely, some of the deleted scenes from an early cut of the movie. There is an opening text, a sequence in the mirror room, as well as a couple of extra conversations. The scene in the mirror room is said to be particularly visually stunning. We here at Nostalghia.com were not aware of the fact that the mirror room scenes had survived, so this is spectacular news indeed!
1) Reportedly, the projected Image DVD release in 1998 was scrapped because of a rights clash with Criterion, who've also been at odds with RusCiCo over their excellent releases of Tarkovsky discs mainly over distribution of a RusCiCo Andrei Rublev in the States as competition to the Criterion.
2) The RusCiCo discs and the UK Artificial Eye discs are identical, except for the packaging. They're PAL transfers for both, with the 4% speedup, but the RusCiCo ones are encoded NTSC.
3) Solaris is actually a novel by Stanislaw Lem, and both the Tarkovsky and Soderbergh films are adaptations thereof. Lem wasn't very happy with Tarkovsky's film, so it's hardly a definitive version of the story. It has been very entertaining reading the hysterical reactions of other Tarkovsky fans as the project develops, though.
Your editor has not seen Gus Van Sant's Psycho. And he never will.
A small point admittedly, but I think it helps more "serious" cinephiles to see the difference between Hollywood remaking their favorite obscure Russian film as a summer blockbuster and the desire of an artist to revisit source material for their own ends.
Thanks to everyone for taking the time to write.
Quotable: "Film-making has long been understood as a sport of absurdity, ruled by idiots and scoundrels posing as emperors. But now consider the nerve of these fellows when they come back a few years later and say: 'Let's reconsider. Let's suppose that maybe we erred. Let's release a director's cut.' It's not that the tempting oils of film publicity can't make these 'restorations' sound inviting. After all, talk of a 'director's cut' implies that your genius was thwarted, deceived and betrayed by those loathsome and unprincipled instruments of commerce who paid the director $3m-$4m to make the picture in the first place..... In an age of DVDs, where the film-makers come back to talk (endlessly) about how they did it, so the relativity of decision-making is growing all the while. In terms of the business and the companionship of film-making, those things are natural and proper. In terms of art if we still believe in that with film, and I hope we do the whole matter of doubt, second thoughts and variant versions leads us into the sloughs of despond and indifference."
Critic David Thomson, writing in London's
"I've always had a lot of support and help, and a lot of people pulling for me. Hollywood is a lot more straight-laced now and they're not interested in people who are not willing to show up and be healthy and clean to work."
Robert Downey Jr., who completed 14 months of
Samuel L. Jackson
"I was Austin Powers. Mike Myers's character was based on my character, Harry Palmer, from The Ipcress File. The glasses are the same as Harry's, although I'm not taking responsibility for Austin's teeth. Mike Myers's father was from Liverpool, and he was a huge fan of my spy movies, so I was the only one for the role. I was the creative father of the film, and I am now his father in the film."
Michael Caine, who co-stars in Mike Myers' Austin
"Strip away the fart jokes and you've got a character study."
Goldmember co-star Seth Green
Coming Attractions: New DVD reviews are on the way, including Speed: Five-Star Collection, Resident Evil, and more. Have a great weekend gang we're back on Monday.
Wednesday, 24 July 2002
1) Tarkovsky's Solaris is one of a few special films to conjure a sense of The Sublime. It is a masterwork that would benefit greatly from a new release in the digital format and would be given its due care by Criterion, an excellent company to undertake the transfer.
2) As much as people crowed and clamored over the remake of Psycho which, by the way, was the work of an equally gifted and "artistic" director, Gus Van Zant I would expect to see other purists raising an equally cacophonous bellow over Soderbergh's project. Unfortunately, Solaris is not only an obscure foreign film by American standards, but it is an obscure Russian film, shot during the Soviet regime. My point is that, a few years ago, I didn't understand the hue and cry about the new Psycho ... and then I saw it and a light bulb popped up over my head. Regardless of how gifted a filmmaker is, an analogue of an original masterpiece should never become a part of his or her body of work. Tarkovsky's goal was not to please a mass audience especially not a mass American audience but to edify and to help us, the audience, "recognize and discover ourselves, the unfathomable depths of our own potential, and the furthest reaches of our emotions."
I am not sure what Soderbergh plans to do with this remake, but I can only hope, given the original material, that he lives up to the exuberant claim that he himself made the night he won his Oscar. I'm pretty sure that Ocean's Eleven and the concomitant promotion of Hollywood icons is not what he meant that wondrous night a few years back.
Thanks for your comments Dave you've probably already sold plenty of folks on Tarkovsky's Solaris who have never even heard of the film. And to get things out of the way, yes Criterion will be releasing a Solaris DVD later this year, so we'll post the release date and technical info when we get it. However, that Criterion item will not be the only Solaris DVD on the block. A code-free Russian edition (anamorphic NTSC format with various subtitles) is easy to find on eBay, and it offers a few extra features, such as interviews and biographies. Meanwhile, folks in Region 2 can get a two-disc release licensed to Artificial Eye Film Company Ltd. (anamorphic PAL format), which offers a similar, and possibly identical, feature set. Here in North America, we were hoping to get a DVD release from Image Entertainment way back in 1998, but reportedly that disc was canceled before it could hit the street. However, Image did release a Laserdisc in 1993 (see inset), and a two-tape widescreen VHS from Fox Lorber can be found on eBay with little problem as well. There are plenty of Solaris options out there, but like many, we are waiting for a Criterion version.
In the case of Steven Soderbergh's upcoming Solaris remake (starring George Clooney and Natascha McElhone), we agree with you: Artists aren't doing themselves any favors by imitating their predecessors. However, we also can't dismiss movie remakes out-of-hand. John Huston's The Maltese Falcon was the third filmed version of the novel, not the first, and it almost didn't get greenlighted by Warner Brothers because of it. There's no reason to dislike The Magnificent Seven or A Fistful of Dollars just because they are based on Kurosawa films. Scorsese's Cape Fear certainly has its merits. John Carpenter's The Thing has earned many fans, as has David Cronenberg's The Fly.
Naturally, it would be just as easy to create a list of ill-advised remakes (William Friedkin's Sorcerer, Sidney Pollack's Havana), and doubtless it would be longer. It's really just a matter of how talented the director is, how well the script is updated, and how interesting the final product turns out. As for Soderbergh, we'll give him plenty of credit. The director has barely made a misstep since his 1989 debut Sex, Lies and Videotape, and working within various genres: Out of Sight, The Limey, Erin Brockovich, and Traffic are distinct films in construction and tone it's almost as if Soderbergh fears repeating himself, which may be why Ocean's Eleven was such a frothy bit of harmless fun. If Solaris is to be remade, there are few directors we would trust more than Steven Soderbergh with the task.
(And, for the record, here's the highlight of Soderbergh's Oscar speech after winning his statuette for Traffic: "I want to thank anyone who spends part of their day creating. I don't care if it's a book, a film, a painting, a dance, a piece of theater, a piece of music.... Anybody who spends part of their day sharing their experience with us, I think this world would be unlivable without art and I thank you. That includes the Academy, that includes my fellow nominees here tonight. Thank you for inspiring me.")
Flesh+Blood, released in 1985, is not yet on DVD, but it seems to be an important film to Paul Verhoeven fans. With its Medieval setting, dark brutality, and plenty of sex and violence (including a controversial rape scene), it has been praised for its unflinching realism. Then again, some other folks insist it's just B-movie trash (a typical reaction to a Verhoeven film, certainly). And yet others seem to think it's significant because Jennifer Jason Leigh in one of her earliest film roles shows some skin (she and co-star Rutger Hauer would re-team the following year in the cult classic The Hitcher). In any event, it's vintage stuff from the Mad Dutchman.
Independently produced without any major-studio support, Flesh+Blood was distributed theatrically by Orion. A Vestron/Orion VHS release followed, along with a Laserdisc edition. Thanks to the complicated liquidation of the Orion/Vestron holdings, it's possible that Artisan has the home-video rights. However, we're betting this one's with MGM, who appear to hold the bulk of the Orion catalog at this time. The videotape can be found on eBay with little problem, normally closing for less than $20 however, anybody choosing to place a bid should confirm they are getting the initial SP edition, and not the EP re-release. (What's EP on VHS 120 lines of resolution? Ick.)
If a DVD is slated for production, Verhoeven may be approached for a commentary, and he's already recorded several. However, we doubt MGM would view Flesh+Blood as much more than a bone-stock item best suited for one of their monthly catalog dumps. We may not get much. Then again, being MGM, it could arrive just about anytime.
Top of the Pops: You picked 'em here's the most-accessed reviews on The DVD Journal over the past week. Click the links to read our reviews of these discs and remember, there are no pop-up ads anywhere on The DVD Journal thanks to our readers who use our links to buy new DVDs at Ken Crane's DVDPlanet.com. We intend to keep it that way.
See ya later.
Tuesday, 23 July 2002
On the Street: The street list is not particularly deep this week, but that's okay the next few Tuesdays could put a strain on your checkbook. New from DreamWorks is the recent remake of The Time Machine starring Guy Pearce, although the sci-fi flick may find tough competition from Paramount's Crossroads, a DVD that's chock-a-block full of all things Britney Spears (trust us, the under-12 set will have to own it). Home Vision has released a trio of Ron Mann documentaries, Comic Book Confidential, Twist, and Poetry in Motion, while Fox is going for laughs with Kung Pow: Enter the Fist. And for you folks who like your classic TV on DVD, M*A*S*H: Season Two is on the shelves. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 22 July 2002
Disc of the Week: Though Italian filmmaker Luchino Visconti may not be a household name, his influence alone marks him as one of the cinema greats. Born to an aristocratic family, Visconti began his cinematic career after meeting Jean Renoir, working on the French master's 1936 short film A Day in the Country and 1937's The Lower Depths, and he wrote and helped make 1941's Tosca, which Renoir had to abandon because of the war. Visconti began his career as director with 1943's Ossessione. The film was a harbinger for the Neo-realist movement, as it concerned the working class and used real locations to tell its story and for that it was censored by the reigning fascists. The picture also came under fire in America, but for different reasons: It was an unauthorized version of James M. Cain's pulp novel The Postman Always Rings Twice, and due to copyright problems Ossessione was kept out of circulation in the U.S. until 1975. After World War II, Visconti congealed his role at the forefront of Neo-realism with 1948's La Terra Trema. But it was the '60s that cemented his importance, through such efforts as Rocco and His Brothers (1960) and The Leopard (1963) that proved him a master of operatic melodrama. His influence on the New Hollywood of the '70s changed the way Americans saw movies, as Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese and others drew heavily from the Italian masters in creating their new American masterpieces. In fact, The Leopard's final ballroom party is often cited as a direct influence on how Coppola staged the opening wedding sequence of The Godfather.
Visconti had a slow and steady output often filming adaptations with his final effort L'Innocente (1976) made shortly before his death. But even from his first film, it was obvious that the director was a talent to be reckoned with. The story of Ossessione follows the main thrust of Cain's book: A stranger named Gino (Massimo Girotti) stops at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant/gas station when he's kicked off a truck he hitched on. But while at the station he meets the owner's wife Giovanna (Clara Calamai) and they immediately fall for each other. Gino convinces her husband that he's a mechanic, so the husband is sent into town to get a part for their broken car, providing Gino and Giovanna enough time for a tryst. They also get a chance to talk, and bond: He's a drifter who doesn't want to settle down, while she was a poor girl who got married to have something more. Both decide to run away the next day, but when the time comes Giovanna can't give up her business and the life she has built for herself. Gino is desperately in love with her but goes on, afraid they might decide to kill her husband. However, a twist of fate later reunites the lovers, leaving murder a forgone conclusion. And after their fateful decision, tensions mount between them as both grapple with mounting guilt and the townsfolk's suspicions.
Though Hollywood tried it twice (in 1946 with John Garfield and Lana Turner, and again in 1981 with Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange), and both versions are not without their pluses, Visconti's Ossessione stands as the best adaptation of The Postman Always Rings Twice. Perhaps it's because like any great film noir the picture captures the right sense of fatalism and bleakness, although here that darkness is mixed with the influence of Renoir's humanist filmmaking style. Visconti makes sure that even the most unsympathetic characters in Ossessione have plausible motivations, as the film takes pains to create sympathy for these downtrodden people who feel murder is their only solution. Ultimately, even though things must end with the guilty punished, it's hard not to feel bad for them. As a first film, Visconti's effort ranks as one of the best directorial debuts in history, and it illustrates many of his best traits his camera sensibility, his masterful abilities with actors, his confidence with material but the movie also works as just a good movie, with inevitable doom breathing down the lovers' necks from the minute they meet. In his later efforts, Visconti embraced some of the more theatrical elements of cinema with costume dramas, and even CinemaScope and Technicolor. But he never forgot that characters define stories, and that's never more apparent than in this first outing.
Image Entertainment's new DVD release of Ossessione can be troublesome. The transfer is full-frame (1.33:1) with the original Italian soundtrack in monaural Dolby Digital 2.0 and optional English subtitles. However, the source has flecking throughout, print damage, and occasional motion distortion due to the transfer's origins from a duped master, which is not surprising considering the film fell into public domain. This would be unacceptable from most films on DVD Ossessione is an exception, as the original negative was destroyed by the Italian fascists during World War II. The film only survives because Visconti was able to hide a print, and unless some miraculous restoration can be undertaken someday, having to deal with minor problems in the source material is a small price indeed. Ossessione is on the street now.
Box Office: It was a photo-finish at the American box-office over the weekend, which means the final numbers will not be official until Monday afternoon. But if estimates hold, Sony's Stuart Little 2 claims the top spot with a $15.6 million debut, edging out DreamWorks Road to Perdition, which took $15.5 million in it second weekend, while Men in Black II came up with $15 million. Along with Stuart Little 2, new films included Paramount's K-19: The Widowmaker starring Harrison Ford, which landed in fourth place with $13.1 million, and Warner's Eight-Legged Freaks, which has drawn $9.2 million since its debut last Wednesday. Most critics adored Stuart Little 2, while K-19 and Freaks drew mixed reviews.
In continuing release, Buena Vista's Lilo & Stitch remains popular, now holding $128.5 million after five weeks, while Fox's Minority Report stands at $118 million. Sony's Mr. Deeds has done good business for star Adam Sandler, now with $107 million. But taking a tumble in their second frames are Buena Vista's Reign of Fire, Dimension's Halloween: Resurrection, and MGM's The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course, all slipping to the bottom half of the chart. In the meantime, off to DVD prep are Warner's Scooby-Doo, which should finish around $150 million, while Universal's The Bourne Identity has notched $100 million.
Mike Myers gets shagadelic once again as Austin Powers in Goldmember debuts in theaters this Friday, along with the live-action The Country Bears with Christopher Walken and Haley Joel Osment. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Kim Morgan has posted a sneak-preview of the Britney Spears magnum opus Crossroads, while D.K. Holm is on the board today with a look at Ron Mann's documentary Comic Book Confidential. New stuff this week from the rest of the gang includes Top Secret!, Kung Pow: Enter the Fist, Better Off Dead, Gung Ho, Twist, Ossessione, and Poetry in Motion. 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, 18 July 2002
Coming Attractions: Another weekend draws nearer, and we're already opening a fresh batch of DVDs. New reviews are on the way for next week, including a trio of Ron Mann documentaries. In the meantime, if you haven't entered our totally free DVD contest for a copy of The Time Machine, 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: "(DVD consumers) will launch into turgid discourses on their home theater set-ups, which center around their DVD player as if it is a sacrificial virgin or a golden calf. They will tell you about their plasma flat-screens, and their shaker boxes, their five-speaker surround-sound setups complete with deep-bass subwoofers. They will say all this is for people who "really love movies." No it's not. This is for people one step removed from the greasy mooks you knew in high school who used to install neon lights in the undercarriage of their Camaros. When I watch a home movie, I don't want thundering bass rolling up my spine. It makes me feel like I'm back in ninth grade, sitting in my friend's older brother's Barracuda, listening to Zeppelin while waiting for him to drive to the liquor store to buy us beer."
Columnist Matt Labash, writing in The Weekly
Angelina Jolie, confirming in an interview with
"This man was obviously a complete idiot. The character in my book was a highly trained assassin who prepared his attempt very carefully. (The gunman) got it right about the public holiday, but he used a rifle in a public place the worst possible thing he could have done. A rifle is absolutely visible and would have been seen within seconds. A handgun would have been the preferred weapon of a professional in a crowd."
The Day of the Jackal novelist Frederick Forsyth,
"We've only just begun. We'll get there.... It's just running, jumping, falling down. I'll get as sore as I ever did."
Harrison Ford, on the planned fourth film in the
"I know I can beat him. I have gotten catalogs and magazines meant for him, and he wears very camp, gay clothes. And he looks very small as well."
British director Paul Anderson (Resident Evil),
Wednesday, 17 July 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:
Is there any chance that the Matt Helm series will be on deck for DVD release?
While not the most popular series of spy-spoofs to ever his the screen, the four Matt Helm movies starring Dean Martin as the ultra-cool superspy are bound to always be of some interest as long as audiences appreciate espionage tales and frivolous fun. And while the pictures served primarily as cinematic vehicles for ol' Dino, there are a couple of interesting stories behind them. For starters, the Matt Helm character came from a string of novels by author Donald Hamilton, who wrote the prolific series mostly with a straight face, offering Helm as a masterful American agent along the lines of Ian Fleming's 007. The first Helm novel (Death of a Citizen) arrived in 1960, halfway between Sputnik and the Cuban missile crisis, giving it a built-in audience that seemed to have a limitless appetite for the sort of pulp action that made the Cold War a little less unnerving. And with Hollywood studios always looking for new material to adapt to the big screen, it's possible that Matt Helm might have been a lesser, but still serious, James Bond with the right sort of leading actor and directors.
However, a few things shifted Matt Helm away from the original novels and into the realm of camp comedy. Producer Irving Allen was a former associate of Albert Broccoli, who happened to bring 007 to the big screen. It's possible that Allen, while creating a spy franchise, wanted to do something different. Many popular spy spoofs themselves arrived almost immediately after the Bond films both in theaters and on television which made the notion of a serious franchise somewhat less appealing. And when Dean Martin signed on the dotted line, it became clear that Helm would be played for laughs. Martin was a major celebrity at the time, and while he had appeared in successful dramas (Rio Bravo for one), he was best known for his "Rat Pack" membership, his popular TV show, and his hit albums. As Matt Helm, Dino would be his smooth-talking, hard-drinking, lady-killin' self.
The first Matt Helm movie, The Silencers, arrived in 1966, introducing us to the spy who worked for Intelligence and Counter Espionage (ICE) against the nefarious international criminal outfit BIGO. Thanks to Martin's appeal and the presence of co-star Stella Stevens, the picture was a general success. But this was always a hit-and-miss franchise, and later Helm films did not fare so well with fans. Murderer's Row (also released in 1966) co-starred Karl Malden, but it was a bit tepid. And The Ambushers (1967) actually featured a plot concerning a mysterious flying saucer, which was not as funny as it could have been. The final Helm film, The Wrecking Crew (1969), showed a little more life, particularly with the fight-sequences choreographed by Bruce Lee, who had yet to become a major star but showed Dino how to throw a few chops. The movie also featured the first screen appearance by Chuck Norris, and (tragically) the last one from Sharon Tate.
Will the Matt Helm films arrive on DVD? Inevitably, yes, but perhaps not right away. Columbia TriStar own the rights, and all of their videotape editions with the exception of The Silencers are in print, although they're not always easy to find (eBay may be as good a bet as any for folks who want them). With the third Austin Powers movie in theaters this summer, fresh Matt Helm DVDs certainly would capitalize on some spy-spoof synergy. However, Fox already targeted this summer for their two Flint DVDs, leaving the market well saturated.
But there's another reason why we think Columbia is inclined to wait. With studio chiefs' apparently incessant craving to remake everything that ever appeared in movie theaters or on TV in the 1960s as major motion pictures, a new Matt Helm project reportedly is in development, with Australian director Robert Luketic (Legally Blonde) attached in the early stages. It's a good bet it will be a comedy, as are the originals. And if anything will arrive in cineplexes over next couple of years with the name Matt Helm attached, Columbia would be wise to wait before unleashing their DVDs.
Great DVD suggestion James. Sidney Lumet's The Pawnbroker, when released in 1964, raised some controversy for its gritty subject matter, but Rod Steiger earned an Oscar nomination for his role as an American Holocaust survivor haunted for decades by his concentration camp ordeal, choosing to live in near-total isolation rather than cope with his grief. It's also one of Lumet's best movies, illustrating his ability to handle some rough material, and it can be regarded as one of the many films in the 1960s that chipped away at the censorial Hays Code, leading to the creation of the MPAA's rating system a few years later.
Fortunately, there's no mystery as to The Pawnbroker's status produced outside of the studio system, the home-video rights most recently were with Republic. And that means it's most likely Artisan would be distributing any new DVD. We'll be glad to see a new release, and while we aren't aware of any Laserdisc editions, the Republic-branded VHS is still in print.
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 Internet advertising to a minimum on The DVD Journal thanks to our readers who use our links to buy new DVDs at Ken Crane's DVDPlanet.com. Thanks for helping us keep the pop-ups down.
Bye for now.
Tuesday, 16 July 2002
On the Street: There's no lack of great DVDs to pick from today, so get out those credit cards. Buena Vista's two-disc release of Amélie is sure to win the film new fans, especially with its extensive supplements. Meanwhile, one of Akira Kurosawa's finest pictures, Red Beard, is now out from Criterion in a great-looking transfer. Paramount's catalog-dump today includes such favorites as Top Secret!, Better Off Dead, and The Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy, while Columbia TriStar is on the board with Robin and Marian, New Best Friend, and The Eddy Duchin Story. Fans of Denzel Washington can look for New Line's John Q: infinifilm, and the studio also has released Todd Solondz's recent Storytelling. But from Fox it's nothing but classic '60s spy-spoofs Our Man Flint, In Like Flint, Modesty Blaise, and Fathom. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 15 July 2002
Disc of the Week: By the time of the third James Bond film, 1964's Goldfinger, the spy craze had exploded across pop culture, spattering the walls with poison blow-dart ink pens and steely-eyed, ultra-virile heroes. Perhaps the Cold War fantasy adventures of "real men" ruggedly vanquishing godless Commies and other world dominators, all while bedding improbably beautiful women, were a meat-eating guy's antacid against the discomforting reflux from real global tensions not to mention home-grown indigestion embodied by the Beatles, Woodstock, antiwar protests, and the women's movement. Furthermore, utilizing the Cold War for entertainment simplified a lot of things for moviegoers and TV-watchers. Head-throbbingly complex geopolitical currents were reduced to sprightly three-act suspense dramas that could be wrapped up within two hours. Guns, gadgets, and girls were the primary colors of the comic-book spy universe. Certainly, there were serious-minded Bond imitators, such as the Harry Palmer series starring Michael Caine. But someone was bound to play the genre for laughs, and in short order the Bond spoofs outnumbered the Bond movies themselves. In fact, the film version of Ian Fleming's first Bond novel, Casino Royale, hit the screen in '67 as a clownish comedy. Cocktail crooner Dean Martin starred in four mixed efforts featuring soused secret agent Matt Helm. Then as now, a Hollywood trend didn't end until it was well past tired, and titles such as Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine and Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs, both starring Vincent Price and his army of lethal fembots, made sure that we all tired quite thoroughly.
The best of the spy-spoof bunch was 1965's Our Man Flint, a hyper-kitschy and entertaining time capsule starring James Coburn as a Bond surrogate played so straight you could shave with him. This tongue-way-in-cheek action comedy garnered favorable reviews and became Fox's third highest grossing film of the year. Coburn terrific with this dry, crackling material is Derek Flint, ultra-secret agent aiding Z.O.W.I.E. (Zonal Organization for World Intelligence and Espionage). And Our Man Flint made a shrewd move by sticking to the Bond template the brilliant and resourceful Flint works alone, follows each clue to the next level, employs superhuman physical and mental prowess, beds gorgeous gals, gets captured, and prevents World Domination in an orgy of destruction at the evildoers' secret volcano island. However, instead of being mere sketches like the Austin Powers movies, Our Man Flint out-Bonds the Bond films by respectfully retooling the familiar Bond elements and then turning the knob to 11. In Our Man Flint, our hero, having just returned from teaching ballet at Moscow's Bolshoi, is called into service. Z.O.W.I.E. agents have been killed while seeking the mysterious masterminds behind G.A.L.A.X.Y, an organization controlling the world's weather and holding humanity hostage to a plan for a scientifically regimented (and otherwise wonderfully beneficial) new world order. While enforcing The American Way, Flint performs impromptu surgery, stops his heart for prolonged periods, repeatedly annoys his flustered boss (Lee J. Cobb) with his undisciplined ways, invents a Zippo lighter with 82 functions ("83 if you want to light a cigar"), traces a poison through a bouillabaisse recipe served in only one spot on Earth, jump-starts a man's heart via a light bulb socket, wisecracks with British Agent "Triple-O Eight," judo-chops gangs of bad guys, avoids disintegration in an electrofragmentizer, and righteously rescues his four live-in lovelies by blowing up G.A.L.A.X.Y's Dr. Evil-like H.Q. Supported by Jerry Goldmsith's way groovy musical score, Flint does it all while keeping his tux spotless, his demeanor cool, and his women satisfied.
Fox's DVD release of Our Man Flint coincides with the theatrical debut of the third Austin Powers movie, and comparisons between the two are obvious. However, Our Man Flint and its sequel, In Like Flint, are exaggerated-for-effect satires of their own time and the popular super-spy tropes that flourished then. Therefore, a more accurate comparison may be made between the Flint flicks and Scream or Not Another Teen Movie, two sendups of conventions and clichés that grew so familiar to audiences that laughter was the only response left. And guys, you may want to think twice about watching Our Man Flint with a wife or girlfriend. As part of their broad comedic approach, both Flint films unashamedly parade coprolitic sexual attitudes that would make even Mr. Powers wince. By their nature, '60s spy parodies bared a phallocentric revolt against the era's "sexual revolution." Our Man Flint is giddy and harmless while still being sexist in jaw-dropping ways that no one could get away with today. Flint's indulgent lifestyle includes a Manhattan penthouse staffed by a quartet of pliant babes who, it's clear, exist to provide him with anything he desires. The sexy villainess (Gila Golan, Miss Israel 1961) likewise falls into his arms and bedsheets within minutes. The film's final third is an adolescent male Disneyland of bikini-clad centerfold models brainwashed to be smiling, willing "pleasure units" who "offer their bodies for the good of G.A.L.A.X.Y." Although played for good clean psychedelic fun, the scenes of Joe Blow henchmen queuing up to enjoy the "units" like Happy Meals might even make a few Maxim readers squirm. (Another raise of an eyebrow is occasioned when, as the space age lair self-destructs, we watch Flint and company cheer while hundreds of uncondemned people, including a crowd-scene's worth of those "pleasure units" we just saw, are blown to smithereens.)
Fox's new DVD presents Our Man Flint in a good anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) from a print that's a little soft, but otherwise looks newly minted with vivid color. The monaural Dolby 2.0 audio is plenty clear and strong enough for the job. The sole extras are the trailer for this film and three other newly released spy-spoofs the Flint sequel In Like Flint, Modesty Blaise, and Fathom. All four discs hit the street tomorrow.
Box Office: Four new films entered American cineplexes over the weekend, but none could topple Sony's Men in Black II from the top spot the popular sci-fi sequel took in $25 million over the past three days and now has a 12-day gross of $133.3 million. Not far behind was DreamWorks' Road to Perdition starring Tom Hanks, which scored a $22.1 million break, while Buena Vista's fantasy Reign of Fire earned $16 million and Dimension's Halloween: Resurrection was good for $12.3 million. And even MGM's lightweight The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course had a healthy debut, netting Steve and Terri Irwin a cool $10 million. Reviewers praised Road to Perdition, while Reign of Fire and Crocodile Hunter received mixed notices. Halloween: Resurrection was almost unanimously panned.
In continuing release, Disney's Lilo & Stitch is well over the century with $118 million, a hurdle Fox's Minority Report has cleared as well, now standing at $110.3 million. And soon to join the club are Universal's The Bourne Identity ($99 mil) and Sony's Mr. Deeds ($94.1 mil). Fox's Like Mike is still hanging around in its second frame, giving Lil Bow Wow a $32.6 million gross. And (presumably) on the way to DVD prep is Episode II: Attack of the Clones, which will finish in the $300 million neighborhood, while this summer's big chick-flick Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood counter-programmed its way to a final tally above $60 million.
Opening this Wednesday is the sci-fi comedy Eight Legged Freaks starring David Arquette, while Friday debuts include the submarine drama K-19: The Widowmaker starring Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson, and Stuart Little 2 with the voices of Michael J. Fox and Melanie Griffith. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Dawn Taylor has posted a sneak-preview of Buena Vista's two-disc Amélie, while D.K. Holm recently looked at the latest Kurosawa title from Criterion, Red Beard. New stuff from the rest of the team this week includes John Q: infinifilm, The Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy, Our Man Flint, Modesty Blaise, Fathom, Storytelling, In Like Flint, New Best Friend, Beijing Bicycle, and Robin and Marian. 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 months past.
We'll be back tomorrow with the rundown on this week's street discs.
Thursday, 11 July 2002
Coming Attractions: With the summer heatwave socking us in the Pacific Northwest, we're headed back to the air-conditioned screening room to dig into some fresh DVDs, and new reviews on the way include Amélie, John Q, and more. Enjoy the weekend we're back on Monday.
Commentary Clips: Jewison: "I don't think (Sidney Poitier) knew what to make of Steiger. I think there was this kind of ... tension between them. Which I of course encouraged, because I felt that was healthy as far as their performances went. And Rod in this (opening) scene is just wonderful a little over the top. Rod's always a little over the top, I was always pulling Rod down and down and down."
Steiger: "Oh really? Well tell Norman what they call 'over the top' someday is people who express themselves truly in the society they live in. I go over every once in a while, I'm sure, but that's all part of exploring. Everybody finds their own way, so to speak, though the principles are the same: the person you identify to the fictitious circumstances to the play God gives you. I got the idea in my head with Gillespie that he was a great and lonely gunfighter and Sidney was a great and lonely gunfighter who happened to be of another color. And of course I understand loneliness, I was on my own from about 10 or 11. And if somebody asked me in that picture, 'What did Gillespie want?', he wanted to be left the fuck alone and chew his gum. 'I didn't ask for this! Shit!' (laughs) But what happens in that picture is interesting because it's not done intellectually, it's done instinctively, which is the hardest way to create anything. As these two gunfighters work together they begin to realize, 'This guy's pretty much a man, isn't he? I'd better take a second look at the sonofabitch, he's not bad.' So they became out of respect for their manhood, their professionalism, their independence, their sense of directness, the refusal to lie, the refusal to be insulted so they were brothers that way, and they begin to understand each other there."
Rod Steiger and Norman Jewison,
"(The first car chase) is a very, very complicated sequence. We had (storyboards) made for what I determined to be the cutting progression, and what I determined to be each shot. Now all the drawings are well and good, but what happens is that when you get on the set and start to work with the props and with the actors and with the stunt-guys, you change a lot of things. But what the advantage of a storyboard is that it lets people all know the kind of movie you are making and what you envision the sequence to be. And the amount of work involved. Now there was added work above and beyond the storyboards in this sequence, but nevertheless if you looked at the storyboards you got a pretty good idea that this was not something you were gonna knock off in two days.
"And the other decision we made, very early on, was we were going to do these car scenes with the actors in the cars. And we were not going to do it in process, we were not going to do it with green-screen, we were not going to do it with computer tricks. And I think that the reality that's on the actors' faces and the reality of the light changing on their faces and the shadows you cannot duplicate in false conditions.... You really have to film an extraordinary number of different shots to arrive at a final cutting pattern that we have here hundreds of shots. Whenever I do a sequence like this I always use multiple cameras, I use three and four cameras, sometimes more, because to go back and do it again is extremely difficult. To just get these bullet-hits refigured, rewired, is hours....
"Now this is an extraordinary thing that's about to happen (a car explodes and flips at high speed). There's a guy in this car. He actually drove it. He pressed a button that exploded that thing, and it went straight just like they thought it would, around that road. But a guy was actually in the car, if you can believe it. I mean, there isn't enough money tax-free in Switzerland to ever make me do anything like that, and I love to drive. I mean, that's one of my strong suits. I won 'Highway Menace' in my college yearbook, and I've never changed. That's why I love scenes like this. I was in these cars. I was driving with the stunt drivers. "
Wednesday, 10 July 2002
We agree The Kids Alright is one of the best rock documentaries of all time, in particular because it's crisply edited, a bit rough around the edges, and very loud. Written and directed by Jeff Stein, an American TV writer/producer, The Kids Are Alright took shape in the mid-'70s, as The Who were expanding their interests from arena rock and concept albums to feature films. Tommy reached the screen under the guidance of Ken Russell, soon followed by the gritty urban drama of Quadrophenia. It was at this time that Stein was given permission to comb through 15 years of Who archives and assemble a documentary that would serve as a testament to the band, both on stage and off. Classic moments include the famously deranged "My Generation" on The Smothers Brothers TV show (including the explosion that first damaged Pete Townshend's hearing), early television performances of "I Can't Explain" and "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere," a section of Tommy performed at Woodstock, and perhaps the best live performance ever captured of The Who three songs filmed at Shepperton Studios with a small, energetic audience (including "Won't Get Fooled Again.") In the midst of it all, additional footage and interviews chronicle the band's life off the stage, notably John Entwistle's lavish mansion that's packed with guitars (a certain inspiration for Spinal Tap), and Keith Moon and Ringo Starr hamming it up at a party while a bit worse for liquor. What makes the package so appealing is that there's no narration the music spots are simply woven into various archive materials, and the many interviews and asides with the band form all the narrative that's necessary.
What may come as a surprise to some is that a DVD of The Kids Are Alright has already been released BMG's edition arrived in February of 2001. But it has since fallen out of print, and copies often trade on eBay above $50. If that sounds a bit steep, don't worry. By all accounts, the BMG disc is a straight port of their VHS/Laserdisc master, and isn't that impressive (it does offer Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, but two-channel purists often dismiss wide mixes for music titles). BMG also released a similar DVD in Region 2 back in April of 2000 (see inset), but again, fans have not been overwhelmed.
And part of the problem is not merely the DVD transfer, troublesome as it may be. The Kids are Alright had a 106 min. running-time when released theatrically back in 1979, but most home video versions have been cut to 99 minutes. Part of this was achieved by reducing the performance of "A Quick One," (on the Rolling Stones' Rock and Roll Circus TV event) from its entire length to just a few minutes, and also slightly increasing the overall film speed (reportedly to clock in at a time acceptable for commercial television). Both DVD releases are this cut. There have been at least three Laserdiscs from EMI, BMG, and a Japanese distributor also reportedly with the altered audio. And the most recent VHS is the 99-min. version. However, your editor recalls seeing the full cut at some point in his youth, which may have been a cable TV broadcast or an earlier videotape (possibly from EMI), so it's out there somewhere.
As for why The Kids Are Alright is currently out of print, the film is not owned by any studio but instead was produced entirely by The Who Films, which means it's the property of the band. The BMG releases in the '90s were strictly done under license, and it's possible that the license simply has expired, sending the title back to The Who for re-evaluation (although we should note that the Region 2 release is still in print). We have heard some rumors that there's been a legal dispute between The Who's management and director Stein over the rights, but at the very minimum it's fair to conclude that Pete Townshend owns the majority of the music in the film and will always have some control over it. Nonetheless, at this point all VHS, DVD, and Laserdisc editions of the film are MIA in North America, and will be into the foreseeable future.
If and when The Kids Are Alright gets a proper return to DVD, we definitely are hoping for a remaster. Granted, much of the footage is not ideal, but the audio can get an extra boost by having both DD 5.1 and Dolby 2.0 stereo mixes on board (We'll take the 5.1 for "Baba O'Reilly," but "My Generation" is definitely full-forward 2.0 material). Later BMG video releases included a "bonus" performance of "The Kids Are Alright," which was welcome, but with a DVD there's no reason not to tack on more of these, if available. And of course, a commentary from Pete and Roger would be welcome.
As for us, we're optimistic. The Who never completely lost interest in feature films since the '70s, with Roger Daltrey launching a minor acting career, and reportedly the singer is planning to cast Mike Meyers in a long-planned biopic of Keith Moon. Pete Townshend has always maintained diverse interests, and served as the executive producer for 1999's animated The Iron Giant (he had already done an album based on the children's story a few years earlier). If they show as much interest in preserving The Who's legacy on home video, The Kids Are Alright is the perfect film to use as a basis for a comprehensive DVD.
But in the meantime hang on to that videotape.
We've actually had a few readers ask us about this, as folks are noticing The Royal Tenenbaums in all sorts of retail outlets where they've never seen much from The Criterion Collection before. The simple (if a bit odd) answer is that The Royal Tenenbaums is not a Criterion release, it is a Buena Vista DVD, which means it comes from the good folks at Disney. And with their home-video distribution, Buena Vista can get product in the kind of retail outlets (like Target) that Criterion does not reach. Criterion created Tenenbaums most likely because director Wes Anderson preferred to partner with them. But it's always been Buena Vista's DVD to pitch, and it's not the first time it's happened. Anderson's Rushmore, Kevin Smith's Chasing Amy, and both Armageddon and The Rock are a few more Disney DVDs with Criterion covers.
However, you are right about one thing this is a rare instance when Buena Vista has licensed Criterion to create the only DVD version of a particular title. In the above instances, only Chasing Amy has been a Criterion exclusive, while Rushmore, The Rock, and Armageddon had separate, bare-bones releases under Disney's banner. Similarly, Spartacus and Brazil, licensed from Universal, have had corresponding studio releases as well, although Criterion handles the distribution for their versions.
Top of the Pops: And with that, 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 annoying pop-up ads anywhere on The DVD Journal thanks to our readers who use our links to buy new DVDs at Ken Crane's DVDPlanet.com. We intend to keep it that way.
Tuesday, 9 July 2002
On the Street: On a street-week as quiet as this one, just one DVD is a true standout the two-disc The Royal Tenenbaums: The Criterion Collection, which marks the second Wes Anderson film to arrive under the Criterion folio (after Rushmore). Warner has a number of titles out today, including the sublime My Favorite Year starring Peter O'Toole, A Walk to Remember, Charlotte Gray, The Champ, Oh God!, and Innerspace. New from Columbia TriStar are Punchline, Harry and Walter Go to New York, and the Chinese import Beijing Bicycle. And those who love Bruce Willis in just about anything may want to look for Hart's War from MGM. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 8 July 2002
Disc of the Week: Director Costa-Gavras is no stranger to controversy. The son of a Greek mother and a Russian father (who fought in the Greek resistance in World War II), the young man was enthralled by American films and studied at the Sorbonne in Paris, later enrolling in a French film school. Inspired and encouraged by such cineastes as Godard, Truffaut, Jacques Demy, and Rene Clement, he began his career with The Sleeping Car Murders (1965) and Shock Troops (1967), which were well received. Later films included the interrogation drama The Confession (1970), and his forays into mainstream Hollywood pictures have offered such conspiracy-bent tales as Missing (1982) and Betrayed (1989). An international director with a taste for political intrigue matched only by Oliver Stone, Costa-Gavras's output has been a tapestry of machinations and deceit, crowned perhaps by 1969's Z, which earned Academy Awards for Best Foreign Film and Best Editing. Based on the May 1963 assassination of left-wing Greek politician and pacifist Grigoris Lambrakis, the film never explicitly states the country in which it is based or the people it represents. Which may not have been important anyway, as it was banned in Greece upon release. But as the opening credits note, "Any resemblance to actual events, to persons living or dead, is not the result of chance. It is deliberate."
Based on the novel by Vassilis Vassilikos (which regrettably is out of print at this writing), Yves Montand stars in Z as a leftist politician ("The Deputy") in a small European country ruled by an autocratic military government. A former Olympic champion and a practicing physician, the Deputy has arrived in a major city to speak at a rally, which the local authorities do not welcome. In fact, in order to discourage the event, the permit for rally's large hall is denied at the last moment, and a smaller venue is forced upon the organizers. Given the political climate of the time, a loosely organized right-wing mob decides to mount a protest, and the local police assigned to security are strangely passive. And then it happens. After giving his speech, the Deputy emerges from the hall and into the street, where it appears he is struck down by a runaway delivery truck. It happens in full view of hundreds of witnesses, but his hospitalization (and later death) throws the government into disarray as they scramble to apprehend the men in the truck and quell any assassination rumors. Drunk-driving and manslaughter charges are lodged against the perpetrators, but the Examining Magistrate assigned to the case (Jean-Louis Trintignant) has his doubts. A young photojournalist (Jacques Perrin) launches his own investigation. And with the emergence of a stubborn surprise witness and some unusual autopsy results, it soon becomes clear that the crowd in the street didn't witness an accident, but a murder.
With its politically charged undercurrent in an era social turmoil in America and around the world, the fact that Z won an Oscar for Best Foreign Film may come as something of a surprise the traditionally conservative Academy has rarely embraced controversial subjects, and in 1969 the nation was still shaken by the recent assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., and Robert Kennedy. What may come as more of a surprise is that Z took home the statuette for Best Editing from a field that was not limited to foreign pictures. And yet, for all of its references to Greece and a corrupt junta government (the score by Greek dissident Mikis Theodorakis says more than mere words), Z is not a political diatribe as much as it's a smart detective story with an engaging cast and swift plotting. The actual murderers and their initial plot are never much of a secret to viewers, but as the photojournalist and Examining Magistrate conduct their investigations, the larger puzzle is revealed piece by piece, with an ever-widening conspiracy that involves local thugs, businessmen, and eventually government officials. Despite his limited screen-time, Yves Montand as the Deputy is central to the story, and the veteran actor conveys warmth, humility, and great passion as the politician who envisions a socialist state in the face of military expansion it takes an actor with Montand's stature to give the film its thematic weight. As the Magistrate, Jean-Louis Trintignant plays his part in a low-key manner, aware of his judicial power, but also knowing that his final conclusions will shake the government to its foundations. As he notes after collecting evidence, a drunk-driving case is the simplest explanation, and the most improbable a conspiracy is far more complex, and the only logical synopsis. Z ends on a positive note, but just barely. The conspiracy may be broken, but the cautionary themes inherent in the story are emphasized in the playful coda, which casts the future of the unidentified country in an Orwellian gloom it's a small grace note from Costa-Gavras that's both witty and disturbing.
Wellspring's new DVD release of Z: The Masterworks Edition features a restored print that has a few soft moments, but is generally free from collateral wear, while the anamorphic transfer (1.66:1) is strong and free of defects. The French audio comes in a new Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, although it has its thin points, and purists may prefer the original mono track, which is also included. The splendid features include a commentary by Costa-Gavras (with subtitles), a retrospective interview with the director (also subtitled), a comprehensive restoration demo, stills, cast/crew notes, and the theatrical trailer. Z is on the street now.
Box Office: With the July 4th holiday on a Thursday this year, all new films at the box office got Wednesday debuts but there was hardly a challenge for the top spot on the chart. Sony's Men in Black II starring Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones raked in $90 million over the past five days ($54.1 million since Friday), getting extra mileage from its two popular stars and a short running-time. Also new was Fox's basketball comedy Like Mike, which raked in a healthy $20 million ($13 million since Friday) for pint-sized rapper Lil Bow Wow. But getting lost in the shuffle was Warner's The Powerpuff Girls Movie, which opened way down in ninth place with $6.1 million ($3.5 million since Friday). MIB 2 earned mixed reviews from critics, while Like Mike and Powerpuff Girls received several positive notices.
In continuing release, Sony's Mr. Deeds starring Adam Sandler and Winona Ryder showed solid momentum in its second week, dropping only to second place with $18.8 million since Friday and a strong $74 million 10-day total. Also looking good is Disney's animated Lilo & Stitch, which has snapped the century with $103.1 million, while Fox's Minority Report is not far behind with $96.8 million. The board is packed with strong performers, including The Bourne Identity, The Sum of All Fears, and Scooby-Doo. And on the way to the second-run circuit after an incredible run is Spider-Man, which will hurdle $400 million before the DVD streets later this year.
Films arriving in theaters this Friday include Road to Perdition with Tom Hanks and Paul Newman, the fantasy adventure Reign of Fire starring Matthew McConaughey, Halloween: Resurrection with Busta Rhymes, Tyra Banks, and Jamie Lee Curtis, and (crikey!) The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course with the fearless Steve Irwin. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Greg Dorr has posted a sneak preview of The Royal Tenenbaums: The Criterion Collection, while new reviews this week from the rest of the team include Hart's War, Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, A Walk to Remember, Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season Three, Charlotte Gray, Punchline, Everything Put Together, Harry and Walter Go to New York, Z, and Invasion USA. All can be found under the New Reviews menu here on the front page, while our DVD reviews database features more than 1,600 additional write-ups.
Back tomorrow with the street discs.
Tuesday, 2 July 2002
In the Works: We're wrapping things up before we depart for our mid-year holiday break, but before we go we have a few new disc announcements, courtesy of Image Entertainment and DVDPlanet.com, and additional staff reports:
On the Street: With a long holiday weekend approaching, it's a modest street list this week, although Buena Vista's four-disc Pearl Harbor: Vista Series is bound to get some attention with a new edit and plenty of supplements. Those looking for laughs can get Fox's Shallow Hal with Jack Black and Gwyneth Paltrow, while catalog tiles from Columbia include Old Gringo and the marvelous musical 1776. It looks like the classic political thriller Z has finally arrived from Wellspring after some delay as well. And if the TV's your thing, Paramount has plenty of it, with two new boxes of I Love Lucy episodes and Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season Three. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Dimming the Lights: We'd love to stay, really but our annual Summer Break has arrived, and it appears that we can't keep anybody in the office for the rest of the week. Not even Chip. Thanks for reading, get some sun, and spin some movies. We'll be back next week with a preview of Criterion's The Royal Tenenbaums and more.
Monday, 1 July 2002
And the winner is: Eric Alan Ivins of Aberdeen, Maryland, wins the free Blue Velvet: Special Edition DVD from our June contest. Congrats, Eric!
Our totally free DVD contest for the month of July is up and running, and we have a copy of DreamWorks' The Time Machine 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: Sherman Edwards was a man with a wacky dream. The former history teacher was obsessed with creating a theatrical production that brought to life the real drama behind the creation of the Declaration of Independence. Oh, and he wanted to make it a musical. So, on his fortieth birthday, Edwards quit his job at a music publishing company to devote himself full-time to writing his masterpiece. For ten years, chronically broke and with little encouragement, he wrote and rewrote the songs, promoted his show, and tried to find a librettist to help with the project, now titled 1776. With few dance numbers, a single set, and, as originally conceived, an all-male cast dressed in pantaloons and powdered wigs, it was a tough sell. Former screenwriter Peter Stone came on board only after Broadway veteran Frank Loesser (creator of Guys & Dolls and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, among other hits) convinced Stone to listen to Edwards' score. The resultant musical offered a refreshing view of the Founding Fathers with, as Stone put it, "a kind of disrespectful affection" while remaining painstakingly accurate in historical detail. Although the idea of mounting such a blatantly patriotic Broadway production at the height of the politically turbulent late-'60s seemed ill-advised, 1776 was a huge hit and went on to win the 1969 Tony award for Best Musical. The play also won a Pulitzer Prize, and has gone on to win multiple Tonys for revivals over the past three decades, making it one of the most successful musicals in the history of American theater.
The story? Well, 1776 is about the drafting of the Declaration of Independence, but don't let that deter you. The primary character is headstrong John Adams (William Daniels), "obnoxious and disliked" by the others for his dogged insistence that America needs to declare its independence from British rule. With word from General Washington that the British are sending an armada to reclaim New York and that the American troops' spirits and supplies are alarmingly low Adams forces the issue on a Congress that's divided down the middle, primarily between the northern states who support independence and the southern states who wish to remain a protectorate of King George. Having pretty much alienated the conservative members of Congress, Adams and Benjamin Franklin (the wonderful Howard Da Silva) enlist the well-liked and southern Richard Henry Lee (Ron Holgate) of Virginia to make the official proposal for independence. Even then, the idea seems headed for certain defeat when the staunchly anti-independence John Dickinson (Donald Madden) of Pennsylvania puts forth the motion that Congress' decision on the issue must be unanimous. Out of desperation, Adams improvises a proposal calling for the composition of some kind of a, well, declaration to explain the reasons for the proposed separation from England only after the drafting of this document is complete can the vote take place. The other delegates agree, and a reluctant Thomas Jefferson (Ken Howard), who had been planning a return to Virginia to see his wife (Blythe Danner), is strong-armed into drafting the document. In the meantime, Adams and Franklin try to sway the others to their cause, while Dickinson works to keep all the conservatives in the opposing camp.
1776 is a remarkable musical on several fronts. First, it brings to life the distinct personalities and characters that made up the Second Continental Congress in a way that's deliciously entertaining one can easily forget, while getting caught up in the interplay, that the conclusion is already well known. The songs are unique to musical theater, sounding distinctly American and having a curious period quality, despite having been written in the early '60s. And they're both moving and funny, especially "Piddle Twiddle and Resolve" and "The Egg," in which Jefferson, Franklin and Adams liken the birth of the new nation to "waiting for the egg to hatch on this humid Monday morning / In this congressional incubator." But what really makes 1776 stand apart is that, despite a fair amount of dramatic license with language and the necessary dramatization of events, Edwards' obsessive research results in a story that is, with only a couple of exceptions, politically accurate. Much of the dialogue was taken directly from the subjects' actual speeches and personal letters, and the events as presented are what really happened. True, Washington's troops weren't really suffering from the poor morale depicted in the play (Americans were actually quite optimistic at the time about their military situation, having already driven the British from Boston), Franklin's intense hatred of the British and his influence on the Declaration are rather underplayed here, and Jefferson's wife, Martha, never came to Philadelphia to visit him she remained in Virginia during these events, and Jefferson was quite concerned about her health. But despite these small quibbles, 1776 makes this pivotal moment in American history more than just palatable it makes for a sumptuous meal, and dramatizes one of the most bizarre and unlikely events in human history as a very personal, very understandable story... with songs.
Columbia TriStar's new DVD release of 1776 offers a clean anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) and unremarkable Dolby 5.1 Digital audio (the original sound for the film was recorded, after all, a few decades ago). Billed as a "Restored Director's Cut," 20 minutes have been restored to the running time, drawn from 41 minutes originally deleted from the 1972 release, mostly for pacing. The most notable and welcome of these changes is the return of the song "Cool, Considerate Men," a delightfully catty look at the antagonistic, dandified, and mostly southern members of Congress, who do a minuet while proclaiming that they dance "to the right, ever to the right, never to the left, forever to the right." Also on board is commentary by director Peter H. Hunt and screenwriter Peter Stone; screen tests for William Daniels, Ray Middleton (Colonel Thomas McKean), James Noble (Rev. Jonathan Witherspoon), Leo Leyden (George Read), and Rex Robbins (Roger Sherman); and a trailer gallery. 1776: Director's Cut is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: Adam Sandler landed atop the American box-office chart over the pre-holiday weekend with Sony's Mr. Deeds, a remake of the Frank Capra comedy Mr. Deeds Goes to Town co-starring Wynona Ryder. The solid $37.6 million gross was enough to edge out last week's winner, Fox's Minority Report, which slipped to third place with a healthy $21.6 million, while Disney's animated Lilo & Stitch had a strong second weekend as well with $22.2 million. The only other new arrival was Paramount's Hey Arnold! The Movie, which failed to make an impression with just $6 million for a sixth-place debut. Both Mr. Deeds and Hey Arnold! earned mixed-to-negative reviews.
In continuing release, Warner's Scooby-Doo dropped to fourth place after three weeks with $12.2 million, but that $123.8 million gross means it's a certified hit. Universal's The Bourne Identity is also looking good after its third frame, as strong word-of-mouth has given it a $72.5 million tally. Paramount's The Sum of All Fears has cleared the century with $105.3 million, and Sony's Spider-Man is nearing the super-elite $400 million mark. But off the charts is Disney's Bad Company starring Anthony Hopkins and Chris Rock, which will finish with less than $30 million for producer Jerry Bruckheimer.
New films arriving this Wednesday for the long holiday weekend include Men in Black II starring Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, the basketball comedy Like Mike with Lil' Bow Wow, and The Powerpuff Girls Movie. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Damon Houx spent the better part of last week digging through Buena Vista's Pearl Harbor: Vista Series, while Mark Bourne has posted a new review of Image Entertainment's Rudolf Valentino double-feature The Sheik/The Son of the Sheik. New stuff from the rest of the gang this week includes Shallow Hal, Hearts and Minds: The Criterion Collection, Gardens of Stone, Old Gringo, Lost Command, 1776: Director's Cut, and Teenage Caveman. All can be found under the New Reviews menu here on the front page, while our DVD reviews database features more than 1,600 additional write-ups.
We'll be back tomorrow to let you know about this week's street discs.