Thursday, 29 August 2002
On the Block: Our latest round of DVD auction rankings at eBay is in, and there's a new top closer on the chart The THX Ultimate Demo Disc, recently released only to home-theater retailers, offers a variety of demos, film excerpts, and trailers, and one copy earned a whopping $760.99 for one lucky seller after a hot 38-bid session. The win pushed our regular top-closers down the chart a bit, as Salo: The Criterion Collection had a high ticket of $470.00, while Russell Crowe's Thirty-Odd Foot of Grunts concert release Texas snagged $430.06. Of course, the most popular Criterion items can still be had for major money, including The Killer ($260.00), The 400 Blows ($226.00), and This Is Spinal Tap ($149.99), while it seems some old favorites made recent surges, including the first edition of Little Shop of Horrors ($150.00) and the two-disc limited edition of Army of Darkness ($152.50). We're still waiting for Universal to re-release the major Marx Brothers classics until then, the Image box set The Marx Brothers Collection will continue to ride high, this time around with a $154.52 hammer-price. No Buffy TV boxes from overseas this month, but the single-episode release of "Once More With Feeling," distributed in Daily Variety, secured $237.50. And The King is far from dead, as the out-of-print DVD release of Elvis: The '68 Comeback Special took in $122.50.
Here's the highest recent closing prices of rare and out-of-print DVDs from online auctions at eBay:
Quotable: "People forget that before the war (Triumph of the Will) won all the prizes in the world and that the whole world considered this film wonderful. But after the war people said what I did was wrong. I didn't make it as a political movie, but more as an artwork.... Back then, Hitler had such charisma that everyone wanted to see him. This was naturally my misfortune."
Leni Riefenstahl, in an interview with Reuters.
The often-typecast Rupert Everett, in London's
"I loved working with him. But he became obsessed with me and couldn't take his eyes off me. He would tell me what to eat, and ask who I was dating. I didn't tell him anything about my life because he was the kind of person who would find out what buttons to push to make you upset. He would say things to me that were very upsetting. His wife Alma would say to me, 'I'm so sorry, Tippi.' Everyone on set knew, but no one talked about it."
Tippi Hedren, recalling Alfred Hitchcock.
"In my heart, all I ever wished was that we would make our $5 million back. If it had been shown in basements of Greek churches, I would have been happy."
My Big Fat Greek Wedding writer/star Nia Vardalos,
Coming Attractions: We're off to enjoy the extended holiday weekend, but new DVD reviews are on the way, including Blade 2: Platinum Series and Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season Four. This also will be the last weekend to enter this month's totally free DVD contest for a copy of The Fog: 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 Tuesday to announce the winner, and we'll have a new contest up and running as well.
Enjoy the weekend see ya soon.
Wednesday, 28 August 2002
Mailbag: It's time for the mail dump letters from DVD Journal readers around the world sent to our high-tech HQ, and presented with minimal comments from your own humble editor. And as usual, DVD fans have plenty of complaints to lodge:
The real tragedy is The Gold Rush, the original version of which was painstakingly restored by Kevin Brownlow, but didn't make it even to the Image DVD release, although reportedly it was shown once on British television. The Estate won't allow it to be released on video; only the vastly inferior re-edit with narration from 1942. At this point, the closest thing to the original cut is the Killiam version, released years ago on VHS and Laserdisc by Republic video, but now long out of print (nope, I'm not sellin' my LD!). Here's a link to a statement by David Shepard detailing which scenes were restored on the Image DVDs, and which will consequently be missing from the new Warner releases. Here's another link to a newsgroup archive which details the version differences of The Gold Rush.
Hang on to those Image Chaplin DVDs like they're gold, because they are; thank God I picked up every single last one of them when I had the chance.
Have you checked out the specs for Star Trek III? A documentary on terraforming and the prime directive with NASA interviews? Is this a "special feature"? Is this worth buying the movie again? The special edition of Star Trek: The Motion Picture was great and well worth the money. But it's obvious that Paramount hired a different team for Khan.
Paramount please make the special editions "special." For Star Trek V, spend the money to create Shatner's original ending, as conceived. Replace those horrid Bran Ferran FX. Start a publicity campaign that comes out and says "Star Trek V was a dud... until now. See new FX! See the original ending as conceived by the director! Find out first-hand the behind-the-scenes dirt on why Shatner's vision was compromised." Generate some interest and you'll end up moving the same type of units you did with Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
To paraphrase Andrew Sarris on Raoul Walsh in The American Cinema: If there is no place in the cinema for somebody like John Carpenter, then there is no place in my heart for any cinema.
We need a more focused set of standards as videophiles that can be presented to the studios rather than what they want to give us. Recent examples are the two-disc sets that make you shake your head about why it has to be on two discs, and the Superbit editions that don't seem so super. And the fact that we have to pay more to own the original E.T. rather than the new version.
Perhaps a few of our friends to the north will have an answer for us....
That journey will take another quantum leap forward if Ms. Alexandra DuPont ever agrees to meet me for beverages (I'm partial to soy lattes) and conversation. Is Ms. DuPont her real name or someone's pseudonym? I must know. I must see her photo ID while I'm all tweaked on a caffeine megadose.
You will never meet Ms. DuPont, Daniel. However, you may be hearing from her attorney soon.
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.
Tuesday, 27 August 2002
On the Street: MGM leads the way today with a catalog dump that's packed with chills this year's pre-Halloween lineup includes such titles as John Carpenter's The Fog, Roger Corman's The Masque of the Red Death, Wes Craven's The Last House on the Left, and the completely bizarre Vampire's Kiss starring Nicolas Cage. It's also the second week of Tarantino revisits, and Artisan's two-disc Reservoir Dogs: 10th Anniversary Edition is out now with four different boxcover designs. The frights keep coming from Warner as well with their special edition of Queen of the Damned, although Buena Vista is certain to do well over the holiday weekend with their G-rated baseball saga The Rookie. Fox has the recent High Crimes and the 1984 comedy Johnny Dangerously on the street, and Universal's list today includes David Fincher's The Game and Paul Schrader's 1982 Cat People. And this Tuesday's notable TV box is none other than The Sopranos: The Complete Third Season just add lasagna. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 26 August 2002
Disc of the Week: Roger Corman inaugurated a new class of low-cost / high-value Grand Guignol films with his first two Poe adaptations for American International Pictures, The Fall of the House of Usher (1960) and The Pit and the Pendulum (1961). These stylish and entertaining macabre thrillers were such a critical (not to mention economic) success that additions to the series were inevitable. 1964's The Masque of the Red Death is worth this disc's sticker price all by itself. If you die having seen only one Vincent Price movie, you could do worse than to have it be Masque thanks to a larger budget, principal shooting in England, and more production time (five weeks instead of three), this is Corman's most opulent and visually impressive Poe picture, and his grimmest. It's a tour de force of perverse Gothic elements, and perhaps Price's most deliciously sinister role.
Blending two of Poe's chillers, "Masque of the Red Death" and "Hop-Frog," Masque showcases Price as cruel prince Prospero, who maintains a sadistic grip on his surreal, plague-stricken medieval village and on his palace's debauched noblemen guests, who mistakenly believe that they are sheltered from the Red Death stalking the land outside Prospero's towering walls. High points include an unusually meditative and layered script, gorgeous production design brought to colorful fever-dream life by cinematographer Nicolas Roeg's and Corman's technical brilliance, 17-year-old Jane Asher (Alfie) as the virginal village girl Prospero takes as his own, Patrick Magee as the degenerate victim of dwarf Hop Toad's vengeance, an hallucinatory Satanic-ritual dream sequence, the orgiastic masked ball, a beautifully scripted and shot coda that tips a hat to Ingmar Bergman by way of EC Comics, and of course Price, who proves (as if anyone still doubts) that he was far more than just a swooping-cape camp actor. He took his professionalism quite seriously here, and it shows. He's so obviously having a grand good time with Prospero's silky wickedness that, with Sadean debauchery and supernatural comeuppance never looking so good, we do too.
On the other hand, The Premature Burial (1962) suffers from Price's absence. Ray Milland emotes, by turns, dour gloominess or manic eyeball-spinning through a weak script that bears too little sense and too many similarities to its predecessors, Usher and Pendulum. Tormented Guy Carrell, doomed by an obsessive fear of being entombed live, is a role crying out for the theatrics Price displayed in those pictures, but Milland just can't lock his character's pieces into a solid whole, nor is he given much help from a lazy screenplay stricken by multiple-personality disorder. Because his father was buried alive after a bout of catalepsy, newlywed Carrell is convinced that the same fate awaits him. He constructs numerous elaborate mechanisms to prevent such a terror, but a horrific event shocks Carrell into his own death-like catatonia. He is (you guessed it) buried alive until graverobbers and a complicated deception engineered by his bride push Carrell and the movie off the deep end. Corman's taut directing keeps an effective hold on the reins, but Premature Burial is undercooked. It can't shake out the rocks in its shoes, and Milland doesn't deliver the focused sureness he gave the following year in Corman's X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes.
This two-sided double-feature DVD, part of MGM's "Midnite Movies" series, spotlights the AIPoe that alongside The Tomb of Ligeia many enthusiasts consider to be the series' best, and bills it with the entry generally ranked at the bottom of Corman's Edgar Allan adaptations. Besides Corman and Price, both are also recognized among fan circles for script work by Charles Beaumont (The Intruder, Seven Faces of Dr. Lao, and two dozen Twilight Zone episodes), set designs by Corman's meisterbuilder Daniel Haller, and the yummy presence of scream queen Hazel Court, "in whose bosom," Time magazine noted, "you could sink the entire works of Edgar Allan Poe and a bottle of his favorite booze at the same time." MGM's new anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) of Masque is exquisite. The print is so clean and beautiful it's startling, with richly saturated colors from all over the spectrum popping out crisp and solid. Most of the time we could be watching a virgin source master. Audio is a strong, clean DD 2.0 mono. Premature Burial doesn't fare as well with its 2.35:1 anamorphic print not quite as clean or colorful, but it's still a good image with fine monaural DD 2.0 audio. The original theatrical trailers for both films are on board (Masque's gives away a climactic "Gotcha!" moment, so don't watch it first). Also here are a pair of 2002 on-camera interviews with Corman focused on the conception, writing, and production of these two films. In the longer one, "Roger Corman: Behind the Masque" (19 minutes), the genial director acknowledges the influence of European art films, particularly Bergman, and tells a charming anecdote about the day he had lunch on the set with Jane Asher's then-boyfriend, a Liverpudlian musician on his way to London for his band's first big-city gig. The lad was Paul McCartney. As extensions of Corman's terrific commentary tracks on the Usher and Pendulum discs, these two mini-documentaries continue our professional education in (as the title of his autobiography puts it) how to make a hundred movies in Hollywood and never lose a dime. The double-feature The Masque of the Red Death / The Premature Burial is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: The American box-office got turned on its ear over the weekend as three new arrivals barely got out of the gate, while Buena Vista's Signs jumped back to first place with $14.3 million, boosting its total to $173.2 million and reclaiming the spot it lost to Sony's XXX three weeks ago. August traditionally is one of the weakest months for movies, and this past weekend had the lowest overall gross of the year. Arriving in sixth place was Paramount's comedy Serving Sara starring Matthew Perry and Elizabeth Hurley, which pulled in $6 million. Miramax's boxing drama Undisputed with Wesley Snipes and Ving Rhames took in $4.7 million for eighth place, while New Line's S1m0ne, an Andrew Niccol film starring Al Pacino, took in a disappointing $4 million for ninth place. Undisputed and S1m0ne earned mixed notices, while most critics panned Serving Sara outright.
In continuing release, Sony's testosterone-fueled XXX starring Vin Diesel slipped to second place after three weeks, but it's now over the century with $106.7 million and far from done. Miramax's Spy Kids 2 benefited from the lackluster weekend, climbing from fourth to third place with $7.8 million for a $58.5 million cume. After a strong debut, Universal's surfing drama Blue Crush dipped to fifth place with $26 million overall. And IFC Films' My Big Fat Greek Wedding continues to win new fans with $64 million after nearly five months. But off the charts in the blink of an eye is one of the biggest theatrical disasters in years Warner's The Adventures of Pluto Nash starring Eddie Murphy opened with $2.2 million last weekend after two years of delays and no promotion by its high-profile star. In its second week, the movie earned $630,000 against a reported budget of $100 million. Ch-ching!
Labor Day weekend is upon us, and arriving in theaters this Friday is fear dot com starring Stephen Dorff. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Dawn Taylor recently looked at Jackie Brown: Collector's Edition, while Greg Dorr is on the board this week with the 1982 remake of Cat People. New reviews this morning from the rest of the team include The Rookie, The Fog: Special Edition, The Last House on the Left, National Lampoon's Van Wilder, High Crimes, The Return of the Living Dead, Vampire's Kiss, Johnny Dangerously, and the double-features The Masque of the Red Death/The Premature Burial and The Oblong Box/Scream and Scream Again. 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, 22 August 2002
Reader talkback: Just a couple of quick notes from DVD Journal readers before we sign off this week:
Great eyes, Chris it also appears the one-hour documentary Sergio Leone: Once Upon a Time will be shown on Saturday as well. Time to dust off the VCR (and everybody be sure to confirm that the second showings on Saturday will be letterboxed).
Quotable: "We do not change or alter the original content in any way. We simply give the consumers a choice, and there's power in choice. All of the other systems choose for you. Our system allows you to choose for yourself. You can choose your own personal comfort level.... We are on such solid ground with the copyright."
Trilogy Studios founder Breck Rice, whose company's
"Captain O'Grady was also troubled that the 'hero' in the Fox movie used foul language, was portrayed as a 'hot dog' type pilot, and disobeyed orders, unlike O'Grady."
Excerpt from a lawsuit filed by former U.S. Air Force
Matthew Perry, in The New York Times. Perry's
"I don't have great thighs, I have big breasts and a soft fatty little tummy. I don't want the unsuspecting 40-year-old to think I've got it going on. It's such a fraud and I'm perpetuating it."
Jamie Lee Curtis, 43, who is photographed without
"No one uses the word 'camp' anymore. Only executives in Hollywood use it, as code for 'gay,' like 'sporty' means lesbian."
Coming Attractions: New DVD reviews are on the way, including Jackie Brown: Collector's Edition, The Fog: Special Edition, and more. Have a great weekend gang we're back on Monday.
Wednesday, 21 August 2002
Fans of Sergio Leone often describe 1969's Once Upon a Time in the West ("C'era una volta il West") as his greatest film. But for cinema buffs in general, it offers an unusual treat: Henry Fonda who made his mark as the prototypical American Everyman in a decades-spanning film career decided to play the black-clad assassin Frank in Leone's epic, which is about against-type as casting gets. For Leone (a fan of Fonda's), it made perfect sense. After all, Leone didn't just contribute the extreme close-up to the language of cinema. He also helped transform the Western genre in the 1960s, replacing the traditionally heroic tropes of Hollywood lore with more realistic, pessimistic characters and themes.
The fourth of Leone's Spaghetti Westerns (following his "Man With No Name" trilogy starring Clint Eastwood, which made both of them international stars), Once Upon a Time in the West firmly returns to Leone territory, an American West overrun more by harshness, greed, and violence than noble lawmen in white hats. Railroad baron Morton (Gabriele Ferzetti) finds himself at odds with local landowner Brett McBain (Frank Wolff), who won't sell his land to rail interests. Thus, Morton sends hard-hearted killer Frank (Fonda) to take care of McBain, only to have his widow Jill (Claudia Cardinale) take control of the land. She also has two gunmen on her side, Cheyenne (Jason Robards) and Harmonica (Charles Bronson), with scores of their own to settle. To be sure, some have said that the plot of Once Upon a Time in the West is at times convoluted or vague (it's actually based on a story by directors Bernardo Bertolucci and Dario Argento), but the film has earned far more critical acclaim over the years. It seems even more significant in light of Leone's limited output between this picture and his 1984 epic Once Upon a Time in America, which would be his last before his death in 1989.
Shot in Italy, Once Upon a Time in the West is a Paramount property, and while we don't have any confirmed DVD release details, it's likely there will be one within the foreseeable future. The film went through several edits before its American release, and ideally we would like to see a disc that restores the running time from the common 165 minutes to the reported 185 minutes of Leone's original version. For now, Paramount has already released two Laserdisc editions, the first being a pan-and-scan item (which apparently was plagued by an overly fast telecine rate), the second being more-acceptable letterbox (2.35:1) transfer of the Techniscope print (see inset). A pan-and-scan VHS edition is also available from most online retailers. The latest word we've heard on a possible Region 1 DVD is that Paramount is still evaluating the film's source elements.
Which, naturally, leaves a final option for folks in Region 2, or for those who have code-free, PAL-compliant hardware. Italian distributor Univideo have released a Region 2 DVD of Once Upon a Time in the West, which sports an anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) and both Dolby Digital 5.1 as well as the original monaural audio. The running-time is listed at 175 minutes, but as the PAL algorithm speeds things up, this likely is (or gets close to) the full 185-min. version. Even if Paramount gets a DVD on the street, if it's the 165-min. U.S. cut (a strong possibility), the Univideo DVD will command a lot of international orders.
But we'd rather get the missing footage here in Region 1, even just as deleted scenes. And while were at it, it would be nice if Paramount could abandon the boxcover art used for Once Upon a Time in the West on their LD and VHS editions the original theatrical one-sheet featuring a towering, sinister Henry Fonda is simply of the greatest movie posters in history, and it needs to be a part of the DVD as well.
P.T. Barnum said that there's a sucker born every minute, and it made him rich. Judging by the incredible revenues that DVD is generating for the major studios a lot of which bails out their theatrical flops we'd say there's a lot of folks in the home-video business who know a sucker when they see one.
One copy of Reservoir Dogs will suit this editor just fine, thanks. Don't even care which one, either.
Can we get an "Amen" from the congregation?
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.
See ya later.
Tuesday, 20 August 2002
On the Street: It's Quentin Tarantino Tuesday, as two new special-edition DVDs have arrived up from Buena Vista are two-disc sets of Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown, while Artisan's two-platter release of Reservoir Dogs will be here next week. Paramount's list today is led by Randall Wallace's We Were Soldiers starring Mel Gibson, while catalog titles include John Hughes' Pretty in Pink and Some Kind of Wonderful. It's nothing but fun from Warner, who are streeting new special editions of Joe Dante's Gremlins and Gremlins 2: The New Batch. And from our friends at Criterion are two welcome discs René Clair's influential À Nous la Liberté, and Ronald Neame's espionage comedy Hopscotch starring Walter Matthau and Glenda Jackson. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 19 August 2002
Disc of the Week: On October 6, 1927 Warner Brothers' The Jazz Singer made its first public showing and the "sound revolution" began. Barely two years later virtually all the output of American film studios had a soundtrack. The new invention amused audiences and thus tended to be used for its own sake, rather like an indiscriminately employed circus effect. (Today's CGI visuals are repeating that trend.) At first the artistic standards of films deteriorated, but soon the novelty wore off and the soundtrack was open for use as a means of artistic expression. As with any artistic transition period, some brilliant directors (Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd, for instance) foundered in that sea change between the silent years' refined artistry the mature and highly developed editing and purely visual narrative and the "talkies'" potential to widen a film's canvas of expression and subject matter. Chaplin resisted full acceptance of sound for as long as he could. In France, however, director René Clair, one of the continent's predominant silent directors (The Italian Straw Hat), embraced the possibilities of sound while still honoring the conventions and advantages perfected by the pre-audio artists, particularly Chaplin. Most notable among Clair's early sound films are 1930's Sous le toits de Paris (Under the Rooftops of Paris) and '32's À Nous la Liberté, each displaying Clair's mastery of artful whimsy by mixing sound (especially song), sweet-faced storytelling, and visual skill the way a Parisian pastry chef masterfully blends cinnamon, cream, and powdered sugar. Pay particular attention to his use of sound. Claire employed dialogue mindfully, as a paintbrush used only when necessary, thus avoiding the gregariousness of so many of his contemporaries. Moreover, he pioneered the integration of sound and music as their own worthy entities to enhance the viewing experience rather than as mere dependents to the visuals.
À Nous la Liberté's story is a comic fable as light and formally structured as a children's picture-book tale. Two prison convicts, Louis (Raymond Cordy) and Emile (Henri Marchand), plot an escape together. The plan is a partial success, with only Louis getting away to freedom beyond the prison walls. Thanks to some comic good fortune and clever chicanery, he sets himself up as a sidewalk phonograph salesmen and in short order rises to the directorship of a fabulously successful phonograph manufacturing company. Like a bespectacled Jean Valjean, Louis' new identity and tycoon success keep him out of prison and within the upper crust of society. Eventually Emile gains employment at Louis' plant, where he recognizes his former cellmate and friend. When Emile the endearing "little man" embodiment of carefree human freedom reveals himself to Louis, the intrusion from his secret past alarms the captain of industry, who tries to bribe Emile into leaving and remaining silent. But their loving friendship trumps everything else, and it's not long before Louis' wife (an unfaithful society swell) and associates notice the changes triggered by the ubiquitous presence of Louis' scruffy and affable chum. Eventually the local mob blackmails Louis with photographic evidence of his former identity, and Louis' life crumbles as gangsters and the police alike come closing in at the same time he is to be publicly honored as a distinguished citizen. But "success" on society's terms is itself a cellblock of chains and shackles, and by shedding its wealth and trappings Louis and Emile gain the ultimate freedom as anonymous tramps singing together on the open road with no particular destination other than liberté! in mind.
À Nous la Liberté strives to be two contrapuntal things: a light-as-meringue semi-musical story of love (Emile falls for a factory girl) and the power of friendship, and the first screen expression of a growing social concern the fear that an individual's quality of life and liberty were threatened by society's relentless surge toward mechanization. That fear, and its attendant humanistic spirit, prevailed everywhere, probably most strongly in France. À Nous la Liberté tries to find the balance point between charming entertainment and social satire, and while it does both well by turns, one gets the feeling that Claire wasn't always comfortable juggling a tennis ball simultaneously with a whirring chainsaw. The depiction of prison life as routine drudgery relieved by group sing-alongs is whimsical but also cloying, and equating regimented daily employment with a prisoner's life is awfully blunt. We watch blood drip onto wads of cash, and Louis' spacious CEO office is as sterile as the interior of a bank vault. When Louis chucks his aristocratic existence for genuine happiness in a hobo's tra-la-la liberation on the road with his best friend, the scene teeters on the brink of preciousness. Yet Claire was such an exemplary director that this life-is-a-song celebration works (its message against selling out one's soul would rally today's teenagers) and À Nous la Liberté earns its status as a classic. One can imagine Preston Sturges taking notes while watching it, or casting Gene Kelly as Emile and Donald O'Connor as Louis. And the social-leftist satire against automated dehumanization had sufficient bite to impress Chaplin, whose more renowned classic Modern Times ('36) was so plainly a stepchild of À Nous la Liberté that Clair's production company filed a plagiarism suit against him. However, Clair wanted nothing to do with the suit and eventually had it dropped. He declared that "All of us flow" from Chaplin, and that "I was honored if he was inspired by my film."
Criterion's new DVD edition of À Nous la Liberté is everything we've come to expect from the lauded producer. The new digital transfer is gorgeous, created from a 35mm composite fine-grain master. The strong DD 1.0 soundtrack is 24-bit mastered, with audio restoration used to eliminate pops, hiss, and crackle. The sprightly musical score by George Auric, one of the earliest and best film scores ever recorded, is especially well served. The new optional English subtitle translation of the original French dialogue track is improved over previous editions. Alongside the 83-minute feature, the disc offers two deleted scenes, including Emile's pastoral layabout with a clutch of singing flowers. A March 2002 audio essay by film historian David Robinson provides authoritative info on the plagiarism lawsuit against Chaplin's Modern Times. A 1998 video interview with Madame Bronja Clair, René's wife, recalls his art and personal life in cozy detail. Also here is Entr'acte (1924), a 20-minute toy of trick photography and playful humor that was a seminal film of the Surrealist movement and brought together three great French artists of the time Francis Picabia, Erik Satie, and Clair. Finally, Michael Atkinson, film critic for the Village Voice and a pop-cinema authority, provides an informative essay in the pullout slipsheet. À Nous la Liberté: The Criterion Collection is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: Two new films arrived in American cineplexes over the weekend, but nothing could stop Vin Diesel Sony's XXX held the top spot for the second week in a row, adding $23 million to a 10-day haul of $84.9 million, and a sequel is all but guaranteed. Also holding firm was Buena Vista's Signs in second place with a $19.5 million weekend and $150.7 million overall for director M. Night Shyamalan and star Mel Gibson. Universal's surfing saga Blue Crush opened well, taking third place with $15.2 million. However, drawing crowds as fast as a busted canister of tear gas was Warner's The Adventures of Pluto Nash, debuting in tenth place with just $2.1 million and giving Eddie Murphy the biggest bomb of his career. Blue Crush did surprisingly well in the press, earning several positive reviews for both the movie and the surf-soaked cinematography. Pluto Nash, on the other hand, was unanimously blitzed by critics.
In continuing release, Miramax's Spy Kids 2 is not tracking as strongly as its predecessor, although it's doing well with $45.6 million in 10 days. New Line's Austin Powers in Goldmember has enjoyed a blistering first month, clearing $183.8 million and remaining in the top five. Looking to break the century soon is DreamWorks' Road to Perdition, currently holding $90.3 million. And moving up the charts after more than four months in limited release is IFC Films' My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which already has $52.8 million and is looking to earn more. Meanwhile, off to the cheap theaters is Sony's Men in Black II, which is currently hovering around $190 million. Doing less business is Paramount's K-19: The Widowmaker, which heads to DVD prep with less than $35 million.
Arriving in theaters this Friday is Serving Sara with Matthew Perry and Elizabeth Hurley, Simone starring Al Pacino, and Undisputed with Wesley Snipes and Ving Rhames. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Damon Houx has posted a sneak preview of Buena Vista's Pulp Fiction: Collector's Edition, while Greg Dorr is on the board with Artisan's Reservoir Dogs: 10th Anniversary Edition, and Mark Bourne recently looked at Columbia's twin-billed Curse of the Demon/Night of the Demon. New reviews this week from the rest of the team include We Were Soldiers, Gremlins: Special Edition, Gremlins 2: The New Batch: Special Edition, À Nous la Liberté: The Criterion Collection, Clockstoppers, Some Kind of Wonderful, Hopscotch: The Criterion Collection, Contract Killer, Pretty in Pink, True Colors, Change of Habit, and the Hammer classic The Revenge of Frankenstein. 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, 15 August 2002
Coming Attractions: New DVD reviews are on the way, including Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, and more. In the meantime, if you haven't entered our totally free DVD contest for a copy of The Fog: 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 gang back on Monday.
Quotable: "I have been an accomplice to the murders of untold numbers of human beings. I am admitting this only because I have made a deal with God. Spare me, I said, and I will try to stop others from committing the same crimes I did.... I don't think smoking is every person's right anymore. I think smoking should be as illegal as heroin.... So I say to my colleagues in Hollywood: what we are doing by showing larger-than-life movie stars smoking onscreen is glamorizing smoking. What we are doing by glamorizing smoking is unconscionable. Hollywood films have long championed civil rights and gay rights and commonly call for an end to racism and intolerance. Hollywood films espouse a belief in goodness and redemption. Yet we are the advertising agency and sales force for an industry that kills nearly 10,000 people daily. A cigarette in the hands of a Hollywood star onscreen is a gun aimed at a 12- or 14-year-old."
Screenwriter Joe Eszterhas, writing in The New
Charlton Heston, revealing in a statement to the
"I still don't eat a ton of meat, and I don't wear a ton of leather, but I just don't put strict limitations on myself anymore. I don't beat myself up. I didn't wear certain designers because I didn't want any animals to suffer for beauty and stuff, and so I literally was dressed by Old Navy at one point. I still shop there, happily. Urban Outfitters and the Gap, I love those stores. You need basics for stability, but eventually I got tired and wanted to play again. Dressing is like an art form it's so much fun."
Drew Barrymore, who after thoughtful
Wednesday, 14 August 2002
Um, did you say your Laserdisc was fantastic, Mark? Does that mean you actually don't have it anymore? If so, that would be a shame a DVD release of 1951's The Day the Earth Stood Still may be impending, but we'd be surprised if it is substantially better than what's on those big platters.
Taken from the short story "Farewell to the Master" by Harry Bates, The Day the Earth Stood Still is commonly regarded as a touchstone of sci-fi cinema the first alien invasion movie that actually proffered humanist themes in an era of Red Scare paranoia, rather than just a few cheesy thrills for the matinee crowds. The story concerns Klaatu (Michael Rennie), a visitor from another planet who spectacularly arrives in Washington D.C. with his oversized robot protector Gort (Lock Martin), demanding an audience with Earth's leaders. But after he's injured by a soldier and hospitalized, Klaatu escapes the government's clutches, taking on the identity of "Mr. Carpenter." And after earning the trust of a young widow (Patricia Neal) and meeting a brilliant scientist (Sam Jaffe), Klaatu delivers his benign message of disarmament to the world with some emphasis.
Directed by Robert Wise (who previously edited Citizen Kane), The Day the Earth Stood Still continues to earn new fans with every passing year, and it's easily one of the best science-fiction films of its era. In fact, considering that few genre movies have matched its critical acclaim, it's clear that Wise set the bar fairly high. A lot of sci-fi pictures over the years have been completely barren of ideas, but many at least adopt the posture of being significant or allegorical. Bernard Herrmann's Theramin score set the genre's template for a long time to come. And serious sci-fi buffs can recall the phrase "Klaatu barada nikto" faster than their own Social Security numbers.
Of course, a film as important as The Day the Earth Stood Still is awash in trivia for example, both Claude Rains and Spencer Tracy were originally considered for the part of Klaatu, while the immense robot Gort was played by Lock Martin, a guy who previously turned heads as the doorman at Grauman's Chinese Theater. But it's the sort of ground that's been covered already, particularly in Making the Earth Stand Still, a 70-minute documentary found on the "Special Collector's Edition" Laserdisc release of The Day the Earth Stood Still (see inset), with retrospective interviews from Robert Wise, producer Julian Blaustein, actors Patricia Neal and Billy Gray, and others. Also included on this LD release is a full-length commentary from Robert Wise and Nicholas Meyer (the directors of the first two Star Trek films, as it were), a newsreel, an extensive collection of stills, the theatrical trailer, and the complete shooting script. One of four Laserdiscs of The Day the Earth Stood Still, this Fox release first arrived in 1995, along with a nearly identical set as a Limited Edition signed by Robert Wise and numbered 25,000 copies. There are two more bone-stock LD editions than can be found on eBay for folks on a budget, but this dual-platter set is the preferred item and can close upwards of $80 for the limited edition. Until the DVD is announced, it will remain the gold standard.
And as for that DVD, Fox owns the rights to The Day the Earth Stood Still, which have never been sold or in dispute. Fox has made it clear for some time that a special-edition DVD is on the slate, and it's a safe bet that most of the Laserdisc materials will be on board (we're guessing it will be a two-disc set as well). Keep one eye on our Release Calendar for the time being.
Unfortunately Jean-Luc, you are in limited company. The Serpent's Egg has its admirers, certainly but most Ingmar Bergman aficionados regard it as one of his weakest films (some will even say it just stinks). In any event, it was a departure for the Swedish director, who left Scandinavia for a sojourn in Germany, decided to make a horror films of sorts, and cast an American star in the lead David Carradine. Bergman regular Liv Ullmann co-stars, and the methodical pacing is one of the director's hallmarks. But it's never been enough to generate interest in a home-video release in the United States. Produced by Dino De Laurentiis (of all people), the theatrical run was handled by Paramount. And as far as North America goes, the home-video rights probably lie with one or the other. (Note: After we first made these comments, a few readers informed us that a VHS tape was in release in North America many years ago.)
But being in Europe, you are in luck. We have not heard of a DVD, but a PAL-formatted VHS is currently in print from Castle Home Video, just released in June 2001. You can get it from most online retailers, and Bergman completists in North America with PAL-compliant hardware may want to hunt it down as well.
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.
Klaatu barada nikto.
Tuesday, 13 August 2002
On the Street: Todd Field's In the Bedroom, starring Tom Wilkinson and Sissy Spacek, earned a lot of attention at this year's Academy Awards, and a new DVD is out this morning from Buena Vista. And BV has plenty more to offer in their current catalog dump, which includes such cable-TV staples as Cocktail, Beaches, The Preacher's Wife, Down and Out in Beverly Hills, and Stakeout. Columbia TriStar's has an unusual mix this time around with the 1957 double-feature Curse of the Demon/Night of the Demon, the recent comedy The New Guy, and outstanding dramas Last Orders and Pauline and Paulette. If you're looking for something in the mainstream, Warner's Showtime and Paramount's Clockstoppers might be for you. And if you're an Elvis fan, Fox has three new titles featuring the young King of Rock Love Me Tender, Flaming Star, and Wild in the Country. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 12 August 2002
Disc of the Week: If the cinema of the British New Wave was typified by several angry young men, it's unlikely it would have been as influential in the 1960s without a few angry young actors. Sometimes referred to as "Free Cinema," the new breed of working-class films that transformed British movies forever was led by such directors as Tony Richardson (The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner), John Schlesinger (Billy Liar), and Karel Reisz (Saturday Night and Sunday Morning). And born of this era was a new kind of movie-star the sort of men who did not master their craft at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and a few seasons at the Old Vic, but very possibly learned a thing or two from a few pub brawls. Tom Courtenay made his earliest impressions in 1962's The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. David Hemmings was immortalized as the photographer in Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow Up (1966). And Michael Caine shot to stardom as Cockney secret agent Harry Palmer in The Ipcress File (1964), soon followed by his turn in the immensely popular Alfie (1966). And thankfully for fans of the era, the three actors co-star in Fred Schepisi's Last Orders (2001), a bittersweet look back at a small group of friends in postwar England.
Adapted from the Booker Prize-winning novel by Graham Swift, Last Orders opens with three men Vic (Tom Courtenay), Lenny (David Hemmings), and "Lucky" Ray (Bob Hoskins) who have gathered in their favorite pub with the ashes of their recently deceased friend Jack (Michael Caine). For personal reasons, Jack requested that his ashes be scattered at the English seaside from Margate Pier, and the trio is joined on the day's journey by Jack's son Vince (Ray Winstone). However, Jack's wife Amy (Helen Mirren) is notably absent, choosing instead to spend the day at a care-home with her mentally retarded daughter June. The reason for Amy's decision is not readily apparent, but as the story progresses we learn more about the characters via a complex series of flashbacks including Jack's rejection of his retarded daughter; a long-harbored source of tension between Lenny and Vince; Ray's estrangement from his daughter and grandchildren; a secret loan that Jack tries to pay off from his deathbed; a concealed adoption; and an adulterous affair that has yet to reach a conclusion. During the journey, each character's memories spark the interweaving stories, forcing them to examine their current circumstances before the day is through.
"There will be days and days and days like this" so says a young Meryl Streep in Fred Schepisi's Plenty (1985), a film that bookends his Last Orders nicely. In Plenty, the words are spoken by a young woman who revels in the bountiful contentment that postwar Europe appears to offer. Such words could be said by the young men seen in Last Orders as well, as the major characters (portrayed by younger actors) swill beer in the local pub with their wives after returning home from the war: Despite their working-class ambitions, they are emboldened by their youth, their families, and their freedoms. But (as also happens in Plenty) the best-laid plans often go awry, and as much as each character tries to maintain some control over their own destiny, destiny also has a way of manipulating them. Jack and Amy's marriage a swift romance discovered on a summer job is strained by his reckless ways and his coldness towards their retarded daughter. Vince's refusal to make a career in his father's butcher shop has only strained the family further. Lenny and Ray harbor secrets about Jack as well that only come to light over time. In fact, despite the fine acting, the most remarkable thing about Last Orders is the complex screenplay by establishing characters and behaviors early on in the story, but only revealing motivations as events unfold via flashbacks, Schepisi's film becomes much richer upon second viewing. Suddenly, small nuances in words and gestures gain a resonance that was not there before, and the actors are smart enough to shield these moments in ambiguity. Schepisi also handles his time-shifts with dexterity, never blatantly announcing what year each scene occupies and instead allowing subtle details to suggest the distinctions. All of the events make for a rather somber story, and while much of the film concerns the debris of experiences that are cast in the wake of lofty ideals, the day dedicated to scattering the ashes of a departed friend ends on an optimistic note.
Columbia TriStar's new DVD release of Last Orders features a strong anamorphic transfer (2.351) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Optional English subtitles are available, and recommended for non-British viewers as the actors' Cockney accents can get a bit thick. The chief feature on board is a commentary by director Schepisi, who speaks in soft, even tones about his talented cast, the difficulties of working on a small budget, and how subtle CGI shots are occasionally used in this low-key production. Last Orders is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: Building on the surprise success of last year's The Fast and the Furious, Vin Diesel soared to the top of the box-office chart over the weekend in Sony's XXX, which took in a solid $46 million. The extreme-sports-superspy movie managed to give Sony their fourth-largest debut ever, and it pushed last week's winner, Buena Vista's Signs, to second place although the M. Night Shyamalan film has grossed a remarkable $118.3 million in just 10 days. Also new over the weekend was Miramax's Spy Kids 2 from director Robert Rodriguez, which landed in third place with a healthy $17 million over the past three days, while Warner's Blood Work from Clint Eastwood stumbled out of the gate, opening in fifth with $7.2 million. Critics were generally positive towards Spy Kids 2, while both XXX and Blood Work earned mixed notices.
In continuing release, New Line's shagadelic Austin Powers in Goldmember is doing huge business for star Mike Meyers (no surprise there), currently holding on to fourth place after three weeks and a $167.7 million gross. DreamWorks' Road to Perdition is also looking good after five weeks and an $84.1 million total. And IFC Films' independent comedy My Big Fat Greek Wedding continues to be a slow burn in limited release with $45 million after more than four months. Dropping away are last week's arrivals The Master of Disguise and Martin Lawrence Live: Runteldat. And on the way to DVD prep is Fox's Minority Report, which heads to the cheap theaters with almost $130 million.
Eddie Murphy goes for laughs this Friday in The Adventures of Pluto Nash, while other new movies include the teen surfing drama Blue Crush. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Dawn Taylor has posted a new review of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, while new stuff from the rest of the team this week includes Showtime, The New Guy, Pauline and Paulette, Hell's Gate, Jacked Up, Last Orders, and the Elvis films Love Me Tender, Flaming Star, and Wild in the Country. 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 to let you know about this week's street discs.
Thursday, 8 August 2002
Reader talkback: We start today with a quick correction from a knowledgeable reader regarding one of yesterday's letters once again proving that we don't know everything:
Films like Masters of the Universe and Superman IV, from 1988, were released by Warner. But The Last American Virgin, from back in 1982, should have been a Cannon vault item, and therefore remain with MGM. The Cannon library (or at least the main bulk of it) stayed with MGM.
Thanks for the info Michael hopefully everybody's updated their scorecards.
Quotable: "This is just the big studios coming in and legislating things in their favor. This shorter awards season is going to favor the bigger movies, which means favoring the bigger studios.... It took a long time for these small, indie movies to find parity in the Oscars with the big studio movies. And this shift will only benefit the movies that get out to thousands of theaters in December and penalize those smaller movies on the back end."
Miramax chief Harvey Weinstein, criticizing the
Director Terry Gilliam, in an interview with London's
"Every variation of everything has been given thought. What's going to happen is so unknown to me it's kind of exciting. Anything could happen."
Buffy the Vampire Slayer series creator Joss Whedon,
"I'm from New York. You get a timeless cool card in New York. You know how Robert De Niro has a timeless cool card?"
Vin Diesel, whose action-packed XXX opens
Coming Attractions: New DVD reviews are on the way, including you guessed it Fellowship of the Ring. Have a great weekend gang. We're back on Monday.
Wednesday, 7 August 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:
An unusual entry on Billy Wilder's resumé, 1951's Ace in the Hole is considered to be one of the director's most personal films. It was his first project just after he severed ties with his longtime screenwriting collaborator Charles Brackett. He wrote, produced, and directed it alone. It's bitter in tone and has a rather downbeat ending. After it was attacked by critics and virtually ignored by American moviegoers, Wilder spent the rest of the decade adapting novels and plays to the screen instead of writing his own original scripts. And despite all of this, it is now widely acclaimed. Ace in the Hole may not be a perennial favorite like Sabrina or Some Like It Hot, but for Wilder buffs it's essential viewing.
Ace in the Hole was retitled The Big Carnival by Paramount upon its theatrical release, and the two titles are often used interchangeably. However, they refer to the same film, in which Kirk Douglas stars as newspaper reporter Charles Tatum, a New Yorker who finds himself working in Albuquerque. Tatum has little patience for his humdrum New Mexico surroundings that is, until a man (Richard Benedict) becomes trapped in a local cave. However, while a good story would be one thing, Tatum wants more, and he manages to prolong the rescue effort while reporting the drama nationwide, which transforms the local trading post into a massive carnival with the standard attractions and fairground rides.
Few folks escape Billy Wilder's unmerciful gaze in Ace in the Hole it's the German-born director's most critical look at the people of his adopted country. And it's not surprising that it failed to catch fire at the box-office moviegoers, then and now, generally visit theaters for a bit of escapism, not to see a caustic director looking back at them (the picture did do very well in Europe, though). Film critics described it as anti-American, which only hurt it more as the Cold War began to take shape. In fact, Ace in the Hole really only had a resurgence in the 1980s, with more media-savvy American viewers who could appreciate Wilder's brusque take on politicians and journalists. In fact, despite the film's virtual disappearance for a few decades, the term "media circus" did not exist in 1951. It's an overused cliché today, but it probably can be credited to Billy Wilder.
Ace in the Hole is hardly a "lost" film by the way, although getting your own copy isn't exactly easy. The film is owned by Paramount, and as far as we can tell the rights have never been in question. But to this day the studio has never released it on home video. That leaves two options. Various videotape copies (certainly bootlegs) can be found on eBay from time to time. And the film appears now and then on cable, particularly American Movie Classics. Reportedly, the print is in good shape, and many Wilder aficionados have taped their own prized VHS copies.
If there is a DVD release in the future, we understand that Paramount may not load it up with a lot of extra features. And we would be happy with a quality transfer, if that's all we could get. But there is one bit of ephemera we would like somebody to dig out: According to Ed Sikov's Billy Wilder biography On Sunset Boulevard, Wilder originally altered the Paramount logo in the opening shot, retaining the semi-circle of stars but replacing the mountain with a coiled, hissing rattlesnake. Reportedly this actually made it to test screenings before it was nixed hopefully the footage still exists in the vaults.
The Last American Virgin (1982), written and directed by Boaz Davidson, can easily be classified as a typical teenage horndogger tale born of the '80s, but despite its low profile it seems to have built a small legion of fans. Perhaps it's because of the raunchy comedy and the great soundtrack (featuring Devo, Journey, REO Speedwagon, U2, The Waitresses, The Police, Human League, Oingo Boingo, The Cars, and The Plimsouls). But it seems a lot of folks actually enjoy the film because of the poignant, dramatic turn it takes in its final third, elevating it beyond a mere Porky's flick. And with VHS editions clearing big money on eBay (we've seen as high as $70 recently, although a lot close between $30 - $40), it's clear that more than a few digital die-hards would plunk down cash for a DVD. And particularly for the uncut version, as opposed to the edited one that turns up on nighttime cable.
However, at the moment no disc is in sight. Released theatrically by The Cannon Group, there was an initial Cannon VHS, although the rights eventually found their way to MGM/UA. MGM then released their own VHS, but both of these items are out of print and becoming tougher to find at renters, who are clearing out old VHS stock right and left to make way for DVD. We have not been able to find any information on a Laserdisc release either.
Furthermore, despite there being an MGM videotape, The Last American Virgin does not appear to be an MGM property anymore. If the film was acquired by MGM before 1986, it would have become part of the Turner Library (Ted Turner bought all of the MGM library and pre-1950 Warner library in August of '86). The Turner holdings were MGM's up to March of 1999, when they were traded to Warner. And it looks like that's where this Virgin will remain for now.
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. Thanks for helping us keep the pop-ups down.
Bye for now.
Tuesday, 6 August 2002
On the Street: Get out your credit cards today's gonna be busy. There's plenty of stuff to pick up this week, not least of which New Line's The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring two disc-set, although we suspect some fans will resist the temptation for now and wait for the announced four-disc set to arrive in November. Also likely to sell a few copies is Paramount's Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan: Director's Edition, a two-disc set with a new transfer and a commentary from director Nicolas Meyer. Fox has the second of their Simpsons box-sets on the street, in addition to the comedies Hot Shots!, Hot Shots! Part Deux, and Super Troopers. And Warner's catalog releases today include such matinee treats as Time After Time, Wolfen, Clash of the Titans, Them!, and The Swarm. As for us, there are two choice picks that are too easily overlooked MGM's drama The Business of Strangers and the skateboard documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 5 August 2002
And the winner is: Peter Symanowicz of Storrs, Conn., wins the free Time Machine DVD from our July contest. Congrats, Peter!
Our totally free DVD contest for the month of August is up and running, and we have a copy of MGM's The Fog: 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: For better or worse, the Vin Diesel movie XXX, the late-'90s resurgence of baggy pants, and the popular use of ironic distance share the collective fingerprints of the world of skateboarding. In fact, skateboarding culture has become one of the most influential in America music, clothing trends, and youth culture have drawn a lot from this way of life. Spike Jonze was making skate videos long before working with The Beastie Boys or directing Being John Malkovich. And with such a pre-eminence in America, there are two expectations one should immediately dismiss about 2002's Dogtown and Z-Boys, a documentary about how skateboarding was transformed into the "extreme sport" it has become today. One might expect it to be of the good-for-you-like-sour-medicine Ken Burns style, where lengthy and (for some) insomnia-curing public broadcasting dissertations flutter past in a way that deadens one's interest in the material. The second fear (and the more likely one) is that it would be pop-treacle, where the only parts of interest are the hypnotic grace of skateboarding, but little substance. What is then most welcome about the film is how its flashy exterior and subject-matter is balanced by an insightful portrait of the people involved. A lot of information is packed into the 90-minute running-time, as the documentary manages to be informative and entertaining without missing a beat.
Directed by Z-boy Stacy Peralta, Dogtown and Z-Boys follows the evolution of skateboarding from its beginnings as a '60s recreational gimmick (which, had it not been for the invention of urethane wheels, might be mentioned in the same breath as pogo sticks) to the So-Cal skaters who transformed it. Coming from both a surfing culture and the alpha-male nature of their neighborhood (Dogtown is a part of the southern Santa Monica and Venice Beach area that was impoverished during the mid-to-late '70s), the Z-boys were members of a skate team born of the Zepphyr surfing team. And through the influences of surfing, the Z-boys transformed skating from a gymnastic aesthetic into street culture. This meant skating in empty swimming pools and paved concave school parks, touching the pavement like how surfer Larry Bertleman was touching waves, and walking the board all of which led to fame and sponsorship for most of the team. Dogtown then follows three of its brightest stars: Stacy Peralta, who formed Powell/Peralta and became one of the major players in the '80s skating scene as an impresario; Jay Adams, for whom skating and a young fame led to some darker places; and Tony Alva, who defined what skateboarding cool meant through his hard-driving skating and rock star approach, and who continues to skate. The film then changes gears to examine the weekend that changed the way that skating would be done from then on.
Even if you have no idea what kickflips or k-grinds are, Dogtown and Z-Boys is fascinating because the filmmakers do such a remarkable job of creating a compelling portrait of young men and the sport they love. As narrated by Sean Penn, one gets to understand their backgrounds and the influences that affected the way they skated. Since the stories are told by the original Z-boys (now Z-men) and the one girl of the team, their recollections are filled with enthusiasm over earlier accomplishments. But the film never becomes a series of talking heads, thanks to some great period footage. Just as impressive is the soundtrack, which keeps the picture moving at a fast clip and is loaded with great songs by Iggy Pop, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, T-Rex, Neil Young, and many more. Though some might question the fact that the director himself is interviewed as one of the major players of the scene (there are some awkward moments where interviewee Peralta seems to be performing for what director Peralta needed), he more than makes up for it with his first-hand experiences, which keeps the documentary honest and enthusiastic. And most impressive is the final ten minutes, where Dogtown tries to pinpoint the moment where the sport was irrevocably changed a day when the Z-boys were asked to gather at a swimming pool at the request of a cancer-ridden skateboard enthusiast. Dubbed the "Dogbowl," the film theorizes that, with the Z-Boys skating together after becoming famous, they pushed each other so hard that the frontside air was born. Though this sequence has an almost "print the legend" quality to it (by suggesting this was the place where vertical skating began), it's so compelling that it's easy to believe that this is where it happened.
Columbia TriStar's new DVD release of Dogtown and Z-Boys presents the film in full-frame 1.33:1 (as it was shown theatrically), and since it was all shot on video it looks great, while the soundtrack is in Dolby Digital 5.0. An audio commentary with Peralta and editor Paul Crowder is included, where Peralta is humble and says that the project from conception to completion took six months, and that the film (originally sponsored by Vans) was produced in a hands-off manner that let him make the picture he wanted. If you select the option, there are occasional "on-the-fly" icons offering more uncut skating footage, and also included is footage of Tony Alva skating in 2002 alongside old Powell-and-Peralta skater Lance Mountain. Crowder and Peralta discuss a promotional trailer they made to secure the music rights, but it is not included, although the theatrical trailer is here, which promotes the film's festival-circuit success. Dogtown and Z-Boys hits the street tomorrow.
Box Office: Exactly three years after M. Night Shyamalan delivered the box-office smash The Sixth Sense, the gifted writer/director returned to cineplexes with Signs, which blasted its way to a $60.3 million opening for Buena Vista. The supernatural tale starring Mel Gibson dropped last week's winner, New Line's Austin Powers in Goldmember, to second place, although the randy superspy managed to add $32.4 million to a 10-day $142.9 million gross. Other new arrivals over the weekend included Sony's The Master of Disguise starring Dana Carvey, which landed in third place with $13 million, while Paramount's Martin Lawrence Live: Runteldat debuted at number four with $7.5 million. Most critics showered Signs with praise, while Runteldat received mixed notices. The Master of Disguise was widely panned.
In continuing release, DreamWorks' The Road to Perdition starring Tom Hanks is building a strong run, remaining in the top five after one month and $77.2 million overall. Fox's Minority Report is starting to fade after nearly two months, although its $126.3 million total makes it a confirmed hit for Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise. And Sony's Stuart Little 2 is doing well with family audiences, taking in nearly $50 million in three weeks. But dropping fast is Disney's live-action The Country Bears, earning just $3 million over its second weekend. At least Disney can be pleased with their animated hit Lilo & Stitch, which heads to DVD prep with more than $135 million.
Coming to cineplexes this Friday is Robert Rodriguez's Spy Kids 2 starring Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara, who are joined this time around by co-star Steve Buscemi. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Mark Bourne has posted a sneak preview of Paramount's Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan: Director's Edition, while Dawn Taylor recently dug through Fox's The Simpsons: Season Two. New reviews this week from the rest of the gang include Collateral Damage, Super Troopers, Deuces Wild, Hot Shots!, Hot Shots! Part Deux, The Business of Strangers, Dogtown and Z-Boys, and Rough Magic. 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.
Thursday, 1 August 2002
On the Block: Our latest round of DVD auction rankings at eBay is in, and while it seems that prices have dipped in recent weeks overall, Russell Crowe's Aussie bar-band Thirty-Odd Foot of Grunts continues to hold the most-sought-after disc on the planet, with Texas clearing $460.00 for one lucky seller, beating out perennial favorite Salo: The Criterion Collection, which still took in a solid $315.00. Making a surprise surge this time around was the first edition of Warner's Little Shop of Horrors, a reliable top-closer a few years ago, and finding its way to third place with $250.00 in a quick "buy it now" auction. Our Criterion regulars are still here as well, including The 400 Blows, The Killer, and This Is Spinal Tap, but Criterion's Hard Boiled actually failed to chart in this session. New to the list is a Region 2 release of David Lynch's Wild at Heart ($132.50), in addition to an out-of-print copy of Kiss: Unplugged ($120.00), while other choice items include Image's Marx Brothers Collection ($167.50), the Canada-only disc of Giant ($119.99), and the Samuel L. Goldwyn-branded Wuthering Heights ($120.00). And no surprises here it's a double-dose of Buffy on the list, with the episode "Once More, With Feeling" (distributed in Daily Variety) clearing $187.50, while the Region 2 release of Buffy: Season Three brought in $120.50.
Here's the highest recent closing prices of rare and out-of-print DVDs from online auctions at eBay:
'Empire' talkback: Several folks got in touch with us yesterday after our discussion of Anthony Mann's 1964 The Fall of the Roman Empire, and as usual our crack readers have plenty of good info:
Thanks guys we appreciate your taking the time to get in touch.
Quotable: "I couldn't get the ashtray to open; it came off in my hand. The cab driver starts yelling at me, and I have this thing where I can only take being yelled at four times. I got upset and I said 'Stop the car' and he sped up. The car stops and I manage to get out, but then he starts chasing me. Eventually the cops arrive, and there's sirens and a sea of blue, all over an ashtray. I spent the night in jail but the cops were real gentlemen. The sum total is I was an idiot."
Woody Harrelson, discussing his recent London
Steven Soderbergh, in The New York Times
"We made a vow to everybody who said they were interested in doing it. We told them that we would make it as simple as possible and get them in and out, and that they would have to spend no more than half a day on the set. We were really pleased when the star cameos seamlessly fit into the flow of the production."
Austin Powers in Goldmember producer John
"They kinda knew I was in show business but they sort of thought I was retired. Then I was away doing standup and they found a box of all my stuff in the basement, like some magazine covers and some awards and stuff.... They're the ones who said, 'You should do a movie, Dad!'"
Dana Carvey, who stayed away from the public eye
Coming Attractions: New DVD reviews are on the way, including Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and more. This also will be the last weekend to enter this month's totally free DVD contest for a copy of The Time Machine, 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.