Monday, 30 Sept. 2002
Disc of the Week: It remains one of the most notorious crimes in New Zealand's history: On June 22, 1954, during an afternoon stroll in a Christchurch park, 15-year-old Juliet Hulme and Pauline Parker bashed Pauline's mum's head in with a brick. It shocked the world, not only because of the tender age of the murderers, but also because of the extreme nature of the act. According to a police report, the victim had been attacked "with an animal ferocity seldom seen even in the most brutal murders." New Zealand filmmaker Peter Jackson, whose first three films had been grotesque comedies (Dead Alive, Bad Taste, Meet the Feebles), became interested in the case because of his wife's fascination with it; a year of research including interviews with those involved, plus the girl's diaries and court transcripts resulted in a script for Heavenly Creatures (1994), which is a tad over-the-top, at times surreal, and refuses to paint the two girls as fiends. Despite his gore-drenched past, Jackson's take on the story is uniquely comic without doing disrespect to its tragic aspects, resulting in a funny, horrifying, and deeply moving film about two very disturbed young people who feed each others' psychoses. Jackson has called his film "a murder story about love, a murder story with no villains" it's a compelling examination of passion and delusion, leading inexorably to violence.
Sullen, pudding-faced Pauline (Melanie Lynskey) begins to blossom when she's befriended by an exuberant English girl named Juliet (Kate Winslet), new to their repressive girl's school. Smart, smug, and charismatic, Juliet is drawn to Pauline because of all that they have in common both were victims of lengthy childhood illnesses which have left them less than robust, both are interested in becoming writers, and both are social outsiders. "We have such extraordinary telepathy," Pauline says of her new friend. "We are both stark raving mad." They discover a mutual love of Mario Lanza and James Mason, and gradually wrap themselves up in their own private fantasy world, a mythical kingdom called Borovnia. Giving each other fictional names, they share fantasies of chivalry, sexual misadventures, and murder as their romantic friendship develops into obsessive intensity. When Juliet's divorcing parents declare that they're shipping her off to a relative in South Africa, the two girls implore Pauline's mother to allow them to go together. Uncomfortable with their relationship, Pauline's mother says no, unaware of the lengths the girls will go to in order to stay together.
Having become the Kiwi master of schlock cinema through his previous films, Jackson's deft, magical hand with Heavenly Creatures came as a shock to his cult audience. The film achieves a delicate balance, presenting the girls' love story as sympathetic while maintaining a constant state of tension they are, after all, quite mad, and from the beginning of the film we know where their mutual obsession is heading. But as we watch the events slowly unfold with growing horror, Jackson pulls the viewer into the girls' magical, alternate world through special effects and voiceovers taken from Pauline's diaries. We experience their fantasies/delusions along with them, which makes their fantasy world understandable, as well as the reasons why it's so much more appealing than their bleak reality. Lynskey and Blanchett give performances that may at first seem overly enthusiastic and without much subtlety, but they're servicing a film that's as much a horrible fairy tale as it is a true-crime story and they're playing young teens, to boot, with all the emotional excesses that territory demands. Winslet makes Pauline's attraction to Juliet perfectly understandable; she's wicked, emotionally vulnerable, and drop-dead gorgeous, along with being something of a lunatic. As Pauline, Lynskey is alternately pathetic, lovestruck, disagreeable, and triumphant it's an amazing portrayal of adolescent angst, and when she glowers from beneath hooded brows, there's no doubt what dark thoughts she's thinking.
Miramax's new DVD release of Heavenly Creatures offers a very good anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) and Dolby 2.0 Surround audio. It's not a perfectly pristine source-print, and some scenes seem less crisp than others, but overall it's been well cared for. At 109 minutes, this is the same version that was originally released in New Zealand; the previously available North American version was about ten minutes shorter. Some trivial scenes have been extended, the 1950's documentary on Christchurch that begins the film is considerably expanded, and we get a lot more of Juliet and Pauline's relationship, including a longer version of them running through the woods singing "Donkey Seranade" in their underwear. Several of the restored scenes may have been cut for ratings reasons a man in the hospital tuberculosis ward coughs up blood into a basin, and there are a few very gory (and very funny) fantasies that the girls have about other people being impaled or dying horribly, as well as one last bloody scene at the end of the film concerning Juliet. Heavenly Creatures is on the street now.
Box Office: Early autumn traditionally may be a weak month at the box-office, but this last weekend saw a couple of records fall. Opening in first place was Buena Vista's Sweet Home Alabama, which took in a stunning $37.5 million the best for any film in September, and the romantic comedy also gave star Reese Witherspoon her strongest debut to date. Landing in second place was DreamWorks' The Tuxedo starring Jackie Chan and Jennifer Love Hewitt, which didn't earn Rush Hour numbers but was good for $15.1 million in its first frame. Both Sweet Home Alabama and The Tuxedo earned mixed-to-negative reviews from critics.
In continuing release, MGM's Barbershop slipped from first place to third after three weeks, adding $10.1 million to its $51.4 million total, doubtless bolstered by good word-of-mouth and a few vocal, politically correct critics. IFC Films' My Big Fat Greek Wedding is still cruising on its late-summer run, holding fourth place with $136.9 million overall. But slipping a bit is Fox Searchlight's The Banger Sisters starring Goldie Hawn and Susan Sarandon, taking just $5.4 million in its second weekend, while Warner's Ballistic: Ecks Vs. Sever with Antonio Banderas and Lucy Liu is dropping fast with $11.5 million after ten days. Meanwhile, Sony's XXX will soon find its way to DVD after a solid $140 million run.
Hoping to scare the crap out of you one more time, Anthony Hopkins returns to cineplexes this Friday as Hanibal Lecter in Red Dragon. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: D.K. Holm has posted a new review of Criterion's Spellbound, while Betsy Bozdech recently looked at Buena Vista's Monsters, Inc.. New reviews this week from the rest of the team include A Hard Day's Night: Collector's Series, Brotherhood of the Wolf, The Scorpion King, Swingers: Collector's Series, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, Man Bites Dog: The Criterion Collection, The Collector, 40 Days and 40 Nights, Under the Roofs of Paris: The Criterion Collection, Heavenly Creatures, and Kissing Jessica Stein. All can be found under the New Reviews menu here on the front page, while our DVD reviews database features more than 1,700 additional write-ups.
We'll be back tomorrow with news on this week's street discs.
Thursday, 26 Sept. 2002
Coming Attractions: Another weekend is on the horizon, which means it's time for us to tear the annoying security stickers off a fresh stack of DVDs. New reviews on the way include A Hard Day's Night, Spellbound: The Criterion Collection, and more. Have fun we'll see ya Monday.
Quotable: "For the first time, I'm feeling limited by my age in terms of I can't just play anybody. But the more you talk about this, the more self-fulfilling it is. Mind you, I was a wild man. I still consider myself youthfully vital. I still relate to what Faulkner tried to say to young artists: 'This is vitally important. You may do something that supports the life and humanity of others in some wild way.' And that's my aspiration."
Jack Nicholson, in The New York Times
Julia Stiles, discussing the part of Mary Jane in
"When it comes to hardcore advertising, I've tried to only do things that I consider humanistic. I did a Michael Jordan commercial for Nike in which he talked about all the shots he had missed. I found that very subversive. Of course, it is about product. But somehow I persuade myself at night, when I have to go to sleep, that it isn't just selling, selling, selling."
One Hour Photo director Mark Romanek on
"I think Bill Murray is amazingly talented and funny and he added to all our characters and would bring amazingly funny lines to it and would give us some direction for where he thought a scene should go. It was such a shame when I heard he wasn't coming back (for the sequel), but I hope to work with him again in the future."
Lucy Liu, denying reports she didn't get along
"The main reason I wanted to be in the movie was because of (Jackie Chan). I get kind of excited about getting beat up and thrown around."
Jennifer Love Hewitt, who co-stars in The
Wednesday, 25 Sept. 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:
Perhaps art is meant to imitate life, but nobody could imitate Bob Fosse. While best known for his Broadway choreography, the multi-talented artist excelled in almost all areas directing, dancing, and writing on stage and screen. In 1973 he won the Best Director Oscar for Cabaret, and in the same year won the directing awards at the Tonys and Emmys the only director in history to get that particular hat trick. And that '73 Oscar didn't come cheap, as he beat out Francis Ford Coppola's nod for The Godfather (Coppola got him back though two years later, winning for The Godfather Part II, while Fosse was nominated for Lenny).
However, it seems the one craft Fosse never made his mark on was acting. He spent an early part of his career in Hollywood taking small roles, but before long he returned to New York, building his reputation choreographing The Pajama Game (1954), Damn Yankees (1955), and New Girl In Town (1957). He would later direct his own Broadway productions as well, most notably Sweet Charity (1966), Pippin (1972), and Chicago (1975).
A directing career in Hollywood would have been Fosse's for the taking, although after the lukewarm reception of the 1968 film Sweet Charity, he would only direct four more movies. Along with Cabaret, his most famous certainly is 1979's All That Jazz. It's a shame then that Fosse didn't aspire to be an actor, since Jazz is his own semi-autobiography a story of a workaholic New York choreographer who sacrifices personal relationships for the sake of his art. Instead, Roy Scheider took on the role of Joe Gideon, turning in a great performance and showing movie audiences that he knew how to do something on screen besides kill big sharks. (Of interest, his Jaws co-star Richard Dreyfuss was originally cast as Gideon but left the project before filming began). All That Jazz remains a popular film more than 20 years after its release, in part because it's so unusual, but also because the singing and dancing are top-notch, full of Fosse's many trademark touches. And the whole thing is more than a little morbid, as the story concerns Gideon's eventual death from a bad heart. Fosse himself died in 1987 from a heart-attack, at the relatively young age of 60.
Such notes may have a few of our readers wanting to spin All That Jazz, but at the moment it's not that easy. Co-produced by 20th Century Fox and Columbia Pictures, Fox has always controlled the home-video rights to the film, but their latest VHS release in North America currently is out of print. Used copies can be picked up on eBay however, and they tend to close at fair prices. Those with Laserdisc players may also see a few LD auctions on the board, but take note that CBS/Fox released two different full-frame (1.33:1) editions, which according to some reports are cropped. The theatrical ratio of All That Jazz was 1.85:1, which is preserved on a third CBS/Fox Laserdisc.
However, All That Jazz isn't all that scarce in overseas markets. Fox released a PAL-encoded Region 2 DVD just last May in Europe (see inset). It reportedly offers an anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer and a commentary from Roy Scheider. There also may be a Region 4 release from Fox with similar specs.
If that sounds promising, it is. In fact, we're currently recommending that folks hold their eBay bidding, because Fox has been developing a special-edition of All That Jazz, and an official announcement could come at any time. For now, a few moments of the film can be seen in the excellent A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese through American Movies.
This question has come up a few times lately, so it may be worth addressing: MGM has a funny habit of taking their James Bond DVDs off the shelves for about a year leading up to the next 007 theatrical film, and this is the second time the Bond discs have been pulled. However, to the best of our knowledge (we haven't seen any screeners), the seven DVDs slated to return on Oct. 22 are identical to the previous Bond special-edition discs. Even the packaging is the same. Presumably a second wave will arrive in the first quarter of 2003, followed by the final wave in the second quarter, when Die Another Day makes its inevitable DVD debut. Go on eBay only if you need the DVDs now or think you can get a better price than online pre-orders.
(And if you're really clever, hang on to what you get until the next Bond moratorium, and then unload everything at auction two years from now for chump money. Out-of-print and collectible aren't always the same thing.)
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, 24 Sept. 2002
On the Street: Your credit card must have done something very, very wrong this month because it's about to get a beating. Today is one of the biggest street Tuesdays in recent memory with studios starting autumn with some choice catalog titles, not least of which being Warner. Amadeus: Director's Cut, One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest: Special Edition, Singin' in the Rain: 50th Anniversary Edition, True Romance: Unrated Director's Cut, and Unforgiven: 10th Anniversary Edition are all out today in sharp two-disc sets. Also here is Miramax's long-awaited two-disc release of the restored A Hard Day's Night, Peter Jackson's Heavenly Creatures, and a new SE of Swingers. Those of you who can't get enough of Criterion are bound to enjoy this week's offerings with Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound, the delayed Under the Roofs of Paris, and the controversial Man Bites Dog. Also of interest are a pair of British classics from Home Vision, Seance on a Wet Afternoon and The Rocking Horse Winner. Paramount's got us caught in the way-back machine with (finally!) Grease, as well as the Eddie Murphy flicks Boomerang and Trading Places. And we recently enjoyed Michael Apted's codebreaking thriller Enigma and Errol Morris's documentary Fast, Cheap & Out of Control, here from Columbia TriStar. We've already seen a good transfer of Nosferatu from Image Entertainment, but Kino today has released their own four-disc box of German Horror Classics with Nosferatu, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Der Golem, and Waxworks. And finally, those daft nutters The Young Ones have returned to the small screen, thanks this time around to BBC Video. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 23 Sept. 2002
Disc of the Week: Before Quentin Tarantino was knighted the king of retro-pop culture cool with his 1994 Pulp Fiction, he was best known not just for his startling indie debut Reservoir Dogs, but for his screenplays. As a struggling filmmaker Tarantino wrote a few scripts that got knocked around and eventually made: 1993's True Romance, 1994's Natural Born Killers, and 1996's From Dusk Till Dawn. Oliver Stone directed Killers pre-Fiction and abandoned much of Tarantino's script to give himself a psychedelic soapbox to comment on the ills of pop-culture, while Roberto Rodriguez directed Dusk post-Fiction and emulated much of Tarantino's directorial tone. True Romance is the anomalous picture, as it is a Tarantino film in its dialogue, even though director Tony Scott put as much of his stamp on the material; it's the only Tarantino film that wasn't influenced by Tarantino qua icon, yet it still bears his mark. It's also anomalous because it's one of the rare Tony Scott films that was DOA when it was released theatrically, yet was reborn on home video. But for all the love the film gets because it comes from Tarantino, it's a picture that wouldn't work had it not been for Tony Scott's touch.
Tarantino has claimed True Romance to be autobiographical, and it's hard not to see certain parallels to the younger geek king: Christian Slater stars as Clarence Worley, a virginal comic-book store employee who meets the love of his life Alabama (Patricia Arquette) while watching a Sonny Chiba triple-feature. After a perfect night together, Alabama reveals to Clarence that she's a call girl, but she's fallen for him. He's in love too, and they get married. But Clarence feels that he's got to kill her pimp Drexl Spivey (a brilliant Gary Oldman) especially with the encouragement of his Elvis-esque inner voice (played by Val Kilmer) as he's a scumbag. Things go bad with Drexl, and Clarence ends up with a suitcase full of cocaine that the newlyweds take to Los Angeles hoping to sell through his actor friend Dick Ritchie (Michael Rappaport) to a big Hollywood mogul. But the drugs belonged to the mob, who's now after Clarence and Alabama, while Richie's sole contact Elliot Blitzer (Bronson Pinchot) gets busted, which means the cops are on to their deal as well. From there, things get a little crazy.
It would be easy to just list the great moments in True Romance: from Oldman's marvelously strange white pimp, to the confrontation between Alabama and a mob thug (James Gandolfini), to Brad Pitt's hilarious turn as the stoner roommate Floyd, and perhaps the most famous scene of all, when Clarence's father (Dennis Hopper) is interrogated by a mob boss (Christopher Walken), and explains the lineage of Sicilians. They're all doozies, but as Tarantino says on his commentary track the movie is good enough to not be stopped cold by them. However, had this been Tarantino's first picture, it might have ended his career. Done on a low budget, it would have been just another wacky Bonnie and Clyde-type crime flick with colorful dialogue. In Tony Scott's hands it becomes a fairy tale that examines the darkness surrounding its characters, keeping the story balanced with the film's lively quality. Scott draws parallels between Clarence and Alabama and punk couple Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungeon, and he sees the match between the awkward but earnest boy and the more experienced girl. He also gets that Tarantino was as much influenced by the cinematic world as the real world, and he incorporates such into the film (Hans Zimmer's score is a re-imagining of the Carl Orff piece used famously in Terence Malick's Badlands). Tony Scott has been doubly underrated throughout his career because he worked for Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson in the '80s, and because he's the younger brother of the more famous Ridley Scott. But Tony is an impressive stylist, and many of his commercial outings are above average thanks to his talents. This weird reputation may be why True Romance was so underrated when it came out. Scott shows full command of his form here, as the film becomes something more than a collection of scenes which it likely would have been in someone else's hands.
Warner's new two-disc release of True Romance: Unrated Director's Cut is stacked. On Disc One the film is presented in anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) with DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. The disc offers three audio commentaries, the first by stars Slater and Arquette. Actors rarely have much to add to commentaries, and this could be presented as evidence of that. The second track is by director Scott, and he peppers his speech with the word "yeah" often. The most interesting track is by writer Tarantino in his first solo commentary. QT describes how this was his first finished screenplay, how he got "discovered," and how personal this film is for him. This disc also comes with a storyboards option where the viewer can see Scott's doodles while the film is playing. Disc Two includes a behind-the-scenes featurette supplemented by six "on the fly" icons that access longer behind-the-scenes footage. Next up are selected audio commentaries by Val Kilmer, Dennis Hopper, Brad Pitt, and Michael Rappaport; most spend their time complimenting everyone else. The major addendum is the 30 minutes of deleted or extended scenes (which mostly features brief tidbits), all with commentary from Scott. In the first one, a young Jack Black can be seen as a theater usher. The scripted ending is on board (which leads down a darker road) with optional writer and director commentary. Also included are the original featurette, the theatrical trailer, two TV spots, still galleries, and promo trailers. True Romance: Unrated Director's Cut is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: Four new films arrived in American cineplexes over the weekend, but none could displace MGM's Barbershop, which held the top spot for the second week in a row, adding $13.3 million to its $38.8 million gross in a traditionally weak month for theatrical revenues. Debuting in second place was Fox Searchlight's The Banger Sisters starring Goldie Hawn and Susan Sarandon, claiming $10.3 million. Warner's action flick Ballistic: Ecks Vs. Sever with Antonio Banderas and Lucy Liu wound up nearly dead-even with Paramount's The Four Feathers starring Heath Ledger and Kate Hudson, fighting it out for fourth place with $7.1 million each. But opening much further down the chart was Sony's thriller Trapped, which took in $3.2 million, landing in tenth place. The Banger Sisters and The Four Feathers received mixed notices, while Ballistic and Trapped were hammered by critics.
In continuing release, IFC Films' My Big Fat Greek Wedding is still holding up after 23 weeks in release, taking third place over the weekend with $124.3 million to date. Buena Vista's Signs is also doing reliably well during the weak box-office with a $217.6 million cume. And Fox Searchlight is the indie studio du jour along with The Banger Sisters, their One Hour Photo starring Robin Williams is in sixth place after five weeks with $21.8 million so far. Doing less well is Sony's Stealing Harvard with Jason Lee and Tom Green, falling to eighth place in its second frame with just $10.8 million to its credit. Meanwhile, exiting the chart and on the way to a DVD near you is New Line's Austin Powers in Goldmember the Mike Meyers vehicle will finish north of $210 million.
Opening this Friday is the comedy Sweet Home Alabama starring Reese Witherspoon and Candice Bergen, along with the latest Jackie Chan film, The Tuxedo, co-starring Jennifer Love Hewitt. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Dawn Taylor has posted a sneak-preview of Warner's Amadeus: Director's Cut, while Greg Dorr recently looked at Unforgiven: 10th Anniversary Edition. New reviews this week from the rest of the team include Grease, Ken Burns' The Civil War, Boomerang, Seance on a Wet Afternoon, Enigma, Fast Cheap & Out of Control, Trading Places, Valmont, Spring Forward, The Young Ones: Every Stoopid Episode, True Romance: Unrated Director's Cut, and Vampires: Los Muertos. It's all fresh under the New Reviews menu here on the front page, or use our search engine to scan our entire DVD reviews database.
Back tomorrow with all those street discs.
Thursday, 19 Sept. 2002
'Gatsby' talkback: We're always glad when readers drop us a line here's a few follow-ups to yesterday's discussion of The Great Gatsby:
My own vote for the best adaptation, though, would be the Merchant-Ivory production of E. M. Forster's Howards End. I have always been impressed with just how well they convey both the characters' search for emotional connection and Forster's critique of Edwardian society. Even when facing the challenges of incorporating the narrator's analysis, they succeed with both elegance and wit (I will always remember the bearded man's insistent questioning as to why Beethoven's Fifth should evoke a goblin), which I would argue is something rare given some of the problems that you identified.
I would also venture that the heart of the problem lies with the very mindset many scriptwriters bring to their work. The focus shouldn't be on adaptation, but interpretation, creating a version of the novel based on another artist's (or group of artists') perspective. It's impossible to successfully adapt a novel as you indicate with your criteria, novels are meant to be read rather than viewed, with each reader taking something different from them. In order to bring a novel to the screen, filmmakers (and by this I mean the range of people involved in making a film) must be willing to bring their own vision of the work to the screen, no matter how daunting a task it may be when it is based on a literary "classic." Such an approach may aggravate purists to no end but will probably be a more successful endeavor in the long run than a tediously "faithful" version (Malick's Thin Red Line might be an excellent example here) which fails to capture the spirit of the work and is only beneficial as a cure for insomnia.
Thanks for the additional input, guys. Considering the apparent legal issues with the score, it will be interesting to see if Paramount tries to secure the original music rights for The Great Gatsby or simply release the altered version on DVD (whenever it may arrive).
Quotable: "We've had a severe violation of the separation of church and state in the handling of what to do about (stem cell research). There are religious groups the Jehovah's Witnesses, I believe who think it's a sin to have a blood transfusion. Well, what if the president for some reason decided to listen to them, instead of to the Catholics, which is the group he really listens to in making his decisions about embryonic stem cell research? Where would we be with blood transfusions?.... I just believe in fair play, so the bottom line, sitting here at 50, is: Who knows what might have been accomplished if there had been fair play politically? I think we could have been, and should now be, much further along with scientific research than we actually are, and I think I would have been in quite a different situation than I am today."
Christopher Reeve, in London's The Guardian
Tom Hanks, who says he won't be helming any
"Having been in New York (on Sept. 11, 2001), I witnessed the greatness of humanity and the really incredibly moving way that people responded after the attack with Americans ready to help, ready to do whatever they needed to do, to provide support and succor without any thought of personal gain. I fear a great opportunity was squandered by responding the way we responded (in the government). There was a national will to make things better, and all our leaders could do was encourage us to shop."
Tim Robbins, in The Washington Post
"The events of September 11th are in danger of being interpreted in only one way. Everyone knows how it happened. No one seems to be asking why. This film, 11'09''01, has important things to say about that. Looking back over the last half-century, from Vietnam and Cambodia, through Chile, Nicaragua, El Salvador, to the Middle East, we are bound to ask, who are the real terrorists?"
11'09''01 contributor Ken Loach
"When I was a kid, I was a socialist like everybody else. When I came to New York, it knocked the spots off me, and I got to a more real place. I had a hard time but a good, hard time. The good in the U.S. so outweighs the bad. The problem with some of (America's critics) is they haven't noticed the white snows of socialism have melted. There's been no reappraisal since the fall of the Berlin Wall."
11'09''01 contributor Jim Sheridan
Coming Attractions: New DVD reviews are on the way, including Amadeus: Director's Cut, Unforgiven: 10th Anniversary Edition, and more. We'll see ya Monday have a great weekend.
Wednesday, 18 Sept. 2002
We're probably going to get a DVD release of 1974's The Great Gatsby eventually James, and while many folks consider the film to be a missed opportunity, it's probably one of those pictures that could be appreciated better on disc with a few well-crafted supplements. Adapted from the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel by Francis Ford Coppola and directed by Jack Clayton, this Gatsby had everything going for it when the project was green-lighted a skilled screenwriter, an Oscar-winning director, and the dream-cast of the day. Robert Redford was picked to play the central role of Jay Gatsby, and it's hard to think of any of his contemporaries better suited for the part (although Paul Newman may have given the enigmatic role a little more edge). As mild-mannered Nick Carraway (the book's narrator), Sam Waterston strikes the right note as an aimless midwesterner relocated to New York and its Long Island suburbs. The villain of the piece, Tom Buchanan, is wonderfully handled by Bruce Dern, and perhaps only Daisy Buchanan was the cast's weak link as portrayed by Mia Farrow, it's not always easy to see why this woman should become Jay Gatsby's singular obsession.
To be sure, The Great Gatsby won two Academy Awards, but they were for Best Music and Best Costume Design the picture wasn't even nominated for any of the major hardware. Part of this can be credited to both the director and screenwriter. Jack Clayton is often regarded as one of the founding directors of the British Realist school, but in this outing he seems just as concerned with the Jazz Age trappings as with the characters. Francis Ford Coppola had already demonstrated his ability to sustain cinematic narratives throughout long films (notably Patton and The Godfather), but it's hard to know why The Great Gatsby should clock in at 2 hrs. 24. min., particularly for a nine-chapter novel that's less than 200 pages in most editions. And above all, the film simply fails to capture what the book delivers for Fitzgerald, Gatsby isn't merely about love triangles and messy deaths. It's about America, circa 1925, and all of the cultural contradictions that existed at that time love, ambition, lust, wealth, optimism, isolation, and greed are the day's currencies. A master of subtext like Fitzgerald can get all of that into a novel. It's hard to know if anybody can get it into a Hollywood movie, no matter how big the budget.
Paramount currently holds the rights to The Great Gatsby, and their VHS edition is available at most online retailers, while the sole Laserdisc release from the studio is out of print. These are the only home-video versions available, and they are both 1.33:1 transfers. Of course, an opulent film like Gatsby was shot anamorphically (in Panavision), and while it appears some venues may have offered a 1.85:1 presentation, 2.35:1 probably is the preferred ratio. Presumably, any forthcoming DVD from Paramount will preserve this. Furthermore, a few supplements would be nice. The fine cast are still working actors today, and a commentary track featuring some of them would be welcome. We also would like to hear Francis Ford Coppola discuss his screenplay adaptation on a commentary track or perhaps in a featurette his insights would be valuable to budding scenarists everywhere.
And perhaps we should cut Clayton and Coppola some slack. After all, has anybody really adapted a great modern novel into a great modern movie? There must be a few, but the novels of the 20th century have remained particularly elusive for screenwriters. The 1957 version of The Sun Also Rises directed by Henry King and starring Tyrone Power, Ava Gardner, Mel Ferrer, and Errol Flynn rarely impresses fans of Hemingway's novel; it takes plenty of liberties with the story, and the acting fails to capture the world-weariness of "The Lost Generation." William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury is such a dense, psychologically driven book that it would seem to defy all attempts at screen adaptation, but such was done with the 1959 film directed by Martin Ritt and starring Yul Brynner, Joanne Woodward, and Jack Warden. Unsurprisingly, much of Faulkner's story is cast aside to make way for a conventional plot. And the fact that James Joyce's Ulysses the Citizen Kane of the modern novel might be adapted for a film is nothing short of astounding. Of course it was, in 1967, to little acclaim. Modern novels primarily rely on imagery, language, and subtext as narrative devices. Movies are no less complex, but with an emphasis on visual composition, editing, plotting, and dialogue. It's hard to believe that one medium can ever do justice to the other. (Coppola certainly got close once though, with his adaptation of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness as Apocalypse Now.)
And yet, The Great Gatsby seems to hold a special appeal to filmmakers. In addition to the 1974 epic, a TV movie was produced by A&E in 2001 starring Mira Sorvino, Toby Stephens, and Paul Rudd. It has both admirers and detractors, but at least it clocks in at 93 minutes. However, even more interesting is a 1949 film adaptation of Gatsby starring Alan Ladd, Betty Field, Macdonald Carey, Ruth Hussey, and Shelley Winters (see inset). Produced by Paramount and directed by Elliott Nugent from the stage-play by Owen Davis, it's hard to find, but some folks will swear it's the best stab yet at Fitzgerald's great American novel. There appears to be one VHS version of it somewhere that's now out of print; we've found no evidence of a Laserdisc release. A print could turn up from time to time on cable TV and it's probably worth catching, particularly to see how Ladd is in the brooding title role.
And for the sake of completeness, we note there is a fourth filmed version of The Great Gatsby a silent film produced in 1926 by Famous Players-Lasky, doubtless to capitalize on the novel's successful debut a year earlier. Paramount was the theatrical distributor; no prints are known to survive.
The eBay auctions so far seem to bear that out. In the month and a half that it's been on the market, there have only been about a dozen copies sold on eBay none going for less than $350. An interesting thing is that so far all the copies have come out of Europe. Maybe it won't even be released to U.S. retailers. Or maybe it will later.
If I'm right though, and it really is that rare, then I'll be glad I got mine at $350. It's a pretty cool disc. It has all the THX trailers ever made. It has the Pod Race sequence (theatrical version, unlike the DVD) from Episode I. It also has "The THX Story," "WOW!" and "Soundtrack!" sequences from the original THX WOW! Laserdisc, and a featurette on THX Ultra 2 hardware, and "The Power of Movies," "Surround," and "Music" featurettes.
Every video sequence is anamorphically enhanced. And one other cool thing: All the audio on the disc (every sequence) is encoded in both Dolby Digital EX and DTS-ES (Matrixed). Yup, that's right Episode I Pod Race in DTS, all the THX trailers in DTS. Great stuff.
Thanks for getting in touch, Todd about half of our readers probably are green with envy, while the other half think you're downright nuts. Enjoy that DVD though. If we could afford it, we'd buy one too.
As for that "English" Web translation, it looks a little more like "Frenglish" to us. Or something.
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.
Bye for now.
Tuesday, 17 Sept. 2002
On the Street: We love back-catalog titles that are new to DVD, and MGM usually comes through every month with an interesting slate this time around The Lion leads the pack with such gems as Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye, Harold Becker's The Onion Field, and Godfrey Reggio's Koyaanisqatsi and Powaqqatsi, as well as The Pride of the Yankees starring Gary Cooper, High Season, Valmont, and a new issue of The Unbearable Lightness of Being. For those with more contemporary tastes, Buena Vista's two-disc Monsters, Inc. likely will be the hottest seller this week, although Columbia TriStar's Superbit pressing of Panic Room will be hard to ignore, and Danny DeVito's Death to Smoochy starring Robin Williams and Edward Norton could win new fans on home video. A little further under the radar, some folks may want to look for the DJ documentary Scratch from Palm Pictures, and Bill Paxton's Frailty, out from Lions Gate, is an intriguing film by the first-time director. And if you have time to waste, some big boxes of the TV series 24 and Ken Burns' The Civil War are now on the shelves. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
It's been a quiet week with the PR folks hopefully we'll get some new DVD announcements over the next few days and have a fresh update next Tuesday.
Monday, 16 Sept. 2002
Disc of the Week: Raymond Chandler's The Long Goodbye was his penultimate novel featuring detective Philip Marlowe and, some say, his greatest work. Thus, noir purists understandably were outraged when maverick director Robert Altman decided to "re-invent" Marlowe in the form of Elliott Gould and set Chandler's 1952 L.A. story in pot-fogged, hippy-dippy 1973. But although the Marlowe of Altman's The Long Goodbye is more laid-back and reactive than the take-charge private dicks previously played by Humphrey Bogart, Dick Powell and Robert Montgomery, Altman's experiment perfectly captures the sardonic absurdity with which Chandler viewed the denizens of Southern California. And even with the changes that the '60s had brought to America, a thug was still a thug, a dame was still a dame, and Gould's Marlowe was still a bemused and embittered observer of his fellow man's follies, just trying to get the truth in a world full of cheats, liars and charlatans. Almost 30 years after its theatrical release and 50 years after the publication of the novel The Long Goodbye is one of Altman's most coherent films, managing to be both topical and timeless. In presenting Marlowe as a man out of time (Altman says that his idea was that Marlowe had "been asleep for 20 years, woke up and ... wandered through the landscape of the film") Altman manages to honor the classic Hollywood private-eye picture while still casting a jaundiced eye on modern-day Los Angeles. A legitimate cult classic, it may be Altman's most underrated and misunderstood film.
The screenplay of The Long Goodbye (by Leigh Brackett, who co-scripted 1946's The Big Sleep) has Marlowe awakened at 3 a.m. by his cat, demanding to be fed. When the all-night market doesn't have the only brand of food that his cat will eat, Marlowe tries to pull a switch on his feline companion and give him different food but the cat is offended by the deception and takes off, launching a story that concerns relationships, lies, and betrayal. Marlowe's friend Terry Lennox (ex-baseball star Jim Bouton) shows up on his doorstep asking for a ride to Tijuana, and Marlowe asks no questions; when the cops arrive, telling Marlowe that Lennox's wife is dead, Marlowe tells them nothing. A man with integrity and a conscience in a world where these qualities seem to no longer exist, Marlowe refuses to believe his friend is a murderer, and his search for the truth ultimately involves him with the requisite hot blond (Nina Van Pallandt), her alcoholic novelist husband (Sterling Hayden), the husband's quack physician (Henry Gibson), and a psycho gangster (Mark Rydell). As befits Chandler, Marlowe takes punches from cops and criminals alike as he unravels the fabric of lies woven by everyone he encounters all the while shaking his head at L.A.'s assorted floozies, boozers, hustlers and hoods.
At the time that Altman was putting together The Long Goodbye, the 35-year-old Gould had gone from being a red-hot "counterculture" talent (based on his early Broadway success and the films Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice and M*A*S*H) to suffering a major career slump; he hadn't worked for almost two years due to a reputation for being difficult. Disheveled and bleary-eyed, clad in a rumpled black suit, white shirt and tie, Gould portrays Marlowe not so much as an embittered cynic but as a man literally from another time he has no need for '70s fashions, he chain-smokes, and he even drives a 1948 Lincoln (Gould's own car, in fact). The topless, weed-smoking, yoga-practicing girls in the apartment opposite don't interest him, and his oft-repeated mantra used whenever he's particularly baffled by the absurdity of modern life is, "Hey, it's okay with me." And the film is populated with enough of the sort of eccentrics beloved by both Chandler and Altman that the line is uttered often. One of the special charms of The Long Goodbye is the repeated use of the eponymous theme song, written by John Williams and Johnny Mercer. It's almost the only piece of music heard throughout the film, adapted to everything from mariachi to Muzak; it's played by a piano player in the bar Marlowe frequents, on car radios, by a Mexican funeral procession ... it's even the notes rung by a doorbell Marlowe pushes. Keep an eye out for a couple of notable uncredited performances, too David Carradine as Marlowe's blabbermouth cell-mate and a young bodybuilder named Arnold Schwarzenegger as one of the bad guys' goons.
MGM offers an amazingly clean and crisp DVD transfer of The Long Goodbye for those of us who've been subjected to grainy, grubby, pan-and-scan video versions of the film for the past 30 years, this new disc is like a Christmas present. Originally released in Panavision, the anamorphic presentation (2.35:1) preserves the film's original aspect ratio. The monaural Dolby Digital 2.0 audio (in English or French) is as good as can be expected Altman's tendency to overlap dialogue and his lax attitude towards cleanliness in his soundtracks is less pronounced here than in some of his other films, but it still makes for occasionally muddy audio. The music sounds quite good, though. The DVD also offers a couple of extras, which are beauties. The 25-minute "Rip Van Marlowe" featurette shouldn't be watched by anyone who hasn't seen the film before, as it begins almost immediately with a plot spoiler. But once you've seen the film, this informative and entertaining feature offers new interviews with Altman and Gould, plus stills from a deleted scene. The 14-minute "Vilmos Zsigmond Flashes The Long Goodbye" is a film geek's dream, with Zsigmond pontificating on the technical intricacies of the film's cinematography. Also on board is a reprint of a 1973 American Cinematographer article on Zsigmond's flashing technique (the method he used to push the film to get the specific look of the movie), some radio spots, and the theatrical trailer. The Long Goodbye is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: Surpassing most industry expectations, MGM's Barbershop landed in first place at the American box office over the weekend with $21 million. Bolstered by a thin market, a PG-13 rating, and strong word-of-mouth, it was the first number-one film for MGM this year and marked the best film debut for Ice Cube. The win once again held IFC Films' My Big Fat Greek Wedding in second place for the third week in a row, although the indie sleeper has now crossed the century with $110.7 million and has yet to show signs of slowing. Opening poorly was Sony's Stealing Harvard starring Jason Lee and Tom Green, which played in far more locations than Barbershop but could only muster $6.3 million for fourth place. Most critics praised Barbershop, while Stealing Harvard was largely panned.
In continuing release, last week's winner Swimfan took a dive, as the Fox thriller earned just $6 million in its second weekend for fifth place. Also performing poorly was Warner's City by the Sea starring Robert De Niro and Frances McDormand, doing no better than seventh place in its second frame and a $16.5 million gross. However, moving up the chart to third place is Fox Searchlight's One Hour Photo starring Robin Williams, which added screens and $7.6 million to its $14.2 million gross. And Fox Searchlight's other film at the moment, The Good Girl starring Jennifer Aniston, has managed a respectable $11.6 million in limited release. Meanwhile, off the charts and headed for a DVD near you is Warner's fear dot com, which will finish just north of $10 million.
A quartet of new films go wide this Friday Ballistic: Ecks vs Sever starring Antonio Banderas and Lucy Liu, The Four Feathers with Heath Ledger, Kate Hudson, and Wes Bentley, the thriller Trapped starring Charlize Theron and Stuart Townsend, and The Banger Sisters with Goldie Hawn and Susan Sarandon. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Greg Dorr has posted a sneak-preview of Warner's One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest: Special Edition, while Dawn Taylor is on the board with Paramount's Don't Look Now. New reviews this week from the rest of the team include Panic Room: Superbit, The Count of Monte Cristo, Death to Smoochy, The Onion Field, Frailty, Scratch, The Long Goodbye, and Godfrey Reggio's Koyaanisqatsi and Powaqqatsi. Everything's been added to the New Reviews menu here on the front page you can find even more DVD reviews with our handy search engine right above it.
We'll be back tomorrow to let you know about this week's street discs.
Thursday, 12 Sept. 2002
'Dolce Vita' talkback: Thanks to a couple of DVD Journal readers on both sides of the Atlantic for noticing something about Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita that we missed yesterday:
Roll on that Criterion version tho'.
Hands across the water indeed....
Quotable: "We have 11 different movies coming from 11 different parts of the world and it is amazing to see how it all functions as one film. But the tragedies we cannot compare. Many people are inclined to compare Sarajevo to Auschwitz or September 11 with Pearl Harbor. It does not make sense. Each tragedy is unique and it has its place in history. However what can be compared is the sadness and pain of the survivors, the tragedy of innocent victims."
No Man's Land director Danis Tanovic, who
Dustin Hoffman, speaking at the Toronto Film
"Movies become what they're eventually gonna be over a period of time, you never really know straight away. Neither The Sixth Sense nor American Beauty were the films that people think they are now when they first opened. If I said to you, 'Gosh Michael Caine gave one of the greatest performances ever in Cider House Rules,' you know I'd be lying. I don't think you'd ever hear anybody say that. But you could easily hear somebody say, perhaps ten years from now, that Haley Joel Osment gave the best child performance ever in (The Sixth Sense)."
M. Night Shyamalan, whose Signs has become
"I think (crop circles are) all an elaborate hoax. However, it does seem inexplicable that some of the more intricate designs are created overnight by a bunch of hoons and a truck. Nonetheless I tend to remain a skeptic as far as all that stuff is concerned. Look, if aliens wanted to make contact, wouldn't it be easier to drop in for a cup of tea?"
Signs star Mel Gibson
"I directed the whole (love) scene from about three feet away, with a very sharp stick."
Guy Ritchie, on directing Mrs. Ritchie in the
Coming Attractions: We have new DVD reviews on the way, including Panic Room, The Count of Monte Cristo, and more. Meanwhile, if you haven't entered our totally free DVD contest for a copy of The Outer Limits: The Original Series, 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 we're back on Monday.
Wednesday, 11 Sept. 2002
To think that Paul Newman, of all people, was originally picked by producer Dino De Laurentiis to star in Federico Fellini's 1960 La Dolce Vita. Certainly, Newman may have been a fine choice at the time a reputable, handsome actor with "method" coming out of his ears. But today it's impossible to think of anyone but Marcello Mastroianni as journalist Marcello Rubini, Fellini's alter-ego adrift in "the sweet life" of postwar Rome. Part of this is due to Mastroianni's enormous screen charisma, but perhaps as much has to do with La Dolce Vita itself. Fellini aficionados may pick other films to be his greatest, such as 8-1/2, but for many La Dolce Vita remains their favorite from the Italian auteur.
Taking place over a week's time amidst the chaotic world of Rome's after-hours social circles, Mastroianni stars in La Dolce Vita as Marcello, a gossip columnist who travels from party to party, hanging out with the superfabulous crowd, but never sure of his own place within it. Told without any sort of traditional narrative, Marcello's story tends to wind back upon itself as if it were stanzas in a poem, with each day presenting a different adventure with a new group of characters. Marcello's presence anchors the film, although Fellini uses him to illustrate a spiritual hollowness despite the swinging lifestyle, the writer only feels isolated and lonely amongst the city's energetic residents. Among his most famous roles, Mastroianni's performance in La Dolce Vita is dazzling. Just as he can be bewildered by his own surroundings, we aren't always sure if we should emulate him, admire him, or pity him (or try to do all three at the same time).
Co-produced by Italian company Riama Film and France's Pathé Consortium, La Dolce Vita has never had a firm home anywhere, theatrically or on home video. The 1961 theatrical release in the United States was handled by Astor Pictures Corporation, while AIP distributed the 1965 re-release. Several different companies have delivered home-video products at different times around the world, and in the U.S. the most recent VHS item is under license to Republic. It's also still in print, which means this gem can still be seen at home for reasonable money.
Or maybe that all depends. Apparently Republic's two-tape VHS is not letterboxed, and La Dolce Vita was shot in the anamorphic Totalscope process on 35mm stock, giving it an original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. That's right no letterboxing means this one's getting hacked off on the sides. Which leaves the only available option (as far as we know) to be the sole Laserdisc issue from Image Entertainment, which was a two-platter CLV release (ID 6262 RE). It's out there, but serious fans will have to look for it when it does show up on eBay from time to time, it can clear more than $250.
Which perhaps explains why the code-free Brazilian DVD of La Dolce Vita (titled "A Doce Vita" in Portuguese) does brisk business on eBay. Reportedly it's letterboxed with the original Italian audio and both English and Portuguese subtitles. Buying from an American seller can push the price past $50, while those who opt for an international auction might get a sale below $20. If the specs are right, it's the only game in town.
But is it a legitimate release? We can't say we only note that La Dolce Vita historically has been sold on home video by different vendors in different countries, which lends this particular auction item a note of credulity. If that whets your appetite, we also will note that we've heard Criterion may be trying to secure the DVD rights for a release as early as 2003.
While we don't pretend to know a whole lot about the technology that drives our beloved DVD players (like a fine bratwurst, we'd rather enjoy it than know exactly what's inside), the fact is that our current red-laser DVD players may be on the way out or at least there may be an upgrade path available (here's a link to a Reuters story on the matter). In a nutshell, high-capacity blue lasers are the future of DVD media. Sony, Matsushita, and several other manufacturers have been working on a "Blu-ray" standard that will offer 23.3 gigabytes of storage per disc, although the format may not look like our little 5.25-inch platters. Therefore, last month Toshiba and NEC said they would develop their own blue-laser standard with 15-20 gigabytes of storage, but backwards-compatible with our current discs (which hold 4.7 gigs of data per side). It's not a format war yet, but it could be in another year or two.
However, many more questions remain, among them:
These are just a few questions, and we don't have all of the answers. However, we'll be the farm on this one any new disc-based home-video format that does not support current red-laser DVDs will die on the shelves. You can stamp "MiniDisc" on it and call the hearse.
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 pitching in.
Tuesday, 10 Sept. 2002
On the Street: We don't have a long street-list this week, but pound-for-pound it's probably one of the best we've seen for a while. And at the top of our shopping list would be none other than Anchor Bay's "Alec Guinness Collection" offering four new DVD titles Kind Hearts and Coronets, The Ladykillers, The Lavender Hill Mob, and The Man in the White Suit as well as the previously released The Captain's Paradise in a handy slipcase. Also new from Anchor Bay is one of the better vampire movies out there, Near Dark, in a fresh special edition. On the shelves from Paramount is Changing Lanes starring Ben Affleck and Sam Jackson, while Buena Vista's The Count of Monte Cristo is bound to win new fans on home video. If you love Baz Luhrmann, look no further than Fox's The Red Curtain Trilogy, a new collection of previously issued DVDs from the director with a brand-new disc full of bonus materials. And if you're collecting Criterion titles, the latest is Lynne Ramsay's Ratcatcher, a striking, somber addition to the canons of British cinematic realism. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 9 Sept. 2002
Disc of the Week: The Man in the White Suit (1951) is, hands down, the best science fiction film Alec Guinness ever starred in. While on the surface it's a comic fable with a wry sense of humor, the movie possesses a sharp edge that rises like a shark fin above the natty British drollery. A damning (yet genial) satire of industrial capitalists and trade unions, it strives to be both funny and dour, succeeding at each an achievement postwar Brits so excelled at. And if science fiction can be defined as a tale that unveils human passions and foibles via technological advances and social changes, then this is both pure science fiction and one of the slyest Ealing Studios comedies. Not to mention a film with a bravura performance from Alec Guinness as naive boffin Sidney Stratton, an impassioned obsessive whose invention could provide incalculable benefits to all humanity therefore he and it must be stopped at all costs.
The story of The Man in the White Suit is a tea-and-biscuits take on the Prometheus myth, with Stratton the bringer of wonders who must pay a price for his unrepentant actions; the setting is transferred to the smokestack-choked world of industrial Manchester. Stratton is an idealistic young scientist who takes menial jobs in textile mills so that he can sneak time in their labs to work on his secret experiment a bubbling contraption of mysterious purpose. Although a brilliant Cambridge honors grad, Stratton is blinkered by his single-mindedness, and the forged expenses incurred by his experiments repeatedly get him fired, mill after mill. But at last he scams his way into the laboratory of his dreams, and after a series of literally explosive experiments, his "Eureka!" moment arrives with the discovery of a revolutionary new fiber that is indestructible, repels dirt and stains, and is easily manufactured. The factory owner (Cecil Parker) of course sees the miracle fabric as the ultimate boon for his company, and in short order a tailor is brought in to make a demonstration suit for Stratton. The resulting luminous white trousers and jacket not only glow even in the dingy daylight, they give Stratton the air of an ultramodern White Knight tilting at one mission in life: to free mankind by slaying the giants of washtime drudgery and the indignities of tattered clothing throughout the world. Unfortunately, the monopolistic textile industry leaders, led by mummified tycoon Ernest Thesiger, only see a threat to their well-fed status quo. Their attempts to suppress Stratton's discovery include money, deception, incarceration, and even sex. On the other side of the capitalist coin, the local workers union see only an end to their livelihoods, their point of view poignantly brought home by Stratton's frail old landlady, who makes ends meet with laundry services and who asks her on-the-lam tenant what will happen to her when there's no more laundry to be done. In the most unified of Luddite Rebellions, both Capital and Labour join forces to prevent the publication of his discovery.
At some moments The Man in the White Suit recalls the earlier film comedies of Charlie Chaplin, although he isn't the sole movie icon who comes to mind. With his straight-faced determination and the film's precision-tuned physical humor, Alec Guinness's Sidney Stratton could easily be one of Buster Keaton's hyper-resolute can-do amateurs from the silent days. As it is, American-born director Alexander Mackendrick oversees The Man in the White Suit with laudable restraint. There are a dozen ways in which this Oscar-nominated screenplay could have become a diatribe, either shrill or mean-spirited with its "message," and Mackendrick avoided every pitfall. Moments of alternating tension or tenderness are balanced by note-perfect humor that's dry and funny without being stuffy. Although the characters are quickly drawn, they are also touching or sympathetic without caricature, condescension, or sentimentality. The film has aged very well indeed, and no doubt many modern viewers will recognize ways in which The Man in the White Suit is even more "true" a half-century later. Its pointed and observant stabs at industry and the darker side of self-protecting capitalism remain clothesline fresh today. In the end, the indestructible suit's representation of Progress and "the welfare of the community" may be no match against the panicky vested interests of the powerholders and the everyday blokes who simply want to keep their jobs, but what perseveres even in the face of failure is the dignified, forward-looking spirit of discovery and enterprise personified by Sidney Stratton, a fabric impervious to the narrow interests of both Left and Right. Intelligent, funny, splendidly acted and directed, this is one of the most perfect comedies to ever hit the screen.
Anchor Bay's DVD release of The Man in the White Suit, part of their new Alec Guinness Collection, rightfully honors both Guinness and the Ealing comedies from the '40s and '50s. Ealing's director of photography, Douglas Slocombe, cut his teeth on this film as well as Kind Hearts and Coronets and The Lavender Hill Mob. Here his work is preserved in a print that is a thing of beauty it's spotless, with a black-and-white image that's as balanced and well preserved as one could ask for. Blacks are true black, and the pristine White Suit radiates with the chastity of an angelic raiment. The transfer is in the original full-frame (1.33:1), while the monaural audio (DD 2.0) is so clear and strong that it could be a brand new track. It's an exquisite disc topped off with the original theatrical trailer and an Alec Guinness Bio comprising three dozen click-through screen pages. Enclosed as an insert is a two-page essay on Ealing Studios and The Man in the White Suit by Rand Vossler, an old pal of Quentin Tarantino. The Man in the White Suit is on the street tomorrow, along with three other titles in the Alec Guinness Collection Kind Hearts and Coronets, The Ladykillers, and The Lavender Hill Mob.
Box Office: Fox's teen thriller Swimfan, starring Jesse Bradford and Erika Christensen, opened in first place over the weekend at the American box-office but number-one breaks in September aren't necessarily all that impressive. With the top movie earning $12.4 million and only two pictures doing better than $10 million, this last frame was Hollywood's weakest so far this calendar year. Still, Swimfan's tally kept IFC Films' My Big Fat Greek Wedding in second place for another week the independent comedy added $10.6 million to its solid $96 million gross, although the picture has yet to capture the top spot on the chart. Also new this week was Warner's City by the Sea starring Robert De Niro and Frances McDormand, which took in $9.1 million for third place. However, Sony's double-feature of Spider-Man and Men in Black II didn't score the massive numbers the studio must have been hoping for, generating just $2 million in tickets (Sony is financially tracking the double-bill as a new release). City by the Sea earned mixed notices, while most reviewers gave Swimfan the deep-six.
In continuing release, Buena Vista's Signs fell out of first place for the second time in its six-week run, landing in fourth but clearing the double-century with $205.8 million. All of the other late-summer films are slipping away as well, with Sony's XXX, Miramax's Spy Kids 2, and New Line's Austin Powers in Goldmember having sub-$6 million weekends. Doing much worse is Warner's thriller fear dot com, which had a modest debut in last week's frame and is dropping fast with $10.5 million overall. Meanwhile, Paramount's Serving Sara failed to catch fire for stars Matthew Perry and Elizabeth Hurley it's off to DVD prep with less than $15 million to its credit.
Arriving in theaters this Friday is the caper comedy Stealing Harvard starring Jason Lee and Tom Green, as well as Barbershop with Ice Cube, Cedric the Entertainer, and Sean Patrick Thomas. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Damon Houx has posted a new review of F.W. Murnau's Tabu: A Story of the South Seas, while Greg Dorr recently looked at Roman Coppola's CQ: Special Edition. New stuff from the rest of the team this week includes Changing Lanes, Ratcatcher: The Criterion Collection, Near Dark, The Red Curtain Trilogy, and all four films in the new Alec Guinness Collection Kind Hearts and Coronets, The Ladykillers, The Lavender Hill Mob, and The Man in the White Suit. 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.
Back tomorrow with the rundown on this week's street discs.
Thursday, 5 Sept. 2002
Coming Attractions: We're already off to open a fresh stack of DVDs, and new reviews on the way include Changing Lanes, Near Dark, and lots more. We're back on Monday see ya then.
Quotable: "We have to be much more ambitious about peace in the world a world in which the United States should share more of their wealth and be more aware of our role as global citizens. Many people in America haven't properly identified the reasons for the attacks. It's more complicated than we could possibly imagine."
A reflective Harrison Ford on 9-11, a year later.
Rapper Eminem, who stars in Curtis Hanson's
"I hadn't seen Uma (Thurman) in maybe three years, and she asked me, as she always did when we saw one another, when I was going to finish writing this project we'd talked about doing together. I've always considered her my actress, you know. So I went back home that weekend and dug out the few pages that I'd written on Kill Bill and decided, what the heck, I'll work on them. So I decided to shift over to Kill Bill. I thought it would be fun. I'd get to work with Uma again and it would be good practice for my epic (Inglorious Bastards)."
Quentin Tarantino, in The New York Times.
"I love the way the city looks, minus all the council estates randomly and profusely built up everywhere."
London resident Mrs. Guy Ritchie (aka Madonna),
Wednesday, 4 Sept. 2002
On the Street: Halloween must not be far off, judging by this week's street list, and New Line's getting things going with their new two-disc Blade II: Platinum Series, while fans of classic '70s blaxploitation can pick up the Platinum release of The Mack. Paramount's catalog offerings this week include Don't Look Now and No Way To Treat a Lady, and they have a few shocks this week as well with such slasher fare as April Fool's Day, My Bloody Valentine, and a pair of Friday the 13th sequels. Warner's catalog has a few intriguing dramas in store, including Barfly, Enemies: A Love Story, and The Sheltering Sky. But as far as movies go, this week they just can't compare to the TV selections in particular Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season Four, Friends: The Complete Second Season, The Outer Limits: The Original Series, Stargate SG-1: Season Two, and even South Park: Ghouls, Ghosts and Underpants Gnomes. Here's this week's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Tuesday, 3 Sept. 2002
And the winner is: Jason Woerner of Ambler, Penn., wins the free The Fog: Special Edition DVD from our August contest. Congrats, Jason!
Our totally free DVD contest for the month of September is up and running, and we have a copy of MGM's The Outer Limits: The Original Series 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: When discussing the blaxploitation genre, the topic often turns to the stars actors such as Fred Williamson, Pam Grier, Richard Roundtree, and Jim Brown, all playing larger-than-life characters on either one side of the law or the other. Blaxploitation movies often were action movies, and most offered a chance for these key players to perform in dynamic parts that were denied to black actors until then. Many of these pictures were just redressed versions of Hollywood's 1930s movies, filled with local characters and street smarts (never more clearly denoted than by 1973's Black Caesar, named after 1930's Little Caesar); they were engaging, but light. And though that may be the most notable characteristic of the genre, a handful of films tried to push the envelope and be more than just that movies like Cooley High, Cornbread, Earl and Me and 1973's The Mack. Though it features a pimp as its main character, The Mack has more in common with the '70s antiheroes of the era than stylized revenge yarns such as Coffy, and it offers a complicated depiction of a flawed but interesting man. As directed by Michael Campus, the film showcases a side of the streets that resonates, has great memorable dialogue and characters, and from Max Julien one of the great performances of the '70s, period.
The Mack opens with Goldie (Julien) in a gunfight with the cops after he's been narc'd out. Losing the battle, he sends off his right-hand man Slim (Richard Pryor) and takes the fall. But after serving his time, Goldie gets back in with the Blind Man (Paul Harris), who gets him into pimping and teaches him the basic rule of being a Mack: Any man can control a woman's body, a great pimp controls their minds. And for a while Goldie is successful, able to move his mom to a nice apartment and give the neighborhood kids money to stay in school (always warning them "Don't look up to me.") But as the more recent song goes more money, more problems, and the neighborhood cops (led by Don Gordon) are itching to bust Goldie; the Mafia wants him to go back to dealing drugs; and his brother Olinga (Roger E. Mosley, best known as T.C. From Magnum P.I.) wants him to join his Black Power movement to remove the scum from the streets. Goldie also has to have a stable of ladies, which means turning out his lady friend Lulu (Carol Speed), and sometimes taking women away from other players. And though Goldie attends the player's picnic and wins the south-side's Mack of the Year contest, danger looms as he is overwhelmed by his own lifestyle.
In the hands of another filmmaker perhaps someone working for AIP or one of the other low-budget distributors of the time The Mack have been just another flamboyant action picture. But director Michael Campus started his career as a documentarian, and he began the project (based on the ideas of Robert J. Poole, an ex-con with a story to tell) by going to the story's location: Oakland, Calif. There he came in contact with a real pimp named Frank Ward, who helped shape the main character, allowed location filming in Oakland, and introduced the filmmakers to many of the real events that were used in The Mack (including the player's picnic and the player's ball). During filming the Ward Brothers were major criminals in Oakland, and partnering with them gave the film an authenticity that grounds it. In fact, Campus was so involved with the Ward Brothers that he got them to appear in the picture, and when Frank died after production, Campus made sure the movie was dedicated to him. But getting close to the real pimps was one thing Campus also worked closely with star Max Julien, as the project was crafted out of both the street life in Oakland and partly out of Julien's relationship with his mother who died shortly before filming. As the antihero Goldie, Julien is playing a man fresh from prison trying to make a name for himself, and trying to do it right, but is being pulled back under by those around him. It's the kind of story arc that's been done so often that it takes a great turn to make it fresh, which may be why Julien's performance is a such a wonder. Though he appeared in few other movies, the way Julien commands the screen gives all of his scenes an incredible vitality and honesty, even when he's not in pimp mode. There's just something to the way he delivers dialogue it's hard to believe he's reading from a script, but maybe it's because Julien also helped shape the screenplay and gave the film the loose improvisational style that provides a raw energy to many of the scenes, especially with wild-card actor Richard Pryor. Such things make a film a classic.
New Line's The Mack: Platinum Series presents the film in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) with audio in DTS, Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby 2.0 Surround, and the original mono (DD 2.0). For a movie that was done on the cheap, it looks and sounds better than it has any right to. Supplements include an audio commentary with director Michael Campus, producer Harvey Bernard, and stars Max Julien, Annazette Chase, George Murdock, Dick Anthony Williams, and Don Gordon; it's an assembled track that forms a compelling portrait of how the film was made. It also has a good time recalling wild anecdotes about Richard Pryor's erratic and sometimes psychotic behavior. The commentary is perfectly complemented by the wonderful documentary "Mackin Ain't Easy" (38:28), which features all the commentators, a few film historians, and fans like Allen and Albert Hughes, who recount what made The Mack such a success and why it has endured. Most interesting is the picture's troubled production, as it was shot in Oakland. Although the filmmakers had the Ward Brothers' assistance, they didn't get the same respect from the Black Panthers leading to some disrupted shooting days. The production probably was as fascinating as the film itself. The Mack: Platinum Series is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: It may have been a holiday weekend, but Labor Day often ranks among the weakest stretches of the box-office year, and this past four days saw little changes on the chart. After recapturing the top spot last week, Buena Vista's Signs held on to first place for another frame, adding $16.5 million to its $195 million total, making it the largest raw-dollar success for star Mel Gibson. It also was the second-best tally for any Labor Day weekend film, behind 1999's The Sixth Sense, also directed by M. Night Shyamalan. Only one major film went wide amidst the back-to-school shopping Warner's thriller fear dot com starring Stephen Dorff, which wound up in fifth place with a disappointing $7.1 million break. The film also earned overwhelmingly negative reviews.
In continuing release, IFC Films' My Big Fat Greek Wedding took advantage of weak box office to land in second place with $14.5 million, pushing its total to $82.3 million after five months. Two other independent films also took on extra screens and worked their way into the top ten One Hour Photo starring Robin Williams and The Good Girl with Jennifer Aniston and Jake Gyllenhaal both returned positive numbers for Fox Searchlight. New Line's Austin Powers in Goldmember is holding on to sixth place after six weeks and has managed to clear the double-century with $203.4 million, while Sony's XXX currently stands at $123.8 million and Miramax's Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams has been good for $69 million to date. But dropping from sight is Warner's Blood Work, finishing just north of $20 million for Clint Eastwood. Even more disappointing is New Line's S1m0ne, which earned star Al Pacino and writer/director Andrew Niccol $4 million last weekend and is already headed for the cheap theaters.
New films opening this Friday include City by the Sea starring Robert De Niro and Frances McDormand, and Swimfan with Erika Christensen. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend (all figures Friday through Monday):
On the Board: Damon Houx has posted a sneak-preview of New Line's Blade 2: Platinum Series, while Mark Bourne recently looked at MGM's The Outer Limits: The Original Series: Season One. New reviews from the rest of the team this week include Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season Four, Queen of the Damned, In the Bedroom, Iris, Stargate SG-1: Season Two, My Bloody Valentine, The Sopranos: Season Three, April Fool's Day, Vulgar, The Mack: Platinum Series, and No Way to Treat a Lady. All can be found under the New Reviews menu here on the front page, while our DVD reviews database features more than 1,700 additional write-ups.
Back tomorrow with the rundown on this week's street discs.