Tuesday, 26 Nov. 2002
On the Street: The long Thanksgiving Day weekend is nearly here, which means a lot of us have new DVDs to pick up for the holiday break. At the top of our list are two from Paramount, Sunset Boulevard and Roman Holiday, both presented with attractive digital restorations. Those of you looking for some all-ages fun will want to get Fox's two-disc Ice Age, and Columbia TriStar's Men in Black II is sure to move a few copies. If you're looking forward to Steven Soderbergh's remake of Solaris, Andrei Tarkovsky's original is here from Criterion. And those of you planning to burn up a lot of time between now and next Sunday can get A&E's The Complete Jeeves and Wooster or Upstairs, Downstairs: The Complete Series. Even better is the BBC's History of Britain, which recently aired on The History Channel. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 25 Nov. 2002
Disc of the Week: It's hardly official, but it's not a secret either most years, the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress goes to "the new girl." Both the Academy and the moviegoing public loves to fall in love, and Oscar's history is loaded with statuettes for the year's most promising actress. Unfortunately, far too often these award-winners never live up to their initial promise, subject to early success and a bit of knee-jerk infatuation, but soon brushed aside like a high-school crush. Audrey Hepburn, however, was always in a different category. For her first film, 1953's Roman Holiday, she snared the Best Actress hardware, even though she was virtually unknown before the movie's debut. But the numerous accolades she received were not without merit. The daughter of an English businessman and a Dutch socialite, Hepburn's cosmopolitan charm was no fake, nor the unusual sadness that always seemed to linger beneath the surface of her unusual beauty. Living under the German occupation of Holland during World War II, she witnessed Nazi atrocities and supported the local underground. After the war she moved to London, where she studied dance and modeling. She had bit parts in eight films before Roman Holiday, none substantial, and her first big break actually came on the stage in the Broadway production of Gigi. When director William Wyler chose her to be his star in Roman Holiday, everybody involved seem to know a legend was in the making. The Paramount lot buzzed with excitement as Edith Head began fitting her for costumes. And, entirely unusual for the day's studio-driven industry, she was billed above the film's title alongside Gregory Peck. Reportedly this was at Peck's insistence the popular leading man knew he was about to get completely upstaged.
Roman Holiday then serves as a perfect introduction to the inimitable Ms. Hepburn, who stars as Ann, the ruling princess of a European country who is on a goodwill tour of the continent, but dislikes everything about her position and the constraints it puts on her. Nearly suffering a nervous breakdown in Rome and injected with sedatives, the downhearted royal makes an unusual bid for freedom, sneaking out of her hotel and wandering the city at night. But soon she's overcome by the sedatives and sleep, only to be found by American journalist Joe Bradley (Peck), who reluctantly takes her back to his lodgings, unaware of her identity. But after he learns that Princess Ann is actually in his care and getting his boss to promise him $5,000 for an exclusive interview Joe recruits his photographer buddy Irving Radovich (Eddie Albert) to help him show the wayward royal the town, and dig up a story the young, sheltered girl doesn't even know exists.
Roman Holiday was a mainstream success upon its much-ballyhooed 1953 debut, but it was a far more unusual project behind the scenes. For starters, the film's starlet was completely unknown to the public, and Paramount took a substantial risk in hoping to make Audrey Hepburn an overnight sensation (a task the actress managed with ease). Director William Wyler was an Academy Award winner, but his reputation was built primarily upon literary and theatrical adaptations, and not romantic comedies pictures such as The Little Foxes, The Best Years of Our Lives, and Wuthering Heights were far removed from this lighthearted bit of European romance. Like Wyler, Gregory Peck was not known for light romances either, and he was selected for the part of Joe Bradley only after Cary Grant turned down the role. The screenplay was written by Dalton Trumbo, who had been blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) preparing to serve time in jail and in need of cash for his family, Trumbo wrote it quickly and earned $50,000, while writer Ian McLellan Hunter agreed to take credit in his place. And the decision to shoot entirely in Rome was an added expense not to mention the fact that location shooting, at that time, was still a novelty for the American film industry. But the gambles paid off, with some added support. Eddie Albert is almost unrecognizable with wavy hair and a beard, but he provides good comic relief as the photographer who insists on calling the princess "Smitty." And throughout, Edith Head's costumes flatter Hepburn's winsome figure in everything from casual clothes to elaborate gowns. Taking some inspiration from Frank Capra's It Happened One Night, Roman Holiday is one of Hollywood's classic tales of star-crossed lovers, and one that would forever establish a young actress among the Tinseltown elite. Because of this one film and a heartfelt central performance, Audrey Hepburn would always seem to be a royal figure, both to her fellow actors and to her adoring public.
Paramount's new DVD release of Roman Holiday offers a crisp full-frame (1.33:1) transfer from digitally restored materials, making the film appear as pristine as it may have on its premiere night, with only a couple of brief glitches in the source material. The clean, solid monaural audio is delivered in Dolby Digital 2.0, and features are generous. Most enjoyable is the 25-min. documentary "Remembering Roman Holiday," with retrospective comments from Gregory Peck, Eddie Albert, and others. Also here is "Restoring Roman Holiday" (7 min.), which looks at the digital processes that went into getting the film ready for a DVD release. The featurette "Edith Head: The Paramount Years" (13 min.), four photo galleries, and three trailers round out the supplements. And for those of you interested in just how far Paramount was willing to go with a digital restoration, watch the opening credits closely nearly 50 years later, Dalton Trumbo is credited with the film's story for the first time. Roman Holiday is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: Britain's top secret agent and best boy wizard had a box-office face-off over the weekend, and 007 came out on top MGM's Die Another Day starring Pierce Brosnan and Halle Berry nabbed the number-one spot on the chart with $47 million, which was the best raw-dollar opening for any James Bond film. Warner's Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets slipped to second place after last week's win, but with a still-solid $42.3 million 10-day gross. All other films paled behind the top two, including two new arrivals New Line's Friday After Next starring Ice Cube and Mike Epps snared a respectable $13 million, while Buena Vista's The Emperor's Club with Kevin Kline managed just $4 million. Die Another Day and The Emperor's Club earned mixed notices, while most critics skewed negative on Friday After Next.
Notably, the top four films on this week's chart are sequels or franchise titles slipping to fourth place was Buena Vista's The Santa Clause 2 starring Tim Allen, which has cleared $95 million after one month. Universal's 8 Mile starring Eminem is also crowding the century mark with $97.6 million after three weekends, and DreamWorks' The Ring is doing steady business with a $110.9 million gross. Notably, Todd Haynes' Far From Heaven is hanging around the lower end of the chart, but it's received some of the best reviews of any film this year. Meanwhile, Buena Vista's Sweet Home Alabama is off the board and already on the DVD schedule (Feb. 4) it will finish theatrically above $120 million.
Thanksgiving week is already upon us, and films due to go wide this Wednesday include Steven Soderbergh's Solaris starring George Clooney, the animated Adam Sandler's Eight Crazy Nights, the action flick Extreme Ops, Disney's Treasure Planet, and Wes Craven Presents: They. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: D.K. Holm has posted a sneak-preview of Paramount's Sunset Boulevard, while Betsy Bozdech is on the board with Fox's two-disc Ice Age: Special Edition. New stuff this week from everyone else includes Men in Black II: Special Edition, The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys, My So-Called Life: The Complete Series, Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, Angela, Heroic Trio, Roman Holiday, and Another You. All can be found under the New Reviews menu here on the front page, while our DVD reviews database features more than 1,800 additional write-ups.
Back tomorrow with the rundown on this week's street discs.
Wednesday, 20 Nov. 2002
Lights Out: Your humble DVD Journal editor has not enjoyed many vacations over the past four years, so there will be a few shorter news weeks between here and the remainder of 2002 in part to get some much-needed rest, but also to get a type-rating in the website's spankin' new Gulfstream G150 (it's a bitch, but somebody has to fly it). We'll see ya soon.
Tuesday, 19 Nov. 2002
On the Street: It's been a long wait, but fans of David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross can finally get the title on DVD this week, thanks to Artisan's splendid two-disc set. However, if you're looking for less talk and more action, Buena Vista's Reign of Fire is a fun bit of monster-movie mayhem. Family fare this morning includes DreamWorks' Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron in separate widescreen and pan-and-scan editions, and Columbia TriStar has a couple of independent films on the shelves, John Sayles' Sunshine State and Jill Sprecher's 13 Conversations About One Thing. And there's a pair of notable comedy titles on the chart today as well Margaret Cho: Notorious C.H.O. and Robin Williams: Live on Broadway. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 18 Nov. 2002
Disc of the Week: The story of comedian Margaret Cho's life to date has been a uniquely American tale of success then failure then success again, against enormous odds. Growing up chubby, Korean, and unpopular, she wanted desperately to be a performer but knew how narrow her options were: "I would dream that maybe someday I could be an extra on M*A*S*H!" Cho started doing stand-up at age 16, but was told by agents, photographers, and casting directors that she was "too Asian." Or sometimes that she wasn't Asian enough. She was advised by her manager to lose weight in an effort to minimize the roundness of her face. But being funny and driven, she pursued her dream anyway, and her successful stand-up career led to a TV sitcom when she was 23. "All-American Girl" was hailed as "groundbreaking" for Asian actors, even as the cast became progressively more Caucasian each week. At the insistence of the network and her own agents, Cho enlisted a trainer and a diet doctor, started taking diet pills, and lost 30 pounds in two weeks and then checked into the hospital with kidney failure. Having publicly wrestled with these demons in the stand-up act I'm the One That I Want, a more actualized Cho moved on to cover a different subject altogether in Notorious C.H.O. sex.
No longer dwelling on the past, Cho took her Notorious C.H.O. show to 37 cities, closing with a sold-out performance at Carnegie Hall. Shot during her stop in Seattle, in this concert film the comic goes beyond "working blue" to the point of graphic intensity. Depending on your own personal comfort level, Cho's vivid descriptions of her first colonic, her first trip to a BDSM sex club, and other events will inspire either utter horror, shocked giggles, or if you're truly jaded a been-there-done-that yawn. The film begins with audience members arriving at the concert, an amusing interview with Cho's parents, and Cho musing on the vagaries of fame. But the heart of the movie is Cho on-stage, stripped down to the most basic elements of stand-up a comic, a microphone, and couple of bottles of water. The pace of the 90-minute performance is unhurried, and director Lorene Machado's camerawork is serviceable if uninspired. But the comedy is solid, even if it's not the sort of yuckfest you can enjoy with grandma. A lengthy discussion of oral sex devolves from the messiness of the act into a mind-bending deconstruction as if it were something one might order from a menu; Cho's bit about her lover forgetting to return a porn tape turns into an imitation of the Korean video store clerk chiding Cho for having "beaver-fever"; and her exploration of that trip to the SM club ends with her description of herself hanging in a sling, surrounded by folks with whips, and unzipping the mouth of her leather hood to state, "You know ... this is so not me."
Notorious C.H.O. is significant among comedy concert films not so much for its humorous content but simply because it exists at all. Cho is a woman... and Korean... and proudly voluptuous, refusing to starve herself any longer to attempt fashion-model anorexia. That she's producing successful films with herself as the star would be amazing enough. But add to that the jaw-droppingly graphic nature of her material: This unskinny Asian woman is talking about sex, bondage, porn, and everything else one could imagine. She's not making safe jokes about such acts in the abstract, either instead, she's recounting her own experiences, and without shame. Aware of how raunchy her material is, Cho occasionally strays too far into preachiness when she lectures that gay people should be allowed to get married and that oppressed minorities need to have more self-esteem, she knows that it's a guaranteed applause-getter from her heavily gay/bi/trans/female/ethnic minority audience. But still, watching Cho develop into a comedic powerhouse is a treat, and there's an element of Lenny Bruce in this performance, both in the edgy choice of material and in the repetition and cadence she uses in some of her bits. Margaret Cho is developing into an important voice in the realm of stand-up comedy, and she's doing it by sharing the raw material of her own life with her audience. And she's damn funny, too.
Wellspring Home Video's new DVD release of Notorious C.H.O. is a nice little package, offering an adequate presentation of the theatrical release. Shot on video, the picture is dark, occasionally murky, and far from crisp; the lighting in Seattle's Paramount Theater was hardly ideal for filming, and it doesn't look like director Machado had much more in mind than to simply record the performance for posterity, and as cheaply as possible. However, the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is terrific. Extras include a commentary track by Cho, the twist being that she does the commentary as her mother if you're one of the many, many people who falls off the couch in convulsive fits of laughter when Cho does her mom, this track's for you. Also on board is "Grocery Store," an animated short written and directed by Cho that was shown with the film during its theatrical run; a 10-minute behind-the-scenes featurette; a short promo; "deleted scenes" (unused interview footage with Cho's parents); trailers; and a filmography. Notorious C.H.O. is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: Most box-office pundits predicted that the second Harry Potter movie would not perform as strongly as its predecessor, but the latest installment hardly paled in comparison Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets had a three-day break of $87.6 million in North America, making it the third-best raw-dollar debut in history, just behind Spider-Man ($114.8 m) and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone ($90.3 m). The movie also opened in international markets, and according to Warner Bros. the worldwide receipts were about $142 million over the weekend. Only one other new film arrived on Friday, Sony's Half Past Dead, which managed $8.2 million. Chamber of Secrets received mostly positive notices, while Half Past Dead was dead on arrival with critics.
In continuing release, last week's winner 8 Mile starring Eminem slipped to second place as expected, adding $21.3 million to Universal's $86.4 million 10-day total. Festive moviegoers also are keeping Buena Vista's The Santa Clause 2 on the charts, where it's holding third place after three weeks and $82.5 million so far a hit for Tim Allen after a few box-office clangers. DreamWorks' The Ring has cleared the century, and the thriller is still going strong with $101.6 million after five weeks. And folks are still checking out Michael Moore's controversial documentary Bowling For Columbine, which has managed a respectable $8.8 million in limited venues. Meanwhile, on the way to DVD prep is Warner's thriller Ghost Ship, which will finish just shy of $30 million.
Bond is back this Friday in the latest 007 flick, Die Another Day, along with The Emperor's Club starring Kevin Kline and Friday After Next with Ice Cube and Mike Epps. 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 Andrei Tarkovsky's Stalker, while Greg Dorr looked at the new two-disc Glengarry Glen Ross: Special Edition and Mark Bourne dug through Image Entertainment's The Best Arbuckle Keaton Collection. New reviews this week from the rest of the gang include The Importance of Being Earnest (2002), Juwanna Mann, Reign of Fire, Bad Company, Sunshine State, Margaret Cho: Notorious C.H.O., and 13 Conversations About One Thing. 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 to let you know about this week's street discs.
Thursday, 14 Nov. 2002
Coming Attractions: It's time to dim the lights in the screening room for another weekend of DVD spins, and new reviews on the way include Glengarry Glen Ross and more. In the meantime, if you haven't entered our totally free DVD contest for a copy of The Sum of all Fears, 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.
Enjoy the weekend. We'll see ya Monday.
Quotable: "Making movies is never going to be a risk-free business. In recent years studio chieftains have extolled franchise movies the way 1999-era stock analysts used to puff up dot-com IPOs. Sequels were the showbiz equivalent of easy money, providing a soothing predictability to a notoriously topsy-turvy business. Even the vocabulary changed studio tycoons began talking about movies as if they were part of a stock portfolio. Asked last year about Warner Bros.' studio-wide efforts to launch dozens of different franchises, Chairman Barry Meyer enthused, 'We're looking to extend these properties over multiple platforms' now there's a phrase to get moviegoers' hearts pumping.... Hollywood has become relentlessly brand-conscious at precisely the time when Madison Avenue has discovered that young consumers have less brand loyalty than ever before. Exploiting a brand is fine if you're promoting family fare like Harry Potter or Shrek (parents live for the arrival of a reassuring brand), but it carries increasingly less weight with teens. Today's most effective advertising sells attitude, not brand."
Los Angeles Times film critic Patrick Goldstein
Kevin Spacey, in the New York Daily News.
"I realize that many have disparaged the Winona trial (where else but in Beverly Hills could you have an entire trial devoted to shopping?), but it's pointed up some issues worthy of scrutiny. For example: Why can't celebrities remember those three magic words: 'Just say yes.' Think of all the trouble and expense Winona would have saved had she said, 'Yes, I did it, I'm sorry, and I'm going into rehab.' Public response surely would have been positive. She might have spent a weekend in shopping rehab probably locked in a Wal-Mart and it would have ended there. Instead, she stands convicted of grand theft."
Daily Variety Editor Peter Bart
"It's way beyond everyone's expectations. I was thinking maybe $35 million, and a few on the high end were thinking it might go as high as $40 million.... You had a top director in Curtis Hanson, an Oscar-winning producer in Brian Grazer, and you had Eminem doing a good job as an actor. But the bottom line is, it's a good movie. It proves that if you have a good movie, a pop star in the lead role is not the kiss of death."
Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations,
"Even when he lost his virginity, he wasn't this happy."
Matt Damon, on Ben Affleck's engagement to
Wednesday, 13 Nov. 2002
Prospero's Books was my introduction to director Peter Greenaway, and though I've seen many of his films since, it remains my favorite. It's an acquired taste, admittedly the first time I saw the film, half the audience left in the middle while those who remained stood and cheered at the end. With its dense, overlapping imagery, frequent use of multiple split-screens, and propulsive Michael Nyman score, Prospero's Books would seem to be a natural for DVD. Unfortunately, so far all I've been able to find is a sadly inadequate pan-and-scan VHS release. Will it see a DVD release in Region 1 (or any region, for that matter) soon?
There's hardly anything original about adapting Shakespeare for the cinema it's been done every year virtually since motion pictures were invented. The same cannot be said for Peter Greenaway. The maverick Welsh director works well outside of the major-studio system with small-budgeted films that allow him to pursue his fascination with art, language, and images if not necessarily stories and plot arcs.
When the legendary John Gielgud, then in his mid-80s, decided that he wanted to appear in a filmed version of Shakespeare's The Tempest, the stage veteran probably could have recruited just about any British director he wanted for the task. However, he chose the unconventional Greenaway, who started his career as a painter and film editor before directing nearly 20 short films in the '70s and '80s. His first feature, The Draughtsman's Contract (1982), met with critical success, but a later picture would earn him international fame and controversy. The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (1989) stunned audiences with a hearty dose of sex, violence, and food, and it's likely Greenaway could have transformed his newfound notoriety into a Hollywood career. Instead he remained in Europe, just recently relocating from Wales to Holland. He's consistently directed a new movie every year or two, although they only make it to the art-house circuit in the U.S.
As for Prospero's Books, the film split critics upon its arrival in 1991. Some, such as Roger Ebert, insisted it not be evaluated in terms of traditional cinema, but merely appreciated on its own ambitious merits. However, many others found the picture incomprehensible. Utilizing the main premise of The Tempest, Gielgud plays Prospero, the Italian Duke exiled to a remote island with just his daughter and a portion of his grand library. However, Greenaway is far less concerned with Shakespeare's tale than with his main character and the books he adores Prospero serves as his own narrator, and Greenaway works triple-time to unveil his volumes, utilizing a blend of film and high-definition video to layer pages and images in a marvelous pastiche, all accompanied by Gielgud's magnificent oratory. Much like Godfrey Reggio's documentary Koyaanisqatsi, either you'll be enthralled by the visual riches in Prospero's Books or you'll soon tire of the director's caprices.
It probably isn't surprising that most of Peter Greenaway's output has yet to arrive on DVD in Region 1 of his 27 feature films to date, just six are in release (The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, The Draughtsman's Contract, The Pillow Book, A Zed & Two Noughts, 8 1/2 Women, and Lumiere and Company). And the fact that many independent films in Europe are the result of complicated financing arrangements means that home-video rights can get divvied up around the globe, and sometimes are hard to trace. Prospero's Books had no less than 11 firms behind it. A Laserdisc was released in 1993 by Image Entertainment, but with a full-frame transfer it fails to do justice to Greenaway's complex 1.78:1 compositions. The VHS you mention also is a full-frame item. Reports indicate that it's not out-of-print at the moment, strictly speaking, but it's likely the vendor (Allied Artists Entertainment) simply is not producing any additional units at this time (Amazon.com, for one, currently is asking $39.95 for a copy). Thankfully, eBay is a better option for those so inclined, where used tapes close for less than $10.
And we hate to say it, especially to Greenaway fans but low closes and dead auctions on eBay means Prospero's Books simply does not have a lot of popular appeal at the moment. We're hoping we'll see a DVD release soon, either from AAE or perhaps Miramax, who acted as the U.S. theatrical distributor and perhaps could obtain the DVD rights. We know it hurts, but hang on to that videotape for now or hope that the British vendor, 4 Front Video, gets their own platter on the Region 2 street soon.
It's always interesting to us when a film pops up on American Movie Classics that seems to stand no chance of getting a DVD release in the near future, but still gets a television screening. Of course, there are two different economic models driving such events. Getting a film shown on late-night cable requires little more than the proprietary studio delivering a telecine transfer to the broadcaster, and then sending along a bill. Producing DVDs, on the other hand, costs money. Programming, designing, minting, packaging, marketing and in a marketplace that's getting more and more crowded by the year. For this reason, if there's an obscure movie you like, it's always a good bet to tape a cheapo when it's on TV. Such could be its only medium for years to come.
As for The Night the World Exploded (1957), it definitely qualifies as an obscure sci-fi flick. We aren't sure if it's ever turned up on Mystery Science Theater 3000 for a few grins, but it appears to have been a typical dollop of drive-in fare from the '50s. Starring Kathryn Grant (who married Bing Crosby that year) and William Leslie, the story concerns scientists who are trying to discern the properties of a combustible new element that is rising from the earth's core and threatens to rupture the planet. Running just 64 minutes and using stock footage for several sequences, it was shockingly ignored come Oscar-time.
Sony/Columbia TriStar likely owns the rights to The Night the World Exploded, as it was a Columbia film and does not appear to be subject to any rights issues. But the studio has never released the title on home video, in any format (to the best of our research). If you don't get the chance to roll tape when it shows up again on AMC, try looking around eBay for some VHS editions that (cough, cough) aren't from Columbia.
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. We actually like you. Really.
Tuesday, 12 Nov. 2002
On the Street: Welcome to Clash of the Titans Tuesday, as two highly anticipated DVD sets are on the street today Fox's two-disc Episode II: Attack of the Clones and New Line's mammoth four-disc The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring: Special Extended Version. We're betting that Clones will do better business, if only because Rings had a previous DVD release this year. In any event, one would suspect the rest of the studios would steer clear of Nov. 12, 2002, although there are a few other items to be had. Criterion's on the board with the three-disc The Complete Monterey Pop Festival, while other concert DVDs include Universal's Jimi Hendrix: Live at the Isle of Wight and Pioneer's Live At Knebworth: Parts #1-3. Buena Vista's trying to elbow their way into the pack with Bad Company and the 2002 remake of The Importance of Being Earnest, while Image has a trio for your upcoming B-movie parties, Beast of Blood, Brain of Blood, and Blood of the Vampires. If that's not enough, throw in Warner's four-disc Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection. Or go for the total gross-out South Park: The Complete First Season is on the street in a three-disc box. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 11 Nov. 2002
Disc of the Week: What's always on the bottom of the barrel when it comes to DVDs? What supplement seems to be the most commonly touted, and often the least appealing? That's right trailers. Then again, the DVD format's most basic add-on (along with such exciting extras as "scene-selection" and "animated menus") has its devotees. In fact, we know plenty of people who will happily burn up 10 or 15 minutes in a DVD trailer gallery, eager to see what they've missed, or perhaps to glean a few insights on how these slick three-minute advertisements are constructed. If you're the sort of person who hates running late to the cineplex because you'll "miss the trailers," such could be you. We only ask you brave souls to consider this: watching a DVD that is nothing but trailers. Sixty of them, actually, clocking in at two hours even. Think you can take it? If so, get a lot of beer, because here's the catch they're all trailers from monster movies. Old monster movies. Bad monster movies. You have been warned.
Actually, the DVD in question is All Monsters Attack!, a trailer compilation gathered together by film historian David Kalat. The author of A Critical History and Filmography of Toho's Godzilla Series and The Strange Case of Doctor Mabuse, Kalat has been published in various film journals worldwide. So why did he create All Monsters Attack? Perhaps because he wanted to archive a few curiosities from moviehouse history, or because he simply loves monster movies, or because he's a bit daft. Perhaps a bit of all three. All we know is that if monster movies are your thing All Monsters Attack! is a potent injection of creature-features from the past. They're all here urban commandos King Kong, Godzilla, Mighty Joe Young, Rodan, Mothra, and The Blob. Cult titles like Them! and Attack of the 50 Foot Woman. Best of all is the more-obscure stuff. "Yog, Monster from Space" is a large, puffy, squid-like creature who appears to float above the ground, and also speaks perfectly when not shrieking ("You are powerless against me!"). "The Killer Shrews" pretty obviously are dogs wearing costumes to make them look like overgrown rodents, which scares everybody silly even though they run around like energetic cocker spaniels. The "Monster from Green Hell" is more or less a housefly the size of a Ford Expedition that's terrorizing folks on the African plains. With 60 trailers on the disc, such examples only scratch the surface of absurdity.
Clearly, All Monsters Attack! is chock-full of creamy-cheese goodness but the genre B-films touted within are for specialized tastes, nonetheless. Ardent fans of Mystery Science Theater 3000 probably will recognize a lot of the featured titles, while those less familiar with drive-in fare from decades past may be in for a few surprises. Perhaps all of us simply can wonder how on earth some of these movies got made in the first place. It certainly helps to shoot with a low budget and actors sent directly from central casting any production that makes more than it cost is a success, after all. Still, be prepared to witness acting on par with your local high school's drama department, directors who can't begin to imagine where to put a camera or how to move it, and lots of anonymous people wrestling in silly costumes (it would seem MST3K wasn't just a welcome TV show, but an inevitable one as well). More interesting is the language of theatrical trailers themselves, and how it has evolved over the years. Are today's trailers more sophisticated? Maybe the editing is slicker and swifter, and there is far less blatant product-pitching. Then again, today's trailers have their own characteristics, not least of which being that voice-over artist Don La Fontaine is heard in most of them ("In a world...", "Only one man..."). All Monsters Attack! is a wonderful grab-bag of bygone cinematic expressions the announcer's voice always promises we'll be terrified and thrilled, but in the same sort of way we might be promised that a new sportscar will attract women or a particular brand of toothpaste will whiten teeth. And it would be unthinkable today to see Tom Cruise's face covered up by garish headlines during a spot ("The Star Of Minority Report, Back In His BEST FILM YET!"). Fifty years ago, it would be unthinkable not throw those words up there at all.
All Day Entertainment's new All Monsters Attack! DVD, distributed by Image Entertainment, offers a clean transfer of the various enclosed trailers, with the monaural audio in Dolby Digital 2.0. The quality of the source-material varies quite a bit, as should be expected from this sort of historical compilation. All trailers are chapter-indexed, and supplements include "making-of" featurettes for The Land That Time Forgot and The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, the nuclear-safety short "Operation Plumbbob," and the animated short "Megamorphosis" (think Godzilla meets Franz Kafka). All Monsters Attack! is on the street now.
Box Office: Eminem's solid fan-base was out in force over the weekend the Detroit rapper's first film, 8 Mile, dominated the box-office with a spectacular $54.4 million three-day break. The win not only put Slim Shady on the Hollywood map, but it also was the second-best raw-dollar opening of any R-rated film in history (just behind Hannibal with $58 million) and the fifth-best debut of 2002. The weekend's only other new film, Warner's Femme Fatale starring Antonio Banderas and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, was dismal by comparison, only managing $2.8 million for ninth place. 8 Mile received several positive reviews, giving director Curtis Hanson another in his string of critical wins (L.A. Confidential, Wonder Boys); Femme Fatale earned mixed-to-negative notices.
In continuing release, last week's winner The Santa Clause 2 starring Tim Allen slipped down a notch to second place, garnering a solid $24.8 million frame and $60.1 million to date for Buena Vista. DreamWorks' The Ring is also a hot performer, holding down third place after one month and an $86.1 million gross. Critics hated Sony's I Spy, but the comic-combo of Eddie Murphy and Owen Wilson is selling tickets anyway with $9 million in its second weekend, it now stands at $24.6 million Films in semi-limited release can be found towards the bottom of the list, including Punch-Drunk Love, Frida, and Bowling For Columbine. And headed for a DVD near you is Universal's Red Dragon, which will finish around $90 million.
There's no mystery about what film will be atop next week's chart, as Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets opens on Friday only one title will dare to counter-program the boy wizard, Half Past Dead starring Morris Chestnut, Steven Segal, Ja Rule, and Kurupt. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Alexandra DuPont has posted a sneak preview of Fox's two-disc Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones, while Dawn Taylor recent dug through New Line's four-disc The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring: Extended Edition. New reviews this week from the rest of the team include E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial: Collector's Edition, Angel and the Badman, The Marquis De Sade's Justine, All Monsters Attack!, and three titles from Image's "Blood Collection" Beast of Blood, Brain of Blood, and Blood of the Vampires. 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 this week's street discs.
Thursday, 7 Nov. 2002
Reader talkback: A couple of readers got in touch with us yesterday with follow-ups to the weekly mailbag:
Thanks guys for taking the time to write.
Quotable: "It has not been a good year for the Hollywood star, and the casualties of a crumbling system are everywhere. Harrison Ford has followed three previous clunkers (Random Hearts, 6 Days 7 Nights, Sabrina) with the $100m box-office disaster K-19: The Widowmaker (only $35m returns so far). Bruce Willis has crashed and burned twice this year with the contrived action-comedy Bandits and the soggy PoW flick Hart's War. John Travolta is slowly slipping back into oblivion after the triple failure of Battlefield Earth, Domestic Disturbance and the inane screwball caper Lucky Numbers. And one-time Oscar winner Nicolas Cage's Windtalkers and Family Man were simply dead dogs.... To add insult to injury, the top-grossing movies of the year so far have mostly been effects-filled franchises like Spider-Man, Star Wars, The Scorpion King and Scooby-Doo, all movies conspicuously bereft of star presence, all sequel-friendly films that are themselves their own 'star'. In short, we are witnessing nothing less than a seismic shift in the topography of the Hollywood star system."
Film critic Kevin Maher, writing in London's
"I wasn't approached about replacing Richard (Harris) and it also wasn't true that the role in the first film only went to Richard after I turned it down. I was never asked, and I don't know where these rumors have come from, but I find it all a bit distasteful so soon after his death. The only thing that is sure is that I will be in both of the next two Lord of the Rings movies, and I am considering three of four other interesting roles."
Christopher Lee, denying reports that he will take
Nicole Kidman, in Vanity Fair.
"Did you see The Fast and the Furious? Did you see XXX? If you had to choose a franchise, which would you choose? You can't do every franchise. I think that you have to be selective. Part of the thing in ensuring you don't get caught up in just being this mono-type actor is having to say 'no' at times, and turning some stuff down. It was a lot of money, but you have to stay true to whatever you're doing."
Vin Diesel, who declined a $20 million offer to
"I do feel she is more of a martyr a media martyr and I would think that there will be more support for her personally now that she seems to be the victim. People have been looking for things to make a statement about. It was kind of like a floodgate opened with people expressing themselves."
Los Angeles boutique owner Billy Tsangares,
Coming Attractions: New DVD reviews are on the way, including Episode II: Attack of the Clones and more. Have a great weekend gang back on Monday.
Wednesday, 6 Nov. 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:
For a director as influential as Jean-Pierre Melville, it's unfortunate that he's so underrepresented on DVD in North America he may not be a household name, but the auteur was a major influence on the French New Wave, and he continues to have an impact with budding young directors everywhere who cut their teeth on obscure video rentals.
Born Jean-Pierre Grumbach in 1917, Melville (who adopted his nom de plume from the American novelist) was fond of movies from a very young age, but his attempts to build a career were stilted early on there were few opportunities for him in the French film industry, and he served with the British during World War II. After the war he founded his own low-budget studio and financed his own pictures. Early successes included 1947's Le silence de la Mer and 1949's Les enfants terribles. His first gangster picture was the 1955 Bob le flambeur, and the genre would cement his legacy with later hard-boiled crime movies such as Le Doulos (1961) and Le Cercle rouge (1970).
But Melville's most famous film arrived in 1967. Le Samourai stars Alain Delon as a ruthless assassin, Costello, who stays one step ahead of the police and fellow crooks while plotting his last job he also gets mixed up with a nightclub pianist (Cathy Rosier) along the way. The picture is widely regarded as Melville's best, and among the very finest of the gangster genre in any language. Growing up on American films, Melville always had a fascination with crime movies, and in particular the notion of honor among thieves, a recurring theme in his work. Here, Costello is not a character as much as a force, ready to act but intent on divorcing himself from his emotions. The part would have echoes in Luc Besson's Leon (aka The Professional) and John Woo's The Killer is considered a loose remake. In fact, Costello's detached, vulnerable psyche has been an influence on practically every American crime film of the past decade. With a legacy like that, it's a shame there is no DVD in sight.
Like most of Melville's later films, Le Samourai was financed by a consortium of production companies such arrangements mean that the home-video rights on this continent are the result of licensing deals (which, it need not be said, can come and go without warning). Melville made 13 films before his death in 1973, and at the moment we are aware of just two on DVD in Region 1. Bob le flambeur is currently on the street from Criterion in an attractive package, while the director's last film, Un Flic (1972), is currently available from Anchor Bay. As for Le Samourai, a VHS edition is on the street from New Yorker, which may indicate that the vendor also holds the DVD rights in North America. At least one Laserdisc has been released, from Encore, but apparently it's a PAL-formatted item intended for Japan and/or Europe (at a reported 101 minutes, it clocks a bit longer than the VHS's 95 min.).
As for that French DVD, you are correct that one exists, released last year by TF1 Vidéo. However, it appears that it's gone out of print in a short space of time. You eBay hunters may be able to snap up a copy from a foreign seller. Or check the auctions for a Japanese VCD edition it's a fairly common item at the moment, and closing for less than $20.
Thanks dropping us a line James we had no idea a separate version of Paul McGuigan's Gangster No. 1 was in release up north, but it appears the copy you have (from Columbia TriStar) streeted way back on Jan. 22 of this year, while MGM's special edition arrived just last month. No less than eight separate companies were involved in the picture's financing, including BSkyB and FilmFour, which means the theatrical distribution and home-video rights got sliced and diced. As for "collectible," the Canadian release is far from it. But it could be considered a touch more valuable to collectors, as Columbia decided to add a few extra bits for Canadian fans perhaps including something MGM thought U.S. viewers would be too squeamish to take.
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Mailbag follow-up: Thanks to several readers last week who wrote in over the past week to let us know that both Cry, the Beloved Country and A Man Called Horse were released on Laserdisc during the mid-'90s, and both in letterboxed editions.
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. We are pop-up free and proud of it.
See ya later.
Tuesday, 5 Nov. 2002
On the Street: It's a modest street-list this week, with one undeniable standout Hitchcock fans have been waiting forever, and Paramount finally has released To Catch a Thief in a pleasant special edition, along with another Cary Grant classic, Houseboat, co-starring Sophia Loren. On the slate from Warner is Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood and The Powerpuff Girls Movie, while Columbia TriStar has released this year's The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys, and New Line has delivered John Waters' Hairspray as a stand-alone disc. MGM has several world cinema titles on the shelves, including Spetters, The Decameron, My Father's Glory, My Mother's Castle, and the 1991 version of Madame Bovary. But the real feast this week is for TV fans among the many box-sets to arrive are Babylon 5: Season One, Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season Five, The X-Files: Season Six, and the miniseries Band of Brothers. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 4 Nov. 2002
And the winner is: Bob Shemkovitz of Meriden, Conn., wins the free Unforgiven: 10th Anniversary Edition DVD from our October contest. Congrats, Bob!
Our totally free DVD contest for the month of November is up and running, and we have a copy of Paramount's The Sum of All Fears 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: Perhaps directors should take working vacations more often. Alfred Hitchcock, for one, was fond of traveling, but rarely allowed business to mix with pleasure. Working as a young director in Britain's film industry, Hitch, wife Alma, and daughter Patricia often visited France and Switzerland for brief respites getting Hitch to take a film crew along was an altogether different task, and he normally preferred to labor in the confined, controlled settings of a studio's soundstages and back-lots. But by the mid-'50s Hitch was ready to shoot To Catch a Thief, a film property he had owned for several years, and location work on the French Riviera was put on the schedule. Such would not be the only aberration in the Master's oeuvre. Prior to 1955, Hitchcock had delivered a series of dark, thematically complex films Rear Window, Dial 'M' For Murder, Strangers on a Train, Notorious, et. al. that relied on protagonists who were spiritually or morally corrupted to some degree, and thus were complicit in the dramatic events that enveloped them. One practically has to go all the way back to 1938's The Lady Vanishes to find a pure cinematic lark a picture that exists merely to excite and enthrall the audience. To Catch a Thief was "lightweight material" (by the director's own admission), but it was a welcome diversion when it arrived. And despite the glitz and the glamour of its French setting, it nonetheless ranks among the most emblematic of Hitchcock's films.
Adapted by John Michael Hayes from the novel by David Dodge, To Catch a Thief concerns American expatriate John Robie, a former circus acrobat who became a master jewel thief in France before World War II, but later joined the French Resistance and earned a parole for his wartime efforts. Living in retirement on France's Mediterranean coast, Robie (aka "The Cat") enjoys his spacious villa and serene lifestyle until a series of jewel thefts strike the region's upper classes, each one bearing the mark of The Cat himself. Keeping one step ahead of the police, who plan to hold him for questioning, Robie starts nosing around his old Resistance colleagues, hoping to uncover which one of them has launched the vendetta. Meeting up with a British insurance agent (John Williams), Robie also obtains a list of homes the burglar may hit next, leading to his striking up a friendship with wealthy American Jessie Stevens (Jessie Royce Landis) and her daughter Frances (Grace Kelly). Posing as a lumber baron from Oregon, Robie intends to be nearby when the Stevens jewels are stolen what he can't suspect is that the beautiful Frances knows a few things about Robie as well, and the thrill-seeking girl has set her own cat-trap.
Put simply, To Catch a Thief is what the best of Hollywood movies are all about. And in this instance, it didn't hurt that Hitchcock shot this champagne-soaked romantic adventure with one of the best teams he had ever assembled. Foremost among these was scenarist John Michael Hayes, who wrote four films for Hitchcock and arguably provided the director with his wittiest dialogue here, each scene crackles with lively ripostes and double-entendres. Judging by the trailer, the Côte d'Azur settings are what drew crowds, and the lush scenery was captured by cinematographer Robert Burks, who won an Oscar for the picture. Lyn Murray's score smartly underplays every scene, lending to the film's suspenseful atmosphere. Legendary costume designer Edith Head handled the wardrobe, and in particular the many outfits that flatter Grace Kelly's persona (and without doubt delighted Hitchcock). As for Kelly, this would be her third and final movie with Hitch before retiring from the film industry, and in it she defined the "Hitchcock Blonde," icy-cool on the exterior, but passionate and sexually agressive after she's trapped her prey. Cary Grant, another of Hitch's favorite actors, also got a definitive role with a script varied enough to utilize his skills at comedy, action, and just looking smolderingly handsome in the dark. But despite its "lightweight" status, To Catch a Thief often is dismissed too easily by Hitchcockian scholars it's pure entertainment through and through, but nonetheless loaded with the director's signature touches. An innocent man eludes the police, meals figure prominently, and the finale involves a bit of height-induced suspense. Above all, the title itself is a play on two of Hitch's favorite themes: sex and theft. If Robie is the thief set "to catch a thief," then Frances is set upon catching a thief as well (Robie), using her sexual allure to absorb his identity for her own purposes something the mysterious new "Cat" is doing after dark. Such identity-shifting leitmotifs would recur in Vertigo, Psycho, and Marnie in this instance, it's a fun opportunity to see Hitch playing the piece with a softer touch.
Paramount's new DVD release of To Catch a Thief is a wonderful item for Hitchcock collectors, offering an anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) of the VistaVision film and the original monaural audio in Dolby Digital 2.0. While not perfect, the print looks excellent, retaining the striking colors in cinematographer Burks' bright palette. The audio is likewise crisp and clear. Supplements include the featurette "Writing and Casting To Catch a Thief" (9 min.) and "Alfred Hitchcock and To Catch a Thief: An Appreciation" (7 min.), both featuring comments from daughter Patricia Hitchcock O'Connell and others. (Best anecdote: One of Hitch's granddaughters got him to secretly co-author a paper on one of his movies for her college film course they earned a 'C'.) Also included is the retrospective documentary "Edith Head: The Paramount Years" (13 min.), as well as the original theatrical trailer. To Catch a Thief is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: After starring in a handful of box-office disappointments in recent years, Tim Allen landed atop the chart over the weekend with Buena Vista's The Santa Clause 2 despite the fact that the film arrived in theaters just one day after Halloween, festive moviegoers gave it a $29 million debut. The weekend's other new arrival, Sony's I Spy starring Eddie Murphy and Owen Wilson, had a modest break by comparison, garnering just $14 million and landing in third place. But I Spy had no problem bettering last week's winner, Paramount's Jackass: The Movie, which fell from first to fourth with a $13.1 million frame. The Santa Clause 2 earned mixed notices, while I Spy was widely panned.
In continuing release, DreamWorks' thriller The Ring is showing some legs by holding on to second place in its third weekend and $64.9 million to date. Buena Vista's Sweet Home Alabama has also been a strong performer, racking up $113.5 million after six weeks. Playing in less theaters is Sony's Punch-Drunk Love, which stands at $11 million so far for director Paul Thomas Anderson, and MGM's Bowling For Columbine, directed by Michael Moore, has popped up on the chart with a $4.6 million cume. Meanwhile, DreamWorks' The Tuxedo starring Jackie Chan is headed for the cheap theaters, where it will finish around $50 million.
New films arriving in cineplexes this Friday include Curtis Hanson's 8 Mile starring Eminem, as well as the thriller Femme Fatale with Antonio Banderas and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Damon Houx has posted a new review of Columbia TriStar's two-disc Spider-Man: Special Edition, while new stuff this week from the rest of the team includes Babylon 5: Season One, The Powerpuff Girls Movie, The X-Files: Season Six, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Gangster No. 1, Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday, Houseboat, Fingers, To Catch a Thief, and Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season Five. 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.