Monday, 31 March 2003
Disc of the Week: Rock and roll is dead. If not, it's hiding in a bunker somewhere. You can find it perhaps, if you look for it. But odds are you'll come across something else in the meantime, like the many tedious, dull, carefully crafted pop-music tarts that smother the airwaves and fill CD merchants' bins on a weekly basis. Blame the record companies if you like over the past two decades, the majority of independent labels have been bought up by a handful of corporations, and acts that can't sign with one of the multinational powerhouses won't be getting limo service anytime soon. Let's blame the radio industry while we're at it, since the majority of radio stations today also are owned by a handful of corporations. If you don't fit into one of the airplay formats, you don't get played. To be certain, you can still form a band, because all that takes is time, talent, and equipment. You can tour, you can build a following over time, you can even self-produce your own CDs. But none of that means you will shatter the glass ceiling of the music industry; most so-called "alternative" acts nowadays even seem a bit manufactured and carefully positioned to fill a niche. There must be a lot of rock-and-roll bands today who wish they could have come along 20 years earlier, back when some record company execs actually enjoyed music, and album-oriented FM radio gave new records a fighting chance.
As the documentary I Am Trying To Break Your Heart reveals, one such band is the Chicago-based Wilco. Founded in 1994 by singer-songwriter Jeff Tweedy (who previously earned attention with the group Uncle Tupelo), the band found early success and critical acclaim with their country/roots-rock sensibilities, starting with their 1995 album A.M.. However, later releases such as Being There and Summer Teeth revealed a group unwilling to be confined by a musical genre, and instead determined to take their sound in a variety directions. The critics loved it, and Wilco retained a loyal fan-base but record sales never were up to label Warner's expectations. Thus, when it came time to record Yankee Hotel Foxtrot in 2001, Wilco was given a potential kiss of death: Considered ready to "take it to another level," they were given $85,000 by Warner subsidiary Reprise Records to produce their own record, as they wanted it, in their Chicago loft. Over a stretch of several months, new songs were written, recorded, mixed, and finally sent to corporate HQ, where they were met with stony silence. It was when Reprise asked for some of the material to be remixed (presumably to make it more "radio-friendly") that Jeff Tweedy refused. It was only a matter of time before the band was dropped; they had the tapes to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, but nowhere to take them. In the meantime, friction between Tweedy and guitarist Jay Bennett had reached a boiling point thanks to "creative differences," Wilco suddenly found themselves without a label, a release date, and a lead guitarist.
I Am Trying To Break Your Heart was directed by photographer Sam Jones, who makes his documentary debut with this feature. And while it's a film from a first-time director about a band that's never earned (or sought) a great deal of publicity, it easily ranks as one of the most engaging rock-and-roll films in existence. Shot on black-and-white stock with verité aesthetics, Jones delivers one of the most crucial elements of documentaries he doesn't present the band to us as much as he simply lets us eavesdrop. And as with The Beatles' Let It Be, we get to see the band engaged not just in the creative process, but also in the recording process the minute details that surround getting a song on tape, and the passive bickering that can erupt over the smallest debates with the mix. We also witness some of the fallout from the split with Reprise Records, as band manager Tony Margherita has a tense cell-phone exchange with a corporate exec, and Jeff Tweedy later tries to explain what to him is simply inexplicable. The departure of Jay Bennett from the band comes as some surprise, although the seeds of discontent were notable just prior. In retrospect, it's unfortunate that we do not get to see Tweedy actually sitting down Bennett and (reportedly) saying "I don't think I can make music with you anymore," but director Jones notes in a DVD supplement that his unit was not in Chicago that week (one also can surmise that such was the very reason that particular week was chosen by the band to initiate the split). And of course, no rock-doc would be worth anything without the music the film is filled with Wilco's music, ranging from studio tracks to rehearsals to live performances to a solo concert by Tweedy. The songs have a great deal of range, from heartfelt acoustic numbers to full-volume rockers, all with a traditional rock-and-roll flavor. It's very easy music to enjoy, and it's also easy to realize that we don't hear this sort of traditional up-tempo rock on the radio as much as we used to.
Plexifim's new two-disc DVD release of I Am Trying To Break Your Heart offers the feature film on Disc One in a solid anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) of the black-and-white print, with excellent audio in a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. Extras include a commentary with director Jones and band members, as well as the theatrical trailer. Disc Two has even more for Wilco fans, with nearly an hour of live performances and outtakes, two acoustic performances from Jeff Tweedy on his solo tour, and the brief behind-the-scenes featurette "I Am Trying to Make a Film" with comments from Jones and others. Included in the clear dual-DVD keep-case is a 40-page booklet with liner notes by Rolling Stone's David Fricke. I Am Trying To Break Your Heart: A Film About Wilco is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: It was tight competition between three new movies at American theaters this weekend, but Chris Rock came out on top DreamWorks' comedy Head of State debuted in first place with $14 million, edging out Buena Vista's Bringing Down the House, which held the pole position for the last three weeks and has cleared $100 million in just one month. Paramount's disaster flick The Core starring Aaron Eckhart and Hilary Swank took third place with $12.4 million, while Sony's Basic starring John Travolta and Sam Jackson took fourth with $12.1 million. All three new films this week earned mixed-to-negative reviews from critics.
In continuing release, Miramax's Chicago emerged from Oscar week in fifth place on the chart, and while it probably will disappear fairly soon, it's made a bundle with $144.8 million to date. But last week's arrivals are slipping in their second frames, with Warner's Dreamcatcher, Disney's Piglet's Big Movie, and Miramax's View from the Top doing moderate business. MGM's Agent Cody Banks has yet to be sequel-certified, but its $34.8 million gross after three weeks can't hurt. Meanwhile, Paramount's How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days is off to DVD prep, and it's certain to clear $100 million on the second-run circuit. Artisan's Boat Trip, on the other hand, was a leaky ship it's sunk without a trace after taking in just $3.7 million last week.
New films arriving in cineplexes this Friday include A Man Apart starring Vin Diesel, Phone Booth with Colin Farrell and Kiefer Sutherland, and What a Girl Wants starring Amanda Bynes. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Dawn Taylor has posted a sneak preview of Fox's The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, the latest in their "Fox Studio Classics" imprint, while new reviews from the rest of the team this week include Moonlight Mile, Ghost Ship, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Season Two, Sex and Lucia, I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, and I'm With Lucy. It's all under our New Reviews menu here on the front page
Back tomorrow with the street discs.
Tuesday, 25 March 2003
On the Street: Criterion once again leads our street-list, this time around with Sam Peckinpah's 1971 Straw Dogs in a solid two-disc set,. Buena Vista is on the board with a welcome re-release, a new two-disc special edition of Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, while animation fans can also look for the Futurama: Season One set from Fox. Columbia TriStar's romantic comedies this Tuesday include Maid in Manhattan and I'm With Lucy. Paramount's aiming a little lower down the human anatomy with Jackass: The Movie and Tom Green's Subway Monkey Hour. We're big fans of Brian De Palma's latest effort, Warner's Femme Fatale, and the studio has given an unusual Friday street-date this week for the thriller Ghost Ship. Meanwhile, those of you who have lots of time to kill can keep an eye open for Paramount's six-disc CSI: The Complete First Season, as well as Pathfinder's eight-disc Claude Chabrol Collection. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 24 March 2003
Disc of the Week: Though Peter Biskind's tell-all book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls spends a lot of time talking about the wunderkinds of '70s filmmaking Scorsese, Lucas, and Spielberg one of the more fascinating elements of the film-school generation that Biskind almost totally ignored was the new wave of "B" filmmakers those who were happy making the sort of genre pictures that helmers like Sam Fuller and Andre De Toth were grinding out in the '50s. This was a new breed as well, comprising such talents as Walter Hill, John Carpenter, George Romero, and Brian De Palma. They never tried to take their personal interests and transform them into something worth Oscar hardware, instead choosing to toil away their entire careers simply creating the films they themselves would want to see on the big screen. Unfortunately for all of them, they have become the renegades, the smugglers, and the iconoclasts their hard work often results in movies that, more often than not, fail to find a mainstream audience. One could simply argue that none of the above are "sell-outs," and De Palma might be in better straits had Pauline Kael not retired. But the '90s were a cruel decade to this breed, and for De Palma especially one of his better works (Snake Eyes) was hampered by the re-shoot process, and his big-budget sci-fi effort Mission to Mars flopped. Thankfully, Femme Fatale (2002) is a return to the director's Hitchcockian roots, toying with some of his favorite themes to great effect.
Double-crossing her partners after a bravura $10 million diamond heist at the Cannes Film Festival, Laura Ash (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos) finds herself having to get out of France badly. She tries to get a passport, but one of her partners finds her and nearly kills her. Laura is then found by a grieving family who mistake her for their daughter Lily. It's when the real Lily comes back to the family home to kill herself that Laura steals her passport, and her identity. What she didn't expect was that she would meet Watts (Peter Coyote) on the plane ride back to America and fall in love. Seven years later, Laura returns to Paris with her husband, but shies away from the press (fearing reprisals from her old gang). The press, however, are hard to avoid her husband has become an ambassador. Yet ace paparazzi photographer Nicholas Bardo (Antonio Banderas) finds himself drawn into Laura's world of intrigue; he gets a photo of her, only to become immersed in her crosses and double-crosses as she seeks to finally seize the money from the diamond heist.
Without question, Femme Fatale is Brian De Palma preaching to the converted. The film is a collection of his favorite ideas about movies (the title alone is telling) with a twist ending that is guaranteed to annoy as many viewers as it thrills. If you're along for the De Palma ride, you'll find much to enjoy here with his brilliant sense of camera placement, split screens, Dutch angles, and an opening sequence with a nearly wordless 20-minute heist Laura literally strips a model (Rie Rasmussen) of her jewels. All the while, Ryuichi Sakamoto's score riffs on Ravel's "Bolero." If it's your sort of thing, you'll have no complaints. However, those who are lukewarm (or less) on the le auteur terrible probably will find this effort to be a pastiche of ideas from Hitchcock that De Palma has been grafting as long as he's been behind a lens. That said, it's not hard to be on De Palma's side here he is engaged with his ideas and seems to be wrestling with his own filmography and concerns (as David Lynch did in the similar Mulholland Dr.). With so many new movies that come across like filmed sitcoms, it's nice to watch a film by a director who knows how to use a camera, and above all else De Palma remains captivated by the entire filmmaking process. He ensures his audience is provoked, and he's armed with the cinematic know-how to make this material work. We can only hope he remains a smuggler for some time yet.
Warner's new DVD release of Femme Fatale presents the film in an anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Supplements include a standard behind-the-scenes spot (4 min.), but it is surpassed by two documentaries from Laurent Bouzereau: "Visualizing Femme Fatale" (11 min.) and "Femme Fatale: An Appreciation" (23 min.) both are thorough efforts, interviewing De Palma, Romijn-Stamos, Banderas, Coyote, director of photography Thierry Arbogast, composer Sakamoto, and on-set photographer Bart De Palma (the director's brother). Rounding out the package is a collection of scenes and stills, as well as the American and French trailers. Femme Fatale is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: No less than four films debuted in American theaters over the weekend, but none could top Buena Vista's Bringing Down the House starring Steve Martin and Queen Latifah the comedy added $16.2 million to an $83.4 million gross, and it joins The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers as the only other film over the past year to hold the top spot for three weeks running. Landing in second place with $15.3 million was Warner's Dreamcatcher with Morgan Freeman and Jason Lee, which was good for $15.3 million, while Miramax's View from the Top starring Gwenyth Paltrow took fourth with $7.5 million, and Buena Vista's Piglet's Big Movie managed $6.1 million in seventh. Barely scraping into the top ten was Artisan's Boat Trip starring Cuba Gooding Jr., which took in a lackluster $3.7 million. Critics loved Piglet's Big Movie, while Dreamcatcher earned mixed-to-negative notices; View from the Top and Boat Trip got hammered.
In continuing release, MGM's Agent Cody Banks starring Frankie Muniz held strong in third place, adding $9.3 million to a $26.6 million 10-day gross. Taking a steeper dive was Paramount's The Hunted with Tommy Lee Jones and Benicio Del Toro, which holds $23.4 million after its second weekend. Miramax's Chicago continued to sell pre-Oscar tickets, adding another $6.2 million to its $134 million tally. But slipping away fast is New Line's Willard with Crispin Glover, which has taken in just $6.2 million to date. Meanwhile, Buena Vista's Shanghai Knights is off to DVD prep it will finish in the $60 million neighborhood.
New films arriving on screens this Friday include Basic starring John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson, The Core with Aaron Eckhart, Hilary Swank, and Delroy Lindo, and Head of State starring Chris Rock and Bernie Mac. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Damon Houx has posted a sneak preview of Criterion's two-disc Straw Dogs, while new stuff from the rest of the gang this morning includes 8 Mile, Jackass: The Movie, Maid in Manhattan, Below, Les Dames Du Bois De Boulogne: The Criterion Collection, Futurama: Season One, NYPD Blue: Season One, Femme Fatale, and The Man from Elysian Fields. All can be found under the New Reviews menu here on the front page. We'll be back tomorrow with news on this week's street discs.
Tuesday, 18 March 2003
On the Street: Warner leads our street-list this week with a trio of foreign titles debuting on Region 1 DVD Akira Kurosawa's Dreams, François Truffaut's Day for Night, and Claude Lelouch's A Man and a Woman. Also new from Warner this week is Welcome to Collinwood, the recent remake of Big Deal on Madonna Street starring Sam Rockwell, George Clooney, Isaiah Washington, and Luis Guzman. However, the certain big-seller for this week will be Universal's 8 Mile starring Eminem, which features "uncensored bonus footage" to tempt the fans. There are several good titles to watch for this time around, including Paul Schrader's Auto Focus, Nicholas Ray's In a Lonely Place, Rebecca Miller's Personal Velocity, Stephen Gaghan's interesting (if uneven) Abandon, and Roger Dodger from writer/director Dylan Kidd. And this week's choice TV box-set is NYPD Blue: Season One, out now from Fox. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 17 March 2003
Disc of the Week: The worst-kept secret about filmmaking is that it is a frustratingly glacial and piecemeal process so crowded with "collaborators" insecure actors, intrusive producers, assorted eccentric crew members that it's a wonder the director emerges from the whole endeavor with his sanity intact, much less a movie actually worth watching. It's a profession that's been metaphorically linked to Conrad's Heart of Darkness, and indeed, many directors do fall victim to their most-crazed tyrannical impulses as a means of bringing order to that which is inherently chaotic. This approach has proven quite effective for many a legendary filmmaker, but it also drains the process of its spontaneity and, it would seem, its joy. Without the presence of the latter, it's impossible to imagine François Truffaut ever stepping behind the camera. Beginning with his days as a passionate (sometimes vitriol-spewing) critic for the venerable French film journal Cahiers du Cinema, Truffaut was a man in love with the possibilities of the medium. When challenged by the detractors he so eloquently savaged in the pages of Cahiers to try making films himself, he shot out of the gate in with The 400 Blows and won Best Director at the 1959 Cannes Film Festival for his troubles. More important than the acclaim, however, was Truffaut's discovery that the process of filmmaking, while rigorous, was every bit as rewarding as writing about it, which, perhaps, made it inevitable that he would eventually cast his gaze on the joy of the craft itself.
Day for Night (industry jargon for shooting nighttime scenes during the day) is Truffaut's love-letter not only to the delicate alchemy of making movies, but to the bygone golden age of Hollywood. The story concerns the making of Meet Pamela, a melodramatic trifle about an older man romancing his son's fiancée. Truffaut plays the film's director, a near-deaf stand-in for himself named Ferrand, who must keep the film from derailing when the on-set drama begins to spin deliriously out of control. For starters, there's the emotionally immature lead actor Alphonse (Jean-Pierre Leaud), who has proposed marriage to the promiscuous script girl Liliane (Dani), who in turn is likely shagging half the male members of the crew. Or how about the older leading man Alexander, who's surreptitiously traipsing off to the airport for unknown reasons? Then, there's Severine (Valentina Cortese), the aging former movie star who's drowning her fading career in booze, and blowing take after take as a result. However, most vital to the production is Julie Baker (Jacqueline Bisset), the glamorous young English movie star making her return to acting after a well-publicized breakdown that led her to marrying her doctor. Negotiating these potential landmines proves a monumental challenge for Ferrand, but he remains remarkably calm in the face of lovers' quarrels, uncooperative animal actors, and even a late-production tragedy that threatens to compromise the entire picture.
Though it's one of the least thematically substantial films of Truffaut's career, Day for Night easily ranks as his most purely entertaining, which is precisely its intent. From the opening dedication to Lillian and Dorothy Gish, to the grandiose crane shots of crane shots scored triumphantly by Georges Delerue, Truffaut is shamelessly courting his audience's unabashed love for cinema, and, being a crazed movie-buff himself, he knows exactly which buttons to push. Allowing the viewer behind the curtain of Meet Pamela, Truffaut gleefully exposes the studio artifice, be it a candle rigged for excess illumination from its base, a hastily rigged balcony façade for a building that doesn't exist, or a snowstorm created out of soap suds. But, rather than demystify it (or, as Robert Altman did in The Player, lampoon it), Truffaut celebrates the glorious ingenuity of the craft. He knows we love being fooled (as he demonstrates in the film's opening tracking shot) because he loves being fooled too. Being taken in is one of the great pleasures of going to the movies, and nowhere was deception practiced more proudly than in the Hollywood films into which the director escaped as a youth (which is why the Welles-ian cap to the recurring, seemingly portentous dream sequence is so winning). But the most profound privilege granted by Truffaut is, essentially, the opportunity to watch him direct, which is to be reminded that confidence and clarity of vision need not be accompanied by bullying and temper tantrums. One of the film's loveliest moments features nothing more than Truffaut gently, but determinedly, arranging Bisset's hands over a railing. It is a fine example of how, as Bisset recalls on one of the disc's featurettes, Truffaut "never ordered, but requested."
Warner's new DVD release of Day for Night presents the film in a great looking anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with monaural Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. Extras include a number of Laurent Bouzereau produced-featurettes that include discussions with Jacqueline Bisset, Truffaut biographer Annette Insdorf, Todd McCarthy, Brian De Palma, and Bob Balaban. Also included are interviews with some members of the cast and crew including Nathalie Baye, Dani, Bernard Menez, and editor Yann Dedet three vintage, early 70's features with Truffaut, cast and crew bios, and the theatrical trailer. Day for Night is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: Three new films arrived in theaters over the weekend, but none could top Steve Martin and Queen Latifah in Bringing Down the House the Buena Vista comedy remained atop the box-office chart for the second week in a row, adding $22.4 million to a sharp $61.6 million 10-day total. Landing in second place was MGM's Agent Cody Banks starring Frankie Muniz as a teen spy, which managed a healthy $15 million, while Paramount's action-thriller The Hunted starring Tommy Lee Jones and Benicio Del Toro found its way to third place with $13.5 million. Debuting a little further down the chart (and on less screens) was New Line's Willard starring Crispin Glover, taking $4 million for the eighth spot. Many critics gave WillardCody Banks were mixed. The Hunted took in mixed-to-negative reviews.
In continuing release, Sony's Tears of the Sun dropped to fourth place in its second frame, adding $8.8 million to a respectable $30 million 10-day cume. Miramax's Chicago rounds off the top five in this frame with another $7.7 million, pushing its haul past $125 million over three months. And both Old School and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days have become dependable comedies over the past several weeks, racking up $60 million and $93 million respectively. Meanwhile, Fox's Daredevil is starting to wane just as it approaches the century mark. And on the way to DVD prep is Buena Vista's The Recruit, which takes a $50 million total to the second-run circuit.
New movies arriving in cineplexes this Friday include Dreamcatcher starring Morgan Freeman, Boat Trip with Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Horatio Sanz, View from the Top starring Gwyneth Paltrow, and the family feature Piglet's Big Movie. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: New reviews this week from the team include My Life as a Dog: The Criterion Collection, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Welcome to Collinwood, Personal Velocity, Auto Focus, In a Lonely Place, Kids in the Hall: Tour of Duty, A Man and a Woman, Wind, Abandon, Akira Kurosawa's Dreams, Roger Dodger, The Glass Menagerie: Broadway Theatre Archive, Day for Night, and A Virgin Among the Living Dead. It's all fresh under the New Reviews menu here on the front page.
We'll be back tomorrow with the rundown on this week's street discs.
Tuesday, 11 March 2003
On the Street: If there isn't a lot of quantity on the board this Tuesday morning, at least there's some quality to be found. Criterion leads the way with a new special edition of Lasse Hallström's My Life as a Dog, along with Robert Bresson's melodrama Les Dames Du Bois De Boulogne. Sure to catch the attention of John Carpenter fans is his debut work Assault on Precinct 13, which is enjoying a second release from Image. And those of you looking for a smart woman's drama might enjoy White Oleander, on the shelves from Warner. Mainstream fare from Columbia TriStar includes last year's I Spy starring Eddie Murphy and Owen Wilson, although their catalog offerings this morning include Desert Bloom, Wind, and the sublime screwball comedy The Awful Truth. And Fox has the teen thriller Swimfan on the street, in addition to such family titles as Lucas and My Friend Flicka. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 10 March 2003
Disc of the Week: Great filmmakers of the past such as Hitchcock, Ford, and Hawks normally learned their craft over a number of years and several different projects. But the critical success of Orson Welles' Citizen Kane introduced the idea that a director could (and perhaps should) arrive on the scene as a genius-in-waiting. And such a notion has gained even more prominence over the past two decades we've come to believe that a director's first film will indicate the archetypes and themes that will dominate a body of work that has yet to be established. John Carpenter may have worked on the student production Dark Star (which was expanded for a theatrical release in 1974), but his first professional motion picture was 1976's Assault on Precinct 13, which happens to feature many of the least-appealing elements of a debut work: homages aplenty, "cool" character names (which also are homages), and special effects done on a shoestring budget. But despite these drawbacks, the Carpenter aesthetic that his fans know and love still shines through. Assault on Precinct 13 might be the most impressive low-budget debut since George Romero's Night of the Living Dead this exciting action picture remains one of the high points of Carpenter's nearly 30-year career.
Ethan Bishop (Austin Stoker) is on his first night's assignment as a police lieutenant. Unfortunately, instead of getting in the thick of the action, he's assigned a babysitting job watching over Precinct Nine's station-house (yes, the title of the film makes no sense). Checking in, it seems that it's a ghost-town of a station with only a receptionist (Carpenter regular Nancy Loomis), a secretary (Laurie Zimmer), and an old guard (Henry Brandon, best known as Scar in The Searchers). But unbeknownst to Bishop, the police slaughtered several gang members the day before and the remaining hoodlums have pledged a blood oath of revenge, intent to wreak havoc on anybody who gets in their way (a touch that links the gang members into Hollywood-movie Indians, cementing the picture's Neo-Western feel). And when a father takes his revenge on the gang member who killed his daughter, he finds himself at Precinct Nine, marking the station as the gang's target of destruction. Meanwhile, a prison-bus also takes refuge at Nine with a sick inmate, and notorious murderer "Napoleon" Wilson (Darwin Joston) is along for the ride. After cutting the power and phone lines, the gang tries to take control of the police station, forcing Bishop to trust Wilson to help him fend off the invaders it's up to this small, unusual band to stay alive long enough to get help from the outside world.
Though obviously indebted to the entire world of Howard Hawks (most specifically Rio Bravo) and borrowing the siege elements of George Romero's Night of the Living Dead, this early Carpenter effort is too sharp for those obvious appropriations to be of much concern at least Carpenter takes these themes and ideas and makes them his own. But as a "first" movie, one can foresee the sort of pictures the director has spent the rest of his career producing. There's the cool, laconic anti-hero (Joston's Wilson seems the brethren of Snake Plissken from the Escape films, and pretty much every lead male character in a Carpenter film). There's the whole Neo-Western tone. And this probably is the most important movie to discover just why people love John Carpenter so much; his archetypes are at their most obvious here. But the picture also serves as a model for low-budget effectiveness and narrative reduction, as the story builds to its conclusion by leveraging all of the elements that should be working against it. The limited locations and small cast are the production's best assets, and we get sucked in to the characters the further it goes along. Carpenter's later movies would have a more obvious playfulness to them here the attitude is so serious that it more closely approximates the gallows-humor of Howard Hawks, while the action has a more modern flavor. And if influence begets influence, one can also trace a through line of the unlikely partners in this film to John Woo's The Killer, and more obviously Carpenter's own Ghosts of Mars. But be that as it may, Assault on Precinct 13 is a solidly entertaining action film that could very well be this director's most-solid effort.
Image Entertainment's second DVD release of Assault on Precinct 13 presents the film for the first time in anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) with monaural DD 2.0 audio. The picture quality is slightly better than the first disc, although there are rough patches (undoubtedly due to the source material) and some noticeable wear around the reel changes. One of the first DVDs on the market back in 1997, this 2003 upgrade includes everything from the first version (Carpenter's Laserdisc commentary and the theatrical trailer), which are welcome returns. New supplements include a 23-minute interview with Carpenter and Austin Stoker, as well as a 16-minute still gallery. The interview is poorly shot and the audio quality is lacking, but Carpenter answers some good questions about the film (though Stoker is left with little to say). The still gallery features some nice behind-the-scenes photos, script excerpts, storyboards, and press and promo material. Also included are two radio spots and an isolated score (done by John Carpenter and director Tommy Lee Wallace) on a separate track. Assault on Precinct 13 is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: Queen Latifah's Oscar nod for Chicago certainly hasn't hurt her box-office appeal Buena Vista's Bringing Down the House starring Latifah and Steve Martin rocketed to the top spot on the chart over the weekend with a $31.7 million break. The win handily beat the frame's only other new arrival, Sony's Tears of the Sun starring Bruce Willis, which still took in a healthy $17.2 million. However, both House and Sun earned mixed-to-negative reviews from critics.
In continuing release, last week's winner Cradle 2 the Grave plummeted to sixth place in its second weekend, adding just $6.5 million to a $27 million gross. Looking much stronger is DreamWorks' raunchy comedy Old School, which is holding on to third place after three weeks and $50.8 million in the kegger fund. Miramax's Chicago continues to hold a top-five ranking as well with $114.5 million, and it's sure to stick around until after the Academy Awards later this month. In the meantime, MGM's cop drama Dark Blue is already on the way to the cheap theaters, falling from sight before reaching $10 million.
New movies arriving in cineplexes this Friday include The Hunted starring Benicio Del Toro and Tommy Lee Jones, Agent Cody Banks with Frankie Muniz, and Willard starring Crispin Glover and R. Lee Ermey. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Mark Bourne has posted a review of Fox's new release of The Day the Earth Stood Still, while new stuff from the rest of the team this morning includes The Ring, Ringu, I Spy, Possession, Quest for Fire, White Oleander, Swimfan, Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie, The Awful Truth, Lucas, Desert Bloom, Assault on Precinct 13, and the Peter Sellers Collection titles I'm All Right Jack, Hoffman, and Carlton-Browne of the F.O.. We'll be back tomorrow to let you know about this week's street discs.
Tuesday, 4 March 2003
On the Street: There's no lack of new DVDs to pick from this morning in what's shaped up to be something of a theme-week. New from Fox is the Studio Classics edition of The Day the Earth Stood Still, which is joined by Journey to the Center of the Earth and Quest for Fire. Paramount has the latest SE from the classic Trek series on the shelves with Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, while a trio of baseball movies include Bang the Drum Slowly, Fear Strikes Out, and Talent for the Game. MGM is on the board with a string of world-cinema offerings, including Salaam Bombay!, Europa Europa, and Pauline at the Beach, and Buena Vista/Miramax has finally delivered the long-awaited Three Colors trilogy. Not to be missed is DreamWorks' The Ring, which is joined by the original Japanese film Ringu, while family-fare can be found with Artisan's Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie. If you live to upgrade, you can look for Anchor Bay's latest Army of Darkness package, "The Boomstick Edition." And Columbia TriStar has no less than eight new Superbit releases in stock today. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 3 March 2003
Disc of the Week: Being a kid is a tough enough job to begin with parents prod, siblings compete, school can be either a challenge or a bore. But growing up as a child of the streets in Bombay, India, is something altogether different. One of the nation's largest cities with an estimated population of around 13 million, Bombay has benefited from India's economic expansion over the past few decades, and standards of living have risen for many families. But the problem of homeless children has persisted and in fact, it's become worse. When Mira Nair's Salaam Bombay! was released in 1988, it was estimated that the city contained more than 35,000 street kids. Today that number has risen to more than 100,000. Their origins are diverse: Some arrive in the city from far-flung rural provinces, while others are refugees from local families stricken by poverty or abuse. Remarkably resilient for their young age (and resistant to accepting help), they take work as ragpickers, shoe-shiners, or even find their way into the netherworld of drugs and prostitution. When documentary filmmaker Nair decided to shoot her first feature, it was Bombay's street children that caught her attention. Forming a local acting workshop in the city's Grant Road red-light district, she worked with more than 100 boys and girls before choosing her cast. Her documentary instincts, along with Sooni Taraporevala's script and Sandi Sissel's cinematography, made Salaam Bombay! one of the year's top award-winners on the international film circuit.
Shafiq Syed stars in Salaam Bombay! as 10-year-old Krishna, a boy from a rural village who misbehaves and is left by his mother with a traveling circus, told that he cannot return home until he earns 500 rupees. However, after the circus also abandons the boy, he boards a train for the nearest big city, which turns out to be Bombay ("Come back a movie star!" the ticket-agent says). Once in the city, Krishna settles in the Grant Road district, awash in brothels and heroin, where he finds work as a "chaipu," a boy who sells cups of tea on the street. Before long he becomes attached to one local brothel run by the ruthless Baba (Nana Patekar), a pimp who has a young daughter (Hansa Vithal) with his prostitute-wife Rekha (Aneeta Kanwar). New to the brothel is Solasaal (Chanda Sharma), a sixteen-year-old girl who has been sold by her family for her virginity, valued at 10,000 rupees for the right customer. Krishna immediately falls for Solasaal and wants to protect her, but he's also taken in by drug-dealer Chillum (Raghuvir Yadav), an eccentric layabout who teaches the boy the ways of the street, but cannot be entirely trusted. Amongst this ad hoc family, Krishna hopes to earn the money to find his way home, or at least build meaningful relationships with his new companions in Bombay.
With the largest film industry in the world (responsible for no less than 1,000 new pictures per year), India is well-known for its "Bollywood" movies breezy, entertaining, and largely inconsequential musicals that feature the country's most popular film stars (who also happen to be the country's best-selling pop-singers). But a smaller segment of the Indian film industry, known as "art house" fare, steadily has been making contributions to world cinema for some time now, thanks in part to directors like Mira Nair. Coming from a cinema verité background, Nair and screenwriter Sooni Taraporevala envisioned Salaam Bombay! as a not-quite-fiction, not-quite-fact project, fully intent to capture the sights and sounds of the Bombay street from a child's point of view. Admittedly a Dickensian exercise, the movie has a touch of Oliver Twist in the story, particularly with the key characters and their interpersonal dynamics. But the story never veers completely into melodrama we also see how, under the harshest of circumstances, the children retain a capacity for enjoying life, even at its cruelest. Brief respites include singing and dancing and going to the theater to see the latest musical, and even an all-night session of hash-smoking between Krishna and Chillum conveys a certain trust and tenderness between Grant Road's Artful Dodger and his young charge. Nair has made several movies since this debut, most recently scoring a hit with Monsoon Wedding, but Salaam Bombay! will always form the cornerstone of her career as an impressive debut that continues to earn admirers worldwide.
MGM's new release of Salaam Bombay!: Special Edition has been given lavish treatment on DVD, particularly for a foreign film that won't top any sales charts. Along with a strong anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) from a good source-print, the Hindi audio is available in the original mono or an "enhanced" Dolby Digital 5.1 track, and English subtitles are on board. Supplements include a chatty English-language commentary from director Mira Nair, who recalls many details of the film's production; a second commentary from American cinematographer Sandi Sissel (who adopted one of the street boys and later brought him to America); six retrospective featurettes with principal cast members, visiting them as they are today; a photo gallery; and the theatrical trailer. Salaam Bombay!: Special Edition is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: Just one new film arrived in American cineplexes over the weekend Warner's Cradle 2 the Grave starring Jet Li and DMX, which captured the top spot with $17.1 million. Meanwhile, last week's winner, Fox's Daredevil starring Ben Affleck, dropped to third place after two weeks atop the chart, where it now holds $84.1 million so far. Most critics were not kind to Cradle 2 the Grave, which earned mixed-to-negative reviews.
In continuing release, DreamWorks' Old School starring Will Ferrell, Vince Vaughn, and Luke Wilson is shaping up to be a hit the frathouse comedy didn't budge from its second-place debut last week, adding $13.9 million to a $37.2 million total. Paramount's How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days remains the top rom-com on the chart after one month, holding down fourth place and $77.5 million. And while Miramax's Chicago has slipped just slightly, it's now over the century with $105.1 million. But falling away are Warner's epic Gods and Generals with just $8.7 million in ten days, while MGM's Dark Blue had garnered $7.5 million. On the way to DVD prep is New Line's Final Destination 2, which will close above $40 million.
New in theaters this Friday is the action film Tears of the Sun starring Bruce Willis, along with the comedy Bringing Down the House with Steve Martin and Queen Latifah. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Mark Bourne has posted a sneak-preview of Paramount's Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home: Special Edition, while Greg Dorr recently looked at the Criterion double-feature I Am Curious. New reviews from the rest of the gang this week include Road to Perdition, The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum: The Criterion Collection, Road House, Of Mice and Men: Special Edition, Murder by Decree, You Can't Take It With You, Quicksilver, Salaam Bombay!: Special Edition, and the Peter Sellers titles Heavens Above!, The Smallest Show on Earth, and Two Way Stretch. We'll be back tomorrow with news on this week's street discs.