Tuesday, 29 April 2003
On the Street: Criterion leads the street list this week in a big way François Truffaut's The 400 Blows has returned to the lauded folio, where it's joined by four more Truffaut films in The Adventures of Antoine Doinel box set, while Federico Fellini's The White Sheik and Marcel Carne's Drôle de Drame also are available today. Paramount has another week of Western titles on the board with Big Jake, Little Big Man, A Man Called Horse, and Rio Lobo, and Steve McQueen's 1971 Le Mans is a racing film that has its share of admirers. Folks looking for a rom-com can have a look at Warner's Two Weeks Notice. A family spin can be found with Disney's Treasure Planet. You sci-fi buffs won't want to miss Warner's Babylon 5: Season Two. And Cary Grant fans can now pick up his final film, Walk Don't Run, in a crisp new transfer thanks to Columbia TriStar. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 28 April 2003
Disc of the Week: When Peter Bogdanovich, in his sprawling interview book This is Orson Welles, asked the tragic genius of American film for his assessment of Federico Fellini, he weighed in with what has become the near-conventional wisdom regarding the Italian filmmaker's legendary style: "Fellini is essentially a small-town boy who's never really come to Rome," Welles said. "He's still dreaming about it. And we should be very grateful for those dreams. In a way, he's still standing outside looking in through the gates." It comes as no surprise that this statement is quoted by Jonathan Rosenbaum in his essay accompanying The Criterion Collection's new release of the Mediterranean maestro's first solo directorial effort, The White Sheik, which Welles considered "the best of all" of Fellini's work. Expanded from an idea by Michelangelo Antonioni, who had originally intended to direct the feature himself, it's a film too unsteady on its feet to be placed among the filmmaker's best, but there's a rambunctious confidence at work that infuses the picture with a circus-like ebullience that's classic Fellini. Most intriguingly, there are also a few dark ambiguities in the storytelling that steer the film into some choppy theatrical waters, subtly staining the edges of what is, for the most part, a gently whimsical departure from the then-prevalent Neorealism aesthetic.
The first line in The White Sheik is a breathless "Rome!" As uttered with boyish wonder by the newlywed Ivan Cavalli (Leopoldo Trieste), it's the perfect spoken introduction to the cinema of Federico Fellini, and to the universe of this particular film. Having just arrived in the city for their honeymoon, Ivan and his bride Wanda (Brunella Bovo) are not exactly the picture of the happy couple. Ivan is an uptight, would-be careerist preoccupied with making a good impression on his uncle, a well-placed official at the Vatican. Toward this end, Ivan has drawn up a carefully regimented schedule for their time in Rome, the highlight of which is an audience with the Pope. But from the very beginning, Wanda is distracted. She has her own surreptitious appointment to keep: a meeting with the great Fernando Rivoli (Alberto Sordi), the lead "actor" in the popular fumetti strip "The White Sheik." (Fumetti essentially were comic books with photos.) Unbeknownst to Ivan, Wanda has been corresponding with Rivoli through a series of fan letters under the nom de plume "Passionate Dolly" and has promised to visit the actor if she's ever in Rome; thus, she clumsily invents an excuse to avoid Ivan's watchful gaze for an hour and trots down to Rivoli's nearby workplace. After a series of humorous complications, Wanda quickly finds herself being whisked off to Rivoli's latest shoot, and the actor immediately sets about romancing her. Meanwhile, a stunned Ivan spends the day with his uncle's family, concocting a fake illness to explain his wife's baffling absence as he attempts to piece together the mystery of her disappearance for himself.
As satire, The White Sheik effortlessly dispels the insanely unrealistic notion of romance propagated by the fumetti craze that captivated the imaginations of many an unhappy housewife in postwar Italy. When Wanda first meets Rivoli, he appears as if out of a dream, swinging from a pair of tall palm trees and serenading her with his pleasant tenor. It's a smashingly seductive moment a moment most likely longed for by Wanda since the first day of her courtship with the drearily average Ivan. But soon it's revealed that Rivoli, while an expert at playing the Casanova on the page, is an adulterous lothario who turns cowardly cuckold the minute his domineering wife shows up on set. Her illusions shattered, Wanda returns to Rome, but she cannot bring herself to face Ivan. What makes The White Sheik such a slyly subversive stick in the eye of traditional romanticism is the way Ivan handles the pain of rejection by spending the night with a prostitute (though not the one played by Giulietta Masina, who makes an enchanting cameo as the lively Cabiria several years before the character would be given her own movie). It's unclear whether Ivan availed himself of the woman's services, but the shamed manner in which he greets his uncle's family the morning after suggests that they didn't spend the evening playing bridge. It is only after this drastic action that Ivan is rewarded with the return of his wife, with whom he is reunited in a sanitarium after her comically failed suicide attempt. Rather than ascertain the depth of Wanda's betrayal, Ivan simply moans like a wounded mutt and tells her (out of the residual guilt from his own actions, perhaps) that he'd rather not know what happened. A few moments later, they're marching toward the Vatican, drenched in sin, and assuring each other of their unsullied "innocence". What's wonderful about this moment is how Fellini has constructed it so that it plays both ways: Is Ivan truthfully echoing Wanda's profession of purity, or does he figure he's simply lying along with her? Either interpretation is possible, but what is certain is that both Ivan and Wanda are no longer susceptible to ridiculous romantic ideals; they're merely happy with each other. In other words, the marriage actually stands a chance.
Criterion's new DVD release of The White Sheik presents the film in its original full-frame (1.33:1) aspect ratio struck from a 35mm fine-grain positive with monaural audio in Dolby Digital 1.0. The disc also sports a new English subtitle translation with dialogue that's more natural to the characters (Wanda now despairs that dreams are a "bottomless pit" rather than a "fatal abyss"). Extras include an essay from Chicago Reader critic Jonathan Rosenbaum, an excerpt from Charlotte Chandler's biography I, Fellini, and a "Remembrances" featurette with new interviews from Brunella Bovo, Moraldo Rossi and the late Leopoldo Trieste (30 min.). The White Sheik: The Criterion Collection is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: Sony's Identity debuted in first place on the box-office chart over the weekend of four new films, the James Mangold thriller (starring John Cusack, Ray Liotta, Jake Busey, and Rebecca De Mornay) was the only notable success, taking in $17 million to edge out the runaway hit Anger Management. Arriving in fifth place was Lions Gate's Confidence starring Dustin Hoffman and Edward Burns, which drew $4.7 million. And barely making the top ten were MGM's It Runs in the Family starring Hollywood's Douglas clan ($3 million) and Paramount's reality-TV movie The Real Cancun ($2.3 million). Critics were mixed-to-positive on Identity and Confidence, while Family and Cancun skewed mixed-to-negative.
In continuing release, Anger Management remains the top comedy in the land, holding down second place after its third weekend and breaking the century with $104.5 million to date. Buena Vista's family film Holes also is doing well with a firm grasp on third place and $36.8 million after two frames. And while many critics hated Warner's Malibu's Most Wanted, the movie is still a top-five item with $24.2 million in the bank. Meanwhile, Fox's Phone Booth is on the slip with a $40 million cume after one month. And Chris Rock is off to DVD prep DreamWorks' Head of State will close above $35 million.
Certain to blast its way to the top of the chart after this coming weekend is X2: X-Men United only The Lizzie McGuire Movie starring Hilary Duff will dare to debut at the same time. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Lots of catalog stuff this time around new reviews this week from the team include A Man Called Horse, Drôle de drame, Rio Lobo, Immediate Family, Le Mans, Big Jake, Little Big Man, Walk Don't Run, Once a Thief, The White Sheik: The Criterion Collection, and Standing in the Shadows of Motown. Everything's been added to the New Reviews menu here on the front page.
We'll be back tomorrow with the rundown on this week's street discs.
Tuesday, 22 April 2003
On the Street: It's hard to ignore one fantastic box set on the street this morning Warner's "Cole Porter Collection" includes the classics Broadway Melody of 1940, Les Girls, High Society, Kiss Me Kate, and Silk Stockings, all with short retrospective documentaries and archive materials. Paramount's unloading some westerns today as well, including Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Nevada Smith, and Copper Canyon, while the recent Bloody Sunday is a powerful film set in Northern Ireland. On the shelf from Columbia TriStar is The Crime of Padre Amaro and the horror film Darkness Falls: Special Edition. Artisan's pitching Young Guns: SE and a limited edition of Speed Racer episodes (with a DVD case that smells like a tire store). And take note that Trimark's The Believer was so controversial it couldn't get a theatrical run after a stint on cable, now's your chance to see it on DVD. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 21 April 2003
Disc of the Week: These days, the name "Cole Porter" is automatically associated with phrases like "Broadway legend" and "celebrated American composer." But back in the late 1940s, Porter was in a serious career slump. After a string of stage hits in the '30s (The Gay Divorce and Anything Goes are two of the best) and some success in Hollywood, the high-living socialite suffered a huge blow when his legs were crushed in a 1937 horseback riding accident he would have almost 30 surgeries on the injured limbs before his death in 1964. Porter threw himself into his work to escape his physical pain, but his early '40s shows (Panama Hattie, Let's Face It, Something for the Boys) didn't make much of an impact. Critics and audiences wondered if the talented musician had lost his touch.
Enter Kiss Me, Kate. An instant success when it debuted on Broadway on December 30, 1948, Porter's revisionist take on Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew revived the composer's career, ran for more than 1,000 performances, and spawned one of MGM's best-loved movie musicals of the 1950s. Starring Showboat co-stars Howard Keel as egotistical actor Fred Graham and Kathryn Grayson as his sharp-tongued ex-wife/fellow performer, Lilli Vanessi, the big-screen Kate stayed faithful to the stage version, retaining all but two of Porter's songs ("Another Openin', Another Show" and "Bianca" were dropped, while "From This Moment On" was added). One of the only major changes to the story was adding Porter himself as a character the movie opens on Porter and Fred cooking up a plan to convince Lilli to star in Porter's new musical, Kiss Me, Kate. From that point on, the self-referential "musical within a musical" follows feuding former lovers Fred and Lilli through rehearsals and into opening night. It's then, both as themselves and on stage as Petruchio and his recalcitrant bride, Katherine, that Fred and Lilli work through the complications that are keeping them apart her fiancé, his girlfriend, their mutual quick tempers and "artistic" temperaments, and even a pair of persistent gangsters (Keenan Wynn and James Whitmore, offering some of the film's biggest laughs) and find their way back to each other's arms.
Of course, Kiss Me Kate has plenty of breaks for Porter's catchy songs ("Wundebar," "Too Darn Hot," "So in Love," "I Hate Men," and more) and choreographer Hermes Pan's show-stopping dance numbers. Co-star Ann Miller (playing feisty ingénue Lois/Bianca) takes center stage for many of the latter, flashing her famous legs and happily hoofing with the trio of muscular dancers playing Bianca's suitors one of whom happens to be a very young Bob Fosse. Fosse's sexy, jazzy, self-choreographed segment during "From This Moment On," in which he pairs up with fellow dancer Carol Haney, offers one of the earliest cinematic examples of the distinct, modern style that would make him famous and eventually help him win the Oscar for Cabaret. It's also worth noting that Kiss Me, Kate was filmed in 3-D to capitalize on the early '50s movie-house trend director George Sidney told his actors to throw things (scarves, jewelry, etc.) directly at the camera during dance numbers to make the most of the format. But since the fad was already waning by the time Kate was released, only half of the prints were sent out as 3-D. Obviously, Kiss Me, Kate is a movie with a lot of history behind it. But it's also a fun, frothy, Technicolored romp of a musical that, as the recent successful Broadway revival proves, is still as entertaining as they come. Cole Porter may have written more hits after Kate jump-started his career (Silk Stockings, High Society), but he never wrote a better one.
Warner's new DVD lives up to Kiss Me Kate's reputation. The full-frame digital transfer (OAR 1.33:1) is lovely and clear, showcasing the bright costumes and gaudy sets, and the re-mastered Dolby Digital 5.1 audio puts extra oomph into all of Porter's songs (English, Spanish, and French subtitles are available). The features roster is healthy as well: In addition to a music-only track, a credits list, the theatrical trailer, and six screens of production notes, there are two worthwhile featurettes. The first, "Cole Porter in Hollywood: Too Darn Hot" is a retrospective "making-of" special hosted by Ann Miller. It's only eight and a-half minutes long, but it includes new retrospective interviews with Grayson, Keel, Whitmore, and other key cast members. Meanwhile, the 20-minute "Mighty Manhattan: New York's Wonder City" is a vintage travelogue from 1949 that celebrates America's cultural capital. Kiss Me Kate is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: Sony's Anger Management is shaping up to be a monster hit four new films opened over the holiday weekend, but the Adam Sandler/Jack Nicholson comedy handily beat all comers, adding $25.6 million to a solid $80.2 million 10-day gross. Landing in second place was Disney's family film Holes featuring Sigourney Weaver and Jon Voight, which took in a respectable $17.1 million. Warner's Malbu's Most Wanted starring Jamie Kennedy took third place with a $13.1 million break, while MGM's Bulletproof Monk with Chow Yun-Fat and Seann William Scott wound up in fourth with $8.6 million. And barely scraping its way into the chart was Fox's Chasing Papi, which garnered a mere $2.2 million. Most critics gave Holes positive notices, while the rest of this week's debuts earned plenty of negative write-ups.
In continuing release, Buena Vista's Burning Down the House remains the comedy champ on the chart with $122.7 million after seven weeks, while Miramax's Chicago holds $160.7 million, although business for both is on the decline. Fox's Phone Booth remains a popular draw after three weeks, holding down $35.1 million to date. And Warner's What a Girl Wants now stands at $27.5 million. But failing to earn XXX-sized receipts is New Line's A Man Apart starring Vin Diesel, which is slowing with just $22.5 in the bank. And off to DVD prep is Paramount's disaster flick The Core, which looks to finish below $30 million.
New films arriving in cineplexes near you this Friday include Confidence starring Edward Burns, Rachel Weisz, and Dustin Hoffman, Identity with John Cusack, Jake Busey, and Rebecca DeMornay, It Runs in the Family featuring father-son team Kirk Douglas and Michael Douglas, and MTV's The Real Cancun. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Damon Houx has posted a sneak preview of Warner's Silk Stockings, part of their new "Cole Porter Collection," while new stuff from the rest of the gang this week includes The Crime of Padre Amaro, Darkness Falls: Special Edition, High Society, Bloody Sunday, Les Girls, The Believer, Broadway Melody of 1940, Nevada Smith, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Kiss Me Kate, Young Guns: Special Edition, and (for real) Puppetry of the Penis. Everything's been added to the New Reviews menu here on the front page.
Back tomorrow with the street discs.
Tuesday, 15 April 2003
On the Street: No complaints about this week's street list there's something for everybody here. And especially for anime fans, who can pick up a trio of Hayao Miyazaki films from Buena Vista, Castle in the Sky, Kiki's Delivery Service, and Spirited Away. If you're looking for action, Fox has plenty with The Transporter starring Jason Statham, while Drumline proved to be a surprise hit in theaters before making it to DVD. Specialty vendor Wellspring has made amends with Akira Kurosawa fans, thanks to an improved release of his epic Ran in their Masterworks Series imprint, while the Icelandic film 101 Reykjavik is a charming slice of life from colder climes. If you're a fan of The Singing Detective, BBC Video has a six-disc box they'd like to show you. And if you just love music, MGM's catalog dump includes such titles as A Chorus Line, Absolute Beginners, Beat Street, Lambada, Rappin', Salsa, and the incomparable Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 14 April 2003
Disc of the Week: Much like any other country, Iceland is a web of contradictions. Founded by Norse settlers as a waypoint between Scandinavia and North America, it remains the least-densely populated country in Europe. With much of the terrain covered by snowcapped mountains, people live primarily in coastal cities and towns, although the volcanic activity that crested the island above the Atlantic ensures there is an endless supply of hot water from innumerable springs, and outdoor pools remain open year-round. Iceland boasts the highest literacy rate in the world (100%), and Icelandic, Danish, and English are commonly spoken. The country also has the oldest functioning parliament on earth and a rich tradition of liberal democracy. But while unemployment has fallen in recent years, suicide rates are above European averages, and alcoholism remains an ongoing social problem. Actually, according to Baltasar Kormánkur's independent film 101 Reykjavik, when it's 30 below zero and there's just five hours of daylight, if you don't have a job you might as well get plastered.
Or at least, so says Hlynur (Hilmir Snær Gudnason) the 30-year-old resident of Reykjavik draws a disability pension from the government and lives at home with his mom Berglind (Hanna María Karlsdóttir). For Hlynur, each week simply passes into the next. He sits in front of his iMac for a good chunk of the day, and falls asleep to the endless porn programming he finds on satellite television. On Friday night, he goes out drinking in the local pub, where folks get totally wrecked and pair off for casual sex. Saturday night isn't so different Hlynur considers it a "sequel" to the night before in the pub, except everyone who got killed turns up again. But if life offers little purpose, at least it can get a little loopy. Particularly when Berglind's Spanish friend Lola (Victoria Abril) arrives for a visit. A dance teacher, the sexual tension between her and Hlynur is palpable, although Hlynur occasionally sees another girl. Yet by New Year's Eve they find themselves in the throes of passion; it's later that Berglind tells Hlynur that Lola is her lesbian lover, and that they are planning to start a life together. And they might as well Lola's somehow just become pregnant.
Based on the novel by Hallgrímur Helgason, 101 Reykjavik is the product of independent film-financing common to small European productions. Actor-turned-director Baltasar Kormákur drummed up cash both from government funds and European studios, although it's a fair guess that the project wasn't an easy sell. After all, Euro-indies often do best when they function as glittering postcards of exotic, foreign locales, primarily if they are to be profitable in the lucrative American market. 101 Reykjavik is as charming as small films come, but it's to Kormákur's credit that he did not deliver a romanticized version of his country. The city of Reykjavik certainly has an appealing Scandinavian quality, and the few exterior panoramas show off Iceland's famous geological attractions (one scene outside a rural church is so gorgeous you may want to book a vacation right there). Yet the story could take place anywhere it isn't endemic to Iceland, but rather any city or town with a small, isolated population. And with that, 101 Reykjavik taps into a theme that has a broad appeal within modern literature and cinema the trials of a young, aimless man who cannot identify the purpose of life or his proper place within it, and thus resorts to emotional withdrawal or self-destructive behavior. From The Catcher in the Rye to The Graduate to Igby Goes Down, it's an engrossing archetype that can be spun in infinite directions, and will be for some time yet. Here, Hilmir Snær Gudnason plays Hlynur with a sad humanity occasionally hostile (he fantasizes about unloading a shotgun on a dull family Christmas dinner), more often inert, but always able to find dark humor in everyday things. The story is interspersed with his own wry commentary, which is wickedly funny with ruminations on sex, drinking, and life itself, which Hlynur considers to be the thing that happens between death. As Lola, Victoria Abril is an alluring arrival (the score features several different arrangements of The Kinks' "Lola"), and the story is populated by locals who illustrate the island's various social cliques. For a film that threatens to be somber, 101 Reykjavik is touchingly sweet, and it offers a witty, upbeat ending that indicates there may be hope yet for Hlynur.
Wellspring's new DVD release features a clean anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. The script alternates between Icelandic and English dialogue, and English subtitles are available. Supplements include cast notes, a trailer gallery, and Web links. 101 Reykjavik is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: When Sony decided to release Anger Management in April instead of June, every other studio got out of the way and they were wise to do so. The Adam Sandler/Jack Nicholson comedy was the only new wide release over the weekend and took in a blistering $44.5 million, beating the rest of the chart's combined total and setting personal bests for both of its stars. However, coming as something of a surprise was Lions Gate's House of 1000 Corpses written and directed by Rob Zombie, the film managed to wind up in seventh place with $3.4 million despite debuting in just 600 theaters. Anger Management earned mixed notices, while most critics gave 1000 Corpses the chop.
No film in continuing release managed to crack $10 million for the frame, but Fox's Phone Booth is looking good, holding down the second spot and adding $7.5 million to a $26.6 million 10-day total. Buena Vista's Bringing Down the House continues to reinforce Hollywood's current belief that the money's where the laughs are it's still in the top five after six weeks and $117 million to date. Last week's new arrivals What a Girl Wants and A Man Apart slipped down a few notches, while Fox Searchlight's Bend it Like Beckham found its way on to the chart with a $1.4 million weekend on just 200 screens. And already in DVD prep is Focus/Universal's The Pianist, which will finish its domestic run just below $30 million.
New films arriving in theaters this Friday include Bulletproof Monk starring Chow Yun-Fat and Seann William Scott, Malibu's Most Wanted with Jamie Kennedy, the drama Holes featuring Sigourney Weaver, and the romantic comedy Chasing Papi. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Dawn Taylor has posted a sneak preview of Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away, while Greg Dorr recently looked at Wellspring's reissued version of Akira Kurosawa's Ran: Masterworks Edition. New capsules this week include The Transporter, Drumline, Castle in the Sky, 101 Reykjavik, and Kiki's Delivery Service. It's all under our New Reviews menu here on the front page.
We'll be back tomorrow to let you know about this week's street discs.
Tuesday, 8 April 2003
On the Street: If you've been looking for a week off from buying DVDs, this might be it. Of course, you Harry Potter fans have Chamber of Secrets to pick up this Friday. Beyond that, notable catalog titles from Buena Vista include Tom & Viv, The Wings of the Dove, and Scenes from a Mall, while Columbia TriStar already has a DVD of this year's Oscar-winning short The Chubbchubbs available. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 7 April 2003
Disc of the Week: When it comes to praising actresses these days, "brave" is a word that gets tossed around a lot. Renee Zellweger was "brave" to sing and dance in Chicago. Julianne Moore was "brave" to tackle tough issues like racism and homophobia in Far From Heaven. Nicole Kidman was "brave" to hide her beauty with a fake nose in The Hours. Please. On a Bravery Scale of 1 to 10, which rates the highest: hoofing in sequins, emoting in color-coordinated '50s regalia, slapping some latex on your face ... or getting on top of a hay-strewn desk and making like a horse (saddle, carrot, and all)? Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner. For a truly brave actress, look no further than Secretary's Maggie Gyllenhaal, who takes on a topic few Hollywood actresses would touch with a 10-foot pole S&M-style domination and turns it into a poignantly sweet story about love and enlightenment.
With her sad, knowing eyes and slow, impish grin, Gyllenhaal older sister of The Good Girl's Jake Gyllenhaal is the perfect choice to play Lee Holloway. Nervous, isolated, and damaged by years of a painful family life (Dad drinks, Mom and Dad fight all the time), Lee is a "cutter" when the anger and fear and frustration she's afraid to feel become too much for her to bear, she lets them out by cutting herself with one of the many implements she's collected over the years (the inventory of her fancifully decorated "cutting box" looks like a medieval torture kit). When one slice goes a little too deep, Lee's mother (a fluttery Leslie Ann Warren) catches her, and Lee lands in the loony bin. Released just in time for her sister's wedding, Lee tries her best to overcome the urges she can't shake, but it's not until she gets a secretarial job working for attorney E. Edward Grey (James Spader) that she finds an alternative to her ritual of self-abuse. Lee sees Mr. Grey as her savior he gives her the direction and structure she craves, and she becomes almost slavishly devoted to him. Before long, their dominant-submissive relationship strays outside its "professional" boundaries and spanking, crawling, saddling-up, and any number of other S&M-tinged activities take the place of Lee's cutting sessions. Lee's boyfriend, Peter (a hirsute Jeremy Davies), pales in comparison to her beloved boss; indeed, everything outside of Lee's time at the office seems meaningless to her she finally feels alive and she wants to relish every kinky second of it.
The twist in Secretary is that Mr. Grey ends up needing Lee as much as she needs him. Convinced that the impulses and desires the two of them share are wrong, Mr. Grey struggles against giving into them, going as far as firing Lee when he sees no other way to kick the habit. But in return for what he has given her the strength and confidence she needs to emerge as a true individual Lee gives Mr. Grey permission to rejoice in their less-than-conventional relationship. As a result, Secretary is ultimately a very tender romance about two lost souls who find each other in the unlikeliest of circumstances. And the film succeeds almost entirely on the strength of its two leads. Yes, director Steven Shainberg offers creative shots and smart allusions (the Little Red Riding Hood bit near the beginning is particularly clever), and Erin Cressida Wilson's script deftly eludes the temptation of going too far over the top. But without Gyllenhaal and Spader, Secretary would still be stuck in the typing pool. Former Brat Packer Spader has had a lock on the title of Creepy Indie It Boy for awhile now (Crash, anyone?), but as Mr. Grey he mixes an air of vague menace with a touching vulnerability you can understand why Lee wants to protect him as much as she fears displeasing him. His chemistry with Gyllenhaal is palpable; in the scenes leading up to the first spanking session, the tension between them grows almost unbearable. Gyllenhaal contributes to that equation as well you can see Lee's emotions ripple across her expressive face as she learns what it's like to feel something without the aid of a knife. Gyllenhaal makes Lee's gradual transformation from a slouchy, sniffly, frumpy nonentity into a poised, graceful, confident woman a wonder to behold; if this is the power of S&M love, it's time to break out the whips and trusses.
Lions Gate's new DVD release of Secretary wisely lets the film shine as the disc's centerpiece, offering only a handful of supplements to round things out. The anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) is strong and clear (all the better to enjoy Amy Danger's striking production design), and the English DD 2.0 audio is more than adequate (English and Spanish subtitles also are available). Extras include the trailer which paints the film as more of a lighthearted comedy than a heartfelt romance a photo gallery, a "making-of" featurette (7 min.), and a chatty if not electric commentary track from Shainberg and Wilson. Secretary is on the street now.
Box Office: Three new films debuted in American theaters over the weekend and managed to snag the top three spots on the box-office chart. Leading the way was Phone Booth starring Colin Farrell and Kiefer Sutherland the Fox release had a $15 million break, beating out Warner's comedy What a Girl Wants, which was good for $12 million, and New Line's Vin Diesel vehicle A Man Apart, which secured $11.1 million. Phone Booth earned generally positive reviews, while Girl skewed mixed-to-negative. Most critics hammered A Man Apart.
In continuing release, last week's winner Head of State starring Chris Rock tumbled to fourth place, adding $8.8 million to a $25.3 million 10-day total. Buena Vista's smash comedy Bringing Down the House remains in the top five after five weeks with $111.3 million so far. Paramount's disaster flick The Core isn't shaping up to be a sizable hit, dropping to sixth place in its second frame with a $20.9 million gross, while Sony's Basic starring John Travolta and Sam Jackson is tracking similar numbers. We'll be waiting until August to get the Chicago DVD in the meantime, it's now cleared $150 million. And DreamWorks' comedy Old School is headed for the cheap theaters with more than $70 million in the keg.
New in cineplexes this Friday is Anger Management starring Adam Sandler and Jack Nicholson. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Clarence Beaks has posted a sneak preview of Warner's Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, while Mark Bourne recently dug through Buena Vista's Who Framed Roger Rabbit?: Vista Series. New stuff this week from the rest of the gang includes Red Dragon: Director's Edition, Far From Heaven, Secretary, and Dawson's Creek: The First Season. Everything's been added to the New Reviews menu here on the front page.
We'll be back tomorrow with the rundown on this week's street discs.
Tuesday, 1 April 2003
On the Street: There's plenty of good DVDs to pick from this week, but some of this swag will cost you EMI's long-awaited The Beatles Anthology is bound to be a top seller, even as a spendy five-disc set. Universal's Red Dragon arrives this week in three separate editions, including a two-disc version with extra goods, while Jonathan Demme's The Truth About Charlie starring Mark Wahlberg is hoping to make up for its flop at the box-office. Todd Haynes' Far From Heaven starring Julianne Moore and Dennis Quaid will be worth a look, and fans of the classics can check out the latest from Fox, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. We found the documentary I Am Trying to Break Your Heart about Chicago rockers Wilco to be among the best we've seen in some time. MGM's hoping to score on a double-dip with a new two-disc release of West Side Story. And TV fans can pick up new boxes ranging from Friends to I Love Lucy to Dawson's Creek to Deep Space Nine. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment: