Wednesday, 28 May 2003
On the Street: It's definitely a Criterion kind of week the lauded distributor has no less than four new titles on the street, and fans of Akira Kurosawa doubtless will be snapping up 1957's Throne of Blood, which features a digitally restored transfer and an informative commentary from film scholar Michael Jeck. Henri-Georges Clouzot's 1955 Quai des Orfèvres also is worth a spin, and hopefully will be a new discovery for film fans on these shores, while Derek Jarman's Jubilee and Volker Schlöndorff's Coup de Grâce round out the Criterion slate. Fans of Roman Polanski's Oscar-winning The Piano will find a new disc on the shelves from Universal, MGM's A Guy Thing is the latest rom-com arrival, and Buena Vista's The Recruit starring Al Pacino and Colin Farrell is worth a bowl of popcorn. Columbia's lineup includes Pedro Almodóvar's Talk to Her, Love Liza, Mississippi Masala, and a re-issue of The Mothman Prophecies. And for fans of Homicide: Life on the Street, the wait is over the first two seasons have arrived in a four-disc set, courtesy of A&E. Here's this week's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Tuesday, 27 May 2003
Disc of the Week: Respected as a masterful suspense technician, but often reviled for his dim, misanthropic views on man's innately venal nature, it is not surprising that Henri-Georges Clouzot is often referred to as the French Hitchcock. The two were rivals of a sort legend has it that Clouzot's 1955 Diabolique drove Hitchcock to up the suspense ante with Psycho but their aims could not have been more disparate. Though both were obviously afflicted with a pronounced pessimism, Hitchcock was a more eager entertainer, who, when he did give into the loftier artistry of Vertigo and Marnie, dove headlong into deliriously stylized psychological studies. Clouzot, despite the well-documented cruelty he heaped on his actors, was much more interested in the human element. Rather than use his performers as props in a bent psychological profile, he hectored and abused them on set, purposefully (and, it goes without saying, unacceptably), impressing upon their own psyches in order to convey greater human truths on screen. And nowhere did Clouzot succeed at this more sensationally than in Quai des Orfèvres.
Made after a four-year government-imposed ban incurred by his scandalous Nazi-financed film, Le Corbeau, Clouzot adapted (since the book was out of print, from memory!) the pulp police procedural by S.A. Steeman about a nakedly ambitious showgirl named Jenny Lamour (Suzy Delair), who intends to make it big by boldly intoxicating powerful old men of industry in this particular instance, a lecherous, leering old hunchback named Brignon (Charles Dullin) with her irresistibly carnal flirtatiousness. This doesn't sit so well with her husband, Maurice (Bernard Blier), a covetous cuckold who lives in perpetual suspicion of his wife's possible infidelities. What's wonderful about Clouzot's film, however, is how the director undercuts the audience's suspicions of Jenny with an early scene in which she professes to her friend, and surreptitious lesbian admirer, Dora (an impossibly glamorous Simone Renant), that she could never betray husband: "Maurice is my flame. He may not burn bright, but he lights my way." She's not kidding. As hilariously embodied by a balding and waddling Blier, Maurice is the Schlub of Schlubs. When, in a fit of jealous pique, he resolves to murder Jenny and Brignon, there's never any real sense of danger because Clouzot has so effectively emasculated this poor man, making the obligatory prelude to a murder sequence all the more suspenseful, but in a much different manner. Genre convention dictates that someone is going to die before Act I comes to a close, but it's certainly not going to be at the hands of Maurice. When Brignon is already dead by the time Maurice arrives at his estate (felled, it appears, by a wine bottle to the skull), the film becomes a tragic comedy of errors, with mistrust and weakness the prime culprits. Everyone is in trouble because they suspect the worst of each other.
And yet, what really knocks Quai des Orfèvres up into the noir stratosphere is the emergence of Inspector Antoine (the legendary Louis Jouvet), a weary, workmanlike detective who is almost the inverse of Jenny in his lack of ambition. For Antoine, this is an unwanted case unluckily fielded while pulling night duty when he'd rather be spending time with the young boy he adopted after serving in France's colonial wars. But his lack of enthusiasm is dangerously deceptive; Antoine is a crafty sleuth who thoroughly follows every lead no matter how much he despises the work involved. As he pieces together the crime, and the story draws inexorably to its bad end for one, or maybe all, of the crime's conspirators, the picture threatens to become another drudging treatise on man's failings which, for all of Clouzot's filmmaking brilliance, would render it nothing more than an exceptional genre exercise. But this old devil has something more on his mind. Indeed, the final minutes of Quai des Orfèvres constitute perhaps the most ineffable denouement in the history of film noir: a breathtaking, humanistic, and possibly even tear-jerking conclusion to an overlooked masterpiece.
Criterion's new DVD release presents Quai des Orfèvres in an original full-frame (1.33:1) transfer struck from a 35mm fine grain print with monaural audio on a Dolby Digital 1.0 track. The transfer looks and sounds wonderful, particularly with the movie's ecstatic musical interludes, which feature Delair giving fine voice to "Avec son Tra-la-la" and "Danse avec moi." Supplements include 17 minutes of interviews with Clouzot, Blier, Renant, and Blier, all culled from a 1971 French television program titled "Au Cinema ce soir" (in which the actors surprisingly recount their rough handling by Clouzot rather fondly). Also on board is a poster gallery, an essay by Luc Sante, and a theatrical trailer. Quai des Orfèvres: The Criterion Collection is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: After a few box-office disappointments in recent years, Jim Carrey re-teamed with director Tom Shadyac for Universal's Bruce Almighty and proved he's still a top comedy draw the picture had a blistering $86.4 million four-day break over the Memorial Day weekend, propelling weekend chart to a record-setting $155.8 million, as well as limiting The Matrix: Reloaded's number-one spot to just one week. Bruce Almighty also had a solid three-day total of $70.8 million, giving Carrey his largest raw-dollar debut. Arriving in fifth place was Warner's The In-Laws starring Michael Douglas and Albert Brooks, which earned just $9.1 million. Both Bruce Almighty and The In-Laws earned mixed reviews from critics.
In continuing release, The Matrix: Reloaded may no longer be the top film in the land, but it now has a staggering 12-day total of $209.5 million, making it the second-fastest movie in history to crack the double-century (just behind Spider-Man's 11 days). Folks are still lining up to see Eddie Murphy in Daddy Day Care, which held on to third place and now has $73.1 million to its credit. Meanwhile, Fox's X2: X-Men United has sold $192 million worth of tickets in just one month, and Sony's Anger Management is proving its legs with $131.8 million. But doing more modest business is Fox's Down With Love, which now stands at $14.6 million overall. And Warner's Malibu's Most Wanted is now off to the cheap theaters after taking $35 million in wide release.
New movies arriving on screens this Friday include The Italian Job with Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, and Edward Norton, the horror flick Wrong Turn starring Eliza Dushku, and Pixar's animated Finding Nemo. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Mark Bourne has posted a new review of Disney's two-disc 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Special Edition, while new stuff from the rest of the team this week includes The Recruit, Adaptation, Throne of Blood: The Criterion Collection, A Guy Thing, The Mothman Prophecies: Special Edition, Coup de Grâce: The Criterion Collection, Love Liza, Man of Aran, Jubilee: The Criterion Collection, Talk to Her, Mississippi Masala, Jackie Chan's Project A 2, The X-Files: Season Seven, Quai des Orfèvres: The Criterion Collection, and Avenging Angelo. It's all under our New Reviews menu here on the front page.
We'll be back tomorrow with the rundown on this week's street discs.
Tuesday, 20 May 2003
On the Street: The Memorial Day weekend is nearly upon us, and we have arrived at one of the largest street Tuesdays of the year, with a variety of new, catalog, and family titles on the shelves. Buena Vista leads the way with new editions of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Love Bug, and The Rescuers, as well as Spike Lee's overlooked 25th Hour and Jackie Chan's Project A 2. Fox has the Coen Brothers' Barton Fink and Miller's Crossing on disc for the first time, while Antwone Fisher marks Denzel Washington's directorial debut, and new war titles include The Desert Fox, The Blue Max, Sink the Bismarck!, and Heaven Knows Mr. Allison. MGM also is stacking the deck for Father's Day with wartime and western spins, including Battle of Britain, Zulu, The Unforgiven, Operation Amsterdam, and Mosquito Squadron, while the Lion has double-dipped an excellent SE of Dances With Wolves and a three-disc director's edition of Windtalkers. Fresh from Columbia TriStar is the Superbit version of Adaptation. And cinema buffs will not want to miss two classic documentaries from Robert Flaherty, Louisiana Story and Man of Aran, on disc in restored editions from Home Vision. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 19 May 2003
Disc of the Week: Never one for half-measures, Spike Lee has boldly configured 25th Hour based on a novel by David Benioff, who also wrote the screenplay as the definitive post-9/11 New York City film, announcing his lofty intentions with a startling opening credit sequence: a montage of the spotlight World Trade Center memorial that briefly lit up the skies from Ground Zero as the solemn clean-up neared its completion. Set to a mournful melody from longtime Lee collaborator Terence Blanchard, it heaps an insanely heavy load on what was, on the page, an unfussy, cautionary tale of a successful drug dealer attempting to cram a lifetime of reflection and regret into his last day of freedom before submitting to a seven-year jail sentence. It's a brilliantly realized sequence that is at once breathtaking and troubling. Though his moxie is never less than admirable, once the lights go out on the memorial, accompanied by Lee's title card, there's a sense, backed up by a pair of recent artistic debacles Bamboozled and Summer of Sam that the film is doomed to failure, which is what makes 25th Hour all the more remarkable. Though swinging for the fences as usual, Lee connects on every pitch, finding the outfield bleachers with astonishing regularity and offering the all-too-rare sight of a master filmmaker at the top of his game. Why this film didn't garner more praise at the end of 2002 should be a point of shame for the nation's critics and the publicists at Touchstone Pictures.
Ostensibly the story of Monty Brogan (Edward Norton), the aforementioned dope pusher facing hard time in the state pen, Lee turns his final 24 hours into a farewell to the New York City that ceased to exist on the morning of September 11th, 2001. As Monty bumps around the city, devoting his time to his last partition-free moments with his father (the ubiquitous Brian Cox), his young Puerto Rican girlfriend Naturelle (Rosario Dawson), and his two best childhood friends, timid schoolteacher Jacob (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and brash stockbroker Frank (a sensational Barry Pepper), he reflects ruefully on his squandered potential. Most notably, Monty obsesses on the day his domestic splendor was shattered when a trio of smug DEA agents came calling, quickly discovering a healthy stash of heroin and cash in the cushions of his couch as if they were tipped off. In hindsight, Monty knows he should've got out of the game while he was riding high. "I got greedy," he confides to Frank. Interestingly, Monty seems the least concerned of all the film's characters about who betrayed him. His loyal, English-mangling right hand man, Kostya (a surprisingly effective Tony Siragusa, who's ably made the transition from Baltimore Ravens lineman to endearing character actor), is insistent that it was Naturelle who sold him down the river, but while this has clearly driven a wedge into their relationship, Monty's primary focus is on living it up at his favorite nightclub for one last night, and calling in a crucial favor from Frank that just might ensure his survival on the inside.
Staying largely faithful to fellow New Yorker Benioff's sharply written screenplay, in 25th Hour Lee avoids the ostentatious, tangential clutter of his previous films, enabling him to concentrate his considerable visual talents on the story at hand. True, the director has immersed the picture in a massively audacious context as if the opening credit sequence wasn't enough, Frank's apartment overlooks Ground Zero but Lee never gets carried away, which is due precisely to his immense respect for Benioff's script (a sentiment Lee expresses in his muted, but interesting, commentary track). In fact, the one classic Spike flourish actually is primarily a Benioff creation: the incendiary "Fuck You" monologue delivered into a restroom mirror by Monty that colorfully slanders every section of New York City's populace. In recognizing this affinity for the source material, Lee has, for the first time since Do the Right Thing, remained locked-in, and the results are as extraordinary and unforgettable as that previous triumph. 25th Hour is a deeply felt masterpiece that deepens on subsequent viewings, as well as a profoundly humanistic work that defines the New Yorker in all of us the one born when Flight 11 slammed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
Buena Vista presents 25th Hour in a fine anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with terrific Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. For a film practically disowned by the studio in its theatrical release, the disc is surprisingly rich with extras, including a featurette titled "The Evolution of an American Filmmaker" (22 min.) that serves as a relatively insightful tour through Lee's tumultuous career; two relaxed, but very interesting solo commentaries with Lee and Benioff, deleted scenes, and a somber "Ground Zero: A Tribute" featurette. 25th Hour is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: Warner's The Matrix: Reloaded unloaded at North American cineplexes over the weekend and made its mark on box-office history. Taking a three-day total of $93.2 million since Friday, the sci-fi flick holds the second-best raw-dollar debut ever, just behind Spider-Man ($115 million). And while Attack of the Clones (which also opened on a Thursday) had an initial four-day take of $110.2 million, Reloaded garnered $135.7 million over the same period. The second Matrix film also holds the record for the strongest debut of any R-rated film, easily overtaking the $58 million earned by Hannibal. Counter-programming Warner's summer tentpole was Fox's Down With Love starring Ewan McGregor and Rene Zellweger, which went wide over the weekend and took in a modest $7.5 million for fourth place on the chart. Matrix Unloaded earned mostly positive reviews from critics, although it did suffer a few thrashings in the press; Down With Love earned mixed notices.
In continuing release, Sony's Daddy Day Care starring Eddie Murphy managed to outperform Fox's X2: X-Men United, holding down second place with a solid $19.2 million weekend and $51 million in just 10 days (so don't be surprised if there's a critics-be-damned sequel). Meanwhile, X-2 finds itself in third place after three weeks with $17.1 million for the frame and $174 million in the bank. And Buena Vista's The Lizzie McGuire Movie rounds out the top five with $32.1 million so far. Doing reasonably good business on a slow burn is Sony's thriller Identity, which has racked up $44.8 million over the past month. Also doing well in limited venues is Warner's A Mighty Wind, which now has $12.1 million in the hat. But off to DVD prep in a hurry is MGM's It Runs in the Family, which did not manage to clear $10 million despite the star power of Kirk and Michael Douglas.
However, Michael Douglas returns to theaters this weekend, teaming up with Albert Brooks for a remake of The In-Laws, while Jim Carrey's latest comedy, Bruce Almighty, also will go wide. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Dave Walker has posted a sneak-preview of MGM's two-disc Dances With Wolves: Special Edition, while Mark Bourne recently dug through Home Vision's release of Robert Flaherty's Louisiana Story. New reviews this week from the rest of the gang include Miller's Crossing, Barton Fink, Windtalkers: Director's Edition, Antwone Fisher, Battle of Britain, The Desert Fox: The Story of Rommel, The Blue Max, Sink the Bismark!, 25th Hour, and The Unforgiven. It's all fresh under the New Reviews menu here on the front page.
Back tomorrow with the street discs.
Tuesday, 13 May 2003
On the Street: It's a mix of new and old this week as catalog titles continue to arrive in time for Father's Day shopping. Both Warner and Columbia have several offerings for Dad, including Commandos Strike at Dawn, Hellcats of the Navy, Objective Burma, and Operation Pacific, while other Warner vault items include a new special edition of The Mission, 1950's Father of the Bride, and The In-Laws. Fresh titles this morning include Warner's Analyze That, along with Comedian: Jerry Seinfeld, The Hot Chick, and Equilibrium, all from Buena Vista. Columbia TriStar's two-disc The People vs. Larry Flynt: Special Edition upgrades the earlier, bare-bones release, while fans of Hong Kong cinema should not miss Ringo Lam's Full Contact. And if you've been meaning to pick up some Hitchcock films under the Criterion folio, the five-disc Wrong Men & Notorious Women: Five Hitchcock Thrillers: 1935-1946 may be the perfect opportunity. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 12 May 2003
Disc of the Week: Like some of the biggest names in comedy before him Bill Cosby, Robin Williams, Jim Carrey, Steve Martin, Eddie Murphy Jerry Seinfeld has transcended his stand-up origins. Thanks to the phenomenal success of NBC-TV's "Seinfeld," he's a household name. He can sit in his apartment on Manhattan's Upper West Side with his wife, two kids, and all the cars, cereal, and tennis shoes his residuals can buy the man who invented the show about nothing is more than entitled to do nothing, if that's what he feels like. And he's certainly free of the obligation to go up in front of an audience every night and peddle his jokes for a few laughs. But obligation and compulsion are two very different things, and that's why, a couple of years ago, Jerry Seinfeld chose to go back to stand-up, putting his reputation and self-respect on the line to develop a brand new act.
Luckily, a couple of handheld cameras operated by director Christian Charles and producer Gary Streiner were there to capture the process on film the result is Comedian, an honest, engrossing documentary about what it's really like to be a stand-up comic. The film's central plot follows Seinfeld as he tests and refines new material and discusses the finer points of comedy with his fellow yuksters, including erstwhile "Saturday Night Live" player Colin Quinn (evidently one of Seinfeld's good friends), Robert Klein, George Wallace, Bill Cosby, Ray Romano, Jay Leno, and Chris Rock. Meanwhile, Charles and Streiner also keep their lenses trained on Orny Adams, a neurotic, obsessive up-and-comer whose desperate need for validation is the only thing bigger than his ambition. The two comedians' paths are paralleled for contrast Seinfeld pops up on the Letterman show and thrills an ecstatic crowd with a carefully crafted performance; Adams gets his chance at "doing Dave" and scores a few laughs despite his obvious nervousness and rough transitions. Both men are funny, but it's easy to tell which one is the accomplished professional and which is the hopeful who's still rough around the edges.
However, Orny Adams' story quietly falls by the wayside as the film progresses (look for a little bit of closure in the DVD's "Where is Orny Now?" featurette), turning Comedian into the "Just Jerry!" show. Not that there's anything wrong with that despite the fact that the film's pacing and structure feel more deliberate when the two storylines are running side by side, seeing more Seinfeld on screen isn't a problem. Comedian's greatest strength is its intimacy, jumping right into the action and showing us a side of Seinfeld that we've never seen. Cracking up with his friends in the basement of a smoky comedy club, fretting nervously before a show, swearing, admitting his awe of über-comedian Cosby this is no prissy sitcom character, but rather a real, complex person who loves his art, despite its demanding, capricious nature. Viewers will have more sympathy for Seinfeld while watching him lose his place and fumble for a line during an early performance than they ever did when he and his TV cronies were whining (hilariously, of course) about the minutiae of daily life.
Miramax's Comedian DVD arrives with a nice full-frame transfer (1.33:1) and crisp Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, and the new platter offers even more glimpses behind the Seinfeld façade. The set of five deleted scenes (with optional commentary) includes one very telling sequence in which an extremely pessimistic Seinfeld is sure his performance at a fancy benefit dinner is going to bomb; cut to a few minutes later, after he's completed the set to big laughs, and he's over the moon. (Ahh, the psyche of an artist.) Other extras include Adams and Seinfeld's complete Letterman appearances; the "Where Is Orny Now?" follow-up featurette; an advertising/promotion gallery (trailer, posters, action figures, etc.); scribbled set-list notes from Seinfeld, Adams, and Quinn; and DVD-exclusive Jiminy Glick interviews. (For non-Comedy Central watchers, Glick is Martin Short's clueless entertainment reporter alter ego; the bits here aren't as funny as some of the ones that have aired on his show, but they're still worth watching.) Rounding out the features list are two commentaries one a standard chat-fest by Charles and Steiner, the other a very insider-y bull session with Seinfeld and Quinn. Comedian is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: With the summer movie season gaining steam, studios steered clear of last weekend, which was sandwiched between the mammoth debut of X2: X-Men United and this week's arrival of The Matrix Reloaded. Sony's Daddy Day Care starring Eddie Murphy was the lone wide release, and while it could not best X2, it managed a strong $27.6 million break in a market that lacks family features at the moment. Meanwhile, Warner's A Mighty Wind from director Christopher Guest expanded to a semi-limited release and notched seventh place, adding $2.8 million to its $9.3 million total so far. Daddy Day Care earned mixed-to-negative reviews, while critics have generally heaped praise on Wind, which reunites This is Spinal Tap stars Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer.
In continuing release, X2 continues to dominate the box-office chart, taking in an additional $41.4 million over its second weekend and pushing its 10-day total to a stratospheric $149 million. Disney's The Lizzie McGuire Movie continues to sell tickets in X2's wake, holding down third place with $27.2 million so far. Sony's Anger Management remains the top-grossing comedy at the moment, with a $122.9 million take. And Buena Vista's Holes has had a solid $51.4 million showing after one month. It's still in limited release, but Fox Searchlight's Bend It Like Beckham is winning fans with $13.9 million on a slow burn. And off to DVD prep is Warner's What a Girl Wants, which will clear $35 million.
The Matrix Reloaded hits theaters this Thursday, while Friday will see the debut of Down With Love starring Ewan McGregor and Rene Zellweger. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Greg Dorr has posted a sneak-preview of Warner's The Mission: Special Edition, while Mr. Beaks is on the board with The People vs. Larry Flynt: Special Edition, and Dawn Taylor recently looked at Catch Me If You Can. New reviews from the rest of the gang this morning this include Analyze That, The Hot Chick, Equilibrium, Comedian, and Full Contact. It's all fresh under the New Reviews menu here on the front page.
We'll be back tomorrow to let you know about this week's street discs.
Tuesday, 6 May 2003
On the Street: Tom Clancy fans, take notice Paramount has officially done away with the original DVD releases of The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, and Clear and Present Danger, replacing them with new special editions as part of their "Tom Clancy Collection," on the street now. Meanwhile, DreamWorks' two-disc Catch Me if You Can is sure to be a big seller this week, while most other studios have catalog titles on the shelves. Westerns from Universal include Destry Rides Again, Winchester '73, and Two Mules for Sister Sara. Columbia TriStar has classic Ray Harryhausen in It Came from Beneath the Sea as well as a sharp POW drama in King Rat. The 1955 Love is a Many-Splendored Thing is the latest arrival in the "Fox Studio Classics" line. And the small movie The Way Home, out from Paramount, marks the first South Korean film to be picked up by a major American studio. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 5 May 2003
Disc of the Week: With its theatrical release in the spring of 1990, it was impossible to know that The Hunt for Red October would mark the end of a cinematic era and in more ways than one. It arrived on the cusp of the digital revolution in filmmaking; a submarine thriller today would be expected to contain all sorts of CGI embellishments, but Red October's visuals were achieved primarily with models and practical effects (including an actual U.S. Navy sub used for the shoot, just before it was decommissioned). It also barely predated the influence of the new Asian cinema on American action films; most summer movies since then (including Die Hard 2, released just months later) have borrowed to one degree or another from the John Woo school of kung fu and fluid gunplay. And most notably, Red October was the last full-blown Cold War thriller. The quiet dissolution of the Soviet Union and its satellite governments made the threat of global communism virtually non-existent, and Hollywood has since gone looking for other arch-villain archetypes bent on global domination. Somehow then, it's fitting that the great cold warrior of the silver screen, Sean Connery, should top-line this affair. And while one would suspect that The Hunt for Red October should now wobble and rust like an abandoned Oldsmobile, thanks to the direction of John McTiernan it remains a solid, swift, intelligent action thriller that has aged better than many of those that have followed in its submerged wake.
The events of Red October follow CIA analyst Jack Ryan (Alec Baldwin), a naval expert who is studying a technologically advanced submarine the Russians plan to launch. Christened the Red October, early spy photos of the vessel reveal an odd feature that Ryan can't decipher. It turns out that the anomaly is a new "caterpillar drive" that allows the craft to travel in virtual silence, giving it a dangerous first-strike capacity with its cargo of nuclear warheads. And with barely any information to go on, the CIA learns that Red October is on its maiden voyage, helmed by the mysterious Captain Ramius (Sean Connery), an ethnic Lithuanian known as "The Vilnius Schoolmaster." The fact that Ramius is Lithuanian gets Ryan's attention, particularly after the Russians launch their fleet in pursuit of Red October. Ryan thinks he knows why the Russians are nervous Ramius, he insists to his superiors, is trying to defect. With little time to spare before the American fleet destroys the Russian sub, Ryan is forced to formulate a plan that will get him into direct contact with Ramius, helped in part by a sharp sonar operator (Courtney Vance) and submarine skipper Bert Mancuso (Scott Glenn).
Now that the "Jack Ryan" novels by Tom Clancy have become a substantial film franchise for Paramount, a return to the inaugural project illuminates what's gone wrong (and right) with the series. The subsequent films have had their shares of strengths and weaknesses, but Red October remains the strongest, in part because it ensures that characterizations motivate the plot; for what amount to an action film, there is little in the way of fisticuffs. Rather and rightly so the picture follows the twists and turns of the source novel, and the audience gets to enjoy watching some very intelligent people play a very high-stakes game of chess. Ryan becomes convinced of Ramius's plan, but he then spends the rest of the movie trying to persuade his government (and eventually Ramius) that the defection can succeed. Meanwhile, Ramius must avoid the Soviet fleet, utilizing all the tactics that made him one of the best sub commanders from either country. Director McTiernan, coming off two solid action films with Predator and Die Hard, is a great director for this material he does an excellent job of setting up all of the little twists and turns that make each move so compelling. And while he was followed by both Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck, Alec Baldwin is the only actor to date who's really made Jack Ryan his own, keeping the character's innate intelligence at the forefront of the performance. Meanwhile, the heavy lifting is left to screen icon Sean Connery, who makes the most of a complex character. The project is well served with wonderful supporting players a dream cast that includes James Earl Jones (as Ryan's boss Admiral Greer), Jeffery Jones, Richard Jordan, Tim Curry, Glenn, Vance, and Sam Neill as Ramius' executive officer. In retrospect, Red October has become a better film over the years. Too often since, Hollywood action fare fails to understand that thrills and excitement don't have to come at the cost of the audience's intelligence.
Paramount's second DVD release of The Hunt for Red October fixes several problems found on the original disc, released in 1998 for the early-adopter demographic. The film is now available in a new anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) that improves upon its predecessor (ported directly from Laserdisc) the image and colors are greatly improved. Also here to complement the original Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is a new DTS track, alongside standard 2.0 surround audio. Though not as bountiful as most re-release special editions, on board is a new audio commentary by John McTiernan that offers some keen observations (alongside some long pauses), as well as a brand-new documentary that interviews the major players, including McTiernan, Alec Baldwin, James Earl Jones, Scott Glenn, DP Jan De Bont, writer and costar Larry Ferguson, producer Mace Neufeld (among others), and interview footage of Sean Connery from the production (29 min.). It's a through documentary that covers most facets of the film's production, as well as the complications caused by shooting inside submarines. The Hunt for Red October: Special Edition is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: The summer movie season got off to a big start over the weekend Fox's X2: X-Men United scored a mammoth $85.8 million three-day opening in North America, and with concurrent releases in 93 countries, the worldwide take for the mutant blockbuster was $155.2 million. The win also placed X2 in fourth place on the all-time chart for raw-dollar openings, falling behind Spider-Man ($115m) and both Harry Potter movies ($90.3m, $88.4m). However, successfully counter-programming Wolverine and Co. was Buena Vista's The Lizzie McGuire Movie, which took in a respectable $17 million to land in second place. Critics heaped praise on X2, while Lizzie McGuire earned mixed-to-negative reviews.
In continuing release, Sony's Identity slipped from its first-place slot last week to third, adding $9.5 million to a $30.2 million 10-day total. Sony's Anger Management is still on a roll, remaining in the top five with a $115.3 million cume after one month. And Buena Vista's Holes is proving to be a popular family film with $45 million in three weeks. But failing to catch fire after last week's debuts are Lions Gate's Confidence and MGM's It Runs in the Family, which have not cracked $10 million. Fox Searchlight's Bend It Like Beckham is doing better than that in limited release with nearly $11 million in the net. And Buena Vista's Bringing Down the House is sure to be a popular DVD in the months to come, wrapping up its theatrical run above $130 million.
Nobody wanted to open against X2 last week, and it looks little will change over the blockbuster's second weekend either Daddy Day Care starring Eddie Murphy will be the only wide release this Friday. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: New reviews from the team this week include spankin'-new titles in Paramount's Tom Clancy Collection, Patriot Games: Special Edition, Clear and Present Danger: Special Edition, and The Hunt for Red October: Special Edition. Also fresh are Two Weeks Notice, Love is a Many-Splendored Thing: Fox Studio Classics, Babylon 5: Season Two, It Came from Beneath the Sea, King Rat, Extreme Ops, The Way Home, and Jane White Is Sick & Twisted. Everything's been added to the New Reviews menu here on the front page.
Back tomorrow with the street discs.