Monday, 30 June 2003
Disc of the Week: There has been no more stunning and disheartening an artistic slide over the last 20 years than that of Wim Wenders. One of the most prodigiously talented international filmmakers to emerge in the mold-busting era of the 1970s, he made two masterpieces in the '80s before rattling off an endless string of self-consciously arty disasters that have yet to abate (the most recent was the long-delayed and frankly unwatchable The Million Dollar Hotel); ergo, there could not be a more opportune time to finally release what is arguably the director's finest achievement, Wings of Desire, to DVD. Made after an eight-year absence from his native country (Wenders came to America to make the over-produced but fascinating misfire Hammett, which he then followed up with Paris, Texas), the director had returned to Berlin after failing to secure financing for Until the End of the World. Having blown two years on that endeavor, he wanted to make something quickly. What emerged from his imagination was a profoundly humanistic statement that continues to resonate to this day; a hypnotic tone-poem that considers our inherent isolation and suggests that there are angels tending the collective garden of our thoughts as they collide in the ether, reassuring us when they can, observing in empathetic agony when they cannot. The achievement brought Wenders the Best Director award at the 1987 Cannes Film Festival, and perhaps set expectations for his subsequent films so high that he's been unfairly castigated for not achieving this rare level of transcendence since.
Wings of Desire's narrative concerns the wanderings of two seraphs, Damiel (Bruno Ganz) and Cassiel (Otto Dumont), who hover and perch about the expressive architecture of Berlin, listening into the hopes, fears, and aspirations of the city's populace, periodically meeting up to exchange notes on what they've been hearing. They complement each other nicely; Bruno is expressive, whimsical, and enamored of the tactile minutiae of being human, while Cassiel is of more stoic stock, acknowledging the undeniable uniqueness of mortality, but never expressing a fervent desire to experience it. Bruno is, of course, the film's protagonist. His wish to be tethered to the finite thrill of living is encouraging to those of us who have no choice in the matter. When he comes across a lovely, but moody trapeze artist named Marion (Solveig Dommartin), Bruno's fate is sealed. He now has the torturous hunger to experience for the first time the sensation of being in love. But this is a long time in coming; in the meantime, Cassiel tails an elderly "people's storyteller" named, appropriately enough, Homer (Curt Bois), who, when he's not haunting the library, wanders the free side of the Berlin Wall. Bruno and Cassiel also both become fond of following a visiting Peter Falk, cast as himself, as he goes about shooting what appears to be a World War II movie. When Bruno, after much introspection of his own, finally decides to make the transition from ethereal to human being, he ends up receiving a bit of assistance, monetary and otherwise, from the garrulous Falk who, it turns out in one of the film's most endearing strokes of genius, knows a thing or two about falling from the heavens.
Wenders precariously went into production on Wings of Desire without a script (it was written on the fly and submitted piecemeal to the director by writer Peter Handke), but he protected himself by casting two longtime friends, Ganz and Dumont, to play the principal angels. Shot quite often in close-up, both men possess endearingly memorable visages, and the remarkable economy of expressions they utilize constitutes a veritable master class in film acting. Meanwhile, Falk no stranger to improvisational film either, having collaborated a couple of times with John Cassavetes revels in this freedom as well, conjuring up glorious moments whether he's gently hassling a wardrobe woman as he selects a hat for his character or imparting to Damiel the ineffable pleasure of coffee and a cigarette on a cold day. But the movie is, above all, a visual feast of sumptuous black-and-white photography (captured by legendary cinematographer Henri Alekan, who shot Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast), and fluid camera movement choreographed by Wenders at his intuitive best. As his gaze cranes up over walls, creeps through an old air-raid shelter, and floats through a wide-open library, one gets the feeling that the director is forever seeking to surprise himself, giving the audience a sense of the unknown lurking around every corner. Wings of Desire is a film of constant discovery.
MGM presents Wings of Desire in a gorgeous anamorphic transfer (1.78:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Extras on this Special Edition include an excellent commentary from Wenders and Falk, most of which is dominated by the director, though Falk (who clearly adores the film) manages to chime in often enough, even during scenes in which he was not involved. Next up is a substantive documentary titled "Angels Amongst Us" (43 min.), which yields tremendously fascinating insights on the making of the film and features interviews with most of the key cast and crew, though director Brad Silberling, who helmed City of Angels, feels a tad out of place (it should be noted that Wenders has expressed satisfaction with this remake). There also are deleted scenes (32 min.), offered up in bulk and with non-optional commentary by Wenders, an interactive map that offers brief tours of the film's memorable locations, a collection of advertising artwork, an amusing promo featuring Wenders and Bois, and both German and American trailers. Wings of Desire: Special Edition is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: While it failed to cross the $50 million benchmark that most industry pundits now believe marks a blockbuster debut, Sony's Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle had little trouble claiming the top spot on the box-office chart the re-teaming of Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, and Lucy Liu raked in $38 million over the past three days, coming just short of its predecessor's $40 million break in 2000. The trio also had no trouble besting last week's winner, Universal's The Hulk, which may now be over the century with $100.2 million but suffered a colossal 70-percent drop-off in its second frame, taking in just $18.4 million. Landing in the top five was Fox Searchlight's 28 Days Later the futuristic zombie-flick directed by Danny Boyle took in $9.7 million, easily covering its modest $8 million budget. Critics were mixed on Angels, while 28 Days earned overwhelmingly positive notices and looks to become a slow-burn hit over the summer.
In continuing release, Pixar's Finding Nemo continues to swim ahead of the school, holding down third place after five weeks and clearing $235.9 million. Only Warner's The Matrix: Reloaded has a better cume at the moment with $268.9 million after seven weeks. Universal's Bruce Almighty is a major hit for Jim Carrey, remaning a top-five title with $221.3 million in the bank, and Universal's 2 Fast 2 Furious has yet to fade, snaring $113.4 million so far. But getting dropped like a bad boyfriend is Warner's Alex and Emma starring Luke Wilson and Kate Hudson, which took just $2.6 million from its second session despite being the only romantic comedy on the board. And Fox's From Justin to Kelly is headed from theaters to DVD in a hurry, falling from sight after last week's tone-deaf debut.
A holiday weekend is in store, and the Hollywood hit-machine never stops Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blonde, and the animated Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas all arrive in theaters this Wednesday. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Mr. Beaks has posted a sneak-preview of Miramax's Gangs of New York, while Mark Bourne kicks of his month-long series of Chaplin Collection reviews today with The Gold Rush. New stuff this week from the rest of the team includes How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, La Femme Nikita: Special Edition, The Real Cancun, Anastasia: Fox Studio Classics, Never on Sunday, The Tenant, Snide and Prejudice, Wings of Desire: Special Edition, and Party Girl. It's all under our New Reviews menu here on the front page.
Back tomorrow with the street discs.
Tuesday, 24 June 2003
On the Street: There's no lack of decent DVDs to pick up this week, and you Criterion collectors have a heavy load Alain Resnais' Hiroshima Mon Amour and Night and Fog, Ermanno Olmi's I Fidanzati and Il Posto, and Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Ali: Fear Eats The Soul are the latest titles to earn the Criterion folio. Fans of Paul Thomas Anderson can look for his brilliant Punch Drunk Love from Columbia TriStar, while Dark Blue starring Kurt Russell and Ving Rhames is new from MGM, and Paramount has The Hours and Robert Altman's oft-derided Popeye on the shelves. Kids can look for Warner's Kangaroo Jack, while the documentary Lost in La Mancha about Terry Gilliam's ill-fated film is considered to be among the best of its kind. And Hitchcock buffs take note the little-seen 1949 Under Capricorn has finally made its way to DVD from Image. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 23 June 2003
Disc of the Week: Though he was not one of them, Alain Resnais became a very timely hero for the French New Wave when he unveiled his first fiction film, Hiroshima, Mon Amour, at the 1959 Cannes Film Festival. Representing a sharp break from the obdurately classical cinema tyrannically dominating the medium to stultifying effect, Resnais was working the miracle those enfants terrible had been clamoring for throughout most of that first postwar decade from the bully pulpit of Cahiers du Cinema. Watching the film today, it is almost impossible to comprehend its immediate and galvanizing impact since the director's style has been parsed, parroted, and parodied ad nauseum (every art-film spoof ever perpetrated is sending up Resnais, whether the pranksters know it or not). Clearly, these nascent filmmakers and theorists were inspired Cahiers even convened a roundtable comprising some of its young titans like Eric Rohmer, Jean-Luc Godard, and Jacques Rivette to marvel at the film's achievement and discuss whether it was perhaps the most important motion picture ever made. But watershed pictures such as these often run the risk of turning into museum pieces, failing to speak to future generations as profoundly as they did to those present for that initial, thrilling moment of discovery.
Hiroshima, Mon Amour is a memory play told primarily by its female protagonist, Elle (Emmanuelle Riva), a French actress who has come to the Japanese city to make a film about peace. Near the end of her stay on the island, she has what is intended to be a simple one-night stand with a married Japanese architect and politician, Lui (Eiji Okada). But, as they indulge in the obligatory morning-after conversation, their coupling becomes an intensely emotional roundelay of remorse. Elle is due to leave Hiroshima the following day and has every stated intention to do so, but as they wander this newly rebuilt monument to man's inhumanity, which has startlingly risen from the ashes of the atom bomb to become a tourist destination, Lui repeatedly badgers her to stay thus, dredging up the suppressed wartime tragedy that's led her to be so "dubious about other peoples morals." Elle's awful revelation unfolds in a riverside tea room where she recounts her fatally forbidden affair with a young German soldier that ended in his death and her being ostracized and banished to the cellar of her parents' house. Plying her with beer after beer as she struggles through her tale of woe, Lui acts as little more than priest to a confession. As Elle completes her unburdening to Lui, she is relieved and thankful to have had another person with whom to share her tragedy. But, then, a deeper chill sets in between them. Elle suddenly craves a distance as the two realize it will take another war, with new atrocities and attendant scarring, to bring them together again.
Most of Hiroshima, Mon Amour's detractors obsess on the film's unremitting seriousness and weighty artistry that, as Pauline Kael said, makes you "feel as if you're in church and need to giggle." But Resnais at the top of his game (as he is here) is far too clever a director to let the whole endeavor spiral off into preachy silliness. Not really a political film, Resnais appears most concerned with serving Marguerite Duras' sensitive and literate script; making himself a stylistic surrogate for the writer's dramatized philosophical inquiry (Truffaut once said of the director, "There are any number of ways of constructing a screenplay, and many ways of filming it. It is evident that Resnais envisages all of them.") To this end, the opening 15-minute montage boasts some of the more indelible images ever captured on film (e.g. the dissolves between bodies covered in ashy nuclear fallout to lovers in a sweaty embrace) punctuated by Giovanni Fusco's plaintive score. But once that wonderfully lyrical sequence ends, the audience is left to spend the rest of the film in the company of two glorified symbols representing their respective countries. Riva is quite good as the haunted Elle, while Okada nobly pleads and listens, but there's absolutely no heat between the two, nor is there any resonance in Elle's unburdening. The fault for this lies with Resnais' preoccupation with expanding the visual vocabulary, which doesn't exactly make for compelling viewing some 40 years after the fact. Because his New Wave admirers so completely assimilated the film's visual language and cannibalized its bluntly non-linear structure (particularly with regard to the revolutionary jump-cutting to flashbacks) in establishing their own individual styles, revisiting the picture now is to pick over the leftovers of what must've once been an exceptional meal. All that's left are the raves and the writings of those who were nourished by it (lending ironic support to Godard's belief that the film should be discussed as literature.)
Criterion presents Hiroshima, Mon Amour in a typically brilliant, full-screen transfer (1.33:1) with fine monaural audio. Extras include an admiring commentary track from the British Film Institute's Peter Cowie, which is in many ways more edifying than the film itself since it offers the opportunity of listening to someone who experienced the picture before it was passé. There are two interviews with Resnais (15 min.) one filmed for Last Year at Marienbad in 1961 and another from 1980 in which, like any astute formalist, he refuses to offer definitive interpretations for any of his works. He does, however, discuss his humble aversion to being categorized as an auteur, wisely preferring to share credit with his collaborators. Also on the disc are two interviews with Riva (24 min.), spoken excerpts from Duras' script annotations that run over select scenes from the film, and an isolated music and sound-effects track (this may now be the ideal way to watch the movie.) But, fittingly, the most indispensable bonus proves to be the 32-page booklet that features an abridged reprint of the aforementioned 1959 Cahiers du Cinema roundtable, a dependably eloquent essay by Kent Jones, two "character portraits" by Duras, and a brief piece on Fusco. Hiroshima, Mon Amour: The Criterion Collection is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: Universal's The Hulk smashed its way into North American cineplexes over the weekend, and the latest movie from the Marvel empire gobbled up $62.6 million the win gave the green goliath the best-ever raw-dollar opening for any June movie, as well as the fifth-highest break of 2003. However, the picture starring Eric Bana and directed by Ang Lee failed to debut as strongly as fellow Marvel movies Spider-Man or this year's X2: X-Men United. Attempting to counterprogram Universal's hulka-hit was Warner's Alex and Emma starring Luke Wilson and Kate Hudson, which scraped up just $6.2 million for seventh place, while Fox's low-budget "American Idol" cash-in From Justin to Kelly landed in eleventh place with $2.8 million. The Hulk received mixed-to-positive notices, while Alex/Emma and Justin/Kelly were widely slogged by critics.
In continuing release, Pixar's Finding Nemo slipped back to second place but is still going strong, taking in $228 million in its first month. Universal's 2 Fast 2 Furious is over the century ($102.1 m) after just three weeks, while Bruce Almighty has cracked the double-century ($210.7 m), giving Universal three of the top five current films, all solid hits. Meanwhile, Paramount's The Italian Job is proving its mettle, climbing back into the top five and grossing $67.6 million after four weeks, thanks in part to some good word-of-mouth promotion. Failing to generate as much heat is Sony's Hollywood Homicide starring Harrison Ford and Josh Hartnett, which collared just $5.8 million in its second session. At least Sony can feel better about Daddy Day Care, which will head for DVD prep with nearly $95 million in the bag.
Arriving in theaters this Friday is Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle as well as the zombie-flick 28 Days Later. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Dawn Taylor has posted a sneak-preview of Paramount's The Hours, while Greg Dorr also has a preview with Columbia TriStar's two-disc Punch-Drunk Love. New stuff this week from the rest of the team includes Dark Blue, Cowboy Bebop: The Movie, Belle Èpoque, Popeye, Stargate SG-1: Season Three, Topper/Topper Returns, I Fidanzati: The Criterion Collection, Warm Water Under a Red Bridge, Ali: Fear Eats The Soul: The Criterion Collection, Il Posto: The Criterion Collection, Night and Fog: The Criterion Collection, Hiroshima Mon Amour: The Criterion Collection, and Wes Craven Presents They. 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, 17 June 2003
On the Street: If you've been waiting for a quiet street-week, we have one this morning. Paramount's Narc starring Jason Patric and Ray Liotta tops our list of must-have movies. Also not to be missed is the arrival of 1937's Topper starring Cary Grant and Constance Bennett, which is double-billed on Artisan's DVD with the sequel Topper Returns. They may be splitsville, but Ashton Kutcher and Brittany Murphy can still be seen together on Fox's Just Married disc, while fans of horror flicks may want to give Columbia's Tsui Hark's Vampire Hunters a spin. Returning to DVD after acquisitions by Lions Gate are Buffalo '66, Gods and Monsters, and Shadow of the Vampire. And those of you who enjoy curling up with a big boxed set of TV episodes can consider Stargate SG-1: Season Three, The Dead Zone: Season One, and Strangers With Candy: Season One. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 16 June 2003
Disc of the Week: At this exceedingly late date, a young filmmaker looking to make his name with a gritty cop procedural not only has his work cut out for him, he's likely doomed to heavy scrutiny and probable obscurity. After all, it's been over 50 years since Jack Webb popularized the genre on television with "Dragnet," and another 30 years since William Friedkin strapped an Arriflex camera to the hood of a car and hurtled through real Upper West Side traffic to energize the form with a mean street-level credibility in his classic The French Connection. And then there's the socially conscious police corruption melodramas of Sidney Lumet, which invented a whole new moralist aesthetic that spawned the televised likes of "Hill Street Blues," "Law & Order," and (best of all) "Homicide: Life on the Street." It would take a precociously talented director indeed to invigorate this well-worn genre, and its nearly unavoidable collection of stock moments, with something even remotely original or noteworthy.
Credit helmer Joe Carnahan, then, for briefly wiping away the memory of all his predecessors' glory by opening his sophomore film, Narc (2003), with one wildly frenetic foot-chase. Shot by a sprinting hand-held camera operator, and broken up with a few cleverly hidden cuts, the scene gives the audience the breathless feeling of trying to keep up with gun-wielding narcotics Det. Nick Tellis (Jason Patric) as he struggles to keep pace with a maniacal, fleeing perp who's armed with a handful of syringes and is not shy about jamming them into the neck of hapless bystanders. By the time the sequence reaches the tragic conclusion that will irrevocably scar Tellis both professionally and emotionally, there's a sense not only of having seen something entirely new on the screen, but also a willingness to follow this crazy sumbitch director wherever he plans on going next. It's a brilliant ploy by Carnahan as well, since where he's headed is somewhere that should be entirely familiar to anyone with even a passing familiarity with the genre. Eighteen months after this incident, Tellis is before a review panel that's dangling the possibility of reassignment to the peaceful desk job he craves, provided that he re-up to help the department close out a stalled case involving the murder of a fellow undercover detective, Michael Calvess, by a couple of drug dealers. Though his wife objects, Tellis takes the gig, which partners him with the slain detective's mentor, Lt. Henry Oak (Ray Liotta), a brutally efficient veteran officer who operates like a pre-Miranda Popeye Doyle. Since both have such intensely personal issues tied up in the case, they make for a very combustible pairing, particularly as Tellis begins to identify with Calvess's submission to the more self-destructive perils of the undercover life (i.e. drug addiction). Combined with the nagging inconsistencies hampering their investigation, Tellis is compelled to dig more deeply into Calvess's family life, which draws the wrath of the overly protective Oak a man who may be covering up some crucial evidence damning to his murdered friend.
On the page, Narc is not only thoroughly unexceptional (save for Carnahan's solid ear for dialogue), it's also structurally unbalanced, heavily favoring the revelation portion to what should be detrimental effect. But Carnahan so expertly immerses the audience in the desolate world of these two detectives that the film works sensationally as a character study, even when its narrative is splitting apart at the seams. A large part of this is due to Patric and Liotta two of the most underutilized actors working today being given psychologically complex roles, as well as generous space in which to explore every facet of these characters' inner lives. As a result, both give performances as good as anything we've seen from them. Liotta's explosive Oak is certainly the flashiest of the two, lashing out violently at the merest hint of disrespect from a recalcitrant perp. Padded out with a newfound bulk and sporting a thick goatee, Liotta simply disappears into the role, locating the dark rage of his Ray Sinclair character from Something Wild, and offsetting it with the gentler shadings of his work in Field of Dreams. Patric, on the other hand, imbues Tellis with that quietly tortured soulfulness seen in so many of his brilliant, though sadly unheralded, turns over the last two decades. To watch Patric at his best is to observe one of the most uniquely gifted film actors of his generation few understand the virtues of understatement better. Also contributing an invaluable third character to this moody tableau is composer Cliff Martinez, whose emotionally intuitive score effectively underplays off of the actors.
Paramount presents Narc in a fine anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Extras include a very entertaining commentary by Carnahan and editor John Gilroy in which the boys cheerfully recount the many expected joys and agonies that are part-and-parcel of independent filmmaking. Carnahan proves to be great, self-deprecating company; he's particularly endearing for the way he'll mount a very eloquent defense of certain shots and their thematic importance to the film, only to embarrassingly chide himself a moment later for being pretentious (it just doesn't sound manly to wax thoughtful about mise en scene). Carnahan also isn't shy about sharing the credit with his collaborators, or copping to incredibly fortuitous strokes of luck. Also included on the disc is an EPK-quality behind-the-scenes doc inexplicably broken up into three separate featurettes ("Making the Deal," "Shooting Up," and "The Visual Trip"), and a seal-of-approval interview with William Friedkin, which seems like less of a coup when one realizes that the director is married to Paramount's production chief Sherry Lansing. Still, it's nice to see the director praising not only Carnahan, but many of today's young filmmakers whose work he admires. Narc is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: A trio of new movies arrived in theaters over the weekend, but all three managed to land in the middle of the box-office chart. Meanwhile, last week's winner, Universal's 2 Fast 2 Furious, dropped to second place, allowing Pixar's Finding Nemo to reclaim the top spot in its third frame, adding $29.2 million to a $192.3 million tally. Debuting in the fourth position was Paramount's Rugrats Go Wild! with $12.5 million, while Sony's Hollywood Homicide starring Harrison Ford and Josh Hartnett scraped into fifth place with $11.7 million, and New Line's Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd took sixth place with $11 million and change. Rugrats earned mixed notices, while critics largely panned Homicide and Dumberer.
In continuing release, Universal's Bruce Almighty was unchanged in third place with $193.8 million in the bank after one month for star Jim Carrey. Paramount's slick The Italian Job with Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, and Edward Norton is in seventh place after three weeks with a respectable $55.2 million in the bag. And Warner's The Matrix: Reloaded remains the big boy on the block for now with $257.2 million. Fox's X2: X-Men United is falling away, but it has a healthy $207.1 million tally in just seven weeks. Out the door and off to the cheap screens is Warner's remake of The In-Laws, which will finish around the $20 million mark.
There's little question what film will reach the top of the heap this coming weekend Ang Lee's The Hulk is ready to carve a path of destruction, while the rom-com Alex and Emma starring Luke Wilson and Kate Hudson will counterprogram the latest Marvel movie. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Dawn Taylor has posted a new review of Buena Vista's two-disc Frida, while Greg Dorr recently dug through Criterion's double-platter By Brakhage: An Anthology. New reviews this week from the rest of the gang include Old School: Unrated Edition, Just Married, Gods and Monsters: Signature Series, The Guru, Experiment in Terror, Happiness: Signature Series, Narc, and Tsui Hark's Vampire Hunters. It's all under our New Reviews menu here on the front page.
Back tomorrow with the street discs.
Tuesday, 10 June 2003
On the Street: The folks at Warner lead the street list this week with four new two-disc special editions, including the first ever DVD release of George Stevens' Giant (not counting the one our friends in Canada were able to pick up a few years ago for a brief time), while other double-platters include Once Upon a Time in America, The Right Stuff, and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. DreamWorks is on the board with the popular comedy Old School in an unrated edition, as well as the action flick Biker Boyz. New from Columbia TriStar is Tears of the Sun starring Bruce Willis, while Buena Vista now has Frida starring Salma Hayek on the shelves. Fans of the classics won't want to miss William Wyler's The Desperate Hours starring Humphrey Bogart, while fans of the Brady Bunch can get both feature films from Paramount. And it's time to fork out the bucks for another box, Buffy fans Season Four has arrived. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 9 June 2003
Disc of the Week: Jack Warner, the pugnacious head of Warner Brothers, foresaw a problem with his just-into-production Giant (1956), so he sent a wire to director George Stevens to fix it: "Is there some way in your rewriting and polishing that you can... aim for a two hour show rather than the length I am sure you are going to wind up with; namely two hours and twenty-five or thirty minutes?" Stevens the already-legendary, Academy Award-winning director's director of some of the era's finest entertainments must have had a laugh when he read this. Or not. Ever since returning from his life-altering experience as head of the Signal Corps Special Motion Picture Unit during WWII, during which he captured horrifying color footage of the Dachau death camp, the humor had largely drained out of his filmmaking. Stevens was now making important films infused with a seriousness that stood in marked contrast to the light touch of his best pre-war work (e.g. Woman of the Year, Swing Time, Gunga Din). In Giant, he was tackling the sweeping, and controversial, epic novel by Edna Ferber, which had scandalized the state of Texas by daring to portray it as peopled by money-grubbing, land-thieving cattle and oil barons. Stevens saw the tome as something even grander on screen: an all-encompassing, multi-generational portrait of Southwestern manifest destiny, and the racial harmony so necessary to ensuring its survival and potential glory. Whether such aspirations could be served at two hours is forever debatable, but that it could never carry the emotional resonance that distinguishes it as one of the finest achievements in epic American filmmaking at anything less than three hours seems a certainty.
Giant begins with an eastward trip by Jordan "Bick" Benedict (Rock Hudson), a wealthy young Texas cattle rancher who comes to Maryland to see about a horse a beautiful black stallion but winds up leaving with the breeder's daughter, the tough, liberated Leslie Lynnton (Elizabeth Taylor), as well. Theirs is a brief courtship that begins, oddly enough, with Leslie insulting Bick's beloved state by suggesting that it was stolen from the Mexicans. Bick is indignant, but aroused by her insouciance, while Leslie, despite her misgivings about the state's history, senses a challenge unlike anything she'd encounter as a Senator's wife; thus, the two are married and off on a train to the dusty, windblown plains of Texas where they're to make their home on the sprawling Benedict ranch a desolate expanse of acreage at the center of which lies a dark, gothic mansion run by Bick's sister, Luz (Mercedes McCambridge), and worked, much to Bick's chagrin, by an unreliable, boozing cowboy named Jett Rink (James Dean). Luz is initially resentful of the modern Leslie, which leads to a tragic act of hubris that claims her life. Though Bick is shaken by his sister's death, and his wife's tenuous connection to it, Leslie proceeds unbowed down her progressive path, ruffling the feathers of their friends and neighbors by daring to show compassion to their Mexican labor, while infuriating her husband by striking up a friendship with the undesirable Jett.
What appears to be setting up as a love triangle in Giant becomes something much more... well, Texas-sized once Jett discovers oil on a small slice of land left to him by Luz land that Bick and his good-ol'-boy cronies tried to buy from Jett for twice its value. Suddenly, Jett has the upper hand, and, as he showers in the oil symbolic of the ranchers' cruelty turned windfall, his transformation from destitute runt to cold-hearted industrialist begins. Though Bick's business sense spares him a financial tumble, he loses his controlling grasp on the family unit, which expands over the years to include three rebellious children, rendering him a helpless observer as they pursue undesirable professions and lovers. That independent streak that he found so alluring in Leslie has flowered into full-blown tolerance, most notably in his son Jordy's (Dennis Hopper) marriage to a Mexican nurse. Finally, 40 years after he set this evolution in motion, Bick embraces the multicultural fabric of his family as not only worthy of his love, but absolutely worth fighting for, even if the battle can't be won easily. Stevens, employing symbolism as big as all you-know-what, makes this point unforgettably in the film's penultimate scene: a diner fistfight staged to the stirring strains of "The Yellow Rose of Texas" that puts a brilliantly unsentimental cap on a tough-minded American classic.
Warner presents their new Giant: Special Edition in a vibrant widescreen transfer (1.66:1) with excellent Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. The two-disc SE earns its title with a multitude of extras, starting on Disc One with a very engaging and informative commentary from George Stevens, Jr., screenwriter Ivan Moffat, and critic Stephen Farber (choice nugget: Stevens avoided CinemaScope because he felt the height of the image was more important.) Also on the first disc is the indispensable documentary "George Stevens: Filmmakers Who Knew Him" (45 min.), which features insightful interviews from distinguished peers ranging from Frank Capra to Fred Zinneman. Disc Two boasts two docs, "Memories of Giant" (51 min.), consisting mostly of cast and crew remembrances, and "Return to Giant" (55 min.), which goes into greater detail regarding the film's cultural significance to the town of Marfa, Texas, and to film in general. (It should be noted that both also feature heavy-hearted recollections of the day the cast and crew were interrupted from dailies to be informed of James Dean's death a few days after he had wrapped on the production.) There's also the fun archival tape of the "New York Premiere Telecast" (29 min.) hosted by Chill Wills and Jayne Meadows, wherein Dennis Hopper shows up with date Joanne Woodward (we'll later see footage of the lucky stiff smooching with Natalie Wood at the Hollywood premiere). Extras are rounded out by four vintage featurettes the "Hollywood Premiere", "'Giant' Stars are Off to Texas", "On Location in Marfa, Texas" and "A Visit with Dimitri Tiomkin" an essay titled "A 'Giant' Undertaking", four trailers, and a George Stevens filmography. Giant: Special Edition is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: Another summer event movie hit North American cineplexes over the weekend and nabbed the top spot on the chart Universal's 2 Fast 2 Furious turned out 2 be 2 popular for Pixar's Finding Nemo, raking in a solid $52.1 million three-day break, besting the original The Fast and the Furious' debut by $12 million. However, while it only ruled the school for one week, Nemo is no bucket of chum, taking in $45.8 million over its second frame and boosting its total to $143.3 million. Nemo also remains the summer's critical darling, while 2F2F earned mixed-to-negative reviews.
In continuing release, Universal's Bruce Almighty has dropped to third place in its third week, but its $170 million cume has placed star Jim Carrey firmly back on the Tinseltown A-list. Also earning fans is Paramount's remake of The Italian Job, which stands at fourth place with $40 million worth of loot in 10 days. And Warner's Matrix: Reloaded is the summer season's monster hit so far, with $247.6 million after one month in ultra-wide release. Cracking the double-century is Fox's X2: X-Men United with $204.3 million. But dropping like a brick is Fox's thriller Wrong Turn, which managed just $2.6 million in its second session. Meanwhile, Buena Vista's The Lizzie McGuire Movie is off to DVD prep after a $40 million payday.
New pictures arriving in theaters this Friday include Hollywood Homicide starring Harrison Ford and Josh Hartnett, the comedy prequel Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd, and Rugrats Go Wild for the kids. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: New stuff from the gang this week includes Terminator 2: Extreme Edition, Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Four, Midnight Run, South Park: Season Two, The Brady Bunch Movie, A Very Brady Sequel, Fame, Sneakers: Collector's Edition, Grease 2, Giant: Special Edition, and The Desperate Hours. 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, 3 June 2003
On the Street: It's another monster street-week on retailers' shelves, led off by Columbia TriStar's in-depth three-disc release of Ridley Scott's Black Hawk Down. Sure to be a big-seller as well is MGM's two-disc edition of Die Another Day, while fans of Jack Nicholson can pick up New Line's About Schmidt. New Line also has a couple of Roman Polanski catalog items on disc this week with Death and the Maiden and Bitter Moon, while Fox's catalog dump is superb, featuring The Song of Bernadette, The Long Hot Summer, The Hot Rock, Brubaker , The Flight of the Phoenix , and North to Alaska. Warner has Alan Parker's Fame in a keep-case for the first time, while Empire Records Remix! is a double-dip for fans. And Universal finally has returned Midnight Run to disc after a long absence. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 2 June 2003
Disc of the Week: DVD consumers have been barraged with the "special edition" the two-disc set with 12 hours of supplements, the three-disc set with four audio commentaries, and the four-disc set with enough supplements to feed the needy. But let's just face it the special edition has become less and less special. And not just because every popular movie seems to need to have supplements. Normally what's to be found on SEs are regurgitated half-hour "making-of" spots developed for cable TV, as well as folks on commentary tracks who say little more than how much they enjoyed working with their co-stars. Few discs nowadays really tell us something about the film or the events it may have been based on. Thus, we extend thanks to director Ridley Scott and DVD producer Charles de Lauzirika they've shown how to make solid DVDs out of current films. No matter what some folks may have thought of their previous two efforts (Gladiator, Hannibal), the DVDs were solid two-disc editions. And with the second release of Black Hawk Down in a three-disc "Deluxe Edition" set, they've delivered something that comes very close to definitive, with supplements that are not only informative and interesting, but also provide perspective on the historical events behind the story.
Derived from Mark Bowden's best-selling book of the same title, Black Hawk Down is the cinematic account of an October 1993 incident when a U.S. military raid went wrong in Mogadishu, Somalia. The Army Rangers and Delta Force (two of America's upper-echelon fighting units) were sent in to collect two lieutenants of a Somali warlord, but upon their insertion a younger Rangers fell while repelling from a helicopter. This was the first of many disastrous events that occurred during the planned 30-minute incursion that turned into 36 hours of trying to get the men out in the face of heavy resistance. The worst of it came when the Somali forces, which the U.S. considered to have inferior firepower, downed two Black Hawk helicopters. Though the motivations for the assault are touched on only lightly, it's because the film is told through the eyes of the men, commanded by Maj. Gen. William Garrison (Sam Shepard) and led in by Army Ranger Sgt. Eversmann (Josh Harnett), Delta Force operatives Norm 'Hoot' Gibson (Eric Bana) and Sanderson (William Fichtner), and through Rangers like Grimes (Ewen McGregor), a man who acted as a desk clerk until he was sent in because another man injured his arm playing ping pong. Director Scott focuses on the realities of the soldiers' conflict, with bullets and RPGs fired around their heads, unsure of who they can shoot at, their only instruction being that they can shoot only if they are being fired upon. Black Hawk Down one of the great war films because it has no interest in saying these men were fighting the good fight, nor does it question the nature of war. By portraying the swirling anarchy of such an incident with little to no politicking, and by trying to relay the incidents as told in Bowden's account as accurately as possible, Scott succeeds at creating a great portrait of the chaos of war.
The original single-disc release of Black Hawk Down from Columbia TriStar featured just a few extras trailers, filmographies, and a "On the Set" featurette. The follow-up three-disc "Deluxe Edition" is sure to please the film's fans and DVD collectors. The anamorphic transfer and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio appear unchanged, but where this set shines is in the supplements. Disc One includes three audio commentaries the first with Ridley Scott and producer Jerry Bruckheimer, the second with Mark Bowden and screenwriter Ken Nolan, and the third with Task Force Ranger veterans Master Sgt. Matt Eversmann, Col. Tom Mathews, Col. Danny McKnight, and Col. Lee Van Arsdale. All three tracks are fascinating, with the second two doing a good job of talking about what the filmmakers got right and wrong (mostly the former). Meanwhile, Ridley Scott has proved himself to be one of the better director commentators, and he is exceptionally honest about what he does. Also included on the first disc are filmographies but that's just the first disc. Disc Two features a 150 min. documentary on the making of the film, "The Essence of Combat." Broken into six parts and covering all phases of production, it's a solid piece of behind-the-scenes work, showcasing sections on the actor's combat training, Hans Zimmer's score, and the special effects. Next up is a section called "Image and Design," which holds "Designing Mogadishu," a 15-minute look at the production design, accompanied by a still gallery. Seven minutes apiece of "Storyboards" and "Ridleygrams" (Scott's own storyboards) can be viewed alone or next to their respective scenes, with production audio or optional commentary by Sylvain Depretz. Next up is "Jerry Bruckheimer's Black Hawk Down Photo Gallery" (6 min.), narrated by Bruckheimer, while "Title Design Explorations" is a three-minute piece with optional commentary by Flavio Campagna that looks at the different title credits that were tried out. Eight deleted or alternate scenes (approx. 20 min.) feature optional commentary by Scott.
Finally, Disc Three includes an "Historical Archive," which includes the History Channel documentary "The True Story of Black Hawk Down" (92 min.) and the Frontline episode "Ambush in Mogadishu" (55 min.) accompanied by a mission timeline that breaks down the events of the day into its major sections. "Q and A Forums" include an interview at the BAFTA with Scott, Bruckheimer, Josh Harnett, Ewen McGregor, Jason Isaacs, Mark Bowden, and Col. Tom Mathews (11 min.), an interview at the Motion Picture Editor's Guild with Pietro Scalia, who won an Academy Award for his efforts (10 min.), and an American Cinematheque interview with Scott and Bruckheimer (12 min.). And the "Promotion" section offers the theatrical trailer and ten TV spots, some bonus trailers, a poster-concept gallery, and a music video. For all the "special editions" out there and still to come, few come as close to feeling as authoritative as this one. Black Hawk Down: Deluxe Edition is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: The summer movie season is in full swing, and we've already arrived at what likely will be the biggest animated hit of the year Pixar's Finding Nemo, featuring the voices of Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres, and Willem Dafoe, took in $70.6 million over the past three days, giving it the largest raw-dollar opening for any animated film in history, beating out Pixar's own Monsters, Inc. ($62.5 million). The mammoth break also comes on the heels of The Matrix Reloaded and Bruce Almighty, which cleared more than $90m and $80m respectively over their debut weekends, giving this year's summer box-office a healthy initiative. Debuting in third place was Paramount's The Italian Job with Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, and Edward Norton, which delivered a respectable $19.3 million in receipts, while Fox's thriller Wrong Turn managed just $5 million for seventh place. Critics bestowed near-unanimous praise on Finding Nemo, while The Italian Job garnered mostly good reviews. Wrong Turn earned mixed notices.
In continuing release, Universal's Bruce Almighty slipped down to second place in its second weekend, but the film already is a confirmed hit for Jim Carrey after just 10 days with a $135.7 million tally. Warner's The Matrix: Reloaded continues to be on the slip, dropping to fourth place after just three weeks, but the picture's $232 million gross indicates the studio's ultra-wide release strategy has been a success. Eddie Murphy rounds out the top five with Sony's Daddy Day Care, which now stands at $81.9 million, while Fox's X2: X-Men United is bearing down on the double-century. But falling away after a disappointing debut last week is Warner's remake of The In-Laws, which has taken in just $14.4 million so far. Off to DVD prep is Sony's Anger Management, which has been a $130 million hit for Adam Sandler and Jack Nicholson.
Hitting the cineplexes this Friday is 2 Fast 2 Furious starring Paul Walker, Tyrese Gibson, and Eva Mendes. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Lots of new stuff from the team this week, including Die Another Day: Special Edition, The Pianist, About Schmidt, The Long Hot Summer, The Song of Bernadette: Fox Studio Classics, My Beautiful Laundrette, Brubaker, Death and the Maiden, Invincible, Bitter Moon, The Hot Rock, Jeffrey, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Season Three, Black Hawk Down: Deluxe Edition, and North to Alaska. Everything's been added to the New Reviews menu here on the front page.
Back tomorrow with the street discs.