Tuesday, 26 Aug. 2003
On the Street: The year's most anticipated DVD is on the street this morning New Line's The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers is available in both widescreen and pan-and-scan editions, and while it's sure to be a top-seller, the "Special Extended DVD Edition" awaits ardent fans this Nov. 18. MGM has a slew of horror titles they've dug out of the crypt, including The Howling: Special Edition, The Brood, Raw Meat, and the double-features The Comedy of Terrors/The Raven, Countess Dracula/The Vampire Lovers, and The Tomb of Ligeia/An Evening with Edgar Allen Poe. Columbia TriStar has dipped Robert Rodriguez's El Mariachi and Desperado once again, this time in special editions, while Raising Victor Vargas is a good spin for indie fans. And yes, while fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, not having a copy of Universal's National Lampoon's Animal House: Double Secret Probation Edition is no way to go about it either. Documentary fans can enjoy Warner's dishy The Kid Stays in the Picture concerning the life and times of actor/producer Robert Evans, while those willing to give a run-of-the-mill beach movie a chance can look for Fox's From Justin to Kelly. And don't forget those TV boxes The Simpsons: Season Three and E.R.: Season One are out now. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Enjoy the holiday weekend we're back next Tuesday.
Monday, 25 Aug. 2003
Disc of the Week: The hand of David O. Selznick; oh, how it guided, coddled, encouraged, molded, meddled and destroyed. Sometimes, these creative clashes were good for the material, with the off-camera squabbles getting sublimated into the material, thus igniting the screen with a wild, desperate intensity brought about by the extreme duress the memo-writing moviemaker could instill in his charges. But as the old bulldog got older, his eye for material began to blur, while his collaborations with his directors grew more tumultuous, often leading to the unraveling of the film's artistic integrity. Nowhere was this more clearly the case than with Vittorio De Sica's Terminal Station, or, as Selznick would sordidly rechristen it, Indiscretion of an American Wife. If only a mere title change constituted the extent of the producer's alterations. Scared to death of disastrous test-screening results back in the States, where audiences hooted and howled at the film's heightened melodrama, Selznick chopped De Sica's hour-and-a-half cut of the film down to a threadbare 63 minutes, padding it out to a more acceptable feature length of 71 minutes by tacking on what was, essentially, an early precursor to the music video, featuring Patti Page warbling a pair of Paul Weston/Sammy "The Master" Cahn numbers "Autumn in Rome" and "Indiscretion" in an extravagant Manhattan apartment designed and lit beautifully by, respectively, William Cameron Menzies and James Wong Howe.
"Extravagance" is a key word here, as is "naturalism"; the former being favored by the producer, with the latter, particularly as it regards the human element, being the domain of the neorealist master at the film's helm. Doubtlessly inspired by the popular success of De Sica's and his co-writer Cesare Zavattini's Shoeshine, The Bicycle Thief, and Miracle in Milan (though being forced, a bit unexpectedly, to absorb the thorough failure of Umberto D. as they went into production), Selznick hired the award-winning duo to concoct a story about a well-to-do Philadelphia housewife, Mary Forbes (played by the producer's wife, Jennifer Jones), frantically attempting to sever a torrid, month-long affair she has carried on with a gorgeous young Italian, Giovanni Doria (Montgomery Clift, who is wisely written as "Half-American" on his mother's side), while visiting her sister's family in Rome. The whole film was shot on location in the titular Stazione Termini, an opulent and cavernous structure that afforded De Sica and his regular cinematographer, G.R. Aldo, ample opportunity to conjure up an evocatively shot microcosm of judgment and shame against which the two illicit lovers quarrel and reconcile and quarrel again. The tension of the tale is built around Mary's vacillation over whether she should return home to her family or discard her husband and whisk away her daughter to live in Rome with her and Giovanni. In other words, it is, as Selznick would later allow, a real-time third act stretched out over 90 minutes. To address the film's inherent structural anomaly, and tailor it to his blunter sensibilities, Selznick, along with those aforementioned additions, lopped off much of the characters' (and, to a lesser extent, the affair's) backstory, while removing the many minor periphery characters sprinkled throughout by De Sica in favor of focusing solely on Mary and Giovanni.
As was the case with Selznick late in his career, his once-unerring instincts were way off; those seemingly wispy embellishments combine to make De Sica's Terminal Station a much more interesting failure than Indiscretion of an American Wife. Though still falling prey to the geographic and temporal pitfalls of the script (befuddling conundrums that result in too many scenes of Giovanni forlornly wandering train platforms, and a hilariously contrived arrest late in the film meant to raise the stakes for the increasingly distraught Mary), De Sica's cut is blessed with his unfailing ability to create a vividly realistic atmosphere by surrounding his main characters with, and briefly averting his focus to, the kinds of idiosyncratic folks that surely would've peopled that train station back in the early '50s. He also leaves in some crucial character development, such as Mary's anguished composition of a letter that is never sent, while establishing more palpably a playful rapport between the characters that allows the viewer to better understand why these two were drawn to each other in the first place. De Sica can't fix Truman Capote's tin-eared dialogue, which must've contributed to the test audience's rejection of the romance, but he does manage to coax splendid performances out of his leads, with Clift's trademark intensity finding a peculiar, sometimes jarring, but nonetheless intriguing home in the pathetic guise of Giovanni, while Jones turns in probably her most expressive and emotionally complicated work as Mary (check out the remarkable range of emotions that flash on her face after her first train leaves the station.) Their struggle against the material is far more interesting and admirable in De Sica's cut.
The Criterion Collection presents Indiscretion of an American Wife and Terminal Station in full-frame transfers (1.33:1) with monaural Dolby Digital audio. Indiscretion is the better restored of the two, with G.R. Aldo's sumptuous cinematography looking more marvelous than ever. Terminal Station, on the other hand, was clearly struck from a more rugged print, but, though the sound is a little quivery on occasion, it's still a fully acceptable transfer with no distracting blemishes. Still, even if the print was in worse shape, Criterion would still have to be commended for putting these two versions of the troubled film back-to-back as a very tangible lesson on the differences between Hollywood and European sensibilities, and how their intersection can result in the kind of artistic compromise that remains notable for brief flashes of uncommon brilliance without ever being at all involving or, in the end, good. Extras on the disc include a commentary on Indiscretion of an American Wife from film historian Leonard Leff, who provides engagingly dishy context that helps explain what drove this production off the rails. Also included is a thoughtful written defense of Terminal Station by critic David Kehr, publicity sketches and original newspaper ads, and the original theatrical trailer. Indiscretion of an American Wife/Terminal Station is on the street now.
Box Office: The late days of summer are here three new films arrived in North American theaters this weekend, but two failed to make any sort of impression and one missed the mark entirely. The lull allowed New Line's Freddy vs. Jason to retain the top spot on the chart for the second week in a row, the first title to do such since X2: X-Men United back in May. Meanwhile, Sony's The Medallion starring Jackie Chan clanged its way into fifth place with $8.2 million, while Dimension's My Boss's Daughter starring Ashton Kutcher and Tara Reid garnered just $5 million for tenth. Marci X, starring Lisa Kudrow and Damon Wayans, managed $865,000 and reportedly was abandoned by Paramount before it even opened. All three debuts were widely dismissed by critics.
In continuing release, the top four films on the chart did not shift from last week. Sony's S.W.A.T. took in $10.8 million and now has $88 million under lock and key. Buena Vista's Open Range with Kevin Costner and Robert Duvall is doing solid business with $29.2 million after its second weekend. And Disney's Freaky Friday is a certified family hit with $74.5 million. Buena Vista's Pirates of the Caribbean is still the biggest boat on the water with $261 million in booty. And while Dimension's Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over is on the way out, it's now crossed the century with $102.4 million. But off to DVD prep is Paramount's Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, which had a comparatively modest $60 million run for the shapely, harness-clad Angelina Jolie.
The Hollywood studios are betting you'll be out of town next weekend to enjoy the Labor Day holiday the only new film arriving in theaters will be Jeepers Creepers 2. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Dawn Taylor has posted a sneak-preview of New Line's two-disc The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, while Damon Houx has mounted an apologia for Fox's From Justin to Kelly. New reviews this week from the rest of the gang include The Simpsons: Season Three, The Kid Stays in the Picture, Desperado: Special Edition, El Mariachi: Special Edition, Cover Girl, Raising Victor Vargas, Criterion's Indiscretion of an American Wife/Terminal Station, and the horror double-features Countess Dracula/The Vampire Lovers and Ghoulies/Ghoulies 2. 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, 19 Aug. 2003
On the Street: Miramax's Chicago arrives on DVD today, which means folks will be picking up that title, and probably a few more music-oriented discs arriving on its sequined coattails. Fox has All That Jazz, The Commitments, Hello Dolly!, The Rose, and Simon and Garfunkel: The Concert in Central Park on the shelves, while Columbia TriStar has hauled out 1944's Cover Girl with Gene Kelly and Rita Hayworth. Also bound to get some attention is Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine from MGM, while Neil Jordan's The Good Thief from Fox is a cracking-good heist film, and horror fans can pick up the Divimax edition of Day of the Dead from Anchor Bay. Warner has Michael Moore's Roger & Me on disc for the first time as well, and Chevy Chase fans get a double-dose with Memoirs of an Invisible Man and National Lampoon's Vacation: 20th Anniversary Edition. New from Criterion is the Bergman Trilogy featuring The Silence, Through a Glass Darkly, and Winter Light, while associates at Home Vision have their first two Merchant-Ivory titles out, The Bostonians and The Europeans. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 18 Aug. 2003
Disc of the Week: The past few years have seen much of Nick Nolte's private turmoil splashed across the pages of supermarket tabloids. A notorious alcoholic known for unabashed excess in his younger years, Nolte was jeered at by no less than Katherine Hepburn for "falling down drunk in every gutter in town" (his famous retort: "I've got a few to go yet") but reportedly gave up drinking in 1990. He relapsed in a spectacularly public fashion in September 2002 when he was arrested for driving under the influence and it was discovered that he'd been taking the "date rape" drug GHB, a potent narcotic. Having completed a stint in rehab, Nolte's apparently managing his problems well (a recent anonymous report that he'd violated parole was dismissed by a judge), but his battle with the bottle has had the unfortunate effect of overshadowing the excellent work he's done in the past few years especially his role as an aging, heroin-addicted gambler in Neil Jordan's The Good Thief (2002). It's a role that fits Nolte like a well-worn suit perhaps in part because Nolte was battling his own addictions and desperation during the making of the film, but also because it gave the still-impressive actor a chance to play one of the most complex, well-written characters of his career.
A respectful and smart reworking of Jean-Pierre Melville's 1955 caper film Bob Le Flambeur, The Good Thief focuses on Bob Mantagnet, a down-on-his-luck American gambler living in Nice. Rumpled and weathered, he's a sophisticated Old World charmer, beloved by much of his seedy corner of the French underworld. Bob's best friend, Roger (Tchèky Karyo), is a policeman less concerned with the letter of law than with what will befall his old friend if he gets arrested again. He's also adored with puppy-like devotion by his young protegé, Paulo (Saïd Taghmaoui) and earns both trust and respect from a sexy, sullen teenage prostitute named Anne (Nutsa Kukhanidze) when he gallantly rescues her from her unpleasant pimp and lets her crash at his apartment. But the ex-master thief is broke, a junkie left with little but a threadbare wardrobe and a gift for gab so when he's lured back to pull one last, profitable job, Bob goes cold turkey and starts to plan the complex heist of a cache of valuable paintings stored in a warehouse. What Bob forgets to plan for is the human element, and betrayal by those closest to him could send him up the river for good.
Director Jordan has played around with a variety of styles and genres, including atmospheric dramas (The End of the Affair), costumed epics (Michael Collins) and even fairy tale-horror (In the Company of Wolves). With The Good Thief he returns to the territory of what are, arguably, his two very best films, Mona Lisa and The Crying Game, playing a jazzy, atmospheric riff on Melville's classic heist story. Cinematographer Chris Menges takes us inside smoky, seedy gambling parlors and lavish casinos, making both look beautiful and decadent, while Jordan keeps the film's pace zipping along with whiplash sharp transitions that echo the crackling dialogue. Shambling through it all is Nolte, graceful and dissolute yet still handsome, his gravelly voice betraying countless years of booze, broads, and cigarettes. Perfectly accepting of his addictions, Bob takes a steadfastly 12-step approach to his life, dwelling one day at a time in his own earth-bound purgatory (eluding Roger by ducking through an AA meeting, he cheerily says, "Hi, I'm Bob and I'm an alcoholic" as he breezes past the group and out the back door), as matter-of-fact about his fate if he's caught as he is about kicking heroin for the duration of the job. Discussing his portrayal at the Toronto Film Festival, Nolte admitted to doing "a little bit of heroin" every day during the filming you know, for the part. Watching The Good Thief and knowing the meltdown towards which Nolte was heading, one can't help wondering where the actor ends and the character begins and to Nolte's credit, it's impossible to tell. His portrayal is world-class, the sort that would have generated Oscar buzz but for Nolte's much-publicized difficulties, a bravura performance at the center of dazzling, funny, complex heist film with a heart.
Fox's DVD release offers The Good Thief in both anamorphic (1.85:1) and full-frame transfers. Director Jordan loves using light and shadow to great effect, and the visuals in this picture vary from artful, artificially lit interiors to blazing, sunny exteriors the transfer is very good, with even the darkest scenes well defined. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is very good, but even in theatrical release the mumbling, accented actors (as well as the growly Nolte) were occasionally unintelligible, seemingly by design as good as the sound is here, you may find yourself wanting to skip back now and then to figure out just what the heck they're saying. Extras include a very entertaining commentary track by Jordan, offering both technical anecdotes and insight into his intent in making the film ("I wanted it to be a study of character more than a movie about gambling, more than a heist movie," he says. "I wanted it to be a movie about somebody coming back to life and finding some kind of redemption, albeit through a story of crime and a story of deceit"); a six-minute "making-of" promo featurette that doesn't offer anything of real value (watch the film first, to avoid possible spoilers); and seven deleted scenes with optional director's commentary, including a couple of scenes of Bob shooting up (Jordan says he felt these scenes "overstated what we knew already.") The Good Thief is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: It was nearly 10 years in the making, and it turns out that fans were ready New Line's Freddy vs. Jason claimed the top spot on the box-office chart over the weekend with a $36.4 million break, nearly doubling most pundits' expectations, and perhaps also signaling that the summer movie season is drawing to a close. Arriving in third place was Buena Vista's Open Range, which earned $14.1 million for director/star Kevin Costner and co-star Robert Duvall, while MGM's Uptown Girls starring Brittany Murphy had a strong start with $11.2 million, and Warner's low-budget skateboard movie Grind scraped up $2.6 million, missing the top ten altogether. Open Range earned many positive reviews, critics were mixed-to-negative on Freddy vs. Jason, and both Uptown and Grind were widely panned.
In continuing release, last week's winner S.W.A.T. starring Sam Jackson and Colin Farrell dropped to second place, adding $18.6 million to a $70 million gross. Disney's well-received remake of Freaky Friday slipped to fourth place, where it's holding a respectable $57.9 million. And Pirates of the Caribbean continues to be a summer juggernaut, now with $247.9 million in the bag after six weeks. Universal's American Wedding remains the top comedy in theaters with $80.6 million to date. But already in DVD prep is Pixar's Finding Nemo, which heads for the cheap theaters with more than $325 million, while Warner's Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines will finish above the $150 million mark.
New movies arriving in cineplexes this weekend include My Boss's Daughter with Ashton Kutcher, Tara Reid, and Terence Stamp, The Medallion starring Jackie Chan, and Marci X with Lisa Kudrow and Damon Wayans. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Mr. Beaks has posted a sneak-preview of MGM's Bowling for Columbine, while new reviews this week from the rest of the team include Chicago, All That Jazz, National Lampoon's Vacation: 20th Anniversary Edition, Babylon 5: The Complete Third Season, The Howling: Special Edition, All the Real Girls, NYPD Blue: Season Two, Home Movie, Day of the Dead, Out for a Kill, The Rose, The Good Thief, and Halloween: 25th Anniversary Edition. All can be found under the New Reviews menu here on the front page.
Back tomorrow with this week's street discs.
Tuesday, 12 Aug. 2003
On the Street: Action fans can load up this week new from Warner is Cradle 2 the Grave starring Jet Li and DMX, while Tommy Lee Jones and Benicio Del Toro can be found in Paramount's The Hunted. Also on the board from Paramount is a trio of Peter Bogdanovich films, Daisy Miller, Paper Moon, and Targets, while Universal's going for laughs with Chris Rock in Head of State. And TV lovers have a trio of great boxes to grab this time around with Babylon 5: The Complete Third Season, Futurama: Season Two, and Rocky & Bullwinkle & Friends: Season One. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 11 Aug. 2003
Disc of the Week: In 1933 Lionel Atwill gave what is arguably his best performance in the quality creeper Mystery of the Wax Museum. Twenty years later its remake, House of Wax, became one of the fifties' biggest genre-film hits and put Vincent Price forever on the heebie-jeebies map. Now seventy and fifty years, respectively, after their successful theatrical runs, these almost-classic gothies occupy one of the best two-fer DVDs on the shelves. Both films are here, paired up and looking great for genre lovers itching to wax nostalgic (sorry about that). 1953's House of Wax is the disc's marquee title, but Mystery of the Wax Museum is at least an equal attraction. Both tell the story of a benign maestro driven to madness, right up to their lurid Phantom of the Opera reveals. Nonetheless, their differences are as distinctive as their similarities, and determining which is the superior film is a pleasure best left up to the viewer.
House of Wax is a pulpy murder melodrama directed with staid yet effective style by André de Toth. Price is terrific as Prof. Henry Jarrod, a Manhattan waxworks sculptor in the days of gaslights and hansom cabs and mysterious Rippers. Jarrod is an artiste unwilling to pander to the common public's pedestrian taste for gruesome horrifics. However, his scheming business partner Burke (Roy Roberts) has other notions. Soon betrayal leads to a fire that destroys Jarrod's artistic creations (all those paraffin faces melting and "dying" in the flames are memorably jolting). Also lost in the conflagration are the museum and, as far as Burke is concerned, Jarrod's life. Years later, the wheelchair-bound Jarrod returns. With much ballyhoo he opens a new museum, this time with a sensational house of horrors. Not coincidentally, a disfigured serial murderer stalks the remarkably foggy streets. The victims include Burke, the corpses are disappearing from the morgue, and Phyllis Kirk notices that the museum's new Joan of Arc exhibit bears an uncanny resemblance to a recently deceased friend. Soon the mad Jarrod decides that Kirk's lovely roommate would make a perfect Marie Antoinette after one quick dip in the paraffin tank. House of Wax is famous for being the most successful film to ride the fifties' 3-D wave, an effect its director deployed with gusto. The paddle-ball sequence was the fad's Imperial Star Destroyer flyover. Stereoscopic fun isn't part of this edition, alas, and the 2-D movie suffers from its absence. This revival favorite has all the high-minded aspirations of an issue of Weird Tales magazine, yet House of Wax's stylish Grand Guignol theatrics and vibrant color cinematography, topped of course by Price's trademark silky villainy ("Now, now, my dear I shall make you immortal!"), anticipate Roger Corman's Poe-inspired shudderers starring Price a decade later. Notice the actor playing Price's mute assistant Igor: that's Charles Bronson, billed in the credits as Charles Buchinsky. And look for Carolyn Jones, TV's Mortitia Addams.
Flip the disc for the original 1933 Mystery of the Wax Museum, where Atwill originates the Price role. '33 was also the year Fay Wray screamed her way to immortality in King Kong. Here she's the girl who gets placed on the slab to receive the boiling wax. Glenda Farrell is a fast-talking reporter dame with the brass and spunk to crack the case of murders and body-snatching. This was one of eight films released that year directed by Michael Curtiz, which may explain why he doesn't display the exuberant craft that distinguishes his later greats such as The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Sea Hawk, or Casablanca. Still, this fine macabre thriller is less EC Comics and more "adult" than its streamlined remake, and is frame for frame the more impressive film on the disc. It rates high on any list of mystery offerings from the thirties. The script is padded and occasionally ham-handed, but it's supported by Ray Rennahan's flowing camerawork and the lavish expressionist designs by Anton Grot (1924's The Thief of Bagdad, 1935's A Midsummer Night's Dream), not to mention Atwill's intense performance, another keen unmasking, and an interesting historic technical legacy the watercolor hues of early two-strip Technicolor. Because the hot studio lights would melt the waxwork figures, Curtiz had to use actors as their stand-ins. So in the opening reel look for Fay Wray struggling to keep motionless while doubling for "Marie Antoinette." Mystery went unseen for a generation and was considered a lost legend. Fortunately, in 1969 an original 35 mm color print was discovered in Jack Warner's personal film collection.
Warner's new DVD presents both films in good unrestored editions. Both are in their original full-frame aspect ratio. House of Wax is a clean print that shows off its original WarnerColor palette design well. The "Warner-Sonic 3-D" audio translates here to DD 2.0 Stereo Surround. The musical scoring comes through well with strong dynamics, although the quieter scenes are betrayed by background noise. Mystery of the Wax Museum shows more wear, naturally, though it's still quite fine, and the proto-Technicolor tones give it a seemingly hand-inked patina that enhances the experience without being garish. Its audio comes in a remarkably healthy DD 1.0 monaural. The chief extra is Round-the-Clock Premiere: Coast Hails House of Wax, two minutes of black-and-white newsreel footage of the House of Wax midnight premiere at the Paramount theater. Its audio has been lost, apparently, so it's accompanied by music from the movie's score. Attending the gala premiere are Ronald and Nancy Reagan, Danny Thomas, Shelley Winters, and Bela Lugosi in his Dracula cape and shepherding some poor schlub in a gorilla suit. (This was six months after the premiere of Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla and the year he entered his Ed Wood phase with Glen or Glenda.) Also here is the theatrical trailer for House of Wax, which shows not a single frame from the movie but is positive that you'll be AMAZED and ASTOUNDED by "the real, the true MIRACLE of the THIRD DIMENSION." House of Wax is on the street now.
Box Office: Sony may have had a 'Gigli' bad frame one week ago, but they managed to regain some territory this past weekend with S.W.A.T., the latest in a long line of antiquated TV shows-turned-major motion pictures the action flick starring Samuel L. Jackson and Colin Ferrell took in $37 million for the top spot on the chart. Also doing very well in new release was Disney's Freaky Friday starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan, which took $22.3 million over the weekend and $33.2 million since its debut last Wednesday. Critics gushed over the family-friendly Friday, while S.W.A.T. earned mixed notices.
In continuing release, last week's winner American Wedding slipped to third place with $15.1 million and now holds a sturdy $64.9 million after just 10 days. Buena Vista's Pirates of the Caribbean remains a top-five title after five weeks, plundering $232.8 million to become one of this year's biggest blockbusters. And Universal's Seabiscuit continues a steady pace in fifth place after three weeks with $69.5 million overall. But currently on the slip is Paramount's Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, which has generated a modest $53.6 million for star Angelina Jolie. And while exhibitors were contractually required to screen Sony's Gigli this weekend before shipping the prints back, the Ben & J.Lo flick has become one of Hollywood's legendary turkeys production and marketing costs surpassed $70 million, but the movie fell to 17th place with just $640,000 over the weekend and a 10-day total of $5.6 million. Expect this one to get swept away to DVD prep in a hurry.
New movies arriving in cineplexes this Friday include Open Range starring Kevin Costner and Robert Duvall, Uptown Girls with Brittany Murphy, the horror-battle-royale Freddy vs Jason, and the skateboard movie Grind. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Mark Bourne has posted a new review of Image Entertainment's silent compilation Slapstick Masters, while new reviews this week from the rest of the team include Cradle 2 the Grave, The Hunted, Futurama: Season Two, The Rachel Papers, What's Up Tiger Lily, Johnny Be Good, Rocky & Bullwinkle & Friends: Season One, Targets, Manhunter: Restored Director's Cut, House of Wax, and Die! Die! My Darling!. 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, 5 Aug. 2003
On the Street: It's a catalog showdown between two studios this morning thanks to MGM and Warner, a lot of folks are going to have a hard time staying within the DVD budget. From MGM today are several '80s classics, not least of which being special editions of The Sure Thing and Valley Girl, as well as The Last American Virgin and The Flamingo Kid. Meanwhile, Warner has gone back in the vault and come out with a "60th Anniversary Edition" of Casablanca, the Charlton Heston sci-fi classics The Omega Man and Soylent Green, Howard Hawks' The Thing from Another World, House of Wax starring Vincent Price, and Wait Until Dark with Audrey Hepburn and Alan Arkin. Headlining the top-sellers this week is Buena Vista's Bringing Down the House starring Steve Martin and Queen Latifah, Fox's latest "Studio Classic" is The Inn of the Sixth Happiness starring Ingrid Bergman, and horror fans can sample yet another release of Halloween from Anchor Bay. And Trekkies have another brick of DVDs to get this week Paramount's Deep Space Nine: Season Four is out now. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 4 Aug. 2003
Disc of the Week: Get any group of movie-lovers talking about Haunted House films the favorites, the best, and above all the most effectively creepy and one minute won't pass before someone mentions The Haunting, then everyone nods in enthusiastic agreement before recounting whichever scene in this 1963 benchmark most freaked the bejeezus out of them. Robert Wise directed this brilliantly executed exercise in restraint and atmospherics between his two all-stops-out musicals West Side Story and The Sound of Music. The contrast couldn't be more startling. A sober, faithful interpretation of Shirley Jackson's excellent novel, The Haunting of Hill House, it easily ranks among the finest supernatural suspense films ever made, perhaps second only to The Innocents (1961) in its use of mood, suggestion, and not showing what's behind the door to achieve a level of creeps that slithers under your skin and stays there a while. It also bears some thematic similarities to Stanley Kubrick's version of The Shining. It's easy to see how Stephen King drew upon Jackson's novel and Wise's film for his own story of a house that was "born bad." In his 1981 nonfiction book Danse Macabre, King places The Haunting high on his short list of the basic coursework in gut-level terror films, and among the films that contributed something of value to the genre, with a special asterisk for being one of his personal favorites.
The story brings a group of psychic researchers to the "diseased" and "deranged" old New England mansion, a Gothic monstrosity whose construction mirrors the evil soul of its builder. A naive academic, Dr. Markway (Richard Johnson), leads a hand-picked collection of amateur investigators: Luke (Russ Tamblyn), heir to the house, is a skeptical hep-cat wise-ass whose only goal is to protect his upcoming investment property. Theodora (Claire Bloom), a sleek and brassy lesbian, was chosen for her ESP prowess. The linchpin of the story is repressed, browbeaten Eleanor (Julie Harris), whose personal history parallels key events in Hill House's sinister past. The four meet at Hill House to record conclusive evidence of "another world." Hill House, on its own terms, is willing to oblige. As the opening voice-over intones, "whatever walked there, walked alone." Hill House, sentient and watchful, is especially interested in Eleanor. As horrific ghostly eruptions escalate including a cryptic "help Eleanor Come Home" scrawled on a wall she is, for reasons unknown, the center of Hill House's attention. Her abusive relationship with her now-dead mother, and an interrupted closeness with Dr. Markway, contribute to a relationship with Hill House that presages that of Jack Torrance to The Shining's Overlook Hotel. Julie Harris's performance is the movie's spine. Eleanor, the sheltered and psychologically broken young spinster, becomes one of the most complex and well-wrought characters in the genre. Through her The Haunting takes on layers of post-Freudian nuance that drives (literally) to a shattering climax.
The Haunting's subdermal effectiveness derives from the masterful craftsmanship of director Wise. His early apprenticeship was at the feet of legendary producer Val Lewton, whose preference for atmospherics and mood over visceral shocks is visible throughout The Haunting. In Nelson Gidding's tight screenplay, outright "Boo!" moments are few. Instead, Wise (whose creds as an editor include Citizen Kane) builds a powerful sense of dread through off-kilter angles, staccato editing, and Davis Boulton's evocative black-and-white camerawork. Wise shot the Hill House exteriors on infrared film to give them an unnatural look. Other than that, the movie displays only one visual-effects trick an oak door bulges inward, like an embolism, because something is pushing against the other side. It's the use of sound, though, that really elevates The Haunting as a technical tour de force. Two of its most famously unnerving scenes are all about what we, along with Eleanor, can only hear. When the unseen supernatural presence pounds, boom, Boom BOOM, closer and closer along the hall outside Eleanor and Theo's room, the scare comes from what we can't see hitting the walls and then hammering the door, even as the camera presses us mere inches from the doorknob turning by itself. Later, in bed, Eleanor hears ghastly chanting and the cries of a child behind the wallpaper (where the decorative pattern suggests a malevolent face) again neither Eleanor nor we can see anything other than what our imaginations show us, an effect that hits hardest when Eleanor screams, the lights come up, and she realizes that the cold hand she had been holding wasn't Theo's. It's a moment that only a select few screen ghost stories, before or since, have approached.
Warner's DVD edition of The Haunting finally delivers one of the most waited-for movies to the small platter. It is, however, a mixed bag. The good news is that it replaces the Laserdisc's full-frame version with the original 2.35:1 (anamorphic) widescreen. Also added are a click-through stills gallery of pages from Wise's original screenplay plus his handwritten notes, a slide-show gallery of promo material, the endearingly overcooked theatrical trailer (in DD 2.0), and a few perfunctory words on cinematic ghost stories. The best addition is a new commentary track with Wise, screenwriter Gidding, and all four principal actors. They were recorded separately and the track is only marginally scene-specific, but there's good information and warm reminiscing on hand. The bad news is that The Haunting received no clean-up enhancement. It's a good print, but it's marred by minor flecks and scratches. More significantly, the contrast (compared to the Laserdisc) is boosted too high, resulting in greater clarity but diminished grayscale density and some overblown whites. Most disappointing is the audio track, which is clean and clear but quite thin, even for its vintage, in monaural low-fi DD 1.0. What a shame. No classic film more cries out for an enhanced 2.0 or better remix option. Given a full-on 5.1 upgrade, Chapter 12 boom, Boom BOOM all by itself would be a real pants-wetter. The Haunting is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: Various media outlets may be trying to convince us that Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez are America's couple, but box-office voters see things quite a bit differently Jason Biggs and Alyson Hannigan were a $34 million pair over weekend in Universal's American Wedding, which took the top spot on the chart. Affleck and J.Lo, on the other hand, delivered one of the year's worst flops with Sony's romantic comedy Gigli, which wound up in seventh place with just $3.8 million, and that for a movie with two highly exposed stars and a $54 million budget. American Wedding earned mixed reviews, while critics viewed Gigli as an especial opportunity to dip their poisoned pens ("Such an awful wreck of a movie you expect to see it lying on its side somewhere in rural Pennsylvania, with a small gang of engineers circling and a wisp of smoke rising from the caboose." Newark Star-Ledger; "It's worth knowing how to pronounce 'Gigli' because it will enter the vocabulary as a word meaning 'massive box-office flop; an embarrassment caused by Hollywood's inability to say no to powerful creative types.'" Northwest Herald).
In continuing release, Dimension's Spy Kids 3-D had a strong second session, adding $21.1 million to its nearly $70 million so far. Buena Vista's Pirates of the Caribbean is a confirmed blockbuster, breaking the double-century in just one month with a $209.8 million war chest. And Universal's Seabiscuit notched up a spot to fourth place in its second frame thanks to positive word-of-mouth, adding $17.4 million to nearly $50 million in 10 days. It's hard to believe anybody is going to catch up with Finding Nemo this year with $319.9 million (and counting), it's now one of the top-ten grossing films of all time. Failing to get nearly the same traction is Paramount's Lara Croft: Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life starring Angelina Jolie, which captured $11.3 million over the weekend and dropped to sixth place. Meanwhile, MGM's Legally Blonde 2 is off to DVD prep with $82.1 million which pretty much means we'll be getting a Legally Blonde 3 ("Deaf, Dumb, and Blonde" perhaps?)
Arriving in theaters this Friday is S.W.A.T. starring Samuel L. Jackson and Colin Farrell, as well as the Disney remake of Freaky Friday with Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Betsy Bozdech has posted a sneak-preview of MGM's The Sure Thing: Special Edition, while Mark Bourne recently looked at the Warner classic The Thing from Another World. New stuff this week from the rest of the gang includes Bringing Down the House, Agent Cody Banks, Valley Girl: Special Edition, Soylent Green, The Omega Man, The Last American Virgin, Wait Until Dark, The Flamingo Kid, The Pornographers: The Criterion Collection, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness: Fox Studio Classics, Radar Men from the Moon, The Haunting, and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Season Four. Everything's been added to the New Reviews menu here on the front page.
Back tomorrow with this week's street discs.