Tuesday, 30 Sept. 2003
On the Street: Get out the credit card it's gonna be one of those weeks. There's no lack of titles for DVD fans to pick up this morning, and at the top of our list is a trio of classics from Warner, The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and Yankee Doodle Dandy, all in two-disc special editions. Criterion is also on the board with a stack of discs, including Roman Polanski's Knife in the Water, The Devil and Daniel Webster, and Rainer Werner Fassbinder's "BRD Trilogy" in a three-disc collection. Mainstream titles are led by Universal's 2 Fast 2 Furious and Warner's Dreamcatcher, while Fox's Bend it like Beckham is certain to win new fans on video, as is Paramount's teen drama Better Luck Tomorrow. Universal finally has returned Brian De Palma's Scarface to DVD this week, and MGM's re-issue of the Coen Brothers' Fargo offers a welcome upgrade. Catalog items from Columbia include Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round, Nowhere in Africa, and the cult live-action TV series The Tick. And Who fans will not want to miss one of the most beloved rock-docs of all time, The Kids Are Alright, in a restored edition from Pioneer. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 29 Sept. 2003
Disc of the Week: Back in the '70s, New York teenager Jeff Stein wanted to make a film about The Who for one simple reason to prove that they were the greatest rock band in the world. The jury will be out for some time on the matter, but there's little question that the London group ranked among an elite quartet of British acts that paved a road from obscure club gigs to elaborate studio recordings and full-blown arena rock: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, and Led Zeppelin. Of course, the Beatles sold the most records. The Stones have had the greatest longevity. Zeppelin laid the groundwork for modern FM radio. So why, according to Stein, was The Who the greatest? Clearly, it can't be quantified. In fact, the band's devoted followers at the time seemed to be in awe of not only the group's music, but their personas as well. No member was a mere functionary, relegated to the rhythm section while others basked in the spotlight. Actually, there was no lead instrument of any kind soft-spoken singer Roger Daltrey always considered himself a lyrical interpreter rather than a rock star; bassist John Entwistle played melodic lines as if he were on lead guitar; guitarist Pete Townshend windmilled thunderous chops as if he were on drums; and flamboyant drummer Keith Moon dryly described the other members of the group as his "backing band." Perhaps these inversions are what made The Who so appealing, both personally and musically. And just as traditional musical roles within the band were ignored, the musical tropes of the day were discarded as well. After mastering the three-minute pop-song by the end of the '60s, Pete Townshend abandoned it with Tommy and Quadrophenia, and changed the music industry forever.
And yet, how are The Who remembered? As the band that smashed up their instruments on television. As a crew that was notorious for wrecking hotel rooms whilst on tour. As the group who set the Guinness World Record for "World's Loudest Band," a feat achieved at Madison Square Garden when their equipment's sonic output rivaled that of a turbine engine. Self-described Who fanatic Stein knew there was much more to the band than that and thus, while barely out of high school and with no filmmaking experience, he approached The Who with the idea of creating a movie, largely from clips languishing in film and video archives around the world. The Queens-born lad encountered resistance from the band, but he was able to complete enough research to compile a 17-minute demo reel. Stein screened it for the group and found them receptive (actually, they nearly wrecked the screening room in drunken tomfoolery), after which The Kids Are Alright was officially greenlit. Four years of research unearthed a small gold mine TV programs like "Shindig," "Ready Steady Go," "Beat Club," and "The Smothers Brothers"; early footage of the band when they were an R&B act known as The Detours; vanguard "promotional" shorts created back in the '60s, long before MTV; interview footage from a variety of sources; the Woodstock concert; and the Rolling Stones' "lost" TV project "Rock and Roll Circus," which never aired. And most elements were "new" in a sense culled from a pre-video, pre-Internet age when so much media was considered disposable, Stein was collecting material that had been seen by the public just once before, normally in just one country. He was unsure what to expect when The Kids Are Alright debuted in New York on June 15, 1979. He should not have been surprised Who fans lined up around the block to get their first intimate look at a band they had come to know largely through albums and radio, live performances and magazine articles. The ability to travel with the band through its history to see them perform, hear them speak, watch them clown about bridged a gap that had long stood between rock fans and their idols. MTV would arrive just a few years later, forcing many more pop acts to cross the same divide, and often with far less musicianship.
Of course, die-hard Who fans have already seen The Kids Are Alright. Most have a copy in their possession a VHS edition arrived in 1982, with the same transfer ported to Laserdisc not long thereafter. It's been a de rigueur item, taking pride-of-place next to the latest CD remasters, and possibly an original Live at Leeds vinyl pressing with the enclosed memorabilia in the jacket. But it's also been something of a disappointment. It was inexplicably shortened by nine minutes, the bulk extracted from "A Quick One," the mini-opera performed in its entirety on "Rock and Roll Circus." The original video and film sources never were in good shape, and the fly-by-night filmmakers were in no position to consider any sort of restoration project. And while The Who is meant to be heard in glorious stereo (or even quadraphonic audio, which Townshend hoped to establish with Quadrophenia), the audio sources on the VHS and LD have been substandard, never sounding as deep, clear, and rich as they should. Thankfully, Jeff Stein notes that he's barely been able to meet Who fans over the past several years without being asked "When is The Kids Are Alright going to be on DVD?" A disc was briefly issued by BMG in 2001 with little enhancement, but soon after Pioneer acquired the video rights and a full-fledged digital reassessment was planned. Much of this process can be seen in the short documentary "Miracle Cure: Restoring the Film for DVD" (40 min.), which headlines Disc Two of Pioneer's special-edition. DVD producer John Albarian and others discuss how they were given little more than the retail VHS as a starting point, and how in many cases they painstakingly went back to the original materials Stein located in the '70s.
Further enhancements are noted in "Trick of the Light: Audio Showdown" (6 min.) and "Getting in Tune: Video Showdown" (5 min.), two restoration demos that compare the Kids Are Alright VHS to the new DVD material at times, the results are breathtaking, and a testament to the dedication of those who worked on the Pioneer disc (all come across as unabashed Who fans as well, talking about the band members by first name, as true fans tend to do). Jeff Stein and Roger Daltrey contribute extensive interviews (each about 30 min.), a special section highlights John Entwistle's bass playing, and an interactive map of central London documents important historical locations in the band's history. Two trivia challenges offer Easter eggs the first a brief radio promo by Ringo Starr for the film, while the second is a real treat: the anthemic "Who Are You" remixed in room-filling Dolby Digital 5.1 with a video montage (kill the lights for this one and sit in the sweet spot). Disc Two is topped off by the Shepperton Studios renditions of "Baba O'Reilly" and "Won't Get Fooled Again" in multi-angle format. Meanwhile, back on Disc One is the restored film in its entirely with a commentary from Jeff Stein. A special subtitle track helpfully notes the date and location of each archive segment, while audio comes in Dolby 2.0 Stereo, DTS 5.1, and Dolby Digital 5.1 options. The Kids Are Alright: Special Edition is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: Universal's The Rundown was solid as a you-know-what at the weekend box-office the action film starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson rounded up $18.5 million to secure the top spot on the chart. Counter-programming the testosterone in second place was Buena Vista's romance Under the Tuscan Sun starring Diane Lane, which managed $9.4 million and actually beat The Rundown in per-screen grosses. Landing in a disappointing seventh place was Miramax's Duplex starring Ben Stiller and Drew Barrymore the Danny DeVito-directed comedy took in just $4.4 million. Rundown earned many strong reviews, while critics were mixed-to-positive on Tuscan Sun and largely dismissed Duplex.
In continuing release, last week's winner Underworld starring Kate Beckinsale slipped to third place, adding $9.4 million to a 10-day $37 million total. New Line's Secondhand Lions also did well in its second frame with $8.2 million and $23.4 million so far. And Paramount's The Fighting Temptations rounds out the top five with $20.2 million in the plate. Critical darling Lost in Translation directed by Sofia Coppola and starring Bill Murray expanded to more venues and added $3.5 million to a $8.4 million cume. And coming to a DVD near you will be Disney's Freaky Friday, which cleared $100 million with ease before exiting the ranks.
New films arriving in theaters this Friday include the thriller Out of Time starring Denzel Washington and The School of Rock with Jack Black. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Mark Bourne has posted a sneak-preview of Warner's The Adventures of Robin Hood: Special Edition, while Dawn Taylor recently spun MGM's new special edition of the Coen Brothers' Fargo. New reviews this week from the rest of the team include Bend it like Beckham, Carlito's Way, The Tick: The Entire Series, Better Luck Tomorrow, Three O'Clock High, Boat Trip, Into the Night, Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round, Nowhere in Africa, The Kids Are Alright: Special Edition, and Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III. It's all under our New Reviews menu here on the front page.
We'll be back tomorrow to let you know about this week's street discs.
Tuesday, 23 Sept. 2003
On the Street: Fans of Christopher Guest and friends can get Warner's A Mighty Wind on DVD today it's at the top of our list, along with Disney's charming family comedy Holes and Wes Craven's classic shocker The Hills Have Eyes in a two-disc set from Anchor Bay. Universal's family titles this week include Casper and a two-disc Babe collection, while Neil LaBute's recent The Shape of Things is joined by a reissue of the director's Your Friends and Neighbors. New from Criterion are Bombay Talkie and Heat and Dust, and Home Vision's Murderous Maids is a classic retelling of a legendary French homicide. Columbia TriStar has pulled In Cold Blood out of the vault, while Daddy Day Care starring Eddie Murphy is sure to be a big seller. And it's never to early for Christmas Paramount's DVD of the 1970 Scrooge ranks among the best of Dickens adaptations. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 22 Sept. 2003
Disc of the Week: When Truman Capote's In Cold Blood was published in 1966, it cannily exploited the human curiosity about monsters what makes them, how do their minds warp, and why, even at the deterrent risk of capital punishment, do they commit such unspeakable acts? In telling his true story in a novelistic manner, Capote's work, essentially the first of its kind, captured the public's imagination and, in many instances, inspired its revulsion by inviting the reader to sympathize with the narrative's two dimwitted murderers, Dick Hickock and Perry Smith. This negative reaction was hardly a surprise. As a powerful, courtroom-hushing "Exhibit A" around which to construct an anti-death penalty polemic, Capote could not have chosen a more detestable pair of criminals. But even as his intent bristled a few readers, it's doubtful that they angrily slammed the book shut upon sussing out his not-so-hidden agenda not the way Capote writes, with his brutally elegant prose masterfully complementing his suspenseful recounting of the crime's planning, its botched execution, and, finally, the urgent police investigation and pursuit that stretches from Kansas to Las Vegas and across the border into Mexico. In spite of or more likely because of its controversial nature, In Cold Blood was a genre-birthing sensation, which of course means that a film was rushed into production for release the following year, with the highly respected writer-director-producer Richard Brooks tapped as the man to bring the labyrinthine tale to life. Though an intelligent, well-regarded adapter of tony literary fare, from Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov (1958) to Conrad's Lord Jim (1965), Brooks's primary hurdle would be how to compensate for the absence of Capote's voice, which conferred a sense of class upon his otherwise pulpy material. His solution? Conrad L. Hall.
The crime at the heart of In Cold Blood is the senseless multiple-murder of the Clutter family, the well-to-do pride of sleepy little Holcomb, Kansas. Unbeknownst to them, word of their sizable but hardly extravagant fortune has reached the ear of smooth talking con artist Dick Hickcock (Scott Wilson), who's been led to believe that the Clutter patriarch, Herbert (John McLiam), has $10,000 socked away in his home office's safe. It's a "perfect score," but Dick's got a problem he's not a murderer. To remedy this, he teams up with a fellow former convict, Perry Smith (Robert Blake), the combustible product of a childhood of mental and physical abuse who dreams of one day crooning away on a nightclub stage in Las Vegas with his trusty Gibson guitar. Because of his tragic upbringing, Perry is undeniably the more sympathetic of the two marauders, which Brooks keenly plays up by dropping in flashbacks to his childhood, where, with his own eyes, he watched his mother drunkenly bed down with strange men until the one day his father caught her and whipped her with his belt. Perry has seen, and been subjected to, endless cruelty in his life, with some of the worst of it coming from those ostensibly on the side of the angels (e.g. the nuns at the orphanage). He is a stranger to the charitable act, and, as evidenced by the violent motorcycle accident that mangled his legs and left him an aspirin addict, a singularly luckless individual. All of these hardships receive near-unremitting emphasis from Brooks, who cleverly skips the restaging of the murder until late in the film (unlike Capote's book, where it is detailed at great length early on), at which point he clearly hopes to jar his audience by depicting this sensitive runt of a man as less a predator than a victim of the worst aspects of human nature, with his victims (and it must be stated that the Clutters, particularly Nancy, who is such an integral part of Capote's narrative, are seriously underdeveloped here), through no fault of their own, reaping the whirlwind of these past transgressions callously visited upon the meek and defenseless.
In Cold Blood is a powerful indictment of our violent society, the clarity of which must've been somehow insufficient for Brooks, who inexplicably weighs down the final leg of the film, depicting Dick and Perry waiting for their day to dangle, with a thoroughly unnecessary voiceover. Until that point, Brooks cogently makes his points without resorting to much sermonizing (though he's occasionally a bit heavy handed about linking the actions of the murderers and the Clutters through ostentatious cutting), all the while holding the audience's rapt attention even through long stretches of cross-country driving where little happens or is said. Give credit then to aforementioned cinematographer Conrad Hall for conjuring up some of the most brilliantly evocative high-contrast black-and-white cinematography ever put to film. Hall has always had a gift for expanding the visual vocabulary of his collaborators, and here he has convinced an old-school filmmaker to loosen up and go against the accepted notions of how a movie should look (it's worth noting that he was breaking the same ground with color photography that same year on Cool Hand Luke). Though the film is rife with examples of Hall's genius, the most widely cited (and endlessly quoted) shot the "tears" reflected onto Perry's face from a rain-streaked window was actually a bit of a happy accident, a sort of serendipitous endorsement that Hall was guiding Brooks in the right direction all along. If only his influence extended to the script while an undeniably affecting work of empathy, Brooks's In Cold Blood just can't stick the landing. The final, slightly overcranked shot of Perry's plunge from the gallows winds up being memorable if only for its surprising lack of power. Still, for Hall's work, and the excellent performances from newcomer Wilson and current murder suspect Blake, it's pretty compelling stuff.
Columbia TriStar presents In Cold Blood in a mostly crisp anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) that does as much justice to Hall's cinematography as the not-quite-mint print will allow. Audio is Dolby Digital 5.1, which shows off Quincy Jones's jazzy score to pleasing effect. Extras are limited to a handful of trailers for other Sony product a letdown considering the film's massively influential pedigree, as well as its own groundbreaking flourishes. However, for fans and newcomers alike it's worth a spin. In Cold Blood is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: According to American moviegoers, vampires and werewolves are two great tastes that taste great together Sony's horror flick Underworld starring Kate Beckinsale swallowed up $22 million over the weekend to easily claim the top spot at the box office. And the chart is covered with several new arrivals taking second place was Paramount's The Fighting Temptations starring Cuba Gooding Jr., which managed $13.2 million, while New Line's Secondhand Lions with Haley Joel Osment, Robert Duvall, and Michael Caine was good for $12.8 million. Buena Vista's thriller Cold Creek Manor starring Dennis Quaid and Sharon Stone took fifth place with $8.3 million, and while Focus Films' Lost in Translation clawed its way into tenth place with $2.8 million, the Sofia Coppola picture starring Bill Murray banked it with less than 200 screens. Unfortunately for Woody Allen, his latest project, Anything Else starring Jason Biggs and Christina Ricci, took just $1.7 million and did not chart. Reviewers were mixed on Lions, Temptations, and Else, while Underworld and Manor earned critical drubbings. Lost in Translation has earned near-universal praise and will expand to more screens this weekend.
In continuing release, Sony's Once Upon a Time in Mexico was the only returning film to remain in the top five, adding $11.5 million to a $41.4 million gross over the past three weeks. Warner's Matchstick Men starring Nicolas Cage and Sam Rockwell also is holding up well with $7.8 million for the frame and $24.1 million so far. And while New Line's Cabin Fever is on the slip, it's managed $14.7 million in the low-budget thriller category. Bearing down on the elite $300 million mark is Buena Vista's Pirates of the Caribbean. And on the way to the cheap theaters are Open Range and S.W.A.T., both with strong finishes above $50m and $100m respectively.
New films arriving in cineplexes this Friday include the comedy Duplex starring Drew Barrymore and Ben Stiller, the action film The Rundown with "The Rock," and Under the Tuscan Sun starring Diane Lane. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Mark Bourne is on the board with Milestone Films' double-feature of The Phantom of the Opera, while Dawn Taylor has posted a sneak-preview of Warner's Dreamcatcher. New stuff this week from the rest of the gang includes A Mighty Wind, Holes, Daddy Day Care, National Lampoon's Animal House: Double Secret Probation Edition, Prizzi's Honor, The Hills Have Eyes, Amazon Women on the Moon, Wilder Napalm, Scrooge, Murderous Maids, In Cold Blood, and Fletch Lives. All can be found under the New Reviews menu here on the front page.
We'll be back tomorrow with the rundown on this week's street discs.
Tuesday, 16 Sept. 2003
On the Street: This street-week won't break the bank, but there are a few things to check off the shopping list. Fans of Adam Sandler can pick up Columbia TriStar's Anger Management for a few laughs, while Lions Gates' Confidence is an effective con-game flick starring Edward Burns, Dustin Hoffman, Rachel Weisz, and Andy Garcia. "Mr. Show" aficionados can look for the sketch-turned-movie Run Ronnie Run! And all over the board are MGM catalog titles, including Jump Tomorrow, Oleanna, Prizzi's Honor, Brimstone and Treacle, The Hospital, Sunday Bloody Sunday, and three from John Sayles The Brother from Another Planet, The Return of the Secaucus 7, and Lianna. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
A reader writes: I was referred to your site by a friend, a fellow filmmaker, who said I'd enjoy it but cautioned me that some of the opinions expressed were pretty juvenile. I want to wish your enterprise well, but I'm very much afraid my friend was quite right: the reviews I read certainly don't reflect the level of intelligence one should expect from a site such as yours.
Your main failing, as I see it, is that you see all films through the blinders of modern prejudices. This is a common failing, I might add. You do not try to put yourselves in the place of contemporary audiences who would be seeing the film at the time it was released so your reviews tend to take a (somewhat hilarious) superior attitude -- as if nothing of value was made prior to the day you woke up and discovered you liked movies. What you cannot see, because you are obviously overawed by mere technical advances, is that the films you ridicule, especially those made in the 1940s and 50s, were made for audiences with a much higher level of sophistication than today's audiences have.
Today, a film like David Lean's "Oliver Twist" would never find an audience; they would all be at the other theatre watching "Harry Potter". Sad, but true.
If you wish your reviews to have some value, try to find a reviewer who is an adult, and one who isn't continually reminding us that today's special effects are so much better than yesterday's. OK?
We agree completely the DVDJ crew are complete, total asshats. Thanks Dan!
Monday, 15 Sept. 2003
Disc of the Week: Cinematically speaking, few things are as difficult to pull off as an original, charming, genuinely funny romantic comedy. Most of Hollywood's recent attempts have been either bland (Two Weeks Notice), totally predictable (Sweet Home Alabama), or both (Life or Something Like It). Thankfully, the indie world has more refreshing fare to offer like overlooked gem Jump Tomorrow. Director Joel Hopkins' feature debut (based on his own 1998 short film "Jorge") opened on just eight screens in the summer of 2001, garnering less than $200,000 at the box office over the course of its brief theatrical run. But ask anyone who managed to see it, and they'll tell you that they were captivated by the sweet story of an uptight fellow named George who learns to follow his heart and turns into "Jorge" somewhere along the way.
Part Strictly Ballroom, part Like Water for Chocolate, and part something completely its own, Jump Tomorrow takes a fairly basic storyline and turns it into something new and different, blending hints of magical realism with a pop-inspired landscape that would warm the cockles of Andy Warhol's heart. The film's plot doesn't exactly chart new romantic comedy territory: Staid, buttoned-down hero George (Tunde Adebimpe) is all set to go along with the life his Nigerian relatives have laid out for him starting with an arranged marriage to childhood friend Sophie (Abiola Abrams) when he meets vivacious Latina girl Alicia (Natalia Verbeke) at the airport and unexpectedly loses his heart (i.e., "boy meets girl"). After finding out that Alicia has a boyfriend (pompous professor Nathan, ably played by James Wilby), George is disappointed, but resigned to his fate ("boy loses girl"). Then loopy, lovelorn Frenchman Gerard (Hippolyte Girardot, in a delightfully screwball performance) intervenes and urges George to listen to his heart instead of his head ("boy chases girl across upstate New York in a beat-up European car, fending off aggressive women and having Spanish-soap opera-inspired fantasies.") Streamline the nationalities and tweak the details of how and where the characters meet, and you've got Ben Affleck and Sandra Bullock's Forces of Nature, or any number of other mainstream romantic comedies in which an unadventurous main character is transformed by the power of love.
What sets Jump Tomorrow apart is its sensibility an admittedly vague term that here covers everything from Adebimpe's fabulously droll work as George to production designer John Paino's stark, blocky sets and swingin' props. The extremity of George's pale, passive approach to life is contrasted perfectly by the bright primary colors of the world around him; life is there waiting for him he just doesn't see it until he meets Alicia and she infuses his world with her energy and enthusiasm. To her credit, Verbeke doesn't often fall back on the Latina-woman-equals-earthy-spiciness conventions Hollywood likes so much (remember Salma Hayek in Fools Rush In?). Her Alicia is colorful and spirited, yes, but she's also smart, hip, and artsy: She'd probably choose a J. Crew sweater and Doc Martens over a tight shirt and high heels. (Unfortunately, some of those stereotypes are present in the character of Consuelo, Alicia's feisty, food-loving mother, who's overplayed by Patricia Mauceri.) But the film's real scene-stealer is Girardot; his Gerard a man in love with love is both hilarious and sweetly appealing, the perfect foil for stone-faced George. He's the Puckish fairy godmother in this modern storybook tale, the catalyst George needs to snap out of his meek existence and do something. As much as George loves Alicia, he and Gerard are actually the film's central pair, and their odd-couple relationship is the heart of Jump Tomorrow's screwball appeal.
Thankfully, more movie lovers will be able to discover that for themselves now that Jump Tomorrow is on DVD. MGM's disc offers a lovely anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) that works well on the small screen Paino's bold designs and Hopkins' stylish direction look just as good at home as they did in the theater. The Dolby 2.0 Surround audio is also strong, nicely showcasing the eclectic soundtrack (English and Spanish subtitles are also available). Extras include the theatrical trailer and an audio commentary by Hopkins, Adebimpe, and producer Nicola Usborne. The trio's chatter is relatively low-key, but it's also warmly enthusiastic; it's easy to tell they have a genuine affection for the film. And, really, with a charmer like this, who can blame them? Jump Tomorrow is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: After a couple of lackluster weeks at the box office, the fall movie season is officially underway three new films hit North American cineplexes over the weekend and stormed the top spots on the chart. Arriving at number one was Sony's Once Upon a Time in Mexico starring Antonio Banderas, Johnny Depp, and Salma Hayek the final installment in Robert Rodriguez's "Mariachi" trilogy earned $24 million, far outpacing the competition. Warner's Matchstick Men starring Nicolas Cage and Sam Rockwell was good for $13.2 million, taking second place, while Lions Gate's thriller Cabin Fever notched $8.4 million for third. Matchstick Men earned enthusiastic reviews, while critics were mixed-to-positive on Mexico and Fever.
In continuing release, last week's winner Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star starring David Spade slipped to fourth place, adding $5 million to a modest $12.8 million 10-day gross. Buena Vista's Pirates of the Caribbean still has wind in its sails in fifth place with $288 million, while Disney's Freaky Friday is into triple-digits with $102 million. Universal's Seabiscuit has been a slow-burn hit over the past two months, now with $113.5 million in the bank. And Sony's S.W.A.T. has been solid in the late summer with $112.8 million. Meanwhile, on the way to DVD prep (where it doubtless will launch another wave of American Pie repackagings) is Universal's American Wedding, which cleared $100 million before getting sent to the cheap theaters.
No less than five new movies are scheduled to go wide next weekend Woody Allen's Anything Else starring Jason Biggs and Christina Ricci, Cold Creek Manor with Sharon Stone and Dennis Quaid, The Fighting Temptations starring Cuba Gooding, Jr., Secondhand Lions with Haley Joel Osment, Michael Caine, and Robert Duvall, and Underworld starring Kate Beckinsale. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Mr. Beaks has posted his review of Disney's new Sleeping Beauty: Special Edition, while Mark Bourne recently looked at David Mamet's Oleanna, which is new from MGM. New reviews this week from the rest of the team include Anger Management, Confidence, Russian Ark, View from the Top, Boyz N the Hood: Special Edition, I.Q., The Brother from Another Planet, Enigma: Special Edition, Enough: Special Edition, The Return of the Secaucus Seven, Lianna, Sunday Bloody Sunday, Jump Tomorrow, and Run Ronnie Run! Everything's been added to the New Reviews menu here on the front page.
Back tomorrow with the street discs.
Tuesday, 9 Sept. 2003
In the Works: The change of seasons is upon us, and all in Hollywood appears quiet in fact, we have just one new disc announcement this morning. At least it's worth mentioning:
On the Street: Don't let that back-to-school shopping kill the entire budget there's still plenty of DVDs to pick up this week. Tops on our list is Miramax's Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, which features an impressive directing debut from George Clooney and a stunning performance from Sam Rockwell. Also new is Paramount's The Core, which has a better-than-average cast for a disaster flick, while catalog titles from the studio this week include Leap of Faith, I.Q., Losing Isaiah, Nobody's Fool, and Regarding Henry. Fresh from the Mouse House is the DVD debut of the classic Sleeping Beauty, MGM's got Chow Yun-Fat in Bulletproof Monk, while Warner's hoping move a few copies of the comedy Malibu's Most Wanted. TV fans can get the second pulse-pounding series of 24 from Fox. And those looking for something under the radar can investigate the hypnotic Russian Ark and the double-feature The Phantom of the Opera: The Ultimate Edition. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 8 Sept. 2003
Disc of the Week: "Who could have known there were so many Americans just waiting for the opportunity to get on TV and make an ass of themselves?" Had this been said by a media critic in the past year or two, it would come as little surprise American television currently is awash in low-budget "reality" TV programs, be they competitions centered around dating and marriage or simple talent shows where budding stars of tomorrow compete for recording contracts, and more importantly a moment of fame. And yet, while this recent trend in network programming has begun to supplant a steady stream of sitcoms and hour-long dramas, it's far from new. For reality television, we have none other to thank than Chuck Barris, a man who rose from obscurity as an NBC page in New York to become a middle-management suit and then a producer in his own right. Barris himself had no grand ambitions, other than ambition itself in fact, he wrote a hit pop-song ("Palisades Park") in the '60s just for the kick of hearing it on the radio. Television, however, held a much greater appeal to his less-than-lofty sensibilities at a time when programming executives were trying to work within perceived limits of good taste, Barris had an eye for what people simply wanted to see. Hence, he created "The Dating Game," with its incessant sexual double entendres, and soon followed it with "The Newlywed Game." And then, fully aware that real talent was much harder to find than the average neighborhood goofball, he invented and hosted "The Gong Show," which invited viewers to heap scorn upon guileless schlubs while occasionally appreciating a good act now and then, and of course "The Unknown Comic" and "Gene Gene, the Dancing Machine." Barris may not have been a genius, but he certainly understood why people watched television, and what would make them keep watching.
However, considering his claim to fame as the father of "reality" TV, Barris's life itself bordered at times on psychosis. Coming out of a difficult childhood, he often was a hard guy to pin down, and he lusted after women while he distrusted them at the same time. After his television programs were canceled in the 1980s, Barris cashed out and holed up in New York for several months, where he wrote his "unauthorized" autobiography, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. George Clooney's 2002 film (his directorial debut) concerns Barris's life story, but with an unsubstantiated twist the game-show host put into his own bio he served as a contract killer for the CIA for several years and killed more than 30 people. In fact, the decision to send "Dating Game" winners on overseas vacations with a chaperone was suggested by Barris's CIA handler (played by Clooney) as the perfect cover to ferry a respected TV producer into foreign countries, where his seemingly benign vacation was merely a veil for some unceremonious, unsympathetic wet-work. Along the way, Barris (Sam Rockwell) meets a female operative, "Patricia" (Julia Roberts), who may or may not have his best interests at heart. But when a mole wipes out every one of his associates, Barris quits the assassin business for good, choosing to go on the record while coping with manic depression in a New York hotel room.
Is Barris's story real? On the one hand, probably not. Conspiracy theories aside, it's difficult to believe that the CIA would entrust assassination work to a non-professional killer, and particularly one with a chaotic personal life. Then again, who's to say what ideas "The Company" would support from time to time and what's more, Barris's account has never been flat-out disproven. It's this particular gray area that makes Confessions of a Dangerous Mind such an enjoyable movie, particularly in the hands of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman. The pen responsible for Being John Malkovich (1999) and Adaptation (2002) has made a cottage industry out of looming madness, and his script sparkles with playful moments that elevate what would seem far too heavy in a more straightforward context. Clooney and cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel give the film an additionally ethereal quality by presenting Barris's alleged exploits, but never endorsing them while his television career plays like a standard up-by-your-bootstraps biopic, each assassination sequence is a naked homage to a movie genre, be it the spaghetti western, film noir, or '60s spy yarn. By playing over the top, we are allowed to disbelieve Barris's exploits while enjoying them just the same (two of his fellow CIA trainees are "Oswald" and "Ruby"). And yet, even in the "real" world of New York and L.A., Clooney's fluid camera invites another level of incredulity characters move about freely within economical compressions of time and space, lending a dreamlike atmosphere to Barris's life. Anchoring the entire project is Sam Rockwell the actor has delivered solid supporting work in a number of films, and while he's billed underneath Clooney, Roberts, and Drew Barrymore in this project, it's clear that he has the youth and potential to become one of America's foremost film talents, effortlessly shifting his moods from one scene to the next with an eccentric blend of buffoonery and pathos. It's a performance that's bound to win more attention in the years ahead.
Miramax's DVD release of Confessions of a Dangerous Mind features a solid anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Features include a commentary by director Clooney and cinematographer Sigel they worked together previously on Three Kings (1999), and they deliver a relaxed, chatty track that concentrates on various film-stock processes, as well as the fact that all of the film's "trick" photography was achieved practically and entirely in-camera no CGI or process shots were used. Also included are seven behind-the-scenes featurettes, 11 deleted scenes (with commentary), three Sam Rockwell screen tests, five "Gong Show" acts not used in the film, a stills gallery, and the featurette "The Real Chuck Barris," which offers a few brief "Gong Show" clips and recollections from Barris (now in his 70s) and those who knew him at the time. Just getting a glimpse of Barris back then on TV, with his silly, hand-clapping patter and crazy hats, reminds one of how simple, artless, and sweet his shows were compared to today's miserable, and occasionally vile, reality programs. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: The weekend after Labor Day did not see moviegoers flocking to cineplexes two new titles arrived in theaters, but the weekend's overall gross of just $50.9 million was the industry's lowest in nearly two years. Winning first place was Paramount's Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star, which took in $7 million for star David Spade the last chart-topper to garner less was Eye of the Beholder, which bagged $6 million during 2000's Superbowl weekend. It may be an ignominious victory, but at least Dickie did better than Fox's The Order starring Heath Ledger, which snared a meager $4.3 million. Critics dismissed both new films with mixed-to-negative reviews.
In continuing release, last week's winner Jeepers Creepers 2 slipped to second place with $6.7 million, giving it a $27.4 million 10-day total. Buena Vista's Pirates of the Caribbean seems to have benefited the most from the seasonal doldrums, holding down third place after nine solid weeks in release and $282 million to its credit. And while Disney's Freaky Friday fell back from last weekend's gains, it's now flirting with the century with $97.1 million. Sony's S.W.A.T. has crossed triple-digits with $108.8 million, while Open Range starring Kevin Costner and Robert Duvall is pushing $50 million. But headed for DVD in a hurry is Dimension's comedy My Boss's Daughter, which barely broke $10 million before getting the sack.
Things should be looking up this Friday new arrivals include Matchstick Men starring Nicolas Cage, Once Upon a Time in Mexico with Antonio Banderas and Johnny Depp, and the thriller Cabin Fever. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: New reviews this week from the DVD Journal crew include The Core, Bulletproof Monk, Alias: Season One, 24: Season Two, Leap of Faith, Raw Meat, Escape to Witch Mountain, Return from Witch Mountain, The Lair of the White Worm, White Hunter Black Heart, Where Eagles Dare, The Bride of Re-Animator, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, and The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror. It's all under our New Reviews menu here on the front page.
We'll be back tomorrow to let you know about this week's street discs.
Wednesday, 3 Sept. 2003
On the Street: With the end of summer upon us, Hollywood studios are betting you're getting ready to stay home and watch some TV box-sets on the street this week include Alias: Season One, Angel: Season Two, CSI: Season Two, The Outer Limits: Season Two, and Stargate SG-1: Season Four, not to mention The Simpsons' Treehouse of Horror (anybody here with a pulse back in '97 remember when all we got were movies?). Beyond the small-screen sets, Universal has the run of the board today with Carlito's Way: Collector's Edition and Monty Python's Meaning of Life: Special Edition, as well as the '80s faves The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, and Weird Science, John Landis's Into the Night, and even Fletch Lives. Recent films are led by Columbia TriStar's thriller Identity and New Line's A Man Apart. Warner has a fresh Clint Eastwood Collection on the shelves with a few new titles in the sleeve. And Buena Vista has hauled out some live-action classics, including the Witch Mountain movies, The Absent-Minded Professor, and The Apple Dumpling Gang. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Tuesday, 2 Sept. 2003
Disc of the Week: Producer/director Roger Corman's biggest critical and commercial successes were his moody adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe classics for American International Pictures. Starting with 1960's The Fall of the House of Usher and 1961's The Pit and the Pendulum, the series elevated Corman's status as a filmmaker of skill and economy, and permanently engraved Vincent Price's face on horror cinema's Mt. Rushmore. After a handful of these, everyone agreed that it was time to lighten up and have some fun. Corman had directed comedy already, a low-low-budget mock-horror film with Jack Nicholson, 1960's Little Shop of Horrors. In '62 he teamed up Price with Peter Lorre and Basil Rathbone in a Poe anthology film, Tales of Terror, where he again revealed a light touch. For The Raven in '63, he went for outright whimsy in a giddy spoof that brought together Price, Lorre, Boris Karloff, and Nicholson. The following year saw Corman casting Price, Lorre, Karloff, and Rathbone in Comedy of Terrors. Both The Raven and Comedy of Terrors took advantage of the rich gothic look of the "AIPoes" courtesy of Corman's in-house designer Daniel Haller and photographer Floyd Crosby. Also carried over was screenwriter Richard Matheson. These once-over-slightly comedies are the very definition of "lightweight" and feel aimed more at kids than grownups, but they show off a screwball side of their heavyweight castmembers, who were all naturally gifted at comic shenanigans. As Matheson says on a new supplement filmed for this disc, "no one realizes how these so-called 'scary actors', how funny they could be." The two comedies preserved here (in reverse chronological order) are no pathbreaking additions to either horror or comedy cinema, but they do serve as pair of mints before we dig into the best of Corman's richer fare, The Masque of the Red Death ('64) and The Tomb of Ligeia ('65).
In Comedy of Terrors, unscrupulous undertaker Price realizes that business needs a pick-up. Aided by his put-upon assistant Lorre, he connives to boost demand by sneaking into the bedrooms of wealthy old men and smothering them in their sleep, then being on hand to manage funeral arrangements (which includes re-using coffins) when the relatives arrive. Price is at his best when verbally abusing his wife, Barbara Nichols, and her dotty old codger father, Karloff. Basil Rathbone takes an appropriately hammy spin as the Macbeth-spouting landlord. After he comes to Price demanding the past year's rent, the film occupies itself with Price trying time and again to do in Rathbone, who won't stay dead even when laid out at his own burial service. Everyone here is great fun to watch playing against type. Karloff is a snoozy old duffer who burbles on about historical funereal rites, Price's villainy is spiky and booze-soaked rather than his usual silky and genteel, and 60-year-old Lorre, of all people, gets to be the love interest. Joe E. Brown appears in a cameo as a crypt keeper. There's some terrific comic interplay between everyone on screen, and director Jacques Tourneur (Night of the Demon) keeps it all looking good and moving forward. Nonetheless, this is an 84-minute film spun from 42 minutes worth of material. If you've seen Neil Simon's Murder by Death you're already familiar with the tone here, and before long the experience alternates between enjoying some funny bits and checking the Time Remaining clock.
Entertaining and endearing fluff, The Raven takes Poe's most famous poem and doesn't so much adapt it as dress it up in a clown nose and silly hat. As the first screen team-up of Price, Karloff, and Lorre, it's a spoof of Corman's melodramatic Grand Guignol Poe movies and a sendup of its stars' status as the "Triumvirate of Terror." Price is Dr. Erasmus Craven, a retired sorcerer mooning over the death of his wife Lenore two years earlier. As he gloomily recites Poe's lines of lamentation, a raven flies into the room. The raven is talky and obnoxious "Will I ever see my lost Lenore?" the wizard entreats, "How the hell should I know?" quoth the bird and some hocus-pocus turns it into pudgy Dr. Bedlo (Lorre). A low-rent conjurer, Bedlo reports that he'd been turned into a raven by rival sorcerer Dr. Scarabus (Karloff), and that at Scarabus' castle he saw a woman who looks like Lenore. Craven and Bedlo ride to Scarabus' castle to investigate. They're accompanied by Craven's daughter (Olive Sturgess) and her boyfriend, played with gee-whiz sincerity by Jack Nicholson, who was all of 26 but looked 18. (Even when he's under the thrall of Scarabus' "diabolical mind control," it's hard to shake the cognitive dissonance of Jack Nicholson posing like Burt Ward in a castoff Robin Hood costume.) It turns out that Lenore (Hazel Court, of cleavage fame) faked her death to take up with wealthy and powerful Scarabus. Craven's confrontation with his rival escalates to a battle of wizardly magic that's wrought with colorful and precisely cheesy special effects. The Raven is pleasurable in a Saturday-morning-with-a-bowl-of-Fruit-Loops sort of way, and while watching it there's no question that the cast is having a relaxed, high old time. Karloff has more presence here than in Comedy of Terrors, and proves why he was the one true voice of the Grinch. Corman was always a master of the bottom line. Because he brought the film in ahead of schedule, under budget, and with three days left on Karloff's contract, he shot another quickie on the same sets, The Terror, a precursor of Peter Bogdanovich's first film, Targets.
MGM's "Midnite Movies" double-feature disc delivers both films in their original 2.35:1 (anamorphic). They look marvelous. The Comedy of Terrors in particular appears freshly minted, and each shows off rich color and exquisite, nearly flawless prints. Audio comes in DD 2.0 monaural that's perfectly strong and clear. The Raven has some moments when the audio suddenly becomes a bit noisier and less robust, as if it's from a different source print, but it's nothing serious. Once again MGM adorns its Corman Poe releases with first-rate extras. Two short movie-specific featurettes, made in 2003 and each titled Richard Matheson: Storyteller, point the camera at the prolific and self-described "offbeat" screenwriter/novelist, who fondly praises the cast, Corman, and Tourneur, and waxes philosophical about writing and the nature of Being. Another new mini-docu, illustrated with behind-the-scenes shots, is Corman's Comedy of Poe. The genial producer/director himself discusses The Raven's conception and development, as well as working with Nicholson, and notes that it's one of his personal favorite films. Further extras are the original theatrical trailers for each film, plus (a particularly nifty bonus) the five-minute audio from an AIP promotional 45 RPM record made for The Raven, presumably for radio play. It's narrated by voice talent Paul Frees and Boris Karloff, and illustrated here by a stills gallery of the record itself and PR shots of the cast. The Comedy of Terrors/The Raven: Double Feature is on the street now.
Box Office: Just one new film arrived in theaters over the Labor Day weekend, and while the also-rans shuffled places, there was little question what would wind up on top MGM's Jeepers Creepers 2 had an $18.5 million opening, which was good enough to break the record for Labor Day debuts. The previous champ of the traditionally weak holiday frame was held by (yep) predecessor Jeepers Creepers, which garnered $15.8 million back in 2001. Critics were mixed-to-negative on the horror pic, although the low-budget genre has become an end-of-summer staple for fans.
In continuing release, folks who stayed in town and bought movie tickets wound up playing "What haven't I seen yet?" the second chance played well for Disney's Freaky Friday, which leaped from fourth place to second, adding $11.7 million to a $90 million tally. Sony's S.W.A.T. also drew crowds, breaking the century with $102.4 million after one month. Buena Vista's Pirates of the Caribbean has been a top-five item for a solid eight weeks and now has $274.4 million below decks. And Universal's slow-burn Seabiscuit has barely budged since its debut six weeks ago, holding down sixth place with $103.7 million. Alas, the arrival of a spankin'-new horror movie knocked New Line's Freddy vs. Jason down the list, tumbling from first to seventh with $73.4 million overall. And note that Paramount's The Italian Job rounds off the chart the studio re-released the title during the weak frame in the hopes of breaking $100 million, which it did.
New movies arriving in cineplexes this Friday include Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star starring David Spade and The Order with Heath Ledger. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Mark Bourne has posted a sneak-preview of MGM's The Outer Limits: The Original Series: Season Two, while new stuff this week from the rest of the gang includes Identity, A Man Apart, Angel: Season Two, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Backbeat, Squirm, The Brood, Titanic: Fox Studio Classics, Stargate SG-1: Season Four, and the MGM creeper-features Poltergeist II: The Other Side/Poltergeist III, The Tomb of Ligeia/An Evening with Edgar Allen Poe, Comedy of Terrors/The Raven, and Troll/Troll 2. Everything's been added to the New Reviews menu here on the front page.
Back tomorrow with the street discs.