News and Commentary: October 2003

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Tuesday, 28 Oct. 2003

In the Works: Here's some new disc announcements, courtesy of Image Entertainment and, and additional staff reports:

  • We don't have firm any street dates just yet, but our good friends at Criterion have confirmed that their January slate will include Jean Renoir's 1939 The Rules of the Game, one of the greatest films in history and a long-time MIA title. The digital transfer will be taken from a recently discovered master print with restored audio and new English subtitles, and the feature-set is deep — on board will be an introduction by Renoir, a commentary written by film scholar Alexander Sesonske (read by Peter Bogdanovich), a second track from Renoir historian Christopher Faulkner, the 1966 French television program "Jean Renoir le Patron: La Régle et L'Exception," a video essay about the film's production, release, and later reconstruction, a discussion of the 1965 restoration by Jean Gaborit and Jacques Durand, interviews with assistant cameraman Alain Renoir and set designer Max Douy, and various written tributes in the enclosed booklet. That alone would be enough for any serious film buff, but Criterion also has firmed up the details for Akira Kurosawa's 1952 Ikiru, also slated for January release — Kurosawa scholar Stephen Prince will contribute a commentary, while other tidbits include the 90-min. documentary A Message from Akira Kurosawa, the 41-min. doc on Ikiru from the "Akira Kurosawa: To Create is Beautiful" series, and the theatrical trailer. And we hate to be the bearers of bad news for folks who dished out some dosh on eBay — Jacques Tati's M. Hulot's Holiday and Mon Oncle will return in January, apparently under a renewed license, with the original spine numbers 110 and 111 intact. No word yet on Playtime, but don't be surprised if that re-materializes as well.

  • The final entry in the classic Trek theatrical franchise, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, will get its anticipated special-edition release from Paramount on Jan. 27 in a two-disc case — director Nicholas Meyer will be on the Trek-track, while supplements will include four featurettes, stills, storyboards, and trailers. Also watch for this year's little-seen Montana drama Northfork starring James Woods and Nick Nolte, which will get a track from director Michael Polish and co-writer Mark Polish, a "making-of" spot, and a photo gallery (Dec. 30).

  • Kevin Costner's surprise hit western Open Range is being prepped for a two-disc release by Buena Vista with both DTS and Dolby Digital audio, a commentary from Costner, deleted scenes, featurettes, and more (Jan. 20).

  • This year's critically acclaimed American Splendor, concerning the life and times of Harvey Pekar, will street on Feb. 3 from Warner — writer-directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini will contribute a track, while a music-only track, interviews, and a comic insert will round out the set.

  • It's hard to keep a couple of bad guys down — New Line's Freddy vs. Jason is getting a double-disc Platinum Series release on Jan. 13 with both anamorphic (2.35:1) and pan-and-scan transfers, a commentary from Ronny Yu, Robert Englund and Ken Kirzinger, a "Jump to a Death" selection menu, deleted/alternate scenes with commentary (including an alternate opening and ending), a behind-the-scenes feature, a look at the visual effects, storyboards, a trailer and TV spots, and a music vid. Four catalog titles are also in the pipe — BAPS, Hangin' with the Homeboys, Who's the Man?, and Woo, all on Jan. 13.

  • The spy-spoof Johnny English starring none other than Rowan Atikinson will get separate anamorphic (1.85:1) and full-frame transfers from Universal, in addition to a "making-of" featurette, a look at the film's characters, and various other bits and pieces (Jan. 13).

  • Valentine's Day at MGM means digging some catalog reels out of the vault — Just Between Friends, Love At Large, Love is All There Is, Sleep With Me, and Stanley & Iris will street on Jan. 3. And if '60s TV "comedy" sounds like a good hoot-'nuh-holler to you, you can look forward to both Green Acres: Season One and The Best of Mister Ed: Volume 1 in two-disc sets on Jan. 13.

  • Finally, the folks at Pioneer aren't going away, but the specialty distributor (with an emphasis in anime product) changed its name this month to Geneon Entertainment. (For what it's worth, their press release kindly informs us that this is a new word drawn from "generate" and "eon." But of course.)

On the Street: The weather's turning colder, and the street-lists are getting deeper — another solid Tuesday is headlined by Criterion, who have a sharp trio on the street with Le Cercle Rouge, Schizopolis, and Tokyo Story. Sure to get the attention of young and old alike are the first four Looney Tunes DVD releases from Warner, headlined by the four-disc Looney Tunes Golden Collection, while the two-disc Lon Chaney Collection will be on silent-era collectors' checklists. Universal's Hulk DVD leads mainstream fare this week. Somewhat delayed, but worth watching, is Peter Fonda's little seen revisionist western The Hired Hand. Palm has launched their new Director's Series with collections from Spike Jonze, Chris Cunningham, and Michel Gondry, and TV fans can fork out the bucks for either The Sopranos: Season Four or Homicide: Life on the Street (or both). And Beatleologists have a de rigueur collectible to pick up with The Ed Sullivan Shows Featuring The Beatles. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of and Image Entertainment:

  • Alice Cooper: Brutally Live: Special Edition
  • Alien Hunter
  • Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary
  • Brooklyn South: The Complete Series (6-disc set)
  • Le Cercle Rouge: The Criterion Collection (2-disc set)
  • City Loop
  • City of Ghosts
  • Coupling: The Complete Second Season (2-disc set)
  • The Ed Sullivan Shows Featuring The Beatles (2-disc set)
  • Gasoline (Benzina)
  • Global Destination: Passport to the World
  • God, Sex & Apple Pie
  • Harley Davidson: The Legend
  • The Hired Hand: Special Edition (2-disc set)
  • Homicide: Life on the Street: Season Three (6-disc set)
  • House of Fools
  • Hulk (widescreen)
  • Hulk (full-frame)
  • Inside Hip Hop
  • The Lon Chaney Collection (2-disc set)
  • The Looney Tunes Golden Collection (4-disc set)
  • The Looney Tunes Premiere Collection (2-disc set)
  • Looney Tunes: Reality Check!
  • Looney Tunes: Stranger Than Fiction
  • Man of Marble
  • Millennium Actress
  • Pachito Rex
  • Promised Land: Director's Cut
  • Rage and Honor
  • Rage and Honor II: Hostile Takeover
  • Reversal
  • Rockthology Box: Vols. 1-10
  • Schizopolis: The Criterion Collection
  • The Solid Gold Cadillac
  • The Sopranos: Season Four (5-disc set)
  • SpongeBob SquarePants: Season One
  • Space is the Place
  • Syngenor
  • Tokyo Story: The Criterion Collection (2-disc set)
  • Turn of Faith
  • Video X
  • The Work of Director Chris Cunningham
  • The Work of Director Michel Gondry
  • The Work of Director Spike Jonze

— Ed.

Monday, 27 Oct. 2003

boxcoverDisc of the Week: Even on a lesser project, one can always spot a master director quickly. It's got something to do with framing — after viewing more than enough bad overhead shots of cities and sequences that seem to be shot as if they are meant for television, it's easy to be enraptured by a director who is an expert at revealing only what needs to be seen; a director who knows what, and most importantly why, he's showing you what he is. It's like when a master orator raises and lowers his voice, using tonalities to transfix his listeners to his tale. Watching Jean-Pierre Melville's 1970 Le Cercle Rouge ("The Red Circle"), one feels the hands of master pulling the strings of the characters, sharing a story that fascinates him as much as it does the audience. In Rouge, Melville is working in his favorite genre (noir), showcasing a story about both fate and interconnectedness, and he does so with his favorite actor Alain Delon (of whom the two had one of film history's great actor/director relationships, comparable to Martin Scorsese's work with Robert De Niro) to make what would become one of their great successes. It's a triumph that has been hard to find since its release — in fact, outside of gray-market videos, many of Melville's best works have been unavailable for years in the U.S. This didn't stop some directors from becoming fans, including John Woo (who made an homage to Rouge in Hard Boiled), Walter Hill (whose The Driver is derived from Melville's Le Samourai), and Quentin Tarantino. With Criterion's DVD release of Le Cercle Rouge, those unwilling to collect bootlegs can play catch-up.

Corey (Delon) is about to be released from jail after a five-year stint when a guard tells him of a great jewelry score. Uninterested, he gets out of the slam only to find his girlfriend living with his old boss. In revenge, he pillages the man's safe. At the same time Vogel (Gian Maria Volonte) escapes from a train while handcuffed to police inspector Mattei (Andre Bourvil), and a manhunt erupts. As Corey tries to avoid the conflict he created, Vogel hides himself in Corey's trunk. But this subterfuge doesn't escape Corey — he helps Vogel cross police lines. The favor is repaid shortly as Vogel helps get Corey out of a jam when his old boss sends men to take him out. Quickly Vogel and Corey realize they should commit the jewelry heist together, but to do so they need the help of a sharpshooter, leading to the recruitment of ex-cop Jansen (Yves Montand), an alcoholic prone to hallucinations who's also trying to clean up his act. As the boys plan and execute their crime — in a virtuoso 25-minute sequence as fascinating as the similar silent burglary in Jules Dassin's Rififi (1955) — Mattei circles their efforts after receiving a missive from a superior who tells him that "all men are guilty." Mattei then uses the info he has on a bar owner to force the man to track down Vogel. But Mattei knows if he waits patiently enough, the thieves eventually will come to him.

As Jean Pierre Melville's penultimate film, Le Cercle Rouge culminates his obsession with noir. For Melville (born Jean-Pierre Grumbach, he changed his name to reflect his love and affinity with American author Herman Melville), having already shown his skill with the genre (Le Doulos, Le Samourai), Rouge bonds his cinematic interests with the "heist" genre. And during the bravado heist sequence — like the rest of the picture — Melville evinces his idiosyncratic talent for storytelling. Nothing feels rushed, and while some contemporary filmgoers might think the experience "slow," this only reveals the steady hand of a filmmaker who knows how to get the most out of small looks and gestures. One can see why Delon (a notoriously fickle talent) would feel so comfortable in Melville's hands — his Corey is one of the ultimate cinema bad-asses, wasting no time with his ex, or with those who attempt to intimidate him. Melville is among the most "movie-smart" directors (ranking just short of Welles), and he understands a genre well enough to avoid its many pitfalls; to wit, in Rouge there are no femme fatales to disrupt the criminal enterprise. Perhaps Melville saw the "heist" picture as a masculine genre that's concerned with the partnerships men create in order to survive. But the picture's main focus is fate, and how interconnected the world is. Melville connected noir fatalism and Eastern philosophy in Le Samourai; here, he invokes a Buddhist principle in the movie's opening crawl. That karmic sense allows the plot machinations to feel unforced, and when the ending converges with Mattei, Vogel, Jansen, and Corey all drawn to one location, such seems as inevitable as their initial meetings.

Criterion's new DVD edition of Le Cercle Rouge rectifies the injustices of sub-par bootlegs with a simply marvelous two-disc set. The film is presented in stunning anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) with French DD 1.0 audio and optional English subtitles. Shot by Henri Decae, the blue-ish noir tone Melville favored looks stunning. The second disc contains all the supplements, starting with a 27-minute excerpt from a documentary on Melville called "Cineasts de notre temps: Jean-Pierre Melville (portrait en 9 poses)," which shows Melville at his home and his studios talking about the process of his filmmaking; it also offers a greater sense of the character Melville both was and portrayed himself to be, constantly adorned in a Stetson hat, sunglasses, and trench coat. This is paired with four television excerpts, with "Pour le cinema" featuring footage of Melville shooting the finale of Rouge as his stars list their upcoming projects. Two 30-minute interviews are on hand, one with Rui Nogueira, author of Melville on Melville, the second with his assistant director Bernard Stora. Also included are two trailers and stills galleries featuring a poster collection. And, as with all Criterion releases, an excellent booklet includes excerpts from Melville on Melville, an intro by John Woo, and essays by Michael Sragow, Chris Fugiwara, and composer Eric Demarsan. Le Cercle Rouge: The Criterion Collection is on the street tomorrow.

Box Office: Halloween is just over the horizon, and Scary Movie 3 was the top film at American theaters over the weekend — the Dimension release ran away from the competition, racking up $49.7 million and besting the combined totals of the runners-up in the top five. The win also makes Scary Movie 3 the best-ever raw-dollar October release, overtaking Red Dragon's $36.5 million. Arriving in third place was Sony's Radio starring Cuba Gooding Jr. and Ed Harris, which managed $14 million. But Paramount's Beyond Borders starring Angelina Jolie failed connect with audiences, taking just $2 million and missing the top-ten's bottom rung. Critics were mixed-to-negative on SM3 and Radio, while Borders was widely trounced.

In continuing release, New Line's remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre held up well, dropping to second place with $14.7 million and a 10-day gross of $51.1 million. Fox's Runaway Jury starring John Cusack, Gene Hackman, and Dustin Hoffman added $8.4 million to a $24 million cume. And Warner's Mystic River, directed by Clint Eastwood, has earned both good reviews and audiences with $24.5 million to date. Miramax's Kill Bill Vol. 1 isn't racking up killer numbers in its third frame, but it has $53.6 million to its credit. And Universal's Intolerable Cruelty has delivered $28.1 million for the Coen Brothers. Off to the cheap theaters is Universal's The Rundown, which will clear $45 million before it's through.

New in cineplexes this Friday is The Human Stain starring Anthony Hopkins, Nicole Kidman, and Ed Harris, while a restored director's cut of Ridley Scott's Alien will get a limited release. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:

  1. Scary Movie 3 (Dimension)
    $49,704,624 ($49,704,624 through 1 week)
  2. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (New Line)
    $14,725,000 ($51,176,000 through 2 weeks)
  3. Radio (Sony/Columbia TriStar)
    $14,000,000 ($14,000,000 through 1 week)
  4. Runaway Jury (Fox)
    $8,425,000 ($24,035,783 through 2 weeks)
  5. Mystic River (Warner Bros.)
    $7,605,000 ($24,551,000 through 3 weeks)
  6. School of Rock (Paramount)
    $6,500,000 ($63,372,000 through 4 weeks)
  7. Kill Bill Vol. 1 (Miramax/Dimension)
    $5,978,448 ($53,660,539 through 3 weeks)
  8. Good Boy! (MGM)
    $4,850,000 ($31,889,000 through 3 weeks)
  9. Intolerable Cruelty (Universal)
    $3,572,000 ($28,195,000 through 3 weeks)
  10. Under the Tuscan Sun (Buena Vista)
    $2,217,000 ($37,179,000 through 5 weeks)
  11. Beyond Borders (Paramount)
    $2,000,000 ($2,000,000 through 1 week)
  12. Out of Time (MGM)
    $1,500,000 ($37,743,000 through 4 weeks)

On the Board: Dawn Taylor has posted a review of Criterion's Schizopolis, while Mr. Beaks recently looked at The Work of Director Spike Jonze. New reviews this week from the rest of the gang include The Ed Sullivan Shows Featuring The Beatles, Forever Knight: The Trilogy: Part One, The Hired Hand, Silkwood, The Matrix Reloaded, Le Cercle Rouge: The Criterion Collection, and The Marrying Kind. Everything's been added to the New Reviews menu here on the front page — you can find even more DVD reviews with our handy search engine right above it.

We'll be back tomorrow with news on this week's street discs.

— Ed.

Tuesday, 21 Oct. 2003

In the Works: Here's some new disc announcements, courtesy of Image Entertainment and, and additional staff reports:

  • The votes have been cast — after taking an online poll earlier this year, Warner has selected five classics from the vault for DVD release. Due to arrive are Blake Edwards' 1962 Days of Wine and Roses starring Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick, Tay Garnett's 1946 The Postman Always Rings Twice with Lana Turner and John Garfield, the 1931 version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde starring Fredric March, John Milius's 1975 The Wind and the Lion with Sean Connery and Candice Bergen, and 1960's Where the Boys Are. All are expected on Jan. 6. Blaxploitation is also on the slate for January, with Superfly, Uptown Saturday Night, and A Piece of the Action (all Jan. 13). Additional catalog items include The Accidental Tourist, Best Friends, Everybody's All-American, and Swing Shift (all Jan. 20). Meanwhile, the somewhat ominously named Warner Strategic Marketing will be releasing The Concert for George in a two-disc set featuring performances by Eric Clapton, Jeff Lynne, Paul McCartney, Tom Petty, Ringo Starr, and others, all in tribute to George Harrison (Nov. 18).

  • This year's Jeepers Creepers 2 is on the way from MGM with a commentary from director Victor Salva, a second commentary with crew members, a "making-of" doc, deleted scenes, six featurettes, and more (Dec. 23). MGM also has blaxploitation on the sched with Blacula, the sequel Scream, Blacula, Scream!, Hammer, and The Monkey Hustle (all Jan. 20). And two TV boxes are in prep, Stargate SG-1: Season Five and Jeremiah: Season One (both Jan. 20).

  • The gang at Fox is ready to unleash the original Planet of the Apes on us again, this time in a two-disc "35th Anniversary Edition" with a new anamorphic transfer (2.35:1), a pan-and-scan option, and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Two commentary tracks will feature such cast and crew as Roddy McDowell, Kim Hunter, and Jerry Goldsmith, while the documentary "Behind the Planet of the Apes" will be on hand, along with a text-track, featurettes, outtakes, stills, and Roddy McDowell's home movies (Feb. 3). Also watch for Angel: Season Three (Feb. 10) and Roswell: Season One (Feb. 17).

  • This year's S.W.A.T. starring Sam Jackson and Colin Ferrell will get the SE treatment from Columbia TriStar with two yack-tracks, a "making-of" featurette, three additional featurettes on specific film elements, eight deleted scenes, outtakes, and a tribute to "TV's Original Super Cops" (Dec. 30).

  • The 1951 animated classic Alice in Wonderland will get a "Masterpiece Edition" re-issue from Buena Vista on Jan. 27 in a new two-disc set — expect plenty of featurettes, storyboards, artwork, and activities for the kids. And on Feb. 3 we'll be getting a catalog dump that includes Bon Voyage!, Follow Me Boys!, Midnight Madness, The Misadventures of Merlin Jones, My Science Project, Those Calloways, and Welcome to Sarajevo.

  • The Oscar-winning 1981 On Golden Pond is getting another look from Artisan, who have a new special edition in the works — writer Ernest Thompson will contribute a track, while three featurettes and stills will also be on the platter. It's here Dec. 16.

On the Street: We're easily looking at one of the better street-weeks of the year, and it's headlined by a bonzer DVD set — Paramount's four-disc The Adventures of Indiana Jones: The Complete DVD Movie Collection brings the legendary adventurer to DVD for the very first time, in crisp new transfers. Also not to be missed is Fox's 28 Days Later, an inventive thriller from director Danny Boyle that's sure to have a long life on home video. Columbia's Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle brings the tart trio to DVD once again, while new catalog titles from the studio vault include You'll Never Get Rich with Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth, and The Marrying Kind with Judy Holliday. Three new discs from Warner — The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, The Black Scorpion, and The Valley of Gwangi — feature classic stop-motion cinema from Willis O'Brien and Ray Harryhausen. Sci-fi nuts from a later generation can also check out Universal's Battlestar Galactica: The Complete Epic Series. And other titles not to be overlooked this week include Paramount's Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter and Dragonslayer, Home Vision's The Cars That Ate Paris, and a classic Buster Keaton double-feature from Image. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of and Image Entertainment:

  • 28 Days Later (widescreen)
  • 28 Days Later (full-frame)
  • The Adventures of Indiana Jones: The Complete DVD Movie Collection (4-disc set)
  • A.K.A.: Girl Skater
  • Amandla
  • Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman
  • Battlestar Galactica: The Complete Epic Series (6-disc set)
  • The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms
  • The Best of Insomniac: Uncensored: Vol. 2
  • The Bike Squad
  • The Black Scorpion
  • Blues Legends: Freddie King: Live in Europe
  • Buster Keaton Double Feature: The General/Steamboat Bill Jr.
  • Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter
  • The Cars That Ate Paris
  • Cedric the Entertainer: Starting Lineup Vol. 2
  • Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle (unrated version)
  • Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle (PG-rated version)
  • Color of Pain
  • Cop Shop Babes
  • Dark Angel: Season Two (6-disc set)
  • Dead End Drive In
  • Dick Van Dyke Show: Season 1
  • Dick Van Dyke Show: Season 2
  • Disposable Heroes
  • Dragonslayer
  • Elaine Stritch at Liberty
  • Escape 2000
  • The Eye
  • Fate Fighter
  • Forever Knight: The Trilogy: Part One (5-disc set)
  • Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell
  • George of the Jungle 2
  • Hercules: The Legendary Journeys: Season Two (7-disc set)
  • The Incredible Hulk: The Television Series Ultimate Collection (6-disc set)
  • Inner Senses
  • It Runs in the Family
  • Jolson Sings Again
  • The Jolson Story
  • Law & Order: Criminal Intent: The First Year
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: The First Year
  • Loco Love
  • The Marrying Kind
  • Mr. Saint Nick
  • Respiro
  • Revenge of the Kung Fu Master
  • Rush in Rio (2-disc set)
  • Space Jam: Special Edition (2-disc set)
  • Steven Spielberg Presents: Taken
  • The Valley of Gwangi
  • Web of Deception
  • Wild Shots: Oldies and Goodies
  • Xtreme Nostalgia: Vintage Drag Racing
  • You'll Never Get Rich

— Ed.

Monday, 20 Oct. 2003

boxcoverDisc of the Week: Why is it that post-apocalypse films are so oddly, delectably appealing? Like the horror genre's frank promise of unspeakable terror, we know going in to a post-apocalypse film that we'll be presented with a world that's utterly bleak, and fundamentally unlike our own. All of those we love are dead. Society has lost thousands of years of progress, resorting to the brutality of mob rule. Communities disappear, replaced by hunter/gatherer bands of human scavengers. For writers, the appeal of the post-apocalypse milieu is simple enough — the lack of known rules allows them to make up their own. But for viewers, the appeal is not dissimilar — the sudden collapse of everything offers survivors a cathartic fantasy release from the humdrum and routine. Very few people can afford to buy a clean slate on their own terms, but a sudden, catastrophic war or plague at least means you no longer have to worry about your nagging mom, your credit card debt, or where to find affordable, quality orthodonture for your kids. Now it's just you, your wits, your weapons, and any rag-tag survivors who are able to keep up with you. Action films are a natural fit for the genre, in particular The Road Warrior and Escape from New York. Not that high-minded, literary types aren't interested in the end of the world as well — William Golding's Lord of the Flies, which strands a group of English schoolboys on a tropical island after a wartime airlift, has been filmed twice, while Planet of the Apes, The Quiet Earth, and On the Beach are similar cautionary tales. Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later (2002) may have been marketed as a zombie-flick, but it's actually another strong entry into this genre — a genre that often suggests that the end of time as we know it is closer than we suspect.

After an initial sequence during which militant animal-rights activists free a group of chimpanzees from a research lab, Boyle's film leaps forward four weeks, where London bicycle messenger Jim (Cillian Murphy) finds himself in an abandoned hospital. He remembers that he had been struck by a vehicle and suffered a head injury, but beyond that he has no idea what to make of the deserted wards. London itself presents a larger puzzle — it's entirely empty, save for evidence that it was struck by an incomprehensible panic. But before long, Jim realizes he's not alone; visiting a local church, he's nearly killed by a homicidal band of crazies, only to be rescued by two survivors, Selena (Naomie Harris) and Mark (Noah Huntley), who explain to him that they must hide from the "infected," and that the whole of Great Britain has been decimated. Before long, they take refuge with London cab driver Frank (Brendan Gleeson) and his teenage daughter Hannah (Megan Burns), after which a looped radio broadcast convinces them they must take the dangerous journey from London to Manchester, where a group of British soldiers led by Maj. Henry West (Christopher Eccleston) claim they have the answer to infection, and the only offer of salvation.

As a moviegoing experience and nothing more, 28 Days Later is a thoroughly entertaining blend of horror, science fiction, and adventure, never straying outside the boundaries of any genre to completely upturn expectations, but also moving so deftly between them that anyone hoping for just a "zombie movie" or an "end of the world" screed are bound to be disappointed. Boyle's popcorn-muncher starts out with his small group of survivors in an urban wasteland, turns that into a road movie, and then cleverly takes up horror films (and their predilection for haunted houses) for the final act. It is within this big-screen entertainment that the script (by Alex Garland) subtly offers a Promethean warning about diseases, research, and medicine all gone awry. Perhaps that's not so easy to take seriously with your Friday-night entertainment, but 28 Days Later arrived not long after most of Great Britain's livestock was culled after a rapid outbreak of hoof-and-mouth disease, in addition to the global fear of SARS, which had southeast Asia on alert for several months. If Boyle was hoping to create a verité appeal, he certainly chose the right filming process — abandoning celluloid for the versatility of DV may have cost him some resolution, but he was free to play with a wider range of color schemes and grain effects. (In fact, were it not for the digital cameras, many of the stunning shots of an abandoned London and its surrounding motorways would never have happened — local authorities cooperated thanks to the film crew's ability to set up and shoot on a moment's notice.) Casting a group of largely unknown actors in the leading roles makes the experience that much more authentic, and while veterans Brendan Gleeson and Christopher Eccleston give the film some of its richest dramatic moments, newcomers Cillian Murphy and Naomie Harris shoulder the bulk of the picture with natural charisma, and surprising warmth.

Fox's new DVD release of 28 Days Later features a good anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with audio in Dolby Digital 5.1. Supplements include an informative commentary from director Boyle and scenarist Garland, six deleted scenes with commentary, three alternate endings with commentary (including a "radical" alternate ending in storyboards), the documentary "Pure Rage: The Making of 28 Days" (24 min), collections of on-set photos and Polariods with commentary from Boyle, and a "Marketing" section with trailers, Web materials, and a music video. 28 Days Later is on the street tomorrow.

Box Office: Horror continues to big a big draw at the American box-office — New Line's remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre took in $29.1 million, far outdistancing the competition, and also marking the second-best raw-dollar opening of any film in the traditionally weak month of October (it's just behind last year's Red Dragon, which earned $36.5 million). Landing in third place was the latest John Grisham thriller, Fox's Runaway Jury starring John Cusack, Gene Hackman, and Dustin Hoffman, which failed to meet expectations with just $12.1 million. And rising to fifth place in its first week of wide release was Clint Eastwood's Mystic River, which has now drawn $13.4 million for Warner. Critics have praised Jury and River, while the latest 'Saw has left many cold.

In continuing release, Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill Vol. 1 dropped to second place, adding $12.5 million to a 10-day gross of $43.3 million. Paramount's School of Rock starring Jack Black continues to be a strong title, holding down fourth place after three weekends with $55.1 million in the college fund. And the Coen Brothers' Intolerable Cruelty starring George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones has been a good draw with $23 million after two frames. Buena Vista's Under the Tuscan Sun starring Diane Lane has proved itself to be something more than a chick-flick, banking $33.7 million after one month. And off to DVD prep is Paramount's The Fighting Temptations, which will finish in the $30 million neighborhood.

New films arriving in theaters this Friday include Beyond Borders starring Angelina Jolie and Clive Owen, Radio with Cuba Gooding Jr. and Ed Harris, and Scary Movie 3. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:

  1. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (New Line)
    $29,100,000 ($29,100,000 through 1 week)
  2. Kill Bill Vol. 1 (Miramax/Dimension)
    $12,500,000 ($43,310,937 through 2 weeks)
  3. Runaway Jury (Fox)
    $12,100,000 ($12,100,000 through 1 week)
  4. School of Rock (Paramount)
    $11,300,000 ($55,192,000 through 3 weeks)
  5. Mystic River (Warner Bros.)
    $10,355,000 ($13,442,000 through 2 weeks)
  6. Good Boy! (MGM)
    $9,000,000 ($25,781,000 through 2 weeks)
  7. Intolerable Cruelty (Universal)
    $6,888,000 ($23,093,000 through 2 weeks)
  8. Out of Time (MGM)
    $4,100,000 ($35,329,000 through 3 weeks)
  9. Under the Tuscan Sun (Buena Vista)
    $3,400,000 ($33,700,000 through 4 weeks)
  10. The Rundown (Universal)
    $2,844,000 ($44,582,000 through 4 weeks)
  11. Lost in Translation (Focus)
    $1,900,000 ($20,900,000 through 6 weeks)
  12. Secondhand Lions (New Line)
    $1,775,000 ($38,297,000 through 5 weeks)

On the Board: Alexandra DuPont has posted her sneak-preview of Paramount's four-disc The Adventures of Indiana Jones, while new spins this week from the rest of the team include Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, It Runs in the Family, Dragonslayer, The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, Cronos, The Black Scorpion, The Cars That Ate Paris, Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter, You'll Never Get Rich, The Valley of Gwangi, 28 Days Later, and the double-feature Silent Night, Deadly Night/Silent Night, Deadly Night 2. It's all under our New Reviews menu here on the front page.

Back tomorrow with the street discs.

— Ed.

Tuesday, 14 Oct. 2003

In the Works: Here's some new disc announcements, courtesy of Image Entertainment and, and additional staff reports:

  • Up from Warner is a two-disc reissue of Oliver Stone's 1991 JFK: Special Edition — the feature-length documentary Beyond JFK from journalist Danny Schechter will cover various figures and conspiracy theories surrounding the assassination, while 12 extended/deleted scenes and a Stone commentary will return from the previous DVD (Nov. 11).

  • Also getting a re-issue from Wellspring is Nick Broomfield's controversial documentary Kurt & Courtney, with a new commentary from Broomfield, an interview with the director, 10 deleted scenes, "The story of Kurt & Courtney's withdrawal from Sundance" featuring a press conference with Broomfield and Robert Redford, stills, trailers, and a promo reel (Dec. 9).

  • Jackie Chan's most recent feature, The Medallion, is in the pipe at Columbia TriStar for a Dec. 23 release with a filmmaker's commentary and 15 deleted scenes. Additional titles on the slate include Bonjour Tristesse (Dec. 16), Henry Fool (Dec. 16), and I Capture the Castle (Dec. 23), while TV fans can look for a four-disc Dawson's Creek: Season Two as well (Dec. 16).

  • Our friends at Image Entertainment have a typically eclectic mix set for December — silent classics The Blot and La Terre are expected (Dec. 9), while film collections on the docket include Cut Up: The Films of Grant Munro and Mad Love: The Films of Evgeni Bauer (Dec. 9). A young Jack Nicholson can be seen in 1967's Hells Angels on Wheels (Dec. 30), James Cagney kicks up his heels in 1937's Something To Sing About (Dec. 16), and two classics are due from Claude Lelouch, Les Uns Et Les Autres (Bolero) and Toute Une Vie (And Now My Love) (Dec. 9). Those who love matinee serials from the '30s can enjoy a collection of Robinson Crusoe of Clipper Island (Dec. 16). And psychotronic multi-features include The Meat Rack/Sticks and Stones and Rent-A-Girl/Aroused/Help Wanted Female (Dec. 2).

  • Paramount will have a pair of Peanuts DVDs on the street before February, Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown and A Charlie Brown Valentine, while Cheers: Season Two and Frasier: Season Two are on the calendar as well (all Jan. 6)

On the Street: It's sure to be a big seller, and it looks like a lot of other DVDs got out of the way this week — Warner's two-disc The Matrix Reloaded is on the shelves this morning and bound to move fast. New from Paramount is the fifth installment in the "Star Trek" special editions, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, while catalog items include Black Sunday and Lipstick. Horror fans can pick up a re-issue of the classic Texas Chainsaw Massacre from Pioneer, and Fox has the recent Wrong Turn on the street. A bit of suburban intrigue can be found in MGM's The Safety of Objects. And for those of you who groused about having to send away for Fox's Sunrise DVD, the silent classic is now a retail item, boxed with three other titles in a "Fox Studio Classics: Best Picture Collection." Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of and Image Entertainment:

  • Afterglow
  • The Alien Saga
  • Anatomy 2
  • Black Sunday
  • Blue Car
  • The Browning Version
  • Cracker: The Complete First Season (3-disc set)
  • Cronos
  • Defiance
  • Depeche Mode: 101 (2-disc set)
  • The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer
  • Fox Studio Classics: Best Picture Collection (includes 1927 'Sunrise') (4-disc set)
  • Have You Heard: Jim Croce Live
  • Heroes of Horror
  • Home Room
  • Jamie Oliver: Oliver's Twist
  • Lipstick
  • The Matrix Reloaded: Special Edition (2-disc set)
  • Men of Respect
  • Mimic 3: Sentinel
  • Naqoyqatsi
  • Olive the Other Reindeer
  • The Omen Legacy
  • Owning Mahowny
  • Prime Suspect: Series One (2-disc set)
  • Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma!
  • The Safety of Objects
  • Star Trek V: The Final Frontier: Special Edition (2-disc set)
  • Storyville
  • The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Special Edition
  • That Was Then, This is Now
  • The Thirsty Dead/The Swamp of the Ravens
  • TV Guide Looks at Christmas
  • WC: Bandana Swangin: All That Glitters Ain't Gold
  • Wrong Turn
  • Zodiac Killer/The Sex Killer/Zero In and Scream

— Ed.

Monday, 13 Oct. 2003

boxcoverDisc of the Week: By now, you'd think that filmmakers would have exhausted every permutation of the "office comedy" format. Certainly, the workplace as dramatic setting is nothing new: It made an early splash as a venue for fast-talking screwball action (His Girl Friday), and in recent years it's served as a backdrop for studies of quiet desperation (Clockwatchers), heroic farce (Office Space), extreme sexual dynamics (Secretary), Richard Lester-esque absurdity (Schizopolis), and Jacobean moral satire (In the Company of Men) — and that's not counting TV's abuse of the workplace as a hat-rack for crappy sitcom gags. So what a wonderful surprise that, in the early years of the 21st century, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant actually found a new way to goof on office politics. The two first met at the British radio station XFM, where Merchant worked as an assistant to Gervais — and where Gervais (by the duo's own account) worked as an inept Head of Speech, wearing "sweatpants" to work and generally behaving cluelessly. Gervais later recalled telling Merchant, "I don't know what I'm doing, but if you do all the work you can get away with murder." He then proceeded to fob off most of his duties to Merchant — and spent much of his time golfing, sailing, and rolling around the office on his chair. Merchant left a few months later. But soon, the two were reunited, when Merchant filmed (as part of a BBC producers'-course project) a pseudo-documentary featuring Gervais playing "Seedy Boss" — a "sketch character" that Gervais would improvise at work. The short caught the attention of BBC bigwigs, and Merchant's class project was expanded into the hit comedy The Office.

The show's built around the brilliant improvisational antics of co-writer and star Gervais, who plays David Brent, the office manager at a paper merchant in Slough, England. Despite being a complete novice in the craft of acting (if the show's own publicity materials are to be believed), Gervais has created in Mr. Brent one of the all-time funniest Bosses from Hell — a nuanced, pathetic portrait that lays bare the tics and sublimated base instincts behind all the worst middle-managers you've ever known. David Brent is, in the parlance of the Isle, a total prat; he's not explicitly evil, but rather a half-witted engine of malignance, leaving behind a wake of awkwardness and mortification everywhere he goes — the anti-Midas. Because of his position (and because everyone under him is too defeated to file a harassment lawsuit), Brent is shielded from the consequences of his relentless hypocrisy. He'll walk up to his lunching secretary and put her off her sandwich talking about his testicular-cancer scare. He'll inspire a round of leering comments about a new female employee in a "team meeting," then kick out the last person to make a wisecrack so he can deliver a pompous speech about how he won't tolerate harassment. He'll force a new employee to sit in on a "practical joke" where he reduces his secretary to tears by pretending to fire her for stealing Post-It notes. He'll tell his most skeptical underling, with a straight face, that he faked having high blood pressure to avoid a promotion that would have led to staff cutbacks. And, in Series One's funniest episode, he'll take over a team-building workshop to play the muddled pop songs he composed in his 20s, driving the workshop coordinator out of the room (and possibly into another career) in disgust. Pop psychology often suggests that monsters are created by low self-esteem, but the genius of "The Office" is that it understands that monsters are usually clueless people with too much self-esteem. With his endless jargon, bad jokes, badly disguised lechery, forced sanctimony, and desperate one-upsmanship, Gervais' Brent lends The Office a surprising satirical depth. The joke's not just on the workplace — it's on humanity itself.

The show's format — a pseudo-documentary style that's more observational than joke-driven, as if Christopher Guest had shot Office Space — provides the perfect backdrop for Gervais and his talented cast of underlings. Actors glance awkwardly at the camera, which intrudes on all their worst moments, and the filmmakers linger hilariously on the deadly silences — not just on the aftermath of David Brent's idiocy, but also on people typing quietly at their keyboards, clacking in muffled desperation. Another strength is that the show eschews obvious choices with its characters — for example, a flirtation between secretary Dawn (Lucy Davis) and well-educated smart-ass Tim (Martin Freeman) never takes off, and Tim, who says he dreams of studying psychology, never quite gets around to leaving, even after he quits in disgust. (Another one of the sad truths captured by The Office — entropy always wins.) Throw in a sharply observed supporting cast that includes naïve, creepy "Team Leader" Gareth (Mackenzie Crook), as well as pitch-perfect satire of a million small moments (the workplace training video, the awkward conversations with disposable friends, the consultants and team meetings and patently false sense of "family") — and the result is the most biting "office comedy" in recent memory.

The Office: The Complete First Series collects the show's first six episodes on a single disc. Disc Two features six deleted scenes, plus the 39-minute documentary "How I Made the Office." The doc weaves interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, trivia, and scenes from the two series pilots — in a way that (jokingly?) suggests that Gervais is very nearly as obnoxious in real life as David Brent is in the show. If the documentary's to be believed, much of the show's genius is due to an accidental, almost magical convergence of great writing, superb casting, improvisatory talent, and lightning-in-a-bottle moments, all captured despite a series of scene-wrecking crack-ups. (The set also comes with a wonderful booklet that translates all the show's British slang and contains a fake "office newsletter" that mentions departed employee "Pete Gibbons," a reference that should tickle any fan of Office Space.) The Office: The Complete First Series is on the street now.

Box Office: Director Quentin Tarantino delivered his first film in over six years to moviegoers this weekend, and slayed them at the box-office — Miramax's Kill Bill Vol. 1 was the top-grossing movie at cineplexes with $22.6 million, giving Q.T.'s fourth picture his strongest raw-dollar debut. Arriving in third place was the Coen Brothers' Intolerable Cruelty starring George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones, which managed $13.1 million for Universal. MGM earned surprisingly good numbers with the family film Good Boy!, garnering $13 million, while Artisan's thriller House of the Dead wound up in sixth place with $5.5 million. Bill and Cruelty earned many positive notices from critics, while Good Boy! was mixed and Dead failed to earn a single good review.

Critical fawning and positive word-of-mouth kept Jack Black in business with The School of Rock — Paramount's comedy slipped to second place, adding $15.4 million to a 10-day cume of $39.5 million. MGM's Out of Time starring Denzel Washington rounded out the top five with $8.6 million and $28.7 million so far. Universal's The Rundown is turning out to be the best action film that didn't arrive this summer, holding $40.3 million after three weeks. And Buena Vista's Under the Tuscan Sun starring Diane Lane has done reasonably well with $28.2 million to date. Still earning fans is Sophia Coppola's Lost in Translation, which has banked $18.1 million. But off to DVD prep is the Miramax comedy Duplex, which failed to clear $10 million.

New films arriving in theaters this Friday include Runaway Jury starring John Cusack, Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman, and Rachel Weisz, as well as the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:

  1. Kill Bill Vol. 1 (Miramax/Dimension)
    $22,683,000 ($22,683,000 through 1 week)
  2. The School of Rock (Paramount)
    $15,400,000 ($39,584,000 through 2 weeks)
  3. Intolerable Cruelty (Universal)
    $13,100,000 ($13,100,000 through 1 week)
  4. Good Boy! (MGM)
    $13,000,000 ($13,000,000 through 1 week)
  5. Out of Time (MGM)
    $8,600,000 ($28,721,000 through 2 weeks)
  6. House of the Dead (Artisan)
    $5,500,000 ($5,500,000 through 1 week)
  7. The Rundown (Universal)
    $5,300,000 ($40,300,000 through 3 weeks)
  8. Under the Tuscan Sun (Buena Vista)
    $4,800,000 ($28,200,000 through 3 weeks)
  9. Secondhand Lions (New Line)
    $3,275,000 ($35,362,000 through 4 weeks)
  10. Lost in Translation (Focus)
    $2,857,456 ($18,196,569 through 5 weeks)
  11. Underworld (Sony/Columbia TriStar)
    $2,250,000 ($48,736,000 through 4 weeks)
  12. The Fighting Temptations (Paramount)
    $1,945,000 ($27,263,000 through 4 weeks)

On the Board: Mark Bourne has posted a sneak preview of Paramount's Star Trek V: The Final Frontier: Special Edition, while new reviews this week from the rest of the team include A Christmas Story: Special Edition, Yankee Doodle Dandy: Special Edition, Wrong Turn, The Safety of Objects, Afterglow, Black Sunday, The Office: The Complete First Series, and Lipstick. It's all fresh under the New Reviews menu here on the front page.

Back tomorrow with news on this week's street discs.

— Ed.

Tuesday, 7 Oct. 2003

In the Works: Here's some new disc announcements, courtesy of Image Entertainment and, and additional staff reports:

  • Classic sci-fi fans can look forward to an eight-disc brick from FoxLost in Space: Season One will feature all of the episodes from the vanguard 1965 season, including the original, unaired pilot "No Place to Hide" and a "CBS Network presentation" (Jan. 6). Also up for TV buffs is The Shield: Season Two, a four-disc set with commentaries on four episodes, 38 deleted scenes, a "scene evolution" feature on "Connie Gets Shot, " a trio of featurettes, and a Season Three teaser (Jan. 6). Unfortunately, 1944's Laura, part of this year's "Fox Studio Classics" imprint, has been removed from the schedule with no new date.

  • Returning to the Warner lineup is the long-delayed Ben Stiller Show, which will arrive in the promised two-disc set on Dec. 2. Streeting on Dec. 16 will be Beyond the Movie: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, just in time for LOTR fans. And if you're looking for the right gift for a new DVD phile, it will be hard to beat Warner's Humphrey Bogart gift set — Casablanca: Special Edition, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre: Special Edition, The Big Sleep, The Maltese Falcon, and To Have and Have Not will arrive in a fat sleeve on Nov. 4 (SRP $99.98).

  • DreamWorks is bringing Satoshi Kon's award-winning anime Millennium Actress to disc on Oct. 28 — in addition to a behind-the-scenes featurette, we are promised a transfer that renders the film "in its most pristine visual representation."

  • And those looking for a way-back ride to the awful '80s can feast upon Artisan's upcoming Dirty Dancing: Ultimate Edition, a two-disc set that will feature both Dolby Digital and DTS audio, the previously released filmmakers' commentary, a fact-track, retrospective interviews, Jennifer Grey's screen test, a look at the costumes and choreography, music vids, and more (Dec. 9).

On the Street: Take your pick — Paramount has released both the 1969 and 2003 versions of The Italian Job to DVD this morning, and if you think you'll have trouble making up your mind, you can get both in a handy box set as well. New from Buena Vista is the latest entry in the "Platinum Edition" series of animated classics, The Lion King, and MGM is on the board with a series of Christmas specials, including It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie. Not to be outdone, Warner's two-disc A Christmas Story: Special Edition is bound to move a few copies between now and December, in addition to a new version of National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. Rom-com fans can look for Down With Love starring Rene Zellweger and Ewan McGregor, Harrison Ford and Josh Hartnett go for laughs in Columbia's Hollywood Homicide, and classic Hollywood filmmaking can be found in Fox's The Mark of Zorro. Horror buffs won't want to miss New Line's Willard: Platinum Series starring Crispin Glover. And Trekkies have another doorstop to order this week with Paramount's Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Season Five. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of and Image Entertainment:

  • Alien from L.A.
  • Another Meltdown
  • Atlantic City Jackpot
  • Blink
  • The Chateau
  • Child's Play 3
  • Christmas Carol: The Movie (animated)
  • A Christmas Story: Special Edition (2-disc set)
  • Cirque Du Soleil: Alegriatm
  • Cirque du Soleil: Dralion: Superbit
  • Cirque Du Soleil: Varekaitm
  • Complete Inside Out
  • Cromwell
  • Dr. Seuss: The Cat in the Hat
  • Dr. Seuss: Green Eggs and Ham and Other Favorites
  • Dr. Seuss: The Grinch Grinches the Cat in the Hat
  • Dr. Seuss: The Lorax
  • Dora the Explorer: Meet Diego
  • Down With Love (widescreen)
  • Down With Love (pan-and-scan)
  • Excessive Force
  • Extra Weird Sampler
  • A Freezerburnt Christmas
  • Heaven's Prisoners
  • Halloween III: Season of the Witch
  • The Hard Word
  • Hip-Hop and Rock
  • The History of Soccer: The Beautiful Game (7-disc set)
  • Hollywood Homicide
  • Hood Rat
  • Huston Smith: Mystic's Journey
  • Impulse
  • INXS: Live Baby Live
  • The In-Laws (2003)
  • It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie (2002)
  • The Italian Job: Special Collector's Edition (1969)
  • The Italian Job: Special Collector's Edition (2003)
  • Jimmy Neutron: Sea of Trouble
  • Just 4 Kicks
  • Latham Entertainment Presents
  • Lawnmower Man 2: Jobe's War
  • Les Miserables: Superbit
  • The Lion King: Platinum Edition (2-disc set)
  • Little Bear: Feel Better, Little Bear
  • The Man Without a Past
  • The Mark of Zorro: Fox Studio Classics
  • National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation: Special Edition
  • Neon Maniacs
  • The Office: The Complete First Series
  • Only Fools and Horses: Complete Series 1-3
  • The Original Latin Kings of Comedy
  • The People Under the Stairs
  • The PowerPuff Girls: 'Twas the Fight Before Xmas
  • Primus: Animals Should Not Try To Act Like People
  • Prince of Darkness
  • Riverdance: Live From New York: Superbit
  • Robbie the Reindeer: Hooves of Fire
  • Robbie the Reindeer: Legend of the Lost Tribe
  • Sanford and Son: Season Three (3-disc set)
  • The Scavengers
  • Second Star to the Left
  • Secret Cellar (R-rated)
  • Secret Cellar (unrated)
  • The Serpent and the Rainbow
  • Silent Night, Deadly Night/Silent Night, Deadly Night 2
  • Silkwood
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Season Five (7-disc set)
  • Straight Out of Brooklyn
  • Street Smart
  • Sweet Sixteen
  • Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight
  • Tales from the Crypt: Bordello of Blood
  • They Live
  • Tom and Jerry: Paws for a Holiday
  • Two Nights With Cleopatra
  • The Ultimate Vacation Collection (4-disc set)
  • Unconditional Love
  • The Vicar of Dibley: Series One
  • The Vicar of Dibley: Series Two
  • The Vicar of Dibley: Series Three
  • The Whales of August
  • Willard: Platinum Series
  • Zombie Box

— Ed.

Monday, 6 Oct. 2003

boxcoverDisc of the Week: It is quite common for first-time feature filmmakers to strive for simplicity, feeling their way with a genre exercise confined to one location and populated with the bare minimum of characters required to generate dramatic tension. On the surface, Roman Polanski's Knife in the Water (1962) satisfies these obligations, hewing closely to the Aristotelian "Three Unities" of Time, Place, and Action. But this brash young director had to go and cut his safety net, placing his microcosmic class struggle on a boat, which forced Polanski and his crew to contend with the myriad challenges of shooting nearly the entire film in the water, an environ in which many veteran filmmakers have run aground. But Polanski, an experienced sailor himself, steers the ship clear of choppy waters, delivering a sly social critique that subverts expectations at nearly every turn. Forty years later, the film is arguably more surprising than at the time of its release for the way it seems to anticipate its inevitably formulaic Hollywood (by way of Australia) remake, Dead Calm. That film goes precisely where the audience expects it to go, making good on its promise of sex and violence. Polanski, on the other hand, was after something much more complex than a kill-or-be-killed thriller.

All writing students know that the appearance of a weapon in the first act creates a very loaded expectation that said weapon will be used by the final curtain. Here, the weapon in question is foreshadowed in the title, and carried by the film's mysterious third component, a nameless hitchhiker (Zygmunt Malanowicz) who narrowly avoids being run over by an arrogant Party loyalist, Andrzej (Leon Niemczyk), and his trophy wife, Krystyna (Jolanta Umecka) — and one immediately senses that Polanski is setting the stage for a traditional thriller in the mold of his later work. But this is not the case — the script, co-written with the multi-talented Jerzy Skolimowski, is too conscious of its unlikely premise to go off in that pat direction. When Andrzej whimsically extends an invitation to the young man to join them on their day-trip, Polanski and Skolimowski are rightly intrigued by the elder's pathetic need to waste his brief vacation batting around what he clearly views as a helpless mouse, particularly on what seems designed as a romantic getaway. He feels challenged by the lad, who, full of youthful brio, provokes Andrzej. "You want to go on with the game?" he asks; to which Andrzej replies, "You aren't in my class kid, but come aboard." As they venture out into the lake, arduously dragging the boat through a channel into more scenic climes, Andrzej never misses an opportunity for cruel pedantry, making light of the hitchhiker's lack of sophistication and social graces. He's equally amused with the young man's persistence, egging him on after each humiliation. Through all of this, Krystyna remains mostly silent, passively puffing away on cigarettes, and interjecting only when annoyed. But the young man's presence is inescapable, and he makes a point of showing off by shimmying up the mast and lounging about shirtless. Andrzej not only notices this, he feeds off of it; indeed, it becomes readily apparent that he's brought the strapping youngster aboard to prove his own enduring virility and superiority. Though they often discuss the issue of "brain" vs. "brawn," there's little doubt that Andrzej means to be his physical better, too. But when the inevitable violent confrontation arrives, it is not the validation of manhood Andrzej would like it to be, leading inexorably to the conclusion this insecure old man has undoubtedly feared all along.

Of Knife in the Water's many triumphs, perhaps its most praiseworthy aspect is Polanski's casually confident staging, which is most impressive at its least ostentatious. Sure, there are the attention-getting shots, like Andrzej and the hitchhiker playing their dangerous knife-game in the foreground while Krystyna flails playfully in the water with an inflatable crocodile, but there are dozens more that aren't so obvious. For instance, note the single take in which the men argue on the shore as Krystyna rides the boat into the channel's banks, coming to a halt so that she's positioned right in between them. The fluidity of the shot, and the logistics of nailing it, is simply mind-boggling, and yet it flows so naturally into the scene that it isn't really noticeable, nor is it meant to be. Throughout his career, critics have focused on Polanski's bravura showmanship, but what makes his cinema essential is his ability to make his camera invisible even as he's pulling off something so technically complex. This breathtaking command of the medium would eventually leave him in the 1980s, when he regressed into the kind of trite suspense filmmaking that he helped redefine two decades earlier. He returned to form with The Pianist (2002), and for the first time in years Polanski was no longer a bored technician but an engaged observer. Watching him reestablish contact with the daringly curious director of his earliest pictures, while putting to shame much of what passes for great filmmaking nowadays, only underscores the forward-looking brilliance of his first feature.

Criterion presents Knife in the Water in its original full-frame (1.33:1) aspect ratio with clean monaural Dolby Digital audio. The two-disc special edition features an engaging and richly informative "video introduction" (26 min.) with Polanski and Skolimowski in which they discuss their lively writing process, their relationship with composer Krzystof T. Komeda (whose jazzy score gives the film a rebellious undercurrent), and their struggles with the Polish film commission in getting the film made and released. The introduction's most enjoyable moment has Polanski boasting about his ingenuity in keeping the camera steady without dealing with the time-consuming hassle of setting up a tripod, from which he segues into a swipe at the Dogme '95 style of filmmaking and its shaky inelegance. Disc Two features a collection of the director's illuminating short films from 1957 to 1962, allowing one to chart the development and refinement of Polanski's visual vocabulary. They include "Murder," "Teeth Smile," "Break up the Dance," "Two Men and a Wardrobe," "The Lamp," "When Angels Fall," "The Fat and the Lean" and "Mammals." Rounding out the extras is a stills gallery. Knife in the Water: The Criterion Collection is on the street now.

Box Office: Popular character actor Jack Black moved to the head of the Hollywood class over the weekend — Paramount's School of Rock debuted with $20.2 million, putting Black on the A-list of Tinseltown cachet. Arriving in second place was MGM's thriller Out of Time starring Denzel Washington, which took in a solid $17 million. Critics gave Rock overwhelmingly positive reviews, while Time earned mixed-to-positive notices.

In continuing release, last week's winner The Rundown slipped to third place, adding $9.7 million to a $32.7 million 10-day gross. Buena Vista's Under the Tuscan Sun starring Diane Lane dropped to fourth with $20.9 million so far. And Sony's Once Upon a Time in Mexico has now cleared $50 million after one month. Keep your eyes on Lost in Translation starring Bill Murray — the Sofia Coppola film is poised to make a profitable slow-burn thanks to good reviews and a limited release. Meanwhile, Warner's Matchstick Men is on the slide with $34.2 million. And off to the cheap screens is Buena Vista's Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, which is poised to break $300 million before it's through.

New films arriving in theaters this Friday include the first installment of Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill starring Uma Thurman, the Coen Brothers' Intolerable Cruelty with George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones, the thriller The House of the Dead, and the family comedy Good Boy!. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:

  1. The School of Rock (Paramount)
    $20,200,000 ($20,200,000 through 1 week)
  2. Out of Time (MGM)
    $17,000,000 ($17,000,000 through 1 week)
  3. The Rundown (Universal)
    $9,777,000 ($32,741,000 through 2 weeks)
  4. Under the Tuscan Sun (Buena Vista)
    $7,910,000 ($20,967,000 through 2 weeks)
  5. Secondhand Lions (New Line)
    $5,375,000 ($30,816,000 through 3 weeks)
  6. Underworld (Sony/Columbia TriStar)
    $4,800,000 ($44,541,000 through 3 weeks)
  7. Lost in Translation (Focus)
    $4,267,467 ($14,162,216 through 4 weeks)
  8. The Fighting Temptations (Paramount)
    $3,285,000 ($24,475,000 through 3 weeks)
  9. Once Upon a Time in Mexico (Sony/Columbia TriStar)
    $2,550,000 ($52,992,000 through 4 weeks)
  10. Cold Creek Manor (Buena Vista)
    $2,500,000 ($18,330,000 through 3 weeks)
  11. Matchstick Men (Warner Bros.)
    $2,370,000 ($34,291,000 through 4 weeks)
  12. Duplex (Miramax)
    $2,142,000 ($7,830,916 through 2 weeks)

On the Board: Mr. Beaks has posted a review of Warner's new two-disc special edition of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, while new swag from the rest of the team today includes both the 1969 and 2003 versions of The Italian Job, Down With Love, Willard: Platinum Series, 2 Fast 2 Furious, Hollywood Homicide, Monty Python's Meaning of Life: Special Edition, The Devil and Daniel Webster: The Criterion Collection, The Lion King: Platinum Edition, The Mark of Zorro: Fox Studio Classics, Knife in the Water: The Criterion Collection, and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Season Five. Everything's been added to the New Reviews menu here on the front page — you can find even more DVD reviews with our handy search engine right above it.

Back tomorrow with the street discs.

— Ed.

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