Tuesday, 28 Oct. 2003
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 DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 27 Oct. 2003
Disc 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:
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.
Tuesday, 21 Oct. 2003
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 DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 20 Oct. 2003
Disc 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:
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.
Tuesday, 14 Oct. 2003
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 DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 13 Oct. 2003
Disc 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:
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.
Tuesday, 7 Oct. 2003
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 DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 6 Oct. 2003
Disc 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:
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.