News and Commentary: November 2003

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Monday, 24 Nov. 2003

Giving Thanks: The holiday season is in full swing, which means the hard-working review team at The DVD Journal has dispersed to the four corners of the continent in order to gather with loved ones, and maybe even watch movies they don't have to review later. Meanwhile, your humble and trustworthy editor will solo our corporate Gulfstream, DVD One, to an undisclosed tropical island for a long-overdue vacation. But have no fear — the team returns on Monday, Dec. 1, with plenty of new reviews. We'll see you then.

Box Office: Mike Myers pounced on the top spot at the North American box office over the weekend with Universal's live-action adaptation of Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat, which picked up $40.1 million, largely from families filled with the movie's under-12 target demographic. Arriving in second place was Warner's Gothika starring Halle Berry, which was good for $19.6 million. However, despite the solid openings for both films, they were widely panned by critics.

In continuing release, New Line's Elf starring Will Ferrell nearly upset a debut film for the second week in a row, taking in just a half-million less than Gothika and sewing up third place with $95.1 million in three weeks. Peter Weir's Master and Commander starring Russell Crowe is currently in forth with $47.2 million in booty, while Universal's Love Actually is doing predictably well in a field that's light on rom-coms — it rounds out the top five with $30.8 million to its credit. However, Warner's The Matrix Revolutions continues to stumble badly, generating just $6.7 million in its third weekend, which means this final installment won't go appreciably higher than its current $125 million cume. Good news for Dimension's Scary Movie 3 though, which has now cleared triple-digits. And off to DVD prep is Tupac: Resurrection, which received good notices from the critics despite its limited run.

New films arriving in theaters this week include The Missing starring Cate Blanchett and Tommy Lee Jones, Timeline starring Paul Walker, Bad Santa with Billy Bob Thornton, and The Haunted Mansion starring Eddie Murphy. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:

  1. Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat (Universal)
    $40,100,000 ($40,100,000 through 1 week)
  2. Gothika (Warner Bros.)
    $19,620,000 ($19,620,000 through 1 week)
  3. Elf (New Line)
    $19,125,000 ($95,142,000 through 3 weeks)
  4. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (Fox)
    $15,200,000 ($47,265,329 through 2 weeks)
  5. Love Actually (Universal)
    $9,100,000 ($30,800,000 through 3 weeks)
  6. The Matrix Revolutions (Warner Bros.)
    $6,740,000 ($125,091,000 through 3 weeks)
  7. Brother Bear (Buena Vista)
    $5,500,000 ($70,400,000 through 5 weeks)
  8. Looney Tunes: Back in Action (Warner Bros.)
    $4,105,000 ($14,781,000 through 2 weeks)
  9. Scary Movie 3 (Dimension)
    $3,284,435 ($106,618,541 through 5 weeks)
  10. Radio (Sony/Columbia TriStar)
    $2,600,000 ($47,061,000 through 5 weeks)
  11. Mystic River (Warner Bros.)
    $2,010,000 ($48,549,000 through 7 weeks)
  12. Runaway Jury (Fox)
    $1,500,000 ($46,817,731 through 6 weeks)

— Ed.

Tuesday, 18 Nov. 2003

On the Street: Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and it's not a bad time to plan your DVD viewing over the long holiday weekend. Headlining this week's street list is New Line's four-disc Extended Edition of The Lord of the Rings in both a standard box and a gift set. Paramount's having a banner day with a two-disc release of Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West, along with the latest Tomb Raider flick and such catalog offerings as Pretty Baby, The Last Tycoon, and Joseph Andrews. Criterion collectors can bust the shrinkwrap on the long-awaited release of Federico Fellini's La Strada, for pure movie magic it's hard to beat Columbia TriStar's special edition of Winged Migration, while fans of the Cartoon Network can snap up new volumes of both Aqua Teen Hunger Force and Space Ghost Coast to Coast. And Buena Vista's The Santa Clause 2 and DreamWorks' Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas are bound to be popular family titles. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of and Image Entertainment:

  • Aqua Teen Hunger Force: Vol. 1
  • The Backyard
  • Challenge of Flight
  • The Concert for George (2-disc set)
  • Eaten Alive
  • Highlander: Season Three (8-disc set)
  • The House on Sorority Row
  • Joseph Andrews
  • King David
  • The King of Queens: Season One (3-disc set)
  • The Last Tycoon
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers: Special Extended DVD Edition (4-disc set)
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers: Special Extended DVD Edition: Gift Set (4-disc set)
  • Marooned
  • Mondays in the Sun
  • My Big Fat Greek Life: The Entire Series
  • Naked City: New York to L.A.
  • Naked City: Prime of Life
  • Oliver's Story
  • Once Upon a Time in the West (2-disc set)
  • Our Town (1940)
  • Pale Flower
  • Pretty Baby
  • Prince Charming
  • Psychic Killer
  • Rescue Heroes: The Movie
  • Richard Rodgers: An Enchanted Evening
  • The Santa Clause 2: The Mrs. Clause (widescreen)
  • The Santa Clause 2: The Mrs. Clause (full-frame)
  • The Sea is Watching
  • Second Nature
  • Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas (widescreen)
  • Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas (full-frame)
  • Space Ghost Coast to Coast: Vol. 1
  • Stanley Jordan: Live in Montreal
  • Steve Vai: Live at the Astoria London
  • La Strada: The Criterion Collection (2-disc set)
  • They Might Be Giants: Gigantic: A Tale of Two Johns
  • Tomb Raider 2: The Cradle of Life
  • Winged Migration: Special Edition

— Ed.

Monday, 17 Nov. 2003

boxcoverDisc of the Week: Can anybody save rock and roll at this point? Probably not. Since MTV switched formats many years ago from playing music videos to chasing teenage tits-and-ass on beaches all over the world, pop music itself has fallen into a steady, headlong decline. Not that MTV was all that great to begin with — the very success of the cable outfit from its earliest days in the 1980s transformed the recording industry, ushering it out of a haze of pot smoke and album-oriented radio in the '70s, and solidifying the appeal of both synth-pop and glam-rock with the arrival of "New Wave." Even the musicians who actually wanted to rock out were affected, having little choice but to smear on makeup and hairspray to get noticed as one of the decade's many inferior headbanging "hair bands." If you were there, you know it wasn't pretty, given that most listening options at the time amounted to deciding between Duran Duran and Ratt. But give MTV credit — they may have helped wreck popular music by purposefully narrowing consumer awareness (and using hormonal appeal to disguise bland dreck), but if you had a VCR, or somehow could be up at the time, the program "120 Minutes" probably changed your life. Consigned to an early death by being given a Sunday-night-at-midnight time slot, the show quickly became a modest, influential hit by playing videos from all of the other bands that MTV wasn't supposed to show you. Arriving just before the foundation of college radio (if not spawning it outright), this was the place to see such groups as Sonic Youth, REM, The Pixies, The Replacements, Hüsker Dü, The Smiths, and others. Most of these bands never crossed over into MTV's regular rotation, but their records were avidly collected by young American musicians who would soon start their own bands, and by the '90s push the "alternative" sound into the mainstream, albeit with another corporate label — "grunge."

But "alternative" was not just "grunge" — or if it was, then the truly alternative bands were far more underground. And there they would remain, simply because they could not be efficiently catalogued by record-industry executives. Underground is where John Flansburgh and John Linnell have remained for two decades — the duo that forms the nucleus of They Might Be Giants have turned out a steady stream of albums, weathered changes in record labels and musical fashions, and built up a substantial, almost rabid following for two reasons: They're awfully good songwriters, and they're completely unpredictable. The documentary Gigantic: A Tale of Two Johns (2003) looks back at their career, starting when they were schoolmates in Lincoln, Mass., and shared a love of music. With Flansburgh on guitar and Linnell on keyboards (or often accordion), it wasn't long before they relocated to Brooklyn, N.Y., and formed their own live act with just the two of them and a reel-to-reel tape machine. An early demo tape caught the ear of a People magazine reviewer and earned the duo their first national attention. Their live performances were a popular ticket in the East Village club scene. And before long their self-titled debut album spawned the video for "Don't Let's Start" — directed by Adam Bernstein, the hyperkinetic short actually went into MTV's daytime rotation, where it rubbed shoulders with videos from Pat Benetar and Journey and Heart and generally confused the hell out of everyone. The boys suddenly found themselves reluctant rock stars.

As Gigantic: A Tale of Two Johns reveals, things have gone well for Flansburgh and Linnell, even though they have spent the majority of their career on the edge of public awareness. Several interview segments show the pair to be candid, amusing, self-effacing, and of course, enormously clever. There is an intangible duality to their relationship that the film tries to address somewhat — baby-faced Flansburgh is the band's guitarist, showman, and ad hoc business manager, while floppy-haired Linnell appears thoughtful and introverted when he's off-stage. Both contribute songs to the group in a Lennon/McCartney fashion, and the many talking heads in the documentary — ranging from musicians and journalists to industry reps — ponder the inner workings of this collaborative effort. However, the most common topic is simply the band's appeal: How have two guys from Massachusetts who don't look or dress or sound like pop stars remained popular enough to draw a cult following for nearly 20 years? Yes, they avoid traditional pop tropes by writing songs about Istanbul and President James K. Polk and puppet heads and Cyclops and night-lites and lions in silver spaceships and the enigmatic Triangle Man (and that's just scratching the surface) — but they're hardly a novelty act. "Don't Let's Start" is one of the catchiest pop-tunes of the '80s, but every TMBG album sorts through a variety of musical genres, often sounding more mystifying at first than appealing. Yes, they think the accordion can be a kick-ass rock-and-roll instrument — and they're not wrong. Still, despite being on a major label for part of the '90s, the band has returned to a smaller outfit, where they continue to make new music for their fans while picking up plenty of work on the side writing material for TV and movie soundtracks (odds are you've heard more of their work than you know, from Austin Powers to the theme of "The Daily Show"). They may not save rock and roll, but at least They Might Be Giants will continue to watch over its most experimental and irreverent sentiments.

Plexifilm's new DVD release of Gigantic: A Tale of Two Johns features a clean transfer from the original video source (1.33:1), while the audio is delivered in pure Dolby 2.0 Stereo. The supplements on the disc are extensive, making it a must-purchase for all TMBG fans. On board are five videos, all directed by Adam Bernstein — "Put Your Hand in the Puppet Head," "Don't Let's Start," "She Was a Hotel Detective," "Ana Ng," and "Birdhouse in Your Soul." Three excerpts from the television special "Brave New World" are also here, as well as an excerpt from the radio program "This American Life." Vintage "Tonight Show" footage is found with a live performance of "Birdhouse in Your Soul" with the Doc Severinson Orchestra, while two early live performances are included, along with recent live cuts of "They Might Be Giants," "Number Three," and "Fingertips," and a brief clip from an in-store appearance. Rounding out the features are the Johns' appearance on Nickelodeon's "Nick Rocks," fan interviews, Michael McKean reading "I Palindrome I," a gallery of raw footage from the film, and two deleted scenes, including a circuitous story about how Elvis Costello was once approached to produce a TMGB album. Gigantic: A Tale of Two Johns is on the street tomorrow.

Box Office: Fox's Master and Commander starring Russell Crowe was poised to conquer the American box-office over the weekend, but it was stunned by none other than Elf — the New Line comedy starring Will Ferrell took in $27.2 million during its second frame, hopping from second to first place in the process. The victory held Commander in a close second place, debuting with $25.7 million. Further down the chart, Warner's Looney Tunes: Back in Action rounded out the top five with $9.5 million, while the documentary Tupac: Resurrection garnered $4.6 million. Critics gave Commander and Tupac raves, while the Tunes earned mixed notices.

In continuing release, last week's winner The Matrix Revolutions dropped to third place, and with a thud — after drawing $85 million during its first five days in the 'plexes, it managed a mere $16.3 million during its second weekend, indicating that everyone who planned to see the movie already did, and most won't be going back. Doing much steadier business is Disney's Brother Bear, which has been a top-five item for the past month and now has $63 million in the bag. And while Universal's Love Actually isn't a breakout hit, it's holding down the sixth spot with a 10-day total of $19 million. Starting to fade is Fox's Runaway Jury, which may fall short of $50 million before it's done. And headed for the exits is the first installment of Kill Bill — although don't be surprised to see it return to some theaters when Vol. 2 of the series arrives next year.

New films appearing in theaters this Friday include the live-action Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat starring Mike Myers, as well as the thriller Gothika starring Halle Berry. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:

  1. Elf (New Line)
    $27,236,000 ($71,265,000 through 2 weeks)
  2. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (Fox)
    $25,725,000 ($25,725,000 through 1 week)
  3. The Matrix Revolutions (Warner Bros.)
    $16,320,000 ($114,174,000 through 2 weeks)
  4. Brother Bear (Buena Vista)
    $12,000,000 ($63,019,000 through 4 weeks)
  5. Looney Tunes: Back in Action (Warner Bros.)
    $9,510,000 ($9,510,000 through 1 week)
  6. Love Actually (Universal)
    $8,880,000 ($19,044,000 through 2 weeks)
  7. Scary Movie 3 (Dimension)
    $6,105,000 ($102,339,008 through 4 weeks)
  8. Radio (Sony/Columbia TriStar)
    $5,000,000 ($43,708,000 through 4 weeks)
  9. Tupac: Resurrection (Paramount)
    $4,660,000 ($4,660,000 through 1 week)
  10. Mystic River (Warner Bros.)
    $3,325,000 ($45,649,000 through 6 weeks)
  11. Runaway Jury (Fox)
    $2,850,000 ($44,589,297 through 5 weeks)
  12. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (New Line)
    $2,625,000 ($77,657,000 through 5 weeks)

On the Board: Damon Houx has posted his sneak-preview of New Line's four-disc The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers: Extended Edition, while Mr. Beaks has had a chance to dig through Paramount's two-disc Once Upon a Time in the West. New reviews from the rest of the gang this week include Winged Migration: Special Edition, Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, Pretty Baby, The Last Tycoon, No Good Deed, Meredith Willson's The Music Man, Gigantic: A Tale of Two Johns, and Aqua Teen Hunger Force: Vol. 1. It's all under our New Reviews menu here on the front page.

We'll be back tomorrow to let you know about this week's street discs.

— Ed.

Tuesday, 11 Nov. 2003

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

  • It's was originally announced for August 2002 and then postponed indefinitely, but the folks at Buena Vista have finally offered a new street date for Tim Burton's 1994 Ed Wood starring Johnny Depp and Martin Landau. Burton, Landau, and members of the production team will be on the commentary track, while other supplements will include a "making-of" doc, four featurettes, deleted scenes, and a music vid (Feb. 3). And fresh from the theaters is Robert Rodriguez's Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over with a director's commentary, plenty of featurettes, and an interactive game. Both 3-D and conventional transfers will be on board, and four pairs of 3-D specs will be in the case (Feb. 24).

  • Robert Rodriguez and Johnny Depp can also be seen in this year's Once Upon a Time in Mexico, which gets a Jan. 20 street date from Columbia TriStar — Rodriguez will deliver a commentary, and we can also look forward to a "Ten-Minute Flick School," the featurette "Inside Troublemaker Studios," eight deleted scenes, the live-audience feature "Film is Dead: An Evening with Robert Rodriguez," an isolated music-and-effects track, and plenty more. Also in prep from Columbia is the award-winning spelling-bee documentary Spellbound with a commentary, additional footage, and a "Where Are They Now?" update (Jan. 20).

  • New Line has Secondhand Lions, starring Haley Joel Osment, Robert Duvall and Michael Caine, in prep for a Platinum Series release on Feb. 10 — count on a track from director Tim McCanlies, deleted scenes, a trio of documentaries, visual-effects comparisons, promo materials, and script-to-screen as DVD-ROM content. Also getting a street date is John Landis's The Stupids starring Tom Arnold, making everyone's DVD collection finally complete (Feb. 10).

  • Don't want to shell out a B. Franklin for Fox's upcoming Alien Quadrilogy box set? Never fear — the four films will be released individually in two-disc sets on Jan. 3, while the ninth, "bonus" disc will be available only for slipcase buyers.

  • The gang at Universal has raided the vault once again for some catalog items — getting a four-disc release will be the Airport Terminal Pack with the original 1970 Airport, Airport 1975, Airport '77, and Airport '79: The Concorde (Feb. 10). Problem Child and Problem Child 2 will get a Problem Child Tantrum Pack on March 2, where it will be joined by three titles new to Universal DVD, King Ralph, Mad Dog and Glory, and Melvin and Howard.

  • Fans of Jacques Demy will be able to get two of his early movies from Wellspring, 1961's Lola and 1963's Bay of Angels, as well as the documentary The World of Jacques Demy, while additional releases include My Life on Ice, Oktober, and Sade. It's all here on Dec. 9.

  • Cold War buffs won't want to miss the BBC miniseries Cambridge Spies — the two-disc DVD release will offer the complete feature and a wealth of documentary materials on Anthony Blunt, Kim Philby, Guy Burgess, and Donald MacLean — the four Soviet agents who still haunt the memories of the British intelligent establishment (Dec. 2).

  • It had to happen eventually, and there's nothing you can do about it — Warner will release Gilligan's Island: The Complete First Season across three discs on Feb. 3, and countless American consumers will shell out perfectly good money for a collection of TV shows that have been burned into their childhood psyches like a schoolyard bully with a box of matches. A commentary from creator Sherwood Schwartz and a featurette will be on hand, and — as a special bonus — the episode where Gilligan acts like a total dick.

On the Street: It's a light Tuesday this week, but there are still a few things to pick up. New from Warner is Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines in a two-disc set, as well as the documentary Pumping Iron, which first put Gov. Schwarzenegger on the map. Criterion collectors can get David Cronenberg's Naked Lunch, while fresh from New Line is a Platinum Series release of Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd. Catalog items this time around include Columbia's The Silencers and Amateur, Paramount's Cool World, and a new two-disc edition of JFK from Warner. And TV fans can get Fox's four-disc King of the Hill: Season Two. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of and Image Entertainment:

  • Amateur
  • Bacon Brothers: Live: The No Food Jokes Tour
  • The Battle for L.A.
  • Biohazard
  • Cheerleader Ninjas
  • Chick Corea: A Very Special Concert
  • China Dolls
  • Colour of the Truth
  • Cool World
  • Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd: Platinum Series
  • Duke Ellington: Live at Tivoli Gardens
  • Dust
  • FairyTale: A True Story
  • Gerry
  • Globe World Cup 2003
  • High School Big Shot/High School Caesar/Date Bait
  • The Housekeeper
  • Inside X: ESPN's X Games IX
  • Inside Tolkien's The Return of the King
  • Inside Tolkien's The Hobbit
  • JFK: Special Edition (2-disc set)
  • Joan Jett and the Blackhhearts: Real Wild Child: Video Anthology
  • King Dinosaur/The Bride and the Beast
  • King of Chess
  • King of the Hill: Season Two (4-disc set)
  • Marriage Is a Crazy Thing
  • Meredith Willson's The Music Man
  • Mini-Warriors
  • MTV: The Real World: Hook-Ups
  • MTV: The Real World You Never Saw: Paris
  • Musa: The Warrior
  • Naked Lunch: The Criterion Collection
  • Nightmare Sisters: Special Edition
  • No Good Deed
  • Pumping Iron
  • Secrets of War: Vols. 1- 6
  • The Silencers
  • Sleepless Nights
  • Sunset Grill
  • Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (widescreen)
  • Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (pan-and-scan)
  • Three's Company: Season One
  • The Trial of Lee Harvey/The Other Side of Bonnie and Clyde
  • The Trouble with Angels
  • Truth Or Dare: 6th Floor Rear Flat
  • Voice
  • Werewolf in a Girl's Dormitory
  • Where Angels Go Trouble Follows
  • Will of Iron

— Ed.

Monday, 10 Nov. 2003

boxcoverDisc of the Week: First published in Paris in 1959, William S. Burroughs' controversial and influential novel Naked Lunch isn't an easy read. Surrealistic, hallucinogenic, paranoid, and horrific, Burroughs' tale of the nightmarish abyss of heroin addiction (a subject with which Burroughs was intimately familiar) is an exercise in pure literature — it lives on the page because of Burroughs' perversely elegant, idiosyncratic writing style and proved, through several attempts by different writers, to be untranslatable to film. It was also the last American novel to be banned, instigating a ground-breaking trial in the Massachusetts Supreme Court. So director David Cronenberg — who acknowledged that a literal translation of the book would have been astronomically expensive and "banned in every country in the world, because there would be no culture that could withstand that film" — took a different tack when he made his 1991 film Naked Lunch. Not even attempting to put the book on film but to instead make a Burroughs-flavored homage to the author, it's a story about the process of an addicted writer — Burroughs' fictional alter-ego, Bill Lee — as he navigates the phantasmagorical landscape of his addiction on his way to giving birth to the novel that will become "Naked Lunch." In making his tribute, Cronenberg drew imagery, characters, and events from several of Burroughs' semiautobiographical novels like "Junky" and "Exterminator!" and injected incidents from Burroughs' real life — all set in a world of metaphorical, imaginary experiences, grotesque creatures, and skin-crawling special effects. The result is a brilliantly imagined quasi-biography of Burroughs that manages to recreate the experience of reading Naked Lunch without actually telling that book's story, the film standing on its own as a mind-boggling document of creation, addiction, and insanity as filtered through Cronenberg's own unique vision.

William Lee (Peter Weller) is a down-on-his-luck writer who's reduced to working as an exterminator and writing porn to make ends meet. The exterminator job is handy though, since Lee and his wife Joan (Judy Davis) are both addicted to the bug powder Lee uses on the job ("It's a very literary high," she explains. "A Kafka high — it makes you feel like a bug.") Lee takes the advice of the skeezy Dr. Benway (Roy Scheider), who theorizes that Lee can wean his wife off the bug juice by cutting the stuff with "black meat" extracted from a Brazilian centipede. But before he gets a chance to help her, a drunk Lee and his wife decide to show a visiting acquaintance their "William Tell routine" — and Lee shoots her in the head. Joan's death sends Lee into a tailspin, causing both his own addiction and his mental state to spiral out of control as he enters his own chemically/psychologically manufactured alternative universe. Traveling as a spy to a Moroccan locale called Interzone, Lee takes instructions from a man-sized, lizard-like being called a "Mugwump" and begins writing his reports/novel on his manual typewriter, which develops a large, pulsing orifice and beetle-like wings. As he maneuvers amid black-market drug selling, his homosexual impulses, writer's block, and possible espionage, Lee encounters people and creatures both real and imagined — including writers Tom and Joan Frost (Ian Holm and, again, Judy Davis) and a sinister man/bug played by Julian Sands. Conspiracy and madness build as Lee discovers the diabolical secrets behind Interzone, Dr. Benway, and the black market narcotic trade as he comes to terms with both his writing and his wife's death.

Cronenberg has said that Burroughs was an early influence on his creative process and, with their common themes of conspiracy, perverse sexuality, alternative realities, and bizarre bodily functions, it seems inevitable that Cronenberg would some day make this film. Naked Lunch isn't a biopic in the strictest sense, but the foundation of the film is solidly anchored in Burroughs' biography. Addicted to heroin, Burroughs fled to Tangier in 1954, three years after shooting his wife in the famous William Tell incident. He wrote Naked Lunch in bits and pieces there, sending it by mail to Allen Ginsberg, who encouraged him to turn it into a book. He also befriended expatriate writers Paul and Jane Bowles, represented by the Frosts in Cronenberg's film. Beyond these factoids and some others snatched from Burroughs' books, the film is entirely a fantastical construct of the director that reflects Cronenberg's take on the more outrageous aspects of Burroughs' writing — works that colored Cronenberg's own surreal psychosexual dramas like Videodrome, Dead Ringers, The Fly, and eXistenZ. The common elements of both artists — especially the themes of organic transmogrification and control of individuals by secret, powerful organizations — are developed to such a high degree that at times Naked Lunch seems to be an almost magical (albeit horrifying) symbiosis of writer and director. The best of Cronenberg's pictures and Burroughs' writings inspire dread, delight, pity, disgust, and speculation — both artists are celebrated as notorious rule-breakers and Naked Lunch, while not for the easily offended, presents one of the strangest, smartest, and most disturbing depictions of the writer's process ever put on film.

Criterion's new two-disc DVD release of Naked Lunch is spectacular, starting with the new high-definition transfer in anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1), which has been approved by Cronenberg and is absolutely pristine. The Dolby 2.0 Stereo audio is equally good, in English with optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Disc One offers the film with optional commentary by Cronenberg and Weller. It's an exceptionally intelligent, detailed track, with both men sharing an awesome depth of knowledge about Burroughs, and Cronenberg going into great detail about his own process of adapting Burroughs' life and work for the film. Disc Two offers Chris Rodley's excellent 1991 behind-the-scenes documentary "Naked Making Lunch" (50 min.), originally presented on London Weekend Television's "South Bank Show"; a stills gallery of special-effects designs for the film; a gallery of production stills; materials from 20th Century Fox's ad campaign, including the surprisingly artistic theatrical trailer, a six-minute featurette and TV spots; an hour-long audio track of Burroughs reading excerpts from "Naked Lunch," originally produced in 1995 for an audio book, with music by Bill Frisell and Wayne Horvitz; a gallery of photographs of Burroughs from the collection of Allen Ginsberg; and a 32-page booklet with essays by Janet Maslin, Chris Rodley, Gary Indiana, and Burroughs. Naked Lunch: The Criterion Collection is on the street tomorrow.

Box Office: It didn't quite pack the raw-dollar punch of its predecessor, but The Matrix Revolutions handily won the American box-office over the weekend, taking $50.1 million during the Friday-to-Sunday frame and a five-day gross of $85.4 million since its Wednesday debut. The title also opened simultaneously in international venues, where it gobbled up a grand total of $204 million, besting the previous $188 million record held by Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Arriving in second place was New Line's Elf starring Will Ferrell, which raked in a strong $32.1 million, while the romantic comedy Love, Actually arrived in sixth place with $6.6 million, playing in less than 600 locations. Critics loved Elf and were mixed-to-positive on Love, Actually, while the final Matrix installment had mixed-to-negative notices (and earned its share of scathing reviews as well).

In continuing release, Disney's Brother Bear dropped to third place, where it's doing good money with the family set, holding $44.1 million after three sessions. Dimension's Scary Movie 3 has slipped to fourth place, but it's headed for triple-digits with $93.3 million in the can. Sony's Radio starring Cuba Gooding Jr. and Ed Harris rounds out the top five with $36.3 million so far. Paramount's School of Rock starring Jack Black has good legs this season, staying on the chart after six weeks with a $73.5 million cume. And off to the cheap screens is the Coen Brothers' Intolerable Cruelty starring George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones — it probably deserves to sell a few more tickets after taking $32 million in wide release.

New films arriving in theaters this Friday include Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World starring Russell Crowe, Warner's Looney Tunes: Back in Action, and the documentary Tupac: Resurrection. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:

  1. The Matrix Revolutions (Warner Bros.)
    $50,155,000 ($85,470,000 through 1 week)
  2. Elf (New Line)
    $32,100,000 ($32,100,000 through 1 week)
  3. Brother Bear (Buena Vista)
    $18,600,000 ($44,100,000 through 3 weeks)
  4. Scary Movie 3 (Dimension)
    $11,105,092 ($93,350,553 through 3 weeks)
  5. Radio (Sony/Columbia TriStar)
    $7,400,000 ($36,300,000 through 3 weeks)
  6. Love Actually (Universal)
    $6,600,000 ($6,600,000 through 1 week)
  7. Mystic River (Warner Bros.)
    $4,825,000 ($40,474,000 through 5 weeks)
  8. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (New Line)
    $4,800,000 ($73,220,000 through 4 weeks)
  9. Runaway Jury (Fox)
    $4,800,000 ($40,124,935 through 4 weeks)
  10. School of Rock (Paramount)
    $3,150,000 ($73,595,000 through 6 weeks)
  11. Kill Bill Vol. 1 (Miramax/Dimension)
    $2,413,568 ($64,888,185 through 5 weeks)
  12. In the Cut (Sony/Screen Gems)
    $950,000 ($3,900,000 through 3 weeks)

On the Board: New swag this week from the review team includes Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Millennium Actress, Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd: Platinum Series, Cool World, Amateur, Tokyo Story: The Criterion Collection, Naked Lunch: The Criterion Collection, and The Silencers — all can be found under the New Reviews menu here on the front page.

Back tomorrow with the street discs.

— Ed.

Tuesday, 4 Nov. 2003

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

  • Ridley Scott's Alien earned a theatrical re-release last weekend as a minimally altered "Director's Cut," a brief blast on the big screen merely meant to highlight Fox's The Alien Quadrilogy, a whopping new nine-disc set that covers the entire series, and then some. Alien will include both the original 1979 theatrical cut and this year's new version, along with a commentary from director Ridley Scott, nine featurettes, a look at the "chest-burster" effect, Sigourney Weaver's screen-test, seven deleted scenes, and more. James Cameron's follow-up Aliens will include both the original theatrical version and the director's cut (the former previously unavailable on disc), a new commentary from Cameron and others, nine featurettes, deleted scenes, and more. David Fincher's Alien 3 will appear both in the original theatrical version and a "pre-release" cut that runs 30 min. longer, 11 featurettes, a commentary from various crew members, and more. Alien Resurrection gets both theatrical and extended versions, alternate opening and ending sequences, a commentary from director Jean Pierre Jeunet and others, 11 featurettes, rehearsal footage, and more. And you won't have to mail away for the bonus disc this time around — that ninth coaster will sport the 1979 featurette "Alien Evolution," a new interview with Ridley Scott, the "complete laserdisc archive" of Alien and Aliens, an anthology of Dark Horse's Alien graphic novels, and mucho mas. You can lay out a Benjamin on Dec. 2 for the set — you'll get back one plug nickel.

  • Plenty of stuff is on the way early next year from MGM. Getting a new DVD release is Barry Levinson's 1988 Rain Main starring Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise, which will include three separate yack-tracks from Levinson and writers Ronald Bass and Barry Morrow, a deleted scene, a featurette, and stills (Feb. 3). Fresh from theaters is this year's Out of Time starring Denzel Washington, which arrives on Jan. 6 with a track from director Carl Franklin, a featurette, screen tests, and outtakes. And also on the sched are Uptown Girls (Jan. 6) and Manic (Jan. 20). Five Ingmar Bergman titles are set to arrive in a new collection on Feb. 10 — Hour of the Wolf, The Passion of Anna, Persona, The Serpent's Egg, and Shame, all with commentaries by Bergman biographer Marc Gervais (except The Serpent's Egg, which gets a track from star David Carradine), featurettes, interviews, vintage footage, and more. Getting the unusual Saturday street-date of Feb. 7 is 1982's That Championship Season starring Martin Sheen, Bruce Dern, Robert Mitchum, and Paul Sorvino. Arriving under the "World Films" imprint on Feb. 10 will be Cyrano de Bergerac starring Gerard Depardieu, as well as La Chamade, The Mystery of Rampo, and Together. And catalog titles getting the DVD dump on Feb. 3 include Roadhouse 66, King Solomon's Mines, Allan Quartermain and the Lost City of Gold, X-15, Flesh + Blood, and the Death Wish installments 2 through 4. (For those of you who don't recall, no. 4 was "The Crackdown." Zounds!)

  • Quick Criterion update — Ikiru now has a street-date of Jan. 6, while The Rules of the Game is expected on Jan. 20. However, four Criterion releases will go out of print on Dec. 31, Straw Dogs and Hitchcock's Notorious, Rebecca, and Spellbound. Buy 'em now if you don't want to pay above retail later.

  • This year's vamps-vs.-wolves flicker Underworld starring Kate Beckinsale now has a Jan. 6 street-date from Columbia TriStar — count on a trio of attack-tracks, four behind-the-scenes spots, storyboards, and more. Coming out of the vault will be George Cukor's 1954 It Should Happen to You starring Judy Holliday (Jan. 13), 1941's Adam Had Four Sons starring Ingrid Bergman (Jan. 6), and Divorce American Style with Dick Van Dyke and Debbie Reynolds (Jan. 6). And watch for two new "Gojira" movies on Jan. 6, Godzilla vs. Megaguirus and Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidora: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack.

On the Street: Classics head our shopping list this week — four of them, in fact. The gang at Warner has delivered the Humphrey Bogart/Lauren Bacall classic To Have and Have Not, in addition to High Sierra, They Drive By Night, and Dark Passage. Pixar's Finding Nemo was the highest-grossing film of the year, and there's little reason to doubt that Buena Vista's new two-disc set will dominate shopping lists for weeks to come. New from MGM is Legally Blonde 2 starring Reese Witherspoon, while Frank Capra's 1931 Platinum Blonde is a Columbia catalog release, and Adam Sandler's animated Eight Crazy Nights is here for the holiday season. And if you're feeling rich this week, there's plenty of TV boxes to pick up, including Deep Space Nine, The X-Files, Friends, and The Honeymooners. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of and Image Entertainment:

  • The Anna Nicole Show: Season One (3-disc set)
  • Avril Lavigne: My World
  • Big Brother 3
  • A Christmas Wish
  • Crime Story: Season One (5-disc set)
  • Dark Passage
  • Delta of Venus
  • Dirty Deeds
  • Eight Crazy Nights
  • Finding Nemo (2-disc set)
  • Friends: Season Five (4-disc set)
  • High Sierra
  • The Honeymooners: Classic 39 Episodes (5-disc set)
  • Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blonde
  • Little House on the Prairie: Season Three (6-disc set)
  • The Man Show: Season One Vol. 2
  • Micki & Maude
  • The Pact of Silence
  • Platinum Blonde
  • The Real Shlemiel
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Season Six (7-disc set)
  • Strangers with Candy: Season Two
  • They Drive By Night
  • Thrust (unrated)
  • Thrust (R-rated)
  • To Have and Have Not
  • Wide Sargasso Sea
  • The X-Files: Season Eight (6-disc set)

— Ed.

Monday, 3 Nov. 2003

boxcoverDisc of the Week: "Anybody got a match?" All it took was four words and Betty Perske made movie history. However, she didn't get her start in Hollywood thanks to her inimitably smoky voice, but rather her doe-eyes and full lips — a fashion model, she was noticed by Howard Hawks' wife on the cover of Harper's Bazaar and before long was given a screen-test. Hawks was suitably impressed, and 19-year-old Betty immediately was re-fashioned as a movie star. She was expected to look and sound many years older than she actually was. She was asked to hold her own against seasoned actors. Her first role was to play a willful, feisty romantic interest for Humphrey Bogart in To Have and Have Not (1944). And Warner Brothers wasn't interested in a starlet named Betty Perske. In short, Betty became "Lauren Bacall." Her charm was so great that — in what is now Hollywood legend — Bogart found her completely irresistible, and their budding romance caused the much older man to end his current marriage. Bogart and Bacall would do three more films together in the '40s, after which they would not appear onscreen together again. Their love for each other appeared profound, although if Howard Hawks was right, it was because Bogart actually fell in love with the character Bacall played in To Have and Have Not; since that debut, she would play the part for the duration of her marriage. True? Perhaps… or perhaps Hawks himself was a little jealous. After all, this was a woman who — in the same mold as Mae West's "come up sometime and see me" and Jean Harlow's "slip into something more comfortable" — smoldered the screen when she asked Humphrey Bogart "You know how to whistle, don't you? You just put your lips together and blow."

Bogart headlines To Have and Have Not as Steve Morgan, an American who operates a small commercial fishing operation on the tiny Caribbean island of Martinique during World War II. His only regular crew member is Eddie (Walter Brennan), a sailor who's succumbed to chronic alcoholism and thus fallen under Steve's wing. Normally, the most Steve has to worry about on a regular basis is getting the proper fishing permits from the local French officials, or getting some deadbeat sport-fishing clients to pay up. But when local hotelier Gerard (Marcel Dalio) comes into contact with some elements of the French Resistance, they approach Steve with the idea of a daring nighttime mission that will require a boat. At first Steve refuses, easily distracted by a mysterious young woman who's turned up at the hotel, Marie "Slim" Browning (Bacall). But when the local Vichy authorities start playing hardball, Steve signs on with the freedom fighters, aware that he'll be finished if he's caught by the French authorities on Martinique or any of the German U-boats patrolling the Atlantic Ocean.

Howard Hawks was enough of a Hemingway admirer that he claimed he could make a movie out of the author's worst book. When Hemingway wanted to know what book that was, Hawks replied "That bunch of junk To Have and Have Not." Hemingway and Hawks then entered into a wager over the matter, but Hawks would win, primarily by assigning the source material to one of his favorite writers, Jules Furthman. Both men then eliminated whole sections of the novel altogether, and Furthman brought in one of his favorite screenwriters, William Faulkner, who would work on both tightening the film's locale and crafting some of the steamy, noir-esque dialogue (as legend has it, Hawks or Faulkner wrote the "whistle" line merely for Bacall's screen-test, and then Faulkner later found a way to work it into the final script). With cast and crew in place, To Have and Have Not would boast one of the most impressive collections of talent for the decade and beyond, with the veterans Hawks and Furthman, future Nobel Prize-winners Hemingway and Faulkner, and the utterly iconic Bogart and Bacall. To Have and Have Not has been compared to Casablanca, and while it may seem ungenerous to compare a great film to a cinematic masterpiece, the parallels are somewhat transparent — the drama takes place during World War II at an inconsequential French foreign outpost controlled by the Vichy administration; Bogart plays the businessman who refuses to get involved in politics, and is especially wary of patriots; Bacall is the mysterious woman who gets under Bogart's skin; and the activity centers around a public establishment. But To Have and Have Not is no mere Casablanca knock-off. Where the earlier film plays out like a game of chess, Hawks prefers to place his characters in imminent danger for the sake of action. And while nobody could replace Ingrid Bergman, Lauren Bacall introduced a screen-sensuality that was all her own.

Warner's new DVD release of To Have and Have Not features a solid full-frame transfer (1.33:1 OAR) with monaural Dolby Digital 2.0 audio — the source-print appears in very good shape with strong low-contrast detail and a minimum of collateral wear. The supplements are particularly attractive, starting with the featurette "A Love Story: The Story of To Have and Have Not" (11 min.), a brief retrospective on the genesis of this famous Tinseltown love story. Also included is the Looney Tunes short "Bacall to Arms" (6 min.), which takes playful jabs at the moviehouses of the day, and specifically the legendary Bogart-Bacall chemistry ("Anybody got a light?" she asks, which prompts him to throw her a blowtorch). And perhaps best of all is the Oct. 14, 1946 "Lux Radio Theater" broadcast of To Have and Have Not, pared down to one hour with Bogart and Bacall reprising their original roles. It's clearly taken from a phonograph source and the first few minutes contain some scratching, but after that it's very listenable. Especially charming is the end of the broadcast, when Bogart and Bacall answer a few questions from the host. Bogie disarmingly introduces his wife as "Betty," and she blows a note on a gold-plated whistle her husband gave her as a gift. To Have and Have Not is on the street tomorrow.

Box Office: The Halloween weekend kept horror atop the box-office charts, albeit with tongue planted firmly in cheek — Dimension's Scary Movie 3 held on to the number-one spot for the second week in a row, adding $21.1 million to a blistering $78.6 million 10-day total. Arriving in second place was Disney's animated Brother Bear, which opened on Saturday and garnered $18.5 million from its first wide weekend. Barely reaching the top ten was Screen Gems' Into the Cut starring Meg Ryan, which played on less than 900 screens and took just $2.3 million. Critics were mixed-to-negative on both Brother Bear and Into the Cut.

In continuing release, New Line's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is holding down third place after three weekends with $66.1 million in the sack, while Sony's Radio starring Cuba Gooding Jr. and Ed Harris dropped to fourth place with $26.8 million so far. Fox's Runaway Jury hasn't done stellar business, but it's still in the top five with $33.6 million to its credit. And Warner's Mystic River is doing similar business with $33.5 million after one month. Paramount's The School of Rock is nearing $70 million for star Jack Black. But getting a spanking was Paramount's Beyond Borders starring Angelina Jolie, which barely registered a $2 million debut last week and has since been rushed to DVD prep.

Arriving in cineplexes this Wednesday is The Matrix Revolutions, while Elf starring Will Ferrell is new on Friday. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:

  1. Scary Movie 3 (Dimension)
    $21,100,000 ($78,623,246 through 2 weeks)
  2. Brother Bear (Buena Vista)
    $18,540,000 ($18,938,000 through 2 weeks)
  3. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (New Line)
    $10,900,000 ($66,129,000 through 3 weeks)
  4. Radio (Sony/Columbia TriStar)
    $10,200,000 ($26,806,000 through 2 weeks)
  5. Runaway Jury (Fox)
    $6,860,000 ($33,650,238 through 3 weeks)
  6. Mystic River (Warner Bros.)
    $6,275,000 ($33,589,000 through 4 weeks)
  7. Kill Bill Vol. 1 (Miramax/Dimension)
    $4,711,000 ($60,983,322 through 4 weeks)
  8. School of Rock (Paramount)
    $4,400,000 ($69,172,000 through 5 weeks)
  9. Intolerable Cruelty (Universal)
    $2,658,000 ($32,055,000 through 4 weeks)
  10. In the Cut (Sony/Screen Gems)
    $2,300,000 ($2,476,000 through 2 weeks)
  11. Good Boy! (MGM)
    $2,250,000 ($35,246,000 through 4 weeks)
  12. Under the Tuscan Sun (Buena Vista)
    $1,710,000 ($39,844,000 through 6 weeks)

On the Board: Dawn Taylor has had a chance to dig through Warner's Looney Tunes Golden Collection (and put the complainers in their place), while Mark Bourne recently looked at Image's Buster Keaton Double Feature: The General/Steamboat Bill Jr.. New reviews this week from the rest of the team include Finding Nemo, Hulk, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Season Six, Dark Passage, The Pact of Silence, They Drive By Night, High Sierra, Platinum Blonde, To Have and Have Not, and the 1974 Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Special Edition. It's all fresh under the New Reviews menu here on the front page.

Back tomorrow with the street discs.

— Ed.

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