Wednesday, 17 Dec. 2003
The Year in Review: We're dimming the lights at DVD Journal headquarters for our annual holiday break, but we will be back on Monday, Jan. 5, with a stack of new DVD reviews. Before we go, we offer our top ten DVDs of the past 12 months (that is, the top ten that a lot of folks probably haven't spun yet, and should):
Thanks for dropping by this year, gang. Happy holidays we'll see ya soon.
Tuesday, 16 Dec. 2003
On the Street: It's the last big street Tuesday of the year, and there's no lack of discs to pick up for yourself, or as Christmas presents for loved ones (nahh, screw them go buy some DVDs for yourself today). New from MGM is the long-awaited special-edition re-release of John Carpenter's Escape From New York, with a new transfer, two commentaries, and a second disc full of features. Fox is on the board with this year's poorly received The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen starring Sean Connery, Buena Vista's sure to get some family sales with their breezy remake of Freaky Friday, and dark-horse Oscar contender Seabiscuit is new from Universal. Catalog items from Columbia TriStar today include Bonjour Tristesse and Henry Fool, while Showtime's Melvin Goes to Dinner deserves a home-video spin. And new TV collections this week include Dawson's Creek: Season Two and South Park: Season Three. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 15 Dec. 2003
Disc of the Week: Perhaps no cinematic era in history was as gleefully fun as the French New Wave the famous group of Gallic directors who were among the first generation of young people to grow up so immersed in film culture that they loved it, studied it, and when they launched their own careers stole from it. By the late '50s and early '60s, Cahiers du Cinéma writers such as François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, and Alain Resnais didn't have much in the way of budgets, but their initial efforts seem to hold together, to this day, with little more than their sheer passion for their craft. Among this league of extraordinary cineastes, history has regarded Jacques Demy to be the most ethereal of the bunch, being a filmmaker best known for musicals such as The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) and The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967), the latter starring Gene Kelly. Like all New Wave directors, his textbooks were American movies, but his lightness of touch revealed that his greatest influences were Hollywood's "woman's film" directors, such as Joseph Von Sternberg and Max Ophuls. The imprint of both can be found in his first film, 1961's Lola in fact, Demy's main character, a lovesick "dancer," appears modeled on some of Marlene Dietrich's roles (and specifically in Sternberg's Morocco). Demy also dedicated this meditation on the fickle nature of love to Ophuls. But it's more than mere homage; Demy sets his own tone and creates his own world for a memorable cast.
Opening with the Chinese proverb "Cry if you must / Laugh if you will," Lola creates a naturalistic intertwining of characters, with connections that ebb and flow throughout the course of the story. Roland (Marc Michel) is an aimless young dreamer so aimless, in fact, that he gets himself fired from his job for oversleeping. In order to make ends meet, his next form of employment is a bit more shady. Meanwhile, one of Roland's former schoolmates, Cécile (Anouk Aimée), has been working as a dancer under the name of "Lola." Cécile got pregnant seven years earlier, and even though she's recently enjoyed the company of an American sailor (Alan Scott), she's never lost hope that her child's father Michel (Jacques Harden) would come back to her. It's made clear that Michel is back in town, but he has nothing to do with Lola, or even his own mother. As the free-flowing story progresses, Roland bumps into Cécile one day and asks her out on a date although on the same day he is vaguely asked out by an older woman, Madame Desnoyers (Elina Labourdette), because Desnoyers' daughter, also named Cécile (Annie Duperoux), needs an English dictionary he has. But Roland continues to pursue Lola, whom he's adored for years.
For a first film, Jacques Demy asserts a breathtaking level of skill in Lola with his ability to draw his characters together without them realizing how interconnected their world is. Even more impressive is how it never comes across as some sort of gimmicky plot device. The story dwells in memory, and depending on where viewers choose to place their sympathies the final outcome is either blissfully happy or melancholic. As with the proverb in the opening credits, the duality is set in place from the beginning. It is then Demy's talent that allows us to sympathize with the love-struck Roland, and the compromised Cécile. Demy has a lot to say about the nature of love and attraction though Lola scoffs at Roland's advances, Roland rejects Madame Desnoyers' in much the same way. For Roland and Desnoyers, love, and relationships, are used to fill absences they sense in their own lives. One can't (nor shouldn't) blame Lola for rejecting Roland, since she's the only one of the trio who knows what, and who, she wants. Perhaps it's Demy's penchant for mixing George Delerue's pop music with the somber reflections of Beethoven's seventh symphony that gives much of this love-play its somber tone. No matter where our sympathies are pulled, Demy shrewdly controls the machinations of cinema. He also knew how to direct actors, and this would be Anouk Aimée's best on-screen role as she says in an interview on this disc, she doesn't quite know where she stops and Lola begins. It's her touching blend of insecurity and strong-headedness that makes Cécile, and Lola, so indelible.
Wellspring's DVD release presents the film in an anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) from a restored print that does justice to Raoul Coutard's gorgeous black-and-white cinematography. Audio is available in DD 2.0 stereo, as well as a remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 track that tries to create spatial acoustics but sounds muddled and lacks the crispness of the original 2.0. Extras consist of an excerpt from 1995's The World of Jacques Demy (7 min.) featuring interviews with Aimée, Michel, and widow Agnes Varda who supervised both the transfer of the film for this disc and directed the documentary the film's trailer, and filmographies. Lola is on the street now.
Box Office: Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton crowned the box-office chart over the weekend with Sony's romance Something's Gotta Give, which took in $17 million, handily swiping first place from last week's winner, Warner's The Last Samurai, which dropped to second place with $14 million for the frame and $46.8 million over the past ten days. The Farrelly Brothers' comedy Stuck on You starring Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear debuted in third place with an even $10 million, while Warner's teen flick Love Don't Cost a Thing scraped up $6.5 million for the fourth spot. Reviews were mixed-to-positive on Something's Gotta Give and Stuck on You, while most critics sent Love Don't Cost to detention.
In continuing release, Disney's The Haunted Mansion is bringing in good numbers for Eddie Murphy, holding a top-five spot after three weeks and $53.9 million in the bag. New Line's surprise holiday hit Elf starring Will Ferrell remains the big kid on the block with an oversized $147.6 million after six weeks. And despite poor reviews, Universal's Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat has turned into a money-maker with $90.7 million after one month. Early Oscar-favorite Master and Commander is on the slip, but it's cleared the $75 million mark. And on the way to the cheap theaters in a hurry is Paramount's Timeline, which failed to clear $20 million in wide release.
It's all just the calm before the storm, gang new in theaters this Wednesday is The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, while Julia Roberts returns to cineplexes on Friday in Mona Lisa Smile. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Doug Holm has posted his defense of Gigli this morning, while new reviews this week from the rest of the team include Escape From New York: Special Edition, Freaky Friday, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Five, South Park: Season Three, The Out-of-Towners, Bay of Angels, Henry Fool, Man on the Train, Melvin Goes to Dinner, Bonjour Tristesse, Lola, and Space Ghost Coast to Coast: Vol.1. It's all under our New Reviews menu here on the front page.
We'll be back tomorrow with news on this week's street discs.
Tuesday, 9 Dec. 2003
On the Street: The biggest, baddest DVD on the street this week undoubtedly is Columbia TriStar's Bad Boys II, which arrives in a two-disc set with plenty of behind-the-scenes features. Columbia also has released the year's most notorious turkey, Gigli starring Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez, which has arrived with considerably less fanfare. Those of you who can't resist a guilty pleasure might be looking to get Artisan's new edition of Dirty Dancing, and new TV items this week from Fox include Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Five and Firefly: The Complete Series. Fresh from New Line is the teen dramedy How to Deal starring Mandy Moore. Admirers of director Michael Powell can pick up one of his earliest works, The Edge of the World, from Milestone. And Wellspring has a Jacques Demy trio ready to ship with Bay of Angels, Lola, and the documentary The World of Jacques Demy. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 8 Dec. 2003
Disc of the Week: Daniel Day-Lewis is one of cinema's greatest working actors. That said, he's also something of an eccentric. After winning the Oscar for best actor in My Left Foot in 1989, he worked for directors Martin Scorsese, Michael Mann, Nicholas Hynter, and Jim Sheridan but his output was sporadic, and he seemed uninterested in becoming a marquee player in Hollywood (Lewis turned down the role of Aragon in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films) even though he's often voted one of Hollywood's sexiest stars, among other such banalities. Known for his dedication and commitment to acting, Day-Lewis will get so far into his roles that he will ask cast and crew members to address him by his character's name, both on and off the set. But after 1997, he dropped from sight for five years, only to return for Scorsese's Gangs of New York (2002) after Harvey Weinstein lured him away from Florence, Italy, where he was apprenticing as a cobbler (one can only imagine having an Oscar-winner fixing your Doc Martens). Thus, it's odd to have this peculiar talent appear on the audio commentary of Michael Powell's 1938 picture The Edge of the World, reading excerpts from Powell's book on the making of the film, 200,000 Feet on Foula. Perhaps it's Day-Lewis's friendship with Martin Scorsese, who "presents" the title in this release, or perhaps he's just a big fan of Powell, one of best directors who's better known among cinephiles than the public at large. Whatever the case, his presence is a welcome addition to a fine early Michael Powell project about a community's struggle to survive.
The Edge of the World takes place on the Scottish island of Hirta the story is told in flashback when ex-Hirta resident Andrew Gray (Niall MacGinnis) takes a couple (played by the director and his future wife Frankie Reidy) to the island and tells of how it became both deserted and cursed. Problems start when Robbie Manson (Eric Berry) returns to Hirta after working elsewhere, and now he can't stop butting heads with both his family and Andrew he wants to leave the island for good. But the community needs every member it has, since their population is slowly dwindling. To keep Robbie on the island, Andrew challenges him to a rock-climbing contest that ends tragically. After that comes problems between Andrew and his girlfriend Ruth (Belle Chrystall), who was the twin sister of Robbie, as well as her father Peter (John Laurie), who also didn't want Robbie to leave and can't forgive Andrew. Soon Andrew abandons Hirta, a move complicated by the fact that the community desperately needs his presence, and that Ruth is now pregnant with his child. Things only get worse when the inhabitants discover they can only spend one more year on their island home.
Though Michael Powell had been directing films for ten years by the time he did The Edge of the World, this is the first of his efforts where he found his voice; as Powell called it, it was his "first independent picture." He was working from a story he'd been familiar with, ever since hearing about the desertion of Hebridean isle of St. Kilda in 1930. The community had to get a grant from the government because they were no longer able to sustain themselves on their island, and from this rich story Powell wrote the screenplay himself and then took his cast to the Scottish Isle of Foula, where the film was shot. Such events link Powell with some naturalist directors of the time, including Robert Flaherty a comparison Powell always hated. But the project also established Powell as a filmmaker bent on authenticity, to the point that he became (what DVD Journal contributor D.K. Holm terms) a "location masochist." And masochism isn't too far from the truth, since the crew had to have their food, water and everything else shipped to the island. The Edge of the World has a great naturalistic quality, and though its rock-climbing stunt turns fatal in the story, the scenic beauty is impressive. That said, Powell was even more interested in the nature of a social microcosm in decay, and though each character does his part to foster that dissolution, either by a stubborn devotion to tradition or a rush to abandon the community, no one person is responsible for the demise. For a character like Peter Manson, leaving the island is an unacceptable outcome, which is why the film remains a compelling vision of a world that will be lost.
Image Entertainment and Milestone Films have released The Edge of the World from a restored print that's presented full frame (1.33:1 OAR) and with monaural audio. The source material contains some collateral wear but for the most part it's acceptable, while the soundtrack is in good shape and the narrative is never lost. The release is a mixed blessing we're fortunate that much of the film has survived at all, since it was edited down from its original 81-min. running-time to 62 min. for a 1940 reissue. This current version runs 75 min. Extras include the commentary track with Daniel Day-Lewis, Powell's widow (and Scorsese's current editor) Thelma Schoonmaker, and film theorist Ian Christie; the latter three cover much of the production and the film's importance in Powell's body of work, while Lewis interjects with excerpts from Powell's book. Also included is Powell's patriotic six-min. short "An Airman's Letter to His Mother" (1941) and his documentary Return to the Edge of the World (1978), wherein Powell and cast members Hugh Laurie, Grant Sutherland, and Frankie Reidy return to Foula, the Scottish island where they shot the film. The Edge of the World is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: The snowstorm that struck the northeastern U.S. over the weekend also hit box-office revenues, but it didn't prevent Tom Cruise from claiming the top spot on the chart Warner's The Last Samurai took in $24.4 million, easily beating all competition and adding to perfect Tommy's impressive list of number-one openings. Arriving in second place was Universal's hip-hop drama Honey starring Jessica Alba, which garnered a respectable $14 million. Critics gave The Last Samurai mixed-to-positive reviews, although several thought it was overlong. Honey was widely dismissed.
In continuing release, New Line's Elf starring Will Ferrell is in fourth place after five weeks, and the lightweight holiday comedy finally has managed to shame The Matrix Revolutions both films have been playing for five weeks, and Elf has surpassed the Wachowski Brothers' epic with nearly $140 million to date. Buena Vista's The Haunted Mansion starring Eddie Murphy was the strongest returning title, taking third with $46.1 million, while Universal's Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat rounds off the top five with $85.5 million in the bank. Miramax's dark comedy Bad Santa starring Billy Bob Thornton is shaping up to be a modest hit with a 10-day total of $27.2 million. Early Oscar favorite Master and Commander has cleared $72.6 million after one month. And off to DVD prep is Disney's Brother Bear, which will finish around $80 million.
New films arriving in cineplexes this weekend include Something's Gotta Give starring Jack Nicholson, Amanda Peet, and Diane Keaton, the Farrelly Brothers' Stuck on You with Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear, and the teen comedy Love Don't Cost a Thing. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Dawn Taylor has posted her review of Buena Vista's Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, while new spins from the rest of the team this week include Bad Boys II, Dirty Dancing: Ultimate Edition, How to Deal: Platinum Series, Firefly: The Complete Series, Gerry, Ichi the Killer, PCU, Odds Against Tomorrow, The Edge of the World, and Cinemania. All can be found under the New Reviews menu here on the front page.
Back tomorrow with the street discs.
Tuesday, 2 Dec. 2003
On the Street: Charity begins at home, and so does DVD shopping so get out that credit card, because we're looking at a busy week. At the top of many lists is Fox's The Alien Quadrilogy, which looks impressive when unfolded in a nearly six-foot digipak, and could break your foot if you accidentally drop it. But we have little doubt that this week's top seller will be Buena Vista's Pirates of the Caribbean, which arrives in a two-disc set. Cineastes among us can get MGM's new special edition of William Friedkin's To Live and Die in L.A., which debuts on DVD this week, while other classics on the board include The Ox-Bow Incident, The Great Gatsby, and Hud. We know more than a few people have been waiting patiently to get their hands on the complete Ben Stiller Show, out now from Warner. And small-screen collections this week include Alias: Season Two, Deep Space Nine: Season Seven, and Stargate SG-1: Season Five. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 1 Dec. 2003
Disc of the Week: Though it's often cited as a "Decade Under the Influence," what is commonly referred to as the "'70s style" of filmmaking was not bound to a mere ten years in fact, the New Hollywood era arguably began in 1967 with Arthur Penn's seminal, violent Bonnie and Clyde. It was a time when a new crop of directors lifelong film buffs like Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, and Peter Bogdanovich explored their fascination with anti-heroes, those flawed but ultimately human characters who live in a world where "morality" is cast in gray tones. For some film historians, it seemed that the New Hollywood ended with the arrival of Steven Spielberg's Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981, which heralded a cinema that offered clear moral conclusions and nostalgic appeal a perfect fit for the Reagan years. Yet when did this period the time of Easy Riders and Raging Bulls really fade away? With the financial blockbusters Jaws and Star Wars? The studio-busting Heaven's Gate? The widespread appeal of the Spielberg touch, which caused studio bean-counters to chase a younger, broader audience? It all sounds good, but the problem is that there are still plenty of films that arrived in the '80s that offer '70s sensibilities, including sci-fi like Ridley Scott's Blade Runner. And one could argue that the last great '70s film was made in 1985, when William Friedkin returned to his French Connection roots with To Live and Die in L.A..
William Petersen stars as Richard Chance, a U.S. Secret Service agent who becomes obsessed with catching master counterfeiter Rick Masters (Willem Dafoe) after Masters kills his partner. Now working with the straight-laced John Vukovich (John Pankow), Chance gets closer to Masters by catching one of his money-mules, Carl Cody (John Turturro), but Cody won't talk even after Masters hires goons to whack him in prison. However, the closer Chance and Vukovich get on Masters' trail, the more obvious it becomes that Chance is deeply unstable he often cuts corners and blurs the lines when it comes to following procedure. Masters, on the other hand, is a cool-headed aesthete with beautiful redhead dancer for a girlfriend (Debra Fruer), and he spends his off-hours working on his numerous paintings, which he always ends up burning (as he did in The French Connection, Friedkin draws class distinctions between the cops and criminals to great effect). A contact from Masters' lawyer Bob Grimes (Dean Stockwell) gets the two Secret Service agents a meeting with the mastermind, but to ensnare him they need $30,000 in cash to earn his confidence Masters is well aware that the agency will not allow more than $10,000 in bait-money for a bust. It's when Chance's girlfriend Ruth (Darlanne Fluegel) hears of an illicit diamond deal with a $50,000 payoff that Chance and Vukovich break ranks with their superiors, and the law itself.
It's the hunt for the briefcase packed with $50,000 in cash in To Live and Die in L.A. that leads to what may be the greatest car chase in the history of cinema or at least, it's only rivaled by the two chases in John Frankenheimer's Ronin (1998) and Gene Hackman's white-knuckle ride in Friedkin's own French Connection. It's a great set-piece, but Friedkin also is able to link the event to both the plot and the characters. Though born of noir, there's something almost perverse about Friedkin's cop movies the main characters take risks and make mistakes, fueling Friedkin's gleeful fascination with darkest recesses of good men. Here, the two agents become common thieves to get their hands on bait-money their own agency won't provide them a hazardous choice, albeit the only logical conclusion for the aptly named Chance. William Petersen got two big breaks playing cops early on in his career, with both this film and Michael Mann's Manhunter (1986), which effectively set the stage for his later television success in "CSI." He's a commanding lead, and one who (as Friedkin notes on the commentary) is chasing death itself. Dafoe is likewise excellent as the cultivated Masters, who obviously is the obverse side of the coin, while the rest of the cast is filled out with strong supporting players, including a great early appearance by John Turturro. Working from a novel by ex-Secret Service agent Gerald Petievich, To Live and Die in L.A. knows its beat, and one feels that Friedkin has achieved something authentic, while still retaining his own cinematic sensibilities making it both one of the great cop-films and one of Friedkin's best.
Long awaited by fans who feared it would get lost in the digital shuffle, MGM's new special edition DVD release of To Live and Die in L.A. presents the film in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) and in Dolby Digital 5.1 audio it's an edition that finally does justice to Robby Muller's cinematography. Supplements include an insightful commentary by Friedkin, who is engaging throughout as he discusses the film and his own tastes (in contemporary cinema, he says he loves Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman for their odd turns). It's one of the rare commentaries where one actually feels edified after listening to it, and Friedkin has no problem delving into both motivations and the nuts-and-bolts of his shooting style. The commentary is complemented by the documentary "Counterfeit World" (30 min.), which features Friedkin, stars William Petersen, John Pankow, Willem Dafoe, and Darlanne Fluegel, editor and co-producer Bud Smith, and stunt driver Buddy Joe Hooker (and was edited by "DVD Savant" Glen Erickson). The doc gets into the rough-and-ready way the film was shot, how Friedkin directs, and offers some period "making-of" footage. Also included are two featurettes about an alternative ending and a deleted scene (both of which can be watched with or without introductions), stills, and trailer galleries. To Live and Die in L.A.: Special Edition is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: Four new films arrived at cineplexes over the Thanksgiving weekend, but most failed to impress. The lone exception was Buena Vista's The Haunted Mansion starring Eddie Murphy, which claimed the top spot on the chart with $25.3 million over the weekend and $35 million since its mid-week debut. Arriving much further down in sixth place was Miramax's Bad Santa starring Billy Bob Thornton with $16.8 million for the frame, while Columbia TriStar's The Missing with Tommy Lee Jones and Cate Blanchett garnered $16.5 million and Paramount's Timeline starring Paul Walker managed $12.6 million. Critics gave Santa generally positive reviews, while Missing earned mixed notices and both Mansion and Timeline were widely clobbered.
In continuing release, Universal's Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat starring Mike Myers was a strong performer despite taking critics' barbs, nearly claiming first place for the second week in a row with $24.7 million and a 10-day total of $77 million. Still doing solid holiday business is New Line's Elf with Will Ferrell, which is holding down the third spot with $130 million after one month. Warner's Gothika starring Halle Berry has garnered $41.1 million in two sessions, and Fox's Master and Commander rounds out the top five with a $67.4 million cume. The lone rom-com on the board, Love Actually, is still drawing audiences with $43.2 million to date. But The Matrix Revolutions continues to plummet with a $133 million gross that was mostly earned in its opening days. Meanwhile, Mystic River is now on the way to DVD prep after finishing in the $50 million neighborhood.
New films arriving on screens this Friday include The Last Samurai starring Tom Cruise and the urban drama Honey. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Mr. Beaks has posted his in-depth sneak-preview of Fox's nine-disc The Alien Quadrilogy, while new stuff this week from the rest of the team includes Bruce Almighty, X2: X-Men United, La Strada: The Criterion Collection, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: 35th Anniversary Edition, The Ox-Bow Incident: Fox Studio Classics, The Ben Stiller Show, Hud, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Season Seven, Young Sherlock Holmes, Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blonde, To Live and Die in L.A.: Special Edition, and the BBC's 1966 broadcast of Alice in Wonderland. It's all under our New Reviews menu here on the front page.
We'll be back tomorrow with the rundown on this week's street discs.