Tuesday, 29 June 2004
On the Street: Hidden among the many special-interest titles that cover our street-list this week are a few gems, in particular Warner's special-edition re-issue of Mel Brooks' 1974 classic Blazing Saddles, while MGM goes for a different sort of political incorrectness with Barbershop 2: Back in Business. Paramount's offerings this morning include the 1960 classic The World of Suzie Wong and the recent teen drama The Perfect Score. Miramax has a two-disc Collector's Edition of The English Patient under wrap. And there's TV titles galore, including new sets of South Park, CSI Miami, Dawson's Creek, Wonder Woman, and childhood favorites The Land of the Lost, and the animated Spider-Man. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 28 June 2004
Disc of the Week: Chalk up Blazing Saddles as only a lampoon of Hollywood westerns and you miss the point by a Texas mile. After its release in 1974, Mel Brooks' R-rated lowbrow "Night at the Horse Opera" became a surprise box-office hit. But comedy, like porn and Picassos, is a fundamentally subjective experience, so critical reaction to this mishmash of rapid-fire gags, Mad magazine naughtiness, outrageous anachronisms, and disjointed styles was predictably mixed. It was regarded as either a rude jumble of sophomoric Borscht Belt shtick stretched to the point of ripping its seams over the film's mod hipster frame, or else a liberating splash of rules-breaking social satire that beat the tar out of Hollywood formulas while simultaneously overturning everyday conventions of racial bigotry, sex, and things you were or were not "supposed" to see or hear on a screen. It was either unashamedly sophomoric or cleverly subversive. The brilliance of Mel Brooks was that Blazing Saddles embodied both and all of these things. The casual vulgarity, racial epithets, and pants-dropping silliness are spread like the very best butter over the more serious business of iconoclastically upturning expectations and tropes, especially some shibboleths found not just in old-fashioned cowboy movies. Not that Brooks sought to make a "message film." After all, we still get the famous campfire beans-and-farts scene, which is about nothing more than being the first beans-and-farts scene in cinema history. Still, it's fair to say that Blazing Saddles broke ground as well as wind.
Although the film's plot is at best a secondary concern, it twists the nipples of every Wild West genre staple in the book. Clevon Little stars as Bart, a black railroad-worker who is used by villainous Hedley "not Hedy" Lamarr (Harvey Korman) and the buffoonish state governor (Brooks, who also appears as a Yiddish Indian Chief), in a dastardly land-snatch scheme. The bad guys, abetted by Slim Pickens as an oafish henchman and, at first, Madeline Kahn's Teutonic femme fatale Lili Von Shtupp, appoint Bart the new sheriff of bandit-besieged Rock Ridge. Their purpose is to so offend the little frontier town's "white, God-fearing" squares (all named Johnson) that they'll abandon the territory to the new railroad Lamarr plans to build through it. For a while the plan works, with Bart confronted with every manner of bigotry from words to gun barrels. Bart, though, has more smarts than everyone else in town put together. Teaming with a washed-up gunslinger, the Waco Kid (Gene Wilder), he sets out to prove himself, save the town, and defeat those who would "stamp out runaway decency in the West." Everyone onscreen is in fine form and steps into their roles with a sense of fun that keeps Blazing Saddles brisk and sharp. Little and Wilder in particular spark up terrific chemistry. Highlights are plenty, with some (such as the farting scene) having achieved legendary status. Madeline Kahn's note-perfect parody of Marlene Dietrich earned her a second consecutive Academy Award nomination. In its final fifteen minutes, the narrative (such as it is) comes totally unglued from even its own reality, and becomes so anarchic and "meta" that Blazing Saddles could be the American cousin of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which debuted the following year.
Besides the flatulence and coarse language, Blazing Saddles lights the fuses of other cherry bombs and tosses them into our laps with "faggot" jokes, Jewish jokes, and jokes built on certain black male stereotypes ("It's twue, it's twue!"). We get gags at the expense of religious piety, Kahn's uproarious cabaret number about her well-worn nether region ("the dirtiest song I ever wrote," reports Brooks), and a hundred verbal or visual in-jokes that run the gamut from witty to just plain dumb. What keeps the potentially offensive from being genuinely offensive is that Cleavon Little's Bart is never played as a victim. This intelligent, good-looking, well-spoken black man knows exactly how to play off the asinine white crackers that surround him. Blazing Saddles hosed down moviegoers with such audacity that it became a permission slip for other comics and filmmakers who came afterward, from the brothers Zucker and Farrelly to Saturday Night Live and beyond. For three decades its popularity has remained sturdy, manifesting a fan following that may have earned Blazing Saddles the prize for Most Quotable Movie Ever. As Brooks puts it, "It's still paying for my beans."
Warner Home Video puts Blazing Saddles back on the shelves with a 30th Anniversary Special Edition that handily replaces the inferior DVD that's been out since 1997. This new release gives us a great-looking print clean and sharp and vivid transferred with improved definition and in its 2.35:1 (anamorphic) ratio. Occasionally a little spottiness is a reminder that we have print from 1974 here, but overall we get a first-rate restoration that delivers the goods. The sound arrives in an able-bodied DD 5.1 remix. Starting the extras, instead of the advertised "Scene-Specific Commentary" we get Brooks' audio essay from the previous DVD edition. It's about 52 minutes long and runs so independent of the movie that it works better with the picture turned off. Brooks is chatty and relaxed and full of praise for his cast and staff, with fond memories of the production process from his earliest introduction to the script to the finished movie's first screening. New stuff starts with Back in the Saddle, a nostalgic featurette with members of the cast and production team reminiscing about their experiences making the film. Intimate Portrait: Madeline Kahn, a short piece from Lifetime Television, eulogizes the actress, who died in 1999. TV Pilot: Black Bart is the 1975 pilot episode for a failed network TV series based on Blazing Saddles. Lou Gossett Jr. stars in this dreadful attempt to milk a cash cow. Additional Scenes strings together outtakes and scenes that had their audio redubbed or reshot for the bowdlerized "edited for TV" version of Blazing Saddles. The original theatrical trailer brings up the rear. Blazing Saddles: 30th Anniversary Edition is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: The underdogs continue to win at the box office this time around it's Michael Moore, whose anti-war documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 took in $21.8 million for Lions Gate over the past three days, and the film secured the win despite playing on less than 900 screens nationwide (approximately one-fourth of all other debuts last week). Arriving in second place, the Wayans Brothers' White Chicks snagged $19.6 million for Sony, with $27.1 million since last Wednesday, while New Line's tearjerker The Notebook wound up in fifth place with $13 million, and Universal's Two Brothers, directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud, landed in ninth with $6.2 million. Critics praised Fahrenheit and Brothers, while The Notebook earned mixed notices. And despite the funny trailers, White Chicks was widely thumped.
In continuing release, Fox's Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story slipped to third place, but with a very positive $18.5 million for its second frame, bouncing it up to $67.1 million after 10 days. DreamWorks' The Terminal starring Tom Hanks and Catherine Zeta-Jones continues to arrive in the ballers' wake, taking in $13.9 million for a $41.8 million cume. Warner's Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is starting to lag, although it's now over $211 million, while DreamWorks' Shrek is about to join the super-elite $400 million club. Hoping to show some signs of recovery is Buena Vista's big-budget Around the World in 80 Days, which has cobbled together $18.2 million so far. And off to DVD prep is Universal's The Chronicles of Riddick, which will fall short of $50 million.
Only one film goes wide this week, Spider-Man 2, which reaches cineplexes on Wednesday, while The Clearing starring Robert Redford and Willem Dafoe, Before Sunset with Ethan Hawke and July Deply , and De-Lovely starring Kevin Kline will have limited releases on Friday. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Mark Bourne waxes at further length this week on the virtues of Blazing Saddles, while new spins from the rest of the team include Barbershop 2: Back in Business, South Park: Season Four, The Perfect Score, The World of Suzie Wong, Dawson's Creek: Season Three, No Small Affair, Die Mommie Die!, Three Blind Mice, 3 Way, and You Got Served: Take It to the Streets. All can be found under the New Reviews menu here on the front page.
We'll be back tomorrow to let you know about this week's street discs.
Tuesday, 22 June 2004
On the Street: It's a light list this week, but Criterion leads the way with three new releases: a double-feature of Maxim Gorky's The Lower Depths from directors Akira Kurosawa and Jean Renoir, Jean Luc-Godard's musical frolic A Woman is a Woman, and Pier Paolo Pasolini's Mamma Roma. Meanwhile, suspense fans can check out Columbia TriStar's Secret Window starring Johnny Depp and John Turturro, as well as Larry Blamire's schlock-spoof The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra, while Buena Vista/Miramax launches what's certain to become a holiday classic with Bad Santa and Badder Santa: The Unrated Version starring and extraordinarily profane, intoxicated, incontinent Billy Bob Thornton. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 21 June 2004
Disc of the Week: In a barely standing ghetto, a microcosm of poor people are just getting by enough to survive in their bastardized society. Held in check by a greedy landlord and his conniving wife, the community is populated by a strange collection of cast-offs: There's a character who used to be a part of the bourgeois but fell into poverty and is content with it; there's a prostitute who clings to her love stories that she insists happened to her, even though the name of her lover keeps changing; there's an actor whose insides have been damaged by excessive drinking, but clings to hope of getting cleaned up; there's a tinker whose invalid wife is slowing slipping away; and most pressingly there's a thief who swears to give up his trade for the landlord's wife's sister, but the landlord's wife won't let him go unless the thief kills her husband. This was the stage set by Russian writer Maxim Gorky in his play The Lower Depths (which was first produced in 1902), and his work attracted two masters to adapt it to the big screen: Jean Renoir and Akira Kurosawa. The Criterion Collection's release of both films in a double-disc set allows for a rare chance to compare and contrast two of the cinema's greatest directors adapting the same work. Through this double-feature, one can see how the main themes and concerns of their directors affect how both adapt the play.
Renoir's The Lower Depths (in French, Les Bas-fonds) was made in 1936 and has long been considered one of the director's minor efforts. Yet with Renoir, a minor effort is generally equal or better than the vast majority of any other director's major projects. It also is notable because this was the first time Renoir worked with frequent collaborator Jean Gabin, and their partnership blossoms on screen. Gabin plays Pepel, the thief, and through Gabin's charisma he becomes the main character of this ensemble piece. He's most often paired with the Baron (Louis Jouvet), whom Pepel set out to rob, only to find the Baron penniless on his last night at his estate before he's evicted; the Baron has frittered away his saving due to his gambling addiction, and he follows Pepel to the lower depths. Yet for the Baron, he finds that in his quest to hit bottom, he's actually more content with nothing. The robbery and the odd friendship between the thief and the Baron is Renoir's main revision of the play in this loose adaptation the other main change is that Renoir finds more redemption in Pepel's love story than either Gorky or Kurosawa. Though Renoir still peppers his tale with a sense of poverty's bleakness, his version brims with the humanity and the love of people that marks his best work, along with his deft skills behind the camera. What makes his Depths rewarding is that it reveals his wit and sense of humor more than his next series of films (1937's Grand Illusion, 1938's La Bete Humaine and La Marseillaise, culminating with 1939's The Rules of the Game, arguably his best). Alexander Sesonske suggests in his included essay that this lightness may have been pressed onto Renoir; external pressures due to the coming of World War II may have forced his hand. Regardless, Renoir's playful sweetness has a sense of melancholy to it, which gives the film the sort of Renoir touch that makes it a minor masterpiece.
Nonetheless, the major work on this DVD release belongs to Akira Kurosawa. His Lower Depths (in Japanese Donzoko) is more directly derived from the source material; though there is a great deal of overlap, Renoir's version opened the piece to include more of the outside world, while Kurosawa clamps down on the ghetto setting and never leaves it, populating the soundtrack with the oppressive sound of wind that keeps the people of the lower depths trapped in their hovels. In a telling move though this version is more of an ensemble piece than Renoir's the heart of the film belongs to the traveling pilgrim character played by Bokuzen Hidari, who espouses Kurosawa's Existential Humanist ethos throughout. His character is the one who tries to see the good in everyone in the group, and who suggests how the choices people make and what they believe in are the most important element of life. The film features Kurosawa's greatest star, Toshiro Mifune, as the thief Sutekichi, but because he's such an attention-grabbing presence, his screen-time is minimized to keep him from overwhelming the whole. Still, Mifune delivers a powerhouse performance. Indeed, much of the film's drama rests upon his relationship with the landlord's wife Osugi (Isuzu Yamada) and her sister Okayo (Kyoko Kagawa). Sutekichi plans to leave the criminal life for Okayo, but his old relationship with Osugi hangs over their plans, leading the film to its desperate final act. The claustrophobic setting (there's a vague feeling of watching a prison film) creates a different tension than the Renoir version, and it gives the characters a greater sense of desperation and loss. These feelings are mixed with some (mostly black) humor, but as Kurosawa shows he is unflinching in the bleakness of these characters' existences while still acknowledging their humanity. As even Renoir admitted, Kurosawa's adaptation is the better of the two.
The new Criterion Collection release of The Lower Depths presents both films in their original aspect ratios (1.33:1) and in 1.0 mono French (for Renoir's) and Japanese (for Kurosawa's) with optional English subtitles. The transfer for the Renoir film suffers the most obvious flaws there is some early shaking on the picture, which looks more like a problem of the digital transfer than the film itself. And while both suffer minor print-damage throughout, they showcase how both directors used depth of focus to give their main settings a sense of space. Unlike Criterion's similar double feature for The Killers, this is not a definite set of an adaptation: A version of it was made in Russia in 1952 (under the play's original Russian title, Na dne), and there is no mention of this adaptation or any studies of Gorky's play. That said, it does offer numerous film-specific supplements. Renoir's film is on the first disc, and with it comes an introduction by Renoir (6 min.) similar to the introductions he's provided for Grand Illusion and The Rules of the Game where he reminisces on the making of the film. Since the included essay seems to suggest this is a minor work, perhaps it's best to view the inclusion of the film as a supplement to the Kurosawa title. The second disc features Kurosawa's effort alongside an audio commentary by renowned Japanese cinema scholar Donald Richie who is eloquent, if a touch too dry. Disc Two also includes The Lower Depths chapter of the Japanese TV show "Akira Kurosawa: It Is Wonderful To Create" (33 min.), and cast biographies by Stephen Prince. The Lower Depths: The Criterion Collection is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: It's only fitting that a movie about underdogs should come out on top Fox's Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story starring Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn took the top spot at the weekend box-office with a $30 million bow, handily beating DreamWorks' The Terminal starring Tom Hanks and Catherine Zeta-Jones, and directed by Steven Spielberg, which delivered a disappointing-by-comparison $18.7 million debut. However, taking a beating was Disney's Around the World in 80 Days starring Jackie Chan and Steve Coogan, which landing in ninth place with $6.8 million for the weekend. With a reported $110 million budget, 80 Days marks the second major flop of the year for the Disney studio, coming just weeks after The Alamo. Critics were mixed-to-positive on Dodgeball and The Terminal, while 80 Days earned mixed-to-negative notices.
In continuing release, Warner's Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban continues to rack up the moola, adding $17.4 million to its $190.3 million tally after just three weeks, while DreamWorks' Shrek 2 is now a gargantuan hit with $378.3 million in the pot after five frames. Rounding off the top five is Fox's Garfield, which added a respectable $11 million to a $42 million cume. Universal's The Chronicles of Riddick starring Vin Diesel isn't shaping up to the summer hit it was hoped to be, falling to seventh place in its second weekend with $41.4 million to date. However, Fox's The Day After Tomorrow will take money to the bank, now with $166.7 million after one month. Meanwhile, off to DVD prep is Universal's Van Helsing, which will near $120 million before it's through.
New in theaters on Wednesday is White Chicks starring Marlon and Shawn Wayans, while Friday debuts include Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 and The Notebook. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: New spins this week from the review team include Secret Window, 50 First Dates, Badder Santa: The Unrated Version, A Woman is a Woman: The Criterion Collection, Night and Day, Das Boot: The Original Uncut Version, Mamma Roma: The Criterion Collection, The Wedding Banquet, Prick Up Your Ears, The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra, The Lower Depths: The Criterion Collection, and Tarzan, the Ape Man. All can be found under the New Reviews menu here on the front page.
Back tomorrow with the street discs.
Tuesday, 15 June 2004
On the Street: The street list isn't all that long this week, but there's plenty of under-the-radar titles to pick from. Top of our list is MGM's Touching the Void, while also new from the Lion are catalog releases of Prick Up Your Ears and The Wedding Banquet. Sundance favorite The Station Agent is new from Miramax, while mainstream laughs can be found with Columbia TriStar's 50 First Dates, and David Mamet fans can look for his latest from Warner, Spartan starring Val Kilmer. Out from Paramount is the documentary Tupac: Resurrection and 1975's The Stepford Wives. And TV titles this time around include The Simpsons: Season Four, Curb Your Enthusiasm: Season Two, and Dead Like Me: Season One. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 14 June 2004
Disc of the Week: For mountaineers, Nepal's Mount Everest will always be a key summit in a career of climbing with an elevation of nearly 30,000 feet, it's the highest peak in the world, and with obstacles and weather that can turn treacherous. However, Everest's nearest neighbor, K2 which is less than 1,000 feet lower often ranks as the world's most dangerous peak, with just one hundred successful ascents and a 50% fatality rate. It's figures like these that call to true adventurers. And peaks that have never been scaled can be even more tempting. In 1985, two British climbers Joe Simpson and Simon Yates set off for Peru to tackle the west face of a 21,000 foot behemoth known as Siula Grande. While several attempts had been made, none at that time were successful. For Simpson and Yates (then just 25 and 21 years old), Siula Grande's reputation should have served as a warning at that point, the two climbing companions had scaled several peaks in the Alps, but this would be their first trip to the Andes. Adding further risk to the challenge, the duo decided to make the attempt in "Alpine style," not bothering to set rope-lines or create camps with supplies, but simply hacking their way up the mountain's face with axes, ropes, and rucksacks. After encountering a storm that held them in place for one night, the climb was successful. But 80% of all climbing accidents happen on descent, and Simpson and Yates' return from Siula Grande has since become a matter of legend and controversy in mountaineering lore.
Based on the book by Joe Simpson, director Kevin MacDonald's Touching the Void (2003) is an ambitious documentary that attempts to recreate Simpson and Yates' week on Siula Grande. And Simpson's first-hand account was written not for the sake of an adventure tale, but merely in defense of his climbing partner. In fact, the mountaineer only expected a few thousand climbers to read it and was surprised when it sold one million copies. What Simpson didn't take into account was the reading public's appetite for harrowing life-and-death dramas drawn from true events it was on the descent from Siula Grande that Simpson, in a freak accident, fell and shattered his right leg with such force that his tibia was driven into his femur, splitting it above the kneecap. In a climb of this magnitude, Simpson realized that his life was all but over and he was doomed to die in the Andes. But Yates selflessly attempted a one-man rescue mission, laboriously sliding his injured partner down the mountain's face with the aid of two 150-foot ropes. It was only after Simpson fell over the side of an ice-ledge, and Yates' precarious footing became compromised, that he did the unthinkable cutting the rope, he chose to save his own life in the face of dying alongside the badly injured Simpson. Upon returning to England, Yates endured such fierce criticism from the climbing community that Simpson felt bound to defend his partner by writing Touching the Void. But it was Simpson's odyssey of survival and escape within the mountain's crevasses that made the book an international best-seller.
Touching the Void was bound to become a motion picture, but there was some question as to just what sort of film it should be. Without question, re-creating the ascent and return from Siula Grande would present its own set of technical problems. Furthermore, there would be little opportunity for dialogue with just two main characters who are separated for the second half of the story. But director MacDonald's quasi-documentary solution is inspired getting Simpson and Yates on camera 17 years later, he captured their recollections, with further details added by base-camp companion Richard Hawking (a non-climber). This narrative is then bolstered by a cinematic re-creation of events, using actors and professional climbers to illustrate high-risk mountaineering with the sort of accuracy to make even casual viewers' palms sweat. For some close-up, detailed sequences, Alpine slopes doubled for Andean peaks. But MacDonald also insisted that the production utilize as much of Siula Grande as possible with a five-person film crew, a small expedition force, and 70 donkeys carrying six tons of film gear, the filmmakers made the week-long journey from Lima, Peru, to Simpson and Yates' 1985 base-camp, filming many of the sequences along the mountain's lower slopes, glacier bed, and rock-strewn bottom. Simpson, Yates, and Hawking also were invited to join the expedition, none having been back since their traumatic ordeal nearly two decades earlier. The two climbers agreed to do some stand-in work (doubling for the actors who doubled for them), but their reactions to Siula Grande included on this DVD's supplements form a compelling, equally dramatic coda to a story that's been recreated with painstaking detail.
MGM's new DVD release of Touching the Void offers a solid anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Supplements include "The Making of Touching the Void" (22 min.), with comments from director Kevin MacDonald and a behind-the-scenes look at the film crew in the Andes. "Return to Siula Grande" (22 min.) includes some footage also found in the "making-of" spot, but is more fascinating Simpson claims to be uninterested in revisiting to Peru, but upon returning to the original campsite he's overwhelmed with emotions he struggles to contain, and he later confides in his video diary a barely concealed contempt for the film crew and an anathema toward re-living his own life-and-death struggle on camera. Meanwhile, Yates insists that Siula Grande was just one of his many climbing adventures, that he and Simpson are not particularly close friends, and that he's agreed to come to Peru primarily because it's a vacation paid for by the film's producers (camp companion Hawking later offers a perceptive insight into Yates' reputation as the climber who "cut the rope," and how the story of Siula Grande continues to haunt him). "What Happened Next" (9 min.) includes comments from all three on the journey from Siula Grande to Lima, and then London, and the theatrical trailer is on board in addition to an MGM trailer gallery. Touching the Void is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: A string of new summer titles headlined the weekend box-office, but the boy wizard beat all challengers Warner's Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban took in $35 million during its second frame to hold the top spot, pushing its 10-day cume to $158.1 million. DreamWorks' The Chronicles of Riddick starring Vin Diesel took in $24.6 million for second place, but it was closely followed by Paramount's The Stepford Wives with $22.2 million and Fox's Garfield with $21.6 million. Nonetheless, all three new titles skewed mixed-to-negative with critics.
In continuing release, DreamWorks' Shrek 2 has slipped to third place after one month, now with a colossal $354 million in the bag. Fox's disaster flick The Day After Tomorrow took in $14.5 million, and now stands at $153.1 million overall. And Buena Vista's Raising Helen has done $31.4 million in business over the past three weeks. Warner's Troy isn't delivering the blockbuster numbers it hoped for, with just $125.6 million. But Paramount's Mean Girls still looks pretty with an $81.3 million purse. And off to DVD prep is Man on Fire starring Denzel Washington, which will clear $75 million.
New on screens this Friday is Around the World in 80 Days starring Jackie Chan and Steve Coogan. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: An interruption in mail service meant we didn't get all of our screeners to the staff last week, but new reviews on the slate this morning include Spartan, Tupac: Resurrection, The Simpsons: Season Four, The Station Agent, Touching the Void, and Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan Lord of the Apes. It's all fresh under the New Reviews menu here on the front page.
Back tomorrow with the street discs.
Tuesday, 8 June 2004
On the Street: One classic film and another that's destined to be lead off our street-list this week Luchino Visconti's 1963 The Leopard starring Burt Lancaster gets its first U.S. home-video debut today from The Criterion Collection in a lavish three-disc set, while Fernando Meirelles' Brazilian gangster epic City of God, new from Buena Vista/Miramax, is certain to become a DVD classic that's watched again and again. Along Came Polly is new from Universal, who also have dipped into the vault for re-issues of Field of Dreams and Reality Bites, while Warner's Tarzan-theme today includes a set of Johnny Weissmuller classics, Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, and the notoriously awful Tarzan, the Ape Man starring Richard Harris and Bo Derek. Folks who missed it in theaters will want to check out Warner's Mystic River. And catalog items from Paramount this morning include Goodbye, Columbus and The President's Analyst. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 7 June 2004
Disc of the Week: Rio de Janero is the only city in the world where the poorest residents have the best views. The favelas the common name for the city's slum districts first appeared in the 1920s, due to a rapid influx of rural poor into the growing urban area. With no money or resources to speak of, immigrants built Rio's first shantytown on the Morro da Favela hillside, and before long the settlement approached 1,000 dwellings. Today, there are more than 600 favela neighborhoods in Rio, all without proper zoning or utilities, and entirely free of both rent and building inspection one shack can be started as little more than a clay hut, and then built up over time with wood, brick, and sheet metal. Notorious for crime, drug trafficking, malnourishment, and disease, the favelas became enough of a social headache that the local government decided in the '60s to create an alternative: the Cidade de Deus, on the outskirts of Rio. Here, on relatively flat land away from Rio's tourist centers, small purpose-built homes lined unpaved streets, and anyone picked up by the police and identified as unemployed or homeless could be relocated to the dust-covered neighborhood. But there still wasn't any electricity or plumbing, at first. As with the hillside favelas, dangerous butane gas in portable canisters was a primary source of energy. And before long the notorious drug trade that had created a low-grade civil war between the police and the hillside gangs soon found its way into the Cidade. In attempting to create an alternative to the favelas, the government did little more than expand crime and poverty to a new location, and to a new generation of Brazilian youth.
Based on true events, Fernando Meirelles' City of God (2002) recounts the surge in gang violence in the Cidade de Deus from the 1960s through the 1970s, starting with a group of three street-level hoodlums. Shaggy, Clipper, and Goose known as "The Tender Trio" are three boys on the edge of adulthood, living in the City of God with little hope of a future beyond the slums. They resort to hold-ups and petty thievery, sharing their proceeds with the settlement's young boys, who view the Tender Trio as heroes. But as crooks with more bravado than brains, the Trio's luck eventually runs out. By the '70s, Shaggy's younger brother Benny (Phellipe Haagensen) becomes a gangland icon in his own right, ruling with a benevolent hand over the City of God's drug trade. However, his boyhood friend Little Dice has rechristened himself Little Zé (Leandro Firmino), and where Benny chooses to be kind, Zé is inherently cruel. Meanwhile, Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues), younger brother of Goose, has chosen to steer clear of gangland activity, remaining on good terms with Benny while pursuing his interest in amateur photography. But when a turf war erupts between Little Zé and rival dealer Carrot (Matheus Nachtergaele), Benny tries to broker a peace, with disastrous consequences. And when a full-scale gang war erupts between the City's rival factions, modest bus conductor Knockout Ned (Seu Jorge) finds himself and his family in Little Zé's crosshairs, causing the former Army marksman to join forces with Carrot. Meanwhile, Rocket tries to stay out of the fray, but his ability to maneuver through the Cidade as a photographer gets the attention of a Rio newsroom, who will pay well for his photos.
With a 2002 premiere at Cannes, City of God traveled the festival circuit for more than a year, earning a limited theatrical release in the U.S. during 2003. A slow-burn hit, it has since won several awards, and even garnered four Oscar nominations for Directing, Editing, Writing, and Cinematography, competing not as a foreign film but instead in the major categories. And perhaps pigeonholing City of God as a "foreign" film would be unfair, with its many connotations. The film is subtitled, but that doesn't mean that it's ponderous or overly intellectual. It isn't a socially conscious film everyone "should" see. And it certainly isn't dull. Drawing from a variety of influences ranging from New Wave to New Hollywood, Meirelles and co-director Kátia Lund tackle an epic, often violent story with an energetic grasp of cinema's language, and in particular the screen's ability to render brutality poetic. Shot entirely on location in the back-streets of Rio (a decision Meirelles reportedly said he came to regret because of its sheer difficulty), a cast of non-actors was recruited for the film, many of them longtime residents of the Cidade. As the thoughtful, intelligent Rocket, Alexandre Rodrigues offers a look at a young person who believes there is a way out of the slum. He is the story's core and its conscience, although fellow unknown Leandro Firmino delivers the film's most chilling performance as the laughing, sociopathic Little Zé a thug who understands that one can only rule by the gun after one has established a climate of terror and fear in which to wield it. As with life in the favelas, Meirelles does not shy away from violence as a gangster movie, this picture easily rivals body-counts found in The Godfather and Scarface. However, as with the works of Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, and Guy Ritchie (whose influences can be seen here), The City of God is a picture of clever tone-shifts between harrowing drama and surprising comic touches, and one that eventually offers hope for the residents of Rio's most deeply entrenched shantytowns.
Buena Vista's new DVD release of City of God features a solid anamorphic transfer (1.851) from a pristine source-print, with the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio in Portuguese with English, French, and Spanish subtitles. Supplements include the 1997 documentary "News from a Personal War" (56 min.), which investigates the drug trade in the favelas of Rio from the point of view of dealers, residents, and the police. City of God is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: It took a megastar to knock DreamWorks' big green ogre off the top of the box-office chart and Warner had one handy. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban easily claimed honors over the weekend with a $92.6 million debut, beating the totals of every other film on the chart combined. It was the best opening for a Harry Potter title yet, and looks to become the second-best three-day total ever, behind Spider-Man's $114 million in 2002. The win dropped Shrek 2 into second place, where it's scared up a blistering $313.6 million in just three sessions. Critics showered Prisoner of Azkaban with near-unanimous praise.
In continuing release, Fox's disaster-flick The Day After Tomorrow has slipped to third, where it managed $28.1 million for the frame and $128.7 million overall. Buena Vista's Raising Helen is hoping to counter-program the cacophony, adding $6.6 million to a reasonable $24.1 million after 10 days. And rounding off the top five are the boy-toys in Warner's Troy, which is losing ground but now has $119 million in booty. Paramount's Mean Girls has lots of legs, holding on to sixth place with $78.1 million after six weeks. And Universal's Van Helsing continues to sell tickets, now with $114.5 million to its credit. Dropping away is Fox's Man on Fire, which has been a $75 million hit so far for star Denzel Washington. But out the door in a hurry is Sony's Breakin' All the Rules, which didn't even clear $1 million last week and has since dropped off the face of the earth.
New reels on screens this Friday include The Chronicles of Riddick starring Vin Diesel, The Stepford Wives with Nicole Kidman, and the family flick Garfield. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Mr. Beaks has posted a sneak-preview of Criterion's three-disc The Leopard, while new reviews this week from the rest of the gang include Mystic River, Trainspotting: Collector's Series, The President's Analyst, Cop Land: Collector's Series, Flirting With Disaster: Collector's Series, Destination Tokyo, Goodbye Columbus, City of God, and The Creeping Flesh. Everything's been added to the New Reviews menu here on the front page.
We'll be back tomorrow with the rundown on this week's street discs.
Wednesday, 2 June 2004
On the Street: The hits just keep comin', and this week's street-list is thick with things to buy. Topping our shopping is a new "Cary Grant Signature Collection" from Warner that includes such classics as The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, and My Favorite Wife, while also out from the vault in Fox's "Studio Classics" collection is The Snake Pit starring Olivia de Havilland. Columbia TriStar's list includes this year's Oscar-winning Monster and the Nick Bloomfield documentary Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer, as well as Robert Altman's The Company, Cliff Robertson's J.W. Coop, a new edition of Wolfgang Petersen's Das Boot, and a three-disc edition of Spider-Man. Miramax is pulling out some catalog items for a revisit, including Trainspotting, Cop Land, and Flirting with Disaster, and Disney's catalog items this time around include the original Freaky Friday, Candleshoe, The Happiest Millionaire, and a Herbie The Love Bug Collection. DreamWorks has four separate versions of Eurotrip on the board, a number matched by Universal's re-issue of Pitch Black. And TV fans will want to look for Mike Nichols' Angels in America, out in a two-disc set from HBO. Here's this week's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Tuesday, 1 June 2004
Disc of the Week: Cary Grant starred opposite some of Hollywood's most beautiful women over the years Grace Kelly, Ingrid Bergman, Sophia Loren, Katherine Hepburn, Audrey Hepburn, and Joan Fontaine are just a few notables who basked in his cinematic glow. But perhaps none were as fetching as 18-year-old Shirley Temple, whose one turn with Grant gave the screen legend one of his most memorable comic roles. Temple would retire completely from the screen just two years after The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (1947), and even then the apex of her career had been passed. A child star who captured the attentions of American audiences during the Great Depression, Temple actually was among the nation's top box-office draws during the decade, responsible for selling more movie tickets than any other star from the years 1936-38. She had so much natural appeal that she was selected early in her career to appear in the "Our Gang" shorts, a role her family declined after she couldn't secure top billing. She also was slated to star in The Wizard of Oz (1939), although her lack of singing skills eventually caused MGM to go with Judy Garland instead. By the '40s, Temple was no longer a bouncy, tap-dancing, golden-curled tot, making good roles harder to come by. But she did get two wonderful opportunities before departing show business John Ford cast her in Fort Apache (1948), and she joined the ranks of Cary Grant's leading ladies.
Temple stars in The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer as high-school student Susan Turner, a bright young girl whose interests and ambitions change with every passing week. Susan lives with her older sister, Margaret (Myrna Loy), a guardian who couldn't be more different as a local judge, sensible Margaret runs a law-and-order courtroom and urges her younger sibling to set her personal goals just as rationally. But when painter Richard Nugent (Grant) speaks at Susan's high school, the young girl is immediately infatuated. Taking up pen and paper as the school newspaper's editor, she tries to interview Richard, but the artist soon learns that the teenager's older sister was the same no-nonsense judge he stood before in court that morning. Richard, it seems, is a bit of a playboy, and the night before he found himself in the midst of a scuffle at the Vampire Club, where he knocked a bouncer on the jaw. As far as Richard is concerned, he'd rather have nothing to do with the entire Turner household. But one innocent comment causes Susan to think she should visit Richard's apartment, where she will pose for him. And after a mix-up of colossal proportions, Richard finds himself in the clink for having relations with an underage girl. It's all sorted out in due course, but only after the painter is forced into a bargain he doesn't like: Judge Turner wants him to "date" Susan until her childish infatuation with him has run its course.
It's a sign of the times when the premise for a golden-age Hollywood comedy would be considered almost too dark by today's standards to be remade as a mainstream movie the running gag of The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer is nothing less than statutory rape, and it's played for laughs in a manner that raises both grins and eyebrows: "Did you invite her up there to be a model?" Richard's attorney asks. "Oh, I told that to 500 little girls!" is the artist's half-witted reply. And later, Margaret's would-be boyfriend invites Richard to a birthday party for a girl "She's six!" he announces. What's more, a contemporary film concerning a man in his early 40s dating a high-school student might have a hard time winning audiences over in our current climate, where a sensitivity to child development has become almost paramount and besides, Stanley Kubrick's Lolita (1963) pretty much charted the outer boundaries of uncomfortable, dark humor with similar subject matter. But there is something entirely wholesome about The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer. For one, Richard Nugent isn't a pederast, he's merely an artist caught up in a nightmare scenario of false accusations and low-grade blackmail. He's also Cary Grant, and one couldn't ask for a better seal of approval. Actors may display a gift for characterization and range, but movie stars hit the same pitch out of the park every time, and Grant's turn here is boilerplate Archie Leach with his classic double-takes, voluminous exasperation, and penchant for silly pratfalls (the obstacle-course race at the community picnic is vintage Cary at his best). Myrna Loy as the elder Turner sister provides support, both as Grant's foil and eventual love-interest. Temple proves that she likely could have had a substantial film career into her 20s and beyond with a youthful energy that's somehow timeless. And the penultimate scene in the nightclub is legendary a table for two soon turns into three, five, and then seven people, all bickering at the same time until they leave, one by one, and Grant sits alone with a glass of champagne poured over his head. For screwball comedy, it's ten minutes that rivals an operatic libretto.
Warner's DVD release of The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer features a solid full-frame transfer (1.33:1 OAR) from a black-and-white source-print that displays some collateral wear but still looks pleasant with excellent low-contrast details, while the DD 1.0 audio is crisp and clear. Supplements include the 1949 Lux Radio Theater broadcast of The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer with Grant and Temple (60 min.), the Tex Avery animated short "Little 'Tinker" (7 min.), and a trailer gallery. The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer is on the street tomorrow, along with four other titles in Warner's new "Cary Grant Signature Collection" My Favorite Wife, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, Night and Day, and Destination Tokyo.
Box Office: It was the biggest-grossing Memorial Day weekend ever, and the Big Green Ogre led the way DreamWorks' Shrek 2 refused to budge from the top spot, holding down first place for its second weekend with $92.2 million for the holiday frame, pushing its gross to $257 million in just eleven days. The win also marked Shrek 2 as the top-grossing Memorial Day title evah, beating out 1997's The Lost World: JP2, which debuted with $90 million. Arriving in second place was Fox's The Day After Tomorrow, which couldn't beat the Green Machine but still raked in $86 million. Buena Vista's Raising Helen managed $14 million for fourth place, while MGM's comedy Soul Plane scored $7 million to round off the top five. Critics were mixed on Tomorrow, while Helen and Soul Plane earned mostly negative notices.
In continuing release, Warner's summer spectacle Troy clung to third place, adding $15 million to its $109.6 million total, while Paramount's Mean Girls is still swimming along after five weeks with $6.3 for the session and $73.5 million to date. Universal's Van Helsing is starting to fade, but it's now taken in $110.2 million, and Fox's Man on Fire has $73.3 million in the bag. MGM's Saved! will expand to more theaters next week it sneaked on to the chart with just $440,000 from 20 screens. And off to DVD prep is New York Minute, which leaves the big screen with less than $15 million.
New in theaters this Friday is Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend (all figures Friday through Monday):
On the Board: New reviews this week from the team include Monster, Eurotrip: Unrated Edition, My Favorite Wife, Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer, The Tin Drum: The Criterion Collection, The Company, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, Joan of Arc, Stay Hungry, J.W. Coop, The Snake Pit: Fox Studio Classics, Summer School, The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer, and What Price Glory. It's all under our New Reviews menu here on the front page.
Back tomorrow with the street discs.