Tuesday, 27 July 2004
On the Street: It's pretty hard to miss when MGM's new "VIP Edition" release of Paul Verhoeven's critically reviled, hypnotically watchable Showgirls arrives in a box big enough to hold a pair of stiletto heels but in addition to a new "limited edition" DVD, fans will find such assorted tchotchkes as shot glasses, playing cards, and even a blindfold (!). Hot from theaters is Columbia TriStar's two-disc special edition of Hellboy, while a double-dip of Guillermo Del Toro's The Devil's Backbone also is new. Warner has the 1978 miniseries Pennies from Heaven starring Bob Hoskins under wraps, in addition to the 1981 version starring Steve Martin, while a few laughs allegedly are to be found in The Whole Ten Yards starring Bruce Willis and Matthew Perry. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 26 July 2004
Disc of the Week: With comic book films proving to be one of the more fiscally remunerative genres in Hollywood and with the Sam Raimi-helmed wall-crawler films leading the pack it's no surprise that not only are old classics (like Batman and Superman) being spiffed up and trotted out again anew, but also the well of second- and third-tier comic characters are being garroted for potential summer smashes. Yet of all the comic book figures to be transposed to the big screen, seeing Mike Mignola's Hellboy getting cinematically adapted must have seemed one of the longer shots. Enter Guillermo Del Toro. Having already proved his box-office mettle with the success of Blade 2 and his talent with The Devil's Backbone, he was just hot enough to get the movie made something he'd wanted to do for over seven years. Not only was he able to film it, he was able to get the cast he wanted with Ron Perlman starring as the big red Hellboy himself. Yes, that Ron Perlman. Best known as the beast in the TV show "Beauty and the Beast," Perlman's the sort of actor never called upon to carry a picture, much less one with a budget. And with Selma Blair (as the fire-starting Liz Sherman) and Jeffery Tambor the biggest names in the cast, the film should have had (pardon the pun) a snowball's chance crossing the Styx at ever finding a mainstream audience. Surprisingly opening against The Rock's Walking Tall Hellboy won its opening weekend and performed well for a April release. Against the odds of the comic book genre (which churns out more misfires than good pictures), it's also a great piece of genre entertainment.
The film starts with Hellboy's origin: the presumed-dead Grigori Rasputin (Karel Rodan) is now working for Hitler in 1944, and he's opening a portal to hell to help win the war. But Roosevelt's supernatural advisor Trevor 'Broom' Bruttenholm (played by Kevin Traynor in '44 and John Hurt in modern day) is aware of Rasputin's plan, and with the help of the army stops Rasputin in time from unleashing anything major. But something did cross over: A young, bright red devil with a brick hand who loves candy bars and is nicknamed Hellboy. Cut to 60 years later, and Broom is deathly ill, while Rasputin's followers have found a way to bring him back to life. Hellboy (Perlman) developmentally still in his twenties, though 60 years older works for the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, tracking other monsters with the help of psychic fish-man Abe Sapian (played by Doug Jones and voiced by David Hyde-Pierce), in a very working-class-stiff sort of way. New to the team is the green John Myers (Rupert Evans), who's meant to help Broom but gets on Hellboy's bad side by being interested in Liz Sherman (Blair); Hellboy silently pines for her, but he can't find the words and knows that he is not classically attractive. Trouble lurks as Rasputin has unleashed Sammael a beast that, if killed, is replaced by two more. After a disastrous attempt to destroy the beast and its eggs, a tragedy occurs and the team is led by Tom Manning (Tambor) who doesn't like the freaks to Russia, where it turns out Hellboy is meant to go to reveal his true destiny.
The main element that makes Guillermo Del Toro's Hellboy work on screen is a love and affection for the material. At times Del Toro may be too enthusiastic; as such, like an overzealous cook found on a dream project, there may be too many ingredients in the stew (the plot strains to include too much at times; the film is a semi-religious action noir with a romantic triangle and some horror elements), the love and hard work makes it forgivable. The biggest hurdle with a film like this is believing in creations that obviously are fake, but Del Toro's enthusiasm makes it easy to invest in the world. And he's helped immeasurably by Perlman, who quite simply is Hellboy. Having spent the majority of his career buried under prosthetics, he's one of the few actors who can make a 6'5" red demon who likes beer, pancakes, and kittens believable, while also being unfamiliar enough to not come with any baggage. For an actor who's been in the business for 25 years, it must be strange to have such a chance to shine now. The rest of the cast is quite excellent, and Del Toro is able to give the hell-beasts the closest anyone (outside of John Carpenter) has come to putting Lovecraftian imagery on the big screen, while also delivering exciting action, and some strong Catholic-based pathos into the mix. Shot for $66 million (when most comic-adaptation budgets run in excess of $100), part of the wonder is how they got it all done for so little, but much of the credit must go to cinematographer Guillermo Navarro, who gives the film a rich look, and the color design of the film (in keeping with Mignola's art) is perhaps the film's greatest asset. Though it's understandable that films like this are rarely taken seriously by the Academy awards, Navarro's work here is so stellar that he deserves a nomination at the very least.
Columbia TriStar's new Special Edition DVD release of Hellboy presents the film in a spotless anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) and thunderous Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Though a director's cut double-dip is advertised in the accompanying booklet, one wonders if they could improve on the supplements contained herein; this set is a monster special edition. Disc One begins with a 30-second introduction from Del Toro, and includes two audio commentaries, the first with Del Toro and Mignola, the second with Perlman, Blair, Tambor and Rupert Evans. The first disc also comes with two "on-the-fly" pop-up icon tracks, the first offering eight on-set visits (18 min.), the second offering eight "DVD comics" drawn by Mignola, both sets of which can be viewed in the bonus features section. There's also a storyboard subtitle track that sporadically accompanies the film. Also included on the first disc are four UPA cartoons (one assumes because Del Toro's a fan). The first disc also includes an Easter egg, and DVD-ROM content. On Disc Two there is a 30-second introduction by Blair, and a section called "Egg Chamber." In it are three deleted scenes (5 min.) with optional commentary by Del Toro, "Hellboy: The Seeds of Creation" documentary (2 hrs. 23 min.) that extensively covers the entire production history, and then cast, crew, and character bios, with the latter offering Mignola-drawn histories, and in the text section, their likes, dislikes, and biographies (all supposedly written by Del Toro himself, though he's credited about half of the time). The next section is "Kroenen's Lair." First up is "Scene Progression Ogdru Jahad" (2 min.) which shows early storyboards with a Del Toro introduction. Next up is an "animatics" section with an introduction by Del Toro and four animatic samples viewable by themselves or in comparison with the final work (7 min.). Then there's "Board-A-Matics," which also features a Del Toro intro for more computer-animated versions of storyboards (8 min.). And then there's "Storyboard Comparisons," which offer four multi-angle segments (10 mins.). Next up is the "Maquette Video Gallery," which offers six characters in their prototypical forms. The "Bellamie Hospital" offers a still gallery for concept art, and the final art used, and two trailers and nine TV spots (9 min.). Also included are bonus trailers. Hellboy: Special Edition is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: Matt Damon took over Will Smith's spot at the top of the box-office chart with Universal's The Bourne Supremacy, which had a blockbuster break with $53.5 million over the past three days, edging last week's winner, Fox's I, Robot, to the second spot, where it added $22 million to a 10-day gross of $95.4 million. Arriving in third was Warner's Catwoman starring a leather-clad Halle Berry, which stumbled, only taking $17.1 million of its reported $80 million budget. Reviewers gave Bourne boffo notices, while Catwoman was as popular as a wet hairball, earning more than a few critical spankings.
In continuing release, Sony's Spider-Man 2 continues to sling its web, adding $15 million to a $328.4 million gross after one month, while Warner's A Cinderella Story rounds out the top five, taking $8 million in counterprogramming tickets and holding $29.8 million in its second frame. DreamWorks' Anchorman is turning out to be another hit comedy for Will Ferrell with $71.2 million so far, and while Fox's Dodgeball is on the slide, its $109.2 million booty is rock-solid. Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 is still basking in the glow of its debut publicity, having now entered triple-digits after five weeks. And off to DVD prep is Sony's White Chicks, which earned critical drubbings but still raked in $65 million for the Wayans Brothers.
New films in 'plexes this Friday include The Manchurian Candidate starring Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep, M. Night Shyamalan's The Village, the live-action Thunderbirds, and the comedy Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Dawn Taylor has posted an in-depth critical analysis of one of the great masterworks of cinema, Paul Verhoeven's Showgirls, which arrives this week in a new "VIP Edition" from MGM. Meanwhile, new spins from the rest of the gang this week include The Human Stain, Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights, The Bourne Identity: Extended Edition, Garage Days, The Devil's Backbone: Special Edition, V: The Complete Series, Hellboy, and Sealab 2021: Season One. It's all fresh under the New Reviews menu here on the front page.
We'll be back tomorrow with the rundown on this week's street discs.
Tuesday, 20 July 2004
On the Street: Fun stuff to be found on the street today includes Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson playing for laughs in Warner's Starsky & Hutch, while Wilson also can be see with Morgan Freeman in a Hollywood update of Elmore Leonard's The Big Bounce. Meanwhile, teen girls everywhere can pick up Disney's Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen starring Lindsay Lohan. Two from Criterion this week include Yasujiro Ozu's Early Summer and Marcel Carne's Port of Shadows. And two more from the Cartoon Network include Aqua Teen Hunger Force: Vol. 2 and Sealab 2021: Season One. Fresh from Lions Gate is Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights, while Al Pacino and Kim Basinger can be found in Buena Vista's little-seen People I Know. And new for TV fans is the first season of Chris Carter's Millennium. However, it should be noted that the second season of La Femme Nikita was canceled last week with no new date. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 19 July 2004
Disc of the Week: A camera is affixed to a tripod set three feet from the floor, peering forward through a 50mm lens. The height is meant to duplicate the straightforward angle of an individual sitting cross-legged on a mat, while the lens is the closest approximation to the vision of the average human being. This is the familiar gaze of Yasujiro Ozu, Japan's second most celebrated director, and while no westerns or gangster films or intergalactic serials were ever directly inspired by his work, it's hardly diminished, for no director before or since has been so relentlessly and unerringly attuned to the human experience. His fascination with the life's many nonnegotiable compromises, and the sadness that accumulates with each minor surrender, and how this sadness ages into a bemused resignation was honed in such silent classics as I Was Born, But and A Story of Floating Weeds, but the unhurried, meditative (more impatient viewers might say "slow") aesthetic commonly associated with Ozu would not fully materialize until 1949's Late Spring, which, though a fine film in its own right, seemed a stylistic gearing up for his first post-war masterpiece, Early Summer (1951). At an intimidating 125 minutes, here was Ozu defying classical narrative convention to examine, via close to 20 characters, the inevitable breaking up of family. Though he had been yearning for (and, to an extent, attaining) such thematic profundity in his earlier works, Ozu was, at the age of 47, finally old enough to authoritatively capture the complete emotional range of the human life span. Whether it was the war or a presaging of his own relatively early passing 12 years later, there's little denying that Early Summer is the work of a man who has loved and reveled and grieved, but, above all, lived.
The primary narrative arc of Early Summer concerns the Mamiya family's long-delayed marrying off of their 28-year-old only daughter, Noriko (Setsuko Hara), but Ozu confounds audience expectations by avoiding any major dramatic conflicts until the second act, preferring instead to spend an unusually generous amount of time introducing and developing the several present generations of the clan, as well as their various friends and co-workers. As would be the case in his later works, Ozu's lingering interest in his dramatis personae creates a rich tapestry of identifiable human behavior, from the visiting, hearing-impaired great uncle to the bratty exploits of Koichi's adolescent sons, making the absence of structurally necessitated incident far more palatable than it might be in the hands of a lesser filmmaker (see or better yet, don't Magnolia). When Ozu finally allows the question of "Who will Noriko marry?" to propel the nearly imperceptible plot forward, it seems as if it's happened organically, rather than through the machinations of the director and his longtime co-scenarist Kogo Noda. Slowly, and rather amusingly, Noriko's family and friends surreptitiously busy themselves to secure for her an advantageous match, which proves to be an exceptionally tricky task, since all involved in the endeavor have such a high opinion of their daughter/sister/friend. Candidates come and go, background checks are run, but, for all of their careful planning, what no one could anticipate is that Noriko would choose a husband on her own. Unfortunately (i.e., in the estimation of her choosy family), she selects Kenkichi, a previously married father-of-one whose job will soon move him out to the provinces, a far cry from refined Tokyo society in which everyone dreamed the intelligent Noriko would flourish. Her surprise decision is at first met with anger, and then gradually, acceptance; the family is to be "scattered" at last, and this disappointment, as with everything else, will be assimilated into the melancholy passage of time.
To pull off a multi-character epic in the present day, most filmmakers retreat into the safety of bold eccentricity as a means of sustaining audience interest, and while there have been reasonably entertaining recent entries in this genre (e.g. Robert Altman's Short Cuts and Wes Anderson's The Royal Tenenbaums), few have evinced Ozu's daring to cleave to the mundanity of real life in order to attain a wholly honest resonance (in this respect, only Edward Yang's Yi-Yi stands out as an effective successor). Yes, Ozu's late career triumphs do require that rigorous attention be paid by the viewer, a debit that accounts for his heralding by cineastes and no one else, which is particularly sad because there is nothing within these films that is beyond the understanding of the average filmgoer. While mass acceptance eludes many critical darlings due to the esoteric form and content of their films, Ozu's disconnect is based entirely on an unwillingness by most viewers to slow down and contemplating life's many minor victories and defeats, and how they eventually sum up one's time on this planet. Typically, it's the moments of repose in an Ozu film that stay with the viewer, and Early Summer has no shortage of them: the grandfather taking an unplanned pause at a railroad crossing and getting lost pondering the heavens as a train breezes by, or Noriko eating dinner alone in the nighttime silence of the house in which she was raised. But the most universal shot of all is the final one of the village from the distant wheat field. Though undeniably Eastern in its congregation of architecture, all that has transpired over the last two hours signifies to the viewer that this could, in theory, be any neighborhood in any city on any continent. Such connections are phenomenally rare in the cinema, and this is why, leisurely pace be damned, Ozu will always matter.
The Criterion Collection presents Early Summer in a very nice full-frame transfer (1.33:1) with serviceable Dolby Digital 1.0 audio. Extras include an, as ever, enlightening commentary from Japanese film scholar Donald Richie, and "Ozu's Films from Behind the Scenes" (48 min.), an enjoyable remembrance of the long-since-departed director by three of his collaborators (soundman Kojiro Suematsu, camera operator Takashi Kawamata, and producer Shizuo Yamanouchi). Also on board is the original theatrical trailer. Early Summer: The Criterion Collection is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: Ol' Spidey was gonna get knocked off the top of the box-office chart, but it took the likes of Will Smith to do it. Fox's I, Robot, a summer-blockbuster update from the works of Isaac Asimov, secured $52.2 million in a three-day opening, handily beating Sony's Spider-Man 2, which took in $24.2 million during the frame. However, Spidey 2 has now cracked $300 million, and it took less than three weeks to do it. Also debuting was Warner's A Cinderella Story starring Hilary Duff, which effectively counterprogrammed the big boys to the tune of $13.8 million. Critics were mixed-to-positive on Robot, while Cinderella earned a sacking from most pundits.
In continuing release, DreamWorks' Anchorman starring Will Ferrell dropped to fourth place with $13.4 million in its second session and $56 million after ten days, while Lions Gate's Fahrenheit 9/11 rounds off the top five, now with $93.8 million after one month, and it's now the highest-grossing documentary in history, surpassing $84.4 million taken by the IMAX film Everest. Buena Vista's King Arthur isn't venturing into blockbuster territory, although it's not a complete disaster with a two-week total of $37.8 million. And New Line's The Notebook has now crossed the $50 million mark. But getting a spanking is MGM's Sleepover, which didn't raise $5 million last weekend and has since left the chart.
New films arriving on screens this Friday include The Bourne Supremacy starring Matt Damon and Catwoman with Halle Berry. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: New spins this week from the best DVD team on the planet include Starsky & Hutch, The Big Bounce, Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen, Port of Shadows: The Criterion Collection, People I Know, Aqua Teen Hunger Force: Vol. 2, Early Summer: The Criterion Collection, and the double-feature Thunderbirds Are Go!/Thunderbird 6. Everything's been added to the New Reviews menu here on the front page.
Back tomorrow with this week's street discs.
Tuesday, 13 July 2004
On the Street: It's a mix of old and new this week, starting with a pair of espionage thrillers from Paramount, Martin Ritt's The Spy Who Came In from the Cold starring Richard Burton and The Assassination Bureau with Oliver Reed and Diana Rigg. MGM has a new special edition of 1962's The Manchurian Candidate starring Frank Sinatra on the shelves in anticipation of this summer's mega-remake. Fresh from Fox are two little-seen titles, Bernardo Bertolucci's The Dreamers and the neo-noir drama Never Die Alone starring DMX. Lighter fun can be found with Against the Ropes, Agent Cody Banks 2: Destination London, and a re-issue of The Bourne Identity. And after a week's delay, Double Indemnity should now be on the street from Universal. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 12 July 2004
Disc of the Week: When released theatrically in February of 2004, The Dreamers got lost in a culturally and politically charged climate where its frank depiction of sex, worthy of the NC-17 scandal-brand, was overshadowed by heated prime-time news-show debates over a film most people in the country (and, often, the pundits engaging in said debate) had not seen. Six months later, The Passion of the Christ had loudly come and profitably gone, but, more than any other film in recent memory (with the possible exception of Fahrenheit 9/11), it has restored the threat of proselytization to the seemingly innocent act of moviegoing. Suddenly, buying a ticket for a movie can not only be construed as a statement of principle and a reaffirmation of belief, but a declaration of openness to potential social upheaval; thus, recalling the heady days of international near-revolution of the late-1960s, when waiting in line to see Godard's La Chinoise or cheering Truffaut's defiant statement in support of ousted Cinematheque Francais founder Henri Langlois at the outset of Stolen Kisses felt, according to those who experienced it, like enlightened protest against an ignorant and self-destructive warmongering world. It was a genuine rebellion fueled by idealistic outrage, but expressed largely as flower-child optimism ("Peace, Love, Dope!"), taking hold via a (pun a-comin') grassroots movement not marketed, as is so often the case today, by massive corporate conglomerates. It was a conflagration fanned by the populous Baby Boom generation collectively losing their innocence, and not liking what they saw on the other side of adulthood. It was a time lived by Bernardo Bertolucci, who, 35 years later, has appropriated Gilbert Adair's 1988 novel The Holy Innocents as a means of reexamining his own participation in the erstwhile cinematic insurrection.
Adair's narrative, which appears to have been suggested by Jean Cocteau's Les enfants terribles (itself made into a very good picture by Jean-Pierre Melville), concerns an unholy Franco-American union forged between three young university students during the turbulent protests touched off by the French government's removal of Langlois from the Cinematheque as punishment for his allegedly feckless stewardship. Matthew (Pitt) is the lonely American seduced into the queasily incestuous inner-world of siblings Theo (Garrel) and Isabelle (Green) through their mutual movie habit, from which they're forced into a cold turkey withdrawal now that their church of a moviehouse has been shuttered. One would think the trio would be inspired to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with their celluloid idols (the entire New Wave was out in force during this protest, as were giants like Nicholas Ray and Marcel Carne), but when Theo and Isabelle's parents take a brief trip to the country, leaving the kids the run of their spacious apartment, they opt instead to block out the din of revolution by getting lost in their love for film. At first, they're content to simply reenact their favorite movie moments, be it bellowing out "New York Herald Tribune" on the streets of Paris with the brassy zest of Jean Seberg in Breathless, or sprinting through the Louvre a la Brasseur, Frey and Karina in Band of Outsiders. But their game playing quickly becomes erotically charged when Theo loses a dare and is forced to masturbate to a picture of Marlene Dietrich in front of Isabelle and Matthew. Humiliated (or turned on; it's hard to tell), Theo returns the favor by forcing Matthew and Isabelle to make love on the kitchen floor while he watches (they comply, but he turns away and cooks eggs instead), allowing his new American friend to take his sister's virginity, and likely lose his own, in the process. Suddenly, Matthew and Isabelle are lovers, having sex all the day long while Theo stews alone in his room. When Theo eventually reinserts himself back into the dynamic, all has been irrevocably altered. The adult world, and all its corrupting complexities, has wrecked their idyll, leaving them to either move out into it, or recede and die.
Thematically, The Dreamers is most interesting for the way that, particularly in its final moments, it seems to reveal Bertolucci's disillusionment with his politically radical past. Much like the games played by his main characters, rebellion, he appears to be saying, is for the young, existing only for its inevitable trampling down by authority. When these kids are finally jolted from their suicidal, cinema-induced stupor to join in the protest raging outside, the viewer can't help but shake our heads at the outdated Maoist slogans being chanted by the marching mob. Ultimately, the options offered by Bertolucci and Adair love or fight are both doomed. All is futile. Now, apply this wizened commentary to the raging pop-cultural wars being fought on behalf of conservative Catholicism (The Passion of the Christ) and virulently anti-Bush liberalism (Fahrenheit 9/11), where films are, once again, threatening to mobilize the public, who, in turn, are hoping to effect a seismic measure of change in the world around them. It's a contentious atmosphere unseen since the era depicted in The Dreamers, with the difference being that both sides of the political spectrum now have a deftly constructed weapon of propaganda propelling their protests. Of course, much has changed in the media landscape since then the news is now disseminated 24 hours a day, and pre-spun to lessen or remove completely the burden of critical thinking on the viewer as has the quality of ideologically charged art. Using Godard as the influential touchstone of the 1960s (no filmmaker so aggressively addressed America's involvement in Vietnam and the youth culture's resulting love affair with Maoism), the new protest cinema seems parched for thoughtfulness. These films lack the open-endedness of their precursors, which, while directed by avowed radicals, always left room for the audience to hash out their message for themselves. Such is a luxury afforded the viewer by Bertolucci's poignantly languid The Dreamers, a modest film by an ex-revolutionary that now feels significant if only for how sadly out-of-step it is with these bombastic, spell-it-all-out times.
Fox presents The Dreamers in a superb anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with fantastic Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Extras on this very impressively assembled disc include an adroitly edited feature-length commentary from Bertolucci, Adair, and producer Jeremy Thomas, where they individually discuss, among other things, the departures from the novel, and the acrimonious climate of the bygone, romanticized era. Also on board is "Bertolucci Makes The Dreamers" (52 min.), a BBC-produced documentary that offers worthwhile insight into the director's process, and a featurette entitled "Outside the Window: Events in France, May, 1968" (14 min.), which places the peripheral events of the film more firmly in context. The only regrettable inclusion is the Bertolucci-directed music video for Michael Pitt's back-alley beating of "Hey, Joe." The Dreamers is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: Two heavy-hitters lined up this past weekend to compete for the top spot at the box-office, but Spider-Man 2 continued to scale heights the second installment in Sony's Spidey-saga held on to first place for a second weekend, adding $46 million to a phenomenal $257.2 million in just 12 days. DreamWorks' Anchorman starring Will Ferrell captured the second spot with a healthy $28 million, while Buena Vista's King Arthur starring Clive Owen and Keira Knightley took in a reasonable $23.5 million in a five-day frame. Arriving much further down the chart was MGM's Sleepover, which snoozed with just $4.2 million. Critics were mixed-to-positive on Anchorman, while Arthur and Sleepover earned mixed-to-negative notices.
In continuing release, Michael Moore's anti-war Fahrenheit 9/11 continues to sell tickets, adding $11 million to an $80.1 million tally, while New Line's The Notebook rounds off the top five with $43 million after three sessions. Sony's White Chicks starring the Wayans Brothers is shaping up as a surprise comedy hit with $57.1 million (so expect even more whiteface comedy from the boys), while Fox's Dodgeball is bearing down on triple-digits. DreamWorks' Shrek 2 may finally be on the slip, but with $418.6 million in the pot it's become one of the highest-grossers in history. Meanwhile, off to the cheap theaters is Fox's The Day After Tomorrow, which will close out with more than $180 million.
New films on screens this Friday include I, Robot starring Will Smith, while A Cinderella Story with Hillary Duff aims counterprogram the blockbusters. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Greg Dorr has posted a review of MGM's new The Manchurian Candidate: Special Edition, while fresh spins this week from the rest of the gang include Against the Ropes, Never Die Alone, Agent Cody Banks 2: Destination London, The Assassination Bureau, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, The Dreamers, and Justice League: Starcrossed: The Movie. 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.
Wednesday, 7 July 2004
On the Street: It's a film noir street-week like no other, with nine new catalog titles out this morning. Five from Warner include The Asphalt Jungle, Gun Crazy, Murder My Sweet, Out of the Past, and The Set Up, while out from Universal are The Big Clock, Black Angel, Criss Cross, and This Gun For Hire. MGM's also getting into the act with a six-disc collection of Charlie Chan titles, while catalog items from Paramount today include Big-Top Pee Wee, First Monday in October, and Heartburn. Top-line releases this morning include a two-disc Cold Mountain from Miramax, while New Line has released an infinifilm edition of The Butterfly Effect. And there's still a few more gems to dig out of the pile, including The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, The Name of the Rose, and Woody Allen's laugh-a-minute Take the Money and Run. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Tuesday, 6 July 2004
Disc of the Week: As a child, John Huston was told that he may not have long to live. Doctors had determined that he had an enlarged heart, and even if the condition were not fatal, he likely would be infirm for most of his life. Thus, with his notably stubborn nature, the young boy decided to take a swim in a river aware that he might not return. When it was determined that he was not nearly as sickly as once thought, Huston took up the business of living with a rare passion. He began boxing in his teens, started writing short stories and plays, traveled through Europe, and considered taking up acting as a profession. However, Huston's literary gifts would lead him to the opposite side of the camera, where he would establish himself as one of the 20th century's cinematic titans. A restless man in life who married five times, loved traveling, and was an avid hunter and pilot, Huston's filmography is a varied one. Not all of his pictures were successes, and he refused to stay in one genre. He's well-known for adventure films such as The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and The African Queen, but he also helmed literary adaptations (Moby Dick, The Dead), war films (The Red Badge of Courage), three wartime documentaries, a Biblical epic (The Bible), a sports film (Victory), and even a musical (Annie). However, Huston will be best remembered for his contributions to the crime film and American noir. His first hit, 1941's The Maltese Falcon, put both the writer/director and his star Humphrey Bogart on the A-list. Huston and Bogart would re-team again for Key Largo. And in 1950 Huston adapted and directed one of the most acclaimed noir titles ever The Asphalt Jungle.
Adapted from the popular novel by W.R. Burnett (one of Huston's favorite writers), The Asphalt Jungle's dense, multi-character plot concerns a small gang of criminals in a large midwestern American city who hope to loot $1 million in diamonds from a local jeweler. The plan is devised by Doc Riedenschneider (Sam Jaffe), a notorious con who's only been out of jail for a matter of days. Looking for financing, Doc and local bookie Cobby (Marc Lawrence) approach wealthy attorney Alonzo Emmerich (Louis Calhern), hoping he can front $50,000 for the operation. They also need a fence to move the hot rocks Emmerich might be able to provide a source, but the businessman instead offers to unload the diamonds himself. What Doc doesn't know is that Emmerich is in dire financial straits, and that he and private detective Bob Brannom (Brad Dexter) are planning to skip the country with the entire heist. Meanwhile, Doc uses Emmerich's financing to hire three men hunchbacked diner cook Gus (James Whitmore) will man the car, safecracker Louis Ciavelli (Anthony Caruso) is the box-man, and small-time gambler Dix Handle (Sterling Hayden) is the muscle to serve as lookout and protection. However, the police, led by no-nonsense Commissioner Hardy (John McIntire), are already cracking down on crime in the city, and Hardy has taken corrupt Lt. Ditrich (Barry Kelley) to the mat over the city's notorious gambling parlors. The plot is pulled off, but not without complications, causing each individual thread to unwind in a series of mishaps, mistakes, and personal failures.
"Crime is just a left-handed form of human endeavor." The most-quoted line from The Asphalt Jungle is said by attorney Alonzo Emmerich, hoping to reassure his wife that the shady characters he does business with aren't all that different from the legitimate men in suits and ties who inhabit office buildings and sunlit streets. It's the film's overriding theme, and the reason why it's become an indelible classic over the passing decades. Taken merely by its plot, there is nothing to distinguish The Asphalt Jungle from virtually all other heist films, with its easily recognized three-part structure (preparation, job, downfall) and criminals who perform specialized tasks within a larger team framework. Where Huston's film succeeds is by making its criminals more than just clever or devious, but erringly human and sympathetic. Sterling Hayden as the hooligan Dix is a hothead who'd just as soon slug a man as take an insult, and while he can be abrupt with his girlfriend Doll (Jean Hagen), he also misses his boyhood farm in Kentucky and hopes to return someday. Doc may be a crook, but his refined manners and earnest reasoning make him the sort of boss who inspires loyalty. Emmerich is the most pitiable character of the bunch, living behind a facade of wealth and stability while having an affair with a younger woman (Marilyn Monroe) and desperately avoiding bankruptcy. And while women often are left in the background in Huston's films, two notable performances are on display from Jean Hagen as Doll (who would transform two years later in Singin' in the Rain as the abrasive Lina Lamont) and a slender 23-year-old Marilyn Monroe as Emmerich's mistress, delivering a certain amount of Turneresque sensuality, but with her own unmistakable innocence. Film students should also take a closer look at The Asphalt Jungle, no matter how many times they have seen it. Widescreen composition may be the format of today, but few directors had the command of full-frame Academy composition like John Huston, who could layer two or three people into a single shot, creating a stifling sense of claustrophobia while subtly illustrating the dynamic relationships of his various characters.
Warner's new DVD release of The Asphalt Jungle offers a solid full-frame transfer (1.33:1) from a black-and-white source-print that would benefit from a restoration, but is still pleasant to watch with some collateral wear and one frame-dropout. Audio is clear with hardly any ambient noise on the DD 1.0 track. Supplements include a detailed commentary from film scholar Drew Casper with archival recollections from co-star James Whitmore, a vintage introduction from John Huston, and the original theatrical trailer. The Asphalt Jungle is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: There was no doubt what film would top the box-office chart over the weekend the only question was if Spider-Man 2 would break any records. Sony's second web-slinging installment opened in more than 4,000 theaters last Wednesday, and with the holiday weekend it covered a six-day debut frame, nabbing $180 million, beating the previous $149 million established by The Matrix Reloaded over the same stretch. The win means Spidey 2 will recover its estimated $200 million budget. However, it also earned $88.3 million from Friday to Sunday, falling short of the original Spider-Man's record-holding $114.8 million debut. Critics gave Spidey 2 nearly unanimous positive reviews.
In continuing release, last week's winner Fahrenheit 9/11 slipped to second place, adding $21 million to a $60.1 million tally, making it Michael Moore's most successful film by far. Despite some horrible reviews, Sony's White Chicks starring the Wayans Brothers held on to third place with $12 million for the session and a healthy $47.1 million after two weekends. Fox's Dodgeball starring Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn racked up $10.4 million for the holiday, boosting it to $86.7 million (Dodgeball 2, anyone?). And New Line's weepie The Notebook rounded off the top five with $31.6 million to date. Warner's Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is on the slide, but it has a $225.3 million payday in the bank. And hoping to get new life on DVD is Disney's Around the World in 80 Days, which will recover around $20 million of its reported $100 price-tag in theaters.
New films in cineplexes this week include Anchorman starring Will Ferrell, King Arthur, and Sleepover. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: New holiday-weekend spins from the review team this week include Cold Mountain, The Butterfly Effect, The English Patient: Collector's Series, Big-Top Pee Wee, Gun Crazy, The Name of the Rose, Murder, My Sweet, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie: Fox Studio Classics, Kotch, Red Sonja, The Asphalt Jungle, and Take the Money and Run. It's all fresh under the New Reviews menu here on the front page.
Back tomorrow with the street discs.