News and Commentary: August 2004 2002

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Tuesday, 31 Aug. 2004

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

  • Coming from our friends at Criterion in November is Robert Altman's 1993 Short Cuts, which will arrive in a two-disc edition. Expect a new anamorphic transfer approved by the director and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, while extra features will include an isolated score, an interview with Altman and star Tim Robbins, a feature-length "making-of" documentary, an excerpt from BBC-TV's "Moving Pictures," an audio interview with author Raymond Carver, deleted scenes, marketing materials, a reprint of Raymond Carver short stories, and an essay by film critic Michael Wilmington. Also on the slate is Ingmar Bergman's 1982 Fanny and Alexander, which will arrive with commentary by film scholar Peter Cowie and a second disc featuring introductions by Bergman for eleven of his films, as well as a trailer gallery. And if that's not enough, a five-disc Fanny and Alexander Box Set will add the 312-min. television cut of the film and Bergman's 1986 The Making of Fanny and Alexander. Watch for final street dates soon.

  • The folks at Warner have staked out the first week of 2005 to release Wolfgang Petersen's neo-epic Troy starring Brad Pitt, Orlando Bloom, and Eric Bana, which will street in separate two-disc anamorphic (2.35:1) and pan-and-scan editions — the film will take up the bulk of Disc One, while Disc Two will sport three documentaries and a 3-D tour of Mount Olympus (Jan. 4). Coming out of the vault is the 1958 rendition of Damn Yankees! starring Gwen Verdon, Tab Hunter, and Ray Walston, with a new anamorphic transfer and restored Dolby Digital audio (Oct. 12). Also due to arrive are Richard Linklater's Before Sunset (Nov. 9) and A Home at the End of the World starring Colin Farrell and Robin Wright Penn (Nov. 2), while TV releases include Friends: Season Eight (Nov. 9), Smallville: Season Three, Space Ghost Coast to Coast: Vol. 2, and Aqua Teen Hunger Force: Vol. 3 (all Nov. 16).

  • Fox is clearing the way for a double-dip of Daredevil starring Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner — a "director's cut" will include commentary from director Mark Steven Johnson, Dolby Digital and DTS audio, and a look behind the scenes (Nov. 30). This year's blink-and-you-missed-it The Clearing starring Robert Redford and Willem Dafoe is also on the sched (Nov. 9), while small-screen offerings include Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Seven (Nov. 16), Tru Calling: Season One, and Lost in Space: Season Two Vol. 2 (both Nov. 30).

  • Finally, New Line is queuing up the concert film Festival Express, featuring live performances from The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, and The Band — 50 minutes of footage has been added to the DVD edition, and we can also count on additional interviews, a "making-of" spot, stills, a trailer, and both Dolby Digital and DTS audio on the two-disc set (Nov. 2).

On the Street: If it looks like a lightweight street-week, don't worry — next Tuesday will break the bank. Up today is the release of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, with retail distribution handled by Fox, while Paramount's on the board with the parody South Park: The Passion of the Jew. But it isn't all fun and games from the Matterhorn — in addition to the middling thriller Twisted starring Ashley Judd, the entire first season of Star Trek: The Original Series is on the street in a nifty plastic tricorder case. And Criterion Collectors have just one to pick up today, David Cronenberg's logic-defying Videodrome. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of and Image Entertainment:

  • All Grown Up: Lucky 13
  • The Alligator People
  • Annie: A Royal Adventure!
  • Basket Case 3: The Progeny
  • Beautiful, The Bloody and the Bare/Behind Locked Doors
  • Beef II
  • The Black Orchid
  • Blood Moon
  • The Boston Strangler
  • Broadway Bill
  • Celia Cruz and Friends: A Night of Salsa
  • Chris Rock: Never Scared
  • Come Back, Little Sheba
  • Desire Under the Elms
  • Dora the Explorer: Dora's Halloween
  • First Steps on Mars
  • The Hajj: An American's Pilgrimage to Mecca
  • HBO One Night Stand: Vol. 1
  • Hear No Evil
  • The History of the '80s
  • I Love Lucy: Season Two (5-disc set)
  • Ike: Countdown to D-Day
  • Jesus Christ Superstar: Special Edition
  • Laffapalooza! #1
  • Laffapalooza! #2
  • The Lion King II: Simba's Pride: Special Edition (2-disc set)
  • NBC News Presents: The Last Days of Jesus
  • Nick Jr. Baby: Curious Buddies: Exploring at the Beach
  • Nick Jr. Baby: Curious Buddies: Helping at Home
  • Nick Jr. Baby: Curious Buddies: Look and Listen at the Park
  • The Passion of the Christ (widescreen)
  • The Passion of the Christ (pan-and-scan)
  • Physical Evidence
  • Relentless
  • Relentless 2: Dead On
  • Riding High
  • Rocky & Bullwinkle & Friends: Season Two (4-disc set)
  • Rugrats Holiday Celebration Gift Set (2-disc set)
  • South Park: The Passion of the Jew
  • "Splat!"
  • Star Trek: The Original Series: Season One (8-disc set)
  • Terror Train
  • Touched by an Angel: Season One (7-disc set)
  • Trekkies 2
  • Twisted
  • Vendetta for The Saint
  • Videodrome: The Criterion Collection
  • The White Dawn

— Ed.

Monday, 30 Aug. 2004

boxcoverDisc of the Week: This is what is known: In 1983 David Cronenberg's strange, lyrical, and indelible Videodrome was released, and 20 years later the question remains "What is Videodrome?" Following up the four films that cemented his reputation as the master of venereal horror (from 1975's Shivers to 1981's Scanners), Videodrome was the apogee of Cronenberg's career at that point, as both an experimental film (which his early college films were) and a horror movie. Perhaps he knew he couldn't take it any further — it also was his last original screenplay for sixteen years, until 1999's eXistenZ, which itself comments on Videodrome. That's the baggage. But what the heck is this film, and what is it saying? Perhaps it's best not to ask — Cronenberg explores his fascination with body mutation to its own logical end. Or perhaps "logical" isn't the best word. The film has the pace of a fever-dream, and like a dream narrative, how much is real is always in question. What isn't in question is how fascinating the picture remains to this day.

Sleazy cable TV president Max Renn (James Woods) is looking for the latest show that hopefully will take the porn and violence he sells to the next level. Through his tech guy Harlan (Peter Dvorsky), he stumbles on a brief snippet of a program called "Videodrome," which consists of people being tortured and murdered in front of a red clay background. Thinking that this may be the next big thing, he tries to track the show down, but the feed is being bounced around and is eventually found to be broadcast out of Pittsburgh. And who's behind it is unknown. Max's new girlfriend Nikki Brand (Deborah Harry) also finds the show intoxicating — she has strong masochistic tendencies, and to investigate further she decides to go to Pittsburgh, hoping to become a "contestant." Eventually Max is led to Brian O'Blivion (Jack Creely), who only appears on television, and he learns more with the help of Brian's daughter Bianca (Sonja Smits), who gives him a video that confirms her father is dead, killed by simply watching Videodrome. It turns out that Videodrome is not what it seems — it is being used to test a new form of mind-control that causes visions and tumors. But the further Max falls under the show's influence, the more his reality becomes distorted. After all, the program's produces hope to use him as an assassin to get Videodrome on the air.

What has always separated David Cronenberg from other horror directors is the intelligence he applies to his work. Although his films are just as visceral, it's the ideas behind the gore that tend to stick in the mind. And Videodrome is the director's ultimate "head" movie, in that virtually everything takes place within Max Renn's mind. Like Jean Cocteau's Blood of a Poet (1930), the film has the logic of a poet's dream — except in this case, it's about an artist exploring the dark side of sexuality and violence. As the story moves further along, reality itself becomes distorted, and it's impossible to say how much Max's body mutations and visions (of such things as pulsating eroticized televisions) are in his head and how much is actually happening — a point Cronenberg intentionally blurs. But since Cronenberg has always been fascinated by human forms in mutation, and how technology becomes an extension of human existence, Videodrome comes across as his grandest statement on the topic. In fact, the picture itself mutates (perhaps partially because filming began without a completed script). At first the movie seems to be about how exposure to extreme events can be corrosive, but it's later revealed that the effects of Videodrome could be accomplished over a test pattern, while some of the important characters have been dead since their first appearances. The hallucinogenic imagery becomes an end to itself — the sight of Renn sticking his gun into a VCR slot that has opened in his chest, with its decidedly sexual implications, is something that could have only escaped from David Cronenberg's imagination.

The Criterion Collection presents the uncut Videodrome in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) and in its original monaural audio (1.0). A loaded two-disc set, the first disc contains two audio commentaries, the first with director David Cronenberg and cinematographer Mark Irwin, the second with actors James Woods and Deborah Harry. Also included on the first disc is "Camera" (7 min.), a short film Cronenberg made for the 25th anniversary of the Toronto film festival with Videodrome co-star Les Carlson. On Disc Two there's the special-effects documentary "Forging the New Flesh" (28 min.), created by video-effects supervisor Michael Lennick, which interviews Lennick, make-up artist Rick Baker, physical effects supervisor Frank Carere, make-up effects crew member Bill Sturgeon, location manager David Coatsworth, and also includes vintage interviews with Cronenberg and Woods. Next up is "Effects men" (19 min.), which consists of audio interviews with Lennick and Baker. In the "Bootleg Video" section, the video footage included in the film is shown uncut: "Samurai Dreams" (5 min.) features commentary by Cronenberg, and a second audio track with Lennick and Irwin, who provide the sole track for the "Videodrome" footage (7 min.), while Lennick goes solo on the "Helmet Cam Test" footage (5 min.). "Fear on Film" (26 min.) is the most intriguing supplement, collecting Cronenberg for an interview with fellow directors John Carpenter and John Landis, and it's hosted by future director Mick Garris. Though it holds more promise than it delivers, the topics of conversation are reasonably interesting. Also included are three trailers, a vintage "making-of" spot (8 min.), and extensive stills galleries. What unfortunately is not included are the cut scenes which were used for television screenings. Videodrome: The Criterion Collection is on the street tomorrow.

Box Office: With the waning days of August and the traditionally lax Labor Day weekend ahead, Miramax took a gamble on Jet Li, and Hero took honors at the weekend box-office after sitting on the studio shelf for two years. The film's $17.8 million gross was respectable for late-summer, followed by Sony's Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid, which earned $13.2 million for the second spot. Meanwhile, arriving much, much further down the chart was Paramount's Suspect Zero starring Ben Kingsley and Aaron Eckhart, which managed just $3.4 million, while Sony's predictably awful Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2 failed to crack the top ten with $3.3 million. Critics heaped praise on Hero, while Anacondas and Zero skewed mixed-to-negative. Superbabies was unanimously panned.

In continuing release, last week's winner Exorcist: The Beginning took a tumble from first to fifth place, adding just $6.7 million in its second weekend to $30.8 million overall. Paramount's comedy Without a Paddle fared better with an $8.7 million frame, holding down the third spot with $27.8 million to date. And Disney's Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement is over the $75 million mark. DreamWorks' Collateral starring Tom Cruise has finished its first month with $80 million, and not to be missed is the slow-burn thriller Open Water, which has now taken in $23.5 million for Lions Gate, much of it in limited release. And finally off the list after a massive summer run is Sony's Spider-Man 2, which will clear $370 million before it arrives on DVD later this year.

New on screens this Wednesday is the historical epic Vanity Fair starring Reese Witherspoon, while titles condemned to a Labor Day debut include The Cookout, Paparazzi, and Wicker Park. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:

  1. Hero (Buena Vista/Miramax)
    $17,801,631 ($17,801,631 through 1 week)
  2. Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid (Sony/Screen Gems)
    $13,200,000 ($13,200,000 through 1 week)
  3. Without a Paddle (Paramount)
    $8,700,000 ($27,857,000 through 2 weeks)
  4. Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement (Buena Vista)
    $8,068,000 ($75,050,000 through 3 weeks)
  5. Exorcist: The Beginning (Warner Bros.)
    $6,735,000 ($30,821,000 through 2 weeks)
  6. Collateral (DreamWorks SKG)
    $6,300,000 ($80,000,000 through 4 weeks)
  7. Open Water (Lions Gate)
    $5,000,000 ($23,500,000 through 4 weeks)
  8. Alien vs Predator (Fox)
    $4,800,000 ($68,052,611 through 3 weeks)
  9. The Bourne Supremacy (Universal)
    $4,600,000 ($157,708,000 through 6 weeks)
  10. Suspect Zero (Paramount)
    $3,400,000 ($3,400,000 through 1 week)
  11. Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2 (Sony/Columbia TriStar)
    $3,300,000 ($3,300,000 through 1 week)
  12. The Manchurian Candidate (Paramount)
    $2,830,000 ($59,003,000 through 5 weeks)

On the Board: New spins this week from the team include Star Trek: The Original Series: Season One, Twisted, Ella Enchanted, The White Dawn, Lord Jim, Terror Train, Desire Under the Elms, Videodrome: The Criterion Collection, and South Park: The Passion of the Jew. All can be found under the New Reviews menu here on the front page.

Back tomorrow with the street discs.

— Ed.

Tuesday, 24 Aug. 2004

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

  • DreamWorks has already staked out Nov. 5 for their release of Shrek 2, and now everyone's clearing the way for Nov. 30, when Columbia TriStar will release their two-disc special edition of Spider-Man 2. Separate anamorphic (2.35:1) and pan-and-scan editions will reach the shelves, both with what CTHE is boasting as more than 10 hours of bonus content. Expect Disc One to include a commentary from director Sam Raimi, star Tobey Maguire, producer Avi Arad, and co-producer Grant Curtis, a second "technical commentary" track, a blooper reel, a "Spidey Sense 2" trivia-track, four online featurettes, and a music video. Meanwhile, Disc Two will offer the 12-part documentary "Making the Amazing," four featurettes, an art gallery, a video-game promo, and weblinks. Also set to street is a Superbit edition without the extra features, but with DTS and Dolby Digital audio, as well as a Gift Set that will include the widescreen DVD, an artwork portfolio, a postcard collection, and an "Amazing Spider-Man #50" comic-book (okay, it's a reprint).

  • Also fresh from Columbia is this year's White Chicks starring Marlon and Shawn Wayans, which grossed nearly $70 million despite some terrible reviews — both "Uncut & Unrated" and R-rated DVDs will street (Oct. 26). This year's Hellboy is getting an upgrade (already) with a director's cut featuring a new commentary from Guillermo del Toro, a panel discussion, and more (Oct. 19). And Columbia's October catalog includes Radio Flyer, The Wackiest Ship in the Army, Betty Blue: Director's Cut (Oct. 12), Godzilla vs. Gigan, Godzilla vs. Hedorah, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (Oct. 19), The Harvest, Happy Birthday to Me, Frankenfish, and a new special edition of The China Syndrome (Oct. 26).

  • Don't think the folks at Warner are willing to be out-double-dipped — a new 10-disc box-set called The Ultimate Matrix Collection will street in time for Christmas on Dec. 7, with all three films and then some, while the 1995 Native American documentary 500 Nations will appear in a five-disc collection on Sept. 21. And new from the small-screen is the recent Salem's Lot: The Miniseries (Oct. 12) and Everybody Loves Raymond: Season Two (Dec. 14).

  • Disney's latest vault-entry will be a 40th Anniversary edition of Mary Poppins, marking the third time the film has appeared on DVD after two moratoriums. The two-discer will include a new commentary from stars Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke, and others, a trivia-track, vintage footage, stills, and several featurettes (Dec. 14).

  • Paramount has this year's remake of The Stepford Wives starring Nicole Kidman on the slate for Nov. 9, in separate anamorphic (1.85:1) and full-frame editions — director Frank Oz will contribute a track, and featurettes and deleted scenes will be on hand as well.

  • And finally, Jean Negulescos' 1954 continental romance Three Coins in the Fountain will be joining Fox's "Studio Classics" line on Nov. 2, while Roswell: Season Two is set for Oct. 5 and the first season of That '70s Show will arrive on Oct. 26.

On the Street: His Royal Baddass of Funk rules over all he surveys, and that includes this week's DVD list — Warner has three Prince films on the street with the iconic Purple Rain in a new two-disc special edition, and the much less loved Under the Cherry Moon and Graffiti Bridge. New from Fox is the surprisingly sweet The Girl Next Door in theatrical and unrated versions, as well as the latest installment of Futurama. Rom-com fans can look for Pierce Brosnan and Julianne Moore in New Line's lightweight legal comedy The Laws of Attraction, while Jim Caviezel can be seen in the little-seen Highwaymen. Criterion collectors have another Fellini film to put on the shelf with I Vitelloni, while Lars von Trier's Dogville is new from Lions Gate. New from Buena Vista is the storybook romance Ella Enchanted as well as the Hong Kong import Shaolin Soccer. And fresh from Columbia's catalog is a re-release of Raising Victor Vargas and Richard Brooks' 1965 Lord Jim starring Peter O'Toole. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of and Image Entertainment:

  • The Apple
  • The Apprentice: Season One (5-disc set)
  • Boa Vs. Python
  • Bloom
  • Boy Meets World: Season One
  • Chastity
  • Clifford's Really Big Movie
  • The Courage of Lassie
  • Dallas: Seasons One & Two (5-disc set)
  • Dogville
  • Ella Enchanted
  • Flipper (1996)
  • Flipper's New Adventure
  • From Jesus to Christ: The First Christians: PBS
  • Futurama: Vol. 4 (3-disc set)
  • The Girl Next Door: Unrated
  • The Girl Next Door (R-rated)
  • Godzilla The Series: The Monster Wars Trilogy
  • Good Times
  • Graffiti Bridge
  • Harsh Realm: The Complete Series (3-disc set)
  • Highwaymen
  • Jane Austen: The Complete Collection (6-disc set)
  • Jim Brown: All American
  • Joyride
  • Judas
  • Lassie Come Home
  • The Laws of Attraction
  • Lilith
  • Lord Jim
  • The Munsters: Season One (3-disc set)
  • Munsters: America's First Family of Fright
  • National Lampoon Live: Down & Dirty
  • National Lampoon Live: New Faces: Vol. 1
  • Night Gallery: Season One (3-disc set)
  • Night of the Demons
  • The Night Stalker/The Night Strangler (1972/1973)
  • Purple Rain: 20th Anniversary Edition (2-disc set)
  • Raising Victor Vargas: Special Edition
  • Roller Boogie
  • Shaolin Soccer
  • A Small Circle of Friends
  • Smile
  • Son of Lassie
  • Tom Dowd and the Language of Music
  • Under the Cherry Moon
  • I Vitelloni: The Criterion Collection
  • Witchboard
  • Zachariah

— Ed.

Monday, 23 Aug. 2004

boxcoverDisc of the Week: From the very first scene, as rampaging seniors wreak havoc on Westport High School to the strains of David Bowie and Queen's "Under Pressure," one realizes that The Girl Next Door (2004) isn't going to be your typical high school comedy, despite its back-of-a-matchbook plot summary — class president falls for ex-porn star. And it's that premise, pitched right over home plate in the film's trailer, that probably hurt the overall box-office results, making the picture seem just another raunchy American Pie cash-in, and without any high-profile stars. But if The Girl Next Door didn't connect with audiences on the big screen (taking in a paltry $14 million domestically), it's bound to be saved by home video, which also helped turn Wes Anderson's Rushmore (1998) into a modern classic instead of a theatrical thud. And it's the sort of company director Luke Greenfield's coming-of-age saga deserves to keep, along with another film that transcends its genre, Paul Brickman's Risky Business, and with distinct echoes of both Fast Times at Ridgemont High and The Graduate. It's the difference between movies that are about being young and movies about where youth inevitably ends.

Emile Hirsch stars in The Girl Next Door as Matthew Kidman, an overachiever in Westport, Conn., who's managed to win entry to Georgetown University, thanks to being class president and yearbook editor. But as class president, he isn't terribly popular. As yearbook editor, he finds he's the only student who can't manage to form any personal memories from the past four years. In short, Matthew simply doesn't fit in, and he spends most of his time with his pals Eli (Chris Marquette) and Klitz (Paul Dano), who are equally geeky — Klitz gives new meaning to the term "risk-averse," while Eli spends most of his time absorbing porn videos. But when 19-year-old Danielle (Elisha Cuthbert) moves in to the house next door to Matthew's, he immediately falls for the stunning blonde. She also takes a liking to him, finding his charming, awkward innocence to be refreshing. But it's only a matter of time before Eli picks out Matthew's new girlfriend as a porn star, and he has the videotape to prove it. Matthew's confusion is only exacerbated by the appearance of Danielle's manager, film producer Kelly (Timothy Olyphant), who takes young Matthew under his wing. But Matthew's determined love for Gabrielle comes at a price — realizing Matthew won't go away, Kelly proceeds to wreck his reputation, and he steals a $25,000 scholarship account from the young man as well, leaving it to Matthew and Gabrielle to raise the cash in just one weekend. Fortunately, Gabrielle knows a few people who can help.

If the typical teenage comedy is played strictly for laughs and a bit of storybook romance, those that stand above the rest do something much more: They use unusual premises to convey very real things about our formative years — so real that they can strike a nerve whether you graduated high school three years ago or thirty. And perhaps the most universal of these is nothing less than sheer boredom, the utter sense of stagnation that strikes college-bound seniors who are ready to embrace the risks and rewards of an emerging adulthood but remained confined, if only for a matter of a few more months, in the endless corridors of overcrowded public education. Like Risky Business, The Girl Next Door taps in to the most fundamental of male fantasies at this time: Sex. Lots of it, with a hot trophy chick who would make the school's pituitary cases on the football team go weak at the knees. But it's a fantasy that will show its seams, and a proper coming-of-age movie isn't merely about the freedom that adulthood offers, but also the accountability it requires, particularly when young people find they must make serious choices for the first time in their lives. When you're 18, you can have everything you want — and everything you want is about to go horribly, horribly wrong. Despite its sex-comedy gloss, The Girl Next Door is equally reflective and poignant, and with a remarkable cast that makes the film that much more enjoyable, in part because they are largely unknowns. As Matthew, Emile Hirsch captures the part of the everyman loser in a school full of letterman's jackets, almost immediately conveying a sweetness and vulnerability that is lost in a sea of students but comes to the fore when he's alone with Gabrielle — it's a remarkably charismatic performance from a teen actor, matched only by a young Matthew Broderick two decades earlier. Elisha Cuthbert is equally archetypal as the object of Matthew's insistent romance, not only because of her natural beauty, but because she encapsulates the ideal adolescent girlfriend — in every scene she's thoughtful, funny, and challenging, always coming across as the sort of mature, sophisticated female puzzle that every young man feels compelled to decipher. Supporting work is consistent throughout: Both Chris Marquette and Paul Dano complete Matthew's geek-triumvirate with their own distinct personalities, and Timothy Olyphant simply owns every moment he has on screen as the ultra-hip porn-producer who can be the best big brother in the world or a teenager's worst nightmare, depending on his mood. Olyphant is brilliant not just because he can turn on a dime, but also because it seems like we all knew somebody like him when we all were a lot younger.

Fox's DVD release of The Girl Next Door features a solid anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Supplements on Side A include a feature-length commentary from director Luke Greenfield and a pop-up subtitle track that plays throughout the feature, offering both behind-the-scenes notes and general trivia. Side B features include scene-specific commentaries from Emile Hirsch and Elisha Cuthbert, the behind-the-scenes featurette "A Look Next Door" (10 min.), "The Eli Experience," during which co-star Chris Marquette visits the Adult Video News Awards in Las Vegas (8 min.), 16 deleted and extended scenes with director's commentary, a gag reel (3 min.), stills, and trailers. The Girl Next Door is on the street tomorrow.

Box Office: The late-summer film festival continues apace, this time led by Warner's Exorcist: The Beginning, which topped the box-office chart with $18.1 million, outdistancing its only debut competition, Paramount's comedy Without a Paddle, which scraped up $13.7 million in receipts. Also new to the chart is Lions Gate's thriller Open Water, which expanded to wide release after two weeks and took in $11.7 million, pushing it to $14.8 million overall. As is common with August and September debuts, critics lumped scorn on Exorcist and Paddle. However, Open Water has been popular with reviewers and filmgoers alike.

In continuing release, last week's winner Alien vs. Predator tumbled to fourth place, but its $63 million 10-day cume looks good on Fox's spreadsheet. Disney's Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement also has been a late-summer surprise, slipping just one spot to third with $61.3 million so far. And DreamWorks' Collateral starring Tom Cruise is looking sharp with $70.1 million after three frames. Universal's The Bourne Supremacy is now over $150 million, while Paramount's The Manchurian Candidate remains the season's underperformer with just $54 million after one month. And on the way to DVD prep is Fox's I, Robot, which will head for the doors with more than $135 million to its credit.

Labor Day approaches, and new films headed for screens this Friday include Suspect Zero starring Aaron Eckhart and Ben Kingsley, Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid, and Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:

  1. Exorcist: The Beginning (Warner Bros.)
    $18,175,000 ($18,175,000 through 1 week)
  2. Without a Paddle (Paramount)
    $13,700,000 ($13,700,000 through 1 week)
  3. Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement (Buena Vista)
    $13,198,000 ($61,364,000 through 2 weeks)
  4. Alien vs Predator (Fox)
    $12,500,000 ($63,052,611 through 2 weeks)
  5. Open Water (Lions Gate)
    $11,750,000 ($14,830,000 through 3 weeks)
  6. Collateral (DreamWorks SKG)
    $10,500,000 ($70,100,000 through 3 weeks)
  7. The Bourne Supremacy (Universal)
    $6,600,000 ($150,600,000 through 5 weeks)
  8. The Manchurian Candidate (Paramount)
    $4,200,000 ($54,726,000 through 4 weeks)
  9. The Village (Buena Vista)
    $3,677,000 ($107,003,000 through 4 weeks)
  10. Garden State (Fox Searchlight)
    $3,200,000 ($6,689,449 through 4 weeks)
  11. Yu-Gi-Oh! (Warner Bros.)
    $2,870,000 ($15,139,000 through 2 weeks)
  12. Spider-Man 2 (Sony/Columbia TriStar)
    $2,500,000 ($365,252,000 through 8 weeks)

On the Board: Mr. Beaks has posted a sneak-preview of Warner's two-disc Purple Rain: 20th Anniversary Edition, while new spins from the rest of the team this week include Duel: Collector's Edition, The Laws of Attraction, I Vitelloni: The Criterion Collection, Shaolin Soccer, The Sugarland Express, Graffiti Bridge, Under the Cherry Moon, Lateline: The Complete Series, Highwaymen, Raising Victor Vargas: Special Edition, The Girl Next Door, and Chopping Mall. It's all fresh under the New Reviews menu here on the front page.

Back tomorrow with the street discs.

— Ed.

Tuesday, 17 Aug. 2004

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

  • Jocelyn Moorhouse's 1991 Proof starring Hugo Weaving and Russell Crowe is on the way from New Line, and on board will be commentary tracks from Moorehouse and Weaving and a still gallery. Michael Tolkin's The Rapture starring Mimi Rogers and David Duchovny also is in the pipe with a commentary from the director and cast, while Gus Van Sant's Even Cowgirls Get the Blues starring Uma Thurman will be making its DVD debut in a bare-bones edition. All three are here on Nov. 2.

  • Oliver Stone's 1989 Born on the Fourth of July starring Tom Cruise is getting a fresh DVD edition from Universal, this time in an anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) and both Dolby Digital and DTS audio. Count on a new commentary from Stone as well (Oct. 19). Peter Bogdanovich's 1985 Mask with Cher and Eric Stoltz is getting the double-dip, this time in a new director's cut (Sept. 7). Also watch for two more miniseries from Universal's extensive TV offerings this year, Spartacus (Oct. 26) and Traffic (Nov. 2).

  • Up from MGM is the Irish comic-thriller Intermission starring Colin Ferrell, Colm Meaney, and Cillian Murphy (Oct. 19), along with the thriller Lost Junction starring Neve Campbell (Nov. 9) and the animated Babes in Toyland (Nov. 2). And catalog releases due on Nov. 2 include The Grissom Gang, The High Commissioner, Last Rites, Mulholland Falls, and Whatever Happened to Aunt Alice?.

  • Up from Fox this week is this year's Garfield: The Movie (Oct. 19) and an "unrated extended edition" of Club Dread, while TV treats include Cedric the Entertainer Presents: The Complete Series (Oct. 12), Arrested Development: Season One (Oct. 19), and The Simple Life 2 (Nov. 2).

  • And finally, two Criterion titles have been pushed out from their Aug. 24 street-dates — David Cronenberg's Videodrome will appear on Aug. 31, while Richard Linklater's Slacker is now set for Sept. 14.

On the Street: The Warner waves just keep coming for the month of August, and this week marks the debut of their new Martin Scorsese Collection, which includes re-issues of Goodfellas and Mean Streets, as well as After Hours, Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, and Who's That Knocking At My Door?. Also new from Warner is the thriller Taking Lives starring Angelina Jolie and Ethan Hawke, as well as New York Minute with Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. Notable catalog releases this week from Universal include Steven Spielberg's The Sugarland Express and his classic TV thriller Duel, which makes its DVD debut after several delays. Arriving under the radar is the French drama Bon Voyage from Columbia TriStar and indie rom-com Seeing Other People from Sundance, while Lions Gate has released a new special edition of the supernatural Stir of Echoes starring Kevin Bacon. And new from Paramount is Lateline: The Complete Series starring Al Franken. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of and Image Entertainment:

  • After Hours
  • Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore
  • Babylon 5: The Movies (5-disc set)
  • Bon Voyage
  • Chopping Mall
  • Connie and Carla (widescreen)
  • Connie and Carla (full-frame)
  • Duel: Collector's Edition
  • Goodfellas: Special Edition (2-disc set)
  • The Guyver
  • The Guyver II
  • Happy Days: Season One (3-disc set)
  • Huck & the King of Hearts
  • Lateline: The Complete Series (3-disc set)
  • Laverne & Shirley: Season One (3-disc set)
  • The Mangler
  • The Martin Scorsese Collection (6-disc set)
  • Mean Streets: Special Edition
  • Millennium Mambo (Qianxi manbo)
  • A Million to Juan
  • Moto X Kids
  • Nate and the Colonel
  • New York Minute (widescreen)
  • New York Minute (full-frame)
  • The Nick and Jessica Variety Hour
  • Redemption: The Stan Tookie Williams Story
  • Saved by the Bell: The College Years: Season One (3-disc set)
  • Secrets of Lake Success
  • Seeing Other People
  • Stir of Echoes
  • The Sugarland Express
  • Taking Lives: Unrated Director's Cut (widescreen)
  • Taking Lives (R-rated) (pan-and-scan)
  • The Three Musketeers
  • What's Good for the Goose
  • Who's That Knocking At My Door?

— Ed.

Monday, 16 Aug. 2004

boxcoverDisc of the Week: It's odd noting that two of Hollywood's great inside-outsiders, Robert Altman and Martin Scorsese — who've created movies that are raw, unflinching, and definitely of the counter-culture generation — spawned two of the most famous and longest-running television sitcoms. Ironic, because anything that lasts on television has to be antithetical to their styles. For whatever reasons, Altman's 1970 Korea-conflict movie spawned "M*A*S*H" (which ran from 1972-83), while Scorsese's 1974 Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore brought on "Alice" (1976-85). Then again, it was a strange time in Hollywood. The film nerds took over and changed the way movies were made, if only for a couple of years, and Scorsese was at the head of the pack. Though there's no denying his greatness, Scorsese is best-known for his gangster pictures (Mean Streets, Goodfellas, Casino) and his antisocial-loner films (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull), which focus on Catholic-guilt-ridden men who don't understand women (and often don't care to). And yet throughout his career, for every movie that follows this pattern, Scorsese delivers one outside of the mold. There's Goodfellas, but there's also Kundun, and The Last Waltz, and Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore. And with Alice, the director delivers a dramatic comedy about a woman forced to raise a child on her own — it couldn't be more against type. Scorsese is more of a journeyman director than he's given credit for, and Alice is one of his better films that gets shuffled aside, trod upon by the foot of Auteur Criticism.

Alice first opens in Academy ratio (1.33:1), and in what looks to be Technicolor. After a Douglas Sirk-esque opening credit sequence, we are introduced to young Alice (played by Mia Bendixsen at eight), who's singing along to Alice Faye's "You'll Never Know." But as she's introduced on a farm (a la The Wizard of Oz), the fission of Sirk's "Woman's Picture" genre quickly becomes evident — the young Alice swears like a sailor, and the movie then switches to a tracking shot of Alice's house, scored to Mott the Hoople. Twenty-seven years later, Alice (Ellen Burstyn, who won an Academy Award for her performance) is married to a slightly abusive husband Donald (Billy Green Bush) and has a loving and playful relationship with her son Tommy (Alfred Lutter). But when tragedy strikes, Alice and her son are forced to hit the road, where Alice hopes to get to Monterey, Calif., and become a singer; it's a dream she abandoned when she got married. On the way she gets a job singing at a bar and meets Ben (Harvey Keitel) — a younger man she gets involved with, but who proves abusive and a philanderer. Moving on to Tucson, Ariz., Alice finds work at a diner and immediately has awkward relationships with outspoken fellow waitress Flo (Diane Ladd) and the charming David (Kris Kristofferson), who romances her by taking out her son to his ranch. But as comfort broaches, Alice isn't sure that she's doing the right thing.

One of the great things about Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore is how Scorsese and screenwriter Robert Getchell never mock the less fortunate. Often in films when characters are shown to be destitute, they are surrounded by white-trash characters who are flamboyant and one-dimensional. Alice has comic moments, but they are never at the expense of the characters. Like all of Scorsese's great films, there's a duality — Scorsese's greatest influences are old Hollywood and the explosive realism of directors like John Cassavetes. Here, the collision between these sensibilities achieves a harmony; scenes pop to life. Scorsese makes these characters believable and fully dimensional while maintaining the framework of the previous generation's Woman's Picture, but also while also trying to modernize it. Ellen Burstyn gives a great performance — one senses the love she has for her son, while also understanding the dual sense of loss and freedom that came after her husband's death. She wants to get by without needing a man, but she also likes being with men, and she expresses both sentiments without getting pigeonholed. Burstyn is well balanced by Alfred Lutter's Tommy, who's both intelligent and obnoxious. Tommy spends most of the film's second half with Jodie Foster's character Audrey, a tomboy daughter of a prostitute who's constantly trying to get Tommy drunk on ripple. The film is also chock full of notable small parts: Ladd is great as the mouthy Flo — a far cry from the "kiss my grits" TV catchphrase — as she plays off of Vic Tayback's Mel (both would re-appear in the TV series), while Keitel's performance is one of his best: With only a few minutes of screen-time, his Ben is frighteningly real. Though the film finds itself a little less sure-footed in its conclusion (it doesn't know what to make of either Alice's possible singing career or her romance with David), it's a wonderful character piece, showing that Martin Scorsese can do whatever he wants, and usually he does it well.

Warner's new DVD release of Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore offers a good anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with the original monaural audio on a DD 1.0 track. Extras consist of scene-specific commentary with credited commentators Martin Scorsese, Ellen Burstyn, and Kris Kristofferson — and the uncredited Diane Ladd — and runs for 53 minutes. Most revealing is when Scorsese says how he intentionally populated his support staff with women, such as editor Marcia Lucas and production designer Toby Carr Raeflson (both of whom were directors' wives at the time). Also included are the featurette "Second Chances" (20 min.) featuring Burstyn and Kristofferson's reminiscences, and the embarrassing theatrical trailer that does a very poor job of advertising the picture. Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore is on the street tomorrow.

Box Office: The dog days of August may be upon us, but it was more than just fun and games at the weekend box-office. Fox's Alien vs. Predator, based on a video-game, took the top spot with an impressive $38.2 million break, easily besting its nearest competitor, Disney's The Princess Diaries 2: The Royal Engagement starring Anne Hathaway and Julie Andrews, which took in $23 million over the weekend and $37.2 million since its debut last Wednesday. Arriving in fourth place was Warner's animated Yu-Gi-Oh! The Movie, based a trading-card game, which drew $9.3 million. Critics were mixed-to-negative on Diaries, while PvA and Yu-Gi-Oh earned terrible reviews all around.

In continuing release, DreamWorks' Collateral starring Tom Cruise slipped from first to third place, adding $16 million to a $52.4 million gross, while Universal's The Bourne Supremacy starring Matt Damon is holding on to fifth place after one month with $139.4 million to its credit. After a strong start, M. Night Shyamalan's The Village is dropping quickly, taking just $7 million in its third session, although its now guaranteed triple-digits. Also underperforming is Paramount's The Manchurian Candidate starring Denzel Washington, which hasn't cracked $50 million after three frames. New to the list is Napoleon Dynamite from Fox Searchlight, which added screens and scraped up $1.7 million, with $15 million after ten weeks in limited release. And off to DVD prep is Warner's Catwoman starring Halle Berry, which failed to reach $40 million in wide release.

New films in cineplexes this Friday include The Exorcist: The Beginning and Without a Paddle. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:

  1. Alien vs Predator (Fox)
    $38,250,000 ($38,250,000 through 1 week)
  2. The Princess Diaries 2: The Royal Engagement (Buena Vista)
    $23,025,000 ($37,209,000 through 1 week)
  3. Collateral (DreamWorks SKG)
    $16,000,000 ($52,400,000 through 2 weeks)
  4. Yu-Gi-Oh! The Movie (Warner Bros.)
    $9,360,000 ($9,360,000 through 1 week)
  5. The Bourne Supremacy (Universal)
    $8,300,000 ($139,400,000 through 4 weeks)
  6. The Village (Buena Vista)
    $7,031,000 ($99,736,000 through 3 weeks)
  7. The Manchurian Candidate (Paramount)
    $6,000,000 ($47,975,000 through 3 weeks)
  8. Little Black Book (Sony/Columbia TriStar)
    $3,700,000 ($14,561,000 through 2 weeks)
  9. I, Robot (Fox)
    $3,575,000 ($133,676,163 through 5 weeks)
  10. Spider-Man 2 (Sony/Columbia TriStar)
    $3,400,000 ($360,861,000 through 7 weeks)
  11. Napoleon Dynamite (Fox Searchlight)
    $1,775,000 ($15,899,327 through 10 weeks)
  12. Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle (New Line)
    $1,425,000 ($15,841,000 through 3 weeks)

On the Board: Dawn Taylor has posted a sneak-preview of Warner's two-disc special edition of Goodfellas, while new spins this week from the rest of the team include Taking Lives, New York Minute, Stir of Echoes: Special Edition, Bon Voyage, Seeing Other People, and the remaining films in the new Martin Scorsese Signature Collection, Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, After Hours, Mean Streets, and Who's That Knocking at My Door?. Everything's been added to the New Reviews menu here on the front page — you can find even more DVD reviews with our handy search engine right above it.

We'll be back tomorrow with the rundown on this week's street discs.

— Ed.

Tuesday, 10 Aug. 2004

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

  • The press-release announces it as "The most anticipated TV-to-DVD of all time," and they aren't kidding — Columbia TriStar will release Seinfeld: Seasons 1-2 and Seinfeld: Season 3 on November 23 in four-disc sets, and with plenty of good stuff. Every episode will be of NBC-broadcast length (rather than trimmed versions in syndication), and we can look forward to cast-and-creator interviews, audio commentaries, deleted scenes, outtakes, unused footage of Jerry Seinfeld's comedy act, promos, and production notes. The first volume also will include the hour-long documentary "How It All Began" and "Tonight Show" footage, while the second set will offer a look at the original Kenny Kramer. And if you can't wait to get your hands on both boxes, no worries — a complete eight-disc "Re-Gift" set will be available as well.

  • Also on the way from Columbia will be Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, which will include the featurette "The Release of Fahrenheit 9/11," a montage of Iraq before the invasion, a look at the Abu Ghraib Prison, Condoleezza Rice's 9/11 Commission testimony, and plenty more (Oct. 5). A special edition of Christine also is on the slate for Sept. 28 with a commentary from John Carpenter, featurettes, and deleted scenes, and while we don't have final specs, we can expect a new special edition of Easy Rider on the 28th as well.

  • Warner is holding nothing back when it comes to their upcoming special edition of Gone with the Wind, which will arrive on Nov. 9 in a bonzer four-disc set with plenty of extras. The restored film will span the first two discs with a commentary by film historian Rudy Behlmer, while the other two platters will proffer the 1989 documentary The Making of a Legend: Gone with the Wind, a look at the film's restoration, footage from the 1939 and 1961 premieres, the Fred Zinneman short "The Old South," an international prologue, a look at foreign-language versions, trailers, and documentaries on stars Olivia de Havilland, Clark Gable, and Vivien Leigh. Need even more melodrama? The first season of The O.C. also is on the way in a seven-disc set (Oct. 26).

  • The monster hit of the summer is about to become the monster DVD of the holiday season — again. DreamWorks has set aside a Friday street-date, Nov. 5, for Shrek 2, which will arrive in separate two-disc versions with anamorphic (2.20:1) and full-screen transfers. Count on the usual array of family-friendly features, including filmmakers' commentaries, featurettes, and games for the kids.

  • The gang at Universal also will go multiple with the summer-season disappointment The Chronicles of Riddick starring Vin Diesel — an unrated director's cut will appear in an anamorphic edition (2.35:1), while the theatrical cut will come in both anamorphic and pan-and-scan boxes (Nov. 16).

  • Not that Riddick was the only summer slip-up — Buena Vista has Around the World in 80 Days starring Jackie Chan and Steve Coogan on the board for Nov. 2, and while it failed to recover its massive budget in domestic release, it earned enough decent reviews to get another chance on the small screen. A director-and-cast commentary, deleted scenes, featurettes, and a music video will round out the supplements. Also watch for three more two-disc entries under the "Walt Disney Treasures" folio, The Complete Pluto: Vol. 1, The Mickey Mouse Club, and Mickey Mouse in Black and White: Vol. 2, all arriving in time for Christmas on Dec. 7.

  • While some could say New Line was unkind to John Waters' fans by releasing his early films on DVD in double-feature sets, this year they're making amends — Desperate Living, Female Trouble, Pink Flamingos, and Polyester will arrive in single-disc editions on Sept. 7.

  • And finally, while everyone's more than happy that Koch Lorber will be releasing Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita next month, they are now reporting a street-date change from Sept. 7 to Sept. 21.

On the Street: The Warner waves just keep a' coming, this week with a slew of vintage horror that includes Tod Browning's infamous 1932 Freaks, along with The Bad Seed, Dead Ringer, and the double-feature Village of the Damned/Children of the Damned, and to cap it off is a new two-disc special edition of the 1987 goth fave The Lost Boys. Fresh thrills can be had with the second and final (for now) installment of Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill, out from Miramax, while Columbia TriStar curios include the urban horror Candyman and the German import Good Bye, Lenin!. New from Fox is Johnson Family Vacation and the third dip of the always-popular Predator, starring two action stars turned honest-to-goodness politicians. And rom-com fans will want to look for Paramount's formulaic-but-sweet The Prince & Me starring Julia Stiles. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of and Image Entertainment:

  • Alf: Season One (4-disc set)
  • Alina
  • The Bad Seed
  • The Bear and the Doll (L'ours et la poupée)
  • The Best of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog
  • Bill Cosby: Himself
  • Bill Engvall: Here's Your Sign: Live!
  • Blue's Clues: Blue's Room Snack Time Playdate
  • Candyman: Special Edition
  • Cartoon Network Halloween: 9 Creepy Cartoon Capers
  • Crossroads (1986)
  • Dead Above Ground
  • Dead Ringer
  • Double Dose of Joe Bob Briggs
  • Envy
  • Freaks
  • Girl with a Suitcase (La ragazza con la valigia)
  • Good Bye, Lenin!
  • Good Times: Season Three
  • Heaven is a Playground
  • It Takes a Thief
  • Johnson Family Vacation
  • Kill Bill Vol. 2
  • Late Night with Conan O'Brien: 10th Anniversary Special
  • The Lost Boys: Special Edition (2-disc set)
  • Manchild: Season One (2-disc set)
  • Murder Live!
  • National Lampoon Presents Dorm Daze (unrated)
  • National Lampoon Presents Dorm Daze (R-rated)
  • Past Midnight
  • Perfect Body
  • Predator: Collector's Edition (widescreen) (2-disc set)
  • Predator: Collector's Edition (full-frame) (2-disc set)
  • The Prince & Me
  • Reno: Rebel Without a Pause
  • Road Rage
  • She Fought Alone
  • Too Hot to Handle
  • Village of the Damned/Children of the Damned
  • What's New Scooby-Doo? Volume 3: Halloween Boos and Clues
  • The Who: Live at the Isle of Wight

— Ed.

Monday, 9 Aug. 2004

boxcoverDisc of the Week: What was it, really, about Tod Browning's notorious Freaks that repulsed audiences so profoundly in 1932? In the U.S., civic groups attacked it as an example of Hollywood's depravity. England banned it altogether for thirty years. MGM's Louis B. Mayer removed his famous logo from all prints and the studio did its best to disown the film. It was savaged by shocked critics and, reportedly, audience members ran from the preview theaters screaming. Browning, who helped ignite the Universal horror-film craze by directing 1931's Dracula, had been hired by Irving Thalberg at glamour-house MGM to make a film even more horrifying. He succeeded, though not in ways that would be appreciated for more than a generation. Does its impact come just from, as horror author Stephen King and others have said, Browning going too far in casting his B-movie melodrama with authentic sideshow grotesques such as Johnny Eck (whose body cuts off at the ribcage), Prince Randian (born armless and legless, he ambulates by wriggling like a caterpillar), and an entire family of pinheads? Or is there something more shrewd in Freaks that tendrils into our brain's lizard-level?

The part of Freaks that gets under our skin isn't the plot, which fits on a Post-It Note. In a traveling circus, the statuesque trapeze artist, Cleopatra (Olga Baclanova), conspires with her lover, the thuggish strongman (Henry Victor), to marry lovelorn midget Hans (Harry Earles) and murder him slowly with poison to steal his fortune. Hans' fellow freaks, bonded in their "offend one of us, offend all of us" credo, take ghastly revenge on the would-be killer. Browning aligns us with two kindly normal performers, lovely Venus (Leila Hyams) and the clown Phroso (Wallace Ford), who befriend the freaks as kindred spirits. There's also Madame Tetrallini (Rose Dione), who defends her "children" against a local who cries "monsters!" when he finds them playing in the woods. The film's second-most famous scene arrives when the outcasts offer to accept Hans' new bride with a wedding celebration and a passed-around goblet of wine. Their ritualistic chant — "Gooble gobble, gooble gobble, one of us, one of us" — is both moving and deeply creepy. When the sacramental goblet reaches her, Cleopatra can't contain her revulsion. "Dirty, slimy freaks!" she screams, then humiliates tiny Hans in front of his peers with the strongman. Her fate is sealed. Thus comes the most famous, and controversial, scene. It's a climax that plays on our primordial fears of the Other, especially an Other that's armed and crawling, slithering, sloshing through rain and mud beneath circus wagons on a storm-wracked night.

That climax, and its macabre aftermath, are enough to make Freaks a visceral experience. But our sensitivities are already discomfited before that eerie moment. In his unadorned, plain-speaking directing, Browning implanted more than startling images of misshapen oddities. Thalberg, who championed Freaks as important, may have put his finger on more than a lurid ad campaign when he re-released it with poster taglines such as "Do Siamese Twins Make Love?" and "What Sex is the Half-Man-Half-Woman?" Browning, in showing the freaks as sympathetic people rather than inhuman monstrosities, dared to show the naked truth that they enjoy the same things we do: respect, affection, companionship, humor — and sex. There's the proverbial elephant man in the living room no one talks about. The Skeleton Man is at the Bearded Lady's side when she delivers their baby girl. Daisy and Violet Hilton, pretty Siamese Twins conjoined at the hip, are each courted separately; Violet is engaged to be married, and already-married Daisy smiles blissfully as she feels the kiss Violet receives from the fiancé. (Consider the wedding-night implications of that for a moment.) Our imaginations stumble at the geek-love realities of "Half Boy" Johnny Eck, whose face is movie-star handsome, or sausage-like Prince Randian, who rolls and lights a cigarette with only his mouth (and who in real life was a husband and father). Browning implies nothing "deviant" here. The only unseemliness — casual bedhopping for the fun of it — involves the "normal" circus people. What MGM, the censors, and the public found revolting was not just Browning's documentary-like real horror-movie faces and bodies. It's the way he makes us look unblinking at these malformed individuals to see the common humanity we share with them, and they with us. They are us, Browning reveals with subcutaneous affect. Conversely, we are them, in all our fundamental qualities. Whether we like it or not, Freaks drills into our hindbrain and jolts our atavistic response to the not-normal, then forces us to confront our prejudices and feel something — either revulsion or compassion, or surprise at the realization that those aren't mutually exclusive responses. Watching Freaks is a two-way communication. It's disturbing not just because of what's in it, but also because of what we bring to it.

Freaks is one of the most bizarre and unforgettable films to come out of a major Hollywood studio. It's now in the National Film Registry archive, but its volatile reception and subsequent near-burial kept it underground for decades. After an art-house and "midnight movie" revival in the 1960s, it appeared on VHS with poor picture and sound quality. Finally this 64-minute cult touchstone is restored in a first-rate DVD edition from Warner. The vivid, clean print shows only minor wear. Its definition and black-and-white contast are terrific. (The exception, restored from a dupey source, is the rarely-seen "happy ending" epilogue with Hans visited by his steadfast midget love, Frieda, with Venus and Phroso in Hans' mansion.) The DD 1.0 audio is quite good for this vintage. The disc's extras offer everything you've always wanted to know about Freaks but were too weirded out to ask. Detailing the production history in authoritative detail is a commentary track by David Skal, author of Dark Carnival: The Secret World of Tod Browning. Skal returns, with sideshow historians and performers, in Freaks: Sideshow Cinema (1:03:20). This thorough documentary includes generous segments on each of Freaks' titular personalities, discussing their offscreen lives, experiences during production, and feelings about the film. Also here is the sermonic "Special Message" prologue (2:32) added for Thalberg's re-release. Three "alternate endings" are just recut versions of the epilogue, but they come with Skal's narration, and he reveals the intended fate of the villainous strongman — a revenge so harrowing to Browning's studio bosses that they refused to sanction it. Freaks is on the street tomorrow.

Box Office: Tom Cruise extended his string of number-one openings at the box-office over the weekend with DreamWorks' Collateral — the Michael Mann film, co-starring Jamie Foxx, took in $24.4 million, easily besting last week's winner, M. Night Shyamalan's The Village, which tumbled from its $50 million debut to earn just $16.5 million in its second frame. However, folks at Buena Vista can't be disappointed with an $85.7 million 10-day total. Arriving in fifth place was Sony's Little Black Book starring Brittany Murphy, which took in $7 million. Critics lavished praise on Collateral, while Book earned mixed-to-negative reviews.

In continuing release, Universal's The Bourne Supremacy starring Matt Damon added $14.1 million to its $124.3 million purse, confirming blockbuster status after three sessions. However, Paramount's The Manchurian Candidate continues to underperform expectations, garnering just $10.8 million in its second weekend and $38.5 million overall. Fox's I, Robot starring Will Smith has wrapped up a solid month, now holding $126.7 million. And Sony's Spider-Man 2 may be slipping, but $354.5 million in six weeks isn't easy to ignore. Meanwhile, Warner's Catwoman starring Halle Berry looks de-clawed with only $36 million. And MGM's Thunderbirds has flown to the cheap screens after taking in less than $3 million its first weekend.

It's the dumping grounds of August, and new on screens this Wednesday is The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement starring Anne Hathaway, while Friday will see the premieres of Alien vs. Predator and the animated Yu-Gi-Oh!. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:

  1. Collateral (DreamWorks SKG)
    $24,400,000 ($24,400,000 through 1 week)
  2. The Village (Buena Vista)
    $16,583,000 ($85,727,000 through 2 weeks)
  3. The Bourne Supremacy (Universal)
    $14,100,000 ($124,300,000 through 3 weeks)
  4. The Manchurian Candidate (Paramount)
    $10,800,000 ($38,509,000 through 2 weeks)
  5. Little Black Book (Sony/Columbia TriStar)
    $7,000,000 ($7,000,000 through 1 week)
  6. I, Robot (Fox)
    $6,300,000 ($126,706,238 through 4 weeks)
  7. Spider-Man 2 (Sony/Columbia TriStar)
    $5,500,000 ($354,570,000 through 6 weeks)
  8. Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle (New Line)
    $3,200,000 ($12,329,000 through 2 weeks)
  9. A Cinderella Story (Warner Bros.)
    $3,045,000 ($47,056,000 through 4 weeks)
  10. Catwoman (Warner Bros.)
    $2,905,000 ($36,070,000 through 3 weeks)
  11. Fahrenheit 9/11 (Lions Gate)
    $2,000,000 ($113,400,000 through 7 weeks)
  12. The Notebook (New Line)
    $1,825,000 ($72,187,000 through 7 weeks)

On the Board: Damon Houx has posted a sneak-preview of Miramax's Kill Bill: Vol. 2, while new spins from the rest of the gang this week include Predator: Collector's Edition, The Lost Boys: Special Edition, The Prince & Me, Candyman: Special Edition, Good Bye, Lenin!, Double Trouble, Harum Scarum, The Bad Seed, Dead Ringer, Freaks, and the double-feature Village of the Damned/Children of the Damned. It's all under our New Reviews menu here on the front page.

Back tomorrow with the street discs.

— Ed.

Tuesday, 3 Aug. 2004

In the Works: Grab that coffee and sit back — here's some new disc announcements, courtesy of Image Entertainment and, and additional staff reports:

  • We had been expecting a DVD release this year of Federico Fellini's 1961 La Dolce Vita from Criterion, but it turns out that Koch Lorber has secured the home-video rights for Region 1. The new two-disc special edition will feature a commentary from film critic Richard Schikel, a collection of "never-before-seen Fellini shorts," the retrospective "Remembering the Sweet Life" featuring interviews with stars Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg, the musical montage "Cinecitta: The House of Fellini," an interview with the director, a restoration demo, stills, bios, filmographies, and an enclosed eight-page booklet. Get your DVD budget in order — it's here on Sept. 7.

  • However, we do have four new announcements from Criterion this morning as well. Robert Altman and Garry Trudeau's 1988 mockumentary TV series Tanner '88 will include all 11 episodes, as well as a new video discussion with Altman and Trudeau, and essays by film critic Michael Wilmington, video critic/curator Michael Nash, and culture critic Garry Kornblau. Altman's 1984 Secret Honor, the Richard Nixon bio based on the original one-man play by Donald Freed and Arnold M. Stone, will include commentaries by Altman and Freed, a new interview with star Philip Baker Hall, archival footage from Nixon's career, and an essay by film critic Michael Wilmington. Georges Franju's 1960 horror film Eyes without a Face will offer a new transfer from restored materials, Franju's 1949 slaughterhouse documentary "Blood of the Beasts," stills, and essays by novelist Patrick McGrath and film historian David Kalat. And finally, Catherine Breillat's 2001 Fat Girl (À ma soeur!) will feature both DTS and Dolby Digital audio, a "making-of" documentary, trailers, and an essay by film scholar Ginette Vincendeau as well as an interview with Breillat in the enclosed booklet. All four arrive as part of Criterion's October slate.

  • This year's entry in the very lucrative world of boy wizards, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, will street from Warner on Nov. 23 in separate anamorphic (2.35:1) and pan-and-scan editions. Both will be two-disc sets, and extras include deleted footage, an interview with author J.K. Rowling and the filmmakers, additional cast interviews, a look at the film's animal trainers, various featurettes, and plenty of games for kids young and old alike. The 1973 concert documentary Wattstax will arrive in a new special edition with remastered Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, an audio and video commentary with Public Enemy's Chuck D and music historian Rob Bowman, another commentary with Isaac Hayes, Mel Stuart, and other performers, the original 1973 finale of Isaac Hayes' "Rolling Down a Mountain," and more (Sept. 7). And making its way onto Warner's Oct. 5 lineup of catalog horror is Roman Polanski's 1967 spoof The Fearless Vampire Killers, wherein the actor/director met his future wife, co-star Sharon Tate.

  • Finally, up from Columbia TriStar is this year's comedy Breakin' all the Rules starring Jamie Foxx, Morris Chestnut, and Gabrielle Union — a commentary, deleted footage, outtakes, and more will be on hand (Oct. 12). Also on the sched are Armand Mastroianni's horror film Cameron's Closet (Oct. 5), the karate flick Best of the Best, and Dawson's Creek: Season Four (both Sept. 28).

On the Street: It's a big week for fans of bad Elvis movies — Warner has six new spins on the street this week, including Double Trouble, Harum Scarum, It Happened at the World's Fair, Speedway, Spinout, and The Trouble with Girls. New from Columbia TriStar is Jennifer Garner in 13 Going on 30 as well as the indie drama Tiptoes, while Viggo Mortensen can be seen in Buena Vista's horse-racing epic Hidalgo. Criterion collectors can pick up a new three-disc set of Jean Renoir films with Stage and Spectacle, while Fox has Anthony Quinn in one of his most famous roles, Zorba the Greek. And new items from the Disney vault include Darby O'Gill and the Little People, The Shaggy DA, Something Wicked This Way Comes, The Unidentified Flying Oddball, and The Watcher in the Woods. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of and Image Entertainment:

  • 13 Going on 30
  • The Best of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello: Volume 3 (2-disc set)
  • The Black Hole (1979)
  • Bratz: The Video
  • Caillou at Play
  • Cheerleader Camp
  • Darby O'Gill and the Little People
  • Double Trouble
  • Duke Ellington: In Hollywood - Swing Era
  • Expecting Mercy
  • Gidget: The Complete Collection
  • Harum Scarum
  • Hidalgo (widescreen)
  • Hidalgo (pan-and-scan)
  • Human Resources
  • If a Man Answers
  • I'm Not Rappaport
  • It Happened at the World's Fair
  • Knight Rider: Season One (4-disc set)
  • Oliver Twist (1997)
  • Moon Over Parador
  • Paradise
  • The Princess Diaries: Special Edition (2-disc set)
  • The Real Olympics: PBS
  • The Reckoning
  • Reggae Nation: Island Movement
  • Roast of Denis Leary: Uncensored
  • The Shaggy DA
  • Significant Others: The Series (2-disc set)
  • Sliders: Seasons One and Two (6-disc set)
  • Something Wicked This Way Comes
  • Speedway
  • Spinout
  • Stage and Spectacle: Three Films by Jean Renoir: The Criterion Collection (3-disc set)
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: Jean-Luc Picard Collection (2-disc set)
  • The Sting II
  • That Funny Feeling
  • Tiptoes
  • The Trouble with Girls
  • The Unidentified Flying Oddball
  • The Watcher in the Woods
  • Zorba the Greek: Fox Studio Classics
  • Zorro Rides Again
  • Zorro's Black Whip

— Ed.

Monday, 2 Aug. 2004

boxcoverDisc of the Week: Elvis Presley, cultural icon, exists in our collective consciousness as a handful of separate entities. There's Young Rockin' Elvis, who brought red-hot black blues to white America and shocked parents with his undulating hips. There's Post-Comeback Elvis, the favorite of impersonators, who did karate kicks to the strains of "Suspicious Minds." There's Crazy Drug-Using Elvis — the Michael Jackson of his time — living in the surreal grandeur of Graceland, subsisting on greasy fried food and pharmaceuticals. And, of course, Hollywood Elvis, who made a string of very successful films that he didn't really want to do featuring songs that he hated, but that made a huge pile of money for The King — and considerably more money for his manager, Col. Tom Parker. From 1960 to 1969, following his much-publicized two-year stint in the U.S. Army, Elvis made a staggering 27 movies. Understandably, given that output, most of them were fairly formulaic outings with Elvis playing a womanizing bachelor in some sort of high-testosterone profession (racecar driver, pilot, water-ski instructor) who meets a gorgeous-but-curiously-unimpressed woman and, naturally, falls in love. These whisper-thin plots are wedged between a number of hastily written, generally forgettable songs, and Elvis often delivers his lines as if he just wants to get the take over quickly — hoping, no doubt, to get back to his trailer for a cool blonde or a hot peanut butter-and-banana sandwich. Fairly typical of these films — which, for good or bad, created a film canon all their own, that of the "Elvis Movie" — is 1963's "It Happened at the World's Fair," with Elvis singin' and romancin' a sexy nurse as he babysits an adorable lost girl.

This time around, Elvis plays Mike Edwards, a hot-blooded, barnstormin' pilot who hopes to start his own small airline-for-hire with his partner, Danny Burke (Gary Lockwood). But after Danny loses all their money gambling and their plane is held for collateral, the two hitch a ride with a farmer (Kam Tong) and his cute-as-a-button, seven-year-old niece, Su Lin (Vicky Tiu) to Seattle in hopes of finding work. When the farmer's too busy to take Su Lin to the 1962 World's Fair, Mike's roped into escorting her — a task he resents, because it cuts into his plans to hit on every halfway-attractive dame he encounters. But he makes do with just staring, without subtlety or charm, at the derriere of a woman standing in front of him on the monorail … until Su Lin gets sick from eating too much junk food and Mike encounters the Fair's lovely nurse, Diane Warren (Joan O'Brien). When his creepy, stalkerish pickup technique doesn't immediately make Diane limp with lust, Mike becomes obsessed — even going so far as to pay a little boy a quarter to kick him in the shins so he can get medical attention. However, his seduction attempts are slightly derailed when Su Lin's uncle disappears and Mike brings her home to stay with him until they find the errant farmer. In the tradition of all adorable film urchins, Su Lin does a little matchmaking between The King and the nurse — but complications ensue when Diane calls child welfare about the situation and Danny gets them involved in a shady scheme to transport some goods to Canada.

Directed with cookie-cutter precision by Norman Taurog — who helmed nine Elvis movies altogether — It Happened at the World's Fair takes its sweet time getting to the point of the story, with Elvis not actually arriving at the Fair until over 30 minutes into the picture. Once there, the sights of the circa-1962 Space Needle (with the interior scenes shot on a Hollywood soundstage in front of a terrible, painted backdrop), the ultra-modern monorail (ditto on the interiors), and the exhibits at the futuristic "Century 21" exhibit are actually pretty darn cool. And there are a couple of trivial tidbits that make this otherwise forgettable Elvis Presley vehicle worth noting — like a scene early in the film, where the wolfish Elvis tries to seduce a buxom young Yvonne "Batgirl" Craig by singing a truly awful Elvis-movie song ("Let loose – let your hair down, honey/Unwind – turn the lights down low/Relax – let's uncork the stopper/Come to papa, come on, let's go"). Vicky Tiu, who played adorable little Su Lin, never made another film, but she did become First Lady of Hawaii when her husband, Ben Cayetano, was elected Governor in 1994. And it's impossible to overlook the appearance of a 12-year-old Kurt Russell as a boy who kicks Elvis in the shins, in a bizarre moment of career foreshadowing. Russell would, of course, go on to play The King in the 1979 TV movie that boosted the ex-kid actor's adult career. He'd also play an Elvis impersonator in the unfortunate 3,000 Miles to Graceland.

Warner's new DVD release of It Happened at the World's Fair offers a stunning anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) of the Panavision film, which looks incredibly crisp and bright with superbly saturated colors. The monaural Dolby Digital audio (in English or French) is just as good, with both cheesy dialogue and forgettable songs coming through clean and clear. A trailer gallery is included, and It Happened at the World's Fair is on the street tomorrow, along with five other Elvis Presley films from Warner Home Video, Double Trouble, Harum Scarum, Speedway, Spinout, and The Troble with Girls.

Box Office: For the second week in a row, a debut film broke the $50 million mark, but it wasn't the one most folks were expecting. Paramount's The Manchurian Candidate was tipped to take the top spot, but M. Night Shyamalan's The Village cleared $50.8 million for Buena Vista to win first place. Arriving in third was Candidate, which took in a respectable, if not blockbuster, $20.2 million. Also new was New Line's midlist pothead comedy Harold and Kumar go to White Castle, which stumbled in to seventh place with $5.1 million, while Universal's $58 million update of Thunderbirds was a white splotch on a Honda, taking in just $2.7 million and failing to crack the top ten. Critics praised Candidate and were kind to Kumar, while The Village earned mixed reviews and Thunderbirds was seasoned for a rotisserie.

In continuing release, Universal's The Bourne Supremacy had a solid second frame, holding down the number-two spot with $23.4 million over the past three days, pushing it toward triple digits. Sony's Spider-Man is still a hot ticket as well, rounding off the top five with $8.5 million on the weekend and $344.3 million to date. However, Warner's Catwoman isn't nearly as hot as its arachnid competitor, taking in just $6 million worth of kibble after a less-than-impressive debut, and now threatening to disappear with less than $30 million. Meanwhile, Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 is still playing, now with $109.4 million after six sessions. And off to DVD prep is another disappointment for Buena Vista this year, King Arthur, which failed to reach its blockbuster hype and now is headed for the cheap screens with less than $50 million.

New films on marquees this Friday include Collateral starring Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx, and Little Black Book with Brittany Murphy. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:

  1. The Village (Buena Vista)
    $50,813,000 ($50,813,000 through 1 week)
  2. The Bourne Supremacy (Universal)
    $23,400,000 ($98,000,000 through 2 weeks)
  3. The Manchurian Candidate (Paramount)
    $20,200,000 ($20,200,000 through 1 week)
  4. I, Robot (Fox)
    $10,050,000 ($114,733,846 through 3 weeks)
  5. Spider-Man 2 (Sony/Columbia TriStar)
    $8,500,000 ($344,327,000 through 5 weeks)
  6. Catwoman (Warner Bros.)
    $6,080,000 ($29,411,000 through 2 weeks)
  7. Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle (New Line)
    $5,150,000 ($5,150,000 through 1 week)
  8. A Cinderella Story (Warner Bros.)
    $4,690,000 ($40,144,000 through 3 weeks)
  9. Anchorman (DreamWorks SKG)
    $3,100,000 ($78,100,000 through 4 weeks)
  10. Fahrenheit 9/11 (Lions Gate)
    $3,100,000 ($109,400,000 through 6 weeks)
  11. Thunderbirds (Universal)
    $2,700,000 ($2,700,000 through 1 week)
  12. The Notebook (New Line)
    $2,635,000 ($68,244,000 through 6 weeks)

On the Board: Mark Bourne has posted a sneak-preview of Criterion's Stage and Spectacle: Three Films by Jean Renoir, while new reviews from the rest of the gang this week include 13 Going on 30, Hidalgo, The Reckoning, Tiptoes, Spinout, Speedway, It Happened at the World's Fair, and The Trouble with Girls. 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.

— Ed.

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