Tuesday, 28 Sept. 2004
On the Street: New disc announcements may have been slow this past month, but there's still plenty of new stuff to pick up today, including what many critics say is the best film of this year, Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, while also new from Universal are two Beatles catalog titles, I Wanna Hold Your Hand and a special edition of Backbeat. Fans of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson can enjoy some blue-collar ass-whuppin' with MGM's Walking Tall, while new from Buena Vista is this year's theatrical disaster The Alamo. Coming out of the Columbia Vault is John Carpenter's Christine, Roman Polanski's Tess, a re-issue of Easy Rider, and new from the distributor is indie-hit Super-Size Me. Other double-dips include a new edition of Footloose from Paramount and an unrated Club Dread from Fox. And in a season of political releases, Fox also has the documentary The Hunting of the President under wraps this morning. Here's this week's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 27 Sept. 2004
Disc of the Week: TV science fiction didn't begin with Star Trek, The Outer Limits, or The Twilight Zone. More than a decade earlier, when viewers at home watched household-name actors (and budding newcomers who gained famed later on) in anthology series such as The Philco Television Playhouse, Kraft Television Theatre, and Playhouse 90, genre-specific programs like Lights Out, Suspense, and The Chevy Mystery Show specialized in popular pulp-magazine yarns. The first such science-fiction anthology series, ABC's Tales of Tomorrow, premiered in 1951. (That was an auspicious year for fans of "that outer space junk," with movie houses debuting The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Thing From Another World, When Worlds Collide, and other films kicking off a decade that defined the genre onscreen.) Tales of Tomorrow was broadcast live, so its stories were essentially live stage plays, with no studio audiences, canned laughter, or "Applause!" signs. They went on the air with long takes interrupted only for commercial breaks or for crosscutting to scenes played on the other set nearby. Above all, actors really had to know their stuff. Flubbed lines and goofs onstage or off were irrecoverable. Now this DVD set preserves goodness and goofs alike in a Tales of Tomorrow sampler. Here are 13 episodes from the program's first season, which ran year-round and offered 43 half-hour episodes between August '51 and August '52. (The second and final season, August '52 to June '53, delivered 42 episodes for a total of 85 broadcasts.)
To our eyes, these are primitive productions. The sets and special effects are, to put it fairly, economical and effective in context. The unsophisticated camerawork is aimed at sometimes arch performances and dialogue. The scripts are typically blunt and stilted (though a few, such as "The Little Black Bag," manage some grace and delicacy). But unlike Tom Corbett, Space Cadet or its other TV contemporaries, this science fiction series didn't aim for the kiddie market. Its grownup, sometimes thought-provoking dramas took science fiction and its audience seriously. For viewers whose memories of World War II and Hiroshima were only six years old, Tales of Tomorrow often dramatized Atomic Age anxieties about H-bombs and technology run amok. In the premiere episode, "Verdict from Space," an archeologist discovers a cavern full of alien machines monitoring Earth for a million years. When it transmits a signal announcing mankind's use of atomic weapons, Doomsday arrives when someone Out There launches a preemptive strike against our WMDs. In "Blunder," a scientist risks destroying Earth's oxygen to invent a new power source. The scientist in "World of Water" devises a way to dissolve everything to H2O. Before a single artificial satellite orbited Earth, these stories made rocketships and the "conquest" of space inevitabilities. In "Test Flight," obsessed tycoon Lee J. Cobb acquires a "counter-gravity motor" to become the first man in space, then blasts off to a conclusion that anticipates Twilight Zone's O. Henry surprises. (Even Cobb, Broadway's Willy Loman, gets confused and blows his lines trying to explain space travel.) Ten years to the day after Pearl Harbor, "Sneak Attack" oozed Cold War paranoia a foreign nation (obviously the U.S.S.R.) holds America hostage after impregnable robot airplanes, loaded with Hetrodyne Bombs, land in U.S. cities. Denver is obliterated before freedom rings platitudinous. Other social and technological bugbears converge in "Flight Overdue," where Veronica Lake's brassy aviatrix, lost after a secret Pentagon moonrocket flight, elicits a condemnation against the "strange breed" of self-interested dames representing the nascent Women's Lib threat. There's 27-year-old Paul Newman in his first professional screen acting job, "Ice from Space," which posits an all too literal Cold War. Here also is the infamous adaptation of "Frankenstein" with Lon Chaney, Jr. in the title role. Legend has it that Chaney stumbles through it because he was both drunk and unaware that this wasn't just a dress rehearsal. Twice he breaks character when he doesn't know what to do with a chair. And nowhere else will you see Mary Shelley's famous Monster suffer the indignity of getting shot in the crotch.
Meanwhile, we get stories by writers who shaped Golden Age science fiction on the page. Arthur C. Clarke's "All the Time in the World" co-stars Jack Warden, who abets a crook employed by a time-traveler from the future rescuing priceless art treasures from imminent nuclear annihilation. Theodore Sturgeon kick-started the series with "Verdict From Space," then screen-adapted "The Miraculous Serum," an immortality tale co-written by Stanley G. Weinbaum. Fredric Brown advocates compulsory mind-control to save the "Age of Peril" that awaits us in 1965. Cyril Kornbluth's classic morality fable "The Little Black Bag" (with Joan Blondell) was later adapted again for The Twilight Zone. Another future Twilight Zone favorite here, "What You Need," about a shabby sidewalk peddler and his amazingly prescient goods, is credited to Lewis Padgett, the pseudonym of husband-wife team Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore.
Image Entertainment's Tales of Tomorrow DVD holds these 13 episodes (more than six hours) on two discs. It's subtitled "Collection One," so we can hope that subsequent installments are on their way. (Some episodes not included have appeared on VHS, and early in 2004 a single dollar-bin DVD held "Frankenstein" plus two not here.) The original episodes were mothballed as kinescope recordings, created by filming the picture on a television monitor. So the black-and-white imagery is certainly lo-fi. The source material is in fine shape, though expect plenty of video blooming and haloing. The hiss in the DD 2.0 monaural audio doesn't intrude on the dialogue, the musical accompaniments, or the microphones capturing all the coughs, bangs, and other offscreen noises in the studio. As for "special features," who needs them when we get the original commercials, also shot live, from sponsors such as Kreisler watchbands, Masland carpets, and U.S. Defense Bonds ("the easiest way to save")? Whether you view these antiquities as retro-TV, proto-scifi, or as sociological snapshots, it's the closest we'll get to real time travel. Unless Arthur C. Clarke, as usual, knows something we don't. Tales of Tomorrow: Vol. One is on the street now.
Box Office: While the North American box-office continues to wade through its post-summer slump, there might as well have been just one film in theaters this weekend Sony's thriller The Forgotten starring Julianne Moore generated a solid $22 million debut, while all other titles on the chart failed to gross more than $7 million. Debuting in fourth place was Fox's First Daughter starring Katie Holmes, which managed a paltry $4 million, not helped in part that it's the second "presidential daughter" film to arrive this year. However, Focus Features' horror comedy Shaun of the Dead was a bright spot in the haze, taking eighth place with $3.2 million in just 600 locations. Critics offered Shaun near-unanimous recommendations, while Forgotten skewed mixed-to-negative and Daughter was widely dismissed.
In continuing release, last week's winner Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow dropped to second place, but with a steep financial plunge, earning just $6.7 million for Paramount in its second frame, giving it a $25.5 million 10-day total. Buena Vista's baseball picture Mr. 3000 starring Bernie Mac took the third spot with an even $5 million and $15.3 million overall. And Sony's Resident Evil: Apocalypse tied for fourth spot with $4 million for the session and $43.4 million to date. Universal's rom-com Wimbledon starring Paul Bettany and Kristen Dunst is shaping up to be a dud, taking seventh place in its second week and posting just $12.1 million so far. Doing much better on the slow burn is Fox Searchlight's Napoleon Dynamite, which has racked up $35.7 million in limited release over the past four months. Meanwhile, off to DVD prep is Sony's Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid, which will clear $30 million from the late-summer season of horror.
New films in cineplexes this Friday include DreamWorks' animated Shark Tale with the voices of Will Smith, Jack Black and Robert De Niro, as well as Ladder 49 with Joaquin Phoenix and John Travolta. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Mr. Beaks has posted an in-depth review of Criterion's multi-disc John Cassavetes: Five Films, while new spins this week from the rest of the team include The Alamo (2004), Walking Tall, Easy Rider: 35th Anniversary Edition, Tess, Footloose: Special Edition, Christine: Special Edition, Tales of Tomorrow: Vol. One, and The Hunting of the President. It's all fresh under the New Reviews menu here on the front page, or use our search engine to scan our entire DVD reviews database.
Back tomorrow with the street discs.
Tuesday, 21 Sept. 2004
On the Street: The studios remain relatively quiet with new DVD announcements, but don't be fooled by the short release list this week some heavyweight discs are in the stack, including the first-ever DVD editions of The Star Wars Trilogy in a four-disc set from Fox, while Koch Lorber has cleared the way for the digital debut of Federico Fellini's 1960 masterpiece La Dolce Vita in a two-disc package. Criterion's coming in heavy with their six-disc collection John Cassavetes: Five Films, while Jim Jarmusch's latest, Coffee and Cigarettes, is out from MGM. And Tina Fey's wonderful Mean Girls starring Lindsay Lohan can be had on disc from Paramount. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 20 Sept. 2004
Disc of the Week: Throughout the history of cinema there have been actors and filmmakers who shaped and transformed the vocabulary of filmed storytelling. Without question, Federico Fellini was one of those great masters, a director whose influence was felt globally. And he has a trump card over most other famous auteurs can any other director claim to have added a word to the international vocabulary? After all, at virtually every point on the globe, when a celebrity is followed (and occasionally stalked) by photographers, these culture-vultures are referred to as "paparazzi," which originated from a character in Fellini's 1960 masterpiece La Dolce Vita ("The Sweet Life"). It's a variation on the name of one of the photographers in the film, Paparazzo played by Walter Santesso who acts just as one expects for someone with his moniker. And that the film could add to dictionaries the world over bespeaks its international acclaim. The hugely successful Dolce Vita was a turning point in Fellini's career: It was his first picture to earn widespread attention, netted his first nomination for the Best Director Oscar, and yielded both fame and infamy (the film was condemned by the Catholic church for its libidinous and sacrilegious content). But unlike other taboo-breaking movies that seem modern and hip in their era's context usually to become antiquated a few years later La Dolce Vita is still potent, expressing an ennui that remains contemporary.
Told through an episodic narrative that is frequently set during twilight hours of evenings out, Marcello (Marcello Mastroianni) is a reporter for a tabloid who has wheedled his way into the most happening scenes in Rome. Often finding himself "spending time" with Maddalena (Anouk Aimee), he's been living with the manic Emma (Yvonne Furneaux), whose suicide attempts underscore the barrier their relationship has reached; she loves him more than he loves her, and it's turned her into a clingy, matronly figure. But Marcello doesn't help matters he's often chasing women, and his habits have him out one night with Sylvia (Anita Ekberg), a flighty starlet with a bruiser of a boyfriend. Sylvia and Marcello's evening leads to the film's most renowned sequence, in which Sylvia decides to wade in a fountain for no apparent reason. Marcello also spends time with his friend Steiner (Alain Cuny), who has a wife and two children and seems to be living the perfect life, but Steiner expresses concerns that he's abandoned his dreams by settling down. Marcello is surprised by an unexpected visit by his father, and the two spend a night out, after which his dad goes home with a dancer, and Marcello realizes how little he knows him. Work often intrudes, sending Marcello on a trip with Emma to document two children who say they saw the Virgin Mary in a tree (their claims appear false); it's a sequence that bespeaks the greatest difference between the two she's a believer, he a cynic. But the further Marcello goes along, the more perturbed he becomes with his life and himself; his relationship with Emma disintegrates while Maddalena proposes to him, only to sleep with another man moments later. The film veers into even darker terrain when a tragedy occurs that irrevocably changes Marcello.
La Dolce Vita found Fellini in his prime, particularly in this particular era (his next feature would be 8-1/2), and his sense of camera and framing (of the CinemaScope film) is stunning. But for those with a reticence towards Fellini's fascination with both circuses and the grotesque, La Dolce Vita could be typed "The Fellini film for people who don't like Fellini films." Though it's filled with numerous outlandish situations, this dictum seems apt there's no wide-eyed innocent, the type Giulietta Masina often plays in his oeuvre, while the circus atmosphere is viewed with a hint of contempt. In fact, cynicism and disappointment are the chief sentiments expressed by Marcello. Though much has been said about the picture's glamorous parties, and the eventual dullness of those parties, the theme remains one of communication, and how human interaction even between just two people is often faulty, and profoundly difficult. The story opens and closes with Marcello unable to hear women talking at him, while every relationship is poisoned by pretense and an inability to connect. For an episodic work, it's the simple bond that ties each fragment to the next. Moreover, with the sense of a generational malaise building upon Fellini's discourse on the subject in I Vitelloni Marcello's character spends much of the picture complaining he isn't doing all of what he wants to do with his life. As much fun as the parties are, he would rather be a better artist. That sense of frustration, the realization that lives unexpectedly turn out more banal than one had hoped, is Fellini at his most universal.
Koch Lorber presents their new Collector's Edition of La Dolce Vita in a two-disc set with a remastered and restored anamorphic widescreen transfer (2.35:1) and the original monaural audio, alongside subtle Dolby Digital 5.1 and stereo (2.0) remixes, and with optional English subtitles. The remastering is simply stunning, and the film looks better than ever. The first disc features a commentary by Richard Schickel, and an introduction from director Alexander Payne (5 min.). On Disc Two is a section entitled "Fellini TV" (35 min.), which features 22 television parodies the maestro made for inclusion in his 1986 film Ginger and Fred but couldn't find room for in the finished product. "Cinecitta: La Casa di F. Fellini" (4 min.) offers a tour of the director's office, and a look at his souvenirs from a lifetime of filmmaking. "Remembering The Sweet Life" (12 min.) offers interviews with stars Anita Ekberg and Marcello Mastroianni (from 1987 and 90, respectively). "Fellini Roma Cinecitta" (6 min.) features an interview with Fellini as he talks about his love of Rome. "Restoration Demonstration" (8 min.) includes comparative clips to illustrate how much work went into the transfer. A still gallery, biographies, filmographies, and bonus trailers round out the set. La Dolce Vita: Collector's Edition is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: It was another modest week at the box-office as summer turns into fall, and Paramount's Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow had no trouble capturing the top spot, taking in $16.2 million. The win edged out Buena Vista's baseball movie Mr. 3000 starring Bernie Mac, which took second place with $9.2 million, while Universal's romantic comedy Wimbledon starring Paul Bettany and Kirsten Dunst landed in fourth place with $7.8 million. Critics praised Sky Captain, while 3000 and Wimbledon earned mixed notices.
In continuing release, last week's winner Resident Evil: Apocalypse dropped to third, adding $9 million to Sony's $37.3 million total, while New Line's Cellular rounds off the top five with $19.7 million in the bag. However, the lack of new films means the bottom of the list is loaded with sub-$3 million weekend grosses, with DreamWorks Collateral nearing the $100 million mark after seven weeks, while Universal's The Bourne Supremacy re-appeared, cracking $170 million. But off to DVD prep is Focus Films' period drama Vanity Fair, which cleared $11 million before making a quiet exit.
New films on screens this Friday include The Last Shot starring Matthew Broderick and Alec Baldwin, First Daughter with Katie Holmes, and the thriller The Forgotten starring Julianne Moore. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Alexandra DuPont has posted a sneak-preview of Fox's four-disc The Star Wars Trilogy, while new spins this week from the rest of the gang include Mean Girls, Coffee and Cigarettes, La Dolce Vita: Collector's Edition, and Dawn of the Dead: Ultimate Edition. 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.
Tuesday, 14 Sept. 2004
On the Street: The studios have gone quiet with new DVD announcements in the wake of Labor Day, but there's plenty of new discs to pick up this morning, including Warner's THX 1138: The Director's Cut, while Fox is on the board with Tony Scott's incendiary kidnap drama Man on Fire starring Denzel Washington. Criterion fans can look for Richard Linklater's cult-fave Slacker, and fresh from the Columbia catalog are Mario Van Peebles' Baadasssss!, Melvin Van Peebles' Watermelon Man, Paul Schrader's Hardcore, and Young Adam starring Ewan McGregor and Tilda Swinton. And Paramount's got a trio of schlock-shock with Body Parts, I Married a Monster from Outer Space, and Orca: The Killer Whale. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 13 Sept. 2004
Disc of the Week: Conventional wisdom insists that Melvin Van Peebles' Sweet Sweetback's Baad Asssss Song (1971) was the first Blaxploitation film, which simply isn't true Cotton Comes to Harlem was released the previous year, and it's the very definition of Blaxploitation. But what makes Sweetback so important is that it was the first Blaxploitation title that was hugely successful with black audiences. The movie which cost next to nothing by Hollywood standards went on to gross over $15 million at the box-office and paved the way for the genre that saved the day's Hollywood studios (after producing numerous big-budget flops in the late '60s, low-budget Blaxploitation films like Shaft and Superfly helped put the studio's books in the black, so to speak). Sweet Sweetback's Baad Asssss Song also introduced many of the genre's conventions, including crooked white cops playing the heavies and an antihero who not only survived in the end, but prospered. The majority of Blaxploitation films are about larger-than-life gangsters (Black Caesar) or revenge fantasies (Coffy) but what marks Sweetback (though it also contains elements of fantasy) is that it's much grittier, much more of the moment, shot quickly with handheld cameras on urban streets to lend it greater verisimilitude. Later-era Blaxploitation was seen as just entertainment Sweetback was meant to be incendiary. And though there's no denying how important the film is in the history of American movies, like so much groundbreaking art, what it represents is more interesting than the object itself. And like Hearts of Darkness before it, Mario Van Peebles' Baadasssss! (2004) is a movie that's more compelling than the movie it's about, with the younger Van Peebles recounting the story of how his father got his picture made.
Following Melvin Van Peebles' book Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song : A Guerrilla Filmmaking Manifesto, Baadasssss! starts as Melvin (played by Mario) is contemplating his next picture. After 1970's Watermelon Man, Melvin has no idea what to do next, and, reflecting on the turbulent '60s, he imagines his "Ghetto Western" Sweetback, a film about a man who becomes an outlaw because crooked white cops are trying to set him up. But though he has a three-picture deal with Columbia, no one in Hollywood wants anything to do with it. Convinced he has to make the movie, Melvin then takes the idea to independent distributors with the help of hippie friend Bill Harris (Rainn Wilson), and after finally securing funding from a drugged-out rich guy, he begins production, only to find that his financier is having legal problems. In a corner but convinced of the film's greatness Melvin decides to pay for the movie himself. Also going against the grain of Hollywood at that time, Melvin populates the production crew with minorities, including cameraman Jose Garcia (Paul Rodriguez) and sound guy Big T (Terry Crewes). Trying desperately to hold his project together, he has to borrow money from Bill Cosby (T.K. Carter), but then all sorts of problems keep coming up the crew is arrested at one point, and Melvin's sight slips due to his work overload. Even when the picture is finished, no studio wants to touch it. It then earns an X-rating (by an all white jury, which Van Peebles used as a selling point). And when Sweetback finally is released, it's only in two theaters both as part of a triple-feature.
Though the eventual success of Sweet Sweetback's Baad Asssss Song is preordained, few things are more compelling than watching underdogs struggle and succeed against the odds, dealing with the sorts of issues that arise when working outside of the system, and with little if any support. Mario Van Peebles gets good mileage out of all the problems and headaches his father went through making Sweetback, and it makes for a powerful movie about movies, similar to Tim Burton's Ed Wood. Like Wood (and all great films about art), it's a story about a man who is committed to his vision, and the dedication of Melvin Van Peebles comes across well, even if he can be a bastard at times. But harried artists are interesting artists, especially when they're set on creating something vital and important. It's odd to have Mario playing his father Melvin, and the levels of metatextuality are increased by having Mario as a child written as a prominent character as well (played by Khelo Thomas) but as Melvin says on the commentary, nobody shied away from showing his bad side, which makes this awkward biography more palatable. Indeed, much of Melvin's anger is directed at his relationship with his son. But what makes Baadasssss so distinctive is that, as Melvin says, he's doing something more important than himself. While Sweet Sweetback's Baad Asssss Song hasn't aged well at all and out of context loses its meaning Baadasssss helps place the film back in its proper relief. Mario Van Peebles actually makes Sweetback important again.
Columbia TriStar presents Baadasssss in anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. A loaded set, the disc comes with an audio commentary by Mario and Melvin Van Peebles, in which the two bounce off each other while discussing the struggles of getting both films made. "The Birth of Black Cinema" (23 min.) is a "making-of" spot featuring interviews with cast members and many of the people behind Sweetback (including Bill Cosby), while "The Premiere" (11 min.) offers interviews on the red carpet, and "American Cinematheque Q&A with Melvin Van Peebles" (32 min.) focuses on the director's feelings regarding both films. Also included is a still gallery for "Poster Explorations" and trailers for this and other Columbia TriStar titles. Baadasssss! is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: It was yet another dismal week at the North American box-office, with just one standout title Sony's Resident Evil: Apocalypse, which generated a notable $23.7 million. However, only the top two films on the chart managed to earn more than $5 million in receipts, with New Line's Cellular taking the second spot with $10.6 million. Critics were mixed on Cellular, while RE:A earned mixed-to-negative notices.
In continuing release, Paramount's comedy Without a Paddle continues to stay above water, holding down third place after one month and $45.5 million to its credit. Last week's winner, Miramax's Hero starring Jet Li, slipped to the fourth spot with $41.6 million so far. And Disney's The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement has banked $89.2 million after five sessions. If it's the best time of year for B-list horror, Sony's Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid has taken advantage of it with $27.6 million after three weeks. Fox's Napoleon Dynamite also continues to hang around, charting during a flat weekend with $30.4 million after a slow burn of more than three months. And already announced for DVD before year's end is Universal's The Bourne Supremacy, which leaves the big screens with more than $165 million in the bag.
New films arriving this Friday include Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow starring Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow, Wimbledon with Paul Bettany and Kirsten Dunst, and Mr. 3000 starring Bernie Mac. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Alexandra DuPont has posted a sneak-preview of Warner's THX 1138: The George Lucas Director's Cut, while Greg Dorr has a look at Criterion's two-disc release of Slacker on the board. New spins from the rest of the gang include Man on Fire, Young Adam, Hardcore, Orca: The Killer Whale, Body Parts, Watermelon Man, Baadasssss!, and I Married a Monster from Outer Space. It's all under our New Reviews menu here on the front page.
Back tomorrow with the street discs.
Wednesday, 8 Sept. 2004
On the Street: If Labor Day marks the year's low-point in theatrical releases, it also precedes one of the biggest DVD street Tuesdays, and Warner leads this pack this time around with The Alfred Hitchcock Signature Collection, a 10-disc bundle that includes a two-disc upgrade of Strangers on a Train and the debuts of such classics as Suspicion, Dial 'M' for Murder, and Foreign Correspondent. MGM also has a big box on the shelves with a David Lean Collection featuring Blithe Spirit, Brief Encounter, Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, and more. Also fresh from The Lion is Judgment at Nuremberg, a two-disc release of The Martian Chronicles, and Soul Plane. Buena Vista has the Coen Brothers' The Ladykillers up for grabs, as well as Kevin Smith's Jersey Girl and a re-issue of Clerks. Four John Waters titles make their way to single-disc release this week thanks to New Line, including Pink Flamingos, while Paramount cranks up the raunch with Eddie Murphy Raw and Fox has an '80s rewind in store with The Man with One Red Shoe. Also new is Miramax's re-release of the excellent Rounders starring Matt Damon and Edward Norton, The Punisher from Lions Gate, a re-release of Resident Evil from Columbia TriStar, and Alexander's Ragtime Band from Fox. And if you weren't aware that this week marks the year's highest sales of new televisions, new TV boxes for your perusal include Alias, Angel, Everwood, Magnum P.I, Mork & Mindy, and Will & Grace. Here's this week's notable street discs, courtesy of DVDPlanet.com and Image Entertainment:
Tuesday, 7 Sept. 2004
Disc of the Week: Among the great director/actor partnerships in film history John Ford and John Wayne, Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune, Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro the collaboration between Alfred Hitchcock and Cary Grant is impossible to overlook. While starkly different in terms of outward appearances, from their famous profiles to their oft-imitated voices, both men shared a great deal in common. From a young age, both developed an interest in the theater and the arts. Their talents led them to America, and specifically Hollywood, where they became world-famous celebrities. Both somewhat affected (and somewhat accepted) an English gentleman's refined polish, despite the fact that they came from working-class backgrounds that afforded them few conventional opportunities. Deeply private men, they often shunned the spotlight, preferring to spend quiet nights at home rather than swanning about at Hollywood hotspots or parties. And both men were plagued by the self-doubt that often descends when public personas don't mesh with inward perceptions, causing them to live double-lives, perhaps at times wishing they could be someone else. It's not hard to imagine suave Cary Grant preferring to be regarded in intellectual terms, as Hitchcock so often was but even today, few describe Grant's vast talent as "genius." And there is little doubt that Alfred Hitchcock frequently wished he could be Cary Grant, a rakish scoundrel who could convincingly romance beautiful women on film in a manner that Hitchcock could only match through his lens. Grant starred in four Hitchcock titles, opposite the director's best-known leading ladies (including Grace Kelly and Ingrid Bergman). But if his persona warmed in the Technicolor hues of To Catch a Thief (1956) and North by Northwest (1959), Grant's two finest performances in Hitchcock films came in stark black-and-white a decade earlier, with Notorious (1946) and his first effort for the director, 1941's Suspicion.
Grant stars in Suspicion as John Aysgarth, a handsome young English gentleman who has spent much of his life getting along in high society by virtue of his boyish charm and good looks. In fact, when Lina McLaidlaw (Joan Fontaine) first encounters him on a train, she immediately picks out his photo from a society page she's reading. But Lina is no stranger to the finer things in life as well an educated woman, her family comes from a landed gentry that expects nothing but the best for her. Thus, eyebrows are raised when she starts dating John Aysgarth (after meeting him again, at a fox hunt). His charm is so seductive it's practically infectious, bolstered by the fact that he's brutally honest at one point even admitting to Lina that he's had more than 70 girlfriends. Smitten with the handsome bachelor, Lina soon marries her "Johnny," despite the reservations of her parents (Cedric Hardwicke and Dame May Whitty). But she's unsure what to think after they set up housekeeping, learning that her husband has no job skills, no employment, and is deeply in debt. Matters aren't helped by the arrival of Johnny's old friend 'Beaky' Thwaite (Nigel Bruce), who tells Lina at every moment that Johnny is a rotten scoundrel, and loves him for it. Soon, Lina's distrust of her husband grows, even beyond her own expectations. She's never sure if he's honest with her. A series of events cause her to believe that he intends to murder Beaky. And in due course, she becomes convinced her adoring Johnny is plotting to poison her.
Like Rebecca (1940), Suspicion is a British film in every sense, save for location and funding. Adapting the source-novel Before the Fact by Anthony Berkley, Hitchcock immediately was attracted by a theme that would appear throughout his oeuvre: the idea of induced psychosis and its interchangeable fantasy and reality worlds. And which, it should be noted, doesn't always jibe with most official accounts of Suspicion and its controversial, tacked-on ending. While the original novel made it clear that the husband was a killer indeed, from its opening line RKO was unwilling to allow Cary Grant's image to be tarnished. At one point, an editor even removed so much material from an early cut (anything that could even suggest Grant to be a killer) that the run-time fell to a brisk 55 minutes. Cooler heads prevailed, but the compromised ending has never satisfied scholars, critics, and audiences in general. Nonetheless, it should be pointed out that there is nothing wrong with Suspicion when viewed as an acute case of paranoia in fact, the film as it stands is much more "Hitchcockian" than the director, in later interviews, claimed he wished it had come off. Lina's psychosis has echoes in Hitchcockian characters from Joan Fontaine's paranoia in Rebecca to James Stewart's guilt-obsessions in Vertigo to Tippi Hedren's sexual repression in Marnie. Nonetheless, if the conclusion to be found here is unsound, simply because it so discordant with the entire story that's come before, there is no doubting Hitchcock's mastery of his material. While Cary Grant would tackle serious roles for other directors (such as in Penny Serenade and None But the Lonely Heart), it was Hitchcock who wanted to peer behind the charisma and find its darker, hidden self and it was only for Hitchcock's camera that Grant would play men who bordered on villainy (and to great effect, at that). Joan Fontaine is splendid, earning both top-billing and an Academy Award. And in a tense film, Nigel Bruce provides the right comic relief as Johnny's best pal. Hitchcock once noted that a good director should be able to play an audience like a pipe organ Suspicion is a textbook example of The Master's craft, lashing viewers to Lina's cresting and fading moods, scene by scene.
Warner's new DVD release of Suspicion offers a solid full-frame transfer (1.33:1 OAR) from a restored black-and-white source-print that looks remarkably good, with little in the way of soft damage and solid low-contrast gradients fans will not be disappointed, while the audio sounds pleasant on a monaural track (DD 1.0). Supplements include the featurette "Before the Fact: Suspicious Hitchcock," with comments from Patricia Hitchcock O'Connell and Peter Bogdanovich (22 min.) and the original theatrical trailer. Suspicion is on the street this morning, along with seven other Hitchcock titles from Warner Home Video.
Box Office: Labor Day usually sinks like a hammock at the North American box-office as studios take a break to release their least-supported films and prepare for the fall slate. And this year was no exception while four new titles arrived on the chart, Miramax's Hero starring Jet Li held on to the top spot for the second week in a row, despite grossing a mere $11.5 million over the long weekend, pushing its overall gross to $35.2 million. Arriving in fourth place was Fox's Paparazzi, which took in $7.8 million, while MGM's Wicker Park managed sixth place with $6.7 million. Focus Film's period spectacle Vanity Fair starring Reese Witherspoon took a tumble into eighth place with $6.1 million, and Lions Gate's The Cookout found its way to ninth place with $6.1 million. Vanity Fair earned mixed reviews, while the remaining titles fared poorly with critics.
In continuing release, Paramount's comedy Without a Paddle took advantage of the vacuum to hold on to second place after three weeks in release, adding $9.4 million to a $40.2 million cume. Sony's Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid also churned up a few more receipts with $8 million for the frame and $23.8 million after 10 days. And Disney's Princess Diaries 2 closed out its first month with a respectable $85.2 million, more than enough to guarantee yet another sequel. DreamWorks' Collateral starring Tom Cruise has done steady business in five sessions, now with nearly $90 million in the bag. And Universal's all smiles over The Bourne Supremacy, which has ruled the end of summer with $164.8 million. But off to the cheap seats is Warner's The Manchurian Candidate which cleared a disappointing $60 million over a six-week run.
New films arriving on screens this Friday include Cellular and Resident Evil: Apocalypse. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Mr. Beaks has posted a sneak-preview of Warner's new special edition of Strangers on a Train, while Mark Bourne is on the board with a look at Kevin Smith's Jersey Girl. New spins this week from the best DVD team on the planet include the Hitchcock classics Suspicion, Foreign Correspondent, Stage Fright, Dial 'M' for Murder, The Wrong Man, I Confess, and Mr. and Mrs. Smith, as well as The Punisher, Dogville, The Ladykillers, Soul Plane: Mile High Edition, The Martian Chronicles, The Boston Strangler, Eddie Murphy: Raw, Rounders: Collector's Edition, The Man with One Red Shoe, Resident Evil: Deluxe Edition, The Vanishing, Judgment at Nuremberg, and the original Night of the Living Dead. All can be found under the New Reviews menu here on the front page.
We'll be back tomorrow with the rundown on this week's street discs.